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Albanian question in the Balkans

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The Greater Albania project, which dates back to the 19th century is an idea of the unification of all Albanians into one state. Namely, the Prizren League then demanded the recognition of the national identity of Albanians and the autonomy of Albania within the Ottoman Empire. Today, Albanians live in two countries Albania and Kosovo and in neighboring countries Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Greece. The scenario of Great Albania includes separation of Western Macedonia (Struga, Kucevo, Debar, Tetovo, Gostivar, Kumanovo, part of capital Skopje) and then the other parts in the Balkans with the Albanian population, cities in southern Serbia (Presevo, Bujanovac and part of Medvedja), southern and eastern parts of Montenegro (the municipality of Ulcinj, and parts of the municipalities of Bar, Plav, Rozaje, Gusinje and Tuzi), as well as Greek southern Epirus. If necessary, these borders can be reduced if it turns out that it is impossible to create them in this form. Since the fall of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Albanian factor is among the main actor of instability in the Balkans. At the same time, Albanian political elite is the most loyal servant of the United States interests in the Balkans.

What makes Albanian politics in the Balkans recognizable is manipulation with their demography. One of the main weapons of Albanians is their birth rate. That is, the figures for which they claim to be the only accurate. With the support of United States, the number of Albanians in the region is is constantly adjusted, in line with the geopolitical interests of the West . It is therefore necessary to look at the real situation with the number of Albanians in the region. After decades of increasing the number of Albanians in Serbia, under the blessing of Yugoslav communists and the regime of Slobodan Milosevic, in 2011 census was carried out in Kosovo*. Final results for 2011 census showed that Kosovo (excluding North Kosovo) has 1, 739, 825 inhabitants. North Kosovo is dominantly populated by Serbs. Prior to the census, in the West was estimated that Kosovo had a population of about 2, 200, 000 inhabitants. The latest US Central Intelligence Agency estimate is that on Kosovo in July 2016 lived 1, 883, 018 inhabitants. However, in reality, all these data are artificially increased. According to the expert estimates, in Kosovo there are fewer than 1, 300, 000 inhabitants, including at least 150,000 inhabitants which are not Albanians. This assessment was based on the analysis of telephone traffic and mobile telephone connections per capita in Kosovo. However, what everyone agrees with is the fact that number of Albanians is rapidly decreasing in Kosovo. The main reason for that is high poverty and corruption. According to the information provided by the Kosovo secret service in the Kosovo parliament, just in December 2015 and January 2016, Kosovo has left more than 50,000 Albanians, including 6,000 elementary school students. Some media, however, stated that more than 100,000 people have fled from Kosovo since August 2015 until February 2016, but that officials hide this information, while others claim that this number is significantly higher, and that it exceeds 6% of the total population of the province. In that period the emigration reached a peak, but in smaller numbers was continued to this day. The situation is similar in Albania.

Officialy Albania is one of the most homogeneous countries in the Balkans, but in reality things look different. According to the 2011 census, Albanians made 2, 312, 356 (82.6%) of Albanian population, Greeks 24, 243 (0.9%), Macedonians 5, 512 (0.2%), Montenegrins 366 (0.01%), Aromanians 8, 266 (0.30%), Romani 8, 301 (0.3%), Balkan Egyptians 3, 368 (0.1%), and others 2, 644 (0.1%). Around 14% or 390,938 did not declared ethnicity and 44, 144 (1.6%) were not relevant. The census was accompanied by numerous complaints about irregularities.

According to estimates of Serbian organizations, in Albania lives more than 30, 000 Serbs, mostly in northern Albania. Most manipulations Albanian Government is doing about the number of Greeks. The real figure of the Greeks in Albania is 200, 000, and neutral Western experts also agree with that number. It should be pointed out that the Greek Government claims 300, 000 Greeks live in Albania. Unfortunately for Greek population, the US Government considers that 1.17% of Greeks live in Albania, although they know that number is inaccurate. In Albania also there is also a lot of emigration due to crime, corruption, and poor governance of the state. Since the fall of communism in early nineties until 2015, one million inhabitants has left Albania.

