“There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide” –John Adams
History is never deterministic; it is in fact full of unexpected surprises, but if the above ominous warning by John Adams has any kind of validity today, we may be witnessing, subsequent to Brexit and the far right extraordinary gains in the latest EU parliamentary elections, the beginning of the end of the EU as we know it, and as its founding fathers envisioned it.
Indeed, their vision or aspiration was that the new Europe, the EU, would be an example of democracy for the rest of the world to admire and emulate. An example exemplified by a Constitution which would transcend mere economic or geo-political considerations and spell out the cultural identity of this new Europe and what were the genuine cultural reasons for aspiring to a union and a new polity.
That indeed seemed to be the case at the beginning of the EU in the early 50s. Is it still the case today? With 30% of the EU parliament now controlled by right-wing ideologues, mostly ultra-nationalists and Euroskeptics, out to subvert the very political entity to which they have been elected, the founding fathers’ dream seems to be fast becoming a nightmare. They must be turning in their graves.
As the above quote by Adams, one of the fathers of American democracy, hints at, eventually even an old democracy begins to decay and decline. Vico declares as much in The New Science. We may be seeing that prediction realized in the current US congress infested nowadays by so called “tea party” members who are within the citadel of government, the Congress, to subvert the government and in the process the oldest existing modern democracy.
Some in the EU, those discouraged and skeptical of a EU capable of reforming itself seem ready and willing to reach out for the hemlock and commit suicide. That of course conjures up the image of Socrates committing suicide in order to be faithful to what he believed and the laws of Athens, which come to think of it, was in a way the beginning of the end of a vibrant Athenian democracy. Once a democracy allows a good man like Socrates to be prosecuted and condemned unjustly, it probably means that it is already rotten to the core and its days may be numbered. As Socrates put: the issue gentlemen is not whether I live or die but whether corruption, which is faster than death, catches up with you, and she is leery to let you go. In effect, Socrates is saying that the real issue is corruption and injustice and knowing oneself individually and collectively.
Which brings us to the current malaise of Democracy in the EU. There are presently 27 member states. One, the UK, just decided to leave and is about to ask for a divorce. Some are founding members and have been part of the union from the beginning; others have been admitted at various later stages. The late-comers are the Eastern European countries, formerly part of the Communist Soviet block but now democratic, independent, sovereign countries. Those eastern EU countries are Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Czech Republic, Rumania, Bulgaria; 9 countries: more than one third of the 27 remaining member countries; they were all admitted after the fall of the Soviet Empire in 1989.
One such exemplary country is Poland. Some 25 years ago, On June 4 1989 to be precise, it began the journey toward admittance to the EU. Every one of the openly contested parliamentary seats was won by a candidate from the democratic opposition and a noncommunist government, the first since World War II came to power. In effect democracy had won over despotism. In 1991 Poland becomes part of NATO, then in 2004 (after a referendum in 2003) the country became part of the EU. It is now one of the EU countries pushing for greater economic and military integration and less military dependence on NATO.
Since its entrance into the union, Poland has been hailed as a great victory for democracy in Europe. A country this that went from Soviet oppression and financial crisis, to normalcy and even a modicum of economic prosperity. This was accomplished not by suggesting a third way between East and West or joining spheres of influences, but by simply embracing European values, a democratic political orientation being a sine qua non for membership in the EU to begin with.
By and large there are precious few Poles that nowadays are nostalgic for the good old days of Soviet influence and domination, shipwrecked in the post-Soviet geopolitical space, as the Ukraine is presently. None of those countries feel trapped by democracy or are eager to get out of the EU influence to rejoin “mother Russia.” That is not the case for the Western countries, the original members of the EU: France, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, etc.
Those countries are infested with Euroskeptics and right-wing parties who would get out of the EU tomorrow if they could, to wit Brexit. The motivation may vary but they all seem to be tinged by ultra-nationalism, banded about as “patriotism,” xenophobia, hatred of immigrants and refugees, skepticism and even dislike for democratic modes of political conduct. Marine Le Pen, who won 27% of the EU parliamentary votes in France has declared her admiration for Vladimir Putin’s kind of “patriotism.” UKIP’s Farage has in the past declared Putin the world leader he “most admires.” Putin, we should point out, is a man who while paying lip service to democracy, in effect engages in authoritarianism, media manipulation, disregard for the international rule of law, for borders and regional sovereignty, and corruption, to wit the latest doping scandals.
