Economic downturn; recession of plans and initiatives; €-crisis; Brexit and irredentism in the UK, Spain, Belgium, Denmark and Italy; lasting instability in the Euro-Med theatre (debt crisis of the Europe’s south – countries scrutinized and ridiculed under the nickname PIGS, coupled with the failed states all over the MENA); terrorism; historic low with Russia; influx of predominantly Muslim refugees from Levant in unprecedented numbers and intensities since the WWII exoduses; consequential growth of far-right parties that are exploiting fears from otherness which are now coupled with already urging labor and social justice concerns, generational unemployment and socio-cultural anxieties… The very fundaments of Europe are shaking.
Strikingly, there is a very little public debate in Europe about it. What is even more worrying is the fact that any self-assessing questioning of Europe’s involvement and past policies in the Middle East, and Europe’s East is simply off-agenda. Immaculacy of Brussels and the Atlantic-Central Europe-led EU is unquestionable. Corresponding with realities or complying with a dogma?
One of the leading figures of European Renaissance that grossly inspired European renewal, Dante, puts Prophet Muhamed to the 8th circle of his famous Inferno. The only individuals bellow Muhamed were Judas, Brutus, and Satan. “Islam was seen as the negation of Christianity, as anti-Europe…and Muhammed as an Antichrist in alliance with the Devil…” as Rana Kabbani noted in her luminary piece Imperial Fictions.
However, both religions trace their origins back to Abraham. They both lived in harmony (or at least they cohabitated for centuries within the MENA proper, notably in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq). Why was than there no harmonious relationship between Christian Europe and the Middle East? Was Europe opting to repress the Muslims in order to artificially generate a homogenous European self?
This is a story of the past centuries – one may say. Still, absence of any self-reflection on the side of the EU towards its policy in the Middle East today, makes it worth to revisit some of the bleak chapters of European history, and the genesis of its pre-secular and secular thoughts.
Civitas Dei Brussels: Extra Euro-Atlanticum, nulla salus
Europe came to be known as ‘Christendom’ because its identity was imagined or invented as the Catholic in contradistinction to the Islamic Middle East and to the Eastern (true or Orthodox) Christianity. The Christianity, of course, originated in the Middle East not Europe. It was subsequently universalised and Europeanised by the Balkan-born Roman Emperor, who spent much of his life on Bosporus and hence was buried in Asia Minor – Constantin the Great. Surely, it was by legal design of this glorious Emperor that the city of Rome was (re)turned into an administrative periphery, politico-ideological outcast and geostrategic suburbia.
Therefore, the post Roman/Byzantine inauguration of ‘Christendom’ as a pure western culture necessitated a sustained intellectual acrobatics: Such an inversion (ideological and geopolitical periphery presenting itself as a centre) required both physical coercion and imposed narrative over the extensive space and time.
This a ’la card creation of Catholic Christendom or to say: Western Ummah, served two vital objectives: domestic and external. Both helped solidification of the feudal socio-economic and politico-military system, and based on that of a precolonial European collective identity. Domestically, it served for a coherent sense of selfhood (us vs. them paradigm): unity, oppression and obedience (extra ecclesiam nulla salus – no salvation outside the church, following the old Roman rational ‘no world beyond Limes line’, or the modern one: ‘no prosperity outside the EU’). Externally, here was the justification for military voyages and other forms of organized plunders, all coupled with a coercive societal identity.
A Catholic Renaissance Europe soon realized that, in order to effectively project itself – to physically and/or mentally colonise overseas territories – it needed either coercion (rarefying and assimilation), labour-camp detention (slavery) or final solution (physical extermination). These strategic dilemmas over the instruments to use influenced and dominated European debates of the time. It brought about the conception of the ‘noble savage’ – who could be assimilated, versus the ‘ignoble savage’ who was destined for either labour detention or final solution. That coerce-or-exterminate dilemma of ‘soul salvationists’ even culminated within the pre-Westphalian Christian Ummah. It was in the famous Valladolid controversy of 1550, by which Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda’s notion of the ignoble savage faced off against Bartolomé de Las Casa’s view of the noble savage.
