Connect with us

Europe

Is Western Civilization Doomed?: A Review Essay

Emanuel L. Paparella, Ph.D.

Published

on

In a span of 75 years, between 1926 and 2001, six books appeared which greatly influenced Western Man’s thinking about his own civilization, so called Western Civilization.

In chronological order of appearance they are: Oswald Spangler’s The Decline of the West (1926); Arnold Toynbee’s Civilization on Trial (1958); Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind (1987); Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History (1992); Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (1998); and Erik Voegelin’s Order and History (2001).

In this essay we’ll survey those six books to determine how they have influenced the thinking of conservative ideologies which believe that while it is true that the West is in decline, there is still time to mitigate it or even to reverse it and preserve it for posterity. A mere glance at the titles of those books will hint at what the fuss and concern of those conservatives are. They go a long way in explaining their alarm at what they deem is an invasion of Europe by Moslems from Syria or Afghanistan or Turkey. They feel that Western Christian Civilization has to be defended anew from the hordes of Moslem invaders threatening its very existence. This is going on as we speak in Hungary which has now closed its borders justifying the measure as the defense of Europe.

The lazy way to explain this sad phenomenon of the advocacy of fortress Europe is to brand all those who invoke the preservation of heritage and civilization as sheer xenophobes or fascists, even racists, which they probably are; but such a shallow explanation does not even begin to touch the complexities of the Western cultural identity. In fact, it can be safely asserted that many of the crisis of present day EU are due to the refusal to search for and discover its genuine historical identity rather than summarily dismiss such a search as anti-modern, obscurantist, retrograde and medieval.

I believe that part of the problem is the failed distinction between what is universal and what is particular in Western Civilization. Characteristically, the imagined goods of modern progressive or leftist ideologies are conceived to be “universal” values (such as liberty, equality, and fraternity), whereas the goods and values defended by conservatives are more readily understood as contingent particulars. There does not appear to be a single substance knowable as Tradition per se, but rather many historical traditions, great and small, each making a claim for allegiance and conservation on its own particular terms. As a result, while there may be a Socialist International or a Communist International—one may even speak of a Liberal International—there has never been a Conservative International.

There is, however, one “quasi-universal” that conservatives of many nations have understood themselves to be conserving: the West. Obviously, the very word indicates that this good or value is not truly universal: it excludes, at least, the East. On the other hand, insofar as the term denotes a civilization transcending in space any particular Western state, transcending in time the history of any particular Western nation, and transcending in intellectual scope or catholicity any particular Western philosophy or doctrine, “the West” stretches toward a kind of universality. To speak of the West is to speak of something cosmopolitan, and yet not deracinated. Perhaps the defense of the West is close to the heart of what it means to be a conservative in the modern world—yet the definition of the West and the identification of the threats to it is also a source of disagreement among conservatives of various sorts, not to speak of progressives and liberals.

Earlier and particularly nineteenth-century assumptions about the West were nearly always whiggish celebrations of the historically “inevitable” progress of Western European civilization to its rightful place in the imperial sun: “Wider still and wider shall thy bounds be set,/ God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet” was a British invocation, but it summed up a more general sense that the West was simply “the best”—and destined for indefinite global dominion. That confidence, however, was profoundly shaken by the civilizational self-immolation of the First World War. For many on the Left, the carnage of the Great War was evidence of the structural flaws of Western “bourgeois democracy,” requiring the remedy of revolution.

Against whom or what is it, then, that the West finds itself in need of defense? Two general forms of threat may be identified. First, over the course of the twentieth century it was frequently contended that the West must be defended from internal decay or decline. Conservative reflection on this theme was prompted in the first instance by an engagement with the thought of Oswald Spengler, whose book The Decline of the West was a publishing sensation in Germany and Europe immediately after the First World War. In a resonant, even poetic, though not altogether scientific manner, this prophet of pessimism argued that civilizations are organic wholes organized around a High Culture with a particular “Soul.” Civilizations throughout history have risen and fallen in a pattern of birth, growth, apex, decline, and death—and our Western civilization is no different. It is doomed like all the others.

In Spengler’s view, the West was clearly in the last phase of its civilizational life: the “Soul” was no longer animating the body. The telltale signs of a High Culture’s decay included skepticism, materialism, scientism, and the fall of philosophy into mere academicism on the one hand, and urbanization, vulgar democracy, the rule of the rich, and eventually bureaucracy on the other hand. The cataclysm of the two world wars in the first half of the twentieth century seemed to many to lend plausibility to the contention that the civilization of Western Europe (and its diaspora in the New World) was now entering its “twilight.” Vladimir Putin still goes around preaching this doctrine.

While Spengler himself held that the roughly thousand-year civilizational life-cycle was a fact of nature beyond man’s ability to control or modify—in short, that our civilization’s decline was inevitable and irreversible—this was not the lesson conservatives took from his work. Conservatism, after all, was accustomed to resisting the “tides” of history; indeed, conservatism often specialized in imagining ways to “turn back the clock.“ Far from leading to an acquiescence in pessimism, therefore, Spenglerian gloom served as a rallying cry, a call both to action and to reflection: if the sources of decay and decline could be uncovered, perhaps they could also be reversed. This has been the rallying crying of most 20th century dictators on both the right and the left.

Another writer whose thoughts on the rise and fall of civilizations colored conservative understandings of the West’s predicament was the philosophical historian Arnold Toynbee. Writing primarily in the 1950s, Toynbee developed a universal history of civilizations in terms of challenge and response. The challenge might be physical (e.g., the cultivation of nearly inarable land), civil-social (an internal intellectual crisis or religio-political faction), or external (the pressure of another civilization). Whatever the case, the response of a healthy and growing civilization depended upon the efforts of creative minorities able to meet the challenge. (In the absence of any challenges whatsoever, civilizations tended simply to decay.) The signs of civilizational decline, in turn, were a ruling minority turned in on itself and on its past glories—no longer creative—and the construction of a “Universal State” that acted to smother dissent and discontentment among an emergent “Proletariat.” Here one thinks of Nazism, or Fascism or Communism.

