Key Events This Week
Germany refuses to join US Persian Gulf mission
Germany has refused a request from the United States to join their mission in the Persian Gulf. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said it was “out of the question” that Germany would take part. The Germans are in close contact with the French, and Maas views the US strategy of “maximum pressure” as wrong, preferring to rely on diplomacy to deescalate the situation.
Tensions have been rising between the United States and Iran since the Trump administration pulled out of the international nuclear deal, re-imposing sanctions. A series of attacks on oil tankers, and ultimately the seizure of a British-flagged tanker passing through the Strait of Hormuz led the US to announce their strategy. The request for Germany to join the mission comes after sustained US pressure on the country to increase military spending in line with NATO commitments.
Earlier in the week, Germany’s newly appointed Defence Minister and leader of the ruling CDU Party, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, did not rule out participating in an EU mission. The question of defence and military intervention is a difficult one in Germany: the country prefers to act with hesitance and restraint given its difficult history, and military engagement can only happen with Bundestag approval. The CDU’s coalition partner, the SPD, and others expressed scepticism about a joint mission with the US. Meanwhile, Britain has called for a European maritime mission in the Gulf, and has asked to meet the US, France and other European countries in Bahrain next week to discuss.
Boris Johnson visits Northern Ireland
Boris Johnson continued his tour of the UK with a visit to Northern Ireland on Wednesday where he met with the five main political parties at Stormont House to discuss Brexit and the possibility of reinstating a power-sharing government. On his first prime ministerial visit to Northern Ireland, Johnson pledged to do everything possible to restore power-sharing in Belfast which has been suspended since January 2017, and reaffirmed his commitment to upholding the Good Friday Agreement.
Despite insisting that he will act with “absolute impartiality” when engaging with Northern Ireland’s political parties, the newly-elected Prime Minister held a dinner with the leader of the pro-Brexit Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Arlene Foster, and other senior party members. The meeting came ahead of a review of the Conservative Party’s confidence and supply deal with the DUP whose support keeps Johnson’s minority government in power in Westminster.
Following a meeting with Mr Johnson, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald reportedly told the British Prime Minister that the “ongoing indulgence of the DUP and rejectionist unionism has got to stop” while the Social Democratic and Labour Party deputy leader Nichola Mallon echoed similar negative sentiments and spoke of her “blunt” engagement with Johnson.
Earlier on Tuesday, it emerged that Johnson had spoken by phone to the Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar – the first contact between the two leaders since Mr Johnson took over as Prime Minister. In a 15 minute call, the new PM reiterated his pledge to take the U.K. out of the European Union on October 31st come what may and said that any new deal must see the backstop – the insurance policy to avoid a hard border in Ireland – abolished. Following the call, the Taoiseach’s office issued a statement saying that Mr Varadkar emphasised to Mr Johnson that the backstop was “necessary as a consequence” of the decisions taken by the UK. He reaffirmed the EU’s unity on their position that the Withdrawal Agreement will not be reopened.
Mr Johnson faced his first electoral test in a by-election on Thursday which resulted in his parliamentary majority being reduced to one. The Conservatives failed to retain the Welsh seat of Brecon and Radnorshire, with the pro-European Liberal Democrats securing victory.
Von der Leyen’s charm offensive tour of Europe
European Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen continued her charm offensive tour of European capitals to discuss various contentious EU policies, including migration, climate targets and the rule of law.
After stops last week in Berlin and Paris, where she met with Chancellor Angela Merkel, and President Emmanuel Macron, this week’s meetings with Spain’s Pedro Sanchez in Madrid and Italy’s Giuseppe Conte ensured Von der Leyen met with the EU’s political heavyweights. She also visited Central and Eastern European leaders in Poland, Croatia, the Czech Republic and Hungary, nations that have previously had sharp tensions with Brussels.
After meeting with Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic on Tuesday, von der Leyen said that her political goal is to “rebalance the east and the west, to balance the north and the south”, because the “world is calling for more Europe and needs a strong European voice.” She also noted that she would try to achieve balance between bigger and smaller countries, as well as new members, such as Croatia. In Warsaw, similar topics including the Commission posts, sustainable development, prosperity and security were discussed with the Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. Von der Leyen’s visits come as she seeks to build political consensus for her new policy program. However, as was evident in her slim victory in last month’s European Parliament vote, she has a bumpy ride ahead.
The European Parliament is set to vote on the composition of the new Commission in October with hearings set to place after the summer recess. A strong advocate for gender equality, von der Leyen has promised to ensure that half of her Commissioners are women. She repeated her calls for member states to submit their nominations, one of which should be a woman, to the European Commission by 26 August. However, only six of the sixteen member states who have put forward their nominees so far have selected women.
Saturday 24 – Monday 26 August – G7 Summit (Biarritz)
Monday 26 August – Informal meeting of Defence Ministers (Helsinki)
Thursday 29 August – Informal meeting of Foreign Affairs Ministers (Helsinki)
Compliments of Vulcan Consulting, a member of the EACCNY