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Brexit: Passions Heating Up

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With the negotiations on the terms of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU on the home run now, a legally-bound Brexit is slated for March 29, 2019. By this date, a pertinent agreement must have been ratified by both the British parliament and those of all 27 EU countries. Thus, it should be agreed at the November or, at most, the December EU summit (December 17-18).

During the EU summit in October, its participants felt that not enough progress had been made in the talks even to discuss the final agreement in November. If no deal has been agreed by December, Britain will leave the EU without an agreement and  will have to switch to WTO rules, it has problems to adjust to.

British Prime Minster Theresa May expects to wrap up the talks by the November summit, but her government needs an agreement that could win parliamentary approval. Meanwhile, tensions between “Bremainers” (supporters of the UK’s continued stay in the EU, or at least of a “soft” Brexit) and Brexiteers (including proponents of a “hard” Brexit) are heating up. The latter fear that the Chequers plan, hatched up by Theresa May, a compromise EU withdrawal roadmap, would emasculate the very meaning of the UK’s divorce with the EU and become a Brexit in name only.

One lingering problem that remains unresolved is the status of the Irish border.  Theresa May heads a minority government, which depends on the support of a faction of 10 MPs from the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland (DUP), who represent the interests of the local Protestant community and demand that all of the country’s regions enjoy the same status. Therefore, London can’t concede to Brussels’ requirement for Northern Ireland to remain in the customs union and the single EU market (by having the customs border running across the Irish Sea). However, in the event of a “hard” Brexit where the entire territory of the United Kingdom is outside the EU and the Irish border is essentially closed, this would be detrimental to business and, most importantly, would rekindle unrest and terrorist activity in the United Kingdom. This would effectively unravel the 1998 Belfast Agreement, which established an open border between Ireland and Northern Ireland thus ensuring a fragile peace between the region’s Catholics and  Protestants.

Even though in 1912 the Tories adopted the official name of the Conservative and Unionist Party, it looks like the Brexiteers are ready to sacrifice unionism by insisting on walking out from the EU customs union and the single market. It also seems that they could agree to the border running across the Irish Sea (while the DUP  fears a “creeping annexation” of Northern Ireland by the Republic of Ireland) or to a “hard” border between them in violation of the Belfast Agreement, which is something the European Union will not go for. The Brexiteers insist on restoring Britain’s full parliamentary sovereignty and withdrawing from the jurisdiction of the EU Court of Justice with the possibility of signing trade agreements with third countries.

The Bremainers are equally unhappy with Theresa May’s Chequers plan. They believe that Britain will have to comply with all EU regulations without having a voice in collective decision-making, let alone other problems, such as freedom of movement of people, etc. Hence their demand for a second referendum on a deal with the EU, including the issue of Britain’s membership in the bloc, in a bid to reverse the results of the 2016 Brexit vote. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who sallied his reputation during the war in Iraq, has reasonably noted that holding the 2016 referendum before determining the exit conditions was illogical, and called for a revote. His opinion is shared by ex-Premier John Major (Conservative) and  Deputy Prime Ministers Michael Heseltine (Conservative) and Nicholas Clegg (Liberal Democrat). They are joined by some members of Britain’s business community in their demand for a second referendum on the final deal with the EU (“Popular Vote,” People’s Vote).

An estimated 700 million people from across the UK rallied in London on October 20 calling for a second Brexit referendum in a major demonstration with the cost of their transportation to the capital paid for by many celebrities from the world of politics, business, sports and the arts.

Meanwhile, the idea of a revote is facing strong opposition from Prime Minister Theresa May who has to maneuver her way both at home and abroad in an effort to hold on to her job. Tory Brexiteers planned to hold a vote of no confidence in May as party leader and prime minister, but eventually backed off for fear of failing to get the support of a majority of Conservative MPs in parliament. Realizing this, they chose a tactic of obstructing her moves on the parliamentary floor.

Government-proposed bills relating to Brexit were tabled ahead of the summer recession with a margin of only a handful of votes (including by some Labour MPs). Teresa May still managed to hold on to her post of party leader and prime minister by clinching a compromise deal with the Bremainers and making concessions to the Brexiteers, warning both that her resignation would bring to power Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and pave the way for early parliamentary elections.

On November 8, DUP leader Arlene Foster warned that her party would not support a deal with the EU if it meant a special status for Northern Ireland , disguised as the EU customs union covering Northern Ireland, while the rest of the UK would end up in a kind of a customs union. Foster was responding to a letter she had received from Theresa May, which contained a hint of such a proposal, if no deal on the Irish border is reached during the transitional period until December 20, 2020. However, this interpretation was flatly refuted by Downing Street 10.