In southern Serbia, on the 2002 census, the Presevo municipality had 31, 098 Albanians and something below 4, 000 non-Albanians, the municipality of Bujanovac – 23, 681 Albanians and 19, 000 of non-Albanians, and the municipality of Medvedja something below 8, 000 Serbs and 2, 816 Albanians. The Albanians boycotted the population census in 2011 because over 30, 000 Albanians migrated from Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja municipalities to the West, which means that the ethnic structure changed. Representatives of Serbian associations from these 3 municipalities point out that the data, taken as official, are forged and that in this 3 municipalities live only half Albanians from official data. Local Serbs claim that under the municipality of Bujanovac there are currently under 12, 000 Albanians, which is twice as low as the 2002 census, which is only relevant to Albanians.

President of the Coordination Body for Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja municipalities Zoran Stankovic said that the state is considering a new census, but that it is still early for the date of its maintenance, because it is necessary to prepare everything well. Mr. Stankovic stated this in 2013, but to this day, nothing has been done on this issue. The Serbs from Bujanovac claim that political discrimination in on the scene by playing with the number of Albanian inhabitants, which is why they have become citizens of the second order in their own country and expect the state to regulate the voters lists, which, they say, are filled with falsified names and non existent citizens.”We ask the government to adopt a program to stop the forced eviction of the non-Albanian population from Bujanovac – said Svetislav Velickovic from the Bujanovac Committee on Human Rights. – Of the total of 12 management functions in the city, 11 are occupied by Albanians. The Cyrillic alphabet is expelled, as is the Serbian language in communication with the local self-government. The toponyms are a special story, since in 2014 a decision was made to expel the giants of Serbian history from street signs and to replace them with terrorists from Kosovo Liberation Army. At the same time, such claims have been blackmailed in Macedonia also, where Albanians have territorial pretensions.

According to the 2002 census in Macedonia, Albanians account for 25% of the population. The census from 2011, Albanians boycotted after ten days of enumeration. Macedonian law forbids that citizens living abroad more than a year can be enumerated . Since a significant number of Albanians left Macedonia and went to the West, the real number of Albanians living in Macedonia would be shown. In that time ruling national-conservative Macedonian party VMRO-DPMNE drawn attention that there was manipulation in the census at that time. According to their data, 120, 000 Albanians who have not lived in Macedonia for long time were enumerated. And that is a significant problem. The Ohrid Agreement from 2001, which ended the armed conflict between Albanian separatists and armed forces of the Macedonian state has basis in the 2002 census. Under that agreement members of national minorities, primarily Albanian, are guaranteed greater political influence, both at the state and local levels. In places where they account for more than 20 % of the population, Albanians had received more rights in local government. There has also been an artificial increase of Albanians in Macedonia. After the NATO aggression against Serbia and Montenegro, a large number of Albanians from Kosovo went to Macedonia. According to some estimates of the UN and others organizations, about 300,000 Albanians went to Macedonia. Permanent refuge in Macedonia, from then until now, has found about 150,000 Albanians who received Macedonian citizenship. This also significantly influenced the ethnic structure of Macedonia.

According to the 2011 census, 30, 439 Albanians live in Montenegro. And they make up 4.91% of the Montenegrin population. In Montenegro, the Albanians complain that they are discriminated, although they have all rights. As in neighboring countries, they have also tried to cause problems in Montenegro. In anti – terrorist operation “Eagle`s flight” which was conducted by the Montenegrin police, was arrested a group of Albanians who planned terrorist attacs and an armed conflict in Albanian – inhabited parts of Montenegro. The group which was arrested in 2006 was sentenced on 51 year in prison. The group main goal was to “violate the constitutional order and security of Montenegro”, “cause instability, religious and national intolerance” and “endanger lives, property, religious and cultural facilities” stated Montenegrin Government.

