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The relationship between President Trump and Europe

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] T [/yt_dropcap]he relationship between the United States and the European Union is inevitable and vital, regardless of what both partners think of each other. For Donald Trump, who is much less naive or inexperienced than he is portrayed, the European Union is a political landscape in which the main players are distracted by domestic and current issues, such as the elections in France, Germany, and possibly in Italy.

Not to mention elections in Hungary (before or after the spring of 2018), Albania (on June 18, 2017), Bulgaria (on March 27, 2017), as well as the French presidential elections scheduled for April 23 next.

It is also worth recalling that very important elections will be held in Germany on September 24, 2017, as well as in the Netherlands on March 15 next, in Norway on September 11 and in Portugal at the end of September. Presidential elections will be held in Serbia on April 30, 2017 and in Slovenia in December 2017. Furthermore local, but very important elections are scheduled for May 4, 2017 in Great Britain.

Not to mention the elections to be held in smaller, but often equally important countries: in Northern Ireland (on March 2, 2017), in Armenia on April 2 next – a possible thorn in the flesh for Russia – and in the Czech Republic – a fundamental asset in the new risiko between NATO, the United States and Russia – on a date to be decided yet in 2018.

In a EU geopolitical neighbourhood perspective, we must also mention the Iranian presidential election on May 19 next, or the Lebanese one which is likely to be held this year although the date has not been set yet.

Hence none of the global players are observing the EU as it currently is – with its Don Quixote-style fanciful approach – but all are awaiting – and endeavouring, where possible – to monitor elections and possibly make their favourite candidates win them.

Everybody has always done so and there is no point in being squeamish.

Who do you think funded Mussolini and his interventionist “Italian People’s Party”? The French intelligence services. Not to mention the October Revolution, set ablaze by Lenin who, in Spiegelgasse 14, Zurich – just a few meters to the famous “Cabaret Voltaire”, the birthplace of the Dadaist movement, of which the Russian revolutionary was never aware – was taken by the German Reich intelligence services and brought from the Zurich-Altstetten Station to the Finland Station in St. Petersburg, as told in the marvellous book by Edmund Wilson, “To the Finland Station, a Study on the Acting and Writing of History”.

Not to mention the Dreyfus affair, a late operation of the French intelligence services which exposed the pro-German network in their own apparata – a network which, on the contrary, worked perfectly in France’s penetration from the North. Finally, we can also mention the extraordinary operation of the Italian Fascist intelligence services in Switzerland that succeeded in fooling the British SOE established in the Canton of Ticino with phantasmagorical and yet credible operations in Genoa.

The “influence operations”, the most refined, sophisticated and significant for each intelligence service, are hard to manage but are often very effective. Everybody carry them out without admitting so.

They are the operations which count in the immaterial accounting of intelligence services.

Therefore there are many open political situations and many actions on the field, on both sides.

The poor wretched EU is currently no longer even able to handle a reasonable action in Libya (and I am referring to Italy, in particular) or a rational management of operations in the Gambia, where the Senegalese armed forces intervened – at the end of last January – to support the new Gambian President, Adama Barrow, against the old leader, Yahya Jammeh, who left with a planeload of luxury cars and money.

The Senegalese intervention in the Gambia was supported by ECOWAS, the Economic Community of the 15 West African States, which has no official relations with any Western country, except for its own representative to the United Nations (namely Mr. Tanouu Koné Leon, with residence in New Rochelle) and its liaison officer to the African Union Commission (namely Ms. Rahemat Momodu, in Addis Ababa) and, finally, its representative to the European Union (namely Mr. Jonas Hemou).

The operation was also military supported by Nigeria and Barrow was ousted directly from Botswana, which stated it no longer recognized him as the Head of the Ghanaian State, but once again we fear that the people of Ghana do not really like the change.

And what about the West? No news received.

An African region always guarded and controlled by the French intelligence services is evaporating in a querelle in which the essential aspect is lost: Ghana is the point from which Kenya can be controlled.

No problem for the Europeans: they think that the “sword jihad” can be stopped by shouting in the streets “Charlie c’est moi”.

