Delegation of the European Union to New Zealand



20/01/2021 - 03:36
EU Delegation to New Zealand - Newsletter

No. 237, 20 January 2021

Brexit Deal Reached

On 30 December, the European Union and the United Kingdom signed the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA). Agreed in principle after months of difficult negotiations, the TCA goes well beyond traditional free trade agreements and provides a solid foundation for EU-UK cooperation following Britain’s decision to leave in 2016. The new TCA consists of three main pillars:

  • an unprecedented free-trade agreement, with collaboration on economic, social, environmental and fisheries issues
  • a framework for law enforcement and judicial cooperation, with continued adherence to the European Convention of Human Rights
  • a governance framework that provides clarity on how the agreement will function, primarily through a Joint Partnership Council

President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, described the deal as a “fair and balanced agreement”. She added that it “will protect our European interests, ensure fair competition, and provide much needed predictability for our fishing communities.”

The new TCA is accompanied by two separate agreements: a Security Information Agreement (SoIA) and a Civil Nuclear Agreement. The three agreements apply on a provisional basis from 1 January to 28 February 2021. This is to give the European Parliament time to scrutinize the agreements and ratify them. The UK Parliament already approved the TCA on 30 December 2020. 

Future of the EU-UK Relationship

With a Brexit deal agreed to, what is the future of the EU-UK relationship? On a practical level, as of 1 January, Britain is no longer part of the EU Single Market and Customs Union. As a result, the free movement of people, goods, services and capital has ended. There are now restrictions on UK citizens entering the EU and border checks on trade.

The Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) reached last month ensures a smoother economic transition, with zero tariffs and zero quotas on all goods traded between the EU and UK. But the TCA does not match the level of collaboration that existed while Britain was an EU member state.

For example, British service providers are not covered by the country-of-origin principle, meaning more regulations for UK companies, and mutual recognition of professional qualifications has stopped. 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that despite leaving the EU, Britain “will remain culturally, emotionally, historically, strategically and geologically attached to Europe”.

For the EU, as Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said, “now is the time to turn the page and look to the future”. The TCA provides a framework to do just that and ensure the longstanding EU-UK partnership continues. Internationally, despite no commitment to coordinate foreign policies, the UK will remain an important partner and ally for the EU on the global stage.

Alexei Navalny boarding his flight from Berlin to Moscow on 18 January

EU Criticizes Detention of Alexei Navalny

This week European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen strongly denounced the arrest of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny. “I condemn the arrest of Alexei Navalny … by the Russian authorities on his return to Russia. The Russian authorities must release him immediately and guarantee his safety”, von der Leyen said. She added that the Commission will “monitor the situation closely” and that Navalny’s detention goes “against Russia's international commitments”.

The comments follow similar demands for Navalny’s release from President of the European Council Charles Michel and HRVP Josep Borrell.

Navalny is a high profile critic of the Russian government and President Vladimir Putin. Last August he was poisoned on a domestic flight. Soon after, Navalny was flown to Germany for emergency medical treatment. Laboratories in Germany, France, Sweden and tests by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons established he was exposed to the Russian Novichok nerve agent.

Support for Navalny is part of a larger EU effort to promote human rights around the world. Programmes include ProtectDefenders, which provides safety services and assistance to local activists, and the Media4Democracy project that advocates for journalists and freedom of expression. Such initiatives are examples of the EU’s foundational emphasis on human rights.

EU-China Investment Deal

Last December the European Union and China finished, in principle, negotiations for a Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI). The deal provides a greater level of market access to EU investors than ever before, especially in the manufacturing sector, and commitments from China to ensure a more level playing for European companies. It also includes improved transparency around subsidies and rules prohibiting the forced transfer of technologies.

For the first time, China agreed to several sustainable development provisions. It will commit to not lowering labour or environmental standards to attract investment. Moreover, it will implement both the Paris Agreement on climate change and International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions it has ratified. China promised to make continued efforts to ratify ILO Conventions on forced labour.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen described the CAI as “an important landmark” in the EU’s interaction with China, adding that it “will rebalance our economic relationship”. She said it would “provide unprecedented access to the Chinese market for European investors … [and] commit China to ambitious principles on sustainability, transparency and non-discrimination”.

The next steps are for the CAI’s text to be finalised, legally reviewed and submitted to the EU Council and European Parliament for approval.

The University of Adelaide is holding a webinar about the CAI on 27 January with EU Chief Negotiator Maria Martin-Prat. A link to the event page and to register can be found here.

