Economic downturn; recession of plans and initiatives; €-crisis; Brexit and irredentism in the UK, Spain, Belgium, Denmark and Italy; lasting instability in the Euro-Med theatre (debt crisis of the Europe’s south – countries scrutinized and ridiculed under the nickname PIGS, coupled with the failed states all over the MENA); terrorism; historic low with Russia; influx of predominantly Muslim refugees from Levant in unprecedented numbers and intensities since the WWII exoduses; consequential growth of far-right parties that are exploiting fears from otherness which are now coupled with already urging labor and social justice concerns, generational unemployment and socio-cultural anxieties… The very fundaments of Europe are shaking.
Strikingly, there is a very little public debate in Europe about it. What is even more worrying is the fact that any self-assessing questioning of Europe’s involvement and past policies in the Middle East, and Europe’s East is simply off-agenda. Immaculacy of Brussels and the Atlantic-Central Europe-led EU is unquestionable. Corresponding with realities or complying with a dogma?
One of the leading figures of European Renaissance that grossly inspired European renewal, Dante, puts Prophet Muhamed to the 8th circle of his famous Inferno. The only individuals bellow Muhamed were Judas, Brutus, and Satan. “Islam was seen as the negation of Christianity, as anti-Europe…and Muhammed as an Antichrist in alliance with the Devil…” as Rana Kabbani noted in her luminary piece Imperial Fictions.
However, both religions trace their origins back to Abraham. They both lived in harmony (or at least they cohabitated for centuries within the MENA proper, notably in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq). Why was than there no harmonious relationship between Christian Europe and the Middle East? Was Europe opting to repress the Muslims in order to artificially generate a homogenous European self?
This is a story of the past centuries – one may say. Still, absence of any self-reflection on the side of the EU towards its policy in the Middle East today, makes it worth to revisit some of the bleak chapters of European history, and the genesis of its pre-secular and secular thoughts.
Civitas Dei Brussels: Extra Euro-Atlanticum, nulla salus
Europe came to be known as ‘Christendom’ because its identity was imagined or invented as the Catholic in contradistinction to the Islamic Middle East and to the Eastern (true or Orthodox) Christianity. The Christianity, of course, originated in the Middle East not Europe. It was subsequently universalised and Europeanised by the Balkan-born Roman Emperor, who spent much of his life on Bosporus and hence was buried in Asia Minor – Constantin the Great. Surely, it was by legal design of this glorious Emperor that the city of Rome was (re)turned into an administrative periphery, politico-ideological outcast and geostrategic suburbia.
Therefore, the post Roman/Byzantine inauguration of ‘Christendom’ as a pure western culture necessitated a sustained intellectual acrobatics: Such an inversion (ideological and geopolitical periphery presenting itself as a centre) required both physical coercion and imposed narrative over the extensive space and time.
This a ’la card creation of Catholic Christendom or to say: Western Ummah, served two vital objectives: domestic and external. Both helped solidification of the feudal socio-economic and politico-military system, and based on that of a precolonial European collective identity. Domestically, it served for a coherent sense of selfhood (us vs. them paradigm): unity, oppression and obedience (extra ecclesiam nulla salus – no salvation outside the church, following the old Roman rational ‘no world beyond Limes line’, or the modern one: ‘no prosperity outside the EU’). Externally, here was the justification for military voyages and other forms of organized plunders, all coupled with a coercive societal identity.
A Catholic Renaissance Europe soon realized that, in order to effectively project itself – to physically and/or mentally colonise overseas territories – it needed either coercion (rarefying and assimilation), labour-camp detention (slavery) or final solution (physical extermination). These strategic dilemmas over the instruments to use influenced and dominated European debates of the time. It brought about the conception of the ‘noble savage’ – who could be assimilated, versus the ‘ignoble savage’ who was destined for either labour detention or final solution. That coerce-or-exterminate dilemma of ‘soul salvationists’ even culminated within the pre-Westphalian Christian Ummah. It was in the famous Valladolid controversy of 1550, by which Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda’s notion of the ignoble savage faced off against Bartolomé de Las Casa’s view of the noble savage.