In both cases – the claim was offered – the Amero/AfroAsian Natives deserve salvation as they have a ‘strong desire for it’, but the views differed on whether the Natives’ prone wishes exceeded their mental capacity to receive Christianity. Hence, the debates – which were the roots and origins of the later liberal theories as well as the early precursors of the subsequent regime change, humanitarian intervention and preemption doctrines – always presupposed the inferiority (and passivity) of the Natives. Frankly, this remains a constant behaviour in international relations: E.g. views on Libya differed, as they differ today on Syria. However, what is common to all views is; nobody consults the local population and considers what they would like for themselves.
Legitimizing the imperialism of imagination
In a course of subsequent centuries, the notion of final solution underwent through a sophistication, and was eventually replaced by the combination of cultural conversions/ submissions (induced submissiveness), politico-military obedience and socio-economic apartheid. A subtle apartheid (that is easy to deny, but hard to prove) is usually better than the brute genocide (which is traceable and easily quantifiable). At the peaks of imperialism a noble-ignoble savage dilemma was embodied in an implicit and explicit racism. Debate was focused on a question whether the civilizational inferiority can be remedied through the imperial ‘civilizing’ mission, with social Darwinists and ‘scientific’ racists being rather pessimistic, but more solutions’ instructive.
The so-called central dilemma of liberalism (Is it liberal to impose liberal values on illiberal societies) was of course only an innocently looking tip of the large iceberg, of the tireless othering. This ‘epistemology’ was further soft-embedded in the so-called Peter Pan theory with a romanticised image of the Other as more childishly careless and helpless, than intentionally cruel and barbaric; being rather alluring, promiscuous and exotic. Essentially, the East as an innocently enveloped child who would never grow up. This, of course, gave rise to various binary categorisations, the us-vs.-them/either-or listings in order to facilitate a decisive and long-lasting differentiation between the constructed West and the East.
The West as a constructed male vs. the East as a constructed female. A ‘mind-oriented’ west vs. a ‘body-oriented’ east. Phallusoid peninsulas and islands of (Atlantic-Scandinavian) Europe vs. womb-like continental landmass of Afro-Asia; Erective and explosive vs. reflective and implosive; an Omnipresent (ever seafaring and trading) extroverted male vs. humble, handcrafting, waiting female. Masculin, phallusoid, progressively erected temporal linearity vs. periodic menstruation leakages in regressive cycles of stagnation. Clearly, anything beyond that was deemed inconsequential.
Physical, material, ideological, active, polarizing, determined vs. metaphysical, spiritual, esoteric, atmospheric, inclusive, holistic. No wonder that all operationalized ideologies originated solely in Europe. What else, since no one ever, but Asians revealed any significant religion to the world.
Gradually, the imperial civilizing mission (Expansion is a path to Security) got a new form. It became a moral duty – R2P (Responsibility to Protect), as much as the parental duty is to raise their infant child. The handsome, masculine and strong Western Prince Charming has one duty – to emancipate his Eastern Sleeping Beauty. Giving a ‘kiss’ meant projecting the western physical military presence, Christianity and commerce. Who was/is the Eastern Sleeping Beauty?
Rudyard Kipling’s famous 1899 poem, The White’s Man Burden offers some answers while describing the Eastern peoples as ‘half-devil and half-child’. “The blame of those ye better / The hate of those ye guard” – Kipling warns and instructs, he describes and invites. In his classic novel of 1847, Tancred, much celebrated British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli claims “A Saxon race, protected by an insular position, has stamped its diligent and methodic character of the century. And when a superior race, with a superior idea to Work and Order, advances, its state will be progressive…All is race!” Quite an intellectual acrobatics for Disraeli himself, who was neither Saxonic nor Christian.
