In an alternative universe, what if Yugoslavia still existed? NATO’s expansion, the Cold War still being waged, the so-called democratic western nations destroying freedoms in the name of democracy, we’re already living World War III.
At this crucial juncture in history, it’s absolutely imperative that we examine what has transpired the last 25 years. Yugoslavia and western intervention there, is perhaps the best place to begin. This article calls to question the peace that might have been. More importantly, it calls to question whether or not peace was ever a democratic goal.
Can you imagine Europe today with Yugoslavia as a key player among nations? I can. Yugoslavia was in fact, one of the greatest cultural and human experiments in history. Formed in the crucible that was the conflict in between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire, Yugoslavia melded together people’s of both cultures, and in ways not seen since the time of Alexander the Great’s assimilation of peoples after immense conquest. The experiment, if I may call it that, lasted a little over half a century. The ideal was, to form a single state for all southern Slavic peoples. While Yugoslavia’s creation was partly a geo-strategic move on the part of Britain and France, in order to restrain or block Germany, the underlying idealism was sound and just. The provisions of the so-called “Corfu Declaration” called for what amounted to a constitutional monarchy not unlike England’s. Rights and suffrage, and core principles of something known as the Illyrian movement, were promising aspects of early Yugoslavia. Even though King Alexander would eventually suspend the constitution and elections, the melding of ethnic groups and cultures still showed promise. War, political machinations, internal and external pressures preyed heavily always on this fledgling world power. As has been the case in many such experiments, ultimately authoritarian rule became the necessity, even desirable.
To end the history lesson, when the national hero turned Dictator and world celebrity, Josip Tito was firmly in control, Yugoslavia played on the world stage. Then when his power waned, opposing forces found their foothold. No scholars or politicians speak of it today, but Tito’s part in establishing the Non-Aligned Movement of nation states was magnanimous and extremely significant, especially for the people who now live in Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, and the other former Yugoslav regions. I’ll get into this further along, but for now it seems important to outline this Non-Aligned Movement’s ideals.
The NAM’s foundations were built in Belgrade in 1961 by the initial ideas of Tito’s Yugoslavia; India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru; Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno; Egypt’s second president, Gamal Abdel Nasser; and Ghana’s first president Kwame Nkrumah. To be concise here, maybe reflecting one of NAM’s greatest proponents, Cuba’s Fidel Castro. In a speech given during the Havana Declaration of 1979, Castro laid out the real purpose behind NAM, saying the movement should strive for:
“The national independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and security of non-aligned countries” in their “struggle against imperialism, colonialism, neo-colonialism, racism, and all forms of foreign aggression, occupation, domination, interference or hegemony as well as against great power and bloc politics”
So essentially, the NAM was to be an independent movement of nations in between the great powers, with the idea of negating the Cold War was in novel and interesting one. Of course the major powers engaged in this new political and idealistic warfare had at their core strategy, the inclusion of every one of these fledgling independents. As we see today, the battle goes on to fragment, divide and render powerless, countries and peoples everywhere on the globe. This can be seen most easily in the carving up of the former Yugoslavia, and in the fact the resulting states have shown no inclination to be part of NAM now. Instead, the EU and NATO have been the gravitational pull that moves Croatia and the others. We see the prevalence of “Cold War” strategy in the fact Belarus and Azerbaijan are the only two members of the Movement in Europe, Azerbaijan and Fiji being the most recent entrants, having joined back in 2011. However, the 2012 NAM Summit saw higher attendance than any previous year, a bit of a sign of our crisis time now, I expect. With a declared purpose of “world peace”, and fundamental rights and integrity as its dogma, NAM was and is a valid theoretical mediating framework. But let me return to the fantasy case for Yugoslavia now.
Looking at the breakup of Yugoslavia in retrospect, framing what is Washington geo-strategy everywhere takes solid form. The Clinton administration’s actions at that time have been parlayed and propagandized with the same Orwellian “doublethink” the public is mystified with today. Reading Washington think tank propaganda like that of the Brookings Institute reveals this. In “Decision to Intervene: How the War in Bosnia Ended” from 1998, author Ivo H. Daalder begins:
“While many have written eloquently and passionately to explain Washington’s—and the West’s—failure to stop the ethnic cleansing, the concentration camps, and the massacres of hundreds of thousands of civilians, few have examined why, in the summer of 1995, the United States finally did take on a leadership role to end the war in Bosnia.”