In both cases – the claim was offered – the Amero/AfroAsian Natives deserve salvation as they have a ‘strong desire for it’, but the views differed on whether the Natives’ prone wishes exceeded their mental capacity to receive Christianity. Hence, the debates – which were the roots and origins of the later liberal theories as well as the early precursors of the subsequent regime change, humanitarian intervention and preemption doctrines – always presupposed the inferiority (and passivity) of the Natives. Frankly, this remains a constant behaviour in international relations: E.g. views on Libya differed, as they differ today on Syria. However, what is common to all views is; nobody consults the local population and considers what they would like for themselves.
Legitimizing the imperialism of imagination
In a course of subsequent centuries, the notion of final solution underwent through a sophistication, and was eventually replaced by the combination of cultural conversions/ submissions (induced submissiveness), politico-military obedience and socio-economic apartheid. A subtle apartheid (that is easy to deny, but hard to prove) is usually better than the brute genocide (which is traceable and easily quantifiable). At the peaks of imperialism a noble-ignoble savage dilemma was embodied in an implicit and explicit racism. Debate was focused on a question whether the civilizational inferiority can be remedied through the imperial ‘civilizing’ mission, with social Darwinists and ‘scientific’ racists being rather pessimistic, but more solutions’ instructive.
The so-called central dilemma of liberalism (Is it liberal to impose liberal values on illiberal societies) was of course only an innocently looking tip of the large iceberg, of the tireless othering. This ‘epistemology’ was further soft-embedded in the so-called Peter Pan theory with a romanticised image of the Other as more childishly careless and helpless, than intentionally cruel and barbaric; being rather alluring, promiscuous and exotic. Essentially, the East as an innocently enveloped child who would never grow up. This, of course, gave rise to various binary categorisations, the us-vs.-them/either-or listings in order to facilitate a decisive and long-lasting differentiation between the constructed West and the East.
The West as a constructed male vs. the East as a constructed female. A ‘mind-oriented’ west vs. a ‘body-oriented’ east. Phallusoid peninsulas and islands of (Atlantic-Scandinavian) Europe vs. womb-like continental landmass of Afro-Asia; Erective and explosive vs. reflective and implosive; an Omnipresent (ever seafaring and trading) extroverted male vs. humble, handcrafting, waiting female. Masculin, phallusoid, progressively erected temporal linearity vs. periodic menstruation leakages in regressive cycles of stagnation. Clearly, anything beyond that was deemed inconsequential.
Physical, material, ideological, active, polarizing, determined vs. metaphysical, spiritual, esoteric, atmospheric, inclusive, holistic. No wonder that all operationalized ideologies originated solely in Europe. What else, since no one ever, but Asians revealed any significant religion to the world.
Gradually, the imperial civilizing mission (Expansion is a path to Security) got a new form. It became a moral duty – R2P (Responsibility to Protect), as much as the parental duty is to raise their infant child. The handsome, masculine and strong Western Prince Charming has one duty – to emancipate his Eastern Sleeping Beauty. Giving a ‘kiss’ meant projecting the western physical military presence, Christianity and commerce. Who was/is the Eastern Sleeping Beauty?
Rudyard Kipling’s famous 1899 poem, The White’s Man Burden offers some answers while describing the Eastern peoples as ‘half-devil and half-child’. “The blame of those ye better / The hate of those ye guard” – Kipling warns and instructs, he describes and invites. In his classic novel of 1847, Tancred, much celebrated British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli claims “A Saxon race, protected by an insular position, has stamped its diligent and methodic character of the century. And when a superior race, with a superior idea to Work and Order, advances, its state will be progressive…All is race!” Quite an intellectual acrobatics for Disraeli himself, who was neither Saxonic nor Christian.
Over the period, western Catholic missionaries constituted one of the most powerful and influential lobbying voices for this civilizing mission. It was of course weaponisation of religion, a notorious misuse for ideological purposes. Same like today, fanatics then and there, were identified and further radicalised, to say ’inspired’. Eventually, they usually got hired as the AGITPROP/Ideological police by the predatory elites, hid behind the Feudal European states. Naturally, the justification was looked upon in any Biblical narrative. E.g. the re-invoking the Genesis story of Noah’s three sons, and interpreting it as the ‘duty’ of Japheth (Europe) to absorb Shem (the Asians) and enslave and colonise Ham or Canaan (the Black Africa and Indianos of America). Amazingly, according to Genesis ch.9, verse 27: “God shall enlarge Japheth and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem, and Canaan shall be his servant”.
