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The file of the refugee crisis remains open

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The massive influx of migrants – Arab and African refugees to Europe – is unanimously considered to have triggered this summer the most serious refugee crisis after the Second World War.

However, its causes have not been profoundly analyzed or stated and admitted by the important European political decision-makers involved in this crisis. This is the reason why the public opinions and assessments on the real causes that took migration to this level are often opposed. Until now, the official statements, comments and analyses of the crisis have been very numerous, diverse, contradictory and often inflammatory, having increased tensions while the massive groups of migrants were moving towards the center of Europe.

Starting from the information and videos constantly presented by the international media, we can say that the peoples living on the European territory, which have already entered the era of knowledge with the 21st century – a century of information, are currently dealing with an extremely serious and unprecedented state of insecurity following the world wars. The opposing statements, the irrational augmentations of the armament race including the nuclear one and the threat of using these weapons, the great maneuvers USSR vs. US, the troops of the Warsaw Treaty vs. NATO and vice versa, the Soviet military invasion of Czechoslovakia (1968) or the political-military tensions within the international relations have never created such chaos and decisional instability in Europe. As for the crisis in Yugoslavia, it is true that there have been serious military confrontations that caused numerous deaths, but at least they were somehow controlled, being kept within the geographic limits in which they appeared. At the end, due to NATO and the EU’s management, they did not induce a war psychosis that could extend to the entire continent.

At present, the level of the migration is extraordinary – Arab and African refugees form large groups of people including men and women of different ages, including old people and have a heterogeneous structure in ethnicity and in terms of the origin country, social class and profession, possibly even in terms of religion, other than the Islamic one.

The simultaneous and quite immediate mobilization of so many people and the creation of these groups, even the fact that they left their homes and their towns, cannot be considered as being spontaneous decisions. It is true that there has been bombing and war in their towns, as it happened in Syria and Libya, but that could have led to separation and not to the creation of groups. Therefore, their movement in groups of hundreds or thousands of people choosing various routes, optimal to get to the center of Europe, raises a lot of questions about the spontaneous character of this migration. There are currently discussions about the agencies of international tourism as being turned into real “business centers” that offered passports and money. Who is behind all of these and which was the purpose for giving them money? Who do they cooperate with in Europe and in the embarking locations? Conflicts between the rebels had started a long time ago in the migrants’ countries and the high level of insecurity generated this inherent and predictable migration. So the migration that Europe is dealing with at present is not a new phenomenon. It has been known for some time. And even so, it looks like there was nobody to study it in the most profound detail. The intelligence services and the embassies that remained in the region were not aware of how this migration began and developed? While travelling to their destinations, the migrants have had a violent and excessive behavior, especially at border crossings, being determined to achieve the goal they set when embarking in this great adventure. Therefore, there are sufficient reasons for some of them to be looked at with suspicion. In the context of a phenomenon amplified by migrants originating from Ukraine, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq etc, these suspicions indicate that there is a migration mafia operating at present and sending people towards the center of Europe. The assessment can definitely be proved and it is being led be certain hidden interests – geopolitical or demographic ones, including the need for cheap labor, and in my opinion, we cannot rule out the participation of Russia and Germany either from it.

Considering the reactions and administration of this migration by its possible future “hosts”, it seems that its development has surprised the entire Europe, causing chaos and panic in the European countries crossed by the migrants. Confusion existed also at the decisional level of the European countries involved and of the current EU management. It is obvious that the ingravescence of the migrants’ crisis has been accompanied by more intense manipulation, propaganda and informative intoxication. These are the manifestations specific to the informational war initiated by the Russian Federation. Tactically speaking, they were mainly focused on Ukraine and Syria during the last two years. Strategically, as Moscow declared openly and repeatedly they aim at destabilizing the EU and NATO. Within contexts completely different, they have been turned into main targets established in a short-term and medium-term strategy extended in the Eurasian perimeter. Now, the Syrian file, connected to the consequences of the Arab spring file distracts attention from the Russian war on the Ukrainian territory. I am under the impression that the West’s support for Ukraine could not only be “neglected”, but it has already become an important point on the agenda of negotiations with Russia on the fight against the Islamic State and settlement of the situation in Syria.

Premises of instability

All the above-mentioned certainly represent serious premises for instability and insecurity in Europe, favorable to Russia and skillfully used by Kremlin.

In view of the current international geopolitical context, and particularly the European one mentioned above, I am convinced that the current leadership in Kremlin has been constantly practicing an aggressive and blackmailing diplomacy with the US and Western Europe for a long time, using only provocative statements and threats of nuclear attacks on the NATO members as well as direct military operations or hybrid operations.

