Connect with us

Europe

Tusk frightens Poland with expulsion from EU

Published

on

The ruling government in Poland, formed following the victory of the Law and Justice Party (PiS), could bring up the issue of Poland’s withdrawal from the EU. A statement to this effect was made by President of the European Council Donald Tusk during his recent visit to his native Poland. Shortly afterwards the 250,000-strong march in Warsaw of supporters of the ruling party and nationalists opposed to Tusk further divided the society. Tusk and his supporters did not take part in the march, accusing the government of conniving with the Nazis, who “reserved” Independence Day on November 11 last year for rallies under radical slogans.

Experts say such demarches on the part of Tusk, who until 2014 held the post of Polish Prime Minister, signal his desire to return to Polish politics and take part in the parliamentary elections of 2019. These elections will be crucial in deciding who will rule Poland in the coming years: the Civic Platform Party (CP), loyal to Tusk and favoring Poland being completely answerable to the European Union, or Law and Justice, which is in long-term ideological conflict with the EU, or rather, its bureaucratic elite. Both political parties are hostile to Russia. The CP proposes putting pressure on Russia within the framework of the general policy of NATO, while “Law and Justice” is in favor of using separate agreements with the US, deploying new American troops and weapons on a bilateral basis. The current Cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, did not rule out the possibility of deploying American nuclear weapons on Polish territory. And the “uncrowned king” of Poland, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who heads the PiS, is openly looking to the American president Donald Trump and the neo-Conservatives behind him.

Meanwhile, Tusk, who retains the status of an informal leader of Civic Platform, is openly challenging Trump. Right after Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016, Tusk sent a letter to the heads of EU member states in which he described the “triple threat” coming to Europe from “the unpredictable” Trump, “aggressive” Russia and “rising” China.

This clash between the PiS and the Platform on the issue of confrontation with Russia and alliance with the US and the EU has caused an even deeper split in the already polarized Polish society, where “patriots” and “liberals” have been at cold war for many years.

By Tusk’s speech, one can guess what tactics the “Civic Platform” will assume  during the election campaign. The “Liberals” (and one can hardly refer to them as such given their anti-Russian sentiment and authoritarian style) will frighten the Poles with the prospect of “being expelled” from the European Union. Since, for many years, Poland has been receiving heavily advertised payments from the EU’s allied funds, such a prospect can really scare many.

“The case is dramatically serious,” said Tusk in Poland on November 5, 2018, a week before the scandalous march in Warsaw. “Risk is dead serious. I call on everyone: come to your senses, act rationally.”

“It doesn’t matter to me,” continued Tusk, “whether Jaroslaw Kaczynski will pull Poland out of the EU intentionally or Poland’s exit will occur without him signaling a desire for that … The [former British Prime Minister David] Cameron had no plans either for Britain breaking away from the EU. He simply came up with the idea of a referendum, while doing everything to keep the country in the EU. But in the end, he got the United Kingdom out of the European Union – such was the result,” Tusk explained his position.

To give weight to his openly demagogic statements, Tusk cites the ongoing confrontation between the Polish leadership and the EU authorities, who accused the PiS of encroaching upon the autonomy of the judiciary. In the opinion of the European Commissioners, Polish leaders were trying to replace the older members of the Supreme Court of Poland with younger judges, who were supportive of the PiS. This conflict has already led Brussels to initiate the process of imposing sanctions on Warsaw under Article 7 of the EU Union Treaty, which penalizes member countries for a breach of democracy. The EU Court also ordered Poland to stop the “cleansing” of the Supreme Court. In reply, they received a rebuke from the Polish president, Andrzej Duda, who described the incident as the EU’s pressure on the Polish state independence. Nevertheless, Warsaw, suspended the reform of the Supreme Court.

