The EU’s prized project of ‘Social Europe’ has been slipping steadily down its political agenda.Frank Vandenbroucke highlights the recommendations of a high-level group he has chaired.
Declining public confidence in the EU’s ability to reconcile openness and cross-border mobility with robust welfare states and their generous social protection has seen rising disenchantment with the concept of ‘European solidarity’, and in doubts about the European project itself.
Yet we can be confident about the future of our welfare states, not on the basis of a return to the pre-crisisstatus quo, but on the opportunities for change that are still available. Change must address Europe’s widening inequalities and social imbalances, and open the way to greater cohesion between EU member states. Widening imbalances are, alas, a matter of fact for inequalities in Europe now divide both people and member states. There is a marked inequality between people with a good job and people without one. In many EU member states, income inequality and poverty are rising. Some countries are enjoying growth, but the economies of many others are sluggish. Europe’s inequalities often relate to skills, and although some EU governments have invested in education and vocational training, others have been forced to drastically cut spending on these.
There are nevertheless significant opportunities for change. We need, first of all, more self-confidence about our social model. Widespread and persistent political misrepresentation of social policies has too often presented them as an economic burden. This view is ill-founded because social policies are fundamental to living standards and greater opportunities for all within a modern competitive market economy. As well as support of fairness and social cohesion, social policies are vital to competitiveness, and are a crucial investment for the future. Over the last few years, many scholarly studies have shown this; for instance a recent OECD report underlined their redistributive impact on economic growth. This isn’t to say that all is well. There is room for improvement because there are weaknesses in the performance of social policies, education policies and labour market policies. But rather than calling the essence of our welfare states into question, we need a wide-ranging review of the balance of demand and supply for different social programmes and social services, and their costs. This should be backed by an EU-wide effort to improve the performance of member states’ social systems. Although responsibilities lie essentially at national level, an over-arching EU policy framework agenda could make a valuable contribution.
To promote social innovation and strengthen Europe-wide comparisons on efficiency and equity in outcomes, we don’t need to start from scratch. If we look at the EU as a laboratory for learning, we already have instruments like the Open Method of Co-ordination. Australia, Canada, the United States and other countries with federal and quasi-federal systems take a positive view of Open Co-ordination, yet within Europe it has often met with scepticism, being perceived as too soft to deliver, or as a feeble excuse for the inconsistency of economic, budgetary and social policies.
Stronger and more credible links certainly have to be built between the EU’s economic, the budgetary and the social and employment policies. The new European Commission should therefore clarify how it will make ‘mainstreaming’ of social, employment, economic and budgetary policies more than an empty word that routinely pops up in official declarations. If mainstreaming is to be a tangible reality, the idea of mutual learning must also regain its credibility. We in Europe need an approach that takes us away from the behind closed doors character of Open Co-ordination, with the Commission and the European Parliament making a joint commitment to the European Union’s basic social goals and giving their support to a comprehensive rolling review of national social policies and their inequalities.
This could help national authorities to improve their own social schemes and ensure that resources are allocated in the most balanced way possible by drawing on the experience of other member states. A focus of attention should be our capacity to tackle inequalities, and the setting-up of such a broad-ranging and ambitious review would certainly signal the seriousness with which the EU takes today’s rising inequalities.
Social dialogue is more than a key component of the European social model; there is a social dialogue system within the institutional set-up of the EU, even if it is sometimes forgotten. There’s no denying the difficulty of organising social dialogue at the European level; in some EU countries, social dialogue is effective, efficient, and representative, but in others the social partners have lost representativeness and credibility, and even barely exist. And the way in which the financial and economic crisis was managed, notably in the so-called programme countries, was at odds with the normal functioning of the social dialogue, and that has weakened the position of the social partners. The upshot is that the EU should invest in the social partners’ capacity to play a more meaningful role, for instance by revisiting the role of the tripartite summit, rather than by persistently placing emphasis on the need to decentralised collective bargaining.
