Brexit – sanctioned and endorsed by a mass vote for Boris Johnson’s Tories – will be the great geopolitical turning point for Europe, obtorto collo, and for the United Kingdom itself.
In fact, the decision taken by Prime Minister Cameron in June 2016 to hold a referendum already showed what would happen.
Cameron thought the referendum would silence the Tories’ Brexit wing with a stunning defeat, but – as is well-known – this has not happened.
The British Tory Prime Minister, in fact, did not achieve his goals with the negotiations in Brussels that year. As already said, David Cameron clearly thought he could give a sop and keep the Brexit- friendly Tory minority happy, but truth will out.
Let us put aside the traditional explanations about the reasons for the UK-EU break: it is not a matter of maintaining the supremacy of old Anglia over the British territories, such as Scotland, Cornwall or Wales.
This assumption is often reiterated by refined parlour geopoliticians, but it clashes with the results in Wales, where the votes in favour of leaving the EU are 52.5%, while in Northern Ireland, but especially in Scotland, the leave votes reach only 44.2% and 38%, respectively.
If anything, the pro-Europeanism of the island peripheries shows that Brexit cannot be used to “keep” Scotland and Ireland, not the other way around.
Great Britain has always renounced the European criterion of even closer union.
“We want our money back!” This is what Margaret Thatcher said at the European Council in Dublin in September 1979.
Boris Johnson’s “policy line” is exactly the same as Thatcher’s tradition.
Margaret Thatcher saw Jean Monnet-style dirigisme typical of the EU as a huge obstacle to her liberal and free-trade project to modernise and revitalise the British economy.
Not even De Gaulle, however, wanted Great Britain within the EU. “Take your dreams of independent power and stick them up your Eiffel Tower”, as a London popular song went, after the French veto on Britain’s entry into the EU in 1963.
The fact is that France, Great Britain and Germany have all thought of the EU as a tool for their own national geoeconomic and strategic projects, unlike Italy, which has always been frantically looking for international organizations, treaties and groups to replace a national sovereignty that the Italians – after World War II – did not want and for which they were not prepared.
Moreover, what Leo Longanesi called “the waiter’s psychology” has always led our ruling classes to think that the international agreements into which Italy entered were a “gift”, a “favour”, possibly a “tip”.
It should be recalled that Great Britain did not want to be one of the Six countries which founded the European Community.
Even the pro-Europeans, like Harold Macmillan, wanted a “functional” and day-by-day approach compared to the European one, considered dangerously “federal” and basically authoritarian.
Hence, for the current Brexit voters the European Union is a real “usurper” that has too much power, despite the strong lack of democratic and electoral legitimacy.
It should be recalled that the EU was an American idea to make the economies of NATO’s European countries grow, thus maintaining national social and political stability.
Nothing more, nothing less. We will see what will happen to the EU with the US slow loss of interest in the Atlantic Alliance.
Moreover the EU has become the myth of a “third power” between the United States and the Warsaw Pact, with the creation of a single currency that has made the British financiers laugh and has outraged the United States, that find this Euro in their way, which is not a real currency, since it is not a lender of last resort, but rather mimics real currencies. Furthermore, it is also a rigid currency and hence it releases – on the factors of production – the market tensions that would otherwise affect exchange rates, as has always happened.
There were two other EU aspects that the British ruling class never liked from the beginning: the overwhelming power of the European Commission and the Court of Justice, of course, but above all the overwhelming power of France and Germany in the main decisions and on the integration progress itself.
The British obstruction to EU policies, which began in the 1980s,- a typical case of “negative leadership” – were for decades the only way for Great Britain to oppose a process that seemed inertial and, in any case, led by naturaliter anti-British powers such as France and Germany.
It is not a reflection of old gunboat geopolitics. It is a strategic assessment that is still completely exact and topical for Great Britain.
Indeed, the EU always acts as if geopolitics and the primary strategic interests of a country did not exist, covered by the roar of Beethoven’s Ninth Ode to Joy.
“All creatures drink of joy/At nature’s breasts/All the Just, all the Evil/Follow her trail of roses”.
Archetypal images, universal brotherhood, justice based on freedom of thought, concord based on Reason… a typically Masonic Ode, for the Schillerian Finale of the Ninth Symphony.
But times are now very different from Joy for the Germans defeated by Napoleon, the “world spirit on horseback”, as Hegel once described him.