While Toynbee’s work was by no means accepted uncritically, conservatives did find many points of agreement. Toynbee, for example, tended to highlight religion as a source of recurring civilizational renewal, and conservatives too saw in religion a source of hope for the West. Toynbee’s “Universal State” and “Proletariat,” moreover, had something in common with the centralizing “collectivism” and emerging “mass society” of the twentieth century, against both of which conservatives had set themselves: perhaps, through conservative efforts, the West could retain or regain its individualistic spirit and so continue to nurture creative minorities. Most significantly, Toynbee was no determinist. There was no set date for the West’s demise; all depended on particular human choices and human actions. And, Toynbee admonished, “Civilizations die from suicide, not by murder.” It was up to conservatives to forestall, through acts of cultural recovery, the West’s suicidal tendencies.

The theme of a moral crisis of the West, one requiring a concerted and creative response, has remained a staple of conservative argument for more than half a century. It is noteworthy that what are taken by Spengler, Toynbee, and many conservatives as the indicators of civilizational decline—a coolly skeptical stance toward religious claims, the sensual delights of an urbane materialism, the democratization of society, the rational administration of a bureaucracy, the growth of a cosmopolitan “Universal State,” the burgeoning of novel liberties—have been understood by others as signs of civilizational flourishing and progress. The experiences of the first half of the twentieth century taught conservatives to doubt the solidity and sustainability of such phenomena in the absence of vibrant cultural foundations. Hence, in recent years, conservative initiatives in the culture wars constitute a continuing effort to arrest internal tendencies toward decline within Western civilization.

Beyond the threat of internal decline, “the West” has also been understood to require defense against threats arising externally, in international conflict. By invoking loyalty to the West as a whole, one may make “one’s own” the political concerns of other peoples who are not fellow citizens of one’s nation-state. In other words, the West is a basis or rationale for “natural” alliance in time of war. Thus, the British during the First World War were eager for that conflict to be seen by their potential allies as one pitting the liberal and civilized traditions of the West against invading hordes from the East, “the Hun.” In this way, isolationist America and unenthusiastic Commonwealth countries could be brought into the conflict as allies in the common defense of (Western) civilization itself—rather than in defense of British imperial interests.

The inclusion of the Soviet Union among the Allies of the Second World War tended to obstruct recourse to the language of the West, but even still, both Churchill and De Gaulle in their wartime speeches spoke of the defense of “liberal and Christian civilization,” a good short description of the meaning of the West in contrast with Nazi barbarism. With the Nazi defeat and the advent of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, the defense of the West could serve as the basis for the NATO alliance against the totalitarian barbarism of the Eastern Bloc.

It was in the context of the Cold War that the West became an especially important concept for a nascent Western conservatism. Given that context, the term West carried in the first instance both geostrategic and economic connotations—mirroring the fact that our Soviet Communist adversaries understood economics to be at the “base” of all political, cultural, and spiritual life. Thus, despite its cultural dissimilarities, Japan could be understood to stand among the “Western” nations, since it was a free-market democracy and a U.S. ally (having been reconstructed as such by the Americans after World War II), while Spain under Franco might be understood to stand outside the West, since it was not (yet) a NATO member, nor a democracy. During the Cold War, the world was more or less neatly divided between the Communist Eastern Bloc, the so-called Western alliance (NATO) whose glue was democracy, and those nations which held themselves to be Non-Aligned.

Yet throughout the Cold War period, conservative thinkers worked to reach a deeper level of analysis of the manifold crises of the twentieth century. Many, following Eric Voegelin, concluded that Soviet communism was an extreme instance of “Gnostic revolt”—in effect, a characteristic heresy within the Western experience, rather than something arising from outside the West. If the “armed doctrine” threatening the West was itself a bastard child of the West’s own traditions, however, then the defense of the West began not on the tense military frontier dividing the two Germanies; rather, the defense of the West must begin with an effort to educate Western publics about the orthodox strains of the Western heritage. But what exactly were the “orthodox” traditions of the West?

Standard nineteenth-century accounts of Western civilization understood the West to have four roots. Athens stood emblematically as the source of the West’s philosophical traditions. Jerusalem was the source of the West’s religious traditions. Rome was the source of the West’s legal traditions. And Germany—the German forests, in which had dwelt the Gothic tribes—was the source of the peculiarly Western spirit of liberty, contract, and self-government. In such an account, the West was in effect an alternative, secularized name for “Western Christendom.”

Christianity, after all, had absorbed ancient philosophy; the church had displaced the Roman Empire as a universal jurisdiction; and the Goths were converted. In such an account, Christianity is the primary “marker” of the West, and so Rome, the eternal city, might be understood as the main taproot among the other, lesser roots. Such an account had, and continues to have, a particular appeal for traditionalist conservatives: the West they seek to defend is readily recognizable as Christendom. As a result, such conservatism has tended to have a high opinion of medieval civilization, finding within it a privileged cultural synthesis that remains normative, and so standing in a critical relationship to certain features of the contemporary world. Such a conservatism also searches in the Middle Ages for the origins of many Western institutions and practices that are often mistaken for modern innovations. The source of the West’s dynamism, for example, is found to be the Church. Christopher Dawson’s The Making of Europe, jumps to mind here.

