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
Sanctions Policy: The ‘European Paradox’
Since the end of the Cold War, economic sanctions have increasingly been used by big players as a tool of foreign policy. The initiators of sanctions use trade and financial restrictions to try to force the target countries to change course politically as well as to influence internal political processes. The United States has positioned itself as the largest sanctions initiator. Over the past hundred years, the US has used them more often than all other nations and the UN combined. The Americans remain second to none in terms of the number of developed state institutions involved in the policy of sanctions. The US sanctions apparatus far exceeds the capabilities of the UN and any other country in terms of financial, human and organisational resources.
The European Union is also showing increasing activity as an initiator of sanctions. There are several conditions for this. First, the EU is a powerful economy with huge human, financial and technological potential. Economic power is the most important condition, without which an effective policy of sanctions is simply impossible. After all, sanctions are effective when the initiator can inflict much greater harm on the target country than vice versa. Second, the European Union has not yet become an independent military-political force. Its foreign policy is based on soft power and economic instruments, so in conflict situations, sanctions are the best option. Third, the EU coordinates its sanctions policy with the actions of the United States, its main ally. The growing number of sanctions on the part of Washington has also led to the growth of sanctions initiated by Brussels.
At the same time, there are a number of distinguished features that define the EU approach. One of the key elements is the commitment of Brussels to multilateral diplomacy. The EU avoids being the sole initiator of sanctions. This is an important difference from the United States. The Americans often impose sanctions without any regard for others. They recognise the importance of coalition pressure on the target countries and strive to involve their allies and a wider range of countries in launching sanctions. However, their support for the United States is more instrumental – the more sizable the coalition, the greater its potential for taking a toll on the economies of sanctioned countries. However, for the EU, the multilateral use of sanctions remains an important normative issue and even means of conveying shared values. The European Union carefully implements UN Security Council resolutions, and EU countries which are members of the UN Security Council have often offered their own draft resolutions on sanctions.
The EU, however, allows sanctions which bypass the decisions of the UN Security Council. Here the policy of Brussels differs from the positions of Moscow and Beijing, which consider the UN Security Council as the only legitimate source of sanctions. These countries also use unilateral measures, but so far they’ve done it much less often in comparison with the EU and especially the USA. However, by bypassing the UN, the EU is trying to combine efforts with the United States and other Western countries, that is, to provide a multilateral format. At the same time, the EU retains its own view on many problems and calibrates a set of restrictive measures at its sole discretion.
Another important distinction of EU policy is its extremely reserved attitude towards extraterritorial sanctions. The European Union authorities may well use secondary sanctions, that is, to punish certain companies or organisations for violating existing restrictions. However, Brussels uses such measures within its jurisdiction. The United States, on the contrary, is increasingly introducing secondary sanctions against foreigners, putting foreign companies on the SDN list or fining violators.
Interestingly, over the past ten years, most of the related fines were levied against European companies. This situation may well be called the “European paradox.” EU authorities support many US sanctions initiatives, but at the same time many Europeans are negatively affected by the secondary sanctions. They pay the most fines. According to the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), over the past 10 years, out of 201 US Treasury fines, 40 were levied against EU companies and 133 were paid by US companies. In just 10 years, the US Treasury has collected $ 5.6 billion in fines. Of these, the Europeans paid more than $ 4.6 billion (83%), and the Americans only paid 177.2 million (3%). This distribution resembles the “Pareto law”: most of the revenue is generated by a minority of players. And this minority is concentrated in Europe, whereas the smaller proportion was paid by the US-based majority. Of course, such a distribution can hardly be the result of the deliberate activity of American authorities. But the fact remains: Europeans pay the most.