Over the period, western Catholic missionaries constituted one of the most powerful and influential lobbying voices for this civilizing mission. It was of course weaponisation of religion, a notorious misuse for ideological purposes. Same like today, fanatics then and there, were identified and further radicalised, to say ’inspired’. Eventually, they usually got hired as the AGITPROP/Ideological police by the predatory elites, hid behind the Feudal European states. Naturally, the justification was looked upon in any Biblical narrative. E.g. the re-invoking the Genesis story of Noah’s three sons, and interpreting it as the ‘duty’ of Japheth (Europe) to absorb Shem (the Asians) and enslave and colonise Ham or Canaan (the Black Africa and Indianos of America). Amazingly, according to Genesis ch.9, verse 27: “God shall enlarge Japheth and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem, and Canaan shall be his servant”.
The later Protestant revival infused the next wave of Christian missionaries to force this narrative into the matrix of colonisation as ‘wilful’ implants onto the minds and bodies of overseas peoples. Therefore, James Lorrimer and other architects of that-time political and international legal order divided the world in three segments: civilized White, barbarous Yellow and savage Black. Yellows were ‘fallen people’, a terra infantilis to civilize (what will later evolve into indirect rule, with a social apartheid in place), the area occupied by the Blacks, Redbones and Aborigine was a ‘borderless space’, terra nullius just to conquer and settle, since the indigenous have no ‘birthright’ to it (meaning: physical colonisation and direct rule, final solution and genocide).
Unfinished business of ‘salvation’ came back to Europe of 20th century. Hitler’s interpretation of it was: civilized White (Arian) – Central Europe; Yellows (to be put under indirect rule, with ‘only’ social apartheid in place) Atlantic and Scandinavian Europe; Blacks (predestined for a physical colonisation of superior race upon a decisive final solution and genocide) all Slavic states of Eastern and Russophonic Europe.
Indeed, ever since the 18th century on, European notion that ‘civilization’ was the monopoly of the West, clearly implied that there is no civilization – and therefore, salvation – outside the western model. Famous historian Toynbee calls it “a secularized version of the primitive Western Christian proposition Nemini salus …nisi in Ecclesia.” See for yourself how much current debates, sparked by the ongoing refugee crisis, follow the above patters.
Triangular economy of othering
There is a consensus within the scientific community that the critical factor in redefining Europe as the advanced West was the expansion of its strategic depth westward to the America upon 1492. This enabled the so-called triangular transcontinental trade, brutally imposed by Europeans: Enslaved Africans shipped to America in exchange for gold and silver from there to Europe, in order to cover European deficits in importing the cutting-edge technologies, manufactured products, other goods and spices from a that-time superior Asia and the Middle East.
The Afro-America yields were so colossal for Atlantic Europe that many scholars assume the so–called Industrial revolution rather as an evolutionary anomaly than a natural process of development, which was primarily pivoting in Asia. Such a rapid shift from a peripheral status to an ‘advanced civilization’ of course necessitated a complete reconstruction of western identity. This acrobatics – in return – also enhanced the split between Eastern/Russophone, closer to and therefore more objective towards the Afroasian realities, and Western (Atlantic/Scandinavian/ Central) Europe, more exclusive, self-centred and ignorant sphere.
While the Atlantic flank progressively developed its commercial and naval power as to economically and demographically project itself beyond the continent, the landlocked Eastern Europe was lagging behind. It stuck in feudalism, and involuntarily constituted a cordon sanitaire to Islam and the Russo-oriental East. Gradually, past the 15th century the idea of ‘Western Europe’ begun to crystallise as the Ottoman Turks and the Eastern Europeans were imagined and described as barbarians. During the 17th and 18th century, Atlantic Europe portrayed itself as the prosperous West that borders ‘pagan/barbarian’ neighbours to its near east, and the ‘savage’ neighbours to its south and west, and Far East. Consequently, we cannot deny a role that the fabricated history as well as the ‘scientific’ racism and its theories played in a formation and preservation of European identity.
The Enlightenment was a definite moment in the reinvention of European identity. The quest came along with the fundamental question who are we, and what is our place in the world? Answering that led on to the systematisation, classification and – frankly – to invention of the world. From the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, a kind of an intellectual apartheid regime was forming. The rise of the West was portrayed as a pure virgin birth as John M. Hobson fairly concluded. Europeans delineated themselves as the (only or the most) progressive subject of the world history in past, presence and future, while the Eastern peoples (e.g. Asian as ‘the people without history’) were seen as inert, passive and corrosive. While the Solar system ‘became’ heliocentric, the sake and fate of our planet turned plain – ‘Europocentric’. The world is flat mantra set the stage. (following the geostrategic dictatum: the expansion is a path to security.
