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The way forward for the EU – Entice people, embrace change, engage the world

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The aim of this paper is to contribute to academic and public debate on issues critical to the future of the European Union as well as to outline recommendations addressed to EU institutions and member state decision-makers.

This concise paper may only serve as an introduction to some bottom-line ideas, without trying to summarize the ongoing academic and political debate on the subject. Nor does it claim to present extensively formulated supporting arguments for the policy actions it recommends. This has to come once the first rounds of discussions on the viability and or the necessity of the outlined actions have taken place. In most cases, actions proposed are not entirely new to public debate.

This paper does not present several sets of possible policy choices to select from, nor does it elaborate on the different “visions on the future of the EU”. It provides one single set of recommended actions, without pondering the chances of implementation.

Federalism in the EU-related discourse is contentious, and lacks a stable definitive value, therefore misleading and unhelpful, I would therefore not relate to it, nevertheless most of the policy recommendations in this proclamation point towards a more unified Union.

The European Union has a remarkably charged political agenda in a turbulent world. Russia is more and more assertive, there is a probably prolonged military crisis in Ukraine, political and military situation is escalating in Europe’s southern and south-eastern neighbourhood with imminent impact on Europe’s societies. The spectre of Grexit reflects the fact that there are fundamental flaws in the Euro project as far as its long-term sustainability is concerned which necessitates further political and economic policy reforms at EU level. Brexit on the other-hand (although the UK’s case is admittedly extreme) is a clear indication of popular disenchantment from the idea European integration. The above factors indeed hinder coordinated action to counter the ever-stronger popular sentiment and well-articulated political agendas that question the usefulness of European integration and sometimes even the basic European values. European institutions and member states suffer to focus and face these challenges including the rising anti-European and in some cases anti-democratic tendencies that will pose significant risks to European integration in the medium-term.

The key message of this proclamation is that the EU does not only need to overhaul its political priorities – which it normally does from time to time – but also needs a new approach towards its very existence, especially the way it interacts with the world and with its own citizens. Similar messages have been reiterated for a long time now by the academia and by some ranks of EU and national political classes, political action nevertheless has been scarce and slow. This to a great extent explains the rise of anti-European or Euroskeptic views.

The author of this paper holds that an overhaul of the functioning of the EU as well as of the general approach to the raison d’etre of European integration is necessary for at least three interconnected reasons:

-firstly, to establish a new societal contract by establishing trust in a disenchanted public without whom no major reforms will be possible, be it economic or political; (“Entice people”)

-secondly, to manage inherent tensions stemming from economic (e.g.: Eurozone long-term sustainability), institutional and political (both central and especially member state) imperfections that loom large in a more and more unpredictable global environment;

(“Embrace change”)

-thirdly, to reverse Europe’s gradual slide to global irrelevance (or put in a different way: to harness its economic might in geopolitics by a stronger Union foreign and military policy profile), moreover to reinforce its failing international competitiveness. (“Engage the world”)

The key determinants of EU-level policy-setting are the following:

-A new geopolitical order is on the rise. Pax Americana has started to give way to a new world order whose defining features are very unpredictable but which most probably be a more unstable one than we live in today by the major rearrangement of the global equilibrium following the rise of new powers, and with a potentially significant level of hostile competition between the key actors.

-Inside the EU major new geopolitical dynamics are gathering importance which includes a quasi-dominant role of Germany, a weakening France, a UK drifting away and in general a more and more heterogenetic and multiple-speed EU with institutions still in the process of self-redefinition.

-European societies are ageing. The old-age dependency ratio will double by 2040. At the same time, the average fertility rate in Europe is below reproduction. These factors represent serious challenges to the long-term sustainability of the European way of life as know it. Immigration as a tool to face and counter the spectre of unsustainability, mainly due to issues of social integration, as it is demonstrated in several EU member states, raises significant social and political challenges if managed badly.

-European economies and societies under pressure will probably be more susceptible to anti-EU sentiment and propaganda.

