The 12th ASEM (Asia-Europe Meeting) Summit took place on 18-19 October in Brussels, bringing together 51 countries, as well as EU and Asian institutions. Under the title “Global Partners for Global Challenges”, leaders addressed some of the world’s most pressing issues.
Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission and Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, represented the European Union at the Summit. Heads of State or Government of the 28 EU Member States, Switzerland and Norway, in addition to 21 Heads of State or Government from Asian countries, as well as the Secretary General of ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), were also invited. The High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini, and the Vice-President of the European Commission for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness, Jyrki Katainen, also participated at the Summit.
“We want to give our relationship with Asia, which is already very dynamic – as illustrated by the numerous trade and cooperation agreements we have, fresh impetus“, said President Jean-Claude Juncker at the Summit’s plenary session this morning. “Only a multilateral approach will enable us to confront global challenges. This is why I reiterate our commitment to support multilateral organisations in all their efforts, including the United Nations and the World Trade Organisation – a World Trade Organisation that we have to reform together, so that its rules correspond better to the new realities. It is by acting together that we will be able to preserve our planet […], contribute to resolving conflicts, eradicate poverty, reduce inequalities, […] and that we can better manage migration flows and develop free and fair trade.”
“What Europe and Asia agree together matters not only for the two of us, but for the entire world. Together we represent 55% of global trade, 60% of global population, 65% of global economy and 75% of global tourism; together we represent a real global power“, said the High Representative/Vice-President, Federica Mogherini at the Summit’s press conference. “We come out of this two-day Summit with a reinforced global partnership between Europe and Asia. It has allowed us to translate our global weight into concrete policy initiatives – on regional and international security, foreign policy issues, climate change action, free and fair trade, and the digital agenda to name a few. Together, we can make a real difference for the world.”
A Chair’s Statement, covering the wide range of areas discussed and focussing on ASEM’s three pillars – namely political, economic and financial, and social and cultural – has also been issued.
Sustainable connectivity between Europe and Asia
In his address at the Summit’s plenary session, President Juncker highlighted the importance of investing in more sustainable connectivity between the European Union and Asia. The European Union has this week adopted a new strategy on connecting Europe and Asia, building on the proposal of the European Commission and the High Representative in September. With financial, environmental, and social sustainability at the core of the EU’s approach to connectivity, the EU’s objective is to develop sustainable connectivity networks across the digital, transport, energy and human dimensions, as well as to strengthen partnerships at the bilateral, regional and international levels, in particular to ensure a rules-based approach and interoperability of standards.
As a contribution to enhancing Euro-Asian connectivity, as well as to demonstrate the huge potential of the relationship, the European Commission has this week launched the ASEM Sustainable Connectivity Portal, offering policymakers, researchers, businesses and other stakeholders alike a wealth of data on the political, economic and societal relationships between the two continents. A full press release and factsheet are available online. In parallel to the Summit, a number of events to bring Europeans and Asians together are taking place in Belgium, such as the ASEM Cultural Festival, the Young Leaders’ Summit, the Business Forum, the People’s Forum for civil society, the Labour Forum and the Parliamentary Partnership Meeting.
Strengthening EU-Asia bilateral ties
In the margins of the ASEM Summit, the European Union signed a number of bilateral agreements to deepen and expand its relations with Singapore and Vietnam respectively.
President Juncker,President Tusk and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz signed, together with the Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Long, the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement. In the presence of the leaders, EU High Representative/Vice-President, Federica Mogherini and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Singapore, Vivian Balakrishnan signed the EU-Singapore Framework Agreement on Partnership and Cooperation and Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström and Mr S Iswaran, Minister for Communications and Information, and Trade Relations of Singapore signed the EU-Singapore Investment Protection Agreement. These agreements represent a significant step forward for a more comprehensive and mutually-beneficial relationship between the EU and Singapore, opening new opportunities for European producers, farmers, service providers and investments, as well as strengthening political and sectoral cooperation through more formal and intensive exchanges for example in environment, climate change and counter-terrorism.
