24th Mar 2018


EU looks to arming Syria rebels, wooing Russia this WEEK

  • Arming the Syrian rebels or not, this is the question among EU states (Photo: Freedom House)

EU foreign ministers meeting on Friday and Saturday (22-23 March) in Dublin will seek to overcome disagreements over how to deal with a Syrian arms embargo.

Britain and France want to change it so weapons can be delivered to Syrian rebels, while Austria is openly against it and Germany - reluctant in the past - has signalled "willingness" to talk.

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Earlier in the week, the European Commission is due to publish its yearly reports on 12 neighbour countries in the east and south, including Syria, Israel and Moldova - where the pro-EU government recently collapsed. The reports focus on democratic reforms after the Arab spring and a new wave of political instability in the eastern neighbourhood.

EU commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso will travel to Berlin on Monday for talks with the German Chancellor and the French President, as well as representatives of the European Roundtable of Industralists, a lobby group of the largest European companies, such as Siemens, Vodafone or Heineken.

Three days later, he will lead a delegation of EU commissioners on their way to Moscow for meetings with the Russian government. The visit was long-planned, but will take place amid continued talks for a possible Russian involvement in the bailout for Cyprus. The commissioners for trade, energy, single market, consumer protection, fisheries, humanitarian aid, agriculture and neighbourhood policy will accompany Barroso on Thursday and Friday.

The EU commission on Wednesday meanwhile is set to table legislative proposals giving Brussels more powers in national economic policies. The idea was strongly promoted by Germany, the Netherlands and Finland a few months ago: binding contracts with the EU commission for member states to actually stick to the recommendations Brussels makes on issues like youth employment or a more flexible labour market.

In return, countries would get "financial support" for these measures - a demand championed by France. Any major economic policy decisions taken by a member state would also need to be first discussed at EU level.

The proposals will still need to be negotiated with member states and the European Parliament.

Farm ministers meeting on Monday will try to get a political deal on reforming the bloc's agricultural policy - after the European Parliament last week watered down proposals to link EU subsidies to environmentally-friendly measures.

For their part, environment ministers on Thursday will review the so-called Reach directive which lists all allowed chemicals in the EU.

In the European Parliament, MEPs will hear from the heads of the EU commission and EU council on Wednesday about the outcome of last week's summit. Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem will make his maiden appearance in front of the economics committee on Thursday.

On Tuesday, constitutional affairs MEPs will vote on rules regarding the EU registration and financing of European political parties and foundations. They will also discuss possible legal ways around having to travel to Strasbourg every month, a requirement penned down in the EU treaties.

Tariffs and Turkey will top This WEEK

The EU will maintain pressure on the US to resolve a tariff dispute. On Monday, European Commission president Juncker, along council president Tusk, will discuss relations with Turkey's president Erdogan. Additional national measures against Russia are also expected.

Brexit and trade will top This WEEK

A crucial EU summit will decide whether to give a green light to the Brexit transition period, while the EU is also fighting to get exemptions from the new US steel and aluminium tariffs.

'Selmayrgate' moves to the EU Parliament This WEEK

As a global trade war looms over the new US steel tariffs, the EU's attention will shift to Strasbourg - where MEPs are expected to debate the Martin Selmayr appointment, trade, Brexit, journalism and the budget.

EU rejects US trade 'gun to the head'

EU leaders demanded a permanent exemption from US tariffs on steel and aluminium - and ruled out any bilateral trade talks within the 1 May deadline set by Donald Trump.

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