21st Mar 2018


Europe seeks to avoid fiasco in Vilnius this WEEK

  • Vilnius: The Eastern Partnership summit should have been the flagship event of the Lithuanian EU presidency (Photo: FromTheNorth)

EU leaders on Thursday and Friday (28-29 November) will try to avoid a fiasco at a summit in Vilnius with eastern neighbours after Ukraine last week opted for closer ties with Russia rather than the European Union.

An association and free trade agreement between the EU and Ukraine was meant to be the highlight of the so-called Eastern Partnership summit.

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Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan are also part of the EU's eastern neighbourhood initiative and were expected to make smaller steps towards a Ukraine-style deal.

But the whole plan blew up when Kiev announced it is no longer interested in the treaty, blaming Russian pressure as it seeks to "restore lost trade volumes with the Russian Federation."

In the absence of a Ukrainian deal, the summit will seek to salvage what else is left of the Eastern Partnership: talks on a free trade and association deal with Moldova and Georgia.

Oil-rich, autocratic Azerbaijan can also hope for a "strategic modernisation partnership," but this would be a legally non-binding deal aimed rather at flattering the Azeri leader, Ilham Aliyev, who wants to be on the same level as other "strategic" partners of Europe - Russia and China.

Armenia has also walked away from an EU deal to join Russia's Customs Union instead.

Belarus, the sixth country in the Eastern Partnership but with whom the EU has frozen its ties due to political repression in the country, is also unlikely to feature prominently at the event.

The biggest progress would be the release of some prisoners and the attendance of the Belarusian foreign minister.

In Brussels, the EU commission on Monday is expected to table new legislation aimed at tightening the corporate tax across the bloc, as part of the tax evasion clamp-down agreed at international level.

On Tuesday, the leaders of the political groups in the European Parliament will travel to Athens, together with the head of the legislature, Martin Schulz. Greece has decided to adopt next year's budget without the green light of the troika of international lenders, who for their part threatened not to disburse the next bailout tranche.

Back in the EU capital, a deal on collective management of copyrights, struck by MEPs and representatives of national governments two weeks ago, will be put to the vote in the legal affairs committee.

On the nascent banking union, the European Parliament's economics committee on Wednesday will hear from Daniele Nouy, a French central bank official nominated to lead the single bank supervisor for eurozone's largest 130 banks.

Also on Wednesday, the EU Parliament and member states' negotiators will try to strike a deal on a new law making it easier for people to keep or obtain pension rights when working in another EU country.

MEPs dealing with trade on Thursday will vote on a law giving the EU the right to restrict access to public tenders for countries outside the EU which do not offer the same access.

From Wednesday to Friday, the European Parliament is hosting a "Women in Parliaments Global Forum" gathering female members of parliaments from around the world.

In Germany, a new government is expected to take shape on Wednesday, when the two negotiation blocs - Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats and the opposition Social Democrats - are set to table a coalition agreement after almost two months of negotiations.

According to the Spiegel news magazine, the Social Democrats are set to get the foreign minister post. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who held the post in the first "grand coalition" from 2005-2009, is tipped for the job. This means the Christian-Democrats will keep the key finance ministry, most likely with the same Wolfgang Schaeuble in charge.

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.

Italy and migration will top This WEEK

Italy will have voted for a government, Germany's social democrats will have voted to confirm a government (or not): the dynamics in European politics may change, while Brussels will focus on Brexit again.

Election fever picks up This WEEK

Italian general elections, a German coalition in the balance, and the European parliament fighting to get a voice in nominating an EU commission president. This and much more in a week packed with intrigue.

US yet to push on Nord Stream 2 sanctions

Washington would still like to block a planned gas pipeline between Russia and Germany but is not yet considering hitting companies involved in the project.

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