The truth is a much simpler reality. No one needed a think tank to discover why President Bill Clinton hesitated to intercede in Bosnia. Clinton was in fact, continuing the policies of his predecessor, George Bush the senior, to destabilize the Yugoslavian socialist success. We know now that US covertly trained insurgents played a vital role in fragmenting the region via an organization known as the Atlantic Brigade, which fought in the Kosovo war at the side of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), numbering some 400 armed fighters (Also see Cristian Science Monitor of 1999). There’s not space within this report to reveal the subterfuge and death dealing that came about because of US proxy wars in the former Yugoslavia. I will direct the reader to an expert.
David Hackworth is gone now, he succumbed to cancer a few years back. The legacy of “soldiers against war” goes on, only with different proponents like those at Veterans Today and elsewhere. As for Bill Clinton’s playing at reluctance in the region once known as Yugoslavia, the sordid history of genocide and graft seems endless now. Another story I found, the tale of a Frenchman who trained with the Atlantic Brigade, it calls to mind Ukraine, Libya, and Syria of late. You see “patterns” lead us to the truth more often than not, ask any criminal profiler. The ghastly killing fields of the legitimate country of Yugoslavia, the investments in carving up the pieces left over, stain the hands of US presidents, British lords, and neo-Nazi German industrialists.
In an interview with a French mercenary names “Jacques’, Jean-Luc Porte reported back in 1999 how the US backed “Atlantic Brigade” was formed up. The skin head killer of Serbs and Croatians, by his own admission, outlines for us how fascism and Nazis akin to those seen in Ukraine of late, made up a killing brigade effecting the dismemberment of a former great nation. Wounded, rethinking his service to the cause, the Frenchman who joined other multinationals in Albania bore the mark of “HOS for Ustashis,” a proud brand of Croatian Nazis who joined the Germans in World War II. Not unlike the Banderites of the Ukraine crisis, the various proxy wars in the Balkans were manned by lethal killers from abroad. And top American officials knew full well the breed of murderers they pulled the strings on in Kosovo and throughout the Balkans. Yugoslavia, you see, became the template for Afghanistan and Iraq, Arab Spring, and the current anti-Russia onslaught. The names of Madeleine Albright, Javier Solana, General Wesley Clark and others continue to reverberate. In the former Yugoslavia the friends of key players in government planned a literal carving feast of potential creditor nations and investment bonanzas. The tale of this genocide in the name of democracy is almost too awful to speak of. Most of the people of these nations were set back 200 years, into a kind of medieval existence without hope. The only glimmer of possibility for most former Yugoslavians is quite naturally, the EU and its NATO protectors.
As I write this American, Brit and German planners are already carving up Syria. This Rand Corporation plan is not surprisingly clinical, even matter of fact, about partitioning a sovereign state. For those unaware, Rand Corporation is the Big Brother of all hegemonic think tanks. If you see it in print from these guys, the US military industrial complex invested money in it – period. Certainly there was genocide on both sides of the Albania-Kosovo conflict, as well as the other wars in the Balkans. This is not the point really, for the totality of catastrophe is what I am focused on. First of all the people of the united Yugoslavia no longer have any real voice. Secondly, the breakup of that nation has led to the death or dislocation of millions now. This is another story. But my “fantasy” Yugoslavia should be an eye opener. Let me conclude.
Yugoslavia was built on an idea that Southern Slavs would not remain a weak and divided people. A united nation of Yugoslavia was not easy prey for imperialist intentions like we see taking place today. It is a fact, that after World War II, socialist Yugoslavia became something of a European success story. Between 1960 and 1980 the country had one of the most vigorous growth rates in the world: a decent standard of living, free medical care and education, a guaranteed right to a job, one-month vacation with pay, a literacy rate of over 90 percent, and a life expectancy of 72 years. To my knowledge, not one of the Balkans states that were created can claim half this prosperity. It was this prosperity which caused western interests to want to destroy Yugoslavia.
Yugoslavia’s multi-ethnic citizenry also had affordable public transportation, housing, and utilities. The not-for-profit economy was mostly publicly owned, not exactly the poster child for western democratic love obviously. The county could not be allowed to compete with Germany, France, and especially Britain, and the London and Luxembourg bankers could not extract their billions in a socialistic system. Yugoslavia had to die, and the Reagans, Bushs, and Clintons helped make it happen. Award winning author, political scientist, and Visiting Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C., Michael Parenti has outlined the Yugoslavia disaster many times. According to Parenti, the U.S. goal has been to transform the Yugoslav nation into a Third-World region:
- incapable of charting an independent course of self-development;
- a shattered economy and natural resources completely accessible to multinational corporate exploitation, including the enormous mineral wealth in Kosovo;
- an impoverished, but literate and skilled population forced to work at subsistence wages, constituting a cheap labor pool that will help depress wages in western Europe and elsewhere;
- dismantled petroleum, engineering, mining, fertilizer, and automobile industries, and various light industries, that offer no further competition with existing Western producers.
