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Negotiations on Kosovo 2019: Opportunities and Limitations for Russia

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Authors: Ekaterina Entina and Dejan Novakovic

In early 2018, negotiations on Kosovo seemed to be progressively moving towards their final stage. Brussels, in its turn, triumphantly reported on some kind of a decision (never actually been publicly presented), which by the end of the year would have allowed to reach a final settlement. Nevertheless, starting from autumn 2018, the bilateral dialogue between Serbs and Albanians was gradually replaced by bilateral provocations, with the final decision, which implies territorial swapping and demarcation, becoming less and less acceptable.

Since 2009, the dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade has been transferred from the UN mediation format under the jurisdiction of the European Union. In the eyes of the EU politicians, taking the opportunity to independently resolve security backlogs and tackle all their vulnerable elements was vital in order to overcome the perception of the EU inability to resolve major foreign policy issues.

The Kosovo settlement looked promising in this regard summing up all the factors in play: the nearly hopeless negotiating position of Belgrade, the decisiveness of the Kosovar Albanians, the fact that about 100 UN member states recognized the region’s independence, as well as the centuries-old relations of the leading Western European countries with the region. The bet was made on technical negotiations, in other words, on reaching a compromise on a number of issues considered important for the daily functioning of the region. The plan was to neutralize (to a certain extent) the extremely sensitive political component – Belgrade would recognize the region’s independence, and Pristina acquires all attributes of a sovereign state.

The bet on technical negotiations could not stand the test of practice. Series of actions taken by Pristina in autumn 2018 and their perception by Belgrade as extremely unfriendly actions, which directly threaten the Serbs, actually brought Belgrade and Pristina negotiations to a deadlock, simultaneously exposing the EU’s inability to act as an effective mediator of this process. What Pristina did was the introduction in November 2018 of double customs duties on goods from Serbia as well as from Bosnia and Herzegovina, the announcement of the creation of the army of Kosovo, an extremely rigid negotiation platform for further dialogue with Belgrade promoted by the government of Ramush Haradinaj.

Negotiations are de facto in the process of assembling a wider range of actors. The U.S. does not hide its direct participation. The attempts of France and Great Britain to act independently from the EU are also obvious. Within this framework, Russia, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, as well as a participant in all previous negotiations on the Balkans since the 19th century onwards, has obtained the opportunity to get involved in the settlement of the Kosovo issue. At the same time, it was a good chance to ensure its stance and standing in the region, as a minimum, and to restart the stalled engine of European history, as a maximum.

The Reaction of International Actors on Kosovo during September-December 2018

Letters from Donald Trump to Hashim Thaci and Alexander Vucic — Active Return of the U.S. to the Dialogue

The vacuum created by Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential elections in 2016 and the following gradual “departure” from Europe was replaced by intensified activities of the American administration in the region in 2018. The latest, so far, round of negotiations on the Macedonian-Greek issue became their first target. The elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina were the next one. Despite the fact that Milorad Dodik is on the US sanctions list, Washington expects greater consistency in the presidium than before and openly sends signals about the possible punishment for those who will inspire the “dysfunctionality” of the Bosnian state. And their final target is Kosovo.

Trump’s letters to A. Vucic and H. Thaci contained, on the one hand, a call to continue the dialogue; on the other hand, the US proposal to assume the key role of a mediator. An exceptional overture was made in the message of the American president addressed to the two Balkan presidents: it contained an invitation “to visit the White House and celebrate the historic agreement together.” Active US involvement could reduce the influence in the Balkans not only of the EU, but also of Turkey and Russia. It will lead to the establishment of the one and only dominant force in the region. In addition, such changes in the format of the process could also snatch the negotiations from under both the UN and the EU while weakening the credibility of the international legal systems and the world order, which is what the American president is always keen to do. To a certain extent, this purely regional issue could give Washington the opportunity to regain its status of the “guardian of world order”, largely lost at the beginning of this century.

Brexit and the intensification of the UK policy in the Balkan region

Historically, Britain used its position in the Balkans in such a way as to avoid the strengthening of continental Europe, in particular Germany and Russia. That is why the unstable and moderately manageable situation in the region is more in the interests of London. Therefrom came the unequivocal support for the creation of the Kosovo army, as well as for the Kosovo independence itself and the desire to act as an independent actor in working out the Belgrade and Pristina agreements (according to some sources, A. Vucic and H. Tachi’s secret meeting in the Vatican on the formation of the Kosovo army in early November 2018 was organized by the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Alexander Soros). In addition, the British traditionally and quite reasonably believe that in the eyes of Serbian political class, German and Russian policies are more acceptable, and, therefore, the British prefer to rely on the Albania. Gaining influence among the Albanian population is one of the prime factors which ensure the inviolability of the British zone of interests in Greece and Cyprus. The return of the British fleet to the Mediterranean reflects Britain’s desire to gain a foothold in Africa and Libya. Over the past couple of years, London has been actively expanding its influence in the non-governmental organizations sector (in particular, through Tony Blair’s and several other British politicians’ consultations with representatives of the Serbian authorities) and renders the NGOs support in the framework of KFOR.