Correlating Russia’s favorable results in Ukraine, with immediate effects in the explosion of migration towards Europe this summer, we note that Moscow’s strategy has achieved its purpose – the destabilization of the EU. A serious and worrying reality has been created that could affect the future existence of the Union. If until this moment we were talking about it based on gaps in the functioning of the EU or on the unwanted support of skepticism, at present we notice that there is no longer solidarity between its members and the diplomatic and political-military relations have turned to be so tense and serious that even conflicts appeared at the border. The general situation of Europe at present is influenced by the flow of migration, premises have been created that define the maximum state of security threats for a country, which could be compared to what the history of art theory and military strategy calls imminent war.

The management of the migrants’ crisis vs. a new modus operandi

The problem that concerns and worries the entire population of the world refers to the causes that led to this situation of imminent war. In order to do this, I think we should have a clear picture of this phenomenon – the immense flow of migrants towards Europe. To this end, I consider that the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the Borders of the European Union Member States has done its job. Its report – Annual Analysis of Risk – 2015 published in FRONTEX in April 2015 presented centralized data and information about the migrants, information that came from the responsible institutions during the border control operations. At the same time, the report presents an estimation of how the migration could continue on its favorite routes, particularly the ones that converge towards Europe. Thus, there is a special EU structure for migration which presents annual reports on the development of migration in the neighboring regions of the continent with the potential of producing migrants. In this context, it is difficult to understand why the national powers and the high officials leading the EU did not take any preventive measures in order to reduce the tide of migrants to Europe since they had at hand all the necessary details in order to make efficient and appropriate decisions presented in an analysis of risk compared to the previous years.

According to the Report mentioned above, the illegal border-crossing at the EU’s external borders has reached a new record, being registered 280,000 people more than during the previous year. Most of the migrants originated from Syria and they later on asked for asylum in the EU. This significant increase was stimulated by the very high number of legal approvals for entrance in the EU, which led in fact to a new modus operandi. At the same time, the Report informs that since September 2014 the migrants have started to use cargo boats in order to get from Turkey to Italy, near Mersin. This is a multi-million business for the groups of organized crime and it extended in other countries as well. I consider that all this information was known by the intelligence services. An operational communication system might have not functioned between the countries passed through by the migrants’ groups which could have generated opportune and efficient actions for monitoring. However, when the media presented the increasing tendency of deliberate attempts to use commercial ships for the migrants, communication occurred and the International Maritime Organization got directly involved in the maritime transport industry in order to save migrants.

The report also mentions the fact that the record number of illegal migrants imposed the use of important resources for immediate assistance, superior to those used for registration and details regarding the migrants’ origin. Could this be an excuse for the confusion created at the frontiers? The Report also informs that after having been saved, the migrants continued their route to other member countries and “nobody knows where they are within the EU and that is a vulnerability of the EU domestic security”. In my opinion, this is due first of all to the lack of communication with the migrants, both at the borders and during their movement on the territory of the European Union, They should have been identified or their leaders should have been in constant communication with the people authorized to accompany them. The truth – as presented by the international media – indicates a lack of communication between the national structures of the transit countries, responsible and directly involved in the permanent monitoring of the migrant groups. If this communication existed at the lowest level possible, instead of cooperation there were provocations and violent confrontations that could have turned into much more than the so-called “regrettable incidents at the border” as it happened at the border between Hungary and Croatia. The lack of responsible communication appropriate to the modern society was one of the characteristics in the crisis management of the flow of migrants, starting from the location where the groups were created to the movement of the groups at the external border of the EU and on its territory.

Most of the migrants were discovered in the Central Mediterranean region, totaling 170,000 people. In the eastern Mediterranean region were found 50,800 people. It is important to note that the conclusion of the Report regarding the Hungarian leadership according to which at the end of 2014, the number of migrants increased suddenly at the terrestrial border between Hungary and Serbia, which makes the route West Balkan (with 43,357 illegal migrants) become the third most important route for illegal migration towards the EU. Budapest must have known about it at that time, but it did not tell its neighbors about the intention to build the long-disputed fence. Maybe it would have been a solution since the country was the most exposed country, but the situation could have been discussed in advance. The lack of communication cannot be an excuse for the unfriendly tension shown by certain Hungarian officials, going down to the lowest level of behavior and diplomatic decency in relation with the natural demands of the neighbors that expected explanations. Fear could appear in relation to Hungary as well, suspecting that it would deliberately create tense situations with the neighbors. Associated with the distances from the norms and standards of the EU, they must certainly be included in the country’s foreign policy objective of getting close to Moscow. This kind of fear was also induced in our country, emphasized by the famous American historian Larry Watts, who reveals in his works the manner in which the bilateral relations between Hungary and Romania have been established according to coordinates previously set by Moscow. The Russian leaders, regardless of their name and period, have always wanted that relations between our country and Hungary were tense and denigrated in the opinion the West, particularly in the view of Washington. This statement can no longer be argued as long as it is proven with documents, mostly from the archives of the CIA and of the US Department of State. Nevertheless, this is another story that needs to be discussed in detail on another occasion.

The clandestine mechanized migration mentioned in the report published in FRONTEX increased significantly from 599 in 2013 to 3,052 in 2014. Traffic at the Bulgarian border with Turkey increased ten times.                  

