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“United in Adversity”. On the Importance of European Identity in a Post-Coronavirus World

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The recent COVID-19 pandemic outbreak marked a severe blow to the world system, no government excluded, revealing itself as one, if not the greatest crisis ever faced after World War II. And while some governments coped better than others with the emergency, no one was spared. Besides causing a considerable number of casualties, the virus coincidentally revealed already existing problems, emphasizing the weaknesses and limitations of some of the major governing institutions. More precisely, the virus had a profound impact on the European Union, shedding light on the old dichotomy National vs. European Identity. Alongside the health crisis and the ensuing economic one, Europe is now conjointly faced with an identity emergency.

By initially favoring national lines of conduct to solidarity, the behavior of some EU member states highlighted a lack of confidence in the community’s operate itself. Evidence includes the recent Eurobarometer survey, according to which EU support registered a drop, especially during April. In Italy, for instance, EU support fell by 16%, reaching one of the lowest levels ever registered. Furthermore, conforming to the data, the COVID-19 outbreak is stated to have weakened the Union, with Italy, France, and Germany being the main supporters asserting that Brussels would not have done enough to support their countries during the crisis. Rather than evidencing a novel phenomenon, however, it would be more appropriate to see this as the latest manifestation of a long-standing issue: namely the lack of “Europeanness”, a strong sense of identity binding the EU community together.

If the health emergency represented an unprecedented situation for the European community, the lack of trust in its institutions did not. The existential crisis, as the former president of the commission, Jean-Claude Junker described in 2017, has been going on for a long time. “Never before have I seen such little common ground between our Member States. […] Never before have I heard so many leaders speak only of their domestic problems.” From the 2008 financial crash to the refugee crisis, to the rise of populism and extremism to eventually Brexit, Euroscepticism saw a continuous and consistent surge over the years.

What Defines European Identity?

In its broader sense, identity can be classified by its disruptive element, distinguishing those who are part of the group (“we-feeling” [1] from those who are not; in this case, EU vs. NON-EU. Conversely, with regard to European identity specifically, two intrinsic elements are identified: plurality and individuality. [2] Plurality refers to the sense of belonging to a community that shares a common culture, values, and history, “a nation comprising several” (Montesquieu). Conversely, individuality stems from the strong regional and individual national identities present on European soil. It is from these two intrinsic elements that Europe will generate its own identity, finding its way between the global and the local [3]. The two aspects are not mutually incompatible. In an example given by Halbig, reference is made to the French regions of Alsace and Lorraine, both of which are very strong in terms of regional identity but also very active in terms of European sentiment.

Why is The Development of a Shared Identity so Fundamental?

According to Paul Collier, professor of Economics and Public Policy at Oxford University, at the root of any economic development lies a sense of identity [4]. Every society presents a dual composition, a power structure, and an identity component. In the absence of the latter, power dissolves into a theatre, meaning directives are less likely to be respected (e.g., different member states’ response to the refugee crisis). When considering the EU, a mismatch between the power structure (supra-national) and the identity component (national) is observed. In order for the Union to work more efficiently, therefore, a move of the identity component, at present almost exclusively national, toward the structure of power is suggested. Such approach does not equate to the erasure of national identity, an essential element at the core of the European Union, as evidenced by its motto “United in Diversity.” Furthermore, as already stated, National and European identities are classified as not exclusive to one another, meaning the presence of one does not exclude that of the other, with the supra-national identity constituting a powerful addition to the national one [5]. While, at the individual level, identity drives behavior, at the supra-national dimension, a sense of belonging to the same community will serve as a prerequisite for further growth, for it will foster future trust and simplify cooperation [6] .