However, neither of the two sides in this inter-Polish conflict with a European context is telling the whole truth as they present themselves as democrats and defenders of Polish interests without sufficient reason. Tusk, for his part, is not informing his voters of a number of important facts. Firstly, the “brexit” will not happen and for this reason Tusk’s rhetoric about “brexit” as a sudden and quick process, allegedly threatening Poland too, is, at the very least, an exaggeration. Secondly, as he promotes the EU among the Poles, Tusk forgets to add that  payments from the EU funds will soon run out. The recent EU summits resolved to re-channel the EU’s financial assistance from Eastern European countries to Greece, Spain and other countries of Southern Europe, which found themselves at the forefront of a pan-European project to accommodate refugees and economic migrants. While the limits within which these allied funds are to change their volumes and the direction of their movement have yet to be specified, the fact that the “union” financial assistance will flow from the east to the south, according to Financial Times, causes no doubt.

As it turns out, Tusk is manipulating public opinion as he continues the tradition which began under President Aleksander Kwasniewski to frighten the Poles with the East. The Poles are confronted with a false dilemma: either become subordinate to the European Union and NATO, or fall into the “orbit of Russia” with the invasion of the eastern hordes (as put by former Minister Anthony Matserevich) or even join the CIS (as expressed by former President Aleksander Kwasniewski). The European Union is portrayed as a peaceful oasis in a turbulent world, despite the fact that the EU countries have taken part in all major wars of late: it participated in the process to cut Kosovo’s territory off from Yugoslavia, in the invasion of Iraq, in the long-term war in Afghanistan, and in the “change of regime” in Libya.

The reasoning of the European Union does not sound quite fair in this situation either. Officials in Brussels tend to ignore the fact that the “Stalinist purge” (an expression used by the EU-loyal Gazeta Wyborcza») of the Supreme Court of Poland is carried out by the nationalists from PiS as part of the notorious “liberation from the Communist past”. This very “liberation” is what Brussels encouraged, supported and defended against any criticism for years.

Justice Minister Zbigniew Zebro, who is one of the leaders of the PiS, has repeatedly said that the court’s cleansing was caused by the fact that the older generation of judges is connected with the “communist past” and can, therefore, betray the interests of Poland. This idea was repeated by other PiS ministers — Glinski, Matserevich, and others. When the same groundless accusations were made against the late Polish ex-President Wojciech Jaruzelski, against former Prime Minister Jozef Oleksa, and thousands of others, suspected of sympathizing with Russia,, the EU kept silent. .But, when the allies of the EU-loyal Civic Platform were affected, the Vice-President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, immediately accused the PiS activists of seizing power and infringing on the independence of the court.

This hypocrisy, which tainted the position of the EU and the EU-loyal GP on the Polish issue, is behind the inability of the “Civic Platform” to finally regain the control it lost in the 2015 elections by pushing the nationalists from the “Law and Justice” to the sidelines of political life. Nationalists and radicals in Polish society are definitely not in the majority, but when the fight against nationalism and radicalism goes to hypocrites, their political resources suddenly prove to be limited.

At present, any communication between the Russian and Polish public is problematic as people are afraid of giving interviews to the Russian media – it is very easy to get the label “Putin’s agent”. Nevertheless, without supporting any of the parties in this inter-Polish conflict, it is worth paying attention to all anti-Russian manipulations, as well as the insincerity of the GP, of the “Law and Justice”, and of Tusk along with the European Union. I can assume that in the midterm, the need to strike a balance in relations with the East and the West, with Russia and the EU, will be eventually understood within the Polish society.

First published in our partner International Affairs

Continue Reading
Comments

Europe

Iceland’s Historic(al) Elections

Published

on

The morning of September, 26 was a good one for Lenya Run Karim of the Pirate Party. Once the preliminary results were announced, things were clear: the 21-year-old law student of the University of Iceland, originating from a Kurdish immigrant family, had become the youngest MP in the country’s history.

In historical significance, however, this event was second to another. Iceland, the world champion in terms of gender equality, became the first country in Europe to have more women MPs than men, 33 versus 30. The news immediately made world headlines: only five countries in the world have achieved such impressive results. Remarkably, all are non-European: Rwanda, Nicaragua and Cuba have a majority of women in parliament, while Mexico and the UAE have an equal number of male and female MPs.

Nine hours later, news agencies around the world had to edit their headlines. The recount in the Northwest constituency affected the outcome across the country to delay the ‘triumph for women’ for another four years.