The first major challenge to this traditional account of the West occurred during the First World War: for the purposes of that war, Germany had to be located outside the West, and so a rich literature on the Gothic dimensions of the Western experience was lost. As a result, we would in time no longer be able to understand what Montesquieu, for example, meant when he praised England for having retained its Gothic constitution; we would no longer feel the intuitive force of Hegel’s arguments concerning the special world-historical role of “German freedom.” Western liberty would have to be extracted from other and perhaps less adequate sources.

In America, moreover, a Jerusalem-Athens-Rome account of the West was usually thought unsatisfactory, since it tended to confer primacy to Roman Catholicism as the synthesis of Athens and Jerusalem—something most non-Catholics were not prepared to concede. Protestants and others understood “liberty of conscience” and the protection of the “private judgment” of the individual to be singularly “Western” achievements, responsible for the West’s special dynamism during the modern period—and these were believed to follow only from the Reformation’s repudiation of Roman “obscurantism,” and even Roman “despotism.” As has been said: anti-Catholicism became the last acceptable bias.

Many American conservatives were therefore attracted to Leo Strauss’s articulation of the West’s Great Tradition as one of Jerusalem and Athens in irresolvable tension. This account had something to offer everyone. Catholics could read Strauss and supply Rome as the arena in which this tension had been worked out in history. Jews could appreciate an account of the West in which the religion of the Old Testament was understood to have priority over the New. Post-Barthian Protestants could resonate with the either-or existential choice between Athens and Jerusalem that Strauss posited as the fate of every thinking man.

For all of that, Strauss’s own choice was for Athens, not Jerusalem: Athens is the taproot in his account of the West, reaching deeper than other, lesser roots. For most neoconservative followers of Strauss, therefore, free inquiry and Socratic enlightenment are the primary “markers” of the West. The West they seek to defend is not Christendom, but rather the civilization that philosophy built and in which universal reason has its home: in other words, the civilization of modern liberal democracy.

Related to this Straussian account of the primacy of Western philosophy are those libertarian or classical liberal conservatives for whom the free market economy, with its abundant prosperity and constant technological innovation, constitutes the characteristic Western excellence. With some exceptions, such conservatives tend to identify the West with the “modern civilization” that arose in the eighteenth century as the project of the Anglo-Scottish Enlightenment—and often, it is said, in self-conscious rejection of earlier traditions. Whereas Straussians give priority to the modern political order, libertarians and classical liberals give priority to the modern economic order.

A host of conservative debates and areas of research arise from these contentions over the essence of Western civilization. Was modernity really achieved only in rejection of the West’s older heritage? Or is modernity a fruit of earlier Western traditions and institutions? (Or, more fundamentally, is modernity to be regarded simply as an unproblematic “achievement”?) Are modern Western institutions self-subsistent? Or do such institutions depend upon cultural prerequisites that may be undermined by modern life? If the West is identified exclusively with the modern and the cosmopolitan, is America in fact the only or the “most” Western nation? And if Socratic enlightenment, free markets, and modernity in general are truly universals, is the particular Western history that led to their achievement merely a husk that may be discarded once we have entered the stage of a truly universal civilization?

Such questions became urgent in the decade between the fall of Soviet communism in 1989–91 and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. No longer facing an Eastern Bloc, the contours and boundaries of the West were thrown into doubt. Indeed, many observers—and not a few conservatives among them—followed Francis Fukuyama in concluding that we had reached the “End of History,” with liberal democracy (the characteristically Western political regime, but one with putatively global application) everywhere triumphant, and rightly so. Under Fukuyama’s tutelage, we witnessed the return of a version of the older Whig narrative, now in a new, quasi-Marxist or quasi-Hegelian guise: where before it had been said that communism was the inevitable “wave of the future,” it was now held that there was something inevitable about the triumph of liberal democracy. The West’s triumph was the triumph of humanity itself, a universal triumph.

At the same time, the 1990s were the decade of American conservatism’s acute struggle with multiculturalism in the academy. Despite numerous conservative caveats and objections, the locus classicus of conservative arguments against multicultural relativism was Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind (1987), a best-seller with enormous influence. Bloom was a student of Leo Strauss, and the peculiar feature of his intervention in the academic wars over the “canon” of texts to be studied in the university was his stipulation that the Great Books of the West were to be preferred only on account of their philosophic universality. In other words, the only rational basis for allegiance to the West was the West’s own allegiance to universal, Socratic questioning. Anything less would be a species of mere ethnocentrism.

As globalization—the universalization of Western business practices and popular culture—gathered strength in the 1990s, the “facts on the ground” lent further credence to an understanding of the West as a universal civilization openly available to all. Hence America, as the “the first universal nation“ seemed to stand as the West’s (and the world’s) vanguard and model.

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, brought a jolting return to History. Suddenly, we were confronted anew by the most traditional enemy from the East: Islam—or at least elements from within Islam that were intent to resist the rise of a universal civilization built on Western foundations. Shortly after Fukuyama had published his work on the “end of history” (1992) Samuel Huntington had published an article (1993) and later a book, The Clash of Civilizations (1996) arguing that, after the Cold War, international conflict would no longer be nationalist (as had been the case in the nineteenth century), nor ideological (as had been the case in the twentieth), but would instead center around a “clash of civilizations.” That is, cultural identities and antagonisms would play a major role in relations among states. Presciently, he observed that Islam in particular has “bloody borders”—a greatly disproportionate number of the ongoing conflicts in the world involve Muslims. September 11 appeared to prove Huntington’s analysis more cogent than Fukuyama’s: there would be no escape from the burden of history, and ideas and institutions could not be discussed apart from culture and the historical process.

