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29th Feb 2024

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Middle East, Egypt, Nato exercise in focus This WEEK

  • EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell will meet Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry on Tuesday (Photo: EC - Audiovisual Service)
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EU foreign affairs ministers will meet in Brussels on Monday (22 January) to discuss the situation in the Middle East during a carefully choreographed day of Middle Eastern diplomacy in Brussels.

Foreign ministers will discuss migration over breakfast with Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry. They will later meet in person with Israeli foreign minister Yisrael Katz to discuss the Gaza war. The 27 will then discuss the war again over lunch with Shoukry and the Jordanian and Saudi foreign ministers, Ayman Safadi and Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud, before ending the diplomatic ballet in a separate meeting with Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki.

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Talks will focus on humanitarian access for Gaza, the release of Israeli hostages, reviving the two-state solution, avoiding regional escalation, and Israeli settler violence in the West Bank, diplomats said.

The EU is planning to announce new sanctions on Palestinian group Hamas, which attacked Israel on 7 October, in a move which was announced last Friday. Sanctions on extremist Israeli settlers are expected to come later down the line.

Ministers will also discuss sending warships to the Red Sea to stop attacks on merchant vessels by the Houthi rebel group in Yemen, but there won't be a firm decision on how to proceed until February, despite a strong consensus for the move, a senior EU diplomat said.

Ministers will also have a videoconference with Ukrainian foreign minister Dmitry Kuleba for an update on the battlefield situation.

Big decisions on future EU funding for Ukraine are being left until an EU summit on 1 February. But foreign ministers will discuss the use of frozen Russian assets for Ukraine reconstruction on Monday as well as the 13th round of EU sanctions on Russia.

The 13th round is to be put in place in time for the two-year anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine on Wednesday (24 February), the senior EU diplomat said.

Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg will meet Romanian and Czech foreign ministers, Luminița Odobescu Jan Lipavsk, also on Monday.

The meeting comes as Nato prepares to launch one of its biggest military exercises this week, with 90,000 troops expected to take part in drills operations running through May to demonstrate that the alliance can defend itself against a potential attack from Russia.

While a Russian attack is unlikely right now, Germany's defence minister Boris Pistorius warned last Friday that Moscow could attack Nato within a decade.

Egypt deal on the horizon

On Tuesday (23 January), EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell will meet Egypt's Shoukry in the context of the EU-Egypt association council. Talks are expected to focus on migration, the war in Gaza and the impact of attacks by Yemen's Houthi rebels in the Red Sea.

Discussions on a new agreement with Egypt to curtail irregular migration towards Europe are "well advanced" and the official announcement is expected soon after Tuesday's meeting, another diplomat said.

Also on Tuesday, EU commission president Ursula von der Leyen will travel to Bosnia with Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte and Croatian prime minister Andrej Plenkovic.

MEPs in the civil liberties committee will quiz EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson on the sate of play of the EU-Tunisia migration deal the same day.

Also on Tuesday, several parliament committees will hold a debate about the EU's strategy in the Sahel.

On Wednesday, the parliament's committee on foreign affairs will vote on an own-initiative report about EU's future relations with Russia.

"We believe that Russia can eventually become a democracy and that the EU must be prepared for this new reality and has to contribute to this transition," said centre-right MEP Andrius Kubilius, author of the report.

Meanwhile, the state of play of the Global Gateway strategy will also be discussed by several committees on the same day.

Also on Wednesday, the EU commission is expected to present guidelines for the participation of commissioners in the upcoming EU elections and an economic security package, which includes a white paper on export controls.

MEP in the trade committee will hold on the same day a debate with former Italian prime minister Enrico Letta, who has been tasked by EU member states to come up with a report on the future of the single market, due to be presented to EU leaders in March.

And on Thursday (25 January), they will discuss with the EU commission a new regulation aiming to tackle the risks posed by foreign investors when, for example, they seek to acquire control of EU businesses supplying critical technologies or infrastructure.

Strategic dialogue on agriculture

The EU Commission is expected to extend the duty-free trade with Ukraine until 2025 on Wednesday, despite concerns raised by  Bulgaria, Poland, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia which are asking for import duties on Ukrainian grains.

On Thursday, the EU commission will launch the strategic dialogue on the future of agriculture announced by von der Leyen in her state of the union address. Under the lead of German professor Peter Strohschneider, this new forum is expected to deliver conclusions by summer.

The future of agriculture and forestry policy will also be discussed by EU agriculture minister on Tuesday in Brussels.

On Wednesday, MEPs in the environment committee are expected to approve their position on the use of new genomic techniques in agriculture.

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