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Europe: A Defeat at the Hands of Victory?

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Having won the Cold War (perhaps largely due to the courage of the Russian people who threw off a communist dictatorship and were prepared to take risks), Europe seems to be losing the peace. The region is entering the next stage of international relations disunited and weakened, and poised for a confrontation or maybe even a large-scale war.

Wonderful slogans about “a common European home” (Mikhail Gorbachev), “A Europe whole and free” (George H.W. Bush), and the beginning of a “new era of democracy, peace, and unity” (the 1990 Charter of Paris for a New Europe) – all of which looked achievable twenty-five years ago – produce a sad smile today.

All of this is happening amid Islamic radicalization, unprecedented destabilization in the Middle East, unresolved traditional global challenges, an extremely vulnerable international financial system, the emergence of new areas for rivalry between China and the United States, growing de-globalization, and a virtually collapsing system of international relations and law… The massive re-nationalization trend in world politics will inevitably sweep across the European Union – an island of stability – especially amid the systemic slowdown both in Russia and the EU.

The list of challenges continues to grow, while Western Europe and Russia – the strongest country on the continent – are wrangling on the verge of a civilized “divorce.” Western Europe can try to tuck its head under the U.S.’s wing again, of course, and Russia could form a de-facto strategic alliance with China, but either option will destroy the hopes for the united Europe everyone wanted to build at the end of the Cold War.

Is there any way for us not to lose the peace? I think so. But we must first understand how things got this way.

There are four reasons: the first is the inability to understand that Russia, on the one hand, and a majority of other countries on the continent, on the other hand, were and are diverging in socio-economic, moral, and psychological terms. We have lived largely in different eras. Second is the inability and reluctance to set a common goal for long-term co-development. Instead, and this is the third point, we have been witnessing the disagreement over the Soviet heritage and attempts to pin Russia down geopolitically, which initially led to war in South Ossetia and then to the conflict in Ukraine. The Cold War never ended de facto and is now reemerging. And the fourth reason is that there has been no serious and systemic dialogue between the two sides for almost twenty-five years. Instead Russia either was lectured to or assured of a common future. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s speech in Munich in 2007, initially designed as an invitation to a serious dialogue, met with a hostile reaction. Had the Europeans listened to Putin, many problems would have been avoided, including the current tragedy in Ukraine.

For Russia, relations with Europe are not so much a question of geopolitical orientation or economic ties as identity. Can Russia, plagued by political differences and the departure of a considerable number of European elites from European values as Russia understands them, give up its centuries-old cultural foundations that date back to Byzantium? The odds are actually quite high that it could, especially considering an ascending Asia, which for the first time in history is offering a geopolitical and economic alternative. In fact, current disagreements with the West provide a strong argument in favor of an economic and even political turn towards the East.

The situation is complex for Europe as well. Without an alliance with Russia Europe will lose its five-hundred-year political, economic, and cultural leadership. What would that mean for the self-sentiment of many, if not all, Europeans and their chances to keep their identity?

Russia and Another Europe

Despite the illusory hopes of the early 1990s, Russia and Europe within the EU developed at different speeds and in diverse directions. There were objective reasons for these processes, but European elites almost never assessed or discussed them. And that was their mistake. They failed to see the truth and had no wish to do so. This is why the current crisis came to them like a thunderbolt from a blue sky. Now some are feverishly trying to demonize Putin, while others are blaming “Merkel the betrayer.”
Hopes that Russia would choose the “European” path did not come true. But Europe is also changing; it is no longer the Europe that attracted the Russian people after their revolution. Russian impatience, an almost complete lack of real, rather than theoretical, experience of building capitalism, and unfortunate circumstances troubled Russia at the dawn of its new era.

A shock privatization campaign was launched to break the backbone of communism, but the overwhelming majority of Russians condemned it as robbery. The shock therapy reforms produced one of the ugliest forms of oligarchic quasi-capitalism. In fact, many Russians still consider huge amounts of private property as morally illegitimate.

Much worse, while lacking the necessary knowledge and seeking to get everything done as quickly as possible, the Russian reformers failed to grasp (or simply ignored) the main point – property without property rights is a sham. Their successors proclaimed the “dictatorship of law,” but did not introduce the right of ownership, because that would have interfered with privatization and the subsequent redistribution of property. Therefore, on top of its moral questionability, ownership had no legal protection. This is the major reason for the current economic slowdown and capital flight. It appears risky to invest or even keep assets in Russia. This is also the root cause of the lack of patriotism among the elites. The authorities are beginning to address this issue now, but they refuse to recognize its root causes. Indeed, as the prime source of systemic corruption, property can only be protected if it is “married” to power.

This is the actual result of Russia’s transition. Some in the West applauded it, delighted at the outward signs of Russia’s “Europeanization” or hoping to get a chunk of its property or power. However, Russia did not follow the European path which means, above all, the rule of law in both society and the economy.

A strategic mistake was also made in political reforms. Liberal-minded communists and their opponents thought that people did not have enough democracy. And so democracy was created from above by electing parliaments, governors, and mayors. Yet responsible citizens, the key element of human capital in any country, were never cultivated. Work only began recently to build the breeding grounds for civil society, which include the grassroots and municipal levels, and county self-rule.

As a result, “premature” top-tier democracy slowed development. By 1999, Russia had virtually turned into a failed state. If there had been a little Maidan in Moscow, the country would have fallen apart quickly. I always say and will keep saying that of all the explanations for the miracle of Russia’s salvation, the one that appears to be most plausible to me is that God forgave Russia for its sin of communism.

External circumstances were not favorable either: former adversaries did not try to finish us off, yet neither did they help (except for the humanitarian aid in 1990-1992 and the 11 billion Deutsch marks Germany provided to pay for the withdrawal of Soviet troops from East Germany). When the West “helped,” it did so by offering commercial loans conditioned on reforms, which angered many people. The Russian elite accepted the proposed rules of the “Washington consensus” and failed. As we know now, the success of developing countries generally comes from their refusal to play by these rules.

In Russia, the defense and protection of sovereignty has always been the principal national idea. Yet Russia was looked down upon and sometimes even told (not by Europeans) who should be appointed to the government, with those favored receiving explicit support. The West’s approach to Moscow objectively was a mild version of the Versailles policy even though this was never stated openly as a goal, and most politicians in Europe probably did not even suspect that. There were no scoffing, annexations, or contributions, but there was a policy of “victors,” who consistently drove the “defeated party” to bay, seeking to control its economic, political, and military interests. However, Russians did not feel defeated and the policy of NATO expansion engendered the Weimar Syndrome. Its first outburst was quashed only by a hard-won victory in the second Chechen war, which made Putin a national leader.    

