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Put-in Next Door

Anis H. Bajrektarevic

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On 28th July exactly 100 years ago, Central Europe declared a war to Eastern Europe, an event that marked the official outbreak of World War I. This was a turning point which finally fractured a fragile equilibrium of La Belle Èpoque, and set the Old Continent and the whole world with it into the series of motions that lasted for almost a century, before docking us to our post-modern societies. From WWI to www. Too smooth and too good to be true? Let us use this occasion and briefly examine our post-modernity and some fallacies surrounding it.

In the (Brave New) world of www. where, irrespectively from your current location on the planet, at least 20 intelligence agencies are notifying the incoming call before your phone even rings up, how is it possible to lose jumbo-jet for good? The two huge aviation tragedies affecting same country – Malaysia, are yet another powerful reminders that we are obsessed with a control via confrontation, not at all with the prosperity through human safety. Proof? Look at the WWI-like blame-game over the downing of the plane – a perfect way to derail our most important debate: Which kind of future do we want? Who seats in our cockpit and why do we stubbornly insist on inadequate civilizational navigation?! Consequently, Ukraine today is a far bigger crash site, which is – regrettably enough – well beyond an ill-fated MH 17.

Why in the www. world our media still bears the WWI-like rethorics? The ongoing demonization of President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin in the so-called mainstream media actually serves as a confrontational nostalgia call on the side of West. Hence, this main-scream seems aiming not to alienate, but to invite the current Russian leadership to finally accept confrontation as a modus operandi after a 25 years of pause.

The conclusion these media leaves us with, is somewhat puzzling: the West has democratically decided that the CC + CC has no alternative (more Carbons and Confrontation e.g. in Ukraine, besides and despite the planetary Climate Change). President Putin autocratically still hesitates, and does not rush into the CC. Does it mean that Russia is more democratic and more progressive than it is reported to us, or that the West is more militaristic and more conservative than it loves to portray itself? Neither or either, all or none?

How about our post-modern cooperation? Which kind of neighborhood the European Union and United States have supported around Russia for the last 25 years, that same sort of Russia we are trying to see today. I would even dare say that Russia today is far better than the West (and its past acting) deserves to have. The same attribution would most probably apply to the Arab world. The way Atlantic-Central Europe and the US interacted with the MENA (Middle East–North Africa), and the sort of Islam they supported there yesterday, is the sort of Islam we are getting today in the Christian Europe as well as in the Christian neighborhoods of Iraq.

For the sake of quick Atlantic-Central Europe penetrations into the body and soul of East, all important debates such as that of Slavism, identity, secularism and antifascism have been adviced to Eastern Europe to abandon. By doing so, all the vital merits were simply handed over to Russia to solely deal with it. Why then our sudden shock that once recuperated, Russia returns with a (reloaded) identity which champions antifascism and (pan-)Slavism? After all, the rich but egalitarian, democratic, transparent, antifascist, a non-nation-state determined and secular US has supported everything opposite in Eastern Europe (in the MENA, too). For far too long, in the pretext of fighting the legacies of communism, Americans have tolerated Über-economic, political and socio-demographic neo-Nazism as well as the clerical ethno-fascism in the core sectors of Europe. It is now time to pay for letting the unchecked happen.

The winner takes it all is a Swedish song, not a Swedish table. Clearly, there is no winning without a full share of responsibility.

Europe of Sarajevo 100 years later

The end of the Cold War came abruptly, overnight. Many in the West dream about it, but nobody really saw it coming. The Warsaw Pact, Red Army in DDR, Berlin Wall, Soviet Union, one after the other, vanished rapidly, unexpectedly. There was no ceasefire, no peace conference, no formal treaty and guaranties, no expression of interests and settlement. Only the wonderer-boy face expression of that time Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze who circles around and unconvincingly repeats: “we now better understand each other”. In his luminary work ‘The New Asian Hemisphere’, Mahbubani accurately concludes that Mikhail Gorbachev – not understanding the real success of Western strength and power, handed over the Soviet empire and got nothing in return.[1] Does our history only appear overheated, but is essentially calmly predetermined? Is it directional or conceivable, dialectic and eclectic or cyclical, and therefore cynical?

