This Week’s Hotspots
Last week the President of European Council Donald Tusk took a firm stance on Brexit. In a speech to the policy makers in Brussels, he discredited the idea of keeping Britain within the EU single market as part of the deal. He dismissed Boris Johnson’s comment that the UK could “have its cake and eat it”.
Brexit is not the only agreement bugging the EU. The Belgian region rejected the EU-Canada “Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA)”. The Belgian parliamentary vote against the deal could threaten its enforcement at EU level, as its adoption requires the unanimous approval of the 28 member states.
Moving to the ever-pressing refugee crisis: Italy called to lower aid to Eastern European countries such as Hungary and Poland. This comes in reaction to the refusal by important countries in the East to comply with the European reallocation plan for refugees.
Jumping from Italy to another southern European country, Greece hosted the IMF and the EU this week. The representatives reviewed the country’s financial situation and the effectiveness of Athens’ policies. As Greece has now been bailed out three times, the IMF stated that the only way for the Greek economy to fully recover is debt forgiveness. Yet, this call is farfetched: with elections coming up in autumn, Germany’s finance minister is strongly opposing the proposal.
Moving up along the coast, Montenegro’s parliamentary elections took place last Sunday. The stakes were high as the prime minister had portrayed the elections as a choice between NATO and Russia. The result was however inconclusive as the prime minister’s pro-Western party ended five seats short of the majority. Difficult negotiations lie ahead as a coalition government will have to be formed.
Changing the topic to Security, NATO’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, welcomed efforts towards closer EU cooperation on Defense last Friday. However, he warned such a project should not become a substitute of NATO.
And, oh no, did you know? Russia has deployed its Iskander-M. The nuclear capable Short Range Ballistic Missiles (SRBMs) have intimidatingly been stationed in Kaliningrad, which lies in Russian territory between Lithuania and Poland. The move has set off alerts in Europe. A NATO official stated: “The deployment of missiles close to alliance borders that can carry nuclear warheads does not help to lower tensions.”
… Tensions are also rising between the Russians and the French. Even after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in Ukraine, France has kept relatively friendly relations with the country. However, amidst tensions over Syria, Putin announced he is cancelling his long-planned trip to Paris.
In France itself, François Hollande has paid tribute to the victims of the Nice-attack that took place on Bastille Day last summer. The ceremony took place in the presence of the families of those killed in the terrorist attack. Political leaders and religious representatives also attended.
Germany: A Case of Failed Counter-Terrorism Strategy
Germany, in reflection of an EU-wide problem, has limited experience in dealing with a new generation of extremists. The handling of the recent capture of a Syrian refugee that was allegedly planning terrorist attacks on German airports has put the capabilities of the German authorities into question. Current gaps were emphasised by the failure of the relevant entities to anticipate the suspect’s suicide.
Good relations in the Arctic
Recent tensions between Russia and the West over Syria have not seemed to affect Arctic relations. The 20th Arctic Council named “International Cooperation in the Arctic: New Challenges and Vectors of Development” and organised by the Russian International Affairs Council, proved to be an effective platform for cooperation. The conference further showed that other players are increasingly growing fond of the Arctic as an upcoming area for investment.
Anti-Russian posturing in Scandinavia
160 years since the demilitarisation of the Åland Islands, Finland is considering rearming them. According to experts, the archipelago is key to the country’s defense, and rearmament will increase Finland’s security. The Islands have historic significance in the relationship with Russia and the former Soviet Union. The Finnish Defense Minister’s proposal follows Sweden’s remilitarisation of its Gotland Island in the Baltic.