The situation remains unsettled intellectually, however. On the one hand, the attraction of a universal modern civilization equally available to all remains great—and so many conservatives, especially neoconservatives, are inclined to understand the emergent terrorist threat either as a species of totalitarian ideology (assimilating it to the experience of the twentieth century, as with the use of the term “Islamofascism,” to be defeated by force of arms) or else as a kind of historical backwardness (something “medieval”) that is susceptible to being “modernized” out of existence through the processes and practices of enlightenment, that is, through the application of “democracy.” In either view, the West’s history remains a universal history, confronting inevitable road bumps—albeit sometimes large ones—on the road to inevitable future triumph.

On the other hand, the confrontation with jihad (to say nothing of the spectacular recent rise of China) is beginning to force a reacquaintance with the particularities or non-universal elements of the West. Not least, we begin to appreciate more fully that Western ideals and institutions depend at least to some extent on cultural foundations that are the possession of historically Western peoples—and so we view with alarm the demographics of contemporary Europe, the cradle of the West, with a burgeoning Muslim minority amidst a dwindling native population. Hence the closing of the borders.

Even if the West is less universal than we have lately thought, so the argument goes, it is still good, still ours, and still in need of a defense. This explains the forbidding of the constructions of mosques and the closing of the frontiers (Hungary in particular which claims to be defending nothing less than European Christendom) to the hordes of Moslem refugees fleeing from the Syrian conflict and seeking refuge and a new life in the EU.

And yet there are some European intellectuals that have been exploring the idea of multiple modernities which would include religion as part of the ongoing dialogue in the public agora on the West’s identity. Jurgen Habermas is one of those. But for the moment let’s leave the concept of “multiple modernities” for another essay in the Ovi Symposium.

Note: This article has previously appeared in Ovi magazine.

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

Continue Reading
Comments

Europe

A New Wave of Euroscepticism in the Heart of Europe?

Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza

Published

on

As we are about to enter a new decade, the European Union seems to be facing one of its worst existential crises since its conception. Euroscepticism is not something new; ever since the efforts to achieve the European integration started in the 1950s political parties that made of anti-integration their main platform started to mushroom throughout the continent. the current pandemic, lockdown measures, an economic crisis that looms seem to be exacerbating divisive trends in Europe.

Most recently, the 2008 and 2009 financial crises that brought radicalism, populism, and fringe politics to the forefront of the political agenda again, especially in southern Europe which felt the worst effects of the economic downturn: Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Greece. six years later, in 2015, the migrant crisis further deepened the already existing fractures among member states, and particularly throughout Eastern Europe, the continent witnessed can you surge in populist narratives, however this was also the case in countries that had been traditionally immune to such rhetoric such as the Scandinavian countries, and  Sweden in particular.

There is a false sense of Swedish exceptionalism for welcoming refugees. it is true that Sweden has been a generous safe haven for migrants, and they have received more refugees than many other European countries. However, one cannot assume such policy truly reflects the sentiments of the population. soon after Sweden started welcoming migrants, political parties started to turn to an ultra-nationalist, anti-immigrant rhetoric blaming massive immigration for a possible collapse of their health, social and welfare systems.

Sweden is not an isolated case, populists have had considerable media exposure and have successfully started to alter the political agenda of the European Union in recent years. they cannot and should not be taken lightly. radical political parties do have realistic chances to become mainstream alternatives and attain power in many European countries such as  France, Italy, Greece, The Netherlands, Austria, Poland, Hungary, and the UK.

Populism is particularly appealing to those that feel they do not belong in a new ever-changing reality because of its reactive nature. populism reminds voters of glorious pastthat is long gone because of the actions of those currently in power. populism thrives on the division  of “us” vs “them”, and on the need to protect national institutions and inherent values that are being eroded and attacked.

While Euroscepticism trends started to subside ask the European economies started to grow and the migrant inflow started to stabilise , there was a widely spread false sentiment of stability and the assumption that Euroscepticism would wither away. Brexit and the domestic and international chaos it caused in the UK and in Europe reinforced this perception. soon after the failure in negotiations and the never-ending extensions of the process did translate into a drop in the demands for a membership referendum in most European countries. However, the current development may as well reverse that trend  

Populist leaders across the continent have already started to use the pandemic to legitimise many of their prior ideological stances: protectionism; anti- globalization; anti-immigration policies; closure of borders; nationalism and tougher law and order policies. Italy so country that could dictate where European politics will head to in coming months or years. Italy has been hit particularly hard in this pandemic, not only by the high human cost, but also by the dark economic prospects for the country. Italy will be stricken by the worst economic contractions in Europe and its debt  is expected to rise two over 150% of their GDP. Italy is therefore set for one of the longest recoveries in Europe. with all this into account, the idea that Italy could follow the UK in its anti-European mode  is something that should not be that lightly put away.

Italy has been suffering from a wave of European anti integration sentiment since the 2008 crisis, according to a survey by the Tecné Agency, 42% of Italians are in favour of withdrawal from the EU, by December last year, only 26% of them supported the idea. This percentage could increase if Italians are not happy with post-pandemic measures and could further enflame North and South existing tensions. the pandemic has struck pre-existing weaknesses and frailties and has played on a sense of abandonment. populists in Italy are not an exception amidst this pandemic: they are returning to their very familiar core book: they are portraying themselves as the only answer to protect the people.

Italians feel they were abandoned by the rest of the European Union to fend for themselves; even now when the European Union has decided on a massive asset-purchase scheme of Eurobonds or coronabonds, the Union is blind to the fact that economies among their member states will be affected differently. these has also reinforced the belief that this measure is contrary to the solidarity principle the union is based upon. Ideally, to prevent widespread feelings of inaction a lack of solidarity, Germany and France should possibly toy with the idea of a shared debt, especially when there are already apparent cases of serious insolvency from southern member states. this can also potentially limit the support for populism across the continent.

