Bonjour and welcome to Europe Express. France’s presidential elections are 11 months away and campaigning takes many forms, including in the foreign policy arena. We will explore the goals of Emmanuel Macron as he prepares to host a summit today with African and EU leaders. Whether it will make a difference or resonate with French voters remains to be seen.
Speaking of votes, the European parliament is likely to give its green light today to two female candidates for leadership positions in EU financial supervisory bodies. We will analyse why a third, Verena Ross, is having a much harder time scooping up the chair of the EU’s financial markets watchdog.
And we will unpack the significance of the EU’s latest trade move vis-à-vis the Biden administration, as Brussels shelves plans to boost retaliatory tariffs linked to a spat with the previous occupant of the White House.
Rich countries have been accused of doing far too little to help lower-income nations cope with the scourge of Covid-19, write Victor Mallet in Paris and Michael Peel in Brussels.
This week, France and the EU will attempt to change that narrative with a pair of summits aimed at addressing the wider fallout from the pandemic beyond their shores.
First up is Emmanuel Macron, the French president, who convenes a summit for Africa in Paris today to launch what his advisers have called a multibillion-dollar “New Deal” for the continent. Among those attending the summit will be the presidents of South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, Angola, Mozambique, the Ivory Coast and the Democratic Republic of Congo, French officials said.
The objective, said one of Macron’s advisers, is to go beyond existing instruments used by the World Bank and the IMF to help African economies.
Among the ideas is extra help for the African private sector, “which has been the big motor of African growth in the past 20 years and which we think has suffered from the effects of the pandemic and needs to scale up and find access to funding”.
An EU official said European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen will announce a European initiative at the summit to invest in young businesses in Africa. Its goal will be to help small and medium-sized companies take off and create jobs through technical and financial support. The details are being worked out, but the programme will amount to billions of dollars.
For France, one of the unstated aims of the summit is to strengthen its commercial and political ties to English- and Portuguese-speaking countries in addition to its traditional francophone sphere of influence. The gathering will bring together African, European and other leaders, as well as the heads of multilateral organisations, in person and by video link.
Yesterday, France said it would provide a $1.5bn bridging loan to Sudan to clear its arrears with the IMF.
France will also attempt to give an extra push to talks on a scheme leveraging a forthcoming $650bn in new issue of special drawing rights by the IMF. Funds for the recovery would come not only from Africa’s own quotas, but also from the larger combined quotas of developed countries — such as France — amounting to some $400bn.
Later this week, von der Leyen will co-host a global health summit in Rome with Italy’s prime minister Mario Draghi. The EU is hoping to unveil a big push to boost Africa’s capacity to manufacture vaccines at that summit.
The European effort is designed to complement an African Union goal set in April for up to 60 per cent of Africa’s routine vaccine needs to be supplied from within the continent by 2040, up from just 1 per cent now.
The broader political message from this week’s activities is clear: the EU and its member states are doing something to counter the terrible human and economic costs on poorer parts of the world. But critics will continue to ask whether it is anywhere near enough.
EU imports from Russia have reached their lowest level in a decade after multiple rounds of sanctions on Moscow in the past few years. But trade between the two could sink further when the EU’s carbon border tax is introduced. (More details here)
Of all EU’s financial supervisory authorities, the Paris-based European Securities and Markets Authority is one of the most well-respected. Which has not quite been reflected in the way member states have handled the appointment of Esma’s new chair, write Valentina Pop in Brussels and Philip Stafford in London.
Though they were given a shortlist in November and the term of the current Esma chair lapsed in March, governments have been unable to agree on a name for the position.
But there has been movement on the appointment of another chair, with hopes that a deal can be reached within weeks on the stewardship of Eiopa, Esma’s lower-profile sister agency for pensions and insurance. The European parliament is set today to give its approval to Petra Hielkema, director for insurance supervision at the Dutch central bank, to run Eiopa. Also awaiting a vote is Natasha Cazenave of France, who is on track to become Esma’s executive director.
What then of the Esma chairmanship? One of the names on the shortlist is Italy’s Carmine Di Noia, a commissioner of Italian regulatory agency Consob. The other is Verena Ross, Esma’s former executive director and a German national.
Ross is broadly favoured by Germany and northern European states. She also has the backing of a large number of MEPs who want to increase female leadership in EU agencies.
Di Noia has the support of Italy and some other southern states. They argue that for the sake of “geographical balance”, their candidate should get the Esma job after Eiopa went to a Dutch national.
“It’s very disappointing that for so many months the council hasn’t been able to agree on an Esma chair,” said German green MEP Sven Giegold, who led legislation on Esma. “They really deserve better.”
There is no doubting the EU’s appetite to engineer a detente in trade relations with the US. But that does not mean it will be easy to turn positive gestures into concrete progress, writes Sam Fleming in Brussels.
Back in March, the sides decided to suspend punitive tariffs related to the longstanding tussle over aircraft subsidies. Now, Brussels has said it would temporarily shelve plans to raise duties related to a Donald Trump-era metals dispute.
The latest offer related to a stand-off that has been running since 2018, when the former US president imposed duties on aluminium and steel from Europe and other economies. The EU retaliated with its own tariffs, which it was preparing to boost on June 1.
The question asked in Brussels yesterday was what the EU was getting in return for its gesture of goodwill towards President Joe Biden. The only obvious point is a vague joint commitment to conduct talks over excess capacity in the steel and aluminium markets.
But the EU considered its move part of a broader, positive shift in trade relations under way on both sides of the Atlantic. Its hope is that this could help unlock a resolution within months on the broader stand-off over the metals tariffs. Trump controversially imposed those measures on national security grounds when he was in the White House.
The Biden administration has, after all, been eager to demonstrate a more united front with its allies, particularly when it comes to confronting China. Achieving that goal will entail resolving some of the irritants bedevilling EU-US trade relations. An early test will come at a planned EU-US summit in Brussels next month.
That does not mean it will be easy to settle these disputes as soon as this summer. Despite Monday’s overtures, the politics of removing tariffs aimed at protecting US heavy industry remain particularly unappetising for Biden.