The EU institutions’ approach to communicating with its citizenry has been not a story of success, claims Philippe Cayla, the former head of the Euronews TV channel. He elaborates on points needed to reverse this negative trend and the way how Brussels can re-connect with the media and with public opinion.
The problems of communication rather than of decision-making are the most striking feature of today’s European crisis. Whereas decision-making is at the heart of politics, it is communication, particularly through the media, that determines popular support in a democracy. To put it bluntly, Europe has failed in terms both of its communication methods and their content.
The European Commission has a yearly communications budget of some €500m at its disposal. Each commissioner, or to be more precise each Directorate-General (DG), is allocated a proportion of that budget irrespective of the Commission’s priorities. DG Communication, which is responsible for coordinating the overall communication budget, is allocated a higher proportion amounting to 20% of the total.
The Commission’s approach has four fundamental weaknesses: a lack of strategy, excessive centralisation, the predominant use of English, and its focus on print.
The Commission at times communicates on unimportant directives, a good example being the recent Directive on toilet flushing mechanisms. That casts doubts in the minds of media and political commentators that are quickly relayed to the general public.
The EU commissioners themselves rarely give press conferences in person, which suggests that they must be unaware of the political importance of communication. The reforms that followed the humiliating resignation of the Santer Commission in 1999 over allegations of corruption have resulted in a system under which Directorates-General sign contracts which are binding on the Commission, and thus hold the real power. The commissioners themselves sometimes appear to be relegated to the role of spokespersons for the DG they are responsible for.
The president of the Commission occasionally provides summary communications on the “State of the Union”, but these over-views are often hijacked by EU heads of government, whose perspective on the issues is purely national. At the same time, co-operation between the EU’s institutions leaves much to be desired. The faces of Europe – the presidents of the Commission, the Council and the Parliament – often express diverging and even contradictory views.
The Commission’s communication efforts in the member states are aimed at the general public, but are based on a double fallacy: first, that the EU’s member governments are best placed to explain European policy to their own citizens, and secondly that commissioners, who have been nominated by their own member state are also able to make a substantial contribution to promoting the EU at home.
On the first point, it’s clear that member states are generally unwilling to play the game; every meeting of the European Council sees EU national leaders giving their own versions of events; they put their own policies forward in a positive light and blame Brussels for whatever they failed to negotiate successfully or for outcomes that don’t suit their interests.
The second one is that on the whole commissioners simply cannot live up to a national communications role. Quite apart from having limited abilities in this area, they can’t be in Brussels and in their own country at the same time.
The Commission’s communications in the member states clearly leaves much to be desired. The Commission has information offices in the national capitals, but its delegates lack the resources they need, and are not given much air-time in national public debates. The result is that debate on European policy stays for the most part in Brussels.
The majority of European citizens are in no position to debate in a foreign language. Research suggests that only 5% of non-English speakers are capable of debating issues in English, and that’s particularly true when English native speakers are part of the discussion. In other words, English-only communication will fail to reach 95% of non-native English-speakers, and is likely to irritate the majority.
English has secured a place as the “lingua franca” in European business circles, in university studies and for research. But political communication should not be limited to a single language. Politics affects all of Europe’s citizens, not just the cosmopolitan elite that speaks English. Worse, perhaps, is the fact that English is the medium for a British political culture that is hostile to European integration. The use of English cannot fail to fuel the fires of euroscepticism, and the long-term rejection of European integration. Commentaries written in English tend to be coloured with the bias inherent in the Anglo-Saxon culture. In my view, the rise of euroscepticism is directly correlated to the increased use of English in communications from the Commission. There needs to be a return to multilingualism, and in the words of Umberto Eco, “translation is the language of Europe.”
Either European citizens don’t understand the issues, or they can’t understand why governments are unable to reach agreement. Instead of targeting the self-seeking and even mercenary attitudes of the member states, the Commission which is itself so often made a scapegoat, stands accused of incompetence and mismanagement
Visitors to one of the Commission’s “Europe Direct” centres in a national capital will note well-located, large and well-appointed offices, substantial numbers of staff with little to occupy them, tons of documents, and few if any visitors.
When it comes to TV, the Commission uses the EbS (Europe by Satellite) system launched almost 20 years ago to provide television networks with content, but has no television presence apart from Euronews, the only European news channel, and which it has to be said is funded in drips and drabs. The official websites of the Commission and the Parliament certainly lack vitality, and the Commission’s website lacks uniformity and leaves far too great an autonomy to each DG, which leads to widely varying levels of quality. The use of social networking sites is a recent development, but still occurs only sporadically.
