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Coalition crisis: Germany’s uncertain future

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Both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Germany are facing an uncertain future after talks to form a coalition government – and secure her a fourth term – collapsed. Chancellor Merkel’s party, which lacks a majority in the Bundestag, had spent weeks trying to cobble together a ruling coalition with three other parties.

But the plan fell apart when the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) walked out of talks shortly before midnight on Sunday over disagreements on issues ranging from energy policy to migration.

Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party lacks a clear majority in the Bundestag (parliament). Merkel had hoped to build a coalition consisting of her conservative CDU, its sister party the Christian Social Union, the pro-business FDP, and the Green Party.

FDP negotiators walked out of what they described as “chaotic” talks, with party leader Christian Lindner said it was “better not to govern than govern badly”. All other parties attacked the liberals for deliberately collapsing the talks in a bid to boost its support in any snap election. FDP negotiators walked out of what they described as “chaotic” talks, with party leader Christian Lindner said it was “better not to govern than govern badly”.

The FDP’s walkout came after the four parties had already missed several self-imposed deadline to resolve their differences. But all other parties attacked the liberals for deliberately collapsing the talks in a bid to boost its support in any snap election. 

The AfD hailed the collapse of coalition talks. “We are glad that Jamaica isn’t happening,” said AfD co-leader Alexander Gauland. “Merkel has failed.” His co-leader, Alice Weidel, welcomed the prospect of fresh elections and called on Merkel to resign. Others suggested the walk-out was a high-risk FDP attempt to weaken Dr Merkel and forced fresh elections in which the liberals would pull back protest voters from the AfD. FDP rivals expressed concern that Lindner’s high-risk tactic could result in a further boost in support for the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), which polled almost 13 per cent in the September 24th election.

Fragile coalition 

Merkel’s position was widely seen as unassailable in the run-up to September’s elections, with many commentators suggesting the outcome was so predictable as to be boring.  Merkel had spent weeks trying to cobble together a ruling coalition with three other parties. But the plan fell apart when the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) walked out of talks over disagreements on issues ranging from energy policy to migration. The political analysts suggested the FDP’s move could blow up in its face. There are politicians who are strong with their back to the wall, why should Merkel not be one of those?”

The Chancellor told state broadcaster ZDF that she has not considered resigning. “There was no question that I should face personal consequences,” she said.

Merkel had been forced to seek an alliance with an unlikely group of parties after the ballot left her without a majority.  Voicing regret for the FDP’s decision, Merkel vowed to steer Germany through the crisis. “As chancellor, I will do everything to ensure that this country comes out well through this difficult time,” she said. The Greens’ leaders also deplored the collapse of talks, saying they had believed a deal could be done despite the differences.

A poll by Welt online also found that 61.4 percent of people surveyed said a collapse of talks would mean an end to Merkel as chancellor. Only 31.5 percent thought otherwise.

Germany’s Sept. 24 election produced an awkward result that left Merkel’s two-party conservative bloc seeking a coalition with the pro-business Free Democrats and the traditionally left-leaning Greens. The combination of ideologically disparate parties hadn’t been tried before in a national government, and came to nothing when the Free Democrats walked out of talks. Unable to form a coalition with one other party (as is the norm in Germany), Merkel emerged from the election substantially weakened.

Merkel’s liberal refugee policy that let in more than a million asylum-seekers since 2015 had also pushed some voters to the far-right AfD, which in September campaigned on an anti-immigration platform.

The country’s two mainstream parties — Merkel’s CDU/CSU alliance and the center-left Social Democratic Party (SDP) — suffered big losses.  Smaller parties, including the FDP and the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) — who won 12.6% of the vote and entered parliament for the first time — were the beneficiaries.

While the FDP blamed the CDU/CSU alliance for the breakdown, the Green Party thanked Merkel and the leader of the CSU, Horst Seehofer, for negotiating “hard” but “fair,” and accused the FDP of quitting the talks without good reason. The so-called “Jamaica coalition” — named after the parties’ colors — would have been unprecedented at federal level.

Christian Lindner, leader of the FDP said that the four discussion partners have no common vision for modernization of the country or common basis of trust. “It is better not to govern than to govern badly.” He expressed regret that the talks had failed but said that his party would have had to compromise on its core principles. His party returned to parliament in September four years after voters, unimpressed with its performance as the junior partner in Merkel’s 2009-2013 government, ejected it. “It is better not to govern than to govern wrong,” Lindner said.

For Dr Merkel there is only one other possible option of avoiding fresh elections: wooing back the SPD into office for a third grand coalition. But senior SPD figures signaled that eight years as Dr Merkel’s junior partner since 2005 was enough. “We are not Germany’s parliamentary majority reserve,” said Andrea Nahles, SPD Bundestag leader. Merkel could now try to convince the Social Democratic Party, which has been the junior coalition partner in her government since 2013, to return to the fold. But after suffering a humiliating loss at the polls, the party’s top brass has repeatedly said the SDP’s place was now in the opposition. Merkel is set to consult the country’s president and the possibility of new elections looming.

Trust deficit

The country has been plunged into its worst political crisis in years after negotiations to form the next government collapsed overnight, dealing a serious blow to Merkel and raising questions about the future of the longtime Chancellor. Germany could likely be forced to hold new elections. But that is not without peril for Merkel, who would face questions from within her party on whether she is still the best candidate to lead them into a new electoral campaign.