The Soviet Union was far more of a classic continental military empire (overtly brutal; rigid, authoritative, anti-individual, omnipresent, secretive), while the US was more a financial empire (covertly coercive; hierarchical, yet asocial, exploitive, pervasive, polarizing). Bear of permafrost vs. Fish of the warm seas. Athens vs. Sparta. Phoenicia vs. Rome… Consequently, the Soviets went bankrupt by mid 1980s – they cracked under its own weight, imperially overstretched. So did the Americans – the ‘white man burden’ fractured them already by the Vietnam war, with the Nixon shock only officializing it. However, the US imperium managed to survive and to outlive the Soviets. How? The United States managed its financial capital (or an illusion of it) insofar as to be(come) a debtor empire through the Wall Street guaranties.[2] Titanium-made Sputnik vs. gold mine of printed-paper… Nothing epitomizes this better than the words of the longest serving US Federal Reserve’s boss, Alan Greenspan, who famously said to then French President Jacques Chirac: “True, dollar is our currency, but your problem”. Hegemony vs. hegemoney.

This very nature of power explains why the Americans have missed to take our mankind into completely other direction; towards the non-confrontational, decarbonized, de-monetized/de-financialized and de-psychologized, the self-realizing and green humankind. They had such a chance when, past the Gorbachev’s unconditional surrender of the Soviet bloc, the US – unconstrained as a ‘lonely superpower’ – solely dictated terms of reference.[3] Sadly enough, that was not the first missed opportunity for the US. The very epilogue of the WWII meant a full security guaranty for the US: Geo-economically – 54% of anything manufactured in the world was carrying the Made in USA label, and geostrategically – the US had uninterruptedly enjoyed nearly a decade of the ‘nuclear monopoly’. Up to this very day, the US scores the biggest number of N-tests conducted, the largest stockpile of nuclear weaponry, and it represents the only power ever deploying this ‘ultimate weapon’ on other nation. To complete the irony, Americans enjoy geographic advantage like no other empire ever. Save the US, as Ikenberry notes: “…every major power in the world lives in a crowded geopolitical neighborhood where shifts in power routinely provoke counterbalancing”. The US is blessed with neighboring oceans.

Why the lonely might, an empire by invitation did not evolve into empire of relaxation, a generator of harmony? One of the leading architects of the American foreign policy, Simon Serfaty laments: “The irony is plain for all to see. Ten years after the fiasco in Iraq, the global demand for American power has never been higher, but its credibility rarely lower and its reliability more in doubt…a preponderant power must be right…for its enemies it must be strong, it must inspire trust…” What are we talking about here – the inadequate intensity of our confrontational push or about the false course of our civilizational direction?

Indeed, no successful and enduring empire does merely rely on coercion, be it abroad or at home. However, unable to escape its inner logics and deeply-rooted appeal of confrontational nostalgia, the prevailing archrival is only a winner, rarely a game-changer.[4]Hence, to the above asked question whether our history is dialectic or cyclical, the current Ukrainian events are like a bad-taste déjà vu.

End of the Cold War – such a buzzword, of a diametrically different meaning. East interprets it as the final end of confrontation – beginning of the age of a mutual respect, harmony and understanding. The Westerners have no such an illusion. To them it is the end of war, which only came after the unconditional surrender of East. Another powerful evidence to support our claim: Just 20 years ago, distance between Moscow and NATO troops stationed in Central Europe (e.g. Berlin) was over 1.600 km. Today, it is only 120 km from St. Petersburg.[5]Realities have dramatically changed for the Atlantic-Central Europe block and for Russia, while for Eastern Europe much remains the same–East still serves others as a strategic depth playground.[6]

Prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic

Vienna, 28 JUL 2014

Author is professor for international law and global political studies, based in Austria. His recent book Is There Life after Facebook? is published by the New York’s Addleton Academic Publishers. He was born in Sarajevo, place from which the Eastern effectively challenged Central Europe.



Or, by the words of the senior UN diplomat who, contemplating with me over the question whether a middle-power foreign policy is adequate for a great power, recently told me in Geneva: “The difference between Russia and the Soviet Union is that the Federation desperately looks around for respect, but leaves the world responsibilities solely to the US. As known, admiration and respect is earned not given for free.” Clearly, the post-Soviet Russia avoids any strategic global competition with the US. Still, it feels rather insulted with the current strategic global partnership – as both the US and China treat Moscow as a junior partner. Is it possible to (re-)gain a universal respect without any ideological appeal? That could be debated, but one thing is certain; even the mid-size powers such as Brazil, Indonesia or Turkey have moved on from a bandwagoning, reactive, opportune and slow to an emancipating proactive, accurate and extensive foreign policy.