Letter from the President of France Macron to Hashim Thaci

The celebrations of the centenary since the end of the First World War were held in Paris. At the event, Hashim Tachi, the head of a country that did not even exist during the war, stood right behind the Russian president, while Alexander Vucic, the head of the victorious nation, was pushed backwards, placed somewhere in the last rows. After the ceremony, and the cancellation of Macron’s visit to Belgrade (due to the “yellow vests” protests), there was a feeling that France had missed a chance to actively engage in Kosovo negotiations, which seemed a priority at the beginning of Macron’s Presidency. Macron’s letter to Hashim Thaci concerning the presence of the latter at the ceremony in Paris looked more like a sign of support, rather than an attempt to “book” a certain role. However, it is Alexander Vucic who was actually counting on some support from Paris. It is important for Vucic to show that the Serbs are not alone in this turbulent moment. Therefore, France will certainly try once again to become an essential actor in the Kosovo process in the near future.

Berlin’s attitude towards Kosovo’s independence

Angela Merkel’s decision to withdraw gradually from the German political scene has a direct impact on the Kosovo process. In fact, it opens up even more widely the avenue for the United States to be actively involved in the negotiations. The role that Germany played in the process of gaining independence not only by Slovenia and Croatia, but also by Kosovo is well known. Besides, being an essential component for the criminalization of German society, the Albanian factor itself plays a significant role in the country’s politics. Originally, Germany was against the territorial demarcation plan, which continues to influence the prospects for reaching an agreement between Vucic and Thaci. However, with personal influence of Angela Merkel declining, the possibility of Berlin’s impact on the outcome of the negotiations is notably reduced.

The Turks keep silent

It is noteworthy that Turkey, an extremely important regional actor as well as one of the first countries to recognize Kosovo’s independence and to establish both diplomatic and economic relations with it, in no way articulated its position this time. Most likely, this is due to the positive progression in the relations between Erdogan and Vucic and also due to the fact that the Turks give the priority to the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean directions of their foreign policy. In any case, there is no reason to expect an independent and more substantive inclusion of Turkey in the Kosovo process. However, in the context of the growing number of its participants, the prospect of Turkey joining the process together with some other player, for example, with Russia, looks both possible and desirable.

Official comments made by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia

The comment of the Russian Foreign Ministry, condemning the creation of the Kosovo army, was presented in the Serbian media as an open support for Belgrade from Moscow. Obviously, the representatives of the ruling parties (in particular, Ivica Dacic, the head of the Serbian Foreign Ministry) also used this, saying that if the United States was included in the negotiations on the Pristina side, Belgrade would ask Russia to join in on the Serbian side. Such maneuvers by the Serbian authorities who got used to taking advantage of the “Russian card” whenever possible to solve various domestic political problems, creates the effect of “unrealistic expectations from Moscow.” This effect is reinforced by some Russian expert political circles reporting of the need to strengthen Moscow’s military presence in the region in order to balance American incursions. But it takes place under circumstances where it is evident that the geographical location (the country is cut off from the sea) and the geopolitical environment of Serbia (all of its neighbors are members of NATO) will not allow this to be done without an official request from Belgrade, which is in a state of war.

In addition to the listed above, the pro-Western media are actively taking advantage of the gap between expectations and the actual practices in cooperation between Belgrade and Moscow, highlighting what the expectations of Russian support amounted to for Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Thus, Vladimir Putin’s state visit to Belgrade on January 17, 2019 was backed up with such a basis, that the room for any maneuver was markedly narrowed. There is no one who would doubt that Moscow would actively engage in the negotiation process, or at least declare its intentions. And in doing so, it will definitely take the Serbian side. This circumstance raises the visit of the Russian president to Belgrade to the level of a “historical event.”

Possible Ways of Russia’s Inclusion: Settling Kosovo and Solving Other Balkan Issues

On the one hand, if Moscow supported Belgrade, it would entail nothing but the development of an additional area of confrontation between Russia and the West, while Kremlin’s military and political positions would not be strong enough, and the benefits of representing a particular actor in bilateral negotiations would be unclear. On the other hand, non-participation in resolving the issue, especially in case of receiving a direct invitation from Belgrade, would mean for Moscow the following:

  • withdrawal from the Balkans while leaving the US as a dominant actor in the region;
  • the final and unchallenged NATO establishment in the macro-region;
  • tremendous blow to Russia’s standing and perceptions of its geopolitical influence, which would inevitably affect Russia’s positions in Bulgaria, Greece and, to a certain extent, in Turkey;
  • a de facto recognition that Moscow is unable to have a real impact on European processes.

