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CWA # 520, 21 July 2021

NIAS Europe Monitor
The EU Summit 2021: Five Takeaways

  Keerthana Rajesh Nambiar

The EU Council meeting focuses on migration, Russia LGBTQ, COVID-19 and the new economic recovery plan.

In June 2021, the EU leaders met in Brussels for a two-day summit. The European Union stressed the need to integrate and intensify the cooperation in political, economic, and human rights domains. The agendas focused were migration, external relations with Russia, COVID-19 along the EU's Next Generation economic recovery plan. There were heated confrontations never witnessed before and the special focus on LGBTQ rights indicates that this was not just a regular council meeting failing to meet the expectations rather an honest effort for a true democratic recovery.

1. The EU Next-generation economic recovery plan
The EU approved the Greek- recovery plan of EUR 30.5 billion, which will "supercharge investment, reform, and growth throughout the country." The investments are directed towards green and digital transitions, health care sectors which will expectedly deeply transform the European economy. The European Council reviewed the state of play of the implementation of Next Generation EU. The European Council encourages the Commission and the Council to take work forward on the National Recovery and Resilience Plans. Furthermore, to make full use of the potential of the Recovery and Resilience Facility funding while protecting the financial interest of the Union.

The EU headline targets the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan endorsing the draft on the economic policy of the European region. The European Council looks forward to swift progress on global corporate tax reform on a consensual basis within the G20/OECD frameworks. This new long-term plan will increase the flexibility and guarantee results fit for the eventualities in the present and variabilities in the future.

2. On Migration, there is unity and divide
The EU and its member states agreed on 'mutually beneficial partnerships' and 'cooperation with countries of origin and transit' to prevent loss of human lives on the European borders. Since 2015, irregular arrivals have heightened. By 2018, the council codified the integrated political crisis response (IPCR) into a legal act. The IPCR supports decision-making related to major crises and disasters that create a surge in migration. This year, Union leaders plan to aid Turkey with EUR six billion to assist the Syrian refugees on its territory and help in border controls. The European Union relies on Turkey for restricting the migrants and refugees from trying to reach the European nations illegally.

The meeting fell short of expectations as it did not satisfy Ankara. In the latest proposal, the EU promised 6 billion euros supporting at least 3.7 million Syrian refugees in Turkey. The EU is treading on a thin rope with Turkey as it incessantly criticizes the fallouts with handling the migrant situation under President Erdoğan. Erdoğan has a history of threatening to allow refugees and migrants to travel into the European countries, in February 2020, he opened his country's western borders and sparked fury across the continent, resulting in chaos. The Turkish government also accuses the EU of delay in releasing the funds promised more than five years ago.

3. The power struggle with Russia
The European leaders discussed its strained ties with Russia and expected a "more constructive engagement and political commitment" from the Russian leadership towards the council. Previously the EU placed economic sanctions on Russian financial, energy, arms sectors and individual sanctions on human rights abuses and usage of the banned chemical weapons. The council has now adopted a strong stance against Russia after Baltic countries and Poland rejected the Franco-German plan to resume dialogue with Putin at a summit. The proposal follows Joe Biden's summit with Vladimir Putin in Geneva to repair the ties.

Relations with Russia ultimately yielded a result that unsettled Moscow. Russia being the EU's biggest natural gas supplier, influences international conflicts and issues. The last EU-Russia summit was in January 2014, shortly before the annexation of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula. Germany has strong economic interests with Russia, majorly the Nord Stream 2 undersea pipeline project, along with France, reluctant to continue waging a sanctions battle with Russia. But the EU bloc and Russia are on opposing sides over Ukraine, Belarus and human rights, and accuse each other of threatening securities.

4. Defending LGBT rights
The European Union leaders had a heated discussion over the new legislation in Hungary that bans content about LGBTQ issues to children. The EU leaders came together to raise concerns and objections to the Hungarian law, and Viktor Orbán's explanations failed to satisfy them. Only Poland showed support for Orbán, while Slovakia chose not to speak up. The other EU leaders remained united on the issue, leaving Hungary isolated and cornered. It was the first time that LGBT+ rights took centre stage in the European Council. The Commission denounced the bill as "a shame" and vowed to use all the Commission's power before the bill comes into force and uphold the rights of the European citizens. The Commission has taken the first step in legal action, sending a letter to Hungary's justice minister seeking "clarifications, explanation and information" about elements of the bill. This has created a domino effect all over Europe, with protests including references by state leaders who are alienating the community with abrasive statements.

5. Progress on COVID-19 vaccination
The pandemic is one of the other main topics up for discussion. The council acknowledged the EU's improvement in handling the pandemic and the necessity to continue with the vaccination efforts. The EU leaders plan to encourage the ongoing work to 'help boost global production of and universal access to COVID-19 vaccines'. Furthermore, the EU leaders addressed the importance of the agreements on the EU digital COVID certificate and recommendations on travel within the EU and non-essential travel into the EU.

With the vaccination rollout across the continent progressing at a positive rate, leaders are now expected to address any remaining obstacles related to the right of free movement across the EU. The Commission will also report on the lessons learned from the pandemic so far and how any future crises can be avoided. However, the current epidemiological situation concerning the Delta variant is spreading rapidly throughout many member states,  once again showcasing the EU's negligence



Keerthana Rajesh Nambiar is currently a Postgraduate Scholar in the department of International Relations at Maharajas College, University of Mysore. She is currently interning with School of Conflict and Security Studies at the National Institute of Advanced Studies. Her current area of research includes regional economic integration, diplomatic ties and tools  East Asia with reference to China.

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