General Secretary of China Xi Jinping’s tour of Italy, Monaco and France on March 21–26, 2019, caused a stir across Europe. What approach should be taken to projects being proposed under the Belt and Road Initiative? What threats are posed by China’s penetration into the EU economy? What foreign economic policy should be pursued in the current trade and economic confrontation between the United States and China? These and similar issues have been discussed by European leaders for years, and now, with Xi Jinping’s latest visit, the debates have taken on a new significance. While Brussels and Berlin are more concerned about maintaining competitiveness with China, Rome only added fuel to the fire, becoming the first EU founding country to join the Belt and Road Initiative, despite Europe’s attempts to come up with a joint stance on its relations with China.
Paris could not resist getting involved, especially since France was hosting Xi Jinping in the year marking the 55th anniversary of the country’s official recognition of the People’s Republic of China. President of France Emmanuel Macron and his government are attempting to identify the opportunities and threats of cooperating with Beijing and determine how French diplomacy should act in order to maximize the potential benefits and avoid possible mistakes. At the same time, China is a hot topic in French society, with politicians, international affairs experts and journalists all discussing it. French business is also closely watching the situation, looking for new opportunities to break into the Chinese market while protecting its interests from competition in the East.
This article deals with the specific features of France’s take on its relations with China: 1) the basic sentiments about and assessments of China; 2) the reasons for the French leadership’s concerns about China’s might; 3) the benefits of cooperation between France and China; and 4) the impact of the France–China dialogue on the interests of other international actors.
China: Pros and Cons
When visiting China in January 2018, Macron stated, rather pompously, that France and China were “sharing a rational view of global history” and “building a great friendship” based on the shared values of “reason, fairness and balance.” However, Macron subsequently hinted repeatedly at the danger of China’s “hegemony” (including in Canberra in May 2018) and stressed that “the times of Europe’s naivety with regard to China are over” (in Brussels in March 2019). While these statements seemingly contradict one another, they demonstrate perfectly well the duality of opinions currently held in France about China. This applies not just to Macron, but to the entire country.
On the one hand, there is a notionally “pro-Chinese” camp, whose representatives speak favourably about China and even maintain certain ties with the it. Strange as it may seem, this view is shared by many retired and active politicians. One of these is Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leader of the far-left movement Unbowed France. Back in 2008, during an escalation in Tibet, Mélenchon sided with Beijing and spoke against the idea of boycotting the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in China. In the run-up to the 2017 presidential election in France, he hailed China’s economic achievements and suggested that that country, “with its industry, technology, science and cultural development,” should be a privileged partner of France. The French Socialists can boast an even richer history of contacts with China: in 1981, shortly before he was elected president, François Mitterrand visited the country as part of his party’s delegation, and President François Hollande in 2014 received Xi Jinping in Paris (he also visited with Xi Jinping in China in 2018, following his resignation from office).
There are also pro-Chinese politicians to be found among France’s right-wing politicians. In particular, former Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin has long been a major lobbyist for business contacts with China (he has even been officially cleared to conduct this activity recently by the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs of France). Laurent Wauquiez, the current leader of the center-right party The Republicans, is formally against Chinese capital infiltrating the French economy, but the region of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes over which he presides recently founded a joint financial fund with Chinese partners. Wauquiez himself visited China in 2017 to hold meetings in support of the Republican presidential candidate François Fillon.
Several former politicians of different affiliations, including former ministers, are now employed by Chinese companies, including Jean-Louis Borloo, who is with Huawei, and Bruno Le Roux, who is with CRRC. Both houses of the French parliament have France–China friendship groups. In the Senate, approximately a third of the group is represented by the Republicans. In the National Assembly, the group is dominated by the president’s centrist party The Republic on the Move! (with Unbowed France also represented). Finally, some of the current government members (Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and Ministry for the Economy and Finance Bruno Le Maire) periodically visit China in hopes of strengthening bilateral economic ties.
On the other hand, there is the camp of anti-China “alarmists”, which is wary of Beijing’s growing influence. The most vocal member of this camp is Marine Le Pen, who is urging “reasonable protectionism” in France’s trade and economic relations with China, not unlike that professed by President of the United States Donald Trump. However, the key vigilantes when it comes to China are not individual politicians, but some very reputable international experts. President of the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI) Thierry de Montbrial is says that China is “playing the intra-European controversies,” using a “quasi-imperial” strategy in its efforts to implement the Belt and Road Initiative and striving to become the leading world power in the next few decades. IFRI Director Thomas Gomart concurs, noting that China’s increasing foreign activity is matched by its growing authoritarianism at home. Their colleague Alice Ekman explains that China and France have differing views of the multifaceted world, even if they describe it in the same vein: for Beijing, it is a source of influence, while for Paris it is more of a way of seeking European unity. Pascal Boniface, Director of the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs (IRIS), points out that China is deliberately developing bilateral ties with the EU member states, as it easily outweighs any single European country. François Godement, a Senior Advisor to Institut Montaigne, remarks that China historically is very consistent in protecting its interests and is unlikely to compromise, which is quite uncomfortable for Europe when it comes to negotiations.
These and similar opinions are being actively disseminated by the French media, which often sound alarmist with regard to Chinese politics. In fact, many French citizens seem to identify with this alarmism. A recent survey conducted by Kantar Group indicates that 81 per cent of those polled believe China to be “an influential world power,” with 60 per cent of respondents describing the country as being influential or extremely influential with regard to France. A total of 47 per cent define EU–China relations as being imbalanced in favour of China. In addition, 50 per cent of those polled perceive Chinese investments negatively, and 47 per cent believe China has already overtaken France technologically.
A Power Imbalance
In actual fact, France does have good reason to be vigilant.
