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Will the EU split into the East and the West?

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On March 1, 2018 the European Parliament has adopted a resolution initiating a disciplinary procedure against Poland. Warsaw is accused of violating a number of fundamental democratic principles of the EU. If the Polish government does not agree to make concessions, the country may for a time be deprived of the right to vote in the European Council.

The problem is that to implement such a decision, the consent of all EU member-states is needed. Meanwhile, Hungary, against which charges of the same kind have been brought, can block sanctions against Warsaw.

According to many observers the increased tensions within the EU reflect not just the “growth of nationalistic sentiments” across Europe. Analysts, as well as high-level politicians, including French President E. Macron, are already openly talking about the EU’s moving towards “Europe of two speeds”. How serious is the threat of increasing contradictions between Europe’s east and west?

The “right”, “anti-liberal” turn has been observed in Europe for the last 20-25 years and not only in the new EU members but throughout the continent. According to the BBC  in 2000 the average share of those who voted in the European countries for “populists” was 8%, at present it is about 25%. Michael Abramowitz and Nate Schenkkan of The Foreign Affairs note that now Islamophobia, “persecution of NGOs”, stiff rejection of EU policies  and fear of migration  play a key role in strengthening the positions of conservative and nationalist politicians -“populists” not only in Hungary, Poland, Austria and the Czech Republic. Similar ideas are spreading rapidly in the political discourse of almost every European country. More and more often “populists” are becoming potential partners in forming coalition governments. Thus, many political forces in Central and Eastern Europe, are increasingly rejecting the “EU pressure” because it is associated with sovereignty restrictions.

The embodiment of these trends was a series of political upheavals that occurred in Europe in 2017. First, both system-forming parties – the Socialists and the Republicans – suffered a crushing defeat in the French presidential and parliamentary elections. Then  to the unexpected surprise of most observers the “most serious political crisis since the unification” began in Germany – negotiations for the creation of the ruling coalition lasted more than 6 months, ending only in March 2018. Finally, in December 2017, a new government was formed in Austria, which included the conservative People’s Party and the far-right Freedom Party. Clearly there is no talk about Vienna’s withdrawal from the EU. Nevertheless, the new Austrian ruling coalition has its own idea of the ways of reforming the EU – a very different one from the approaches of Germany and France. Chancellor Sebastian Kurz does not conceal his desire to limit the EU’s spheres of influence. Some commentators say that by this he strongly resembles some of his colleagues in Central and Eastern Europe, also dissatisfied with attempts to centralize power, undertaken by Brussels.

The highlight of the clash between different concepts of the European Union’s future was the judicial proceedings initiated by the European Commission against Poland “for political interference in its justice system” on December 20th, 2017.

In these conditions, on the one hand, both the new cabinet of Merkel as well as the French president who is facing ever greater resistance to his ambitious reform plans have even more serious doubts regarding the ability to “initiate the process of renewal of the European Union”. On the other hand, “the events which happened in the end of 2017 in Brussels, Budapest, Warsaw, Prague and Vienna are the unambiguous alarming evidence that the EU encounters an existential dilemma in confronting the nationalist leaders of Central Europe led by Poland and Hungary“. Meanwhile, the Euro zone crisis and the Brexit remain on the agenda. As a result, the well-known Russian expert Fyodor Lukyanov says: Europe turns to itself, and “the future of the continent” has not been so vague from the middle of the 20th century. ”

Political contradictions are closely intertwined with the economic ones. The work of well-known economists Filip Novokmet, Thomas Piketty and Gabriel Zucman published in 2017 bluntly call Eastern European nations “foreign-owned countries”. On the one hand, a stable inflow of investment provides economic growth and high employment. On the other hand, such a high dependence on foreign capital in the economy is fraught with serious shocks, in case a country, for some reason, loses its investment attractiveness. As historical examples show, the “flight” of foreign investors, as a rule, provokes a surge of unemployment, a deep decline in the economy,  collapse of the banking system.

