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Move fast, build to last: Europe’s new generation

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Before I took office 100 days ago, I was struck by the boldness of Europe’s next generation – both in spirit and in action. On Friday, I saw and heard this again loud and clear as thousands of young people took the streets of Brussels to demand urgent action for our planet.

This generation wants to move fast – and they are right. Because in front of us are the major twin ecological and digital transitions. They will affect us all, wherever we live, whatever we do. They will transform the way we travel or design, make and consume things. They will create new opportunities for Europe’s innovators, entrepreneurs and industry.

But as we embark on this transition, we do so in an increasingly agitated and complicated world. Recent experience has reminded us why they say a week is a long time in politics. In the past few days, I was in Greece and Bulgaria to see first-hand the pressures our borders are under and to offer European solidarity – in spirit and in financial and technical support. It brought home the need to find a humane, effective and comprehensive way forward on migration. A day before that I was in our crisis management centre, setting out the different ways Europe can help mitigate the impact of the Corona Virus.

This week shows us the need for Europe to be stronger, more united and more strategic in the way it thinks, acts and speaks. We also need to create new partnerships and alliances, like the one we will unveil with Africa in the next few days. And we need to strengthen our more established ones, as we are doing with the Western Balkans.

Leading the twin transition in this changing world is the driving force of this Commission. This is our generational task and opportunity. And it is why, since day one, we have been determined to move fast to build a fair and prosperous, green and digital Europe that will last for our children.

When it comes to the future our planet, the policy of being too cautious is riskiest of all. This is why one of our first actions was to launch the European Green Deal. At the heart of it is the goal to make Europe the first climate neutral continent by 2050. Just this week we proposed to turn that hard ambition into hard legislation.

This is of course about bringing nature back in our lives and cutting emissions. But the European Green Deal is more than that – it is our new growth strategy. It will give investors certainty and help our economies grow in a way that gives more back to people, to the planet and to society than it takes away.

But as we move fast, we must ensure that we leave no one behind. We know that for some the change will be more difficult than for others. This is why we proposed to set aside €100bn to ensure a just transition for all – notably for those that will have to make a bigger leap than most. Putting people and fairness first is the only way to make sure the European Green Deal stands the test of time.

It ultimately comes down to a question of trust, which is also the keyword for our approach to the digital transition. I believe in technology and what it can do to make our lives easier – from caring for family to communicating with friends. And I know what it can do to create new jobs, skills and help European companies grow, from the smallest start-up to the biggest giant.

But if Europe is to be a digital leader, we need to develop our own capacities, as well as our own laws. We need European innovation and technologies to compete across the world. This is at the heart of the new data strategy that will help us to play to our strengths, encouraging companies and governments to access and share their troves of under-used data. And it will help us make the most and the best of artificial intelligence in a way that we can all trust.

We can only fully grasp the opportunities of the twin transitions if we draw on all of our strengths and our diversity. We will always work for fairness, uphold our values and care for the things that people really care about. This is why we have already put forward a new gender equality strategy and launched the first step of Europe’s plan to beat cancer.

So yes, a week is a long time in politics. But 100 days is only enough time to set a direction and to take the first big steps on our journey. There will be bumps along the way and we will be tested just as we have in the last week – but we must always keep the spirit of Europe’s new generation along the way. This is your time and the journey starts now.

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New offensive on Republika Srpska is coming

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U.S. Air Force photo by Clay Cupit

If there is a country in Europe that is in constant crisis, it is Bosnia and Herzegovina. This is precisely why most analysts call Bosnia and Herzegovina an impossible state. It is important to note that Bosnia and Herzegovina is a complex country made up of two parts: the Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (where the absolute majority are Bosniaks and Croats).

Recently, two US Air Force “B-1B” bombers made a low flight over Bosnia and Herzegovina, flying over several cities. After the overflight of American bombers, the US embassy in Sarajevo announced that bomber overflight is a sign of the US’s permanent commitment to the sovereignty, territorial integrity and multi-ethnic character of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

– We are celebrating the lasting bond between the USA and BiH. The flight demonstrates our commitment to building strong bilateral relations and is proof of our common values and goals. Through cooperation and understanding, we are building a path to a future of peace, security and prosperity in the region – announced General James Hecker, member of the US Air Force and commander of American air bases in Europe, air forces in Africa and the NATO Joint Air Command.