The European Union is also stepping up its relations with Vietnam. Earlier this week, the European Commission adopted the EU-Vietnam trade and investment agreements, paving the way for their signature and conclusion. The trade agreement will eliminate virtually all tariffs on goods traded between the two sides. The agreement also includes a strong, legally binding commitment to sustainable development, including the respect of human rights, labour rights, environmental protection and the fight against climate change, with an explicit reference to the Paris Agreement. Today, the EU and Vietnam signed a Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade Voluntary Partnership Agreement. The Agreement will help improve forest governance, address illegal logging and promote trade in verified legal timber products from Vietnam to the EU, and other markets. In addition to the variety of social, economic and environmental benefits associated with better management of the forestry sector in Vietnam, the licensing will simplify business for timber traders.
EU-ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting
Following the ASEM Summit, a Leaders’ Meeting between the European Union and ASEAN took place. President Jean-Claude Juncker and President Donald Tusk, accompanied by EU High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini represented the European Union, whilst the Association of Southeast Asian Nations was represented by the Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong, as the country holding the ASEAN Chairmanship for 2018, the Prime Minister of Thailand, Prayut Chan-o-cha, as the country which will hold the Chairmanship of ASEAN in 2019, and the ASEAN Secretary General, Lim Jock Hoi.
“The EU’s partnership with ASEAN is founded on common interests across many areas. We share common values – in the European Union and in the founding charter of ASEAN – which need to be respected by all”, said President Juncker at the opening of the Leaders’ Meeting. “Proof of our intense cooperation is the number of agreements with Singapore that we have just signed. These, I hope, will be the first in a long series of such agreements with ASEAN countries, and will eventually result in a region-to-region agreement.”
At the Leaders’ Meeting, alongside matters of trade, connectivity and transport, leaders addressed global peace and security challenges, including climate change, non-proliferation, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – the Iran nuclear deal, counter-terrorism, maritime security and migration. They agreed to strengthen the EU-ASEAN relationship, in particular to address global challenges and to work together to reinforce the rules-based international order and multilateralism.
The ending of Operation Sophia: The EU sway from its Human Security approach
The EU decision to terminate the Operation Sophia represents its will to choose European Security approach while having agenda of Human Security approach in its European Neighborhood Policy.
On 17th February 2020, European Union (EU) foreign ministers decided to end Operation Sophia, formally known as European Union Naval Force Mediterranean (EU NAVFOR Med), and launch a new maritime mission in the region which will enforce the United Nations (UN) arms embargo in and around Libya. The decision came just before the end of the mandate of the Operation Sophia on 31st March 2020. However, the decision to end Operation Sophia and replace it with arms embargo mission is influenced by the internal and external politics of Europe.
What is Operation Sophia
The EU NAVFOR MED (“Sophia”) mission was launched in 2015 as an EU’s response to curtail illicit human and arms trafficking in the Mediterranean Sea. Along with this, one of the tasks of the mission was to save the lives of vulnerable migrants in the Mediterranean Sea. In the last five years, the mission helped trained the Libyan coastguard and navy and helped implement a UN arms embargo off the coast.
The Unexpected Consequences of the Mission
Requested and endorsed by the Italian government and supported by the EU,Operation Sophia was supposed to be the military mission focusing on restraining human and arms smuggling from Northern Africa into Europe via the Mediterranean. However, mission transformed into a humanitarian mission saving the lives of the migrants at sea and transporting them safely in Europe. Consequently, the EU witnessed the undocumented inundation of migrants coming from Syria via Turkey, and many Africans taking the Libyan route in the hope to reach a safer place and attain a better life. The mission has rescued over 44,000 people at sea and made them reach safely in Southern Europe particularly in Italy.
The Rise of Discussions among the EU Member States
This was followed by the new discussion among EU Member States particularly among Italy, Austria and Hungary to tackle the rising number of migrants’ inflow. In April 2019, the then-Italian coalition government threatened the EU to veto the entire mission. The then-interior minister Matteo Salvini contended that the search and rescue ships employed in the mission are instigating the local migrants to use sea route and reach Italy. Austria also opposed the reviving of Operation Sophia in the past because of similar claims. As Austria has long been having tensions with Italy over the influx of migrants and refugees in Austria from Italy. Therefore, Austria also was in favor of the termination of the mission as it will indirectly help curtail the migration flow in Austria as well. Hence, in October 2019, the EU decided not to extend the mission after March 2020, and replace it with the mission solely focused on the arms embargo.
