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The European Union Brings Serbia Closer

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The next EU expansion wave can “cover” Southeast Europe ahead of schedule. In particular, Serbia can become an EU member even before 2025 – some six months ago the European Commission mentioned it as the most optimistic option. The corresponding statement was made by French President Emmanuel Macron when he received his Serbian colleague Aleksandar Vučić in Paris.

At the same time, he again reminded that Belgrade first “must fulfill all the conditions” stipulated for joining the European Union. However, the possibility of earlier membership is very revealing – and it, in turn, requires Russia to analyze and rethink the content and prospects of its relations with Serbia and other Balkan countries candidates to the EU.

Serbia is moving towards joining the European Union at a rapid pace, Macron said at a joint news conference with Aleksandar Vučić: “Things are advancing faster than expected. I think that Serbia can join the EU much earlier than 2025”. According to him “all the conditions must be fulfilled” for this. But “I’m not inclined to formalism on this issue,” the French president added.

The fact that Emmanuel Macron is not a formalist in European affairs is well known by the example of his numerous initiatives and projects on reforming the EU and the eurozone  for greater efficiency. However, the current situation in the EU demands more radical decisions and steps that run counter to previous plans and commitments of Brussels. And in this regard, the words of Aleksandar Vučić that his country “hopes for a positive decision of the EU on this subject” can spring to life quite soon. (tass.ru)

At present the European Union is being forced to move more actively towards its own expansion to the southeast by several factors.

Firstly- the need to present the organization as an active and functioning institution in the transatlantic debate with US President Donald Trump and his administration.

The talks held within the framework of the NATO summit in Brussels and the bilateral US-British top-level talks in London showed that President Trump’s business approach  presupposes   respect (and, accordingly, concessions) only to those partners who in any field proved their own efficiency. And in these conditions, the early advancement of the EU’s external borders to the Balkans can become an important factor that strengthens the positions of Brussels, including trade and economic negotiations with Washington.

Secondly – a possibility of a new migration crisis aggravation with the simultaneous growth of corresponding crises in the EU member states themselves (Central and Eastern Europe plus Germany). The disagreement on the migration policy has recently nearly buried the newly formed coalition government in Germany. And given the fact that the overwhelming majority of refugees and migrants penetrate Europe along the “Balkan route” – the inclusion of this region in the orbit of legislative and executive control of the EU is a survival factor for both the EU itself and political elites in power in the EU member states (especially in Germany).

Thirdly – the accelerated admission of the Balkan countries (among the most realistic candidates, besides Serbia, there is also Montenegro and with slightly fewer chances Albania and Macedonia) is beneficial both to supporters and opponents of mending EU relations with Russia.

The supporters consider the Balkan Peninsula as a historically formed “bridge” between the West and the East. And in this respect, Serbia is ideally suited as an element to form a new architecture of interaction between Brussels and Moscow – both political and economic (including energy). As for those who are for maintaining and even tightening of the anti-Russian vector in the EU policy, for them, the Balkans, on the contrary, act as a testing ground for deepening confrontation, and the states and peoples of the region are the targets of new geopolitical combinations and “exchanges.”

The fourth factor is that Serbia occupies a key strategic position in the Balkans, being at the intersection of latitudinal and meridional  transport and energy flows. Its inclusion in the EU orbit will allow the European Commission to take a more active part in the implementation of projects to transport energy resources to Europe. It is, in particular, the Russian project “Turkish Stream”, as well as the “Southern Gas Corridor”.

The fifth factor – geographic expansion and size of the European Union are important for Brussels in the context of the growing internal contradictions within the organization itself, primarily in relations between the central authorities of the EU and the states of the Visegrad Group (Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic).

In the near future, apart from Poland  Hungary may join the list of countries threatened with harsh sanctions by the EU Council. Recently the European Commission sued the Hungarian government, by which it challenges the policy of Budapest towards refugees and migrants, as well as the law passed by the country’s parliament that introduces criminal responsibility for individuals and organizations that  assist  illegal migrants. (rbc.ru)

In addition, it is the countries of Central Europe, as well as the Baltic States and Scandinavia, who traditionally act in EU as allies of the United Kingdom. The Brexit principles agreed by now suggest a “soft” version of the country’s exit from the European Union with the preservation of key trade and economic ties and mechanisms. In the current situation, the involvement of the Balkan countries is important for Brussels in terms of changing the internal balance in the European Union – in which the key decisions are taken according to a complex scheme that requires the support of most countries taking into account the proportion of their population.

