Money isn’t enlargement, it’s background music – EURACTIV.com

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Welcome to EURACTIV’s Global Europe Brief, your weekly update on the EU from a global perspective.

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In this week’s edition: Aftermath of the EU-Western Balkans summit, overview of the 2022 work program and EU defense issues.

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“We are one European family,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said after the EU-Western Balkans summit earlier this week. Let’s just hope that the six family members who are currently excluded from the will do not go their separate ways.

Yes, European leaders have supported the idea of ​​enlargement, but everyone in the room has understood that this promise will not be kept anytime soon. What consequence?

European Council President Charles Michel was quick to highlight the EU’s financial support for the Western Balkans. “It is the key, it is essential, it is the link between the reforms… and the investments“, he declared.

Describing the investment plan presented by the Commission as “a lot of money, an unprecedented amount of money”, he said: “We hope that these investments will also play an important role in order to make the European presence, the presence of the EU more visible, more tangible for the inhabitants of these countries.

EU leadership was quick to recognize the importance of the region strategic importance and the link between calculated investment and geopolitics is a clear way to keep the Western Balkans close.

EU diplomats confirmed to EURACTIV that many predominantly Western European member states consider that EU aid cannot compare in quality or quantity to all other geopolitical actors in the region.

But many of them warn that this thinking is dangerous, not least because the EU’s competitors provide almost unconditional aid.

“Of course, we can work with the countries of the Western Balkans, but our competitors are working harder than us,” Dimitris Dimitriadis, head of the external relations section of the European Economic and Social Committee, told EURACTIV, ahead of the Mountain peak.

The businessman said: “Twenty years ago Turkey was absent from the region, it is now a key player. How? ‘Or’ What? Fund big projects with no strings attached, just spreading money by helicopter.

Of course, Turkey is not alone, it is followed by investors from the Gulf as well as by China and Russia, including diplomacy of the COVID-19 pandemic in the region caught the EU off guard during the early stages of the crisis.

On top of that, the simple truth is that enlargement is becoming increasingly difficult to sell by the leaders of many Western European countries to their citizens, understand the authors of this report, writing this text from the Western Balkans side. from the Schengen border.

There is no doubt that credible reforms by the hopes of the clubs are essential, especially as we are witnessing retrograde among new members.

But whatever the amount of investment, the farther away the prospect of membership seems to many in the Western Balkans, the harder it will be for their pro-European politicians to stay in power and sell painful reforms at home while keeping the nationalist forces at a distance. .

In European circles and national capitals, there is a tendency to forget that in the Western Balkans many do not see the EU as a mere provider of financial support.

For many, it’s a chance to leave the burden of heavy history – and bitter political wrangling of the present day – behind and ultimately belong to a club where this can be resolved with institutional means.

None of this will be solved only with infrastructure development and project funding. In recent years, however, this has become the mantra in Brussels: give more money, while enlargement stays alive.

The EU’s financial support to its close neighborhood is undoubtedly a good signal.

But at the end of the day, as one EU diplomat put it: positive signals are important for countries in the region and their citizens, but the longer they go on, separated from concrete political progress, the more they become ” background music ”of the enlargement process.

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OVERVIEW | According to a leaked version of the European Commission’s draft work program dated September 27 and viewed by EURACTIV, plans for next year include a new EU strategy to engage with the Gulf region, more on energy diplomacy and a more detailed overview of the EU’s space ambitions. .

EU foreign ministers put green diplomacy at the top of their agenda earlier this year, saying the EU “will seek to ensure undistorted trade and investment for EU businesses in countries third party “as well as” a level playing field and equitable access to resources “. and green technologies ”in countries like China.

The creation of a new branch within the European Commission – the Defense Industry and Space DG (DEFIS), long fought against by Great Britain – was a step forward in giving a European stamp to the emerging field.

An initiative proposed jointly by DEFIS and the EU’s diplomatic service (EEAS) will be to develop an EU strategy for space traffic management (VMS), the objective of which will be to prepare European industry for the establishing rules on space traffic at international level and protecting the effectiveness of EU flagship programs (Galileo, Copernicus).

In addition, as part of the Open Strategic Autonomy Campaign, the Commission plans to build a secure global communications system based in the EU space, which would provide connectivity services and high-speed broadband to EU Member States and European regions and territories.

‘PHYSICAL BARRIERS’ | Twelve EU member states have called for updating the bloc’s Schengen Borders Code to allow “physical barriers” as border protection measures, according to a letter sent to the European Commission and seen by EURACTIV. Lithuania had previously suggested that the EU fund border barriers at its external border from its common budget, Poland and other Baltic states argued.

At the same time, the European Commission has called for an investigation into refoulements of illegal migrants after a report by German media Der Spiegel and ARD documented what they said were Greek, Croatian and Romanian officials carrying out such operations. .

WHAT STRATEGY? | Amid disunity over the way forward on European defense, EU leaders discussed whether the bloc should strengthen its ability to act independently and / or strengthen its partnership with the EU. NATO, but without a clear result.

TRAINING MISSION | The EU is considering a training mission for Ukrainian officers due to Russia’s “ongoing military activities” as relations between Kiev and Moscow remain strained. The impetus for the mission comes after several member states have repeatedly expressed concern over Russia’s military exercises near their and EU borders, including Zapad-2021 in September and a massive build-up of troops Russians near Ukraine in April.

SPY ALERT | NATO expelled eight members of the Russian mission to the alliance who were “undeclared Russian intelligence officers”, the latest deterioration in East-West relations which are already at post-Cold War lows.

LAST EURASIA

GAS SUPPLY | Amid soaring gas prices and calls for Russia to supply more gas to the EU, Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to rule out Ukraine as a transit country for these additional supplies. . However, he said Russia will fully comply with its current contractual obligations for gas transit through Ukraine to Europe.

STATUS UPDATE | A new political season has begun, with some easing of travel and meeting restrictions linked to COVID-19. As journalists and politicians prepare to fly and reconnect, EURACTIV has taken snapshots of the ongoing cooperation between the EU and Kazakhstan.


WHAT ELSE TO READ

ON OUR RADAR FOR THE NEXT DAYS …

We will keep you up to date with all relevant EU foreign affairs news, as day-to-day affairs in Europe return after the summer recess.

  • EU and Britain start talks on Gibraltar
    | Monday, October 11, 2021 | Brussels, Belgium
  • EU-Ukraine summit
    | Tuesday, October 12, 2021 | Brussels, Belgium
  • G20 holds special virtual summit on Afghanistan
    | Tuesday, October 12, 2021 | Rome, Italy
  • European Foreign Minister Josep Borrell visits Washington
    | Wed-Fri, 13-15 October 2021 | Washington DC, United States
  • Security Council holds closed meeting on UN peace mission in Western Sahara
    | Wednesday October 13, 2021 | New York, United States
  • Arctic Circle Assembly
    | Thu-Sat, October 14-17, 2021 | Reykjavik, Iceland
  • The AFET committee of the European Parliament meets
    | Thursday, October 14, 2021 | Brussels, Belgium
  • International Court of Justice hears Armenia-Azerbaijan dispute
    | Thursday, October 14, 2021 | The Hague, Netherlands
  • Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) leaders hold summit
    | Friday October 15th, 2021 | Minsk, Belarus

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