-The EU, the home to some half a billion people has no story to tell, or rather its story does not reach its citizens.

Based on the above premises, the EU needs:

-A way more unified diplomatic approach to global political developments and clear political stance on the final boundaries of the Union;

-A stronger capacity to exercise hard power; European army

-A stronger and more unified internal security policy;

-A more effective immigration policy and policies to make integration successful;

-Effective responses to negative demographic trends;

-An institutional and political setup and an economic policy framework that guarantees the long-term survival of the common currency, including a separate Eurozone budget;

-A strongly coordinated energy policy including energy diplomacy that guarantees independence, sustainability and competitiveness;

-A stronger sense of ownership and self-identification of European citizens with the European project;

-A new budgetary arrangement, a budget with a new approach that reflects this policy overhaul including the phasing out of controversial policies such as CAP and a fundamental reform of the cohesion policy and introducing a revenue that creates ownership in the society;

The list of actions proposed necessitate fundamental alterations in the way the EU exists. These alterations will probably be precipitated (or maybe to the contrary: jeopardized) by “inbuilt” political developments that are only partly foreseeable (Brexit, Grexit, Russia, Ukraine, Turkey), partly belong to the realm of a less and less predictable geopolitical environment. These alterations often will take the form of new institutional arrangements. Also efforts to reinforce the currently almost inexistent EU-wide political (democratic) sphere are poised to get stronger – in parallel with the continuous rise of anti-EU sentiment and the political articulation thereof by member state political actors.

One has to be realistic: the list of proposed action provided in this paper is not what will be, many of these suggestions seem radical and certainly contested at this point. Most probably member states as usual will look at any to do list with the well-known mind set: how could an almost certainly hopeless Treaty change be avoided, how one can muddle-through on a business as usual basis? Well, this would not lead us any far in the long-term, only towards disarray, insignificance and instability. Some (both in politics and academia) are fascinated by proposing new institutionally focused arrangements to reform the EU. While these are most of the time reasonable suggestions, people simply don’t care. They do not care or even understand why a bi-chamber EP incorporating the Council or a Eurozone budget (so far referred to in the Euro-discourse under as the ‘fiscal compact’ to make sure nobody understands it) is the magic solution. One should therefore be bold to offer things that are tangible, meaningful and educative for the citizen. One should not cynically pretend that people are fully aware of what is going on in the politics let alone international relations, they do need better information and much broader involvement otherwise no major reforms will be possible in the future.

The following is only a list of policy actions deemed desirable for a stronger and more successful Union. It is not a political itinerary, nor does it discuss in detail how these actions should be put in place. Otherwise – as experience shows – it we would end up in a scattered discourse on how this could (not) be done for political and institutional reasons before even a proper appreciation of the proposed actions could take place. Most of the proposed actions are not realistic for the EU28 as a group, they are instead policy options for member states (should things develop in that direction) of the “core”.

Next to some items on the list “B” “T” or “C” signs are visible. “B” denotes that the proposed action involves major budgetary reform and or funding, while “T” means that the action necessitates a new Treaty. “C” represents that it is only or primarily realistic or relevant for a core group of member states that are ready and able to reinforce their unity.

ENTICE PEOPLE

Getting European societies on board is a sine qua non condition for any major change. Endless complaining about the remoteness of the EU has led us nowhere and clearly no ineffective and underfinanced communication campaigns are the solution either. Instead the following actions need to be considered:

•Create post of European (Eurozone) speaker position in national parliaments (who preferably does not bear the host country’s nationality) with the right of intervention if European issues debated (T) (C);

•Introduce the instrument of European referendum – one single pan-EU referendum on the same day counted as a whole on key EU issues (T);

•Replace low-profile bureaucrats at the top of EU Representations, create high profile EU presence in capitals (C);

•If a project is financed by 51% EU it should be inaugurated by EU representative;

•Increase Erasmus spending by at least five times (B);

•Introduce preferably mandatory European values curriculum at elementary and secondary schools;