How was a debtor empire born? One of the biggest (nearly schizophrenic) dilemmas of liberalism, ever since David Hume and Adam Smith, was an insight into reality; whether the world is essentially Hobbesian or Kantian. The state will rob you, but in absence of it, the pauperized masses will mob you. The invisible hand of Smith’s followers have found the satisfactory answer – sovereign debt. This ‘invention’ means: relatively strong government of the state, heavily indebted – firstly to local merchants, than to foreigners. With such a mixed blessing, no empire can easily demonetize its legitimacy.

One of the biggest ideological victories of the US is the fact that, only two decades after the Soviet collapse, Russia today has an economy dominated by oil-rich class of billionaires. The assets of this new caste are 20% of country’s GDP –by far the largest share held by the ultra-rich in any major economy. The second largest ideological victory for Americans is reported by the New York Times. It states that the outgoing Chinese President, leader of the country that officially still rests on ideology of oppressed working class, has allegedly accumulated family wealth of 1,7 billion in less than a decade of his rule (‘only’ 1 USD million every second day). Some in the US are not that happy about it, and are wondering – like Fukuyama in his luminary essay – “where is a counter-narrative?” To ease the pain for all balance-seekers: Even if the American ideological triumph might be a clear cut, geopolitically it remains undecided. While Russians were absorbing the shock of loss of their historical empire, the ‘lonely hyper-power’ did not quite know what to do with its colossal gain. The fact that there is no (yet) clear leader of the post-Western world, does not mean that the post-Christian and post-industrial West – as a place and as the geo-economic and ideological model – is unquestionably accepted as it was before.  

There are many who would claim that the West was unable to capitalize on the collapse of the Soviet Union, and that the real winner in the superpowers’ playoff is actually the third. It is not only that Asia is resurfacing very self-confident. Deeper and structural, the issue is more subversive as well: One of the most remarkable achievements in the world history of capita-lism is happening last 20 years under the leadership of the largest Communist party on this planet. (While one of the biggest collectivisations à la communism was taking place in the cradles of capitalism –the US and UK financial hubs.) At this point, let us recall what was the epilogue of a lasting ideological confrontation between Byzantium and Sassanid Persia and of their colossal geopolitical overextension? Clearly, it was an appearance of the Third Power Center on a geopolitical and ideolo-gical terrain, which was gradually prevailing from the 7th century onwards. Byzantium and Sassanids corroded and imploded.

Despite the (formal) end of the Cold War, and contrary to all what we celebrate as a technological progress, our Gini coefficients’ distances are far larger than they were two decades ago. Additionally, as the EU was getting closer to Eastern and Russophone Europe, the socio-economic inequalities and politico-cultural exclusions there, were growing wider. The contemporary world (believes it) has unprecedented wealth. Although over the last four decades the global working force has tripled from roughly 1 to 3 billion, the world today holds mass poverty – like never before, especially in underdeveloped Africa and de-industrialized East of Europe. The newly set ‘economic system’ in Eastern Europe in fact reproduces poverty, even among the fortunate ones – people with a job, victims of low wages and long hours. According to the World Bank, total global wealth was $241 trillion in 2013 and is expected to rise to $334 trillion by 2018. The WB defines the UN standard poverty line with a threshold of $1,25/day. Lant Pritchett, a critical WB/IMF developmental economist, advocates a more reasonable bottom-line of $10/day. If his calculations were applied, between 90 and 95% population in the East-Rusophone Europe would be well below dignified life, deep under the poverty line!