Since US geopolitically conquered the Balkans, the Albanian question has again become open. The history of Albanian activity from the end of the 20th century is important because it shows us all the hypocrisy of Western powers. And if West officially stands for democracy, justice and protection of all religious and ethnic communities, on example of their allies in the Balkans, we can see that things do not work that way. When NATO carried out the aggression against Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) in 1999, and after the signing of a military technical agreement in city of Kumanovo, the Serbian Army withdrew from Kosovo. And there we could see all the essence of US and NATO. Everything what happen later was with the approval of US. And in Kosovo, under NATO control happened terrible things.

Since the arrival of NATO in Kosovo, more than 250,000 non-Albanians have been expelled. In other words, ethnic cleansing was carried out. On 17 March 2004, under the eyes of NATO troops, Kosovo Albanians started attack against Kosovo Serbs. That was the largest unrest since war on Kosovo 1998 – 1999. The official reason for unrest was the drowning of two Albanian children in a river in the village of Cabra, for whose death the Albanian media and politicians blamed Serbs from a neighboring village Zupca. In fact, it was just an exuse for ethnic cleansing of Serbs. Everything was done with the tacit approval of the West. During the unrest it is estimated that some 4,000 Serbs were expelled from their homes throughout Kosovo. During the pogrom, 28 people were killed, 35 Orthodox monasteries were destroyed or desecrated, and about 930 Serbian homes were burned and destroyed. In addition to public condemnations of all international actors, many participants have remained unpunished to this date. A small group that was punished, was punished with a smashingly low penalties.

The same thing happened in Macedonia. On August 31, 2001, Aleksandar Damovski, director of the most circulating Macedonian daily Dnevnik, gave the following information for the portal “BH Dani”: ”Currently in Macedonia there are 60,000 Macedonians outside their homes, not with their own will. They were expelled from their own homes by Albanian extremists operating in the territory of Macedonia. The pressure on Macedonians, on the territory where the Albanian minority is in the majority, is getting bigger and bigger every day. Macedonians in Tetovo and Gostivar are locked in their homes, they can not get out…”

Basically, the Albanian question is artificially imposed. Today, the Greater Albania project is not just an extremist idea, but a project that enjoys the support of the United States, Great Britain, Germany, France and can count on the support of some Islamic circles. So far, US has invested heavily in the project of Greater Albania, so it is not realistic to expect changes on this issue in US policy. Namely, the US project of the creation of a large Albania has entered in the active phase after the breakup of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Since than to the present days has been implemented by military and diplomatic means.

Of course, there is a history of US and NATO engagement in the Balkans and should be payed attention to several key points:

1. The role of US and NATO in civil wars in Croatia and Bosnia, active fight against Serbs as well as sanctions against Serbia, which significantly weakened Serbia.

2. NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999, and occupation of Kosovo.

3. A colour revolution that took place in Serbia on 5th October 2000, that meant a quiet occupation of Serbia, with wich started the destruction of powerful Serbian army, that in the war had embarrassed NATO.

4. A short war in Macedonia and Ohrid Agreement which was imposed to Macedonians, as a US project that began the process of “political” reforms in Macedonia through constitutional changes and the adoption of a number of new laws that provided much greater power to Albanians in Macedonia.

5. The US support of Montenegrin independence, which has weakened Serbia. With the separation of Montenegro from Serbia, Serbia has lost its access to the sea.  

6. US played a key role in the declaration of Kosovo`s independence in 2008, although that was contrary to international law. 

In both Albanian states today as earlier, there is a rule of crime and corruption. The logical question is why so much interest has US and some other Western powers in supporting the creation of a Greater Albania. The answer is in geopolitics and history. Great Albania is needed by the West as another whip against the Serbs. Because, Serbs in the eyes of Western historians and geopoliticians are the Balkan Russians. Far in 1876, during the time of the Serbian-Turkish war, Benjamin Disraeli, the president of the British government, accused Serbia of leading “a cold and criminal war against all the principles of public moral and honor.” He called the Serbian national liberation struggle “a Serbian conspiracy which is helped by Russian money and Russian soldiers”. He rejoiced at every Serbian defeat, and in the autumn of 1877 he suggested to the Austrians to occupy Serbia. Serbophobia, which prevails almost two centuries in the minds of strategists in London, occurred for one reason – the fear that the Serbs are “the main drivers of Russian Cossacks in the warm waters of the Mediterranean”. That is why since the outbreak of the First Serbian Uprising the main direction of British foreign policy was to preserve the territorial integrity of Turkey.