As further proof of the lack of a sense of collective identity, Eurobarometer surveys will now be taken into account. When analyzing the data, particular interest is given to the “Moreno question [7]” section. If the fact that the values collected do not show any particular changes over the last twenty years could, at first glance, be interpreted as a positive variable, it is precisely the lack of growth itself that sets the alarm bell off. Moreover, whilst at the European level values have remained nearly unchanged, at the individual state levels, data shows to have undergone some changes. A significant disparity is registered among different countries, a variable that has changed over time. Among the EU founding members, France and Italy registered a drop in EU identification. Severe variation is also reported on the basis of different socio-economic and demographic factors at an individual level. Those variables include age, level of education, occupation, socio-economic condition, etc. Not very surprisingly, the group more likely to show a higher level of identification with the European Union is composed of young, relatively wealthy, well-educated, eager to travel, work and study abroad people. Namely, those who had had the opportunity to experience free mobility at first hand, along with its benefits.

What are the Processes Through Which Identity is Created?

Before embarking on the policies employed to meet the European challenge, it is necessary to define the processes through which identity is created. In determining the mechanism through which identity is created, two distinct paths are distinguished: information-based and experience-based components [8]. Information-based mechanism rests on the effectiveness of convincing messages as a source of group identification, as well as on the level of accessibility and exposure citizens get from those messages. Messages’ supply will rely on the political elite as well as the media outlets. At the same time, exposure to Europe-related information will be more dependent on the level of attentiveness and interest dedicated by citizens to such type of message. Conversely, experience-based mechanisms lie on the idea of personal contact and direct experiences as a source of identification. Increased contacts and personal connections (e.g., Erasmus exchange program) are said to have an impact on group members’ perceptions.

What are the Problems at the Root of the European Identity Crisis?

To adequately respond to the current crisis due to the European Union’s lack of identification, it is necessary to become more familiar with the underlying problems of this trend. Of particular interest in this respect appears the European Research Project PERCEIVE. The project’s scope lay in the investigation of Cohesion Policy in creating a shared sense of European identity and a broader adherence to Europe’s values among citizens. The policy (2007-2013, 2014-2020) aimed at eradicating inequalities among member states, as well as at the development of a sense of belonging to a shared community. Although the research was explicitly tailored to the European Plan’s success, the identified issues appear to carry a much more general nature. In particular, three major problems were identified.

The first issue to be identified lies in communication. According to findings, one of the reasons why the European Plan proved to be unsuccessful in gaining support for Brussels derived from the way it has, or better, has not, been presented by local governments and media outlets, namely how much coverage was dedicated to EU-related information. When working toward the implementation of a sense of belonging, Europe must thus learn to communicate its policies better. In this regard, communication channels, social media platforms included, appear crucial.

Secondly, it was noted that the allocation of structural funds does not necessarily equate with a rise in EU support, nor with a surge in identification with the community. In this regard, reference is made to Calabria (Italy). Although a large amount of funds was allocated to the region, 34% of the respondents still viewed their country’s EU membership negatively. According to the researches in order for funds to create support, they do not only need to be allocated, but also, they need to be spent well, as well as promoted in relation to the results obtained.

Lastly, the third problem to be identified related to awareness. When asked about the EU Cohesion Plan, less than 50% of EU citizens surveyed were familiar with the EU Cohesion Policy. The finding suggests that being unfamiliar with EU Policies and Initiatives at a broader level, citizens will likely not be aware of the benefits they provide, hence the importance of raising awareness.

What Kind of Initiatives Have Been Employed to Promote a Sense of Identification in the European Community?

In outlining the strategies implemented by Brussels aimed at developing further cohesion between member states, two different identity components need to be further distinguished: civic and cultural [9]. The distinction appears useful as it allows us to distinguish two different lines of action to implement the policies of identification with the European Union.