Following more than a month of grueling negotiations, the leader of the pro-business FDP, Christian Lindner, walked out of talks, saying there was no “basis of trust” to forge a government with Merkel’s conservative alliance CDU-CSU and ecologist Greens, adding that the parties did not share “a common vision on modernizing” Germany.

The negotiations, which turned increasingly acrimonious, had stumbled on a series of issues including immigration policy. Key sticking points during the talks were the issues of migration and climate change, on which the Greens and the other parties diverged, but also Free Democrat demands on tax policy. The parties also differed on environmental issues, with the ecologists wanting to phase out dirty coal and combustion-engine cars, while the conservatives and FDP emphasized the need to protect industry and jobs.

Clearly, there is a serious trust deficit among the coalition partners that came to the fore in the negotiations. Party chiefs had initially set a deadline, but that passed without a breakthrough – after already missing a previous target on Thursday. But s the parties dug in their heels on key sticking points.

It’s likely to be a while before the situation is resolved. The only other politically plausible combination with a parliamentary majority is a repeat of Merkel’s outgoing coalition with the center-left Social Democrats — but they have insisted time and again that they will go into opposition after a disastrous election result.

If they stick to that insistence, that leaves a minority government — not previously tried in post-World War II Germany — or new elections as the only options. President Frank-Walter Steinmeier will ultimately have to make that decision, since the German constitution doesn’t allow parliament to dissolve itself.

Fresh poll

Two months on, however, that untested alliance has hit the wall meaning Germany and Europe face an extended period of insecurity. When the Bundestag meets for its second sitting, still without a government, acting chancellor Dr Merkel has no legal means to table a motion of no confidence to trigger fresh elections. The parties failed to make progress on a number of policy areas — including the right for family members of refugees in Germany to join them there — and tensions had risen.

Apparently, the end of Markel era is being talked about now as the collation of partners keep moving one by one, though she expressed the hope she would  be successful eventually and would  put in place a new government.

Fresh elections in Germany appeared increasingly likely after Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that she preferred a new vote over governing without a parliamentary majority. Merkel said her conservatives had left nothing untried to find a solution.  “I will contact the president and we will see how things develop,” said a clearly exhausted Dr Merkel, departing the talks. “It is a day to think long and hard about where things go now . . . and as acting chancellor I will do everything to ensure Germany is led well through these difficult days.”

Merkel, Germany’s leader since 2005 said she would consult President Steinmeier “and then “we will have to see how things develop.” She didn’t say more about her plans, or address whether she would run again if there are new elections.

To get to either destination, Steinmeier would first have to propose a chancellor to parliament, who must win a majority of all lawmakers to be elected. Assuming that fails, parliament has 14 days to elect a candidate of its own choosing by an absolute majority. And if that fails, Steinmeier would then propose a candidate who could be elected by a plurality of lawmakers.

Steinmeier would then have to decide whether to appoint a minority government or dissolve parliament, triggering an election within 60 days. Merkel’s Union bloc is easily the biggest group in parliament, but is 109 seats short of a majority.

To get to either destination, Steinmeier would first have to propose a chancellor to parliament, who must win a majority of all lawmakers to be elected. Assuming that fails, parliament has 14 days to elect a candidate of its own choosing by an absolute majority. And if that fails, Steinmeier would then propose a candidate who could be elected by a plurality of lawmakers.

Merkel said that the “path of minority government” should be considered “very very closely”. “I am very skeptical and I believe that new elections would be the better path,” she said. Merkel also confirmed that she would be ready to lead her party into any new vote. She did not rule out further talks with other parties, however, and acknowledged that the country’s next steps were in the hands of German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. “The four discussion partners have no common vision for modernization of the country or common basis of trust,” said Christian Lindner, leader of the FDP. “It is better not to govern than to govern badly.”

Germany

Germany is facing unprecedented situation of coalition crisis. Was Germany’s past also was filled with crises?

Germany is a great power with a strong economy; it has the world’s 4th largest economy by nominal GDP. As a global leader in several industrial and technological sectors, it is both the world’s third-largest exporter and importer of goods. It is a developed country with a very high standard of living sustained by a skilled and productive society. It upholds a social security and universal health care system, environmental protection, and a tuition-free university education.

The Federal Republic of Germany was a founding member of the European Economic Community in 1957 and the European Union in 1993. It is part of the Schengen Area, and became a co-founder of the Eurozone in 1999. Germany is a member of the United Nations, NATO, the G7 (formerly G8 along with Russia), and the OECD. The national military expenditure is the 9th highest in the world. Known for its rich cultural history, Germany has been continuously the home of influential and successful artists, philosophers, musicians, sportspeople, entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers, and inventors.

