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Bridge over troubled waters: Growing maritime dispute between Croatia and Bosnia, neglected by the EU

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Authors: Dr. Enis Omerović and Adil Kulenović
The bilateral international agreement on the state border between Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republic of Croatia, known as the Agreement on the Border between the two states, or more familiarly, as the Tuđman-Izetbegović Agreement, signed in Sarajevo on 30 July 1999 between the then President of the Republic of Croatia, Franjo Tuđman, and the Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Alija Izetbegović, represents in its 23 Articles, conditionally, “a valid act since it has been applied until a new one is made” (V.Đ. Degan, 2013).

This Agreement could also be perceived to contain a transitional or provisional solution, since it has never been ratified by any parliament and does not serve its ultimate purpose – the permanent establishment and determination of the land and sea border between the two neighbors. In this regard, it can even be argued that the Republic of Croatia de facto abandoned the execution of this Agreement when its official authorities decided to embark on the building of a permanent construction at sea. This all supports the fact that the issue of delimitation and demarcation at sea, especially in the area of ​​the Bay of Neum and the Mali Ston Bay, is still permanently undefined and unsettled and thus requires, in our opinion, a serious step towards opening an official dialogue with Zagreb with the involvement of EU institutions, since the Republic of Croatia is a member of the European Union.

The second difficulty should be addressed together with the first. It would be especially important to define the sea boundary, regarding the tip of the Klek Peninsula and the uninhabited islets, Veliki and Mali Školj or, more precisely, the rocks in the Mali Ston Bay, which are part of a unique geomorphologic unit, together with the Klek Peninsula. If we draw the line of equidistance for purposes of delimitation of two states whose shores in one bay lie or are opposite to one another (the Peninsula of Klek and Pelješac), which is in accordance with the international law of the sea, as well as Article 4 (3) of the bilateral Agreement which, inter alia, prescribes that border at the sea stretches “the median line of the sea area between the land of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republic of Croatia”, it could be claimed that the disputed area would belong to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Closely connected to this, the question of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s access to the High Seas or international waters of the Adriatic Sea and other world seas should be addressed, where no country in the world has territorial sovereignty, nor does it exercise any sovereign rights. High sea areas are world seas and oceans which are outside any state territory and provide a regime of free navigation and overflight, as well as other freedoms inherent to the High Seas. On this part of the planet, according to general customary international law, all countries in the world, under certain circumstances, exercise their jurisdiction over vessels flying the flag of their country.

For these reasons, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea from 1982 (UNCLOS) (ratified both by the Republic of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina) states in Art. 7 (6) of the Convention that, in declaring its straight baselines, from which the width of the territorial sea is measured, the coastal State may not cut off the territorial sea of ​​another coastal state from the High Seas or the exclusive economic zone. As things stand currently, in order to get from the waters of Bosnia and Herzegovina by vessel to the High Seas, it is necessary to pass through the internal waters and the territorial sea of ​​the other coastal state, so that, in crossing the line that represents the outer boundary of the territorial sea, one leaves the sovereign territory of the Republic of Croatia. Further into the High Seas, the Croatian Protected Ecological and Fishing Band (ZERP) has been declared and covers the sea area in the Adriatic Sea from the external border of the territorial sea in the direction of the open sea to its outer boundary, determined by the general international law, and temporarily follows the line of demarcation of the continental shelf established by the Agreement between Italy and the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia concerning the Delimitation of the Continental Shelf between the two Countries in the Adriatic Sea from 1968.

In fact, it is essential for Bosnia and Herzegovina to secure a specific route, that is to say, a corridor, which will physically connect its waters with the High Seas, since it is in an unfavorable geographic position, due to its sealed coastline. At this level, it is state practice to support coastal states to limit the width of their territorial sea, due to the undisputed flow or passage of the other coastal state to the High Seas, in accordance with the above-mentioned UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which represents a codification of this branch of international law. Examples of this are the Republics of Estonia and Finland in the Gulf of Finland in the Baltic Sea, in relation to the Russian Federation (St. Petersburg area), and the Republic of France in relation to the territorial sea of the Principality of Monaco in the Mediterranean Sea.

Hence, Bosnia and Herzegovina should not accept the guarantee of the neighboring state that Bosnia and Herzegovina will have the right only to innocent passage for all vessels to and from Neum or, in the case of some other ports in the state territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina, since Neum is extremely unconducive to the construction of a larger port which would be open to international traffic – we predict that a port of this type and category could be built on the Klek Peninsula, whose waters are much more suitable, especially in respect of access and sea depth, for the construction of an international port. This is because the right to innocent passage of a vessel is linked to the territorial sea, not to the internal waters of the coastal state. This should have been precisely defined in accordance with the principles and rules of international law, preferably by a bilateral international agreement between the two neighboring states, namely, the existence, the position, the proper width and the legal regime of such a corridor or waterway, which would probably be through the Neretva and the Korčula Channel, to move all vessels to and from Bosnia and Herzegovina. The legal regime of such a corridor should be explicitly articulated in writing, together with the rights and obligations of both contracting parties, all in accordance with international law.

