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The Anniversary of Kosovo’s Independence: Results and Prospects

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This year marks a decade since Kosovo proclaimed its independence, and that independence has by now become a hard fact. The country has been recognized by 106 UN members (according to Serbian data, or by 114 countries according to Kosovo itself), including 23 EU members (with the exception of Greece, Cyprus, Spain, Slovakia and Romania) and all its regional neighbours (with the exception of Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina; the latter refuses to recognize Kosovo’s independence because of Republika Srpska’s position). Kosovo’s international status was further strengthened by the UN International Court of Justice, which officially recognized the republic’s independence on July 22, 2010. The court’s fairly controversial verdict reads that Kosovo’s declaration of independence does not breach international law. Brussels contributed in the form of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement between the EU and Kosovo, which was signed on October 27, 2015 and came into force on April 1, 2016. However, it will take Kosovo a long time to prove that its statehood is tenable.

The new-fangled state is facing the same old structural problems that were caused by the territory’s socioeconomic and sociocultural underdevelopment, rather than by the fact that it was not an independent state. Kosovo’s archaic economy spawns skyrocketing unemployment, mainly among the youth, which in turn nurtures socio-political radicalism, international crime and growing Islamic extremism. Getting rid of Kosovo’s established reputation as a pan-European mafia transit hub for drugs, human trafficking and contraband goods will also require huge efforts. The territory’s reputation will not benefit from the findings of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers and Specialist Prosecutor’s Office, which is starting to look in the crimes perpetrated by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) in 1998–1999. Although Serbia, with the backing of Russia and China, has thus far refused to formally recognize Kosovo’s independence, there are many things indicating that this firm stance may not last for long.

Kosovo and Serbia

Serbia has already de facto recognized Kosovo’s independence – under Aleksandr Vucic’s Serbian Progressive Party and Ivica Dacic’s Socialist Party of Serbia, both of which are viewed as nationalist and pro-Russian parties – in accordance with the 2013 Brussels agreement on the normalization of relations. Belgrade transferred the Serb-populated northern portion of Kosovo to Pristina in order to be able to begin negotiations on accession to the European Union. All Serbia received in return from Kosovo was a promise to set up a fairly notional Community of Serb Municipalities, which never materialized.

Belgrade also made significant concessions to Brussels with regard to other aspects of its Balkan policy. Seeing as the Serbian leadership continues to make one self-detrimental compromise after another in the talks with Pristina under the aegis of Brussels, we may assume that Belgrade is prepared to do virtually everything in order to be accepted into the EU. The “intra-Serbian dialogue” on the Kosovo problem initiated by President Vucic and the draft amendments to the Constitution of Serbia (which currently describes Kosovo as part of Serbia) are aimed at dismantling the last remaining legal obstacles to Belgrade’s recognition of Kosovo. No other outcome is to be expected, given that accession to the EU is Belgrade’s declared foreign policy priority, and it is supported by both the ruling parties and the majority of the opposition. For Brussels, a legally binding treaty on the comprehensive normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina is a mandatory condition of Serbia’s accession. In an attempt to further stimulate Vucic to speed up the process, the EU has announced that Serbia might become a member in 2025, provided that Belgrade completes the pre-accession talks and normalizes relations with Kosovo by 2019 at the latest. The Serbian leadership will hardly have the political will and diplomatic skills required to withstand the pressure being applied by Brussels and Washington.

Many rational arguments may be offered in support of the resolution of the Kosovo issue. The preservation of de jure sovereignty over Kosovo will keep Serbia hostage to a frozen conflict in the foreseeable future, leaving it surrounded by active and potential EU and NATO members. Serbia has been unable to recover control over the territory which it effectively lost back in 1999.