Italy in particular he’s a worrying case, unlike the UK with Brexit, Italy is a founding member of the European Union and if they were to hold a referendum on European Union membership with the same result as the 2016 one in the UK it would be catastrophic for the European Union’s credibility and legitimacy. this is a very realistic result as the post pandemic continues to impact on the continents social, economic, and political cohesion; and especially in countries, like Italy, which have been flirting on and off with populism, and they seem to be a crisis away from becoming the next Brexit or the next debt disaster in Europe.

Continue Reading

Europe

Kosovo between USA and EU

Published

on

The issue of Kosovo is yet again becoming one of the hottest on the international agenda. While the US administration is set on the early (before the presidential elections in November) signing of an agreement on normalizing relations through territorial exchanges,  the European Union leadership, under pressure from Germany, is pursuing their own agenda: a settlement of political crisis in the region and prevention of a new territorial carve-up in the Balkans. These differences can well result in a buildup of tension on both coasts of the Atlantic not only regarding the Balkan but also in relation to other burning international issues.

So far, the United States is somewhat outplaying the EU on this issue. The Trump administration, after securing solidarity with Kosovo’s President Hashim Taci in his confrontation with radical Prime Minister Albin Kurti, has de facto forced the latter to resign. It is the leader of the Self-Determination Radical Movement who is strongly opposed to an agreement with Belgrade and partition of Kosovo into Serbian and Albanian parts in exchange for the lifting of Serbia’s objections to Pristina’s membership in international organizations. Considering that Serbia’s position is backed by Russia as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, there are grounds to assume that Serbia’s refusal to counteract efforts by Kosovo diplomacy will mean Kosovo’s admission to the UN as an independent state – even in the absence of a legal acknowledgment of independence on the part of Belgrade and a number of EU members (Spain Greece, Cyprus, Rumania and  Slovakia).

Understandably, the EU leadership is categorically against such a prospect as undermining the unity of the organization and fraught with new changes of the Balkan borders. Brussels has been doing its utmost to consolidate Kosovo’s political landscape and at the same time isolate the chief “negotiator” with Belgrade – President Hashim Taci. The EU Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi said openly on May 7 that Kosovo needed a strong and stable government. Commenting on the situation following the vote of no confidence in the Albin Kurti Cabinet pronounced by the Kosovo Parliament on March 25, the Commissioner pointed out that ‘time is too valuable to be lost’: “If we do want to overcome the crisis, if we do mean to put Kosovo on the European track, we must do everything we can to come to an early solution in order to set up a sustainable government”.

Pristina should have no doubts which side Brussels is on in matters relative to Kosovo’s government and partition of Kosovo into Serbian and Albanian parts. To this end, the next day, on May 8th, spokesperson for Kosovo in European Parliament Viola von Cramon said that Germany is against changing the borders between Serbia and Kosovo. In her words, any carve-up of borders in Western Balkans requires public approval at the referendum. «A solution is not in the hands of the presidents of two countries since an agreement they sign is to be ratified by the parliaments of both countries and be acceptable for all», – she said in an interview on the Kosovo TV Channel RTK.

Simultaneously, she de facto acknowledged the presence in the EU of grave differences on a further development of relations between Belgrade and Pristina. When answering a question by a Kosovo journalist as to when we can expect liberalization of visa regime between Serbia and Kosovo, Viola von Cramon said that along with the current difficulties it looks like within the EU there is no political will to take such a decision.

Spain is among countries which refuse to acknowledge self-proclaimed independence of Kosovo and which speak against a carve-up of Balkan borders. Spanish media and public opinion have been following closely all the possible scenarios of the development of the situation in the Balkans through the prism of the country’s own problems that have to do with separatism on the part of Basques and Catalonians. However, they are fairly skeptical about EU efforts.

The Spanish El Mundo writes in this regard that «in the heat of coronavirus epidemic the heads of state and government of 27 EU members and six Balkan countries held a video conference. «It is not a summit on EU expansion», – Spain keeps repeating. For if it were different, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez would have never agreed to take part in a high-level event, which was also attended by Kosovo’s president. This summit is designed to bring the sides concerned closer and bridge the differences. Citing Brussels’ sources El Mundo admits that the EU will not be able to offer the Balkan partners the prospect of early membership in the alliance , despite reports about the start of preliminary talks with Albania and North Macedonia. «Practically everybody came to the conclusion that the European Union would not expand for at least another ten years. What happened in 2004, when 10 countries joined the EU at a time, will not take place again. No appetite, no desire. And in the light of disagreements with Hungary and Poland in recent years, nobody wants more experiments», – El Mundo reports.

Mass media in Turkey – a country that found itself locked out of the EU – are as frank in their comments on the crisis in the EU’s Balkan policy. «The decision to start talks with Albania and North Macedonia about a full membership in the European Union means that the EU’s influence in Western Balkans will increase. However, this does not mean that the region will fully fall under the influence of the EU. For nearly 20 years the Balkans have been a buffer zone between big powers. Western Balkan countries where the US influence is strong include Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia», – the Turkish Anadolu Ajansı news agency.

Meanwhile, it is essential to remember that a mere idea – even if hypothetical – of granting Kosovo and other Balkan territories membership in the EU comes instrumental in confrontation with the USA. The latter can use financial and military-technical support but cannot promise membership in regional blocs or multilateral trade agreements. «The battle for influence in Western Balkans is currently in full swing. Given the circumstances, it is possible to say that the EU, which chose to start talks with Albanian and North Macedonia on full membership in the European Union, outflanked its competitors and has hit the top», – the Turkish news agency reports: «Besides, the EU considers it an advantage that countries such as Greece, Slovenia and Croatia are members of the EU, while Serbia and Montenegro continue talks on membership in the EU».