First, France is evidently no match for China economically. Back in 1980, the two countries were comparable in terms of their GDP PPP share: France was slightly stronger, at 4.32 percent against Communist China’s 2.32 percent. Now, almost 30 years on (in 2018), Beijing is in a totally different league with 18.72 percent, against Paris’s meagre 2.19 per cent. According to the French treasury and customs service, there is a massive imbalance in bilateral trade in favour of China. In 2017, Beijing purchased 19 billion euros’ worth of French commodities (4 percent of all French exports, which put China in the seventh place among France’s key foreign customers), but exported 49 billion euros’ worth of goods to France (9 per cent of all French imports, making Beijing the country’s second largest supplier). Interestingly, no other country in the world demonstrates such an imbalance in its trade with France. France’s overall share of the Chinese market is relatively low at 1.5 per cent (mainly present in China’s aerospace, electronics, agricultural, chemical and luxury sectors).
According to the French Embassy in Beijing, there are 1100 French companies operating in China which have generated a total of 570,000 local jobs. In France, the 700 Chinese and Hong Kong businesses support just 45,000 jobs. The possibility of France’s strategic economic sectors falling into the Chinese hands may not appear to be as much of a problem as it is in Italy and Germany at the moment, but there are certain preconditions for this (given China’s sustained interest in the Port of Marseilles, DongFeng Concern’s participation in Groupe PSA, etc.). Chinese investment in France grew by 86 per cent in 2018, with the highest growth reported in the hi-tech sector. The French government expects to be able to resist this “plunder” (as Le Maire put it) by way of expanding the scope of the 2014 Montebourg Decree, under which any investment in France’s strategic sector is to be approved by the government.
Second, France is extremely wary of potential Chinese espionage (including, but not limited to, industrial espionage). In December 2017, the French authorities detained several people who were believed to have been Directorate-General for External Security (DGSE) officers subsequently turned by China. According to Le Monde, they had been feeding China information about their former employer’s operating methods. In October 2018, the media picked up Le Figaro’s investigation, which had concluded that Chinese secret services were actively using fake social network accounts to make contact with French public servants and employees of key healthcare, IT and nuclear enterprises. Promising candidates would be offered remuneration for their cooperation and an opportunity to visit China “for a conference or seminar.” In this context, it is worth noting that France is home to the largest Chinese community in Europe (approximately 500,000 people), which is hard for the French authorities to penetrate and may potentially be used by Chinese diplomats and secret services “for the acquisition of political, scientific, technological and commercial intelligence.”
Third, France and China directly compete in certain regions, first and foremost in Africa. France, for example, is worried about China’s military and economic presence in Djibouti. Macron visited the country during his recent tour of Africa. Of no less import was his visit to Ethiopia, where French businesspeople are aiming to carve a bigger niche (including at the expense of China). Also, China is sizing up the potential resources of the Sahel, especially the uranium in Niger, which has historically been controlled by France (as represented by Operation Serval in Mali). Notably, in January 2019, China joined the financing of the G5 Sahel joint contingent and also proposed to equip and outfit the force. France is also nervous about China’s growing naval might. Hence Paris’s contacts with the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force and its effort to build 12 Barracuda-class submarines for Australia.
Reasons for Rapprochement
All this notwithstanding, in building its policy towards China, France is weighing up all the pros and cons of developing a partnership with the country.
These certainly include new economic advantages. The French leadership believes that, if China agrees to let the country into its domestic market and also develops the Belt and Road Initiative on the basis of reciprocity, then this will somewhat correct the trade imbalance currently observed between the two countries. Accordingly, the vision is that Chinese capital penetrating the EU economy could be both curtailed in France and somehow made up for by similar activities in China. Exports to China are of particular importance to French companies at present, as the national economy is still recovering from years of stagnation. In this sense, the main result of Xi Jinping’s visit to Paris was the signing of a hefty bundle of business contracts, including the Airbus deal for 300 airliners worth a whopping 30 billion euros. Immediately after Xi Jinping’s tour, Beijing sent another important signal that it is prepared to cooperate: the country’s intellectual property court had suddenly sided with the French appellant in a trial.
In addition to the economy, Paris has certain foreign policy ideas with regard to Beijing. France’s logic suggests that maintaining full-fledged ties with China, as well as reciprocal visits and joint declarations, is an indication of its important role in the world and stresses its status as a country that is capable of independently developing dialogue with the strongest global powers. Moreover, this dialogue concerns high-profile issues, including multilateralism, global trade reform and climate change (in their joint communique, Macron and Xi Jinping agreed that their positions were close on most of the topics). Xi Jinping’s visit to France is being used by both parties as a demonstration of their prestige, and the Chinese leader used this notion expertly by mentioning, in his piece for Le Figaro, the spirit of independence which guided France 55 years ago when it recognized Communist China.
Today, however, the French leadership is striving for supremacy, not only at the national level, but also across all of Europe. The long-standing dream of the French presidents has always been to increase their own authority and use Europe as a kind of magnifying lens. This dream is now becoming increasingly important in the context of China. Macron is aiming to form a common European front above and beyond bilateral relations with Beijing, one that should allow every EU member to talk to China with one voice and defend common interests in the face of a common “systemic rival” (as the European Commission recently described China). It is for this very purpose that Macron invited Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel and President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker for the concluding phase of his talks with Xi Jinping (so the two could outline once again that the European Union’s chief criterion for China’s projects was mutual benefit). In an editorial piece, Le Mond said that, by taking the initiative, Macron had “proven the sincerity of his pro-EU approach and actually outlined Brussels’ new strategy towards China.” France is trying to be the main diplomatic “organizer” of the EU–China dialogue, although Italy’s behaviour (including its own business interests) seriously undermines these efforts.
China’s own interest in cooperation with France is understandable. France wields some political weight in the European Union. It is the European Union’s second largest economy with diverse industry, technology and major ports. From the point of view of the Belt and Road Initiative, it is logical to use France as another “entry point” to Europe and the Mediterranean. On a global scale, it would definitely not hurt Beijing to get close to another permanent member of the UN Security Council and a nuclear power.
