Thursday

6th Oct 2022

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

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe 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.

Meloni mood and energy in focus This WEEK

Italians cast their ballot yesterday on Sunday and chose a rightwing majority parliament, which is expected to have a turbulent relationship with Brussels.

Column

The Iranian regime's expiration date

This 'headscarf revolution' is about women's rights and human rights in general, plus police brutality. Moreover, it is a leaderless revolution that is not driven by a leader or a group, but erupted spontaneously.

News in Brief

  1. Thousands of Hungarian students and teachers protest
  2. Swedish MEP cuts hair mid-speech to support Iran women
  3. Danish general election called for 1 November
  4. Slovenia legalises gay marriage, adoption
  5. Russia's stand-in EU ambassador reprimanded on Ukraine
  6. France warns over incoming eighth Covid wave
  7. EU adds Anguilla, Bahamas and Turks and Caicos to tax-haven blacklist
  8. Czechs warn joint-nationality citizens in Russia on mobilisation

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  2. The European Association for Storage of EnergyRegister for the Energy Storage Global Conference, held in Brussels on 11-13 Oct.
  3. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos
  4. European Committee of the RegionsThe 20th edition of EURegionsWeek is ready to take off. Save your spot in Brussels.
  5. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”

Latest News

  1. EU wants to see US list on Russia financing of politicians
  2. Putin's twin aim: to break Ukraine and West's consensus
  3. Putin's diamond firm off the hook in EU sanctions
  4. The Iranian regime's expiration date
  5. Let's end Bulgaria and Romania's 11-year Schengen purgatory
  6. EU debates new pandemic-type loans to deal with crisis
  7. MEPs condemn EU Commission 'leniency' on Hungary
  8. Czech EU presidency wants asylum pledges to be secret

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  3. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis
  6. Council of the EUEU: new rules on corporate sustainability reporting

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us