One does not hear that kind of uncritical admiration for Putin in the Eastern EU nations, not even in the Ukraine with a minority of Russian sympathizers. The majority presently seems to wish to embrace European values, as Poland did some 25 years ago. This is puzzling: do we have a tale of two Europes on our hands, with opposite views of what democracy is all about? It appears that what the Ukraine is desperate to escape, the EU’s far-right is eager to become. We have those who long for more democracy (the one third of the eastern countries) and those who have had it for more than half a century now, but no longer seem to be very appreciative of it. It’s as if they are tired of it. One even begins to wonder if those right-wingers even understand what World War II was all about. What was the point of it all, at least for the West?
To solve this conundrum we may need to look at present day Ukraine and then compare it to Poland. It is intriguing to reflect upon the fact that a quarter of a century after the Poles voted for democracy and European values, there has been another landslide that has propelled a group of anti-Europeans into parliamentary prominence. Millions of French have voted for National Front, a party with anti-Semitic roots; millions of Brits have chosen the UK Independence Party, another anti-European organization. The results were predictable and in fact were predicted in my book A New Europe in Search of its Soul some ten years ago.What you have in those parties, just to mention two here, but there are others in Italy, Holland, Denmark, Greece, Hungary, Bulgaria, is a bizarre coalition of malcontents, racists, xenophobes, cheats, bullies, authoritarian personalities a la Putin, all ready to take themselves to the EU parliament to subvert it. The subversion has already party succeeded. It will continue to succeed under the umbrella of a parliamentary coalition, the coalition of the malcontents, so called.
The malcontent is real enough due to the globalization trend of the last thirty years which has left many in the middle class poorer and powerless, while the rich double and triple their wealth and do not even pay the taxes paid by ordinary law-abiding citizens. This initially ideal, democratic, aspirational polity called dedicated to solidarity (a word made famous by the Poles) has alas become the union of greedy bankers and myopic politicians passing as statesmen. All that is true, but it can become an excuse in the hands of a Grillo or a La Pen or Farage who has managed to promise to the middle class what he knows he cannot deliver and thus succeed in exiting the EU. Just as a Trump in the US, these politicians are merely take advantage of popular discontent, as consummate opportunists that they are.
So here we have the tale of two Europes on full display: on one hand there is the Europe which rejects “European values” from inside the citadel of democracy, a sort of Trojan horse of which Putin is taking full advantage to destabilize the EU and re-establish Russian influence in Europe. The strategy, simply put is one of divide and conquer. On the other hand you have countries like Poland 25 years ago embracing democratic values, and the Ukraine aspiring to them now, who wish to escape authoritarianism and ideological fanaticism.
At this point the question arises: is this democracy named EU ready to commit suicide under the guise of protest and a clamor for reforms on the part of the establishment parties and the need for the EU to stop making bad decisions, such as the devastation of poor countries’ economies for the sake of a common currency benefitting the more prosperous countries? The EU needs a higher dose of solidarity and distributive justice but instead it seems to be ready to take the hemlock.
Even more pointedly the question arises: will the center hold? History will render the final verdict. For the moment one thing is sure; William Butler Yeats had it on target when he said in The Second Coming that in our brave new world of entrepreneurs and assorted opportunists “The best lack all conviction/while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”
Any signs of a chill between France and Germany?
The past few months have seen many signs of growing friction and divisions between the two European superpowers, Germany and France. Before the February vote on changes to the EU Third Energy Package, meant to expand the European Commission’s power to regulate Europe’s electricity and natural gas market, France opposed, until the very last moment, Germany’s position on the issue. In April, Paris and Berlin failed to agree on how much more time Britain should be given to decide on its withdrawal from the EU. During the recent presidential elections in Ukraine, France and Germany supported various candidates. Moreover, they are equally divided on who will be the new head of the European Commission. What is happening in relations between members of the “European tandem”?
During the latter half of 2018, it looked as if relations between the EU’s two powerhouses were reaching a new strategic level. In a joint statement made in Meseberg in June, Berlin and Paris outlined their shared vision of the European Union’s future development. In late August, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas simultaneously spoke out about a new role for Europe to make it “sovereign and strong.” During their informal meeting in Marseille in September, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel agreed on a coordinated response to the main challenges facing Europe and on concerted work on shaping the “agenda for Europe.”
In November, the two leaders spoke in favor of creating a “European army,” “real Pan-European armed forces” capable of defending Europe. And in January of this year, they inked a broader cooperation accord in Aachen, which commentators described as a “new big step” in bringing the two countries closer together. The Treaty of Aachen covers new areas of political cooperation, including common projects and commitments in the fields of defense and international relations.
