Analysis

The worsening security situation in Libya, where forces loyal to the leader of the self-styled Libyan National Army are attempting to seize the capital city, could make conditions even more dire for migrants in the country, the European Union’s Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs, and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos said at the Atlantic Council in Washington on April 8.

Libya is a main conduit used by traffickers to funnel migrants north onto Europe. Avramopoulos admitted that the conditions in migrant detention centers in the country, which drew international attention when a Somali man burned himself to death in November, are “a disgrace for the whole world.”

“No one wants this. Not the European Union, not the international community, and certainly not the migrants who end up there,” said Avramopoulos. He maintained that the EU is “doing everything we can to assist or evacuate people stuck there, but most importantly to avoid them ever being there in the first place.”

The European Union (EU) is entering campaign season. Between May 23 and 26, every EU member state will vote to elect the 705 members of the European Parliament, one of the key Brussels institutions alongside the European Commission and the European Council of heads of states. Ever since the first direct election by EU citizens in 1979, European parliamentary elections have often failed to excite voters. The EU legislative process is complex and Brussels seems remote to many. National parties have often used the opportunity to recycle losers of national elections or distance annoying opponents. “In Brussels No One Can Hear You Scream” was the title of a Borgen episode in which the fictional Danish prime minister “promotes” her main rival to the European Commission.


This time is different.

Amid continued criticism from US President Donald J. Trump about low defense spending levels in NATO countries, French Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly said France will “do our best, along with the Europeans, to take a larger share of the burden.” But, she continued, “we will call it ‘autonomy,’ and we will count on you to hear in this word nothing [other] than the bonds of a healthy, independent, and robust friendship.”

Despite concern about low European spending, Trump has also been critical of calls for European nations to form a common European defense force or strengthen their domestic defense industries. When French President Emmanuel Macron called for a “true, European army,” on November 6, Trump lambasted the idea, suggesting that it was an effort to “protect Europe against the US.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May’s late-night trip to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, on March 11 has secured “legally binding changes” to her Withdrawal Agreement with the European Union, which May believes can pass a vote in Parliament on March 12.

May and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced three new provisions to the Withdrawal Agreement at a press conference just before midnight on March 11—a day before members of Parliament in London are to vote on the deal.

A little less than four years ago, there was a consensus throughout Europe that Greece was Europe’s biggest headache. Athens had driven itself into economic devastation, the argument went, due to its profligate spending and uncompetitive economy and now threatened to unravel not just the European financial system, but the political unity of the European Union (EU) itself, after the election of far-left winger Alexis Tsipras. Greece became Europe’s Achilles’ heel.

What a turnaround it has been. Today, Athens has proven to be a problem solver for the transatlantic community, projecting stability and providing leadership on a vulnerable southeastern flank. Tsipras has moved in a short time from being the bad boy of Europe to now being one of its most celebrated leaders. This transformation has not been easy and, at best, is incomplete given the stagnant economy which very well could cost Tsipras his job. Nonetheless, his government has helped bring Greece back in from the cold. After weathering extraordinary challenges, Greek democracy has emerged strong; Athens, the original source of Western political thinking, can show off this brand with credibility as it heads into competitive elections this year.

MUNICH – The United States has traditionally reassured doubtful allies of its security commitment through such measures as troop reinforcements and military exercises.

However, disruptive times call for unconventional measures.

This weekend, the U.S. will forward deploy more than 40 members of Congress – including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – to the Munich Security Conference, the biggest such U.S. delegation in the 55-year history of the group, the most significant transatlantic powwow of its kind.

On February 7, France announced its decision to recall its ambassador to Rome for consultations, denouncing a “grave situation” that “has no precedent since the end of the war.” This unprecedented move came a day after Italy’s deputy prime minister, and leader of the Five Star Movement, Luigi Di Maio flew to France and met representatives of the Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Jackets) movement. In a letter to Le Monde, Di Maio justified the meeting saying: “I wanted to meet with representatives of the ‘Gilets Jaunes’ and the citizens' initiative referendum group, because I do not believe that the future of European politics lies in the parties of the right or the left.”

The meeting, and ensuing French reaction, marks a peak in the escalation of rhetoric between French President Emmanuel Macron and the leaders of Italy’s ruling Five Star-League coalition over the past eight months.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s upcoming trip to Central Europe is “the right call” by the Trump administration, according to Daniel Fried, a distinguished ambassadorial fellow at the Atlantic Council.

After the enlargement of NATO and the European Union to encompass these countries by 2004, “a lot of Americans thought our work in the region was done, and yet it was not so,” Fried explained. With US attention shifting to other regions of the world, the once very close partnerships between the United States and these countries “became eerily normal,” said Damon Wilson, executive vice president of the Atlantic Council. “Central Europe began to be taken for granted as Washington’s attention understandably shifted elsewhere.”

The signing by NATO’s twenty-nine members and Skopje of an accession protocol that would make the future Republic of North Macedonia the Alliance’s thirtieth member represents “a victory for stability, security, and reconciliation in the Western Balkans,” according to Michael Carpenter, a nonresident senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center.

“Today the Western Balkans have turned a page,” said Carpenter. “Common sense and regional reconciliation have prevailed over divisions and discord.”

Macedonia’s entry into NATO can help revitalize the Alliance, the country’s foreign minister, Nikola Dimitrov, said at the Atlantic Council in Washington on February 5.

“NATO is a family that is about security, stability, predictability, and a better and more peaceful world,” Dimitrov said, adding that “for you on the inside it is probably easy to forget how cold it is on the outside.”



    

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