Does this strategy sound familiar? Remember the Rand Corporation plan for Syria. Were Ukraine, Donbass, and Crimea understood before the Euromaidan? What is the plan for Russia? This is where the metal meets the meat my friends. In the Balkans catastrophe the West demonized the Serbs. In Libya it was Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, in Syria it is Assad, and the pattern goes on with Vladimir Putin as the biggest trophy head to put on some banker’s den wall. If that sounds contrite, I am sorry, this is the world we live in now. By the power of sleeping American citizens drugged stupid with worthless trinkets of super-capitalism – the world is being taken over by tyrants.
But what if Yugoslavia had survived? What if the great ethnic-socialist experiment had worked? It’s safe to say our world would be totally different today. For one thing, the EU with the Non-Aligned Movement of nation states (NAM) operating within its current boarders would be less potent, far less influential geo-politically. All of Europe might have led to Belgrade, and from there into the six republics now fighting for crumbs from Brussels. To galvanize how my fantasy Yugoslavian nation might look, I’ll leave you with the relative economic situations of current Balkans states, and the Yugoslavia GDP in 1991, positioned at 24th among world nations. As former President Ronald Reagan used to say; “Are you better off?”
As of 2015, Bosnia and Herzegovina is 112th economically, and conditions are worsening. Still the poor Bosnians think joining the EU will solve all problems. Croatia is currently 76th in the world economically, but Bloomberg just named the country one of the 10 worst on Earth. Macedonia ranks 130th, with agriculture being the only real industry, unemployment in the country is above 30%. Montenegro, despite the sheer beauty of the tiny country, is 149th among world nations. Like some other former republics, Montenegro believes EU ascension will solve everything. Serbia is ranked 87th in GDP, and seems more stable in many regards than her contemporaries. Slovenia ranks 81st in GDP, and is for some a potential miracle if tourism and other industries continue to grow there.
From a personal perspective, I recall a moment of prosperity in the former Yugoslavia, the 1984 Olympics at Sarajevo. Those were the first Winter Olympics ever held in a Communist nation, as I recall. The torch relay through Dubrovnik, then Split, Ljubljana, Zagreb, and countless other Yugoslavian cities, culminated in a proud moment in Sarajevo. The names of the gold medal athletes there have become blurred in my mind now, but the little wolf mascot Vučko, created by the Slovenian painter Jože Trobec is framed in my mind’s eye for some reason. A cartoon here in Yugoslavia at the time, the little wolf represented the people of these Balkans nations well. Wolves are prominent in Yugoslavian fables, they are the embodiment of courage and strength and the also symbolize winter. And as I type these final letters, I think about what the courageous and strong people of Yugoslavia might have won had their destinies not been interrupted by outsiders? All I know is, 24th place is a far cry from 149th in the Olympics. As for Yugoslavia, that nation is gone forever.
First published by New Eastern Outlook under the title: A Yugoslavian Fantasy: 24th versus 149th Place
Taking For Granted … Be Wary
The title of these comments is inspired by my personal experience in important areas of public policy both as a politician beginning in the 1970s and more recently as Secretary General of the OECD from 1996 until 2006. That was a very important decade as it ushered in the period which some day we thought would be known as the beginning of globalization on a grand scale.
When I took up my responsibilities in Paris at the end of May 1996 it was a time brimming with optimism about the great future ahead for our children and generations to follow! We were about to say goodbye to one of the most brutal and bloody centuries in human history. Physical human suffering was compounded by poverty and misery of hundreds of millions, especially in the developing world.
Many of us involved at the international level in public policy saw major opportunities to address challenges which had eluded us in the past. Indeed we took a great deal for granted and I must confess that I certainly did. Why? Here are a few examples and the reasons for taking so much for granted.
