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Leave not stay? EU approves UK exit

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On November 25, leaders of the EU member states approved an agreement on the withdrawal of Great Britain from the Union. The last objections, voiced by Spain, were lifted after Madrid received “assurances from the British government concerning Gibraltar.” Now the British Prime Minister Theresa May will have to secure the approval of the country’s parliament. This may prove to be more difficult than reaching agreement on Brexit with member of the European Union. According to commentators, few, if any in the UK, endorse the agreement in its present version. If backed by the British Parliament, the deal will then have to be favored by a simple majority of the European Parliament. Afterwards, the EU Council will hold a vote, in which the support of at least 20 member countries is required, representing at least 65% of the Union’s population. No endorsement by national parliaments is required. Should the decision receive the approval of all parties involved, the exit procedure will start on March 29, 2019. The transition period will last at least 18 months.

Last week, the text of the Brexit agreement, which is nearly six hundred pages long, was finally approved. Next, British Prime Minister Teresa May eventually succeeded in winning the support of most Cabinet members. At the same time, a number of ministers, including Dominic Raab, who is in charge of exiting the EU, resigned in protest against the final version. Now, the British Parliament is to vote on the bill to achieve agreement with the EU on the terms of the exit in early December. In addition to the text of the Agreement, a Political Declaration has been drafted which briefly describes the main principles of further relations between the UK and the EU, including the positions of the two parties in future negotiations on a trade agreement.

The 17-month negotiations marathon was extremely difficult. Triggered largely by discontent about the so-called “uncontrolled” influx of migrants, Britain’s exit from the EU quickly turned from a “technical” issue into one of the main challenges to the future of the Union. The EU’s position of late has been to “minimize the damage from Brexit”. In early September, when the third round of negotiations between London and Brussels came to a close, most observers said, it fell through. It was only by mid-November that the parties had harmonized their positions on the financial conditions of the exit, the protection of the rights of EU citizens in the United Kingdom and the British in Europe, as well as on the “consistency of talks about the future”.

At present, the outcome for the EU looks fairly beneficial. According to The Economist, the British authorities have failed to achieve more than half of their original goals. London’s independence from the EU in matters of trade and customs regulation has been postponed at least until 2021. Until then, the UK will remain within the regulatory procedures of the EU Customs Union and will continue to live by the standards of the EU’s common market and their interpretation by the European Court of Justice. The UK will pay the EU about £ 39 billion in a one-off payment and there might be additional payments in the future. Instead of signing a comprehensive free trade agreement by March 2019, which London had sought to secure so much, a Political Declaration was approved which states the parties’ intention to conclude such an agreement “in the future.”

What can be seen as success for the UK is the cessation of the free movement of people between the UK and the EU. However, the approved version of the Brexit agreement envisages visa-free travel for both Europeans and the British “for tourist or business purposes.” Finally, London managed to secure the preservation of the “transparent” land border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. At the same time, it had to be paid for with the de facto retention of Northern Ireland within the EU’s jurisdiction, pending “further arrangements” to be reached during the transition period – that is, until December 2020 at the earliest.

The two leading EU countries – Germany and France – have managed to demonstrate the Union’s strong unity in the face of outgoing Britain. The Brexit Agreement was clinched on Brussels’ terms, which imply de facto payment, in the literal and figurative sense of the word, of a sort of indemnities. Meanwhile, it may turn out that the tough stance of Paris and Berlin on Great Britain will not bring any special political dividends either to Macron, whose reformist ideas are garnering less and less support in the EU, or to Merkel, who announced her intention to resign as chancellor by 2021. Finally, the mounting friction between Brussels and Warsaw, Budapest, Vienna, and now, Rome, shows that the deep-seated causes that underlie Britain’s choice of two years ago to vote for leaving the EU, are still there. And the position of Britain’s opponents who are trying, in the name of deepening EU integration, to turn a blind eye to problems for which there can be no politically correct solutions, is triggering ever more irritation on the part of European voters. Meanwhile, there is only 6 months to go before elections to the European Parliament are due to take place.