Geopolitical interests, however, are either national or they are not, and the various countries’ forgetfulness of the global strategy – with the EU – was huge and very dangerous.
Also in Great Britain the visible outbreak of the rebellion against the European Union, which materialized with Brexit, was the issue of uncontrolled immigration.
For Great Britain, the mass of arrivals consists of economic migrants coming mainly from Eastern Europe, a situation that has led the British governments to restrict freedom of movement and has put the welfare system – already shrinking after Thatcher’s reforms – in great difficulty.
The 1982 Howe plan, inspired by the Iron Lady, already assumed a mandatory private health insurance, a share of contributions for State schools and a network of private clinics that would slowly replace the National Health Service (NHS).
We do not think it is reasonable to dismantle the Welfare State, but it will certainly be necessary to rethink a system that gives everything to everyone, even to the rich people, and gives everything to all newcomers, thus inevitably reducing the possibility of providing care for the poor or the now proletarianized middle class.
Instead of singing Ode to Joy, or possibly even the International, it would be better to study new systems to ensure dignity, health and good education to the poor people, but also to fund them with ad hoc taxes and fees paid by the rich people.
In our Western ideologies, we are still at the “Four Olds” against whom the ferocious and callow Maoist Red Guards polemicized: “Old Customs, Old Culture, Old Habits and Old Ideas”.
Therefore, Brexit can have the effect of rethinking also the EU “old” classifications.
An EU thinking about the East only to “bring democracy” with bombs or to destabilize the whole area, believing – as happens to all fools – to do good, or possibly to pedantically follow the North American strategic interests, which are not those of Europe.
As a man of great intellectual calibre, namely Alain Finkielkraut, said, “if Angela Merkel had not let one million immigrants into Germany in 2015, there would have been no Brexit”.
Hence Britain’s mass perception of an EU destabilising the nation States that are part of Europe, probably to weaken the national political regimes, possibly in search of a supranational sovereignty that is sometimes shown in some mediocre products of mainstream culture.
Pending Brexit, the EU has also been negotiating with Great
Britain, using its negotiating superiority to maximise its potential.
Besides maintaining the principle of the four freedoms (freedom of goods, people, services and capital), the EU wanted above all to ensure that Ireland, including Northern Ireland, remained in the EU’s trade system.
Certainly, Theresa May’s soft Brexit created great tensions within her government, thus leading to the resignation of Ministers Boris Johnson and David Davis. However, the geopolitical essence of the issue is that the hard Brexit wanted by Johnson – who triumphed in elections – is a structural rapprochement to the United States, while both Britain’s stay in the EU and soft Brexit make the country remain within the French and German strategic area.
Hence the recent electoral choice made by Great Britain implies a clear defeat for France and Germany.
President Macron had also threatened Great Britain to make it “take backseat” and trail behind if hard Brexit materialized. Hence there would be a British blockade of French fishing vessels in British waters.
The soft Brexit agreement was certainly unfavourable for Great Britain: it would no longer be free to make bilateral trade agreements and treaties with any country, without the EU authorization, with EU goods and services freely entering the UK, but not the other way round. We can imagine what would have happened to Britain’s balance of payments.
Moreover, British financial services would have had a limited chance of entering EU markets.
What will the hard Brexit produce? In the meantime a sharp deterioration in the already severe economic situation in Europe.
Brexit is above all a trade war, nothing else. Probably, the “hard” Brexit will produce recession and stagnation in many European nations.
Probably the British scenario will stimulate the strong no-Euro and no-EU minorities in the Euro countries to strengthen and demand not intermediate goals, but “everything”, i.e. exit from the EU.
At least for some time, it will stop the tendency to transfer national powers to the EU and, above all, it will quickly undermine the power of the European Court of Justice vis-à-vis individual States.
The French-German project was to strengthen the traditional trade freedoms for the whole EU but, at the same time, to protect their “national champions” – and now Brexit is stopping this great operation.
Moreover, both Germany and France have always tried to “export” their labour market and welfare solutions to the rest of the EU, including to EU countries with much less tax revenue and much higher public debt, thus “damaging” possible European competitors and making their mergers & acquisitions operations in Southern Europe easier.
Currently this French-German project is over – and this is certainly not a bad thing.
Therefore, Brexit will favour a further separation between the Northern EU and the less developed Southern Euro area, not to mention the increasing separation between Central and Western Europe in terms of migration policy.