“The idea of Europe found its most enduring expression in the confrontation with the Orient in the age of imperialism. It was in the encounter with other civilizations that the identity of Europe was shaped. Europe did not derive its identity from itself but from the formation of a set of global contrasts. In the discourse that sustained this dichotomy of Self and Other, Europe and the Orient became opposite poles in a system of civilizational values which were defined by Europe.” – notes Delantry.
Even the English word to determine, position, adapt, adjust, align, identify, conform, direct, steer, navigate or command has an oriental connotation. To find and locate itself opposite to Orient, means to orient oneself.
Feudal Europe had identified itself negatively against Levant and Islam. Clearly, it was an identity heavily resting on insecurity. An external manifestation of inner insecurity is always aggressive assertiveness.
Is this still alive or even operative? How it correlates today?
Europe repeatedly missed to answer to the East and Middle East through a dialogue (instruments) and consensus (institutions) although having both (CoE, OSCE, EU’s ENP, Barcelona Process, etc.). For the last 25 years, it primarily responded to the MENA militarily (or/and with sanctions, which is a socio-economic warfare) – via ‘Coalitions of the Willing’. However, for a rapidly economically and demographically contracting Europe, the confrontation does not pay off anymore. While practically still yesterday (by the end of WWII), four of the five largest economies were situated in Europe, today only one is not in Asia. None is in Europe. (Likewise, while the US economy contributed with 54% of the world output in 1945, today it hardly has 1/3 of that share.)
Simply, the Old Continent is not a wealthy club anymore. It is a place with a memory of its wealthy past. The EU has to learn how to deescalate and compromise. It is in its best interest, for the sake of its only viable future. Therefore, it is a high time for the Brussels-headquartered Europe to evolve in its views and actings.
Let us start by answering the question: Is the so-called Russian expansionism or MENA ‘Islamofascism’ spontaneous or provoked, is it nascent or only a mirror image of something striking in front of it? And after all, why the indigenous Europe’s Muslims (those of the Balkans) and their twins, indigenous Christians of MENA (those of Levant) are now two identically slim shadows on a bulletproof wall.
For centuries, it follows the same matrix: doctrinated/induced inferiority, denouncing, attack, marginalization, passivation, plunder, indirect rule, remote control presence. Or, reduced to a binary code formula: victimisation-criminalisation. Namely: humanitarian intervention.
Small surprise that the 43rd US President (un)famously claimed: ‘you are either with us or against us’… His father, the 41st US President, strategized the Cold War and summarised its epilogue effectively: ‘We win, they lose’.
To this end: Inventive, proactive, scientific, rational, disciplined, sell-controlled/self-constraining, sane, sensible, practical, ‘mind-oriented’, independent, and most of all paternal West. The East, of course, was on the opposite side and inferior: imitative, passive, superstitious, lazy, irrational, spontaneous, insane, emotional, exotic, body-oriented, dependent, and above all, child-like. Tall, matured ‘masculinity’ vs. immature and physically underdeveloped ‘femininity’. The masculine phallus of military, industry, technology, shipping and trade that is welcomed, if not heartedly invited, to tap and drill the womb-like dwell of resources, while at the same time seeding the ideological semen of ‘civilization’.
Most of the so-called International/Cross-continental Trade Pacts are closer to the capitulation agreements than to any fair, balanced and mutually beneficial commercial accords. What a popular language of today calls barriers to trade are in fact the socio-economic sovereign rights and other checks-and-balances national well-being instruments.
In order to illustrate a magnitude, let’s note a following data: Starting from an early 16th century for consecutive 300 years, 85% of the world’s silver production and 70% of the world’s gold output came from the Americas. Further on, during the 17th, 18th and 19th century the role of Black slavery, slave trading, American Black slave-driven production centres and Negro markets, all significantly contributed to Atlantic Europe’s agricultural and industrial ‘breakthrough’ – as we are celebrating it today. Even the US Founding Fathers were slaveholders (5 of the 7 principal ones: Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and George Washington).