Points to Consider for Other Actors
To conclude, here are a few thoughts about the significance of the current relations between France and China relations to other parties in the light of Xi Jinping’s visit to Paris.
On the whole, the European Union could either benefit or suffer from France’s evolving cooperation with China. On the one hand, it would be very convenient for Brussels if someone did all the legwork for it in terms of uniting the member states in the face of China, especially if it is the Euro-optimist Macron who does this legwork. On the other hand, there are fears that France, too, will follow in the footsteps of Italy sooner or later by officially joining the Belt and Road Initiative, given the bilateral economic interest. In that case, there would be no hope left for a united EU front; moreover, all the European integration drive would begin to erode.
The United States is being forced to revise its position in Europe in the light of Xi Jinping’s visit: is China is beginning to establish control of the European Union, pushing Washington to the side-lines? While the United States is offering the European Union a rather hard line of dialogue, China, despite all the reservations about it, is increasingly becoming a more convenient partner for European nations because of its tendency to make appealing proposals from the get-go. In addition, as Russian political analyst Timofei Bordachev notes, by including the European Union in the broader Eurasian context, Beijing is effectively securing itself against the constant fear that the United States will decide to blockade shipping routes linking China to Europe and the Middle East.
For Russia, Xi Jinping’s European tour once again demonstrated that China is being very pragmatic in refusing to make a choice between Russia and the European Union: both are equally important to its plans. It would be interesting to see how European countries, including France, seek a balance between the economic benefits from cooperation with China and the need to protect their own business, because this problem is no less relevant for Moscow. China is gradually becoming a common topic for France–Russia and EU–Russia relations.
In January 2018, Emmanuel Macron promised to arrange official visits to China annually until the end of his tenure. Whether he will keep this promise in 2019 remains unclear, but the next phase in the dialogue involving France, the European Union and China is scheduled for April 9, when the EU–China summit will be held. Xi Jinping’s March visit to France clearly demonstrated that Paris definitely wants to be an important partner of Beijing, both bilaterally and at the regional level. It is symbolic that, as the French media likes to stress, Macron’s name roughly translates into Chinese as “the horse vanquishes the dragon.” The problem, however, is that the dragon has his own plans for the horse.
First published in our partner RIAC
30 years after 9/11: How many Germanies should Europe have?
2019 sees the 30th anniversary of the European 9/11 – the fall of the Berlin Wall. Dislike the 9/11 that came 12 years later, which many now associate with the demise of the Anglo-American dominant capitalism, for the most– this European 9/11 marks the final end of the Cold War. Downing the Wall brought about the subsequent collapse of communism – narrative goes. Hence, it should be a date to celebrate annually as a final,everlasting opening of the road to universalfreedom prosperity, globally shared rosy future – in word: a self-realisation of humankind.
The counter narrative claims something else. All the major socio-political movements, since the Enlightenment until the end of XX century, offered a vision for the entire human race: Universally concepted (or to say ideologiesed) for a universal appeal. Each of them had a coherent theory and strong intellectual appeal on fundamental issues (i) redistribution and (ii) access. E.g. the redistribution of knowledge and access of illiterate mases of burgeoning societies to it; redistribution of means of production and access of proletariat in critical decision-making; redistribution of production locations and access for all through unconstrained trade over the free oceans and seas, open to all. So, the claim goes that the collapse of the Berlin Wall was not an end of Communism (marked by the unilateral takeover of the Eastern German society). Thatmeant far more. It marked an end ofthe planetary visions. Two competing ideologies heavily contested each other all over the globe, particularly in Berlin. And there, on 9/11, they lost both – beyond recovery. Ever since the 9/11 (of 1989), nobody is able or willing to offer any universally conductive vision for all.
Finally, it is wrong to conclude that it is (only) the end of coherent universalism – it might be rather an (irreversible) end of the redistribution and access.
9/11 as a De-evolution ?!Let us take a closer look.
Ever since the Peace of Westphalia, Europe maintained the inner balance of powers by keeping its core section soft. Peripheral powers like England, France, Denmark, (Sweden and Poland being later replaced by) Prussia, the Ottomans, Habsburgs and Russia have pressed and preserved the center of continental Europe as their own playground. At the same time, they kept extending their possessions overseas or, like Russia and the Ottomans, over the land corridors deeper into Asian and MENA proper. Once Royal Italy and Imperial Germany had appeared, the geographic core ‘hardened’ and for the first time started to politico-militarily press onto peripheries, including the two European mega destructions, known as the two World Wars. Therefore, this new geopolitical reality caused a big security dilemma lasting from the 1814 Vienna congress up to Potsdam conference of 1945, being re-actualized again with the Berlin Wall destruction: How many Germanies and Italies should Europe have to preserve its inner balance and peace?
At the time of Vienna Congress (1814-15), there were nearly a dozen of Italophone states and over three dozens of Germanophone entities – 34 western German states + 4 free cities (Kleinstaaterei), Austria and Prussia. But, than after the self-defeating entrapment of Napoleon III and its lost war (Franco-Prussian war 1870-71), Bismarck achieved theilliberal unification. That marked a beginning of vertigo for the Germanophones, their neighbors and rest of the world. The Country went from a failed liberal revolution, hereditary monarchy, authoritarianism, frail democracy and finally it cradled the worst planetary fascism before paying for the second time a huge prize for its imperialism in hurry. Additionally, Germany was a serial defaulter – like no other country on planet, three times in a single generation. All that has happened in the first 7 decades of its existence.
The post-WWII Potsdam conference concludes with only three Germanophone (+ Lichtenstein + Switzerland) and two Italophone states (+ Vatican).Than, 30 years ago, we concluded that one of Germanies was far too much to carry to the future. Thus, it disappeared from the map overnight, and joined the NATO and EU – without any accession talks – instantly.