Germany can now use its differential with France to seek the support of smaller EU nations.
We will also have a medium-term scenario, which is very likely: the EU is losing much of its military potential and is no longer the second largest economy in the world, which would explain the much smaller EU budget – after Brexit – and the mounting of tension and contrast between the EU and the United States.
Furthermore, if Britain leaves the EU – as it will certainly do in the near future – it will increase Europe’s tendency to reach trade, energy and industrial agreements with the Russian Federation.
Following Brexit, the EU countries will be ever less able to make quick and effective strategic choices.
Hence Brexit is Britain’s acceptance of the fact that it wants and can play its own interests around the world, since the EU is not – if ever – a big player in the global geoeconomy.
If anything, it is a big protected market – and this is its essence, not some backup singers of Beethoven’s Ninth.
Considering that Great Britain has skilful ruling classes and brave people, it does not want to deal every step with the EU. It does not want to tie itself to a geopolitical project that it believes to have failed – and it is certainly not wrong. Finally, it does not want someone else in Brussels to prevent or favour its choices.
The EU is an assembly of accountants who believe they are a War Cabinet. The new Tory government is convinced that the faster Boris Johnson’s Brexit the more the EU will give in shamefully.
Certainly, Britain’s power projection that will materialize soon, with trade and financial agreements with the whole Commonwealth, Japan, South Korea and China will usher in a new phase of economic development in the country that, however, will be ever worse distributed.
From “Selective Engagement” to “Enlightened Realism”?
Four years ago, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini announced that Brussels was looking at new approaches to building relations with Moscow. These approaches would later become known as the “five Mogherini principles.” These principles represented the culmination of a long and emotionally taxing discussion within the European Union that represented the varied positions of the 28 states that made up the EU back then. A difficult compromise was made between those who favoured a hard-line approach towards Russia and those who preferred a softer approach.
“Selective Engagement” as the Foundation of the “New Normal”
It was, of course, through compromise that the European External Action Service was able to prevent a split from forming within the European Union on a crucial issue, which turned out to be a historic moment for the organization. We should note in passing that Brussels has thus far been unable to reach a similar consensus on other issues that are of fundamental importance to the European Union, such as the issue of Kosovo, the Israeli–Palestinian settlement, the civil conflict in Venezuela and the expansion of the European Union itself.
In terms of a specific policy, the most significant strategy of the European Union is the fourth of its five guiding principles – “Selective Engagement with Russia.” On the whole, “selective engagement” appeared to be a reasonably logical approach given the “post-Ukrainian reality.” Europe could not conceivably go back to cooperating with Russia the way it had done in the past, turning a blind eye to the dramatic events in Crimea and Donbass, as this would mean it was somehow condoning the “aggressive behaviour of the Kremlin.” Nor was it inclined shut itself off from Moscow completely with another cordon sanitaire, as the latter was key to solving numerous issues of European politics.
The judicious decision was thus made to work with Russia only when and where it would serve the specific interests of the European Union. Mogherini’s statement touched upon potential points of contact with the Russian side, including Iran, Syria, the Middle East as a whole, migration, the fight against terrorism and climate change. “Selective engagement” can be compared to a “buffet” in a restaurant, where patrons serve themselves from a wide selection of dishes instead of being offered a set meal from the menu.
As far as we can tell, the principle of “selective engagement” was mostly supported in Moscow, albeit with little enthusiasm. Generally speaking, cooperation between Russia and the European Union was primarily selective before 2014 anyway, and the prospect of creating a unified “Greater Europe” had more or less fizzled out by the end of the 2000s. This is why, three months after the “five guiding principles” had been announced, the Russian side presented President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker with a list of proposals regarding possible areas of “selective engagement” during his visit to the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.
Of course, the proposals that had been prepared for Juncker primarily reflected the interests and priorities of the Russian side. Thus, there was already friction about who would put on the spread for the “buffet” and who would fill their plates. Nevertheless, cautious hopes were expressed in 2016 that the new approach could indeed work, at least for a transitional period.
