13th Apr 2024


New Red Sea mission and more Russia sanctions This WEEK

  • An EU naval mission to the Red Sea to defend commercial shipping is expected to be launched on Monday (Photo:
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Foreign affairs ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday (19 February) will announce the launch of the EU's new Red Sea naval mission — Aspides — aimed at protecting EU-linked commercial ships from attacks by the Houthi rebel group in Yemen. 

German, French, and Italian frigates are already in the region and set to begin operations, as Houthis continue to fire on Western ships in the name of solidarity with Palestinians in Israel's Gaza war.

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Ministers were hoping to agree the 13th round of Russia sanctions, which includes the blacklisting of 193 mostly Russian individuals and entities.

But these are still being fine-tuned, with EU ambassadors to discuss details on Wednesday, amid Hungarian objections to EU export curbs on a handful of Chinese firms accused of helping Russia buy prohibited arms technology.

The sanctions are meant to be in place for the two-year anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine on Saturday (24 February) — and in the aftermath of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny's death in prison last Friday.

EU diplomats are also continuing talks on an EU blacklist of Israeli settlers, as well as extra listings of individuals from Palestinian group Hamas, but Israel's EU allies, the Czechs and Hungarians, are continuing to block the anti-settler move, an EU diplomat said last Friday.

EU sanctions against Russia will be also on the agenda of ministers in charge of European affairs on Tuesday (20 February), when they are meeting in Brussels to start arranging the next European Council at the end of March.

At the request of the Polish government, EU ministers will also listen to Warsaw's plans to improve the rule of law in the country.

In 2017, the EU commission triggered the so-called Article 7 punishment procedure against Poland after the previous PiS government's highly-controversial judicial overhaul.

An official evaluation of the Article 7 procedure against Poland is expected in June. But potential reforms and improvements in the country could trigger the withdrawal of this process.

On the same day, EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell and the prime minister of Georgia, Irakli Kobakhidze, will meet in Brussels to discuss how to move forward with Georgia's EU accession aspirations, trade matters and security policy.

During the December EU Council meeting, leaders agreed to grant open accession negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova and grant candidate status to Georgia.

On Friday (23 February), the Eurogroup will meet to discuss the future of European capital and financial markets as EU economic and financial affairs ministers hold informal talks this week in Ghent, Belgium.

The European Commission will put forward a connectivity package on Wednesday (21 February), including measures to overcome challenges in rolling out infrastructure.

The European Commission's 2023 Report on the State of the Digital Decade warns that the EU is "far" from achieving its connectivity targets, as fibre networks only reach 56 percent of households and the deployment of 5G is lagging behind the US.

EU member states are expected to map their connectivity gaps and explore ways of financing, taking into consideration the need to reach rural and remote areas.

With rules under the Digital Service Act (DSA) now fully in force, the European Board of Digital Services are expected to meet early next week. The DSA is a flagship legislation designed to tackle inline disinformation and illegal content.

Meanwhile, EU trade commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis will have an exchange of views with MEP in the trade committee on Monday.

Which city?

In the European Parliament, political groups will prepare for the second plenary session of the month in Strasbourg, taking place next week.

MEPs in the home affairs and economy committees will vote on which EU city should host the future Anti-Money Laundering Authority (AMLA) on Thursday (22 February). In the evening they will make a decision together with the EU council.

The nine candidate cities are Rome, Vienna, Vilnius, Riga, Frankfurt, Dublin, Madrid, Brussels and Paris.

Also on Thursday, lawmakers in the internal market committee will adopt their position on the overhaul of the EU customs system and new rules aimed at speeding up payments by public administrations and between businesses.

They will also 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.

An exchange of views on the rule of law and protection of the EU budget in Slovakia between commission officials and MEPs responsible for budgetary matters will also be held on Thursday. Slovakia's populist Robert Fico returned to power after winning elections last October.


Will Russia soon control the Red Sea?

As if the military presence of Iran and China in the Red Sea was not enough to be worried, everything seems to indicate that Russia too will soon have a military base there, and in Sudan.

Plenary session, single market and economy in focus this WEEK

This week, get ready to dive into another plenary session of the EU Parliament and an agenda packed with economic and financial issues, ahead of a special EU summit in Brussels that will focus on competitiveness and the economy.

Environment, Ukraine imports, fish and Easter this WEEK

This week, expect no more than talks on environment, agriculture and fisheries, including discussions between the Polish and Ukrainian governments over angry protests by Polish farmers objecting to cheap grain imports from Ukraine.

EU summit, Gaza, Ukraine, reforms in focus this WEEK

This week, EU leaders come together in Brussels for their usual two-day summit to discuss defence, enlargement, migration and foreign affairs. EU ministers for foreign affairs and EU affairs will meet earlier in the week to prepare the European Council.


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