The moment of ‘liberal truth’ always comes from Atlantic. Thus, Ana Palacio who served both sides of Atlantic (as the former Spanish Foreign Ministers and the former Senior Vice President of the Washington-based WB) – among many others – recently warned the Western Ummah: “After years of handwringing over Obama’s strategic “pivot” to Asia, even as Russia was stirring up trouble in Ukraine, Europe is once again a strategic focus for the US. But the deeper message is far less encouraging. The US is acting because its European partners have not. This divergence is troubling. American engagement is necessary to provide momentum, but it is Europe’s weight that has served as the critical mass required to move the world’s liberal order in a positive direction. From the perspective of the European Union, the latest US security bailout raises the possibility that after more than two decades of growing prominence, Europe will lose its agenda-setting power.” (text underlined, by A.B.)
Iceland’s Historic(al) Elections
The morning of September, 26 was a good one for Lenya Run Karim of the Pirate Party. Once the preliminary results were announced, things were clear: the 21-year-old law student of the University of Iceland, originating from a Kurdish immigrant family, had become the youngest MP in the country’s history.
In historical significance, however, this event was second to another. Iceland, the world champion in terms of gender equality, became the first country in Europe to have more women MPs than men, 33 versus 30. The news immediately made world headlines: only five countries in the world have achieved such impressive results. Remarkably, all are non-European: Rwanda, Nicaragua and Cuba have a majority of women in parliament, while Mexico and the UAE have an equal number of male and female MPs.
Nine hours later, news agencies around the world had to edit their headlines. The recount in the Northwest constituency affected the outcome across the country to delay the ‘triumph for women’ for another four years.
Small numbers, big changes
The Icelandic electoral system is designed so that 54 out of the 63 seats in the Althingi, the national parliament, are primary or constituency seats, while another nine are equalization seats. Only parties passing the 5 per cent threshold are allowed to distribute equalisation seats that go to the candidates who failed to win constituency mandates and received the most votes in their constituency. However, the number of equalisation mandates in each of the 6 constituencies is legislated. In theory, this could lead to a situation in which the leading party candidate in one constituency may simply lack an equalisation mandate, so the leading candidate of the same party—but in another constituency—receives it.
This is what happened this year. Because of a difference of only ten votes between the Reform Party and the Pirate Party, both vying for the only equalisation mandate in the Northwest, the constituency’s electoral commission announced a recount on its own initiative. There were also questions concerning the counting procedure as such: the ballots were not sealed but simply locked in a Borgarnes hotel room. The updated results hardly affected the distribution of seats between the parties, bringing in five new MPs, none of whom were women, with the 21-year-old Lenya Run Karim replaced by her 52-year-old party colleague.
In the afternoon of September, 27, at the request of the Left-Green Movement, supported by the Independence Party, the Pirates and the Reform Party, the commission in the South announced a recount of their own—the difference between the Left-Greens and the Centrists was only seven votes. There was no ‘domino effect’, as in the case of the Northwest, as the five-hour recount showed the same result. Recounts in other districts are unlikely, nor is it likely that Althingi—vested with the power to declare the elections valid—would invalidate the results in the Northwest. Nevertheless, the ‘replaced’ candidates have already announced their intention to appeal against the results, citing violations of ballot storage procedures. Under the Icelandic law, this is quite enough to invalidate the results and call a re-election in the Northwest, as the Supreme Court of Iceland invalidated the Constitutional Council elections due to a breach of procedure 10 years ago. Be that as it may, the current score remains 33:30, in favor of men.
Progressives’ progress and threshold for socialists
On the whole, there were no surprises: the provisional allocation of mandates resembles, if with minor changes, the opinion polls on the eve of the election.