Small numbers, big changes

The Icelandic electoral system is designed so that 54 out of the 63 seats in the Althingi, the national parliament, are primary or constituency seats, while another nine are equalization seats. Only parties passing the 5 per cent threshold are allowed to distribute equalisation seats that go to the candidates who failed to win constituency mandates and received the most votes in their constituency. However, the number of equalisation mandates in each of the 6 constituencies is legislated. In theory, this could lead to a situation in which the leading party candidate in one constituency may simply lack an equalisation mandate, so the leading candidate of the same party—but in another constituency—receives it.

This is what happened this year. Because of a difference of only ten votes between the Reform Party and the Pirate Party, both vying for the only equalisation mandate in the Northwest, the constituency’s electoral commission announced a recount on its own initiative. There were also questions concerning the counting procedure as such: the ballots were not sealed but simply locked in a Borgarnes hotel room. The updated results hardly affected the distribution of seats between the parties, bringing in five new MPs, none of whom were women, with the 21-year-old Lenya Run Karim replaced by her 52-year-old party colleague.

In the afternoon of September, 27, at the request of the Left-Green Movement, supported by the Independence Party, the Pirates and the Reform Party, the commission in the South announced a recount of their own—the difference between the Left-Greens and the Centrists was only seven votes. There was no ‘domino effect’, as in the case of the Northwest, as the five-hour recount showed the same result. Recounts in other districts are unlikely, nor is it likely that Althingi—vested with the power to declare the elections valid—would invalidate the results in the Northwest. Nevertheless, the ‘replaced’ candidates have already announced their intention to appeal against the results, citing violations of ballot storage procedures. Under the Icelandic law, this is quite enough to invalidate the results and call a re-election in the Northwest, as the Supreme Court of Iceland invalidated the Constitutional Council elections due to a breach of procedure 10 years ago. Be that as it may, the current score remains 33:30, in favor of men.

Progressives’ progress and threshold for socialists

On the whole, there were no surprises: the provisional allocation of mandates resembles, if with minor changes, the opinion polls on the eve of the election.

The ruling three-party coalition has rejuvenated its position, winning 37 out of the 63 Althingi seats. The centrist Progressive Party saw a real electoral triumph, improving its 2017 result by five seats. Prime-minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir’s Left-Green Movement, albeit with a slight loss, won eight seats, surpassing all pre-election expectations. Although the centre-right Independence Party outperformed everyone again to win almost a quarter of all votes, 16 seats are one of the worst results of the Icelandic ‘Grand Old Party’ ever.

The results of the Social-Democrats, almost 10% versus 12.1% in 2017, and of the Pirates, 8.6% versus 9.2%, have deteriorated. Support for the Centre Party of Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, former prime-minister and victim of the Panama Papers, has halved from 10.9% to 5.4%. The centrists have seen a steady decline in recent years, largely due to a sexist scandal involving party MPs. The populist People’s Party and the pro-European Reform Party have seen gains of 8.8% and 8.3%, as compared to 6.9% and 6.7% in the previous elections.

Of the leading Icelandic parties, only the Socialist Party failed to pass the 5 per cent threshold: despite a rating above 7% in August, the Socialists received only 4.1% of the vote.

Coronavirus, climate & economy

Healthcare and the fight against COVID-19 was, expectedly, on top of the agenda of the elections: 72% of voters ranked it as the defining issue, according to a Fréttablaðið poll. Thanks to swift and stringent measures, the Icelandic government brought the coronavirus under control from day one, and the country has enjoyed one of the lowest infection rates in the world for most of the time. At the same time, the pandemic exposed a number of problems in the national healthcare system: staff shortages, low salaries and long waiting lists for emergency surgery.

Climate change, which Icelanders are already experiencing, was an equally important topic. This summer, the temperature has not dropped below 20°C for 59 days, an anomaly for a North-Atlantic island. However, Icelanders’ concerns never converted into increased support for the four left-leaning parties advocating greater reductions in CO2 emission than the country has committed to under the Paris Agreement: their combined result fell by 0.5%.