Before too long, Washington will have to decide: either containment or accommodation – a viable truce with Moscow or unconditional backing of Russia’s closest neighbours. If Putin finally abandons the non-confrontational course, and regularizes the play on a confrontational nostalgia card, the US-led West might award Moscow by returning Baltics, some central-southern portions of Eastern Europe, along with Central Asia and Caucasus to Russian sphere of influence. If the history of Russo-American confrontations is (noisy or) deep, wide and long, their ability to broker a deal is remarkably extensive, too. Or, as prof. W.R. Mead elaborates: “…In deciding how hard to press Russia over Ukraine, the While House cannot avoid calculating the impact on Russia’s stance on the Syrian war or Iran’s nuclear program.” (Mead, W.R. (2014), The Return of Geopolitics, Foreign Affairs Magazine 93(3) 2014)

Modern Diplomacy Advisory Board, Chairman Geopolitics of Energy Editorial Member Professor and Chairperson for Intl. Law & Global Pol. Studies contact: anis@bajrektarevic.eu

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Balkans splitting EU apart

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The European Union is going through a serious internal crisis over the prospects of its further expansion, with the main line of confrontation running between Paris and Berlin. On October 15, France, backed by Denmark and the Netherlands, blocked the EU’s decision to start negotiations concerning the admission of Albania and Northern Macedonia. Germany and other EU members opposed the move as unfounded, citing previous decisions by the European Commission. This split at the very top of the 28-member bloc could seriously undermine its status in the eyes of the Balkan states, and force them to shift their foreign policy priorities and possibly turn towards Russia and its integration mechanisms.

The news of the decision by France, the Netherlands and Denmark to block the previous EU decision to start admission talks with the two Balkan states, citing the slow pace of their reforms followed the EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Luxembourg. The three countries opposed the start of negotiations with Albania, and France’s position concerning similar talks with Northern Macedonia was equally negative. Paris also insisted on a fundamental reform of the EU’s accession process. Germany and other EU members disagreed, arguing that in late May, the European Commission had found Albania and Northern Macedonia fully in line with EU conditions and ready to engage in EU accession talks with Brussels. Moreover, Brussel’s promise to start such negotiations is clearly mentioned in the list of official decisions made by the European Union.

At the same time, Brussels uses a differentiated approach to Balkan countries’ applications for membership, with the EU Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement, Johannes Hahn, speaking against inviting Serbia and Montenegro to start negotiations, arguing that they should make “more efforts to protect the rule of law.”

Naturally enough, the Balkan counties were disappointed by this decision. Just a few days before the Luxembourg meeting, the leaders of Albania, Northern Macedonia and Serbia gathered in the Serbian city of Novi Pazar, accusing Brussels of ignoring their interests.

Briefing reporters after the meeting, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama called on his colleagues from Northern Macedonia and Albania to work out a foreign policy agenda without waiting for tips from Brussels.

“There has been no change in the agenda of our international partners, but the format of relations that we are building has changed, as we are not waiting for the EU to find time to pay attention. Let’s be honest, we are not a priority for the EU, because they prioritize their own reforms. We cannot expect to become a priority for the EU, but we are still able to promote more active and organized cooperation,” Edi Rama said.

Northern Macedonia’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic see the creation of a visa-free zone in the Balkans – “a small Schengen” – as one example of such cooperation. This is sending a clear message to Brussels to consider a situation where even such EU members as Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia, still remain outside the pan-European visa-free space.

Poland, which is the Balkan candidate states’ most active ally in the EU, has fairly tense relations with the big shots in Brussels. During a recent meeting of the leaders of the Vicegrad Group (Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic) held in the Czech city of Lany, attended also by the Slovenian and Serbian leaders, the Polish President Andrzej Duda described the start of EU accession talks with Northern Macedonia and Albania as “a litmus test that will show how open the EU really is.” He said that both these Baltic nations had already met all the necessary criteria for admission to the European Union and emphasized that Warsaw, for its part, favored Europe with “open doors,” which is the only way to ensure the EU’s peaceful and peaceful development.

This position is fully shared by Germany, with Michael Roth, Minister of State for Europe at the Federal Foreign Office, telling the newspaper Die Welt that “Albania and Northern Macedonia have done their homework. In recent years, they have been outstandingly successful all across the board fulfilling all the prerequisites for starting negotiations. They need to be rewarded for this, and this is exactly what the Bundestag did in an unambiguous vote. I am sure that the terms proposed by the Bundestag will convince others in the EU to greenlight the start of the EU accession talks,” Roth emphasized. He added that “the EU’s decision is being watched very closely not only by those in Albania and Northern Macedonia, but in the whole region as well. The EU must show that reform efforts are encouraged. Any further postponement would seriously undermine confidence in the EU with negative consequences for peace and stability in the region.” He also voiced fears that a political vacuum would result in Russia, China, Turkey, the countries of the Near and Middle East coming to the region.