Meanwhile, after the UK leaves the European Union the annual budget of the EU will decrease by at least 10 billion euros. In this regard, the issue of decreasing subsidies to member countries, which will primarily affect the poorest countries, is being actively discussed. This “foreshadows yet another clash of the east and west of Europe.” Moreover, “some countries were told that their rejection of liberal values might be the reason to reduce their subsidies”. In response, the leading countries of Central and Eastern Europe “unequivocally say to Brussels: we are not your colonies”. In these conditions, “the Battles of Eastern and Western Europe threatens to slow down, or even completely slash to zero, a decade and a half of integration processes, and in a broader sense raises the question: is the EU united on the basis of common economic interests or common values?”

At the same time, the issue of Poland, Czech Republic or Hungary leaving the EU is not on the agenda. There are no objective reasons for this. The current CEE leaders largely owe their popularity to high rates of economic growth, the key factors of which are EU subsidies and foreign investments. Membership in the European Union is very beneficial for Eastern Europeans, as they receive more from Brussels than they give. Especially when it comes to issues of political and economic security. Formal belonging to the “West”, one of the main symbols of which is Schengen, is also very important for the overwhelming majority of citizens of these states from the psychological and philosophical point of view. The EU will also not give up Eastern European members, since the economic benefits of investing in growing economies, as well as export earnings to Central and Eastern Europe, are one of the main sources of growth for the whole Union. In addition, the experience of recent years has shown that with the problems of “Romanian corruption”, “Hungarian authoritarianism”, “Polish attacks on courts” and border disputes, like the Slovenian-Croatian one, “it is much easier to fight when the country is already included in pan-European structures,” Maxim Samorukov of the Russian Carnegie Center says.

The problem is that Brussels seems to have chosen a strategy that is very risky in the current circumstances, designed to “restore  the Union’s  self-confidence” – through a new expansion. In February 2018, the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, announced the strategy of joining the EU (until 2025) of at least some of the six states of the Western Balkans. According to Brussels’s plan the admission of new members should convince the rest  to abandon the privileges of individual countries and delegate more authority to the “center.” The question is about taking decisions not by consensus but by the majority, as well as about developing mechanisms for monitoring compliance with common rules by member-states and punishing violators. The ultimate goal is “supranational institutions that will gradually take away key functions from the least competent national governments“.

However, experts at the American think tank Stratfor say that “the enthusiasm for the EU enlargement has largely dried up”. Besides, the Eastern European capitals are hardly to like the real goal of the EU reform, for which the leading “old” members of the club advocate – to minimize the chances of the CEE countries to play on the contradictions between the world powers. And even if those who believe that “at the heart of all such games there is always a desire to knock out as many financial preferences as possible from the European Union are right,” the population of Central and Eastern Europe is experiencing a growing anxiety and irritation as a result of realization that, if such trends continue in the politics of Brussels, the dreams of “life as in the West,” under whose auspices people often had to give up their national interests, will never come true. Meanwhile, to succeed in global competition, there is a need to limit or even reduce the “main achievement of the European” welfare society “- its social systems. This is increasingly spoken about in the old EU members.

Only time will tell whether the trends analyzed above are long-term.

If most of the CEE countries will not get rid of the “restricted, one-sided point of view”, according to which their national interests do not go beyond their state borders, then the ideas of the “all-European home” will remain only beautiful slogans for both the society and a large part of the ruling class. The real policy will remain at the level of “tactical pragmatism”, which will focus on those slogans and ideas, which at the moment are most in demand by voters. Even if it is a question of EU-scepticism and national populism. Probably, in the center and the east of the EU, a “new Eastern bloc” will be formed – led by the countries of the Visegrad Group (Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia), but not limited to it. The countries of this “bloc” will promote the idea of the “Europe of Nations”: the transformation of the European Union into a confederation of independent states, united by a common free trade zone and “a few  supranational functions.”

Thus, tensions between the east and the west of the European Union threaten to become its main headache in the coming years. “Pessimists predict the emergence of situational alliances within the EU that threaten to paralyze the work of its political institutions,” the BBC said. Thus, the initiative to expel Russian diplomats in connection with the “Skripal affair” in the end of March 2018, among other EU member states, was not supported by Austria and Slovakia. On the whole we can assume that the evolution of the future European order has only just started and will continue for several decades.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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Vaccine diplomacy in South Eastern Europe: How’s the race going on?