In turn, Theresa May is convinced that she has succeeded in achieving “the best deal possible.” Finance minister Philip Hammond has described the deal with the EU as “the best option for the British economy.” Meanwhile, this agreement has cost May a lot politically. In addition to resignations among Cabinet members, a number of parliamentarians from the Conservative Party persist in their attempts to raise the issue of confidence in the prime minister. The final document is subject to serious criticism, both by opponents and supporters of Brexit, including a considerable number of outspoken representatives of the Conservative Party. For example, Boris Johnson, one of the trailblazers of Brexit, a former foreign minister, and a favorite in the so far unofficial campaign for the post of prime minister, has voted the version of the Agreement signed with the EU as “a huge mistake.” According to Johnson, by approving the current text of the agreement “Britain will become a satellite state.” In this regard, experts anticipate serious difficulties, up to the rejection of the Agreement, or, at least, a significant delay in terms of passing the text through the British Parliament. A negative result will require the government to submit a new action plan within three weeks, but no later than January 21 of next year.

Teresa May’s major problem is that for success she needs more than the votes of her party. A small majority in parliament is provided by the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). However, many DUP members are extremely dissatisfied with the de facto preservation of EU regulation in Northern Ireland, which is enshrined in the Brexit Agreement. In their opinion, such a “compromise” “undermines the unity of Britain.” In addition, a week ago, not only the majority of opposition MPs, but also several dozen Conservatives came out against the May plan. According to critics, the deal agreed by May forces the UK to continue to follow EU regulations for an unspecified period of time. While doing so, London will not be able to influence decisions taken in Brussels, nor will it be able to withdraw from the Agreement unilaterally. Thus, the likelihood  of a negative vote in the House of Commons is estimated as fairly high. Besides, the mounting contradictions within the ruling circles of Great Britain may provoke a vote of no confidence in Prime Minister May before the agreement is submitted to parliament. The loss of confidence in the prime minister would lead either to the arrival at Downing Street of a supporter of a tougher course on the EU, or to early elections. In both cases, the chances of Britain exiting the EU without any agreement will increase significantly.

According to the Times, members of the House of Commons will have to choose between a “bad deal” and two alternatives, which are likely to be even worse. If parliamentarians vote against the May plan, Britain will either leave the EU without any agreement at all – “tough Brexit”, or will hold a second referendum, in the hope that this time the people will vote to maintain membership in the European Union. Both options are extremely risky. ‘Tough Brexit’ can trigger a massive political and socio-economic crisis. “Another referendum will further divide the already divided country, make the population angry over the need for another voting, will further complicate relations with Brussels, and on top of that, it does not guarantee that the result will be different”.

It cannot be ruled out that there are quite a few in Europe who, deep in their hearts, hope for such a development of events. Brexit without an agreement would mean that Britain would have to build legal relations with continental Europe almost from scratch, that is, in such a way which will demonstrate to all potentially “hesitant” members of the EU that attempts to undermine the Union will bring them only huge losses and damages. And another referendum as such would deal a substantial blow to euro-skeptics and “populists” of every description. An even greater effect would be London’s rejection of Brexit. This would seriously strengthen the position of supporters of European integration in the context of their struggle for the posts in the EU executive and legislative branches in 2019.

Thus, chances are still high that London, with or without a “deal”, will have to pay the highest possible price for independence. Against this background, the incumbent Prime Minister Theresa May is rapidly losing popularity, both among voters and within her own party. As the voices of supporters of the “re-referendum” on EU membership are getting louder, the question that arises is whether the success, albeit a compromise, which Downing Street has achieved so far, will be just another Pyrrhic victory, of which the British history has seen so many. Or will Brexit give a new impetus to the development of the United Kingdom? No one can predict now.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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Marine Le Pen’s Nationalist Ideology and the Rise of Right-Wing Parties in Europe

Mohamad Zreik

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“When you decide to stand against injustice, expect that you will be cursed and then betrayed and then atoned, but do not keep quiet about injustice in order to be told that you are a man of peace.” Marine Le Pen stood in the face of injustice and said the word of truth without hesitation. As the truth hurts, Le Pen has faced much criticism, insults, and opposition campaigns. Marine Le Pen, the candidate for the 2017 French presidential election, lost to Emmanuel Macron, a moderate centrist young man who believed in economic and political openness to Europe, and her loss was an expression of democracy and freedom.