The ruling three-party coalition has rejuvenated its position, winning 37 out of the 63 Althingi seats. The centrist Progressive Party saw a real electoral triumph, improving its 2017 result by five seats. Prime-minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir’s Left-Green Movement, albeit with a slight loss, won eight seats, surpassing all pre-election expectations. Although the centre-right Independence Party outperformed everyone again to win almost a quarter of all votes, 16 seats are one of the worst results of the Icelandic ‘Grand Old Party’ ever.
The results of the Social-Democrats, almost 10% versus 12.1% in 2017, and of the Pirates, 8.6% versus 9.2%, have deteriorated. Support for the Centre Party of Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, former prime-minister and victim of the Panama Papers, has halved from 10.9% to 5.4%. The centrists have seen a steady decline in recent years, largely due to a sexist scandal involving party MPs. The populist People’s Party and the pro-European Reform Party have seen gains of 8.8% and 8.3%, as compared to 6.9% and 6.7% in the previous elections.
Of the leading Icelandic parties, only the Socialist Party failed to pass the 5 per cent threshold: despite a rating above 7% in August, the Socialists received only 4.1% of the vote.
Coronavirus, climate & economy
Healthcare and the fight against COVID-19 was, expectedly, on top of the agenda of the elections: 72% of voters ranked it as the defining issue, according to a Fréttablaðið poll. Thanks to swift and stringent measures, the Icelandic government brought the coronavirus under control from day one, and the country has enjoyed one of the lowest infection rates in the world for most of the time. At the same time, the pandemic exposed a number of problems in the national healthcare system: staff shortages, low salaries and long waiting lists for emergency surgery.
Climate change, which Icelanders are already experiencing, was an equally important topic. This summer, the temperature has not dropped below 20°C for 59 days, an anomaly for a North-Atlantic island. However, Icelanders’ concerns never converted into increased support for the four left-leaning parties advocating greater reductions in CO2 emission than the country has committed to under the Paris Agreement: their combined result fell by 0.5%.
The economy and employment were also among the main issues in this election. The pandemic has severely damaged the island nation’s economy, which is heavily tourism-reliant—perhaps, unsurprisingly, many Icelanders are in favor of reviving the tourism sector as well as diversifying the economy further.
The EU membership, by far a ‘traditional’ issue in Icelandic politics, is unlikely to be featured on the agenda of the newly-elected parliament as the combined result of the Eurosceptics, despite a loss of 4%, still exceeds half of the overall votes. The new Althingi will probably face the issue of constitutional reform once again, which is only becoming more topical in the light of the pandemic and the equalization mandates story.
New (old) government?
The parties are to negotiate coalition formation. The most likely scenario now is that the ruling coalition of the Independence Party, the Left-Greens and the Progressives continues. It has been the most ideologically diverse and the first three-party coalition in Iceland’s history to last a full term. A successful fight against the pandemic has only strengthened its positions and helped it secure additional votes. Independence Party leader and finance minister Bjarni Benediktsson has earlier said he would be prepared to keep the ruling coalition if it holds the majority. President Guðni Jóhannesson announced immediately after the elections that he would confirm the mandate of the ruling coalition to form a new government if the three parties could strike a deal.
Other developments are possible but unlikely. Should the Left-Greens decide to leave the coalition, they could be replaced by the Reform Party or the People’s Party, while any coalition without the Independence Party can only be a four-party or larger coalition.
Who will become the new prime-minister still remains to be seen—but if the ruling coalition remains in place, the current prime-minister and leader of the Left-Greens, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, stands a good chance of keeping her post: she is still the most popular politician in Iceland with a 40 per cent approval rate.
The 2021 Althingi election, with one of the lowest turnouts in history at 80.1%, has not produced a clear winner. The election results reflect a Europe-wide trend in which traditional “major” parties are losing support. The electorate is fragmenting and their votes are pulled by smaller new parties. The coronavirus pandemic has only reinforced this trend.
The 2021 campaign did not foreshadow a sensation. Although Iceland has not become the first European country with a women’s majority in parliament, these elections will certainly go down in history as a test of Icelanders’ trust to their own democracy.