Europe within the European Union

Let me explain again where we differ conceptually. While Russia was restoring its sovereignty and statehood, the European Union was trying to overcome sovereignty and state nationalism, and to build a supranational community. This divergence became manifest when European countries almost unanimously condemned the Chechen war. 

Essentially, the systems of values developed in the opposite direction. Most Russians sought to revive traditional moral standards destroyed during communism and embrace previously banned Christian beliefs. A public demand emerged for state patriotism that was not based on communist messianism, as well as for a new national identity and conservatism as the antithesis of revolutionary ideas that had brought so much suffering and trouble to the country and its people in the 20th century. It was believed that this was the way for Russia not only to regain itself, but also return to the Europe it had left in 1917.  

However, European elites had tired of these values and considered them obsolete or even reactionary. The Old World set itself the goal of doing away with nationalism and even national patriotism, rejected many traditional moral principles, and drifted farther away from Christianity. No one knows whether this trend of the past thirty years will continue or if it will eventually be reversed. Yet Russian and Western European societies are at the opposite ends. Russia’s intent to make traditional values its banner meets unconcealed antagonism and raises concerns among the leading, and ruling, European elites, since they know that the majority of people in their countries share these values too.

Having burnt its fingers on top-tier democracy, which had almost brought the country to collapse and which people associated with the chaos, poverty, and humiliation of the 1990s, the Russian elite made an unpleasant, but unavoidable, turn towards “controlled” democracy; that is, a semi-authoritarian regime.

At basically the same time European elites started to advance their own democratic model and experience as the basis of “soft power.” From the early 2000s the EU policy has been increasingly dominated by democratic messianism that until then had only been found across the ocean.

Russian and European elites once again found themselves in opposition to each other. There is yet another explanation for this. Most societies and ruling circles in the West have long forgotten their revolutions. But top echelons of power in Russia do not want to see new disastrous upheavals similar to those that occurred in February 1917; or the democratic revolution of 1991, which has not yet ended in horror, but has almost led to the collapse of statehood. (Naturally, there is a minority within the Russian elite who were a majority in the 1990s, who do not share these conservative views and who even long for a new revolution. But society is not on their side, at least for now).

European politicians state repeatedly that the Old World could unite only on the basis of common values. They said so at first in order to get rid of the Russians, who were eager to become part of Europe. But eventually, the orators came to believe their own mantras. Given the ideological opposition described above, there was no question of drawing Russia into the unification process. However, this stance was contrary to the European political tradition where interests often united countries, leaders, and societies. Otherwise Nazi Germany would have won World War II. If one follows this logic, he would come to the conclusion that anti-European forces, such as Islamic radicals or non-European competitors, should gain the upper hand today.  

Discordant systems of priorities were another reason why the “Greater Europe” concept failed. At first, the European Union had more important matters to deal with than Russia. Carried away by euphoria after the end of the Cold War, the EU was too preoccupied with its unbridled drive for enlargement and the creation of the euro. By the beginning of the 2000s, it had become clear that excessive enlargement without a political alliance had adversely affected the union’s stability and governability. By mid-decade it was obvious that the European Union had entered a long systemic crisis. The West – both the U.S. as its flagship and the EU – suffered a series of bitter and even humiliating failures.

On the one hand, the crisis distracts Europe from complex external projects, including the Russian one; on the other hand, it makes it unconsciously look for an external impulse for integration or even an external enemy. At one point it was the Soviet Union, a cautious and therefore not very dangerous, yet convenient, opponent. In addition, the countries that joined the EU almost genetically inclined to take revenge for past defeats and humiliations. In 2011-2012 those countries started making an enemy of Russia.

A counter-process was underway in Russia that led nowhere. Its elites did not want to, nor could they, admit previous mistakes and begin a new round of reforms. They sought to justify the deadlock or break it by looking for an external enemy and escalating confrontation in order to silence the dissenters and consolidate society at a minimum, or prod themselves into carrying out rapid modernization. The Russians succeeded in this only once, in the second half of the 20th century.  

As a result, new confrontation is escalating, and, instead of becoming a third pillar for a future world order (along with the U.S. and China), Europe could actually become a problem for it.

EU countries with their problems and Russia with its partly flawed and partly uncompleted transformation will have to embark on extensive reforms in order to survive and preserve their status in a new world. If they worked together and supplemented each other, they could make changes easier and more effectively. Otherwise, they may never start them or may eventually fail. This is yet another argument in support of a new round of the “big European project.” It has not succeeded so far, thus endangering both the EU and Russian projects. 

Moscow – Brussels

The enthusiasm of the first few post-revolution years (the Russian prime minister even spoke about the advisability of joining the European Union, and the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement was signed in 1994) gradually gave way to growing estrangement, then to mutual irritation. Since the 1990s, the prevailing opinion in the EU has been that Russia should remain a junior partner. However, Russia sought to restore its sovereignty and establish equal relations. Prime Minister and then President Vladimir Putin made quite bold proposals in 1999-2000.

But those proposals, just like many others, were ignored. Russia continued to suggest various forms of union, while EU bureaucrats viewed Russia as just one of Europe’s fringe countries. As a result, a new treaty that would have replaced the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement was never signed. Biannual summits, aimed at demonstrating Russia’s special status, were losing steam. Moreover, their agendas were filled with secondary issues, such as payments for flights over Siberia, bans on the re-export of meat from Poland, or restrictions on the sale of round timber to Finland. The inability to launch educational exchanges and scientific integration programs became another proof of failure. Thus, skilled professionals are leaving both the EU and Russia. 

The rituals of shallow meetings and loud banners have replaced the initial realistic understanding of common interests (one of the worst banners, made in the East Germany-Soviet Union spirit, is the Petersburg Dialogue, on which Berlin has given up not because it is worthless, but because it wanted to irritate Russia). The latest banner is “Partnership for Modernization.” Russia’s top elite spoke much about it, but did not take any real steps. Russia’s European partners used it to mask their desire to continue to treat Russia as a junior partner, to hide their lack of a clear plan of action, and to conceal their intention to support an “agreeable” leader (Dmitry Medvedev). Such actions were futile and are one more cause for mutual irritation.

Russia made its last attempt to build closer and equal relations by inviting the EU not only to establish dialogue with the Customs/Eurasian Union, but also to build it within the European regulatory framework in order to facilitate further integration. But Brussels refused to play along and instead tried to continue expanding its own zone of influence. Eventually the EU agreed, but only after the disaster in Ukraine.

Among the reasons for the failure of Russia-EU relations, the most important is the unwillingness or inability to set a strategic goal. Without it both sides became mired in red tape and petty, albeit sometimes quite fierce, competition. The European Union sought to expand its soft control over territories that Russia considered its zone of interests. Gradually, this transformed into a zero-sum game and led to the Ukrainian crisis, although it was not the main cause.