At the same time, a rational analysis of the situation indicates that Serbia does not really need such an outcome due to a number of unsolvable demographic, economic and political problems. Should the territory become part of Serbia again, the high birth rate among Kosovo Albanians (a constant source of demographic expansion) would seriously threaten to change Serbia’s ethnic composition, which is something that has already happened in Kosovo itself. Kosovo, which used to be described as the most economically backward and subsidised territory in Yugoslavia, would be too heavy a burden for Serbia’s economy. Indeed, Kosovo was a constant source of ethno-political conflicts in Yugoslavia – under the royal dynasty, then during the Tito regime and finally under Slobodan Milosevic. Given the plethora of internal socioeconomic problems, Serbia does not have the capacity, need or indeed incentive to spend its limited resources on Kosovo. This much was recognized in the proposal made by Serbia during the 2007 talks on the status of Kosovo to grant the region broad autonomy – essentially independence – on the condition that this autonomy would not be enshrined in international law, and that neither Kosovo nor the Kosovo Albanians would be represented in Serbian government institutions.

It is true, however, that the idea of abandoning a relic of national history, the birthplace of the medieval Serbian state and the site of the historic Battle of Kosovo against the Turks, is extremely unpopular. It encroaches on the legend of Kosovo as enshrined in the country’s folklore, the cornerstone of Serbian mythology. The influential Serbian Orthodox Church is also extremely unhappy with the government’s policy on Kosovo, although there is no unity of opinion within the church itself. Furthermore, history demonstrates that the church leaders are not prepared to enter into an open confrontation with the state. The political forces demanding that Serbia choose Kosovo over the EU are extremely weak and represent a negligent minority in parliament.

International Repercussions

The recognition of Kosovo by a significant number of UN members, in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1244, the fundamental documents of the OSCE and the principles declared by the EU with regard to the newly independent post-Soviet and post-Yugoslav states set an international legal precedent that could be applied in other conflict zones [1]. This precedent gives separatists forces in similar situations elsewhere in the world additional incentives, pretexts and legal grounds to either demand the Kosovo scenario or oppose it. The list of EU countries that abstained from recognizing Kosovo indicates these European states wanted to safeguard themselves against similar developments, and not without good reason.

Just as Russia had warned, the first talks about the possibility of Kosovo’s independence elicited a lively response in the “unrecognized” post-Soviet territories of Transnistria, Nagorny Karabakh, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. For their part, the GUAM Organization for Democracy and Economic Development member states (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova) were quick to declare that, irrespective of the result of the final Kosovo settlement, it must not set a precedent. The subsequent developments in Georgia and Ukraine proved that Russia had been correct in its predictions.

It would be naive, of course, to expect an automatic domino effect in all the regions in which separatist movements are present. Each separate conflict has its own causes, effects, development dynamics and unique balances of forces. Not a single separatist movement in Western Europe has used Kosovo as a precedent in its cause. The Catalan separatists find the example of Slovenia more fitting, and the Spanish government has been stressing that the Catalan case has nothing in common with Kosovo. Nevertheless, it is becoming increasingly obvious why Spain did not recognize Catalonia’s independence.

Kosovo might prove a more relevant example and, therefore, a precedent, for Republika Srpska in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and for the Macedonian proponents of a Greater Albania. Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik periodically threatens Washington and Brussels with a referendum on the republic’s secession from Bosnia-Herzegovina, and cites Kosovo as a precedent for doing so. The National Assembly of Republika Srpska issued the threat twice in 2008, in light of Kosovo’s declaration of independence. The threat was never implemented, for obvious reasons. Republika Srpska’s secession is impossible and senseless without the active support of Belgrade, something that will not happen given Serbia’s EU aspirations. For this reason, the latest escalation in such rhetoric was nothing more than a way to increase the popularity of Dodik party’s on the eve of the local elections in Republika Srpska held on October 2, 2016. The results of the election confirmed the effectiveness of the tactic: Dodik’s Alliance of Independent Social Democrats increased the number of local self-administration bodies under its control by a third. There appears to be no reason to give up on this successful rhetorical tool in the 2018 Bosnian general election. It is also the most effective instrument in the fight against restrictions on Republika Srpska’s rights and the continuing attempts to centralize Bosnia-Herzegovina. Dodik made it clear, however, that a secession referendum is not on the agenda just yet.