In achieving this goal, Great Britain today has the absolute support of the United States of America. The West, first of all United States and Great Britain, pursuses its policy in the Balkans, which for aim has a constant weakening of the Serbs. That’s why the West strongly supports Great Albania.

To make an end to disastrous US and British politics in the Balkans it is needed a stronger presence of Russia and China in the Balkans, primarily in Serbia. Strong Serbia is the best prevention of Greater Albania. Russia has done a lot in that direction, but still insufficiently. The cooperation of Russia and Serbia in terms of military cooperation has been raised to a much higher level. Today, in the Western Balkans, Serbia has the strongest military. But economic cooperation is not good enough. Russian investments in Serbia are primarily in the energy sector, which is a strategic sector for Russia, but with energy cooperation, investments in Serbian agriculture are needed. With investments in Serbian agriculture, Russia would strategically consolidate its position in Serbia. At the diplomatic field, it is necessary to block any solution for Kosovo, which is not in accordance with UN Resolution 1244.  Without independent Kosovo, the project of Greater Albania is impossible.

First published in our partner International Affairs

Slavisha Batko Milacic is a historian and independent analyst. He has been doing analytics for years, writing in Serbian and English about the situation in the Balkans and Europe. Slavisha Batko Milacic can be contacted at email: varjag5[at]outlook.com

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Tactical Retreat: Madrid Makes Concessions to Catalonia and the Basque Country

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The November 2019 general parliamentary elections in Spain resulted in none of the parties getting an absolute majority needed to form a government. Following two months of negotiations, a left-wing coalition between the PSOE (Spanish Socialist Worker’s Party) and Unidas Podemos (United We Can) was formed in January 2020. Having received the necessary parliamentary support, Pedro Sanchez, the leader of the socialists, assumed the post of the Spanish Prime Minister.

Catalan and Basque parties are now vital for the Spanish government

Since this is the first coalition government in the history of modern Spain that does not rely on a stable parliamentary majority, the role of regional parties has significantly increased. The PSOE-Podemos coalition only has 155 mandates, falling short of the majority (176) by 21 votes. In such a situation, success of any initiative put forward by the left-wing government depends on the support of other parliamentary parties—in particular, the nationalist movements of Catalonia and the Basque Country. The Republican Left of Catalonia (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, the ERC) and “Together for Catalonia” account for 13 and 8 seats, whereas the Basque Nationalist Party (BNP) and the EH-Bildu are each represented by 6 and 5 MPs.

Support of the four regional parties facilitated a number of crucial events in the Spanish political process. These include Pedro Sanchez, the PSOE leader, taking the office of Prime Minister in January 2020, a repeated extension of the state of emergency in the country in spring 2020, the adoption of the state budget for 2021 as well as passing the bill on the distribution of money from the EU recovery fund into law.

In this regard, both Catalonia and the Basque Country are now presented with more opportunities to promote their interests in broadening autonomous powers in exchange for their support of the governmental projects. At times of the bipartisan system, when the party to win general elections could independently form a majority government, regional forces had weaker bargaining positions. However, the value of their votes in the Congress of Deputies today has increased drastically. Amid such conditions, P. Sanchez has no other way but intensify interaction with the two autonomies on the issues of interest to them. He is driven by the desire to sustain support of the regional forces, ensuring the viability of his government.

Different aims: Catalonia is seeking referendum while the Basque Country is keen to broaden its autonomy

The coronavirus pandemic, which broke out in 2020, did not allow to launch another stage of negotiations between the Spanish government and the political leadership of Catalonia and the Basque Country. Notably, each autonomy has its own strategy and aims to pursue in their negotiations with Madrid.

The negotiations agenda of the new Catalan government, formed by the ERC and “Together for Catalonia” following the regional elections on February 14, 2021, includes: 1) amnesty for all the prisoners detained after the illegal referendum on October 1, 2017; 2) agreement with the government on holding another, this time official, referendum on the status of the autonomy; 3) revision of the current structure of financial inflows in favor of increasing investments from Madrid in the budget of the autonomy.

