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: The stalemate in negotiations brings Serbia ever closer to Russia and China
Serbia has been waiting since 2012 for the European Union to respond to its application to become a full member of the EU.
In spite of exhausting negotiations, this response is slow in coming and the main cause of the stalemate has a clear name: Kosovo. Before accepting Serbia’s application for membership, the EU requires a definitive solution to the relations between Serbia and that region that broke away from it after the 1999 conflict – when NATO came to the aid of the Kosovo Albanians – and proclaimed its independence in February 2008.
Serbia has never recognised the birth of the Kosovo Republic, just as many other important countries have not: out of 193 UN members, only 110 have formally accepted the birth of the new republic, while the rest, including Russia, China, Spain, Greece and Romania – to name just the most important ones – refuse to recognise the independence of the Albanians of what was once a region of Serbia.
The European Union cannot accept that one of its members is in fact unable to guarantee control over its borders, as would be the case for Serbia if its membership were accepted.
In fact, since the end of the war between Kosovo and Serbia, there is no clear and controlled border between the two countries. In order to avoid continuous clashes, Kosovo and Serbia have actually left the border open, turning a blind eye to the ‘smuggling economy’ that thrives on both sides of the border.
In this situation, if Serbia were to become a full member of the European Union, it would create a gap in the borders of the entire Schengen area, as anyone passing through Kosovo could then move into all EU countries.This is not the only obstacle to Serbia’s accession to the European
Union: many European chancelleries are wary of Serbian foreign policy which, since the dissolution of the Yugoslav Federation, has maintained a privileged relationship with Russia, refusing to adhere to the sanctions decided by Europe against Russia after the annexation of Crimea to the detriment of Ukraine.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, Serbia even agreed to produce the Russian vaccine ‘Sputnik V’ directly in its own laboratories, blatantly snubbing EU’s vaccine offer.
For the United States and some important European countries, Serbia’s formal accession to the European Union could shift the centre of gravity of Europe’s geopolitics towards the East, opening a preferential channel for dialogue between Russia and the European Union through Serbia.
This possibility, however, is not viewed unfavourably by Germany which, in the intentions of the CDU President, Armin Laschet, the next candidate to succeed Angela Merkel as Chancellor, has recently declared he is in favour of a foreign policy that “develops in multiple directions”, warning his Western partners of the danger resulting from “the interruption of the dialogue with Russia and China”. In this regard, Laschet has publicly stated that ‘foreign policy must always focus on finding ways to interact, including cooperation with countries that have different social models from ours, such as Russia, China and the nations of the Arab world’.
Today we do not know whether in autumn Laschet will take over the leadership of the most powerful country in the European Union, but what is certain is that Serbia’s possible formal membership of the European Union could force Europe to revise some of its foreign policy stances, under the pressure of a new Serbian-German axis.
Currently, however, Serbia’s membership of the European Union still seems a long way off, precisely because of the stalemate in the Serbia-Kosovo negotiations.
In 2013 Kosovo and Serbia signed the so-called ‘Brussels Pact’, an agreement optimistically considered by European diplomats to be capable of rapidly normalising relations between Serbia and Kosovo, in view of mutual political and diplomatic recognition.
An integral part of the agreement was, on the one hand, the commitment of Kosovo’s authorities to recognise a high degree of administrative autonomy to the Kosovo municipalities inhabited by a Serb majority and, on the other hand, the collaboration of the Serbs in the search for the remains of the thousands of Kosovar Albanians presumably eliminated by Milosevic’s troops during the repression that preceded the 1999 war.
Neither of the two commitments has so far been fulfilled and, during the meeting held in Brussels on July 21 between Serbian President Alexander Vucic and Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti, harsh words and reciprocal accusations were reportedly exchanged concerning the failure to implement the ‘Pact’, to the extent that the Head of European foreign policy, Josep Borrel, publicly asked the two parties to ‘close the chapter of a painful past through a legally binding agreement on the normalisation of mutual relations, with a view to building a European future for its citizens’. This future seems nebulous, to say the least, if we consider that Serbia, in fact, refuses to recognise the legal value of degrees and diplomas awarded by the Kosovo academic authorities also to members of the Kosovo Serb minority.
Currently, however, both contenders are securing support and alliances in Europe and overseas.