In 2014, approximately 9,400 attempts of illegal border-crossing were identified from countries neighboring the EU/Schengen zone. Inter-community movement within the EU indicates an increase from 7,867 in 2013 to 9,968 in 2014 (an increase of 27%). Therefore, for the first time, more illegal documents were discovered during the Schengen-EU travel than during the cross-border control of the people coming from third countries.

The easing of illegal migration remains a significant threat for the foreign borders of the EU. The number of people facilitating migration has increased from 7,252 in 2013 to 10,234 in 2014. The increase was mainly registered in Spain, Italy and Bulgaria. There were approximately 114,000 people banned to enter the EU, which represents an 11% drop as compared to 2013. The drop is a record consequence as compared to 2013, when an important number of Russian citizens were denied entrance because they did not possess a valid visa.  

In 2014 there were 441,780 people found living illegally in the EU, which represents an increase as compared to the previous year. Most of the increase was due to people from Syria and Eritrea which later asked for asylum. A total number of 252,003 people coming from other countries were asked to leave the EU based on an administrative or legal decision, representing a 12% increase as compared to 2013. In 2014 there were 161,309 people who returned to their countries after leaving the EU, a similar figure to 2013.

The perspective of the Report mentions the probability of a high number of illegal border-crossing in the EU as well as the possibility that a high number of immigrants need assistance for search and rescue (as well as international protection) particularly south of the Union’s border on the routes from the East and Central Mediterranean regions. There are also chances that numerous migrants cross the border legally, ask for asylum and be able to continue their travel in the European Union.

Most of the risks come from the use of false documents. The falsification and use of false documents undermines not only border security, but also the domestic security of the European Union.

These risks are common to almost all member countries because they are associated with the flow of people and controls at the border, requesting constantly higher performance in the specialized control expertize. Most of the criminality in this domain implies documents for entrance in the EU and there are indications of using less sophisticated documents such as identity documents or passes.

Generally, any kind of migration, especially the one that got out of control, can be used to organize espionage and terrorism. If we think about the spatial and temporal dimensions of the current flow of migrants towards the heart of Europe, it is clear that there are opportunities for such activities. The temptation is high and must be taken into consideration. If the Report mentions the terrorist threat that could be facilitated by the current migration, it means that the authors have information supporting the statement. The Report mentions the extremists in the Syrian conflict and the radicalization of young Islamists. At the same time, the serious and extended situation in Syria attracted many foreign fighters, including EU citizens that have double citizenship. The criminal actions of ISIL against humanity demand attention according to the level of this threat.

When choosing between xenophobia and humanity, solidarity loses

Europe’s very complex situation with influxes of migrants also evidenced the lack of human solidarity and political will as shown by the different views of the important EU leaders about the integration of the refugees and the inconsistent support of the declared policies. The opinions of Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has been the informal leader of the EU and initiated the economic exclusive austerity measures, were expected to top the smaller or bigger European opinions referring to the current refugee crisis. Recent history indicates that the personality of this important official did not impose in the decision-making process, as chancellor and leader of an alliance of parties that supports her, but the great German finance and economic interests. This is the only way in which we can explain its inconsistency in the policy for the refugees. Initially, the offer of receiving 800,000 refugees launched the idea that Germany relies on this work force to save its economy. Shortly afterwards, there was strong criticism to this concept and Germany changed its mind. I mention here the opinions of Horst Seehofer, Bavarian State Premier and leader of the Christian-Social Union (CSU). His opinion did not coincide with the position of the governing ally Angela Merkel because he considered this policy “an error”. After this statement, the German newspaper “Bild” said that the Bavarian officials are preparing to “shut down” the border with Austria, which the newspaper called “a significant change of the refugees’ policy”. Indeed, shortly afterwards trains were no longer allowed to travel from Austria to Germany. The German Minister of Internal Affairs, Maiziere, confirmed that Germany will temporarily introduce controls at the border with Austria due to the large number of refugees coming towards Germany.

The magnitude of the migrants’ flow and its unpredictable evolution has brought into discussion the process of assimilation in the European countries. Normally, this assimilation must be in accordance with the capacities of every European country, be it even a member of the European Union. Uncommon for the integrity of the European values that lay at the basis of the Union and later allowed its development was the violent characteristic of discussions which have put forward terms like national quotas, mandatory quotas and volunteer quotas. In my opinion, this view of the migrants annuls from the very start the principle of solidarity and once again negatively influences cohesion within the EU and even its existence. There were serious discussions at all levels and the public comments and statements of the member countries indicate that xenophobic attitudes have reappeared. The determination in accepting or rejecting these unfortunate quotas represents another dark page in Europe’s history, which we could easily call “the Mediterranean drama: assigning national quotas for immigrants”. It would be unwise and even dangerous to say that a European country is xenophobic, particularly in the current context. I will focus only on the quotas, asking one single question to the “inventor” of the operational methodology of this new “mechanism made in the EU” with the purpose of assigning refugees. Therefore, which are the criteria that set the mandatory national quota for every state? I believe it is based on arithmetic as long as the values are thousand or tens of thousand and end with smaller units like 4837. Arithmetical scrupulosity should not make politics look absurd or ridiculous. Even if the software of the computer, be it the most modern one, would round off the quota, our imposed example will be – 4840 (gain of humanism), but the imposed quotas associated with financial sanctions with values probably given by a smart software (values from 0-infinite) bring the whole process close to dictatorship. History proved that the absurd, the incredible and many others belong to dictatorship and not to democracy. Probably the German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel will also reveal the name of the inventor since we are told that “Europe fell into contemp” after the failure of the ministerial reunion in Brussels organized to set the quotas for the refugees in the EU.