At the same time, the Basque government, headed by the BNP, has a different set of objectives: 1) implementation of all the remaining provisions enshrined in the Statute of Autonomy of the region, namely the transfer of some 30 competencies in self-governance to the regional authorities; 2) resuming talks on a new Statute of Autonomy; 3) formation of a broad negotiating platform involving the largest Spanish and Basque political forces.

In 2021, negotiations on these issues were intensified between Madrid and the regions. Each autonomy has managed to achieve certain results in pursuing their interests.

Catalonia: two tactical victories with no prospects for a referendum

Both Catalonia and the Basque Country managed to get a number of significant concessions in the course of June to October 2021. By doing it, P. Sanchez has shown the importance of the two autonomies in maintaining stability in the PSOE-Podemos coalition government.

Catalonia succeeded in achieving two important outcomes. The first victory was a judicial one. On June 23, 2021, amnesty was granted to all 12 prisoners sentenced to terms from 9 to 13 years on the charges related to the illegal referendum on the status of the autonomy that was held on October 1, 2017. This step sparked a severe backlash in the Kingdom, with demonstrations held in many regions. The majority of Spaniards (61%) expressed disagreement with such a move. However, it manifests that P. Sanchez is ready to make controversial compromises to maintain his political allies, despite possible long-term losses of the electorate support.

The second success of Catalonia was in the political domain. Due to a flexibility of the central government, the first talks in a year and a half that took place between Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Pere Aragones, the head of the Catalan government, became possible. While the sides only exchanged views on topical bilateral issues at their first face-to-face meeting on June 27, 2021, the parties could hold a substantive discussion of a plan to normalize interaction during the second round on September 15.

In the meantime, it was the Catalan side that set the agenda. This emphasizes the increasing role of the autonomy in bilateral relations, while indicating that Madrid is keen to garner support among the Catalan deputies. This is the why the central government is ready to offer some concessions.

Following the talks, the Prime Minister stated that the sides managed to agree on 44 out of 45 points of the document presented by P. Aragones. However, the only stumbling block remaining is a new referendum in Catalonia. On this issue, P. Sanchez is not going to make any concessions.

The Basque Country: higher flexibility and new competencies for the autonomy

Madrid has also stepped up negotiations with the Basque Country. However, it should be added here that the region has managed to achieve more tangible results in terms of expanding its autonomous powers in judicial and financial matters.

First, as the agreement signed in April 2021 suggests, three penitentiary centers with 1,378 prisoners were handed over to the Basque Government from October 1, namely the Department for Equality, Justice and Social Policy.

Second, the talks on July 28 between Pedro Sanchez, Spanish Prime Minister, and Inigo Urkullo, head of the Basque government, within the framework of the Joint Economic Commission resulted in new tax competencies handed over to the Basque Country. Local authorities are now in charge of collecting taxes from e-commerce, financial transactions and digital services. This may lead to an inflow of additional 220 ml euros to the Basque budget.

In response to such steps of the Spanish government, I. Urkullo made an eleventh-hour decision to attend the Conference of regional leaders on July 29, 2021. This event is of political importance as it unites the heads of all Spain’s 17 autonomies. At the same time, the Catalan Pere Aragones did not participate in the meeting. Had both Catalonia and the Basque Country been absent, this would have come as a real blow to P. Sanchez. Therefore, it was of utmost importance for the Prime Minister to persuade at least the Basque leader to attend the meeting. Urkullo’s presence partly contributed to the image of Sanchez as a politician who can reach agreement with the regions.

Key differences between the Catalan and the Basque government that influence relations with Madrid

In Catalonia, the coalition government is dominated by the ERC, which is more moderate and ready to move away from harsh rhetoric in favor of discussing common problems with Madrid. At the same time, its partner, “Together for Catalonia” that lost the February 2021 regional elections to ERC by only a narrow margin, stands for more straightforward actions.

