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July 25, 2016

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NATO is in as much trouble as the EU

This will be the last week for our newsbriefing before our two-week summer break. Normally, at this time of the year the news is already getting thin as most of the actors we are following are on holiday. But this is a different summer - one that will leave its marks on European politics for a long time. After the attack in Nice a week ago, there have been four brutal terror attacks in Germany: the train attack in Wurzburg, the killings in Munich on Friday by a German-Iranian youngster, the killing on Saturday of a woman by a Syrian refugee in the southern German city of Reutlingen, and last night a suicide-bombing by a Syrian refugee, whose application for asylum had been rejected. The latest incident took place in the Bavarian town of Ansbach, where the bomber ended up killing himself and injuring twelve. Terror has arrived in Germany, and while all these four cases are different - and not linked to Isis - they will trigger a rethink of security policy.

In addition to terrorism, the future of Nato is also coming under question through events in Turkey and various threats by Donald Trump - should he become US president. It looks to us that Nato is in as much trouble as the EU. In the following we will take a closer look at European security.

We have always doubted whether Germany is really committed to Nato's Article 5. For example, when we heard the criticism of Frank-Walter Steinmeier of the increase of Nato troops in eastern Europe as sabre-rattling, it was clear that he was defending Russia's interests, not Nato's. 

In an interview with the New York Times Donald Trump linked the US's willingness to come to the aid of a Nato to the recipient country's own military spending. Only Turkey, Greece and the US spend the 2% of their GDP on defence, none of the others do thouh Estonia and Poland have announced they will next year. Even if one assumes that Trump is unlikely to win the presidency, these comments are deeply significant. Jens Stoltenberg noted that Article 5 was an absolute - not conditional - commitment, but this is clearly under a cloud. Barack Obama got into the fray saying there's a difference between pressuring allies to keep up their spending and threatening to break the mutual defence clause of the alliance. We presume that Vladimir Putin views these developments with great interest.

The Washington Post reports on financial ties between Putin and Trump. Meanwhile, Viktor Orbán, another would-be strongman with a soft spot for Putin, has become the first sitting head of government, in the world to endorse Trump.

The situation in Turkey constitutes another more direct threat to the cohesion between Nato's two most important members. The Turkish pro-government newspaper Yeni Safak continues to push the story that the US was complicit in the coup attempt, naming the American commander at the Incirlik air base as the masterminded the putsch. Obama responded that rumours such as these would endanger US personnel in Turkey. There are also concerns that the purge of the Turkish security apparatus will distract Turkey from the fight in Syria. Western intelligence agencies depend on Turkish cooperation in their fight against Isis, in particular in trying to control the flow of foreign fighters to Syria and back to the West which is an increasing concern after the recent wave of terrorist attacks on European cities. 

The issue of the extradition request of Fetullah Gülen is certain to become another source of diplomatic tension between the two countries. And the EU is unlikely to be able to meet its side of the refugee bargain after the coup.

Our other stories

We also have stories about British wishful thinking around an immigration emergency brake; about the impact of Brexit on Greece; about how the Good Friday Agreement might evolve with Brexit; and about the effect of low interest rates and underinvestments on future pensions and prosperity.

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