A European “Civic Identity” would, therefore, refer to the perception to be part of a European political system, defining rules, laws, and rights concerning the individual citizen’s life. When targeting the civic component, European initiatives should thus aim at generating a sense of communal participation in the Union’s decision-making processes, stressing the involvement of one common political system. The primary purpose, more generally, should, therefore, consist in making institutions more efficient and transparent, as well as more accessible to European citizens. The result would lead not only to greater participation in European political life but would also increase citizens’ awareness of the European institutions as well as of the benefits to which they have access. Among the European initiatives that have been undertaken in accordance to these lines are the following: European Parliament’s elections, citizen’s project initiatives and dialogues, a common passport, uniformed license plates, free mobility, free-roaming, MEP (Model European Parliament) and the EU-wide job agency (EURES).

In contrast, “Cultural Identity” is defined as the component, independent from the above-mentioned political perceptions, stemming from the idea that Europeans are closer than non-Europeans due to a rich set of shared values, as well as a shared culture and history. By emphasizing the commonality derived from a shared past between EU members, initiatives will be implemented in order to raise a sense of alignment between citizens of the same group. Examples include Erasmus+, free interrail tickets, town twinning programs, European Capital of Culture, a pan-European TV Channel (Euronews), as well as shared symbols, such as the European Flag, European Anthem, a common motto (“United in Diversity”), and a shared festivity, Europe’s day (9 May).

Reshaping the EU, What Can be Done in Order to Develop a Sense of Identification?

Following the Italian unification in 1861, Massimo d’Azeglio, Italian politician and writer, said, “once Italy was made, now we must make Italians.” And the same logic applies to Europe. Being a relatively young system, not even 70 years old, and undergoing continuous development, in order for Europe to act more efficiently, proper attention must be paid to policies aimed at implementing a shared identity, rather than focusing solely on its economic aspect. In this regard, as already mentioned, the discrepancies recorded in the various Eurobarometer surveys appear of particular interest.

More specifically, as suggested in a recent report published by ECONPOL, “What a feeling?! How to promote European Identity“, experts identified in adults, pensioners, and more generally less socio-economically advantaged people the main targets of a new identity plan. According to surveys, these categories have proved to be the least likely to develop a sense of EU cohesion, hence the need to focus on them. While young, well-educated, and generally wealthy people tend to present higher trust rates, mainly due to the free movement policies allowing students and young professionals to create valuable transnational contacts, staying at home and being exposed to European tourists does not seem to have the same effect. According to experts, in order to create a more inclusive identity, more focus should be put on those people less likely to experience the benefits of their country’s EU membership.

In addition to providing a list of possible targets to be included in a potential new plan for the development of a European identity, several suggestions were presented in the report. These suggestions will be listed below, distinguishing between their civic and cultural dimension.

Among the suggested civic initiatives, we find the creation of supranational party lists. The idea is not entirely new, as several politicians have already proposed such a plan, including the French President Emmanuel Macron. According to scholars, the creation of supranational lists would guarantee a more pronounced loyalty to the party’s key idea, resulting in a greater party accountability. Simultaneously, the existence of transnational parties could generate more public interest and contribute to greater participation in parliamentary elections. Secondly, among the various propositions, the establishment of European embassies is presented. Such offices would provide consular services for all EU citizens, while foreign policy would remain of national competence. Working at a supranational level would hence contribute to the message of a more present and helping Europe. At the same time, their creation would ensure consistent money-saving as well a higher level of efficiency, resulting from the standardization of the procedure. Finally, city assemblies, where citizens could meet to discuss European issues, the content of these meetings then being brought before the EP, are also proposed. This practice, already in use in Ireland, would thus increase the sense of citizen involvement.

Simultaneously, from a cultural point of view, several initiatives are also suggested. Among the most significant ones, we mention the creation of different exchange programs targeting adults (European Waltz), to create an on-the-job experience exchange, as well as pensioners (Pensioners’ Erasmus), to support those eager to learn and get to know more about European countries and their cultures. Concurrently, the creation of an EU Public Service Broadcaster, active in several EU languages, and thus facilitating access, is proposed. The platform would air daily, covering EU-related news as well as all public meeting and hearings of European Institutions. In order to meet its purpose, the broadcast should present a high degree of independence from politics, providing its viewers with objective information.