Such a configuration within the coalition restricts Catalonia’s flexibility. The main goal of the radical wing is a new referendum. The ERC’s moderate approach is counterbalanced by “Together for Catalonia”. It does not support excessive rapprochement with Madrid or any deviation from that idea.

At the same time, the situation is different in the Basque Country. The moderate BNP enjoys leading positions in the government coalition while the EH-Bildu has a much lower weight in strategy setting. It allows the autonomy to be flexible, interacting with Madrid in a more successful manner.

Moreover, the talks between Catalonia and Madrid are still held in a narrow format of face-to-face meetings between the Prime Minister of Spain and the head of the autonomy. At the same time, the Basque Country has already resumed dialogue within the Joint Economic Commission. This is a more inclusive format that enables the sides to cover a wider range of topics.

Currently, the Basque Country’s give-and-take strategy results in smaller but more meaningful concessions, bringing about a broadening of its autonomous powers in exchange for political support of the central government. Meanwhile, Catalonia’s attempts to achieve more significant results, which may affect the image of P. Sanchez, bump up against Madrid’s reluctance to cross the red line. The Prime Minister is ready to make some tactical concessions to the autonomies in order to garner political support for his initiatives. Despite certain criticism from the right wing, such steps confirm the effectiveness of the PSOE-Podemos coalition, demonstrating the viability of the incumbent government to the electorate.

Talks have future as long as the left-wing coalition remains in power

The future of the negotiations between the center and the autonomies heavily depends on the 2023 Spanish general elections. Right-wing parties like the People’s Party, VOX and “Citizens” are not inclined to broad negotiations with Catalan and Basque nationalists. If these parties form the next government just in two years, the entire process of normalizing relations with the regions may be put on hold.

P. Sanchez’s excessive flexibility in negotiations with Catalonia and the Basque Country may lead to a higher popularity of the right-wing VOX party. Those among voters, who are dissatisfied with the policy of offering concessions to nationalists, may switch to the forces that safeguard the Spanish constitutional order. Another problem for the PSOE-Podemos government is the socio-economic recovery of Spain from COVID-19.

Little progress in these two directions is likely to result in the loss of public support. The influence of Catalonia and the Basque Country will not see a decline in the coming years. It is therefore essential for Madrid to make new concessions similar to those made to the Basque Country. But they should be gradual to provoke less publicity.

From our partner RIAC

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Is British Democracy in Danger?

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On Sunday 12th of December 2021 Boris Johnson went on national television to warn about a tidal wave that would threaten Britain. He was back then referring to the Omicron Covid-19 variant, little did he know back then that he could have been referring to his own political future. Johnson is facing increasing demands from his own party to step down after having admitted to attending a party in Downing Street on May 20th, 2020, during the UK’s first national lockdown.

Johnson has been facing increasing risks for quite a long time by now: from collapsing poll ratings, to violation of lockdown rules and an ill-managed pandemic that has continued to strain the National Health Service; among many others. These crises have compromised his moral authority both with the citizenry and with his own frontbenchers. Although in the UK confidence votes can happen relatively quick: the no confidence vote on Theresa May’s government was held on December 12th, 2018, just a day after she was informed that the minimum threshold had been reached, this is still not on the horizon for the current Prime Minister.

To trigger a leadership contest 15% of the Tory MPs need to submit a letter to the chair of the 1922 Committee. There are currently 360 Tory MPs, 54 of them are needed to spark a confidence vote. As up to now, very few have publicly confirmed to either have submitted or to have the intention to submit a letter. If such threshold is reached, this would open the debate as to whether there is someone suitable enough to replace him. The frontrunners are Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss; neither have the proven record of vote-winning Boris Johnson has had ever since he was the Mayor of London. Such vote of confidence is also unlikely to happen as majority of the crises the government has faced are of their own making. Johnson is not the cause; it is the symptom of a deeper decay of the British State and their politicians.