•Finish with national party lists at EP elections, vote on pan-European platform same day all across EU (T);

•Create a special channel of national parliaments at EP – as MEPs are less and less national, MPs should have a vehicle which is visible and effective to intervene at EP debate. This must be much stronger an instrument than ad-hoc invitations; an institutionalised and permanent solution is preferable (T) (C);

•Elect President of the European Commission or the European Council directly by citizens (T);

•Promote EU values abroad (joint EU cultural and political institutes – having in mind Alliance Francaise, Goethe, etc) (B);

•Facilitate national public and political debates on new European reform initiatives such as the recent one (June 2015) by the German and French economy ministers.

•Run EU joint teams (or individual Olympians) in up to 10 percent of Olympic sports by the 2024 Olympic Games;

•Support language teaching and learning; acknowledge reality: English is lingua franca of the EU, support it (B);

•Set up national offices of the Court of Justice to deal local legal matters with EU relevance more promptly and transparently (T);

•Support Europe-related news broadcasting by national broadcasters. Euronews (in a significantly enhanced quality) minutes in local channels. (B);

EMBRACE CHANGE

Here I mean a much more comprehensive change than normally envisaged by the EU in its subsequent Treaty changes, or new policy initiatives and (most of the time unfulfilled) grand programmes on a change as usual course.

•Embrace reality which is inevitable for the long-term success of the EU: declare existence of multiple (two)-speed Europe (instead of deleting the reference to an “ever closer union” in the Treaty as the UK requests), and make the institutional setup best fitted to embrace it (T);

•Let UK have a special status (T);

•Let Greece exit Eurozone (T);

•Make Eurozone exit legally possible and planned (T);

•Establish Eurozone budget of 3-5% of Eurozone GDP to use as macroeconomic buffer (T) (B) (C);

The EU budget is not only small but is not at all designed to tackle macroeconomic shocks and crisis in a monetary union, which needs a puffer for shocks and a stable transfer pool which can be deployed in a prompt manner (this may even include pan-Eurozone social benefit schemes as well.)

•Introduce European tax by unionizing a certain percentage point of national VAT rates and thereby finish with member state membership fee. (This can be budget neutral for member states at the end of the day and at the same time underpins the sense of ownership in the society). (T) (B) (C);

The annual EU budget is €142bn (2014 figures) – a large sum in absolute terms, but only about 1% of the GDP generated by EU economies every year. Traditional own resources usually represent about 12% (10,14% in 2013) and the VAT-base related own resource about 10% (9,38% in 2013) of the total budget. At present European budget is financed mostly by member states as a membership or rather ownership fee. Citizens are completely detached from the act of contributing to the common EU budget. “No representation without taxation”. In the proposed new system (European tax) some percentage points from the VAT (standard) rate applicable in member states is payed by the citizen to the EU budget. (It is important to note that this proposed revenue source is completely different from the present levy on national harmonised VAT bases which constitute a resource of the EU budget). This solution is more or less budget-neutral for member states since this source supplements the previous member state contributions (citizen’s money in disguise by the way). Citizens’ act to finance the EU budget (by buying a product or a service) should be clearly indicated for them on every price-tag. By the member state fee terminated, ownership is delegated to people. In this scheme VAT rates do not have to be augmented either only divided into national (say 18%) and EU (2%) shares. Obviously there are currently major differences among member states’ net positions in relation to the EU budget. This has to be calculated with when fine-tuning any new schemes.

•Establish Eurozone finance minister with defined veto rights over national budgets (T) (C);

A Monetary Union without a genuine economic and some degree of a political union is not sustainable. The Euro needs to be accompanied by a solid European economic governance with sufficient own resources and policy leverage. This entails a separate Eurozone budget, an EU treasury headed by a Eurozone finance minister with veto power over national budgets, the transformation of ESM into a European Monetary Fund, finalising the Banking Union, issuance of Eurobonds.