Serbia is viewed favourably by the current President of the European Union, Slovenian Janez Jansa, who is a supporter of its membership because “this would definitively mark the dissolution of the Yugoslav Federation”. The vast majority of European right-wing parties, ranging from the French ‘Rassemblement National’ to the Hungarian ‘Fydesz’, also approve of Serbia’s membership application and openly court the Serbian minorities living in their respective countries while, after the years of US disengagement from the Balkans under Presidents Bush, Obama and Trump, the Biden administration has decided to put the region back on the list of priority foreign policy commitments, entrusting the ‘Serbia dossier’ to the undersecretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, Matthew Palmer, an authoritative and experienced diplomat.
With a view to supporting its application for European membership, Serbia has also deployed official lobbyists.
Last June, Natasha Dragojilovic Ciric’s lobbying firm ND Consulting officially registered in the so-called EU ‘transparency register’ to promote support for Serbia’s membership. ND is financed by a group of international donors and is advised by Igor Bandovic, former researcher at the American Gallup and Head of the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy, by lawyer Katarina Golubovic of the ‘Committee of Human Rights Lawyers’ and Jovana Spremo, former OSCE consultant.
These are the legal experts deployed by Serbia in Brussels to support its application for formal European integration, but in the meantime Serbia is not neglecting its “eastern” alliances.
Earlier this month, the Head of the SVR, the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, Sergey Naryshkin, paid an official visit to Belgrade, a few weeks after the conclusion of a joint military exercise between Russian special forces (the “Spetznaz”) and Serbian special forces.
In the Serbian capital, Naryshkin not only met his Serbian counterpart Bratislav Gasic, Head of the ‘Bezbednosno Informativna Agencija’, the small but powerful Serbian secret service, but was also received by the President of the Republic Alexander Vucic with the aim of publicising the closeness between Serbia and Russia.
The timing of the visit coincides with the resumption of talks in Brussels on Serbia’s accession to the European Union and can clearly be considered as instrumental in exerting subtle diplomatic pressure aimed at convincing the European Union of the possibility that, in the event of a refusal, Serbia may decide to definitely turn its back on the West and ally with an East that is evidently more willing to treat the Serbs with the dignity and attention that a proud and tenacious people believes it deserves.
A piece of news confirming that Serbia is ready to turn its back on the West, should Europe continue to postpone the decision on its accession to the European Union is the fact that China has recently signed a partnership agreement with Serbia in the field of pharmaceutical research, an agreement that makes Serbia one of China’s current largest commercial partners on the European continent.
NATO’s Cypriot Trick
When the Soviet Union collapsed and the Warsaw Pact died, there was much speculation that NATO would consider itself redundant and either disappear or at least transmogrify into a less aggressive body.
Failing that, Moscow at least felt assured that NATO would not include Germany, let alone expand eastwards. Even the NATO Review, NATO’s PR organ, wrote self-apologetically twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin wall: “Thus, the debate about the enlargement of NATO evolved solely in the context of German reunification. In these negotiations Bonn and Washington managed to allay Soviet reservations about a reunited Germany remaining in NATO. This was achieved by generous financial aid, and by the ‘2+4 Treaty’ ruling out the stationing of foreign NATO forces on the territory of the former East Germany. However, it was also achieved through countless personal conversations in which Gorbachev and other Soviet leaders were assured that the West would not take advantage of the Soviet Union’s weakness and willingness to withdraw militarily from Central and Eastern Europe.”
Whatever the polemics about Russia’s claim that NATO broke its promises, the facts of what happened following the fall of the Berlin wall and the negotiations about German re-unification strongly demonstrate that Moscow felt cheated and that the NATO business and military machine, driven by a jingoistic Cold War Britain, a selfish U.S. military-industrial-congressional complex and an atavistic Russia-hating Poland, saw an opportunity to become a world policeman.
This helps to explain why, in contrast to Berlin, NATO decided to keep Nicosia as the world’s last divided city. For Cyprus is in fact NATO’s southernmost point, de facto. And to have resolved Cyprus’ problem by heeding UN resolutions and getting rid of all foreign forces and re-unifying the country would have meant that NATO would have ‘lost’ Cyprus: hardly helpful to the idea of making NATO the world policeman. Let us look a little more closely at the history behind this.
