Saturday

19th Jan 2019

Agenda

Western Balkans, Iran, trade on the agenda This WEEK

  • Sofia's Palace of Culture, where EU and Balkans leaders meet on Thursday (Photo: eu2018bg/Flickr)

EU foreign policy will top this week agenda, when European leaders meet in Sofia, Bulgaria, for a summit that will touch upon the Balkans' stability as well as the global order.

The summit, organised on Thursday (17 May) by Bulgaria as part of its six-month presidency of the EU Council, aims to "inject new energy in the EU-Western Balkans relationship".

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • EU leaders will discuss how to react to Trump's decision on Iran and trade (Photo: Council of the European Union)

Earlier this year, the European Commission said that the region's most advanced countries could hope for an EU accession in 2025 if they have made enough progress.

The Sofia summit, however, will not focus on accession - a topic that divides EU member states - but on issues of common interest.

The region's six countries - Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Kosovo - will be represented for discussions on their economic and strategic relationship with the EU.

The EU will commit to develop infrastructure, digital and connectivity projects and several side meetings, organised by the Bulgarian Forum for Business Leaders, the World Economic Forum and the Vienna Economic Forum will take place to help economic cooperation.

EU and Western Balkans leaders will also discuss security issues, such as terrorism, and migration, as well as Russian meddling in the region.

Kosovo

The preparation of the summit was troubled by Spain's threat not to participate because of Kosovo, a former part of Serbia that is still not recognised by five EU states - Spain, Cyprus, Greece, Romania and Slovakia.

It was still not clear on Friday afternoon if Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy, who wants to avoid any legitimisation of Catalan independence claims through Kosovo's example, will attend the summit or if he will be represented by his foreign minister.

To alleviate Spain's concerns, the Kosovo flag will not be raised in Sofia, the summit documents will refer to "leaders" rather than to "heads of state and government", and it will be specify in documents that the use of the name Kosovo "is without prejudice to positions" on its status.

Rajoy is in any case expected in Sofia for a working dinner on Wednesday (16 May) ahead of the Western Balkans summit.

As decided by EU leaders at their last summit in March, the discussion will be over digital issues, from innovation to the taxation of internet companies, cybersecurity and data protection.

But digital will be overshadowed by Iran and trade, two challenges posed to the EU by US president Donald Trump.

Iran and tariffs

On 8 May, Trump announced the US was leaving the so-called JCPOA - a 2015 agreement brokered by the US, the EU, France, Germany, the UK, Russia and China to stop Iran's military nuclear programme.

The Sofia dinner, which will be also attended by EU diplomacy chief Federica Mogherini, will be the first opportunity for EU leaders to coordinate the bloc's reaction.

The EU has said it "will remain committed to the continued full and effective implementation of the nuclear deal" and called on Iran to do the same.

In a joint statement, France, the UK and Germany called on the US to "do everything possible to preserve the gains for nuclear non-proliferation brought about by the JCPOA, by allowing for a continued enforcement of its main elements."

The EU also insisted that it would "protect its economic investments" in the face of US sanctions that also apply to EU companies that deal with Iran, under a principle of extraterritoriality.

On Friday, French finance minister Bruno Le Maire called on the EU do "defend European economic sovereignty" and adopt regulations to protect EU companies from US sanctions.

Wednesday's leaders discussion will be prepared by two meetings in Brussels on Tuesday - the first between Mogherini and the foreign ministers of France, Germany and the UK, the second one between the four Europeans and Iran's foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

After dealing with the Iran deal issue, EU leaders will discuss the EU reaction to US tariffs on steel and aluminium.

Trump has exempted European products until 1 June and conditioned a permanent exemption to the EU accepting to set limits on its exports to the US.

 The European Commission, which is the EU trade negotiator, has so far said it would "not negotiate under threat" and insisted the bloc should be "fully and permanently exempted".

Some EU countries, mainly Germany and the Netherlands, have suggested however that they would be ready to open negotiations to avoid a trade war with the US. According to the German Chamber of Commerce, some one million jobs depend on trade with the US.

Catalonia and Italy

In two EU member states, this week could see a breakthrough in long-standing political crisises.

In Spain, Catalonia may see an end to the suspension of its autonomy by central authorities, if a new president of the regional government is elected on Saturday (12 May) or Monday (14 May).



Quim Torra, who is considered as a hardline separatist, was chosen to be the pro-independence candidate by former leader Carles Puigdemont, who has been in exile since October, in first Belgium and now Germany.

If Torra is elected, he will be able to form a government and thus fulfil the condition for the re-establishment of the autonomous institutions, which were suspended after the Catalan parliament declared independence last October.

The political crisis would however not be over, as Torra said on Friday that his plan was to "follow the mandate" of last October independence referendum, and to lead a "constitutional process" towards independence.

He said that he was ready to talk with PM Rajoy but said that Catalonia was going through a "humanitarian crisis" and that he would seek an "internationalisation" of the independence issue.

In Italy, after two months of uncertainty following an inconclusive election, the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement (M5S) and the right-wing League may be able to start negotiating a coalition government.

On Wednesday (9 May), Silvio Berlusconi, the leader of Forza Italia, the League's main ally, said he was ready to let M5S and the League govern together without his party. This was a condition set by M5S leader Luigi di Maio to start talks with the League.

Interview

EU and US clash on Iran: an ex-spy's view

Halting the Iran deal could plunge its nuclear programme back underground, the CIA believes. It could also create a sanctions clash with EU states, a former US spy has warned.

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.

EU leaders set for 'stormy debate' on digital tax at summit

A proposal by the European Commission will be discussed on Thursday night at the EU summit, with member states divided over the principle of taxing tech companies - amidst ongoing concerns of a trade war with the US.

Opinion

Europe's last wild rivers under threat at Balkans summit

The EU is prioritising motorways and gas pipelines across the potential accession Western Balkan countries, plus hydropower energy projects which threaten one of the world's freshwater biodiversity hotspots.

Aachen treaty and Brexit endgame This WEEK

Germany and France are set to reinforce their alliance as the engine-house of European integration, while Britain continues to struggle to leave the EU.

News in Brief

  1. EU trade commissioner asks for green light for US talks
  2. Slovakia's commissioner takes unpaid leave to run for presidency
  3. Minority elects Lofven as prime minister of Sweden
  4. Putin opposes EU prospects of Serbia and Kosovo
  5. Tsipras launches campaign to ratify Macedonia deal
  6. US-EU meeting in doubt after Trump cancels plane
  7. Germany and China to sign pact on finance cooperation
  8. Labour divided on second Brexit vote plan

Aachen treaty and Brexit endgame This WEEK

Germany and France are set to reinforce their alliance as the engine-house of European integration, while Britain continues to struggle to leave the EU.

Opinion

How to troll the European Parliament elections

The May 2019 European parliament elections will take place in a context which make a very promising ground for protest votes and extreme views, aided by bots and algorithms.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General

Latest News

  1. Aachen treaty and Brexit endgame This WEEK
  2. Germany led way on EU rights protection
  3. How to troll the European Parliament elections
  4. MEPs in Strasbourg: everywhere but the plenary
  5. Brexit delay 'reasonable', as May tries cross-party talks
  6. MEPs allow Draghi's membership of secretive bank group
  7. EU parliament backs Morocco deal despite row
  8. Barnier open to 'future relations' talks if UK red lines shift

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  2. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  3. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  5. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  6. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  8. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  10. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  2. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  3. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  5. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  6. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  8. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  10. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  11. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  12. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us