Connect with us

Europe

North Macedonia’s EU odyssey hits rough seas again

Published

on


When EU leaders gathered in Brussels to support Macedonia’s candidacy to join the bloc, UK prime minister Tony Blair was in the chair. Fifteen painful years and a national name change later, North Macedonia still has no seat at the European summit table — and its ambitions for one have stalled yet again. 

The proximate cause this time is opposition from Bulgaria because of a dispute with its Balkan neighbour over history, identity and language. But for critics of the EU’s stop-start approach to enlargement, the lesson is that even a European club diminished by Brexit is still fundamentally — and self-defeatingly — reluctant to admit new members. 

“The emperor has been naked for a long time when we talk about EU accession policy,” said Gerald Knaus, chairman of the European Stability Initiative, a Berlin-based think-tank. “The whole process is wrong — a process where at each stage every country has a veto.”

EU foreign and Europe ministers failed to break the deadlock over enlargement in Brussels on Tuesday, when Sofia blocked North Macedonia’s progress. Ekaterina Zaharieva, Bulgaria’s foreign minister, said her country did not think Skopje was ready to start talks “at the moment”. Many Bulgarians reject the concept of a separate Macedonian ethnic identity and language, and the two states have also struggled to agree on common narratives about national heroes they both revere. 

Sofia’s stance has angered some fellow capitals because EU countries had finally agreed unanimously in March to start accession talks with both North Macedonia and Albania, albeit with conditions attached for Tirana. The pro-enlargement states say it would be a betrayal to reject Skopje after it already implemented wide-ranging reforms to meet EU demands. These included altering the country’s name last year to end a decades-old dispute with Greece, which maintained “Macedonia” implied a territorial claim over its region of the same name. 

The fear of pro-accession voices is that the EU risks losing an international power struggle for influence in North Macedonia, Albania and the four other western Balkan territories with aspirations to join the bloc. The sextet of states formed from the break-up of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s are surrounded by EU countries but are also targeted by Russia, China and other powers seeking sway. 

Relations between Croatia, which joined the EU in 2013, and neighbouring EU hopefuls such as Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro have often been tense due to the wars that followed Yugoslavia’s collapse. If Sofia maintains its spat with Skopje, it could offer Zagreb scope to press its own linguistic and historical grievances. 

A European summit next month will mark the anniversary of the official launch of North Macedonia’s long EU journey. The question now is whether it will ever reach its destination.

Chart du jour: Worry on the rise

Chart showing percent of adults in two age groups who agree or disagree with the comment "I feel like things in my country are out of control right now". Responses in countries such as Spain, US and UK show a high proportion in both age groups agreeing - nearly 80%. But in many countries the proportion of adults aged 18-34 agreeing with the statement is slightly higher than the proprtion of adults aged over 35

Young adults are more concerned about how their countries’ leaders are responding to the pandemic compared with older generations. While anxiety in most western countries was high, those aged 18-34 often slightly edged out those aged 35 and older. In Spain, 80 per cent of both age groups worried the country had lost control, while in countries such as Russia the divide between older and younger was more pronounced.

The FT has illustrated the generational differences in a new data investigation that captures the bubbling discontent among under-30s from the pandemic’s economic fallout. (chart via FT)

Europe news round-up

  • While positive recent vaccine news has rallied global markets, the recovery for eurozone economies may not be so sharp. Debt could sink many companies before the vaccine arrives, and aid from the €750bn recovery fund might arrive too late for many struggling businesses. The FT’s Big Read has more. (FT)

  • To meet its climate goals, the EU may have to abandon Strasbourg as a seat of the EU parliament. The suggestion, made in an internal parliament report, came in response to the fact that the monthly delegation of staff, journalists and lobbyists that trail the more than 700 MEPs to Strasbourg creates a sizeable amount of emissions. But separating the French city from the EU parliament would not be easy, requiring a treaty change that would need unanimous agreement from all EU member states. France is also deeply protective of the city’s role in the EU. MEPs have not sat in Strasbourg since February, and Emmanuel Macron has said he is “fighting tooth and nail” to get MEPs to return. (Guardian/EU Observer)

  • The EU is in talks to buy up to 160m doses of the Covid-19 vaccine being developed by Moderna. Under the deal, the bloc would initially purchase 80m does, with another 80m to follow if needed. The EU is buying a broad range of vaccines, including 300m doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. (Euronews)

  • According to a summer survey by Pew Research Center, member states’ opinions of the EU’s coronavirus response has warmed, with a median of 61% of respondents saying the EU had done a good job of tackling the pandemic. Crucially, the survey was conducted before the second wave of coronavirus infections hit Europe in September. The EU may therefore get a more frosty reception from member states in a subsequent survey, as cases now rival numbers from the first wave.