Just a month later, however, the Franco-German rapprochement hit a snag over two strategic projects worth billions of euros, namely the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline and trade relations with the United States. Here the interests of Paris and Berlin differ the most. Underscoring the seriousness of the rift, Emmanuel Macron canceled a planned trip to a security conference in Munich in what many commentators described as a “demonstrative” move. As for the issue of completing the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, the compromise reached by France and Germany and approved by the European Parliament, imposed on Berlin “a formula that the German government wanted to avoid.”
Regarding the issue of trade relations with the United States, it wasn’t until mid-April that Brussels collectively managed to prevail over France, which had been blocking the start of pertinent negotiations with Washington. Any delay may cost the German automakers multi-billion dollar fines from the United States. If the French succeed in delaying the start of negotiations, Germany, which is already experiencing a sharp slowdown in economic growth, may end up the loser again.
France’s sudden move left the German media guessing whether Macron’s actions were dictated by his displeasure about Berlin’s “slow response” to his initiatives, or by Donald Trump’s threat to sanction companies involved in the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, including the French concern Engie. Or maybe Macron had resorted to this “show of force” in a bid to strengthen his hand amid the conflict with the “yellow jackets” and growing tensions with Italy?
Indeed, the statement made in Meseberg and the treaty signed in Aachen could have proved too much of a compromise for Macron, if not a serious blow to his ambitions. According to critics, “the Treaty of Aachen dodges the most sensitive topics characteristic of modern Europe.” Including migration and political unification of Europe – something Macron is so eager to accomplish. The treaty makes no mention of a common EU tax and financial policy, while the issue of creating a single economic space is spelled out declaratively at best. Angela Merkel essentially emasculated virtually all of Macron’s initiatives pertaining to the financial and economic reform of the EU and the Eurozone. Emmanuel Macron has been out to become one of the EU’s leaders, or even its sole leader, ever since he became president in 2017. All the more so following Britain’s exit from the bloc and amid the ebbing political authority and the planned resignation by 2021 of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, once the informal leader of a united Europe.
The current political situation in France is also calling for more decisive actions by President Macron. To ensure at least a relative success in the upcoming European elections, he needs to enlist the support not only of the traditional left-and right-centrists, but possibly of some representatives of the new European right too. Whether or not Angela Merkel stands down in 2021, or after the elections to the European Parliament (as has been rumored since April), Emmanuel Macron essentially remains the only top-level proponent of greater European integration. (Unless Merkel ultimately moves to the head of the European Commission, of course). With Macron eyeing a second presidential term in 2022, the advancement of the modernization model for France depends directly on the success of the European project. And here any significant changes in the European Union “mainly depend on the position of France’s privileged partner – Germany.”
All this means that Macron needs a breakthrough now that Berlin is going through a “complicated power transit” with Merkel having resigned as the head of the CDU and preparing to hand her post as Federal Chancellor over to a successor. Therefore, she is now taking her time and, according to her successor as CDU leader, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, is holding out for a new vector in the development of the European project as “the common denominator of the distribution of political forces after the elections.” Does this mean that Berlin’s is staking on the success of its candidate in the ongoing struggle for the next president of the European Commission? For the first time ever, the CDU and the CSU have managed to nominate a common candidate who has “good chances” of heading the EU’s executive body.
Meanwhile, Berlin is facing an intractable dilemma. Since 1949, “avoiding by all means situations necessitating a hard choice between France and the United States has been a key principle of German foreign policy.” This approach “survived all governments and coalitions, and was maintained after the reunification of Germany.” Under the present circumstances, however, remaining firmly committed to the transatlantic relationship threatens to further destabilize the European integration project, which is now seen as being key to Germany’s future. Simultaneously, a course aimed at minimizing damage from the policy of external powers that threatens the fundamental German interests might necessitate radical and ambitious geopolitical maneuvers that would almost inevitably revive the Europeans’ and Americans’ historical fears of “German instincts.”
US and British analysts already worry that “the
shackles that are voluntarily accepted [by Germany] can be thrown off.” They also wonder how long it will take before new generations of Germans want to restore their country’ full state sovereignty.
In Germany itself, promotion of such slogans have already given the Alternative for Germany party (AfD) the third largest fraction in the Bundestag. A major paradox of the current European and German policy is that Berlin’s activity or passivity is equally detrimental to the Pan-European project and could eventually lead to the EU’s fragmentation and even disintegration.
However, the Franco-German “tandem” is already being dogged with contradictions and compromises, which are highly unpopular among many in the German establishment. The cautious response by many EU members to the latest joint geopolitical initiatives of Berlin and Paris, gave Germany more reasons to fear that Macron’s global ambitions could exacerbate the differences that already exist in the EU. Many in Germany have long suspected Macron of wishing to make the EU instrumental in his foreign policy aspirations.