•Cut back CAP drastically (B);

The European Union will spend 373,2 billion EUR on the Common Agricultural Policy between 2014-2020. Although it indicates an 11% decrease compared to the previous EU programming period, CAP still has one of the highest shares – 38.9% – in the total EU budget until 2020. (Approximately, three quarters of the CAP budget is devoted to market related expenditures and direct payments, while one quarter for rural development.) This has to change: a drastic cut in especially direct payments needs to take place.

•Decrease and rationalize cohesion policy spending and establish more possibilities for rapid suspension in case of misuse, fraud or corruption (T);

The efficiency and usefulness of regional policy funds are controversial, dead-weight is very high, moreover they sometimes contribute to corruptive practices.

•Establish full-fledged Energy Union;

•Promote industries, technologies to cater for and institutional arrangements best suited for an ageing society;

•Establish European demography Figure (minister) to initiate and co-ordinate ageing-related policies and to deal with cross-generation tensions in the EU, helping member states to carry out tough reforms and cuts back in the welfare systems (T).

ENGAGE THE WORLD

Without credible hard power capabilities and with its soft power potential seriously underutilized the EU is scoring well under its global weight. The world is becoming less predictable and more turbulent especially at the Union’s imminent borders and close neighbourhood. Illegal immigration related issues put a pressure on European societies. Immigration’s societal consequences and relevant EU and member state policy responses are getting prominence in the daily life of EU citizens and in EU-policy discourse.

•Establish a European army in the medium to long term; (T) (C);

The European Parliament adopted the Synchronized Armed Forces Europe (SAFE) concept in 2009 to create a scheme for joint civilian and military structures and forces under EU leadership on the voluntary basis. This initiative advocates a Defence Ministers Council and a free service based European soldier status law. SAFE would be operated on joint training, tactics and procedures approved by the participating member states. Actual implementation has been almost none but the Russian aggression in Ukraine changes things. The European Corps (Eurocorps) in Strasbourg and the Corps Headquarters in Münster and Szcezin are existing elements to build upon.

•Member state should stop military spending cuts and they should aim for synergy (B);

The European defence capabilities have been gradually reduced over the years. One and a half million soldiers served in the EU member countries in 2013, half a million less than in 2006. EU countries spent only 190 billion euro (12% of total world spending) for military purposes. From 2006 to 2013, the European defence spending decreased by 15% (€ 32 billion). World military expenditure in 2013 was 1.747 billion $, around 2.4% of World GDP. However, China (188 billion US $) and Russia (88 billion US $) continuously increases the military budget. 80% of the European defence spending is by France, Germany, United Kingdom, who also reduce their military budgets.

•Reform CFSP: do away with unanimity, or at least make prompt actions possible by an easily applicable flexible institutional solution for a group of member states, something similar but more flexible than the so-called reinforced cooperation. (T) (C);

The new functions brought about by the Lisbon Treaty are modest innovations. The High Representative is very far from a European Foreign Minister, so is the European External Action Service from a European Foreign Ministry.

•Reform EU immigration policy, render it more effective, and base it on a way longer-term oriented policy approach that encompasses factors of sustainability (in a broad sense including long-term demographic and budgetary considerations) and societal sentiment (B);

For 2014-20, the overall Home Affairs budget amounts to only EUR 9.26 billion. Immigration policy is not only underfinanced but remains fragmented in the EU marred by conflicts of policy objectives, namely the paradox of the free movement, solidarity and security. The issue of legal and illegal immigration and refugees and even terrorism are often fudged in the minds of people which is sometimes reinforced by demagogic and or Euroskeptic national politics. At the same time, the growing feeling of insecurity in the society and also the failures in the integration of migrant communities in European societies are key issues to face. In 2014 276000 migrants entered the EU irregularly, which represent an increase of 138 percent compared to 2013. The number of asylum applicants registered in the EU has also increased significantly in 2014 (626.000 applications). The mandate of the EU agency EASO (European Asylum Support Office) should be significantly expanded to make it a proper Common European Asylum Service. In general for migration and asylum matters more resources have to be deployed at EU level. A special representative on migration for the External Action Service is to be established.