All this is seriously undermining the European Union’s role in the Balkans and is strengthening the position of the other key players, above all of Russia, China and the United States. Therefore, Moscow needs to develop a more clear-cut concept of its own interests and goals in the region and ways of its implementation, always mindful of the local geopolitical situation and the time-tested traditions of Russian-Balkan cooperation.

From our partner International Affairs

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The return of a “political wunderkind”: Results of parliamentary elections in Austria

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At the end of September, the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), led by the former Chancellor – the 33-year-old “political prodigy” Sebastian Kurz – once again came out on top in snap parliamentary elections. According to a preliminary count, to be finalized on October 16, the ÖVP secured 37.5 percent of the vote, and will take 71 of the 183 seats in the National Council (lower house of parliament).

Political commentators still predict serious problems Sebastian Kurz may face in putting together his new Cabinet. What consequences will the outcome of the September 29 vote have for Austria and for Europe as a whole?

The snap general election in Austria followed the publication of secret recordings in May, which led to the collapse of the ruling coalition of the conservative, center-right Austrian People’s Party and the “far right” “nationalist” Freedom Party (FPÖ). In the July 2017 video, published by the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, the leaders of the Freedom Party are heard promising government contracts and commercial preferences to a woman, posing as the niece of a Russian oligarch on Ibiza, Spain. As transpired later, the hidden camera recording had been arranged by journalists dissatisfied with political gains, made by the FPÖ.

The results of the September 29 vote showed that while the “Ibiza scandal” had seriously undermined the Austrian voters’ support for the “ultra-right,” it simultaneously bolstered the positions of the ÖVP, which won nine more parliamentary seats than it did in the 2017 election. The center-left Social Democrats (SPÖ), who have dominated much of the country’s postwar politics, fell to their worst ever result with 40 seats – 12 short of their 2017 result. The Freedom Party suffered massive losses ending up in third place, losing 10 percent of the vote and winning just 31 parliamentary seats – 20 less than in 2017. The Greens (Die Grüne Alternative), previously not represented on the National Council, won 26 seats, and the liberal NEOS/New Austria party won 15 mandates, thus adding five seats to their previous number.

The People’s Party thus confirms its status as the country’s leading political force, winning a second back-to-back election for the first time since the 1960s. Most observers believe that the conservatives owe much of their electoral success to Sebastian Kurz, a young politician who, already as a former foreign minister, led the ÖVP in the spring of 2017, amid the growing popular discontent with the “triumph of political centrism.”

According to Fyodor Lukyanov, the chairman of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, just as the traditional parties kept promising their supporters “even more stability and predictability of the whole system,” the people were getting increasingly worried about the watering down of “the very essence of politics as a clash of views and mindsets.” Meanwhile, Europe has been grappling with crises, ranging “from debt to migration.” Voters were losing faith in the ability by the traditional parties, with their predilection for reaching consensus even at the cost of emasculating the proposed solutions, to find adequate answers to the new domestic and external challenges facing the EU. This is what the People’s Party, one of Austria’s two “systemic” parties, looked like when Sebastian Kurz took over as its chairman, as it tried to move even further away from ideological certainty and advocate “all things good against everything that is bad.” As a result, it was only losing the confidence of its onetime supporters.

According to the London-based weekly magazine The Economist, two factors were critical in Sebastian Kurz’s rapid political ascent. First, Kurz filled an empty “niche” among the center-right supporters of tough refugee policies. In 2015-2016, Austria found itself at the heart of the European migration crisis – in per capita terms, the small Alpine republic had taken in more migrants than any other EU country, except Sweden. Kurz, then foreign minister, gave up his previous, quite liberal view of migration issues, embracing a hard line that envisaged closing borders and limiting asylum opportunities. Together with the governments of a several Balkan countries, Kurz has done a lot to cut off routes of illegal migration.