However, the main problem in Russia-EU relations was elsewhere. EU enlargement was accompanied by NATO expansion. The latter was clearly regarded as a potentially hostile, if not altogether aggressive, organization, especially after the three-month NATO bombing campaign in Yugoslavia in 1999, which shocked even pro-Western politicians in Russia.

NATO enlargement was considered as treachery and a direct violation of written and unwritten agreements reached when the Soviet Union ceased confrontation, pulled out its troops from the Warsaw Pact countries, and agreed to and even assisted Germany’s reunification. Russia swallowed its pride after two rounds of NATO eastward expansion (which was probably a mistake), but it could not reconcile itself with NATO expansion into Ukraine. That would have created a completely unacceptable situation with a 2,000-km unprotected border with an alliance prone to aggression. Russia regarded such moves almost as a reason for a large-scale war. Attempts to draw Kiev into NATO were made in 2007-2008. The desire to see Ukraine in the alliance was stipulated in NATO’s Bucharest Declaration of 2008 and has been reaffirmed repeatedly in the last several years.

Against this background, the West’s support for the Maidan protests and the overthrow of Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovich triggered a preemptive strike from Russia. It seems that the incorporation of Crimea and the support for the rebels in Donbass were undertaken by Russia to ward off an even bigger catastrophe. The strike targeted the very logic of NATO expansion, but it also impacted empty and competitive, yet quite peaceful, relations with the European Union. 

Berlin  – Moscow

The growing estrangement, if not concealed animosity, between Moscow and Berlin is a major failure of the European policy. At risk is one of the main pillars of peaceful order in Europe – the special friendly relations between the two countries and their people established by German chancellors Willy Brandt, Helmut Schmidt, Helmut Kohl, and Gerhard Schröder, and their Soviet and Russian partners. The other pillar is the European Union, where the fading Berlin-Paris axis still exists, but is becoming increasingly fractured. It remains to be seen how deep these fissures can go if the Russian-German pillar collapses.

While not completely giving up national egoism and occasional involvement in doubtful campaigns like the bombing of Yugoslavia and the operation in Afghanistan, Germany has built a new identity by protecting and advancing its interests using mainly soft economic power. German policy has been so efficient at this that the country has become a leading force in the EU. Germany’s political system, created on the ruins of the Third Reich and probably the most effective in the world, has secured the country’s development and the loyalty of a majority of its citizens. 

Russia, which had to rebuild its statehood and identity, did so in the Bismarckian manner, the old German way that was almost completely opposite to that used in modern Germany. No serious effort has been made to analyze this difference in the two countries’ historical experience and development paths.

The Russian elite and society view the confrontation with Germany over Ukraine as either (the simplest view) “the chancellor is hooked” by the U.S. National Security Agency or (a more sophisticated view) as Berlin adapting the Old World to its own needs to save “the German Europe.” Another view which has become ever more noticeable in the yellow press and especially in online blogs is that the Germans have decided to create “a fourth Reich” and consider Ukraine an integral part of this plan. 

Germany believes that Russian policy in Crimea and Ukraine stems solely from the Putin regime’s desire to retain power. So Germany has to restore the status quo ante in order to preserve the peaceful order in Europe as its guarantor. However, Russia, a country with an outlook that goes beyond Europe, holds that the recklessness and lawlessness committed in Yugoslavia, Iraq, and Libya, and Western support for the suicidal Arab Spring have destroyed the international order, and either its legitimacy should be restored or countries should live by the law of the jungle. Whether current views are fair or not is irrelevant. In the absence of serious dialogue and attempts to sort things out, this is the prevailing reality. 

Was this confrontation unavoidable? To some extent it was: the countries and their societies did not come closer, as they had when the Soviet Union was about to do away with the old regime. Instead they moved apart. This confrontation was largely caused by the failure of the elites, which did not want or were unable to understand each other and to set common realistic co-development goals.

At stake now is not only the second pillar of the European peaceful order, but also the historical integration of the two nations. After all, the Russian people forgave the Germans for their horrible crimes during World War II. If the past comes back, it will also come to the rest of Europe, where anti-German sentiment is ever more pronounced, and the continent will morally be thrown back fifty years. Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel, who already have no special liking for each other, and the Russian and German people are facing a truly historic challenge. They must make sure that history does not repeat itself. 

Prospects for a way out

The sides could of course try to revive the Cold War by strengthening NATO, moving its forward deployed forces towards the Russian border, deploying new Russian missiles, and restoring some elements of systemic confrontation. They could try to arm Ukraine or limit not only economic, but also human contacts between Russia and the West, and further increase, if even possible, the exchange of slander and lies.

What would make this confrontation different from the Cold War is that the current Russian elites remember how the West acted after Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and his allies had decided to end the Cold War in a dignified manner. They no longer have any illusions about politics. Also, despite the crisis, the positions of Russia are stronger than those of the former Soviet Union. It would not be a problem to feed the people now. Russia is confronted not only by the monolithic West together with China as before, but also by a West that has found itself in a completely different historical paradigm. China and the rest of the Non-West, which has gained so much strength recently, sympathize with Russia. And Russia is unlikely to wait for the still strong West to finish it off. So, if the sides do not stop and come to an agreement, the crisis will worsen.  

Ukraine will be strangled or most likely destroyed if it receives military assistance. And then it will be time to see whether Western leaders and people have come to their senses after realizing that the current and previous rulers brought Europe and the world to war. If the policy does not change, things could escalate further. This could also occur because of another “black swan;” that is, an unexpected catastrophe or provocation. 

I do not want to think about what Europe will be like after such a clash, even if Russia prevails. All the efforts of Europeans to build a peaceful continent after World War II will have been hopeless, just like the hopes of the early 1990s which are about to turn into ashes. In this kind of situation, well-intended attempts to resolve the Ukrainian crisis without eliminating its root causes will be doomed.

There is a solution, of course.

First, intellectual and political mistakes made over the past twenty-five years should be jointly reviewed in a fair and open manner.

Second, the difference in values should be recognized as legitimate, with the basic cultural principles shared by both sides. Russian and other European societies should be allowed to develop in their own way and at their own pace. Faced with international competition, Europeans outside of Russia will most likely become more realistic or even conservative. Under normal circumstances, Russian society will start building a state ruled by law and eventually its own, mature and full-fledged democracy.
Third, one must understand that confrontation, even under the “best case” scenario without a head-on collision, would cost dearly and distract the EU from the internal modernization crucial for its survival. European society is so strongly opposed to confrontation that it cannot be consolidated by declaring Russia a common enemy.