The challenge is not just to reach collective agreements on topical issues, but rather on the challenges that lie ahead, and also on the ways Europe should be reformed. We need a high-level employment and social policy conference at EU level that would hold a thorough debate on future orientations; not a ‘big conference’ but a real exchange of views involving key people. Social dialogue at European level can be successful if its aim is to promote change.
A priority for bold action is youth employment. The member states and social partners need first of all to guarantee at national level the implementation of the Youth Guarantee launched by the EU last year with the aim of ensuring that all people under 25 – whether registered with employment services or not – get a good-quality, concrete offer within four months of them leaving formal education or becoming unemployed. On the basis of social dialogue, new proposals could be put forward to reinforce EU action on youth employment, whether through financial support initiatives like the better mobilisation of ESF funds or a new financial package to replace the €6bn ‘Youth Employment Initiative’ that will not be in place until the end of this year. Complementing the quality framework for traineeship with a quality framework for apprenticeships and/or vocational education is another possibility, but the key point is that the Youth Guarantee must not lead to the ‘parking’ of young unemployed in inefficient training or occupational activities.
We Europeans must also resist protectionism in all its forms. Mobility within the EU is an unquestionable right, and within the context of freedom of movement, problematic issues should be identified and addressed. Myths about intra-EU labour mobility need to be systematically disproved. At the same time, now the European Court of Justice has confirmed that European citizens cannot simply move to another member state to claim benefits: member states can prevent ‘benefit tourism’ within the existing European legal framework. Nevertheless, we should not be blind to some problems; even if there is no large scale social dumping, there are still blatant cases to be addressed of illegal work and exploitation linked with problems of inspection and enforcement of regulations. But intra-EU mobility problems go beyond social dumping. For most people, moving to another country for work reasons represents a success, but for others it can be a failure; half of London’s homeless population is repeatedly made up of migrants, with more than half of them EU citizens, so we have to address the failures of free movement.
An EU programme should be introduced to protect for fair mobility, and that ensures finance for help desks, information and legal help for all mobile workers in Europe. Where possible, we should define minimum standards of labour conditions and social protection, taking into account new forms of labour like part-time workers. We should carefully monitor the implementation of the enforcement directive on the posting of workers, and we should consider the gradual introduction of ‘a guaranteed wage floor’. We also need tangible measures to improve the social context of mobility by increasing the portability of supplementary pensions across countries and sectors, and by strengthening the enforcement of social and employment rights of mobile and migrant workers. And the European Commission should examine how it can take a new initiative to clarify the balance between economic freedoms and the right to industrial action. This could help to solve the problems raised by some recent court decisions affecting the relationship between social rights and free movement.
Europe’s debate on mobility and migration should make a clear distinction between intra-European mobility and permanent migration, which has both intra-EU and external dimensions. Discussion of external migration into the EU must be placed in its longer-term demographic context, because the shrinking European population means migration should be seen as a positive contribution. A major source of resentment about immigration is in some countries not migrants’ nationality but their labour market status. The potential for creating a second class workforce is dangerous, for although we need flexibility in the labour market a peripheral workforce adversely affects a country’s core workforce and contributes to a downgrading of working conditions.
The issue on immigration is not only how to manage immigration flows but also how to manage social and professional integration. We need to recognise the enormous waste of immigrants’ skills when they are not adequately integrated into the labour market, or are not allowed to develop their entrepreneurship potential. Member states confronted with the greatest need to house and integrate migrants need tangible support, so a new fund attached to the European Social Fund that would give support to the integration of EU migrants should be considered.
Education is key to social investment. The Commission has a comprehensive agenda on education, training and skills, and has issued excellent Recommendations on the modernisation of education systems. But this agenda has not exerted enough pressure at the highest levels of political decision-making on budgetary priorities. This is all the more alarming given our limited success in Europe on improving social mobility through education. We now risk seeing social mobility through education grinding to a halt. We should put public investment in education higher on the agenda if we are to reverse the trend of diverging investment in education across Europe. Simultaneously, member states should pursue reform in their education and skill systems.
Education is only one component of a social investment strategy, that must also be about child care, health care and social development overall. The Social Investment Package adopted by the Commission two years ago was a good starting point, but the new Commission should now ensure that the EU and its member states deliver on it, while also recognising that a far broader and ambitious approach is still needed.