Secondly, many Austrians now saw Sebastian Kurz as the answer to their request for “fresh blood” and new ideas in politics. Before very long, the young leader managed to reshuffle the party leadership, including on the ground, and implement new approaches and methods of working with voters. His arrival breathed new vigor in the conservative party which, although respectable, had lost political initiative and the ability to generate fresh ideas. To the frustrated electorate, he projected an image of an energetic politician with a fresh look on the problems of Austria and Europe. During his first term as chancellor, Sebastian Kurz managed to convince a large segment of the Austrian population in his ability to successfully combine in the government the bureaucratic skills of the establishment with the ambitious and uncompromising, at times even exceedingly so, agenda of the “populists.” Kurz himself lists moves to reduce taxes and public debt among the achievements of his first government.

The outcome of the September 29 vote underscored the support the People’s Party enjoys among all sectors of the Austrian society, save, of course, for the Vienna liberals. The young politician, “who was widely viewed as a defender of the interests of the wealthy elite, can now be considered the choice of the entire people.” His electoral base continues to swell – Kurz remains the country’s most popular party leader. For his supporters, he epitomizes the political will for change, which they believe the majority of former ÖVP functionaries and the Social Democrats have lost a long time ago. And still, the traditional Austrian and European political establishment remains wary of Kurz, primarily because of his desire to team up with the ultra-right when forming his first government in late 2017. The collapse of the ruling coalition last May in the wake of the “Ibizagate” scandal with the SPÖ leaders seemed to have only confirmed these fears. However, many experts state that as Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz has proved himself as an able administrator who has “effectively deprived” the “right-wingers” of their ability to make many key policy decisions, including in the field of foreign policy.

Voters now expect him to respond to “changing expectations,” which many observers describe as historical and geopolitical pessimism. Many in Europe are worried by the weakening of the EU’s positions against the backdrop of an ongoing competition between the global powerhouses. Meanwhile, most observers believe that putting together a new Cabinet won’t be easy as there are three options for forming a majority (at least 92 mandates): a grand coalition, a renewed coalition with the FPÖ, and the so-called “dirndl government” (“turquoise-green-pink” – the colors of traditional Alpine clothing) with “greens” and liberals from NEOS. The first option could dishearten Kurz’s backers, who supported him precisely because they were fed up with a decades-long succession of governments made up of either one of the two leading parties, or both. Moreover, Kurz has “fundamental differences” with the Social Democrats on many social and economic issues. As for the new attempt to rejoin forces with the FPÖ, it is fraught with scandal that could undermine Kurz’s reputation in Europe. Finally, an alliance with the Greens and Liberals will most certainly lead to serious differences on migration, environmental and social policy.

There is an intense debate currently going on in Europe about the institutional arrangements the EU needs to resolve internal contradictions and meet external challenges. The participants in this fundamental dispute are pulling no blows, and the “Ibizagate” scandal that resulted in the collapse of Kurz’s previous government is a graphic example of that.  Meanwhile, the young and ambitious politician wants to secure a bigger role for his country in European affairs. Throughout his term as chancellor, he demonstrated a strong commitment to the political values of the “European mainstream.” He watched very closely the political processes going on in Europe, and provided maximum support for the reforms being put forward by French President Emmanuel Macron, even though he didn’t share many of Macron’s proposals for Eurozone reform, leaning more toward Germany’s more cautious stance. During his first term as Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz convinced his FPÖ coalition partners to reject the idea of Austria’s withdrawal from the EU. Now that “populists” have been on the retreat in a number of European countries – in Italy, perhaps Hungary, as well as France, where the “Yellow Jackets” movement is on the wane, few expect Kurz to brand himself as a “populist in a centrist’s skin.” The young Austrian, who has reached political heights thanks largely to his clear and unwavering stance on migration could inspire new hope in Europeans, reeling from half-hearted decisions so characteristic of the Brussels bureaucracy.

One should also keep in mind the fact that Kurz owes the notable increase in popular support to those who used to vote for the Freedom Party. And, according to the more realistically-minded people, the two political organizations still have much more in common than Kurz is willing to admit in public. Well, Kurz may have managed to solve the problem of opposing the “populists” by embracing, albeit in a softer form, some of the ideas espoused by Eurosceptics and “sovereignists.” The result, however, has been a Conservative shift “to the right.” And no matter how much Kurz and his associates insist on their firm commitment to “centrism,” it is a very different “center” – that is, a dangerous trend of the entire political spectrum of Austria and Europe gravitating “to the right.”

