Authors: Daniele Scalea, Alessandro Cipri (*)
[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] I [/yt_dropcap] t is particularly difficult to foretell what the foreign policy of a US president-elect will be. We have plenty of examples of US presidents who – after coming into office – did not follow through on their electoral campaign pledges.
Even though Obama did actually conclude the agreement with Iran – as promised during his first presidential campaign – he was able to do that only in his second term, after having embittered the sanctions for years. While George W. Bush presented himself as an “isolationist” – in opposition to Bill Clinton and his humanitarian interventionism – he ended up launching two major wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, restraining from others just because of the poor-performances in these two. Richard Nixon, who won two terms on anti-communism, ended the war against the Vietnamese Communists and stroke a deal with Maoist China. Both Wilson in 1916 and Roosevelt in 1940 campaigned on an isolationist platform, just to lead their country into the first and second world war as soon as they were re-elected.
Forecasting the foreign policy stances of the upcoming administration is now even harder than with those of the past, considering that the President-Elect is not a long-time politician, and we do not even know who his Secretary of State will be. Even though a Republican-controlled Congress is certainly good for President Trump, the GOP is now bitterly divided among opposing factions, with Trump’s “populist” wing fighting an internecine war against the mainstream conservatives within the party, many of whom did not even endorse him in the general election. In fact, regardless of the success of the insurgent candidate, Congress is still filled up with Tea Partiers and establishment Republicans, potentially harboring resentment towards the rising pro-Trump hardliners. This internal conflict may well produce an hostile Congress for President Trump, especially when it comes to the most controversial points of his agenda, such as a review of foreign trade strategies towards fair trade.
So, before trying to figure out the potential consequences for Europe, let’s try to define at least some general elements of Trump’s hypothetical foreign policy.
• First of all, Trump has outlined a non-interventionist policy: no more wars for state-building or regime change. He want to spend less in military intervention and more in military supremacy, which means more R&D and less operational costs. This would imply sharing responsibilities with US allies, as well as leaving them more strategic freedom in and the pursuit of their particular interests.
• He also wants to normalize relations with Russia, that have reached the bottom on Ukraine and Syria. He thinks that NATO is too expensive for Washington, whereas European allies are acting as free riders . NATO is the 28-nations – almost 70-years old – military alliance that unites US, Canada and Europe. Conceived as defensive alliance against USSR, experienced a consistend expansion of its membership in the years following the end of the Cold War, welcoming many former communist Eastern European countries; at the same time, it switched its focus from European defense out-of-area operations. Those are offensive military operations such as in Yugoslavia and Serbia, during the ‘90, or in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and the Gulf of Aden in last fifteen years. However – since the Ukrainian crisis – NATO is redirecting its resources to the defense of its Eastern border, along an arc of tension with Russia ranging from the Arctic to Syria.
• The July 2015 nuclear deal with Iran (the JCPOA), strongly wanted by President Obama, has been harshly criticized by Trump. Under this deal, Iran agreed to eliminate its stockpile of medium-enriched uranium, cut its stockpile of low-enriched uranium by 98%, and reduce by about two-thirds the number of its gas centrifuges for 13 years. For the next 15 years, Iran will only enrich uranium up to 3.67%. The main criticism on this deal is that the Iranian nuclear programme is suspended, rather than aborted, and in the meantime the Islamic Republic could be strengthened by the lifting of sanctions while keeping a regional stance opposed to the US. It is unlikely that Trump will reject the agreement as a whole, since that would require to negotiate a new one (and many years were needed for the current) or to come back to direct confrontation with Iran, which would mean major efforts in the Middle East for Washington – something Trump wants to avoid. So, the most probable outcome could be that the US introduces new extra verification measures of Tehran’s compliance of the Agreement, and promptly withdraws from it if any violation is observed.
• Trump is a vocal opponent of international free trade agreements, such as the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Transatlantic Trade and Investement Partnership (TTIP), and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP), seen as factors of de-industrialization and industrial outsourcing, especially in China and Mexico.
Assuming that these vectors remain sound and Trump Administration manages to implement them at least in part, we could try to forecast some effects on Europe.
First, we have to consider that major European NATO members have been reducing their defence spending since the end of the Cold War. Not considering the US, it is only since 2015 that NATO defence expenditures are growing, as a consequence of Russian assertiveness in Eastern Europe. NATO guideline is to spend 2% of the GDP for Defence but, in recent years, only 3 out of 28 members follow this rule: United States (currently spending 3.61% of the GDP), United Kingdom (2.21%), and – surprisingly – Greece (2.38%). Greek good will, which is not diminishing but even increasing under Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, is due to Athen’s dependance on foreign loans, sometimes informally swapped with arms purchasing. Since 2015, two more countries abide by the 2% rule: Estonia and Poland. No wonder, since they are the most anti-Russian countries in NATO and the most vocal supporters of a military buildup on its Eastern border.