What will change in France and Europe after Macron takes office? Had Le Pen come to power, what would have happened? Why was this powerful campaign against Le Pen?

Marine Le Pen is the president of the National Front and the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the extreme right-wing political party in France. Since French society is a mixture of different civilizations, cultures and religions, Le Pen has not won many votes and was not accepted by the society because her project was France first, not Europe first, and the fight against terrorism was one of its priorities, without the support of anyone or the consent of religious and political groups to carry out this process. Le Pen’s experience is not new. When her father ran in the past, he called for the reinstatement of the French franc, the restoration of French identity instead of the European one and the implementation of a French national policy without referring to the European Union.

Many political analysts believe that if Le Pen was able to reach the presidency, Europe would enter a phase of wide change, since Germany and France are the two pillars of the European Union, the departure of France will lead to an imbalance in the European Union and to a weakness in its structure. Le Pen’s proposed program did not impress many advocates of freedom because it negatively affects the rights of refugees and works on a harsh policy with foreigners coming to France. As an Arab citizen and human rights defender, I will not accept Le Pen’s proposals at the beginning, but I meet with her on many things and concerns. The European continent has become a place for the export of large numbers of people who are doing terrorism in the world and the great margin of freedom in Europe has made it a tool for making evil and to strengthen the role of ideologically unclean groups, all due to the issue of human rights and the right of opinion and expression.

The European continent is witnessing a widespread campaign against the EU, the BREXIT in Britain was no accident, as well as the rise of right-wing parties to take power in Denmark and the Netherlands and demand a firmer policy, and it is noticeable that the right-wing European parties are growing in France, Italy, Spain, Hungary and Austria. The project demanded by Le Pen has become necessary on the European continent, especially with the financial crises in the European Union and the many terrorist acts that threaten European security.

From the Treaty of Westphalia to the founding of the European Union to the present Europe, the situation has changed a lot. The idea of a civilian state was necessary to end the 30-year war and the founding of the European Union came to unite the European continent after it was divided during the Cold War. Today, in the era of globalization, openness and freedoms, the economic crises that hit the world in general and Europe in particular, and the incidence of terrorist acts are increasing rapidly, and I am afraid that Europe will become a place of terrorist acts and a center for terrorist group. Therefore, the world today needs leaders such as Le Pen to control human insanity and restore stability to the international community.

The success of the experience of democracy in a certain part of the world does not mean that it is the ideal system and that it can easily be applied to the rest of the world. Many peoples of the world are not suited to democratic regimes, and the failure to implement a democratic system does not mean that the regime that will govern this country is oppressive and unfair, but one that suits the form of the state and the needs of the people. Henry Kissinger acknowledged that the idea of the European Union could not last forever because European countries since ancient times were not based on the doctrine of unity and participation.

I still dream of the beautiful Europe of the 1980s, when it was the center of international economy and trade and when the international political decision was linked to Europe. Europe today is a mass of endless economic crises and a center of attraction for terrorist acts that threaten European and international security, without forgetting the US decision, which often affects European sovereignty. Le Pen’s project is to reject American hegemony, return to French roots and adhere to French identity. The idea of a closed door policy and a strict policy with foreign expatriates is an internal French affair.

