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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

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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