Alternative inclusion scenario

The US activation in the Balkans is expressed in:

  • the Macedonian–Greek dialogue;
  • Macedonian prospects for joining NATO;
  • messages sent to Sarajevo;
  • letters from Trump to Vucic and Tachi;
  • messages that are openly (through official websites of American embassies, social networks) sent to the region on a regular basis.

All that points to the fact that the United States is becoming the main player in the future settlement of the Kosovo issue. US support for the creation of the Kosovo army also has internal political significance, both for Pristina and Washington. Therefore, the balance of influence between President Tachi and Prime Minister Haradinaj, who has been concentrating in his hands control of the police and other security agencies, is changing. It also establishes a balance between the American security forces in the subregion and the State Department, which is important both for Washington and Pristina and for the Albanian population of the region as a whole.

Correspondingly, in early 2019, the United States is expected to do its utmost to bring the bilateral talks between Belgrade and Pristina to the final point solely through the mediation of Washington. However, even if the mediation is formally preserved for the EU, then, in the face of a change in the administrative cycle in Brussels, this will entail the strengthening of nationalist forces in the region and, as a result, greater destabilization in the Balkans. Thus, Washington, in its turn, will use this kind of situation, both efficiently and with a striking effect, in order to accelerate the pressing inclusion of Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina into NATO.

The situation where Brussels preserves the role of mediator (with covert or open participation of Washington) may also become a prelude towards destabilization in Serbia, following the scenario of October 5, 2000. The EU is indirectly showing readiness for such a turn of events, and the current opposition’s protest actions as well as the protests that followed the election of Vucic as President of Serbia two years ago, are demonstrating that this is a possible scenario.

In this regard, within Serbia’s domestic political scene, the visit of President Putin would be beneficial for all sides. It could balance the mounting pressure exerted on Vucic. At the same time, it could lead to the consolidation of the new pro-Russia political forces (National Center of Velimir Ilic and the Conservative Party, a new one within Serbian political arena). If this does not happen, the “Russian vector” will be highly likely marginalized or will completely disappear from the programs of the Serbian political parties in the next elections.

Within the foreign political scene, the main question is, how could Russia get a leading role in final resolution of the Balkan issues’?

In response to the U.S. attempts to engage in the Kosovo negotiation process waiting for support from Belgrade, Moscow can offer to expand the Kosovo issue into a so called “package solution” format modeled on “Peace conference” (Contact Group 2.0) with a number of following external players: the United States, Russia, China, Turkey, France, Germany, Italy, Great Britain. This would take place within the framework of a continuous negotiation dialogue conducted, for example, in Vienna, or in Brussels. Such a format has been long discussed in diplomatic circles in the Balkans because it allows, through a numerous territorial exchanges as well as various political and diplomatic maneuvers, to find a common solution for all post-Yugoslav issues.

Expanding the format is in the interests of not only the Serbs, but also the Croats, as well as the Albanians (theoretically, it makes it possible through official and legitimate means to resolve three main national issues in the region). Creating a permanent and continuous negotiation format in Vienna or Brussels also allows, on the one hand, to preserve formal mediation for the EU, and on the other hand, avoid “kickbacks” due to difficulties in the domestic political arena in all post-Yugoslav republics and also marginalize the influence of regional criminal groups standing in the way of a comprehensive settlement.

Putin–Tachi meeting in Paris in November 2018 was a good starting point for Moscow to launch a number of foreign initiatives that could give Russian policy in the Balkans a multidimensional nature. These are necessary in order to seize the initiative from the Americans, who seek consistent, pressing, but formal solutions on regional issues with the prospect of destabilizing the Balkans at any convenient for them moment. The initiatives could return to Russia its former status of “the creator of a new world in Europe,” and that would be impossible for the force-based scenarios of democratization to compete with it.

*Dejan Novakovic, President of the Adriatic Council (Belgrade, Serbia)

First published in our partner RIAC

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Taking For Granted … Be Wary

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The title of these comments is inspired by my personal experience in important areas of public policy both as a politician beginning in the 1970s and more recently as Secretary General of the OECD from 1996 until 2006. That was a very important decade as it ushered in the period which some day we thought would be known as the beginning of globalization on a grand scale.

When I took up my responsibilities in Paris at the end of May 1996 it was a time brimming with  optimism about the great future ahead for our children and generations to follow! We were about to say goodbye to one of the most brutal and bloody centuries in human history. Physical human suffering was compounded by poverty and misery of hundreds of millions, especially in the developing world.

Many of us involved at the international level in public policy saw major opportunities to address challenges which had eluded us in the past. Indeed we took a great deal for granted and I must confess that I certainly did. Why? Here are a few examples and the reasons for taking so much for granted.

