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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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U.S. Demands Europe to Join Its War Against Russia

Eric Zuesse

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On December 16th, the Russian Senator, Konstantin Kosachev, who heads that body’s foreign-affairs committee, went public accusing the U.S. Government of coercing German corporations to abandon their investments in the key Russia-EU gas-pipeline project, which is now nearing completion. It’s a joint project of Russia and of corporations in some EU countries. He called this U.S. pressure against European corporations an affront to the national sovereignty of both the German and the Russian Governments, and, more broadly, an affront against the sovereignty of the entire EU, which, he pointed out, is not like America’s NATO alliance with Europe is, an instrumentality of war, but is supposed to be, instead, an economic and political union — an instrumentality of peaceful international cooperation, not of any sort of international coercion.

Here is the historical context and background to this:

In recent decades, the U.S. Constitution’s clause that requires a congressional declaration of war before invading any country, has been ignored. Furthermore, ever since 2012 and the passage by Congress of the Magnitsky Act sanctions against Russia, economic sanctions by the U.S. Government have been imposed against any company that fails to comply with a U.S.-imposed economic sanction; a company can even be fined over a billion dollars for violating a U.S. economic sanction. And, so, sanctions are now the way that the U.S. Congress actually does authorize a war — the new way, no longer the way that’s described in the U.S. Constitution. However, in the economic-sanctions phase of a war — this initial phase — the war is being imposed directly against any company that violates a U.S.-ordered economic sanction, against Russia, Iran, or whatever target-country the U.S. Congress has, by means of such sanctions, actually authorized a war by the U.S. to exist — a ‘state of war’ to exist. For the U.S. Congress, the passage of economic sanctions against a country thus effectively serves now as an authorization for the U.S. President to order the U.S. military to invade that country, if and when the President decides to do so. No further congressional authorization is necessary (except under the U.S. Constitution). This initial phase of a war penalizes only those other nations’ violating companies directly — not the target-country. Though the U.S. Government punishes the violating corporation, the actual target is the targeted (sanctioned) country. Sanctions are being used to strangle that target. The fined companies are mere ‘collateral damage’, in this phase of America’s new warfare. In this phase, which is now the standard first phase of the U.S. Government’s going-to-war, the U.S. Government is coercing corporations to join America’s economic war, against the given targeted country — in this case, it’s a war against Russia; Russia is the country that the U.S. Government wants to strangle, in this particular instance.

On Tuesday, 11 December, the U.S. House of Representatives voted unanimously (no member objected), by voice vote — unrecorded so that nobody can subsequently be blamed for anything — that President Donald Trump should impose penalties, which could amount to billions of dollars, against any EU-based corporation that participates with Russia in Russia’s Nord Stream II Pipeline to supply gas to Europe. This “Resolution,” H.Res.1035, is titled “Expressing opposition to the completion of Nord Stream II, and for other purposes,” and it closes by asserting that the U.S. House of Representatives “supports the imposition of sanctions with respect to Nord Stream II under section 232 of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.” With no member objecting, the U.S. House thereby warns corporations to cease doing business with Russia, because the U.S. Government is determined that any such business will be terminated and will maybe also be fined. The U.S. Government imposes its will as if it were the dictator to the entire world, and without even needing to use its military, but just economic coercion.

The U.S. Senate doesn’t yet have a similar bill, but the unanimous passage of this one in the House constitutes a strong warning to Europe’s corporations, that unless they obey the U.S. sanctions, huge financial penalties will be imposed upon them. There are not many issues on which the U.S. Congress is even nearly 100% united in agreement, but during this phase, the introductory phase, of America’s war against Russia, the war against Russia is certainly among those few instances — entirely bipartisan.

According to Russian Television, on December 12th, headlining “US lawmakers want to put a cork in Russia’s gas pipeline to Europe”: “On Monday, Austria’s OMV energy group CEO Rayner Zele stated that the company is set to continue financing the pipeline next year. OMV has already invested some 531 million euros ($607 million) into the project, Zele told Ria Novosti. In early December, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas also said that Berlin’s abandoning the project would not make sense as Russia will still go on with it. Germany earlier rebuked Trump’s criticism of the project after the US leader accused Berlin of being a ‘captive’ of Moscow citing Germany’s alleged dependency on natural gas from Russia.”

If the U.S. Government fails to strangulate the economies in the countries such as Russia and Iran against which it has imposed sanctions, then the next step, of course, would be some type of armed invasion of the given targeted country. Before the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, America’s economic sanctions killed from 100,000 to 500,000 Iraqi children, but then the U.S. invaded and destroyed the country vastly more than just that.

Economic sanctions are an attempt to coerce a targeted courntry’s — in effect — surrender, but without needing to use a military invasion as the coercive means. Any sanctioned country is therefore in America’s bomb-sights, and will be conquered in one way or another, unless the U.S. Government backs down, at some point.

