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There Will Always Be Spanish Catalonia

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On October 6th 2016, the Parliament of Catalonia designated the 17th of September 2017 as the date in which the population of that region are to vote in a referendum to determine whether to remain as part of the Kingdom of Spain or formally assume the status of a sovereign country.

Catalonia’s Regional President Carles Puigdemont made it clear that though he would ideally hold the referendum with the central government’s approval, he would hold it “with or without Spain’s blessing.” For its part, the central Spanish government which is based in Madrid has voiced its opposition to the prospect of Catalan independence as apart from the undermining of territorial integrity, it would mean losing a sixth of its population, and a key economic contributor to the stagnant Spanish economy, in which some approximate 22 percent of the population are unemployed. But what would Catalan independence really mean? In the context of financial flows between Catalonia and Spain, as well as international trade, globalisation, the EU, NATO, and cultural confluences between the two entities, would Catalan independence be a mere formality? In other words, has the Catalan Question been relegated to the symbolic by these twenty-first century forces?

The question of Catalan independence is as old as Spain itself. Having been originally independent as the County of Barcelona, it was merged with Aragon in the 11th century, (and – ironically – served as an important launch-pad seaport that allowed Aragon to become an important seagoing nation, and an important naval power in the Mediterranean and eventually subdue other nations such as Valencia, which is still a part of Spain) which itself in turn was merged with Castile in 1469 in the personal union that arose from the marriage between King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile that birthed the Kingdom of Spain. In the following five centuries, perhaps the most tumultuous and unstable in Spain’s history (enduring a war of succession, occupation by Napoleonic France, civil war, no less than two coup d’états and restorations), the Catalan province enjoyed unpredictable relations with the Crown of Spain. To begin with, in the early 18th century, with the death of the childless King Charles II, Spain had a new King whom Catalonia had opposed in the 12-year war of succession (1702-14) in Louis XIV’s grandson, Philip V, the ancestor of the Spanish branch of the Bourbon dynasty, which retains the crown of that country to this day. In the ensuing years of his reign, King Philip energetically enacted “Spanification” attempts that saw him clamp the relative regional autonomy that the various medieval kingdoms such as Catalonia had enjoyed – with the exception of Basque, which had supported him in the war – and began a process of centralisation along the lines of what Cardinal Richelieu and later Louis XIV had done in France. He also established a Royal Academy that perhaps in retrospect came to be the agitating cause of the desire for independence among the Catalans as its implicit foundational mandate was the replacement of various regional languages, including Catalan, as languages of government and of literature in their respective territories.

Between 1931 and 1939, with the fall of the monarchy and the rise of the (second) Spanish Republic, Catalonia once again enjoyed regional autonomy and was even self-confident enough to declare independence under the charismatic Francesc Macià i Llussà in 1931, only to later renegotiate its relationship with Spain and become a greatly independent Generalitat de Catalunya within Spain a year later. With the victory of General Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) came many reversals to the autonomy of Catalonia once again. The conservative, fascist government, which had won the war partly as a result of assistance from Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy, enacted measures that once more rolled back regional autonomy, and went as far as to ban regional languages from public use.

With the death of Franco and the restoration of the monarchy, Spain entered had a surprising democratic transition and a period of economic growth that economists rendered almost miraculous. And importantly, regional autonomy was put back on the table, with Catalonia walking away with a greater deal of it than most of Spain’s other regions. Increasingly, however, Catalans wanted more of it. Today, as a result of the seismic 2015 election in that region, the 135-seat Parliament of Catalonia is under a 72-seat majority held by the pro-independence Together for Yes (Junts pel Si) coalition of secessionist parties which won the highest number of seats at 62 as well as the pro-independence, anti-Euro, anti-NATO, Eurosceptic CUP (Candidatura d’Unitat Popular) which came third place (a position it shares with many pro-union parties), winning 10 seats. Both parties ran on manifestos promising a referendum on independence, and did so against the backdrop of a 2014 non-binding (and, some say, illegal) referendum in which 80% of those who answered voted “Yes” (hence the name of the coalition). The French-born leader of the coalition Muriel Casals i Couturier, who died in early 2016 from motor injuries, described the motivation behind separatism in these terms: “the dream of traditional Catalanism has been shown to be unworkable, and that if we want to live as Catalans we mustn’t seek to transform Spain – just our relationship with it.”