Conclusion

Rather than being regarded as a threat to one’s identity, fostering European unity should instead be perceived as a benefit. A “community of communities”[10] working together for a common good. If, in accordance with the theory of social constructivism, social processes are at the core of the construction of ideas, then the legitimacy of the European Union itself will also be partly defined by the existence of a strong European identity. As opposed to being merely regarded as a challenge, COVID-19 pandemic provides all the necessary elements to be the turning point Europe needed to reshape its position. Besides addressing health and socio-economic issues, institutions should also focus on fostering a shared EU identity.

On 13 December 1973, the then Nine Member States signed the European Declaration of Identity in Copenhagen. Although the document was drafted almost 50 years ago, some of the directives remain relevant today. When assessing the extent to which the Nine were committed to working together, European unity was praised as the basic necessity to ensure the survival of the civilization they had in common. At the same time, legal, political, and moral national orders were stated to be preserved. (ART 1). Furthermore, to ensure the respect of national identities, diversity was praised as the fundamental element giving the community its peculiarity and dynamism (ART 3). When addressing the current geopolitical issues, the Nine reaffirmed their willingness to act together as a large community. A community that, in order to fulfill its aims, cannot only be economic. (ART 7).

“Although in the past the European countries were individually able to play a major role on the international scene, present international problems are too difficult for any of the Nine to solve alone. International development and the growing concentration of power and responsibility in the hands of a very small number of great powers mean that Europe must unite and speak increasingly with one voice if it wants to make itself heard and play its proper role in the world.” (ART 6)

“Unite and speak increasingly with one voice,” suggesting that in order for a system to function correctly, it needs to be accompanied by a great sense of cohesion and belonging.

1. Easton D. A system analysis of Political Life (1965).

2. Halbig, T.E., (2019) Creating an European Identity, Volume 4 pages 75-79.

3. Chopin T. (2018) Europe and the identity challenge: who are “we”?, Robert Shuman Policy papers.

4. From Poverty to Prosperity: Understanding Economic Development, Paul Collier, Blavatnik School of Government, Oxford University.

5. Troitino, D.R. (2009) Creation of European Identity in the European Union, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/330712624_Creation_of_European_Identity_in_European_Union_Creation_of_European_Identity_in_European_Union.

6. Ciaglia, S., Fuest, C., Heinemann, F. (2019) What a feeling?! How to promote European Identity, ECONPOL.

7. In the near future, do you see yourself as: (1) [nationality] only, (2) [nationality] and European, (3) European and [nationality, (4) European only.

8. Bergabauer, S. (2018) Explaining European Identity Formation.

9.Bruter, M. (2003): Winning Hearts and Minds for Europe. The impact of News and Symbols on Civic and Cultural European Identity.

10. Damaso, M., Davies, L.J., Jablonowski, K., Montgomery S. (2019) Acting European, Identity belonging and the EU of tomorrow.

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Victor Orban’s eyes may be bigger than his stomach

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When Prime Minister Victor Orban recently spelled out his vision of Hungary’s frontiers, he joined a club of expansionist leaders such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin, China’s Xi Jinping, and members of the Indian power elite who define their countries’ borders in civilisational rather than national terms.

Speaking on Romanian territory in the predominantly ethnic Hungarian town of Baile Tusnad in Transylvania, a onetime Austro-Hungarian possession home to a Hungarian minority, Mr. Orban echoed the worldviews of Messrs. Xi and Putin.

Those views are on display in the South China Sea and Ukraine, as well as in statements by the Russian leader about other former Soviet republics.

It’s a worldview also embraced by members of India’s Hindu nationalist elite that endorses a country’s right to expand its internationally recognized borders to lands inhabited by their ethnic kin or territories and waters that historically were theirs.

Unlike the Russian and Chinese leaders, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been careful to avoid public support for the civilisationalist concept of Akhand Bharat embraced by his ideological alma mater.