It would appear that the political crisis in Macedonia, which lasted for one year, created a very favourable environment for the implementation of the long-standing nationalist idea of a Greater Albania. However, the Albanian leaders in both Albania and Macedonia resisted the temptation to avail of the situation, limiting themselves to strengthening their institutional and political positions in the Macedonian political arena. Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama invited the leaders of Macedonia’s Albanian parties to visit Tirana (their positions following the snap parliamentary election held on December 11, 2016 were critical in terms of which of the two rival Macedonian parties would ascend to power). Rama consolidated these forces on a single platform, thus playing a key part in identifying the winning party in the protracted political crisis in Macedonia. Rama’s electoral motives are easy to explain: Albania was readying itself for presidential and parliamentary elections. The Democratic Party, the main rival of the ruling Socialists, had boycotted parliament since February 2017 and is threatening to boycott the elections. They followed through with the threat during the presidential election. In this situation, Rama desperately needed a success story, something that would promote him to the role of the leader of all Albanians. It was only US intervention that forced Albania’s two main parties to strike an agreement on the parliamentary election. Rama’s rhetoric abated somewhat after he won the election and in the run-up to the launch of talks on Albania’s accession to the EU.

The Political Situation in Kosovo

The forced coalition of Kosovan President Hashim Thaci’s Democratic Party of Kosovo and its main rival, Prime Minister Isa Mustafa’s Democratic League of Kosovo, was inconvenient for the former. Pressure from the radical nationalist opposition grew. Major breakthroughs in relations with the EU were looking remote (unlike its neighbours, Kosovo does not yet have EU candidate status, nor does it enjoy visa-free travel to EU countries). Brussels insisted that Pristina adhere to the unpopular commitments it had made to ratify the border delineation treaty with Montenegro that had already been signed, set up the Community of Serb Municipalities and resume the dialogue with Serbia that had been suspended by Kosovo. The upcoming Special Tribunal in Kosovo is an additional irritating factor both for Thaci, who commanded the KLA, and for his former brothers in arms. It was the ideal time for the president to strip the opposition of its monopoly on patriotism and remind everyone who was actually running the country. This required an intricate political manoeuvre: during the vote of no confidence in the government initiated by the opposition on May 10 2017, the pro-government Democratic Party sided with the opposition. The Mustafa cabinet was overthrown and a snap parliamentary election was set. Thaci’s main concern was to configure political power in such a way as to guarantee immunity to former militants who had taken part in conflicts across the former Yugoslavia. This is why the Democratic Party entered the parliamentary campaign in a so-called ‘pistol coalition’ with the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo led by the infamous Ramush Haradinaj and nominated the latter for prime minister. Haradinaj, a former field commander accused by Serbia of war crimes who has been acquitted on two separate occasions by the Hague Tribunal due to lack of evidence (witnesses for the prosecution would either be intimidated into recanting their statements or die under unclear circumstances), and who already served as Prime Minister of Kosovo in 2004–2005, is known for his harsh nationalist statements.

