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French presidency poll: Francois Fillon the conservative candidate

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] S [/yt_dropcap] oon after the successful presidency poll in USA, now its NATO ally and a European country with Socialist background France is on its way to elect its next president. France is going through the electoral process with what is known as the primacy for choosing the party candidates for the presidency.

Conservative candidate Francois Fillon has won the primary in next year’s French presidential election after his rival Alain Juppe admitted defeat. In most countries the primary is not necessary as each party chooses directly its candidate for the poll fight.

With virtually all the results counted, Fillon won Sunday’s run-off (primary) with nearly 67% of the vote. Alain Juppe, the more moderate candidate, congratulated Fillon on his “large victory” and pledged to support him in his bid to become president. Juppe appeared in front of his own, determined supporters, to concede the contest. He gave a small smile to the crowds chanting his name and told them he was ending the contest as he began it: “A free man, who didn’t betray who he was or what he thought.” Juppe, also a former prime minister and regarded as more moderate, had initially been seen as the favourite to win the race, but struggled against Fillon’s strong performances in the primary debates.

Meanwhile, Emmanuel Macron, the 38-year-old former economy minister and protege of Hollande, has already announced plans to stand in the presidential election as a centrist independent. Prime Minister Manuel Valls said that he would not rule out running against Hollande in the primary, telling the Journal du Dimanche he wanted to dispel the idea “that the left has no chance” of retaining power.

A former prime minister under Sarkozy, the 62-year-old is a Catholic who is seen as a traditionalist on issues such as abortion and gay marriage. Fillon had been widely expected to win the race, after securing 44% of the vote in the first round a week ago that saw former President Nicolas Sarkozy knocked out. He is proposing dramatic economic reforms that include slashing 500,000 public jobs, ending the 35-hour week, raising the retirement age and scrapping the wealth tax.

Now the spotlight falls on the Socialist party and whether the deeply unpopular President Francois Hollande will stand again in his party’s primaries in January. He is expected to announce his decision in the coming days.

Francois Fillon

Francois Fillon was the man to beat going into this run-off vote, and his team knew it. Shortly after polls closed, they were already celebrating at his party headquarters, as the first partial results came in. Within hours, it was confirmed. Fillon had won two-thirds of the vote; a stunning victory for the candidate once seen as the ‘third man’ in the contest.

Fillon promised to build a fairer society, saying France wants “truth and it wants action”. He is likely to face a Socialist candidate and the far-right’s Marine Le Pen in next April’s election.

How can a man, whose hobbies include motor-racing, mountaineering and the bullfight be so impassive, impeccable and grave? That is the central mystery behind France’s possible president-to-be, Francois Fillon.

Detractors say that behind the mask of taciturnity lies a retiring personality ill-suited for the task of head-of-state. Fillon, they say, is one of nature’s lieutenants, a born second-in-command, a would-be leader without the guts to lead. Far from it, reply his supporters. If the former prime minister is reserved, they say, that is because he has a rich interior life – and personal convictions that do not need the reflected affirmation of the media machine. And his path to the top may have been slow. But along the journey he has acquired a wealth of experience. The bid for the presidency, they say, comes from a man finally ready to assume the responsibilities of the office.

Fillon’s political career has certainly been a long one. It was in 1981, aged 27, that he was first elected as a member of parliament, becoming the National Assembly’s youngest member. His party was the Gaullist RPR of Jacques Chirac. Gaullism features a strong centralized state with conservative and nationalist policies.

Fillon’s parents, a history professor mother and lawyer father, were also Gaullists, and he was brought up in comfortable circumstances near the western city of Le Mans.He studied journalism and then law. In 1974 he met his future wife Penelope Clarke. She is Welsh and they have five children, the last born in 2001. They live near Le Mans, in the Sarthe department which remains Fillon’s powerbase.

Fillon’s first ministerial post, higher education, came in 1993 under Prime Minister Edouard Balladur. He went on to hold five other cabinet posts, before serving as prime minister for five years until 2012 under Nicolas Sarkozy.

If the former prime minister is reserved, they say, that is because he has a rich interior life – and personal convictions that do not need the reflected affirmation of the media machine. And his path to the top may have been slow. But along the journey he has acquired a wealth of experience. The bid for the presidency, they say, comes from a man finally ready to assume the responsibilities of the office.

For nearly all of this time, Fillon was identified with the movement known as “social Gaullism”.