However, the transformation of that relationship may prove somewhat vacuous.

The Spanish-speaking community outside of Spain, mainly concentrated in Latin America, maintains close relations with the former mother land, to the extent that the now-defunct government-in-exile of the second Spanish Republic during the Franco years chose Mexico City as its headquarters. According to Sam Wang, researcher at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, “Spain, although having lost its continental possessions in the Americas two centuries ago, still regards relations with Latin America as a top foreign policy priority, and maintains strong political, business, and cultural links with Latin America. Although Spain’s economy and political influence is dwarfed by those of the United States, Britain, and China, Spain commits proportionally more resources to Latin America than any major power in diplomacy, foreign aid, investment, and cultural activities. In Spain, many people, including government officials, believe that Madrid’s relation[s] with Spanish-speaking Latin America is a “special” one: characterized by a common language and a shared cultural history and identity.”

What is interesting is the economic side of the story. For a considerable number of Latin American countries, Spain is their second-largest trading partner outside of the more economically and politically potent and geographically closer US: Spain enjoys particularly strong economic ties with Mexico (18 percent), Colombia (13 percent), and the Central American economies, and in 2014, a total of 19.6 percent of Spanish FDI flowed to Latin America. To put it in context, about 40% of Spain’s FDI for the same period was towards the EU with whom Spain has much more formalised ties thanks to the common tariff.

Being “heavily reliant on Spain’s Treasury credit lines,” according to CNBC’s Caroline Roth, Catalonia, much as the secessionist elements would have it otherwise, is unlikely to be rid of that dependency for a long time; and should political independence be won, the economic one will merely take a different form. Indeed, former colonies (as no doubt many pro-independence politicians would characterise Catalonia’s status in Spain) tend to have notoriously resilient trade pathways with their former colonisers. Spain as a market is a very important one for Catalonia. In 2012, for example, Catalonia exported goods worth €58,282 million to foreign countries; a figure well in excess of sales to the Spanish market, which amounted to €49,026 million, but one which, at 45.7%, signifies Spain’s importance to Catalonia. “A key aspect to consider in our analysis is the presence in Catalonia of numerous Spanish companies, for whom the Catalan market represents between 15% and 25% of the Spanish market as a whole. The ten Spanish firms with the largest turnover are: Telefónica, Repsol, Santander Bank, Endesa,Iberdrola,ACS Group,CEPSA, BBVA, Mercadona and El Corte Inglés.Most of them are present on a large scale in Catalonia,” stated Francesc Raventós who served as Chief Executive Officer and Director at Catalana d’Iniciatives S.C.R., S.A., in a report published by Association of Economists of Catalonia on September 11, 2014 (Catalonia’s national day).

And so, a hypothetical break with Spain need not mean a severing of ties. And far from it; the existence of the EU could effectively render Catalan independence only symbolic. With the existence of a common tariff (should it ascend to the EU), the Schengen Area, and the CSDP, cooperation and confluence with Spain would be quite concentrated as common issues such as the economy, terrorism, and migration make insulation an improbability in today’s Europe. And should it desire to, an independent Catalan Republic would most likely gain entrance in the EU (unless of course Spain vetoes the ascension, which is a possibility). It has a strong economy (having been the least affected by the 2008 financial crisis and ensuing recession, unlike the rest of Spain), a vibrant democracy and stable institutions. And so, ironically, Catalonia is an ideal EU member for the same reasons that it wants out of Spain. As the Catalan economist, David Ross Serra has put it, “juridically,…an independent Catalonia would fit into EU legislation and International law.”

On the cultural front, apart from Catholicism (which represents a religious uniformity not even England can boast regarding Ireland and Scotland), the key commonality between Catalans and Spaniards is the social currency of football; their two respective flagship teams being among the best in the world: FC Barcelona and Real Madrid FC, respectively (Barcelona currently being 2nd and Madrid 1st). FC Barcelona has a presidency and a substantial number of players who wish for Catalonian independence, a fact which triggered the president of the Spanish Sports Council, Miguel Cardenal, to come out and state that Barcelona would lose a lot of income from the loss of La Liga broadcasting rights. And for their part, the pro-independence elements in the soccer team would like to continue to be able to play in La Liga. “[On this issue] perhaps a compromise is possible,” said Jan Marot of Politico.