Germany was declared a republic at the beginning of the German Revolution in November 1918. The worldwide Great Depression hit Germany in 1929. The Nazi Party led by Adolf Hitler won the special federal election of 1932. After a series of unsuccessful cabinets, Hindenburg appointed Hitler as Chancellor of Germany on 30 January 1933.[56] After the Reichstag fire, a decree abrogated basic civil rights and within weeks the first Nazi concentration camp at Dachau opened. The Enabling Act of 1933 gave Hitler unrestricted legislative power; subsequently, his government established a centralized totalitarian state, withdrew from the League of Nations following a national referendum, and began military rearmament

In 1935, the regime withdrew from the Treaty of Versailles and introduced the Nuremberg Laws which targeted Jews and other minorities. Germany also reacquired control of the Saar in 1935,[64] remilitarized the Rhineland in 1936, annexed Austria in 1938, annexed the Sudetenland in 1938 with the Munich Agreement and in direct violation of the agreement occupied Czechoslovakia with the proclamation of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moraviain March 1939. In August 1939, Hitler’s government negotiated and signed the Molotov–Ribbentrop pact that divided Eastern Europe into German and Soviet spheres of influence. Following the agreement, on 1 September 1939, Germany invaded Poland, marking the beginning of World War II.  In August 1939, Hitler’s government negotiated and signed the Molotov–Ribbentrop pact that divided Eastern Europe into German and Soviet spheres of influence. Following the agreement, on 1 September 1939, Germany invaded Poland, marking the beginning of World War II.

Britain and France declared war on Germany.[68] In the spring of 1940, Germany conquered Denmark and Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and France forcing the French government to sign an armistice after German troops occupied most of the country. The British repelled German air attacks in the Battle of Britain in the same year. In 1941, German troops invaded Yugoslavia, Greece and the Soviet Union.

By 1942, Germany and other Axis powers controlled most of continental Europe and North Africa, but following the Soviet Union’s victory at the Battle of Stalingrad, the allies’ reconquest of North Africa and invasion of Italy in 1943, German forces suffered repeated military defeats. In June 1944, the Western allies landed in France and the Soviets pushed into Eastern Europe. By late 1944, the Western allies had entered Germany despite one final German counter offensive in the Ardennes Forest. Following Hitler’s suicide during the Battle of Berlin, German armed forces surrendered on 8 May 1945, ending World War II in Europe. After World War II, former members of the Nazi regime were tried for war crimes at the Nuremberg trials.

In what later became known as The Holocaust, the German government persecuted minorities and used a network of concentration and death camps across Europe to conduct genocide of what they considered to be inferior peoples. In total, over 10 million civilians of all races were systematically murdered

Nazi policies in the German occupied countries resulted in the deaths of 2.7 million Poles, 1.3 million Ukrainians and an estimated 2.8 million Soviet war prisoners. In addition, the Nazi regime abducted approximately 12 million people from across the German occupied Europe for use as slave labor in the German industry. German military war casualties have been estimated at 5.3 million, and around 900,000 German civilians died; 400,000 from Allied bombing, and 500,000 in the course of the Soviet invasion from the east. Around 12 million ethnic Germans were expelled from across Eastern Europe. Germany lost roughly one-quarter of its pre-war territory. Strategic bombing and land warfare destroyed many cities and cultural heritage sites.

After Germany surrendered, the Allies partitioned Berlin and Germany’s remaining territory into four military occupation zones. The western sectors, controlled by France, the United Kingdom, and the United States, were merged on 23 May 1949 to form the Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesrepublik Deutschland); on 7 October 1949, the Soviet Zone became the German Democratic Republic (Deutsche Demokratische Republik). They were informally known as West Germany and East Germany. East Germany selected East Berlin as its capital, while West Germany chose Bonn as a provisional capital, to emphasize its stance that the two-state solution was an artificial and temporary status quo.

East Germany was an Eastern Bloc state under political and military control by the USSR via occupation forces and the Warsaw Pact. Although East Germany claimed to be a democracy, political power was exercised solely by leading members (Politbüro) of the communist-controlled Socialist Unity Party of Germany, supported by the Stasi, an immense secret service controlling many aspects of the society. A Soviet-style command economy was set up and the GDR later became a Comecon state

West Germany was established as a federal parliamentary republic with a “social market economy”. Starting in 1948 West Germany became a major recipient of reconstruction aid under the Marshall Plan and used this to rebuild its industry.  The Federal Republic of Germany joined NATO in 1955 and was a founding member of the European Economic Community in 1957.

The Berlin Wall, rapidly built on 13 August 1961 prevented East German citizens from escaping to West Germany, eventually becoming a symbol of the Cold War. Tensions between East and West Germany were reduced in the early 1970s by Chancellor Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik. In summer 1989, Hungary decided to dismantle the Iron Curtain and open the borders, causing the emigration of thousands of East Germans to West Germany via Hungary. This had devastating effects on the GDR, where regular mass demonstrations received increasing support. The East German authorities eased the border restrictions, allowing East German citizens to travel to the West, preparing ground for reunion of Germany. The fall of the Wall in 1989 became a symbol of the Fall of Communism, the Dissolution of the Soviet Union, German Reunification

The united Germany is considered to be the enlarged continuation of the Federal Republic of Germany and not a successor state. As such, it retained all of West Germany’s memberships in international organisations. Based on the Berlin/Bonn Act, adopted in 1994, Berlin once again became the capital of the reunified Germany, while Bonn obtained the unique status of a Bundesstadt(federal city) retaining some federal ministries. The relocation of the government was completed in 1999.  Following the 1998 elections, SPD politician Gerhard Schröder became the first Chancellor of a red–green coalition with the Greens party. Among the major projects of the two Schröder legislatures was the Agenda 2010 to reform the labor market to become more flexible and reduce unemployment.