  1. We had just witnessed major geopolitical restructuring in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Soviet Union had collapsed and we assumed that the threat of nuclear war had disappeared with it;
  2. With the replacement of the GATT the ( WTO) we took for granted the exciting prospect of global free trade and investment, which would bring economic growth and rising prosperity everywhere, but especially to the developing world. We expected “trade” not “aid” to be the route out of third world poverty;
  3.  The expansion of the proven Marshall Plan formula to regions fractured by division and conflict. We took for granted that such approaches could bring peace to the war torn Balkans and perhaps even to the Middle East and  the Arab World;
  4. We took for granted that with the publication  of the Brundtland Report “ Our Common Future” on Sustainable Development  followed by the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, followed by the commitments in the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, that the decades long stalemate of slowing green house gas emissions (GHGs) (and therefore global warming) had been broken  and that multilateral international commitments would ensure the protection of the biosphere and its natural capital;
  5. We took for granted that improvements to the stunning success of healthy capitalism through universal principles of good corporate governance, supported by an Anti Bribery Convention, would control the greed inherent in the undue exploitation of unfettered capitalism.  We took for granted that the wealth and wage disparities would narrow, especially in the United States;
  6. We witnessed the remarkable rise of the European Union (EU) uniting former enemies. We took its expansion and global role for granted. Regarding the EU,  I often quote a paragraph from the preface of A History of Europe by H. A. L Fisher, a warden at Oxford University in the 1930s. He wrote: “[No] question [would be] more pertinent to the future welfare of the world than how the nations of Europe … may best be combined into some stable organization for the pursuit of their common interests and the avoidance of strife“;
  7. We also took for granted the gradual spread of democracy and democratic institutions into the former countries of the Soviet Union and elsewhere in central Europe, South America and Asia;
  8. Early misgivings about the ideological bent of  Recep Erdogan as the Prime Minister, and then President of Turkey, were dispelled as he initially seemed supportive of good governance, freedom of the fourth estate, free speech  and democratic principles. We believed him and took for granted that the remarkable reforms introduced by Mustafa Kemal, known as Ataturk, would ensure the survival of a secular democratic Turkey;
  9. We took for granted the United States as a lone global superpower, magnanimous and fair, the first true united nation with people drawn from all corners of the planet to its robust democracy and unlimited opportunities.

As we look back over the past 25 years it is obvious that much too much was taken for granted. Given that so few of the opportunities we assumed would bring the world to a much better place were seized by my generation, what do you perceive as a better way forward? When we open that discussion in a few minutes, I hope I have convinced you to take little for granted. Be wary, if not skeptical, about those who foresee only a prosperous and peaceful future for this wonderful planet.

We need to remind ourselves of the following and address the questions I raise in our general discussion.

1. We failed to engage Russia with the West and as a result are now strengthening NATO in an effort to contain Putin’s aggressive behaviour. History may show this to be the most egregious of all Western public policy failures in the post-Soviet Union period because of its impact on other areas of global concern where Russia should have been a partner. Is it too late to recover from a failure to engage Russia despite the Russian adventures in Crimea and the Ukraine?

2. The EU is increasingly fragile, with concern about the future of the euro common currency and the EU’s capacity to deal with massive immigration from the war-torn areas of the Middle East. Do the weaknesses of the EU reflect a too rapid expansion without strengthening institutions which would move it toward a more federalist structure promoted by the Spinelli group?

3. Tensions have grown between China and its neighbours over territorial disputes, convincing the United States to pivot from its European focus and increase its military presence in Asia. Does this refocussing plus a strengthening alliance between China and Russia herald the reigniting of another Cold War like the one my generation grew up with?

4.Now many more nations( and possibly terrorist groups) have access to nuclear weapons. Does that greatly increase the possibility of a 21st century nuclear war?

5.The global free trade agenda is in the doldrums with the failure of the Doha Round and the concomitant rise of protectionist rhetoric, especially in the United States ,at the highest political levels. Does this mean that global free trade is now beyond reach?

 6. Is the prospect of eliminating poverty in the developing world through trade and investment  dying?

7.Reductions in GHG emissions, especially CO2, but also methane, continueto elude us after decades of effort, showing how ineffectual the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change process has been and will be. The widely heralded but unenforceable Paris Agreement in the context of a history of failures is even dangerous because much of the public thinks our leaders have come to grips with this challenge (as we all did after the Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997). Do they do not realize that even if the agreed upon targets are achieved they are not sufficient to keep global temperatures below the level that the scientific community tells us is necessary to prevent dramatic and irreversible climate change?Is there resistance to developing a Plan B as a last resort to prevent unacceptable global warming? Solar radiation management , a form of geo engineering, seems to be broadly under consideration. Is that good or of concern? As areas of the world may become uninhabitable, will there be mass migration from areas of the developing word to more temperate climates?