Anyway, all that said, the remaining 23 members out of 28 spend for defence less than the recommended 2%: for example France 1.78%, Turkey 1.56%, Germany 1.19%, Italy 1.11%, Spain 0.91%. Since 2012, the US alone spends yearly more than all European allies altogether. Moreover, the limited improvement this year is due to the build-up on the Russian border – a military build-up that Trump will probably do not go along with.
It is highly improbable that Trump wants to dismantle NATO and – even if this was the case – it would be almost impossible for President Trump to realize it without facing insuperable obstacles. Most probably, Trump will just follow on Obama’s path in trying to lead from behind – just avoiding to mess up with Russia again. The theory of “leading from behind” arose in business circles, with Linda Hill of the Harvard Business School acknowledged as its mother. In foreign policy, it means to encourage others to take the initiative, while quietly establishing the strategy and leading the game. This, however, is a delicate art, because is a very short step from leading from behind to be led from the front.
About Obama’s doctrine, Charles Krauthammer wrote on The Washington Post: “It’s been a foreign policy of hesitation, delay and indecision, marked by plaintive appeals to the (fictional) international community to do what only America can”.
The experience of Libya in 2011 isn’t indeed comforting, with the UK and France pressing for a military intervention against the Gaddafi regime, only to leave afterwards a country broken into pieces and exposed to Islamist infiltration, even by ISIS.
But that’s not solely Europe’s fault, nor it is completely US’ fault: the responsibility is on the West as a whole, as London and Paris messed up Libya, like the US had messed up Iraq before, while our Arab allies are messing up Syria. Consequences are evident: with the treat of al-Qaida doubled up by ISIS, a lot of states in the region are either failed or on the verge of failing, Europe is under pressure from terrorist attacks and from an unprecedented flow of immigrants, with those two factors giving a huge contribution to Brexit and other displays of popular distrust towards the European establishment and institutions.
That’s why I think that the new line dictated by Trump – although challenging – will be positive for Europe We are facing problems that cannot be resolved without Russia’s help, not to say with Russia’s enmity. Think about the Syrian conundrum: a major Arab state has collapsed, and very hardly could be recomposed after five years of savage civil, ethnic and religious war, in which interests of many regional and world powers conflicted one another. Tensions in Eastern Europe compel both Russia and NATO to increase military expenditures, while mutual sanctions are harming both economies.
Even though the European establishment is complaining about Trump’s stance on Russia and the mutual exchange of compliments between him and President Putin, we have to keep in mind that it was the United States to push for a confrontation with Russia, while many EU countries – such as Italy – were in favor of improving relations with it.
In fact, Italo-Russian relations have been free from critical issues since the Soviet-Yugoslav “separation” in 1948 and, even though Italy was part of the Western bloc, it often kept pushing for an improvement in its relations with the USSR.
A few years after the end of the Second World War, Manlio Brosio – then Italian ambassador in Moscow (and future NATO Secretary General – looked for Soviet support for his project of a neutral Italy, but failed in his attempt. Ten years later, politicians such as Amintore Fanfani, or public managers such as Enrico Mattei, launched the “New Atlantism” doctrine, according to which
– while remaining loyal to the west – Italy would act independently, seeking friendly relations with Communist and Mediterranean countries. After the end of the Cold War, Italy has always been one of the warmest supporters of cooperation with Russia, especially during the government of Silvio Berlusconi, whose friendship with Putin was well-known. In 2002, during a meeting presided by Berlusconi in Pratica di Mare, Russia and NATO signed an historical cooperation agreement.
This agreement could well be the starting point for a new approach to collective security in Europe: one that seeks to engage, rather than confront Russia.
However, not everyone in Europe will agree, especially among the Eastern countries such as Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania or Hungary that – still recalling the period of Soviet domination – mistrust the Russians. It is true, anyway, that recent elections in Moldova and Bulgaria, both former Communist states, have witnessed the victory of Russia-friendly candidates. Those Eastern countries are also very conservative and suspicious of pro-immigration and liberal policies of Western Europe. In the mid- long-term, this factor could orient them towards Russia again.
Great Britain – a traditional rival of Russia – has in recent years led the front of anti-Russian countries opposed to a lifting of sanctions. But now that London seems next to leave the EU, and considering that the British usually follow a line dictated in Washington, it could be well possible that their stance towards Russia will soften a lot.