What is New About the New Operation
The idea is to shift the new operation further east, away from the usual water route used by migrants leaving Libya in search of better lives in Europe. EU believed that to better curtail arms movement, the mission has to focus more on the eastern side which is the epitome of the arms transfer. The eastern part of the country is the base of the self-styled Libyan National Army forces loyal to General Khalifa Haftar. Khalifa Haftar, a former general in Gaddafi’s regime had fled to the US later becoming a CIA asset, returned to Libya in 2011 to lead the revolution. In recent years he has styled himself the leader of the Libyan National Army with the backing of the UAE, Egypt, France and Russia amongst others. On the other side of the checkerboard is the UN-recognized Tripoli-based Government of National Accord which is backed byQatar, Italy and the local militias. The Haftar forces are attacking the UN-recognized Tripoli-based Government of National Accord, which in turn is the major reason for the current ongoing conflict in Libya. Libya has been in turmoil since 2011, when a civil war toppled long-time dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who was later killed. Fighting between the country’s factions has intensified over the past year.
With certain Member States backing Haftar and others backing GNA, the EU is in an imbroglio. As a result, the Union lacks a clear policy and will to deal with the crisis. While the EU contends that the new mission proceeding Operation Sophia will confine the flow of arms from Libya and its neighborhood, it has also been argued that the EU’s monitoring only by air will weaken the position of the mission and will favor the Haftar’s coup attempt. This will result in an increase in civilian casualties, destruction and more civilian displacement.
Human Security approach vs European Security approach
Argyro Kartsonaki and Stefan Wolff in their article named “The EU’s Responses to Conﬂicts in its Wider Neighborhood: Human or European Security?” have defined two types of the EU Security Strategy in European Neighborhood Policy (ENP): the Human Security approach and European Security approach. The Human Security approach embarks upon the increasingly humanitarian interventionist foreign policies, a focus on development, stable government, restructuring judiciary, combat terrorism and organized crime as part of security policy. The aim is to make the country under discussion stable in the long-term. The policy has been defined as the core of the European Security Strategy of the Council of the European Union in its all upcoming civilian and military missions under CSDP. Whereas, the European Security approach is about maximizing security for the EU and its citizens and member states. In terms of the EU’s foreign and security policy, this can be understood as the pursuit of EU internal security objectives with foreign policy tools employed on the conflict in ENP. The most frequent security threats identiﬁed covered under the European Security are international terrorism, transnational organized crime and illegal migration. The authors of the article did the empirical study of the EU civilian and military missions in the ENP and reach to the conclusion that the Union’s response to most of the conflicts is in line with a human security approach thus focusing on the long-term goals of ensuring stability, peace and prosperity in the ENP.
While this is true in most of the CSDP missions launched by the EU, however, it has been observed that EU has always been keen on taking the European Security approach especially in the conflicts where its own interests are at stake. Beset by the migration crisis, and upsurge of the right-wing politics, the EU seems to have the urge to choose the European Security approach to deal with the crisis while having the policy of employing the human security approach. The decision to replace Operation Sophia with the new mission represents the quintessential short-term policy focusing more on resolving the EU’s internal political impasse as compared to dealing with the external crises. The decision suits the Italian government as it will take away the coalition-government of Italy to criticize the mission and call it as a “pull factor”. It has given Italy the chance to be seen to play a leading part in expanding Sophia’s capabilities, by deploying Italian satellites and aircraft to support the mission. On the other side of the Mediterranean, this can risk the increase in the arms trafficking at the Mediterranean and strengthen Haftar’s status in Libya. The current decision represents the EU’s short-sightedness as its security policy in Libya seems driven by interests, not by norms and values.
All Those Croatian Presidents
Since those days when it emerged from the ruins of the Yugoslav federation as an independent state, Republic of Croatia had 4 Presidents – 4 men and a Lady President. The first one whom only death, in the opinion of many, saved from the International Hague Tribunal, but who is still (or because of that?) called by his admirers “Father of the Nation” was a self-proclaimed “Mesiah”, who although “only” a President acted as master and commander. One of his closest collaborators remembers how Franjo Tudjman asked him once: “To whom should I leave Croatia?” For a monarch without heirs from the 19th century a quite appropriate question. But, for the President of a modern state that found its way to the international scene at the very end of the 20th century – unthinkable!