The snap parliamentary election held on June 11, 2017 demonstrated the population’s low confidence in the ruling political elites, and the popularity of bellicose nationalism. The ‘pistol coalition’ won 39 out of the 120 parliamentary seats. For the first time in history, the radically nationalist opposition party Vetevendosje (Self-Determination) came second with 32 seats (against 16 in the previous convocation). The Democratic League of Kosovo, which had led the previous cabinet, won 29 seats. The so-called Serb List of Belgrade-backed candidates got nine out of the 10 seats contested, gaining significant political weight in parliament. The young leader of Self-Determination, who had sided with the Democratic League, was being tipped for premiership, but the situation played out differently in the end. Haradinaj won the sympathies of the New Kosovo Alliance and offered its leader and Kosovo’s biggest businessman, Beghjet Pacolli, the post of Minister of Foreign Affairs. The Serbian government endorsed the Serb List’s support for the ‘pistol coalition’, and other nationalist minorities followed suit. Representatives of the Serb List even made it into the Haradinaj cabinet, despite the fact that mere weeks prior to that, Belgrade had demanded that Kosovo’s new prime minister be extradited as a war criminal. As a result, Kosovo received a fragile coalition majority with 61 seats in parliament and a government that can be ruined by any of the members at any moment. Under pressure from Washington and Brussels (the new prime minister was initially denied visas to the United States (US) and the United Kingdom), Haradinaj gradually began to go back on his hot-headed election campaign promises.

Kosovo and Albania

On January 22, 2014, Kosovo and Albania signed an agreement on cooperation and strategic partnership. The governments of the two countries have been holding regular joint sessions ever since (once each in 2014 and 2015, and two in 2017). The sides have voiced the intention to unite their diplomatic missions in a number of countries “for the sake of economy.” Albania has granted Kosovo Albanians and Serbian Albanians the right to apply for jobs without work permits. In April 2017, the Albanian leaders once again joined efforts to directly blackmail Brussels and Washington: Hashim Thaci and Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama were joined by the leader of Albanians in Serbia, Jonuz Musliu, to issue virtually simultaneous statements to the effect that, should the prospect of the integration of the Western Balkans into the EU continue to decline, then the possibility that Albania and Kosovo will merge into an all-Albanian state cannot be ruled out. Rama explained that his country would prefer EU membership to this Greater Albania. Nevertheless, he and other Balkan leaders have repeatedly stated that the EU’s foot-dragging on the accession issue was threatening the region’s stability. This tactic has proved effective in the past, and will certainly be resorted to in the future for the purpose of stimulating European integration processes. Even though politicians actively employ the idea of uniting all Albanians in their election campaigns, and as a way to apply pressure on their Western patrons, they are unlikely to dare implement this scenario without the approval of the US and the EU. It is clear that Washington and Brussels will be against the idea, because in such a case the integrity of Bosnia-Herzegovina would be difficult to preserve.

Kosovo and the EU

In an attempt to repair its shaky influence in the region, Brussels has been forced to revise its strategy and make EU expansion to the Western Balkans a priority for 2020–2025. Serbia and Montenegro are the primary two candidates. The other contenders, which have been watching their rivals with jealousy, will try to jump the queue. The competition is aimed at making them more loyal to Brussels, enabling the latter to manage the region more efficiently and strengthen regional stability. However, local leaders have realized by now that the threat of destabilization is an effective lever of influence on the EU. This is another reason why Kosovo will remain a weak link in terms of local stability. The pace and timeframe for European integration will be a hot topic in discussions between Brussels and the candidate countries, or between the old and new EU members. We can expect the relatively latent political confrontation to continue, with the candidates trying to persuade Brussels to expedite their accession to the EU, including by way of periodic fits of “non-EU” behaviour, which are particularly characteristic of Albanian politicians in both Kosovo and Albania. That said, the regional elites will remain firm in their commitment to joining the EU, which has sent them a positive signal in its new strategy for the Western Balkans.

The US has no plans to leave the region either. Kosovo still has much to do in order to be accepted into the EU, and there is no point in even guessing at when that might happen. However, the country may get a coveted UN seat much sooner. This would not help solve Kosovo’s fundamental problems, but there are plenty of countries in the world whose tenability is dubious.

First published in our partner RIAC

[1] Guidelines on the Recognition of New States in Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union // Bulletin of the European Communities Commission. 1991. Vol. 24. No. 12, p. 119.