On November 9, Deputy Transport Minister Jo Johnson, the brother of Boris Johnson, and, unlike him, a Bremainer, became to 18th member of Theresa May’s Cabinet to resign over his opposition to the prime minister’s Chequers plan, which he called a “travesty” of Brexit. In a highly-charged resignation statement, he called for a second referendum.

“Putting the nation before a choice between two deeply unpleasant exits — vassal dependence or chaos — is a failure of British government, unprecedented in scale since the times of the Suez crisis,” Johnson said.

On November 10, media reported a meeting between the opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn and MI6 head Alex Younger at the intelligence agency’ Vauxhall headquarters, where Corbyn was briefed on threats to national security. Observers view the meeting as a sign of impending early elections.

During the Labor Party’s annual conference in September, Jeremy Corbyn said that no option should be ruled out. However, on November 9, he rejected the possibility of a second referendum insisting that the government return to the negotiating table or resign – a clear pitch for snap elections.

On November 11, it became known that Brussels rejected May’s key proposal for an  “independent mechanism” for Britain’s withdrawal from the temporary customs agreement with the EU in the event of a negotiations failure during the transition period (in fact, on the issue of the Irish border). London’s proposal was aimed at preventing Britain from remaining in the customs union for an indefinite period and withdrawing from it only in agreement with the European Union: that is, “always obey the rules of Brussels”, with no right to any role in EU decision-making. Brussels, meanwhile, insists on the jurisdiction of the EU Court.

Moreover, the EU countries earlier said they wanted to examine the final version of the agreement prior to its publication and ahead of the EU summit. They fear that Britain could gain a competitive advantage if the European Commission caves in to London on the issue of a customs union to cover the entire territory of the country without any British commitment to comply with EU standards for labor, environmental and social relations and an obligation to open its seas to EU fishing fleets.

However, with the main sticking point hardly possible to resolve, both sides are preparing for a no-deal Brexit. Any version of the agreement will hardly sit well with Britain though. As evident from the high-profile resignations of the Johnson brothers, who hold opposite views on Brexit, the prime minister’s compromise plan does not suit either party. Further ministerial resignations are not excluded, fraught with a government crisis and the agreement’s failure to gain parliamentary support.

According to the newspaper Observer, there is one thing Britons all agree on: Theresa May’s plan is at stake. The negotiations are in their final stage now and the deadline is near.

First published in our partner International Affairs

Head of the Center for British Studies at the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IE RAS), International Affairs observer

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Ethnic tensions in Montenegro

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On Sunday, July 7, the citizens of Montenegro had the opportunity to witness another incident, that is, the open provocation of radical Albanian elements in Montenegro. Traditionally, on the feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, in Svac, near Ulcinj (a town on the southern coast of Montenegro) liturgy is served at the ruins of a 1, 000 year-old medieval church.

The Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral held this year the liturgy in Svac, but at the entrance to the locality, where the ancient church is located. As the Montenegrin police, at the request of Albanian politicians, did not allow the liturgy service in the church. At the gathering, strong police forces were present, especially on the entry to the site.

Priest Slobodan Zekovic, who served the liturgy, stated:

“We are no strangers here, we come here for decades. We come here on the foundations of our statehood and spirituality. With a single goal, not to forget our holy ancestors, aware of the graves that are here. I am sending the blessing of Metropolitan Amfilohije, who was supposed to bring the hand of St. John the Baptist. But, due to tensions, that will be done next yеаr. The President of the municipality said that the access to the site has been banned until December, because archaeological research is being done“.

However, last year also there were tensions in Svac. Then, about ten local Albanians blocked the road, so that Metropolitan of Montenegro and Littoral Amfilohije and the believers of the Serbian Orthodox Church could not come to Svac. The leader of this group was Hadzija Sulejmani, a member of the Ulcinj Assembly and a member of the Democratic Party of Albanians. Sulejmani tried to explain his shameful act by saying that the church has never been an Orthodox holy place, and that he, as a Muslim and a representative of the Ulcinj municipality, does not allow access to the church.

Everything becomes much clearer after seeing a monument that the local Albanian politicians set up in 2005 in the form of a memorial plaque, which says: “In the name of our ancestors Illyrians who founded this ancient town of Svac as the legacy of our Albanian culture …” In other words, then the Albanians marked their territory and now slowly begin with violent means to “defend” it.

