NewsFeed n°43

Published by Elias Ricken on

The NewsFeed is a press review with a summary of a selection of articles and events that occurred in the past two weeks. Keep track!
In our brief of the last weeks, you will find a focus on Finland’s and Sweden’s request to join NATO, details on the oil embargo negotiations in Brussels, a call for more naval cooperation between France and Spain, and much more!
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Focus: Sweden and Finland NATO adhesion demand

As a part of the 5 non-aligned European countries (+ Austria, Switzerland, Ireland), Sweden and Finland have always had a neutral status towards geopolitical conflicts around Europe. This is bound to change now.

With the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24th, 2022, the public opinion in both countries has switched over and is now in favour of a NATO-membership. First Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin announced the request to join NATO for her country on May 15th. The day after, on May 16th, Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson followed with the same request for Sweden.

For NATO, Sweden and Finland´s membership changes quite a lot:

With Finland having an over 1.000km-borderline with Russia therefore effectively covering the northern gap and Sweden possessing strategically important islands in the Baltic sea, both countries bring not only a useful addition to cover up NATOs northern flank. They also help to protect the Baltic countries, and to establish control and unanimity over the Baltic Sea. Additionally, a number of reservists in the hundred thousand with adequate equipment already in stock, and an impressive proficiency in the field of civil protection, make up for a more than welcome addition for NATO.

But why even bother with a NATO-membership when both countries are already integrated in the European Union? Article 42-7 of the Brussels treaty covers up for mutual defence purposes since 2011 and is formulated even stricter than NATOs famous Article 5. And after all, NATO exercises are already conducted with both countries, since they have a special partnership-status with the defence-alliance.

Well, one has first to understand that it is all about symbolism. Even though an EU and NATO membership are seen as quite a similar thing from a Russian point of view, this political decision draws another clear line and puts the united western reaction to Putin’s aggression of war in Ukraine in a Geopolitical context.

Secondly, a full NATO membership opens the possibility for NATO Battlegroups. These military formations consist of soldiers from different NATO countries that rotate in the eastern member states to protect the Russo-European borderline. As mentioned in Newsfeed n°40 from 29.03.2022, this concept has already been extended to cover not only the three Baltic states and Poland, but also Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania just after the start of the war in Ukraine. Now, Finland and/or Sweden could potentially take part in this program. However, this is a detail that will need further discussing once the membership is through.

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Airbus Defence & Space 2022 revenue increased by 18%

The European aircraft manufacturing group Airbus has seen its defence revenues, mainly grouped in the Airbus Defence and Space and Airbus Helicopters subsidiaries, increase by 18% for the first quarter, compared to the same period in 2021. For the sole Airbus Defence & Space subsidiary, it represents a 16% increase. And for the whole year 2021, the defence revenues had decreased by 13% compared to 2020, with a strong effect of the pandemic. According to the company, this is mainly due to the signature of the contract for the MALE Eurodrone by France, Italy, Germany and Spain.

However, this does not include any impact from the current war in Ukraine, despite being with Russia an important contributor in the world aerospace supply chain.

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European Union military cooperation and external operations

Strong reinforcement of NATO air patrols on easter flank, with now more than 30 permanent aircrafts

NATO has been conducting Air Police missions in Eastern Europe for many years, with a rotation of aircrafts from member states to ensure continuity: the Enhanced Air Policing in the Baltic States and Poland, for example. However, since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the NATO presence has been strengthened on its Eastern flank.

Recently, the Allied Air Command Chief of Staff, Major General Jörg Lebert, unveiled some details on its magnitude, with several dozen fighter jets on alert and many other aircrafts, such as AWACS (Airborne Warning & Control) or multi-role tankers. In addition, the NATO permanent presence also covers Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. A Joint Force Air Component was built-up at the Allied Air Command headquarters, in Ramstein, Germany, to plan, task and control the activities.