The situation in France will not be better after the arrival of Macron and terrorism will not stop, Emmanuel Macron is trying to give more economic, social and cultural freedoms and more integration with the European community. Of course, economic and political cooperation will have a positive impact on France and Europe. But in return for this cooperation, what special benefit will France gain, knowing that Macron has put forward the idea of establishing an EU military force, which means that the EU’s role will be not only economic and political but also joint military action.

The series of terrorist operations has not ceased after Macron’s arrival, and is increasing day by day. From France to Britain, Belgium and Germany, the target is Europe, which is the victim of terrorism. Terrorism wants Europe to become unstable and panic and make it a “New Land of Jihad”. Of course, Macron’s European policy plays an important role in strengthening the position of terrorist groups and creating fertile ground for them. Terrorism needs freedom and open borders to turn the impossible into reality.

When Le Pen raised the voice and said that we are French and wanted to rearrange the French house, she knew that France was the target and if it was not immunized, Great France would become just an idea in the “Museum of History”. Le Pen, an ultra-nationalist, does not scare me as an Arab Lebanese. Why would I be afraid of someone who wants to fight terrorism and oppressive ideology? We all love unity and freedom, but on the other hand there are some emergency circumstances that push the political system in a country to take an unusual path. Today, right-wing approach can make a difference, which some describe as extremism and lack of respect for human freedom.

The world today needs leaders like Marine Le Pen in every corner of the globe. The world today is ruled by force, and is afraid of those who say the word “no” to every stranger and outlaw. Le Pen has lost and the French will regret this option sooner or later because the European future does not bode well!

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France: Chaos or a New Social Compact?

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At the end of the parade, a few dozen people release yellow balloons into the sky and distribute leaflets saying “The yellow vests are not dead.” The police disperse them, quickly and firmly. Moments later, hundreds of “Antifa” anarchists arrive, throw security barriers on the roadway to erect barricades, start fires and smash the storefronts of several shops. The police have a rough time mastering the situation, but early in the evening, after a few hours, they restore the calm.

A few hours later, thousands of young Arabs from the suburbs gather near the Arc de Triomphe. They have apparently come to “celebrate” in their own way the victory of an Algerian soccer team. More storefronts are smashed, more shops looted. Algerian flags are everywhere. Slogans are belted out: “Long live Algeria”, “France is ours”, “Death to France”. Signs bearing street names are replaced by signs bearing the name of Abd el Kader, the religious and military leader who fought against the French army at the time of the colonization of Algeria. The police limit themselves to stemming the violence in the hope that it will not spread.

Around midnight, three leaders of the “yellow vest” movement come out of a police station and tell a TV reporter that they were arrested early that morning and imprisoned for the rest of the day. Their lawyer states that they did nothing wrong and were just “preventively” arrested. He emphasizes that a law passed in February 2019 allows the French police to arrest any person suspected of going to a demonstration; no authorization from a judge is necessary and no appeal possible.

On Friday, July 19, the Algerian soccer team wins again. More young Arabs gather near Arc de Triomphe to “celebrate” again. The damage is even greater than eight days before. More police show up; they do almost nothing.

On July 12, two days before Bastille Day, several hundred self-declared African illegal migrants enter the Pantheon, the monument that houses the graves of heroes who played major roles in the history of France. There, the migrants announce the birth of the “Black Vest movement”. They demand the “regularization” of all illegal immigrants on French territory and free housing for each of them. The police show up but decline to intervene. Most of the demonstrators leave peacefully. A few who insult the police are arrested.

France today is a country adrift. Unrest and lawlessness continue to gain ground. Disorder has become part of daily life. Polls show that a large majority reject President Macron. They seem to hate his arrogance and be inclined not to forgive him. They seem to resent his contempt for the poor; the way he crushed the “yellow vest” movement, and for his not having paid even the slightest attention to the protesters’ smallest demands, such as the right to hold a citizen’s referendum like those in Switzerland. Macron can no longer go anywhere in public without risking displays of anger.

The “yellow vests” seem finally to have stopped demonstrating and given up: too many were maimed or hurt. Their discontent, however, is still there. It seems waiting to explode again.