The modernisation and integration of the eastern German economy was a long-term process scheduled to last until the year 2019, with annual transfers from west to east amounting to roughly $80 billion

Since reunification, Germany has taken a more active role in the European Union. Together with its European partners Germany signed the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, established the Eurozone in 1999, and signed the Lisbon Treaty in 2007. Germany sent a peacekeeping force to secure stability in the Balkans and sent a force of German troops to Afghanistan as part of a NATO effort to provide security in that country after the ousting of the Taliban. These deployments were controversial since Germany is bound by domestic law only to deploy troops for defence roles

In the 2005 elections, Angela Merkel became the first female Chancellor of Germany as the leader of a grand coalition.[43] In 2009 the German government approved a €50 billion economic stimulus plan to protect several sectors from a downturn.[94]

In 2009, a liberal-conservative coalition under Merkel assumed leadership of the country. In 2013, a grand coalition was established in a Third Merkel cabinet. Among the major German political projects of the early 21st century are the advancement of European integration, the energy transition (Energiewende) for a sustainable energy supply, the “Debt Brake” for balanced budgets, measures to increase the fertility rate significantly (pronatalism), and high-tech strategies for the future transition of the German economy, summarized as Industry 4.0.[95]

Germany was affected by the European migrant crisis in 2015 as it became the final destination of choice for many asylum seekers from Africa and the Middle East entering the EU. The country took in over a million refugees and migrants and developed a quota system which redistributed migrants around its federal states based on their tax income and existing population density

Observation: Options and uncertainly

End of Markel era is being talked about now as the collation of partners keep moving one by one. Short of resolving the impasse with the FDP, Merkel’s options are limited. President Steinmeier would then have to decide whether to appoint a minority government or dissolve parliament, triggering an election within 60 days. Merkel’s Union bloc is easily the biggest group in parliament, but is 109 seats short of a majority.

The article 63 of the post-war Basic Law requires three attempts to elect a new chancellor – a humiliating process for Dr Merkel if, as they signaled, none of the other parties are prepared to back her. The FDP was “deeply traumatized” by its term in office with Dr Merkel which ended in its 2013 election expulsion from the Bundestag. 

The euro fell following the news, although analysts said the longer-term implications for the currency were not yet clear.

Germany as the leader of European Union of Germany has been plunged into its worst political crisis in years after negotiations to form the next government collapsed overnight, dealing a serious blow to Merkel and raising questions about the future of the longtime Chancellor. Merkel, who has been in power for 12 years, could also lead a minority government but she had signaled that she was not in favor of such instability. German president warns politicians to solve political crisis.

Not only Germany, but for EU as well the collapse in Germany of ruling coalition would have serious repercussions. Europe’s biggest economy now faces weeks, if not months, of paralysis with a lame-duck government that is unlikely to take bold policy action. And with no other viable coalition in sight, Germany may be forced to hold new elections that risk being as inconclusive as September’s polls.

Angela Merkel is now facing uncertainly as the clash of interests in the u ruling coalition questions reliability of her leadership. Merkel is left battling for political survival after high-stakes talks to form a new government collapsed, plunging the country into a crisis that could trigger fresh elections. She said that she “will do everything to ensure that this country is well-led through these difficult weeks.”  Merkel also vows to fight snap election to retain power. Germany: Angela Merkel runs out of options. That vote was viewed as a slap in the face for the outgoing coalition of Dr Merkel’s CDU/CSU and the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD).

The SPD, Merkel’s junior governing partner for the last four years, ruled out a renewal of their so-called “Grand Coalition” on the night of the election and reiterated that position. The SPD is also reluctant to renew the coalition as it would leave the AfD as the largest opposition party, granting it a set of privileges including the right to respond first to the Chancellor and a boost in resources — an outcome none of the other parties want.

Fresh elections are the option after the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) walked out just before midnight on Sunday following four weeks of exploratory talks with Dr Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), her Bavarian (CSU) allies and the Green Party.

Merkel’s CDU/CSU alliance could still attempt to form a minority government with either the FDP or the Green Party separately, but this has happened rarely — and never successfully — at the federal level in Germany.  Recent polling puts all parties roughly where they were on election night, meaning a new election could result in similar deadlock.

If all other options fail, Steinmeier, the German President, has the power to set in motion a complex process that could lead to a new vote early next year.

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Serbia bracing up for “difficult autumn“

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Serbia is preparing for a “difficult autumn” as it tries to resolve the Kosovo problem, President Aleksandar Vucic said following a visit to the United States. He described the discussions he had had in Washington as “extremely important,” all the more so amid the continuing disagreements over the situation in Kosovo.

“A difficult autumn awaits us, a difficult winter awaits us. First and foremost because of Kosovo,” Vucic said. Pledging continued fight for Serbia and the ethnic Serbs living in Kosovo, he still admitted that Serbia is too small to influence the policies of a “giant” like the United States. Aleksandar Vucic, Kosovo leader Hashim Thaci, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and possibly a senior member of the Trump administration are expected to meet in Paris later this month to discuss the situation in Kosovo. The participants are expected to agree a list of measures to normalize relations between Belgrade and Pristina, including provisions for redrawing Kosovo borders and the transfer of the country’s Serb-populated northern regions to Serbian control. The Serbian opposition strongly rejects the idea of signing such an agreement with Pristina under the auspices of the European Union and the United States.