History is clear about the Svac. The city of Svac has never been the city of Illyrians, and especially not the city of Albanians. In 2012, the Ministry of Culture of Montenegro started exploring Svac. The research team, led by archaeologist Mladen Zagarcanin, discovered Serbian and Roman pottery in the same layer, which clearly shows the centuries-long presence of Serbs in that area. Stefan Nemanja, the Serbian Grand Prince (Veliki Župan), merged Svac to Serbian Grand Principality (also known as Raška, lat. Rascia) in 1183. When the Mongol hordes in 1242 conquered and demolished the city of Svac, it was restored by the Serbian queen Jelena, the wife of King Uros, who lived in Ulcinj at the time. For architectural decoration, the painters and masters are brought from Serbian Grand Principality Raška (lat. Rascia) . The remains of the Church of St. John are still visible in the city today, where still writes that it was built in 1300. In 1571, the town of Svač was completely destroyed by the Turks. However, what is important to mention is that the Albanians took part in the destruction of the Svac, together with the Turks. So today we have come to a crazy situation that the people who ruined Svac, and that’s the Albanians, want to acquire the historical heritage of that medieval city. In a doctoral dissertation “The influence of the Austro-Hungarian Empire on the creation of the Albanian nation”, Bulgarian historian Teodora Toleva, who studied the Vienna imperial archive, writes:

”After thorough studying of the archives we may claim that at the beginning of the 20th century the Albanian population did not still represent a formed nation. The ethnical groups in Albania live isolated; they do not have connections between themselves, except when fighting. The possibilities for their convergence were practically nonexistent; murders are common, even for the people from the clan. There were two basic dialects in the country that were so different that people could hardly understand each other. There was no unique literary language, but more than twenty different manners of writing in local dialects. The coefficient of literacy did not even exceed 2%. The population belonged to three religious confessions – Muslims, Orthodox and Catholics. The Albanians did not have national awareness, they did not have general interests, they did not express solidarity and they did not develop in the direction of waking the national feeling. Hence, at the beginning of the 20th century there was no Albanian nation.” Toleva also noted that:

“At a time when Vienna decides to implement a new plan for Albania, there are about twenty different transcripts of Albanian dialects. Three are basic: one uses the Arabic letters, the other is Cyrillic, the third is Latin. ” Official Vienna also had a decisive influence on the unification of the Albanian language. A letter that the Albanians still use today was accepted at a congress in Bitola in 1908. The decisive role was played by the Austro-Hungarian consul Karl. Grammar, literary books, history books, all printed in Vienna. The promotion of the Albanian language was carried out at every step. The reason why Austro-Hungary did all this was Serbia, which was then the main enemy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Through the creation of the Albanian nation, the Austro-Hungarian Empire wanted to weaken Serbia. And,  they did it.

Today, the Austro-Hungarian Empire policy has been taken over, dominantly by the United States and United Kingdom, but also from some other Western states.  The main goal is to create Greater Albania. Recently, the self-proclaimed Kosovo and Albania decided to implement a common foreign policy. Unlike the West, which supports that unlawful act, which raises tensions in the Balkans, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned that act.

“The provocative steps of Tirana and Pristina, which are in line with the realization of the concept of ‘Greater Albania’, cause serious concern. In this context we see the signature on July 2, the Albanian-Kosovo agreement on unification of diplomatic missions in third countries. We note that the US and EU prefer not to respond to such destructive measures and to effectively cover the ‘Greater Albanian events’ that are destructive for the region “, stated Russian Foreign Ministry.

In accordance with the support from the West, political representatives of Albanians in Montenegro every day behave more and more insolently. The current Montenegrin authorities do nothing to make Albanian politicians know that they have to respect the laws of Montenegro. While Serbs in Montenegro are strictly forbidden to display Serbian flags, Albanians in the places where they are majority display Albania’s national flag. Albanians every day show more clearly that Greater Albania is the only thing that would satisfy their national interests. The recent event that happened in Svac is something that previously could be seen in Kosovo and Macedonia. Therefore, now, while the fire is still weak, it is necessary to extinguish it. Otherwise, the Greater Albania’s fire can swallow both Ulcinj and other parts of Montenegro.

 From our partner International Affairs

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New “executive branch” of EU and Russia: EU hostile, but not united

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The recent decision by the European Council to nominate Ursula von der Leyen of Germany for the post of European Commission Chairperson and Christine Lagarde of France for President of the European Central Bank has caused many eyebrows to raise. Nevertheless, since this “feminist” set of candidates will surely receive the approval of the European Parliament, it’s these people that Russia will have to deal with. (Nominees for the posts of European policy chief  and president of European Council – Josep Borrell of Spain, and Charles Micheln of Belgium – became less of a surprise: their victory in the European Parliament is a sure thing too.)