As the main obstacles to Serbia’s admission to the European Union Brussels sees three factors: Russian, NATO and Kosovo. However, at present, their relevance is objectively reducing.

As for the “Russian” direction, Brussels for the past several years has been persistently demanding that Belgrade join the sanctions against Moscow. However, the convincing victory of Aleksandar Vučić and his supporters in the last elections in Serbia, as well as his tough position in favor of preserving and increasing interaction with Russia (a very symptomatic step for the EU was, in particular, the participation of the Serbian President in the commemorative celebrations in Moscow on May 9th, 2018) convinced Brussels, Berlin and Paris in the lack of real opportunities to influence Serbia’s foreign policy course towards Russia.

The situation in terms of “desirability” for Serbia to apply for membership in NATO in order to facilitate admission to the EU has also changed.

The unspoken practice that has developed in the European Union provides for the accelerated entry of a candidate country into the North Atlantic Alliance as a condition for the “promotion” of its EU application. This condition is not spelt out in the official documents of the European Union. In addition, there are exceptions (Austria, Cyprus). However, with regard to Serbia a few years ago the West was determined to implement such a scenario.

At present, the North Atlantic Alliance itself is at the epicenter of political passions at the highest Euro-Atlantic level. Faced with the tough demand on the part of the US president for European members of NATO to increase defense spending, Brussels is forced to reconsider the above approach, since Serbia financially is unlikely to make a financial contribution to NATO. In addition, the majority of Serbia’s population are opposed to joining the organization that bombed Yugoslavia in 1999. “Serbia is unlikely to join NATO,” the American business news agency Bloomberg admits in its commentary. (bloomberg.com)

Indicative in this regard was the statement recently made by US President Donald Trump, in which he again mentioned such negative aspects of NATO activities as the inability of Europeans to allocate previously agreed financial resources for defense in the amount of at least 2% of the national GDP, and the existing risk of a full-scale war due to Montenegro entering the North Atlantic Alliance in 2017.

The principle of the NATO existence, in which an attack on one member of the alliance entails the entry of all other states into the war, can easily lead to a third world war, the US president is sure. In an interview with the American Fox News TV, he outlined the hypothetical start of a global conflict over Montenegro. At the same time, Donald Trump stressed that he has nothing against the North Atlantic Alliance, but he is sure that the rest of NATO members must “pay for it”, increasing the share of defense spending following the USA: “We protect them, and they do not even pay for it.” In addition, Article Five of the North Atlantic Treaty on Collective Defense is capable, according to the US President, of creating a dangerous situation when it comes to the Balkans, and specifically about Montenegro: «Montenegro is a very small country with a very strong people. Montenegrins are a strong people, a very aggressive people. They can get angry, and, here we are, the third world war begins!»    (Rbc.ru)

Finally, amidst the growing contradictions both in relations between the US and the EU, as well as in the ranks of the EU itself, the Kosovo problem is losing weight in the eyes of the West. It has been known that Brussels is already discussing possible scenarios for Serbia’s admission without official recognition of Kosovo’s independence by Belgrade. One of these options is that the documents on the admission of Serbia to the EU should mention that Belgrade recognizes the status of Kosovo in the form in which it is defined in the UN documents (in particular, in UN Security Council Resolution No. 1244 of June 10, 1999).

A similar mechanism exists in NATO in relation to Turkey and Greece which have different positions on the name of Macedonia. In all official documents of the North Atlantic Alliance concerning relations with this former Yugoslav republic, there is a reference to the fact that Turkey recognizes it under the “constitutional name” (that is, the “Republic of Macedonia”).

The introduction of such a mechanism will be all the more justified, since the five EU member states (Greece, Spain, Cyprus, Romania and Slovakia) still do not recognize Kosovo’s independence unilaterally proclaimed in 2008 by Pristina.