Today west of Berlin, the usual line of narrative claims that the European 9/11(11 November 1989, fall of the Berlin Wall) was an event of the bad socio-economic model beingtaken over by the superior one – just an epilogue of pure ideological reckoning. Consequently – the narrative goes on – the west (German) taxpayers have taken the burden. East of Berlin, people will remind you clearly that the German reunification was actually a unilateral takeover, an Anschluss, which has been paid by the bloody dissolutions affecting in several waves two of the three demolished multinational Slavic state communities. A process of brutal erosionsthat still goes on, as we see it in Ukraine today.
Sacrificing the alternative society?
What are Berliners thinking about it?
The country lost overnight naturally triggers mixed feelings. In the case of DDR, the nostalgia turns into ostalgia (longing for the East). Prof. Brigitte Rauschenbach describes: “Ostalgia is more like unfocused melancholy.” Of the defeated one?! It is a “flight from reality for lack of an alternative, a combination of disappointment with the present and longing for the past”. The first German ever in the outer space, a DDR cosmonaut, Sigmund Jähn is very forthcoming: “People in the East threw everything away without thinking… All they wanted was to join West Germany, though they knew nothing about it beyond its ads on television. It was easier to escape the pressures of bureaucracy than it is now to avoid the pressures of money.” Indeed, at the time of Anschluss, DDR had 9.7 million jobs. 30 years later, they are still considerably below that number. Nowadays, it is a de-industrialized, demoralized and depopulated underworld of elderly.
If the equality of outcome (income) was a communist egalitarian dogma, is the belief in equality of opportunity a tangible reality offered the day after to Eastern Europe or just a deceiving utopia sold to the conquered, plundered, ridiculed and cannibalized countries in transition?
Wolfgang Herr, a journalist, claims: “The more you get to know capitalism the less inclined you are to wonder what was wrong with socialism.” This of course reinforces the old theme – happiness. Why Eastern Germans were less discontent in their own country than ever since the “unification”? Simply, happiness is not an insight into the conditions; it is rather a match with expectations.
Famously comparing the two systems 15 years later, one former East Berliner blue-collar has said: “Telling jokes about Honecker (the long-serving DDR leader) could lead to problems,but calling your foreman at work a fool was OK. Nowadays anyone can call (Chancellor) Schröder names, but not their company’ supervisor, it brings your life into a serious trouble.”
The western leftists involved in the student uprisings of the late 1960s were idealistically counting on the DDR. When the wall fell, they thought it marked the start of the revolution. After sudden and confusing ‘reunification’, they complained: ’But why did you sacrifice the alternative society?’
They were not the only one caught by surprise. In the March 1990 elections, the eastern branch of Kohl’s Christian Democrat party, passionately for ‘reunification’, won an easy majority, defeating the disorganized and dispersed civil rights activists who – in the absence of any other organized political form, since the Communist party was demonized and dismantled – advocated a separate, but democratic state on their own. The first post-‘reunification’, pan-German elections were held after 13 months of limbo, only in December 1990. “Our country no longer existed and nor did we,” Maxim Leo diagnosed. “The other peoples of Eastern Europe were able to keep their nation states, but not the East Germans. The DDR disappeared and advocates of Anschluss did their best to remove all trace of its existence”. Vincent Von Wroblewski, a philosopher, concludes on Anschluss: “By denying our past, they stole our dignity.”
Defeated Greece conquering Rome
30 years after abandoning and ridiculing socialism, its (German-born Marx-Engels) ideas seem regaining the ground. That is so especially among the US Democrats and Greens, and the millennials all over the planet, including a global follower base to the Swedish ‘baby revolutionary’ Greta Thunberg.
In his 2019 International Labor Day speech, the Prime Minister of the turbo-liberal Singapore’ delivers a clear massage of socialism: “A strong labour movement (from confrontation 50 years ago to cooperation today) remains crucial to us. In many developed countries, union membership is falling, and organised labour is becoming marginalised. Workers’ concerns are not addressed, and they feel bewildered, leaderless and helpless. Not surprisingly, they turn to extreme, nativist political movements that pander to their fears and insecurity, but offer no realistic solutions or inspiring leadership to improve their lives. In Singapore, constructive and cooperative unions, together with enlightened employers and a supportive government, have delivered better incomes for workers and steady progress for the country. We must stay on this path, and strengthen trust and cooperation among the tripartite partners, so that despite the uncertainties and challenges in the global economy, we can continue to thrive and prosper together as a nation.”
Back in Berlin, a 29-year-old Kevin Kühnert openly calls for socialism arguing that it ‘means democratic control over the economy’… over a tiger that in the meantime became too big and too wild to be controlled. He doesn’t shy away that his aim is ‘to replace capitalism as such not just to recalibrate it’. Kühnert’s socialism puts needs before skills and collective well-being before individual reward. Companies like BMW would be collectivized, meaning ownership by the workers. “Without collectivization of one form or the another, it is unthinkable to overcome capitalism” – this native of western Berlin claims.
Ideas might sound radical, but this raising star of the eldest and the second largest German political party – SPD, and its current Youth Chair (JUSOS), Kühnert enjoys huge support and popularity among millennials. It is a generation surprised by the social fairness,cultural broadness and overall achievements of the ‘defeated’ DDR.
The same principle would be applied to real estate: “I don’t think it is a legitimate business model, to earn a living from the living space of other people. Everybody should at most own the living space he himself inhabits – everything else would be owned collectively” – he explained in the mesmerizing interview for the leading German daily ‘Die Zeit’.
The triumphant neoliberalism of the German post-1989 dizzy years brought about fast and often opaque financial gains upwards, while the growing list of social risks were shifted downward. Today, the wealthiest are mostly those with the resources and skills to avoid taxes and ship jobs to China. Very often they are not even German; Warren Buffett is a major investor in Berlin real estate. Thirty years ago nobody from either side of the Berlin Wall imagined such scenarios. “Russians were here, but the culture and the restaurants were still German. Look at this now; what is German in this city – neither sports, food, outfits, property nor culture” – laments a baby-boomer Berliner at the Alexander Platz.
