Friday

25th Sep 2020

Ashton designates six new 'strategic partners'

  • Ms Ashton talking with the Spanish (c) and French foreign ministers at the summit (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton has indicated that Egypt, Israel, Indonesia, Pakistan, Ukraine and South Korea could join the EU's existing list of privileged or "strategic" partners.

Ms Ashton put forward the new names in a powerpoint presentation at a meeting of EU leaders and foreign ministers in Brussels on Thursday (16 September). The roll-call of six countries ended with a "..." to indicate that the club remains open to other up-and-coming powers, an EU diplomatic source said.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

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

... or subscribe as a group

The same powerpoint presentation listed Brazil, Canada, China, India, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa and the US as the set of existing strategic partners.

The term "strategic partner" is ill-defined in EU usage. In practice, it means boosting a foreign country's diplomatic status and organising summits and extra minister-level and expert-level meetings. But it can also be taken to mean an alternative to fully-fledged EU membership.

"It's like love - no one can define it. You only know what it is when you experience it," the EU diplomatic contact added.

Another diplomat remarked that the term had been thought up a few years ago "without anyone ever really defining what it meant and whether, indeed, the others regard us as their strategic partners."

Ms Ashton's list has no official status and was put forward as part of a general brainstorming session on how to make the EU more effective on the world stage.

But it has the potential to stir controversy. EU plans to upgrade EU relations with Israel were put on hold after its attack on Gaza in 2009. Asked by reporters after the meeting if Ms Ashton plans to unfreeze the upgrade, she said: "There's no discussions at the moment with Israel."

In the case of Ukraine, inclusion on the list could be taken as a sign that EU accession is not an option. The omission of Turkey could be good news for its EU bid.

Speaking at the post-summit press conference, EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy said a rethink of EU foreign policy is needed in the wake of the 2009 Copenhagen climate change conference, where the US clinched a deal with developing countries while the EU was out of the room.

"The perception is that the EU was sidelined," he said. "We have started to realise how the economic strength of developing countries is transforming into real political power."

EU commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said: "Even the biggest one of the member states is not as big as any one of our strategic partners."

The protocol at the EU's foreign-policy-focused summit highlighted the Lisbon Treaty's lack of clarity on the Van Rompuy-Ashton pecking order.

The treaty says Mr Van Rompuy is to "ensure the external representation of the union ... without prejudice" to Ms Ashton. The baroness did not feature in the official press conference, however. And she hovered on the edge of the EU family photo.

"The power lies where you have the machinery, the troops, the soldiers. And the EU's foreign policy machinery is in the EEAS," an EU official said, referring to Ms Ashton's European External Action Service.

"It's normal that Van Rompuy keeps a small secretariat dealing with foreign policy. She has no problem with that. Lady Ashton has de facto 136 ambassadors at her disposal. She has their mobile phones. There's no comparison."

Exclusive

'Big Three' EP groups nominate homophobe for Sakharov prize

The centre-right EPP, centre-left S&D, and liberal Renew Europe have all nominated a homophobe for the Sakharov prize - the prestigious annual prize handed out by the European Parliament to people who defend human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Analysis

The State of the Union speech - digested

The 61-year old former German defence minister, who only narrowly won the backing of MEPs last year, outlined not a vision, but an ambitious list of policies to tackle - including more health care competencies to the EU.

EU regions: pandemic should force decision-making rethink

EU regions say the upcoming Conference on the Future of Europe is a "timely opportunity" to debate how to make local and regional authorities full- involved in the EU response to Covid-19 - even including possible EU treaty changes.

Exclusive

Far-right MEP resigns from EU Endowment for Democracy

French far-right MEP Thierry Mariani said he is resigning as a board member of the European Endowment for Democracy. His replacement may be Jerome Riviere - another far-right French MEP from the Identity and Democracy group.

Irish MEP picked as new finance commissioner

Mairead McGuinness's nomination will have to be signed off by the European Parliament, where the Irish MEP is a well-respected first vice-president of the assembly.

News in Brief

  1. Belgium: masks no longer mandatory from October
  2. Report: China built 380 Muslim internment camps
  3. Belgian government formation in final phase
  4. Lukashenko sworn in at secret ceremony
  5. Study: No-deal Brexit more costly than corona for UK
  6. Polish miners in underground protest against energy plan
  7. EU animal farming emits more CO2 than cars
  8. Navalny leaves Berlin hospital after poisoning attempt

Opinion

Why so few women in EU missions?

Angela Merkel is only the seventh woman to chair the Council of the European Union's meetings. And in 2020 there is no woman leading any of the current 11 European civilian missions (let alone the six military operations).

Commission chief under fire for Croatia campaign video

EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen recorded a video in support of Croatia's ruling party, which the EU executive said was in her "personal capacity" - and admits it was a "mistake" that this was not made clear.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council meets Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaja
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to invest DKK 250 million in green digitalised business sector
  3. UNESDAReducing packaging waste – a huge opportunity for circularity
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID-19 halts the 72nd Session of the Nordic Council in Iceland
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCivil society a key player in integration
  6. UNESDANext generation Europe should be green and circular

Latest News

  1. EU migration pact to deter asylum
  2. 'Era of EU naivety ends', MEP pledges on foreign meddling
  3. Anti-mask protesters pose challenge for EU authorities
  4. EU 'failed' to safeguard civic freedoms during pandemic
  5. The corruption fuelling the Bulgaria protests
  6. EU countries stuck on rule of law-budget link
  7. EU states struggle to better sync Covid-19 measures
  8. EP groups drop homophobe from Sakharov prize

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNEW REPORT: Eight in ten people are concerned about climate change
  2. UNESDAHow reducing sugar and calories in soft drinks makes the healthier choice the easy choice
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersGreen energy to power Nordic start after Covid-19
  4. European Sustainable Energy WeekThis year’s EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) will be held digitally!
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic states are fighting to protect gender equality during corona crisis
  6. UNESDACircularity works, let’s all give it a chance

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us