8. For those who believe in democracy and perceived it as beginning to take root after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union do subsequent developments undermine the confidence that many democratic governments may be in retreat?  In some countries, such as Thailand, there has been a return to a military dictatorship. In others, such as Russia and other countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union, there is only a pretense of democracy with rigged elections, as in Belarus. There also appears to be backsliding in Turkey, a very important global player and a bridge between Asia and its historic Western allies. The situation in Turkey, which held such promise only a decade ago, is very worrisome. President Erdogan seems increasingly autocratic and intolerant of criticism and dissent. Failure of this democracy could be a sad, even tragic, development. Turkey is a major regional and global power, and through the influence of Atatürk it became an emerging secular democracy with a majority Sunni population straddling Europe and Asia. Atatürk showed the world what individual leadership supported by ethical standards could accomplish in a short period of time.

9. Is the world faced with a growing number of autocratic strongmen who would prefer to destroy the important international infrastructure if it constrains their personal ambitions? It would appear that when one combines the far east, parts of Eastern Europe, Russia, Turkey, China, North Korea, the Philippines, Thailand etc, more than 50% of humanity is or will soon be governed by “strong men“. With few exceptions such as Ataturk, history shows that such people have only one interest “me”.

President Trump gives every indication that he is anxious to join the ranks of these strongmen, initially by withdrawing the United States from the central role it had played through visionary leadership by building and helping to maintain the post war international and institutional architecture. His slogan “America First” should be interpreted for what it really is, namely, “Donald Trump First”.

There is a disquieting commentary in the New York Times of 16 December 2016 entitled “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy” by Professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt of Harvard University. Here is an excerpt:

“Donald J. Trump’s election has raised a question that few Americans ever imagined asking: Is our democracy in danger? … Past stability is no guarantee of democracy’s future survival … Our research points to several warning signs.

The clearest warning sign is the ascent of anti-democratic politicians into mainstream politics. Drawing on a close study of democracy’s demise in 1930s Europe, the eminent political scientist Juan J. Linz designed a “litmus test” to identify anti-democratic politicians. His indicators include a failure to reject violence unambiguously, a readiness to curtail rivals’ civil liberties, and the denial of the legitimacy of elected governments. “

Mr. Trump tests positive on all counts. In the campaign, he encouraged violence among supporters and pledged to prosecute Hillary Clinton;

He haspage213image41232512page213image41225792page213image41222912threatened legal action against unfriendly media, and continues to suggest that he might not accept the election results saying the election will be rigged. If he loses will he in some way resist leaving office?

Since his 2016 election he has not changed his attitude on any of these issues.

David Frum, a Conservative and traditional Republican and a senior editor at the Atlantic published a book two years ago “Trumpocacy- The Corruption of the American Republic”. It has recently been released in paperback with a new preface by Frum which reviews the appalling record of this individual to whom Americans have entrusted the leadership of the most powerful nation in history.

In a concluding paragraph of the book he writes….” President Trump is cruel, vengeful, ignorant, lazy, avaricious and treacherous…”

Later he adds: “We are living through the most dangerous challenge to the free government of the United States that anyone alive has encountered. What happens next is up to you. Don’t be afraid. This moment of danger can be your finest hour as a citizen and as an American”

Today I cast Frum’s challenge to each of you in a global perspective rather than just American.

Yes, democracy can be fragile everywhere.

 We who live in well-established democracies must never be complacent or smug about the success of our societies. The comments of the Harvard professors above echo that concern.

Our democratic societies and their political systems must adapt to a rapidly evolving world. We are increasingly in that global village through forces of globalization amplified by communication and transportation technologies.

In line with the work of Charles Darwin, it has been said that “it is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” The same could be said of democratic governments and even empires.

What happens next to global free government is up to your generation of leadership. It is a humungous challenge, especially in countries where the seeds of democracy have never been planted or where they have enjoyed short life spans, Thailand and especially Turkey come to mind.

The future of democracy across the globe could be destroyed if the autocratic motives and moves of Donald Trump succeed, as they well might if I read the current political climate in the United States correctly. Despite shortcomings which need correction such as the unfortunate influence on elections through Super Pacs, the United States has been perceived for years as a remarkable democracy which others attempt to emulate. This may be about to change as it is increasingly viewed as government by the rich, of the rich and for the rich, and Trump does not appear to feel constrained by the institutional checks and balances of the constitution. He could put American democracy on the terrible path to an autocratic state which he seems to admire, especially in the Russia and Turkey of today.

In summary, what looked to be a promising future in all the major areas of concern in the 1990s has evolved into what could best be described as an economic, social, and geopolitical mess. But as bad as that story is, we have succeeded in making the future even more problematic with the arrival of global terrorism.

My generation must recognize the extraordinary failures of the past decades. Your generation must do better.

It seems that efforts to create consensus on major issues amongst many sovereign nations does not work. Is there not a better way forward in global governance? This is the last question I leave you with.