Unrestrained capitalism was clearly not what the founders of Western Germany had in mind. “Thecapitalist economic system did not serve the interest of the German people” – even the center-right Christian Democrats declared already in 1947. That is why – leaning on its own parallel society, that of the DDR – the Western German republic was built on the idea of the social market economy (sozialeMarktwirtschaft) in which individual initiative was prized, but so was the obligation of the wealthy to help those socio-economically behind.
Alarming figures of the Gini index (including the income share held by lowest as well as by highest 10%) in Germany display a high child and youth poverty rates which significantly perpetuate the intergenerational transmission of poverty. Declared dream of the western German founders increasingly becomes a German illusion. The equality of opportunity – so much prized in theory – in practice is just a myth, especially for eastern portions of Germany, minorities, women, but also for an everlarger echelons of the middle-class.
“Socialism is not defeated, it is only hijacked. Nowadays, it is held by the ‘One Percent’ – they enjoy subsides, tax breaks, deregulations and executive bonuses. The rest of population lives unfair system of inequality and segregation, struggling to meet its ends under severe austerity, confusing migration policies, and never ending erosion of labour rights” – explains the Leipzig’s professor of political economy. “Even when Al Qaeda or ISIL strikes Germany, it is not an upper end elite restaurant, but the Munich working class suburban location, in front of inn that belongs to the chain of cheap fast food” – concludes his assistant.
DDR was abruptly eliminated as a territorial reality. 30 years later, for many Germans, it comes back – between utopian dream and only remaining hope. No wonder that the elections, just 10 days before the 30th anniversary of Berlin Wall downing, in a focally important German federal province (Bundeslander) of Thuringia ended up with a total triumph of the Linke. This successor party to the former DDR’s Communists repeated their winning results yet again by late October 2019. This time it was with a stunning 31% of total votes – nearly equalling the combined vote won by the three most established German political parties, that of the Christian-democrats, Social-democrats and Liberals (8% +21%+5%).
Feared and admired, overindustrialisedovermigrated, overheatedand überperforming,Germany of today is increasingly isolated. The (AfD and other) schuldkult abolitionists are getting ready for a new version of the past that is already ‘sold’ all over Eastern Europe. All the while France – as Robert Kagan says: “is only one elections away from a nationalist electorate victory that will hit Europe like an earthquake” and will end “Franco-German partnership around which European peace was built 70 years ago”.
The Wall was downed 30 years ago, but the silent fences of solitude are erecting all within and around the Überland.
Yet another alternative society, butchered
The collapse of the Soviet Union – which started in Berlin on 09th November 1989 – marked a loss of the historical empire for Russia, but also a loss of geopolitical importance of nonaligned, worldwide respected Yugoslavia, which shortly after burned itself in series of brutal genocidal, civil war-like ethnical cleansings. The idea of different nations living together and communicating in different languages in a (con-)federal structure was (though imperfect) a reality in Yugoslavia, but also a declared dream of the Maastricht Europe. In fact, federalism of Yugoslavia was one of the most original, advanced and sophisticated models as such worldwide. Moreover, this country was the only truly emancipated and independent political entity of Eastern Europe and one of the very few in a whole of the Old Continent.
Yugoslavia was by many facets a unique European country: No history of aggression towards its neighbors, with the high toleration of otherness, at home and abroad. Yugoslav peoples were one of the rare Europeans who resolutely stood up against fascism, fighting it in a full-scale combat and finally paying it with 12% of its population in the 4-years war – a heavy burden shouldered by the tiny nation to return irresponsible Europe to its balances.
Besides the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia was the single European country that solely liberated itself from Nazism and fascism. (Relative to the 1939 demographic volume and incumbent population within the national border, the top WWII fatalities were suffered by Poland – 18%, the Soviet Union – 15%, Yugoslavia 12%, III Reich/Germany – 10%. For the sake of comparison, the Atlantic rim suffered as follows: France – 1,3%, UK –0,9%, the US – 0,3%.)
Yugoslavs also firmly opposed Stalinism right after the WWII. Bismarck of southern Slavs – Tito imposed the so-called active peaceful coexistence after the 1955 Bandung south-south conference, and assembled the non-Aligned movement (NAM) in its founding, Belgrade conference of 1961. Steadily for decades, the NAM and Yugoslavia have been directly tranquilizing the mega confrontation of two superpowers and satellites grouped around them (and balancing their irresponsible calamities all over the globe). In Europe, the continent of the sharpest ideological divide, with practically two halves militarily confronting each other all over the core sectors of the continent (where Atlantic Europe was behind some of the gravest atrocities of the 20th century, from French Indochina, Indonesia, Congo, Rhodesia to Algeria and Suez), and with its southern flank of Portugal, Spain and Greece (and Turkey sporadically) run by the military Juntas, Yugoslavia was remarkably mild island of stability, moderation and wisdom.
Additionally, the Yugoslav way of socialism inspired the largest European communist parties outside the Soviet sphere to emancipate themselves, and to formulate the so calledEurocommunism. Notably, the Spanish PCE, Italian PCI and French PCF communist parties have evolved from the pro-Russian into the modern eurocommunist popular parties with a help of Yugoslav thinkers and practitioners.
Domestically, Yugoslavia had a unique constitutional setup of a strictly decentralized federation. Although being a formal democracy in its political life, many aspects of its social and economic practices as well as largely enjoyed personal freedoms and liberties featured the real democracy. The concept of self-management (along with the Self-managing Interest Community model) in economic, social, linguistic and cultural affairs gained a lot of external attention and admiration in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Still, there was neither enough sympathies, nor mercy towards-EU-heading Europe, to save either the Yugoslav people from an immense suffering or the symbol that this country represented domestically and internationally. Who needs alternative societies and alternative thinking?!
