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Meeting between Putin and Trump: Another Reason for Split within the EU?

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The NATO Summit, held on July 11–12, 2018, gave Brussels and the EU countries good reason to fear any decisive steps that Donald Trump might take with regard to Moscow. There were even suggestions that the unrelentingly tense atmosphere between the NATO partners might lead Trump to sweep a metaphorical curtsey before Vladimir Putin by recognizing Crimea as a part of Russia or agreeing the relax sanctions against the country. In the end, nothing that extreme happened, although the meeting between the two presidents did cause considerable concern in Brussels and European capitals.

The meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin received various assessments across the European Union, although the main conclusion was generally the same: it went better than the recent NATO Summit, which Der Spiegel poked fun at rather emphatically. Particularly insulting for Brussels was the fact that the European Union had recently found itself among the trade “enemies” of the United States, while, at the meeting with Putin, Trump had nothing negative to say about Moscow. On the contrary, he recognized Russia as a “competitor,” which the Russian leadership must have found quite flattering indeed. The European press jumped all over this. The overall sentiment among European commentators was that Trump is playing into the hands of Putin, who seeks to split the European Union, while a level of trust is emerging between the two leaders that has long ceased to exist among the NATO countries.

However, putting all emotions aside, let us attempt to see whether it is worth worrying about the European Union. And if so, why exactly?

First. Both the United States and the European Union are equally convinced of Russia’s interference in the U.S. elections, and the European affairs and are therefore interested in obtaining guarantees from Russia that it will not interfere in the future. The United States and Brussels agreed on this issue before the meeting, which is why the European side was not pleased with the manner in which it was addressed (although they were not as disgruntled as the American establishment and intelligence services). Not only did Trump fail to chastise Putin, but he also demonstrated a lack of confidence in his own intelligence services – although his did hasten to fix this after the meeting. As far as the European Union is concerned, the meeting proved above all that the EU does not have a serious ally in the President of the United States when it comes to keeping Russia from interfering in the domestic affairs of EU countries. However, finding such an ally inside Congress, among part of the American establishment, or even in the form of a new president should not present any serious difficulties, so all the European Union has to do is wait a few years for the situation to correct itself.

Second. The President of the United States did not utter a single word about Ukraine during the meeting (not during the bit we saw, at least). This was another serious blow for the European Union, and for Berlin in particular. This silence on an issue that the European Union sees as the key reason for the conflict between Russia and the collective West means, first of all, that the United States has lost interest in the Ukrainian issue and does not see it as worthy of attention, and second, that it is ready to cooperate in other areas while this key issue is pushed into the background. Discussing other issues while ignoring the main one could be seen as the United States making a concession to Russia. In this context, there is a feeling inside the European Union that the organization is the last beacon of democracy and liberal values in the world, as its main partner has shown that it is prepared to make compromises independently without developing a coordinated approach with the European Union or reaching prior agreement with it.

Third. The meeting did not clarify the situation surrounding Nord Stream 2, which remains rather fuzzy for Brussels and Berlin. On the one hand, it was reiterated that Germany was well within its rights to settle this issue independently, and that the United States would compete with Russia for the European gas market. The use of business terminology would seemingly imply that the game will be conducted according to the rules of healthy competition; however, previous statements by Trump that Germany could become “hostage” to Russia suggest that the President of the United States does not, and will not, shy away from politicizing the matter. The European Union is well aware that, when it comes to European energy security, Russia has long since proven itself to be a reliable supplier and partner, and that the recent actions of the United States with regard to trade and economic relations with the European Union, China, and other partners force the EU to question the ability and willingness of the United States to honour their agreements. It is also likely that Washington will continue to use the “security trump card” as an instrument of pressure in economic issues – it is not for nothing that Trump claims that the United States provides 91 per cent of the financing of European security. Therefore, regardless of whether or not the Russian side promises gas transit via Ukraine, the problem of security in exchange for access to the gas market will remain.

Fourth. Trump did not mention anything during the meeting about easing sanctions against Russia. We can thus conclude that the European Union’s fears were unjustified in this instance. However, there is a feeling inside the European Union than the United States and Russia can restore confidence between the two countries, something that is looking increasingly unlikely for US–EU relations. At the very least, there were far more positives to be taken from the meeting between Trump and Putin than from the recent NATO Summit. A number of European media outlets noted that Trump treated Putin as his equal, which would suggest that the policy of isolating Russia, an approach that the European Union had been counting on since it introduced sanctions in 2014, has effectively failed.