Coming up today

Germany’s economy minister, Peter Altmaier, his French counterpart, Bruno Le Maire, and the EU’s commissioner for the internal market, Thierry Breton take part in a two-day summit to discuss the bloc’s Gaia-X cloud infrastructure project.

Also on Wednesday, ministers from the European Economic Area and the European Free Trade Association will discuss Belarus, China and Brexit with Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator.

michael.peel@ft.com; @Mikepeeljourno
valerie.hopkins@ft.com; @VALERIEin140
david.hindley@ft.com





Source link

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Europe

‘After a year we’re back to square one’: Milan locked in Covid’s grasp

Published

on

By


This time last year, chef Andrea Berton thought customers “might be overreacting” when they began cancelling tables at his Michelin-starred Milan restaurant amid a rise in cases of the concerning new coronavirus.

“It was a strange atmosphere,” he recalled this week. “The restaurant was suddenly empty at lunchtime and international customers kept calling to cancel bookings and events around the Salone del Mobile,” he added, referring to Milan’s annual furniture fair.

Neither he nor anyone else could have foreseen what would happen next. Days later, on March 8, Italy’s government ordered the immediate lockdown of the wealthy Lombardy region that includes Milan in an effort to stem the spread of Covid-19. The unheard-of restrictions were extended across the whole country the following day, confining 60m people to their homes.

It was the moment that Europe finally woke up to the threat from a virus that had emerged in China around the turn of the year. Within weeks, the entire continent — and soon the whole world — had been brought to heel by the pandemic.

“We were confronted with a virus we knew nothing about,” said Francesco Passerini, mayor of the small town of Codogno, an hour from Milan, where one of Italy’s earliest confirmed Covid-19 cases had been discovered in late February. “We didn’t know how to protect our community and we had people who were very ill. It felt like an impossible fight.”

Doctor Annalisa Malara with a patient in the coronavirus intensive care unit at a hospital in Lodi, near Milan, last month
Inside a coronavirus intensive care unit at a hospital in the city of Lodi, near Milan © Emanuele Cremaschi/Getty Images

A year on, an end to Europe’s coronavirus crisis still seems some way off despite the hope offered by vaccines. Most of the continent’s 750m citizens continue to endure curbs on their daily lives and the economic and social toll has been enormous.

In Italy — as in some other EU countries such as nearby Greece and the Czech Republic — the number of new infections is rising as concerns intensify over the threat from new variants. Lombardy, still Italy’s worst-affected region, is grappling with thousands of new cases daily and hundreds of deaths each week.

On Friday, a new two-week partial lockdown came into force across the region, with offices closed and employees told to work from home. Schools and playgrounds are shut and hospitality and travel are banned, although shops remain open — for now.

Yet as cases tick higher, experts fear it is only a matter of time before the curbs are extended.

“It won’t be long before the whole country goes back into the ‘red zone’,” said Guido Bertolaso, Lombardy’s vaccine adviser, this week, referring to the most stringent level in Italy’s coloured tier system.

Chart showing that cases and ICU admissions are rising again in Lombardy, with the number of ICU patients climbing 30 per cent in the last week

“Unfortunately it’s not over,” said Passerini, the Codogno mayor. “But it’s not comparable with last year because we’ve learned to live with the virus and now we have a vaccine. So we have something to look forward to.”

Looking back evokes painful memories. The most vivid was the day he and other volunteers had to empty a church to make room for dozens of coffins. “I remember watching the dead bodies being brought in and the church, a place of hope, suddenly turn into a morgue. I couldn’t believe it was happening,” he said.

In the weeks and months that followed, Carla Sozzani, founder of 10 Corso Como, a cultural, shopping and dining destination in Milan’s nightlife district, could not get used to the silence in a city known as a teeming hub for industry, banking and fashion.

“The only noises you could hear, day and night, were the ambulances and the drones they used to check nobody was leaving their homes,” she said. “It was unsettling.”

Mired in a series of lockdowns, Milan has welcomed only a fraction of the 10m tourists who came in 2019, a shortfall that has put immense strain on its economy.

There is hope that the new government of Mario Draghi, an experienced crisis manager who formerly ran the European Central Bank, can bring improvements by speeding up the vaccine rollout and leading an economic recovery.

Sozzani, a self-confessed optimist by nature, was certain that Milan would regain its vigour in time for the rescheduled Salone del Mobile in September, once more people had been inoculated. “The fair is a symbol of Milan and it will represent its rebirth,” she said.

