Monday

21st Jan 2019

New Austrian commissioner backs EU sanctions on Russia

  • Hahn: 'We can’t make any concessions to Russia' (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

The EU’s next neighbourhood commissioner was tougher than expected on Russia at his EU parliament hearing on Tuesday (30 September).

Johannes Hahn said the bloc should maintain sanctions and that Moscow has no right to veto its neighbours’ decisions.

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

He said his “first priority” in office will be to help solve the Ukraine crisis.

“I also want to move forward in our relations with Russia, but Russia should not underestimate the European Union’s resolve to stand by its principles … until [Ukraine’s] territorial integrity has been restored, we can’t make any concessions to Russia”.

Asked by one MEP if the EU’s offer of free trade deals to Russia’s neighbours caused the confrontation, Hahn added: “I don’t think you can accuse the EU of pursuing an expansionist policy … it [whether to integrate with the EU or Russia] is the sovereign prerogative of each country and, logically, of its people, to decide on”.

He also said the content of the EU-Ukraine trade agreement should not be altered despite Russia’s demands.

The Austrian politician has, for the past five years, looked after the European Commission’s regional policy.

Diplomats from Ukraine and some eastern EU states are wary of his change of dossier because Austria is one of the most Russia-friendly EU states.

But Hahn’s remarks on Tuesday reflect the prevailing mood, with EU countries’ ambassadors the same day opting to maintain economic sanctions on Russia despite the ceasefire in Ukraine.

With Hahn to also take care of “enlargement negotiations”, he told parliament that “with regard to the [EU] countries that don’t recognise Kosovo, I think there’s some movement starting there”.

He later told press he plans to hold talks with each of the five non-recognisers - Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia, and Spain - at the oustet of his term.

He also spoke firmly on Turkey.

When one MEP noted that Turkey has jailed more journalists than China or Iran, Hahn said: “It’s unacceptable that anybody is jailed for reasons related to freedom of expression and this is something you can be assured I will address in the accession negotiations”.

He added that no new “chapters” in the EU entry talks will be opened until Ankara “proves over a time period” that it is serious on reform.

Hahn’s boss, Jean-Claude Juncker, had earlier said there will be no new EU countries in the next five years.

But Hahn noted this is a reflection of the state of play, rather than a policy change: “We just started negotiations with Serbia, last year with Montenegro - if you look at the average duration of negotiations, it can’t be expected we will conclude very soon”.

Some euro-deputies voiced concern he is more interested in the EU’s eastern flank than in the south.

But Hahn replied that security issues, such as the Arab-Israeli conflict or Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara, are primarily for the EU foreign relations chief.

“We must not get into a situation where too many cooks spoil the broth”, he said.

With some conflicts, such as Cyprus-Turkey, also falling into his lap, he added: “I’m new to the world of diplomacy and I don’t want to be a bull in a china shop … I want to speak to experts in the area and I don’t want to make grand promises [here]”.

He also found time for humour in the three-hour hearing.

Asked by one MEP whether he is more of a neighbourhood or enlargement commissioner, Hahn replied: “I’m both. You can move to your next question”.

Asked how the EU can help rebuild Ukraine, he turned to the meeting's chairman, who was being strict on speaking time, and said: “First, let me ask: Do I have one or one and a half minutes to explain the future of Ukraine?”

Ukraine wary of EU's Russia gas deal

The EU is keen for Ukraine to accept a winter deal on Russian gas, but Ukraine is wary of the terms and of broader EU-Russia energy ties.

Russia threatens EU states with gas cut-offs

Russian energy minister Novak has warned that EU states which re-export gas to Ukraine will face cut-offs, with Hungary already stopping its reverse flow.

News in Brief

  1. Germany sent 8,658 asylum-seekers to other EU states
  2. Poll: Macron popularity up four percent
  3. 'Economy is broken' says Oxfam in global inequality report
  4. Vestager under pressure to allow Siemens-Alstom deal
  5. Teargas and clashes in Athens over Macedonia name change
  6. EU trade commissioner asks for green light for US talks
  7. Slovakia's commissioner takes unpaid leave to run for presidency
  8. Minority elects Lofven as prime minister of Sweden

Analysis

China's 2019 growth outlook

As China's growth seems to be slowing, some observers see the country amid what the New York Times called a "severe downturn". As they mistake China's secular deceleration with cyclical fluctuations, they miss the rapid increase in Chinese living standards.

Opinion

The Azov crisis will backfire

Vladimir Putin's nightmare of Petro Poroshenko's re-election will be even certain as Ukrainians rally around the flag. Next March's election is not just to elect a new president but also a commander-in-chief to deal with five more years of Putin.

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

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

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us