The European Union’s possible acceleration of the negotiation process with Belgrade (as well as with other states in the region) requires a more active policy in the Balkan direction as well as from Russia. Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić repeatedly – including in his talks with EU representatives – stressed that he had never heard from President Vladimir Putin objections to Serbia’s desire to join the EU, he also promised that Serbia would not join the anti-Russian European Union sanctions. [rg.ru]

However, in order to maintain the current parameters of Russian-Serbian cooperation, and even more so for the purpose of building it up, it makes sense to consider the additional conditions and opportunities offered to Serbia. Among such preferences there could be the priority connection to the export-transit infrastructure of the Turkish Stream gas pipeline, the easing of the bilateral trade regime, the more active involvement of the Serbian side in integration mechanisms in the Eurasian space (the EAEU, the SCO, the CSTO, the Silk Road), the building up military-technical cooperation (in a strictly defensive dimension), intensification of ties in the humanitarian field.

Similar steps can be taken towards other states in the Balkan region as well.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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Europe

Is European humanity skin deep?

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At the border crossing between Ukraine and Moldova at Palanca, refugees stand in line. © UNICEF/Vincent Tremeau

When talking about security the most common line of thought tends to be war and the actors involved in the attack, however, all the people who had regular lives within those territories that are jeopardized are as important. With the increasing tensions and armed conflicts happening within the Twenty First Century, the movement of people searching for shelter has increased. More asylum seekers leave their home countries every single day and contemporary politics is still struggling to find a way to catch up. Europe, history wise, is the zone of the world that deals with more refugees wanting to enter the continent due to different factors: geography, proximity, democratic systems, level of development and more. Nevertheless, with the Russia-Ukraine conflict, true sentiments towards refugees are now being put on display.

Even though all refugees are fleeing their countries because their lives are in mortal danger, authorities and government officials do not seem to care. Processes to apply for the refugee status are getting harder and harder. In Europe, to apply for a refugee passport, people are asked for identifications, online questionaries and many other unrealistic aspects that if not answered correctly, the whole process is cancelled. It is ridiculous to believe that when people are scaping in order to stay alive, they will take under consideration all these requirements to receive help, sometimes even from neighboring countries. Which inevitably leads to the following question: why are refugees accepted based on the legality of their applications and not of their status?

By 2016, nearly 5.2 million refugees reached European shores, which caused the so called refugee crisis. They came mainly from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq: countries torn apart by armed conflicts. Similarly, with Russia’s invasion over the Ukraine in 2022, only few days deep within the fighting,  874,000 people had to flee their homes. Nonetheless, the issue seems to be that, for Europe, not all refugees are the same. When the refugee crisis in 2015 was declared, the European Union called for stopping and detaining all arriving refugees for around 18 months. There was a strong reluctancy from Europeans towards offering them shelter. On the contrary, countries such as Poland and Slovakia have said that Ukrainian refugees fleeing will be accepted without passports, or any valid travel documents due to the urgency of the situation. Therefore, stating with their actions, that Ukrainian refugees are more valuable or seem to be more worthy of help than refugees from Asia, Africa, or the Middle East.

Correspondingly, it is true that not all countries inside Europe deal and act the same way towards refugees, be that as it may, with the current refugee crisis it has been proved that they all share strong sentiments of xenophobia and racism. For instance, Hungary is a country that refused to admit refugees coming from outside Europe since 2015. In 2018, Prime Minister Viktor Orban described non-European refugees as “Muslim invaders” and “poison” to society, in comparison with Ukrainian refugees who are being welcomed without hesitation. In the same way, Jarosław Kaczyński, who served as Prime Minister of Poland and is the leader of the Law and Justice party, in 2017 said that accepting asylum seekers from Syria would be dangerous and would “completely change our culture and radically lower the level of safety in our country”. Furthermore, Germany in 2015 with Chancellor Angela Merkel in charged said that they would accept one million of Syrians. Although, as time passed, Europe’s solution was to make a deal with Turkey, who is not part of the European Union, to close the migrant route. Moreover, the promise of letting refugees integrate into German society was not fulfilled since. Seven year later, an impressive amount of refugees are still in camps and centers, with their lives frozen in time. Sadly, most European governments gambled towards the idea of sending them back once the armed conflict was over, without caring for the aftermath of war’s destruction.