While the Conservatives will not be able to escape the cumulative effects of current and past scandals, this latest turmoil us unlikely to trigger the collapse of Boris Johnson. The next British election is scheduled to happen in May 2024, giving both Johnson and the Tories enough time to move on from this crisis and work on rebuilding electoral support. Boris Johnson has long defied political gravity and has survived a long history of scandals and mismanagements that may have destroyed the electoral chances of many other politicians and their political parties. It is highly likely that in the coming local elections in May 2022 the Conservatives will suffer electoral defeats, this is still preferable than what the political and electoral consequences for the Conservatives would be if they were to get rid of Johnson. Sacking him now would be accepting losing the war rather than losing a battle in the coming local elections. The long-term aim of the Tories is to hold on power for as long as they can, and at least ensure their electoral base is secure coming the 2024 general elections. For this, Boris Johnson still may come in handy.

Although Boris Johnson’s record has been shockingly poor; the Tories will not give Labour a chance for a general election before the scheduled for 2024, especially not now that they are leading the polls on the question as to who would make a better prime minister. The reality is that although his ratings have plummeted dramatically over recent years, there is no real threat of a general election for at least 2 years if one considers the larger political landscape.

One of the major threats British democracy does not come from Boris Johnson but rather from a deterioration of what sustains democracy as a healthy system of government. The UK electorate is highly volatile. Unlike countries like the US whose electorate has become highly polarised, the British electorate has shown less party loyalty, and voters have switched more and more between political parties in each election. However, this volatility will not get Johnson out of office, that is something only the Conservatives can do. This is closely linked to trust in politicians and the government. Lack of trust in both is one of the major issues of contemporary democracies around the world. Trust, is, after all, the basic condition for a legitimate government. Lack of trust in politicians, institutions, political parties, and the government in general enables populist tendencies, polarisation, political extremism and impacts the voting preference of citizens. It also favours the support of more stringent stances towards minorities, opposition, immigration, and human rights violations. A second threat that should not be disregarded is the attitude towards democratic institutions and bodies that sustain the British political system. While it is true that Johnson’s behaviour does not push to extremes such as Donal Trump did, or many other highly divisive politicians around the world, he is drawn to the same unconventional styles to deal with political challenges.

Democracy around the world is facing a backlash that is organised and coming from within, from elected officials. Our democratic rights can either be taken away suddenly as a result of a revolution or a coup d’état, or gradually through the election of leaders who slowly erode rules, standards and institutions that help sustain democracy. This is potentially more dangerous for the overall prospects of democracy because gradual erosion of democratic values is harder to perceive. The state, under this progressive attack, becomes prone to the systematic corruption of interest groups that take over the processes and institutions in charge of making public policy. It is during this gradual democratic backsliding that elected officials disregard norms and institutions while, at the same time, trying to redesign the structure of the state. An informed and active citizenry is crucial to prevent further erosion of democracy. We need to be aware that it is not only democratic rules and institutions that are in danger, but also the respect of our fundamental civil, political, social and human rights.

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The French Dispatch: The Year 2022 and European Security

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2021 has been rich in negative events for European security: the world has witnessed the collapse of the Open Skies Treaty, American-French discord concerning AUKUS, the termination of the official dialogue between Russia and NATO, and the migration crisis on the Polish-Belarusian border.

Over the past year, the Western countries seem to have been searching for new strategies. Since the end of 2019, NATO has been developing a new concept, and in June 2021 at the summit in Brussels, to the displeasure of sceptics, it was possible to agree on its basis—the transatlantic agenda NATO 2030 (# NATO2030) . While the broad formulations and a direct hierarchy of threats still require clarification, new projects in the field of weapons development, combating climate change, and increasing interoperability have already been declared.

In parallel, since the end of 2020, work has continued on the EU European Parliamentary Research Service project—the Strategic Compass. The dialectic between Atlanticism and Europeanism softened after Joe Biden came to power in the United States, but the European interests and red lines retain their significance for transatlantic relations. In 2022, together with the rotating post of the President of the EU Council, the role of a potential newsmaker in this area has been transferred to Emmanuel Macron, who feels very comfortable in it.

On December 9, the provisions of the Paris programme were published under the motto “Recovery, power, belonging” France, as expected, is reiterating its call for strengthening European sovereignty. The rhetoric of the document and its author is genuine textbook-realism. But now for the entire European Union.