HRVP Borrell Writes About Events in Washington

In his latest blog post, HRVP Josep Borrell writes that early January's events in Washington must be a wake-up call for democracy advocates all over the world.

He notes that democracy is endangered by increasing number of citizens who do not feel sufficiently protected and respected any longer. Some of the factors that contributed to the weakening of the legitimacy of representative democracy are growing inequalities, tax evasion and tax havens, unregulated multinational companies, deindustrialisation and high unemployment. These factors exist both in Europe and the United States. All mentioned particularly affect people at the lower scale of income and wealth. The EU is working to mitigate these effects with the Next Generation EU initiative, a Covid-19 recovery fund. 

Another challenge is the fight against widespread disinformation that is breaking the consensus on facts and reality, which allows populists and autocrats to rise. To fight disinformation campaigns supported by authoritarian regimes and guarantee the right of citizens to receive truthful information, the EU adopted a new European Democracy Action Plan in late 2020. Borrell also calls for better regulation of social media content, but with respect for freedom of speech. The Digital Services Act proposed by the European Commission last December aims to do so on the EU level. 

A link to the blog post can be found here.

EU at One Planet Summit on Biodiversity

The One Planet Summit on Biodiversity was held in Paris on 11 January, organized by France and backed by the EU, the United Nations and the World Bank. It gathered (mostly virtually) a large number of political leaders and CEOs, who pledged to reverse the destruction of nature.

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen spoke about the EU approach on biodiversity and highlighted the European Green Deal and the new EU Biodiversity Strategy. Participants stressed how the destruction of nature increases the risk of future pandemics, by bringing humans and animals closer together. So protecting the environment and stopping new viruses from spreading are two sides of the same coin.

The summit launched the “High Ambition Coalition for nature and people”. Some of the things the Coalition includes is the plan to protect 30% of lands and oceans; the commitment of US$14 billion for Africa’s Great Green Wall and the launch of the PREZODE initiative, a global network of researchers to prevent the next pandemic due to zoonotic diseases.

The summit follows the UN Biodiversity Summit and the Leaders Pledge in September 2020. It gives political momentum to a new and ambitious global biodiversity framework to be agreed at COP15 of the Convention on Biological Diversity in Kunming, China and to COP26 on Climate Change in Glasgow, both taking place at the end of 2021.

EU Provides Support to Cyclone Yasa Victims in Fiji

The European Union has provided €800,000 (nearly two million Fijian dollars) in emergency relief to families impacted by Cyclone Yasa last month. The storm caused widespread flooding, destruction and power cuts. Close to 200,000 people were directly in its path, with over 23,000 forced to evacuate their homes.

“Cyclone Yasa is the most powerful storm to hit the Pacific country [in 2020 and strongest to hit the region since 2016] and many families have borne a heavy brunt as a result”, said Janez Lenarčič, the EU Commissioner for Crisis Management. “The EU’s contribution will support the Fijian government and our humanitarian partners in getting crucial aid to the most vulnerable people. Our thoughts are with all the victims”.

The funding is part of the EU’s Acute Large Emergency Response Tool (ALERT). The ALERT system is used to react to large natural disasters where over 100,000 people or more than 50% of the population is impacted. Depending on the type of disaster, the aim is to allocate funds within 24 to 48 hours of the emergency, with a focus on immediate issues like food, water and shelter.

Portugal Assumes Presidency of European Council: Time to Deliver

Portugal has taken over the presidency of the European Council this month. Following on from Germany, Portugal will hold the presidency for six months – from 1 January to 30 June. The priorities of Portugal's presidency are driven by its motto: "Time to deliver: a fair, green and digital recovery". 

The main focus during the Portuguese presidency is helping the EU through the Covid-19 pandemic. Portugal’s programme is divided into five main areas that overlap with the EU’s strategic agenda:

  • strengthen Europe’s resilience
  • promote confidence in the European social model
  • advocate for a sustainable recovery
  • create a fair and inclusive digital transition
  • reaffirm the EU’s role in the world, based on openness and multilateralism

The European Council is the body that sets the EU’s policy agenda. It is not a legislating institution, so does not negotiate or pass laws. Instead it develops the EU’s overall political direction and priorities. Its members are the heads of state or government of the 27 member states, the European Council President Charles Michel and the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

The presidency of the Council rotates every 6 months. Countries holding the presidency work closely together in groups of three, called trios, to develop an agenda that will cover specific issues to unite their individual terms. The current trio is made up of Germany, Portugal and Slovenia. 

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