Cui (quid) prodest?

After the serious controversies in the EU and following Germany’s decisional instability under the government of Angela Merkel, the other EU members did not hesitate to protect their interests, at any cost. After seeing that “institutional communication of every member country at a domestic level and within the community was locked in the boxes hidden behind armchairs existing at all levels of leadership, including the management of the EU” in the context of the management of the refugees’ crisis, we also note that “the European diplomacy has failed in front of a steel fence” with no exception.             

The unusual statements and the tense situations used by the European diplomacy in international relations setting its entrance into “the era of migration crisis” are arguments that account for my statements above.

According to “NapocaNews”, Laszlo Kover, President of the Hungarian Parliament announced that Hungary refused the request of the United States to accept immigrants in the EU, accusing Washington of being responsible for the conflicts that generated refugees and offered as an example the fence built by the United States at the border with Mexico. The Hungarian official does not understand that his statement according to which “the European crisis is going through a profound intellectual and moral crisis that generates a political crisis” rebounds upon himself after having initiated this uninspired diplomatic dialog with the US. We remind the Hungarian official that the US is a strategic partner for Europe’s security, despite the interests of some nostalgic Germans for the noisy marches on Berlin’s streets that existed in the past. In this context, it is a good idea to republish some information that appeared in “Romania Liberă” quoting AFP, according to which the mayor of Dachau, Florian Hartmann issued a press statement saying that “an add-on of the former Nazi camp in south Germany will be upgraded as shelter for homeless people, including refugees”. The future occupants were described by the mayor as “the weakest members of the society”. According to the Swiss publication “Tribune de Geneve”, “the Dachau project is not unique in Germany”. At the beginning of 2015, the local authorities started a project in order to transform the former add-ons of the camp from Buchenwald (built similarly to the Dachau camp) into shelters for the immigrants.

The “high-level” diplomatic dialogue between Austria – Hungary about the refugees must be mentioned again due to some statements made public by Reuters. In an interview for “Der Spiegel”, the Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann criticized in very strong words the manner in which Hungary manages the crisis of the refugees, saying that “the measures adopted by Viktor Orban’s government remind of the Nazi period” and the packing of people in trains hoping that they would be taken someplace else “reminds of the darkest period from our continent”, referring to the Holocaust practiced by the Nazis during the Second World War. His Excellency Werner Faymann referred directly to his Hungarian counterpart and added that “The Hungarian Prime-Minister Viktor Orban acts irresponsibly by calling these refugees immigrants with economic motivation”.                         

In response, the Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Peter Szijjarto, made some serious statements about the Austrian officials: “Austria has been carrying out a campaign of lies against Hungary for several weeks…The statements made by Mister Faymann are irresponsible, undignified for a political leader of the 21st century and they impede the identification of solutions to the refugee crisis”.        

Another “small diplomatic calumny” is the confrontation Budapest-Bucharest, generated by the same steel fence that Hungary announced as planned to be built at the Romanian border. The relations France-Hungary, Slovenia-Croatia, Hungary-Croatia, Hungary-Serbia have been characterized by the same violent dialog about the fence. The violent language and the wording used by the official opponents from all sides are much under the representation of their countries. I am one of those who consider that Hungary, like any other EU member country, has the right of establishing its own defensive measures since one of the important travelling routes for the refugees crosses its territory and, fortunately for us, not the Romanian territory. Moreover, I consider that under the strong pressure of the migrants, much more profound than in any other country, Hungary was forced to adopt these measures, since the management of the EU proved to be inexistent. However, the head of the Hungarian diplomacy should have understood that it was not the fence that disturbed, but the lack of communication on this theme with the neighbors of this country.

Diplomacy is an art and the practice of negotiations between the representatives of nations and groups. This definition does not annuls the fact that those involved in this art must be artisans of a quality directly proportionate to the power of the state being represented or compensating what it misses. Any storm in a glass turns into a tsunami. The attitudes and violent statements outside the traditional, common diplomatic framework lead to belligerent positions of the parties. Unfortunately, if it is being manifested in an institutionalized framework accepted by the parts, like the NATO or EU membership, and if it is based on a series of Euro-Atlantic and European values and principles, being often characterized by more or less serious arguments, it proves the deep misunderstanding of the world we are living in and an almost childish reason. The discussion could have another interpretation if the strategic objectives of a party’s foreign policy were directly or indirectly oriented towards another current geopolitical and geostrategic manifestation in Europe. In this context, as the American State Secretary John Kerry said about creating an alliance against ISIL, “Diplomacy becomes crucial”.