According to the most extensive study that was ever done of U.S. military bases worldwide, there are over a thousand such bases, and this is a huge multiple of all non-U.S. military bases put together. That study was published in 1995. Many new U.S. military bases have been built and manned since 1995, such as several dozen in just one country, Syria, where the sovereign Government has never invited them in and many times has ordered them to leave, but they refuse to leave. Currently, the U.S. Government spends more than half of all monies that are being spent worldwide on the military.

Regarding the Nord Stream II Pipeline, the beneficiaries if that Pipeline is never completed and placed into service, will be American LNG (Liquified Natural Gas) producers, and also America’s allies such as Saudi Arabia and Israel. World War III could actually start as a result of the U.S. Government’s serving America’s (and its allies’) fossil-fuels producers above all other concerns regarding not only global warming, but even world peace itself. Those are the interests that are, in effect, at war against the entire world. This is not a statement of opinion: it is established and well-demonstrated fact. It is the overwhelmingly documented reality.

Here, translated by me and slightly abbreviated, is the December 16th statement that was made by Russia’s Senator Kosachev, the Chairman of the International Affairs Committee:

A categorical statement by the United States on Nord Stream 2, calling for Germany to abandon it, and for the European Union to rally the ranks “against Russian aggression” is a clear and unceremonious interference into the affairs of sovereign nations, to which the United States has no right to have any official opinion. …

Washington’s attempts to dominate and interfere in the affairs of other states are extremely dangerous for the whole world and destructive for international cooperation. This line directly contradicts the interests of any countries that are not US satellites. And it obviously contradicts the interests of Russia.

And if Russia followed solely its own egoistic interests, we should just as unceremoniously intervene in, say, the trade disputes of Washington and Beijing on the side of our Chinese ally, in the NAFTA crisis, in order to impose upon the US additional problems regarding its relations with both Canada and Mexico, or the fates of the Transatlantic and Trans-Pacific partnerships, where the United States is again working hard. To do that would be proceeding from the American principle, “the worse it is for our competitor, the better it is for us”.

We do not do that. Firstly, because Russia respects the sovereignty of other nations and never interferes in their internal affairs. Secondly, because, in principle, it is not proper for a world power to behave in such a way. …

What especially disappoints me in this situation [is] … Germany’s silence. The United Statyes is actually encroaching on Germany’s rights. That silence is disappointing, as is the EU’s passivity, which doesn’t respond to the intrusion of Americans into their sovereign affairs. The European Union is not NATO. …

Author’s note: first published in strategic-culture.org

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The sad fate of Europe’s leading figure

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According to a new poll conducted by IFOP, French President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Edouard Philippe’s popularity ratings hit new lows as the “yellow vest” protests are getting more and more serious.

The poll’s results which were published on Tuesday, indicated that Macron’s approval rating fell to 23 percent, down six percentage points on the previous month, while Philippe’s fell to 26 percent.

It’s to be noted that the “yellow vest” demonstrations were initially held on Nov. 17 in protest to fuel-tax rises. But then it took an anti-Macron color and became a broad movement.

The poll also shows that France 40-year-old president’s score now matches the low charted by his socialist predecessor François Hollande in late 2013. Hollande was then widely considered to be the least popular head of state in modern French history.

Protesters condemn Macron of closing his eyes on the rising cost of living in France. During the recent rallies, four people have died and dozens were wounded.

The protests raised at a time when some analysts were speaking of Macron’s role in leading Europe! Not long ago, there were talks of Macron becoming Europe’s new Angela Merkel, and that he’s slowly assuming her role as Europe’s leading figure. As Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) fared badly in the September general elections, her status as Europe’s leading figure has taken a hit. On the other hand, Emmanuel Macron emerged victorious from the French presidential elections, defeating France’s far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and entered the Elysee Palace.

From that time on, Macron had several meetings with European authorities on migration, fixing the euro currency, Europe’s defense, taxing digital companies and other issues. This was while his authority was flagging at home.

Attending in Germany’s National Remembrance Day for the victims of war and dictatorship, Macron said that the French-German alliance “is invested with this obligation not to allow the world to slide into chaos, and to accompany it on the road of peace.”

The picture which the French President was trying to draw at that time is way different from the reality which flaunts in Paris streets. Please use the sharing tools found via the share button at the top or side of articles. Now Macron-haters have seized upon the protests in Paris and are shouting that the French president stands revealed as a massively flawed leader — remote, arrogant and pushing an outdated neoliberal agenda.

Before this, the theory was that if Macron could demonstrate his ability to change France, he would also take decisive steps towards a genuine European economic government, and then a reformed, strengthened EU had the power to push back against the extremists and far-right movements which gathered lots of support over last years. But this theory has failed! Macron’s domestic agenda ran into trouble, and as a result his international agenda is failing. This is the story of France’s young president.