Desirable as it is, a move to a less technocratic and more political EU communications strategy would be nothing short of a mini-revolution. First, the strategic nature of communication should be affirmed by centralising the communications budget under the authority of the president of the Commission. Only the president has the overview needed to determine the themes and timing of Commission communications. Spokespersons, currently reporting to both their own commissioner and to the president, should report to the president only. Such a change would show Brussels that communication policy should reflect the political priorities of the day, not the administrative concerns of the civil servants.
Second, the role of the Commission’s delegations in the member states should be reinforced. National delegates of the Commission should have greater power and more resources placed at their disposal, and they should report directly to the Commission president and the College of commissioners. They should set out for them the current state of public opinion in each country.
As much as €250m yearly, half of the total communications budget, should be allocated to the EU’s communication effort in each member state, adjusted to population, to give delegates the resources they need to make an impact on the local media. And the Commission should base its communications policies on statistics that measure the state of public opinion in each country to help ensure they get the most important messages out.
The principle of multilingualism should be fully respected. At present, the European Parliament is the only EU institution that offers fully multilingual debates and communications. It may well be acceptable for the Commission to use the three working languages of English, French and German for its day-to-day work, but all documents should be published simultaneously in all 24 official languages to ensure that the media in each country are on an equal footing. Commissioners should express themselves in their native language only, with simultaneous interpretation into all the other EU languages.
Another key point is that the EU’s communications should move away from printed media into radio, television and social networks. The EU institutions’ own publications, which tend to be cast aside and left in the dustbins, should be kept to a minimum and in many cases made available via download only.
As to the content of the EU’s communication materials, a revolutionary approach to the reform of EU communication policy is now needed. At present, the European Union’s communications are dominated by discussion of macroeconomic issues. And although these issues are important in terms of the health of the European economy, the Commission leaves itself open to two forms of criticism. First, only a fairly small minority of citizens have a real understanding of macroeconomic policy – the majority view the discussion as bureaucratic gibberish. Secondly, the real solutions to macroeconomic problems are mainly in the hands of EU member governments, either individually or collectively, so communication by the Commission tends either to reflect decisions taken by the Council, or to express its frustration with its own limitations.
The complex nature of EU-level problems, and the difficulties of finding solutions which often need the unanimity of member states, makes communication particularly problematic. Either European citizens don’t understand the issues, or they can’t understand why governments are unable to reach agreement. Instead of targeting the self-seeking and even mercenary attitudes of the member states, the Commission which is itself so often made a scapegoat, stands accused of incompetence and mismanagement.
The Commission therefore needs to go back to the drawing board on the content of its communication material, and focus on developing a feeling of belonging to the European community that gives people a greater sense of European citizenship. Twenty years on from the Maastricht treaty, European citizenship is still a vague and little-known concept for Europeans, and has instead come under fire from nationalist and populist politicians of every shade. Yet European citizenship is important, and Europe’s citizens benefit from a significant number of rights of growing importance. That is demonstrated in reports published regularly but which are nevertheless little-known.
The Commission’s policy is to strengthen the rights of all Europeans when travelling or living abroad in the EU. But its current approach is too focused on economic issues, with political rights falling by the wayside. Promoting awareness of the importance of European citizenship is an important way of ensuring popular commitment to the European ideal – something that’s lacking in so many ways today. Working on the political aspects of European citizenship is undoubtedly the best way Brussels can do justice to the EU’s communications and to its power to attract and get people involved.
In the days of the Roman Empire, all hoped to be granted the honour of becoming “civis romanus”. Today, we are all “civis europeus”, but we don’t have the same awareness or pride as did the Romans. The Commission must foster that same feeling of pride, and should encourage us to wear, if not purple and gold, then the blue of a great empire of peace.
(First published by the Europe’s World, article re-posted per author’s permission.)
EU: The stalemate in negotiations brings Serbia ever closer to Russia and China
Serbia has been waiting since 2012 for the European Union to respond to its application to become a full member of the EU.
In spite of exhausting negotiations, this response is slow in coming and the main cause of the stalemate has a clear name: Kosovo. Before accepting Serbia’s application for membership, the EU requires a definitive solution to the relations between Serbia and that region that broke away from it after the 1999 conflict – when NATO came to the aid of the Kosovo Albanians – and proclaimed its independence in February 2008.