The concept envisions an India that stretches from Afghanistan to Myanmar and encompasses nuclear-armed Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives.

Mr. Modi’s silence hasn’t prevented Mohan Bhagwat, head of the powerful ultra-Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sang (RSS) or National Volunteer Organization, from recently predicting that Akhand Bharat would become a reality within 15 years.

Mr. Modi has been a member of the RSS since the late 1960s. However, he is believed to have last referred to the Akhand Bharat concept in an interview in 2012 when, as Chief Minister of Gujarat, he suggested that “Hindustan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh should rejoin.”

However, in contrast to his more recent silence, Mr. Modi has approached Indian Muslims, the world’s largest minority and its largest Muslim minority, in much the same way that Mr. Orban envisions a racially and religiously pure Hungary.

The Hungarian prime minister sparked outrage in his July speech when he rejected a “mixed-race world” defined as a world “in which European peoples are mixed together with those arriving from outside Europe.”

Mr. Orban asserted that mixed-race countries “are no longer nations: They are nothing more than conglomerations of peoples” and are no longer part of what he sees as “the Western world.” Mr. Orban stopped short of identifying those countries, but the United States and Australia would fit the bill. 

Romanians may be more concerned about Mr. Orban’s racial remarks than his territorial ambitions, described by one Romanian Orban watcher as a “little man having pipe dreams.”

Romanians may be right. Mr. Orban’s ability to militarily assert his claims is far more restricted than those of his Russian and Chinese counterparts. Nevertheless, one underestimates at one’s peril.

Mr. Orban shares Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi’s resentment of perceived historical wrongs that need to be rectified irrespective of international law and the consequences of a world whose guardrails are dictated by might rather than the rule of law.

His speech seems to promise to reverse what he sees as an unjust diktat. His revanchism may explain why Russia’s alteration in Ukraine of national boundaries by force doesn’t trouble him.

Mr. Orban left no doubt that his definition of the Hungarian motherland included Transylvania and other regions in the Carpathian Basin beyond Hungary’s borders that ethnic Hungarians populate.

Insisting that the world owed Hungary, which eventually would call in its debt, Mr. Orban asserted that his country was driven by the notion “that more has been taken from us than given to us, that we have submitted invoices that are still unpaid… This is our strongest ambition.”

Mr. Orban implicitly suggested a revision or cancellation of the 1920 Treaty of Trianon, which deprived Hungary of much of its pre-World War I territory.

Two months earlier, Hungarian President Katalin Novak ruffled diplomatic feathers when she posted a picture of herself climbing a mountain peak in Romania’s Alba County, standing by a disputed milestone painted in Hungarian colours.

At the time, Ms. Novak advised Romanian Foreign Minister Bogdan Aurescu that it was her duty to represent “all Hungarians, regardless of whether they live inside or outside the borders” – a claim Romania rejected.

Mr. Orban’s grievance and racially driven nationalism may be one reason the Hungarian leader has been Europe’s odd man out in refusing to sanction Russia for its invasion of Ukraine fully.

In a break with European Union policy, Hungary’s foreign minister Péter Szijjarto met his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on the eve of Mr. Orban’s speech to request additional gas supplies.

In contrast to the EU, which wants to remove Russia as a supplier of its energy, Mr. Orban insisted that “we do not want to stop getting energy from Russia, we simply want to stop getting it exclusively from Russia.”

Mr. Orban’s speech is unlikely to ease the task of Tibor Navracsics, Hungary’s regional development minister and a former EU commissioner. Mr. Navracsics arrived in Brussels this week to persuade the EU to release €15 billion in covid recovery funds amid an unprecedented disciplinary process that could lead to the suspension of EU funding because of Hungarian violations of the rule of law.

So far, Mr. Orban’s support of Russia has isolated him in Europe with the de facto demise of the Visegrad 4 or V4 in its current form in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine and the threat of an economic recession.