•Reinforce Frontex significantly (B).

Hungarian economist, PhD in international relations. Based in Brussels for fourteen years as diplomat and member of EU commissioners’ cabinets. Two times visiting fellow of Wilson Center in Washington DC. University professor and author of books on EU affairs and geopolitics. Head of department, National University of Public Administration, Budapest.

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Iceland’s Historic(al) Elections

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The morning of September, 26 was a good one for Lenya Run Karim of the Pirate Party. Once the preliminary results were announced, things were clear: the 21-year-old law student of the University of Iceland, originating from a Kurdish immigrant family, had become the youngest MP in the country’s history.

In historical significance, however, this event was second to another. Iceland, the world champion in terms of gender equality, became the first country in Europe to have more women MPs than men, 33 versus 30. The news immediately made world headlines: only five countries in the world have achieved such impressive results. Remarkably, all are non-European: Rwanda, Nicaragua and Cuba have a majority of women in parliament, while Mexico and the UAE have an equal number of male and female MPs.

Nine hours later, news agencies around the world had to edit their headlines. The recount in the Northwest constituency affected the outcome across the country to delay the ‘triumph for women’ for another four years.

Small numbers, big changes

The Icelandic electoral system is designed so that 54 out of the 63 seats in the Althingi, the national parliament, are primary or constituency seats, while another nine are equalization seats. Only parties passing the 5 per cent threshold are allowed to distribute equalisation seats that go to the candidates who failed to win constituency mandates and received the most votes in their constituency. However, the number of equalisation mandates in each of the 6 constituencies is legislated. In theory, this could lead to a situation in which the leading party candidate in one constituency may simply lack an equalisation mandate, so the leading candidate of the same party—but in another constituency—receives it.

This is what happened this year. Because of a difference of only ten votes between the Reform Party and the Pirate Party, both vying for the only equalisation mandate in the Northwest, the constituency’s electoral commission announced a recount on its own initiative. There were also questions concerning the counting procedure as such: the ballots were not sealed but simply locked in a Borgarnes hotel room. The updated results hardly affected the distribution of seats between the parties, bringing in five new MPs, none of whom were women, with the 21-year-old Lenya Run Karim replaced by her 52-year-old party colleague.

In the afternoon of September, 27, at the request of the Left-Green Movement, supported by the Independence Party, the Pirates and the Reform Party, the commission in the South announced a recount of their own—the difference between the Left-Greens and the Centrists was only seven votes. There was no ‘domino effect’, as in the case of the Northwest, as the five-hour recount showed the same result. Recounts in other districts are unlikely, nor is it likely that Althingi—vested with the power to declare the elections valid—would invalidate the results in the Northwest. Nevertheless, the ‘replaced’ candidates have already announced their intention to appeal against the results, citing violations of ballot storage procedures. Under the Icelandic law, this is quite enough to invalidate the results and call a re-election in the Northwest, as the Supreme Court of Iceland invalidated the Constitutional Council elections due to a breach of procedure 10 years ago. Be that as it may, the current score remains 33:30, in favor of men.

Progressives’ progress and threshold for socialists

On the whole, there were no surprises: the provisional allocation of mandates resembles, if with minor changes, the opinion polls on the eve of the election.

The ruling three-party coalition has rejuvenated its position, winning 37 out of the 63 Althingi seats. The centrist Progressive Party saw a real electoral triumph, improving its 2017 result by five seats. Prime-minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir’s Left-Green Movement, albeit with a slight loss, won eight seats, surpassing all pre-election expectations. Although the centre-right Independence Party outperformed everyone again to win almost a quarter of all votes, 16 seats are one of the worst results of the Icelandic ‘Grand Old Party’ ever.

The results of the Social-Democrats, almost 10% versus 12.1% in 2017, and of the Pirates, 8.6% versus 9.2%, have deteriorated. Support for the Centre Party of Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, former prime-minister and victim of the Panama Papers, has halved from 10.9% to 5.4%. The centrists have seen a steady decline in recent years, largely due to a sexist scandal involving party MPs. The populist People’s Party and the pro-European Reform Party have seen gains of 8.8% and 8.3%, as compared to 6.9% and 6.7% in the previous elections.