Should independence be won, it is highly probable that the Together for Yes coalition, which was born out of a desire to deliver independence would lose its mandate (as has UKIP in the UK, some argue, after Brexit) and become divided on the nuts and bolts of what independence should mean, not in the least as it pertains to the relationship with Madrid, as well as with Brussels. As it stands, the party with the highest number of seats within the coalition is the pro-EU Catalan European Democratic Party, with its junior partners having no particularly consequential Eurosceptic views. On the other hand, apart from the Eurosceptic CUP, most of the other parties who compose the rest of the Catalan Parliament, including the 32-seat Citizens Party, are pro-EU. And so, in the event of independence, it is likely that Catalonia would not completely rule out membership in the EU, and therefore concentrated economic, political, and even human exchange with Spain.

Come September 17th, I am not sure what the Catalan people will choose, and there is evidence that they are not yet either (the 80% who voted for independence in the 2014 referendum were less than 50% of Catalonia’s population; and despite their parliamentary majority, Catalonia’s separatist parties garnered only 48% of the popular vote), and what Spain will make of it; though there is clear evidence that the pro-independence camp has the edge and Madrid will have few choices outside of recognising the outcome. Essentially, it would appear that what Catalonia wants from Spain has already been granted to it in that the region enjoys formal autonomy from Madrid and has a distinct culture for which its people are not persecuted (though pledging loyalty to the Bourbon King continues to be a sore subject). From the football pitch, to questions of human settlement (think India and Pakistan in 1947, though perhaps with far less bloodshed and urgency), security issues, as well as the economy, should independence be won, the existence of the deep ties between the two entities will – as they are being unravelled – become more and more visible (if not retightened anew, as was the case in the early 1930s). It is quite clear therefore that, for better or for worse, there will always be Spanish Catalonia, and for that matter Catalan Spain.

Bhaso Ndzendze is the Research Director at the University of Johannesburg-Nanjing Tech University Centre for Africa-China Studies (CACS). His research interests include international economics, security studies, and International Relations methodology and he has taught and written on Africa-China relations, the politics of the Middle East, soft power, and the war on terror among other topics at the University of the Witwatersrand. His work has appeared in numerous journals and in the popular press including Business Day, Mail and Guardian, The Sunday Independent and The Mercury among others. His most recent publication is the Beginner’s Dictionary of Contemporary International Relations.

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Economic situation is EU citizens’ top concern in light of the coronavirus pandemic

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In a troubled period marked by the coronavirus pandemic, trust in the EU remains stable and Europeans trust the EU to make the right decisions in response to the pandemic in the future. In the new Standard Eurobarometer survey released today, European citizens identify the economic situation, the state of Member States’ public finances and immigration as the three top concerns at EU level. The economic situation is also the main concern at national level, followed by health and unemployment.

In the new Eurobarometer conducted in July and August, concern about the economic situation is reflected in the perception of the current state of the economy. 64% of Europeans think that the situation is ‘bad’ and 42% of Europeans think that their country’s economy will recover from the adverse effects of the coronavirus outbreak ‘in 2023 or later’.

Europeans are divided (45% ‘satisfied’ vs 44% ‘not satisfied’) regarding the measures taken by the EU to fight the pandemic. However, 62% say they trust the EU to make the right decisions in the future, and 60% remain optimistic about the future of the EU.

Trust and image of the EU

Trust in the European Union has remained stable since autumn 2019 at 43%, despite variations of public perceptions during the pandemic. Trust in national governments and parliaments has increased (40%, +6 percentage points and 36%, +2 respectively).

In 15 Member States, a majority of respondents says they trust the EU, with the highest levels observed in Ireland (73%), Denmark (63%) and Lithuania (59%). The lowest levels of trust in the EU are observed in Italy (28%), France (30%) and Greece (32%).

The proportion of respondents with a positive image of the EU is the same as that with a neutral image (40%). 19% of respondents have a negative image of the EU (-1 percentage points).

In 13 EU Member States, a majority of respondents has a positive image of the EU, with the highest proportions observed in Ireland (71%), Poland and Portugal (both 55%). In 13 other Member States, the EU conjures up a predominantly neutral image for respondents, with the highest proportions observed in Malta (56%), Spain, Latvia and Slovenia (all 48%).