The later Protestant revival infused the next wave of Christian missionaries to force this narrative into the matrix of colonisation as ‘wilful’ implants onto the minds and bodies of overseas peoples. Therefore, James Lorrimer and other architects of that-time political and international legal order divided the world in three segments: civilized White, barbarous Yellow and savage Black. Yellows were ‘fallen people’, a terra infantilis to civilize (what will later evolve into indirect rule, with a social apartheid in place), the area occupied by the Blacks, Redbones and Aborigine was a ‘borderless space’, terra nullius just to conquer and settle, since the indigenous have no ‘birthright’ to it (meaning: physical colonisation and direct rule, final solution and genocide).
Unfinished business of ‘salvation’ came back to Europe of 20th century. Hitler’s interpretation of it was: civilized White (Arian) – Central Europe; Yellows (to be put under indirect rule, with ‘only’ social apartheid in place) Atlantic and Scandinavian Europe; Blacks (predestined for a physical colonisation of superior race upon a decisive final solution and genocide) all Slavic states of Eastern and Russophonic Europe.
Indeed, ever since the 18th century on, European notion that ‘civilization’ was the monopoly of the West, clearly implied that there is no civilization – and therefore, salvation – outside the western model. Famous historian Toynbee calls it “a secularized version of the primitive Western Christian proposition Nemini salus …nisi in Ecclesia.” See for yourself how much current debates, sparked by the ongoing refugee crisis, follow the above patters.
Triangular economy of othering
There is a consensus within the scientific community that the critical factor in redefining Europe as the advanced West was the expansion of its strategic depth westward to the America upon 1492. This enabled the so-called triangular transcontinental trade, brutally imposed by Europeans: Enslaved Africans shipped to America in exchange for gold and silver from there to Europe, in order to cover European deficits in importing the cutting-edge technologies, manufactured products, other goods and spices from a that-time superior Asia and the Middle East.
The Afro-America yields were so colossal for Atlantic Europe that many scholars assume the so–called Industrial revolution rather as an evolutionary anomaly than a natural process of development, which was primarily pivoting in Asia. Such a rapid shift from a peripheral status to an ‘advanced civilization’ of course necessitated a complete reconstruction of western identity. This acrobatics – in return – also enhanced the split between Eastern/Russophone, closer to and therefore more objective towards the Afroasian realities, and Western (Atlantic/Scandinavian/ Central) Europe, more exclusive, self-centred and ignorant sphere.
While the Atlantic flank progressively developed its commercial and naval power as to economically and demographically project itself beyond the continent, the landlocked Eastern Europe was lagging behind. It stuck in feudalism, and involuntarily constituted a cordon sanitaire to Islam and the Russo-oriental East. Gradually, past the 15th century the idea of ‘Western Europe’ begun to crystallise as the Ottoman Turks and the Eastern Europeans were imagined and described as barbarians. During the 17th and 18th century, Atlantic Europe portrayed itself as the prosperous West that borders ‘pagan/barbarian’ neighbours to its near east, and the ‘savage’ neighbours to its south and west, and Far East. Consequently, we cannot deny a role that the fabricated history as well as the ‘scientific’ racism and its theories played in a formation and preservation of European identity.
The Enlightenment was a definite moment in the reinvention of European identity. The quest came along with the fundamental question who are we, and what is our place in the world? Answering that led on to the systematisation, classification and – frankly – to invention of the world. From the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, a kind of an intellectual apartheid regime was forming. The rise of the West was portrayed as a pure virgin birth as John M. Hobson fairly concluded. Europeans delineated themselves as the (only or the most) progressive subject of the world history in past, presence and future, while the Eastern peoples (e.g. Asian as ‘the people without history’) were seen as inert, passive and corrosive. While the Solar system ‘became’ heliocentric, the sake and fate of our planet turned plain – ‘Europocentric’. The world is flat mantra set the stage. (following the geostrategic dictatum: the expansion is a path to security.
“The idea of Europe found its most enduring expression in the confrontation with the Orient in the age of imperialism. It was in the encounter with other civilizations that the identity of Europe was shaped. Europe did not derive its identity from itself but from the formation of a set of global contrasts. In the discourse that sustained this dichotomy of Self and Other, Europe and the Orient became opposite poles in a system of civilizational values which were defined by Europe.” – notes Delantry.