On the wave of the desire for changes, which grew more and more as dark sides of the war for independence and of the privatization and transition started (but only started) to emerge, Tudjman was after his death succeeded by a former highly positioned politician of his Party who broke all ties both with Tudjman as well as with the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), because he could not and would not support their policy towards Bosnia and Herzegovina. Before doing that he, alas, following the official HDZ policy, gave a couple od “antologic” statements which he found himself in a position of explaining even after years. However, Stjepan Mesić displayed enough honesty and political courage to admit these statements and escapades and to apologize for them, saying they were wrong and out of place. He won the presidential elections twice and although he is by his enemies from the right still branded both as a clown and as a traitor, he initialized key processes aimed at putting Croatia on the world scene again, after it was, at the end of Tudjman’s rule, practically put into international isolation because of his policy towards minorities, especially the Serb one, and to human rights in general.
Mesić opened the way for returning antifascism (although already put into Constitution) to the place it deserves in the Croatian society; without any reservations he labeled fascism and its Croatian version (Ustasha) as evil and as a crime; he opposed the historical revisionism that was present from the very beginnings of the Croatian state; ha changed the attitude towards minorities, in the first place, the Serb minority and he favored the return to Croatia of those Croatian citizen of Serb origin who fled the country during the war; he laid foundations for a everyday’s normalization of the relations in the region; he opened Croatia to the world, presenting it as a partner willing to cooperate on the terms of full equality with everybody. Despite diminished powers, because Croatia switched after Tudjman’s death from semi-Presidential to parliamentary system, he knew how to resolutely say “no”, when Croatia’s interests were at stake (for example resisting the pressure to make Croatia part of the so called Coalition of willing put together by the US for the purpose of invading Iraq). And he never ceased repeating that he is a citizen-President whose job is not to rule, but to serve.
After his 10 years in office a new tenant came into the Office of the President – university professor and composer, candidate of the left, Ivo Josipovic. There can be no doubt that he too wanted to be a “real President”, that he even had some ideas how to do this (let us forget his statement that he intends to compose an opera, while being President), the fact remains that he – objectively – managed to halt or to freeze many of the positive processes started by his predecessor; though at the same time some of them he simply copied, repeating for example in the Israeli parliament the excuse, on behalf of the Croatian state, for the crimes committed by the Ustasha against Jews. If he is going to be remembered for anything, it will be for being a weak President, who – by not being able to define himself and by not understanding what politics is all about, practically put in the position of the President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic. Because, apart from the HDZ voting machinery, people did not vote for her, wanting just her as the new President, but because they were, to put it mildly – fed up by Ivo Josipovic. He did not know how to make real contact with citizens (contrary to Mesic, who was a virtuoso in doing this) and the citizens did not understand him – for example when he announced that he will run for the second term with he concept of a new Constitution.
The first woman-President in the short history of Croatia, presented a respectable C/V (minister for European Integration, Foreign minister, ambassador to the US, assistant to the Secretary General of NATO). But, very soon it became apparent and it remained apparent through her 5 years in office that she came totally unprepared and unfit for the position. She was intoxicated by the ceremonial accompanying the position of the President, she was literally in love with the military component of the function (although the President is the Supreme commander only in times of war), she loved uniforms and weapons and, above all – she was obsessed – by moving her Office from one town to the other (together with a ceremonial military unit that was present during the playing of the national anthem and raising the flag upon her arrival; in normal circumstances it is just the President visiting this or that town, or region of Croatia, which was – but without the pomp upon which she so insisted – done by Mesic, by Josipovic, even by Tudjman.