The economy and employment were also among the main issues in this election. The pandemic has severely damaged the island nation’s economy, which is heavily tourism-reliant—perhaps, unsurprisingly, many Icelanders are in favor of reviving the tourism sector as well as diversifying the economy further.

The EU membership, by far a ‘traditional’ issue in Icelandic politics, is unlikely to be featured on the agenda of the newly-elected parliament as the combined result of the Eurosceptics, despite a loss of 4%, still exceeds half of the overall votes. The new Althingi will probably face the issue of constitutional reform once again, which is only becoming more topical in the light of the pandemic and the equalization mandates story.

New (old) government?

The parties are to negotiate coalition formation. The most likely scenario now is that the ruling coalition of the Independence Party, the Left-Greens and the Progressives continues. It has been the most ideologically diverse and the first three-party coalition in Iceland’s history to last a full term. A successful fight against the pandemic has only strengthened its positions and helped it secure additional votes. Independence Party leader and finance minister Bjarni Benediktsson has earlier said he would be prepared to keep the ruling coalition if it holds the majority. President Guðni Jóhannesson announced immediately after the elections that he would confirm the mandate of the ruling coalition to form a new government if the three parties could strike a deal.

Other developments are possible but unlikely. Should the Left-Greens decide to leave the coalition, they could be replaced by the Reform Party or the People’s Party, while any coalition without the Independence Party can only be a four-party or larger coalition.

Who will become the new prime-minister still remains to be seen—but if the ruling coalition remains in place, the current prime-minister and leader of the Left-Greens, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, stands a good chance of keeping her post: she is still the most popular politician in Iceland with a 40 per cent approval rate.

The 2021 Althingi election, with one of the lowest turnouts in history at 80.1%, has not produced a clear winner. The election results reflect a Europe-wide trend in which traditional “major” parties are losing support. The electorate is fragmenting and their votes are pulled by smaller new parties. The coronavirus pandemic has only reinforced this trend.

The 2021 campaign did not foreshadow a sensation. Although Iceland has not become the first European country with a women’s majority in parliament, these elections will certainly go down in history as a test of Icelanders’ trust to their own democracy.

From our partner RIAC

Continue Reading

Europe

EU-Balkan Summit: No Set Timeframe for Western Balkans Accession

Published

on

From left to right: Janez JANŠA (Prime Minister, Slovenia), Charles MICHEL (President of the European Council), Ursula VON DER LEYEN (President of the European Commission) Copyright: European Union

On October 6, Slovenia hosted a summit between the EU and the Western Balkans states. The EU-27 met with their counterparts (Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Kosovo) in the sumptuous Renaissance setting of Brdo Castle, 30 kilometers north of the capital, Ljubljana. Despite calls from a minority of heads of state and government, there were no sign of a breakthrough on the sensitive issue of enlargement. The accession of these countries to the European Union is still not unanimous among the 27 EU member states.

During her final tour of the Balkans three weeks ago, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that the peninsula’s integration was of “geostrategic” importance. On the eve of the summit, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz backed Slovenia’s goal of integrating this zone’s countries into the EU by 2030.

However, the unanimity required to begin the hard negotiations is still a long way off, even for the most advanced countries in the accession process, Albania and North Macedonia. Bulgaria, which is already a member of the EU, is opposing North Macedonia’s admission due to linguistic and cultural differences. Since Yugoslavia’s demise, Sofia has rejected the concept of Macedonian language, insisting that it is a Bulgarian dialect, and has condemned the artificial construction of a distinct national identity.

Other countries’ reluctance to join quickly is of a different nature. France and the Netherlands believe that previous enlargements (Bulgaria and Romania in 2007) have resulted in changes that must first be digested before the next round of enlargement. The EU-27 also demand that all necessary prior guarantees be provided regarding the independence of the judiciary and the fight against corruption in these countries. Despite the fact that press freedom is a requirement for membership, the NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urged the EU to make “support for investigative and professional journalism” a key issue at the summit.”

