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
Time to Tackle the Stigma Behind Wartime Rape
The youngest capital city in Europe, Pristina, is the ultimate hybrid of old and new: Ottoman-era architecture stands amongst communist paraphernalia, while Kosovars who lived through the bloodshed of the 20th century share family dinners with a generation of young people with their sights set on EU accession.
This month, the capital’s Kosovo Museum welcomed a new force for change; Colours of Our Soul, an exhibition of artwork from women who survived the sexual violence of the Yugoslav Wars, showcases the world as these women “wished it to be.”
Colours of Our Soul isn’t the first art installation to shine a light on the brutal sexual violence thousands of Kosovar victims suffered throughout the turmoil of the conflict which raged from 1988 to 1999. In 2015, Kosovo-born conceptual artist Alketa Xhafa-Mripa transformed a local football pitch into a giant installation, draping 5,000 dresses over washing lines to commemorate survivors of sexual violence whose voices otherwise tend to go unheard. “I started questioning the silence, how we could not hear their voices during and after the war and thought about how to portray the women in contemporary art,” said Xhafa-Mripa at the time.
Victims, and their children, pressed into silence
The silence Xhafa-Mripa speaks of is the very real social stigma faced by survivors of sexual violence in the wake of brutal conflict. “I would go to communities, but everyone would say, ‘Nobody was raped here – why are you talking about it?’”, remarked Feride Rushiti, founder of the Kosovo Rehabilitation Centre for Torture Victims (KRCT).
Today, KRCT has more than 400 clients— barely a scratch on the surface given that rape was used in Kosovo as an “instrument of war” as recently as two decades ago. Some 20,000 women and girls are thought to have been assaulted during the bloody conflict; the fact that the artists whose work is featured in the Colours of our Soul exhibition did not sign their work or openly attend the installation’s grand opening is a sign of how pervasive the stigma is which haunts Kosovar society to this day.
As acute as this stigma is for the women who were assaulted, it is far worse for the children born from rape, who have thus far been excluded from reparation measures and instead dismissed as “the enemy’s children.” In 2014, the Kosovar parliament passed a law recognising the victim status of survivors, entitling them to a pension of up to 220 euros per month. Their children, however, many of whom were murdered or abandoned in the face of community pressure, are barely acknowledged in Kosovar society and have become a generation of young adults who have inherited the bulk of their country’s dark burden.
A global problem
It’s a brutal stigma which affects children born of wartime rape all over the world. The Lai Dai Han, born to Vietnamese mothers raped by South Korean soldiers, have struggled for years to find acceptance in the face of a society that views them as dirty reminders of a war it would rather forget. The South Korean government has yet to heed any calls for formal recognition of sexual violence at the hands of Korean troops, let alone issue a public— and long-awaited— apology to the Lai Dai Han or their mothers.
In many cases, as in the case of Bangladesh’s struggle for independence, the very existence of children born from rape has often been used as a brutal weapon by government forces and militants alike. Official estimates indicate that a mammoth 200,000 to 400,000 women were raped by the Pakistani military and the supporting Bihari, Bengali Razakar and al-Badr militias in the early 1970s. The children fathered, at gunpoint, by Pakistani men were intended to help eliminate Bengali nationhood.
Their surviving mothers are now known as “Birangana”, or “brave female soldier,” though the accolade means little in the face of a lifetime of ostracization and alienation. “I was married when the soldiers took me to their tents to rape me for several days and would drop me back home. This happened several times,” one so-called Birangana explained, “So, my husband left me with my son and we just managed to exist.”
No end in sight
Unfortunately, this barbaric tactic of rape and forced impregnation is one that is still being used in genocides to this day. The subjugation of the Rohingya people, for example, which culminated in a murderous crackdown last year by Myanmar’s military, means an estimated 48,000 women will give birth in refugee camps this year alone. Barring a major societal shift, the children they bear will suffer ostracization similar to that seen in Kosovo, Vietnam and Bangladesh.
Initiatives like the Colours of Our Soul installation in Pristina are not only central in helping wartime rape survivors to heal, but also play a vital role in cutting through the destructive stigma for violated women and their children. Even so, if the number of women who submitted their paintings anonymously is anything to go by, true rehabilitation is a long way ahead.
EU–South Africa Summit: Strengthening the strategic partnership
At the 7th European Union–South Africa Summit held in Brussels Leaders agreed on a number of steps to reinforce bilateral and regional relations, focusing on the implementation of the EU-South Africa Strategic Partnership. This includes economic and trade cooperation and pursuing the improvement of business climate and opportunities for investment and job creation which are of mutual interest.