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The media dedicate increasing attention to the issue of vaccine distribution and how it affects the post-pandemic recovery. Some commentators and outlets have been focusing especially on the inequalities in the allocations of doses amongst different countries. As a matter of fact, a small number of highly developed countries have already booked an excessive number of doses. The UK, Israel and the US are likely to get enough shots to immunise their entire populaces more than once.

Meanwhile, most of the developing world is lagging behind. Lacking the financial resources and the political might to extoll bounding commitments from vaccine producers, they are losing the race. This is especially the case in Africa and Latin America, but Europe’s periphery is not in a much better position. However, few countries some South-Eastern Europe have managed to hit the headlines all around the globe for their amazing performances. One of them is Hungary, probably the most riotous EU member State. The other is Serbia, whose relations with the EU, Russia and China are equivocal at best.

Thus, it is worth having a look at the how vaccination programmes are progressing in the region. After all, the key to Budapest’s and Belgrade’s successes is no mystery: diplomacy.

A peak at the wider region: The EU’s vaccine diplomacy has failed

South Eastern Europe is a rather variegated area. It comprises 14 countries (Figure 1), half of which are members of the EU: Bulgaria, Cyprus, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Romania, and Slovenia. Other two, Albania and the Republic of North Macedonia, are on the cusp of entering the Union. Whereas the remaining five have little to no concrete membership prospect: Bosnia, the territory of Kosovo, Moldova, Montenegro, and Serbia. In an effort to prove itself indispensable, the EU has committed to send out vaccine to some non-members. Through Sofia, it promised Skopje to deliver thousands of AstraZeneca shots, and Bucharest shipped several Pfizer batches to Chisinau. Whereas the Commission itself pledged even more doses of vaccines for both Sarajevo and Pristina.According to these plans, the EU should be ahead of its neighbours in rolling out the vaccine across the board. At the same time, friendly relations should allow a few non-members to reap the benefits and boost their performances. However, reality tells a rather different story.

Looking at the data on total vaccinations in the 14 South-Eastern European countries one can identify four groups. Having vaccinated more than 30% of their populations, Hungary and Serbia are the undisputed leaders. Following, a quite compact group comprising the other six EU member States posits between 15% and 25%. Despite their different sizes and approaches, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Croatia, Greece, Romania, and Slovenia have reaped sensible benefits from EU membership. Still, they are far behind the two leaders. Third, between 5% and 10% there are only Albania(10.57%) and Montenegro (7.85%). Two quite diverse countries, both seem to have enjoyed some help from the EU — but not nearly enough. Finally, way below the 5%-threshold stand Bosnia, Kosovo, North Macedonia and MoldovaThese countries were relying almost entirely on the EU’s help to acquire enough shots, but Brussels let them down.

These data make up for a rather self-evident indictment of the EU’s vaccine diplomacy. The EU missed on the occasion to project influence in its neighbourhood while reinforcing its image as a “civilian power”.But, often diplomacy in this part of Europe is a zero-sum game where political sway is the ultimate prize. For every metaphorical centimetre an external actor loses, another foreign power seems to take hold. The EU’s missed chance has become Russia’s great opportunity to score a few points it what once was an area of strategic importance. Yet, taking a better look, one realises that this time around the focus should not be on third parties. In an increasingly multipolar, and even multiplex world, middle-sized states are experimenting with new ways to matter.

Hungary’s deals with two devils

Hungary has recently registered a substantial surge in the number of contagions and in a hospital for treatments. The government has also taken extremely strict measures to curb the spread of the various in early March. But the strongest endeavour to stop the various came on the vaccination side of the equation.

As a matter of fact, Hungary has approved more vaccines and administered more shots than any other European country. Having jabbed already over 2,000,000 doses, Hungary is driving the European vaccine race — by far. The latest data from the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC), Pfizer produced about half of these vaccines. Of the remaining million, about 430,000 vials brought AstraZeneca’s or Moderna’s labels. This means that other sources accounted for about 570,000 doses, or over 25% of the total.

Hungary has taken a few risky bets in its paths toward group immunity. First, it ordered and injected about a quarter of a million of Russia’s Sputnik V in early February 2021. At the time, there were still many doubts on Sputnik V’s viability, efficacy and security. This came already in defiance of EU’s pressures for a centralised approval of new products. More recently, Hungary went on with the purchaseand speedy approvalof several Chinese vaccines. Apparently, Budapest has been paying $36 per shot to the Beijing — double the price of a Sputnik V dose.