While the EU-27 have not met since June, the topic of Western Balkans integration is competing with other top priorities in the run-up to France’s presidency of the EU in the first half of 2022. On the eve of the summit, a working dinner will be held, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, called for “a strategic discussion on the role of the Union on the international scene” in his letter of invitation to the EU-Balkans Summit, citing “recent developments in Afghanistan,” the announcement of the AUKUS pact between the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom, which has enraged Paris.

The Western Balkans remain the focal point of an international game of influence in which the Europeans seek to maintain their dominance. As a result, the importance of reaffirming a “European perspective” at the summit was not an overstatement. Faced with the more frequent incursion of China, Russia, and Turkey in that European region, the EU has pledged a 30 billion euro Economic and Investment Plan for 2021-2027, as well as increased cooperation, particularly to deal with the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Opening the borders, however, is out of the question. In the absence of progress on this issue, Albania, North Macedonia, and Serbia have decided to establish their own zone of free movement (The Balkans are Open”) beginning January 1, 2023. “We are starting today to do in the region what we will do tomorrow in the EU,” said Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama when the agreement was signed last July.

This initiative, launched in 2019 under the name “Mini-Schengen” and based on a 1990s idea, does not have the support of the entire peninsular region, which remains deeply divided over this project. While Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro are not refusing to be a part of it and are open to discussions, the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti, who took office in 2020, for his part accuses Serbia of relying on this project to recreate “a fourth Yugoslavia”

Tensions between Balkan countries continue to be an impediment to European integration. The issue of movement between Kosovo and Serbia has been a source of concern since the end of September. Two weeks of escalation followed Kosovo’s decision to prohibit cars with Serbian license plates from entering its territory, in response to Serbia’s long-standing prohibition on allowing vehicles to pass in the opposite direction.

In response to the mobilization of Kosovar police to block the road, Serbs in Kosovo blocked roads to their towns and villages, and Serbia deployed tanks and the air force near the border. On Sunday, October 3, the conflict seemed to be over, and the roads were reopened. However, the tone had been set three days before the EU-Balkans summit.

Continue Reading

Europe

German Election: Ramifications for the US Foreign Policy

Published

on

Image source: twitter @OlafScholz

In the recent German election, foreign policy was scarcely an issue. But Germany is an important element in the US foreign policy. There is a number of cases where Germany and the US can cooperate, but all of these dynamics are going to change very soon.

The Germans’ strategic culture makes it hard to be aligned perfectly with the US and disagreements can easily damage the relations. After the tension between the two countries over the Iraq war, in 2003, Henry Kissinger said that he could not imagine the relations between Germany and the US could be aggravated so quickly, so easily, which might end up being the “permanent temptation of German politics”. For a long time, the US used to provide security for Germany during the Cold War and beyond, so, several generations are used to take peace for granted. But recently, there is a growing demand on them to carry more burden, not just for their own security, but for international peace and stability. This demand was not well-received in Berlin.

Then, the environment around Germany changed and new threats loomed up in front of them. The great powers’ competition became the main theme in international relations. Still, Germany was not and is not ready for shouldering more responsibility. Politicians know this very well. Ursula von der Leyen, who was German defense minister, asked terms like “nuclear weapons” and “deterrence” be removed from her speeches.

Although on paper, all major parties appreciate the importance of Germany’s relations with the US, the Greens and SPD ask for a reset in the relations. The Greens insist on the European way in transatlantic relations and SPD seeks more multilateralism. Therefore, alignment may be harder to maintain in the future. However, If the tensions between the US and China heat up to melting degrees, then external pressure can overrule the internal pressure and Germany may accede to its transatlantic partners, just like when Helmut Schmid let NATO install medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe after the Soviet Union attacked Afghanistan and the Cold War heated up.

According to the election results, now three coalitions are possible: grand coalition with CDU/CSU and SPD, traffic lights coalition with SPD, FDP, and Greens, Jamaica coalition with CDU/CSU, FDP, and Greens. Jamaica coalition will more likely form the most favorable government for the US because it has both CDU and FDP, and traffic lights will be the least favorite as it has SPD. The grand coalition can maintain the status quo at best, because contrary to the current government, SPD will dominate CDU.

