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Prime Minister May’s hard Brexit

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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The speech of the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, delivered on January 17 at Mansion House, foreshadows a new and more global Britain, but above all entails the end of the European Union as we know it today.

Thirty years after the speech delivered by Margaret Thatcher at Lancaster House in 1988, when the conservative Iron Lady accepted the European single market and the freedom of movement and trade within Europe, a new conservative Iron Lady states she is ready to leave the European Union and the European single market.

In the European Union, Great Britain has always experienced Germany’s marked hegemony that it has tried to control both by entering the European Union and then deciding to leave it, as it is currently doing.

Great Britain never wants hegemonic powers in its way: neither the EU nor the Franco-German Europe, nor even the possible EU of the South, with the alliance between Italy, Spain, Greece, the Balkans and Austria.

In fact, the documents of the Bank of England on the euro have always been very clear: we do not want the single currency because, as Great Britain, we are a global power and the only counterpart for the Commonwealth, and we do not accept a Mark disguised as European currency, namely the euro, which is the result of a pact – proposed by Margareth Thatcher herself – between those who did not want German reunification and Germany itself.

The core of the issue was as follows: Germany could be reunited but it had to give its currency as ransom.

At that time the Italian President of the Republic, Francesco Cossiga, was in very close contact with Margaret Thatcher, on the one hand, and Helmut Kohl on the other.

He carried out a strong and necessary mediation activity.

Hence, in his recent speech, Theresa May has made it clear that Great Britain wants back its full sovereignty on migration issues, which will be the axis of the future “engineering of nations” and the primary tool for controlling and managing the labour force, its complexion and cost. She also wants full sovereignty on customs – another essential factor in the relationship between Great Britain and the European Union.

Hence, following the traditional model of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA), May’s government will manage a series of trade agreements with the individual EU and non-EU countries. Obviously what will be missing in the Euro-British regulations will be richly offset by the new economic relations between Great Britain and its wide Commonwealth, as well as between Great Britain and Donald Trump’s United States.

Let us wonder, however, whether the United States still need the European Union – this is currently the real question.

In fact, only the US weight and clout did enable France and Germany to create the first pan-European institutions and only Great Britain did act as a strategic and economic counterbalance to ”Rhenish Europe”, the one that Charles De Gaulle defined as “the United States’ Trojan horse”.

Indeed, before the vote on Brexit, it was precisely Great Britain to strongly support the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which was designed as a geoeconomic alternative to the probable fragmentation and disruption of the European Union.

Hence Brexit has had a long-standing gestation and it will completely change the EU strategic and economic landscape.

It was worth recalling that it was Prime Minister Edward Heath to bring Great Britain into the European Common Market in 1973 – a choice reaffirmed by the outcome of the referendum held by Wilson two years later.

However, throughout the 1980s, the European integration process slowed down significantly and, therefore, in those years the City of London created wealth with its monetarist policies of high interest rates. This enabled the holders of UK government bonds to make excellent profit and also enabled the City to stabilize its rates without adhering to the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM).

In 1986 Thatcher’s financial reforms established a close link between the City and the US financial system – a link which will obviously make Brexit even stronger.

However are the United States really interested in having a “Little Britain”, which will no longer be the trusted channel with the EU, or will they strengthen the traditional ties of the Anglosphere between Britain and the United States?

And what will be the geopolitical and financial link between one of the largest economic areas of the globe, namely he EU, and the United States, which cannot certainly afford to neglect Europe?

Certainly Donald Trump was clearly in favour of Brexit and, after taking office, he will be the first world leader to receive Theresa May at the White House on January 27th.

Moreover, it is well-known that President Trump does not like the European Union. He prefers to deal with the individual EU Member States, but this does not mean that Europe is not still decisive in the US strategic and economic framework.

Do the United States want to keep united and friendly a great commercial and political area, namely the EU, which acts as a rampart vis-à-vis the Russian Federation and the Arab and Islamic world, or do they want to deal only with its Member States, thus destroying the Union and paving the way for Chinese and Islamic capital?

We will soon see Donald trump’s proposals in this regard.

Moreover, the origin of the European Monetary Union lies exactly in its unusual and asymmetrical relationship with the United States: the slow creation of the single currency stems from the crisis of the Bretton Woods agreements, created specifically by the United States, by the strong exchange rate volatility in that phase and, above all, by the US refusal to restore a global monetary balance.

Only China and, in other respects, the Russian Federation are currently interested in redesigning, with the EU, a new international monetary and financial system which will be based on a basket of currencies at variable exchange rates in a predefined range.

Furthermore today Germany does no longer need a highly regulated economy, mediating between capital and labour, as was the case until 2000 and up to the financial crises of 2006 and 2009.