A major obstacle remains in Germany, where the German social-democratic party – relatively pro-Russian, for west-European standards ¬– is going through a difficult time. Power is still strongly in the hands of the Christian-democrats and especially of Angela Merkel, who is toying with the idea of assert herself as the new leader of a liberal Western front, opposed to both Trump and Putin. Apart from her mania of grandeur, she is also following the objective national interests of Germany: the great winner of the process of European integration. Free trade, combined with a common currency (and so the inability for competitors, such as Italy, to conduct a competitive devaluation) have given Germany the economic dominance in the European Union. If Russia wants to move forward her influence in Eastern Europe, it has to confront face German opposition.
However, regardless of Russia’s intentions, confrontation with Berlin may be inevitable, with the Germans pushing to expand their own influence in Belarus, Ukraine, and the Caucasus.
Another major obstacle to a Russia-West rapprochement is still the US: while Iit is true that Trump wants friendship, he could do that also through some minor concessions, such as a limited area of influence in the so-called Near Abroad, as Russians call the former Soviet countries with whom they still have critical security links. Trump is as famous to be a tough negotiator, as Putin is to be astute politician and, despite their good intentions, it is not guaranteed that they will find an agreement – because a very big deal it is required between Russia and the US.
Another side of Trump’s program concerns energy, where he promises to encourage the production of shale oil and gas, which is now limited by environmentalist legislation. Over the past decade, the combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing has provided access to large volumes of oil and natural gas that were previously uneconomic to produce. The United States has approximately 610 trillion cubic feet of technically recoverable shale natural gas resources and 59 billion barrels of technically recoverable tight oil resources. As a result, the United States is ranked second globally after Russia in shale oil resources and is ranked fourth globally after China, Argentina and Algeria in shale natural gas resources. But the tight oil and shale gas industries in the US have been suffering, mainly because of the increasing production from the Gulf states that, lowering prices, is pumping it out of business.
While in late in 2014 there were almost two thousands oil and gas rigs active in the US, in last July only 500 were still operating. Even though Trump cannot fully control some market fundamentals, as a large oversupply and sluggish demand, after his election U.S. shale producers are redeploying cash, rigs and workers, cautiously confident the energy sector has turned a corner. According to Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, the OPEC cartel is poised to slash crude output, with an agreement struck in September by the Saudis and Russians to cooperate in the world oil markets. If all signs are true, prices could well go up in the upcoming months, giving oxygen to the US industry.
Trump’s victory also brings back on the agenda the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to the US Gulf Coast (where many refineries are located): a project blocked by Obama on the ground of its impact on the environment. The main target of the Keystone pipeline is to replace imports of heavy oil-sand crude from Venezuela with more reliable Canadian heavy oil, even though a good portion of the oil that will gush down the KXL will probably end up being sold on the international market.
Now, under the Trump Administration both US and Canadian oil & gas could arrive in greater amount to Europe: a net importer of energy, especially from Russia, which counts for 29% of total solid fuels imports, 30% of oil and 37% of gas. For years now Washington and Bruxelles have been trying to reduce European dependency from Russian energy, worried that this can translate in political dependency. In late February, the U.S. started exporting oil and gas to Europe, 40 years after the oil embargo imposed by the U.S. Congress.
Let’s move now to the Middle East and North Africa. As said before, the situation there is tragic and the West carries some responsibilities for contributing to open the Pandora’s box of regional contradictions, intervening in countries such as Iraq, Libya, and Syria to replace a brutal political order with no order at all.
If the US disengages from the region, however, the risk is to barter the restraint from reckless “adventures” overseas with an overall loss of initiative on the international scenario, with Europe unable to afford more military and security burdens, because of a contentious public opinion and of a very difficult time for economy. Without the US, therefore, it is very likely that also Europe will disengage from North Africa and the Middle East.
Anyway, at least for now, America is not going away from the region anytime soon, especially considering the emphasis that Trump put on ISIS’ global threat during the campaign trail. According to the upcoming National Security Adviser, General Michael Flynn, Islamic radicalism is the enemy number one for the US. This will translate in a solid partnership with secular Arab leaders such as Egypt’s al-Sisi, whereas is still unclear how the Trump Administration will deal with Erdogan or the Saudis, whose links with Islamic radicalism are very suspicious.