Russia will face the increased risk of becoming too dependent on China even though that country is only a semi-ally. Many in Russia believe that confrontation will spur internal development. On the contrary, it distracts attention and resources from domestic reforms and the overdue economic turn to Asia through the development of regions east of the Urals. 

Fourth, the sides should realize that the opening up of the economic, human, and energy space between the European Union and the Eurasian Economic Union from Lisbon or Dublin to Vladivostok will not solve all of their problems, but will boost their development.

This is precisely what Russia offered to do when it proposed to institutionalize the OSCE, join NATO, sign a new European security treaty, create a Union of Europe, promote closer integration between the EU and the Eurasian Economic Union through dialogue and harmonization of legal and regulatory frameworks, and gradually open up the markets. These steps would not run counter to the special relations between the EU and the U.S., nor between Russia and China; that is, if one does not set them against each other intentionally (as some have been doing in fact, which indeed is a shortfall policy). 

I understand what should be done, but it should be done together. I would also like to discuss what should not be done.

Arms limitation should not be allowed to become the focal point of relations again, for it would only revive bloc mentality and remilitarize European politics in much the same way as what happened in the late 1980s. 

The OSCE as a pan-European organization should not be bypassed. But as an organization that also bears the mark of the Cold War and its own institutional memory, it should not implement reform itself. Its reformation should be carried out within the OSCE, but initiated outside of it. The OSCE is an important practical instrument, an indispensable tool for resolving local conflicts, using tested mechanisms for easing tensions, and stabilizing a situation wherever a confrontation occurs. This is an important enough mission to focus on rather than try to “burden” the OSCE with even more ambitious European governance functions.

The Helsinki process should not be repeated since it could revive bloc diplomacy for years to come, with questionable results. It would be better to ask a team of experts to draft a new treaty, the text of which can then be coordinated and agreed on at the top level.

There is one more point to make. Europe is not the center of the world, nor is it an isolated territory where its destiny is decided. Its current problems are part of a more complex global system where everyone affects everyone else. For this reason it is impossible to view Europe separately from Eurasia or the Middle East. In fact, everything is closely intertwined in the world. Perhaps it would be useful to think about engaging China and other key Central and Eastern Eurasian countries in the discussion, just as the United States and Canada were brought into the European processes before.

A new world architecture should also accommodate countries located between Russia and the EU/NATO, acknowledge some unrecognized states, coordinate the resolution of frozen conflicts, and, just as important, take joint and concerted efforts to keep Ukraine from social and state disintegration and turn it into an area of cooperation rather than struggle.

This may seem illusory at a time when mistrust has reached unprecedented levels and the U.S. is apparently seeking further European divisions. But it is the lack of truly joint work over the past twenty years that largely has precipitated the current crisis.  

When at the end of the 1940s and the beginning of the 1950s the architects of European integration and the farsighted Americans who supported them came up with ideas that led to the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community (and later the European Economic Community and eventually the European Union), most European nations hated each other and all of them hated Germany. But the founding fathers had the courage to put forth breakthrough ideas that brought peace and order to the biggest part of Europe.

The last twenty-five years have largely been wasted. The world has become a more dangerous place, Europe is about to split up and become weaker or even slide into a large-scale war. Europe is not united enough to influence the world. Unless it works out a new ambitious and unifying idea on the way to a distant but palpable and, most importantly, common goal, Europe will inevitably fall apart along old and new dividing lines. The Ukrainian crisis and its demons will continue spreading. 

If the leaders of Russia, the rest of Europe, the U.S., and those countries that would like to join them set such goals for themselves, it would be much easier to work in the Minsk, Normandy, or any other format in order to stop or curb the conflict in Ukraine and help it build its future. Unless there is a common goal, I am afraid that the people of Ukraine, who are facing the watershed, and the whole of Europe will be doomed to experience the worst time ever.

There are significant difficulties ahead and many opportunities have been missed, but it is worth trying. Otherwise, both Russians and other Europeans will throw away one more common value – their belief in common sense.

 

Republished from MD Partner RIAC

Europe

Tackling migration crises: Fighting corruption may help

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Increasing numbers of migrants are moving towards the Belarus/Poland border.photo: Belarus Red Cross

Twenty-three-year-old Mohamed Rasheed was at a loss after returning to Iraq from a grueling failed attempt to cross the Belarus-Polish border. “There’s no life for us here. There are no jobs; there is no future,” he told a Washington Post reporter.

Another man, who had just disembarked from a repatriation flight from the Belarus capital of Minsk to Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, frowned and obscured his face with a scarf, according to the reporter, as he responded to a question about why he had left.

“Those words cannot leave my mouth. Who dares to tell the truth here?” the man said.

The two men were returning to a country whose population has largely been excluded from sharing in the benefits of its oil wealth. Youth unemployment hovers at about 25 per cent. Public good and services are poor at best. Security forces and militias crackdown on and fire live ammunition at protesters demanding wholesale change.

Mohammed and his fellow returnee could have been from Lebanon, a middle-income country in which three-quarters of the population lives under the poverty line thanks to a corrupt elite unwilling to surrender vested interests irrespective of the cost to others.

In fact, they could have been from any number of countries in the Middle East, North Africa, and their African and Asian peripheries.

Almost half of the youth from non-Gulf countries in the Middle East and North Africa want nothing more than to leave in the absence of opportunities and prospects. They are exasperated with corrupt, self-serving elites.

This is a part of the world where devastating wars have wracked Syria, Yemen, and Libya. More recently, these countries were joined by Ethiopia while others in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel reel from jihadist violence that feeds on social and economic grievances.

To primarily hold responsible for the migrant crisis, human traffickers and cynical authoritarian leaders like Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, who are willing to play power games and turn a profit on the back of innocent men, women, and children is swatting at symptoms of a problem that goes to the root of instability in the Middle East and North Africa.

To be sure, Mr. Lukashenko and the traffickers are part of the problem. Moreover, many Middle Easterners on the Belarus-Polish border appear to be economic, not political refugees with a legal right to asylum.

One could argue that the European Union’s refusal to take in the refugees on humanitarian grounds led to their repatriation to Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan, which may have shortened their ordeal. Many risked being ultimately rejected, even if they had been granted entry to the EU because they were not political refugees.

The jury is out on whether the refusal will serve as a warning to the many in the Middle East and North Africa contemplating ways to get to Europe by hook or by crook.

All of this describes the immediate aspects of a dramatic crisis. The danger is that the focus on the immediate will obstruct badly needed thinking of ways to prevent or reduce the risk of future such crises and human suffering, aggravated by the willingness of governments to fight their battles on the backs of the least protected.