To understand nuances, we need to go over security issues to see how these coalitions will react to them. As far as Russia is concerned, none of them will recognize the annexation of Crimea and they all support related sanctions. However, if tensions heat up, any coalition government with SPD will be less likely assertive. On the other hand, as the Greens stress the importance of European values like democracy and human rights, they tend to be more assertive if the US formulates its foreign policy by these common values and describe US-China rivalry as a clash between democracy and authoritarianism. Moreover, the Greens disapprove of the Nordstream project, of course not for its geopolitics. FDP has also sided against it for a different reason. So, the US must follow closely the negotiations which have already started between anti-Russian smaller parties versus major parties.

For relations with China, pro-business FDP is less assertive. They are seeking for developing EU-China relations and deepening economic ties and civil society relations. While CDU/CSU and Greens see China as a competitor, partner, and systemic rival, SPD and FDP have still hopes that they can bring change through the exchange. Thus, the US might have bigger problems with the traffic lights coalition than the Jamaica coalition in this regard.

As for NATO and its 2 percent of GDP, the division is wider. CDU/CSU and FDP are the only parties who support it. So, in the next government, it might be harder to persuade them to pay more. Finally, for nuclear participation, the situation is the same. CDU/CSU is the only party that argues for it. This makes it an alarming situation because the next government has to decide on replacing Germany’s tornados until 2024, otherwise Germany will drop out of the NATO nuclear participation.

The below table gives a brief review of these three coalitions. 1 indicates the lowest level of favoritism and 3 indicates the highest level of favoritism. As it shows, the most anti-Russia coalition is Jamaica, while the most anti-China coalition is Trafic light. Meanwhile, Grand Coalition is the most pro-NATO coalition. If the US adopts a more normative foreign policy against China and Russia, then the Greens and FDP will be more assertive in their anti-Russian and anti-Chinese policies and Germany will align more firmly with the US if traffic light or Jamaica coalition rise to power.

Issues CoalitionsTrafic LightGrand CoalitionJamaica
Russia213 
China312 
NATO132 

1 indicates the lowest level of favoritism. 3 indicates the highest level of favoritism.

In conclusion, this election should not make Americans any happier. The US has already been frustrated with the current government led by Angela Merkel who gave Germany’s trade with China the first priority, and now that the left-wing will have more say in any imaginable coalition in the future, the Americans should become less pleased. But, still, there are hopes that Germany can be a partner for the US in great power competition if the US could articulate its foreign policy with common values, like democracy and human rights. More normative foreign policy can make a reliable partner out of Germany. Foreign policy rarely became a topic in this election, but observers should expect many ramifications for it.

Continue Reading

Publications

Latest

Tech News2 hours ago

Why cybersecurity in the EU should matter to you

From stolen data to blocked hospital systems: cyberattacks can have perilous consequences. Learn more about cybersecurity and its importance. The...

city business city business
Reports4 hours ago

Capabilities fit is a winning formula for M&A: PwC’s “Doing the right deals” study

Ensuring there is a capabilities fit between buyer and target is key to delivering a high-performing deal, according to a...

Intelligence6 hours ago

A More Diverse Force: The Need for Diversity in the U.S. Intelligence Community

As part of a hiring initiative meant to attract new and diverse hires, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) released a...

Tourism8 hours ago

UNWTO and NEOM Launch ‘Tourism Experiences of the Future’ Challenge

The ‘Tourism Experiences of the Future’ challenge will source innovative ideas and disruptive business models related to the tourism needs...

East Asia10 hours ago

Shared Territorial Concern, Opposition to US Intervention Prompt Russia’s Support to China on Taiwan Question

The situation around the island of Taiwan is raising concerns not only in Chinese mainland, Taiwan island or in the...

New Social Compact12 hours ago

KP’s Education Reforms – Heading Towards Right Path

The first word revealed in the holy Quran was “Iqra” which means “to read”. This first verse of Holy Quran...

EU Politics14 hours ago

EU and Qatar sign landmark aviation agreement

The European Union and the State of Qatar today signed a comprehensive air transport agreement, upgrading rules and standards for...

Trending