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Informal summit between European Union and Turkey: Speech by European Parliament President Martin Schulz

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Martin-Schulz-014"Ladies and gentlemen,

"Today's (29 November) summit between the European Union and Turkey is an exceptional step: never before has the European Union held a European Council meeting together with a candidate country. This step is more than justified in light of the value we attach to our relationship and the dramatic crisis we are facing together.

"The horrendous civil war in Syria has in its wake created one of the worst humanitarian crises of this century. With well over 200.000 dead and 12 million forced to flee their homes from the brutality of Daesh and from Assad, the country has according to Ban Ki-moon lost the equivalent of four decades of human development and is at risk of losing an entire generation deprived of education and traumatized by war.

Four in five Syrians live in poverty. Unique cultural heritage like the ancient city of Palmyra has been destroyed at the hand of the jihadists. But these crimes against the cultural heritage of mankind pale in comparison to the atrocities committed against human beings. Daesh's disregard for human life and dignity is unmatched in today's world. The recent terrorist attacks in Paris, Tunis and in Ankara have been a painful reminder that these terrorists are set on exporting their totalitarian ideology and their barbarity to our countries.

"Without doubt, the European Union and Turkey are called upon to together fight terrorism and strengthen security, to together bring about a peaceful transition in Syria and eliminate Daesh as a threat to international security and human life. And let me add, the downing of  the Russian jet cannot be allowed to undermine efforts to join forces in the fight against Daesh and to coordinate the efforts. But we must also deal together with the humanitarian consequences of the Syrian war, especially in managing the refugee crisis in a humane and effective way.      Ladies and gentlemen,  the European Parliament is willing to take responsibility in this crisis and deliver.

"This week the European Parliament has again strongly voiced its disappointment that member states time and again fail to follow- up on their promises and pledges; while the European institutions deliver every step of the way.     Most urgently we must address the dire situation many refugees find themselves in, both within Syria itself and in the countries they have fled. Since the summer, the European Union has taken in huge numbers of refugees. Unfortunately, the task is being shared highly unequally.

"And the obstacles we have already - or still have - to overcome in doing so have only heightened our estimation for the fact that Turkey has kept its borders open for people fleeing the civil war and for its efforts displayed towards the refugees. I myself was very impressed by my visit to the refugee camp Kilis. Yet, only about 15 per cent of the Syrian refugees live in one of the 25 refugee camps. Providing this level of care to all the refugees - 2 million more Syrian refugees are currently in Turkey- indeed is akin to a Herculean task.

"Therefore, the European Parliament wants to support Syrian refugees and persons under temporary protection by funding access to education, health care, public services and the labour market, and this is the objective of the 3 billion Euro Refugee Facility for Turkey for the next two years discussed between Vice- President Timmermans and the Prime Minister Davutoglu.     I would like to congratulate Prime Minister Davutoglu on the 2013 asylum reform, which puts Turkey on a convergence path towards our own EU asylum system. We do hope that you continue on this track, e.g. solving remaining issues including access to the labour market. Access to work and education are key for the future of refugees. If we do not act now we risk losing an entire generation. Children already traumatized by war must get the school education they need and deserve.

"Therefore, the European Parliament has done everything in its power to make much needed funds available: This Wednesday we have adopted an amending budget which will decrease member state contributions for 2016 by €9.4 billion. Out of these "windfall" revenue we want to see €2.3bn devoted to the refugee crisis. So far, the Council until today is not cooperating. In the direction of the EU heads of states assembled around this table I therefore say: please urge your ministers in the Council to agree to dedicate these supplementary funds to humanitarian relief for Syrian refugees. We cannot repeat the same mistakes. This summer the World Food Program run out of money and was forced to decrease its aid to Syrian refugees, because its cries for help went unheard. What a humanitarian scandal! UNHCR Special Representative Antonio Guterres stated that the lack of funding was the trigger for the migration flow reaching Europe in the last months. Surely, we cannot let the cry for help from the Syrians under temporary protection in Turkey go unheard, nor can we fail to assist a close partner like Turkey in dealing with such an enormous challenge.

"That being said I also want to highlight the efforts of two other countries in the region: Lebanon and Jordan are under enormous strain and do deserve our support, too. I would like to raise three more issues on which the European Parliament is committed to achieving progress fast.