The framing of the crisis as a security rather than a political, economic, and social problem further takes away from the development of policies and tools to tackle the root causes of repeated migrant crises – economic mismanagement; political, economic, and financial corruption; nepotism; and loss of confidence in political systems and leadership.

“Addressing population challenges, the youth bulge, and refugee and migration pressure from natural or man-made crises will require measures to promote sustainable economic growth and enhanced educational and healthy capacities,” said George M. Feierstein, senior vice president of the Washington-based Middle East Institute and a former State Department official with multiple postings in the Middle East and North Africa.

Acknowledging that a broader US policy focus is likely to prove more challenging than one narrowly concentrated on security, Mr. Feierstein argued that the United States could “bring assets to the table that could potentially enhance its role in the region and strengthen its position as the preeminent outside power.” The former diplomat was referring to big power rivalry with China and Russia in the Middle East and North Africa.

Adopting Mr. Feierstein’s policy prescription would involve greater emphasis on regional approaches to global challenges, including climate change and public health; conflict management and resolution efforts to safeguard populations and minimize internal displacement and migration; and institutional capacity and resilience building; all backed by greater US private sector engagement.

Kyrgyzstan has potentially emerged in what could provide evidence that a de-emphasis of the security aspects of the migration crisis would not automatically surrender real estate and /or leverage and influence to China and Russia.

Part of a Central Asian world sandwiched between Russia and China on which the United States has seemingly turned its back with its withdrawal from Afghanistan in August, Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov is using his election pledges to fight corruption and offer financial rewards to whistleblowers to lure the US back.

Mr. Japarov’s proposition, designed to rescue Kyrgyzstan from the clutches of Russia and China, is the central theme of a document that he has sent to the US State Department. The document outlines proposals to revive a broad political, economic, and civic engagement with the US bolstered by anti-corruption measures and affirmation of democratic freedoms.

S. Frederick Starr, founding chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, suggested that Mr. Japarov is providing a template for US reengagement with Central Asia and Afghanistan. In fact, the Kyrgyz president is offering a formula equally relevant to the Middle East and North Africa.

If adopted by the Biden administration, Kyrgyzstan “would become ‘The Mouse that Roared’ to cite the title of the droll 1959 British film.  This time, however, the lesser power will have advanced its cause not by threatening military action…but with a sensible proposal by which a great power—the United States—…can once more become a serious presence in a major part of Asia that lies on China’s and Russia’s doorstep,” Mr. Starr said.

In contrast to Central Asia, the United States remains the dominant power in the Middle East and North Africa. But it’s a power seeking to redefine the role it wishes to play going forward in a region struggling to come to grips with an uncertain but changing US approach.

Kyrgyzstan could be showing the way for both United States and the Middle East. However, to make it work and reduce, if not stop, migration flows, the United States and its Western partners would have to prioritise confronting corrupt elites who will stop at nothing, including displacing populations, to preserve their illicitly gained privileges.

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Europe

An election, another one, and yet another one: Will Bulgaria finally have a functioning government?

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As of November, Bulgarian voters headed to the polls four times this year. Therefore, the news of a new election evokes little surprise — almost like in Israel before Netanyahu’s ousting. In both countries, the tension kept rising while expectations became more and more modest with each successive electoral round. However, the contests that took place on Sunday 14th were of the utmost importance for the country; and not only. In fact, Bulgaria is the EU’s and NATO’s south-eastern bulwark and hosts a tract of the South Stream gas duct. Moreover, Sofia is currently blockingthe next round of EU enlargement negotiations over North Macedonia’s disrespect of extant bilateral obligations. Finally, the Biden administration has manifested the US’s renewed interest in the Bulgaria’s internal politics and international orientations. Thus, the result of the vote has wider implication for the European and Euro-Atlantic political and geo-strategic stability.

Background — Two failed elections

April 2021: How the parties ‘hung’ the parliament

Last April, Bulgarians voted to renew the sitting parliament in the general elections. However, after a summer-long wave of protests against the Prime Minister and the Attorney General, established parties looked rather weak.

According to most experts, this new season of contestation has mobilised new voters, previously disenchanted about politics. As a result, the parties and the leaders who casted themselvesas supportive of the protests increased their votes. In particular, the neo-liberal coalition Democratic Bulgaria (DB) got the support of the well-educated and those residing in bigger cities. Meanwhile, the personal parties Stand Up! Bastards Out! (ISMV) and There is Such a People (ITN) fished across the board.

But they cannot persuadePM Boyko Borisov’s supporters that his removal from office is a precondition for societal improvement. Thus, despite the many corruption scandals involving Borisov’s cliques, all polls forecasted his party, GERB, would have won the election.

Or, to be more precise, GERB won the ballot count — but without a majority (see Figure 1). Moreover, the indignation did not spare the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), which sometimes vents sympathies  for GERB despite its corruption. In addition, the elderlies are overrepresented amongst the BSP’s voters, the party suffered from Covid’s increasing morbidity during the spring. Hence, the main traditional opposition party lost votes in favour of the abovementioned ‘protest parties’, weakening the wider anti-Borisov front.

Against this background, there was absolutely no chance of seeing a cabinet get through a vote of confidence. In fact, GERB won 75 seats and the DPS, an ethnic-Turkish party closely associated with GERB, got other 30. Meanwhile, the so-called “parties of the protest” had only 93 representatives on the 121 needed to form a government. True, the BSP managed to hold on to 43 seats — enough to make the protest parties’ eventual confidence motion pass. But DB and ITN refused to engage in serious negotiations with the socialists, forcing the parliament to disband.

The President scheduled new election in July.

July 2021: How politicians (did not) made it through another hung parliament

Most Bulgarian parties and their leaders failed to understand the real meaning of the election results in July. In fact, for the first timesince its appearance in 2009, GERB failed to win the most votes. In part, this could be explained arguing that a large share of GERB’s constituency does not vote ideologically. On the contrary, researchers hypothesise that support for Borisov’s party stems chiefly from the networks of clienteleshe has established. Thus, it was relatively uncomplicated for the President-appointed caretaker government to disincentivise practices such as vote buying and controlled voting. Either way, subsequent sociological analyses and available data show that GERB’s voters demobilised more than other parties’ supporters in July.

Conversely, the so-called ‘parties of the protest’ were the main beneficiary of the disengagement of GERB’s voters. True, most of the ITN’s, DB’s and ISMV’s voters were not ideologically committed to their party of choice either. Nevertheless, the results showed that protest voting can be powerful enough of a force to uproot an already-destabilised party system. In fact, all three parties increased their share of the vote and number of seats (see Figure 2). In addition, ITN’s votes increased in absolute terms by 92,000 units despite an eight-percent reduction in turnout.

