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The strategic effects of Brexit

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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Brexit is the greatest strategic shock occurred in Europe after the “fall of the Berlin Wall” in 1989. Furthermore the 1989 myth had been nurtured by the EU small cultural elites, who regarded it as the beginning of the European century, different from the American Century analyzed by the Italian economist, Geminello Alvi, before and after the globalization.

Millions of euros were also spent for funding various intellectuals – often unreasonably famous – to create the myth of 1989 and Europe’s “new start”.

It was a great error of perspective: the fall of the Berlin Wall, built by East Germans in August 1961, did not mean the end of confrontation between the Communist and the liberal-democratic blocs, but its shifting to a different and higher context.

In 2006 President Putin stated that “the fall of the USSR had been the greatest geopolitical disaster of the twentieth century” and certainly he has not changed his mind in the meantime.

The Russian Federation has always dreamt – and not just recently – of a large Eurasia, not a remake of the old Bolshevik empire.

The Baltic republics are now completely Atlantic and Europeanized. Georgia and many Central Asian republics of the former Soviet Union have a more complex economy and strategy which does not look to the Kremlin only.

Moreover, under these conditions, Georgia – which has long been dismembered with the rebellions in Abkhazia and South Ossetia – will never enter the European and NATO sphere of influence.

That is enough for Russia.

Russia wants to penetrate and dominate the whole Central Asia, after the end of the failed Afghan experience.

President Putin’s real post-Soviet project, which explains much of what is currently happening with Brexit, was outlined by him in an old article published by Izvestiya on October 4, 2011.

It is a new “Eurasian union” joining together – just as the EU did – the former Soviet republics, the old Eastern Europe of the Warsaw Pact and the major expanding economies in the Asian-Pacific system.

Against this background, any strengthening of the old European Union runs counter to the line imparted to the Russian Federation by Vladimir Putin who, however, cannot positively view the coordination between the European Security and Defense Policy and NATO, which is relocating itself along the new Russian borders southwards, in connection with the Ukrainian crisis.

Indeed, in some circles there are rumors – groundless for the time being – about Russian strong support for Brexit so as to prevent the occurrence – on the same days – of something irreparable, namely a NATO-EU operation in Ukraine.

The news cannot be verified, but it shows us how a strategic balance between Russia and the West is reshaping and emerging in the South and in the Middle East.

A balance in which the EU is retreating and Russia is filling the void left by the European Union.

The Customs Union between Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan of 2012 was a first step of President Putin’s project, followed by the treaties with the EFTA countries (Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein) and later by the treaty with New Zealand, the new Russian asset in the Pacific.

Another Russian goal, shared with Norway, is to control the immense Arctic resources.

In short, President Putin is playing a zero-sum game with the European Union. He currently thinks that if there is no longer a European Union, there will not even be a significant US presence in Europe, particularly on our borders.

This Russian project also envisages military and strategic relevance: if the buffer zone traditionally represented by the European Union vis-à-vis the Russian Federation is weakened, the EU Member States will certainly be more sensitive to the Russian commercial appeal and to a future series of regional military agreements in the Mediterranean and the Balkans.

In particular, however, the European leaders will be less attentive to the link between Europe and NATO, which is certainly weakened by Brexit that marks the walking out of a large nuclear and military power present in the UN Security Council.

Furthermore the UK Treasury forecasts that the British GDP will decrease by 3.6% and that the pound sterling will lose 12% of its value compared to the period in which the UK was a member of the European Union.

Hence a 2% squeeze on military spending, already announced by Prime Minister Cameron – exactly the same percentage of the budget increase required this year by the Atlantic Alliance.

Probably the new British nuclear submarines will no longer see the light.

If this happens, Great Britain will have to redesign all its maritime engagements and its participation in the Inherent Resolve operation, thus creating a void which will certainly be filled by the alliance between Russia, the Syrian Arab Army of Bashar el Assad and the forces run by the Shiite Iran.

Furthermore all NATO and EU actions designed to control Russia and its allies in the Balkans, as well as in Mali, Somalia and the Mediterranean, will be weakened.

Even the actions in Libya, where the British special forces have been long operating, will be made less relevant.

For the time being the model for the redefinition of relations between Great Britain and the EU is following the Swiss and Norwegian example, which is the system of the EFTA area.

Currently EFTA has 25 trade agreements in place, while the EU manages exactly twice as many agreements with third parties.

If Great Britain adhered to EFTA, it would pay 17% fewer contributions than paid so far to the European Union.