Even the English word to determine, position, adapt, adjust, align, identify, conform, direct, steer, navigate or command has an oriental connotation. To find and locate itself opposite to Orient, means to orient oneself.
Feudal Europe had identified itself negatively against Levant and Islam. Clearly, it was an identity heavily resting on insecurity. An external manifestation of inner insecurity is always aggressive assertiveness.
Is this still alive or even operative? How it correlates today?
Europe repeatedly missed to answer to the East and Middle East through a dialogue (instruments) and consensus (institutions) although having both (CoE, OSCE, EU’s ENP, Barcelona Process, etc.). For the last 25 years, it primarily responded to the MENA militarily (or/and with sanctions, which is a socio-economic warfare) – via ‘Coalitions of the Willing’. However, for a rapidly economically and demographically contracting Europe, the confrontation does not pay off anymore. While practically still yesterday (by the end of WWII), four of the five largest economies were situated in Europe, today only one is not in Asia. None is in Europe. (Likewise, while the US economy contributed with 54% of the world output in 1945, today it hardly has 1/3 of that share.)
Simply, the Old Continent is not a wealthy club anymore. It is a place with a memory of its wealthy past. The EU has to learn how to deescalate and compromise. It is in its best interest, for the sake of its only viable future. Therefore, it is a high time for the Brussels-headquartered Europe to evolve in its views and actings.
Let us start by answering the question: Is the so-called Russian expansionism or MENA ‘Islamofascism’ spontaneous or provoked, is it nascent or only a mirror image of something striking in front of it? And after all, why the indigenous Europe’s Muslims (those of the Balkans) and their twins, indigenous Christians of MENA (those of Levant) are now two identically slim shadows on a bulletproof wall.
For centuries, it follows the same matrix: doctrinated/induced inferiority, denouncing, attack, marginalization, passivation, plunder, indirect rule, remote control presence. Or, reduced to a binary code formula: victimisation-criminalisation. Namely: humanitarian intervention.
Small surprise that the 43rd US President (un)famously claimed: ‘you are either with us or against us’… His father, the 41st US President, strategized the Cold War and summarised its epilogue effectively: ‘We win, they lose’.
To this end: Inventive, proactive, scientific, rational, disciplined, sell-controlled/self-constraining, sane, sensible, practical, ‘mind-oriented’, independent, and most of all paternal West. The East, of course, was on the opposite side and inferior: imitative, passive, superstitious, lazy, irrational, spontaneous, insane, emotional, exotic, body-oriented, dependent, and above all, child-like. Tall, matured ‘masculinity’ vs. immature and physically underdeveloped ‘femininity’. The masculine phallus of military, industry, technology, shipping and trade that is welcomed, if not heartedly invited, to tap and drill the womb-like dwell of resources, while at the same time seeding the ideological semen of ‘civilization’.
Most of the so-called International/Cross-continental Trade Pacts are closer to the capitulation agreements than to any fair, balanced and mutually beneficial commercial accords. What a popular language of today calls barriers to trade are in fact the socio-economic sovereign rights and other checks-and-balances national well-being instruments.
In order to illustrate a magnitude, let’s note a following data: Starting from an early 16th century for consecutive 300 years, 85% of the world’s silver production and 70% of the world’s gold output came from the Americas. Further on, during the 17th, 18th and 19th century the role of Black slavery, slave trading, American Black slave-driven production centres and Negro markets, all significantly contributed to Atlantic Europe’s agricultural and industrial ‘breakthrough’ – as we are celebrating it today. Even the US Founding Fathers were slaveholders (5 of the 7 principal ones: Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and George Washington).
The moment of ‘liberal truth’ always comes from Atlantic. Thus, Ana Palacio who served both sides of Atlantic (as the former Spanish Foreign Ministers and the former Senior Vice President of the Washington-based WB) – among many others – recently warned the Western Ummah: “After years of handwringing over Obama’s strategic “pivot” to Asia, even as Russia was stirring up trouble in Ukraine, Europe is once again a strategic focus for the US. But the deeper message is far less encouraging. The US is acting because its European partners have not. This divergence is troubling. American engagement is necessary to provide momentum, but it is Europe’s weight that has served as the critical mass required to move the world’s liberal order in a positive direction. From the perspective of the European Union, the latest US security bailout raises the possibility that after more than two decades of growing prominence, Europe will lose its agenda-setting power.” (text underlined, by A.B.)