Following the Suez debacle in 1956, Britain had already moved its Middle East Headquarters from Aden to Cyprus, while the U.S. was taking over from the UK and France in the Middle East. Although, to some extent under U.S. pressure, Britain was forced to bring Makarios out of exile and begin negotiating with Greece and Turkey to give up its colony, the U.S. opted for a NATO solution. It would not do to have a truly sovereign Cyprus, but only one which accepted the existence of the Sovereign Base Areas (SBAs) as part and parcel of any settlement; and so it has remained, whatever the sophistic semantics about a bizonal settlement and a double-headed government. The set of twisted and oft-contradictory treaties that have bedevilled the island since 1960 are still afflicting the part-occupied island which has been a de facto NATO base since 1949. Let us look at some more history.
When Cyprus obtained its qualified independence in 1960, Greece and Turkey had already signed, on 11 February 1959, a so called ‘Gentlemen’s Agreement’, agreeing that they would support Cyprus’ entry into NATO.1 This was, however, mere posture diplomacy, since Britain—and the U.S. for that matter—did not trust Cyprus, given the strength of the Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL) and the latter’s links to Moscow. The Ministry of Defence (MOD) wrote: ‘Membership of NATO might make it easier for the Republic of Cyprus and possibly for the Greeks and Turks to cause political embarrassment should the United Kingdom wish to use the bases […] for national ends outside Cyprus […] The access of the Cypriot Government to NATO plans and documents would present a serious security risk, particularly in view of the strength of the Cypriot Communist Party. […] The Chiefs of Staff, therefore, feel most strongly that, from the military point of view, it would be a grave disadvantage to admit Cyprus to NATO.’2 In short, Cyprus was considered unreliable.
As is well known, the unworkable constitution (described as such by the Foreign Office and even by David Hannay, the Annan reunification plan’s PR man), resulted in chaos and civil strife: in January 1964, during the chaos caused by the Foreign Office’s help and encouragement to President Makarios to introduce a ‘thirteen point plan’ to solve Cyprus’ problems, British Prime Minister Douglas-Home told the Cabinet: ‘If the Turks invade or if we are seriously prevented from fulfilling our political role, we have made it quite clear that we will retire into base.’3 Put more simply, Britain had never had any intention of upholding the Treaty of Guarantee.
In July of the same year, the Foreign Office wrote: ‘The Americans have made it quite clear that there would be no question of using the 6th Fleet to prevent any possible Turkish invasion […] We have all along made it clear to the United Nations that we could not agree to UNFICYP’s being used for the purpose of repelling external intervention, and the standing orders to our troops outside UNFYCYP are to withdraw to the sovereign base areas immediately any such intervention takes place.’4
It was mainly thanks to Moscow and President Makarios that in 1964 a Turkish invasion and/or the island being divided between Greece and Turkey was prevented. Such a solution would have strengthened NATO, since Cyprus would no longer exist other than as a part of NATO members Greece and Turkey. Moscow had issued the following statement: ‘The Soviet Government hereby states that if there is an armed foreign invasion of Cypriot territory, the Soviet Union will help the Republic of Cyprus to defend its freedom and independence against foreign intervention.’5
Privately, Britain, realising the unworkability of the 1960 treaties, was embarrassed, and wished to relieve itself of the whole problem. The following gives us the backstage truth: ‘The bases and retained sites, and their usefulness to us, depend in large measure on Greek Cypriot co-operation and at least acquiescence. A ‘Guantanamo’6 position is out of the question. Their future therefore must depend on the extent to which we can retain Greek and/or Cypriot goodwill and counter USSR and UAR pressures. There seems little doubt, however, that in the long term, our sovereign rights in the SBA’s will be considered increasingly irksome by the Greek Cypriots and will be regarded as increasingly anachronistic by world public opinion.7
Following the Turkish invasion ten years later, Britain tried to give up its bases: ‘British strategic interests in Cyprus are now minimal. Cyprus has never figured in NATO strategy and our bases there have no direct NATO role. The strategic value of Cyprus to us has declined sharply since our virtual withdrawal from east of Suez. This will remain the case when the Suez Canal has reopened.8
A Cabinet paper concluded: ‘Our policy should continue to be one of complete withdrawal of our military presence on Cyprus as soon as feasible. […] In the circumstances I think that we should make the Americans aware of our growing difficulty in continuing to provide a military presence in Cyprus while sustaining our main contribution to NATO. […]9
Britain kept trying to give up the bases, but the enabler of the Turkish invasion, Henry Kissinger, did not allow Britain to give up its bases and listening posts, since that would have weakened NATO, and since Kissinger needed the bases because of the Arab-Israel dispute.10
Thus, by the end of 1980, in a private about-turn, Britain had completely succumbed to American pressure: ‘The benefits which we derive from the SBAs are of major significance and virtually irreplaceable. They are an essential contribution to the Anglo-American relationship. The Department have regularly considered with those concerned which circumstances in Cyprus are most conducive to our retaining unfettered use of our SBA facilities. On balance, the conclusion is that an early ‘solution’ might not help (since pressures against the SBAs might then build up), just as breakdown and return to strife would not, and that our interests are best served by continuing movement towards a solution – without the early prospect of arrival [author’s italics]11.