From our partner RIAC
EU-Balkan Summit: No Set Timeframe for Western Balkans Accession
On October 6, Slovenia hosted a summit between the EU and the Western Balkans states. The EU-27 met with their counterparts (Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Kosovo) in the sumptuous Renaissance setting of Brdo Castle, 30 kilometers north of the capital, Ljubljana. Despite calls from a minority of heads of state and government, there were no sign of a breakthrough on the sensitive issue of enlargement. The accession of these countries to the European Union is still not unanimous among the 27 EU member states.
During her final tour of the Balkans three weeks ago, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that the peninsula’s integration was of “geostrategic” importance. On the eve of the summit, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz backed Slovenia’s goal of integrating this zone’s countries into the EU by 2030.
However, the unanimity required to begin the hard negotiations is still a long way off, even for the most advanced countries in the accession process, Albania and North Macedonia. Bulgaria, which is already a member of the EU, is opposing North Macedonia’s admission due to linguistic and cultural differences. Since Yugoslavia’s demise, Sofia has rejected the concept of Macedonian language, insisting that it is a Bulgarian dialect, and has condemned the artificial construction of a distinct national identity.
Other countries’ reluctance to join quickly is of a different nature. France and the Netherlands believe that previous enlargements (Bulgaria and Romania in 2007) have resulted in changes that must first be digested before the next round of enlargement. The EU-27 also demand that all necessary prior guarantees be provided regarding the independence of the judiciary and the fight against corruption in these countries. Despite the fact that press freedom is a requirement for membership, the NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urged the EU to make “support for investigative and professional journalism” a key issue at the summit.”
While the EU-27 have not met since June, the topic of Western Balkans integration is competing with other top priorities in the run-up to France’s presidency of the EU in the first half of 2022. On the eve of the summit, a working dinner will be held, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, called for “a strategic discussion on the role of the Union on the international scene” in his letter of invitation to the EU-Balkans Summit, citing “recent developments in Afghanistan,” the announcement of the AUKUS pact between the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom, which has enraged Paris.
The Western Balkans remain the focal point of an international game of influence in which the Europeans seek to maintain their dominance. As a result, the importance of reaffirming a “European perspective” at the summit was not an overstatement. Faced with the more frequent incursion of China, Russia, and Turkey in that European region, the EU has pledged a 30 billion euro Economic and Investment Plan for 2021-2027, as well as increased cooperation, particularly to deal with the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Opening the borders, however, is out of the question. In the absence of progress on this issue, Albania, North Macedonia, and Serbia have decided to establish their own zone of free movement (The Balkans are Open”) beginning January 1, 2023. “We are starting today to do in the region what we will do tomorrow in the EU,” said Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama when the agreement was signed last July.
This initiative, launched in 2019 under the name “Mini-Schengen” and based on a 1990s idea, does not have the support of the entire peninsular region, which remains deeply divided over this project. While Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro are not refusing to be a part of it and are open to discussions, the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti, who took office in 2020, for his part accuses Serbia of relying on this project to recreate “a fourth Yugoslavia”
Tensions between Balkan countries continue to be an impediment to European integration. The issue of movement between Kosovo and Serbia has been a source of concern since the end of September. Two weeks of escalation followed Kosovo’s decision to prohibit cars with Serbian license plates from entering its territory, in response to Serbia’s long-standing prohibition on allowing vehicles to pass in the opposite direction.
In response to the mobilization of Kosovar police to block the road, Serbs in Kosovo blocked roads to their towns and villages, and Serbia deployed tanks and the air force near the border. On Sunday, October 3, the conflict seemed to be over, and the roads were reopened. However, the tone had been set three days before the EU-Balkans summit.
German Election: Ramifications for the US Foreign Policy
In the recent German election, foreign policy was scarcely an issue. But Germany is an important element in the US foreign policy. There is a number of cases where Germany and the US can cooperate, but all of these dynamics are going to change very soon.
The Germans’ strategic culture makes it hard to be aligned perfectly with the US and disagreements can easily damage the relations. After the tension between the two countries over the Iraq war, in 2003, Henry Kissinger said that he could not imagine the relations between Germany and the US could be aggravated so quickly, so easily, which might end up being the “permanent temptation of German politics”. For a long time, the US used to provide security for Germany during the Cold War and beyond, so, several generations are used to take peace for granted. But recently, there is a growing demand on them to carry more burden, not just for their own security, but for international peace and stability. This demand was not well-received in Berlin.