And, indeed, this will tragically happen sooner or later.

Hence if currently we do not think of Europe within a larger region and perspective, we will lose the sense and the meaning of what is happening and of what will inevitably happen in the future.

Strategic encirclement, internal destabilization, chronic inability to cope with external influence operations, from whatever side they come.

In President Trump’ strategic thinking, however, the EU is “nothing covered with nothing” – just to paraphrase an old saying by Churchill on Soviet Russia.

In previous years, Barack Obama had noted with some surprise the European policy line during the Ukrainian crisis, with the annexation of Crimea in 2014, which the United States still consider illegal.

In 2015 there was the crisis of migration which, however, has shown an absolute lack of leadership on the part of the European Union.

Not to mention Brexit, a EU real act of strategic and military closure, if strategy and geopolitics ever played a role in Brussels or Strasbourg corridors and meeting rooms.

Just a European economics-oriented half-baked knowledge and beginner’s work, similar to what Marx himself called “trivial Marxism” and that the former USSR dissident, Vladimir Bukovsky – a biophysicist released in 1976 after 12 years spent in Soviet prisons – believed to be increasingly similar to what he experienced in the “wooden language” of the Soviet apparata.

By the way, Bukovsky, who collected the most beautiful and extensive archives of the old Soviet intelligence, was accused of having “searched for” paedophile sites on the Internet. Who knows why…

Indecisiveness and lack of determination, however, are always the major original sin in foreign policy and, from this viewpoint, Europe has committed this sin repeatedly.

Reverting to our considerations on the “agents of influence”, thank goodness in 1984 NATO, and later Helmut Schmidt himself, were alerted by a Milanese executive of the Italian Communist Party (PCI) – who shall remain nameless – that a senior KGB officer had certified the absolutely offensive use of the Soviet SS-20 missiles which, at the time, had 441 launch bases and were much better than the Pershing II missiles, which were later deployed by the Atlantic Alliance with great political difficulties, as well as demonstrations and riots in the streets. However, as President Trump clearly stated in his interview to the newspaper Bild of January 15 last, in his opinion NATO is “obsolete” and the EU is a “vehicle for Germany” – not to mention the fact that President Trump expects to see another European country soon leaving the European Union.

Although the Atlantic Alliance is obsolete – and in many respects it is really so – the 2017 budget still amounts to 1.29 billion euro, while the civilian budget is worth 234.4 million euro.

The criteria for defining contributions are carefully defined on the basis of tables drafted jointly by all the Member States of the Alliance.

Saying that the United States “pay too much” only means that they are not satisfied with the cost-benefit ratio within NATO, and not that the EU members of the Alliance should pay more for operations which ultimately serve only the US geopolitical interests.

Therefore the problem lies not so much in the financial and accounting cost of the Atlantic Alliance, but in the relationship between this cost and the value of the strategic result we plan to achieve by mutual agreement, which is the NATO geopolitical least common denominator.

EUCOM, namely the US-NATO European Command, covers 51 countries and has two traditional geopolitical goals: the actual separation between the Western Eurasian peninsula, namely Europe, and the Eurasian Heartland and control over the largest economic market of the world, namely Europe’s.

As Brzezinski used to say, the US strategic aim in this context is to break the continuity between the Eurasian central mass and the Asian Sino-Slavic centre.

Currently the Atlantic Resolve operation, based in Wroclaw, Poland and in Bulgaria, with 2,800 German tanks and artillery units and some US brigades, shows pressures from the United States – and in different degrees from Germany – on the Russian Federation, in clear correlation with the Russian actions in Crimea and Ukraine.

Furthermore, a few days ago Putin started to facilitate the granting of Russian documents to the citizens of the Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk.

This means that Russia has already lost its patience with Trump and is prepared to raise the level of confrontation – a level that has a visible profile and an invisible profile.

Pressures from Poland and Bulgaria which relate to the US and NATO operations in the Baltic countries, with 4,000 US soldiers and a group of CIA operatives to reassure the new independent countries of the region and close Russia northwards.