 

First published by the INGEPO Consulting’s Geostrategic Pulse    

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EU to mount decisive summit on Kosovo

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The European Union is planning to hold an important summit on Kosovo in October this year with a view to get Belgrade and Pristina to normalize bilateral relations. French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will pose as guarantors of the deal. Reports say a senior US official may take part in the Paris summit as well. The participation of the American side was strongly advocated by the authorities in Kosovo, headed by President Hashim Thachi.

If this scenario goes ahead, Serbia may face pressure from both the USA and the EU. The West plans to require Belgrade to not only de facto recognize Kosovo but to confirm the course for European integration – which, according to Brussels, means departure from a comprehensive partnership with Russia and from the signing of a free trade agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) scheduled for the end of October.

Given the situation, Serbian leaders are set on consolidating Belgrade’s position in the forthcoming talks by reducing international support for Pristina. To this end, Belgrade is trying to persuade countries that previously recognized Kosovo’s self-proclaimed independence to reconsider their positions and withdraw their statements. Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic has already announced in wake of consultations on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly that the number of countries that recognize Kosovo’s independence will dwindle by the end of this year. According to Dacic, such countries will make up less than half of the world community.

According to the Serbian Foreign Minister, the Serbian delegation led by President Aleksandar Vucic succeeded in holding talks in New York with representatives of about a hundred states on withdrawing recognition of Kosovo’s independence. “The President spoke with representatives of some states about strategic issues, about a dialogue with Pristina, but there were also many meetings dedicated specifically to the status of Kosovo and Metohija. As the president announced, our citizens can be sure that in the near future the number of countries that will withdraw or “freeze” their recognition of Kosovo will increase,”- Ivica Dacic said.

In recent years, the number of countries that recognize Kosovo’s independence has decreased, though so far mainly due to small American and African states. Among them are the Comoros, Dominica, Suriname, Liberia, Sao Tome and Principe, Guinea-Bissau, Burundi, Papua New Guinea, Lesotho, Grenada.

The persistency with which the US and the EU is trying to “press” for the normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina and force Serbia to cut down on its active cooperation with Russia has yet again pushed the Serbs into streamlining their national foreign policy priorities. According to available data, Brussels is ready to slap more conditions on Belgrade, including the most painful of the Balkan issues, not only on Kosovo, but also on Bosnia and Herzegovina. For one, as Serbian Minister of Technological Development and Innovation Nenad Popovic said,  one of the conditions for Serbia becoming a member of the EU could be recognition of the “genocide” in Srebrenica.

This is confirmed by Zoran Milosevic, an expert at the Institute for Political Studies in Belgrade, who sees the new condition as nothing unexpected, since some EU member states, and also Switzerland, have passed a law that envisages criminal liability for the denial of the so-called “genocide in Srebrenica.” Some  European countries are already following suit having drafted the relevant bills to be submitted to parliament. “Something of this kind was proposed by the High Representative of the international community in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Valentin Inzko. What is the point of adopting laws in defense of this counterfeit on the genocide in Srebrenica if they do not make a condition for Serbia’s membership in the EU?” – Zoran Milosevic points out. The mere word “condition”, he says, signifies that Serbia “is treated as a minor who needs to grow to perfection and fight tooth and claw to enter the EU”. Serbia “accepted this burden of its own free will” the day its parliament passed a resolution according to which the country’s strategic goal is European integration, ” – said the Serbian expert.

He also made it clear that it was by no means accidental that Brussels never announced the full list of conditions for Serbia’s membership in the European Union: “If they did, it would tie the hands of pro-Western Serbian politicians. So they release more and more conditions gradually, one after another. First, it was about recognizing Kosovo – whether this is a condition for EU membership or not. It turned out that it is. Now it is about the recognition of “genocide” in Srebrenica. It is said that Serbia’s entry into NATO will also be a condition for joining the European Union. And, as in the previous cases, we are wondering if such a condition exists or not. As a result, it will turn out that there is. ”

Where Brussels’ pressure on Belgrade is particularly noticeable at present is Serbia’s intention to sign a free trade agreement with the EAEU at the end of October. According to the Minister of Trade of Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC) Veronika Nikishina, negotiations between the EAEU and Serbia on the creation of a free trade zone are over with the parties involved preparing to sign the agreement on October 25. Nikishina says the document will be signed in Moscow by the prime ministers of the five member states of the EAEU, the Prime Minister of Serbia Ana Brnabic and the Chairman of the EEC Board Tigran Sargsyan. Even though Serbia has agreements on a free trade zone with three of the five EAEU members – Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, the transition to a common free trade regime has several advantages, emphasizes Veronika Nikishina: “Three bilateral deals that were signed earlier and were not fully identical are being harmonized, giving Armenia and Kyrgyzstan the opportunity of preferences in preferential trade. ”

Also, a trade agreement provides access of the EAEU members to the Serbian market: “For example, it concerns certain kinds of cheeses, some strong alcoholic drinks, and cigarettes from Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, which could not enter the Serbian market under the free trade regime. And it also spreads on various types of engineering products that have also been removed from bilateral agreements.” “In other words, we give a fully-fledged free trade status to Kyrgyzstan and Armenia and improve the existing bilateral free trade arrangements for Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia,”  – the Minister for Trade of the EEC emphasizes.