Four years down the line and we have no option but to conclude that the principle of “selective engagement” has enjoyed limited success in relations between Europe and Russia, if any at all. Not a single “road map” or holistic strategy has emerged from it over these past four years, nor has it served as the basis for marking out “red lines” in bilateral relations. In fact, “selective engagement” has remained nothing but a general political declaration on the part of the European Union. Relations between the eastern and western parts of Europe continue to be built by fumbling around in the dark, through trial and error. And since no one wants to risk making a political faux pas, there is no great desire to try something new. Any step forward is taken with enormous difficulty, political inertia extinguishes new ideas, and discussions of Europe–Russia relations increasingly come down to rehashing old, worn out and decrepit initiatives that were bandied around two, three and even four years ago.
It would hardly be fair to blame certain politicians or public officials or even single out individual EU members for the apparent shortcomings, if not the complete failure, of “selective engagement.” These shortcomings are, in our estimation, associated with quite objective circumstances.
Why Mogherini’s Fourth Principle Failed
First of all, there is nothing close to a consensus on either side as to what degree of “selectivity” would be optimal for engagement. There are two distinct camps in the European Union. The first is made up of those who advocate the “historical reconciliation” of Russia and Europe, while the second consists of those who want to stand up to the “Putin regime.” This division remains. Little has happened in the past six years to convince either camp to change its tune or alter the balance of powers between Europe’s “hawks” and “pigeons.” Neither Donald Trump’s victory in 2016, nor the results of the 2019 European Parliament elections, nor the decision of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union in 2020 managed to shift the equilibrium in Brussels.
This is why the European Union merely continues to renew the 2014 sanctions, each time announcing a victory for “European unity.” Agreeing on such an important and very specific issue as the feasibility of building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline has proved impossible. Perhaps this is why the substantive content of the “selective engagement” with Moscow has never been brought up as a topic for serious political discussion in Brussels. After all, any discussion in this vein would inevitably jeopardize the much-vaunted “European unity,” laying bare the fundamental incompatibility of opinions within the European Union regarding the state of and prospects for relations with Moscow.
While a fierce behind-the-scenes struggle has raged among individual EU member states for the last four years in Brussels regarding the limits and possibilities of “selective engagement” with Russia, in Moscow, the concept of “selective engagement” continues to be a field of an equally fierce confrontation of influential institutional and group interests. Europe does not have a consistent long-term strategy with regard to Moscow, but Russia does have such a strategy with regard to Brussels.
In some cases, the confrontation between Moscow’s “Europhobes” and its “Europhiles” even spills over into the public space. For example, existing official and semi-official assessments of the impact of the EU sanctions and Moscow’s countersanctions on the Russian economy, as well as estimates regarding the success of the import substitution strategy vary greatly, from the clearly alarmist to the unabashedly triumphant. If the parties cannot work out their own positions on the matter, then how can we expect them to find common ground in negotiations with one another?
What is more, Russia and the European Union are very different players on the international stage, with different comparative advantages and different sets of instruments of power and influence. Significant asymmetries of both interests and opportunities between the “Russian elephant” and the “European whale” are inevitable. And this makes it extremely difficult to find a “fair” balance of interests in each specific case. For example, Mogherini talked about the desirability of working with Moscow on the issue of North Korea, but what exactly can Brussels offer Moscow in this area? Moscow, for its part, is trying to get the European Union to recognize the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) as an equal partner; however, the economic potential of the EAEU is minuscule compared to that of the EU.
Moreover, while Moscow takes pride in its sovereignty and the fact that it can make independent decisions, the sovereignty of the European Union is limited one way or another by the one-sided nature of its relations with the United States. And this means that attempts to create a balance between the European Union and Russia will ultimately turn into a far more complicated game involving the decidedly scalene Brussels–Moscow–Washington triangle. Even if there is still some hope for the “Russian elephant” and “European whale” to come to an agreement, the “American tyrannosaurus” will do its best to make sure that does not happen.
Finally, we should not lose sight of the fact that “selective engagement,” as well as the balanced exchange of mutual concessions and the tactical coordination of the positions of the parties, are mainly applicable as mechanisms for resolving specific issues in the here and now. For example, offering mutual concessions on the post-conflict reconstruction of Syria, salvaging the Iranian nuclear deal or resolving issues related to the de-escalation of the Libyan Civil War are acceptable solutions. These areas can, to a certain degree, be isolated from the general background of relations, while at the same time preserving individual islands of cooperation in the vast ocean of confrontation.