Chef Andrea Berton has been forced to close his Michelin-starred Milan restaurant once again

In a sign of his frustration at the slow rollout, Draghi has moved to block the export of 250,000 Oxford/AstraZeneca doses destined for Australia so they could be used in Italy. As of this week, however, under 6 per cent of Italians had received a first vaccine dose.

One Milan-based anaesthesiologist, who did not wish to be named, also warned that intensive care units in hospitals across the region were rapidly filling up again.

“It reminds me of last spring,” she said. “The vaccine makes us hope for the best but we need to plan for the worst, because the rollout is too slow and people are dying.”

Berton was this week forced to close his restaurant again, a “stop-go approach” that he said would be the death of his and other businesses in the city.

“I would never have imagined it would last this long,” he added. “After a year we’re back to square one.”

 



Source link

Continue Reading

Europe

EU and US agree to suspend tariffs in Airbus-Boeing dispute

Published

on

By


The EU and US have agreed to suspend punitive tariffs related to their longstanding feud over aircraft subsidies, in the first breakthrough in trade relations since President Joe Biden took office. 

The two sides reached a deal after intensive talks, according to people familiar with the discussions, in a sign that the 16-year-old transatlantic trade battle over state aid to Airbus and Boeing could be coming to an end. 

The accord, announced by Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission president, means both sides will suspend tariffs linked to the dispute for four months. The duties have hit products ranging far beyond aircraft, encompassing an eclectic array of goods such as US self-propelled shovel loaders, French wine and even US ornamental fish.

In a statement issued after a call with Biden, von der Leyen said: “President Biden and I agreed to suspend all our tariffs imposed in the context of the Airbus-Boeing disputes, both on aircraft and non-aircraft products, for an initial period of four months.

“We both committed to focus on resolving our aircraft disputes, based on the work of our respective trade representatives,” she said.

The goodwill gesture is intended to prepare the ground for negotiations on a permanent solution to the dispute by setting joint rules on permissible aircraft subsidies.

The US trade representative’s office said that a settlement was needed to address challenges posed by new entrants to the aircraft sector from China. Beijing has made it a priority to break the global duopoly that has dominated for decades.

It added that limits on future subsidies and monitoring and enforcement mechanisms would be part of a deal between the EU and US.

A European official said the announcement came “earlier than expected”, given that Biden’s nominated trade representative Katherine Tai has yet to be confirmed. Countering China and setting transatlantic standards for the aircraft industry were keys goal, the official said.

One European diplomat said that four months would be “enough time to focus minds while still being very do-able”.

The deal came a day after the UK and US came to their own arrangement whereby Washington also agreed to suspend punitive tariffs linked to the dispute for four months.

The UK had already unilaterally stopped imposing its own tariffs at the start of this year. EU officials and other trade experts have questioned whether the UK would have had the right to continue to impose them anyway, given its exit from the bloc’s customs union.

Brussels imposed extra tariffs on $4bn of US goods in November, covering a wide range of products including sugarcane molasses, casino tables and fitness machines. 

By then the US had already imposed extra duties on $7.5bn of European exports — the result of Washington’s own World Trade Organization victory against aid to Airbus. 

Brussels sees today’s step as a breakthrough that can pave the way for broader co-operation on trade after the tensions of the Trump era — tensions that at times threatened to boil over into a full-scale trade war.

The US-EU aircraft subsidies dispute is one of the longest-running cases in WTO history. Both sides have been found over the years to have failed to properly implement WTO panel rulings on illegal subsides. 

The battle dates back to 2004, the year after Airbus overtook its US rival in terms of deliveries for the first time. Having earlier brokered an agreement with the EU on state aid in 1992, the US launched a case against subsidies for the European group that dated back to the 1970s. Initially the US claimed that $22bn in illegal funding had been given to Airbus.

Trade Secrets

Trade Secrets is the FT’s must-read daily briefing on the changing face of international trade and globalisation.

Sign up here to understand which countries, companies and technologies are shaping the new global economy.

The EU followed up a few months later with a challenge of its own, originally claiming $23bn in illegal aid was offered to Boeing.

The two sides have long remained far apart on the terms of any agreement on how to fund new aircraft development. But with both Airbus and Boeing focused on recovering after the coronavirus pandemic and a hiatus in new commercial aircraft development, industry experts said the timing was right.

The deal will come as a relief to aircraft manufacturers and other businesses on both sides of the Atlantic. French wine producers and Italian cheesemakers have been among those in the vanguard of calls for an end to the dispute. The spirits industry has also been among the US sectors strongly urging a solution. 