Francois Fillon’s French sang-froid and radicalism

Whoever seeks to caricature Fillon as an emotionless masochist must accept that that is at best only part of the picture. This is a man who fell in love with motor-racing as a child when the Austin Healey team stayed in his village during the Le Mans 24-hour race. He could have become a professional driver. He says he has “always had a problem with authority” and as a boy was briefly expelled from school for leading a demonstration against a teacher. He despises politicians who “think of nothing but politics day and night: they are obsessed and unbalanced”. Among his other hobbies are mountaineering and piloting drones. His friend and ally, former minister Roselyine Bachelot, admits the frigid exterior. But she says: “Under the ice there is fire.”

How can a man, whose hobbies include motor-racing, mountaineering and the bullfight be so impassive, impeccable and grave? That is the central mystery behind France’s possible president-to-be, Francois Fillon. His friend and mentor was the late Philippe Seguin, who believed in strong state intervention in the economy and society. Fillon also shared Seguin’s Euroscepticism, and in 1992 both men voted against the Maastricht Treaty that ushered in the euro.

Later as social affairs minister under Jacques Chirac, Fillon had the image of an honest dealer prepared to put in the hours during long negotiations with trade unions.

All of which sits rather oddly, some would say, with the policies of Francois Fillon the presidential candidate, which are avowedly those of a radical economic liberal. In speech after speech in recent weeks, Fillon has spoken in cataclysmic terms of France’s “broken” social model, and the need for drastic cuts in state spending. “Sometimes you need to tear the whole thing down,” he says.

For Gaspard Koenig, of the free-market think tank Generation Libre, the explanation is that since leaving office in 2012. Fillon underwent “a Damascene conversion”. “He spent the last three years travelling up and down the country. He came to see the exasperation of ordinary people and how they wanted more than anything to get the state off their backs,” he says. Fillon’s “virage liberal” (liberal U-turn) is a bold strategy in a country where fans of Margaret Thatcher, as he says he is, are not exactly thick on the ground.

And as his opponents seek to portray Fillon as a dangerous right-winger, another weapon will also be to hand: his Catholicism. He is a practicing Catholic. He is personally opposed to abortion, but says he would never seek to repeal the law. Nor would he seek to ban adoption by gay male couples – though he wants the law changed so that a child can trace its birth mother.

For the left, these are signs of worrying ambiguity on matters that are central to a progressive society. The left-wing newspaper Liberation headlined last week on fears of a return of clerical power. But it is not just left-wingers who see a link between Fillon’s Catholicism, his character, and his policies. For Henri Guaino, a former Sarkozy adviser, Fillon “believes in redemption through pain, the idea that you need to suffer in order to be saved. He believes the country has lived too luxuriously for too long. “So now it needs to make sacrifices. It’s like a purge.”

The same Catholic conviction could explain Fillon’s famous taciturnity, a refusal to be ruffled, that can come across as either old-world courtesy or a cold reluctance to engage. And it might also shed light on one of the big questions over his career: why for five years as prime minister he suffered the constant humiliations inflicted by his boss, the man he came to loathe, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Obviously, Fillon is a born fighter in his own way but refused to choose the Socialist path which is dominant in French politics. .

Observation

Primary in a party is only a first part of presidential battle and many hurdles must be overcome within the party and with the opponent. . Francois Fillon has taken the conservative ticket in next year’s French presidential election by a landslide at party primaries. With nearly all the ballots counted, he had won 66.5% to 33.5% for his run-off rival, Alain Juppe. He has promised to build a fairer society, saying France wanted “truth and… action”.

The job for Fillon now is to unite his party after this unprecedented primary battle, and prepare to take on the governing Socialist party – and the far-right leader Marine Le Pen – in presidential elections next year. A new opinion poll suggests he would easily beat the far right’s Marine Le Pen in the actual election. That is only a suggestion and not the real outcome which will be ready only next year by which time the scenario might change as well. .

Today the names of political parties do not in fact show character or nature or policies of the party – they are just mere names for identification of individual parties as they compete for power.

Neither communist nor socialist nor republican or democratic or any other name mean anything significant about the names In USA, for instance, Democratic party has done exactly what the republican party had done in terms of terror wars and promoting national energy interests in Mideast.

Socialist party in France, notwithstanding its government for too long intermittently, has not achieved any Socialist system of governance or promoted genuinely socialist societal life. Many Socialists and Communists have no ideas about what they stand for.