Have 190 counties not offered proof  of the impossibility of finalizing an international and binding free trade agreement known as the Doha Round, or as almost 200 countries have done in their efforts to find consensus on concrete solutions to address the challenges of climate change. Neither set of efforts, the first initiated through the WTO process and the second through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change process, has delivered the results sought and it is unlikely they ever will.

Is starting small and gradually broadening an international consensus a better option? The EU successfully evolved from a small base but has it expanded too rapidly to consolidate and build upon its remarkable and successful beginnings? Even the G20 may be ineffectual because of size and economic and social diversity.

Does the difficulty of building broad consensus on these issues suggests that a structure more resembling the UN Security Council would be more effective? Could the Security Council itself with a limited membership of powerful countries become a global steering group and replace the G-7 process?

Whether we like it or not, each major power has spheres of influence over smaller regional powers through shared history, culture (sometimes language), and trade and investment.

When we compare human and societal evolution to a relay race one generation must pass the baton on to the next. In a small way that is what I am saying to you today. I hope our discussion will touch upon a number of these important and often controversial issues.

We have fallen behind in many respects in the early years of this 21st century, perhaps even forfeiting many of the hard-earned benefits of good capitalism and democracy to an ever increasing number of corrupt strong men and autocratic regimes.

Is that the future?

Remember the words Shakespeare attributed to Brutus:

“There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.”

I am persuaded that the latter may be our fate. We did not take the flood of opportunities at hand in the 1990s. Is it too late to recover through hard work, sacrifice and creativity in restructuring global governance for a better world.

What should we do? What can you do?

It will depend to a large extent on your personal values which I hope have not been irreversibly warped by admiration for the material success of greed and visible wealth of the famous 1% who dominate power and politics in the USA and increasingly elsewhere.

I have described the state of the world today as analogous to the fireplace at my country home. It is usually fully loaded with tinder, kindling and dry wood. All it awaits is a match. Unfortunately, in the world today there are many matches waiting to be lit and spread their deadly destruction to regions, if not the planet as a whole.

*This text is exclusively made as supplementary for a university lecture held on 28 OCT 2020. It is a part of the so-called ‘Geneva Lecture Series – Contemporary World of Geo-economics’, concepted and considered by prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic for the Swiss University in Geneva.

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Economic situation is EU citizens’ top concern in light of the coronavirus pandemic

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In a troubled period marked by the coronavirus pandemic, trust in the EU remains stable and Europeans trust the EU to make the right decisions in response to the pandemic in the future. In the new Standard Eurobarometer survey released today, European citizens identify the economic situation, the state of Member States’ public finances and immigration as the three top concerns at EU level. The economic situation is also the main concern at national level, followed by health and unemployment.

In the new Eurobarometer conducted in July and August, concern about the economic situation is reflected in the perception of the current state of the economy. 64% of Europeans think that the situation is ‘bad’ and 42% of Europeans think that their country’s economy will recover from the adverse effects of the coronavirus outbreak ‘in 2023 or later’.

Europeans are divided (45% ‘satisfied’ vs 44% ‘not satisfied’) regarding the measures taken by the EU to fight the pandemic. However, 62% say they trust the EU to make the right decisions in the future, and 60% remain optimistic about the future of the EU.

Trust and image of the EU

Trust in the European Union has remained stable since autumn 2019 at 43%, despite variations of public perceptions during the pandemic. Trust in national governments and parliaments has increased (40%, +6 percentage points and 36%, +2 respectively).

In 15 Member States, a majority of respondents says they trust the EU, with the highest levels observed in Ireland (73%), Denmark (63%) and Lithuania (59%). The lowest levels of trust in the EU are observed in Italy (28%), France (30%) and Greece (32%).

The proportion of respondents with a positive image of the EU is the same as that with a neutral image (40%). 19% of respondents have a negative image of the EU (-1 percentage points).

In 13 EU Member States, a majority of respondents has a positive image of the EU, with the highest proportions observed in Ireland (71%), Poland and Portugal (both 55%). In 13 other Member States, the EU conjures up a predominantly neutral image for respondents, with the highest proportions observed in Malta (56%), Spain, Latvia and Slovenia (all 48%).

Main concerns at EU and national level

Citizens mentioned the economic situation as the most pressing issue facing the EU – over one-third (35%) of all respondents, a strong increase of 16 percentage points since autumn 2019, and rise from third to first concern. Concern about the economic situation has not been this high since spring 2014.

Europeans are also increasingly concerned about the state of Member States’ public finances (23%, +6 percentage points, the highest level since spring 2015), which moves from fifth to second place on a par with immigration (23%, -13 percentage points), the latter now being at the lowest level since autumn 2014.

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, health (22%, new item) is the  fourth most mentioned concern at EU level. The issue of the environment and climate change has lost ground, down 8 percentage points to 20%, followed by unemployment (17%, +5 percentage points).