The challenge is not just to develop ‘good policy’; it is also to convince citizens that the EU cares about social policy and what it means to people. Tangible action is needed, and delivery. The Youth Guarantee is a case in point, and action and delivery is needed on other issues too. Homelessness is a societal problem with cross-border features where European coordination could make a real difference. The quality of social services and the disparate nature of hostels and shelters across the EU can trigger the cross-border mobility of homeless people. A European quality framework for homeless services, promised but not delivered by the European Platform Against Poverty is needed to help ensure proper use of the EU Funds against homelessness. And the European Youth Guarantee fails to ensure that young people with complex needs like homelessness are included in member states’ policies. One possibility would be to develop a Care Guarantee for young people who leave state care, which can be the first step towards homelessness. Vulnerable young people often lose support when they turn 18, so a guarantee that every 18-year old gets a care plan that identifies problems and proposes appropriate solutions could be pursued at EU level to complement the Youth Guarantee.
The European Union needs to develop a stronger sense of common purpose based on shared concrete ambitions. This won’t be easy because in our national welfare states we can see signs of an erosion of solidarity between generations. We are also witnessing a growing distrust of the EU fuelled in part by public frustration about the lack of leadership and transparency from the European institutions in response to the current crisis. This has given ammunition to those who aim to minimise the role of the EU, or even to encourage some member states to withdraw altogether.
Breaking this vicious circle is feasible. We Europeans don’t lack common ground, but we are short on self-confidence. We must resist an unequal and unbalanced Europe, because Europe should stand for fairness and social cohesion, openness and social mobility, and hope for a better future – not just in solemn declarations, but also in practical day-to-day policies.
This article under its full name: ‘Unequal Europe: A more caring agenda for the new Commission‘ first appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Europe’s World. Reposted per author’s permission.
EU playing a zero-sum game in Kosovo
When it comes to Kosovo settlement, the European Union is clearly trying to regain the initiative. It was with poorly concealed jealousy and irritation that Brussels watched the delegations of Belgrade and Pristina sign an agreement to normalize their bilateral trade and economic relations in early September in Washington, and with the current change of guard in the US, is now trying to get back its levers of influence. Therefore, Brussels wants to organize a new high-level meeting between Serbia and Kosovo.
Miroslav Lajcak, the European Union’s Special Representative (EUSR) for the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue, made this intention clear on December 2, when speaking at the European Parliament event marking the 25th anniversary of the Dayton Peace Agreement on Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to him, preparations are now underway for a new high-level meeting to be held as part of the dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade.
Tellingly, according to a report by the Albanian news agency Telegrafi, citing sources in Brussels, the upcoming talks are expected to focus on resolving property rights in Kosovo. This means that Brussels is looking for an agenda that the sides can agree on and one that would differ from what they discussed in Washington. This is all the more important now that the negotiating process has virtually ground to a halt since September. According to Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, Belgrade will not agree to have a new summit unless the Kosovar authorities are prepared to create an Association of Serbian Municipalities on the territory of their province (primarily in the north). This provision is part of the accords signed by Belgrade and Pristina in Brussels under the auspices of the EU, but since then the Kosovo authorities have actually blocked its implementation. However, because the European Union hasn’t got any really ambitious initiatives to come up with, the planned parley (if it takes place any time soon) looks bound to be less effective than the September talks in Washington. This, in turn, will deal a new blow to Brussels’ ambitions in the Balkans.
Realizing this, the EU leadership has been ramping up its criticism of the United States, essentially accusing Washington of trying to phase Brussels out of the Kosovo negotiation process. Josep Borrell, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, recently said it loud and clear that the solution of problems in the Western Balkans is entirely the EU’s patch, and that the bloc’s global role depends on the success of its policy in this region.
“If we are unable to solve the problems in the Balkans, then we can’t be a significant global player,” Borrell said.