“Populists” may have “retreated” somewhere in the European Union. However, the third place won by the Freedom party in parliament, which still gives it an “arithmetic” chance of participating in the government, is a clear sign of the party’s potential for political survival.

The Austrian elections seem to confirm the trend that made itself so clear during the May elections to the European Parliament: fortune usually favors the political forces that do not quibble – firm supporters of “strengthening sovereignty.”

Future will show whether Sebastian Kurz’s return to power leads the way to the renaissance of “new-look” European centrists amid the gradual retreat of “nationalists” and “populists.” And also if it is a sign of the gradual adaptation of the European political establishment to the voters’ request for  a more balanced course, combining protection of the sovereign rights and national interests of EU member states and the EU’s objective need for greater federalization and centralization of common political institutions.

From our partner International Affairs

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EU to mount decisive summit on Kosovo

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The European Union is planning to hold an important summit on Kosovo in October this year with a view to get Belgrade and Pristina to normalize bilateral relations. French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will pose as guarantors of the deal. Reports say a senior US official may take part in the Paris summit as well. The participation of the American side was strongly advocated by the authorities in Kosovo, headed by President Hashim Thachi.

If this scenario goes ahead, Serbia may face pressure from both the USA and the EU. The West plans to require Belgrade to not only de facto recognize Kosovo but to confirm the course for European integration – which, according to Brussels, means departure from a comprehensive partnership with Russia and from the signing of a free trade agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) scheduled for the end of October.

Given the situation, Serbian leaders are set on consolidating Belgrade’s position in the forthcoming talks by reducing international support for Pristina. To this end, Belgrade is trying to persuade countries that previously recognized Kosovo’s self-proclaimed independence to reconsider their positions and withdraw their statements. Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic has already announced in wake of consultations on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly that the number of countries that recognize Kosovo’s independence will dwindle by the end of this year. According to Dacic, such countries will make up less than half of the world community.

According to the Serbian Foreign Minister, the Serbian delegation led by President Aleksandar Vucic succeeded in holding talks in New York with representatives of about a hundred states on withdrawing recognition of Kosovo’s independence. “The President spoke with representatives of some states about strategic issues, about a dialogue with Pristina, but there were also many meetings dedicated specifically to the status of Kosovo and Metohija. As the president announced, our citizens can be sure that in the near future the number of countries that will withdraw or “freeze” their recognition of Kosovo will increase,”- Ivica Dacic said.

In recent years, the number of countries that recognize Kosovo’s independence has decreased, though so far mainly due to small American and African states. Among them are the Comoros, Dominica, Suriname, Liberia, Sao Tome and Principe, Guinea-Bissau, Burundi, Papua New Guinea, Lesotho, Grenada.

The persistency with which the US and the EU is trying to “press” for the normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina and force Serbia to cut down on its active cooperation with Russia has yet again pushed the Serbs into streamlining their national foreign policy priorities. According to available data, Brussels is ready to slap more conditions on Belgrade, including the most painful of the Balkan issues, not only on Kosovo, but also on Bosnia and Herzegovina. For one, as Serbian Minister of Technological Development and Innovation Nenad Popovic said,  one of the conditions for Serbia becoming a member of the EU could be recognition of the “genocide” in Srebrenica.

This is confirmed by Zoran Milosevic, an expert at the Institute for Political Studies in Belgrade, who sees the new condition as nothing unexpected, since some EU member states, and also Switzerland, have passed a law that envisages criminal liability for the denial of the so-called “genocide in Srebrenica.” Some  European countries are already following suit having drafted the relevant bills to be submitted to parliament. “Something of this kind was proposed by the High Representative of the international community in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Valentin Inzko. What is the point of adopting laws in defense of this counterfeit on the genocide in Srebrenica if they do not make a condition for Serbia’s membership in the EU?” – Zoran Milosevic points out. The mere word “condition”, he says, signifies that Serbia “is treated as a minor who needs to grow to perfection and fight tooth and claw to enter the EU”. Serbia “accepted this burden of its own free will” the day its parliament passed a resolution according to which the country’s strategic goal is European integration, ” – said the Serbian expert.