The common narrative until now pushed by leaders, politicians, and mass media has been that Ukrainians are prosperous, civilized, middle class working people, but refugees coming from the Middle East are terrorists, and refuges from Africa are simply too different. Despite, refugees are all people who share similar emotions and struggle to grasp the fact that their lives may never be the same; having lost their homes, friends, family and so much more. Plus, being selectively welcomed based on their religion, skin color or nationality by the continent which’s complete rhetoric is universal rights, just adds another complex layer to the issue. Conjointly, the displacement of people due to war displays how regular individuals are always the ones who suffer the most in consequence to the interests of the few that represent larger powers. Hence, greed, envy, and cruelty are stronger than recognized, even in a developed continent such as Europe.

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What Everyone Should Know About Preventing Ethnic Violence: The Case of Bosnia

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Image source: srebrenica.org.uk

When the Balkans spiraled into violence and genocide in the 90’s, many wondered what caused this resurgence in militant ethnic nationalism and how a similar situation may be countered.

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The 1990’s were a vibrant decade, that is unless you were living in the Balkans. 1995 was especially bad, as the 11th of July of that year marked the Srebrenica Massacre, which saw Serbian soldiers murder over 8,000 Bosnian Muslims over the span of two weeks. This shocked the world, as it was the first case of a European country resorting to extreme violence and genocide on ethnic lines since World War II. After World War II, the idea that a European country would resort to genocide was unthinkable. As Balkan nations continue to see the consequences of the massacre after over 25 years, it is increasingly evident that more needs to be done to curb ethnic violence.

We must first investigate key causes of ethnic violence. According to V.P. Gagnon, the main driver of ethnic violence is elites that wish to stay in power. Ethnic nationalism is easy to exploit, as creating a scapegoat is extremely effective for keeping elites in power. This is exactly what happened in Yugoslavia, which had previously seen high levels of tolerance and intermarriage in more mixed areas that saw the worst violence during the war. Stuart J. Kaufman argues that elites may take advantage of natural psychological fears of in-group extinction, creating group myths, or stereotypes, of outgroups to fuel hatred against them. While they may take different approaches to this issue, Gagnon and Kaufman agree that the main drivers of ethnic violence are the elites.

David Lake and Donald Rothchild suggest that the main driver of ethnic conflict is collective fears for the future of in-groups. Fear is one of the most important emotions we have because it helps secure our existence in a hostile world. However, fear can easily be exploited by the elites to achieve their personal goals. In a multiethnic society such as Yugoslavia, the rise of an elite that adheres to the prospects of a single ethnic group could prove dangerous and sometimes even disastrous. The destruction of Yugoslavian hegemony under Josip Broz Tito and the resulting explosion of ethnic conflict at the hands of Serbian elites in Bosnia underline this because of the immense fear this created.

Regions with high Serb populations in Bosnia sought independence from the rest of the country when they found themselves separated from Serbia by the dissolution of Yugoslavia. Republika Srpska was formed by these alienated Serbs. The leadership and elites in Serbia riled up the Serb population of Republika Srpska by stereotyping and demonizing Bosnian Muslims as “descendants of the Turkish oppressors”. This scared the Serbs in Bosnia so much so that they obeyed the elites of Serbia in supporting and fighting for the independence of Republika Srpska by any means necessary. As was seen in Srebrenica, they were not opposed to genocide.

We know how the elites fuel ethnic tensions to secure power as well of the devastating effects of these tensions reaching their boiling point. But what could be done to address ethnic conflict? David Welsh suggests that a remedy for ethnic conflict could be the complete enfranchisement of ethnic minorities and deterrence towards ethnic cleansing. This means that we must ensure that ethnic minorities are able to have a say in a democratic system that caters to all ethnicities equally. Fostering aversion to genocide is also vital toward addressing ethnic conflict because it is the inevitable result of unchecked ethnic conflict.