The B-1B aircraft is a long-range heavy bomber that can carry the largest conventional load of guided and unguided missiles of any aircraft in aviation.

It is stated that these aircraft are able to quickly drop huge amounts of precision and non-precision weapons against any enemy, anywhere in the world, at any time.

However, no sovereign authority in Bosnia and Herzegovina – the Presidency and the Council of Ministers – has made a decision on the overflight of American bombers over Bosnia and Herzegovina. Specifically, it was done without the consent of the legitimate representatives of the Serbs in the institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina. With this act, official Washington violated the sovereignty of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The question arises, why are US bombers now flying over Bosnia and Herzegovina and who are they sending a message to? But the answer to that question is simple. The only ones who were bombed by American bombers in the Balkans were the Serbs. Also, only the Serbs protested against the overflight of the American bombers, because they have bitter memories of the American weapons that were used to kill Serbian soldiers and civilians in the Balkans in the 1990s.

Also, due to frequent crises in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the political leader of the Serbs in that country, Milorad Dodik, often talks about a referendum for the independence of the Republika Srpska. And while no one disputes this right with Scotland, as well to other countries in Europe in the past years(like Montenegro), Republika Srpska is threatened with war. Not only from Bosnian radical politicians, but also from American diplomats. To make matters worse, at the same time official Washington created and recognized an independent Kosovo through war. Even today, the main protector and financier of independent Kosovo is US.

It is the hypocrisy of official Washington towards Kosovo that creates additional anger in Republika Srpska. Because, we must not forget, Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina experienced the Holocaust at the hands of Croats and Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) during the Second World War. Precisely the genocide that the Serbs experienced in the Second World War is the reason why the Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the breakup of Yugoslavia clearly said that they do not want an independent Bosnia in which those who mercilessly killed them during the Second World War will have the main say. But that they want to live with their mother country Serbia.

The Serbs from Bosnia expected that, just as the Jews got their own state, they too would have the opportunity to decide where they would live. Unfortunately, part of the international community had other plans. The artificial state of Bosnia and Herzegovina was forcibly created, and since the Croats do not want Bosnia in addition to the Serbs, a de facto colonial administration was appointed in Bosnia. It is reflected in the character of the Office of the High Representative. Namely, in the nineties, when US was the only superpower in the world, Washington lobbied to introduce the position of High Representative in Bosnia. He was given dictatorial powers, so the democratic will of the people in Bosnia is valid only if the High Representative agrees with it. Plus, the High Representative could remove politicians, fire them from their jobs, in short, make life hell for anyone who opposes him. Due to all of the above, and bearing in mind that the position of the High Representative was expected to last for a short time, rebellions by local Serbs and Croats, as well as part of the international community, soon occurred. Many respected Western organizations that deal with the protection of human rights have been pointing out for years that the office of the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina must be abolished, because it contradicts democracy and has the characteristics of a dictatorship.

However, the current High Representative, Christian Schmidt was illegitimately elected to that position because he was not appointed to that position by the United Nations Security Council. That is why the Republika Srpska has clearly said that it does not recognize Mr. Christian Schmidt as the High Representative. However, US diplomats in Bosnia don’t accept that decision of Republika Srpska, which is why a new crisis is being created in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Since the Republika Srpska, in accordance with international law, refuses to implement the undemocratic decisions of the High Representative, part of the international community led by Washington plans to implement a new law that obliges everyone to comply with the decisions of the High Representative. And that is exactly why the American bombers flew over Bosnia and Herzegovina, to send a message to the Republika Srpska that it must listen, otherwise they can be punished as they were in the 1990s.

Another big problem is the issue of state property in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Namely, according to the Dayton Peace Agreement, which ended the war and created today’s Bosnia and Herzegovina, all property belongs to the entities, except for property that is decisively stated to be state property.

Even if international law is on the side of Republika Srpska, on this issue as well, the US ambassador in Bosnia and Herzegovina, contrary to diplomatic practice, announced his position in the form of an order.

Speaking about the claims from the Republika Srpska that there is no state property and that it belongs to the entities, Murphy stated that this is completely wrong.