Election Monitoring in 2018: What Not to Expect
This year’s election calendar released by OSCE showcases a broad display of future presidential, parliamentary and general elections with hefty political subjecthoods which have the potential of transforming in their entirety particularly the European Union, the African Union and the Latin American sub-continent. A wide sample of these countries welcoming elections are currently facing a breadth of challenges in terms of the level of transparency in their election processes. To this end, election observation campaigns conducted by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the Council of Europe, the Organisation for American States (OAS), the United Nations Electoral Assistance Division, the National Democratic Institute, Carter Center and even youth organisations such as AEGEE and Silba are of paramount importance in safeguarding the incorruptibility of election proceedings in fraudulent and what cannot be seen with the naked eye type of fraudulent political systems, making sure elections unfold abiding national legislation and international standards.
What exactly does an election observation mission supposed to accomplish?
An election monitoring mission consists of operational experts and analysts who are all part of a core team and are conducting their assignments for a period of time varying between 8 and 12 weeks. Aside from the core team experts and analysts, there can be short-term or long-term observers and seconded observers or funded observers. Joining them, there is usually a massive local support staff acting as interpreters and intermediaries. Generally, an election observer does not interfere with the process, but merely takes informative notes. With this in mind, it is imperative of the observer to make sure there isn’t any meddling with votes at polling stations by parties and individual candidates; that the people facilitating the election process are picked according to fair and rigorous benchmarks; that these same people can be held accountable for the final results and that, at the end of the day, the election system put in place by the national and local authorities is solid from both a physical and logical standpoint. Oftentimes, particularly in emerging democracies, the election monitoring process goes beyond the actual process of voting by extending to campaign monitoring.
In practical terms, the average election observer needs to abide by certain guidelines for a smooth and standardised monitoring process. Of course, these rules can vary slightly, depending on the sending institution. Typically, once the election observer has landed in the country awaiting elections, their first two days are normally filled with seminars on the electoral system of the country and on the electoral law. Meetings with candidates from the opposition are sometimes organised by the electoral commission. Talking to ordinary voters from builders to cleaners, from artists to businesspeople is another way through which an election observer can get a sense of what social classes pledged their allegiances to what candidates. After two days in training and the one day testing political preferences on the ground, election day begins. Since the early bird gets the worm, polling stations open at least two hours earlier than the work day starts, at around 7am. Throughout the day, observers ask voters whether they feel they need to complain about anything and whether they were asked to identify themselves when voting. Other details such as the polling stations opening on time are very much within the scope of investigation for election monitors. Observers visit both urban voting centres and rural ones. In the afternoon, counting begins with observers carefully watching the volunteers from at least 3 metres away. At the end of the day, observers go back to their hotels and begin filling in their initial questionnaires with their immediate reactions on the whole voting process. In a few weeks time, a detailed report would be issued in cooperation with all the other election observers deployed in various regions of the country and under the supervision of the mission coordinators.
Why are these upcoming elections particularly challenging to monitor?
Talks of potential Russian interference into the U.S. elections have led to full-on FBI investigations. Moreover, the idea of Russian interference in the Brexit vote is slowly creeping into the British political discourse. Therefore, it does not take a quantum physicist to see a pattern here. Hacking the voting mechanism is yet another not-so-classic conundrum election observers are facing. We’re in the midst of election hacking at the cognitive level in the form of influence operations, doxing and propaganda. But, even more disturbingly, we’re helpless witnesses to interference at the technical level as well. Removing opposition’s website from the Internet through DDOS attacks to downright political web-hacking in Ukraine’s Central Election Commission to show as winner a far-right candidate are only some of the ways which present an unprecedented political savviness and sophistication directed at the tampering of the election machinery. Even in a country such as the U.S. (or Sweden – their elections being held September of this year) where there is a great deal of control over the physical vote, there is not much election monitoring can do to enhance the transparency of it all when interference occurs by way of the cyber domain affecting palpable election-related infrastructure.