Is it a rational strategy? Yes and no. The Russian Federation should know that the expansion of its “influence” is not accepted in the EU, but that Europe intends to negotiate a new multipolar balance with Russia.

And here the issue does not lie in “trivial Marxism”, in trade ties disrupted or in export blocks.

If NATO remains the Cold War ghost, we are no longer interested in it.

Conversely if it is turned into a means of military pressure and threat, and even of influence, for dangerous areas (the Greater Middle East, Central and Southern Asia, Northern and Central Africa), it will still be the extraordinary instrument we knew until 1989.

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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Iceland’s Historic(al) Elections

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The morning of September, 26 was a good one for Lenya Run Karim of the Pirate Party. Once the preliminary results were announced, things were clear: the 21-year-old law student of the University of Iceland, originating from a Kurdish immigrant family, had become the youngest MP in the country’s history.

In historical significance, however, this event was second to another. Iceland, the world champion in terms of gender equality, became the first country in Europe to have more women MPs than men, 33 versus 30. The news immediately made world headlines: only five countries in the world have achieved such impressive results. Remarkably, all are non-European: Rwanda, Nicaragua and Cuba have a majority of women in parliament, while Mexico and the UAE have an equal number of male and female MPs.

Nine hours later, news agencies around the world had to edit their headlines. The recount in the Northwest constituency affected the outcome across the country to delay the ‘triumph for women’ for another four years.

Small numbers, big changes

The Icelandic electoral system is designed so that 54 out of the 63 seats in the Althingi, the national parliament, are primary or constituency seats, while another nine are equalization seats. Only parties passing the 5 per cent threshold are allowed to distribute equalisation seats that go to the candidates who failed to win constituency mandates and received the most votes in their constituency. However, the number of equalisation mandates in each of the 6 constituencies is legislated. In theory, this could lead to a situation in which the leading party candidate in one constituency may simply lack an equalisation mandate, so the leading candidate of the same party—but in another constituency—receives it.

This is what happened this year. Because of a difference of only ten votes between the Reform Party and the Pirate Party, both vying for the only equalisation mandate in the Northwest, the constituency’s electoral commission announced a recount on its own initiative. There were also questions concerning the counting procedure as such: the ballots were not sealed but simply locked in a Borgarnes hotel room. The updated results hardly affected the distribution of seats between the parties, bringing in five new MPs, none of whom were women, with the 21-year-old Lenya Run Karim replaced by her 52-year-old party colleague.

In the afternoon of September, 27, at the request of the Left-Green Movement, supported by the Independence Party, the Pirates and the Reform Party, the commission in the South announced a recount of their own—the difference between the Left-Greens and the Centrists was only seven votes. There was no ‘domino effect’, as in the case of the Northwest, as the five-hour recount showed the same result. Recounts in other districts are unlikely, nor is it likely that Althingi—vested with the power to declare the elections valid—would invalidate the results in the Northwest. Nevertheless, the ‘replaced’ candidates have already announced their intention to appeal against the results, citing violations of ballot storage procedures. Under the Icelandic law, this is quite enough to invalidate the results and call a re-election in the Northwest, as the Supreme Court of Iceland invalidated the Constitutional Council elections due to a breach of procedure 10 years ago. Be that as it may, the current score remains 33:30, in favor of men.

Progressives’ progress and threshold for socialists

On the whole, there were no surprises: the provisional allocation of mandates resembles, if with minor changes, the opinion polls on the eve of the election.

The ruling three-party coalition has rejuvenated its position, winning 37 out of the 63 Althingi seats. The centrist Progressive Party saw a real electoral triumph, improving its 2017 result by five seats. Prime-minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir’s Left-Green Movement, albeit with a slight loss, won eight seats, surpassing all pre-election expectations. Although the centre-right Independence Party outperformed everyone again to win almost a quarter of all votes, 16 seats are one of the worst results of the Icelandic ‘Grand Old Party’ ever.