Gen. Flynn believes the US is losing a global war against Islamist extremism that may last for generations, but he stresses that this war has to be fought also domestically, against any ideological infiltration. Trump and Flynn want to go after Islamism as Americans used to do with Communism. That brings us back to Europe again. Whereas only 1% of the US population is Muslim, Islam is thriving in Europe, due to ongoing immigration and to the higher fertility rate of Muslim communities, which is of 2.2 children per woman, while that of non-Muslim is 1.5. According to the Pew Center, Europe’s Muslim population is projected to increase by 63%, growing from 43 million in 2010 to 71 million in 2050, becoming more than 10% of the total population. Anyway, in countries such as France, they already are almost 10% of the population and, In some key cities – Paris and London, for example – Muslims exceed 15%. As it is well known, Europe is facing big problems in integrating even second or third generations of immigrants, especially Muslims. Muslim vote is beginning to matter in many European countries and important Muslim politicians are emerging, such as Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, or Rachida Dati, former French Minister of Justice, or Sajid Javid, the British Secretary for Local Government. Only the former is by a leftist party and they are not suspicious of Islamism. Anyway, according to the 2014 Jenkins Commission Report, in the UK the Muslim Brotherhood “[has] at times had significant influence on the largest UK Muslim student organisation, national organisations which have claimed to represent Muslim communities (and on that basis have sought and had a dialogue with Government), charities and some mosques”.
If the Trump Administration is going to consider Political Islam as an ideological enemy – such Communism during the Cold War – it will likely work on barring its way in Europe. The US has a long history of interfering in European domestic politics and Trump has already given a taste by meeting Nigel Farage a few days after his victory in the election. It could well be that the Trump Administration will try to advise the Western European leadership against persisting in their open doors policy toward Muslim immigrants, or to favour those political forces more akin with its ideas: usually the Right, maybe also the anti-globalist one, as the National Front in France, UKIP in UK, the Northern League in Italy, AfD in Germany. The leaders of all these forces, plus the Hungarian President Viktor Orban, in fact rejoiced at Trump’s victory. Breitbart, the news website which spearheaded Trump campaign and from whom the new White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon comes from, already has a London bureau, but is now planning to open new branches in France and Germany.
A few days ago, Francois Fillon has surprisingly won the the Right primaries in France. The hardliner among main candidates, Fillon is pro-Russian, very conservative, quite Thatcherist, and unfavourable to mass immigration. Very probably he will compete for the presidency with the far-rightist Marine Le Pen.
Even if society in the US remains very different from that of Europe, the rampant globalization of recent decades has made it quite close compared to half a century ago. Both the US and Europe have experienced massive deindustrialization with a geographical concentration of the remaining high-tech industries in a few islands of happiness – whose wealth is striking, when compared to the many rust belts of the Western world. Both the US and Europe have seen a deep financialization of their economies and have been overwhelmed by the so-called politically correct way of thinking. It’s true: in the U.S. you can find also the Bible Belt, but if we consider the European Union as a whole, we could see a Catholic Belt in its Eastern countries, opposed to Sweden (a European California) or London and Paris (European New Yorks), or in general the more liberal Western countries. Exactly as in the US, also in Europe, post-modernism is currently hegemonic in colleges and mainstream media, which are trying to inculcate it also in the common man. Finally, the massive immigration flows of last decades into Europe are making its society more and more resembling to the composite ethnic mix of North American society – even in the trend towards communitarian vote. According to reliable statistics, the last time white voters in the US favoured in majority a democratic presidential candidate was in 1964: Lyndon Johnson. Since then, Carter, Clinton and Obama won the elections thanks to the decisive vote of minorities. If you look to the Brexit vote, for example, you will find out that the social group more favourable to remain in the European Union were not Scottish nor Irish, but the new minorities: Asians, Blacks and Muslims. In such similar environments, it is predictable to find similar political trends and demands: Trump’s victory in the US may be soon followed by populist successes in Europe.
In conclusion, we can say that, regardless of his real actions once in office, Donald Trump is already influencing European politics by encouraging the already rampant rightist and populist parties. This will translate in more regulation of the immigration flows, abatement of the EU supranational power on European countries, and better relations with Russia. That is true even if those populist forces do not win any election: in fact, more traditional parties and politicians are compelled to adopt at least some of their requests not to lose approval and power. But, if President Trump will maintain his electoral promises, even greater changes are looming in Western politics and society . A lasting conservative and populist turn could affect the Western system, leading to a possible inclusion of Russia into it.
(*) ALESSANDRO CIPRI
Born in Chile and raised in Rome, Alessandro Cipri has just finished his postgraduate studies at the department of War Studies of King’s College London, graduating with distinction from the Master’s Degree in “Intelligence and International Security”. Having served in the Italian Army’s “Alpini” mountain troops, he has a keen interest in national security, military strategy, insurgency theory, and terrorism studies. His Master’s dissertation was on the impact of drug trafficking on the evolution of the Colombian FARC.
The return of a “political wunderkind”: Results of parliamentary elections in Austria
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.
From our partner International Affairs
EU to mount decisive summit on Kosovo
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
EU politicians turn to “ball of snakes” to make own careers
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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