Objectives of the French Presidency, are not articulated directly but are quite visible—making the EU more manageable and accountable to its members, with new general rules to strengthen mobilisation potential, and improve the EU’s competitiveness and security in a world of growing challenges.

Paris proposes reforming the Schengen area and tightening immigration legislation—a painful point for the EU since 2015, which has become aggravated again in recent months. This ambitious task has become slightly more realistic since Angela Merkel’s retirement in Germany. At least a new crisis response mechanism on this issue can be successful, even if it is not fully implemented.

In addition, the Élysée Palace calls on colleagues to revise the budget deficit ceilings of the Maastricht era to overcome the consequences of the pandemic and finally introduce a carbon tax at the EU borders. The latter allows for a new source of income and provides additional accountability for the implementation of the “green” goals by member countries.

The planned acceleration of the adoption of the Digital Markets Act (DMA) and Digital Services Act (DSA), developed by the European Commission at the end of 2020, is also aimed at unifying the general legislation and consolidating the European position in the world. In other words, the French Foreign Ministry quite soberly assesses the priority areas and vulnerabilities of the European Union and focuses on them, but with one exception.

A special priority of the French presidency is to strengthen the defence capabilities of the EU. On the sidelines, the French diplomats note that the adoption of the Strategic Compass in the spring of 2022, as originally planned, is a fundamental task, since otherwise the process may be completely buried. With a high degree of probability, this is so: the first phase of the development of the Compass—the general list of threats—lasted a year, and consisted of dozens of sessions, meetings, round tables with the involvement of leading experts, but the document was never published. If Macron won’t do it, then who will?

As the main ideologist and staunchest supporter of the EU’s “strategic autonomy”, the French president has been trying for five years to mobilise others for self-sufficiency in the security sphere. With his direct participation, not only the Mechanism of Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) in the defence area was launched, where France is the leader in a number of projects, but also the so-far failed European Intervention Initiative. Even without focusing on French foreign policy traditions and ambitions, the country remains a major European arms exporter and a nuclear power, where the military-industrial complex is closely affiliated with the state.

Implementing the 2022 agenda is also a matter of immediate political gain as France enters a new electoral cycle. The EU Summit will take place on March 10-11, 2022, in Paris, a month before the elections, and in any case it will become part of the election campaign and a test for the reputation of the current leader. Macron has not yet officially announced his participation in the presidential race, but he is actively engaged in self-promotion, because right-wing politicians espousing different degrees of radicalism are ready to take advantage of his defeats to purchase extra points.

The search for allies seems to be of key importance for victory at the European level, and the French Foreign Ministry has already begun working on this matter. In 2016–2017 the launch of new initiatives was predetermined by the support of Germany and the Central and East European countries. The change of cabinet in Germany will undoubtedly have an impact on the nation’s policy. On the one hand, following the results of the first visit of the new Chancellor Olaf Scholz to Paris on December 10, the parties announced the closeness of their positions and a common desire to strengthen Europe. On the other hand, the coalition of Social Democrats (SDP) was made up with the Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) who are not at all supporters of excessive involvement in security issues. What “strategic autonomy” means for France, constitutes a more restrained “strategic sovereignty” for Germany Therefore, an intensification of dialogue with Italy and Spain, which are both respected and potentially sympathetic, is likely. The military cooperation agreement concluded in the autumn of 2021 with Greece, an active member of PESCO, can also help Paris.

Gaining support from smaller countries is more challenging. Although the European project is not an alternative to the transatlantic one, the formation of a common list of threats is a primary task and problem for NATO as well. As mentioned above, it is around it that controversy evolves, because the hierarchy determines the distribution of material resources. The countries of Eastern Europe, which assume that it is necessary to confront Russia but lack the resources to do so, will act as natural opponents of the French initiatives in the EU, while Paris, Rome and Madrid will oppose them and the United States in the transatlantic dialogue. The complexity of combining two conversations about the same thing with a slightly different composition of participants raises the bar for Emmanuel Macron. His stakes are high. The mobilisation of the Élysée Palace’s foreign policy is one of the most interesting subjects to watch in the year 2022.

From our partner RIAC

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