NewsFeed n°34

Published by Brice on

The NewsFeed is a press review with a summary of a selection of articles and events that occurred in the past 2 weeks. Keep track!
In our brief of the last weeks, you will find a focus on the tensions with Russia at the Ukrainian border, the programme of the French presidency of the EU, the new Defence and Foreign Affairs ministers of Germany, the launch of the EU-US Defence and Security dialogue, and much more!
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Focus: Tensions between Russia and Ukraine lead to international reactions 

Beginning of December, a significant troops positioning has been detected in Russia along the Ukrainian border, despite the end of the Zapad 21 exercise with Belarus. US officials have been especially worried by the fact that lines of logistics and supply sufficient to support a 7 to 10 days attack have been detected. It is contrary to the previous positioning last April, making the threat of an invasion beginning of 2022 more realistic.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov denied any intention to invade Ukraine. However, he asked for security guarantees from the western block that Ukraine will not join NATO. Otherwise, “of course we will take measures to ensure that our security, our sovereignty and our territorial integrity do not depend on anyone else”, he said.

The United States and the European Union have studied their options concerning the sanctions they could impose. It could consist in the suspension of the Nord Stream gas pipeline construction, or in cutting Russia from the SWIFT network, a global financial settlement system, a red line for Russia and some European countries which fear the Russian reactions would be too harsh.

To decrease the tensions, a virtual summit between Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin has been organised on December 7th.  This is a first victory for the Russian president, who wanted to deal directly with the US, after refusing an offer from the French President Macron to meet in the Normandy format with Germany and Ukraine. Joe Biden claimed in the encounter that in case of an invasion, they were ready to take measures they did not take after Crimea was annexed, including sending troops. Putin’s key message, on the other hand, was that Western military activity was a threat to Russia.

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On December 7th, the European Defence Agency, the EDA, held its Annual Conference with the theme “Innovation in European Defence”

The High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, also Head of the agency, delivered an opening speech where he highlighted the necessity to innovate for Europe, as it will “determine the position of Europe on the global stage in the years to come”. He added that “those who gain a technological edge and set the standards today will dominate the future”, especially on Emerging Disruptive Technologies (EDTs) such as Artificial Intelligence.

The speed at which the civilian sector develops these technologies leads him to state that it is becoming increasingly associated with the defence sector, to weaponise such technologies.

A call was also made on the budget effort for innovation, as the Member States spend overall 1.2% of their defence spending in innovation (according to 2020 figures), where the United States reach 2% and the PESCO commitment also sets the bar at 2%.

He called EDA to play its full role on these issues. A Defence Innovation Hub is expected as an deliverables of the Strategic Compass: it would create a network of defence innovation centres in Europe and promote synergies with the industrial sector.

Charles Michel, the President of the European Council, also delivered a keynote speech during the conference. Recalling how high defence and security was on the Council’s agenda, as well as cooperation with NATO, he called the EDA to help link Member States’ national authorities with each other and with EU institutions, to avoid “duplication of our efforts and wasting our resources”.

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Finland chooses the Lockheed-Martin F-35 to replace its Boeing F-18 Hornet

Finland launched the purchase process for new fighter jets, after that a first report in 2015 identified the need to replace the Boeing Hornet fleet. A Request for Quotations was filed in 2018, and the final tenders were required for April 2021. Boeing, Dassault, Eurofighter, Lockheed-Martin and Saab were the ones to submit an offer.

On December 10th, the Finnish government officialised their choice for 64 Lockheed-Martin F-35 worth €8.4 billion, basing its decision on its requirements on procurement security, industrial cooperation and costs. Operational capacities were also estimated better compared to its competitors. Procurement security is focused on maintenance, with the building of national capacities, and the industrial cooperation concerns mainly the aircraft’s forward frame and the final assembly of the engines,

This makes Finland the 5th country in the European Union and the 9th in the continent to choose the F-35, already used by its close neighbours, Norway and Denmark.

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European Union military cooperation and external operations

The Bundeswehr gives farewell to Angela Merkel during its most honorific ceremony

In Germany, the links between the Head of State, the Chancellor, are not very strong since the Bundeswehr is more of a parliamentary army. However, the Bundeswehr organises a very traditional farewell ceremony when a chancellor leaves office, called the “Grosser Zapfenstreich” or Grand Tattoo, such as the one that was held December 2nd for Angela Merkel. It is the most important ceremonial act performed by the armed forces, and can also be performed for the German President. It therefore gives an interesting insight on a side of the German Armed Forces role in the German society.

It is mainly centred around a musical parade, with specific musical pieces and four chosen by the honoured personality. On that matter, Angela Merkel’s choice of an East-Germany punk song, Du hast den Farbfilm vergessen (You forgot the colour film) by Nina Hagen, was noticed. Soldiers wear a combat helmet and a ceremony uniform.