President Vucic may still be forced to go for it as “the lesser evil,” which may require a certain degree of pragmatism on Russia’s part. According to the new Russian ambassador in Belgrade, Alexander Botsan-Harchenko, who formerly represented Russia in the mediating “troika” overseeing the Kosovo status talks, Moscow “supports and encourages everything regarding the initiative role of Belgrade. If some decisions are made, and if Serbia asks Russia to join a certain group of states, then we can (why not) go for it. But at the same time, our position and our commitment to Resolution 1244 must be taken into account. There is no other option for us and, I think, for Serbia either. We are now ready to contribute to the resumption of dialogue. ”

Serbia’s other option is refusal to continue negotiations with Kosovo and, therefore, to see its application for EU membership suspended. This is a possibility many in Europe and the US are fully aware of.

“The Serbian point of view is that Russia defended its position on Kosovo in the UN and opposed NATO bombings,” former US ambassador to Belgrade, William Montgomery, said, adding that, according to opinion polls, Russia still tops the list of countries Serbians like most.

He described the EU’s position on Serbia’s membership in the bloc as short-sighted and a strategic mistake, emphasizing that the European Union will bear responsibility for the consequences of its failure to do more to bring Serbia into the bloc.

Serbian officials are equally aware of the complexity of the situation. In an interview with the Belgrade-based newspaper Vecernje novosti, diplomat Zoran Milivojevic expects a clash of “big power” interests in the Balkan region: “Serbia clearly occupies an important place in this standoff and will continue doing so since the West has not yet abandoned its interests in this region. Because Serbia plays such a decisive role in the Balkans, it will be the primary target of Western pressure.”

If Serbia rejects a deal with Kosovo, thus complicating its relations with Brussels, it will inevitably have to generally revise its foreign policy priorities and start to actively build up across-the-board cooperation with Russia and other global “centers of power” outside the Euro-Atlantic camp. This also implies closer trade and other economic ties with Russia and its Eurasian allies.

One such cooperation format is the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), which can offer Belgrade a serious trade and economic alternative to European integration, while simultaneously allowing Serbia to serve as a “bridge” in the economic (and, therefore, political) relations between Russia and the West.

Meanwhile, Belgrade is already taking concrete steps in this direction. On August 15, Serbia officially joined the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) as its 73rd member with the country’s finance minister Sinisa Mali describing this as an important event, which offers Serbia access to easy loans to finance the implementation of priority projects.

In addition to members from the Asia-Pacific region, the Beijing-headquartered AIIB, which has been operating since 2016, also has among its members such leading European countries as Britain, Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain.

In October, Serbia may sign an even more economically and politically significant agreement on a free trade zone with EAEU member-countries. According Russia’s envoy in Belgrade, Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko, such an agreement is expected to be inked on October 25.

“This is a significant event, which has naturally attracted a lot of media attention. The EAEU is an effective integration project that meets modern requirements. For Belgrade, the implementation of the document will mark a completely new stage of presence in Eurasia, with an access to a market of over 182 million consumers and a combined GDP exceeding $1.9 trillion,” Botsan-Kharchenko emphasized, adding that “Serbia may eventually become a bridge between the EU and the EAEU.”

Established on the basis of the Customs Union and the Common Economic Space, the Eurasian Economic Union has been in business since January 1, 2015 and currently includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia and Kyrgyzstan, with Moldova having an observer status.

During the August 2019 meeting by the Eurasian Intergovernmental Council  Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev emphasized the need to speed up the preparation of agreements on the EAEU free trade zone with Serbia and Singapore. He also called for expediting the implementation of integration processes within the EAEU itself.

“Negotiations on free trade are successfully underway with Singapore, Israel, Egypt, and an interim agreement on a free trade zone with Iran, an agreement on trade and economic cooperation with China will soon be launched. This gives our goods certain advantages in these countries’ markets,” Medvedev said.  He emphasized that the EAEU also seeks to expand the number of its foreign partners, including through regional organizations such as ASEAN.

“We strongly support such activities. I think that it is necessary to expedite the procedures that are necessary to sign agreements on a free trade zone with Serbia and Singapore,” Medvedev added.

In addition to the EAEU, Serbia has spent the past few years trying to participate more actively in other integration projects outside the Euro-Atlantic area. Since 2013, it has had an observer status at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, and, according to various reports, is now mulling the prospect of its gradual “connection” to the structures of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Increased US and EU pressure on Belgrade concerning the issue of Kosovo recognition will obviously give an additional boost to the abovementioned trend, which objectively meets the interests of the Russian Federation.

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President Macron’s plans and ambitions: Realism or rhetoric?

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In the run-up to the G7 Summit in Biarritz, French media reports focused on the global political and diplomatic plans of President Emmanuel Macron. Journalists say that for President Macron the G7 summit presented a unique opportunity “to return France its historical role of a “ mediator ”in global conflicts and to contribute to outlining a new geopolitical agenda”. How realistic are such ambitions?

France acquired the tradition of demonstrating its sovereign and special international status in the times of Charles de Gaulle. Paris also succeeded in  securing effective mediation in various conflicts under Francois Mitterrand and Nicolas Sarkozy. Playing into Paris’ hands is the nuclear arsenal, the status of a permanent member of the UN Security Council,  and one of the leading roles in the global arms market. France’s mediation efforts have won perhaps the greatest trust among the Western powers. In the past, France was able to speak on behalf of united Europe, while Macron has repeatedly signalled his determination to consolidate the EU foreign policy.