According to Serbian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications Rasim Lyayic, an agreement with the EAEU may allow the country to increase its export volumes by nearly 1.5 times. According to the minister, in 2018 Serbia’s trade turnover with the EAEU countries amounted to about 3.4 billion dollars, of which 1.1 billion accounted for exports, mainly to Russia. Exports into the EAEU will increase to $ 1.5 billion within a few years after the agreement comes into force, the Serbian Deputy Prime Minister predicts.

According to the Bruegel International Analytical Center, in 2016, 62% of all Serbian imports came from EU countries, 8.3% from China, 7.9% from Russia. 64% of the republic’s exports go to the EU, 17.8% to other Balkan countries, 5.3% to Russia.

Naturally, the EU is more than concerned about Serbia’s trade and economic policy following a different direction. Brussels has already warned the Serbian government that a free trade agreement with the EAEU could harm integration with the EU. “You can’t follow several directions at once,” – said Slovakian Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak, thereby warning Belgrade and expressing the position of his counterparts in the European Union: “If you are serious about Europe, you must make decisions that bring you closer to it, but this move is totally out of line. ”  

Meanwhile, Serbia maintains composure and has no intention of giving up on the plans. Explaining his country’s decision to conclude an agreement with the EAEU, Rasim Lyayic said that it follows economic agenda alone: “It is not about politics, but about trade.”

According to the minister, a refusal to sign an agreement with the EAEU would call into question a free trade agreement with Russia.

The EAEU is calm about warnings addressed to Serbia, – Veronika Nikishina says: “Until Serbia becomes a full-fledged member of the European Union, it has full autonomy in its trade policy. “In our agreement there are no obligations on the formation of a trade regime between Serbia and the European Union, which is absolutely impossible to imagine.” Nikishina made it clear that until Serbia joins the EU, “we are trading with it in a regime we consider appropriate, and we will upgrade this regime.” As for Serbia entering the EU (which is a matter of remote future), in this case “all agreements of this kind, including our agreement, naturally, will have to be terminated,” – Veronika Nikishina says.

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that pressure on Belgrade, both in terms of recognizing Kosovo and in connection with relations with Russia and the EAEU, will boost considerably in the coming weeks. In these conditions, the Serbian authorities will obviously have to assume a more determined position with regard to the country’s list of national priorities. 

From our partner International Affairs

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EU politicians turn to “ball of snakes” to make own careers

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Some of EU politicians are very successful in making their careers using the weak points of the European Union member states.

Current tensions between Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and NATO (including EU countries) lead to the development of many expensive programs and projects that European taxpayers have to pay for.

Current security situation provides a huge space for ambitious politicians. Those, in turn, involve the population of European countries in an arms race, trying to achieve personal goals at the expense of frightened citizens.

Thus, such statements as: “we’re at war”, “Russia and China threaten Europe and the Word”, “we need to increase defence spending” are populist in nature and distract attention of people from more pressing social issues. The more so, loud statements let such experts be in the centre of attention in European politics.

Thus, new European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has flagged her ambition for political weight to take more responsibility for defence programs and projects.

“That’s likely to trigger turf wars with EU national governments, NATO and the United States over who should be in charge of European military cooperation and the West’s lucrative defence industry,” writes Paul Taylor, a contributing editor at POLITICO and a senior fellow at the think-tank Friends of Europe.

Franco-German efforts to press EU countries to buy European military equipment rather than U.S. vehicles and weapons have not been successful yet. But taking into account the pertinacity of French and German politicians in the EU governing bodies it could become a reality. Though the Baltic countries, the Netherlands, and Poland, are suspicious of such plans.

“They simply want the best value for money and quality for their limited defence budgets. The Poles and Balts believe they get an unspoken extra level of bilateral defence insurance if they buy U.S. equipment beyond NATO’s mutual defence clause.” explains Paul Taylor.

This is one of the few cases when small Baltic States oppose European influencers – France and Germany. On October, 2 in his interview to Europäische Sicherheit & Technik, Raimundas Karoblis, the Minister of Defence of the Republic of Lithuania said that he hates even the subject of European military autonomy. He totally relies on NATO.

So, in this fight for decision making in the European Union only one side will loose – people of the countries who will pay for NATO or European defence projects.