- We had just witnessed major geopolitical restructuring in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Soviet Union had collapsed and we assumed that the threat of nuclear war had disappeared with it;
- With the replacement of the GATT the ( WTO) we took for granted the exciting prospect of global free trade and investment, which would bring economic growth and rising prosperity everywhere, but especially to the developing world. We expected “trade” not “aid” to be the route out of third world poverty;
- The expansion of the proven Marshall Plan formula to regions fractured by division and conflict. We took for granted that such approaches could bring peace to the war torn Balkans and perhaps even to the Middle East and the Arab World;
- We took for granted that with the publication of the Brundtland Report “ Our Common Future” on Sustainable Development followed by the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, followed by the commitments in the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, that the decades long stalemate of slowing green house gas emissions (GHGs) (and therefore global warming) had been broken and that multilateral international commitments would ensure the protection of the biosphere and its natural capital;
- We took for granted that improvements to the stunning success of healthy capitalism through universal principles of good corporate governance, supported by an Anti Bribery Convention, would control the greed inherent in the undue exploitation of unfettered capitalism. We took for granted that the wealth and wage disparities would narrow, especially in the United States;
- We witnessed the remarkable rise of the European Union (EU) uniting former enemies. We took its expansion and global role for granted. Regarding the EU, I often quote a paragraph from the preface of A History of Europe by H. A. L Fisher, a warden at Oxford University in the 1930s. He wrote: “[No] question [would be] more pertinent to the future welfare of the world than how the nations of Europe … may best be combined into some stable organization for the pursuit of their common interests and the avoidance of strife“;
- We also took for granted the gradual spread of democracy and democratic institutions into the former countries of the Soviet Union and elsewhere in central Europe, South America and Asia;
- Early misgivings about the ideological bent of Recep Erdogan as the Prime Minister, and then President of Turkey, were dispelled as he initially seemed supportive of good governance, freedom of the fourth estate, free speech and democratic principles. We believed him and took for granted that the remarkable reforms introduced by Mustafa Kemal, known as Ataturk, would ensure the survival of a secular democratic Turkey;
- We took for granted the United States as a lone global superpower, magnanimous and fair, the first true united nation with people drawn from all corners of the planet to its robust democracy and unlimited opportunities.
As we look back over the past 25 years it is obvious that much too much was taken for granted. Given that so few of the opportunities we assumed would bring the world to a much better place were seized by my generation, what do you perceive as a better way forward? When we open that discussion in a few minutes, I hope I have convinced you to take little for granted. Be wary, if not skeptical, about those who foresee only a prosperous and peaceful future for this wonderful planet.
We need to remind ourselves of the following and address the questions I raise in our general discussion.
1. We failed to engage Russia with the West and as a result are now strengthening NATO in an effort to contain Putin’s aggressive behaviour. History may show this to be the most egregious of all Western public policy failures in the post-Soviet Union period because of its impact on other areas of global concern where Russia should have been a partner. Is it too late to recover from a failure to engage Russia despite the Russian adventures in Crimea and the Ukraine?
2. The EU is increasingly fragile, with concern about the future of the euro common currency and the EU’s capacity to deal with massive immigration from the war-torn areas of the Middle East. Do the weaknesses of the EU reflect a too rapid expansion without strengthening institutions which would move it toward a more federalist structure promoted by the Spinelli group?
3. Tensions have grown between China and its neighbours over territorial disputes, convincing the United States to pivot from its European focus and increase its military presence in Asia. Does this refocussing plus a strengthening alliance between China and Russia herald the reigniting of another Cold War like the one my generation grew up with?
4.Now many more nations( and possibly terrorist groups) have access to nuclear weapons. Does that greatly increase the possibility of a 21st century nuclear war?
5.The global free trade agenda is in the doldrums with the failure of the Doha Round and the concomitant rise of protectionist rhetoric, especially in the United States ,at the highest political levels. Does this mean that global free trade is now beyond reach?
6. Is the prospect of eliminating poverty in the developing world through trade and investment dying?
7.Reductions in GHG emissions, especially CO2, but also methane, continueto elude us after decades of effort, showing how ineffectual the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change process has been and will be. The widely heralded but unenforceable Paris Agreement in the context of a history of failures is even dangerous because much of the public thinks our leaders have come to grips with this challenge (as we all did after the Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997). Do they do not realize that even if the agreed upon targets are achieved they are not sufficient to keep global temperatures below the level that the scientific community tells us is necessary to prevent dramatic and irreversible climate change?Is there resistance to developing a Plan B as a last resort to prevent unacceptable global warming? Solar radiation management , a form of geo engineering, seems to be broadly under consideration. Is that good or of concern? As areas of the world may become uninhabitable, will there be mass migration from areas of the developing word to more temperate climates?
8. For those who believe in democracy and perceived it as beginning to take root after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union do subsequent developments undermine the confidence that many democratic governments may be in retreat? In some countries, such as Thailand, there has been a return to a military dictatorship. In others, such as Russia and other countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union, there is only a pretense of democracy with rigged elections, as in Belarus. There also appears to be backsliding in Turkey, a very important global player and a bridge between Asia and its historic Western allies. The situation in Turkey, which held such promise only a decade ago, is very worrisome. President Erdogan seems increasingly autocratic and intolerant of criticism and dissent. Failure of this democracy could be a sad, even tragic, development. Turkey is a major regional and global power, and through the influence of Atatürk it became an emerging secular democracy with a majority Sunni population straddling Europe and Asia. Atatürk showed the world what individual leadership supported by ethical standards could accomplish in a short period of time.
