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July 29, 2020

Le Pen's summer contribution

Right before the summer break, Marine Le Pen is leading her last offensive Emmanuel Macron for mismanaging the pandemic response. Her story is that Macron lied, leaving everyone in the dark while the government knew well ahead but did not act in time. Over 163 pages, her party has listed all possible errors the government committed during the crisis, strategically and in terms of communication. It is her narrative of the decline of the nation. Should we take it seriously?

She is not really in a credible position to shoot from the hip. Populist leaders like Donald Trump, whom she once was a fan of, fared badly in protecting the people from the crisis. Her portrayed mistrust of the elites also no longer has the pull it once had. It was exactly this mistrust that prevented the US president from heeding scientists' warnings early on. 

Le Pen was always good in shifting responsibility to a chosen scapegoat. But Covid-19 has not fallen into line with her ideological clusters. The virus has proven to be unideological. Le Pen's simplistic statements, mixed with a dose of conspiracy theory, have often sounded absurd to the point of obscenity in the face of 150,000 deaths. The biggest drag on her credibility is Trump, writes Rémi Godeau. The best she could hope for is to register her criticism before a second wave sets off, so that she can claim later that it was all foreseeable. Apart from that, Covid-19 was bad news for Le Pen's chances to feed off the anger of the French while at the same time presenting herself as a credible alternative to Macron.

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July 29, 2020

Turkey's games with the EU

Turkey temporarily suspended its survey operations in the eastern Mediterranean pending talks with Greece. It seems a major hot incident has been avoided. At the same time Turkey issued a new navigational notice for a seismic survey in the economic exploration area of Cyprus. So what is the game here? 

Over the past week Berlin facilitated talks between Greece and Turkey to avoid a hot incident in the eastern Mediterranean. A military threat in Greek waters has been avoided and talks between Turkey and Greece are to start with a focus on the delineation of maritime borders. Make no mistake, Turkey will name its price or else threaten to resume its activities near the Greek islands.

When it comes to threats, Donald Trump demonstrated how to get Europeans to comply by threatening a trade tariff. Recep Tayyip Erdogan has learned this lesson and is about to do the same - his own way. By moving his target to Cyprus he is also forcing Greece to make a choice from hell, pursuing its own security interests at the expense of its neighbouring EU partner Cyprus.

The national security adviser to the Greek prime minister, Alexandros Diakopoulos, fell right into the trap. In an interview with Mega news, Diakopoulos said he expects that there will be no further escalation and that Erdogan will keep his word. This is wishful thinking. At the same time Diakopoulos made the astonishing statement that Turkey's two seismic survey plans, one in Greek waters the other in Cypriot waters, are not comparable. This is not the first time Turkey violates Cypriot's sovereign rights and international law there, he said. So the two are not comparable, he concludes. It looks to us that Turkey will have a heyday with these kind of negotiators.

In Libya, though, Turkey was forced by Russia to reign in its ambitions for real. Over the last couple of weeks and given their military successes, Turkey insisted on recapturing the strategic points of Sirte and al-Jufra from General Khalifa Haftar before agreeing on any ceasefire. But the Russian government got Turkey to agree to just that. Their joint statement from July 22 sets out that there will be joint efforts to reach a sustainable ceasefire and to facilitate an intra-Libyan political dialogue in line with the conclusions of Berlin's peace initiative. This last point can be read as a concession to accept Haftar as a counterpart as he was part of the Berlin negotiations in January. 

What was the game changer? Cengiz Candar in Al Monitor writes the key is Egypt. Egypt considers Sirte a red line, its president promised military retaliation if the GNA with their Syrian militias getting hold of Sirte. Egypt's parliament just gave the green light for this. But neither Turkey or Egypt have the appetite for a high stake military conflict. 

Another key role on the ground was played by Russian forces. The mercenaries of the Wagner group, a private paramilitary group with close links to Vladimir Putin, redeployed forces to the petrol site Sharara and the main port for oil exports Es Sider. This is a strategic point for Libya's oil exports to Europe. It is also an outlet for neighbouring oil fields partly owned by two American companies, which prompted a sharp reaction in the US with sanctions against the boss of Wagner. Depriving Tripoli of oil receipts is general Haftar's way of bleeding the pro-government forces financially. Politically it allowed Russia to force the government and by extension Turkey to accept ceasefire negotiations.

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