People are only the tools of satisfaction of political ambitions. In case of peace in Europe they will pay for excessive amount of military equipment and foreign personnel deployment. In case of war they will be the targets of missiles.

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Sovereignty versus nature: Central and Eastern Europe not ready to fight for environment at all costs

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While attending the UN Climate Summit in New York, French President Emmanuel Macron urged European environmental activists to look in the direction of some countries of Eastern Europe, in the first place, those that this summer came up against the “EU initiative to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050”.

The 2050 deadline was first voiced in a report prepared last year by the UN Intergovernmental Commission on Climate Change. According to the authors of the Report, humanity will be able to avoid the worst effects of climate change if it reduces greenhouse gas emissions to zero by the middle of the century. The proposal in support of the United Nations initiative by EU countries  put forward by the European Commission in November last year  envisages a set of measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions  next to zero; and to compensate for the residual emissions by taking agricultural and technological measures aimed at extracting carbon from the atmosphere. In March this year, as members of the European Council discussed the details of the initiative, the initial reaction, according to media reports, was “cautious”.  Only 8 EU member states  supported it unconditionally.

However, “the situation had changed a lot” by May: the G8 addressed the other EU members with a proposal to fundamentally step up efforts to avert climate change. The participants in the discussion suggested channelling for these purposes a quarter of the total EU budget for the period 2021-2027. In addition, they proposed to introduce a ban on EU subsidies for projects that could worsen greenhouse gas emissions into the environment. And they also called for supporting the Community’s commitment to the “zero emission” target by 2050 “as a deadline.” . According to observers, what led to a rapid change in the attitude of many EU countries to the issue was a wave of environmental protests that swept through a number of major European cities, including London, Brussels, Stockholm, Paris and Berlin. Also, the change in attitudes could be attributed to the success of the “green parties” in the elections to the European Parliament held in May.

In Eastern Europe, the new “super-ambitious” climate initiatives were met with outright mistrust. During a summit in Brussels at the end of June, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and, with certain reservations, Estonia, blocked a clause on the implementation of the “2050 Initiative” in the EU strategy for 2019–2024 . Instead of clearly defined obligations of the European Union, with a fixed deadline of 2050, vague wordings were added to the final document. Under the new agreement, only an “overwhelming majority of member states” intend to achieve a zero impact of their economies on the climate, the so-called “climate neutrality”, by 2050 . The refusal of EU members to unanimously support the new climate strategy has also cast doubt on the commitments undertaken by the EU under the Paris Climate Agreement. At the moment, all EU countries are obliged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent of the 1990 level by 2020. And  by 40 percent by 2030. However, many member states cannot meet  these requirements, some “significantly”. The decisions taken in Paris in 2015 require signatories to prevent a rise in global temperature by more than two degrees Celsius. And “ideally”, the temperatures should not increase by more than 1.5 degrees.

Countries of Eastern Europe came up against the new commitments even despite the “softening” of the original wording. Technically, the EU may soon get back to discussing the initiative: after the EU presidency goes to Finland, the issue can be added to the agenda again. Finland is one of the most ardent supporters of stepping up measures to address climate change. However, the recent failure means that, in practical terms, the EU will be able to return to the problem only after 2024. As they explain their position, the Polish authorities focus on preserving the country’s energy security, – up to 80 percent of the country’s electric power is still generated using coal. Warsaw also advocates a substantial increase in subsidies from the EU budget for upgrading the energy sector. The Prime Minister of the Czech Republic has pointed out that it is impossible to predict what course the events will take in 30 years. Finally, a country’s formal endorsement of the “2050 Initiative” does not necessarily presuppose unconditional support for the EU climate policy in practice. According to the NGO Climate Action Network Europe, in addition to Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Estonia, a cautious position has been demonstrated by Bulgaria, Lithuania, Slovakia, Romania and Croatia. Austria, Greece, Cyprus and Latvia have a number of  reservations.

What are countries of Central and Eastern Europe afraid of? First of all, they fear for the economy. Decades after they switched to market economy, their per capita income is 2 to 2.5 times less than in Germany or France. Less diversification of economies, technologically and infrastructurally outdated generating capacities – all this puts Eastern Europeans on the losing side against the background of the more developed members of the European Union. Meanwhile, many leaders of Central and Eastern Europe owe their popularity with voters to the high rates of economic growth. It is no accident then that the success of the “greens” in Eastern Europe was much more modest than in the west and in the center. Eastern European voters are literally frightened by the high cost of today’s “green” technologies, which promise far from clear prospects and only after decades. Politicians cannot but take into account public sentiments at home. In addiiton, the EU economy is slowing down. Even Germany, whose production chains attract many suppliers from the “east”, teeters on the brink of recession. Not surprisingly, environmental issues in such a situation are fading into the background.