9. Is the world faced with a growing number of autocratic strongmen who would prefer to destroy the important international infrastructure if it constrains their personal ambitions? It would appear that when one combines the far east, parts of Eastern Europe, Russia, Turkey, China, North Korea, the Philippines, Thailand etc, more than 50% of humanity is or will soon be governed by “strong men“. With few exceptions such as Ataturk, history shows that such people have only one interest “me”.
President Trump gives every indication that he is anxious to join the ranks of these strongmen, initially by withdrawing the United States from the central role it had played through visionary leadership by building and helping to maintain the post war international and institutional architecture. His slogan “America First” should be interpreted for what it really is, namely, “Donald Trump First”.
There is a disquieting commentary in the New York Times of 16 December 2016 entitled “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy” by Professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt of Harvard University. Here is an excerpt:
“Donald J. Trump’s election has raised a question that few Americans ever imagined asking: Is our democracy in danger? … Past stability is no guarantee of democracy’s future survival … Our research points to several warning signs.
The clearest warning sign is the ascent of anti-democratic politicians into mainstream politics. Drawing on a close study of democracy’s demise in 1930s Europe, the eminent political scientist Juan J. Linz designed a “litmus test” to identify anti-democratic politicians. His indicators include a failure to reject violence unambiguously, a readiness to curtail rivals’ civil liberties, and the denial of the legitimacy of elected governments. “
Mr. Trump tests positive on all counts. In the campaign, he encouraged violence among supporters and pledged to prosecute Hillary Clinton;
He hasthreatened legal action against unfriendly media, and continues to suggest that he might not accept the election results saying the election will be rigged. If he loses will he in some way resist leaving office?
Since his 2016 election he has not changed his attitude on any of these issues.
David Frum, a Conservative and traditional Republican and a senior editor at the Atlantic published a book two years ago “Trumpocacy- The Corruption of the American Republic”. It has recently been released in paperback with a new preface by Frum which reviews the appalling record of this individual to whom Americans have entrusted the leadership of the most powerful nation in history.
In a concluding paragraph of the book he writes….” President Trump is cruel, vengeful, ignorant, lazy, avaricious and treacherous…”
Later he adds: “We are living through the most dangerous challenge to the free government of the United States that anyone alive has encountered. What happens next is up to you. Don’t be afraid. This moment of danger can be your finest hour as a citizen and as an American”
Today I cast Frum’s challenge to each of you in a global perspective rather than just American.
Yes, democracy can be fragile everywhere.
We who live in well-established democracies must never be complacent or smug about the success of our societies. The comments of the Harvard professors above echo that concern.
Our democratic societies and their political systems must adapt to a rapidly evolving world. We are increasingly in that global village through forces of globalization amplified by communication and transportation technologies.
In line with the work of Charles Darwin, it has been said that “it is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” The same could be said of democratic governments and even empires.
What happens next to global free government is up to your generation of leadership. It is a humungous challenge, especially in countries where the seeds of democracy have never been planted or where they have enjoyed short life spans, Thailand and especially Turkey come to mind.
The future of democracy across the globe could be destroyed if the autocratic motives and moves of Donald Trump succeed, as they well might if I read the current political climate in the United States correctly. Despite shortcomings which need correction such as the unfortunate influence on elections through Super Pacs, the United States has been perceived for years as a remarkable democracy which others attempt to emulate. This may be about to change as it is increasingly viewed as government by the rich, of the rich and for the rich, and Trump does not appear to feel constrained by the institutional checks and balances of the constitution. He could put American democracy on the terrible path to an autocratic state which he seems to admire, especially in the Russia and Turkey of today.
In summary, what looked to be a promising future in all the major areas of concern in the 1990s has evolved into what could best be described as an economic, social, and geopolitical mess. But as bad as that story is, we have succeeded in making the future even more problematic with the arrival of global terrorism.
My generation must recognize the extraordinary failures of the past decades. Your generation must do better.
It seems that efforts to create consensus on major issues amongst many sovereign nations does not work. Is there not a better way forward in global governance? This is the last question I leave you with.
Have 190 counties not offered proof of the impossibility of finalizing an international and binding free trade agreement known as the Doha Round, or as almost 200 countries have done in their efforts to find consensus on concrete solutions to address the challenges of climate change. Neither set of efforts, the first initiated through the WTO process and the second through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change process, has delivered the results sought and it is unlikely they ever will.
Is starting small and gradually broadening an international consensus a better option? The EU successfully evolved from a small base but has it expanded too rapidly to consolidate and build upon its remarkable and successful beginnings? Even the G20 may be ineffectual because of size and economic and social diversity.