Yet, for high the price may have been the bet seems to be paying back. So much, that Hungary has actually acquired newfound output-legitimacy for its unpredictable foreign policies.

Serbia’s show off — Playing both sides against the middle

At the beginning of the pandemic, Serbia was already better-positioned to benefit from Russia’s and China’s proactive vaccine diplomacies. Belgrade carries no legal responsibility vis-à-vis Brussels since it is not an EU member State. Moreover, it is less dependent on Germany and other EU countries when it comes to debt financing and trade (Figure 3). True, backtracking on the promise of future membership would have been a strong weapon in the EU’s arsenal. But this is not the case anymore. Serbia has no concrete path towards entering the EU and a long history of flirtations with Russia and China. Some have argued thatSerbia outpaced the EU thanks to China’s and Russia’s vaccines. Yet, the data are not clear and the process not transparent enough. If anything, it seems that the proportions of ‘Western’ and ‘Eastern’ vaccines should not be too different from Hungary’s.

Still, one thing is certain. Serbia has turned its extraordinary capability to buy vaccines from both the ‘West’ and the ‘East’ into a diplomatic stunt. In fact, the EU has miserably failed to provide Belgrade’s neighbours with shots. Meanwhile, Serbia has opened its borders to foreigners willing to get a jab. Moreover, Belgrade has made up for Sofia’s failure to send more vaccinesto Skopje — putting the EU in a hard spot.

Conclusion: Hands free

South-Eastern Europe’s vaccine diplomacy, the EU’ failure and regional powers’ successes speak volume about how the world is changing. As the US seem to inexorably withdraw from its past commitments, the EU is failing to come of age. Meanwhile, Russia is reasserting itself and has been punching above its weight in Europe and beyondfor a while now. Finally, its recovery from the pandemic-induced crisis signals that China has no intention to stop short of overtaking the US.

Against this fluid background, South-Eastern Europe is gaining renewed centrality. Hungary and Serbia are just two examples of what this implies — albeit the most successful ones. Nevertheless, their prowess it becoming an example for other small countriesto follow. Thus, it is opportune to keep following the events closely as new geopolitical alignments seem to emerge.

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Ммm is a new trend in the interaction between the EU and Turkey:”Silence is golden” or Musical chair?

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On April 6, a protocol collapse occurred during a meeting between President of Turkey R. Erdogan, President of the European Council S. Michel and head of the European Commission, Ur. von der Leyen. Let us remind you that during their meeting in the conference room she did not have enough chair, and she was forced to sit on the sofa opposite the Turkish Foreign Minister M. Çavuşoğlu, who, according to the diplomatic protocol, occupies a lower rank. This incident (a video showing the confusion of Ur. von der Leyen and her mmm sound, which was cleverly picked up by the media) quickly spread across the media and social networks. This incident provoked not only a number of high-profile comments, but also political and economic consequences for a number of countries.

This story is a double bottom box. On the one hand, there is a protocol error in the organization of the meeting between the EU and Turkey. On the other hand, there is a sharp statement by the Italian head of state about the Turkish president.

We propose to consider this case from two points of view: violation of the protocol and bilateral interaction between Italy and Turkey.

Let’s start with the protocol. Based on the general rules of the protocol, let’s honestly answer the following questions.

1) is it right for the head of state to give up a seat opposite the national flag (respect for the symbols of the state);

2) what is more important – position, diplomatic rank or gender;

3) Who should take the “EU chair” based on the political hierarchy of the Union – the head of the European Council or the European Commission?

Note that both sides – the EU and Turkey – blame each other’s protocol service. EU protocol chief Dominique Marro responded in a statement on Thursday that diplomats were not given access to the conference room in advance because, as they were told, “it was too close to Erdogan’s office.” Turkish officials have agreed to a separate request to add seating for von der Leyen during the reception, he said.

Turkey was accused of “protocol machism.” However, the officials of the protocol services of Turkey and the EU “met before the official visit of the heads, and their wishes were taken into account,” says Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavuşoğlu.

