The Daily Brief: Wednesday, Mar. 29

The Daily Brief: Wednesday, Mar. 29

The stories that matter before they happen.

THE POINT OF NO RETURN: ARTICLE 50

Photo: Reuters/Dylan Martinez

Photo: Reuters/Dylan Martinez

No country has ever left the European Union before. On Wednesday, Theresa May will make history when she triggers Article 50 and starts the Brexit process. While the world’s attention has focussed on the kind of deal London will seek, less attention has been given to the EU’s position.

Time and again Brussels has insisted it wouldn’t punish the UK for choosing to leave. But with Euroscepticism surging, the EU may want to make an example of Brexiteers to stymie similar movements in other member-states.

Upcoming Brexit talks will present continental policy makers with a dilemma: grant concessions to the UK – Europe’s second largest economy – and ensure a smooth Brexit, or dig in for bruising and protracted negotiations.

There will be no shortage of contentious topics. Financial institutions based in London, for example, may well lose their license to operate in the EU unless they set up costly and complicated subsidiaries elsewhere in the bloc. Airlines may find themselves in a similar situation. If things go sour, the UK could retaliate by expelling EU nationals and engaging in tax competition.

Amid continued uncertainty, onlookers will be watching the April 29 European Council meeting in Brussels for any sign of a clear negotiating strategy.

HEATING UP: THE ARCTIC

Photo: PJ Hansen

Photo: PJ Hansen

The Arctic is known as a vast, frigid and uninhabited tundra. Vladimir Putin wants to change this perception.

In January, Russia revealed it would inject $3.7 billion into its Arctic regions to stimulate growth and development. This figure will be matched, and possibly doubled, by the country’s private sector.

In pursuit of his northern ambitions, Mr Putin will headline the International Arctic Forum on Wednesday, where 1,500 attendees will discuss how best to exploit and transport the region’s mineral resources.

There’s little doubt that the Arctic holds vast riches; a recent US Geological Survey suggested the region holds roughly a quarter of the world’s undiscovered hydrocarbons. But getting minerals out of the ground in such a hostile environment remains complicated and prohibitively costly, particularly in an age of low oil prices.

Aside from hydrocarbons, the Arctic may soon become an ocean superhighway. With the onset of global warming, ships carrying goods from East Asia are now able to traverse the previously frozen Northern Sea to access European markets for two months a year. This route is almost a third shorter than the traditional Indian Ocean route, leading Mr Putin to prophesise that it’ll soon rival the Suez Canal.

ALL TALK: THE ARAB LEAGUE

Photo: Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

Photo: Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

Members of the Arab League will gather in Jordan’s capital Amman on Wednesday for the group’s annual summit.

Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE were notably missing from the gathering last year, raising doubts about the future prospects of Arab cooperation. The year before that, an agreement to establish a joint military force in the region resulted in little progress.

This year, the bloc seems decidedly unified on the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. More than a dozen policy resolutions have already been endorsed by Arab foreign ministers ahead of Wednesday’s summit. They levelled veiled condemnation of a possible US Embassy move to Jerusalem, slamming ‘any unilateral steps that jeopardise the historical and legal status’ of the disputed holy city.

But, as in the past, the well-coordinated joint statements are unlikely to make much headway beyond the meeting itself, particularly given the growing presence of right-wing nationalists in Israel.

 

HAPPENING ELSEWHERE…

While Theresa May takes centre stage, the European People’s Party – a union of centre-right EU parties – will hold its congress in Malta. Senior EU leaders in attendance, including Angela Merkel and Jean-Claude Juncker, are expected to share ideas on foreign and security policies. These days, such a discussion could range from formulating a Brexit strategy to stemming migrants from Libya to dealing with an increasingly unruly Turkey.

Samsung will introduce its latest smartphone: the Galaxy S8. The South Korean firm will be looking to put its recent troubles behind it with the latest iteration of its flagship device, which is expected to feature a larger, curved screen and a new intelligent voice system called Bixby.

Bids for Donald Trump’s famed Mexican border wall are due. More than 600 companies have placed bids for the $2.3 billion project, which the president insists be twice as high as the current fence and aesthetically pleasing.