There is no Schengen-style freedom of movement in the EFTA treaties and the EU has also little power of influence and commercial leverage on the European Free Trade Association.

Nevertheless, unlike the European Union, EFTA has no geopolitical, strategic and military relevance.

It is a good surprise for Russia.

China does not care much about Brexit, which is considered irrelevant, in the long term, for China’s economic development prospects in Great Britain and in the EU.

Indeed, according to some Chinese financial analysts, a fall in the value of the pound sterling could favor bilateral trade.

Moreover, no Chinese leader has hinted at a new definition of bilateral relations with the United Kingdom.

Between 2010 and 2014, Chinese companies invested 46 billion euros in the European Union for 1,047 Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).

Furthermore Great Britain was the largest beneficiary of this Chinese FDI, with 12,2 billion euros again for the 2010-2014 period.

At strategic level, China does not want any distortions of the world order.

China has been openly in favor of Bremain while, unlike Russia, it still regards the EU as a potential factor of weakening and separation – in the NATO European area – between the US interest and the interests of the other European countries – Germany, in particular.

Moreover, Great Britain’s walking out of the European Union could foster an improvement of the bilateral economic relations between Great Britain and China.

In the real estate sector, as well as on the financial and stock markets, it is unlikely for Brexit to change something in the relations between Great Britain and China.

Moreover this situation could favor the Chinese strategy for the internationalization of the renminbi, which would find – in the pound sterling – an effective channel, also widespread in the financial world.

Moreover, with a divided and weakened Europe, China would have much greater bargaining power not only with Great Britain, but also with the EU Member States.

However, as some British analysts maintain, an European Union “divided into two parts” is less competitive than usual on the market-world.

Hence, while the Russian-British trade is at minimum levels and trade with the EU is destabilized by the US sanctions and the Russian countersanctions, we can predict that China is the only real winner of Brexit.

For Israel, the temporary fall of European economies and of the British one, in particular, can become a problem – apart from the now widespread and naïve pro-European anti-Semitism – considering that trade with the EU is one of Israel’s major sources of liquidity.

The weakening of the pound sterling and the euro as against the shekel cannot but damage the Israeli export-oriented economy, even though Prime Minister Netanyahu has stated that there will be no direct impact of Brexit on Israel. Jointly with the Bank of Israel, his government has created a situation room to monitor the effects of Great Britain’s leaving the EU.

Basically, no one to blame but oneself: so far the European Union has exerted a regulatory power which has often be bordering on the ridiculous: from the regulations on basil to those on carrots, from those on heaters to those on pencils, everything has become “European” with such bureaucratic spending and slow pace as to make EU Member States lose most of their comparative advantages on the market-world, which opened up after the aforementioned “fall of the Berlin Wall” and the subsequent globalization-Americanization.

In fact, the euro was born as an overvalued currency so as to deal a crippling blow to the US dollar, but some actions backfire and recoil primarily upon those who carried them out.

As has been authoritatively maintained, with the changeover to the single European currency, in Italy the lira was devalued by six times.

The EU global strategy is virtually non-existent, if not banally rhetorical and declamatory.

Politics cannot be focused only on economic aspects and overregulation leads to lose global markets and increase the costs of production, which are magnified by a “Napoleonic” single currency.

And obviously so at strategic level: Germany is fed up with the sanctions on the Russian Federation. It has no interest in doing a favor to Poland by dismembering Ukraine and it does not intend to be heavily engaged in the Mediterranean.

Italy would have a vital need to stabilize the Mediterranean, especially in Libya, but it is faced with some EU allies that are more interested in sharing the Libyan oil and financial pie which, in the past, was an almost exclusive prerogative of ENI, an Italian oil and gas multinational company, and the Italian banking system.

Spain is focused on its traditional sphere of influence in Latin America and is scarcely interested in the continental and Mediterranean system, apart from the former Spanish Sahara region and Northern Africa’s Atlantic coast.

Hence where is the EU strategic rationale?

With hindsight, it was better to maintain Charles De Gaulle’s old idea that envisaged and conceded only a “Europe of nations” creating a Union stretching “from the Atlantic to Urals”, in view of a dissolution of the Bolshevik empire.

The cultural, spiritual and historical boundaries of our idea of Europe are those forgotten both as a result of the race to accept anyone after the fall of the USSR – which has led to the EU elephantine and bloated apparatus – and as a result of the pro-European obsession to find a strategic niche without “one’s own arms” that Machiavelli recommended to every Prince who wanted to stay in power.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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EU to mount decisive summit on Kosovo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From our partner International Affairs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From our partner International Affairs

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