But the fact of the matter is that the most fundamental challenges facing Russia and Europe are not tactical, but rather strategic in nature. These include the reduced clout of the two sides in the world economy and population, the technological inferiority of Europe and Russia compared to North America and East Asia, the rise of political populism and radicalism, the long-term decline in stability in neighbouring regions, etc. In confronting these challenges, trading specific concessions and negotiating tactical compromises do little. Such agreements are not a substitute for a common vision of the long-term future of Russia–Europe relations and, more broadly, a shared view of the direction in which the world is headed. Agreements on specific issues should, in one way or another, be embedded in this common vision.
Nikolay Chernyshevsky vs Immanuel Kant
Anyone in Russia who has at least the vaguest memories of reading Nikolay Chernyshevsky’s didactic novel What Is to Be Done? at school ought to remember the theory of “rational egoism” that he loved so much. Nothing can be done about a person’s inherent egoism, and there is no point hoping for them to change their nature and suddenly become selflessly altruistic. Chernyshevsky was a militant atheist and categorically rejected the existence of Kant’s “moral law” in such people.
However, according to Chernyshevsky, people do not come into conflict with one another because of egoism as such, but rather because of how they perceive their own interests. Most people are so focused on achieving their near-term goals, serving their basic instincts and acting in a reactionary manner that they not only ignore the interests of those around them, but also effectively neglect their own longer-term ambitions. This inevitably impacts both the egoist’s environment and the egoist himself.
“Rational egoism” proposes articulating these interests in a “rational” manner, that is, by taking the interests and wishes of others into account and building a rational hierarchy of diverse desires, propensities and personal tasks – all without denying a person the opportunity to pursue their own interests. Reason softens the most dangerous and destructive manifestations of egoism without encroaching on the fundamental features of human nature.
As applied to international relations, the theory of “rational egoism” could be interpreted as “enlightened realism.” An analogue of Kant’s “moral law” in this case would be the unity of fundamental values between Russia and the European Union. However, since the European and Russian elites are never going to agree on values, relations should be built on interests instead. That is, not on non-dogmatic religious views of Immanuel Kant, but instead on the atheist rationalism of Nikolay Chernyshevsky.
It would seem that the theory of “enlightened realism” could complement “selective engagement” as a platform for the development of EU–Russia relations moving forward.
Why We Need “Enlightened Realism”
The noun realism in this formulation implies a sober assessment of the specific moment we are experiencing, as well as the constraints associated with it. We cannot go back 20 years to the “honeymoon” period of Moscow–Brussels relations. And even if we could, it would only mean a return to a situation of “bad infinity” and the very same problems that continued to pile up and eventually led to the 2014 crisis. “Realism” forces us to acknowledge that, in all likelihood, we will not be able to find a solid institutional basis for developing relations that is acceptable for both sides in the foreseeable future.
Relations between Europe and Russia are going to be shaky for a long time to come, regardless of the paths of political transit that have already been embarked upon in the East and the West. Irrespective of who will be in power in Moscow and Brussels five or ten years down the line and regardless of whether or not we can reach a fair and satisfactory solution to the “Ukrainian issue” during this time. The difficulties are caused by differences in geographical location, historical experience, existing traditions and the psychologies of the respective peoples. We cannot merely draw up some kind of framework agreement or charter to get past the crisis; this did not work in the past, and it will not work now.
The noun enlightened places the concept of “realism” into a certain framework. To be sure, the politics of Donald Trump can be characterized as “realistic” (and also pragmatic, transactional, self-centred or cynical – underline as necessary). However, Trump’s “realism” is in no way “enlightened.” “Enlightened realism” means that the sides should take both their tactical and immediate interests, as well as their strategic and long-term needs, into account.
Foreign policy decisions should be made not only with a view to the next presidential campaign or how the general public might react, but also with an understanding of the strategic challenges, opportunities and priorities facing the sides. The further into the future we are prepared to look, the greater the number of areas of common interest between Russia and the European Union we will find.
What is more, “enlightenment” implies that the parties have to be mindful not only of their own interests, but also of the interests of the system of international relations as a whole, since the destruction of this system does not bode well for Russia or Europe. No tactical victory can outweigh the strategic costs associated with the destabilization of the global system, the breakdown of international organizations, the degradation of international law, and the transition to a “game without rules” where “every man” is “for himself” in world politics.