The results of the Social-Democrats, almost 10% versus 12.1% in 2017, and of the Pirates, 8.6% versus 9.2%, have deteriorated. Support for the Centre Party of Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, former prime-minister and victim of the Panama Papers, has halved from 10.9% to 5.4%. The centrists have seen a steady decline in recent years, largely due to a sexist scandal involving party MPs. The populist People’s Party and the pro-European Reform Party have seen gains of 8.8% and 8.3%, as compared to 6.9% and 6.7% in the previous elections.

Of the leading Icelandic parties, only the Socialist Party failed to pass the 5 per cent threshold: despite a rating above 7% in August, the Socialists received only 4.1% of the vote.

Coronavirus, climate & economy

Healthcare and the fight against COVID-19 was, expectedly, on top of the agenda of the elections: 72% of voters ranked it as the defining issue, according to a Fréttablaðið poll. Thanks to swift and stringent measures, the Icelandic government brought the coronavirus under control from day one, and the country has enjoyed one of the lowest infection rates in the world for most of the time. At the same time, the pandemic exposed a number of problems in the national healthcare system: staff shortages, low salaries and long waiting lists for emergency surgery.

Climate change, which Icelanders are already experiencing, was an equally important topic. This summer, the temperature has not dropped below 20°C for 59 days, an anomaly for a North-Atlantic island. However, Icelanders’ concerns never converted into increased support for the four left-leaning parties advocating greater reductions in CO2 emission than the country has committed to under the Paris Agreement: their combined result fell by 0.5%.

The economy and employment were also among the main issues in this election. The pandemic has severely damaged the island nation’s economy, which is heavily tourism-reliant—perhaps, unsurprisingly, many Icelanders are in favor of reviving the tourism sector as well as diversifying the economy further.

The EU membership, by far a ‘traditional’ issue in Icelandic politics, is unlikely to be featured on the agenda of the newly-elected parliament as the combined result of the Eurosceptics, despite a loss of 4%, still exceeds half of the overall votes. The new Althingi will probably face the issue of constitutional reform once again, which is only becoming more topical in the light of the pandemic and the equalization mandates story.

New (old) government?

The parties are to negotiate coalition formation. The most likely scenario now is that the ruling coalition of the Independence Party, the Left-Greens and the Progressives continues. It has been the most ideologically diverse and the first three-party coalition in Iceland’s history to last a full term. A successful fight against the pandemic has only strengthened its positions and helped it secure additional votes. Independence Party leader and finance minister Bjarni Benediktsson has earlier said he would be prepared to keep the ruling coalition if it holds the majority. President Guðni Jóhannesson announced immediately after the elections that he would confirm the mandate of the ruling coalition to form a new government if the three parties could strike a deal.

Other developments are possible but unlikely. Should the Left-Greens decide to leave the coalition, they could be replaced by the Reform Party or the People’s Party, while any coalition without the Independence Party can only be a four-party or larger coalition.

Who will become the new prime-minister still remains to be seen—but if the ruling coalition remains in place, the current prime-minister and leader of the Left-Greens, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, stands a good chance of keeping her post: she is still the most popular politician in Iceland with a 40 per cent approval rate.

The 2021 Althingi election, with one of the lowest turnouts in history at 80.1%, has not produced a clear winner. The election results reflect a Europe-wide trend in which traditional “major” parties are losing support. The electorate is fragmenting and their votes are pulled by smaller new parties. The coronavirus pandemic has only reinforced this trend.

The 2021 campaign did not foreshadow a sensation. Although Iceland has not become the first European country with a women’s majority in parliament, these elections will certainly go down in history as a test of Icelanders’ trust to their own democracy.

From our partner RIAC

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EU-Balkan Summit: No Set Timeframe for Western Balkans Accession

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From left to right: Janez JANŠA (Prime Minister, Slovenia), Charles MICHEL (President of the European Council), Ursula VON DER LEYEN (President of the European Commission) Copyright: European Union

On October 6, Slovenia hosted a summit between the EU and the Western Balkans states. The EU-27 met with their counterparts (Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Kosovo) in the sumptuous Renaissance setting of Brdo Castle, 30 kilometers north of the capital, Ljubljana. Despite calls from a minority of heads of state and government, there were no sign of a breakthrough on the sensitive issue of enlargement. The accession of these countries to the European Union is still not unanimous among the 27 EU member states.