Does the difficulty of building broad consensus on these issues suggests that a structure more resembling the UN Security Council would be more effective? Could the Security Council itself with a limited membership of powerful countries become a global steering group and replace the G-7 process?
Whether we like it or not, each major power has spheres of influence over smaller regional powers through shared history, culture (sometimes language), and trade and investment.
When we compare human and societal evolution to a relay race one generation must pass the baton on to the next. In a small way that is what I am saying to you today. I hope our discussion will touch upon a number of these important and often controversial issues.
We have fallen behind in many respects in the early years of this 21st century, perhaps even forfeiting many of the hard-earned benefits of good capitalism and democracy to an ever increasing number of corrupt strong men and autocratic regimes.
Is that the future?
Remember the words Shakespeare attributed to Brutus:
“There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.”
I am persuaded that the latter may be our fate. We did not take the flood of opportunities at hand in the 1990s. Is it too late to recover through hard work, sacrifice and creativity in restructuring global governance for a better world.
What should we do? What can you do?
It will depend to a large extent on your personal values which I hope have not been irreversibly warped by admiration for the material success of greed and visible wealth of the famous 1% who dominate power and politics in the USA and increasingly elsewhere.
I have described the state of the world today as analogous to the fireplace at my country home. It is usually fully loaded with tinder, kindling and dry wood. All it awaits is a match. Unfortunately, in the world today there are many matches waiting to be lit and spread their deadly destruction to regions, if not the planet as a whole.
*This text is exclusively made as supplementary for a university lecture held on 28 OCT 2020. It is a part of the so-called ‘Geneva Lecture Series – Contemporary World of Geo-economics’, concepted and considered by prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic for the Swiss University in Geneva.
Economic situation is EU citizens’ top concern in light of the coronavirus pandemic
In a troubled period marked by the coronavirus pandemic, trust in the EU remains stable and Europeans trust the EU to make the right decisions in response to the pandemic in the future. In the new Standard Eurobarometer survey released today, European citizens identify the economic situation, the state of Member States’ public finances and immigration as the three top concerns at EU level. The economic situation is also the main concern at national level, followed by health and unemployment.
In the new Eurobarometer conducted in July and August, concern about the economic situation is reflected in the perception of the current state of the economy. 64% of Europeans think that the situation is ‘bad’ and 42% of Europeans think that their country’s economy will recover from the adverse effects of the coronavirus outbreak ‘in 2023 or later’.
Europeans are divided (45% ‘satisfied’ vs 44% ‘not satisfied’) regarding the measures taken by the EU to fight the pandemic. However, 62% say they trust the EU to make the right decisions in the future, and 60% remain optimistic about the future of the EU.
Trust and image of the EU
Trust in the European Union has remained stable since autumn 2019 at 43%, despite variations of public perceptions during the pandemic. Trust in national governments and parliaments has increased (40%, +6 percentage points and 36%, +2 respectively).
In 15 Member States, a majority of respondents says they trust the EU, with the highest levels observed in Ireland (73%), Denmark (63%) and Lithuania (59%). The lowest levels of trust in the EU are observed in Italy (28%), France (30%) and Greece (32%).
The proportion of respondents with a positive image of the EU is the same as that with a neutral image (40%). 19% of respondents have a negative image of the EU (-1 percentage points).
In 13 EU Member States, a majority of respondents has a positive image of the EU, with the highest proportions observed in Ireland (71%), Poland and Portugal (both 55%). In 13 other Member States, the EU conjures up a predominantly neutral image for respondents, with the highest proportions observed in Malta (56%), Spain, Latvia and Slovenia (all 48%).
Main concerns at EU and national level
Citizens mentioned the economic situation as the most pressing issue facing the EU – over one-third (35%) of all respondents, a strong increase of 16 percentage points since autumn 2019, and rise from third to first concern. Concern about the economic situation has not been this high since spring 2014.
Europeans are also increasingly concerned about the state of Member States’ public finances (23%, +6 percentage points, the highest level since spring 2015), which moves from fifth to second place on a par with immigration (23%, -13 percentage points), the latter now being at the lowest level since autumn 2014.
In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, health (22%, new item) is the fourth most mentioned concern at EU level. The issue of the environment and climate change has lost ground, down 8 percentage points to 20%, followed by unemployment (17%, +5 percentage points).
Similarly, the economic situation (33%, +17 percentage points) has overtaken health as the most important issue at national level, rising from seventh to first position. Although in second position, health has had a notable increase in mentions since autumn 2019 (31%, +9 percentage points), taking it to its highest ever level over the past six years.
Unemployment has also increased considerably in importance (28%, +8 percentage points), followed by rising prices/inflation/cost of living (18%, -2 percentage points), the environment and climate change (14%, -6 percentage points) and government debt (12%, +4 percentage points). Mentions of immigration (11%, -5 percentage points), are at their lowest level for the past six years.
