Obama visits EU This Week
The US election, wide-ranging security concerns, and the EU budget dominate the agenda this week.
Foreign ministers, at a special dinner on Sunday (13 November) in Brussels, discussed the implications of Donald Trump’s victory for Europe, with the bloc’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, saying afterward that “ties between Europe and America are much deeper than any political term”.
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They plan to follow up, also with defence ministers, on Monday and Tuesday, with talks on how to implement German and French ideas on EU military integration amid concern that a Trump-led White House will take less interest in protecting Europe in future.
The outgoing US president, Barack Obama, will also visit Athens on Tuesday and Wednesday before going to Berlin to reassure the European public on transatlantic relations.
In the German capital he will hold a meeting with chancellor Angela Merkel, French president Hollande and British, Italian and Spanish prime ministers Theresa May, Matteo Renzi, and Mariano Rajoy.
Speaking to Greek newspaper Kathimerini prior to his trip, he voiced concern about “the rise of populist movements and questions about the future of European integration” following also the Brexit vote in June.
“European integration is one of the greatest political and economic achievements of modern times, with benefits for EU members, the United States and the entire world”, he said.
He said that he supported the EU-Turkey deal on migrant returns as being the “best hope for managing arrivals in Europe in a way that’s orderly and humane”.
He also indicated that he supports debt relief for Greece, which owes €330 billion to creditors, a sum worth 180 percent of its GDP.
“I will continue to urge Greece's creditors to take the steps needed to ensure the country is well placed to return to robust economic growth, including by providing meaningful debt relief”, Obama said.
The US aside, Europe’s foreign ministers will on Monday also discuss the future of the EU’s “eastern partnership” policy of forging closer links with former Soviet states.
The debate comes amid concern that pro-Russia politicians are making gains even in countries, such as Moldova, which used to be at the forefront of the EU reform process.
The foreign ministers will touch upon developments in Libya, Iraq, and Syria, and discuss, together with the Nato chief, how their maritime mission in the Mediterranean can work with the Libyan coastguard to stem the flow of refugees.
Meeting later in the week, on Friday, justice and home affairs ministers will discuss an upcoming European Commission proposal on creating new travel checks designed to help keep out unwanted migrants - the EU Travel Information and Authorisation System.
They will also hear from the EU’s counter-terrorism coordinator, Gilles de Kerchove, as part of a review on whether EU states are properly implementing a deal to share data on air passengers - the so called PNR system, adopted in spring.
On Wednesday and Thursday, EU finance ministers and MEPs will try to strike a deal on the EU’s budget for 2017.
MEPs want extra money in the pot to help tackle the migration crisis and youth unemployment.
They have called for spending commitments of up to €162.4 billion, but ministers say that €156 billion ought to be enough.
EU affairs ministers, on Tuesday, will hold informal talks on the bigger issue of whether the EU’s seven-year budget, covering 2014 to 2020, is being well spent.
They will also evaluate whether the EU Commission is properly implementing its “rule of law mechanism”, designed to monitor and sanction democratic backsliding in countries such as Poland.
On Monday and Wednesday, the EU parliament’s committee of enquiry into tax evasion, prompted by the Panama Papers leak, will meet with US economist Joseph Stiglitz, who briefly advised the Panamanian government on reform.
They will also meet with delegates from the EU’s joint police body, Europol, on how to combat tax cheats.
The Maltese government will, on Tuesday, come to Brussels en bloc to meet the EU commission, as Malta prepares to take over the EU presidency in January.
Outside the EU capital, two commissioners, Neven Mimica and Miguel Arias Canete, will visit Marrakesh, in Morocco, for a week-long international conference on the future of the Paris climate accord.
The Trump victory has also cast a shadow over the anti-global warming pact, which the president-elect promised to scrap during his campaign rallies.