Main concerns at EU and national level

Citizens mentioned the economic situation as the most pressing issue facing the EU – over one-third (35%) of all respondents, a strong increase of 16 percentage points since autumn 2019, and rise from third to first concern. Concern about the economic situation has not been this high since spring 2014.

Europeans are also increasingly concerned about the state of Member States’ public finances (23%, +6 percentage points, the highest level since spring 2015), which moves from fifth to second place on a par with immigration (23%, -13 percentage points), the latter now being at the lowest level since autumn 2014.

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, health (22%, new item) is the  fourth most mentioned concern at EU level. The issue of the environment and climate change has lost ground, down 8 percentage points to 20%, followed by unemployment (17%, +5 percentage points).

Similarly, the economic situation (33%, +17 percentage points) has overtaken health as the most important issue at national level, rising from seventh to first position. Although in second position, health has had a notable increase in mentions since autumn 2019 (31%, +9 percentage points), taking it to its highest ever level over the past six years.

Unemployment has also increased considerably in importance (28%, +8 percentage points), followed by rising prices/inflation/cost of living (18%, -2 percentage points), the environment and climate change (14%, -6 percentage points) and government debt (12%, +4 percentage points). Mentions of immigration (11%, -5 percentage points), are at their lowest level for the past six years.

The current economic situation

Since autumn 2019, the proportion of Europeans who think that the current situation of their national economy is ‘good’ (34%, -13 percentage points) has declined considerably, while the proportion of respondents who judge this situation to be ‘bad’ has increased sharply (64%, +14 percentage points).

At national level, a majority of respondents in 10 countries says that the national economic situation is good (down from 15 in autumn 2019). The proportion of respondents who say the situation of their national economy is good ranges from 83% in Luxembourg to 9% in Greece.

The coronavirus pandemic and public opinion in the EU

Europeans are divided on the measures taken by the EU institutions to fight the coronavirus outbreak (45% ‘satisfied’ vs 44% ‘not satisfied’). However, a majority of respondents in 19 Member States is satisfied with the measures taken by the European Union institutions to fight the coronavirus pandemic. The highest positive figures are found in Ireland (71%); Hungary, Romania and Poland (all 60%). In seven countries, a majority of respondents is ‘not satisfied’, especially in Luxembourg (63%), Italy (58%), Greece and Czechia (both 55%) and Spain (52%). In Austria, equal proportions of respondents are satisfied, and not satisfied (both 47%).

However, more than six Europeans in ten trust the EU to make the right decisions in the future (62%). The most frequently mentioned priorities for the EU’s response to the coronavirus pandemic are: establish a strategy for facing a similar crisis in the future and develop financial means to find a treatment or vaccine (each 37%). 30% think that developing a European health policy should be a priority.

Europeans’ personal experiences of confinement measures were very diverse. Overall, close to three Europeans in ten say that it was fairly easy to cope with (31%), while a quarter say it was fairly difficult to cope with (25%). Finally, 30% say that it was ‘both easy and difficult to cope with’.

Key policy areas

Asked about the objectives of the European Green Deal, Europeans continue identifying ‘developing renewable energy‘ and ‘fighting against plastic waste and leading on the issue of single-use of plastic’ as the top priorities. More than one third think the top priority should be supporting EU farmers (38%) or promoting the circular economy (36%). Just over three in ten think reducing energy consumption (31%) should be the top priority.

Support for the Economic and Monetary Union and for the euro remains high, with 75% of respondents in the Euro area in favour of the EU’s single currency. In the EU27 as a whole, support for the euro has increased to 67% (+5).

 EU citizenship and European democracy

A majority of people in 26 EU Member States (except Italy) and 70% across the EU feel that they are citizens of the EU. At a national level the highest scores are observed in Ireland and Luxembourg (both 89%), Poland (83%), Slovakia and Germany (both 82%), Lithuania (81%), Hungary, Portugal and Denmark (all 80%).

A majority of Europeans (53%) say they are satisfied with the way democracy works in the EU. The proportion of respondents who are ‘not satisfied’ has increased, by 3 percentage points since autumn 2019 to 43%.