Significantly, both the “prime minister” and the “foreign minister” from the European Union’s new team have been spotted making outrageously averse remarks regarding Russia. Ursula von der Leyen, holding the post of Minister of Defense of the Federal Republic of Germany, said less than a year ago that one ought to speak with Russia from a position of strength. In response, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu advised Ms. von der Leyen and other Germans to ask their grandfathers what happens when Germans try to speak with Russia from a position of strength. Josep Borrell, speaking in an interview with the Spanish El Periodico, described Russia as “an old enemy” of Spain and Europe that is somewhat  “posing a threat again,” whereas China, in his words, is but a “rival”.

The Russian Foreign Ministry reacted by demanding that Borrell account for these words, which clearly do not fit into the framework of friendly relations between Russia and Spain. The EU’s foreign policy chief-to-be came out of this situation with an elephantlike grace, chiding the Russian Foreign Ministry for “excessive” reaction and explaining his position by saying the following: “I said that Europe’s old defender – the United States – is no longer defending it, causing the rise of Europe’s former rival – the USSR “. Thus, the European diplomat has managed to strengthen a prejudice-based lie (about Russia as an enemy) with another (about the notorious “attempts by Putin to restore the USSR”). And there is a third lie – a hint at the now dishonored theory of a conspiracy between Trump and Russia. For someone  burdened with the responsibilities of the head of European diplomacy, there seem to be too many prejudices and stereotypes. In all likelihood, these new representatives of the EU will not be easy to deal with.

Nevertheless, the near victory of von der Leyen and the removal from the race of the Dutch socialist Frans Timmermans, and representative of the European People’s Party (i.e.”Democratic Christian”) Manfred Weber of Bavaria, speaks of serious differences, bordering on hatred, within the EU. After all, it’s these two nominees (plus Danish liberal Margrethe Vestager, who served as European Commissioner for Competition) that were considered favorites for the post of  European Commission chief right up to the G20 summit in Osaka. Chancellor Angela Merkel, who openly supported Weber’s candidacy and wanted the job of European Central Bank chief for the current head of the German Central Bank, Jens Weidmann, appears to be on the losing side, given the current layout of forces. Even such a well-informed player in European affairs as George Soros, predicted on the platform of the globalist Project Syndicate that in the event of Weber’s “failure” to head the European Commission, Merkel’s ambitions would be offset by the appointment of Jens Weidman. But this just didn’t happen: the EU’s top finance position went to Christine Lagarde.

Why did the options planned for so many weeks for the above mentioned candidates, which cannot be seen as 100% losers (Timmermans will remain vice-chairman of the European Commission, and Weber is set to become chairman of the European Parliament) were dropped?

The European Union makes it no secret that countries of the “Visegrad group”, first of all, Poland and Hungary, came out against Timmermans. And this is no wonder: it was Timmermans, as vice-president of the European Commission, who “oversaw” Poland’s punishment for its “sins against democracy” and has called for sanctions against Warsaw if it does not abandon so unwelcome for the EU judicial reform. As for Hungary, Timmermans was as harsh with its Prime Minister Viktor Orban. As a result, even Andrei Babis, the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, which did not have time, unlike Poland and Hungary, to experience the negative rhetoric of Timmermans, said bluntly: “Timmermans is not the person who can unite Europe.”

As it happens, by voting against Timmermans, the current Polish leadership took revenge for their own failure last year, when they made an attempt to remove Donald Tusk, former Polish prime minister considered to be EU-loyal political opponent of the current ruling party in Poland, “Law and Justice”.

Thus, the current choice of candidates has become a sign of ever increasing instability and unpredictability of the European Union, including in its relations with Russia. In my opinion, two trends are gaining strength at the same time. Firstly, the selection of candidates for top jobs in the European “mainstream” is based, among other things, on the principle “who speaks harshiest of Russia will win” ( this guaranteed success of von der Leyen and Borrell). Secondly, as Eastern European countries are slowly gaining weight, their attitude towards Russia ranges from hostile ( Poland and the Baltic States) to neutral and conciliatory ( Hungarian Prime Minister Orban).

The Orban factor, according to a variety of reports, became a key one for “not supporting” Manfred Weber’s candidacy on the part of France, which eventually led Weber to defeat. President Macron did not conceal his discontent with the fact that Weber, as head of the European People’s Party faction in the European Parliament, did not exclude Viktor Orban and his party Fides from this faction.