Elections in the western countries are essentially for the rich and wealthy lords and common people have no place in the poll arena except that they can vote and choose the most wealthiest candidate for the top government job.

French presidency poll is far away but Paris is feeling the heat already.

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Balkans splitting EU apart

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The European Union is going through a serious internal crisis over the prospects of its further expansion, with the main line of confrontation running between Paris and Berlin. On October 15, France, backed by Denmark and the Netherlands, blocked the EU’s decision to start negotiations concerning the admission of Albania and Northern Macedonia. Germany and other EU members opposed the move as unfounded, citing previous decisions by the European Commission. This split at the very top of the 28-member bloc could seriously undermine its status in the eyes of the Balkan states, and force them to shift their foreign policy priorities and possibly turn towards Russia and its integration mechanisms.

The news of the decision by France, the Netherlands and Denmark to block the previous EU decision to start admission talks with the two Balkan states, citing the slow pace of their reforms followed the EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Luxembourg. The three countries opposed the start of negotiations with Albania, and France’s position concerning similar talks with Northern Macedonia was equally negative. Paris also insisted on a fundamental reform of the EU’s accession process. Germany and other EU members disagreed, arguing that in late May, the European Commission had found Albania and Northern Macedonia fully in line with EU conditions and ready to engage in EU accession talks with Brussels. Moreover, Brussel’s promise to start such negotiations is clearly mentioned in the list of official decisions made by the European Union.

At the same time, Brussels uses a differentiated approach to Balkan countries’ applications for membership, with the EU Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement, Johannes Hahn, speaking against inviting Serbia and Montenegro to start negotiations, arguing that they should make “more efforts to protect the rule of law.”

Naturally enough, the Balkan counties were disappointed by this decision. Just a few days before the Luxembourg meeting, the leaders of Albania, Northern Macedonia and Serbia gathered in the Serbian city of Novi Pazar, accusing Brussels of ignoring their interests.

Briefing reporters after the meeting, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama called on his colleagues from Northern Macedonia and Albania to work out a foreign policy agenda without waiting for tips from Brussels.

“There has been no change in the agenda of our international partners, but the format of relations that we are building has changed, as we are not waiting for the EU to find time to pay attention. Let’s be honest, we are not a priority for the EU, because they prioritize their own reforms. We cannot expect to become a priority for the EU, but we are still able to promote more active and organized cooperation,” Edi Rama said.

Northern Macedonia’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic see the creation of a visa-free zone in the Balkans – “a small Schengen” – as one example of such cooperation. This is sending a clear message to Brussels to consider a situation where even such EU members as Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia, still remain outside the pan-European visa-free space.

Poland, which is the Balkan candidate states’ most active ally in the EU, has fairly tense relations with the big shots in Brussels. During a recent meeting of the leaders of the Vicegrad Group (Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic) held in the Czech city of Lany, attended also by the Slovenian and Serbian leaders, the Polish President Andrzej Duda described the start of EU accession talks with Northern Macedonia and Albania as “a litmus test that will show how open the EU really is.” He said that both these Baltic nations had already met all the necessary criteria for admission to the European Union and emphasized that Warsaw, for its part, favored Europe with “open doors,” which is the only way to ensure the EU’s peaceful and peaceful development.

This position is fully shared by Germany, with Michael Roth, Minister of State for Europe at the Federal Foreign Office, telling the newspaper Die Welt that “Albania and Northern Macedonia have done their homework. In recent years, they have been outstandingly successful all across the board fulfilling all the prerequisites for starting negotiations. They need to be rewarded for this, and this is exactly what the Bundestag did in an unambiguous vote. I am sure that the terms proposed by the Bundestag will convince others in the EU to greenlight the start of the EU accession talks,” Roth emphasized. He added that “the EU’s decision is being watched very closely not only by those in Albania and Northern Macedonia, but in the whole region as well. The EU must show that reform efforts are encouraged. Any further postponement would seriously undermine confidence in the EU with negative consequences for peace and stability in the region.” He also voiced fears that a political vacuum would result in Russia, China, Turkey, the countries of the Near and Middle East coming to the region.

All this is seriously undermining the European Union’s role in the Balkans and is strengthening the position of the other key players, above all of Russia, China and the United States. Therefore, Moscow needs to develop a more clear-cut concept of its own interests and goals in the region and ways of its implementation, always mindful of the local geopolitical situation and the time-tested traditions of Russian-Balkan cooperation.