Russia insists that the problems of Kosovo and other Balkan disputes can only be solved on the basis of international law through talks to achieve mutually-acceptable compromises. During a December 14 visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reiterated that there is no alternative to ensuring peace and stability through political dialogue and respect for national interests, based on international law and pertinent UN Security Council resolutions.
“It is principally important to help the countries of this region settle their problems via national dialogue and avoid attempts to drag any of these countries into serving somebody else’s unilateral geopolitical interests,” Lavrov emphasized.
Interaction between Russia and Serbia is all the more important amid the ongoing negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina, as it serves as a political and diplomatic counterbalance to the Pristina- Brussels-Washington “axis.” Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic confirmed the invariable nature and timeliness of such interaction during a December 14 joint news conference in Belgrade with Russia’s visiting Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Vucic also underscored his country’s desire to expand friendly and partnership relations with Russia.
When speaking about the possible outcome of the negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina, one should also keep in mind Turkey’s growing interest in this issue. Ankara is trying to play an increasingly active role in the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean region. As the Serbian daily newspaper Informer rightly noted, “One thing the Turkish president can’t be denied is the consistency and frankness with which he is implementing a strategy to bring back a big and mighty Turkey on the territories once occupied by the Ottoman Empire.”
In this situation, it is in Russia’s best interests to expand its partnership with Serbia, while simultaneously working with other key international players to ensure stability and security in the Balkans and counter the nationalist and destructive forces that can still be found in the Balkan capitals.
From our partner International Affairs
Talking Turkey With Greece: Turkey and Israel’s Marriage of Convenience
On January 25, Graeco-Turkish talks begin, at which Turkish claims to Greek island territories will be high on the agenda. Before we briefly consider the Israeli position, herewith a spot of recent history.
Scorned countries sometimes seek out other scorned countries, for reasons of self-interest. Thus Germany, humiliated after the First World War, co-operated with the Soviet Union, first with secret military agreements, and then more openly after the Treaty of Rapallo in 1922; both countries also had problems with the same country, Poland. Both were considered international pariahs at the time, whether rightly or wrongly.
Israel co-operated closely with South Africa when the latter, under its apartheid regime, was internationally blackballed, with most of the balls being black. The co-operation was largely military, overt and covert. Links between the countries’ external security services, Boss and Mossad, were close. Both countries ignored numerous UN resolutions.
The most recent example of the scorned seeking the scorned is, or course, that of Israel and Turkey, who revived a military co-operation agreement in 1996, that goes back to the late Fifties. Again, both states are hardly a paragon of international virtue, supported only consistently by the USA and its strategic acolyte, Britain, but also by Germany, for atavistic business reasons in the case of Turkey, and a contrived feeling of guilt in the case of Israel.
Both Israel and Turkey ignore numerous UN resolutions; both fear Russia; their respective security services exchange information on Syria; and both have a common enemy, also Syria. Both countries occupy parts of other countries, illegally, Cyprus and Palestine, and Syria’s Golan Heights. An interesting quirk is that Syria has territorial claims on its former coloniser, Turkey: with the connivance of France, Hatay (Alexandretta) was stealthily ‘acquired’ by Turkey in 1939, despite the fact that Syrians were in a majority.
The question is whether this is just another ephemeral unholy alliance, an alliance of pure self-interest, that works in spite of deep-seated historico-cultural differences, or something more significant. The evidence suggests that it is more than a simple marriage of convenience. Anyone who knows about the plethora of secret meetings between the two states, that has gone on for years, of the deep-seated mutual disdain between much of the Arab world and its former coloniser, Turkey, will realise that the military co-operation agreement is but the tip of an iceberg, an iceberg being pushed by hoards of American frogmen, with the avowed objective of achieving firm control over the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean. In this way, Russian influence in the Mediterranean and the Middle East can be contained, á la Kennan, and Israel can be subtly inserted into the de facto NATO fold, with Jordan perhaps being brought into the equation for good measure, while the Turkish mercenaries continue to kill Kurds and Israel conveniently buries the Oslo accords, continuing its ethnic cleansing and illegal settlements.