Serbia has never recognised the birth of the Kosovo Republic, just as many other important countries have not: out of 193 UN members, only 110 have formally accepted the birth of the new republic, while the rest, including Russia, China, Spain, Greece and Romania – to name just the most important ones – refuse to recognise the independence of the Albanians of what was once a region of Serbia.
The European Union cannot accept that one of its members is in fact unable to guarantee control over its borders, as would be the case for Serbia if its membership were accepted.
In fact, since the end of the war between Kosovo and Serbia, there is no clear and controlled border between the two countries. In order to avoid continuous clashes, Kosovo and Serbia have actually left the border open, turning a blind eye to the ‘smuggling economy’ that thrives on both sides of the border.
In this situation, if Serbia were to become a full member of the European Union, it would create a gap in the borders of the entire Schengen area, as anyone passing through Kosovo could then move into all EU countries.This is not the only obstacle to Serbia’s accession to the European
Union: many European chancelleries are wary of Serbian foreign policy which, since the dissolution of the Yugoslav Federation, has maintained a privileged relationship with Russia, refusing to adhere to the sanctions decided by Europe against Russia after the annexation of Crimea to the detriment of Ukraine.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, Serbia even agreed to produce the Russian vaccine ‘Sputnik V’ directly in its own laboratories, blatantly snubbing EU’s vaccine offer.
For the United States and some important European countries, Serbia’s formal accession to the European Union could shift the centre of gravity of Europe’s geopolitics towards the East, opening a preferential channel for dialogue between Russia and the European Union through Serbia.
This possibility, however, is not viewed unfavourably by Germany which, in the intentions of the CDU President, Armin Laschet, the next candidate to succeed Angela Merkel as Chancellor, has recently declared he is in favour of a foreign policy that “develops in multiple directions”, warning his Western partners of the danger resulting from “the interruption of the dialogue with Russia and China”. In this regard, Laschet has publicly stated that ‘foreign policy must always focus on finding ways to interact, including cooperation with countries that have different social models from ours, such as Russia, China and the nations of the Arab world’.
Today we do not know whether in autumn Laschet will take over the leadership of the most powerful country in the European Union, but what is certain is that Serbia’s possible formal membership of the European Union could force Europe to revise some of its foreign policy stances, under the pressure of a new Serbian-German axis.
Currently, however, Serbia’s membership of the European Union still seems a long way off, precisely because of the stalemate in the Serbia-Kosovo negotiations.
In 2013 Kosovo and Serbia signed the so-called ‘Brussels Pact’, an agreement optimistically considered by European diplomats to be capable of rapidly normalising relations between Serbia and Kosovo, in view of mutual political and diplomatic recognition.
An integral part of the agreement was, on the one hand, the commitment of Kosovo’s authorities to recognise a high degree of administrative autonomy to the Kosovo municipalities inhabited by a Serb majority and, on the other hand, the collaboration of the Serbs in the search for the remains of the thousands of Kosovar Albanians presumably eliminated by Milosevic’s troops during the repression that preceded the 1999 war.
Neither of the two commitments has so far been fulfilled and, during the meeting held in Brussels on July 21 between Serbian President Alexander Vucic and Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti, harsh words and reciprocal accusations were reportedly exchanged concerning the failure to implement the ‘Pact’, to the extent that the Head of European foreign policy, Josep Borrel, publicly asked the two parties to ‘close the chapter of a painful past through a legally binding agreement on the normalisation of mutual relations, with a view to building a European future for its citizens’. This future seems nebulous, to say the least, if we consider that Serbia, in fact, refuses to recognise the legal value of degrees and diplomas awarded by the Kosovo academic authorities also to members of the Kosovo Serb minority.
Currently, however, both contenders are securing support and alliances in Europe and overseas.
Serbia is viewed favourably by the current President of the European Union, Slovenian Janez Jansa, who is a supporter of its membership because “this would definitively mark the dissolution of the Yugoslav Federation”. The vast majority of European right-wing parties, ranging from the French ‘Rassemblement National’ to the Hungarian ‘Fydesz’, also approve of Serbia’s membership application and openly court the Serbian minorities living in their respective countries while, after the years of US disengagement from the Balkans under Presidents Bush, Obama and Trump, the Biden administration has decided to put the region back on the list of priority foreign policy commitments, entrusting the ‘Serbia dossier’ to the undersecretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, Matthew Palmer, an authoritative and experienced diplomat.