After having seen the results, Borisov’s adversaries, especially President Radev, imagined the parties could agree on a new cabinet. In fact, GERB and the DPS lost 13 seats. Meanwhile, the so-called “parties of the protest” had as many as 112 representatives and the BSP was left with 36. Eventually, strong of its 65 deputies, ITN came up with the offer for DB, ISMV and the BPS. Essentially, ITN would form a minority “cabinet of experts” following an agenda agreed amongst the four parties. In other words, ITN came up with a confidence-and-supply arrangement which would have denied its partners any post. However, the populist reason which drives ITN’s strategy led to a massive failure although there was a draft government programme. Namely, according to several rumours, DB requested to rediscuss some of the cabinet members’ nomination as part of the agreement. Predictably, ITN’s preconceived denial to negotiate on the names caused DB’s rebuttalof the entire confidence-and-supply mechanism. Obviously, the BSP and ISMV opportunistically abandoned ITN’s wretched locomotive before the egregious failure of its government in pectore.

The President scheduled new election in November.

Yet another parliamentary… and finally a cabinet?

Considering the previous two votes’ result, it is unsurprising that few analysts tried to call the last electoral round. Indeed, much of this unpredictability stemmed from the decision of two President-appointed caretaker ministers to form a new party. Actually, the names of former finance minister Kirill Petkov and former economy minister Asen Vasilev were little known until May. However, the former’s intense public activity in the revealing the corrupt practicesof Borisov’s administration made him very popular. Moreover, Petkov’s rhetoric emphasises, unlike that of most other Bulgarian political leaders, dialogue, trust and teamwork— especially with Vasilev. Lastly, Petkov and Vasilev made a wit choice in calling their party We Continue the Change (PP). In fact, the name underlines continuity with the caretaker government’s activity and suggests a connection with its appointer, President Radev. After all, the President remains the most popular Bulgarian politician and PP benefitted from his informal blessing (Figure 3).

Overall, the results are surprisingto say the least (Figure 4). Although the turnout fell again to slightly less than 40% of eligible voters, PP achieved a convincing lead over GERB. At the same time, the entire political panorama changed dramatically virtually overnight. After a months-long decline, ISMV failed to clear the four-percent threshold to enter the parliament and risks disappearing. Evidently, the BSP continued its decline, ranking fourth – even after the DPS – and losing 54 seats on its pre-2021 level. Interestingly, PP seems to have syphoned offso many votes from the protest party par excellence, ITN, to shrink it to 25 seats.  The same dynamic drove votes from PP to DB, whose leader admitted the two parties’ self-evident ideological affinity recently. Finally, a nationalist ‘protest’ formationmanged to elect 13 deputies, remedying nationalists’ failures in April and July: Văzrazhdane (‘National Revival’).

Looking at the mere numbers of seats in the parliament, one would reach a simple conclusion. And some already say that the Bulgarians will soon have to deal with a new cabinet, with Petkov as PM. However, the most refined analysts have noted that the parties may fail to form a government for the third time.

Conclusion — What to look for in the next weeks and months

The most fascinating aspects of Bulgaria’s current election cycle is not new to those who follow Israeli politics, for instance. In fact, as it happened in Tel Aviv after Netanyahu’s failure to form a government, many feel changes coming. However, in Sofia like in Tel Aviv, there are still many unknown quantities to deal with in politics’ general equation.

Obviously, the reference is most directly to Văzrazhdane — this absolute newcomer to parliamentary politics. First, the party has adopted rather ‘atypical’ stances on, amongst other topics, Bulgaria’s NATO and EU membership. Curiously, most of the party’s propaganda material is freely and easily accessible online through social networksand Văzrazhdane’s website. Besides the fact that the majority of its activists and candidates are open to have an online chat with anyone. Hence, it is reasonable to expect that at least part of Văzrazhdane’s 127,568 voters is well aware of its ideals. Nevertheless, it may not be able to coalesce with a strongly pro-EU, neo-liberal and verticalized party as PP without denaturing.  Second, the party’s modest success may be more sustainable in the medium to long term than that of PP. Differently from PP, ITN, ISMV and otherBulgarian leader-driven political projects, Văzrazhdane has been growing up for year. In effect, a few sociologists and analysts were already singling out the party’s positive trajectory in July. Thus, its ideas may turn into a long-lasting destabilising factor for Bulgaria’s usually dull foreign policy in the coming years.

Furthermore, one can argue at length on what these results say on the state of Bulgaria’s liberal democracy. Sure, neither PP nor GERB are a serious threat to democracy as a procedural rule involving elections. However, both parties pose an unmistakable menace to the country’s already fledging liberal institutions. In fact, both Borisov and, in his short tenure to nowadays, Petkovhave shown little appreciation of parliamentarism. Moreover, Petkov embraces a brand of neoliberalismwhich implies a few carrots(e.g., raising pensions) and much more stick. In fact, he has only criticised entrepreneurs whom others have already associated with Borisov and promised not to raise taxes. In addition, he has an open feud with the Constitutional Courtover his dual citizenship — which invalidated his ministerial appointment. Finally, Petkov and his associated have approached the pandemicas a common-sense matterdespite the ongoing compression of citizens’ freedoms.

Therefore, the future remains unpredictable. Especially assuming that a Petkov cabinet would have the support of both the EU and the President. In fact, left unconstrained by Brussels in the name of stabilitocracy and supported by Radev to finish off his archenemy, Borisov, Petkov and his associated may end up rewriting the rules of Bulgarian politics in an elitist way. After all, they have already done it by violating all constitutional customs on caretaker governments’ self-restraint. Why not to try again?

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Engaging Morocco: A Chess Game Spain Does Not Want to Lose

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In a game of chess, each player knows the type of game they are playing and takes turns moving the pieces. In addition to the relative advantage of making an opening consistent with your objectives, you must anticipate your opponent’s moves and plan accordingly.

Morocco moved pieces on May 17 and 18, 2021, when it let in 8,000 immigrants in the city of Ceuta, a Spanish territory in Africa and external border of the European Union. It did so without warning, neglecting its functions as border guardian and allowing the entry of a mass of migrants amounting to 9.5% of Ceuta’s population.

This episode is of unprecedented character: it occurred in the context of a geopolitical change in the Maghreb, within an unparalleled worsening of Rabat-Madrid relations, and it was of an unmatched magnitude. The particularity of the event demands an assessment of the relations between both countries and of Spain’s strategy towards Morocco. Does Madrid know that it is playing chess with Rabat? Is it capable of reading the moves of Morocco in advance? Does it have an effective strategy?