The EU itself has long been showing a “tendency to strengthen its role as a major player in global crisis management.” But in order to expand diplomatic and humanitarian mediation efforts under the patronage of the EU one should follow the current format of making foreign policy decisions within the community, which requires the consensus among all the participants. Thus, to guarantee the agenda and the role claimed by President Macron it is essential to reconsider foreign policy priorities and probably reform the institutions of united Europe. It is also necessary to consolidate and coordinate the increasingly “mosaic” and diverse interests of member states, which are regularly at odds with one another even on issues that are declared by the EU leadership as being of top priority for all member countries. A long-term geopolitical strategy continues to play a significant role too, as a result of which the development of a pan-European foreign policy turns into a frantic search for the “lowest common denominator”.

In the meantime, Macron’s “mediation” on a number of priority issues  has been mostly about defending the interests of France. The second half of last year was marked by relations between the two “locomotives” of the EU – France and Germany – hitting a new level. However, the beginning of February this year saw serious disagreements between the two parties. As it turned out, the interests of Paris and Berlin clash. Regarding the construction of the Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline, France managed to impose on Germany “the format that the German government wanted to avoid.”  On the issue of transatlantic trade, the French position blocked the start of negotiations with the US, which was fraught with the introduction of duties against German-made products, in the first place. The EU members managed to overcome this discord only by mid-April. Finally, this summer, after a fierce backstage fight, in which Macron took center-stage, a “compromise” was reached in favor of France. The posts of presidents of the European Commission and the European Central Bank went to candidates who are politically dependent on Paris. This so-called realpolitik inevitably raises the question of whether Macron with his geopolitical ambitions might push Europe to an even greater internal split? In this regard, there have been suspicions that the French president wants to turn the EU countries into an instrument of Paris’s foreign policy agenda.

Some experts believe that Macron’s ambitions are great beyond description, that “his horizon is the future balance of strength in the world.” They talk about his determination to “go beyond European and Atlantic solidarity and return to the concept of multipolarity and multilateralism”. The Champs Elysees seeks to maintain a regular dialogue even with powers whose interests run counter to Western ones; and even with countries that oppose the allies of France. At the same time, Macron is committed to NATO and “is seeking to rely on the concerted effort of the North Atlantic Alliance” in a hope to give the organization a “new impetus”. In addition, Macron’s foreign policy follows clear “ideological principles,” which make his supporters look to him with double hope, while opponents see him as the main obstacle to effective diplomacy. All this restricts his “independence” and the possibility of new agreements.

Finally, many analysts say that Macron’s foreign policy is characterized by controversy. A few days ago he said that he wanted to turn France into a “power of equilibrium.” But just a year ago, he demonstrated strong support for the German idea of transforming the entire European Union into a balancer, “balancing” the international situation. What is closer to Macron, the “individual leadership” of France or the “sovereignty of Europe”? Over the previous two years, being at the top of power, he has significantly changed his views on the transatlantic model of globalism and signaled the need to give a new role to Europe, to “strengthen” its position in the new alignment of forces. A year ago, Macron urged the EU to “guarantee its own security”, since such powers as China and the United States hardly see Europe as an equal force. And if the Europeans fail to quickly change this state of things, then “we are in for a bleak future” . On August 27 this year, as he spoke at a meeting of ambassadors, Macron stated: “we are witnessing the end of Western hegemony in the world,” … “new powers are coming to the fore”, primarily Russia and China.” In this regard, it is important to understand what is behind the frequent change in rhetoric of the current French leader, adaptability of a far-seeing strategist or a time-serving pragmatism of a politician whose major concern is the next elections.

Meanwhile, the mediatory efforts undertaken by Macron while getting ready and holding the G-7 summit were also filled with striking discrepancies. The participants failed to work out a “model” on the Iranian dossier, although the  media had reported a statement by the French president on reaching an agreement on “joint communication” on maintaining a nuclear deal with Tehran. However, it soon became clear that Paris is in no position to influence the United States.  In the Russian direction, Macron yet again tried to “entice” Moscow by the narrative about “Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok.” However, Russia remembers that a little over a year ago Macron spoke as confidently about it as being “non-Europe”, thereby suggesting conflicting trends in international relations – the “Big Seven” is more and more like a relic of the past”,  and a return to this past in its “current format makes no sense”.

What inspires some optimism is the fact that Macron seems to understand that Russia is not the country that can be “excluded from all parties.” The broader its cooperation with Moscow, the fewer problems the West will face. Addressing the French ambassadors during a meeting mentioned above, the French president made it clear “that France needs to reconsider and build new relations with Russia.” But one of the many puzzles he has to solve along the way is the “paradoxical situation” that has developed to date, “when the same countries within NATO and the European Union support opposite political platforms regarding Russia.” As part of the NATO agenda, Europeans are pursuing a policy that combines  a “systematic (military-political) deterrence of Russia” with the need to maintain dialogue, despite the fact that all formal options for such a dialogue are frozen. As part of its own agenda, the European Union, whose 22 members are also members of NATO, terminated a “systematic political dialogue” with Moscow, based on the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, in 2014. At the same time, there are statements about the expediency of selective cooperation – in issues that meet the interests of the EU. “How is it possible to develop selective cooperation without political dialogue?  How is this possible without coordination of mutual interests?” – an expert from the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences asks.