From our partner International Affairs

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The return of a “political wunderkind”: Results of parliamentary elections in Austria

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At the end of September, the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), led by the former Chancellor – the 33-year-old “political prodigy” Sebastian Kurz – once again came out on top in snap parliamentary elections. According to a preliminary count, to be finalized on October 16, the ÖVP secured 37.5 percent of the vote, and will take 71 of the 183 seats in the National Council (lower house of parliament).

Political commentators still predict serious problems Sebastian Kurz may face in putting together his new Cabinet. What consequences will the outcome of the September 29 vote have for Austria and for Europe as a whole?

The snap general election in Austria followed the publication of secret recordings in May, which led to the collapse of the ruling coalition of the conservative, center-right Austrian People’s Party and the “far right” “nationalist” Freedom Party (FPÖ). In the July 2017 video, published by the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, the leaders of the Freedom Party are heard promising government contracts and commercial preferences to a woman, posing as the niece of a Russian oligarch on Ibiza, Spain. As transpired later, the hidden camera recording had been arranged by journalists dissatisfied with political gains, made by the FPÖ.

The results of the September 29 vote showed that while the “Ibiza scandal” had seriously undermined the Austrian voters’ support for the “ultra-right,” it simultaneously bolstered the positions of the ÖVP, which won nine more parliamentary seats than it did in the 2017 election. The center-left Social Democrats (SPÖ), who have dominated much of the country’s postwar politics, fell to their worst ever result with 40 seats – 12 short of their 2017 result. The Freedom Party suffered massive losses ending up in third place, losing 10 percent of the vote and winning just 31 parliamentary seats – 20 less than in 2017. The Greens (Die Grüne Alternative), previously not represented on the National Council, won 26 seats, and the liberal NEOS/New Austria party won 15 mandates, thus adding five seats to their previous number.

The People’s Party thus confirms its status as the country’s leading political force, winning a second back-to-back election for the first time since the 1960s. Most observers believe that the conservatives owe much of their electoral success to Sebastian Kurz, a young politician who, already as a former foreign minister, led the ÖVP in the spring of 2017, amid the growing popular discontent with the “triumph of political centrism.”

According to Fyodor Lukyanov, the chairman of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, just as the traditional parties kept promising their supporters “even more stability and predictability of the whole system,” the people were getting increasingly worried about the watering down of “the very essence of politics as a clash of views and mindsets.” Meanwhile, Europe has been grappling with crises, ranging “from debt to migration.” Voters were losing faith in the ability by the traditional parties, with their predilection for reaching consensus even at the cost of emasculating the proposed solutions, to find adequate answers to the new domestic and external challenges facing the EU. This is what the People’s Party, one of Austria’s two “systemic” parties, looked like when Sebastian Kurz took over as its chairman, as it tried to move even further away from ideological certainty and advocate “all things good against everything that is bad.” As a result, it was only losing the confidence of its onetime supporters.

According to the London-based weekly magazine The Economist, two factors were critical in Sebastian Kurz’s rapid political ascent. First, Kurz filled an empty “niche” among the center-right supporters of tough refugee policies. In 2015-2016, Austria found itself at the heart of the European migration crisis – in per capita terms, the small Alpine republic had taken in more migrants than any other EU country, except Sweden. Kurz, then foreign minister, gave up his previous, quite liberal view of migration issues, embracing a hard line that envisaged closing borders and limiting asylum opportunities. Together with the governments of a several Balkan countries, Kurz has done a lot to cut off routes of illegal migration.

Secondly, many Austrians now saw Sebastian Kurz as the answer to their request for “fresh blood” and new ideas in politics. Before very long, the young leader managed to reshuffle the party leadership, including on the ground, and implement new approaches and methods of working with voters. His arrival breathed new vigor in the conservative party which, although respectable, had lost political initiative and the ability to generate fresh ideas. To the frustrated electorate, he projected an image of an energetic politician with a fresh look on the problems of Austria and Europe. During his first term as chancellor, Sebastian Kurz managed to convince a large segment of the Austrian population in his ability to successfully combine in the government the bureaucratic skills of the establishment with the ambitious and uncompromising, at times even exceedingly so, agenda of the “populists.” Kurz himself lists moves to reduce taxes and public debt among the achievements of his first government.