Despite the post-Cold War, often pre-paid, rhetoric that Eastern Europe rebelled against the Soviet domination in order to associate itself with the West, the reality was very different. Nagy’s Hungary of 1956, Dubček’s Czechoslovakia of 1968 and (pre-)Jeruzelski Poland of 1981 dreamt and fought to join a liberal Yugoslavia, and its world-wide recognized 3rd way!
By 1989-90, this country still represented a hope of full emancipation and real freedom for many in the East. How did the newly created EU (Atlantic-Central Europe axis) react? At least tolerating (if not eager to support), or actively eliminating the third way of Yugoslavia? It responded to the Soviet collapse in the best fashion of a classic, historical nation-state, with the cold calculi of geopolitical consideration deprived of any ideological constrains. It easily abandoned altruism of its own idea by withdrawing its support to the reformist government of Yugoslavia, and basically sealed-off its faith.
Intentionally or not, indecisive and contradictory political messages of the Maastricht-time EU – from the Genscher/Mock explicate encouragement of separatism, and then back to the full reconfirmation of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Yugoslavia – were bringing this multinational Slavic state into a schizophrenic situation. Consequently, these mixed or burial European political voices – most observes would agree – directly fed and accelerated inner confrontations of the (elites claiming to represent) Yugoslav peoples.
Soon after, Atlantic-Central Europe axis contained its own candidate country, Yugoslavia (and started calling it euphemistically the western Balkans), letting the slaughterhouse to last essentially unchecked for years. At the same time, it busily mobilized all resources needed to extend its own strategic depth eastwards (later formalized by the so-called enlargements of 1995, of 2004, of 2007 and finally of 2013).
The first ever fully televised war with its highly disturbing pictures of genocidal Armageddon came by early 1990s. It remained on TV sets for years all over Europe, especially to its East. Although the Atlantic-Central Europe axis kept repeating we do not know who is shooting whom in this powder keg and it is too early to judge, this –seemingly indecisive, wait-and-see, attitude– was in fact an undeniably clear message to everyone in Eastern Europe: No alternative way will be permitted. East was simply expected to bandwagon – to passively comply, not to actively engage itself.
This is the only answer how can genocide and the EU enlargement go hand in hand at the same time on such a small continent. At about same time, Umberto Eco talks about eternal yet reinvigorated Nazism. By 1995, he famously diagnosed: ‘Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak’.
No surprise that the East has soon after abandoned its identity quest, and capitulated. Its final civilizational defeat came along: the Eastern Europe’s Slavs have silently handed over their most important debates – that of Slavism, anti-fascism and of their own identity – solely to the (as we see nowadays) recuperating Russophone Europe.
Europe of Genocide and of Unification – Happily Ever after
As said, the latest loss of Russophone Europe in its geopolitical and ideological confrontation with the West meant colossal changes in Eastern Europe. One may look intogeopolitical surrounding of at the-time largest eastern European state, Poland, as an illustration of how dramatic it was. All three land neighbors of Poland; Eastern Germany (as the only country to join the EU without any accession procedure, but by pure act of Anschluss), Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union have disappeared overnight. At present, Polish border-countries are a three-decade-old novelty on the European political map. Further on, if we wish to compare the number of dissolutions of states worldwide over the last 50 years, the Old continent suffered as many as all other continents combined: American continent – none, Asia – one (Indonesia/ East Timor), Africa – two (Sudan/South Sudan and Ethiopia/Eritrea), and Europe – three.
Underreported as it is, each and every dissolution in Europe was primarily related to Slavs (Slavic peoples) living in multiethnic and multi-linguistic (not in the Atlantic Europe’s conscripted pure single-nation) state. Additionally, all three European – meaning, every second dissolution in the world – were situated exclusively and only in Eastern Europe. That region has witnessed a total dissolution of Czechoslovakia (western Slavs) and Yugoslavia (southern Slavs, in 3 waves), while one state disappeared from Eastern Europe (DDR) as to strengthen and enlarge the front of Central Europe (Western Germany). Finally, countless centripetal turbulences severely affected Eastern Europe following the dissolution of the SU (eastern Slavs) on its frontiers.
Irredentism in the UK, Spain, Belgium, France and Italy, or Denmark (over Faroe Islands and Greenland) is far elder, stronger and deeper. However, the dissolutions in Eastern Europe took place irreversibly and overnight, while Atlantic Europe still remained intact, with Central Europe even enlarging territorially and expanding economically.
Ergo: Our last 30 years conclude that (self-)fragmented, deindustrialized, rapidly aged rarified and depopulated, (and de-Slavicized) EasternEurope is probably the least influential region of the world – one of the very few underachievers. Obediently submissive and therefore, rigid in dynamic environment of the promising 21st century, Eastern Europeans are among the last, remaining passive downloaders and slow-receivers on the otherwise blossoming stage of the world’s creativity, politics and economy. It seems that Europe still despises its own victims.
Interestingly, the physical conquest of the European east, usually referred to as the EU eastern enlargement was deceivingly presented more as a high virtue than what that really was – a cold realpolitik instrument. Clearly, it was primarily the US-led NATO extension, and only then the EU (stalking, TRABANT-ising) enterprise. Simply, not a single eastern European country entered the EU before joining the NATO at first. It was well understood on both sides of the Atlantic that the contracting power of the Gorbachev-Yeltsin Russia, in the post-Cold War period,would remain confused, disoriented, reactive and defensive. Therefore, the North Atlantic Military Alliance kept expanding despite the explicit assurances given to Kremlin by the George H.W. Bush administration.
It is worth remembering that the NATO was and remains an instrument (institutionalized political justifier) of the US physical, military presence in Europe. Or, as Lord Ismay vocally defined it in1949: ‘to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down’. The fact that the US remained in Western Germany, and that the Soviet Army pulled out from Eastern Germany did not mean ‘democratization’ or ‘transition’. It represented a direct military defeat of the Gorbachev Russia in its duel over the core sectors of Central and Eastern Europe.