Grouping the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia, the Visegrad 4 were united in their opposition to EU migration and rejection of what the Hungarian leader termed Europe’s “internal empire-building attempts,” a reference to the European Commission’s efforts to stop moves that hollow out Central European democracy.

Leaving Mr. Orban isolated, Slovakian Prime Minister Eduard Heger has pledged to use his current six-month presidency of the European Council to return the Visegrad 4 to the roots of its founding in 1991 as the four countries emerged from communism: respect for democracy and a commitment to European integration.

If successful, Mr. Heger’s V4 will likely be a V3 with Hungary on the outs.

Said Mateusz Gniazdowski, an analyst at the Warsaw-based Centre for Eastern Studies: “Attempts to ideologically use the V4 brand harm mutual trust and don’t contribute to building a strong Central Europe in the EU.”

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The End of History, Delayed: The EU’s Role in Defining the Post-War Order

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While the world is following the dramatic unfolding of the Russian aggression against Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, Europe needs to start elaborating its vision for the post-war world. While a new Yalta might be needed, we all should realise that a peaceful world order has never existed outside the European Union. This in itself grants the EU the credibility – and responsibility – for arranging the post-war framework that secures the peaceful future of the continent.

By Dr.Maria Alesina and Francesco Cappelletti*

In the interconnected international society, war is not only a horrific and painful but also irrational choice. It is a zero-sum game, which sets into motion the domino effect of global repercussions. However, rational considerations have little to do with what stands behind the ongoing military attack on Ukraine. Russia’s war is not limited to Ukraine or aimed at a regime change to strengthen regional influence (as realists would say), nor does it represent an attempt to reinforce specific strategic interests (as a cognitivist analysis would suggest). It has emerged as something beyond traditional disputes: it is, as a matter of fact, an ideological war against the West. More than anything, it is Huntington’s “clash of civilizations”, although driven not by ideology or religion but by the two conflicting standpoints on human life – as a value and a non-value. This fundamental clash is happening now on the Ukrainian soil, and the battle is as fierce as it can possibly get.

The propaganda-driven “Rus-zism” rhetoric, missing any solid ideological basis or constructive meaning, consists of an overt anti-Western narrative aiming to establish a multi-polar world order and a vaguely defined concept of Russia’s “greatness”, entrenched in the shreds of evidence given by altered revision of events, such as the Great Patriotic War. A war that, in the eyes of the Russian establishment, has never ended. In the anti-Western rhetoric, the corroborating factor is a series of facts, events, convictions, beliefs, interests that support the leitmotif of the inevitability of “blocks”, an enemy, the “others”. A heritage of the Cold War. All this is grounded in the historical super Troika of the Russia’s foreign policy: fear of external threats, dispersed economic and political inefficiency, and focus on securing citizens’ support – by all means, ranging from propaganda to political repressions. This is a sheer exercise in power without purpose, control without vision, projected both internally and externally. This dynamic, although never fully dissipated, has been re-gaining momentum starting with Putin’s speech at the 2007 Munich Security Conference.

Today, in mid-2022, Russian aggression in Ukraine is only growing in atrocities and cynicism. In contrast, the EU politics still remain a palliative medicine, by definition unprepared to dealing with the concept of war. Political crises in several Member States – Italy, France, Estonia, Bulgaria – risk becoming a further destabilizing factor preventing the EU from fully standing up against Putin’s war plans. Meanwhile, the Europeans are becoming increasingly concerned with the upcoming ‘Russian winter’, recession, global food shortages, and a new migration crisis. As much as citizens advocated for support to Ukraine in the beginning, soon they might start demanding peace at any cost – most likely, Ukraine’s cost. This is the trap that Russia is orchestrating.