Fifth. Brussels senses a weakening of solidarity within the European Union regarding relations with Russia and a willingness of a number of its member countries to establish a dialogue with Moscow. This is why there are growing fears inside the European Union that Donald Trump’s pragmatic approach of cooperation with Russia will further strengthen the position of those in EU member states who criticize Brussels. This is all the more true given that the approach of “selective engagement” with Russia proposed by High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini has not yielded any tangible results so far, while the United States and Russia, given sufficient political will, could actually achieve something.

While the European Union’s fears about the meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin did not pan out and no concrete concessions were made on either side, and the results of the meeting are already being devalued by the attitude towards the meeting within the United States itself, Brussels and Berlin still see the event as yet another step by US and Russian leaders towards undermining European and Euro-Atlantic solidarity. At the same time, a number of EU countries have welcomed the new “thaw” in relations between Moscow and Washington. For example, Minister of the Interior of Italy Matteo Salvini has said that he would be happy to hold the next meeting of the two presidents on Italian soil. Whether or not the Italian side will be able to convert the trust between Moscow and Rome into greater mutual confidence between the presidents of Russia and the United States without destroying European solidarity depends on two unknowns: 1) the level of mutual trust between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, and 2) the strength of European solidarity.

First published in our partner RIAC

PhD in Political Science, RIAC Program Manager, Research Fellow at Centre for Global Problems Studies, MGIMO-University

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Europe

Europe tells Biden “no way” to Cold War with China

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Amidst the first big transatlantic tensions for the Biden Administration, a new poll shows that the majority of Europeans see a new Cold War happening between the United States and China, but they don’t see themselves as a part of it.

Overwhelmingly, 62% of Europeans believe that the US is engaged in a new Cold War against China, a new poll just released by the European Council on Foreign Relations found. Just yesterday US President Joe Biden claimed before the UN General Assembly that there is no such thing and the US is not engaging in a new Cold War. So, Europeans see Biden’s bluff and call him on it.

The study was released on Wednesday by Mark Leonard and Ivan Krastev at the European Council on Foreign Relations and found that Europeans don’t see themselves as direct participants in the US-China Cold War. This viewpoint is most pronounced in Bulgaria, Hungary, Austria, Portugal and Italy, according to the study. The prevailing view, in each of the 12 surveyed EU member states, is one of irrelevance – with respondents in Hungary (91%), Bulgaria (80%), Portugal (79%), and Austria (78%) saying that their country is not in a conflict with Beijing.

Only 15% of Europeans believe that the EU is engaged in a Cold War against China. The percentage is so low that one wonders if there should even be such a question. It is not only not a priority, it is not even a question on the agenda for Europeans. Even at the highest point of EU “hawkishness”, only 33% of Swedes hold the view that their country is currently in a Cold War with China.  Leonard and Krastev warn that if Washington and Brussels are preparing for an all-in generational struggle against China, this runs against the grain of opinion in Europe, and leaders in Washington and Brussels will quickly discover that they “do not have a societal consensus behind them”.

“The European public thinks there is a new cold war – but they don’t want to have anything to do with it. Our polling reveals that a “cold war” framing risks alienating European voters”, Mark Leonard said.

The EU doesn’t have the backing of its citizens to follow the US in its new Cold War pursuit. But unlike the views of the authors of the study, my view is that this is not a transatlantic rift that we actually have to be trying to fix. Biden’s China policy won’t be Europe’s China policy, and that’s that, despite US efforts to persuade Europe to follow, as I’ve argued months ago for the Brussels Report and in Modern Diplomacy.

In March this year, Gallup released a poll that showed that 45% of Americans see China as the greatest US enemy. The poll did not frame the question as Cold War but it can be argued that Joe Biden has some mandate derived from the opinion of American people. That is not the case for Europe at all, to the extent that most of us don’t see “China as an enemy” even as a relevant question.