Leaders also discussed common global challenges, such as climate change, migration, human rights, committing to pursue close cooperation both at bilateral level and on the global stage. A number of foreign and security policy issues, including building and consolidating peace, security and democracy in the African continent and at multilateral level were also raised. Leaders finally committed to work towards a prompt resolution of trade impediments affecting smooth trade flows.
Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission and Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, represented the European Union at the Summit. South Africa was represented by its President, Cyril Ramaphosa. EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini, Vice-President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness Jyrki Katainen and Commissioner for trade Cecilia Malmström also participated, alongside several Ministers from South Africa.
President Juncker said: “The European Union, for the South African nation, is a very important trade partner. We are convinced that as a result of today’s meeting we will find a common understanding on the open trade issues. South Africa and Africa are very important partners for the European Union when it comes to climate change, when it comes to multilateralism. It is in the interest of the two parties – South Africa and the European Union – to invest more. It will be done.” A Joint Summit Statement issued by the Leaders outlines amongst others commitment to:
Advance multilateralism and rules based governance
Leaders recommitted to work together to support multilateralism, democracy and the rules-based global order, in particular at the United Nations and global trade fora. South Africa’s upcoming term as an elected member of the United Nations Security Council in 2019-2020 was recognised as an opportunity to enhance cooperation on peace and security. As part of their commitment to stronger global governance, Leaders stressed their support to the process of UN reform, including efforts on the comprehensive reform of the UN Security Council and the revitalisation of the work of the General Assembly. Leaders reiterated their determination to promote free, fair and inclusive trade and the rules-based multilateral trading system with the World Trade Organisation at its core and serving the interest of all its Members.
Leaders agreed to step up collaboration in key areas such as climate change, natural resources, science and technology, research and innovation, employment, education and training including digital skills, health, energy, macro-economic policies, human rights and peace and security. The EU and South Africa will, amongst others, explore the opportunities provided by the External Investment Plan. Linked to this, Leaders committed to exploring opportunities for investment, technical assistance including project preparation, and the improvement of business and investment climates to promote sustainable development. Leaders welcomed the conclusion and provisional implementation in 2016 of the EU-Southern African Development Community (SADC) – Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).
Leaders also committed to find mutually acceptable solutions to impediments to trade in agriculture, agri-food and manufactured goods. They agreed to work towards a prompt resolution of these impediments.
Leaders welcomed the new Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs put forward by the European Commission. They exchanged views on foreign and security policy issues, addressed a number of pressing situations in the neighbourhoods of both the EU and South Africa, and welcomed each other’s contribution to fostering peace and security in their respective regions. Leaders agreed to explore opportunities to enhance cooperation on peace and security, conflict prevention and mediation.
Leaders confirmed common resolve to reform the future relationship between the EU and the countries of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States. To this end they are looking forward to the successful conclusion of negotiations for a post-Cotonou Partnership Agreement, that will contribute to attaining the goals of both the United Nations 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development and the long-term vision for African continent – Agenda 2063.
Macron so far has augmented French isolation
French President Emmanuel Macron has recently criticized the unilateral pullout of the US from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) but at the same time expressed pleasure that Washington has allowed France and the other JCPOA signatories to stay in the Iran nuclear deal.
In an exclusive interview with the CNN, Macron said that he has “a very direct relationship” with Trump. “Trump is a person who has tried to fulfill his electoral promises, as I also try to fulfill my promises, and I respect the action that Trump made in this regard. But I think we can follow things better, due to our personal relationship and talks. For instance, Trump has decided to withdraw from the Iran pact, but at the end, he showed respect for the signatories’ decision to remain in the JCPOA.”
There are some key points in Macron’s remarks:
First, in 2017, the French were the first of the European signatories to try to change the JCPOA. They tried to force Iran to accept the following conditions: Inspection of military sites, application of the overtime limitation on nuclear activities, limiting regional activities, including missile capabilities within the framework of the JCPOA.
Macron had already made commitments to President Trump and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to push Iran to accept the additional protocols to the deal, and he pushed to make it happen before Trump left the JCPOA.
Second, after the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, although France expressed regret, they had secret negotiations with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over the JCPOA.
The result of the undisclosed talks was deliberate delay on the part of the European authorities in providing a final package to keep the Iran deal alive. In other words, after the US unilaterally left the JCPOA, the French have been sloppy and maybe somewhat insincere about making the practical moves to ensure it would be saved.
Third, France has emphasized the need to strengthen their multilateralism in the international system and has become one of the pieces of the puzzle that completes the strategic posture of the Trump Administration in the West Asia region.
Obviously, French double standards have irritated European politicians, many of whom have disagreed with the contradictory games of French authorities towards the US and issues of multilateralism in the international community. Also, France’s isolation and its strategic leverage in the political arena has grown since the days of Sarkozy and Hollande. Some analysts thought that Macron and fresh policies would stop this trend, but it has not occurred.
First published in our partner MNA
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