Meanwhile, the world is in acute need for “global legal standards”, and not only for the regulation of traditional “conflict-use of force” challenges. Issues such as climate change, threats to destabilize cyberspace, attacks on informational reality, cross-border social disasters, pandemics cannot be handled effectively at the level of individual states. More and more issues enter “the world level”. And if we are to address them, we need the appropriate “world order”, the harmonization of universal norms so that national governments could work together to “secure effective global governance”.

Russia welcomes and is actively participating in transforming international relations in the direction of “multilateral diplomacy”, “collective efforts at the level of the international community and the regions.” However, are the West as a whole, and France, in particular, ready for “restraint and compliance with the international law and order”, for “working in an open format”, and for abandoning the “ideology-dominated foreign policy”? Are they ready that the new model of diplomacy will be “complex and multifaceted,” sometimes fitting badly if at all into any previous formats in terms of the approaches that will be adopted by all participants.  For example, in the case of the “Big Seven,” Moscow suggests looking at the situation from a broader perspective and discuss the prospects for the Group’s modernization not only through the return of Russia, but also through expansion to include India and China. This transformation into the “Big Ten” may become “a powerful phenomenon in global politics that would change directions, approaches and formats”.

Emmanuel Macron is thus to provide the answers to a large number of difficult questions: to what extent can France be independent in determining its foreign policy? Also, is it possible to effectively play the role of an “intermediary power”, while remaining bound by the “strict obligations to other players”? And wouldn’t it be possible for France, in that case, to find itself squeezed between the “hammer” of the everyday realities of modern international politics and the “anvil” of the maxim, which they say belongs to the French, that genuine realists “demand the impossible”? 

From our partner International Affairs

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Europe

The Vatican and the Russian Federation

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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Currently the Vatican is the largest and most effective mediator between the various ideological worlds and between the old, great political alliances.

 A system in which the Church operates by mediating both between them and between them and the West.

 This is the case of the Russian Federation, with which the Catholic Church has a special and long-standing  relationship, which started with the mission to the Tsar in 1452 and later continued with a very long story of deep ideological contrast with the Marxist-Leninist State atheism, but also of friendship and support – especially nowadays.

 Full diplomatic relations between the two countries were resumed in 2009, with 178 countries now recognizing the Holy See diplomatically, while in 1978 the Vatican had official diplomatic relations with 84 countries.

 Certainly, the present-day Russia, like the Tsarist and later the Marxist-Leninist one, has an Orthodox Church closely linked, by its very nature, to the political power. Not even Stalin could escape said rule altogether.

 Still today, however, remnants of the past Communist regime can be found not in the mass aesthetics of the current system centred on Vladimir Putin, but in the one focused on some inveterate and deep habits of the population.

 Recently, during a visit paid to the ancient monastery of Valaam, President Putin himself ideologically associated Communism with the Christian tradition.

Still today, many Russians regard Lenin’s Mausoleum in Red Square as a ” sacred place” while, according to reliable statistics, 51% of Russians still admire Stalin.

 Why the return of Stalin’s myth, and exactly now? Because the “Man of Steel” is seen as an enemy of bureaucracy and “elites” and, above all, as the architect of the Soviet great victory against Nazism. 

This shows to what extent the deep tendencies and trends  of contemporary society and the old ideas about the Second World War mix up in popular myths.

 Probably – as Curzio Malaparte already noted in his book, “The Technique of Revolution”, written in 1931 when he was an Italian diplomat to Warsaw – nowadays Stalin embodies the simple and virile assurance and stability of the Russian peasant, while Trotzky acted nervously and unconfidently, “like a modern European intellectual” -just to put it in Malaparte’s words.

 Moreover, the current Russian relationship with the Catholic Church and the other national autocephalous and autonomous Churches stems directly from Putin’s new strategy of expansion into the so-called “near abroad”.

 Ukraine is, in fact, at the heart of Putin’ strategic project. Without Ukraine no expansion is possible, however along with the Caucasus and Central Asia.

 But one of the centres of Ukrainian power and national identity is the Greek-Catholic Church, which still follows a Byzantine rite and is closely linked to Rome.

After the great repression of 1946, it has been the largest and fastest growing religious community in the world.

 The passion with which the Greek-Catholic Church proposes the Social Doctrine of the Church has long been a very credible substitute for Marxist eschatology or, in any case, for the Soviet social ideas.

Currently, however, the relations with the Patriarchate of Moscow are excellent.

Throughout his papacy, however, Pope Francis has always been proposing dialogue instead of confrontation.

Hence,  while the EU and the USA are increasingly opposed to Putin’s Russia, the Vatican listens carefully and deals effectively with Russia.

 The naive superiority – typical of the weak subjects – with which the EU and the USA deal with the Kremlin will be the sign of a harsh defeat, in Syria as in other parts of the world.

In the sixth visit paid by the Russian leader to the Vatican, Pope Francis spoke with him about various international issues.

 Never – not even during Stalin’s rule – did Russia think that the Vatican diplomacy was uninformed or powerless. Indeed, during the Second World War he used it for the matters concerning Hitler and his demise, as well as to deal with the USA, which had already adapted to the Cold War.

Reportedly the Pope and Putin discussed at length about Syria – where the stance of the Holy See is very far from the empty and ambiguous “democraticism” of the West-and about the whole Middle East and its new set-up, as well as about the status of Jerusalem and finally about the moral decadence of the West and, hence, about a sort of alliance between Putin’s Russia and the Vatican to defend ancient and eternal values.