And so it is today: Cyprus is a de facto NATO territory. A truly independent, sovereign and united Cyprus is an anathema to the U.S. and Britain, since such a scenario would afford Russia the hypothetical opportunity to increase its influence in the Eastern Mediterranean.
From our partner RIAC
 Ministry of Defence paper JP (59) 163, I January 1960, BNA DEFE 13/99/MO/5/1/5, in Mallinson, William, Cyprus, a Modern History, I.B. Tauris (now Bloomsbury), London and New York, 2005, 2009, 2012, p.49.
 Memorandum by Prime Minister, 2 January 1964, BNA CAB/129/116, in ibid, Mallinson, William, p.37.
 British Embassy, Washington, to Foreign Office, 7 July 1964, telegram 8541, BNA FO 371/174766, file C1205/2/G, in ibid.’, Mallinson, William, p. 37.
 Joseph, Joseph S., Cyprus, Ethnic Conflict and International Politics, St Martin’s Press, London and New York, 1997, p. 66.
 In 1964, Cuba cut off supplies to the American base at Guantanamo Bay, since the US refused to return it to Cuba, as a result of which the US took measures to make it self-sufficient.
 Briefing paper, 18 June 1964, BNA-DO/220/170, file MED 193/105/2, part A. Mallinson,William, Kissinger and the Invasion of Cyprus, p. 127.
 ‘British Interests in the Eastern Mediterranean’, draft paper, 11 April 1975, BNA-FCO 46/1248, file DPI/515/1.
 Cabinet paper, 29 September 1976, in op. cit. Mallinson, William, Kissinger and the Invasion of Cyprus, p.134.
 Mallinson, William, Britain and Cyprus: Key Themes and Documents, I.B. Tauris, London and New York, 2011, and Bloomsbury, London and New York, 2020, pp. 87-121.
 Fergusson to Foreign Minister’s Private Secretary, minute, 8 December 1980, BNA-FCO 9/2949, file WSC/023/1, part C.
Belarus divorces from the Eastern Partnership: A new challenge for the EU Neighborhood Policy
The Eastern Partnership (EaP) is the Eastern dimension of the EU Neighborhood Policy adopted back in 2009 aimed at deepening relations between Brussels and six Eastern European partners – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. The EaP has been regarded as a strategic initiative based on mutual interests and common values with a goal of strengthening political and economic relations with those countries, helping them enhance their institutional capacity through sustainable reforms. While increasing stability and paving the way for the sustainable development of those societies, the EU’s overall goal has been to secure its Eastern borders.
Since the very beginning the EaP has been suspiciously viewed by Russia as an attempt of expansion of the sphere of influence and as a first step of EU membership of these countries. Russians point to the EU and NATO ambitious expansion eastward as the main reason for complicated relations and in this context the EaP has been regarded with traditional fears and paranoic perceptions. The Russian hard power approach causes serious problems for the EaP which fails to mitigate security concerns of partner countries and to come up with serious initiatives for conflict settlement. Being a laggard in terms of soft power, the Russian ruling elite has continuously used all hard power foreign policy instruments at its disposal trying to undermine the coherence of the initiative. And the very recent démarche of Belarus to withdraw from the EaP should be seen in this context of confrontation.
On 28th of June, the ministry of foreign affairs of Belarus announced a decision to halt its membership in the EaP as a response to the EU sanctions imposed on Minsk accompanied by the recalling ambassadors from both sides. Actually, this isn’t the first case of the EaP walkout blackmailed by Lukashenko. The first escape was attempted in September-October 2011, but the difficulties were soon resolved and Lukashenko revised his decision. This time situation seems very complicated and these far-reaching tensions may have tough consequences for Lukashenko’s regime. This new group of sectoral sanctions which target banking, oil, telecommunication spheres and also ban the export of potash, is a harsh response from the EU against Lukashneko’s scandalous hijacking activity in May to detain a Belarusian opposition journalist and blogger Roman Protasevich.