The French police appear ferocious when dealing with peaceful protesters, but barely able to prevent groups such as ‘Antifa’ from causing violence. Therefore, now at the end of each demonstration, “Antifa” show up. The French police seem particularly cautious when having to deal with young Arabs and illegal migrants. The police have been given orders. They know that young Arabs and illegal migrants could create large-scale riots. Three months ago, in Grenoble, the police were pursuing some young Arabs on a stolen motorcycle, who were accused of theft. While fleeing, they had an accident. Five days of mayhem began.

Democracy receding 

President Macron looks like an authoritarian leader when he faces the disgruntled poor. He never says he is sorry for those who have lost an eye or a hand or suffered irreversible brain damage from extreme police brutality. Instead, he asked the French parliament to pass a law that almost completely abolishes the right to protest, the presumption of innocence and that allows the arrest of anyone, anywhere, even without cause. The law was passed.

In June, the French parliament passed another law, severely punishing anyone who says or writes something that might contain “hate speech”. The law is so vague that an American legal scholar, Jonathan Turley, felt compelled to react. “France has now become one of the biggest international threats to freedom of speech”, he wrote.

Macron does not appear authoritarian, however, with violent anarchists. When facing young Arabs and illegal migrants, he looks positively weak. He knows what the former interior minister, Gérard Collomb, said in November 2018, while resigning from government:

“Communities in France are engaging in conflict with one another more and more and it is becoming very violent… today we live side by side, I fear that tomorrow it will be face to face”.

Macron also knows what former President François Hollande said after serving his term as president: “France is on the verge of partition”.

Macron knows that the partition of France already exists. Most Arabs and Africans live in no-go-zones, apart from the rest of the population, where they accept the presence of non-Arabs and non-Africans less and less. They do not define themselves as French, except when they say that France will belong to them. Reports show that most seem filled with a deep rejection of France and Western civilization. An increasing number seem to place their religion above their citizenship; many seem radicalised and ready to fight.

Macron seems not to want to fight. Instead, he has chosen to appease them. He is single-mindedly pursuing his plans to institutionalise Islam in France. Three months ago, the Muslim Association for Islam of France (AMIF) was created. One branch will handle the cultural expansion of Islam and take charge of “the fight against anti-Muslim racism”. Another branch will be responsible for programs that train imams and build mosques. This autumn, a “Council of Imams of France” will be established. The main leaders of the AMIF are (or were until recently) members of the Muslim Brotherhood, a movement designated as a terrorist organisation in Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — but not in France.

French President is aware of the demographic data. They show that the Muslim population in France will grow significantly in the coming years. (The economist Charles Gave wrote recently that by 2057, France will have a Muslim majority). Macron can see that it will soon be impossible for anyone to be elected President without relying on the Muslim vote, so he acts accordingly.

Macron apparently sees that the discontent that gave birth to the “yellow vest” movement still is there. He appears to think that repression will be enough to prevent any further uprising, and so does nothing to remedy the causes of the discontent.

The “yellow vest” movement was born of a revolt against exorbitantly high taxes on fuel, and harsh government measures against cars and motorists. These measures included reduced speed limits – 90 km/h on most highways — and more speed-detection cameras; a sharp rise in the penalties on tickets, as well as complex and expensive annual motor vehicle controls. French taxes on fuels recently rose again and are now the highest in Europe (70% of the price paid at the pump). Other measures against the use of automobiles and motorists still in force are especially painful for the poor. They were already chased from the suburbs by intolerant newcomers, and now have to live — and drive — even farther from where they work.

Socio-culturally disenfranchised

President has made no decision to remedy the disastrous economic situation in France. When he was elected, taxes, duties and social charges represented almost 50% of GDP. Government spending represented 57% of GDP (the highest among developed countries). The ratio of national debt to GDP was almost 100%.