Ph.D. (History), Head of the Department of Ethno-Political Conflict at the Institute of Europe under the Russian Academy of Sciences, RIAC expert

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Europe

Making Europe’s future rhyme for the Next Generation

Ursula von der Leyen

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History does not always repeat itself but for Europe it does usually rhyme. Or at least it used to.

In the face of a virus that has taken lives and livelihoods across the world, Europe did not give in to age-old instincts or re-open barely healed wounds from the financial crisis a decade ago. Instead, we chose to pull each other through and invest in a common future.

This is why we can say that last week’s decision by the Leaders of the 27 Member States to endorse the European Commission’s recovery proposal was historic.

Firstly, the numbers. Europe will have at its disposal a recovery tool worth 750 billion EUR to support those hit hardest by this crisis. Called NextGenerationEU, it will invest in a recovery that builds a greener, more digital and more resilient Union for our children. This will be topped up by the EU budget for the next seven years, bringing the overall package to 1.8 trillion EUR.

Secondly, it is historic because of how Europe makes it work. For the first time on this scale, the European Commission – backed by the 27 Member States – will use its strong credit rating to raise money on the capital markets for NextGenerationEU.

In past crises, the better off survived while the most vulnerable paid a heavy price. But this time it has to be different. This time we can only get back to our feet if we all pull each other up. This is why most of NextGenerationEU funds will be distributed in grants to Member States to finance crucial reforms and investment. This is European money supporting projects and people from Flensburg to Freiburg, creating jobs locally from Cottbus to Cologne, and Europe’s strength globally.

Reforms and investment will be tailored to what each country needs and be in line with our wider European goals. For some, this will support reforms in the labour market to boost productivity, while others will focus more on education and training to help people develop the skills they need. Some will invest in improving digital infrastructure and others on transport connections. But, crucially, all will contribute to the goals of the European Green Deal. 30% of the overall 1.8 trillion will be ring-fenced for climate related spending and a new Just Transition Fund of 17.5 billion will help those people and regions who have to make a bigger transformation than most.

The third reason we can use the word historic is because of how the money will be repaid. To avoid sending a higher bill to Member States in the future, Europe should repay the funds through what we call new own resources. These will include a levy on big tech companies, a tax on non-recycled plastics and putting a carbon price on imports coming from countries with lower climate ambitions.

Some people will ask about why Germany should raise or repay money with another country thousands of kilometres away. The answer is simple. Europe’s prosperity lies in its unity, its community and its single market. So for us solidarity is actually self-interest and a euro invested in one country is actually a euro invested for all.

Think about what happens to our tourism industry if people from across Europe cannot afford to come to our Alps or to visit our Baltic Sea beaches anymore. Think about what happens to our manufacturers if they cannot get the parts they need from their suppliers in different European countries. Think about how the crisis has taken its toll on us all – on the wellbeing of people, the solvency of businesses, the functioning of society and the health of every single European economy. And it is not over yet.

This is why we need to act urgently, decisively and collectively. And last week, Europe has shown that it is up to the task. Of course, some will point to the long and difficult Summit and see that as hesitation or weakness. We see it as the ultimate sign of Europe’s unique strength.

Just take a step back and look around. Nowhere else in the world could 27 different countries even discuss financing their recovery and future together. We did it over one long weekend. At this very fragile moment in history, being in Europe is the best place to be. And now we need to keep it that way for all by working with governments and parliaments to bring this recovery to life.

Our Union should always be judged on what it can offer for the future. That vision of a common future enabled us to take every bold step in our history: uniting Europe after the Second World War or the end of the Cold War, creating our common market and introducing our common currency. Today, it is that same pioneering vision enabling us to make another historic step for our Union.