The U.S. Embassy in Athens has justified Israeli-Turkish co-operation with the following words: ‘US military co-operation with Turkey and Israel is a matter of long-standing policy and practice. As a NATO ally and friend with Turkey and as a special ally with Israel, both democracies and key regional players, the United States shares core values and mutual security and political objectives in the Eastern Mediterranean. Israel and Turkey have likewise found that they share common objectives, in part from confronting the same set of neighbours which have pursued weapons of mass destruction programmes, have been sponsors and supporters of terrorism, and which have been inimical to democracy, the rule of law and regional stability.’
These neighbours are not actually named, but are obviously Iran and Syria, not to mention some others. There is no mention of Israeli terrorism at home and abroad (vis. Vanunu) or of the treatment of innocent and unarmed Kurdish villagers, no mention of Israel’s nuclear arsenal and chemical and biological weapons programmes, nor of its disregard for international law. Above all, the core values and common objectives shared by the USA, Turkey and Israel are difficult to locate, unless it is to help the U.S. contain Russia.
A few years ago the essentially pro-American Economist wrote that Syria’s concerns about Turkish-Israeli military co-operation were ‘fairly well grounded.’ The article undoubtedly embarrassed the Pentagon and angered the Turkish and Israeli governments. It represented one of those very occasional but authoritative Economist warnings that things had gone too far. The last time the Economist had said anything so risqué was just after the abortive American attempt to rescue the American hostages at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, by printing a front-page cartoon of President Carter dressed as a cowboy, with his six-guns at the ready. Cruel stuff, and exaggerated criticism, maybe unjustified, even, yet nevertheless telling.
Turkey has in the past threatened to attack Syria. Today it occupies part of it, claiming that Syria supports the Kurds in Turkey. Israel also bombs Syria periodically. In 2008, published Israeli-Turkish military co-operation involved a 1998 $ 700 million contract for Israel to upgrade 54 Turkish F4’s, a $70 million one to upgrade 48 F5’s, and joint manufacture of 1000 tanks and ‘some helicopters.’ Israel also hoped to sell Turkey an early warning system, and also used Turkish territory for low-flying exercises.
Then came a sudden deterioration in Turkey-Israel relations, with Israeli commandos killing of nine Turks on a vessel trying to break the Gaza blockade. Military co-operation between Israel and Turkey was suspended. Backstage American pressure on its two key allies, however, along with an American sponsored joint military love-in between Greece and Israel is leading to new Turkish diplomatic pirouetting: relations between Israel and Turkey could be improving. Bilateral talks are in the offing, and full diplomatic relations could be restored by March, meaning re-activating Turkish-Israeli diplomatic and military relations.
For Greece, the unholy alliance could become more than an irritant, because of Cyprus. However far-fetched it may sound, Turkey could easily encourage the Israeli air force and navy to train in occupied Cyprus, with the Pentagon publicly tut-tutting, but privately sniggering. It could even offer a home in northern Cyprus to would-be Jewish immigrants, as it did in the sixteenth century. There is even a small minority of extreme Zionists in Israel that claims Cypriot territory as part of the Jewish heritage. Thus, an already overcrowded Israel could find more Lebensraum. When one looks at the extremist elements in Turkey and Israel, such plans are not beyond the bounds of possibility.
Greece is now part and parcel of the “new” Cold War, co-operating with Israel and the U.S. militarily more than ever before, in the naïve hope that Turkey will drop its claims on Greek territory. But despite irritation with recent Turkish behaviour, the U.S. and Israel are unlikely to be of much help when it comes down to diplomatic detail: in 2003, the U.S. Embassy wrote the following to me: ‘We recognize Greece’s border with Turkey, but not all the territorial waters implications which Greece asserts. We have not taken a position on sovereignty over Imia/Kardak, in part because of the lack of an agreed maritime boundary.’
When I asked about Greece’s twelve mile nautical and ten-mile airspace limits, the reply was: ‘We recognize the six [!]-mile territorial sea claim and a claim to the superjacent air space. We do not recognize Greece’s claim to territorial air space seaward of the outer limit of its territorial sea.’ I doubt that their position has changed. Similarly, the Israel Embassy refused to answer my question about Greece’s air and sea limits.