"First, the visa liberalization dialogue. The intensive technical preparations on the Turkish side, with EU support, should continue at full speed. Progress in this area is doubly useful also in view of the accession negotiations where visa policy is of course part of the acquis.

"Second, the date of application of the elements of the 2013 EU-Turkey readmission agreement must be brought forward, especially the elements concerning third-country nationals.

"Third, borders. To the EU member states around this table I want to address a very clear message: the Schengen area will only survive if we accept the management of our external borders as our shared responsibility. We must find ways for effective border controls and management. And cooperate operationally as a Union with partners such as Turkey on the management of our borders.

"Prime Minister Davutoglu, please allow me to also address you concerning border issues. During my recent visit to the island of Lesbos I witnessed together with Prime Minister Tsipras a rubber boat struggling through the waves to reach the shore. I was deeply moved by this experience. Yet, on Lesbos this is "business as usual". We cannot stand by and watch as more refugees put their lives in the hands of ruthless human smugglers. We expect the Turkish government to fight human smuggling and trafficking networks effectively on its territory, including through its coastguard. And we also ask you to secure your border with Syria. About one hundred kilometres of your border with Syria remain in the hands of the murderous gang of the so-called Islamic State. You are as we are affected by movements of foreign fighters, weapons, oil, antiquities into Turkey and from there into the EU. It is our common challenge to cut this terrorist supply route.

"On Cyprus: a sustainable settlement is now within reach. Never before have both sides been so close to a compromise. Therefore, I would like to ask everyone around this table, and also especially you Prime Minister Davutoglu, to back a bi-communal bi-zonal solution for Cyprus. Resolving this conflict will reverberate positively throughout the region and also boost EU-Turkey relations.

"Please allow me to say some words on the accession negotiations between the European Union and Turkey. For many years, negotiations have been stalling because both sides were lacking engagement. Moreover, for many years, EU member states were reluctant to open new chapters in the accession negotiations with Turkey. This reluctance grew out of very good reasons. Free press is one of these reasons. Free press is a cornerstone of a vibrant and pluralist democracy and of an informed and active citizenship. You might disagree with what journalists write or say, but I believe arguments can be stronger than interdictions. The crisis situation we find ourselves in today, which is a real eye-opener on how interdependent we already are, will lead to a fresh start in EU-Turkey relations. This is not about co-operating just for technical reasons or temporary circumstantial reasons. EU-Turkey relations must be a long-term strategic choice.     Thank you for your attention."

Meeting of heads of state or government with Turkey - EU-Turkey statement, 29/11/2015

EU

Will the Kremlin go beyond election interference? 

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Once the Kremlin is persuaded that Joe Biden will become the US’s next president, it may go for the jugular. Already today, not election manipulation, but triggering civil conflicts in the United States could be the main aim of Moscow’s mingling in American domestic affairs, write Pavlo Klimkin and Andreas Umland.

Over the past 15 years, the Kremlin has played with politicians and diplomats of, above all, Russia’s neighbors, but also with those of the West, a hare and hedgehog game, as known from a German fairy tale. In the Low Saxon fable’s well-known race, the hedgehog only runs a few steps, but at the end of the furrow he has placed his wife who looks very much like him. When the hare, certain of victory, storms in, the hedgehog's wife rises and calls out to him “I'm already here!” The hare cannot understand the defeat, conducts 73 further runs, and, in the 74th race, dies of exhaustion.

Ever since Russia’s anti-Western turn of 2005, governmental and non-governmental analysts across the globe have been busy discussing and predicting Moscow’s next offensive action. Yet, in most cases, when the world’s smart “hares” – politicians, experts, researchers, journalists et al. – arrived with more or less adequate reactions, the Russian “hedgehogs” had already long achieved their aims. Such was the case with Russia’s invasion of Georgia’s South Ossetia and Abkhazia in 2008, “little green men” on Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014, hackers inside Germany’s Bundestag in 2015, bombers over Syria since 2015, cyber-warriors in the US elections of 2016, or “chemical” assassins at England’s Salisbury in 2018.

Across the world, one can find hundreds of sensitive observers able to provide sharp comments on this or that vicious Russian action. For all the experience accumulated, such insights have, however, usually been provided only thereafter. So far, the Kremlin’s wheeler-dealers continue to surprise Western and non-Western policy makers and their think-tanks with novel forays, asymmetric attacks, unorthodox methods and shocking brutality. More often than not, Russian imaginativeness and ruthlessness become sufficiently appreciated only after a new “active measure,” hybrid operation or non-conformist intervention has been successfully completed.