During her final tour of the Balkans three weeks ago, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that the peninsula’s integration was of “geostrategic” importance. On the eve of the summit, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz backed Slovenia’s goal of integrating this zone’s countries into the EU by 2030.

However, the unanimity required to begin the hard negotiations is still a long way off, even for the most advanced countries in the accession process, Albania and North Macedonia. Bulgaria, which is already a member of the EU, is opposing North Macedonia’s admission due to linguistic and cultural differences. Since Yugoslavia’s demise, Sofia has rejected the concept of Macedonian language, insisting that it is a Bulgarian dialect, and has condemned the artificial construction of a distinct national identity.

Other countries’ reluctance to join quickly is of a different nature. France and the Netherlands believe that previous enlargements (Bulgaria and Romania in 2007) have resulted in changes that must first be digested before the next round of enlargement. The EU-27 also demand that all necessary prior guarantees be provided regarding the independence of the judiciary and the fight against corruption in these countries. Despite the fact that press freedom is a requirement for membership, the NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urged the EU to make “support for investigative and professional journalism” a key issue at the summit.”

While the EU-27 have not met since June, the topic of Western Balkans integration is competing with other top priorities in the run-up to France’s presidency of the EU in the first half of 2022. On the eve of the summit, a working dinner will be held, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, called for “a strategic discussion on the role of the Union on the international scene” in his letter of invitation to the EU-Balkans Summit, citing “recent developments in Afghanistan,” the announcement of the AUKUS pact between the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom, which has enraged Paris.

The Western Balkans remain the focal point of an international game of influence in which the Europeans seek to maintain their dominance. As a result, the importance of reaffirming a “European perspective” at the summit was not an overstatement. Faced with the more frequent incursion of China, Russia, and Turkey in that European region, the EU has pledged a 30 billion euro Economic and Investment Plan for 2021-2027, as well as increased cooperation, particularly to deal with the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Opening the borders, however, is out of the question. In the absence of progress on this issue, Albania, North Macedonia, and Serbia have decided to establish their own zone of free movement (The Balkans are Open”) beginning January 1, 2023. “We are starting today to do in the region what we will do tomorrow in the EU,” said Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama when the agreement was signed last July.

This initiative, launched in 2019 under the name “Mini-Schengen” and based on a 1990s idea, does not have the support of the entire peninsular region, which remains deeply divided over this project. While Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro are not refusing to be a part of it and are open to discussions, the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti, who took office in 2020, for his part accuses Serbia of relying on this project to recreate “a fourth Yugoslavia”

Tensions between Balkan countries continue to be an impediment to European integration. The issue of movement between Kosovo and Serbia has been a source of concern since the end of September. Two weeks of escalation followed Kosovo’s decision to prohibit cars with Serbian license plates from entering its territory, in response to Serbia’s long-standing prohibition on allowing vehicles to pass in the opposite direction.

In response to the mobilization of Kosovar police to block the road, Serbs in Kosovo blocked roads to their towns and villages, and Serbia deployed tanks and the air force near the border. On Sunday, October 3, the conflict seemed to be over, and the roads were reopened. However, the tone had been set three days before the EU-Balkans summit.

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German Election: Ramifications for the US Foreign Policy

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Image source: twitter @OlafScholz

In the recent German election, foreign policy was scarcely an issue. But Germany is an important element in the US foreign policy. There is a number of cases where Germany and the US can cooperate, but all of these dynamics are going to change very soon.

The Germans’ strategic culture makes it hard to be aligned perfectly with the US and disagreements can easily damage the relations. After the tension between the two countries over the Iraq war, in 2003, Henry Kissinger said that he could not imagine the relations between Germany and the US could be aggravated so quickly, so easily, which might end up being the “permanent temptation of German politics”. For a long time, the US used to provide security for Germany during the Cold War and beyond, so, several generations are used to take peace for granted. But recently, there is a growing demand on them to carry more burden, not just for their own security, but for international peace and stability. This demand was not well-received in Berlin.