– It is a legal fiction. No matter how many times the Republika Srpska authorities claim the opposite, it does not change the fundamental facts, said Murphy and added that the issue of property is resolved at the state level and that the state must say what property it needs, such as prospective military property.

– If there is property that is not needed, you do not have to keep it and the state can transfer it to another owner: municipality, canton, and even entity.

The question arises, where does a foreign ambassador have the right to interfere in the internal affairs of a sovereign state and to determine what has been resolved and what has not?! However, all of the above indicates that a new serious offensive is heading towards Republika Srpska.

                  Political neutralization of Milorad Dodik

Republika Srpska, bearing in mind that international law is on its side (Dayton Peace Agreement), must not accept to have her property taken away, under no circumstances. Also, the Office of the High Representative is a relic of the past and is not in accordance with international law, so Republika Srpska is doing the right thing by not recognizing the newly appointed High Representative. This policy of the President of the Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik, has shown that even small entities/states, if they have strong leaders like Mr. Dodik, can lead an independent and beneficial policy for their people.

However, precisely because of the patriotic policy of Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik, part of the international community is trying to remove him from power. First of all through accusations of corruption and on top of that with colored revolutions. Despite speculation that NATO soldiers could arrest Mr. Dodik, this is not realistic. But what is realistic is that the State Prosecutor’s Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina issues an arrest warrant and that NATO special units assist in the execution of that act.

There is already intelligence that such plans are being prepared. Due to all of the above, the President of Republika Srpska and the Government of Republika Srpska must approach this issue seriously. First of all, through increasing the number of members of the special police units of the Republika Srpska in Banja Luka and through the mobilization of the people of the Republika Srpska. It is necessary to make it clear to part of the international community that if the political persecution and arrest of Milorad Dodik were to take place, the people of the Republika Srpska would rise to the defense of their democratically elected president through mass protests and demands for the independence of the Republika Srpska. Only these two factors can stop the political neutralization plan for Milorad Dodik, which is already formulated in Sarajevo.

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Sweden’s NATO Predicament and the Nations whose Destinies Connected

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Image credit: NATO

Exploring the Historical Bonds of Sweden, Poland, and Turkey

The Swedish monarch, Charles XII, exuded pride and arrogance as he led his formidable army towards Moscow, still in his twenties. He believed his forces to be invincible, drawing comparisons between himself and his soldiers to the legendary Leonidas and his valiant 300 Spartans. Several factors contributed to the young king’s unwavering confidence on the path to Moscow.

A mere few years prior, in 1700, a powerful coalition comprising Denmark-Norway, Saxony-Poland-Lithuania, and Russia had launched a coordinated assault on the Swedish protectorate of Holstein-Gottorp, as well as the provinces of Livonia and Ingria. Undeterred by the overwhelming presence of enemy armies, Charles XII triumphed in successive sieges, vanquishing his adversaries one by one. Following the Battle of Narva, even the formidable Tsar Peter the Great of Russia sought terms of agreement, but Charles XII disregarded these pleas. By the time they arrived at the gates of Moscow, the Swedish army had emerged victorious against foes two or even three times their own size, bolstering the commander’s sense of invincibility, akin to the great conquerors of the past like Leonidas or Alexander the Great. However, the seemingly indomitable Charles XII committed the same error as dreamy conquerors such as Napoleon and Hitler before him: underestimating the challenges posed by the vast Russian steppes. The army of Charles XII suffered a devastating defeat, compelling the young monarch to seek refuge in Ottoman territories, accompanied by a mere thousand men.

The Swedish king and his men remained guests in the Ottoman Empire, which is today Ukrainian territory, for more than 5 years. The Ottomans treated Charles like a king and cherished him, and he and his Polish and Ukrainian entourage were generously borne. Turkish Sultan Ahmed III was aware of the importance of Sweden for Ottoman security. The King, who could not return to his country, hoped to defeat Russia through an alliance with Poland and Ottoman Turks. The presence of the Swedish King in the Ottoman Empire also strained Turkish-Russian relations and eventually brought them to the brink of war. The most important reason for the Ottoman-Russian Prut War (1710-11) was the Turks’ refusal to surrender Charles XII to the Russians.