 Optimism for the future of the EU

Finally, in this troubled period, 60% of Europeans say they are optimistic about the future of the EU. The highest scores for optimism are observed in Ireland (81%), Lithuania and Poland (both 75%) and Croatia (74%). The lowest levels of optimism are seen in Greece (44%) and Italy (49%), where pessimism outweighs optimism, and France, where opinion is evenly divided (49% vs 49%).

Background

The ‘Summer 2020 – Standard Eurobarometer’ (EB 93) was conducted face-to-face and exceptionally completed with online interviews between 9 July and 26 August 2020, across the 27 EU Member States, in the United Kingdom and in the candidate countries 26,681 interviews were conducted in the 27 Member States.

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Could the EU Make its ASEAN Breakthrough with the Emerging Indo-Pacific Strategy?

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The Indo-Pacific policy guidelines that was announced by the German Federal Foreign Office last week, is a clear signal from Berlin in becoming a shaper for the international order in the volatile region. Entitled “Germany-Europe-Asia: Shaping the 21st Century Together”, the policy guidelines is the second of such document in the European Union (EU) after the Macron administration released its own Indo-Pacific strategy back in August 2019. But considering that Germany is the current president of the EU Council, this policy guidelines has been ever more significant. For one, Berlin has made clear its intention to lead Europe into this new Indo-Pacific charge as the ‘third power’ after the US-led coalition and China ⸺ an aim that is highlighted not just by this German government’s policy guidelines but also, incisively described by the French as the ‘mediating power’.

The release of such document, of course, reverberates different responses from political observers outside of Europe. For instance, Sebastian Strangio sees the German latest move as part of Europe’s reassessment of its approach to China and boldly predicts that other EU nations are to follow suit with their new stand on China. Prominent Filipino expert, Richard Javad Heydarian, meanwhile, is of the view that Germany’s pursuit as the shaper of international order is deliberately focused on the key regions which bear strategic importance to Europe overall. On the other hand, Xin Hua, adopts a pessimistic view on the ability of Europe to influence the Indo-Pacific region. With Berlin’s policy guidelines, the Chinese scholar sees Europe’s reliance on soft power (such as norms diffusion)to influence the Indo-Pacific region, in contrast to the US that projects its hard power in the region through military prowess in the region, will make it less than what it aimed as the shaper of international order.

Be it applause or skepticism, the observers are in the same view that Berlin’s latest move is a drastic shift from its previous ambiguous position on the Indo-Pacific region which has become the hotbed for the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) vision pushed by the US and its military allies such as Japan and Australia. With this policy guidelines in place, it signals the seriousness of the German government in joining the Indo-Pacific region with the rest of the EU, as a third power that is independent from the US camp and China. What is left is the forming of a full European-level Indo-Pacific strategy and its implementation in the years ahead.

The ASEAN Context

In the ASEAN context, Germany’s move has created two questions that are worthy to ponder. First, how will this emerging Indo-Pacific strategy be different to Europe’s current cooperation policy toward ASEAN as a whole? This is the foremost question to ask among ASEAN member states as the German government’s Indo-Pacific policy  guidelines singled out the Southeast Asian bloc as the country’s focused cooperation partner in different areas of cooperation: climate change, marine pollution, rule of law and human rights, culture, education, science, trade and technology. That said, this is not the first time ASEAN appeared as the important partner for the EU.As a matter of fact, two-way cooperation has been ongoing since the establishment of dialogue relations in 1977.

As of 2020, two EU-ASEAN Action Plans have been agreed upon, implemented and in the middle of enforcement. Within the Action Plan (2018-2022) that runs through the year 2022, a myriad of cooperation areas has been outlined, spanning across political-security, economic and socio-cultural pillars. In particular, those areas of cooperation identified in Germany’s Indo-Pacific policy guidelines are within the trans-regional plan as well. What is new is that Berlin has set security policy as a special focus area for Indo-Pacific cooperation ⸺ a point that is emphasized by the German Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas in his press release following the announcement of the country’s Indo-Pacific policy guidelines. In line with such niche orientation, Germany can readily lead the European initiative to assist ASEAN in the two sub-areas of non-traditional security that do not have substantial cooperation but chiefly important in the coming months and years: cybersecurity and public health security. These two sub-areas will be the best start for the EU’s Indo-Pacific push in the ASEAN region.