Given the situation, Russia is set on close coordination of effort with Serbian leaders and support of negotiating process in a format that makes it possible to take into account the interests of Serbs and ensures the possibility of a compromise. Simultaneously, Moscow underscores the priority of the UN mechanisms over any other formats of negotiations (including under the patronage of the EU) and the importance of taking any decisions that could be reached between Belgrade and Pristina to the UN Security Council. 

From our partner International Affairs

Continue Reading

Europe

A Sad Anniversary: Ten Years of the Partnership for Modernization

Dr. Andrey KORTUNOV

Published

on

One approaching anniversary seems almost entirely lost in this spring’s torrent of different celebrations and commemorative dates. Ten years ago, the “Partnership for Modernization” Russia-EU Initiative was launched. Let us recap: at the 25th Russia-EU summit in Rostov-on-Don on May 31—June 1, 2010, Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev and President of the European Commission Jose Barroso announced that the Partnership marked a new stage and level in the cooperation between Moscow and Brussels.

Back then, the parties also outlined the priorities for their joint efforts. These included expanding opportunities for investment in the key sectors driving growth and innovations, bolstering and deepening bilateral trade and economic collaboration, and promoting small- and medium-sized enterprises. The parties noted they would prioritize the alignment of technical regulations and standards and enhanced protection of intellectual property rights. Transportation earned special mention.

Promoting a sustainable low-carbon economy and energy efficiency, and support for international talks on fighting climate change were also set as forward-looking areas for sectoral cooperation. The parties agreed to strengthen collaboration in innovation, research and development, as well as space exploration. They noted the need to ensure balanced development by addressing the regional and social consequences of economic restructuring. Additionally, the Partnership envisioned effective functioning of the judiciary and stepping up the fight against corruption, promoting people-to-people links and boosting dialogue with civil society in order to foster participation by individuals and businesses.

Russia and the European Union pinned great hopes on this initiative. On the one hand, both Moscow and Brussels clearly saw that, following the surge in the early 21st century, Russia–EU relations were stalling and becoming bogged down in endless bureaucratic approvals and they were slowed down by many disagreements within the EU itself. Russia–EU biannual summits were gradually losing substance and were becoming less and less productive. The prospects for achieving agreement on such fundamental issues as energy cooperation or a visa-free regime remained vague, while the timeline for signing a new Russia–EU framework agreement to replace the hopelessly outdated 1994 Partnership and Cooperation Agreement was moving further and further into the indeterminate future.

On the other hand, the overall political climate at the turn of the first and second decades of the 21st century favoured new initiatives in Russia-Europe relations and prompted the parties to set more ambitious goals. By 2010, the Russia–US “reset” mechanism had already been launched, Moscow’s relations with Central European states, including Poland, were gradually improving; the EU had emerged from another constitutional crisis, and the armed conflict in the South Caucasus was receding into the past. Economic ties between Russia and its western neighbours had passed through the ordeal of the global financial and economic crisis of 2008-2009 and demonstrated steady positive dynamics.

Accordingly, the parties viewed the Partnership for Modernization agreement as summing up a certain intermediate stage in Russia–EU relations and creating an additional positive impetus for endowing these relations with new dynamics. Both Moscow and Brussels had reasons to be optimistic about the future: the second decade of the 21st century promised momentous new achievements, new political and economic breakthroughs in both the West and the East of Europe.

Lost Illusions

Nowadays, the 10th anniversary of the Partnership for Modernization is unlikely to attract much attention either in Russia or in the European Union. European leaders will not arrive at a new Russia–EU summit. Experts, entrepreneurs and journalists will not flock to crowded international conferences and forums marking the anniversary. The participants in the Rostov-on-Don summit will not be looking back and reminiscing to the younger generation about the preparations, discussions, and signing of the historic Partnership announcement. The coronavirus pandemic that has stopped all air travel in a petrified Europe and imposed a strict moratorium on public events is not the only reason for this. The thing is, the Partnership is no longer worth mentioning in either the West or East.

Jose Barroso, Former President of the European Commission, has been working for the USA’s Goldman Sachs for a long time; his move to the private sector was scandalous and prompted a special investigation by the European Union. Dmitry Medvedev left the office of Russian President less than two years after the Partnership was launched and, since January 2020, following his appointment as Deputy Chair of Russia’s Security Council, he is no longer involved in matters of international economic cooperation. Today, neither of these men apparently sees the Partnership for Modernization as one of their principal political achievements. Quite possibly, many of those who worked in some way on preparing the Partnership today feel a little bit awkward: how naïve and gullible we were ten years ago if we could discuss such a document in earnest!

It is hard to believe today that, just ten years ago, such in-depth cooperation between Brussels and Moscow could have been discussed as a practical matter. It is equally hard to believe that, in November 2010, the President of Russia attended the Russia–EU summit in Lisbon and discussed the practical prospects for partnership relations between Moscow and NATO based on delineating areas of responsibility for maintaining global security.

History has amended the plans of the Rostov-on-Don summit’s participants as it saw fit. The second decade of the 21st century was a time of trial for both Russia and the EU. Both parties are emerging from this decade with a heavy burden of new and unforeseen problems; acutely exacerbated bilateral relations make this burden all the heavier. Neither the East nor the West of Europe is any longer suffused with the cheerful historical optimism of ten years ago.