Taxes, duties, social charges and government spending remain at the same level now as when Macron came in. The debt-to-GDP ratio is 100% and growing. The French economy is not creating jobs. Poverty remains extremely high: 14% of the population earn less than 855 euros ($950) a month.

“How else to explain that the post-WWII come-and-help-our-recovery slogan Gastarbeiter willkommen became an Auslander Raus roar in a matter of only two decades. Suddenly, our national purifiers extensively shout ‘stop über fremdung of EU, we need de-ciganization’ of our societies, as if it historically does not always end up in one and only possible way– self-barbarization. In response, the socially marginalized and ghettoized ‘foreigners’ are calling for the creation of gastarbeiter partie. Indeed, the first political parties of foreigners are already created in Austria, with similar calls in Germany, France and the Netherlands. Their natural coalition partner would never be any of the main political parties. We should know by now, how the diverting of the mounting socio-economic discontent and generational disfranchising through ethno engineering will end up, don’t we?” – warned prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic years ago in his brave and farsighted essay ‘Denazification urgently needed in Europe’.

Consequently, our top executives pay no attention to the growing cultural disaster also seizing the country. The educational system is crumbling. An increasing percentage of students graduate from high school without knowing how to write a sentence free of errors that make incomprehensible anything they write. Christianity is disappearing. Most non-Muslim French no longer define themselves as Christians. The fire that ravaged the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris was officially an ‘accident’, but it was only one of the many Christian religious buildings in the country that were recently destroyed. Every week, churches are vandalised — to the general indifference of the public. In just the first half of 2019, 22 churches burned down.

The main concern of Macron and the French government seems not to be the risk of riots, the public’s discontent, the disappearance of Christianity, the disastrous economic situation, or Islamization and its consequences. Instead, it is climate change. Although the amount of France’s carbon dioxide emissions is infinitesimal (less than 1% of the global total), combatting “human-induced climate change” appears Macron’s absolute priority.

A Swedish girl, Greta Thunberg, age 16, — nevertheless the guru of the “fight for the climate” in Europe — was recently invited to the French National Assembly by members of parliament who support Macron. She delivered a speech, promising that the “irreversible destruction” of the planet will begin very soon. A Baby-revolutionary added that political leaders “are not mature enough” and need lessons from children. MPs who support Macron applauded warmly. She received a Prize of Freedom, just created, which will be given each year to people “fighting for the values ​​of those who landed in Normandy in 1944 to liberate Europe”. It is probably reasonable to assume that not one of those who landed in Normandy in 1944 thought he was fighting to save the climate. Such minor details, however, seem beyond Macron and the parliamentarians who support him.

Macron and the French government also seem unconcerned that Jews — driven by the rise of anti-Semitism, and understandably worried about court decisions infused with the spirit of submission to violent Islam –continue to flee from France.

Kobili Traore, the man who murdered Sarah Halimi in 2017 while chanting suras from the Qur’an and shouting that the Jews are Sheitan (Arabic for “Satan”) was found not guilty. Traore had apparently smoked cannabis before the murder, so the judges decided that he was not responsible for his acts. Traore will soon be released from prison; what happens if he smokes cannabis again?

A few weeks after the murder of Halimi, three members of a Jewish family were assaulted, tortured and held hostage in their home by a group of five men who said that “Jews have money” and “Jews must pay”. The men were arrested; all were Muslim. The judge who indicated them announced that their actions were “not anti-Semitic”.

On July 25, 2019 when the Israeli soccer team Maccabi Haifa was competing in Strasbourg, the French government limited the number of Israeli supporters in the stadium to 600, not one more. A thousand had bought plane tickets to come to France to attend the match. The French government also banned the waving of Israeli flags at the game or anywhere in the city. Nonetheless, in the name of “free speech”, the French Department of the Interior permitted anti-Israeli demonstrations in front of the stadium, and Palestinian flags and banners saying “Death to Israel” were there. The day before the match, at a restaurant near the stadium, some Israelis were violently attacked. “The demonstrations against Israel are approved in the name of freedom of expression, but the authorities forbid supporters of Maccabi Haifa to raise the Israeli flag, it is unacceptable,” said Aliza Ben Nun, Israel’s ambassador to France.