But the shifting of responsibility continues. Brussels insisted that staff were denied a final check of the press conference room. It was soon revealed that another sensational accident was threatened during the official dinner: the table was laid for 5 people on each side, and in front there were two honorary chairs, one for Michel and the other for Erdogan, while a smaller one was reserved for von der Leyen, to the right of Michel. Two diplomatic advisers accompanied Michel to the table, and von der Leyen was left alone.

Michel  was also criticized for not standing up for her. He first wrote an explanation on his Facebook page, in which he did not apologize, but presented his vision of the situation. But as things continued to escalate on Thursday, he went on to say on Belgian TV LN24: “I deeply regret the image created and the impression of a kind of disdain for the President of the European Commission and women in general.” “At that moment I was convinced that any reaction could seem paternalistic. Perhaps it was my mistake, ”he said. “In addition, there was substantial work to be done at the meeting, and I was convinced that the response would lead to a much more serious incident that would affect relations with Turkey.” An interesting commentary by J.K. Juncker, who wrote that he also often found himself on the couch (thereby making it clear that the situation was not critical). This situation could be resolved through diplomatic channels. But, unfortunately, it has received an unusual development.

Now let’s move on to a political analysis.

According to the head of the group of socialists in the European Parliament Garcia Perez Irace, the incident is related to discrimination against women in Turkey. A few weeks ago, on March 20, the president passed a decree authorizing Turkey’s withdrawal from the 2011 Istanbul Convention against Violence against Women, which obliges the governments that have joined it to pass legislation aimed at combating domestic violence. That is, the protocol error received a political color and took on a new light from the perspective of gender politics. However, one should not forget about the cultural and religious differences between the parties to the conflict. It is curious that if Michel gave up the chair to Ursula, he could be criticized from the point of view of gender equality and even, if hypertrophied, accused of sexism. It is also worth paying attention to the absence of harsh statements from the EU, which is interested in Turkey, which restrains the flow of migrants. . Yet the crisis in terms of maritime borders with Greece and Cyprus and the agreement between Israel, Greece, Egypt and Cyprus for the construction of the EastMed gas pipeline have become such important concerns for Turkish interests that in February 2020 Ankara has re-proposed the usual blackmail and once again opening the borders with Greece for Syrian migrants, provoking an immediate European reaction. Since last December, the European Commission has tried relentlessly to mend the tear, unlocking the last tranche of aid to Ankara, equal to 780 million euros of the 6 billion promised, and opening the dialogue for future billion-dollar agreements with Erdoğan in migration theme.

The behavior of M. Draghi seems even more inexplicable. The statement by the head of the Italian government M. Draghi, where he allowed himself to call Erdogan a dictator, cost the country 70 million euros of suspended contracts (the purchase of 10 helicopters from an Italian company Leonardo). In turn, Erdogan is waiting for an official apology from M. Draghi. Whatever the situation, from the point of view of etiquette and protocol, such statements by officials are perceived as inappropriate. There are now 48 large Italian private equity companies in Turkey, such as Unicredit, Generali, Mps, Fiat, Ansaldo Energia and others.On the other hand, according to representatives of Mediobanca Securities, it is unlikely that this diplomatic incident will lead to the cancellation of the contract with Turkey. Moreover, the investment bank added: “This is a relatively small contract for Leonardo: it represents 0.5% of the group’s planned ordering for 2021”, which amounts to approximately 14 billion euros.

This is not the first crisis in Italian-Turkish relations. In ’98 the Ocalan crisis, during the D’Alema government produced violent reactions and a boycott of Italian products in Turkey, however quickly overcome by the subsequent Amato government and even more so by the Berlusconi government starting from 2001. Those were the years of the great contracts for Salini Impregilo’s new bridges over the Bosphorus, for supplies by the Finmeccanica group and the purchase of local banks by Unicredit. But, between ups and downs, the history of economic relations between Rome and Ankara came from afar, from the 1960s when large Italian groups such as Fiat, Pirelli, Cementir had focused heavily on Turkey as the ideal platform to conquer new markets in the eastern Mediterranean.

In fact, the dispute between Turkey and Italy stems from tensions in Libya and the eastern Mediterranean over gas fields. And the European Union could play a key role in supporting Rome, but at the moment none of the EU representatives supported M. Draghi’s words, only Italian populist parties supported the head of state (which had also previously expressed the idea of leaving the EU).