However, any simple, although desperately needed, ceasefire agreement risks only deepening the problem and postponing the solution. It will be a matter or years, if not months, when Russia restarts its aggression, possibly better prepared the next time around. The somewhat belated understanding of this simple truth should prevent us from re-engaging into the dilemma of prioritizing short-lived comfort and material gain over long-term solutions based on our fundamental, “civilizational” priorities. We need to remember that Europe’s prosperity has resulted from a prolonged period of peace – not vice versa. Those who threaten the peace, by definition threaten our growth and sustainability. Alongside building up its strategic autonomy for the 21st century, Europe must be prepared to do what it takes to secure a new long-term peaceful world order – not simply patch the old one.

Given that the ‘Russian factor’ will not disappear even after the overt military conflict is over, the Cold War II stands in the midst of diplomatic challenges anticipated for the post-war scenario. On the one hand, as Russia has acquired the official status of the world’s villain, dethroning China from this role, it will continue to face some extent of isolation. Regaining any level of trust will require years, and Moscow will struggle to find a credible audience to speak to when trying to redefine its external relations, while having to deal with a prolonged recession and a technological slowdown never experienced since 1991. On the other hand, without being naïve, we cannot expect any substantial regime changes to happen in Moscow. For centuries, the narrative ‘Russia vs. the West’ has constituted the very central axis of the national public discourse, even within the liberally-minded opposition circles. Such long-standing trends do not change quickly, if ever.

Although no notions of trustworthy diplomacy will bring Russia to the international negotiation tables for a long time, the need to guarantee security goes beyond this conflict and its territorial or ideological implications. The only viable solution is to find a way to contain Russia within a binding and comprehensive international framework. This means a pragmatic approach is needed in developing untouchable geopolitical, diplomatic, and security-related boundaries of the new order. The exact same boundaries that kept the first Cold War “cold”, with the difference that this time one of the great powers involved is – to use Kennedy’s word – declining.

The results of the potential Kyiv-Moscow talks will largely depend on the West’s willingness to avoid grey zones in the future security settlements. It is a matter of responsibility, especially for the EU, to provide a forum to assess, judge, clarify, evaluate, measure, and pragmatically set limits of the new post-war security system. While the US is interested, first and foremost, in slowly weakening Russia politically and economically, Europe’s long-term concern consists primarily in preventing its giant neighbour from disrupting the very basic principles of coexistence on the continent. A zero-trust model should be applied to Russia, while a new paradigm for debates should be developed from scratch: there is no more “balance of power” and “deterrence” to fit into the discourse. The world is now divided into nations that either care or not about commonly accepted principles, rights, and, above all, about the value of human life. The end of history, in 2022, is farther away than expected.

*Dr Maria Alesina and Francesco Cappelletti are Policy and Research Officers at the European Liberal Forum. Dr Alesina holds MA degrees in Political Science and EU Studies obtained in Ukraine, Germany and Belgium and a PhD degree in interdisciplinary cultural studies from Ghent University. She specializes in EU foreign, social, and cultural affairs. Francesco Cappelletti holds an MA in International Relations from the University of Florence and MA in World Politics from MGIMO. Member of Center for Cybersecurity in Florence. He focuses on cybersecurity, digitisation, Russian-Western relations and the relation between sustainability and technologies.

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“No longer analyze Asia with European eyes”, says French expert in Bucharest conference

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A 2-day academic hybrid conference organized in Bucharest at mid-July by MEPEI (Middle East Economic and Political Institute) and EuroDefense Romania, two Bucharest-based think-tanks, was the perfect venue to learn about the latest analyses on economic, geopolitical and security topics related to the Middle East and Asia, during which China was mentioned by all speakers as clearly playing a role in today’s international order. Entitled “Middle East in Quest for Security, Stability, and Economic Identity”, the conference was the 8th in a series of international conferences that annually gather well-known experts from all over the world to present their analyses and research on highly debated topics such as terrorism, Middle East, emerging Asian countries, the rising China, to which this year a new topic was added: the conflict in Ukraine.