In the face of recent protests, Macron had no way but to withdraw from his order to increase fuel taxes. It also seems that he should take more appeasing actions to satisfy the demonstrators. Under such circumstances, other reforms that were to be implemented by Macron’s government in near future now look much less likely to happen. It will, in turn, prevent the realization of developments that Macron has promised the French citizens, which will subsequently lead to more anger inside the French society.

Now it seems that things are getting a lot worse. Protests and street violence are likely to go on for months, turning the mire even more frightening for both French citizens and their president. The outcome of the existing chaos can be the raise of a far-right or far-left president in France next elections.

Now Macron’s dreams to be known as Europe’s leading figure are all gone. Indeed, he’d be lucky if an early election doesn’t terminate his presence in the Elysee Palace. The “yellow vests” are currently his most terrible nightmare. Macron, who came to power with the slogan of economic development in France and the economic and political leadership of the European Union, has definitely failed to become a strong leader in Europe. Today he’s considered a defeated figure in the French economy and politics, rather than Europe’s leading figure.

First published in our partner MNA

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Italy steps up political activities in the Mediterranean

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The Mediterranean serves as a platform for Rome’s geopolitical efforts in the region which are aimed at creating a powerful configuration of strength that would leave the three main vectors of Italy’s foreign policy – the southern (directed at North Africa), the western (directed at the Atlantic) and the eastern (directed at the Balkans) – open and easy of access.

The Gibraltar, the Bosporus, the Suez Canal, the Bab el-Mandeb Strait – the world’s busiest transport arteries –  acquire a particular strategic importance for Italy as a Mediterranean power.

The so-called geopolitical theory of “extended Mediterranean” was devised recently to justify Italy’s right to secure its presence in these regions . This theory is designed to put an end to the narrow perception of the Mediterranean Region as a space bounded by access to the sea and, accordingly, with a limited role of Italy.

Rome has conceptually “expanded” the Mediterranean at the expense of the adjacent Atlantic and land areas, having included the Sahel, the Middle East and the Arabian Peninsula. Thereby, Italy has assumed a “greater” geopolitical role in the region as a country whose economic stability depends on the stability of the territories adjacent to the Mediterranean region.

First of all, this refers to troubled countries, such as Libya, Algeria and Tunisia, which supply Italy with gas. Italy’s intention to politically establish itself in the Sahel as part of the “expanded Mediterranean” was dictated by the desire to create a controlled space in the rear of Libya, Tunisia and Algeria to prevent their further destabilization.

Italy is among the top six EU countries with highly developed sea trade. According to Eurostat, in 2016 this figure was 61% (of which 66.6% were imports and 55.9% were exports). By this indicator, Italy loses to Portugal (81%), Cyprus (80%), Greece (77%), Spain (74%) and Malta (67%). None of Italian ports is included in the ten busiest EU trade harbors. The Italian authorities intend to change this situation.

Under the EU parameters, maritime trade accounts for 51% of overall trade, of which 53% is export and 48% is import. 19% of the global sea traffic and 30% of oil haulage pass through the Mediterranean Sea (an increase of 120% over the past 16 years). 65% of all energy resources are delivered to Europe by the Mediterranean. As these indicators tend to show an upward trend, Italy is set on  ensuring a more pronounced economic and political presence in the Mediterranean .

Given the situation, the Italian diplomacy face the following agenda in the region:

– to promote an equal distribution of power among top players in the Mediterranean in order to avoid any imbalance, be it in favor of countries that have no binding agreements or strategic cooperation agreements with Rome, or in favor of states whose political, military and economic potential is equal to that of Italy (France, Spain), or exceeds it (Germany);

– strengthen the political and economic presence of Italy in areas designated as the “extended Mediterranean”, thereby ensuring the participation of the Italian fleet in international anti-piracy missions;

to promote the peaceful settlement of current conflicts in the region (Syria, Iran, the Cyprus problem) with a view to prevent a buildup of other countries’ military presence within Italy’s strategic interest zone;

– to promote the diversification of energy supplies with due regard for Italy’s 77% dependence on external supplies, to initiate the development of gas and oil fields in Libya, Algeria, Egypt (Rome plans to invest € 175 billion in the development of the energy sector and related environmental projects by 2030.)

– to contribute to the transformation of Italy, located at the junction of sea routes from North Africa, the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea, into a leading transport and distribution hub of oil and gas exports and imports for the EU ;

– to prevent the weakening of Italy’s positions in the EU in case of the strengthening of the Berlin-Paris axis, which will not be easy to achieve amid the emerging conflict between Brussels and Rome over the Italian budget.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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