Of the leading Icelandic parties, only the Socialist Party failed to pass the 5 per cent threshold: despite a rating above 7% in August, the Socialists received only 4.1% of the vote.

Coronavirus, climate & economy

Healthcare and the fight against COVID-19 was, expectedly, on top of the agenda of the elections: 72% of voters ranked it as the defining issue, according to a Fréttablaðið poll. Thanks to swift and stringent measures, the Icelandic government brought the coronavirus under control from day one, and the country has enjoyed one of the lowest infection rates in the world for most of the time. At the same time, the pandemic exposed a number of problems in the national healthcare system: staff shortages, low salaries and long waiting lists for emergency surgery.

Climate change, which Icelanders are already experiencing, was an equally important topic. This summer, the temperature has not dropped below 20°C for 59 days, an anomaly for a North-Atlantic island. However, Icelanders’ concerns never converted into increased support for the four left-leaning parties advocating greater reductions in CO2 emission than the country has committed to under the Paris Agreement: their combined result fell by 0.5%.

The economy and employment were also among the main issues in this election. The pandemic has severely damaged the island nation’s economy, which is heavily tourism-reliant—perhaps, unsurprisingly, many Icelanders are in favor of reviving the tourism sector as well as diversifying the economy further.

The EU membership, by far a ‘traditional’ issue in Icelandic politics, is unlikely to be featured on the agenda of the newly-elected parliament as the combined result of the Eurosceptics, despite a loss of 4%, still exceeds half of the overall votes. The new Althingi will probably face the issue of constitutional reform once again, which is only becoming more topical in the light of the pandemic and the equalization mandates story.

New (old) government?

The parties are to negotiate coalition formation. The most likely scenario now is that the ruling coalition of the Independence Party, the Left-Greens and the Progressives continues. It has been the most ideologically diverse and the first three-party coalition in Iceland’s history to last a full term. A successful fight against the pandemic has only strengthened its positions and helped it secure additional votes. Independence Party leader and finance minister Bjarni Benediktsson has earlier said he would be prepared to keep the ruling coalition if it holds the majority. President Guðni Jóhannesson announced immediately after the elections that he would confirm the mandate of the ruling coalition to form a new government if the three parties could strike a deal.

Other developments are possible but unlikely. Should the Left-Greens decide to leave the coalition, they could be replaced by the Reform Party or the People’s Party, while any coalition without the Independence Party can only be a four-party or larger coalition.

Who will become the new prime-minister still remains to be seen—but if the ruling coalition remains in place, the current prime-minister and leader of the Left-Greens, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, stands a good chance of keeping her post: she is still the most popular politician in Iceland with a 40 per cent approval rate.

The 2021 Althingi election, with one of the lowest turnouts in history at 80.1%, has not produced a clear winner. The election results reflect a Europe-wide trend in which traditional “major” parties are losing support. The electorate is fragmenting and their votes are pulled by smaller new parties. The coronavirus pandemic has only reinforced this trend.

The 2021 campaign did not foreshadow a sensation. Although Iceland has not become the first European country with a women’s majority in parliament, these elections will certainly go down in history as a test of Icelanders’ trust to their own democracy.

From our partner RIAC

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EU-Balkan Summit: No Set Timeframe for Western Balkans Accession

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From left to right: Janez JANŠA (Prime Minister, Slovenia), Charles MICHEL (President of the European Council), Ursula VON DER LEYEN (President of the European Commission) Copyright: European Union

On October 6, Slovenia hosted a summit between the EU and the Western Balkans states. The EU-27 met with their counterparts (Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Kosovo) in the sumptuous Renaissance setting of Brdo Castle, 30 kilometers north of the capital, Ljubljana. Despite calls from a minority of heads of state and government, there were no sign of a breakthrough on the sensitive issue of enlargement. The accession of these countries to the European Union is still not unanimous among the 27 EU member states.