Given the radically new circumstances, is it worth remembering the events of ten years ago? Apparently it is, at least to understand what went wrong, why great expectations gave way to bitter disappointments, why, instead of an upswing, everything that had been achieved collapsed. These recollections are necessary at least for us to be able to assess the prospect for Russia-EU interactions in the third decade of the 21st century realistically.

Some believe (especially in Europe, but there are also some proponents in Russia) that, as regards implementing the Partnership for Modernization, everything went well between Moscow and Brussels up until the events in Crimea and Donbass in the spring and summer of 2014. Had there been no 2014 crisis, we would have been reaping the rich harvest of a decade of a mutually advantageous partnership and would have been building tremendous plans for the future.

The tragic events of 2014 did, indeed, draw a bold line under a long stretch of Russia–EU relations, as well as nullifying the Partnership’s prospects. Yet it would be a mistake to reduce all the problems to a single, if extremely acute, crisis. Had everything been going well with the Partnership (and the plans envisioned a new framework agreement following hard on the heels of the Partnership), the 2014 crisis is unlikely to have taken place. The parties would have had enough common sense and specific economic stimuli not to cross the line that separated us from a rapid and irreversible exacerbation of relations. And, if the line was, indeed, irreversibly crossed (be it in January, March or July 2014), this would have meant that, by 2014, the parties already had no particular expectations concerning the Partnership for Modernization achieving its full fruition or some positive breakthroughs taking place in bilateral relations in general. In other words, the four years of joint work within the Partnership’s framework did not perform their role of a deterrent that, under other circumstances, the parties might have hoped for.

The Partnership’s Ambiguity: Contents and Mechanisms

Did the Partnership concept contain some initial flaws, drawbacks or ambiguities that prevented its fully-fledged implementation? Today, looking back at it with the benefit of decade-long hindsight, we have to answer that question positively. From the very outset, the concept had inbuilt contradictions inherent in both the very term “modernization” and in the priority mechanisms chosen for implementing the concept.

Let us begin with the contents. When coordinating the Partnership’s concept and when implementing it, Russia invariably stressed its technological and innovative dimension. President Dmitry Medvedev repeatedly emphasized that the concept applied primarily to deepening cooperation in high tech spheres. These have always been among the most difficult and sensitive for international cooperation in general and between Russia and the West in particular. Implementing the idea of Russia and the EU’s mutual “interpenetration” into each other’s high-tech economic sectors can be likened to the most difficult open-heart surgery, which could only be performed by a top-notch professional. Even with both parties having the political will for it, it was virtually inevitable that they would run into many difficulties in the way of the Russia-EU “modernization alliance’s” functioning.

The EU focused most on Russia’s social and political modernization, on bringing Russia’s institutions and practices up to the European level. The “Partnership for Modernization” was frequently seen as some analogue of the EU’s Eastern Partnership programme for Central European states, which mostly emphasized the humanitarian and legal aspects. Naturally, the EU would act as the mentor and Russia was assigned the role of obedient student. That also required Brussels to act with the utmost delicacy and caution (brain surgery?), which, sadly, it did not. Suffice it to recall here the activities of the EU­–Russia Civil Society Forum: Brussels officials assumed the unilateral right to determine who in Russia had the right to represent this civil society and who did not. Since Russia, unlike Central European states, was not aiming to join the European Union, such a pointedly and obtrusively paternalistic attitude on the part of the EU could not but annoy Moscow.

These contradictions in defining “modernization” probably were not irreconcilable and could have been settled somehow. Moscow could have acknowledged that technological modernization is closely linked to social modernization, while it is impossible to attract European investment and technologies without improving state governance, reforming the judiciary, protecting intellectual property and the rights of investors. Brussels could have remembered that the EU had always been rather flexible in applying the principle of “political conditionality” (the requirements that the EU’s partners respect democracy, human rights and the rule of law) and could have used the experience of the EU’s relations with, for instance, China. Brussels could have entertained a broader definition of “civil society” leaders in Russia, adding some politically neutral organizations working on environmental issues, education, socially-orientated business, etc. to politically-engaged NPOs. Unfortunately, both parties preferred to insist on their own interpretations of the Partnership’s priorities, thereby provoking a negative response from their counterpart.

The parties’ different approaches were manifested in their ideas concerning the forward-looking mechanisms for implementing the Partnership. Europe would have liked to emphasize “bottom-up” modernization, meaning modernization originating in the private sector, expert networks and civil society and moving toward major economic projects and sectoral cooperation. Russia, on the contrary, prioritized “top-down” modernization, that is, modernization originating with the government and ministries and moving toward individual enterprises. Moscow had always pinned its principal hopes on sectoral dialogue as the principal mechanism for implementing the Partnership. That is, the parties’ ideas concerning the cooperation drivers were quite different from the outset.

Let us add to the mix such a complicating factor as significant structural differences in the economies in the West and the East of Europe: Moscow had always pinned its principal expectations concerning the Partnership’s implementation on big business, while Brussels invariably emphasized the EU prioritization of development of cooperation at the small- and medium-sized business level. Consequently, Russia calling for the partners in Brussels to launch the development of specific large-scale infrastructure projects and create socially significant manufacturing enterprises did not prompt a particularly enthusiastic response on the part of EU officials.

On the other hand, the EU negotiators never missed an opportunity to say that Russia’s modernization could not be efficient and comprehensive if it did not extend to the so-called “strategic sectors” protected from foreign competition by their special legal and political status and not having real stimuli for technological re-equipment and introduction of up-to-date corporate governance. It is easy to imagine the response these statements must have prompted among influential top managers of Russia’s state corporations!

