In a recent document of the European Authority for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, released earlier this June, stock is taken of the shortcomings in the EU foreign policy and intelligence system. Meanwhile, according to the document, the European Union should continue to support the political and economic reforms in the Western Balkans.
It seems that the current “reforms” are all targeted to the reduction of wages and welfare, by following the impossible example of the Asian economies which, also in this case, work with very different logics compared to ours.
Let us revert, however, to the EU document: it argues that the Member States should continue to be production replacement areas of EU industries, with decreased labor costs and entrepreneurs’ greater fiscal and organizational autonomy.
It is not clear how those States can be sustained in the absence of tax revenue capable of justifying public spending.
Another aspect of the EU document is the strengthening of the Atlantic axis with the US. Nevertheless, it is precisely America which is disengaging from Europe, except for the region on the border with the Russian Federation, where the US Armed Forces (and not only the NATO ones) are converging, with an ad hoc military structure and a new network of sensors and missile sites, both fixed and mobile ones, between Poland and Romania up to the Turkish border.
As is the case with its scarcely imaginatively currency, the European Union proposes itself as a “bridge” for resolving tensions between the Middle East, North Africa and the Persian Gulf, but with no weapons and no credible economic leverage, without stable allies and with a policy still oriented to the old peacekeeping concept.
Hence if Brexit succeeds, Prime Minister David Cameron – heir to Premier Margaret Thatcher who, at first, made Great Britain adhere to the EU in 1973 and later coldly managed the British presence within the organization – will have no interest in implementing or even discussing the new EU global strategy.
If Brexit fails, however, it would be mostly the same.
Prime Minister Cameron will either come even closer to US interests, or he will play with his own forces among the various regional powers in the above mentioned areas.
Even if Bremain were successful, the British authorities would have no interest in pressing ahead with the new European Global Strategy.
The fact is that there is an old system which is changing and shrinking, namely the Euro-Atlantic system, and a new system being built, namely Eurasia led by Russia and China, which will reach up to the Mediterranean with its Belt and Road Initiative and the integration of its economies into the vast Asian world, which is recording an economic and strategic expansion fully promoted by China.
The EU has not chosen yet and it has not dealt these issues with the respective poles of attraction. It still has a vision that Marx would call “economicist” and believes that a powerless GDP, deprived of strategic perspectives, is enough to stay afloat in the future multipolar world.
In the event of a soft Brexit, Great Britain may collaborate with the European Union’s core countries to a common security policy, but it is extremely unlikely for the EU to implement its global foreign policy without the support of a military, diplomatic and intelligence power such as Great Britain.
The possibility of counter-terrorism cooperation with the rest of Europe at collective security level would remain open, but certainly the project of a Joint European Army – as called for by many circles – would fade away.
Many weaknesses do not create a force, and it is not clear what the “external objectives” and the unified strategy of the new Joint European Army could be.
Without any reference to Brexit, Great Britain has planned to invest 178 billion pounds over a ten-year period, as stated in the Strategic Defence and Security Review of 2015.
Great Britain wants to become a “pocket superpower” on its own, as quickly as possible.
Rather than at a Common European Security and Defense Policy, it has never liked, Great Britain is still aiming at the wide NATO context and at enhanced bilateral cooperation with the EU Member States within it.
France is certainly a candidate for stable collaboration with Great Britain, but France officially theorizes the participation of the German Armed Forces and this is not wished at all by Great Britain.
Great Britain seems to be still living at the time of Lord Kitchener’s policy: it wants a united Europe as a way to be spared East and South (trade, migration and financial) invasions, but it does not think of a strongly united EU, which would inevitably become German-led.
But what is the current EU influence on the NATO framework? It is far from negligible.
Since 2003 there has been a significant contribution of European countries’ troops to the Atlantic Alliance’s mechanism of the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF), a brigade designed to move very quickly towards NATO’s Eastern borders.
It is subject to the rule of Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty.
Europe is present in the VJTF primarily for its economic commitments in Ukraine, following the signing of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) with the country.
The DCFTA between the EU and Ukraine envisages, first of all, the removal of all import and export taxes.
Also at agricultural level there are duty free products: cereals, pork and beef, poultry and horticulture.
Also the trade of manufactured goods has been liberalized, especially for the companies operating in the textiles and machine tools sectors.
Obviously the core of the issue is that a sharp reduction of duties is envisaged also for the petroleum products.
Hence, while the EU overall strategy is moving along the lines of defining various individual strategies for each point of crisis (Sahel, Libya, the Horn of Africa, etc.), Great Britain may certainly participate in the NATO framework of these operations, but it has no interest in taking part in it as a EU member.
Great Britain will never be – nor could it be otherwise – a sort of Australia or New Zealand at military and strategic levels.
It will never be a power “on call”, as some domestic workers.
Britain has the potential, ideas and weapons to become – by itself – the power broker in all the regions in which it is directly interested: the North Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Greater Middle East.
Since its membership of the EU in 1973, Great Britain has always considered its diplomatic policy in the European Union as a subset of its broader foreign policy action.
Since the time of Prime Minister Churchill onwards, Europe has been one of the components of the British presence in the world.
It has been its “second circle”, but never the first, which is the special relationship with its old rebellious colonies, namely the United States.
This is even the sense in which we have to interpret Sir Winston Churchill’s remark “We butchered the wrong pig”, when – in the aftermath of World War II – he developed the very secret plan Operation Unthinkable, which assumed the British invasion of the USSR to destroy Bolshevism in the phase of its greatest weakness.
The UK overall strategy vis-à-vis the EU has always been the stabilization of the Union as a largely deregulated free trade area, as well as its rapid expansion and the often clear and sharp refusal of any attempt to turn the European Union into a political entity, or even worse, into the “United States of Europe”.
