Hardly any other European country is currently as badly affected by the corona pandemic as Belgium. The number of reported infections in the past two weeks was 139 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. Only five countries in the EU had higher values during this period. It was therefore only a matter of time before the virus reached the circles of top politicians. In the middle of the week it became known that a bodyguard of Charles Michel was infected. The Belgian EU Council President had to be quarantined and the special summit of the heads of state and government planned for Thursday and Friday was postponed by a week.
The shift is symbolic of the current situation of the union of states, which is making slow progress in its crisis management. Not only Brexit and its consequences are a constant topic that should be on the agenda again at the summit. The British left the European Union at the beginning of the year. But things get complicated again because the London government wants to violate parts of the Brexit treaty with a single market law. The British plans could override special clauses for Northern Ireland, which should avoid a hard border with the EU state Ireland.
In addition, many other conflicts are smoldering within the EU and with its direct neighbors. After the European Commission presented its proposal for a migration pact this week, there was opposition from Hungary and the Czech Republic. The governments of these countries do not like the fact that their states should be obliged in exceptional cases to accept refugees. They also demand negotiations with dictatorships in North Africa over so-called hotspots, where the refugees are then crammed together and registered. The idea is not new, but so far there are no corresponding agreements with the North Africans.
Even so, the EU has found ways to stop asylum seekers before they reach Europe. To this end, the European Union is cooperating with the so-called Libyan Coast Guard, among others. She was trained by the Europeans and supported with technical means. A report recently presented by Amnesty International documents human rights violations committed against refugees who were picked up by the “coast guard” in the Mediterranean and brought back to Libya. Unlawful killings, enforced disappearances and exploitation of migrants are on the agenda, the report says. The perpetrators are both state and non-state actors.
War has raged in Libya since the fall of Muammar al-Gaddafi in 2011. The EU states decided on Monday to sanction individual companies from Turkey, Jordan and Kazakhstan for violating the UN arms embargo on Libya. These measures are rather symbolic given the large number of actors involved in the conflict. The government in Tripoli is militarily supported by Turkey, the opposition General Khalifa Haftar by a number of other countries, including Egypt and Jordan. It remains contradictory that the Federal Republic of Germany, for example, endorses the EU’s sanctions, but delivers armaments to countries that are involved in the Libyan conflict and create causes of flight.
This applies to Turkey, among others. When the conflict over natural gas in the Eastern Mediterranean between Greece and Cyprus on the one hand and Turkey on the other was discussed at the EU level and the question arose as to whether one should proceed with sanctions against Turkey, the German government counted the brakes. Differences between Germany and France also became clear here. In the war in Libya, the French and Turks support different parties. The government in Paris is considered an ally of the rebel General Haftar. The French want to curb Turkey’s drive for power in the Mediterranean region as a whole and have therefore held military maneuvers with Cyprus and Greece. President Emmanuel Macron recently noted that he saw “no more partner” in Turkey and threatened sanctions in the dispute over drilling rights in the Aegean.
The federal government, on the other hand, did its utmost to prevent tough action by EU states against the country, which is ruled authoritarian by head of state Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, because, in its view, it should not be lost as an economic and geostrategic NATO partner. In addition, Erdoğan can use the numerous refugees who are in his country and would like to travel on to Europe as a means of pressure against the EU.
That is why Erdoğan does not have to be too afraid of very strict punitive measures by the European Union. Its partners there also tend to overlook the fact that Turkey is acting as an aggressor in the region not only with its military activities in Libya, but also through its raids on Kurdish areas in Syria. The federal government in particular is relying on amicable agreements with Erdoğan. For this, important prerequisites have now been created. After talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel and Charles Michel, the Turkish President has shown himself ready for a dialogue with Greece.
Cyprus now lacks reasons to continue to block the EU’s sanctions against Belarus. The island state only wanted to agree to this if punitive measures were also decided against Turkey. The latter should be off the table after the offer of dialogue, when there are no more major provocations from Ankara.
The EU basically agrees that it wants to create a threat against the Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. Despite allegations of election fraud and major protests, he remains in office. Because the European Union’s plans are not going fast enough for them, the Baltic states have already taken their own steps. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania recently agreed to expand punitive measures against more than 100 people who are held responsible for the fraudulent presidential election in Belarus and the violence against peaceful demonstrators. Those affected are thus prohibited from entering the three Baltic EU countries.