Second, how will the EU’s Indo-Pacific approach be different from its current dogmatic approach in its cooperation with ASEAN? By all means, it is no secret that dogmatic adherence to rules and norms remained to be the greatest obstacle for the EU’s full amelioration of ties with ASEAN in the past years. As of today, the EU’s ban of Indonesian and Malaysian imports as well as its unease on Filipino President Duterte and Burmese junta’s human rights records, are the contentious issues that prevented the European bloc to go past its finishing line in negotiating a full free trade pact with ASEAN. From such case alone, it is clear that the European bloc’s normative stance predicated upon Brussels’ strictly defined rules, norms and values on climate change and human rights issues, is in play when comes to international cooperation with ASEAN.

Having said that, Germany’s latest Indo-Pacific policy guidelines do not precisely highlight of its normative stance apart from maintaining the international rules-based order in the volatile region. But on the other hand, Germany’s aim for the EU to become the shaper of such order also sparks an open-ended question of whether its strict adherence to rules, norms and values (as in the present) will continue to be the defining feature of its cooperation with ASEAN. From the Indo-Pacific policy guidelines, this question is yet to be answered by the German government and perhaps, this dilemma is to betackled in the EU’s emerging Indo-Pacific strategy. Should a pragmatic approach is adopted by the EU ⸺ as has been recently demonstrated by the conclusion and enforcement of the EU-Vietnam Partnership and Cooperation Agreement despite human rights concern in the ASEAN member state ⸺ it will definitely clear the normative obstacle for the eventual conclusion of a free trade pact with the Southeast Asian bloc. More than that, it stands to facilitate greater cooperation in all areas of partnership between the two regions.

All in all, the EU’s emerging Indo-Pacific strategy should need to address these two questions that have surfaced fromthe former’s past and current experiences with ASEAN. While the German government’s Indo-Pacific policy guidelines have set new tone to Europe’s engagement with the volatile region, such document has yet to tackle these two difficult questions. Only by tacklingthese two questions will the EU be able to make its much-needed ASEAN breakthroughwith the emerging Indo-Pacific strategy.

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A Recipe For The War

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Authors: Zlatko Hadžidedić, Adnan Idrizbegović*

There is a widespreadview that Germany’s policy towards Bosnia-Herzegovina has always been friendly. Also, that such a policy stimulated the European Union to adopt a positive approach to the Bosnian quest to eventually become a part of the Euro-Atlantic integrations. However, Stefan Schwarz, a renowned German politician, in his recent comment for Deutsche Welle, raised the question of the true nature of Germany’s policy towards Bosnia,from 1992 to the present day.Here we shall try to offer possible answers to this question, so as to present a brief history of that policy.

A history of (un)recognition

Germany officially recognised Bosnia-Herzegovina as an independent state on April 6, 1992.Prior to that, such recognition had been grantedto two other former Yugoslav republics, Slovenia and Croatia,on January 15, 1992. Germany recognised these two states against the advice by Robert Badinter, a jurist delegated by the European Commision to arbitrate in the process of dissolution of the former Yugoslavia, to recognise all Yugoslav republics simultaneously. Under the pressure by Germany, 12 members of the European Community (United Kingdom, Italy, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, Ireland, Luxembourg, Portugal, Greece, Austria) recognised Slovenia and Croatia in January 1992. As Washington Post wrote on January 16, 1992,

The German government hailed today’s event as a historic development and immediately opened embassies in the two republics. But France and Britain, which still harbor doubts about the wisdom of early recognition, said they would wait to see if Croatia fulfilled its promises on human rights before carrying out an exchange of ambassadors.

There is a well-known myth, spread by the diplomats of Britain and France, that ‘early recognition’ of Slovenia and Croatia triggered the war in the former Yugoslavia. Such a claim is both absurd and obscene, bearing in mind that Serbia had already waged war against Slovenia and Croatia and was preparing a military attack on Bosnia for several months. However, the question that should be posed here is, why Germany recognised Slovenia and Croatia separately, instead of recognition of all the Yugoslav republics simultaneously, as advised by Badinter and strongly supported by the US? Does that imply that Germany practically left the rest of the republics to their fate, to be occupied and annexed by Serbia, which controled the former Yugoslav army and its resources? Was it a deliberate policy, or simply a reckless decision? In the same article, WP quotes the then German Minister of Foreign Affairs: 

“The German policy on Yugoslavia has proved correct,” said German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher. “We’ve said for months that if the Community decided on recognition . . . that would initiate a process of rethinking, above all by the leadership of the Yugoslav army.”

