The possibility of Scotland leaving the UK is looming large the closer we get to March 2019. This comes despite all the immediate defense and prospective EU membership concerns the country is facing. All warnings aside, Scottish PM Nicola Sturgeon seems to believe that ‘no Brexit is preferable to no-deal’ amongst news of a NO DEAL Brexit Minister to take form. In the same vein, a recent poll showed that almost half of Scots said they would leave the Union (with the UK) if a second referendum were to be granted by Westminster. However, even if Theresa May gets compassion for Holyrood, this vote cannot take place before the UK officially exists the EU, which makes for a long wait for those 49% anti-unionists. A word of caution, almost half is not even half which means that predictions cannot possibly make for an accurate portrayal of the feeling/temperature in Scottish rooms, not to mention a conjuring of a post-Brexit scenario.
Nevertheless, the reality remains that we have now officially entered the last full year of the UK – and hence, Scotland – enjoying membership in the EU. Therefore, I found it appropriate to sketch a brief picture of the Scottish-European relations throughout time.
The year of 1295 brought with it the signing of the Auld Alliance, a treaty between Scotland and France through which France became Scotland’s closest ally, both being united by the hatred they carried for the English. From the 1295 until the 1707 Union with England, Scotland enjoyed close relations with a number of European nations, namely Scandinavia, the Low Countries, Ireland, Italy and Poland, having a notable mercantile presence in Copenhagen, Bergen and Danzig.
Fast forward to the 1970s when Europhile UK PM Edward Heath decides to apply for European Economic Community (EEC) membership. While a majority of Scottish MPs did vote against entry in the House of Commons vote, seven Scottish Tory politicians published an analysis named Scotland and Europe: seven viewpoints, supporting entrance into the EEC. After the accession treaty was signed in 1972, four Scots were sent to Brussels to represent the UK, amongst which the noteworthy mentions would be Scottish MP George Thomson, who was one of the founders of the European Regional Development Fund and Lord Mackenzie Stuart who was appointed to the European Court of Justice.
In terms of EEC funding, Scotland has received more than twice the national average per head of population in the form of grants and loans throughout the 70s. The money was routed via the Coal and Steel Community, the European Social Fund, the European Investment Bank and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). The funds also helped with the inexorable population decline the Highlands region was suffering from which could not have been easily bypassed. This downward spiral was stopped in its tracks three decades later when the EU transitional support funds came through and helped boost local business and SMEs. Everything from infrastructure, financial services and biotech up to culture, lifestyle and tourism benefited from the transfer of knowledge both ways, namely from local to international markets and vice versa.
In June 1978, on the occasion of the first direct elections to the European Parliament Winnie Ewing from the SNP – who later began contributing to the development of the Erasmus programme- became the first of Scotland’s ‘appointed’ Members of the European Parliament to win a democratic mandate. With her election, 21 million pounds were given through the ERDF to Scotland. The money was used in the construction of harbours, roads, water infrastructure and sewerage in both the Islands and the Highlands. In 1983, Scotland received another 4.5 million pounds to modernise its fishing fleet and create fish farms. What is more, Scotland benefited from many other types of European grants so that by 1984, Scotland was receiving more than twice the EEC’s average rate of financial assistance. Apart from the fishing industry, EEC funding went into training Scottish workers, into the gastronomy industry of Glasgow (through a 2 million-poundloan for a pie and sausage factory), into modernising airports around Scotland and into art festivals (e.g. Pitlochry Festival Theatre). Research has showed that for every 40 pence Scotland put into European aid, they got 1 pound back.To put it into perspective, in 1983, Scotland has contributed 325 million pounds to the EEC and has received funds worth 410 million pounds.
Secessionist thoughts were wondering through Scottish minds even in the 80s when MSP Jim Sillars published a pamphlet called Moving on and moving up in Europe. This movement only gained traction when in 1988 the SNP’s annual conference was carried under the motto ‘Independence in Europe’ which became SNP’s official policy as well.
A year later, in the 1989 EP elections, Scottish politician David Steel became the first British politician to campaign and deliver a party political broadcast in another European country, in this case, Italy. While he did not become MEP, he did make history through his vicious attacks at Thatcher, calling her a ‘woman out of step with others’.
Starting with the entrance in the new decade, the entrance of the European Union into Scotland became gained just as much significance. Between the 1990 and 1992, Ian Lang – the Secretary of State for Scotland –made his political life’s missions to emphasize the role of Scotland into the ‘Europe of the regions’. He underscored the part Scotland Europa plays in promoting Scotland’s business across EU bodies and focused attention on the European Central Support Unit’s Scottish office. In December 1992, the European Summit took place in Edinburgh, also named the ‘Athens of the North’. The Summit was hugely successful and truly memorable having played the part of putting the Community back together and put us all back on the track for recovery’ according to PM Sir John Major. Apart from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra playing ‘Ode to the Joy’, a 25.000-strong march through Edinburgh also took place during EU’s leaders’ meeting at Holyrood Palace. Alex Salmond, SNP leader at the time and future Scottish PM, had seen the manifestations as ‘a chance to tell the world that the solution to the Scottish question is independence in Europe’.
Later on, Scotland directly benefited from the creation of the Committee of the Regions (CoR) which included five Scottish members directly nominated by Scotland’s main political parties. Not long after, on June 1999, three Labour MEPs and two Conservative MEPs were elected. Back in Scotland, a European Parliament office was established in Edinburgh as one of the six regional offices of the EU. Its first head, Dermot Scott, believed that ‘the more closely the two parliaments work together, the better Scottish interests will be represented in Europe’. Edinburgh, alongside Glasgow, also became part of the Eurocities network and could ‘twin’ themselves with cities across the EU.
With the creation of the single market, 61% of Scottish exports went into the EU, while Scotland was an exporter on branded personal computers (35%), banking machines (65%), workstations (80%) and electronic notebooks (51%). These Scottish exports increased to the point whereScottish Development International created an office in Dusseldorf. The European Elected Members Information and Liaison Exchange (EMILE) forum was later established by future Minister Jack McConnell where Scotland’s 8 MEPs, members of the CoR and the European Committee met twice a year. A Scottish European Green Energy Centre (SEGEC) aimed at exploiting Scotland’s potential on the European energy market was also established.
Regardless of the 2008 financial crash which affected the EU budget just as much as the United States, various projects from Scotland continued to be beneficiaries of the 2007-2013 structural funds. These funds have in the past supported the construction of the Fife’s Ferrytoll park and ride scheme and the Falkirk Wheel. Apart from the Structural Fund programme, many Scottish students continued to benefit from Erasmus placements (e.g. 1243 Scots in 2010-2011), while Scottish universities have managed to attract a great deal of investment used for the purposes of research.
In conclusion (and potentially in contrast to the tone of the article), it is important to note, as mirrored in the beginning of this article, that ‘the EU is founded on the treaties which apply only to Member States who have agreed and ratified them. If part of the territory of a Member State woukd cease to become part of that state because it were to become a new independent state, the treaties would no longer apply to that territory’. In other words, this newly independent state would become a third country in relation to the EU. This segment of EU law is particularly noteworthy as talks of further devolution to the point of independence keep the headlines in Scotland. Nevertheless, no matter the outcome, Scotland has very much laid its path towards a central role in the EU.
The numbers are taken from the Scotsman, the Aberdeen Press and Journal and the booklet Scotland: 40 years in the European Union.
Iceland’s Historic(al) Elections
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
EU-Balkan Summit: No Set Timeframe for Western Balkans Accession
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.
German Election: Ramifications for the US Foreign Policy
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 Coalitions||Trafic Light||Grand Coalition||Jamaica|
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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