Some experts still believe that at the end of the day the current chill between Germany and France may turn out to be just a sign of the traditional “propensity for taking independent political decisions.” The sides are sizing each other up to see “who will be setting the rules of the roadmap in the future.” Also, Paris’s tougher stance towards Berlin may be a tactical ploy, a pre-election maneuver to “hijack” part of the agenda from the “national populists” of Central, Eastern and Southern Europe where many people are not happy about the German “diktat.”
Emmanuel Macron has proved once and again his ability to ride the wave of public discontent with certain issues. His Plan for Europe, published in early March, carefully avoids any mention of France’ and Germany’s leading role in advancing EU reforms.
On the other hand, the foreign policy of the leading European powers has a long history, and long-term geopolitical considerations continue to play a significant role. Germany, for one, has traditionally been looking for a counterweight to the Anglo-Saxons, while France – to German dominance in Europe. As a result, the search by Paris and Berlin for common points of political contact is now turning into intense efforts to find the “lowest common denominator.” The overall impression is that we will only be able to see a greater deal of certainty in relations between the two countries after the results of elections to the European Parliament have been summed up. The distribution of roles both within the “European tandem” and in the EU as a whole depends on which political forces – pro-Macron or pro-Merkel, the Europeans will vote for.
First published in our partner International Affairs
Sino-Italian Partnership and European Concern
A crucial moment in modern European history is that the European doors opened to Chinese President Xi Jinping in Italy during a reception that is like receiving kings and leaders. Once again China is moving west despite all the American warnings from the Chinese dragon coming from the East, and this time it was Italy’s accession to the One Belt One Road initiative.
The Chinese president said that his country’s relationship with Italy is excellent and that the Sino-Italian common interests are the basis for a fruitful future. The Italian prime minister said that Italy is a key partner in the Belt and Road initiative and that trade between Italy and China should increase. But all this positive atmosphere is met with dissatisfaction and fear by the United States and some Italians, which is totally opposed to dealing with China because it considers it a threat to its national security and therefore to the national security of Italy.
In order to prevent espionage or transfer of experience by the Chinese, it was agreed to establish an oversight authority. In an expression of US rejection of the agreement, White House official Garrett Marquis wrote last week on Twitter that Rome “does not need” to join the “New Silk Road”. In an effort to ease US concerns, Luigi Di Maio said before taking part in an Italian-Chinese economic forum in Rome that the relationship will not go beyond trade, as we remain allies of the United States, and remain in NATO and the European Union.
The Italian economy, which is in a recession, is pushing the Italian government to form an alliance with China. Many European policy experts consider Italy to be a Trojan horse for China in the European region, which will have political implications for the future of the EU and the future of the Italian-American relationship; especially as the Chinese giant Huawei is expected to participate in the launch of the technology “G5” mobile phones in Italy.
China’s opening up is not limited to Italy, but to Europe as a whole. In the last visit by the Chinese president to Europe, he moved from Italy to Monaco and Paris and met President Emmanuel Macron, who is trying to open up to Beijing. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has opposed the Sino-Italian rapprochement with signing the agreement to join the Belt and Road Initiative, so that Italy will be the first G7 country to join the initiative.
Beijing is interested in investing in Italian ports, including the port of Trieste on the Adriatic, to boost its exports to Europe. Italy seeks to balance trade with China. According to official data, trade between the two countries grew by 9.2% compared to 2016, reaching 42 billion euros. Italy managed to cut its trade deficit with China by 1.37 billion euros, increasing exports to Beijing by 22.2%, while imports rose to 28.4 billion euros, an increase of 4% compared to 2016.
But the most important issue remains the weak Italian economy, which will survive under Chinese debt, and the Sri Lankan experience proves that China is dealing with countries with economic interests. So, will the European gateway withstand the Chinese economic giant, or will it be a Chinese economic and political region in the future?
Summit in Berlin: Pressure on Serbs
On April 29 Summit of the Western Balkans leaders was organized under the initiative of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron. In advance, it was known that the whole meeting was organized only and exclusively because of the Kosovo issue. Summit was opened by German Chancellor Merkel and French President Macron who pointed out that Western Balkans remains EU priority, adding that this is only an informal discussion, and no final solutions for Kosovo should be expected. The official meeting was followed by a working dinner, that finished late in the evening.
A letter summarizing the pledges of the meeting with a special focus on Serbia – Kosovo dialogue and economic integration of the region, was signed as the event concluded. After the meeting was concluded, President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic stated that the talks had been difficult, but nevertheless thanked Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron for their contribution. According to him, it shows their commitment for the Western Balkans, which is important for maintaining peace in Europe. He added that everybody urged Kosovo`s leaders to revoke the tariffs introduced for Serbian goods .