Mr. Genscher probably offered a definite answer to that question. Also, the actual response of the Yugoslav army’s leadership to the German push for separate recognition of Slovenia and Croatia, counted in hundreds of thousands of dead and millions of ethnically cleansed in Croatia and Bosnia, testifies to the ‘correctness’ of such thinking. Yet, was it a momentary miscalculation by Genscher, the then Minister, or a long-term German foreign policy towards Bosnia, already projected to be the ultimate victim of the Yugoslav army’s agression?

An answer to this question is not very difficult to reach if we consider the German policy concerning the initiatives for ethnic partition of Bosnia, disseminated through the channels of the European Community. These proposals may have been initiated and instigated by the British Foreign Office and the French Quai d’Orsay; yet, partition along ethnic lines has always been the only European consensus about Bosnia, a consensus in which Germany participated with all its political will and weight.

Appeasement, from Munich to Lisbon

Prior to the 1992-1995 war, the European Community delegated the British and Portugese diplomats, Lord Carrington and Jose Cutileiro, to design a suitable scheme for ethnic partition of Bosnia, and in February 1992 they launched the so-called Lisbon Conference, with the aim of separating Bosnian ethno-religious communities and isolating them into distinct territories. This was the initiation of the process of ethnic partition, adopted in each subsequent plan to end the war in Bosnia. However, at the Lisbon Conference such a ‘solution’ was imposed by Carrington and Cutileiro as the only available when there was no war to end, indeed, no war in sight; and, curiously, it has remained the only concept the European Community, and then the European Union,has ever tried to apply to Bosnia.

Contrary to the foundations of political theory, sovereignty of the Bosnian state was thus divided, and its parts were transferred to the chiefs of three ethnic parties. The EC recognised these usurpers of the state sovereignty, having promoted them into legitimate representatives of their respective ethnic communities. The Carrington-Cutileiro maps were tailored to determine the territorial reach of each of these communities. What remained to be done afterwards was their actual physical separation, and that could only be performed by war, genocide and ethnic cleansing. For, ethnically homogenous territories, as envisaged by Carrington and Cutileiro, could only be created by a mass slaughter and mass expulsion of those who did not fit the prescribed model of ethnic homogeneity. In this way, the European Community created a recipe for the war in Bosnia.Yet, ever since the war broke out, the European diplomats have never ceased claiming that the ‘chaos’ was created by ‘the wild Balkan tribes’, who ‘had always slaughtered each other’. 

No one ever noticed German opposition to the Lisbon principles of ethnic separation and territorial partition, clearly leading to war and bloodshed. Is it, then, possible that German foreign policy was truly surprised by the Lisbon’s bloody outcome? Or the Lisbon Agreement was tailored in the best tradition of the Munich Agreement, as a consensus on another country’s partition between the three leading European powers – Great Britain, France, and Germany –  again,in the name of peace?

Landgrab rewarded

In the following ‘peace plans’ for Bosnia, the European Community was represented by Lord Owen, accompanied by the representatives of the Organization of United Nations, Cyrus Vance and Thorwald Stoltenberg. Although the British diplomacy was clearly dominant in these attempts to find a ‘proper’ model for Bosnia’s ethnic partition, Germany’s Foreign Ministry was always fully present there through its Director of Policy Planning Staff, Wolfgang Ischinger. In the structure of the German Ministry, this position is occuppied by the most senior career diplomat, so that there can beno doubt about Ischinger’s capacity to articulate Germany’s strategic interests. During the process of negotiations under the Vance-Owen and Owen-Stoltenberg plans, Ischinger coordinated German policy towards Bosnia together with Michael Steiner, the head of„SoBos“ (Sonderstab Bosnien), a special Bosnian unit established within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.[i]