The outcome of the September 29 vote underscored the support the People’s Party enjoys among all sectors of the Austrian society, save, of course, for the Vienna liberals. The young politician, “who was widely viewed as a defender of the interests of the wealthy elite, can now be considered the choice of the entire people.” His electoral base continues to swell – Kurz remains the country’s most popular party leader. For his supporters, he epitomizes the political will for change, which they believe the majority of former ÖVP functionaries and the Social Democrats have lost a long time ago. And still, the traditional Austrian and European political establishment remains wary of Kurz, primarily because of his desire to team up with the ultra-right when forming his first government in late 2017. The collapse of the ruling coalition last May in the wake of the “Ibizagate” scandal with the SPÖ leaders seemed to have only confirmed these fears. However, many experts state that as Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz has proved himself as an able administrator who has “effectively deprived” the “right-wingers” of their ability to make many key policy decisions, including in the field of foreign policy.

Voters now expect him to respond to “changing expectations,” which many observers describe as historical and geopolitical pessimism. Many in Europe are worried by the weakening of the EU’s positions against the backdrop of an ongoing competition between the global powerhouses. Meanwhile, most observers believe that putting together a new Cabinet won’t be easy as there are three options for forming a majority (at least 92 mandates): a grand coalition, a renewed coalition with the FPÖ, and the so-called “dirndl government” (“turquoise-green-pink” – the colors of traditional Alpine clothing) with “greens” and liberals from NEOS. The first option could dishearten Kurz’s backers, who supported him precisely because they were fed up with a decades-long succession of governments made up of either one of the two leading parties, or both. Moreover, Kurz has “fundamental differences” with the Social Democrats on many social and economic issues. As for the new attempt to rejoin forces with the FPÖ, it is fraught with scandal that could undermine Kurz’s reputation in Europe. Finally, an alliance with the Greens and Liberals will most certainly lead to serious differences on migration, environmental and social policy.

There is an intense debate currently going on in Europe about the institutional arrangements the EU needs to resolve internal contradictions and meet external challenges. The participants in this fundamental dispute are pulling no blows, and the “Ibizagate” scandal that resulted in the collapse of Kurz’s previous government is a graphic example of that.  Meanwhile, the young and ambitious politician wants to secure a bigger role for his country in European affairs. Throughout his term as chancellor, he demonstrated a strong commitment to the political values of the “European mainstream.” He watched very closely the political processes going on in Europe, and provided maximum support for the reforms being put forward by French President Emmanuel Macron, even though he didn’t share many of Macron’s proposals for Eurozone reform, leaning more toward Germany’s more cautious stance. During his first term as Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz convinced his FPÖ coalition partners to reject the idea of Austria’s withdrawal from the EU. Now that “populists” have been on the retreat in a number of European countries – in Italy, perhaps Hungary, as well as France, where the “Yellow Jackets” movement is on the wane, few expect Kurz to brand himself as a “populist in a centrist’s skin.” The young Austrian, who has reached political heights thanks largely to his clear and unwavering stance on migration could inspire new hope in Europeans, reeling from half-hearted decisions so characteristic of the Brussels bureaucracy.

One should also keep in mind the fact that Kurz owes the notable increase in popular support to those who used to vote for the Freedom Party. And, according to the more realistically-minded people, the two political organizations still have much more in common than Kurz is willing to admit in public. Well, Kurz may have managed to solve the problem of opposing the “populists” by embracing, albeit in a softer form, some of the ideas espoused by Eurosceptics and “sovereignists.” The result, however, has been a Conservative shift “to the right.” And no matter how much Kurz and his associates insist on their firm commitment to “centrism,” it is a very different “center” – that is, a dangerous trend of the entire political spectrum of Austria and Europe gravitating “to the right.”

“Populists” may have “retreated” somewhere in the European Union. However, the third place won by the Freedom party in parliament, which still gives it an “arithmetic” chance of participating in the government, is a clear sign of the party’s potential for political survival.

The Austrian elections seem to confirm the trend that made itself so clear during the May elections to the European Parliament: fortune usually favors the political forces that do not quibble – firm supporters of “strengthening sovereignty.”

Future will show whether Sebastian Kurz’s return to power leads the way to the renaissance of “new-look” European centrists amid the gradual retreat of “nationalists” and “populists.” And also if it is a sign of the gradual adaptation of the European political establishment to the voters’ request for  a more balanced course, combining protection of the sovereign rights and national interests of EU member states and the EU’s objective need for greater federalization and centralization of common political institutions.

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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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