Sketching ideational terrains seems like a fruitful exercise in imagining worst-case scenarios which call for the design of a comprehensive pre-emptive approach for election fraud. But how do you prevent election fraud? Sometimes, the election observer needs to come to terms with the fact that they are merely a reporter, a pawn which notwithstanding the action of finding oneself in the middle of it all, can generally use only its hindsight perspective. Sometimes, that perspective is good enough when employed to draft comprehensive electoral reports, making a difference between the blurry lines of legitimate and illegitimate political and electoral systems.
Can Europe successfully rein in Big Tobacco?
In what looks set to become the ‘dieselgate’ of the tobacco industry, a French anti-smoking organization has filed a lawsuit against four major tobacco brands for knowingly selling cigarettes with tar and nicotine levels that were between 2 and 10 times higher than what was indicated on the packs. Because the firms had manipulated the testing process, smokers who thought they were smoking a pack a day were in fact lighting up the equivalent of up to 10, significantly raising their risk for lung cancer and other diseases.
According to the National Committee Against Smoking (CNCT), cigarettes sold by the four companies have small holes in the filter that ventilate smoke inhaled under test conditions. But when smoked by a person, the holes compress due to pressure from the lips and fingers, causing the smoker to inhale higher levels of tar and nicotine. According to the lawsuit, the irregularity “tricks smokers because they are unaware of the degree of risk they are taking.”
It was only the most recent example of what appears to be a deeply entrenched propensity for malfeasance in the tobacco industry. And unfortunately, regulatory authorities across Europe still appear unprepared to just say no to big tobacco.
Earlier this month, for instance, Public Health England published a report which shines a positive light on “tobacco heating products” and indicates that electronic cigarettes pose minimal health risks. Unsurprisingly, the UK report has been welcomed by big tobacco, with British American Tobacco praising the clear-sightedness of Public Health England.
Meanwhile, on an EU-wide level, lawmakers are cooperating too closely for comfort with tobacco industry executives in their efforts to craft new cigarette tracking rules for the bloc.
The new rules are part of a campaign to clamp down on tobacco smuggling, a problem that is particularly insidious in Europe and is often attributed to the tobacco industry’s own efforts to stiff the taxman. According to the WHO, the illicit cigarette market makes up between 6-10% of the total market, and Europe ranks first worldwide in terms of the number of seized cigarettes. According to studies, tobacco smuggling is also estimated to cost national and EU budgets more than €10 billion each year in lost public revenue and is a significant source of cash for organized crime. Not surprisingly, cheap availability of illegally traded cigarettes is also a major cause of persistently high smoking rates in the bloc.
To help curtail cigarette smuggling and set best practices in the fight against the tobacco epidemic, the WHO established the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2005. The first protocol to the FCTC, the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products, was adopted in 2012 and later ratified by the EU. Among other criteria, the Protocol requires all cigarette packs to be marked with unique identifiers to ensure they can be tracked and traced, thereby making smuggling more difficult.
Unsurprisingly, the tobacco industry has come up with its own candidates to meet track and trace requirements, notably Codentify, a system developed by PMI. From 2005 through 2016, PMI used Codentify as part of an anti-smuggling agreement with the EU. But the agreement was subject to withering criticism from the WHO and other stakeholders for going against the Protocol, which requires the EU and other parties to exclude the tobacco industry from participating in anti-smuggling efforts.
The EU-PMI agreement expired in 2016 and any hopes of reviving it collapsed after the European Parliament, at loggerheads with the Commission, overwhelmingly voted against a new deal and decided to ratify the WHO’s Protocol instead. Codentify has since been sold to the French firm Impala and was rebranded as Inexto – which critics say is nothing but a front company for PMI since its leadership is made out of former PMI executives. Nonetheless, due to lack of stringency in the EU’s draft track and trace proposal, there is still a chance that Inexto may play a role in any new track and trace system, sidelining efforts to set up a system that is completely independent of the tobacco industry.
This could end up by seriously derailing the EU’s efforts to curb tobacco smuggling, given the industry’s history of active involvement in covertly propping up the black market for cigarettes. In 2004, PMI paid $1.25 billion to the EU to settle claims that it was complicit in tobacco smuggling. As part of the settlement, PMI agreed to issue an annual report about tobacco smuggling in the EU, a report that independent researchers found “served the interests of PMI over those of the EU and its member states.”
Given the industry’s sordid history of efforts to prop up the illicit tobacco trade, it’s little surprise that critics are still dissatisfied with the current version of the EU’s track and trace proposal.