Lukashenko’s administration not only challenges the EU Neighborhood Policy and shows no retreat, but also goes forward escalating the situation. Minsk takes high risks freezing the Readmission Agreement signed by the EU. This document is a legal basis for bilateral cooperation aimed at struggling against irregular migration flows. It’s not a secret that the territory of Belarus has been used for illegal migration for the groups from the Middle East to penetrate into neighboring EU member states such as Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. Moreover, Belarus territory has served as a transit route for smuggling circles going from East to West and vice versa. And now closing eyes on all these channels, Minsk hopes to increase the bargaining power vis-à-vis Brussels. However, given the Western reactions, it seems that this time the EU is resolute.
Despite the fact that Charles Michel, the President of the EU Council, described this withdrawal as “another step backwards” and even threatened that “this will escalate tensions having clear negative impacts”, the EU wants to continue working with the Belarusian society as Josep Borrel stated. The EU’s determination to keep the bridges alive with the Belarusian people, in spite of Lukashneko’s radical stance, is aimed at preventing further isolationism of Minsk which would benefit only Russia.
In contrast to the increasing level of tensions with the EU, the Russian authorities continue to support Lukasheno’s administration, thus trying to deepen the gap and to bring Belarus under their total influence. Russia uses Belarus in its chessboard with the EU and the USA in Eastern Europe. Last year’s fraud elections and brutal crackdown by Lukashenko left him alone with the only source of power stemming from the Kremlin. Thus the withdrawal from the EaP should be understood not only as a convulsion of the Belarusian authorities in response to the sanctions, but also Russia’s employment of the Belarus card to respond to the recent joint statement of the EU-US summit in Brussels, when both parties declared their intention to stand with the people of Belarus, supporting their demands for human rights and democracy simultaneously criticising Lukashenko’s regime and his reckless political behavior and also criticising Russian’s unacceptable behavior.
So, Lukashenko’s step to quit the EaP can be seen as a well-calculated adulatory sign towards Moscow sacrificing the last remnants of sovereignty in order to receive financial and political lifebuoy amid the increasing crisis in the result of sanctions. And the recent visit of N. Patrushev, the Secretary of the Security Council of Russia, to Minsk right after the withdrawal decision shows Russian inclination to strike while the iron is hot and to abuse the vulnerable situation of Belarus. Patrushev stated that the ultimate goal of foreign powers is to change the power in Belarus and he suggested instead of focusing on internal issues, to bring their forces together against external threats as their influence affects internal developments. For this reason, deeper integration of security and military services of both countries are on the table.
The reaction of opposition leader S. Tikhanovskaya was very rough, stating that this suspension will cut the opportunities of ordinary citizens who benefit from the political and economic outcomes of the EaP. Moreover, she claims that Lukashenko doesn’t have a right to represent Belarus since August 2020 and his decisions don’t have legal consequences for Belarus. This kind of approach is shared by the leadership of Lithuania too, whose president and minister of foreign affairs not only refuse to recognize Lukashenko as a legitimate president, but also highlight the role of the Kremlin in supporting the dictatorial power of Lukashenko in exchange for decreasing sovereignty.
The blackmail of Lukashenko to challenge the EU Eastern Neighborhood Policy in order to have the sanctions lifted may bring about such kind of precedents with other partnering countries as well. First of all, this concerns Azerbaijan which continues to face serious problems related with human rights, freedom of expression, the problem of Prisoners of War and other traits of authoritarian power. It’s well-known that human rights issues have been the underwater stones in the EU and Azerbaijan relations and they continue to pose new challenges for Aliyev’s non-democratice regime. Another weak ring of the EaP chain is Armenia. Even though reelected N. Pashinyan is eager to pursue a balanced foreign policy, post-war Armenia still faces serious limitations given its vulnerable dependence on Russia. Besides, Pashinyan’s main rival and the former President R. Kocharyan, whose alliance will be the second largest faction in the newly elected Parliament has recently stated that this new parliament can last up to one and half years and nobody can exclude the possibility of new snap elections. His pro-Russian attitude and anti-Western stance are well-known and in case he becomes a prime-minister, there is no guarantee that he will follow the path of Lukashenko.
Therefore the statement of the Austrian MFA, that ”we cannot leave South Caucasus to others” during the recent official visit of the Austrian, Romanian and Latvian MFA under the mandate of the EU High Representative to the South Caucasus, reminds about the EU presence in the region and also the fact that the ‘normative power’ can be a source of balance and a status quo changer.
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