This understanding is especially relevant today, when other leading centres of power in world politics (the United States, China and India) are, for various reasons, not ready to bear the responsibility for preserving regional and global stability. It is in these conditions that Europe and Russia are inevitably assuming greater responsibility for maintaining peace and resolving conflicts in such regions as the Middle East and North Africa.
Let us stress once again that we are not talking here about abandoning “selective engagement” once and for all. Engagement will continue to be selective for the foreseeable future, as the only alternative would be no interaction whatsoever. The task right now is to give this engagement a new depth, greater clarity and a fresh perspective. Figuratively speaking, we are talking about moving from two-dimensional interaction to three-dimensional interaction, or, in other words, leaving the rowdy market square where narrow-fisted buyers haggle prices with dodgy traders for the tranquillity of university laboratories where we can start designing the future European and world order.
This will require a qualitatively different level of interaction between the two sides both at the level of political leadership and at the level of diplomatic missions, ministries of economy, independent experts and non-governmental organizations. Not a return to the rather meaningless biannual EU–Russia summits, but the beginning of practical work on the implementation of large, forward-looking joint projects.
The only way that the principle of “enlightened realism” can work in the engagement between Europe and Russia is if the sides endeavour to apply it to themselves first and foremost, and then to the other party. After all, “enlightened realism” is not about making concessions to the other side or surrendering one’s position. Rather, it is merely a more extensive and less opportunistic understanding of one’s own interests. Right now, both Brussels and Moscow are following in the spirit of Oscar Wilde’s famous words: “[T]he nuisance of the intellectual sphere is the man who is so occupied in trying to educate others, that he has never had any time to educate himself.”
From our partner RIAC
Shaping Europe’s digital future
I am a tech optimist. My belief in technology as a force for good comes from my experience as a medical student. I learnt and saw first-hand its ability to change fates, save lives and make mundane what once would have been a miracle.
We now take for granted that we can take an antibiotic when we have an infection or go for an x-ray or MRI scan when we get injured or sick. These are all miracles that have changed the course of humanity for the better.
Thanks to technology, these miracles are becoming more breathtaking and more regular by the day. They are helping to better detect cancer, support high-precision surgery or tailor treatment for the needs of each patient.
This is all happening right now, right here in Europe. But I want this to be only the start. And I want it to become the norm right across our society: from farming to finance, from culture to construction, from fighting climate change to combatting terrorism.
This is the vision behind the new digital strategy that the European Commission will present this week.
We believe that the digital transformation can power our economies and help us find European solutions to global challenges. We believe citizens should be empowered to make better decisions based on insights gleaned from non-personal data. And we want that data to be available to all – whether public or private, big or small, start-up or giant. This will help society as a whole to get the most out of innovation and competition and ensure that we all benefit from a digital dividend. This digital Europe should reflect the best of Europe – open, fair, diverse, democratic, and confident.
The breadth of our strategy reflects the scale and nature of the transition ahead of us. It covers everything from cybersecurity to critical infrastructures, digital education to skills, democracy to media. And it lives up to the ambition of the European Green Deal, for instance by promoting the climate neutrality of data centres by 2030.
But, as we will set out this week, the digital transformation cannot be left to chance. We must ensure that our rights, privacy and protections are the same online as they are off it. That we can each have control over our own lives and over what happens to our personal information. That we can trust technology with what we say and do. That new tech does not come with new values.
I fully understand that, for many, technology – and especially those who own it – have not yet earned that trust. I see how that can break down when big online platforms use their own customers’ data in ways they shouldn’t. Or when disinformation drives out responsible journalism and clickbait matters more than the truth.
So I get and respect why some people are tech sceptics, doubters or even pessimists. And this is why I believe we need a digital transition which is European by design and nature. One that rebuilds trust where it is eroded and strengthens it where it exists. As part of this, big commercial digital players must accept their responsibility, including by letting Europeans access the data they collect. Europe’s digital transition is not about the profits of the few but the insights and opportunities of the many. This may also require legislation where appropriate.
The point is that Europe’s digital transition must protect and empower citizens, businesses and society as a whole. It has to deliver for people so that they feel the benefits of technology in their lives. To make this happen, Europe needs to have its own digital capacities – be it quantum computing, 5G, cybersecurity or artificial intelligence (AI). These are some of the technologies we have identified as areas for strategic investment, for which EU funding can draw in national and private sector funds.