Nations whose Destinies Connected

If one were to ask residents of Istanbul about the location of Sweden or Poland today, they might draw a blank. In the minds of modern Turks, these countries no longer hold strong alliances or close ties. Similar sentiments can be found on the streets of Stockholm or Warsaw. Relations between Turkey, Sweden, and Poland have weakened and even become uncertain since the days of the Ottoman Empire. However, during the Ottoman era, particularly in the 16th-18th centuries, the sultans in Istanbul viewed Sweden and Poland as crucial counterbalances against Russia in Eastern Europe, and they prioritized these relationships.

For the Ottomans, it was advantageous that Russia was engaged in a conflict with Sweden in the north, as it alleviated pressure on the Ottoman Empire. Ottoman wars with Russia also presented an opportunity for the Swedish Kingdom to launch attacks against Russia. In line with Ottoman foreign policy, the corridor spanning from the Ottoman Empire to the Baltic Sea, encompassing Ukraine, Poland, the Baltic states, and the Kingdom of Sweden, was considered a unified entity and treated as such. Presently, the prevailing method of interpreting maps primarily revolves around an east-west orientation, neglecting the various other facets of geography. Restricting the analysis of Russia’s perception of Eastern Europe solely to the East-West dimension would be highly deceptive. When examining the map from the vantage points of influential decision makers or political scientists situated in Istanbul or Stockholm, it is crucial for them to perceive a comprehensive geographical corridor extending harmoniously from Sweden to Anatolia. This broader perspective is essential in formulating appropriate policies aligned with the geographical realities at hand. While it can be acknowledged that Ottoman efforts were insufficient, their approach to map interpretation holds validity, and a comparable perspective remains relevant in contemporary times.

Growing Russia Shrinking Nations

The Russian threat necessitated cooperation and coordination among Sweden, Poland, and the Ottoman Empire. Since the time of Peter the Great, Russia’s objective had been to expand its reach to the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea, which inevitably led to westward and southward offensives by Russian armies. The ongoing conflict in Ukraine draws its origins from these historical objectives as well: Russia seeks to establish a lasting and greater  presence in the Black Sea region and gain access to war seas.

Over the centuries, Moscow (Russia), a relatively insignificant principality in the 15th century, rapidly expanded at the expense of three states: the Ottomans, the Kingdom of Sweden, and Poland. As Russia grew stronger, these three states gradually declined. By the end of the 18th century, Poland lost its independence and disintegrated, while the Swedish Empire diminished to the status of an ordinary state. Although the Ottoman Empire persisted until the 20th century, numerous Russian attacks eventually contributed to its collapse.

History Repeats

History, known for its repetition, serves as the best teacher of world politics. Hence, learning from the past is a paramount virtue for adept statesmen. Following the Ukrainian War, “old history” resurfaced in Eastern Europe, prompting regional states to seek reliable havens in anticipation of a potential Russian assault. Even Finland and Sweden, traditionally regarded as the world’s most pacifist states, found themselves lining up for NATO membership during the Cold War years. Countries under the NATO security umbrella, such as Poland and Turkey, experienced some degree of reassurance.

NATO members, particularly the United States, warmly embraced the applications of Sweden and Finland to join the alliance. However, Ankara surprisingly vetoed both applications, citing national interest. The Turkish government argued that these two states harbored anti-Turkey sentiments and terrorist groups within their borders. At least, these were the explicit reasons given. Finland managed to persuade Turkey within a year and became the fastest member state after applying to NATO. However, Turkey’s veto on Sweden’s membership still remains in effect. Sweden even made constitutional amendments in an effort to sway Turkey. While Sweden’s desire to join NATO can be understood from various perspectives, Turkey’s expectations from Sweden, as well as the key NATO member, the United States, appear more intricate.

The timing of Sweden’s accession as the 32nd NATO member remains uncertain, but statesmen should draw lessons from history. The realities faced by Poland, Sweden, and the Ottoman Empire still hold relevance in today’s international relations. Setting aside current crises, the relationships between Poland, Sweden, and Turkey fall short of their potential. These countries must strive for closer and more coordinated cooperation to maintain peace and stability in Eastern Europe while safeguarding their vital and existential interests. Furthermore, this cooperation should not solely be based on hostility towards any specific state, but rather on deterring hostilities altogether. (*)

NOTES:

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(*) For Turkish-Polish relations also see: Laçiner, Sedat, et al., Turkish-Polish Relations: Past, Present and Future, (Ankara: ÇOMÜ Press, 2015).