The US’s China pursuit is already giving horrible for the US results in Europe, as French President Macron withdrew the French Ambassador to the US. The US made a deal already in June, as a part of the trilateral partnership with the UK and Australia, and stabbed France in the back months ago to Macron’s last-minute surprise last week. Max Boot at the Council on Foreign Relations argues that it is Macron that is actually arrogant to expect that commitments and deals should mean something: “Back in February, Macron rejected the idea of a U.S.-E.U. common front against China. Now he complains when America pursues its own strategy against China. What’s French for chutzpah?” What Boot does get right is that indeed, there won’t be a joint US-EU front on China, and European citizens also don’t want this, as the recent poll has made clear.

The US saying Europe should follow the US into a Cold War with China over human rights is the same thing as China saying that Europe should start a Cold War with the US over the bad US human rights record. It’s not going to happen. You have to understand that this is how ridiculous the proposition sounds to us, Europeans. Leonard and Krastev urge the EU leadership to “make the case for more assertive policies” towards China around European and national interests rather than a Cold War logic, so that they can sell a strong, united, and compelling case for the future of the Atlantic alliance to European citizens.

I am not sure that I agree, as “more assertive policies” and “cold war” is probably the same thing in the mind of most Europeans and I don’t think that the nuance helps here or matters at all. Leaders like Biden argue anyway that the US is not really pursuing a Cold War. The authors caution EU leaders against adopting a “cold war” framing. You say “framing”, I say “spin”. Should we be in engaging in spins at all to sell unnecessary conflict to EU citizens only to please the US?

Unlike during the first cold war, [Europeans] do not see an immediate, existential threat”, Leonard clarified. European politicians can no longer rely on tensions with China to convince the electorate of the value of transatlantic relations. “Instead, they need to make the case from European interests, showing how a rebalanced alliance can empower and restore sovereignty to European citizens in a dangerous world”, Mark Leonard added. The study shows that there is a growing “disconnect” between the policy ambitions of those in Brussels and how Europeans think. EU citizens should stick to their sentiments and not be convinced to look for conflict where it doesn’t exist, or change what they see and hear with their own eyes and ears in favor of elusive things like the transatlantic partnership, which the US itself doesn’t believe in anyways. And the last thing that should be done is to scare Europeans by convincing them they live in a “dangerous world” and China is the biggest threat or concern.

What the study makes clear is that a Cold War framing against China is likely to repel more EU voters than it attracts, and if there is one thing that politicians know it is that you have to listen to the polls in what your people are telling you instead of engaging in spins. Those that don’t listen in advance get the signs eventually. At the end of the day it’s not important what Biden wants.

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Germany and its Neo-imperial quest

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In January 2021, eight months ago, when rumours about the possibility of appointment of Christian Schmidt as the High Representative in Bosnia occurred for the first time, I published the text under the title ‘Has Germany Lost Its NATO Compass?’. In this text I announced that Schmidt was appointed to help Dragan Čović, the leader of the Croatian HDZ party, to disrupt the constitutional structure of Bosnia-Herzegovina and create precoditions for secession of the Serb- and Croatian-held territories in Bosnia and the country’s final dissolution. I can hardly add anything new to it, except for the fact that Schmidt’s recent statements at the conference of Deutsche Atlantische Gesellschaft have fully confirmed my claims that his role in Bosnia is to act as Čović’s ally in the latter’s attempts to carve up the Bosnian Constitution.

Schmidt is a person with a heavy burden, the burden of a man who has continuously been promoting Croatian interests, for which the Croatian state decorated him with the medal of “Ante Starčević”, which, in his own words, he “proudly wears” and shares with several Croatian convicted war criminals who participated in the 1992-1995 aggression on Bosnia, whom Schmidt obviously perceives as his ideological brethren. The question is, then, why Germany appointed him as the High Representative in Bosnia? 