Background

This act takes place during a period of dramatic change in the Maghreb area. Namely, hostilities over Western Sahara broke out again in 2019. Further, Morocco’s relations with Algiers have drastically deteriorated, while its relations with Europe have become more strained following the CJEU rulings in 2021 and conflicts with France and Berlin. Washington has increased its support for Morocco, recognizing its sovereignty over Western Sahara and providing arms supplies and military cooperation. In parallel, Rabat is making a pivot to Africa, strengthening ties with the Sahel and extending its diplomatic contacts with Nigeria, Senegal and other West African countries. These changes enhance the importance of Morocco’s movements and highlight the relevance of its interactions with its only European neighbor: Spain.

Relations between Spain and Morocco have always been conflictive and prosperous in equal parts. In addition to the positive aspects of trade relations, economic complementarity and cooperation in the fight against terrorism, there are also problematic aspects: territorial claims over Spanish possessions in Africa, maritime delimitation issues and immigration. Morocco’s rejection of the principle of Uti possidetis juris, seeking to change the borders inherited from colonialism, has brought conflict to its relations with its neighbors. With Spain, this is evident in events such as the Ifni War (Morocco-Spain), the Green March, the Perejil crisis and the events in Ceuta in May of this year.

In the media, relations between the kingdoms of Spain and Morocco are shaped by conflicts, such as the Perejil Crisis in 2002 and 2010-2011 without a Moroccan ambassador to Madrid. These confrontations, usually involving Spanish territories in Africa or issues of great public sensitivity such as migration or the Western Sahara, are short-lived and normally quickly resolved. As a result, relations between Madrid and Rabat are cyclical in nature and form part of Spanish domestic politics. This conditions that the high points in their relations never last long and that Spain’s responses in discussing the Sahara, Ceuta and Melilla publicly are avoidant rather than assertive. Within this framework, the events in Ceuta 2021 can be understood as a new setback in the development of complex relations.

These conflicts contrast with Spain’s deeply intertwined economic interaction with Morocco. Sectors such as automobiles, textiles and agriculture form part of the same value chain. Morocco is Spain’s second largest non-EU partner while Spain has overtaken France as the main supplier to Morocco. This responds to the concept of the “cushion of interests” put forward by Spain in the 1990s. The core idea of this strategy is that increased economic interdependence will reduce political tensions. According to this theory, since Morocco’s economy is more dependent on Spain than Spain is on Morocco, Rabat would be constrained in its political movements. However, given the frequency of conflicts between the two kingdoms, this liberal approach is of doubtful effectiveness.

The combination of frequent misunderstandings and growing economic interaction is not the only paradox to be noted in the relations of the two kingdoms. On the political level, the synchronization between the countries’ royal houses (mainly between Juan Carlos I and Hassan II in the past but also between Mohamed VI and Felipe VI at present) stands in contrast to the six years without the annual high-level meetings required by the Treaty of Friendship between the two countries. Moreover, Prime Minister Sanchez has broken with the Spanish tradition of paying the first foreign trip to Morocco, in place since the 1980s.

In short, the problems between Madrid and Rabat are cyclical and greatly affect Spanish domestic politics. Neither the strength of the commercial interaction nor the closeness between their kings are enough to smooth relations between the two countries.

The axes of the relationship between Spain and Morocco

The complexity of the relationship between Spain and Morocco revolves around six axes: migration, terrorism, energy, Sahara, Ceuta and Melilla, and the European Union. Each axis generates a series of opportunities and vulnerabilities for Spain, and it is the confluence of these axes that determines the ups and downs between the two countries.

The first of these axes is migration. Due to its sustained omnipresence in the media, it is the one that most concerns Spanish domestic policy. Sub-Saharan and Moroccan immigrants arrive to Spain through two different routes: by sea (to the peninsula and the Canary Islands) and by land (through the Spanish cities in Africa of Ceuta and Melilla). Since 1992, Madrid has increased cooperation with Rabat in this area.

Currently, the border externalization system is present in the repatriation of immigrants, the joint maritime police patrols, the joint police stations, the raids against massive assaults on border fences, and the construction and control of the Nador fence in Morocco. These projects are financed by European funds, which Morocco would like to see increase. This collaboration is asymmetrical: Morocco has sole control of the border, and Spain depends on its goodwill. Rabat, aware of this, does not hesitate to instrumentalize the issue.

The second axis is anti-terrorism and security cooperation. Collaboration in this area originated with the terrorist attacks in Madrid on March 11, 2004. Cooperation now extends to police, judicial and intelligence cooperation. In addition, with the aim of controlling radicalization, Rabat appoints part of the imams in Spain. Here again, the asymmetry is in favor of Morocco. The Moroccan imams could position themselves in favor of the interests of their country of origin. Moreover, anti-terrorist cooperation is essential for Spain’s national security, and its potential loss would put Spain at risk.

The third axis is energy. The Spanish presence in this field is extensive, with participation in Morocco’s solar and wind power development and in its combined cycle power plants. In addition, Spain exports electricity to Morocco through two interconnections with the Iberian Peninsula, which accounts for 20% of the Moroccan demand. Spain used to be dependent on the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline, which passed through Morocco. Its closure in November 2021 has reduced this dependence but has posed a problem to guaranteeing gas supplies to Spain. In this field, Spain has the upper hand: it has vetoed the Mediterranean Solar Plan in Morocco (to avoid competition with Spanish renewable production) and has rejected a 3rd electricity interconnection requested by Morocco.

The fourth axis is that of Western Sahara. This former Spanish colony is of visceral importance to Morocco. In the heart of its territorial claims, the conflict remains ongoing since it began in the 1970s, and Rabat lacks international support on its position. Moreover, it is a topical issue, around which Morocco has recently won American support, French and German rejection, and on which it has declared that it will not sign trade agreements that do not include Western Sahara.

Spain faces a dilemma since it must choose between its public opinion (sensitive to the Saharawi cause) and its trade relations with Morocco. As a result, it maintains a dual position. Officially, Spain supports a solution through the UN, sends humanitarian aid to the Saharawi refugee camps in Tindouf, recognizes the Polisario Front as representative of the Saharawi people and rejects Moroccan claims to Canary Islands waters on the grounds that Rabat has no sovereignty over Western Sahara.

Nevertheless, it applauds the autonomy project proposed in 2007 by Morocco (which does not envisage independence), rejected the US initiative to extend MINURSO’s mandate to human rights monitoring in 2013, and defends Morocco’s interests (and its own) before the judgments of the CJEU on trade agreements involving Western Sahara. The complexity of this axis, which forces Spain to walk in two directions at the same time, is a threat to any constructive relationship with Morocco.

The fifth axis is Morocco’s claims over the autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla and the Spanish islands off the Moroccan coast. Rabat’s endeavor to re-establish its “authentic” borders does not end in the Sahara, further extending into these Spanish territories, over which it has a permanent claim.