In addition, the ambitious slogans about the forthcoming triumph of “green” technologies do not always have a leg to stand on. In February The Economist reported that the income level of traditional energy companies is still higher than the performance of renewable energy projects. The global demand for oil continues to grow by 1-2 percent yearly – just like in the previous fifty years. Most environmental activists are still driving cars and using airplanes. It would be premature to rely on breakthrough technologies, which are not available for mass production yet. The volume of investments in renewable energy sources around the world is about 300 billion dollars a year – a drop in the ocean compared to investments in the development of fossil fuels. And even though they talk much about the early arrival of electric cars, in 2030, up to 85 percent of cars will still be running on internal combustion engines.

Meanwhile, the “2050 Initiative” in its current form is too vague to sound convincing, does not contain any, at least preliminary, estimates of potential costs or possible damage to economic growth. Given the situation, it is very difficult to convince the majority of voters that measures aimed at reducing harmful emissions will not inflict a catastrophic blow to their personal well-being. What makes it all worse is not only by the “bad example” of the USA, which many CEE countries are looking to. After America withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement in 2017,  the Trump administration has been taking steps to revive the national coal industry. Even such environmentally advanced countries as France and Germany have yet to devise a policy that could convince wide sections of society of the benefits of higher prices for eco-friendly products and services. One of the motives behind mass protests of the “yellow vests” in France was fears that that the government would boost taxes under the pretext of the need to “spend more on “green “technologies.” As for tax cuts to stimulate the economy, the proposal is not popular with top-level officials in most EU countries. Meanwhile, fiscal incentives, which encourage public support for technological and cultural changes that come handy for combating climate change, are seen by specialists as one of the most reasonable measures that can alleviate the fears of skeptics.

Since most countries of the world are characterized by a “mixed” picture of the  “pluses” and “minuses” of global warming, many people in the east of the EU are questioning the point of introducing a fundamental change to the economic structure of several decades in an attempt to reverse the negative climatic phenomena in the environment. Should we focus instead on political, economic and social measures that would help individual countries and associations to adapt to the objective trends in nature? Or, could it be an attempt, under the guise of solving environmental problems, to restrict development opportunities for competitor countries, either present or potential.

In the conditions of ever-increasing rivalry between states, the environmental issue becomes a convenient and attractive tool to discredit the opponents. East Europeans point out that rich countries, including Great Britain and Germany, are still using coal in order to maintain their economic growth. In many cases, it means tax exemptions and even budget subsidies. A dramatic reduction in the use of coal for production purposes and heating needs may require extensive political efforts, including an increase in subsidies from EU funds, for which Western members of the alliance will not be ready for years to come. For some environmental groups, the struggle for the protection of the environment outweighs any objective needs for the development of both individual territories and entire states. At times, it is next to impossible to separate the recklessly sincere idealism from the “lobbying of new-type corporate interests”. As a result, criticism of the fuel-based development model turns out to be an instrument of competition that promotes the interests of the green economy — which is, as it has become clear in recent years, far from ecologically perfect.

The conflict over how to harmonize the environmental policy runs the risk of becoming yet another confirmation of an alarming trend for the EU of late. It turned out that “subsidies from the European Union are no longer part of its policy, which was designed to compensate for the internal imbalance in the EU, but rather a kind of gift for loyalty. We mean the well-known ‘divide-and-rule’ policy ”, a deliberate separation of countries and regions in the Community that are not ready to unconditionally follow the decisions which are passed by the leading countries and Brussels.

Is the EU able to “overcome the de facto economic, social and cultural inequalities” which are still visible among its members? Or will these inequalities be joined by ecological and climatic ones over time?

Finally, radicalism among the ecologists frightens even Western Europeans. Emmanuel Macron demonstrated skepticism over the statements made in the UN by Greta Thunberg, a young Swedish activist who became known throughout the world in 2018 thanks to the idea of a global environmental “strike of school students”. According to the French leader, Thunberg’s “radical” position is destructive because it could trigger antagonism in society. The day earlier, German Chancellor Angela Merkel praised the activist’s speech in the UN, adding, however, that Thunberg had overlooked a number of key trends. The German leader spoke about new technologies and innovations that “play a significant role in energy and climate protection”.

The crises of the past decade have “revealed the ever-growing differences within the European Union”, and have significantly undermined the previously unquestionable authority of “old” Europe in the eyes of many residents of the East. Against the background of a continuing asymmetry in the socio-economic situation, many CEE countries have managed to overcome the effects of the global crisis better than their Western partners. A number of observers have even outlined the prospects of turning Central and Eastern Europe into a “new driver” of economic growth within the entire EU. Under these conditions, it is not surprising that East Europeans are set on preserving the freedom of socio-economic maneuver in climate change issues in order to avoid their unjustified politicization. Russia shares these kinds of aspirations. By ratifying the Paris Climate Agreement, Moscow declares its readiness by joint efforts to work out such a paradigm of relations with nature that would meet the interests of long-term development. Russia is striving to strike a balance between a clean and safe environment, on the one hand, and the preservation of national competitiveness, on the other. 

From our partner International Affairs

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