During the war in Bosnia, from 1992 to 1995, Germany and the European Community never abandoned the concept of Bosnia’s ethnic partition. In 1994,Germany took a more active role in its implementation within the (informal) International Contact Group, consisting of the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and the US, where Germany was represented by both Ischinger and Steiner. The Contact Group Plan defined the final model of ethnic separation, having led to the ultimate breakup of the Bosnian territory into two ethnically cleansed and homogenised ‘entities’, tailored in accordance with an arbitrary proportion of 51:49%, which was subsequently implemented in the Dayton Peace Accords. The entire struggle within the Contact Group was fought over the percentage and disposition of territory granted to particular ethnic communities, two of which served as Serbia’s and Croatia’s proxies. The principle of ethnic partition was never put in question. In this process, Germany became the exclusive advocate of Croatian interests, in Croatia’s attempts to cede the south-western part of Bosnia, whereas Britain and France advocated the interests of Serbia in its efforts to cede eastern and western parts of Bosnia. To some people’s surprise, the United States was the sole defender of Bosnia’s territorial integrity within the Contact Group. However, under the pressure by the European Community, the US was forced to make concessions, so as to eventually accept the prescribed 51:49% territorial distribution as an’internal reorganisation’ of Bosnia.

The US thus tacitly accepted the European initiatives to reward the landgrab of Bosnia’s territory, performed by Serbia and Croatia, against the UN Charter and international law. The European Community’s leading powers –Great Britain, France, and Germany – claimed that there was no other option but to accept such a landgrab, because the status quo, caused by the neighbours’ military aggression, could not possibly be altered. To strengthen this argument, the European Community also played the main role in imposing an arms embargo on the ‘warring parties’. This embargo effectively deprived the landlocked Bosnian army of the capacity to purchase weaponry and thus alter the status quo and liberate the country’s territory. Here the EC acted as a whole, again, without any dissent on Germany’s or anyone else’s part. 

Whose responsibility?

The Dayton Peace Accords is commonly perceived as an American political project. The partition of Bosnia is thus being interpreted as a concept that emerged for the first time during the Dayton negotiations, and its authorship is ascribed exclusively to the American negotiator, Richard Holbrooke. However, it is not so. The history of Bosnia’s partition clearly demonstrates that this very concept has persistently been promoted by the European Community, and then by the European Union, from the 1992 Lisbon Conference to the present day. Even the notorious partition proportion of 51:49% was determined by the Contact Group, well before the Dayton Conference. A clear responsibility of the US negotiators is that they caved in to the pressures by the EC within the Contact Group. Still, the consistent striving to impose ethnic partition as the sole appropriate concept for Bosnia should definitely be attributed to its real advocates – the members of the European Community. Since Italy and Yeltsin’s Russia certainly played a minor role in the Contact Group, the lion’s share of responsibility for the final outcome, verified in Dayton, belongs equally to three EC powers, Great Britain, France, and Germany. The fact that the British policy-makers conceived the very principle of ethnic partition, that their French colleagues were so enthusiastic about its implementation, while the Germans accepted it as the best available mode of appeasement, abolishes neither of them of gigantic moral and political responsibility for all the suffering the Bosnians have had to go through.

*Adnan Idrizbegović, Independent Researcher, Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina


[i]As consequent advocates of the German foreign policy in the Bosnian episode, both Ischinger and Steiner have continuously enjoyed upward promotion within the ranks of the German foreign policy establishment. Thus Ischinger first took the position of the Ministry’s Political Director under Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel, and then of the Staatssekretär (deputy foreign minister) under Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer.Ischinger also represented Germany at numerous international and European conferences, including the 1999 G8 and EU summit meetings in Cologne/Germany and the 2000 Review Conference of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty at the United Nations, New York. He was also appointed as the European Union Representative in the Troika negotiations on the future of Kosovo in 2007. Since 2019, Ischinger has been co-chairing on the Transatlantic Task Force of the German Marshall Fund and the Bundeskanzler-Helmut-Schmidt-Stiftung (BKHS) and, finally, has become the Chairman of the Munich Security Conference (!). During his mandate in the Contact Group, Steiner was awarded the position of head of the Ministry’s co-ordination unit for multilateral peace efforts. After the war, he served six months (January–July 1997) as a principal deputy to Carl Bildt, the first high representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In 1998, he was selected by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder to work as the Chancellor’s foreign and security policy adviser.

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