At least since the 1990s, The European Union has tried to take measures to protect itself from secondary US sanctions. A serious incentive was the US withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Iranian nuclear programme. Washington unilaterally resumed large-scale financial and sectoral sanctions against Iran. A significant number of companies operating in the Iranian market, including European ones, turned out to be facing the threat of secondary sanctions and subsequent penalties. The EU has resumed the so-called 1996 Blocking Statute, which should shield European companies from secondary sanctions. However, a significant number of big EU companies have already left Iran. Many large European companies which do business in Iran also conduct business in the US, and preferred to maintain their loyalty to American requirements, even though Brussels was critical of the US withdrawal from the JCPOA and introduced protective measures. The threat of having problems with the US authorities in the form of fines and “weaning” from the US market and financial system outweighs possible profits in the Iranian market.
In Europe, some politicians proposed establishing their own payment system, in the interests of European sovereignty and financial independence. In January 2019, INSTEX SAS company was registered in France (with the participation of Germany and the United Kingdom). It was tasked with securing transactions between European companies and Iran, bypassing US sanctions. So far the fate of this initiative remains unclear. The big problem is its approval by other EU members. Also, the real functionality of INSTEX remains unclear. In the end, nothing is preventing the Americans from including INSTEX in their SDN list, making it “toxic”, or fining the company in proportion to the volume of its deals with Iran.
The prospects for INSTEX are becoming even more vague, against the background of diplomatic difficulties. After the US exit from the JCPOA, Washington found itself in diplomatic isolation on the Iran issue. However, this didn’t bother the Americans much. The situation began to heat up after the United States lifted the restriction exceptions on the purchase of Iranian oil, which they made for eight countries, including Italy and Greece. In May 2019, Tehran announced that it would refuse to fulfil certain obligations under the JCPOA. In response, Washington immediately introduced harsh, newer sanctions against Iran. The EU reacted coolly to the actions of Tehran. Now Iran could be considered isolated.
The diplomatic development of the situation around the JCPOA is likely to seriously undermine European ambitions to create an alternative payment system. If Iran once again becomes a pariah state (as the Americans would like to see), then the reason that gave rise to the discussion about it will disappear. As for fines against banks and companies, Brussels is likely to leave these risks to the discretion of the business community itself. Moreover, entrepreneurs haven’t demonstrated any serious, noticeable activity lobbying for alternatives. Apparently, the business sector feels comfortable in the dollar system, and the risks of secondary sanctions do not outweigh the benefits the system presents and the costs of its transformation. Moreover, outside of the Iranian problem, there is not a single issue that the sanctions policy presents that could seriously stimulate discussion about a European financial alternative. The commonality of the political positions of the United States and the EU will ensure the status quo.
First published in our partner RIAC
How Romania’s battles over corruption hamstrung economic progress
When Romania took over the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union in January, news coverage in Western Europe mostly focused on the tensions between Brussels and Bucharest over the latter’s judicial reforms. Jean-Claude Juncker publicly called Romania’s ability to fulfil its presidential duties into question; the European Commission, meanwhile, accused the ruling Social Democrats (PSD) of backsliding on corruption.
Since then, however, Romania has executed its presidential duties without a hitch, hosting European leaders for a major EU summit in Sibiu on May 10th that earned plaudits from top EU officials like Donald Tusk. In hindsight, has the overarching media narrative ignored important developments inside Romania? Does the Sibiu summit demonstrate that Romania has regained its footing as one of Europe’s most dynamic economies?
Economic growth no longer extraordinary
Romania’s economy, while still growing at an impressive rate, has slowed down from the remarkable rates the country was registering as recently as 2017— when its 7% expansion outpaced nearly all European peers. 2018 saw growth rates of 4%, while estimates point to 3.5% for 2019.
Since it joined the European Union in 2007, Romania’s per capita national output doubled to roughly 60 percent of the Eurozone average. Record lows in unemployment led to double-digit average wage growth over the last four years. But the recent downwards trend has left many wondering whether the Romanian economy will ever resume its previous rate of development.
Is the DNA’s aggressive prosecution scaring off foreign investors?