Currently, many US observers – whether in national politics, public administration or social science – may be again preparing to fight the last war. Russian election interference and other influence operations are on everybody’s mind, across America. Yet, as Ukraine has bitterly learnt in 2014, the Kremlin only plays soft ball as long as it believes it has some chance to win. It remains relatively moderate as long as a possible loss will – from Moscow’s point of view – only be moderately unpleasant. Such was the case, during Russia’s interference into the 2016 presidential elections in the US.

The Ukrainian experience during the last six years suggests a far grimmer scenario. At some point during the Euromaidan Revolution, in either January or February 2014, Putin understood that he may be losing his grip on Ukraine. Moscow’s man in Kyiv, then still President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych (though very much assisted by Paul Manafort), may be kicked out by the Ukrainian people. As a result, Russia’s President drastically changed track already before the event.

The Kremlin’s medal awarded to the anonymous Russian soldiers who took part in the annexation of Crimea lists the date of 20 February 2014, as the start of the operation to occupy a part of Ukraine. On that day, pro-Russian Ukrainian President Yanukovych was still in power, and present in Kyiv. His flight from Ukraine’s capital one day later, and ousting, by the Ukrainian parliament, on 22 February 2014, had not yet been clearly predictable, on 20 February 2014. But the Kremlin had already switched from merely political warfare against Ukraine to preparing a real war – something then largely unimaginable for most observers. Something similar may be the case, in Moscow’s approach to the US today too.

To be sure, Russian troops will hardly land on American shores. Yet, that may not be necessary. The possibility of violent civil conflict in the United States is today, in any way, being discussed by serious analysts, against the background of enormous political polarization and emotional spikes within American society. As in Putin’s favorite sports of Judo – in which he holds a Black Belt! – a brief moment of disbalance of the enemy can be used productively, and may be sufficient to cause his fall. The United States may not, by itself, become ripe for civil conflict. Yet, an opportunity to push it a bit further is unlikely to be simply missed by industrious hybrid warfare specialists in Moscow. And the game that the Russian “hedgehogs” will be playing may be a different one than in the past, and not yet be fully comprehensible to the US’s “hares.”

Hillary Clinton was in 2016 a presidential candidate very much undesired, by Moscow, as America’s new president. Yet today, a democratic president is, after Russia’s 2016 hacking of the Democratic Party’s servers and vicious campaign against Clinton, a truly threatening prospect for the Kremlin. Moreover, Joe Biden was, under President Obama, responsible for the US’s policy towards Ukraine, knows as well as likes the country well, and is thus especially undesirable for Moscow.

Last but not least, Moscow may have had more contacts with Trump and his entourage than the American public is currently aware of. The Kremlin would, in such a case, even more dislike a Biden presidency, and a possible disclosure of its additional earlier interventions, in the US. The stakes are thus higher, for the Kremlin, in 2020 than in 2016. If Trump has no plausible chance to be elected for a second term, mere election interference may not be the issue any more. Moscow may already now implement more sinister plans than trying to help Trump. If Putin thinks that he cannot prevent Biden, the Kremlin will not miss a chance to get altogether rid of the US, as a relevant international actor.

Pavlo Klimkin was, among others, the Ukrainian Ambassador to Germany in 2012-2014 as well as minister of foreign affairs of Ukraine in 2014-2019. Andreas Umland is a researcher at the Ukrainian Institute for the Future in Kyiv and Swedish Institute of International Affairs in Stockholm.

All opinions expressed in the above article are those of the authors alone, and do not reflect any opinions on the part of EU Reporter.

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Defence

USEUCOM demonstrates readiness to support NATO in Exercise Austere Challenge

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US European Command (USEUCOM) leaders, strategists, planners and operators joined forces with their NATO counterparts in exercise Austere Challenge 2021 (AC21) to practice a co-ordinated response to a fictional major crisis this week. While the exercise was conducted virtually to protect the health of the participants and our communities from COVID-19 more than 4,000 military and civilian personnel participated.