Those activities do not only take place in the air, but also on the ground: With multinational battlegroups stationed near the Russo-European borderline as part of the NATO Enhanced Forward Presence, a special tripwire effect is intended in case of a Russian attack. The logic being, that the first contact with a NATO originating combat-ready fighting force would be directly behind the countries borderline and therefore ensuring an immediate involvement of NATO as well as an additional military hamper. Another effect is that the message of solidarity is sent to the civil population in peacetime. However, especially the Baltic states reclaim, that a bigger force, with more technological and material possibilities would be needed to maintain a defensive position until a fighting force could arrive that has the scale to hold back an invasion. Further stating: A tripwire-force might be insufficient regarding the latest developments and therefore, an actual forward presence is demanded in and by the Baltic states. How this enlargement would be proportioned between the countries, what kind of equipment would be included and if such a forward-presence-force would actually make sense from a military standpoint might be discussed in the coming months. In the meantime, small scale enlargements of the current troops are already happening.

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French parliamentarians call for a stronger partnership between France and Spain to face challenges in the Mediterranean Sea

France has in recent years established strong partnerships including defence topics with some of its neighbors: the Aachen treaty with Germany and the Quirinal treaty with Italy. However, as French parliamentarians pointed out in a recent report, Spain is not with France under a bilateral partnership worthy of the stakes they face together, especially in the Mediterranean Sea.

The cooperation is mainly on armament procurement and development, with the FCAS, the European Patrol Corvet or the Eurodrone, but without a strong operational framework. The last related common document dates back to 2013 and was established by the Defence and Security French-Spanish Council. However, Spanish political authorities seem supportive of a stronger partnership, as stated in a visit the French Defence Commission made to Madrid in September 2021.

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International relations

Western Balkans: meeting of Josep Borrell with regional leaders

Josep Borell, who represents the European Union in foreign affairs and security policy has recently made a journey to the western Balkan to reinforce the EUs relation to these states and to assure them that in the context of the Russian war against Ukraine, their geographical position close to that war is beard in mind by the EU. As a sign of that, the EUFOR troops stationed in Bosnia and Herzegovina have been reinforced by 500 more troops. It is important to note, that even though not part of the European Union, with the exception of Croatia since 2013, all of the six Balkan countries are in the process of adhesion to the European Union.

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Visit of German Foreign Affairs minister Annalena Baerbock to Kyiv and reopening of the German embassy

The German minister of foreign affairs, Ms Annalena Baerbock visited Kyiv on Mai 10th. She reinforced her country’s solidarity with Ukraine and announced the reopening of the German embassy with minimal staff.

Additionally, she announced that the German army will start training Ukrainian soldiers in the upcoming days. The training takes place at the artillery school of the German army and includes artillery pieces from both Germany and the Netherlands. Both countries use the same self-propelled-gun, the Armoured Howitzer 2000, therefore the training will be grouped in order to enhance efficiency.

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European policies

No unanimity from the 27 Member States on an agreement for an oil embargo with Russia

Major component of the sixth package of sanctions from the EU-27 against Russia, an agreement on a total embargo on crude oil was not reached on the 72nd Day of Europe, the 9th of May.

What did thus prevent the EU-27 from weakening Vladimir Putin’s regime in regards to these tremendous cash inflows that result from hydrocarbons exports to European countries?

Far beyond any geopolitical considerations, the core of the problem lies first in Europe’s layout with geography to take into account. Actually, some countries will suffer more than others because of their landlocked status making them less likely to get supplied from alternative sources. For instance, countries such as Hungary and Slovakia firstly brought this argument out to express their disapproval in light of this measure. Although provisions had been made to offer one-year exemptions to the two, negotiations became tricky since a single exception may call for other exceptions. It didn’t go far enough, and as the discussions progressed, other member countries (Bulgaria, Greece, Cyprus, Malta) pointed out their own difficulties..

Not to be mistaken, the geographical reasons early mentioned are undoubtedly real but hide behind them political support, notably from the Hungarian leader, Viktor Orban. Meanwhile, the European Commission has come up with a measure that could end in the abolition of the unanimity rule of the 27. Faced with that initiative, he said that the Commission’s proposal “undermined the unity of the EU” and that it crossed a “red line,” comparing it to “an atomic bomb.”

For the moment blocked, further negotiations are to be conducted in the coming weeks to find a joint agreement on the embargo issue.

For the moment, the situation feared by the Europeans and so hoped for by Moscow, i.e., the discord between the European countries, is catalysed by this topic and sharp national positions.

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