Bucharest’s economic slowdown is due to a variety of factors, from tightened global financial conditions to falling birth rates. Foreign investors, however, may also be skittish thanks to the long-running battle between Romania’s political establishment and its controversial anti-corruption agency, the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA). Under the leadership of agency head Laura Kövesi, the DNA undertook (by its own count) 2,396 investigations targeting Romanian magistrates between 2014 and 2018. Kövesi’s tenure saw over 1,000 figures from the country’s political and business circles convicted for corruption.
The DNA’s swathes of indictments targeting Romania’s leading political figures, with charges ranging from forgery to money laundering, have certainly played into the country’s reputation for corruption. That image has hamstrung Romania’s ability to attract foreign capital and investment, from Europe and beyond.
EU leaders, meanwhile, have heaped praise on the DNA’s stack of convictions, holding the anti-corruption agency up as a model for other European countries to emulate. Concerns have mounted, however, that the DNA is abusing its power and reverting to communist-era investigative practice.
Long lists of convictions—but at what cost?
Hiding behind the DNA’s unusually-high conviction rates were potential due process violations, including lengthy pre-trial detainment periods equivalent to imprisonment before having been sentenced by a court of law, or otherwise threatening suspects that a lack of cooperation could see their family members prosecuted. Increased scrutiny of these violations may help explain why the number of cases resulting in acquittals rose markedly, from 12.2% in 2017 to 36.3% in 2018.
Some of the DNA’s most prominent targets have drawn parallels between its behaviour and that of Romania’s Communist-era security services. Alina Bica, who formerly served as chief prosecutor for organised crime and was arrested in 2014, described her experience with the DNA as “like in the 1950s when the communists came. You get called an enemy of the state, you get put in the truck…they damage your family.” Kövesi reportedly made a personal visit to the Supreme Council of Magistrates to persuade them to sign off on Bica’s arrest, while Bica’s husband was targeted with charges of tax evasion and her lawyer was also detained.
Many of those singled out by the DNA accuse the body of pursuing political or personal vendettas. Bica, for example, claimed the charges against her stemmed from her 2012 investigation into Transgaz, where Kövesi’s brother served as a director. PSD spokespeople have suggested treasurer Mircea Drăghici, currently under investigation for embezzling party funds, is being targeted as part of the lead-up to this month’s European elections.
Troubling collaboration with the intelligence services
Recent revelations about the DNA’s investigative tactics have given new life to comparisons between today’s anti-corruption czars and the communist-era Securitate secret police. Earlier this year, Romania’s Constitutional Court ruled secret protocols between DNA prosecutors and the country’s domestic intelligence agency, the SRI, were unconstitutional. The Constitutional Court concluded that the SRI, successor to the Securitate, had signed agreements allowing the intelligence agency to circumvent the authority of prosecutors in criminal investigations, while simultaneously conducting over 20,000 wiretaps a year on behalf of the DNA—an excessive violation of privacy.
The investigation by the Constitutional Court culminated in Kövesi’s removal from her position in 2018. Kövesi herself has been indicted on charges of corruption and abuse of office, relating to allegations by Romanian businessman Sebastian Ghita that Kövesi strongarmed him into paying for the repatriation of a fugitive from Indonesia. Romanian police claim they footed the bill, but criminal proceedings are ongoing. The former prosecutor nevertheless retains many fans in Brussels. Allies in the European Parliament want to name her to the new position of EU Chief Prosecutor despite the ongoing investigation in Romania.
With the steady release of DNA documents to the newly formed Special Section for the Investigation of Crimes Committed by Magistrates and the National Union of Judges in Romania, which both operate independently of the DNA, efforts to increase transparency in Romanian governance may soon move beyond the bitter political rivalries that undermined Romania’s political stability and global reputation.