The other day, a plane full of French Jews leaving France arrived in Israel. More French Jews will soon go. The departure of Jews to Israel entails sacrifices: some French real estate agents take advantage of the wish of many Jewish families to leave, so they buy and sell properties owned by Jews at a price far lower than their market value.

Fighting the ghost

Macron will remain as president until May 2022. Several leaders of the parties of the center-left (such as the Socialist Party) and center-right (The Republicans) joined The Republic on the Move, the party he created two years ago. After that, the Socialist Party and The Republicans electorally collapsed. Macron’s main opponent in 2022 is likely to be the same as in 2017: Marine Le Pen, the leader of the populist National Rally.

Although Macron is widely unpopular and widely hated, he will probably use the same slogans as in 2017: that he is the last bastion of hope against “chaos” and “fascism.” He has a strong chance of being elected again. Anyone who reads the political program of the National Rally can see that Le Pen is not a fascist. Also, anyone who looks at the situation in France may wonder if France has not already begun to sink into chaos.

The sad situation that reigns in France is not all that different from that in many other European countries. A few weeks ago, an African cardinal, Robert Sarah, published a book, Le soir approche et déjà le jour baisse (“The evening comes, and already the light darkens”). “At the root of the collapse of the West”, he writes, “there is a cultural and identity crisis. The West no longer knows what it is, because it does not know and does not want to know what shaped it, what constituted it, what it was and what it is. (…) This self-asphyxiation leads naturally to a decadence that opens the way to new barbaric civilizations.”

That is exactly what is happening in France — and Europe.

Earlier version published by the Geterstone Institute under the title France Slowly Sinking into Chaos

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Serbs disappointed with EU

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A top-level meeting scheduled to take place in Paris in September with the participation of President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, the head of Kosovo, Hashim Thaci, President of France Emmanuel Macron and German Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel may well be disrupted, which could lead to a new wave of tension in the Balkans. As the summit draws nearer, the differences between the parties involved show no signs of diminishing, while the Serbian leadership is demonstrating ever more opposition to any agreements with Pristina.

A few days ago Chairman of the Serbian People’s Party and Minister of Innovation and Technological Development of Serbia Nenad Popovic called for walking out of talks with Kosovo leaders under the patronage of the European Union. He said that the 2013 Brussels agreements on normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina was “not working”. According to the minister, Serbia ought to “challenge the pseudo-state of Kosovo” at any costs and under any conditions.

“After all the events that took place last week with the participation of Western countries: the simulated summoning of the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Ramush Haradinaj, to the Hague-based Special Court for interrogation in connection with the crimes of the Kosovo Liberation Army, new accusations against Serbia for committing genocide against Kosovo Albanians, arrests of Serbs – all this adds to the fact that we have nothing to gain from European integration, and that the Brussels agreement is dead,” – Nenad Popovic emphasized. In his words, the political course of Serbia should follow a balance: “What I mean is that Serbia should develop step by step and strengthen political, economic and military cooperation only with countries that build equal relations with it, revering its sovereignty and territorial integrity in relation to Kosovo”.

Nenad Popovic is one of the key figures on the Serbian political landscape in the context of relations between Kosovo and the Albanians. In diferent years, he was responsible for building economic relations with the region, and for Belgrade’s policy in the three southern Serb communities of Bujanovac, Medveda and Presevo, adjacent to the Kosovo border. It is these areas that Hashim Thaci proposes to annex to Kosovo in exchange for passing to Belgrade the control over the northern Serb-populated areas as part of a “package agreement” on the exchange of territories. Nenad Popovic used to be one of the closest associates of the former President of Serbia Vojislav Kostunica, who called for more intensive cooperation with Russia, including within the framework of energy and infrastructure projects. It was during his term Russia and Serbia concluded a range of bilateral agreements, which enabled Serbia to become a key partner of Russia in the purchase and processing of energy resources.