Therefore, it could be understood that there is a noticeable difference between the right to innocent passage of foreign ships through the territorial sea of ​​a coastal state and the formation of a corridor with a special legal regime. The latter would most likely pass through Croatian territory, as it would be unrealistic to expect that the Republic of Croatia in the area of ​​such a corridor remains without its territorial sovereignty and integrity. This is regardless of the fact that it not very legally rightly inherited from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, by its Maritime Code, the straight baselines under the conditions of more sovereign states whose coastlines are touched and lean on one another in the same sea area. Namely, the disputed area in terms of the declaration of these straight baselines is from the​Cape Proizd (near the island of Korčula) all the way to the southwestern tip of the island of Vodnjak, near some of the more famous Paklinski islands (along the island of Hvar), as this act simply contributed to the “closure” of Bosnian and Herzegovinian waters. We have written “most likely to pass” since it is hard to imagine that in the area of ​​the Neretva and Korčula Channels, with a width of not less than 1-1.5 nautical miles, that condominium (shared sovereignty) can be established or that an international legal regime be determined completely outside Croatian sovereignty.

Finally, in support of the assertion that any coastal state should have unimpeded (not just innocent passage, which is subject to various restrictions on the part of the coastal state) access to the High Seas, there is the final determination of the arbitral award of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in the case the Republic of Slovenia and the Republic of Croatia of 2017, according to which the Republic of Slovenia, through the so-called junction of 2.5 nautical miles wide, i.e. the physical link of its territorial waters with the high seas area of ​​the North Adriatic was awarded a corridor from their waters, where Slovenia enjoys full sovereignty to the High Seas, where many freedoms are guaranteed to all countries of the world, both coastal and non-coastal, as well as to those with an unfavorable geographic position regarding access to the sea, as in the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Namely, as the Chairman of the Arbitration Council in this very case, G. Guillaume, stated in the public statement of the arbitral award, “the junction between the Slovenian territorial sea and the High Seas is a space where ships and planes have the same right of access to Slovenia as well as in the High Seas. The Court identified the area of ​​the Croatian territorial sea that is adjacent to the Italian waters within which a special legal regime would be applied. The corridor is approximately 2.5 nautical miles wide, and located immediately next to the border, according to the Treaty of Osimo, within Croatian territorial waters. A special legal regime should guarantee the integrity of the Croatian territorial sea, and Slovenian free communication between its waters and the High Seas.” It follows that the free communication of a coastal state between its waters and the High Seas is not the same as its right/obligation to innocently pass through the waters of another coastal state. It should, therefore, be concluded that the first term refers to the freedom of navigation and over flight to a little more extent than that provided by the institute of the innocent passage of foreign ships to territorial sea, which is only a necessary passage, since every foreign vessel must navigate through this area on the shortest conventional route, without disruption or delay. Moreover, this accessory or connecting corridor would have a kind of limitation of Croatian sovereignty and jurisdiction, since it would be in the spirit of this particular legal regime that would go in the middle of the Neretva and Korčula Channel. It would be worth questioning, moreover, whether Croatian internal waters should be left where they are now. The same question appeared to have been posed by a legal scholar from Croatia – “the question remains whether the waters of Croatia delimited by the territorial sea of Bosnia and Herzegovina can continue to be considered as having the legal status of internal waters.” (B. Vukas, 2006). 

Accordingly, a maritime corridor with a specific legal regime needs to be differentiated widely, or clarified in detail, so it does not necessarily represent identical international legal categories with the right to innocent passage of foreign ships and the right of transit passage. These latter terms are characteristic of the very specific maritime zones and parts of the sea which are not the subject of our current exploration and explication.

When all interconnected notions finally acquire their coherent power in terms of consistency, then will be the time to discuss continuing the construction of a permanent artificial installation on the sea, called the Pelješac Bridge (mainland – Pelješac Peninsula). Having understood that the Republic of Croatia only wants to connect two parts of the mainland, that is, the northern and southern ends of their country with a high-quality road link, this modern traffic connection should not endanger, or be detrimental to, the interests of their neighbors. Therefore, for the purpose of solving the traffic difficulties of the Republic of Croatia, the continuation of the construction of the Pelješac Bridge should be permanently solved by settling the so-called previous issues elaborated earlier – the permanent maritime delimitation on the Adriatic Sea as well as the permanent determination of the land border through a bilateral international frontier treaty, which will be applied equally and in good faith by both signatory parties and which will, above all, be confirmed in both the Croatian Parliament and the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties of 1969 would be applicable in the event of any dispute as to its application, and the interpretation of certain provisions thereof. In addition to this, as mentioned above, it is necessary to establish in an internationally appropriate manner the legal regime and the width of the future corridor, which will represent, inter alia, a junction between Bosnian and Herzegovinian waters and the High Seas of ​​the Adriatic.