While the Sibiu summit was a political success, the economy is also regaining its footing. Consumer confidence is recovering, with better prospects for future savings. Wage growth remains impressive while lending activity continues to expand. And CFA Romania, an association of investment professionals, released a report predicting Romanian economic activity will improve over the next 12 months. It seems that, despite the corruption battles of the past several years, both Romanian businesses and consumers remain optimistic about their future prospects.
Any signs of a chill between France and Germany?
The past few months have seen many signs of growing friction and divisions between the two European superpowers, Germany and France. Before the February vote on changes to the EU Third Energy Package, meant to expand the European Commission’s power to regulate Europe’s electricity and natural gas market, France opposed, until the very last moment, Germany’s position on the issue. In April, Paris and Berlin failed to agree on how much more time Britain should be given to decide on its withdrawal from the EU. During the recent presidential elections in Ukraine, France and Germany supported various candidates. Moreover, they are equally divided on who will be the new head of the European Commission. What is happening in relations between members of the “European tandem”?
During the latter half of 2018, it looked as if relations between the EU’s two powerhouses were reaching a new strategic level. In a joint statement made in Meseberg in June, Berlin and Paris outlined their shared vision of the European Union’s future development. In late August, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas simultaneously spoke out about a new role for Europe to make it “sovereign and strong.” During their informal meeting in Marseille in September, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel agreed on a coordinated response to the main challenges facing Europe and on concerted work on shaping the “agenda for Europe.”
In November, the two leaders spoke in favor of creating a “European army,” “real Pan-European armed forces” capable of defending Europe. And in January of this year, they inked a broader cooperation accord in Aachen, which commentators described as a “new big step” in bringing the two countries closer together. The Treaty of Aachen covers new areas of political cooperation, including common projects and commitments in the fields of defense and international relations.
Just a month later, however, the Franco-German rapprochement hit a snag over two strategic projects worth billions of euros, namely the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline and trade relations with the United States. Here the interests of Paris and Berlin differ the most. Underscoring the seriousness of the rift, Emmanuel Macron canceled a planned trip to a security conference in Munich in what many commentators described as a “demonstrative” move. As for the issue of completing the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, the compromise reached by France and Germany and approved by the European Parliament, imposed on Berlin “a formula that the German government wanted to avoid.”
Regarding the issue of trade relations with the United States, it wasn’t until mid-April that Brussels collectively managed to prevail over France, which had been blocking the start of pertinent negotiations with Washington. Any delay may cost the German automakers multi-billion dollar fines from the United States. If the French succeed in delaying the start of negotiations, Germany, which is already experiencing a sharp slowdown in economic growth, may end up the loser again.
France’s sudden move left the German media guessing whether Macron’s actions were dictated by his displeasure about Berlin’s “slow response” to his initiatives, or by Donald Trump’s threat to sanction companies involved in the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, including the French concern Engie. Or maybe Macron had resorted to this “show of force” in a bid to strengthen his hand amid the conflict with the “yellow jackets” and growing tensions with Italy?
Indeed, the statement made in Meseberg and the treaty signed in Aachen could have proved too much of a compromise for Macron, if not a serious blow to his ambitions. According to critics, “the Treaty of Aachen dodges the most sensitive topics characteristic of modern Europe.” Including migration and political unification of Europe – something Macron is so eager to accomplish. The treaty makes no mention of a common EU tax and financial policy, while the issue of creating a single economic space is spelled out declaratively at best. Angela Merkel essentially emasculated virtually all of Macron’s initiatives pertaining to the financial and economic reform of the EU and the Eurozone. Emmanuel Macron has been out to become one of the EU’s leaders, or even its sole leader, ever since he became president in 2017. All the more so following Britain’s exit from the bloc and amid the ebbing political authority and the planned resignation by 2021 of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, once the informal leader of a united Europe.