Similarly, the economic situation (33%, +17 percentage points) has overtaken health as the most important issue at national level, rising from seventh to first position. Although in second position, health has had a notable increase in mentions since autumn 2019 (31%, +9 percentage points), taking it to its highest ever level over the past six years.

Unemployment has also increased considerably in importance (28%, +8 percentage points), followed by rising prices/inflation/cost of living (18%, -2 percentage points), the environment and climate change (14%, -6 percentage points) and government debt (12%, +4 percentage points). Mentions of immigration (11%, -5 percentage points), are at their lowest level for the past six years.

The current economic situation

Since autumn 2019, the proportion of Europeans who think that the current situation of their national economy is ‘good’ (34%, -13 percentage points) has declined considerably, while the proportion of respondents who judge this situation to be ‘bad’ has increased sharply (64%, +14 percentage points).

At national level, a majority of respondents in 10 countries says that the national economic situation is good (down from 15 in autumn 2019). The proportion of respondents who say the situation of their national economy is good ranges from 83% in Luxembourg to 9% in Greece.

The coronavirus pandemic and public opinion in the EU

Europeans are divided on the measures taken by the EU institutions to fight the coronavirus outbreak (45% ‘satisfied’ vs 44% ‘not satisfied’). However, a majority of respondents in 19 Member States is satisfied with the measures taken by the European Union institutions to fight the coronavirus pandemic. The highest positive figures are found in Ireland (71%); Hungary, Romania and Poland (all 60%). In seven countries, a majority of respondents is ‘not satisfied’, especially in Luxembourg (63%), Italy (58%), Greece and Czechia (both 55%) and Spain (52%). In Austria, equal proportions of respondents are satisfied, and not satisfied (both 47%).

However, more than six Europeans in ten trust the EU to make the right decisions in the future (62%). The most frequently mentioned priorities for the EU’s response to the coronavirus pandemic are: establish a strategy for facing a similar crisis in the future and develop financial means to find a treatment or vaccine (each 37%). 30% think that developing a European health policy should be a priority.

Europeans’ personal experiences of confinement measures were very diverse. Overall, close to three Europeans in ten say that it was fairly easy to cope with (31%), while a quarter say it was fairly difficult to cope with (25%). Finally, 30% say that it was ‘both easy and difficult to cope with’.

Key policy areas

Asked about the objectives of the European Green Deal, Europeans continue identifying ‘developing renewable energy‘ and ‘fighting against plastic waste and leading on the issue of single-use of plastic’ as the top priorities. More than one third think the top priority should be supporting EU farmers (38%) or promoting the circular economy (36%). Just over three in ten think reducing energy consumption (31%) should be the top priority.

Support for the Economic and Monetary Union and for the euro remains high, with 75% of respondents in the Euro area in favour of the EU’s single currency. In the EU27 as a whole, support for the euro has increased to 67% (+5).

 EU citizenship and European democracy

A majority of people in 26 EU Member States (except Italy) and 70% across the EU feel that they are citizens of the EU. At a national level the highest scores are observed in Ireland and Luxembourg (both 89%), Poland (83%), Slovakia and Germany (both 82%), Lithuania (81%), Hungary, Portugal and Denmark (all 80%).

A majority of Europeans (53%) say they are satisfied with the way democracy works in the EU. The proportion of respondents who are ‘not satisfied’ has increased, by 3 percentage points since autumn 2019 to 43%.

 Optimism for the future of the EU

Finally, in this troubled period, 60% of Europeans say they are optimistic about the future of the EU. The highest scores for optimism are observed in Ireland (81%), Lithuania and Poland (both 75%) and Croatia (74%). The lowest levels of optimism are seen in Greece (44%) and Italy (49%), where pessimism outweighs optimism, and France, where opinion is evenly divided (49% vs 49%).

Background

The ‘Summer 2020 – Standard Eurobarometer’ (EB 93) was conducted face-to-face and exceptionally completed with online interviews between 9 July and 26 August 2020, across the 27 EU Member States, in the United Kingdom and in the candidate countries 26,681 interviews were conducted in the 27 Member States.

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Could the EU Make its ASEAN Breakthrough with the Emerging Indo-Pacific Strategy?

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The Indo-Pacific policy guidelines that was announced by the German Federal Foreign Office last week, is a clear signal from Berlin in becoming a shaper for the international order in the volatile region. Entitled “Germany-Europe-Asia: Shaping the 21st Century Together”, the policy guidelines is the second of such document in the European Union (EU) after the Macron administration released its own Indo-Pacific strategy back in August 2019. But considering that Germany is the current president of the EU Council, this policy guidelines has been ever more significant. For one, Berlin has made clear its intention to lead Europe into this new Indo-Pacific charge as the ‘third power’ after the US-led coalition and China ⸺ an aim that is highlighted not just by this German government’s policy guidelines but also, incisively described by the French as the ‘mediating power’.