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Where do we go from here? -revisiting words of Steve Clemons

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On 1 July 2020,the first real-time conference in Europe past the early-spring lockdown took place at the Diplomatic Academy Vienna. This highly anticipated event, entitled From the Victory Day to Corona Disarray 75 years of Europe’s Collective Security and Human Rights System Legacy of antifascism for the common pan-European future, was organized by the International Institute for the Middle East and Balkan Studies, Media Platform Modern Diplomacy, Scientific Journal European Perspectives, and Action Platform Culture for Peace. (the entire conference proceedings are available

After the end of World War II, the United Nations was founded in 1945 to maintain international peace and security, build relationships among nations, promote social progress, better living standards, and human rights. The Nurnberg and Tokyo trials (1945-1948) prosecuted war crimes and contributed to the development of international criminal law as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). These laid down the foundation for the liberal international system that is based on the shared interest in maintaining rule of law, the cooperation to resolve security issues, and to maintain an open, stable system, in which institutions reinforce cooperation and collective problem-solving.

The first panel reflected on the legacy of World War II, collective security, Human Rights, and the importance of mutual trust within alliances. Discussions emphasized the testing times that we are living in, which unwittingly remind us of the set of challenges that the international system must overcome. Challenges that will commend other solutions, while testing the integrity of the current international system. During the first panel, discussions touched upon a crucial and complex issue, which came under the spotlight due to the severe worldwide effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the state of international institutions as well as the transatlantic relations.

As the health crisis started to unfold rapidly, an unprecedented macroeconomic shock was triggered. To slow the spread of the virus, national governments-imposed sanctions, lockdowns, curfews, closed educational institutions, and non-essential businesses. National borders were shut down in a matter of hours, governments started to look for unilateral solutions to solve their lack of medical and food supply, and suddenly it seemed like the globalized world and the relevance of the international organizations are fading away, as the interest to act in concert would not exist anymore.

National crisis management aimed at containing the spread of the virus and minimize the economic damages, at the same time sent an immediate warning that the collective problem-solving mechanisms are not functioning properly. It also demonstrated how interdependent the economic, social systems are and this magnitude of crisis cannot be dealt with unilaterally within national borders. As Mr. Steve Clemons, Editor-at-large, HILL pointed out in his intervention, the course that a nation should take is more in question than it has ever been before. ‘When you look at the Transatlantic experiment, it looked like it succeeded enormously until it stopped succeeding and working.’

As the C-19 crisis demonstrates, the scale of transnational threats cannot be dealt with on a national level. Combatting interstate terrorism, cybercrimes, climate change, the slow pace of clean energy transition, migration, global pandemics require transnational solutions. Meanwhile, countries are putting more emphasis on strengthening their positions as a nation in the international discourse and seeking a different role by redefining themselves and embracing other core values and institutions.

Attempts to look for alternatives and transform the existing institutional structure put in place after World War II have surged in the last decade, especially after 9/11, the financial crisis in 2008, but with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world arrived at another tipping point. As Mr. Clemons phrased it: ‘A point of diminishing return that these institutions need to be rethought, reconsidered, and recalibrated, that the power players that now guide much of the world need to be reassorted. There is no doubt that countries like Brazil, India, etc. are not included in those power centers, and yet they have enormous stakes in the way global affairs occur.’

A global power transition has been taking place for years, the question is how the shift from unipolarity will accommodate rising powers, who will be able to take the lead and fill the power vacuum that the United States leaves behind. As opposed to the rules of the liberal value-based world order, a new set of rules is being written by rising powers. Some of the political leaders turned back to ideologies like nationalism and populism, as a potential alternative to liberalism. Conflicts in recent years reinforced this tendency, like disputes between Hong Kong and mainland China, the Ukraine crisis, and Turkey`s autocratic behavior. In addition to this, the United Kingdom left the European Union and Hungary changed its raison d’état by redefining itself as an illiberal democracy.