President of self-proclaimed Kosovo Hashim Thaci also found last night talks difficult, adding that the Summit finished without any tangible results. Frozen conflict between Belgrade and Pristina has to be overcome, Summit‘s participants jointly concluded, said Thaci to the journalists in Berlin. Thaci stated that, even though there will be no border exchange, he will advocate that Preshevo Valley becomes part of Kosovo. Kosovo’s President expressed dissatisfaction because for Kosovo has not been abolished visas, and reminded that Kosovo fulfilled all the requirements for visa liberalization.
Prime Minister of self-proclaimed Kosovo Ramush Haradinaj pointed out that the recognition by Serbia is the first step towards the progress, but not the final one. Haradinaj stressed that it is unacceptable to change the borders, because if the borders change, it would lead to new ethnic divisions and maybe violence.
It is particularly interesting to point out that on the summit in Berlin, Bosnia and Herzegovina was represented by the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina Denis Zvizdic, and if Denis Zvizdic has no legitimacy. Namely, Denis Zvizdic is currently in a technical mandate until the new Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina is elected, while Milorad Dodik, chairman of Bosnia’s tripartite Presidency, is the only legal representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, since Milorad Dodik is a Serb and publicly declares that Kosovo is a southern Serbian province, Denis Zvizdic was called. And Zvizdic, on summit, pointed out that every country in the Balkans has internationally recognized borders and that the basic EU principal is not to change the existing ones. This statement primarily refers to Republika Srpska, which accounts for 49% of Bosnia and Herzegovina and wants to be independent. But Denis Zvizdic, like all other Bosniak politicians, supports an independent Kosovo.
Prime Minister of Croatia Andrej Plenkovic said that the key messages were directed at the attempt to unblock Belgrade – Pristina Dialogue. Together with his Slovenian colleague Marijan Sarec, Plenkovic was the only other leader of an EU country present at the meeting, apart from Merkel and Macron.
Prespa Agreement was once again pointed out as a model for successful resolution of bilateral disputes. Prime Minister of North Macedonia Zoran Zaev emphasized the importance of normalizing the relations between Kosovo and Serbia, and urged the EU to recognize the progress achieved by his country by opening accession negotiations in June.
The main objective of the summit in Berlin was to send a clear message that the demarcation between Serbia and Kosovo will not be allowed, and to exert additional pressure on the Serbs. At this summit, Germany and France also clearly stated that it was completely unacceptable for them to change the boundaries along ethnic lines. Also, the European Union makes it clear that they want to resolve the Kosovo issue.
However, the fact that there are no representatives of the United States in the negotiations does not reflect the real situation. Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj has recently publicly stated that Kosovo has no foreign policy, but that the foreign policy of Kosovo is lead by the United States. The only reason why the United States is not officially present in the negotiations is that it could be a reason for Russia to engage in negotiations.
And the change in the format of negotiations and the entry of Russia into the new format of negotiations would be the strategic interest of Serbia. Unfortunately, the current Serbian government does not open that question. Exactly opposite, President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic led secret negotiations with Hashim Thaci and Federica Mogherini, illegally arranging demarcation between Serbia and self-proclaimed Kosovo. Aleksandar Vucic, together with Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic, has already done a great deal of damage to Serbian interests in Kosovo. Signing the Brussels Agreement, Vucic and Dacic agreed to the abolition of Serbian institutions in Kosovo. So now there are border crossings between Serbia and Kosovo, in northern Kosovo which is predominantly inhabited by Serbs now is established Kosovo Police. And Serbian judges now take an oath to President of self-proclaimed Kosovo Hashim Thaci, who is considered a terrorist in Serbia.
Serbian authorities strongly lobby in Russia that official Moskow accept the plan of demarcation between Serbia and Kosovo. Recently, Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic was in Moscow, while the Serbian President recently met in Beijing with the President of Russia. However, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have repeatedly made clear that Russia supports any agreement between Serbia and Kosovo, which is within the framework of the UN Resolution 1244. That is a very smart position of Russia, supported by an absolute majority of Serbian citizens.
Because if the plan of current Serbian authorities was accepted, that would result in an independent Kosovo, against which is the absolute majority of Serbian citizens. An independent Kosovo would soon be united with Albania, which is a member of the NATO alliance, and Kosovo would automatically become a NATO territory. All this would result in Serbia’s accelerated path to NATO and EU, as well as the introduction of sanctions against Russia.
First published in our partner International Affairs
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