There is also the issue of members of ethnic groups voting for candidates and parties on ethnic lines. For example, in the United States, White American voters have shown to prefer White candidates over African American candidates, and vice versa. Keep in mind that the United States has a deep history of ethnic conflict, including the centuries-long subjugation of African Americans by White Americans.

Ethnic violence is horrifying and destructive, but it can be prevented. The first measure would be the establishment of a representative democracy, where members of all ethnicities are accurately represented. Another measure would be to make ethnic conflict and ethnic stereotyping taboo so that the average person would not resort to genocidal behavior once things go wrong. Lastly, making people feel secure is the most important step towards preventing ethnic conflict. If the people feel secure enough, they will not even need to think about ethnic violence. In short, while it is important to consider the differences of the various ethnic groups in a multiethnic society, it is vital that each group is kept represented and secure, free of any fears of subjugation.

While the case of Bosnia was extremely unfortunate, it provides an integral view into what could happen if perceived subjugation and fear of eradication reaches a breaking point. As was seen in Bosnia, ethnic violence can be extremely violent, resulting in untold suffering and death. That is why we must take necessary steps towards de-escalation and remediation of ethnic conflicts. These measures can, quite literally, save millions of lives.

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French Presidential Election 2022 and its significance for Europe

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Eugene Delacroix’s infamous painting “la liberté Guidant le Peuple” reminds the whole world of the July Revolution of 1830 that toppled King Charles X of France. The lady in the centre of the painting with the French tricolour still symbolizes the concept of liberty and reminds the whole world of revolutions and sacrifices made for freedom. France indeed has a long journey from revolting against “if they have no bread, let them eat cake” in 1789 to establishing a modern democratic society with the principles of “liberty, equality and fraternity”.  

France and the United States are rightly considered the birthplace of modern democracy. The French revolution taught the whole world lessons about revolution, freedom modern nationalism, liberalism and sovereignty. In 2022, France celebrates the 233rd year of Bastille Day which led to a new dawn in the French political system. From establishing 1ere Republique (1st Republic) in 1792, France has evolved and is currently under the 5eme Republique (5th Republic) under the constitution crafted by Charles de Gaulle in 1958.

Today, France is holding its presidential elections. As the French believe, ‘You first vote with your heart, then your head’, the first round of voting was concluded on Sunday 10th April and the Presidential debate on 20th April 2022. While the whole world waits for the 24th of April’s second round of elections and their results, this article attempts to understand the French electoral system and analyze Why French Presidential elections are important for Europe?

French electoral system

France is a semi-presidential democracy; the president is at the centre of power and Prime Minister heads the government. The president of the French republic is elected by direct universal suffrage where all French citizens aged 18 and above can vote, whether residing in France or not. In France, there is a two-round system in which voters vote twice on two Sundays, two weeks apart. This two-round system is widely practised in central and eastern Europe as well as Central Asia, South America and Africa.

In order to apply, a candidate needs 500 signatures of elected officials and they should be at least from 30 government departments. A candidate can be an independent or he or she can represent a political party. There is no limit to how many candidates can run for presidential elections. For instance, in 2002 there were 16 candidates, in 2017- 11 and in 2022 there are 12. While all the candidates have the right to equal media presence, the amount of spending on campaigns is also monitored; for the 1st round, the spending must not exceed 16.9 million euros and for the second round, it has been limited to 22.5 million euros.

This year, the 1st round of voting was concluded on 10th April while the second one is scheduled to be held on 24th April 2022. In the first round, all 12 candidates were eligible but for the second round, only two candidates who got the maximum votes are qualified for the second round.

A brief overview of French presidential candidates

Emmanuel Macron, five years ago at the age of 39, became the youngest French president of the French republic. In 2017, he broke the dominance of the two major French parties- Republicans and Socialists- by running a campaign “neither left nor right”. During the tenure of Emmanuel Macron, a hardcore centrist, France has witnessed a 7% GDP growth, unemployment dropped by 7.2% and the crime rate has fallen to 27%.

A far-rightist, Marine Le Pen is the other presidential candidate who succeeded her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, as leader of the National Front (later National Rally) party in 2011. She was also contesting against Emmanuel Macron during the 2017 elections and before that in 2012, against Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande. While she embraced the party’s anti-immigration stance, she rebranded the party’s Euroskepticism as French nationalism.