The current economic situation
Since autumn 2019, the proportion of Europeans who think that the current situation of their national economy is ‘good’ (34%, -13 percentage points) has declined considerably, while the proportion of respondents who judge this situation to be ‘bad’ has increased sharply (64%, +14 percentage points).
At national level, a majority of respondents in 10 countries says that the national economic situation is good (down from 15 in autumn 2019). The proportion of respondents who say the situation of their national economy is good ranges from 83% in Luxembourg to 9% in Greece.
The coronavirus pandemic and public opinion in the EU
Europeans are divided on the measures taken by the EU institutions to fight the coronavirus outbreak (45% ‘satisfied’ vs 44% ‘not satisfied’). However, a majority of respondents in 19 Member States is satisfied with the measures taken by the European Union institutions to fight the coronavirus pandemic. The highest positive figures are found in Ireland (71%); Hungary, Romania and Poland (all 60%). In seven countries, a majority of respondents is ‘not satisfied’, especially in Luxembourg (63%), Italy (58%), Greece and Czechia (both 55%) and Spain (52%). In Austria, equal proportions of respondents are satisfied, and not satisfied (both 47%).
However, more than six Europeans in ten trust the EU to make the right decisions in the future (62%). The most frequently mentioned priorities for the EU’s response to the coronavirus pandemic are: establish a strategy for facing a similar crisis in the future and develop financial means to find a treatment or vaccine (each 37%). 30% think that developing a European health policy should be a priority.
Europeans’ personal experiences of confinement measures were very diverse. Overall, close to three Europeans in ten say that it was fairly easy to cope with (31%), while a quarter say it was fairly difficult to cope with (25%). Finally, 30% say that it was ‘both easy and difficult to cope with’.
Key policy areas
Asked about the objectives of the European Green Deal, Europeans continue identifying ‘developing renewable energy‘ and ‘fighting against plastic waste and leading on the issue of single-use of plastic’ as the top priorities. More than one third think the top priority should be supporting EU farmers (38%) or promoting the circular economy (36%). Just over three in ten think reducing energy consumption (31%) should be the top priority.
Support for the Economic and Monetary Union and for the euro remains high, with 75% of respondents in the Euro area in favour of the EU’s single currency. In the EU27 as a whole, support for the euro has increased to 67% (+5).
EU citizenship and European democracy
A majority of people in 26 EU Member States (except Italy) and 70% across the EU feel that they are citizens of the EU. At a national level the highest scores are observed in Ireland and Luxembourg (both 89%), Poland (83%), Slovakia and Germany (both 82%), Lithuania (81%), Hungary, Portugal and Denmark (all 80%).
A majority of Europeans (53%) say they are satisfied with the way democracy works in the EU. The proportion of respondents who are ‘not satisfied’ has increased, by 3 percentage points since autumn 2019 to 43%.
Optimism for the future of the EU
Finally, in this troubled period, 60% of Europeans say they are optimistic about the future of the EU. The highest scores for optimism are observed in Ireland (81%), Lithuania and Poland (both 75%) and Croatia (74%). The lowest levels of optimism are seen in Greece (44%) and Italy (49%), where pessimism outweighs optimism, and France, where opinion is evenly divided (49% vs 49%).
The ‘Summer 2020 – Standard Eurobarometer’ (EB 93) was conducted face-to-face and exceptionally completed with online interviews between 9 July and 26 August 2020, across the 27 EU Member States, in the United Kingdom and in the candidate countries 26,681 interviews were conducted in the 27 Member States.
Could the EU Make its ASEAN Breakthrough with the Emerging Indo-Pacific Strategy?
The Indo-Pacific policy guidelines that was announced by the German Federal Foreign Office last week, is a clear signal from Berlin in becoming a shaper for the international order in the volatile region. Entitled “Germany-Europe-Asia: Shaping the 21st Century Together”, the policy guidelines is the second of such document in the European Union (EU) after the Macron administration released its own Indo-Pacific strategy back in August 2019. But considering that Germany is the current president of the EU Council, this policy guidelines has been ever more significant. For one, Berlin has made clear its intention to lead Europe into this new Indo-Pacific charge as the ‘third power’ after the US-led coalition and China ⸺ an aim that is highlighted not just by this German government’s policy guidelines but also, incisively described by the French as the ‘mediating power’.