(A total ‘reimbursement’ of the Helmut Kohl’s government to Soviet Union was less than €6 billion; DEM 12 billion + DEM 3 billion in loan. That little Gorbachev accepted in order to pull out from East Germany almost half a million strong army – which marked beginning of domino effect.)
As direct spoils of war, DDR disappeared from the political map of Europe, being absorbed by Western Germany, while the American Army still resides in a unified Germany. In fact, more than half of the US 75 major overseas military bases are situated in Europe. Up to this very day, Germany hosts 25 of them.
Theletzte Mensch or Übermensch?
In the peak of Atlantic hype of early 1990s, Fukuyama euphorically claimed end of history. Less than three two decades later, twisting in the sobriety of the inevitable, he quietly moderated it with afuture of history, desperately looking around and begging: ‘Where is a counter-narrative?” Was and will our history ever be on holiday?
One hundred years after the outbreak of the WWI and 30 years after the fall of the Berlin wall, young generations of Europeans are being taught in school about a singularity of an entity called the EU. However, as soon as serious external or inner security challenges emerge, the compounding parts of the true, historic Europe are resurface again. Formerly in Iraq (with the exception of France) and now with Libya, Mali, Syria and Ukraine; Central Europe is hesitant to act, Atlantic Europe is eager, Scandinavian Europe is absent, and while Eastern Europe is obediently bandwagoning, Russophone Europe is opposing.
The 1986 Reagan-led Anglo-American bombing of Libya was a one-time, headhunting punitive action. This time, both Libya and Syria (Iraq, Mali, Ukraine, too) have been given a different attachment. The factors are multiple and interpolated. Let us start with a considerable presence of China in Africa. Then, there are successful pipeline deals between Russia and Germany which, while circumventing Eastern Europe, will deprive East from any transit-related bargaining premium, and will tacitly pose an effective joint Russo-German pressure on the Baltic states, Poland and Ukraine. Finally, here is a relative decline of the US interests and capabilities, and to it related re-calibration of their European commitments, too. All of that combined, must have triggered alarm bells across, primarily Atlantic, Europe.
The insight here is that although seemingly unified, Europe is essentially composed of several segments, each of them with its own dynamics, legacies and its own political culture (considerations, priorities and anxieties). Atlantic and Central Europe are confident and secure on the one end, while (the EU and non-EU) Eastern Europe as well as Russia on the other end, insecure and neuralgic, therefore, in a permanent quest for additional security guaranties.
“America did not change on September 11. It only became more itself”– Robert Kagan famously claimed. Paraphrasing it, we may say: From 9/11 (09th November 1989 in Berlin) and shortly after, followed by the genocidal wars all over Yugoslavia, up to the Euro-zone drama, MENA or ongoing Ukrainian crisis, Europe didn’t change. It only became more itself – a conglomerate of five different Europes.
Therefore, 9/11 this year will be just another said reminder: How our winners repeatedly missed to take our mankind into completely other direction; towards the non-confrontational, decarbonized, de-monetized/de-financialized and de-psychologized, the self-realizing, generationally fairer and greener humankind.
To Trabant (our lives) or not (drive) Trabant, question is now? Where is the better life that all of us have craved and hoped for,that we all deserve and that were repeatedly promised of that day in Berlin?
Macron needs to reign in the anti-Bulgarian crazy talk for the sake of French national security
France’s President Emmanuel Macron just told a French far-right magazine that he preferred legal immigrants from Guinea or Cote d’Ivoire to the illegal Ukrainian or Bulgarian gangs.
Everyone prefers decent people to criminal rings. I prefer regular people to criminals. That’s not news.
Where what Macron said gets problematic is that he coupled Bulgarians with criminal gangs, as if that is the Bulgarian migrant contingent in France. Apparently, this is the Bulgarian migrant in France.
Maybe Macron didn’t sleep well that night and that’s why he was cranky. Maybe he bumped his head. Maybe he is just pandering to the French far-right. Bottom line is he needs to cut the crazy talk.
Bulgarians, unlike Ukrainians, are citizens of the EU with equal rights whether Macron likes it or not.
After blocking North Macedonia and Albania from EU accession talks last week, Macron is becoming the bad guy with the French accent in the Balkan action movie.
A big chunk of Hollywood action movies are produced and filmed in Bulgaria nowadays. A rotation of villains in action movies is periodic; after the Russians and the Chinese, the next baddies in Hollywood movies might as well be jihadists with their French accent. How is that for cultural stereotyping?
The rules of the EU allow for a big margin of maneuver in how an EU member state behaves, short of breaking EU laws. Bulgaria does not need to vote with France on the important issues in the EU. Bulgaria can be a good sport, or not. That depends on the attitude we meet.
France is EU’s number two, but every number two needs a following. A powerful state is not really influential without a following within the political group of states it aspires to lead.
Social constructivism theory of international relations sees the actions of states as a series of interactions that build on each other depending on reaction and counter-reaction. The relations between states are not static; they are created as a product of repeated interactions based on perceptions. So, Bulgarians can play ball with France on the important issues, or not. That depends. And on the big decisions, all EU members have to agree. Bulgaria has a veto there as much as France.
And of course there are those thorny issues for which there are no hard EU rules – just good will, such as the return of ISIS fighters back to Europe.
Bulgaria doesn’t have a problem with home-grown terrorism. France does. Counter-terrorism intelligence among EU members is key. Bulgaria’s geographic location as a gateway to the EU and closest entry point to the Middle East means that Bulgaria will know and discover things about ISIS fighters with French passports returning to Europe from Middle East terrorism hot-beds. We will have that information first, before the French intelligence services. Some French ISIS fighters will be trying to sneak back into France and they will be doing that through Bulgaria as a first EU point of entry. We also prefer hard-working people to French jihadists.