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Sino-European Relations Souring as Russia-Ukrainian War Intensifies

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From left to right: Charles MICHEL (President of the European Council), Xi JINPING (President of the People's Republic of China) Copyright: European Union

Since the establishment of Sino–European relations in 1975, there have been significant changes toward building a China-driven agenda in the past 15 months. These changes are intrinsically related to China’s rise, which diverted the EU-American international protagonism.

While there is no common ground among EU members on how to counterbalance the dependence on trading with the second-largest economy in the world, the G7 Summit imparted to the collective endeavors of the largest economies to ‘de-risk’ from China. The EUA, Canada, the UK, and Japan have joined the club.

The Russo-Ukrainian War Context

In March 2019, the European Union adopted a two-folded stance on its relationship with China, defining it as competition cooperation. This dualism underlines the need to understand how to play politics the Chinese way. Since then, the EU has sought to adopt a more assertive tactic, and the ‘systemic rival’ approach has thus prevailed. Besides, the recent Russia-Ukrainian war has contributed much to this decision. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen recently stated, “How China continues to interact with Putin’s war will be a determining factor for EU-China relations going forward.”

China’s close ties with Russia have been around for a while. Their connections in the global arena intensified to counterbalance the American world leadership. Sino-Russian relations were built through symmetric ideological concepts, where the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is still rooted in the Marxism-Lenist ideology. 

China’s foreign affairs are based on non-interventionism principles, but its alignment with Putin has been questioned instead as support to the current war that possibly includes military intelligence and economic aid to Russia. China’s abstention from voting on the resolution that condemned Russia’s latest actions in Ukraine in October 2002 and the recent visit of Xi Jinping to Moscow days after the international criminal court issued an arrest warrant for President Putin contributed to the EU to build the narrative that China does support Russia’s point of view and justifications to the war.

The EU strongly condemned Xi’s trip, voicing worries about China’s role in the war and power balance in its relations with Russia, which now favors China. In late March, Von der Leyen delivered a speech on EU-China relations to the Mercator Institute for China Studies and the European Policy Centre, stating, “President Xi is maintaining his ‘no-limits friendship’ with Putin.”

As Xi voiced “peace talks” and “responsible dialogue” over the war, a joint statement with his Russian counterpart raised the flag of a possible siding with Russia. The joint statement contained criticisms of sanctions and the contributions of NATO in expanding the conflict.

China’s possible role in a peaceful negotiation is unlike the one adopted to break a deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which ended decades of elusive diplomatic relations. The reason is simple: its close ties with Russia.

The Economic Context

In the G7 summit in Hiroshima last week, the largest global economies voiced ‘de-risking’ China against possible economic coercion in various areas involving trade, technologies and intellectual property, and supply chain.

Apart from the Sino-American trade war and the reliance on trading in China – the EU recorded a trade deficit of more than 365 billion euros with China in 2022 – at least two other concerns have debuted on the discussion agenda: the country’s rare earth metals control and responsibility in cyberspace.

To counterbalance China’s new status quo on the global stage, the G7 announced the launch of the Partnership for Global Infrastructure Investment. The total of $600 billion in financing for quality infrastructure is a clear threat to the Belt and Road initiative, but it is unlike that it will pose any danger to China-led investment activities.

The Taiwan Context

The expansion of Chinese influence in the South China Sea has also become a prominent topic at the G7 summit. The G7 Foreign Ministers released a joint statement against China’s latest military activities near Taiwan, condemning economic coercion and urging peaceful talks.

Taiwan is perhaps China’s most irrevocable negotiation topic in foreign relations as the “One China” policy emphasizes the recognition of the island as an integral part of its territory instead of a separate sovereign state. This policy is the central pillar of bilateral diplomatic relations with China.

The complex dynamics shaping countries’ perceptions and interactions with China have shifted Europe’s future standpoint, leaning towards a more assertive approach. As Europe redefines its relationship with China, the balance between reciprocity and market access, and strategic cooperation in climate change will shape the continent’s strategy moving forward. In any event, Europe’s future relations on China promises to be more stick, less carrot.

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