Even the United States is less committed to the post-war world order. Demonstrating that by leaving institutions that It helped to build, such as the World Health Organization, the Paris Climate Accord, questioning the legitimacy of NATO and certain UN institutions. Mr. Clemons stated that the United States has become a serious competitor with its allies to a certain degree and the notion of shared interest has diminished. He emphasized the different stand that the United States took in the C-19 event as oppose to its position in World War II: ‘The United States has chosen not to be the kind of leader that it has been in the past. It did not step forward in the C-19 crisis to help become a broker of strength and benefits and help support nations around the world. We may have done something here and there, but nothing on the scale.’

The set of challenges put the resistance of decade long alliances to a test. At the same time, they create the opportunity to find comprehensive solutions and more efficient problem-solving mechanisms for the future, by revitalizing and reforming institutions that are the cornerstones of long-standing regional orders, cooperation, and collective problem-solving. To stand resilient against global challenges like C-19, the transatlantic relationship must come back to its core values and redefine itself. Therefore, as a first step, it must be acknowledged what led to this harsh world without much leadership.

The strength lies within like-minded alliances and sharing the same core values as well as in the ability to come together despite the differences and finding a common ground again. That is what happened 75 years ago, after the end of World War II, when the United Nations was founded. Let us remember that.

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EU-US: New geopolitical disharmonies

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The article analyzes new trends in the development of the transatlantic partnership, laying bare the contradictions and problems that have recently been complicating the allied ties between the US and the EU.

Donald Trump’s presidency has led to a noticeable cooling of relations between the United States and the European Union. Most European analysts view the Trump administration’s approach to relations with the European Union as destructive, since it proceeds from the assumption that European integration is directed against the United States and that the “disunited states of Europe” thus pursue their own strategic interests. This means that the US now prefers to build privileged bilateral relations with individual countries, depending on their geopolitical and regional status and foreign policy priorities, which is clearly reflected by Washington’s support for Brexit.

Signs of an unprecedented complication of transatlantic ties abound, as was clearly confirmed by the June 20, 2020 videoconference by the foreign ministers of 27 EU member states, attended by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and which the authoritative French newspaper Le Monde very aptly described as a “dialogue of the deaf.”

The United States’ approach to tackling the COVID-19 pandemic differs notably from the EU’s. While the European Union believes that the vaccine, which is currently being developed in various countries, should belong to all mankind, Washington wants to have exclusive access to it with an eye to monopolizing its use in the world. Trump has tried to persuade the German firm CureVac, developing a vaccine for coronavirus, to move its research work to the United States, and ignored a call from various international organizations to reconsider the US decision to break off relations with WHO, and a joint appeal to this effect from European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell.

The Protecting Europe’s Energy Security Act of 2019, introduced by a group of US Senators, provides for harsh sanctions against anyone involved in the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. The bill expands existing US sanctions related to the provision of pipe-laying vessels and applies to all companies involved in the pipeline’s construction, operation and maintenance.

If enacted, the bill will affect more than 120 companies from 12 European countries, since seaports, legal and insurance companies will suffer too. It also stipulates that if the construction of the pipeline is completed, sanctions will be applied also to specialized organizations that certify it.

The EU’s reaction came quickly. In her July 1, 2020 address to the Bundestag, German Chancellor Angela Merkel minced no words openly describing Washington’s extraterritorial sanctions against Nord Stream 2 as illegal. Her statement was all the more significant since it coincided with the start of Germany’s presidency of the EU Council for the next six months. Commenting on the country’s foreign policy priorities for this period in light of the US pressure on the EU, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas laid out the EU’s sovereign strategic and tactical position: “We do not intend to be guided by anyone; we want to go our own way and actively influence geopolitical agenda.”

The German MPs were much less diplomatic though.

“We are convinced that the time of diplomatic restraint is now over. To protect European interests, the German government and the European Union should introduce countermeasures and consider the use of retaliatory sanctions, for example, against US shale gas. The real threat of serious retaliatory sanctions is the only way we can possibly resolve the conflict. This is the only language Donald Trump understands,” Timon Gremmels (SPD faction’s speaker on gas policy) and Markus Töns (SPD faction’s speaker on trade policy) stated.