With a view to supporting its application for European membership, Serbia has also deployed official lobbyists.
Last June, Natasha Dragojilovic Ciric’s lobbying firm ND Consulting officially registered in the so-called EU ‘transparency register’ to promote support for Serbia’s membership. ND is financed by a group of international donors and is advised by Igor Bandovic, former researcher at the American Gallup and Head of the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy, by lawyer Katarina Golubovic of the ‘Committee of Human Rights Lawyers’ and Jovana Spremo, former OSCE consultant.
These are the legal experts deployed by Serbia in Brussels to support its application for formal European integration, but in the meantime Serbia is not neglecting its “eastern” alliances.
Earlier this month, the Head of the SVR, the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, Sergey Naryshkin, paid an official visit to Belgrade, a few weeks after the conclusion of a joint military exercise between Russian special forces (the “Spetznaz”) and Serbian special forces.
In the Serbian capital, Naryshkin not only met his Serbian counterpart Bratislav Gasic, Head of the ‘Bezbednosno Informativna Agencija’, the small but powerful Serbian secret service, but was also received by the President of the Republic Alexander Vucic with the aim of publicising the closeness between Serbia and Russia.
The timing of the visit coincides with the resumption of talks in Brussels on Serbia’s accession to the European Union and can clearly be considered as instrumental in exerting subtle diplomatic pressure aimed at convincing the European Union of the possibility that, in the event of a refusal, Serbia may decide to definitely turn its back on the West and ally with an East that is evidently more willing to treat the Serbs with the dignity and attention that a proud and tenacious people believes it deserves.
A piece of news confirming that Serbia is ready to turn its back on the West, should Europe continue to postpone the decision on its accession to the European Union is the fact that China has recently signed a partnership agreement with Serbia in the field of pharmaceutical research, an agreement that makes Serbia one of China’s current largest commercial partners on the European continent.
NATO’s Cypriot Trick
When the Soviet Union collapsed and the Warsaw Pact died, there was much speculation that NATO would consider itself redundant and either disappear or at least transmogrify into a less aggressive body.
Failing that, Moscow at least felt assured that NATO would not include Germany, let alone expand eastwards. Even the NATO Review, NATO’s PR organ, wrote self-apologetically twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin wall: “Thus, the debate about the enlargement of NATO evolved solely in the context of German reunification. In these negotiations Bonn and Washington managed to allay Soviet reservations about a reunited Germany remaining in NATO. This was achieved by generous financial aid, and by the ‘2+4 Treaty’ ruling out the stationing of foreign NATO forces on the territory of the former East Germany. However, it was also achieved through countless personal conversations in which Gorbachev and other Soviet leaders were assured that the West would not take advantage of the Soviet Union’s weakness and willingness to withdraw militarily from Central and Eastern Europe.”
Whatever the polemics about Russia’s claim that NATO broke its promises, the facts of what happened following the fall of the Berlin wall and the negotiations about German re-unification strongly demonstrate that Moscow felt cheated and that the NATO business and military machine, driven by a jingoistic Cold War Britain, a selfish U.S. military-industrial-congressional complex and an atavistic Russia-hating Poland, saw an opportunity to become a world policeman.
This helps to explain why, in contrast to Berlin, NATO decided to keep Nicosia as the world’s last divided city. For Cyprus is in fact NATO’s southernmost point, de facto. And to have resolved Cyprus’ problem by heeding UN resolutions and getting rid of all foreign forces and re-unifying the country would have meant that NATO would have ‘lost’ Cyprus: hardly helpful to the idea of making NATO the world policeman. Let us look a little more closely at the history behind this.
Following the Suez debacle in 1956, Britain had already moved its Middle East Headquarters from Aden to Cyprus, while the U.S. was taking over from the UK and France in the Middle East. Although, to some extent under U.S. pressure, Britain was forced to bring Makarios out of exile and begin negotiating with Greece and Turkey to give up its colony, the U.S. opted for a NATO solution. It would not do to have a truly sovereign Cyprus, but only one which accepted the existence of the Sovereign Base Areas (SBAs) as part and parcel of any settlement; and so it has remained, whatever the sophistic semantics about a bizonal settlement and a double-headed government. The set of twisted and oft-contradictory treaties that have bedevilled the island since 1960 are still afflicting the part-occupied island which has been a de facto NATO base since 1949. Let us look at some more history.