Airbus welcomed the decision to suspend tariffs. The company said it supports “all necessary actions to create a level-playing field and continues to support a negotiated settlement of this longstanding dispute to avoid lose-lose tariffs”.

Boeing said it hopes the deal would allow for talks to “bring a level playing field to this industry”.

 



Source link

Continue Reading

Europe

US suspends tariffs on UK exports in Airbus-Boeing trade dispute

Published

on

By


The US will temporarily lift punitive tariffs on £550m worth of UK exports such as Scotch whisky and Stilton cheese, imposed as part of a row with the EU over subsidies to Boeing and Airbus, in an attempt to de-escalate one of the longest trade disputes in modern history.

The move follows the UK’s unilateral decision to suspend tariffs against the US from January 1, which took both Brussels and Airbus by surprise. Brussels has disputed that the UK had the right to act unilaterally in a trade dispute between the EU and the US when it has left the bloc.

Liz Truss, UK international trade secretary, said she was delighted that US president Joe Biden had agreed to suspend tariffs on UK goods for four months. The move would help to improve transatlantic relations, she said.

The US trade representative’s office confirmed that it would temporarily suspend the tariffs, to allow time to negotiate on settling the aircraft dispute.

The Johnson government has come under heavy fire over the tariffs in particular from the Scotch whisky industry, whose exports to the US plunged 30 per cent last year.

“The easier it is for Americans to buy a bottle of Macallan, Talisker or Glenmorangie, the more money those producers will have to invest in their businesses, their staff and futures,” Truss said. “Trade equals jobs.”

The US-EU aircraft subsidies dispute is one of the longest-running cases in the World Trade Organization’s history, reflecting the importance of the industry to each side and the intense competition between Boeing and Airbus.

The battle dates back to 2004, the year after Airbus first overtook its US rival in terms of deliveries. Both sides have been found guilty of providing billions in illegal subsidies to their aircraft makers.

Brussels was last year given the green light by the WTO to impose tariffs of up to 25 per cent on $4bn worth of US products, after Washington announced duties on $7.5bn worth of European imports. 

Both Boeing and Airbus welcomed any move that could help to bring the two sides together. “We welcome USTR’s (US Trade Representative) decision to suspend tariffs for allowing negotiations to take place,” Airbus said in a statement. “Airbus supports all necessary actions to create a level-playing field and continues to support a negotiated settlement of this longstanding dispute to avoid lose-lose tariffs.”

Boeing said: “We commend this action by the US and UK governments creating an opportunity for serious negotiations to resolve the WTO aircraft dispute. A negotiated settlement will allow the industry to move forward with a genuinely global level playing field for aviation.”

However, Britain’s departure from the EU has raised questions about how effective any UK-US suspension can be. With no precedent to follow, trade lawyers have said it is unclear whether the UK still had a right to impose or suspend tariffs that were granted to the EU. 

Whitehall officials insisted the UK had the right to revoke retaliatory tariffs. One individual close to the process said: “This whole issue shows the benefit of being an independent trading nation . . . if we can get this done, it paves the way to a deeper trading relationship with the US and will help free trade deal negotiations.”

Despite this, there appear to be very few signs of progress in the trade talks between the US and UK. In January, White House press secretary Jen Psaki indicated that securing a deal would not be a priority for the Biden administration.

Last month, Biden’s nominated top trade adviser Katherine Tai told senators that she would “review the progress” of the talks that had taken place between the two sides over the previous two and a half years.

Both the EU and the US have long argued for a resolution to the dispute, but have remained far apart on the terms of any agreement on how to fund new aircraft development. 

After Biden’s election as US president, there was a feeling in Europe that a deal could be within reach. There has been growing speculation that talks were progressing.

However, in late December, the US further raised tariffs on European goods, specifically targeting French and German products.

The EU has said it is in intensive talks with the US in a bid to quickly secure a deal to remove punitive tariffs. 

“We have proposed that both sides agree to suspend tariffs for six months,” a European Commission spokesperson said. “This will help restore confidence and trust, and thus give us the space to come to a comprehensive and durable negotiated solution.”

A US administration official said that while he could not indicate whether there were plans to imminently remove the EU tariffs, the Biden team was continuing to review the dispute. “The goal is to resolve the dispute and create a level playing field,” the official said. 

Both Brussels and Washington are keenly aware that the rules need to be set before China becomes a significant competitor to Boeing and Airbus.

China is expected to be the fastest-growing market for commercial aircraft over the coming decades and Beijing has made it a strategic priority to break the global duopoly in an attempt to claim some of that market for Chinese industry. Later this year, China’s Comac is expected to have fully certified its first major commercial aircraft, the C919 single aisle.



Source link

Continue Reading

Trending