Clever Turkish diplomacy currently involves balancing itself between the U.S. and Russia, in the knowledge that neither the U.S. nor Israel will do more than protest diplomatically – á la Cyprus invasion – if Turkey snatches a small Greek island. The U.S.’s main aim is to keep Greece in the anti-Russian camp by not agreeing with Greece’s position on its Aegean borders. For if the U.S. – and Israel – came out in support of Greece’s position, this would push Ankara more towards Moscow.
From our partner RIAC
Has The European Integration Process Reached A Dead End?
As part of the Geneva Lecture Series concepted and conducted by prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic, President of the Republic of Austria Dr. Heinz Ficher (2004-16) and current Co-chair of the Vienna-based Ban Ki–moon Centre for Global Citizens centered his two-hour long mesmerizing talk on Europe and its future prospects. University scholars and diplomats based in Geneva and beyond enjoyed the first hand insights in the very history of Europe and ist integrations since the end of the WWII.
Excellency Fischer elaborated on the important historic moments that forged today’s relations between member states of the EU and pointed out the weaknesses and challenges that the European continent will have to face in order to not reach a dead end in terms of the so-valued integration process.
Dr. Fischer introduced the topic by asking whether we have learned from our previous mistakes. According to him, we did learn from history. However, he believes that “after one or two generations, lessons of history start to fade away and get lost again [and that] we must keep that in mind to avoid dead end”.
Going back to World War II (WW2), the well-known European diplomat reminded us how Germany’s defeat changed the global balance of power, especially with the US and the USSR emerging as the two superpowers. The year 1945 has also been a crucial in the history of Austria, which reborn and reconstructed as an independent state in April 1945.
The end of WW2 left Europe with many questions; how to restore Germany? How to rebuild Europe? How to establish and protect peace and avoid mistakes that have been done after WW1? After the traumatizing events that happened during the war, peace “had a very high value and was a great priority almost worldwide”. Heinz Fischer remarks that “economic and politic cooperation between France, Germany, Italy and other European countries was the best way to retain and reduce nationalistic egoism and link the economist in a way that war cannot be an option to solve problems anymore as it happened so many times before”. However, we should not forget that, at the same time, the tension between Stalin and the western world on the other side was growing.
The Ban Ki-moon Center Co-chair continued by talking about the Cold War and describing the first steps towards the European Union that we know today.
“The US officials urged (western) Germany to take full responsibility for the development in their country and for good cooperation with other democracies. The next importation step was the announcement of the so-called Marshall plan for Europe. [It] was originally designed for the whole Europe but got rejected by countries under soviet dominance. Austria government was in a difficult situation because the eastern part of the country was, in that time, in the soviet occupation zone and, nevertheless, Austria joined the Marshall plan under heavy critics from its Communist party and Soviet officials.
[The] first peak of Cold War was the blockade of Berlin in 1948 and the foundation of NATO in 1949, which consequently made European integration faster and stronger.”
Nonetheless, Europe was still divided between the East and the West. It was only when Stalin died in 1953, that the beginning of a new era with a more collective leadership started. Fischer believes that his death was an important element for successful negotiations about the Austrian state treaty in April because the new leaders in Moscow wanted to demonstrate that they were ready for substantial negotiations and for compromises.
Adding to that, two years later, the Treaty of Rome was signed in March 1957, creating the European Economic Community (EEC) between Western Germany, Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. This accelerated further political integration.
By early 1960s, about 30% of the Old continent was gathered in the EEC – like-minded democracies, neighboring states of a growing politico-economic influence with good preconditions to strengthen and deepen such cooperation. The EEC was successful and attractive. Naturally, the decision-making of the Six was far easier than in today’s Union.
The step from the EEC to the EU was the basis for a better coordinated foreign policy, a precondition for the introduction of the euro currency and it strengthened the role of the European parliament. It was very attractive to join the EU as the union formulated strict conditions and admissions procedures for membership in the club.