When Cyprus obtained its qualified independence in 1960, Greece and Turkey had already signed, on 11 February 1959, a so called ‘Gentlemen’s Agreement’, agreeing that they would support Cyprus’ entry into NATO.1 This was, however, mere posture diplomacy, since Britain—and the U.S. for that matter—did not trust Cyprus, given the strength of the Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL) and the latter’s links to Moscow. The Ministry of Defence (MOD) wrote: ‘Membership of NATO might make it easier for the Republic of Cyprus and possibly for the Greeks and Turks to cause political embarrassment should the United Kingdom wish to use the bases […] for national ends outside Cyprus […] The access of the Cypriot Government to NATO plans and documents would present a serious security risk, particularly in view of the strength of the Cypriot Communist Party. […] The Chiefs of Staff, therefore, feel most strongly that, from the military point of view, it would be a grave disadvantage to admit Cyprus to NATO.’2 In short, Cyprus was considered unreliable.
As is well known, the unworkable constitution (described as such by the Foreign Office and even by David Hannay, the Annan reunification plan’s PR man), resulted in chaos and civil strife: in January 1964, during the chaos caused by the Foreign Office’s help and encouragement to President Makarios to introduce a ‘thirteen point plan’ to solve Cyprus’ problems, British Prime Minister Douglas-Home told the Cabinet: ‘If the Turks invade or if we are seriously prevented from fulfilling our political role, we have made it quite clear that we will retire into base.’3 Put more simply, Britain had never had any intention of upholding the Treaty of Guarantee.
In July of the same year, the Foreign Office wrote: ‘The Americans have made it quite clear that there would be no question of using the 6th Fleet to prevent any possible Turkish invasion […] We have all along made it clear to the United Nations that we could not agree to UNFICYP’s being used for the purpose of repelling external intervention, and the standing orders to our troops outside UNFYCYP are to withdraw to the sovereign base areas immediately any such intervention takes place.’4
It was mainly thanks to Moscow and President Makarios that in 1964 a Turkish invasion and/or the island being divided between Greece and Turkey was prevented. Such a solution would have strengthened NATO, since Cyprus would no longer exist other than as a part of NATO members Greece and Turkey. Moscow had issued the following statement: ‘The Soviet Government hereby states that if there is an armed foreign invasion of Cypriot territory, the Soviet Union will help the Republic of Cyprus to defend its freedom and independence against foreign intervention.’5
Privately, Britain, realising the unworkability of the 1960 treaties, was embarrassed, and wished to relieve itself of the whole problem. The following gives us the backstage truth: ‘The bases and retained sites, and their usefulness to us, depend in large measure on Greek Cypriot co-operation and at least acquiescence. A ‘Guantanamo’6 position is out of the question. Their future therefore must depend on the extent to which we can retain Greek and/or Cypriot goodwill and counter USSR and UAR pressures. There seems little doubt, however, that in the long term, our sovereign rights in the SBA’s will be considered increasingly irksome by the Greek Cypriots and will be regarded as increasingly anachronistic by world public opinion.7
Following the Turkish invasion ten years later, Britain tried to give up its bases: ‘British strategic interests in Cyprus are now minimal. Cyprus has never figured in NATO strategy and our bases there have no direct NATO role. The strategic value of Cyprus to us has declined sharply since our virtual withdrawal from east of Suez. This will remain the case when the Suez Canal has reopened.8
A Cabinet paper concluded: ‘Our policy should continue to be one of complete withdrawal of our military presence on Cyprus as soon as feasible. […] In the circumstances I think that we should make the Americans aware of our growing difficulty in continuing to provide a military presence in Cyprus while sustaining our main contribution to NATO. […]9
Britain kept trying to give up the bases, but the enabler of the Turkish invasion, Henry Kissinger, did not allow Britain to give up its bases and listening posts, since that would have weakened NATO, and since Kissinger needed the bases because of the Arab-Israel dispute.10
Thus, by the end of 1980, in a private about-turn, Britain had completely succumbed to American pressure: ‘The benefits which we derive from the SBAs are of major significance and virtually irreplaceable. They are an essential contribution to the Anglo-American relationship. The Department have regularly considered with those concerned which circumstances in Cyprus are most conducive to our retaining unfettered use of our SBA facilities. On balance, the conclusion is that an early ‘solution’ might not help (since pressures against the SBAs might then build up), just as breakdown and return to strife would not, and that our interests are best served by continuing movement towards a solution – without the early prospect of arrival [author’s italics]11.