During her final tour of the Balkans three weeks ago, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that the peninsula’s integration was of “geostrategic” importance. On the eve of the summit, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz backed Slovenia’s goal of integrating this zone’s countries into the EU by 2030.

However, the unanimity required to begin the hard negotiations is still a long way off, even for the most advanced countries in the accession process, Albania and North Macedonia. Bulgaria, which is already a member of the EU, is opposing North Macedonia’s admission due to linguistic and cultural differences. Since Yugoslavia’s demise, Sofia has rejected the concept of Macedonian language, insisting that it is a Bulgarian dialect, and has condemned the artificial construction of a distinct national identity.

Other countries’ reluctance to join quickly is of a different nature. France and the Netherlands believe that previous enlargements (Bulgaria and Romania in 2007) have resulted in changes that must first be digested before the next round of enlargement. The EU-27 also demand that all necessary prior guarantees be provided regarding the independence of the judiciary and the fight against corruption in these countries. Despite the fact that press freedom is a requirement for membership, the NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urged the EU to make “support for investigative and professional journalism” a key issue at the summit.”

While the EU-27 have not met since June, the topic of Western Balkans integration is competing with other top priorities in the run-up to France’s presidency of the EU in the first half of 2022. On the eve of the summit, a working dinner will be held, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, called for “a strategic discussion on the role of the Union on the international scene” in his letter of invitation to the EU-Balkans Summit, citing “recent developments in Afghanistan,” the announcement of the AUKUS pact between the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom, which has enraged Paris.

The Western Balkans remain the focal point of an international game of influence in which the Europeans seek to maintain their dominance. As a result, the importance of reaffirming a “European perspective” at the summit was not an overstatement. Faced with the more frequent incursion of China, Russia, and Turkey in that European region, the EU has pledged a 30 billion euro Economic and Investment Plan for 2021-2027, as well as increased cooperation, particularly to deal with the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Opening the borders, however, is out of the question. In the absence of progress on this issue, Albania, North Macedonia, and Serbia have decided to establish their own zone of free movement (The Balkans are Open”) beginning January 1, 2023. “We are starting today to do in the region what we will do tomorrow in the EU,” said Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama when the agreement was signed last July.

This initiative, launched in 2019 under the name “Mini-Schengen” and based on a 1990s idea, does not have the support of the entire peninsular region, which remains deeply divided over this project. While Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro are not refusing to be a part of it and are open to discussions, the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti, who took office in 2020, for his part accuses Serbia of relying on this project to recreate “a fourth Yugoslavia”

Tensions between Balkan countries continue to be an impediment to European integration. The issue of movement between Kosovo and Serbia has been a source of concern since the end of September. Two weeks of escalation followed Kosovo’s decision to prohibit cars with Serbian license plates from entering its territory, in response to Serbia’s long-standing prohibition on allowing vehicles to pass in the opposite direction.

In response to the mobilization of Kosovar police to block the road, Serbs in Kosovo blocked roads to their towns and villages, and Serbia deployed tanks and the air force near the border. On Sunday, October 3, the conflict seemed to be over, and the roads were reopened. However, the tone had been set three days before the EU-Balkans summit.

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German Election: Ramifications for the US Foreign Policy

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Image source: twitter @OlafScholz

In the recent German election, foreign policy was scarcely an issue. But Germany is an important element in the US foreign policy. There is a number of cases where Germany and the US can cooperate, but all of these dynamics are going to change very soon.

The Germans’ strategic culture makes it hard to be aligned perfectly with the US and disagreements can easily damage the relations. After the tension between the two countries over the Iraq war, in 2003, Henry Kissinger said that he could not imagine the relations between Germany and the US could be aggravated so quickly, so easily, which might end up being the “permanent temptation of German politics”. For a long time, the US used to provide security for Germany during the Cold War and beyond, so, several generations are used to take peace for granted. But recently, there is a growing demand on them to carry more burden, not just for their own security, but for international peace and stability. This demand was not well-received in Berlin.