The lack of unanimity of positions on Iran has become a serious sticking point in EU-US relations. France, Germany and even Washington’s closest ally Britain have criticized the new American sanctions against the Islamic Republic, demonstrating their opposition to the US intention to nix the landmark nuclear deal with Tehran, reached in 2015.

Disagreements within the US-EU-NATO geopolitical triangle have escalated sharply, with French President Emmanuel Macron publicly describing NATO, where the US plays a leading role, as being “brain dead.” After his oft-repeated demands for Germany to almost double its financial contribution to NATO were essentially ignored by Berlin, Trump decided to cut the US military contingent in Germany by 9,500 troops on the pretext that the US was overburdened with ensuring Germany’s security.

For all his unpredictability, Donald Trump is pretty much consistent when it comes to his stance concerning the transatlantic military-political partnership. Attentive observers will recall that when speaking in the press about his support for one of the candidates for the US presidency three decades ago, Trump said he was unhappy about American resources going to protect rich allies that did not invest enough in their own defense and essentially benefited at Washington’s expense. Therefore, he insisted that United States should stop paying for a world order that primarily accommodates the needs of other countries, even if they happen to be America’s allies.

After the Polish government said it would welcome a full-fledged US military base on its territory, manned by the US troops being withdrawn from Germany, Trump invited Polish President Andrzej Duda to visit the United States just a few days ahead of this year’s presidential elections in Poland.  The US meddling in the 2020 summer election campaign in an EU country was as obvious as it was unceremonious. Moreover, it sent a clear message to Angela Merkel as a reminder of her refusal to come to Washington for the G7 summit in June.

In a research project “State of the World 2020. The End of American Leadership?” a team of French political scientists expressed their conviction that “militarily, the EU must get rid of the illusion of a protective American umbrella by providing its own collective defense. America’s strategic distance (from Europe – M.N.) fits into the long-term perspective. Consequently, dependence on NATO can threaten security on the continent.”  [3, p.181]

The foresight of Cyril N. Parkinson, the author of the famous “Parkinson’s Laws,” who, decades ago, predicted a crisis in relations between the United States and Europe, has proved surprisingly accurate. In comments to his “Laws…” Parkinson explained that if the West wants to survive, it must achieve a certain unity and rally its ranks, which is not even mentioned now. If links begin to fall out of this goal, it will not happen in a border state, where tension always persists, not in countries that desperately cling to their elusive sovereign status – a breakdown will occur where there is seemingly complete grace: in Brussels or Washington “[1, c.318]

However, speaking about the end of the transatlantic partnership would be a far-fetched exaggeration. Today, the time-tested allied relationship between the EU and the US, based on fully or partially shared values as well as ideological, political and economic priorities, is being tested by serious international challenges and threats and, simultaneously, by initiatives coming from the Trump administration that are particularly painful for the EU. Even though the interests of the parties diverge and the format of their relations is changing or being modified, in the present geopolitical context this is unlikely to erode the bonds of transatlantic partnership, much less to precipitate any major crisis. Meanwhile, amid a protracted crisis of the liberal model of the world order, the competitive partnership between the US and the EU will keep hitting snags, but this will still not become a mainstream antagonistic trend in their relations.

From our partner International Affairs

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Newsdesk6 hours ago

South Africa: COVID-19 pandemic raises the urgency of structural reforms

South Africa responded swiftly to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the sharp drop in activity adds to long-standing challenges and raises...

EU Politics8 hours ago

Commission concludes talks to secure future coronavirus vaccine for Europeans

The European Commission has concluded exploratory talks with a pharmaceutical company to purchase a potential vaccine against COVID-19. The envisaged...

Newsdesk10 hours ago

WTO Fundamental to Economic Recovery and Sustainable and Inclusive Growth

Asia-Pacific business leaders from the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC), meeting virtually this week, called on the region’s Trade Ministers...

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