And so it is today: Cyprus is a de facto NATO territory. A truly independent, sovereign and united Cyprus is an anathema to the U.S. and Britain, since such a scenario would afford Russia the hypothetical opportunity to increase its influence in the Eastern Mediterranean.
From our partner RIAC
 Ministry of Defence paper JP (59) 163, I January 1960, BNA DEFE 13/99/MO/5/1/5, in Mallinson, William, Cyprus, a Modern History, I.B. Tauris (now Bloomsbury), London and New York, 2005, 2009, 2012, p.49.
 Memorandum by Prime Minister, 2 January 1964, BNA CAB/129/116, in ibid, Mallinson, William, p.37.
 British Embassy, Washington, to Foreign Office, 7 July 1964, telegram 8541, BNA FO 371/174766, file C1205/2/G, in ibid.’, Mallinson, William, p. 37.
 Joseph, Joseph S., Cyprus, Ethnic Conflict and International Politics, St Martin’s Press, London and New York, 1997, p. 66.
 In 1964, Cuba cut off supplies to the American base at Guantanamo Bay, since the US refused to return it to Cuba, as a result of which the US took measures to make it self-sufficient.
 Briefing paper, 18 June 1964, BNA-DO/220/170, file MED 193/105/2, part A. Mallinson,William, Kissinger and the Invasion of Cyprus, p. 127.
 ‘British Interests in the Eastern Mediterranean’, draft paper, 11 April 1975, BNA-FCO 46/1248, file DPI/515/1.
 Cabinet paper, 29 September 1976, in op. cit. Mallinson, William, Kissinger and the Invasion of Cyprus, p.134.
 Mallinson, William, Britain and Cyprus: Key Themes and Documents, I.B. Tauris, London and New York, 2011, and Bloomsbury, London and New York, 2020, pp. 87-121.
 Fergusson to Foreign Minister’s Private Secretary, minute, 8 December 1980, BNA-FCO 9/2949, file WSC/023/1, part C.
Belarus divorces from the Eastern Partnership: A new challenge for the EU Neighborhood Policy
The Eastern Partnership (EaP) is the Eastern dimension of the EU Neighborhood Policy adopted back in 2009 aimed at deepening relations between Brussels and six Eastern European partners – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. The EaP has been regarded as a strategic initiative based on mutual interests and common values with a goal of strengthening political and economic relations with those countries, helping them enhance their institutional capacity through sustainable reforms. While increasing stability and paving the way for the sustainable development of those societies, the EU’s overall goal has been to secure its Eastern borders.
Since the very beginning the EaP has been suspiciously viewed by Russia as an attempt of expansion of the sphere of influence and as a first step of EU membership of these countries. Russians point to the EU and NATO ambitious expansion eastward as the main reason for complicated relations and in this context the EaP has been regarded with traditional fears and paranoic perceptions. The Russian hard power approach causes serious problems for the EaP which fails to mitigate security concerns of partner countries and to come up with serious initiatives for conflict settlement. Being a laggard in terms of soft power, the Russian ruling elite has continuously used all hard power foreign policy instruments at its disposal trying to undermine the coherence of the initiative. And the very recent démarche of Belarus to withdraw from the EaP should be seen in this context of confrontation.
On 28th of June, the ministry of foreign affairs of Belarus announced a decision to halt its membership in the EaP as a response to the EU sanctions imposed on Minsk accompanied by the recalling ambassadors from both sides. Actually, this isn’t the first case of the EaP walkout blackmailed by Lukashenko. The first escape was attempted in September-October 2011, but the difficulties were soon resolved and Lukashenko revised his decision. This time situation seems very complicated and these far-reaching tensions may have tough consequences for Lukashenko’s regime. This new group of sectoral sanctions which target banking, oil, telecommunication spheres and also ban the export of potash, is a harsh response from the EU against Lukashneko’s scandalous hijacking activity in May to detain a Belarusian opposition journalist and blogger Roman Protasevich.