The release of such document, of course, reverberates different responses from political observers outside of Europe. For instance, Sebastian Strangio sees the German latest move as part of Europe’s reassessment of its approach to China and boldly predicts that other EU nations are to follow suit with their new stand on China. Prominent Filipino expert, Richard Javad Heydarian, meanwhile, is of the view that Germany’s pursuit as the shaper of international order is deliberately focused on the key regions which bear strategic importance to Europe overall. On the other hand, Xin Hua, adopts a pessimistic view on the ability of Europe to influence the Indo-Pacific region. With Berlin’s policy guidelines, the Chinese scholar sees Europe’s reliance on soft power (such as norms diffusion)to influence the Indo-Pacific region, in contrast to the US that projects its hard power in the region through military prowess in the region, will make it less than what it aimed as the shaper of international order.
Be it applause or skepticism, the observers are in the same view that Berlin’s latest move is a drastic shift from its previous ambiguous position on the Indo-Pacific region which has become the hotbed for the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) vision pushed by the US and its military allies such as Japan and Australia. With this policy guidelines in place, it signals the seriousness of the German government in joining the Indo-Pacific region with the rest of the EU, as a third power that is independent from the US camp and China. What is left is the forming of a full European-level Indo-Pacific strategy and its implementation in the years ahead.
The ASEAN Context
In the ASEAN context, Germany’s move has created two questions that are worthy to ponder. First, how will this emerging Indo-Pacific strategy be different to Europe’s current cooperation policy toward ASEAN as a whole? This is the foremost question to ask among ASEAN member states as the German government’s Indo-Pacific policy guidelines singled out the Southeast Asian bloc as the country’s focused cooperation partner in different areas of cooperation: climate change, marine pollution, rule of law and human rights, culture, education, science, trade and technology. That said, this is not the first time ASEAN appeared as the important partner for the EU.As a matter of fact, two-way cooperation has been ongoing since the establishment of dialogue relations in 1977.
As of 2020, two EU-ASEAN Action Plans have been agreed upon, implemented and in the middle of enforcement. Within the Action Plan (2018-2022) that runs through the year 2022, a myriad of cooperation areas has been outlined, spanning across political-security, economic and socio-cultural pillars. In particular, those areas of cooperation identified in Germany’s Indo-Pacific policy guidelines are within the trans-regional plan as well. What is new is that Berlin has set security policy as a special focus area for Indo-Pacific cooperation ⸺ a point that is emphasized by the German Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas in his press release following the announcement of the country’s Indo-Pacific policy guidelines. In line with such niche orientation, Germany can readily lead the European initiative to assist ASEAN in the two sub-areas of non-traditional security that do not have substantial cooperation but chiefly important in the coming months and years: cybersecurity and public health security. These two sub-areas will be the best start for the EU’s Indo-Pacific push in the ASEAN region.
Second, how will the EU’s Indo-Pacific approach be different from its current dogmatic approach in its cooperation with ASEAN? By all means, it is no secret that dogmatic adherence to rules and norms remained to be the greatest obstacle for the EU’s full amelioration of ties with ASEAN in the past years. As of today, the EU’s ban of Indonesian and Malaysian imports as well as its unease on Filipino President Duterte and Burmese junta’s human rights records, are the contentious issues that prevented the European bloc to go past its finishing line in negotiating a full free trade pact with ASEAN. From such case alone, it is clear that the European bloc’s normative stance predicated upon Brussels’ strictly defined rules, norms and values on climate change and human rights issues, is in play when comes to international cooperation with ASEAN.
Having said that, Germany’s latest Indo-Pacific policy guidelines do not precisely highlight of its normative stance apart from maintaining the international rules-based order in the volatile region. But on the other hand, Germany’s aim for the EU to become the shaper of such order also sparks an open-ended question of whether its strict adherence to rules, norms and values (as in the present) will continue to be the defining feature of its cooperation with ASEAN. From the Indo-Pacific policy guidelines, this question is yet to be answered by the German government and perhaps, this dilemma is to betackled in the EU’s emerging Indo-Pacific strategy. Should a pragmatic approach is adopted by the EU ⸺ as has been recently demonstrated by the conclusion and enforcement of the EU-Vietnam Partnership and Cooperation Agreement despite human rights concern in the ASEAN member state ⸺ it will definitely clear the normative obstacle for the eventual conclusion of a free trade pact with the Southeast Asian bloc. More than that, it stands to facilitate greater cooperation in all areas of partnership between the two regions.
All in all, the EU’s emerging Indo-Pacific strategy should need to address these two questions that have surfaced fromthe former’s past and current experiences with ASEAN. While the German government’s Indo-Pacific policy guidelines have set new tone to Europe’s engagement with the volatile region, such document has yet to tackle these two difficult questions. Only by tacklingthese two questions will the EU be able to make its much-needed ASEAN breakthroughwith the emerging Indo-Pacific strategy.
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