Under different circumstances, a mutually acceptable balance between these two approaches could probably have been found. Unfortunately, when it came to Russia, the traditional “agency-based” practice of structuring such projects was in the way: the efforts of government officials were rarely supplemented by the requisite mobilization of the expert community. The activities of the Institute of Contemporary Development (INSOR) were an exception as INSOR came to be an important venue for collaboration between officials and independent experts. As for the European Union, it was incapable of implementing the Partnership in the “top-down” format simply because the relevant agencies in Brussels were institutionally weak: the given departments of the European Commission, headed by their Directors General, could only loosely be seen as direct counterparts of Russian ministries and agencies headed by federal ministers.

It appears, however, that the fatal blow to implementation of the Partnership was delivered by something other than the differences outlined above. Such an initiative could have been implemented only if it had been constantly kept in sight by the parties’ top leadership unconditionally prioritizing it. In the meantime, over the years since the Partnership was signed, Russia was gradually moving away from the innovative development strategy, at least in the shape and form formulated during Dmitry Medvedev’s Presidency. Jose Barroso’s team, in turn, rapidly lost interest in the Partnership following Vladimir Putin’s return to the Kremlin and switched its attention to other projects on the eastern frontiers of the European Union.

The Virtue of Necessity

We cannot go back to the year 2010. Even if, by some miracle, the conflict within and around Ukraine were to be solved promptly, on mutually acceptable grounds, the contradictions inherent in the Partnership for Modernization would not go away. Additionally, ten years on, the concept has definitely become obsolete. Our world is now different, the relations between its major actors are structured differently, the dominant ideas of the main challenges and threats faced by individual states and by humanity as a whole have changed radically.

Yet it is too early to write off the Partnership for Modernization. Its relevance might increase precisely because the past ten years have proven to be such a trial for both Brussels and Moscow. Although the European Quarter in Brussels and the Kremlin in Moscow still sound triumphant fanfares, the off-key notes in that cheerful music can be heard with increasing clarity. Little is now left of the former triumphant sentiments of both the European and Russian elites and of the European and Russian societies. The European Union faced an unprecedented migration crisis, experienced a sharp upswing in the popularity right-wing populists and Euro-sceptics, went through a painful divorce from the UK and found itself on the receiving end of the USA’s previously unthinkable hostility.

Russia had to face a variety of economic sanctions, withstand the devaluation of its currency and a drop in the population’s real incomes, and acknowledge the essential loss of its energy superpower status. Both parties are among the countries and regions particularly affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Although, over the last ten years, both the European Union and Russia have demonstrated an impressive ability to weather shocks, it must be acknowledged today they have far fewer objective grounds than ten years ago for confidence in a sunny future. Recognizing one’s weakness and vulnerability and realizing one’s common interests with a partner—surely this is a combination that produces readiness to compromise?

Europe found itself squeezed between the US, which still dominates the world and looks on Europe with ever diminishing favour, and China, which is gradually gaining power. Naturally, expanding cooperation with Moscow will not resolve all of Europe’s problems, but it might turn out to be an instrument for buttressing the EU’s current standing in global politics and the global economy and, as such, it clearly should not be neglected.

Having lost a significant chunk of its natural resource rent, Russia is being forced to seek a new socio-economic development model, and it will have to do so under extremely unfavourable external circumstances. Where will it be looking for this model? Perhaps China, India or Singapore? Even given all their advantages, it is doubtful that Asian modernization models would suit the predominantly European society that Russia was in 2010, is in 2020, and will remain in 2030, irrespective of what the many proponents of “Eurasian identity” would like to convince us of.

Is this not an incentive to start working on Partnership for Modernization 2.0? Sceptics are likely to ask: what about the unresolved problems in the east of Ukraine? What about the continuing divergence between the Russian and European political development tracks? What about the unconditional priority both Brussels and Moscow accord their own domestic issues? These questions are reasonable and fair. Yet we will never be able to answer them if we remain unable at least to pencil in a general outline of the desired common future. An attractive image of a desired future should, among other things, become a powerful stimulus for overcoming the negative legacy of the past decade, for resolving the specific issues that stand in the way of a new rapprochement between Russia and the EU.

We would very much hope that the anniversary of the Partnership for Modernization will become not only a reason to mourn the failed hopes of the past decade but also an incentive to think about the opportunities offered by the next ten years.

From our partner RIAC

Continue Reading

Publications

Latest

Tech News1 hour ago

Strengthen Inclusion and Empower the World’s Invisible Billion

The World Bank announced today the launch of the second Mission Billion Challenge for innovative solutions to increase inclusion and...

EU Politics3 hours ago

Enabling Europe to lead the green and digital transition

The Commission released today its latest report on the EU’s Science, Research and Innovation Performance, through which it analyses how...

Newsdesk5 hours ago

World Bank: Belarus’ Economy Can Face a Severe Shock

As a small, open, commodity-exporting economy, Belarus is heavily exposed to shocks caused by deep contractions in its main trading...

Americas7 hours ago

What do Donald Trump and ultra-conservative Pakistani imams have in common?

Authors: James M. Dorsey and Tehmina Qureshi* US President Donald J. Trump and ultra-conservative Pakistani religious scholars may have more...

Newsdesk9 hours ago

More Unified Approach to Public Procurement Needed to Boost Kazakhstan’s Economic Recovery

Kazakhstan has made significant efforts over the past two decades to bring its public procurement system closer to international standards,...

Diplomacy11 hours ago

Beyond Twiplomacy: Diplomacy and the Digital Fast Forward

The practice of diplomacy in the virtual space is geared towards amplifying foreign policy drives and messages and forms a...

EU Politics12 hours ago

Japan-EU Leaders’ meeting

H.E. Mr. Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan, H.E. Mr. Charles Michel, President of the European Council, and H.E. Dr....

Trending