Then, the environment around Germany changed and new threats loomed up in front of them. The great powers’ competition became the main theme in international relations. Still, Germany was not and is not ready for shouldering more responsibility. Politicians know this very well. Ursula von der Leyen, who was German defense minister, asked terms like “nuclear weapons” and “deterrence” be removed from her speeches.
Although on paper, all major parties appreciate the importance of Germany’s relations with the US, the Greens and SPD ask for a reset in the relations. The Greens insist on the European way in transatlantic relations and SPD seeks more multilateralism. Therefore, alignment may be harder to maintain in the future. However, If the tensions between the US and China heat up to melting degrees, then external pressure can overrule the internal pressure and Germany may accede to its transatlantic partners, just like when Helmut Schmid let NATO install medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe after the Soviet Union attacked Afghanistan and the Cold War heated up.
According to the election results, now three coalitions are possible: grand coalition with CDU/CSU and SPD, traffic lights coalition with SPD, FDP, and Greens, Jamaica coalition with CDU/CSU, FDP, and Greens. Jamaica coalition will more likely form the most favorable government for the US because it has both CDU and FDP, and traffic lights will be the least favorite as it has SPD. The grand coalition can maintain the status quo at best, because contrary to the current government, SPD will dominate CDU.
To understand nuances, we need to go over security issues to see how these coalitions will react to them. As far as Russia is concerned, none of them will recognize the annexation of Crimea and they all support related sanctions. However, if tensions heat up, any coalition government with SPD will be less likely assertive. On the other hand, as the Greens stress the importance of European values like democracy and human rights, they tend to be more assertive if the US formulates its foreign policy by these common values and describe US-China rivalry as a clash between democracy and authoritarianism. Moreover, the Greens disapprove of the Nordstream project, of course not for its geopolitics. FDP has also sided against it for a different reason. So, the US must follow closely the negotiations which have already started between anti-Russian smaller parties versus major parties.
For relations with China, pro-business FDP is less assertive. They are seeking for developing EU-China relations and deepening economic ties and civil society relations. While CDU/CSU and Greens see China as a competitor, partner, and systemic rival, SPD and FDP have still hopes that they can bring change through the exchange. Thus, the US might have bigger problems with the traffic lights coalition than the Jamaica coalition in this regard.
As for NATO and its 2 percent of GDP, the division is wider. CDU/CSU and FDP are the only parties who support it. So, in the next government, it might be harder to persuade them to pay more. Finally, for nuclear participation, the situation is the same. CDU/CSU is the only party that argues for it. This makes it an alarming situation because the next government has to decide on replacing Germany’s tornados until 2024, otherwise Germany will drop out of the NATO nuclear participation.
The below table gives a brief review of these three coalitions. 1 indicates the lowest level of favoritism and 3 indicates the highest level of favoritism. As it shows, the most anti-Russia coalition is Jamaica, while the most anti-China coalition is Trafic light. Meanwhile, Grand Coalition is the most pro-NATO coalition. If the US adopts a more normative foreign policy against China and Russia, then the Greens and FDP will be more assertive in their anti-Russian and anti-Chinese policies and Germany will align more firmly with the US if traffic light or Jamaica coalition rise to power.
|Issues Coalitions||Trafic Light||Grand Coalition||Jamaica|
1 indicates the lowest level of favoritism. 3 indicates the highest level of favoritism.
In conclusion, this election should not make Americans any happier. The US has already been frustrated with the current government led by Angela Merkel who gave Germany’s trade with China the first priority, and now that the left-wing will have more say in any imaginable coalition in the future, the Americans should become less pleased. But, still, there are hopes that Germany can be a partner for the US in great power competition if the US could articulate its foreign policy with common values, like democracy and human rights. More normative foreign policy can make a reliable partner out of Germany. Foreign policy rarely became a topic in this election, but observers should expect many ramifications for it.
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