The visit to the Hague by the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Ramush Haradinaj, which triggered so much criticism from Nenad Popovic, does look strange. However, according to reports, all this could involve a more complicated political scenario. On learningthat he was summoned to the Hague court, Ramush Haradinaj immediately announced his resignation from the post of head of the Kosovo government. The former chief of staff of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) explained that he had no intention of jeopardizing the honor of the self-proclaimed state and its institutions. He remarked that his government’s ministers would continue to fulfill their duties and called on the president of the republic to announce early parliamentary elections.

“I was summoned for questioning to the Special Court in the Hague as a suspect. The honor of the prime minister and the state must be preserved,” – he said on his Facebook page.

According to Haradinaj, since he does not want to tarnish the reputation of Kosovo in any way, he will appear before the Hague Court, which was set up to investigate the activitgies of the KLA during the war, as a private person. Simultaneously, he expressed confidence that a new inquiry would not shake his innocence, confirmed by two acquittals of the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia in The Hague. His case was run by Chief Prosecutor Carla del Ponte in person. However, in spite of all her efforts, in 2008 the Tribunal acquitted Ramush Haradinaj of charges of committing crimes against the Serbian population of the region. In 2010, the ruling was cancelled, but in 2012 a new acquittal came into effect.

The unexpected summoning of Ramush Haradinaj to the Hague anew is in fact not connected with a sudden desire of the Western powers to finally punish the Kosovo prime minister for bygone anti-Serb crimes. For Brussels and Washington, his fierce opposition to agreements between Belgrade and Pristina is much more relevant. Over the past few months, this politician has been lashing out at Hashim Thaci for his “compromising” stance and for his intention to concede part of Kosovo’s territory to Serbia. To this end, he regularly organizes mass protests in Pristina. And given the popularity of the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, of which he is the leader, there is a real possibility of Ramush Haradinaj assuming the post of Kosovo president, which is de facto could block any mediation efforts on the part of the European Union and which, of course, does not suit the EU leadership.

Such a development is fraught with unpredictable consequences, such as a crisis of European integration plans in Serbia and a reorientation of Belgrade’s policy from Brussels to Moscow and Beijing.

The American Wall Street Journal quotes Dan Coats, the outgoing Director of National Intelligence of the USA, as saying that Russia and China, “these two super-giants of Eurasia, are as close to each other as they were in the 1950s. Both Moscow and Beijing have been seeking to undermine the interests of the West, from Venezuela and Syria to Serbia. In addition, they have been stepping up cooperation in Africa south of the Sahara and have already found ways to lessen their rivalry in Central Asia. ”

Meanwhile, support from top Western powers continues to be a major factor determining Kosovo’s sustainability – both political and economic. Recently, there has appeared a trend towards a gradual rejection of the self-proclaimed independence of Kosovo by states that previously recognized it. According to the Serbian side, a few days ago the Central African Republic (CAR) recalled its recognition of Kosovo, thus becoming the 14th country that has done so. Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said in a program broadcast by the radio and television of Serbia that the CAR “cannot assume a position that is at odds with international law” and that it “supports the sovereignty of Serbia and the rule of law”.

Ivica Dacic also said that unlike in 2015, when 92 states voted in favor of Kosovo joining UNESCO, in 2018 the number of such countries dropped to 73. “Undoubtedly, they cannot become members of any international organization, in which they would vote like they do in the UN”, – the head of the Serbian Foreign Ministry pointed out.

Given the situation, a further widening of the gap between Belgrade and Brussels amid the West’s inability to make Kosovo authorities more cooperative will naturally lead to the erosion of the pro-European direction of Serbia’s foreign policy and will strengthen the positions of forces that advocate more ties with Russia and other “centers of power” outside the Euro-Atlantic space. 

From our partner International Affairs

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