Hence, only after the final determination of all the aforementioned, and after a thorough, concrete and legally binding determination of the legal regime of the corridor above which the permanent bridge will be built, the scientific and professional processing of the project known as the Pelješac Bridge must be approached. This should meet all the technical characteristics of bridges that have already been built over water within the international legal regime, i.e. international waterways, such as the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge and the Bosporus Bridge in Istanbul that cross over the waters of the Bosporus strait which is under international legal regime, or the Oresund bridge (although most of the international maritime traffic takes place above the underwater tunnel) linking the Kingdom of Denmark and the Kingdom of Sweden and which is also located over the international waterway. This means that if the agreement between the two neighboring coastal states in this part of the Adriatic Sea could be achieved, in the sense of completing its construction and opening it for all road traffic, the bridge of these dimensions must have a certain minimum navigation height and a minimum range between the pillars, or at least the central ones, so that big ships could also sail into the Neum waters.

Bosnia and Herzegovina always somehow tends to delay consideration of certain questions. If this continues, there is a great chance that there will be no single institutional response, with the result that the position of Bosnia and Herzegovina in relation to this important international legal issue will remain very vague and indeterminate. Additionally, there is a very long internal tradition which does not encourage political cooperation, and a lack of understanding of things that are of fundamental significance to the whole country, not just to one of its constituent peoples.

However, in expectation of any kind of determination on the part of Bosnia and Herzegovina, with or without the Pelješac Bridge, the problem of the permanent “drawing” of the borderline between the two countries, both on the sea and on the land, will remain. The question of the access corridor or the connection of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s waters with the High Seas will not be sorted out alone. So, is it wise to wait for the international community or the Office of the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina (if it is still here?!) to take steps to protect the international interests of this state?

This is an opportunity to see the strength of the Bosnian-Herzegovinian diplomacy which will once again demonstrate its position on the international stage. There is certainly a consistent lack of unity, resulting predominately from the less than satisfactory territorial organization, and attempts to build a state on the basis of ethnicity. This lack of unity is reflected in the impossibility of coming to clear institutional views on the part of the official state government. There may again be the emergence of a culture of conflict and non-cooperation at the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina (which could, adopt the declaration, as a political act, with precisely defined conclusions), the Council of Ministers and the Presidency.

But if dialogue is opened, perhaps after formal disagreement through a diplomatic note to the Republic of Croatia, the latter will surely have the advantage, or at least a better negotiating position, due to its European Union membership. This fact may well be crucial (since the European Union also recognizes the interest in land consolidation of its territory, so that its members can better monitor and control their state territory, with the goal of Croatia’s entry into the Schengen area) to the success of the negotiations as a diplomatic mean of settling one international dispute, which surely here does exist, at least with respect to the territorial title. Finally, it is worth mentioning that an international dispute does not need to be specifically proclaimed, the essence is in the existence of a disagreement with respect to essential facts, or in their apparently different interpretations.

If there is an international dispute between two coastal states that share the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea – that is not debatable – it is now best to choose the most appropriate and effective means of settling the dispute with, if possible, mutual interest as its aim. In this respect, it would be best to choose the most appropriate means for peaceful settlement of disputes from a large palette of diplomatic and legal means that are equally available to each state. Based on the foregoing, a dispute can be brought before the ICJ in The Hague, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) in Hamburg, or it can be “easily” settled through ad hoc arbitration, i.e. special arbitration tribunals. But for the decision, which is the only outcome of these legal proceedings, it is necessary to wait for years, since such international legal processes can be very long-lasting and, above all, extremely expensive. In any case, Bosnia and Herzegovina will surely need to find a modus operandi in solving the above-mentioned issues with its western neighbor. This could be found in the Joint Team of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republic of Croatia for Negotiations on the Implementation of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and the Delimitation at Sea or, perhaps, on a general level, in a body that will be composed on a parity basis, such as the Inter-State Diplomatic Commission for the Determination of the Border Line, which should, inter alia, settle the border dispute over the Danube River between the Republic of Serbia and the Republic of Croatia, still, so far, with little success. All this graphically demonstrates the complexity of the international law of the sea, particularly in the area of delimitation.

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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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