The release of such document, of course, reverberates different responses from political observers outside of Europe. For instance, Sebastian Strangio sees the German latest move as part of Europe’s reassessment of its approach to China and boldly predicts that other EU nations are to follow suit with their new stand on China. Prominent Filipino expert, Richard Javad Heydarian, meanwhile, is of the view that Germany’s pursuit as the shaper of international order is deliberately focused on the key regions which bear strategic importance to Europe overall. On the other hand, Xin Hua, adopts a pessimistic view on the ability of Europe to influence the Indo-Pacific region. With Berlin’s policy guidelines, the Chinese scholar sees Europe’s reliance on soft power (such as norms diffusion)to influence the Indo-Pacific region, in contrast to the US that projects its hard power in the region through military prowess in the region, will make it less than what it aimed as the shaper of international order.

Be it applause or skepticism, the observers are in the same view that Berlin’s latest move is a drastic shift from its previous ambiguous position on the Indo-Pacific region which has become the hotbed for the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) vision pushed by the US and its military allies such as Japan and Australia. With this policy guidelines in place, it signals the seriousness of the German government in joining the Indo-Pacific region with the rest of the EU, as a third power that is independent from the US camp and China. What is left is the forming of a full European-level Indo-Pacific strategy and its implementation in the years ahead.

The ASEAN Context

In the ASEAN context, Germany’s move has created two questions that are worthy to ponder. First, how will this emerging Indo-Pacific strategy be different to Europe’s current cooperation policy toward ASEAN as a whole? This is the foremost question to ask among ASEAN member states as the German government’s Indo-Pacific policy  guidelines singled out the Southeast Asian bloc as the country’s focused cooperation partner in different areas of cooperation: climate change, marine pollution, rule of law and human rights, culture, education, science, trade and technology. That said, this is not the first time ASEAN appeared as the important partner for the EU.As a matter of fact, two-way cooperation has been ongoing since the establishment of dialogue relations in 1977.

As of 2020, two EU-ASEAN Action Plans have been agreed upon, implemented and in the middle of enforcement. Within the Action Plan (2018-2022) that runs through the year 2022, a myriad of cooperation areas has been outlined, spanning across political-security, economic and socio-cultural pillars. In particular, those areas of cooperation identified in Germany’s Indo-Pacific policy guidelines are within the trans-regional plan as well. What is new is that Berlin has set security policy as a special focus area for Indo-Pacific cooperation ⸺ a point that is emphasized by the German Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas in his press release following the announcement of the country’s Indo-Pacific policy guidelines. In line with such niche orientation, Germany can readily lead the European initiative to assist ASEAN in the two sub-areas of non-traditional security that do not have substantial cooperation but chiefly important in the coming months and years: cybersecurity and public health security. These two sub-areas will be the best start for the EU’s Indo-Pacific push in the ASEAN region.

Second, how will the EU’s Indo-Pacific approach be different from its current dogmatic approach in its cooperation with ASEAN? By all means, it is no secret that dogmatic adherence to rules and norms remained to be the greatest obstacle for the EU’s full amelioration of ties with ASEAN in the past years. As of today, the EU’s ban of Indonesian and Malaysian imports as well as its unease on Filipino President Duterte and Burmese junta’s human rights records, are the contentious issues that prevented the European bloc to go past its finishing line in negotiating a full free trade pact with ASEAN. From such case alone, it is clear that the European bloc’s normative stance predicated upon Brussels’ strictly defined rules, norms and values on climate change and human rights issues, is in play when comes to international cooperation with ASEAN.

Having said that, Germany’s latest Indo-Pacific policy guidelines do not precisely highlight of its normative stance apart from maintaining the international rules-based order in the volatile region. But on the other hand, Germany’s aim for the EU to become the shaper of such order also sparks an open-ended question of whether its strict adherence to rules, norms and values (as in the present) will continue to be the defining feature of its cooperation with ASEAN. From the Indo-Pacific policy guidelines, this question is yet to be answered by the German government and perhaps, this dilemma is to betackled in the EU’s emerging Indo-Pacific strategy. Should a pragmatic approach is adopted by the EU ⸺ as has been recently demonstrated by the conclusion and enforcement of the EU-Vietnam Partnership and Cooperation Agreement despite human rights concern in the ASEAN member state ⸺ it will definitely clear the normative obstacle for the eventual conclusion of a free trade pact with the Southeast Asian bloc. More than that, it stands to facilitate greater cooperation in all areas of partnership between the two regions.

All in all, the EU’s emerging Indo-Pacific strategy should need to address these two questions that have surfaced fromthe former’s past and current experiences with ASEAN. While the German government’s Indo-Pacific policy guidelines have set new tone to Europe’s engagement with the volatile region, such document has yet to tackle these two difficult questions. Only by tacklingthese two questions will the EU be able to make its much-needed ASEAN breakthroughwith the emerging Indo-Pacific strategy.

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