Making the most of digital and data is as important for big industries as it is for SMEs. Although the biggest ideas often come from the tiniest start-ups, scaling-up can be an uphill task for smaller European firms in the digital world. We want European start-uppers to enjoy the same opportunities as their counterparts in Silicon Valley to expand, grow and attract investment.
For this, we will need to overcome fragmentation in our single market that is often greater online than elsewhere. We need to join forces – now. Not by making us all the same, but by leveraging our scale as well as our diversity – both key factors of success for innovation.
And we will also need the resources to match ambition. This is why at this week’s European Council I will push for a modern and flexible EU budget that invests in our future – and in the research, innovation deployment and skills to bring it to life.
This will be needed if we want Europe to lead the way in the areas with the most potential, such as data and AI. This week, we will put forward our plans for both alongside our wider digital strategy.
The starting point on data will always be personal protection. Europe already has the strongest rules in the world and we will now give Europeans the tools they need to make sure they are even more in control.
But there is also another kind of data that is the uncovered, unused goldmine of the data-agile economy of the future. I am thinking of anonymised mobility data or meteorological data gathered by airliners, satellite images, but also industrial and commercial data on anything from engine performance to energy consumption.
These types of non-personal data can underpin the design and development of new, more efficient and more sustainable products and services. And they can be reproduced at virtually no cost. Yet today, 85% of the information we produce is left unused. This needs to change.
We will develop a legislative framework and operating standards for European data spaces. These will allow businesses, governments and researchers to store their data and access trusted data shared by others. This will all be done under secure conditions that create greater value for all and ensure a fair return for all.
These pools of data will in turn drive our work to promote excellence and trust in artificial intelligence in Europe. AI is already helping small companies reduce their energy bill, enabling greener, automated transport, and leading to more accurate medical diagnoses.
To help businesses big and small to harness the full potential of AI, we will invest in a network of local digital innovation hubs and in centres of excellence for advanced research and education.
At the same time, we will act to ensure that AI is fair and compliant with the high standards Europe has developed in all fields. Our commitment to safety, privacy, equal treatment in the workplace must be fully upheld in a world where algorithms influence decisions. We will focus our action on high-risk applications that can affect our physical or mental health, or that influence important decisions on employment or law enforcement.
The aim is not more regulation, but practical safeguards, accountability and the possibility of human intervention in case of danger or disputes. We successfully shaped other industries – from cars to food – and we will now apply the same logic and standards in the new data-agile economy.
I sum up all of what I have set out with the term ‘tech sovereignty’. This describes the capability that Europe must have to make its own choices, based on its own values, respecting its own rules. This is what will help make tech optimists of us all.
This article by the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen was published on the occasion of presentation of Commission’s strategies for data and Artificial Intelligence.
The ending of Operation Sophia: The EU sway from its Human Security approach
The EU decision to terminate the Operation Sophia represents its will to choose European Security approach while having agenda of Human Security approach in its European Neighborhood Policy.
On 17th February 2020, European Union (EU) foreign ministers decided to end Operation Sophia, formally known as European Union Naval Force Mediterranean (EU NAVFOR Med), and launch a new maritime mission in the region which will enforce the United Nations (UN) arms embargo in and around Libya. The decision came just before the end of the mandate of the Operation Sophia on 31st March 2020. However, the decision to end Operation Sophia and replace it with arms embargo mission is influenced by the internal and external politics of Europe.
What is Operation Sophia
The EU NAVFOR MED (“Sophia”) mission was launched in 2015 as an EU’s response to curtail illicit human and arms trafficking in the Mediterranean Sea. Along with this, one of the tasks of the mission was to save the lives of vulnerable migrants in the Mediterranean Sea. In the last five years, the mission helped trained the Libyan coastguard and navy and helped implement a UN arms embargo off the coast.
The Unexpected Consequences of the Mission
Requested and endorsed by the Italian government and supported by the EU,Operation Sophia was supposed to be the military mission focusing on restraining human and arms smuggling from Northern Africa into Europe via the Mediterranean. However, mission transformed into a humanitarian mission saving the lives of the migrants at sea and transporting them safely in Europe. Consequently, the EU witnessed the undocumented inundation of migrants coming from Syria via Turkey, and many Africans taking the Libyan route in the hope to reach a safer place and attain a better life. The mission has rescued over 44,000 people at sea and made them reach safely in Southern Europe particularly in Italy.