These territories have four problems.

  1. Economically, they are dependent on Moroccan trade and on Spanish subsidies,
  2. demographically, the growth of the population of Moroccan origin causes changes in the social structure that can be a source of conflict,
  3. international protection is relative, since the Spanish territories are not explicitly protected by NATO, and although they are part of the EU and the Schengen Area, they are not within the Customs Union,
  4. the islands do not appear in the Spanish Constitution nor in the Spanish territorial organization.

Taking advantage of these weaknesses, Morocco has used different strategies to strengthen its claims: economic blockades, vetoes against further integration into the EU, a rhetoric of colonialism, and comparisons to Gibraltar, and even the Perejil crisis in 2002, in which a small group from the Moroccan navy occupied one of the Spanish islands. This axis has a latent presence in the relations between both countries: although Madrid avoids its public mention, Rabat’s claims may end up in direct confrontation Spanish national interests.

Finally, the sixth and last axis is the European Union. Spain´s relationship with Morocco is based on the European Neighborhood Policy and on the Union for the Mediterranean. Besides, this relationship currently revolves around the provision of funds to Morocco for the externalization of borders, the agriculture and fisheries trade agreements, and the rulings of the CJEU on these, which since 2015 have complicated Brussels’ relations with Rabat. Indeed, Morocco has changed its attitude towards the EU since 2008, reducing its concessions, increasing its demands and adopting a more pragmatic discourse. In the framework of Madrid-Rabat relations, the EU has acted as an appeaser, reducing bilateral conflicts. However, Spain is limited within the multilateral structure, since it cannot impose its preferences and its power is confined to blocking initiatives (as it did with agricultural liberalization for example). Moreover, the judgments of the CJEU have poisoned the bilateral relations between Spain and Morocco.

What nowadays is cooperation in migration, security and energy, due to conflicts around the Sahara or Ceuta and Melilla may one day become an undesirable dependency. Too many issues related to Spanish national security are subject to Rabat’s goodwill. That is why the disagreements between the two countries cause so much commotion in Spain, even if they do not always revolve around each of the 6 axes described above.

Ceuta 2021 — Another crisis or a point of no return?

This article begins with the events of May 18, 2021, when Morocco loosened its border controls and allowed more than 8,000 undocumented migrants, mostly young Moroccans, to enter the city of Ceuta. The figure is unprecedented, around 10 times higher than what used to be received until then. It is worth asking whether this event is a simple downturn in the cyclical relations between Morocco and Spain, or whether it implies something different.

When the Ceuta crisis in 2021 is put into context, an extraordinary deterioration of relations between Morocco and Spain is observed, enhanced by unilateral actions by Rabat. In 2018, Morocco closed the commercial border with Melilla. In 2019, it toughened the fight against smuggling in Ceuta, hindering the border crossing and prohibited its officials from entering Ceuta or Melilla. To this day, this has subjected both cities to an unprecedented economic asphyxiation. In 2020, Morocco vetoed the entry of Moroccan fish into Ceuta and revived the dispute over the delimitation of maritime borders in Canary waters. In 2021, it installed a fish farm in Spanish waters near the Chafarinas Islands without permission. In recent years relations between the two countries have worsened gradually, camouflaged behind the Covid-19 pandemic and around issues of relative relevance, which only indirectly affect the 6 axes above mentioned.

In contrast, the Ceuta crisis is relevant in almost every aspect.

  1. Morocco is instrumentalizing immigration, leaving aside its obligations as border guardian.
  2. The Western Sahara conflict lingers in the background: the crisis was a form of protest by Rabat against the hospitalization in Spain of the Polisario Front leader Brahim Ghali, organized in an opaque manner by Madrid.
  3. Despite Rabat’s attempts to keep the crisis within the bilateral framework, it escalated to the European Union, where Spain received the support of the European Commission, the European Parliament (which issued a condemnation for violation of children’s rights against Morocco), and even of France.
  4. The crisis was followed by the reactivation of territorial claims over Ceuta and Melilla: The Moroccan Prime Minister compared the situation to Western Sahara.

Faced with the numerous and unusual vectors of this crisis, Spain must identify what objective Morocco is pursuing, and what its next steps will be. Rabat is obviously trying to capitalize on the momentum provided by the U.S. recognition of its sovereignty over the Sahara and its vigorous relations with some of its African neighbors.

Moreover, the deterioration of relations has coincided with a deterioration of Spanish domestic politics, while Morocco is taking advantage of independence, government instability, COVID-19, etc. Is Morocco pursuing a strategy against Spain? That is what the Spanish intelligence presumes, without knowing very well what strategy it is. In fact, the CNI considers the Ceuta crisis not to be an immigration problem, but an invasion that can be repeated again. Rabat could have taken the conflict into a gray zone, in which case it would be establishing the environment, waiting for opportunities.

The current situation is not part of the cyclical pattern that characterizes its relations with Morocco. Ceuta and Melilla are suffocating, Spanish intelligence fears losing anti-terrorist collaboration with Morocco, Rabat is in a strong position, and Madrid is unable to recognize what Morocco’s next step will be, limiting itself to trying to put an increasingly entrenched relationship back on track. The impetus with which Rabat is pushing for the recognition of its sovereignty over the Sahara, and its extrapolation of this to Ceuta and Melilla, suggests that the disagreements with Spain are not over.

In all this, Spain’s strategy towards Morocco is ineffective. The liberalism of the cushion of interests has failed. It was based on elements that were of national interest for Spain (migration, terrorism, etc.) but not for Morocco. The only sphere where Madrid has an advantageous position is energy: Spain exports electricity to Morocco, continues to refuse to establish a third electricity interconnection, and is receiving Moroccan requests for Spain to re-export Algerian gas. Moreover, Spain has learned that Morocco fears losing its reputation with the European Union and is trying to prevent the EU from getting involved in its bilateral relations. Thanks to the EU intervention, Morocco made a misstep during the Ceuta crisis this year.

However, everything suggests that Madrid is confident that the ups and downs will continue to prevail in its relations with Rabat and it accepts Mohamed VI’s invitation to inaugurate an unprecedented stage in the relations between the two countries. It is foreseeable, therefore, that Spain will keep Morocco as one of the two pilot countries of its Focus Africa 2023 plan, giving it and Senegal unparalleled attention in the development of constructive relations, and will export this experience to other African countries. In a game of chess, each player knows the type of game he is playing and takes turns moving the pieces. Spain knows that it is playing, but it has not realized that the game has changed, and that the chessboard is different. It has skipped several turns and, for too long now, its pieces have been sitting immobile.

From our partner RIAC

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