In the address she delivered at this occasion, she confessed feeling before all gratitude and humility, and underlined the importance of trust, as the main asset in politics.

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Internation relations

The new German government has taken office

The new members of the German government have taken oath on December 8th, including a new Minister of Defence, Christine Lambrecht, and a new Minister of Foreign Affairs, Annalena Baerbock.

Christine Lambrecht (SPD), replacing Annagret Kramp-Karrenbauer, was already in Merkel’s government (Justice, then Family Affairs) since 2019 as part of the coalition with the CDU/CSU. During her taking office address, she identified the following challenges: the security environment, equipment and procurement, operations abroad, that she wants to control thoroughly, attractivity and consideration of the Bundeswehr. 

Annalena Baerbock, Head of the Greens, was appointed Minister for Foreign Affairs. She dedicated her first visit abroad to NATO and the EU, in Brussels. She underlined that a strong German foreign policy requires a strong Europe. Olaf Scholz, the new German Chancellor, made its first visits abroad in France and Brussels.

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France unveils the programme of its presidency of the EU

On December 9th, Emmanuel Macron, President of the French Republic, made a press conference where he detailed the programme France will follow during its presidency of the EU, from January to June 2022.

The presidency’s motto is: “Recovery, belonging, power”. It focuses on 5 axes: a greener, more digital, more social, more humane and more sovereign Europe.

On the latter, many targets are identified for this 6-month programme:

  • A reform of the Schengen area will be initiated, to create a political mechanism of border control, as well as a crisis mechanism that will rely on the Frontex agency and national agencies when needed. Discussions have however already started in the EU, as the commission is expected to present a proposition in December.
  • The European Defence agenda will be pushed forward: in particular, the Strategic Compass process, launched during the German presidency, is expected to be completed in March 2022.
  • A summit gathering the leaders of the European Union and of the African Union will be organised, with the objective to limit migrations
  • A conference on the Western Balkans, a growing subject for the EU as they have a key geographical position, will be organised in June

The French programme is ambitious, but may be facing an agenda struggle as the French presidential election will take place in April 2022, after France declined offers to report the presidency. It will shorten the real period during which the country will be able to push its projects, between campaign ceasefire and the set of a new ministerial team after the election.

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Launch of the EU-US dialogue on Security and Defence

On December 4th, the Secretary of State of the United States, Antony J. Blinken, and the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, jointly announced the launch of the EU-US dialogue on Security and Defence.

First envisioned in June 2021, by a joint statement, this dialogue will support the “need to develop coherent, complementary and interoperable capabilities”, and the “fullest involvement of the United States in EU defence initiatives”. A first meeting will be held in early 2022, with the US Departments of State and Defence, the European External Action Service, the European Commission and the European Defence Agency (EDA). The need for such a disposition was recently strengthened by the AUKUS crisis.

They also welcomed the approval by the EDA of a negotiating mandate for an Administrative Agreement with the US. It is a prerequisite for third parties to take part in EDA projects and programmes, like Norway, Switzerland, Serbia and Ukraine did.

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New step in Lithuania-China tensions, on which the European Union brings its support

After first tensions in October between China and the European Union, following a EU Parliament report urging the Commission to engage a bilateral investment deal with Taiwan, and a visit from Lithuanian officials in the island, suspicions have raised that some Lithuanian shipments had not been cleared through the Chinese customs, and import implications had being rejected. As the EU diplomatic services are working to clarify the situation, Josep Borrell ensured that the EU would “assess the compatibility of China’s action with its obligations under the World Trade Organisation.” He also added the bilateral relation with a member state could impact the overall EU-China relation.

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European policies

MEPs publish their annual report on CSDP and CFSP

The Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) from the Foreign Affairs Committee adopted a first version of their annual report on the Common Security and Defence Policy of the European Union.

It highlights the now widely shared analysis that new and evolving threats are emerging, blurring the difference between peace and war, such as cyber-attacks, instrumentalization of migration and hybrid threats.

As the Covid-19 pandemic exposed the EU’s insufficient coordination and dependencies vis-à-vis other countries, the work on the Strategic Compass is saluted as a major step towards a more genuine European Union. The report calls the Europe to act autonomously where necessary, while respecting alliances and partnerships, notably NATO and the UN.

Concerning CSDP missions and operations, the stress was put on the importance to provide military missions with more flexible, tailored and robust mandates. A “rapid entry capacity”,  already discussed in the Strategic Compass, is also supported, with air, maritime and special forces components.

Another report, on the Common Foreign and Security Policy, focused on the need for Europe to tackle global challenges, defend democratic values through its example, and speak with one voice. To that extent, the introduction of the qualified majority voting was suggested. It also welcomed the Global Gateway initiative, aiming to invest in infrastructures and digital networks consistent with EU values.

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