Lukashenko’s administration not only challenges the EU Neighborhood Policy and shows no retreat, but also goes forward escalating the situation. Minsk takes high risks freezing the Readmission Agreement signed by the EU. This document is a legal basis for bilateral cooperation aimed at struggling against irregular migration flows. It’s not a secret that the territory of Belarus has been used for illegal migration for the groups from the Middle East to penetrate into neighboring EU member states such as Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. Moreover, Belarus territory has served as a transit route for smuggling circles going from East to West and vice versa. And now closing eyes on all these channels, Minsk hopes to increase the bargaining power vis-à-vis Brussels. However, given the Western reactions, it seems that this time the EU is resolute.
Despite the fact that Charles Michel, the President of the EU Council, described this withdrawal as “another step backwards” and even threatened that “this will escalate tensions having clear negative impacts”, the EU wants to continue working with the Belarusian society as Josep Borrel stated. The EU’s determination to keep the bridges alive with the Belarusian people, in spite of Lukashneko’s radical stance, is aimed at preventing further isolationism of Minsk which would benefit only Russia.
In contrast to the increasing level of tensions with the EU, the Russian authorities continue to support Lukasheno’s administration, thus trying to deepen the gap and to bring Belarus under their total influence. Russia uses Belarus in its chessboard with the EU and the USA in Eastern Europe. Last year’s fraud elections and brutal crackdown by Lukashenko left him alone with the only source of power stemming from the Kremlin. Thus the withdrawal from the EaP should be understood not only as a convulsion of the Belarusian authorities in response to the sanctions, but also Russia’s employment of the Belarus card to respond to the recent joint statement of the EU-US summit in Brussels, when both parties declared their intention to stand with the people of Belarus, supporting their demands for human rights and democracy simultaneously criticising Lukashenko’s regime and his reckless political behavior and also criticising Russian’s unacceptable behavior.
So, Lukashenko’s step to quit the EaP can be seen as a well-calculated adulatory sign towards Moscow sacrificing the last remnants of sovereignty in order to receive financial and political lifebuoy amid the increasing crisis in the result of sanctions. And the recent visit of N. Patrushev, the Secretary of the Security Council of Russia, to Minsk right after the withdrawal decision shows Russian inclination to strike while the iron is hot and to abuse the vulnerable situation of Belarus. Patrushev stated that the ultimate goal of foreign powers is to change the power in Belarus and he suggested instead of focusing on internal issues, to bring their forces together against external threats as their influence affects internal developments. For this reason, deeper integration of security and military services of both countries are on the table.
The reaction of opposition leader S. Tikhanovskaya was very rough, stating that this suspension will cut the opportunities of ordinary citizens who benefit from the political and economic outcomes of the EaP. Moreover, she claims that Lukashenko doesn’t have a right to represent Belarus since August 2020 and his decisions don’t have legal consequences for Belarus. This kind of approach is shared by the leadership of Lithuania too, whose president and minister of foreign affairs not only refuse to recognize Lukashenko as a legitimate president, but also highlight the role of the Kremlin in supporting the dictatorial power of Lukashenko in exchange for decreasing sovereignty.
The blackmail of Lukashenko to challenge the EU Eastern Neighborhood Policy in order to have the sanctions lifted may bring about such kind of precedents with other partnering countries as well. First of all, this concerns Azerbaijan which continues to face serious problems related with human rights, freedom of expression, the problem of Prisoners of War and other traits of authoritarian power. It’s well-known that human rights issues have been the underwater stones in the EU and Azerbaijan relations and they continue to pose new challenges for Aliyev’s non-democratice regime. Another weak ring of the EaP chain is Armenia. Even though reelected N. Pashinyan is eager to pursue a balanced foreign policy, post-war Armenia still faces serious limitations given its vulnerable dependence on Russia. Besides, Pashinyan’s main rival and the former President R. Kocharyan, whose alliance will be the second largest faction in the newly elected Parliament has recently stated that this new parliament can last up to one and half years and nobody can exclude the possibility of new snap elections. His pro-Russian attitude and anti-Western stance are well-known and in case he becomes a prime-minister, there is no guarantee that he will follow the path of Lukashenko.
Therefore the statement of the Austrian MFA, that ”we cannot leave South Caucasus to others” during the recent official visit of the Austrian, Romanian and Latvian MFA under the mandate of the EU High Representative to the South Caucasus, reminds about the EU presence in the region and also the fact that the ‘normative power’ can be a source of balance and a status quo changer.
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By September 11, 2021, NATO’s 20-year operation in Afghanistan will come to a close. That date marks the 20th anniversary...
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