So far, however, the Pope has paid no visit to Russia. Obviously the Synod of the Ukrainian Greek Church would create some understandable problems.

Putin has already had two confidential conversations with Pope Francis, in 2013 and 2015.

 He will be in the Vatican next January, when, an exhibition of Russian art will be inaugurated at the Holy See.

 Foreign Minister Lavrov often has contacts with his counterparts of the Roman Catholic diplomacy, at all levels and constantly.

Here we can find, in essence, the great idea of Pope Francis, his careful and profound opening to the Russian Orthodox Church that counts 150 million believers and has considerable economic power, which has sometimes been used also to rescue public finances.

 In 2016, Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill met in Cuba and a month later the Pope approved the appointment of Archbishop Celestino Migliore as Apostolic Nuncio to Moscow.

In 2017 he was also conferred the Apostolic Nunciature of the Holy See to Uzbekistan.

 The Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin,paid a visit to the Russian Federation from August 20 to 24, 2017, expressly invited by the Russian State and by the highest hierarchies of the Orthodox Church.

It was the first visit of a Vatican Secretary of State after 1989 and after the great, historic visit of Cardinal Agostino Casaroli in 1990, immediately after the collapse of the Soviet regime.

 Cardinal Parolin had some “important and constructive meetings” – as he himself defined them – with President Putin, with Foreign Minister Lavrov, with Patriarch Kirill and Metropolitan Hilarion, as well as with some other members of the Patriarchate of Moscow.

Later Cardinal Parolin met with Putin in Sochi. Many of the topics discussed during their conversations are still very confidential, but one of them is already known: the issue of Christians in Syria and all the conflicts in the Middle East, considering that the Vatican recognizes the fait accompli, i.e. the Russian Federation as a great decisive power for the destiny of the whole Middle East.

 They also discussed  the status of Christians in the various areas with an Islamic majority – where the Russian Federation already counts very much – and their possible protection.

Russia is already available, while some Western countries not.

 The following day, when Cardinal Parolin met with Foreign Minister Lavrov, they discussed the fight against terrorism and jihadism, as well as the promotion of a stable dialogue between countries and religions, and finally the protection of ethnic, religious and political minorities in all the possible solutions – partial or not-to the conflicts in the Middle East.

Cardinal Parolin and Minister Lavrov also discussed how to put an end to the clashes in Syria, using both the Astana Accords and the Geneva talks. The Vatican accepts both of them.

 Furthermore, the Secretary of State reminded Lavrov and his aides of the urgent need to re-establish contacts and resume talks between the State of Israel and the Palestinian world, as well as to try and solve the strong tensions in Venezuela, where Russia still has a strong power projection.

Also the Catholic Church, however, has undisputed power.

 Cardinal Parolin never discusses in vain and with an abstract and academic tone.

Later the Secretary of State vigorously outlined to the Russian leadership Pope Francis’ pragmatic and rational position on all the issues under discussion.

We can imagine that, with specific reference to Syria, Pope Francis and his Secretary of State want a concrete commitment by Assad – they implicitly recognize – for the protection and support of the population, as well as the return of refugees to Syria.

With specific reference to Libya, Pope Francis wants the conflict to end immediately, through a credible and substantial dialogue between the parties, possibly supported by the Vatican diplomacy and by the Russian Federation itself, which currently backs General Khalifa Haftar, the strongman of Cyrenaica.

As to South Sudan, the Pope wants President Salva Kiir and the rebel leader Riek Machar to meet and, in fact, a few days later Kiir asked Machar to form a government of national unity.

 One of the many silly conflicts generated by oil and by the carelessness of the most important powers at economic level.

 In addition, Russia seriously supports the Vatican’s efforts in Venezuela to stabilize the local political system peacefully.

Reverting to the Ukrainian issue, with specific reference to the current political and military situation in Ukraine and to the annexation of Crimea, Cardinal Parolin stressed that “international rules shall be fully enforced”.

In fact, the Holy See wants the 2014 Minsk Protocol, which has so far remained dead letter, to be clearly implemented by all parties.

Minister Lavrov clearly appreciated the Vatican support for the Minsk Protocol.

 In short, as can be inferred from the messages of Cardinal  Parolin coming back from his Russian missions and visits, it is good for the West not to neglect and, above all, not to isolate the Russian Federation.

 It would be a fundamental strategic mistake.

Nevertheless, considering this geopolitics based on empty morality and political superficiality, there is not much to hope for in the West.

 Catholics in Russia – the first traditional duty of the Vatican mission there – are very few: 773,000 believers in four dioceses that were established by John Paul II, the Pope  who consecrated Russia to the Sacred Heart of Mary.

 As the Virgin had long wanted in her messages of Fatima.

 The Church of Rome does not proselytize in Russia, but the climate is not yet good for the Roman Catholic Russians.

 And, in this case, the discussions and meetings of Cardinal  Parolin with the leaders of the Orthodox Church were as important as those with Putin and Lavrov.

 Meanwhile, Kirill II suggested the possibility of joint humanitarian operations between the Church of Rome and the Patriarchate of Moscow, especially in the Middle East.

Moreover, the Orthodox Christians will have the relics of Saint Nicholas at their disposal, temporarily transferred from Bari to Moscow and Saint Petersburg.

Hence a new phase has begun, characterized by stable and close relations between Russian Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, a phase that will certainly not be cancelled in the near future.

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