He also made it clear that it was by no means accidental that Brussels never announced the full list of conditions for Serbia’s membership in the European Union: “If they did, it would tie the hands of pro-Western Serbian politicians. So they release more and more conditions gradually, one after another. First, it was about recognizing Kosovo – whether this is a condition for EU membership or not. It turned out that it is. Now it is about the recognition of “genocide” in Srebrenica. It is said that Serbia’s entry into NATO will also be a condition for joining the European Union. And, as in the previous cases, we are wondering if such a condition exists or not. As a result, it will turn out that there is. ”

Where Brussels’ pressure on Belgrade is particularly noticeable at present is Serbia’s intention to sign a free trade agreement with the EAEU at the end of October. According to the Minister of Trade of Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC) Veronika Nikishina, negotiations between the EAEU and Serbia on the creation of a free trade zone are over with the parties involved preparing to sign the agreement on October 25. Nikishina says the document will be signed in Moscow by the prime ministers of the five member states of the EAEU, the Prime Minister of Serbia Ana Brnabic and the Chairman of the EEC Board Tigran Sargsyan. Even though Serbia has agreements on a free trade zone with three of the five EAEU members – Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, the transition to a common free trade regime has several advantages, emphasizes Veronika Nikishina: “Three bilateral deals that were signed earlier and were not fully identical are being harmonized, giving Armenia and Kyrgyzstan the opportunity of preferences in preferential trade. ”

Also, a trade agreement provides access of the EAEU members to the Serbian market: “For example, it concerns certain kinds of cheeses, some strong alcoholic drinks, and cigarettes from Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, which could not enter the Serbian market under the free trade regime. And it also spreads on various types of engineering products that have also been removed from bilateral agreements.” “In other words, we give a fully-fledged free trade status to Kyrgyzstan and Armenia and improve the existing bilateral free trade arrangements for Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia,”  – the Minister for Trade of the EEC emphasizes.

According to Serbian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications Rasim Lyayic, an agreement with the EAEU may allow the country to increase its export volumes by nearly 1.5 times. According to the minister, in 2018 Serbia’s trade turnover with the EAEU countries amounted to about 3.4 billion dollars, of which 1.1 billion accounted for exports, mainly to Russia. Exports into the EAEU will increase to $ 1.5 billion within a few years after the agreement comes into force, the Serbian Deputy Prime Minister predicts.

According to the Bruegel International Analytical Center, in 2016, 62% of all Serbian imports came from EU countries, 8.3% from China, 7.9% from Russia. 64% of the republic’s exports go to the EU, 17.8% to other Balkan countries, 5.3% to Russia.

Naturally, the EU is more than concerned about Serbia’s trade and economic policy following a different direction. Brussels has already warned the Serbian government that a free trade agreement with the EAEU could harm integration with the EU. “You can’t follow several directions at once,” – said Slovakian Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak, thereby warning Belgrade and expressing the position of his counterparts in the European Union: “If you are serious about Europe, you must make decisions that bring you closer to it, but this move is totally out of line. ”  

Meanwhile, Serbia maintains composure and has no intention of giving up on the plans. Explaining his country’s decision to conclude an agreement with the EAEU, Rasim Lyayic said that it follows economic agenda alone: “It is not about politics, but about trade.”

According to the minister, a refusal to sign an agreement with the EAEU would call into question a free trade agreement with Russia.

The EAEU is calm about warnings addressed to Serbia, – Veronika Nikishina says: “Until Serbia becomes a full-fledged member of the European Union, it has full autonomy in its trade policy. “In our agreement there are no obligations on the formation of a trade regime between Serbia and the European Union, which is absolutely impossible to imagine.” Nikishina made it clear that until Serbia joins the EU, “we are trading with it in a regime we consider appropriate, and we will upgrade this regime.” As for Serbia entering the EU (which is a matter of remote future), in this case “all agreements of this kind, including our agreement, naturally, will have to be terminated,” – Veronika Nikishina says.

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that pressure on Belgrade, both in terms of recognizing Kosovo and in connection with relations with Russia and the EAEU, will boost considerably in the coming weeks. In these conditions, the Serbian authorities will obviously have to assume a more determined position with regard to the country’s list of national priorities. 

From our partner International Affairs

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