She will be remembered by stubbornly repeating some notorious lies (such as that Croatia/Yugoslavia was behind the Iron Curtain, or that Croats were not allowed in times of Yugoslavia to call themselves as Croats, or that the Ustasha salute (For homeland – ready) was an ancient Croatian salute (here she eventually admitted, most probably under pressure from outside, that she was wrong, blaming one of her advisers for this!). She will not be remembered for her policy, even not for the “3 seas concept” she so loved to speak about, although it is not her concept at all. But she will be remembered as an enthusiastic cheer leader during the World soccer championship, as somebody who embraced sweaty soccer players in their wardrobes and – as her term in office started to come close and closer to its end – as somebody who liked to sing in public (even “discussing” this with some media, objecting that they reported she does not know how to sing, although – she said – “I sing well”). Finally she will be remembered by a series of public appearences which made many people to raise their eyebrows and than to start laughing at her (“My friend, the American general”, or “they say it’s not possible, but I tell you it is possible; I have already arrangements with certain foreign countries that Croats will go there for schooling, return after that to Croatia and work on-line from their homes for 8.000 Euro monthly”, ending with “I will stay in Croatia, although I have offers from all around the world”. She loved to sing a song whose text portrays part of Bosnia and Herzegovina as Croatia, she boasted that the pop-singer, icon of the political right whose most popular song begins with the Ustasha salute “For homeland – ready!” is her favorite singer, and let us stop here, although there would be much more. She missed no opportunity to equale antifascism (calling it communism) with fascism and she loved to remember how both of her grandparents were partisans, but turned into anticommunists right after the victory in 1945. About her being sent to school in the US she said that her father sent her there and not Tito (“forgetting” that Tito was at that time several years dead already).
She made peace with the HDZ prime minister, because she needed her party’s support in the election campaign. All the HDZ politicians started to repeat, as parrots; “She will win!”. She lost. If she manages to get into history, than history will remember her as somebody who transformed the role of the President into a stage act and managed, instead of policy that should be waged at the top of the state, to present a rather bad “patriotic” reality show.
It is high time for “realpolitik” to replace this reality show. Yes, we might expect some surprises from the President-elect too, some of them might not please those who voted for him. But, one thing is sure; because of Zoran Milanović nobody who really cares for Croatia and for Croatia’s reputation in the world, will not blush, or feel ashamed (which was not the case in previous 5 years). Milanović in not an “unknown”, both in Croatia and in the world, neither as a person, nor as a politician (chairman of the Social-democratic party, Prime minister). It is a known fact that he too, sometimes, speaks and even acts faster that he thinks, putting himself in the position to explain afterwards what he really wanted to say or demonstrate (the most benign example is his jumping from a APC and falling to the ground before TV cameras, and saying laconically only: “I wanted to boast”.
In retrospect: the first “mesianic” President saw himself as the owner of the country and behaved accordingly. The second, and history will one day admit this, was a President, as Presidents should be. The third did not know how to be the President and the fourth, the Lady President, understood and performed her duty as a cheap reality show. One should hope, the time is ripe for a “realpolitiker”, someone who is fully aware of the fact that he is the President of a small country, but at the same time aware of its (meaning his) responsibility for the state of democracy in Croatia, for the situation in the region and for Croatia’s place in the world. Voters do remember Milanovic from previous times. So it is no surprise that on internet one can read such a commentary: “Good luck, don’t slip, because we will not forgive.”
US naming of first corrupt Bulgarian official is a joke
Last week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the first ever designated Bulgarian official barred from entering the United States over corruption, under Section 7031(c) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act.
The newly implemented non-judicial mechanism to “fight corruption” in Bulgaria had many here in high hopes. Would the US really name names and help Bulgarian society clean up by pointing the finger and sanctioning the most corrupt and dangerous elements?
Well, don’t hold your breath.
The glaringly political and self-serving designation disappointed many here. The US government black-listed a Bulgarian judge and the only thing he is known for is that he allowed a pro-Russia society activist to visit Russia and receive an award from Russian President Putin, while the pro-Russian activist was under investigation over espionage charges.
The decision struck many here as something out of an outdated Cold War scenario.
The US is not really fighting corruption with this move — it’s just settling old scores with a pro-Russian judge. Actually one does not even have to be pro-Russia to ask themselves if a decision we don’t like automatically becomes corruption. The US has not provided any evidence for corruption — whether the judge was paid, whether there were any shady dealings, etc.
The US has a long way to go if it wants to show that corruption rather than pro-Russian interests is what it is really after in Bulgaria. As this is just the first designation in a long list to come, the US Embassy in Sofia would do well to address actual corruption that Bulgarian citizens are sick of. That’s the way to win over Bulgarians.
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