The Rise of Discussions among the EU Member States
This was followed by the new discussion among EU Member States particularly among Italy, Austria and Hungary to tackle the rising number of migrants’ inflow. In April 2019, the then-Italian coalition government threatened the EU to veto the entire mission. The then-interior minister Matteo Salvini contended that the search and rescue ships employed in the mission are instigating the local migrants to use sea route and reach Italy. Austria also opposed the reviving of Operation Sophia in the past because of similar claims. As Austria has long been having tensions with Italy over the influx of migrants and refugees in Austria from Italy. Therefore, Austria also was in favor of the termination of the mission as it will indirectly help curtail the migration flow in Austria as well. Hence, in October 2019, the EU decided not to extend the mission after March 2020, and replace it with the mission solely focused on the arms embargo.
What is New About the New Operation
The idea is to shift the new operation further east, away from the usual water route used by migrants leaving Libya in search of better lives in Europe. EU believed that to better curtail arms movement, the mission has to focus more on the eastern side which is the epitome of the arms transfer. The eastern part of the country is the base of the self-styled Libyan National Army forces loyal to General Khalifa Haftar. Khalifa Haftar, a former general in Gaddafi’s regime had fled to the US later becoming a CIA asset, returned to Libya in 2011 to lead the revolution. In recent years he has styled himself the leader of the Libyan National Army with the backing of the UAE, Egypt, France and Russia amongst others. On the other side of the checkerboard is the UN-recognized Tripoli-based Government of National Accord which is backed byQatar, Italy and the local militias. The Haftar forces are attacking the UN-recognized Tripoli-based Government of National Accord, which in turn is the major reason for the current ongoing conflict in Libya. Libya has been in turmoil since 2011, when a civil war toppled long-time dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who was later killed. Fighting between the country’s factions has intensified over the past year.
With certain Member States backing Haftar and others backing GNA, the EU is in an imbroglio. As a result, the Union lacks a clear policy and will to deal with the crisis. While the EU contends that the new mission proceeding Operation Sophia will confine the flow of arms from Libya and its neighborhood, it has also been argued that the EU’s monitoring only by air will weaken the position of the mission and will favor the Haftar’s coup attempt. This will result in an increase in civilian casualties, destruction and more civilian displacement.
Human Security approach vs European Security approach
Argyro Kartsonaki and Stefan Wolff in their article named “The EU’s Responses to Conﬂicts in its Wider Neighborhood: Human or European Security?” have defined two types of the EU Security Strategy in European Neighborhood Policy (ENP): the Human Security approach and European Security approach. The Human Security approach embarks upon the increasingly humanitarian interventionist foreign policies, a focus on development, stable government, restructuring judiciary, combat terrorism and organized crime as part of security policy. The aim is to make the country under discussion stable in the long-term. The policy has been defined as the core of the European Security Strategy of the Council of the European Union in its all upcoming civilian and military missions under CSDP. Whereas, the European Security approach is about maximizing security for the EU and its citizens and member states. In terms of the EU’s foreign and security policy, this can be understood as the pursuit of EU internal security objectives with foreign policy tools employed on the conflict in ENP. The most frequent security threats identiﬁed covered under the European Security are international terrorism, transnational organized crime and illegal migration. The authors of the article did the empirical study of the EU civilian and military missions in the ENP and reach to the conclusion that the Union’s response to most of the conflicts is in line with a human security approach thus focusing on the long-term goals of ensuring stability, peace and prosperity in the ENP.
While this is true in most of the CSDP missions launched by the EU, however, it has been observed that EU has always been keen on taking the European Security approach especially in the conflicts where its own interests are at stake. Beset by the migration crisis, and upsurge of the right-wing politics, the EU seems to have the urge to choose the European Security approach to deal with the crisis while having the policy of employing the human security approach. The decision to replace Operation Sophia with the new mission represents the quintessential short-term policy focusing more on resolving the EU’s internal political impasse as compared to dealing with the external crises. The decision suits the Italian government as it will take away the coalition-government of Italy to criticize the mission and call it as a “pull factor”. It has given Italy the chance to be seen to play a leading part in expanding Sophia’s capabilities, by deploying Italian satellites and aircraft to support the mission. On the other side of the Mediterranean, this can risk the increase in the arms trafficking at the Mediterranean and strengthen Haftar’s status in Libya. The current decision represents the EU’s short-sightedness as its security policy in Libya seems driven by interests, not by norms and values.
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