Germany’s policy towards Bosnia, exercised mostly through the institutions of the European Union, has continuously been based on the concept of Bosnia’s ethnic partition. The phrases that we can occassionaly hear from the EU, on inviolability of state boundaries in the Balkans, is just a rhetoric adapted to the demands by the United States to keep these boundaries intact. So far, these boundaries have remained intact mainly due to the US efforts to preserve them. However, from the notorious Lisbon Conference in February 1992 to the present day, the European Union has always officially stood behind the idea that Bosnia-Herzegovina should be partitioned along ethnic lines. At the Lisbon Conference, Lord Carrington and Jose Cutileiro, the official representatives of the then European Community, which has in the meantime been rebranded as the European Union, drew the maps with lines of ethnic partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina, along which the ethnic cleansing was committed, with 100.000 killed and 1,000.000 expelled, so as to make its territory compatible with their maps. Neither Germany nor the European Union have ever distanced themselves from the idea they promoted and imposed at the Lisbon Conference as ‘the only possible solution’ for Bosnia, despite the grave consequences that followed. Nor has this idea ever stopped being a must within their foreign policy circles, as it has recently been demonstrated by the so-called Janša Non-Paper, launched a couple of months ago, which also advocates the final partition and dissolution of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Such a plan is probably a product of the powerful right-wing circles in the European institutions, such as Schmidt’s CSU, rather than a homework of Janez Janša, the current Prime Minister of Slovenia, whose party is a part of these circles, albeit a minor one. To be sure, Germany is not the original author of the idea of Bosnia’s partition, this author is Great Britain, which launched it directly through Lord Carrington at the Lisbon Conference. Yet, Germany has never shown a will to distance itself from this idea, nor has it done the European Union. Moreover, the appointment of Schmidt, as a member of those political circles which promote ethnic partition as the only solution for multiethnic countries, testifies to the fact that Germany has decided to fully apply this idea and act as its chief promoter.

In this process, the neighbouring countries, Serbia and Croatia, with their extreme nationalist policies, can only act as the EU’s proxies, in charge for the physical implemenation of Bosnia’s pre-meditated disappearance. All the crimes that Serbia and Croatia committed on the Bosnian soil – from the military aggression, over war crimes, ethnic cleansing and genocide, up to the 30 year-long efforts to undermine Bosnia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity – have always had a direct approval and absolute support of the leading EU countries. During the war and in its aftermath, Great Britain and France were the leaders of the initiatives to impose ethnic partition on the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and now Germany has taken up their role. In such a context, the increasing aggressiveness of Serbia and Croatia can only be interpreted as a consequence of the EU’s intention to finish with Bosnia for good, and Schmidt has arrived to Bosnia to facilitate that process. Therefore, it is high time for the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina to abandon any ilussions about the true intentions of the European Union and reject its Trojan Horse in the form of the current High Representative.  

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Should there be an age limit to be President?

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The presidential elections in Bulgaria are nearing in November 2021 and I would like to run for President of Bulgaria, but the issue is the age limit.

To run for President in Bulgaria a candidate needs to be at least 40 years old and I am 37. I am not the first to raise the question: should there be an age limit to run for President, and generally for office, and isn’t an age limit actually age discrimination?

Under the international human rights law standard, putting an age limit is allowed in the context of political participation under the right to vote and the right to run to be elected. Human Rights Committee General Comment No.25 interpreting the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that an age limit has to be based on objective and reasonable criteria, adding that it is reasonable to have a higher age requirement for certain offices. As it stands, the law says that having an age limit for president is not age discrimination, but is 40 actually a reasonable cut-off? National legislations can change. We need to lower the age limit and rethink what’s a reasonable age for President, and not do away with all age limits.

We have seen strong leaders emerge as heads of state and government who are below 40 years of age. Sanna Marin, Prime Minister of Finland, became Prime Minister at 34. Sebastrian Kurz, the Prime Minister of Austria, was elected at 31. Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, assumed her position at 37. So perhaps it is time to rethink age limits for the highest offices.

The US has plenty of examples where elected Senators and Congressmen actually beat the age limit and made it despite the convention. The age limit for Senator in the US is 30 years old. Rush Holt was elected to the US Senate at 29. In South Carolina, two State Senators were elected at 24 years old and they were seated anyways. The age limit for US president is 35 years old.

In Argentina, the age cut-off is 30. In India, it is 35. In Pakistan, it is 45 years old. In Turkey, it is 40 years old. Iceland says 35 years old. In France, it is 18.

Generally, democracies set lower age limits. More conservative countries set the age limit higher in line with stereotypes rather than any real world evidence that a 45 year-old or 55 year-old person would be more effective and better suited to the job. Liberal countries tend to set lower age limits.

40 years old to be a President of Bulgaria seems to be an arbitrary line drawn. And while it is legal to have some age limits, 40 years old seems to be last century. Changing the age limit for president of Bulgaria could be a task for the next Bulgarian Parliament for which Bulgarians will also vote on the same date as they vote for President.

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