Obviously Great Britain has always tended to equate its solitary role in Europe with the Franco-German duo as EU leaders and it has always tried to outline the EU strategic lines together or, sometimes, against the French-German axis.
Hence Great Britain has always been particularly interested in the Common European Foreign and Security Policy, in the Common Security and Defense Policy and in all EU external relations, often established by its individual Member States through the EU channels.
Hence the British primary interest for the EU External Action Service.
And it is only on the basis of the 32 different documents drafted by the British government during the 2010-2015 Review of the Balance of Competences that we can analyze the costs and benefits of Brexit or Bremain.
In terms of foreign policy, there is a British strong interest in operating through the European channels – for its own purposes.
Furthermore Great Britain has been reluctant even to accept the rules of the European Fiscal Stability Treaty of December 2011.
Since then the British media and governments have been supporting both the EU and the Commonwealth as the pillars of a new British foreign and security policy not confined only to the pro-European framework.
Even the visits that Prime Minister Cameron paid abroad at the beginning of his first term were designed to convey two messages: Great Britain does not live only within the European Union, which is not the only focus and horizon of its foreign policy; Great Britain is more suitable than other geopolitical areas for keeping pace with the times – namely the Asian expansion, the new poles of development in Latin America and the significant growth of the Russian Federation.
Hence a new National Security Council has been established, which regularly drafts the National Security Strategy (NSS).
Every five years, also the Strategic Defense and Security Strategy (SDSS) is drawn up.
The 2010 NSS and SDSS recommended a “decentralized approach” to the EU, as was also the case with the 2015 Strategies.
In both documents the position maintained is that of a minor EU role in supporting the British choices.
In any case the role played by Great Britain within the EU will remain stable both in case of Brexit and in case of Bremain and also the international challenges that Great Britain has decided to face in the coming years will remain the same.
From Davos to Munich
An overview of the views and attitudes of European officials during the Davos and Munich Conference and their comparison with each other suggests that the security, economic, and political concerns of European countries have not only not diminished but are increasing.
During the World Economic Summit in Davos, the Chancellor of Germany and the President of France both gave a significant warning about the return of nationalism and populism to Europe. This warning has been sent in a time when Far-Right movements in Europe have been able to gain unbelievable power and even seek to conquer a majority of parliaments and form governments.
In her speech, Angela Merkel emphasized that the twentieth century’s mistake shouldn’t be repeated. By this, the German Chancellor meant the tendency of European countries to nationalism. Although the German Chancellor warning was serious and necessary, the warning seems to be a little late. Perhaps it would have been better if the warning was forwarded after the European Parliamentary elections in 2014, and subsequently, more practical and deterrent measures were designed. However, Merkel and other European leaders ignored the representation of over a hundred right-wing extremist in the European Parliament in 2014 and merely saw it as a kind of social excitement.
This social excitement has now become a “political demand” in the West. The dissatisfaction of European citizens with their governments has caused them to explicitly demand the return to the twentieth century and the time before the formation of the United Europe. The recent victories of right wing extremists in Austria, Germany and…, isn’t merely the result of the nationalist movement success in introducing its principles and manifestos. But it is also a result of the failure of the “European moderation” policy to resolve social, security and economic problems in the Eurozone and the European Union. In such a situation, European citizens find that the solutions offered by the moderate left parties didn’t work in removing the existing crises in Europe. Obviously, in this situation “crossing the traditional parties” would become a general demand in the West. Under such circumstances, Merkel’s and other European leaders’ warnings about the return to the twentieth century and the time before the formation of the United Europe simply means the inability of the Eurozone authorities in preventing the Right-extremism in the West.
These concerns remain at the Munich Security Conference. As Reuters reported, The defense ministers of Germany and France pledged to redouble their military and foreign policy cooperation efforts on Friday, inviting other European countries to participate if they felt ready to do so.
In a speech to the Munich Security Conference, German defense minister Ursula von der Leyen said Europe’s countries would not be able to respond nimbly enough to global challenges if they were stymied by the need to decide joint foreign policy approaches unanimously.
“Europe has to up its pace in the face of global challenges from terrorism, poverty and climate change,” she said. “Those who want to must be able to advance without being blocked by individual countries.”
Her French counterpart Florence Parly said any such deepened cooperation would be complementary to the NATO alliance, which itself was based on the principle that members contributed differently depending on their capacities.
“The reality has always been that some countries are by choice more integrated and more able to act than others,” she said.
The push comes as Germany’s political class reluctantly concedes it must play a larger security role to match its economic pre-eminence in Europe, amid concerns that the European Union is unable to respond effectively to security concerns beyond its eastern and southern borders.
But in their deal for another four years of a “grand coalition” government, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and the Social Democrats have agreed to boost spending on the armed forces after years of post-Cold War decline.
The deal, which must still be ratified by the Social Democrat membership, comes as Germany reluctantly takes on the role of the continent’s pre-eminent political power-broker, a role generations of post-war politicians have shied away from.
Days after U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis reiterated President Donald Trump’s demand that European countries spend more on their militaries, Von der Leyen pledged to spend more on its military and the United Nations, but called in return for other countries not to turn away from mulitlateralism.
The pledges come as the EU seeks a new basis on which to cooperate with Britain, traditionally one of the continent’s leading security players, after its vote to leave the EU.
Earlier on Friday, the leaders of the three countries’ security services said close security cooperation in areas like terrorism, illegal migration, proliferation and cyber attacks, must continue after Britain’s departure.
“Cooperation between European intelligence agencies combined with the values of liberal democracy is indispensable, especially against a background of diverse foreign and security challenges,” they said.
First published in our partner Tehran Times
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.
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