Hence Germany can further financialize its economy by lending euro to its periphery and hence maintaining extremely high trade surpluses, as currently happens, or can invest directly in the US system through the City.

The United States will always have a growing share of high-interest and short-term “toxic” assets.

Moreover, regardless of Brexit, the City’s trading and transactions with the United States and the European Union have decreased significantly.

London’s financial centre does not yet know whether to invest in the EU or elsewhere in the world, especially in China or in the BRICs and the British government’s participation in the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank proposed by China has created strong tensions with the United States. Said tensions will persist if the North American financial markets maintain their growth.

Another problem not to be overlooked is that neo-liberal policies, from Thatcher onwards, have deeply divided Great Britain socially and geographically.

In Great Britain the Gini coefficient, a statistical measure of social inequality, has risen from 0.26 in 1979 to the current 0.4.

The gap between the rich London and the South of the country and the increasingly poor North is particularly evident.

All this could lead to an inherent weakness of the British political system, irrespective of the party in power.

Moreover, as many commentators have noted, also Donald Trump’s election is a kind of Amexit: the US unilateral withdrawal from the post-Cold War global system, which had not been well negotiated and was based on the Russian and Chinese strategic void filled by an America which was becoming the only global power.

This is no longer the case – the United States are no longer the “indispensable nation”. With President Trump, the United States will no longer act as the world’s policeman and, in the North American decision-makers’ minds, Brexit means that the EU shall either break up or rebuild itself as a real Union.

Also NATO which, until Barack Obama’s Presidency, denied to Russia and China the right to their natural spheres of influence – often with suicidal intentions – will be a US (and British) direct instrument or an inter-European mechanism which, however, the EU Member States shall pay largely by themselves – and today’s Europe has certainly neither money nor strategic ideas.

Moreover, Theresa May’s Brexit is not yet well-defined within the British political scene: the Supreme Court’s ruling has forced the government to seek approval from Parliament before formally starting negotiations on Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. The Scottish National Party wants to remain in the EU and threatens to hold a second referendum on the separation between Scotland and England and it also wants to table over 50 new amendments to the law for Britain’s withdrawal from the EU according to Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

The Labour Party itself wants to slow down the process of separation between Britain and the Union, although it will generally vote in favour of Brexit in Parliament.

The Tories have no majority in the House of Lords and the Bremain supporters could cause problems to Prime Minister May’s government.

Hence if – as currently everything leads us to think – President Trump manages the new relationship with Britain vigorously, the UK economy will be granted full and free access to the US financial and non-financial market, without forgetting that Prime Minister May wants better strategic and military cooperation with the United States, both for renewing the Trident missile system and for tackling the other matters relating to global intelligence.

As a result of Brexit and the consequent British full entry into the US economic and strategic sphere, the EU will be less effective also at military and intelligence levels.

Hence we will see what will happen on January 27 next, after Prime Minister May’s meeting with President Trump in Washington.

At technical and legal levels, the British Prime Minister intends to close the economic negotiations between her country and the EU Member States before the end of the procedure pursuant to Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which also means she wants to avoid “cliff edge”, namely the tariff and economic cliff edge of spring 2019, the moment of real Brexit.

Not surprisingly, Prime Minister May talks about an “implementation phase” from now until 2019, before the end of negotiations with the EU on Article 50.

The political and strategic significance is very clear: Prime Minister May wants to stay on good terms with the EU area but, if Europeans want to “punish” Britain, London will become a centre for the trade, financial and political war against the European Union.

If the EU has a punitive attitude vis-à-vis the UK on Article 50, Britain will become a low-taxation and low- regulation economy; it will gradually acquire a large part of European industries and will wage a tariff and financial war against the EU and its Member States.

Not to mention the City’s finance, which will be directed against the euro area and will support any aggressive US dollar operation.

Or any aggressive operation of other countries, which will certainly come to the fore against an ever weaker Euro.

Currently the global economic trends are clear: increased uncertainty on global financial markets, which favours emerging economies and their countries of reference, such as Russia and China; reduced dependence of peripheral markets from those of the First World economies (the so-called decoupling) and the rise of China’s public debt.

Probably, the growth of public spending in the United States will add other crisis factors on the global scene, while we must not neglect the agreement between Russia and OPEC for reducing oil extraction and the related increase in oil barrel prices.

The EU may remain the old regional union of the Cold War and it will be bound to break up under the combined pressure of Brexit and Trump’s Presidency in the United States, or may become smart and hence start or extend negotiations with Israel, the non-EU Balkans’ area, South Korea and Singapore – obviously in addition to China and Russia – for a new Eurasian economic union.

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

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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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