In 1989, after the fall of the Berlin wall, Austria, Finland, Sweden and Norway, four democratic countries with good economic performance, applied for the EU. On January 1995, all of them, excepted Norway, became member of the EU. Then, in 2004, the number of member states jumped from 15 to 25 and soon after 27, etc. These years were the best moments in the European integration process but it was also a turning point, the number of diverging interests was enlarging and it was growing parallel to the number of members. As EU became more and more the voice of Europe, it also brought more and more difficulties in terms of decision making.
Eastern countries were united in their anti-Communist and anti-Russian feelings however in other fields of politics they were more and more not united with each other and the rest of Europe. But the question remained: what was the reason for that development?
Dr. Fischer observed that the national identity of new democracies from the 90s, those that were under soviet dominance, had been brutally suppressed during soviet supremacy and their so-called internationalism was not a genuine development, it had been enforced and, soon after the collapse of European communism and the dissolution of Russia pact, these countries showed that they were fed up with internationalism even European internationalism and nationalism saw a powerful renaissance. With this background, populistic nationalism in some countries, but not all the eastern European countries, became step by step stronger than European thinking and European solidarity.
While growing nationalism is one big obstacle, for the European cooperation and integration, the necessity of consensus in the constitution of the European union in many fields of European policy is another big problem. Consensus is, indeed, recommendable and necessary for very far-reaching decisions with long time consequences. However, too many necessities for consensus are poison for a coherent European policy, the more consensus is necessary, the bigger is the role of national interests and the bigger the role of national interests is the more we have a union with injured wings and the more it is difficult to compete with the other big powers in the world.
Since decades we can observe new developments dimensions and challenges of ecological environmental policy, the figures of climate change and global warming speak a very clear language on global level but also in Europe we have a lot to do in these fields. The Paris climate agreement set the goal of keeping global warming below 2 degrees but the question remains whether we will reach this goal and whether this will be enough to prevent further catastrophes such as biodiversity losses, glacier melting, intensified western conditions, etc. The EU is more and more trying to promote climate-friendly policies. It is indeed trying to reach progress and to mobilize the member countries on this field, they know that this must be a priority. Former President Fischer added that, in the last couple of years, China took more and more the lead in green and renewable energy whereas Trump administration withdraw from Paris agreement. However, the fact that Biden promised to re-enter Paris accord and put effort into fighting climate changes leads to careful optimism.
On the other hand, Excellency Fischer pointed out that the issue of forced migrations should not be forgotten. He added that this represent a huge global problem which the EU cannot solve alone and, even though nobody is expecting them to, they should be ready to contribute to a solution and to do their part. The number of refugees at the border of Europe between 2014 and 2015 increased rapidly to 1,3 million asylum seekers and this caused a lot of problems, troubles, hostilities and a wave of population and nationalism.
Observing the policies in some European countries and Austria is not an exception, the problem is not so much, some governments can solve the issue but the problem is whether they want to solve it.
In the meantime, the second wave has counted higher numbers than ever, we had time to place some coordination at EU level to fight jointly the virus. The Commission has made useful proposals in some areas such as cross-border commuting transport of goods, external borders purchase and distribution of vaccines. Also it tackled the international cooperation of comparable statistics and the strategic introduction of the next generation of EU recovery instrument amounting to 750 million euros which is linked to the next financial framework and the EU budget for the years 2021-2027. All being promising signs of a rapid reaction capacitation.
“The EU is facing challenging times. Cross-European cooperation has no alternative – it is today as fundamental as ever” – was the closing point of Heinz Fischer’s farsighted and comprehensive Geneva talk.
*President Hein Fischer answered the call of the Swiss UMEF University in Geneva on December 10th 2020, and gave this lecture under the auspices of so-called Geneva Lecture Series – Contemporary World of Geo-economics. Lecture series so far hosted former Secretary-General of the Paris-based OECD,current Rector of the Tokyo-based UN University, notable intellectuals such as prof. Ioannis Varoufakis and Nobel prize laureates. Some of the following guests are presidents and prime ministers of western countries, distingushed scholars as well as the chief executives of the important intergovernmental organisations.
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