The exercise brought together USEUCOM and its components who joined Joint Forces Command-Brunssum and Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO for the weeklong, computer-based, biannual command post exercise, which culminated today (23 October).

"We are looking forward to drawing on the lessons learned we have from this exercise as we prepare for future activities together," said German Gen. Jörg Vollmer, commander of Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum. AC21 is part of an exercise series planned and executed since the 1990s and focused upon training combatant command co-ordination, command and control and the integration of capabilities and functions across USEUCOM’s headquarters, its component commands, US interagency and NATO.

The exercise was linked globally to other US combatant command exercises, including US Strategic Command and US Space Command’s Exercise Global Lightning 2021 and US Transportation Command’s Turbo Challenge 2021. “Exercises like AC21 prepare the USEUCOM staff to respond to crises in a timely and well-coordinated manner with our NATO Allies, which ultimately supports regional stability and security,” said US Army Maj. Gen. John C. Boyd, USEUCOM’s director of training and exercises.

While the ongoing pandemic forced a variety of USEUCOM exercises to be modified or canceled this year, training and partnership-building has carried on. “We remain postured and ready to support NATO against any enemy or threat – be it a military crisis or an invisible virus,” Boyd added. “Together on innumerable instances, the US and NATO have demonstrated a strong, unbreakable working relationship to counter any threat to the alliance. AC21 is yet another example of the strength and solidarity of the NATO alliance and USEUCOM’s contributions to Europe’s collective defense.”

About USEUCOM

US European Command (USEUCOM) is responsible for US military operations across Europe, portions of Asia and the Middle East, the Arctic and Atlantic Ocean. USEUCOM is comprised of approximately 72,000 military and civilian personnel and works closely with NATO Allies and partners. The command is one of two US forward-deployed geographic combatant commands headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany. For more information about USEUCOM, click here.

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Brexit

President Sassoli to EU leaders: Help get the budget negotiations moving again

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President Sassoli with French President Macron and German Chancellor Merkel at the 15 October summit © KENZO TRIBOUILLARD / POOL / AFP 

In a speech at the EU summit on 15 October, Parliament President David Sassoli insisted it is now up to EU leaders to unlock the stalled negotiations on the 2021-2027 budget.

President Sassoli urged the EU heads of government to update the negotiating mandate they have given to the German Council presidency to make agreement on the EU long-term budget possible.

He noted that Parliament’s negotiators have asked for an additional €39 billion for key EU programmes that benefit Europeans and promote a sustainable recovery. “This is a paltry sum when set against an overall package worth €1.8 trillion, but one which would make an enormous difference to the citizens who will benefit from our common policies,” President Sassoli said, referring to the total amount of the seven-year budget and the Covid-19 recovery plan.

Sassoli noted that if Parliament’s compromise proposal is accepted by the Council, the budget spending ceiling will have to be raised by only €9 billion and this will bring the ceiling of those programmes to exactly the same level of spending as in the 2014-2020 period in real terms.

He said that the interest payments for the debt that the EU plans to issue to finance the recovery must be counted on top of the programme ceilings so as not to further squeeze the financing of these policies. The recovery plan “is an extraordinary commitment, and therefore the cost of the interest should be treated as an extraordinary expense as well. It should not come down to a choice between these costs and the [budget] programmes”.

The President also stressed the need for a binding timetable for the introduction of new types of budget revenue over the coming years and for flexible provisions in the budget to finance unforeseen future events.

Sassoli defended Parliament’s demand for ambitious emission reduction targets. “We must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60% by 2030. We need a target, which acts as a bright beacon on the path to climate neutrality. Protecting the environment means new jobs, more research, more social protection, more opportunities.”

“We should use the economic stimuli provided by public institutions to radically change our growth models while guaranteeing a fair transition that works for us and for future generations. No one should be left behind,” he added.

Commenting on the ongoing negotiations on future EU-UK relations, Sassoli expressed concern about the lack of clarity from the UK side. “I hope that our UK friends use the very narrow window of opportunity that remains to work constructively towards overcoming our differences,” he said, adding that the UK should honour its commitments and remove the controversial provisions in its internal market act.

Sassoli also called for a de-escalation of tensions with Turkey. “The Turkish rhetoric is growing increasingly aggressive and the country's intervention in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is certainly not helping matters. Now is the time for the EU to fully support German mediation efforts, to stand united and speak with one voice,” he said.

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