This year, in the April 2022 elections, the current President of France, Emanuel Macron and far-right leader, Marine Le Pen are the two candidates with Macron running ahead with a lead of 4.7 per cent votes (Emmanuel Macron-27.8% & Marine Le Pen- 23.1%).

Why French Presidential elections are important for Europe?

While European defence is primarily assured by the US-led NATO military alliance, of which most EU states are members, French president Macron said,  “Europe needs to finally build its own collective security framework on our continent…”, advocating for a ‘European Security’ framework amid tensions with Russia over Ukraine.

On the other hand, Le Pen’s party has been looked upon suspiciously that it might have received financing from a Russian bank connected to the Russian President Putin. In an interview with French public radion, Le pen said, “It will be necessary diplomatically, when the war [in Ukraine] is over, when a peace treaty has been signed, to try to avoid this tie-up which risks being the largest danger of the 21st century for us,” she even further added, “Imagine … if we let the first producer of raw materials in the world — which is Russia — [create an alliance] with the first factory of the world — which is China — to let them perhaps constitute the first military power of the world. I believe that it’s a potentially great danger.” These statements only further reinforce the claims that Le Pen is more pro-Russia.

While Macron is anti-Brexit, Le Pen, on the other hand, has been known for her ‘Frexit’ plan, meaning, that she wanted France to leave the EU and abandon the euro. However, during the 2022 elections, it appears that Le Pen has softened her stance on Frexit. Another important issue pertaining to immigration has been significant not only for France but the whole of Europe. This issue of immigration is directly linked with the “economic and cultural concerns” which raises an important worry about immigrants’ socio-political and economic integration into the French society and abiding by the principle of laïcité (secularism with French characters).

As for Macron, he wants to create a “rapid reaction force” to help protect EU states’ borders in case of a migrant surge and is also pushing for a rethink of the bloc’s asylum application process. Macron also said that he urges the EU to be more efficient in deporting those refused entries. On the other hand, Marine Le Pen during her campaign stated, “I will control immigration and establish security for all.” It is pertinent to note that Macron has introduced strict laws pertaining to immigration and controlling Islamic radicalization. For instance, he introduced the bill to ban foreign funding to mosques.

What is more interesting to mention is the concerns about ‘energy’ in the presidential election. Evidently, the ongoing conflict in Ukraine has gained more attention on the economic and geopolitical consequences of existing national and European energy supply chain choices. In France especially, there is a major rift between the pro and anti-nuclear power fractions. Interestingly, France has the second most nuclear power stations in the world after the United States.  Besides, in the last week of the elections, Macron has been attempting to win the hearts of the French voters with his proposal for a “complete renewal” of his climate policy. He has also promised to build up to 14 nuclear reactors by 2050 and regenerate existing plants. Meanwhile, Le Pen has promised to build 20 nuclear plants and aim to have nuclear power provide 81 per cent of France’s energy by 2050. While the current president Macron and far-right candidate Le Pen have both committed to the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit global warming, it is evident that their approaches differ particularly on energy. Since France is Europe’s second-biggest economy, France’s climate policy could echo right across the EU.

Besides, in light of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine crisis, Macron has played a significant role as he is the bridgehead for Russia and the US. He has also negotiated talks between Washington DC and Moscow and has also condemned the crisis by making the statement, “Russia is not under attack, it is the aggressor. As some unsustainable propaganda would have us believe, this war is not as big as the battle against, that is a lie.” Indeed, he has played the role of Europe’s de-facto leader vis-à-vis the Ukraine crisis. Nonetheless, with a marginal win in the first round against Marine Le Pen, winning the 2nd term is not as easy as it was five years ago.

More importantly, it is pertinent to note that France has the 2nd strongest military and 2nd biggest economy in Europe, further the 5th biggest economy in the world. France is not only the most visited country in the world but also ranks 1st in the global soft power index. It is also the founding member of the United Nations Security Council, North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union which makes it an important player in European politics. Consequently, the policies of the French leadership not only direct the political, social and economic lives of the French but also reverberate in Europe.

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