Against the background of all the facts sounded, the behavior of the head of Italy remains the most interesting case. Non-fatal, in its essence, the protocol incident provoked a verbal dive by Draghi and Erdogan, which could cost Rome tens of millions of euros in direct economic losses. But it is not this separate fact that is interesting, but the fact that Italian politicians have recently taken a number of drastic steps and statements that have no reliable explanation. It is appropriate here to recall the spy scandal with Russian diplomats, which could be interpreted as a decrease in the level of interaction between Italy and its longtime trusted partner. Then many assumed that this was a manifestation of the “Atlanticist course” and the rapprochement with the United States of the new cabinet of ministers. But in the situation with the chair, we are talking about a conflict with one of the active members of NATO and a key ally of Washington in the region. And here Draghi’s position evokes the very remark of W. von der Leyen – “ummm” – bewilderment that runs like a red thread through the entire incident and its consequences. What is it? An attempt to show Draghi’s political subjectivity and consistency? A demonstrative rupture of the achievements and economic ties of predecessors in order to prove their independence? Agreements with Washington pending new contracts and cooperation programs and acting in line with these hopes? Or maybe just a misunderstanding of what the Italian people expect from the next prime minister and this is an attempt to find something that will cause an increase in the level of confidence on the part of the Italian political forces? In any case, there is concern that if Draghi continues in this vein, his reign may prove even more inglorious than that of many of his predecessors.

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The Man Who Warned Us First About Climate Change

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A billboard at Piccadilly Circus pays tribute to the late Prince Philip. Garry Knight/Flickr

Among the first to warn us of global warming, he used the term greenhouse gas to describe the increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere.  That was in the 1960s and it was dismissed as a cranky notion.  Where he lived, he had a large study lined with books which he actually read; perhaps one reason for the mushrooming of ideas.  

The story begins in Corfu, Greece where he was born.  His very prominent family was turfed out of the country and settled in France.  After early schooling, he was sent to a private boarding school in the UK.  

Founded by German-Jewish educator Kurt Hahn in 1934, Gordonstoun School was new  with new ideas when he attended.  An equal emphasis on mind and body, it challenged students mentally and physically, the latter far more than at other such private schools.  A strapping boy who was also extremely intelligent, he loved the place — later his son was to hate it.  Hahn wrote of him that he would do very well any task assigned to him.

He went on to the naval academy and finished at the top of his class, doing the same at later naval exams and becoming the youngest Lieutenant in the navy.  Given command of a ship, he ran it like clockwork but a certain lack of sensitivity to others also came through:  the crew were driven ragged and hated serving under him.  He loved the navy and always loved the sea; indeed it was a sacrifice to give up his naval career when he married but it was incompatible in his new role for his wife was a very important personage.          

Studying in England, I could not fail to notice his frequent presence on newspaper front pages, even though my own interests then did not focus on the news of the day.  He seemed to set up awards for all kinds of excellence. He wanted British industry to shine, young people to deliver their best and so on.  And of course, he was invariably presenting awards to the winners.

A sportsman, he was also out there playing polo with his team, or at equestrian meets or playing cricket at charity events, or sailing which he clearly loved.  His uncle saw India through a hurried independence and a bloody partition.  Uncle Dickie, as he was called by the royal children, was a valued presence until killed by the IRA (Irish Republican Army) in a senseless bomb attack that lost them public sympathy.  

The country’s leaders kept him busy and he was sent to numerous countries representing the queen, most often to former colonies in an era with a rash of newly independent countries.  Yes, his name was Philip, titled Prince of Greece and Denmark, and his wife was Queen Elizabeth II.  

Prince Philip’s royal bloodline (like the Queen’s) was German — Battenberg the family last name having been changed to Mountbatten during the First World War.  His sisters married Germans and remained in Germany during the Second World War.  They were not invited to his wedding to a very much in love Princess Elizabeth.  He had been the longest serving consort of any British monarch when he died a few days ago.   

Prince Philip’s travels were also notorious for gaffes and his eye for attractive females — middle class morality be damned.  A definite lacuna in sensitivity was more than evident.  Meeting a group of Nigerians resplendent in their long colorful national dress, he remarked, “Ready for bed, are we?”  to their embarrassment.

Yet, all in all, a very full life.

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