The current political situation in France is also calling for more decisive actions by President Macron. To ensure at least a relative success in the upcoming European elections, he needs to enlist the support not only of the traditional left-and right-centrists, but possibly of some representatives of the new European right too. Whether or not Angela Merkel stands down in 2021, or after the elections to the European Parliament (as has been rumored since April), Emmanuel Macron essentially remains the only top-level proponent of greater European integration. (Unless Merkel ultimately moves to the head of the European Commission, of course). With Macron eyeing a second presidential term in 2022, the advancement of the modernization model for France depends directly on the success of the European project. And here any significant changes in the European Union “mainly depend on the position of France’s privileged partner – Germany.”
All this means that Macron needs a breakthrough now that Berlin is going through a “complicated power transit” with Merkel having resigned as the head of the CDU and preparing to hand her post as Federal Chancellor over to a successor. Therefore, she is now taking her time and, according to her successor as CDU leader, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, is holding out for a new vector in the development of the European project as “the common denominator of the distribution of political forces after the elections.” Does this mean that Berlin’s is staking on the success of its candidate in the ongoing struggle for the next president of the European Commission? For the first time ever, the CDU and the CSU have managed to nominate a common candidate who has “good chances” of heading the EU’s executive body.
Meanwhile, Berlin is facing an intractable dilemma. Since 1949, “avoiding by all means situations necessitating a hard choice between France and the United States has been a key principle of German foreign policy.” This approach “survived all governments and coalitions, and was maintained after the reunification of Germany.” Under the present circumstances, however, remaining firmly committed to the transatlantic relationship threatens to further destabilize the European integration project, which is now seen as being key to Germany’s future. Simultaneously, a course aimed at minimizing damage from the policy of external powers that threatens the fundamental German interests might necessitate radical and ambitious geopolitical maneuvers that would almost inevitably revive the Europeans’ and Americans’ historical fears of “German instincts.”
US and British analysts already worry that “the
shackles that are voluntarily accepted [by Germany] can be thrown off.” They also wonder how long it will take before new generations of Germans want to restore their country’ full state sovereignty.
In Germany itself, promotion of such slogans have already given the Alternative for Germany party (AfD) the third largest fraction in the Bundestag. A major paradox of the current European and German policy is that Berlin’s activity or passivity is equally detrimental to the Pan-European project and could eventually lead to the EU’s fragmentation and even disintegration.
However, the Franco-German “tandem” is already being dogged with contradictions and compromises, which are highly unpopular among many in the German establishment. The cautious response by many EU members to the latest joint geopolitical initiatives of Berlin and Paris, gave Germany more reasons to fear that Macron’s global ambitions could exacerbate the differences that already exist in the EU. Many in Germany have long suspected Macron of wishing to make the EU instrumental in his foreign policy aspirations.
Some experts still believe that at the end of the day the current chill between Germany and France may turn out to be just a sign of the traditional “propensity for taking independent political decisions.” The sides are sizing each other up to see “who will be setting the rules of the roadmap in the future.” Also, Paris’s tougher stance towards Berlin may be a tactical ploy, a pre-election maneuver to “hijack” part of the agenda from the “national populists” of Central, Eastern and Southern Europe where many people are not happy about the German “diktat.”
Emmanuel Macron has proved once and again his ability to ride the wave of public discontent with certain issues. His Plan for Europe, published in early March, carefully avoids any mention of France’ and Germany’s leading role in advancing EU reforms.
On the other hand, the foreign policy of the leading European powers has a long history, and long-term geopolitical considerations continue to play a significant role. Germany, for one, has traditionally been looking for a counterweight to the Anglo-Saxons, while France – to German dominance in Europe. As a result, the search by Paris and Berlin for common points of political contact is now turning into intense efforts to find the “lowest common denominator.” The overall impression is that we will only be able to see a greater deal of certainty in relations between the two countries after the results of elections to the European Parliament have been summed up. The distribution of roles both within the “European tandem” and in the EU as a whole depends on which political forces – pro-Macron or pro-Merkel, the Europeans will vote for.
First published in our partner International Affairs
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