Then, the environment around Germany changed and new threats loomed up in front of them. The great powers’ competition became the main theme in international relations. Still, Germany was not and is not ready for shouldering more responsibility. Politicians know this very well. Ursula von der Leyen, who was German defense minister, asked terms like “nuclear weapons” and “deterrence” be removed from her speeches.

Although on paper, all major parties appreciate the importance of Germany’s relations with the US, the Greens and SPD ask for a reset in the relations. The Greens insist on the European way in transatlantic relations and SPD seeks more multilateralism. Therefore, alignment may be harder to maintain in the future. However, If the tensions between the US and China heat up to melting degrees, then external pressure can overrule the internal pressure and Germany may accede to its transatlantic partners, just like when Helmut Schmid let NATO install medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe after the Soviet Union attacked Afghanistan and the Cold War heated up.

According to the election results, now three coalitions are possible: grand coalition with CDU/CSU and SPD, traffic lights coalition with SPD, FDP, and Greens, Jamaica coalition with CDU/CSU, FDP, and Greens. Jamaica coalition will more likely form the most favorable government for the US because it has both CDU and FDP, and traffic lights will be the least favorite as it has SPD. The grand coalition can maintain the status quo at best, because contrary to the current government, SPD will dominate CDU.

To understand nuances, we need to go over security issues to see how these coalitions will react to them. As far as Russia is concerned, none of them will recognize the annexation of Crimea and they all support related sanctions. However, if tensions heat up, any coalition government with SPD will be less likely assertive. On the other hand, as the Greens stress the importance of European values like democracy and human rights, they tend to be more assertive if the US formulates its foreign policy by these common values and describe US-China rivalry as a clash between democracy and authoritarianism. Moreover, the Greens disapprove of the Nordstream project, of course not for its geopolitics. FDP has also sided against it for a different reason. So, the US must follow closely the negotiations which have already started between anti-Russian smaller parties versus major parties.

For relations with China, pro-business FDP is less assertive. They are seeking for developing EU-China relations and deepening economic ties and civil society relations. While CDU/CSU and Greens see China as a competitor, partner, and systemic rival, SPD and FDP have still hopes that they can bring change through the exchange. Thus, the US might have bigger problems with the traffic lights coalition than the Jamaica coalition in this regard.

As for NATO and its 2 percent of GDP, the division is wider. CDU/CSU and FDP are the only parties who support it. So, in the next government, it might be harder to persuade them to pay more. Finally, for nuclear participation, the situation is the same. CDU/CSU is the only party that argues for it. This makes it an alarming situation because the next government has to decide on replacing Germany’s tornados until 2024, otherwise Germany will drop out of the NATO nuclear participation.

The below table gives a brief review of these three coalitions. 1 indicates the lowest level of favoritism and 3 indicates the highest level of favoritism. As it shows, the most anti-Russia coalition is Jamaica, while the most anti-China coalition is Trafic light. Meanwhile, Grand Coalition is the most pro-NATO coalition. If the US adopts a more normative foreign policy against China and Russia, then the Greens and FDP will be more assertive in their anti-Russian and anti-Chinese policies and Germany will align more firmly with the US if traffic light or Jamaica coalition rise to power.

Issues CoalitionsTrafic LightGrand CoalitionJamaica
Russia213 
China312 
NATO132 

1 indicates the lowest level of favoritism. 3 indicates the highest level of favoritism.

In conclusion, this election should not make Americans any happier. The US has already been frustrated with the current government led by Angela Merkel who gave Germany’s trade with China the first priority, and now that the left-wing will have more say in any imaginable coalition in the future, the Americans should become less pleased. But, still, there are hopes that Germany can be a partner for the US in great power competition if the US could articulate its foreign policy with common values, like democracy and human rights. More normative foreign policy can make a reliable partner out of Germany. Foreign policy rarely became a topic in this election, but observers should expect many ramifications for it.

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