Instead of figuring out on its own how to deal with these French-nationality ISIS fighters with an EU passport, Bulgaria as well might decide to simply send them back home to France for the French to figure out how to deal with them on French soil. If the French want them back so much. I bet Macron didn’t think of that when running his mouth about Bulgarians. What is ironic is that by pandering to the far-right with basic insults against Bulgarians, Macron is putting in jeopardy French national security on a very hot-button current issue, and he didn’t even realize that. Isn’t the question of returning ISIS fighters much more important to France than insulting a nation? Bulgarian cooperation on counter-terrorism should never be taken for granted. As I already said, we could play ball, or we might not. It depends. What we don’t like it being insulted.
Unlike some EU countries, Bulgaria as an EU external border country does not send refugees straight to Western Europe. It has never been Bulgaria’s policy to send migrants straight to France. Bulgaria can stick to EU rules or could close its eyes for some things. That depends. Bulgarian cooperation should never be taken for granted, especially in relation to migration issues. Wouldn’t it be ironic if a migrants-related insult creates an actual migration problem for France, if say, insulted Bulgarians stopped cooperating on that front?
You get my point. If Bulgaria decides it doesn’t like that French attitude, it can start being difficult on many, many points which are actually vital to French security and politics which the French didn’t even anticipate. Because when someone is cooperating it is not immediately noticeable what harm it could do if they stopped all of a sudden.
In Bulgaria itself, one could identify plenty of negative stereotypes of the French; that doesn’t mean the Bulgarian Prime Minister will blurt them all out for the media to record. That’s not how it’s done.
For the EU to work, EU members need to cut down on insults. Stereotypes and insults on nationality grounds are plentiful in every country but they have no place in serious politics.
Oh yes, and I want Macron to apologize to Bulgarians.
Catch Me If You Can: The Latest Brexit Deal Explained
Many Britons are confused with matters relating to current affairs during this politically perplexing juncture that I like to refer to as the Brexit Befuddlement. To try and decode Boris’ Brexit brain-teaser, it is important to first familiarise ourselves with a few of the terms we hear so frequently that we seem to have become almost immune to them.
What is Brexit and what do all these terms actually mean?
In a nutshell, Brexit is the planned withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (EU), and consequently out of the European Union Customs Union (EUCU) and the European Single Market (ESM). When goods and services are imported or exported, a tax or duty may be payable upon them. This tax is known as a tariff. States that have decided to abolish these tariffs on goods and services across their borders are known to have established a customs territory with a customs union. These unions have tariffs which they apply on imports into their common territory and are applicable to all states in the customs territory; these tariffs are known as Common External Tariffs (CETs). A relevant example of such a union is the EUCU. This is different to the ESM which can be described as a deeper form of integration that concerns the movement of the ‘four freedoms’; goods, services, people and capital. States in the ESM also benefit from sharing common rules and regulations surrounding animal health, manufactured goods and food safety and other areas.
For over 40 years, the UK has engaged in foreign policy and trade agreements with various other members of the EUCU and the ESM making it a difficult task to unravel these agreements. Fortunately, the UK has until the 31st of December 2020 to hold talks with the EU and come to some sort of a mutual agreement. This is known as the transition period. During this period, the UK would be required to follow all EU rules including the freedom of movement; meaning that UK nationals will be able to live and work in EU countries and vice versa. In addition to this, the UK will be required to pay the EU an estimated £33bn that will contribute to their share of EU budgets and liabilities up to the end of the transition period. This £33bn sum is referred to as the Divorce Bill.
What does the new Brexit withdrawal agreement propose and what impact will it have?
The section of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement that will have the most impact is the section that concerns the exit of the whole of the UK from the EUCU. While this means that the UK will be able to strike trade deals with other countries without restrictions being imposed upon them by the EU, it also means that the UK will be subject to tariffs on goods and services exported/imported, both to and from the member states of the EUCU. To counter this additional tariff expense, UK businesses will either have to make their EU customers bear the brunt by increasing sales prices to account for the tariff expense, or they will be required to reduce their original pre tariff-price to maintain the same price for the end customer after the tariff has been added. Both solutions are likely to end unfavourably for UK businesses.
The withdrawal of the UK, (or the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland), from the EUCU creates the need for a legal customs border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (which will remain part of the EUCU). Despite leaving the EUCU, Northern Ireland will remain in the ESM. This means that in practice the regulatory border for goods and services will be between Great Britain (which in effect constitutes England, Scotland and the Principality of Wales) and the island of Ireland and is one way of avoiding a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. This also means that there will need to be regulatory checks on goods moving between Northern Ireland and Great Britain but removes the need for such checks between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic as they will effectively be part of an “an all-island regulatory zone”; as shown in the map below.
The lack of a hard border at the customs border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic opens up the possibility of goods being transported across borders without being checked. The Withdrawal Agreement states that ordinary people will not have their baggage checked and duty will not apply to individuals, but goods that are considered “at risk” will be subject to tariffs. The nature of these “at risk” goods will be decided by a joint committee made of UK and EU representatives. The diagram below (Figure 1), shows the treatment that has been proposed for these goods that are to be transported from Great Britain into Northern Ireland. All “at risk” goods moving between GB and NI are essentially crossing a regulatory border into the ESM and will be subject to tariffs. If it can be proved that these goods have remained in NI, the supplier will be able to claim a refund for the tariff that they have paid. If the goods have moved across the border and into the EUCU, the supplier will not be able to claim the refund and the tariff will have been paid.
Into this mix will be thrown the status of Gibraltar; with regards to their position within the EU, the EUCU, ESM or full incorporation into the United Kingdom. The Kingdom of Spain, is unlikely to accept any resolution short of full integration within its realm.
Overall, the uncertainty of the Brexit situation has a broad set of implications for the EU and the UK in both the short and long-term. With another Brexit extension looming, the future of the UK and the EU seems more uncertain than ever and we can only wait to see what the next steps will be for the United Kingdom.
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