The French newspaper Le Monde carries detailed reports on the issue. For the French president, who deems Orban, along with Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini,  his personal enemies over disagreements on migration issues, any means will do to fight against the Hungarian politician. Le Monde carries reports about Macron’s attempts to cut down EU payments to the Hungarian budget due to Hungary’s unwillingness to bear its share of the migration burden on the EU. And although Macron has not succeeded in these attempts,  the battle between the “progressists” (Macron) and the “traditionalists” (Orban and the Visegrad Group, which is behind him) is driving the main wedge into the European Union, including its position towards  Russia. Both the elections to the European Parliament and the differences over the candidacies for the “executive branch” of the European Union have clearly demonstrated this. 

From our partner International Affairs

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North Macedonia and Albania not allowed even in EU “waiting room”

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The recent decision by an EU summit to postpone until October the solution on welcoming in Albania and North Macedonia as new members marks yet another setback for the European Union, which testifies to lack of unity among its members. Both Albania and North Macedonia have done all they could in the past few years to prove their loyalty to NATO and the West with a view to secure early admission to the European Union. Albania has joined NATO and supports Kosovo separatists, while the former Yugoslav regional capital Skopje chose to change the name of its country from Macedonia to North Macedonia, despite the unconvincing results of the de facto failed referendum on this issue in February this year. All these efforts were not rewarded, not even by a formal announcement on the start of the membership talks.

The matter is that European capitals make no secret of the reasons for such a postponement: the parliaments of Germany and the Netherlands opposed the entry of North Macedonia, and Albania in particular. These parliaments have thereby refused to implement the recommendations of the European Commission of May 29 which advised member states to speed up the process of welcoming new members into the Union from countries of Western Balkans.

Instead of information on the beginning of the negotiations, North Macedonia and Albania received a humiliating communiqué of the European Council, calling on these “hopefuls” of the EU membership to do more to secure the rule of law, strengthen democratic institutions, etc.

Macedonians and Albanians feel deceived also because the EU’s Commissioner for Enlargement, Johannes Khan, promised last year that membership negotiations would begin in June 2019 if both countries carried out reforms of their judiciaries and security services.

Albanian Prime Minister Edie Rama said that his country has fulfilled the reforms required by Brussels and that Tirana has thus earned the right to enter admission negotiations.

“I want to say that the European Union should proceed from geostrategic and geopolitical considerations, and it also should take into account the achievements of candidate countries,” – Prime Minister Rama was quoted as saying on June 11, 2019. “If candidate countries deserve to be admitted, the European Union should not deny them this right.”

The Prime Minister of North Macedonia, Zoran Zaev, went as far as stating that postponement of negotiations on his country’s accession to the EU could lead to the fall of his government and the victory of nationalist forces “hostile to the European Union”.

Behind all these statements lies demonization of Russia and the attempts to present it as a “destabilizer” of the situation in the Balkans, just as it was done by  Montenegrin leader Milo Djukanovic, who accused Moscow and so-called “Serbian nationalists” of an attempt to stage a coup in his small country for the purpose of preventing Montenegro from entering NATO.

The version of what happened was provided by a Montenegrin court, which blamed leaders of the opposition Democratic Front for an attempt to seize power in Podgorica with the help of two dozen Serbian militants. The court described the incident as a typical conspiracy and a “high-profile process” in the style of Andrei Vyshinsky. Nevertheless, the Western press has accepted this version, telling its to readers about plans by wicked Russians and Serbs to kill Mr. Djukanovic, who positioned himself as a Serbian-Montenegrin nationalist during the “Yugoslav Wars” of the early 1990s.

Will North Macedonian Prime Minister Zaev succeed in performing the same trick, will the EU accept his version that “forces hostile to the European Union” will take over if his country does not join the European Union in the near future? It seems that the European Union is skeptical about Zaev’s “warnings”. It knows only too well that Zaev himself came to power as a result of a Macedonian “color revolution” that removed the former leader Nikolu Gruevsky, who led the left-wing party VMRO-DPNE. This party is still the largest opposition party in the parliament of Northern Macedonia.

Shortly after coming to power Zaev reoriented the country to NATO, hoisting a NATO flag in front of the Macedonian government building.  Taking advantage of people’s hopes for joining the European Union, Zaev ensured the victory in the presidential election of his henchman Stevo Pendarovsky. But now that the prospect of starting negotiations looks remote and indefinite, Zaev and his entourage may indeed face a destabilization. The position of Albanian government of Edi Rama, who is facing powerful protests across the country, is hardly better. 

From our partner International Affairs

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