The CSS Blog

Seven Worrying Trends in the European Refugee Crisis

Sea Storm, Blue Moon

Courtesy stainedglassartist/Flickr

This article was originally published by the European Council on Foreign Relations on 13 October 2016.

EU leaders could soon come to regret having crossed their fingers and moved the refugee crisis off the urgent pile in their in-tray.

As part of his final UN General Assembly, President Obama hosted a leaders’ summit on refugees. In his speech he termed the global refugee crisis one of ‘the most urgent tests of our time’. But the list of commitments coming out of the summit did not live up to this description. The Bratislava EU summit earlier this month barely touched on refugee issues among the list of priorities to address, and there seems to be a general sense that Europe has more or less weathered the refugee storm that appeared so threatening in 2015.

There is some truth to this – for now. The number of sea crossings to the EU in the first nine months of 2016 was indeed down, at around 300,000, compared to 520,000 in 2015. But despite this there are a number of worrying trends that EU leaders would be foolish to ignore.

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An EU HQ? Let Them At It

EU Flags

Courtesy European Parliament/Flickr

This article was originally published by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) on 11 October 2016.

The debate about the EU military headquarters is not as vacuous as some of its British critics claim, although it has undoubtedly been given a new lease of life by the Brexit vote. Still, the UK would be well-advised to drop its vociferous opposition to the scheme, even if it continues to entertain doubts about its viability.

During her recent visit to the UK, Germany Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen asked the British not to block EU efforts to build deeper security and defence cooperation. Her comments followed British criticism of Franco-German plans to build an EU headquarters and suggestions that London might block such a measure, as long as it remained in the EU.

There is a whole bundle of post-Brexit vote politics at play here, for which the HQ issue has become something of a lightning rod. The 27 other EU governments are keen to show some unity and that the bloc remains relevant for their citizens, especially for their security. Plus, although it is not entirely fair to blame the UK for the EU’s lack of progress on military matters, cheerleaders for EU defence policy – and not only in Berlin and Paris – have seized on the Brexit vote as a golden opportunity to relaunch that policy.

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The UK Government’s Brexit Strategy: What We Know So Far

Brexit, the painting

Courtesy Shakespearesmonkey/Flickr

This article was originally published by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) on 6 September 2016.

Theresa May seems to be looking for a compromise around freedom of movement in order to retain access to the Single Market.

It has been a long summer for those of us wondering what exactly Brexit is going to mean in practice. Since the initial commotion over the appointments of Boris Johnson (Foreign Secretary) David Davis (Brexit negotiations) and Liam Fox (International Trade) subsided, there has been an eerie quiet over the summer break about what the UK’s strategy would be for the forthcoming negotiations.

Beyond Prime Minister Theresa May’s mantra that ‘Brexit means Brexit’, a drip feed of economic information showing that the anticipated post-Brexit crash in consumer confidence has not – for now – emerged, and speculation about whether May’s summer holidays in Switzerland were in part spent studying the EFTA model, there has been precious little actual information.

The past few days have felt like something of a watershed – a genuine start of term – with Theresa May’s visit to the G20 meeting in China, and the House of Commons debate on a petition for a second referendum forcing the government to unveil a little of what they are thinking. So what do we know now that we didn’t before?

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China-EU Relations: Post-Summit Perspectives

China and EU Flags

Courtesy Friends of Europe/Flickr

This article was originally published by the Polish Institute of International Relations on 27 July 2016.

The latest EU-China summit confirmed the increasing discrepancies between the two sides. China, in protecting its own market, treats European investors unevenly. Simultaneously, the PRC is seeking unlimited access to the EU market to export products resulting from its overcapacity. The EU is concerned about subsidised Chinese exports, which may increase unemployment in Europe. There are rifts in the normative domain as well: China has not accepted an arbitration tribunal’s decision about the South China Sea. The EU, in supporting peaceful means of resolving international disputes, has acknowledged the ruling. Now more than ever, the member states should take into account the European context of relations with the PRC and coordinate their policies towards China with the EU institutions.

The latest EU-China summit (12–13 July) was held after the release of a new EU strategy towards China and coincided with an announcement by an arbitration tribunal of its decision about the South China Sea.[1] The new strategy is the EU’s response to China’s global ambitions and the increasing number of problems in bilateral relations. The noticeable differences in the topics raised by the two sides during the summit vindicates the assumption of deepening discrepancies, including asymmetry in relations at the expense of the EU.

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The Impact of Brexit on the EU’s International Agreements

 EU flat with one star missing


This article was originally published by the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) on 15 July 2016.

The prospect of Brexit has kicked up a lot of dust around the now famous Article 50 TEU withdrawal procedure, and the form, scope and sequence of the ‘divorce’ and future framework agreements between the EU and the UK.[1] One issue that has received far less attention is whether the international agreements concluded by the EU will continue to apply to the UK after Brexit, and if so, how.

The EU has concluded 1,139 bilateral and multilateral agreements with third parties, ranging from trade, development and sectoral economic issues like aviation, energy and fisheries, to matters related to visa, human rights, and the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP).[2] For those accords that fall squarely within the realm of the EU’s exclusive competences (e.g. classic free trade agreements) there is in principle no discussion: thanks to its single international legal personality, the EU and the third parties are the sole signatories to the agreements and will remain bound by them. A simple notification by the EU to the third parties might thus suffice to inform them that the EU no longer consists of 28 but 27 member states.

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