Then, the environment around Germany changed and new threats loomed up in front of them. The great powers’ competition became the main theme in international relations. Still, Germany was not and is not ready for shouldering more responsibility. Politicians know this very well. Ursula von der Leyen, who was German defense minister, asked terms like “nuclear weapons” and “deterrence” be removed from her speeches.

Although on paper, all major parties appreciate the importance of Germany’s relations with the US, the Greens and SPD ask for a reset in the relations. The Greens insist on the European way in transatlantic relations and SPD seeks more multilateralism. Therefore, alignment may be harder to maintain in the future. However, If the tensions between the US and China heat up to melting degrees, then external pressure can overrule the internal pressure and Germany may accede to its transatlantic partners, just like when Helmut Schmid let NATO install medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe after the Soviet Union attacked Afghanistan and the Cold War heated up.

According to the election results, now three coalitions are possible: grand coalition with CDU/CSU and SPD, traffic lights coalition with SPD, FDP, and Greens, Jamaica coalition with CDU/CSU, FDP, and Greens. Jamaica coalition will more likely form the most favorable government for the US because it has both CDU and FDP, and traffic lights will be the least favorite as it has SPD. The grand coalition can maintain the status quo at best, because contrary to the current government, SPD will dominate CDU.

To understand nuances, we need to go over security issues to see how these coalitions will react to them. As far as Russia is concerned, none of them will recognize the annexation of Crimea and they all support related sanctions. However, if tensions heat up, any coalition government with SPD will be less likely assertive. On the other hand, as the Greens stress the importance of European values like democracy and human rights, they tend to be more assertive if the US formulates its foreign policy by these common values and describe US-China rivalry as a clash between democracy and authoritarianism. Moreover, the Greens disapprove of the Nordstream project, of course not for its geopolitics. FDP has also sided against it for a different reason. So, the US must follow closely the negotiations which have already started between anti-Russian smaller parties versus major parties.

For relations with China, pro-business FDP is less assertive. They are seeking for developing EU-China relations and deepening economic ties and civil society relations. While CDU/CSU and Greens see China as a competitor, partner, and systemic rival, SPD and FDP have still hopes that they can bring change through the exchange. Thus, the US might have bigger problems with the traffic lights coalition than the Jamaica coalition in this regard.

As for NATO and its 2 percent of GDP, the division is wider. CDU/CSU and FDP are the only parties who support it. So, in the next government, it might be harder to persuade them to pay more. Finally, for nuclear participation, the situation is the same. CDU/CSU is the only party that argues for it. This makes it an alarming situation because the next government has to decide on replacing Germany’s tornados until 2024, otherwise Germany will drop out of the NATO nuclear participation.

The below table gives a brief review of these three coalitions. 1 indicates the lowest level of favoritism and 3 indicates the highest level of favoritism. As it shows, the most anti-Russia coalition is Jamaica, while the most anti-China coalition is Trafic light. Meanwhile, Grand Coalition is the most pro-NATO coalition. If the US adopts a more normative foreign policy against China and Russia, then the Greens and FDP will be more assertive in their anti-Russian and anti-Chinese policies and Germany will align more firmly with the US if traffic light or Jamaica coalition rise to power.

Issues CoalitionsTrafic LightGrand CoalitionJamaica
Russia213 
China312 
NATO132 

1 indicates the lowest level of favoritism. 3 indicates the highest level of favoritism.

In conclusion, this election should not make Americans any happier. The US has already been frustrated with the current government led by Angela Merkel who gave Germany’s trade with China the first priority, and now that the left-wing will have more say in any imaginable coalition in the future, the Americans should become less pleased. But, still, there are hopes that Germany can be a partner for the US in great power competition if the US could articulate its foreign policy with common values, like democracy and human rights. More normative foreign policy can make a reliable partner out of Germany. Foreign policy rarely became a topic in this election, but observers should expect many ramifications for it.

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