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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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Tackling migration crises: Fighting corruption may help

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Background — Two failed elections

April 2021: How the parties ‘hung’ the parliament

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

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

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

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

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

The President scheduled new election in July.

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

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

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

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

The President scheduled new election in November.

Yet another parliamentary… and finally a cabinet?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Europe

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

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

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

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

Background

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

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

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

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

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

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

The axes of the relationship between Spain and Morocco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These territories have four problems.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From our partner RIAC

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