Now, the CNCT’s lawsuit against four major tobacco firms gives all the more reason to take a harder line against the industry. After all, if big tobacco can’t even be honest with authorities about the real levels of chemicals in their own products, what makes lawmakers think that they can play a viable role in any effort to quell the illegal cigarette trade – one that directly benefits the industry?
Later this month, the European Parliament will have a new chance to show they’re ready to get tough on tobacco, when they vote on the pending proposal for an EU-wide track and trace system. French MEP Younous Omarjee has already filed a motion against the system due to its incompatibility with the letter of the WHO. Perhaps a ‘dieselgate’ for the tobacco industry might be just the catalyst they need to finally say no to PMI and its co-conspirators.
Bureaucrats’ Crusade: The European Commission’s Strategy for the Western Balkans
The European Commission set a target date of 2025 for some of the Balkan countries to join. However, Brussels sees only Serbia and Montenegro as actual candidates. The door formally remains open to Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo and Macedonia, but these countries have been put into a grey zone with no time frames and road maps. They have been put on hold with no tangible prospects for membership, left without any explanation of what makes them less valid candidates than Serbia and Montenegro, with these two being as poor, illiberal and undemocratic as the remaining four.
With a dose of instant cynicism, one might conclude that Serbia and Montenegro have been rewarded for their military aggressions on Bosnia and Kosovo, and Serbia’s permanent pressures on Macedonia, whereas the latter ones have been punished for being the former’s victims. However, a more careful look at the population structure of the four non-rewarded countries reveals that these, unlike Serbia and Montenegro, have a relative excess of Muslim population. So far, there have been dilemmas whether the European Union is to be regarded as an exclusive Christian club, bearing in mind the prolonged discriminatory treatment of Turkey as an unwanted candidate. After the European Commission’s new strategy for the Balkans, there can be no such dilemmas: the countries perceived by Brussels bureaucrats as Muslim ones – regardless of the actual percentage of their Muslim population – are not to be treated as European.
The resurrection of this logic, now embodied in the actual strategy, takes Europe back to its pre-Westphalian roots, to the faraway times of the Crusades or the times of the Siege of Vienna. It also signals the ultimate triumph of the most reactionary populist ideologies in the contemporary Europe, based on exclusion of all who are perceived as „others“. It signals the ultimate triumph of the European ineradicable xenophobia. Or – to put it in terms more familiar to the likely author of the strategy, the European Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn – the triumph of Ausländerfeindlichkeit.
Now, what options are left to the practically excluded Balkan countries, after so many efforts to present themselves as valid candidates for EU membership? There is a point in claims that some of their oligarchies, particularly the tripartite one in Bosnia-Herzegovina, have never actually wanted to join the EU, because their arbitrary rule would be significantly undermined by the EU’s rule of law. It is logical, then, that the tripartite oligarchy welcomes the strategy that keeps the country away from the EU membership, while at the same time deceiving the population that the strategy is a certain path to the EU. Yet, what about these people, separated into three ethnic quarantines, who believe that joining the EU would simply solve all their political and economic problems, and who refuse to accept the idea that the EU might be an exclusive club, not open to them? What are the remaining options for them?
They cannot launch a comprehensive revolution and completely replace the tripartite oligarchy by their democratic representatives. Still, they can press it to adopt and conduct a multi-optional foreign policy, oriented towards several geopolitical centers: one of them may remain Brussels, but Washington, Moscow, Beijing, Ankara, Tehran, and others, should also be taken into account. For, a no-alternative policy, as the one which only repeats its devotion to the EU integrations without any other geopolitical options, is no policy at all. In this sense, the presented EU strategy has clearly demonstrated the futility of such a no-alternative approach: regardless of how many times you repeat your devotion to the EU values, principles and integrations, the EU bureaucrats can simply tell you that you will never play in the same team with them. However, such an arbitrary but definite rejection logically pushes the country to look for geopolitical alternatives. And it is high time for Bosnia-Herzegovina’s people and intellectual and political elites to understand that Brussels is not the only option on the table, and that there are other geopolitical centers whose interests might be identified as convergent with the interests of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Still, all of them should first demonstrate the ability to identify the interests of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which means that they should first recognize it as a sovereign state with its own interests, rather than someone else’s proxy.
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