Interesting ideas derived from the speakers’ presentations.

Adrian Severin, former Romanian minister of foreign affairs and EU parliamentarian, pointed out that “the conflict in Ukraine is actually one between Russia and the West, but economic sanctions never stop wars, and they even may lead to global disaster”. Severin considers it to be more and more difficult for NATO to defend its allies, with so many countries relying on NATO, and on the US, for their national protection, including non-European countries such as Saudi Arabia and Israel. When it comes to Asia, Severin sees “China to have a first rank role in shaping the world order.”

Teodor Meleșcanu, another former Romanian minister of foreign affairs, stressed that “Asia has the majority of the world’s population and lots and resources, and the future of Asia will assume the future of our civilizations.” Meleșcanu explained that “China wants to stabilize the world and to forge alliances, but not to fight with the West. Chinese trade is not interested in confrontation with Western partners by making alliance with Russia and it’s obvious why – because the West means more than 700 million people whereas Russia means only 114 million.” Meleșcanu suggested that the optimal solution in international relations is to operate with regional organizations in order to have dialogue, not directly with “the big boys in the garden.” Meleșcanu also encourages never-ending dialogue between the US-Russia-China, as the current situation proves it, in order to prevent such events that destabilize the world. He believes that the principles in Norman Angell’s The Great Illusion will always apply, as war does not actually mean conquering territories.  

Lily Ong, host of the Geopolitics360 live show in Singapore, confirmed that regional organizations are vital for dialogue: “Had not it have been for ASEAN, Singapore would have been on the menu, not at the table.”

Foad Izadi from the University of Tehran informed that Iran signed a 25-year agreement with China, and a separate one with Russia, and said “Iran would welcome such 25-year agreements with European countries. It’s Europe’s decision if they really want to follow the US decisions, but the US interests are often not aligned with the European interests”, concluded Izadi.

Vasily Kuznetsov from the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow reminded the audience that Russia and the West cooperated very well in Libya, in fighting against ISIS in Syria, and expressed his confusion about Europe’ militarized approach towards Russia.  He stressed that “the current international situation will result into the strengthening of Asian centres of global power and global economics. China, as well as India and the Middle East as a collective actor become new great powers directly linked to each other, without the West.” At the same time, Kuznetsov sees “for China, a dilemma between pragmatic economic interest and global political ambitions, and for India, a choice between regional and global ambitions outside South Asia”, and he wondered whether “China can have a realistic foreign policy in the Middle East which  is facing issues of internal reconfiguration, sovereignty and security.” For the US, Kuznetsov sees the biggest challenge in the effort “to preserve leadership without more engagement, to make American politics more successful and to combine values and pragmatism.”

 “The rise of China is beneficial not only for China but for entire Asia”, believes Yao Jinxiang from China Institute of International Studies (CIIS) in Beijing. “The rise of Asia will rebalance the world.” Yao also stressed that “people are often biased about Asia. Let us not forget that, apart from the wars led by the US in Asia, Asia has been stable with no war for a long time. The self-control of the Asia countries ensures stability. It looks that it’s easier to attract Europe in a war than Asia. Asian countries try to solve problems by consensus. For example, China, Japan and South Korea step back because ASEAN is the leader. On the other hand, China has always been defensive. China does not want to claim hegemony or to replace the US, or another great power.” Yao equally explained the two terms used to refer to the same region: Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific: “Asia-Pacific reflects economic relations, whereas Indo-Pacific rather mirrors the political and military relations”, and he stressed that “China does not want to claim hegemony in this world or to replace the US or another great power. China is only interested in prosperity around the world and it watches carefully the Global Development Index and the Global Security Index”.

Pierre Fournié, French expert on Asia from SUFFREN International think-tank declared the Belt and Road Initiative, formerly One-Belt, One-Road (OBOR), to be “a magnificent project that could be pivotal in Europe” because “trade has always been a peaceful and fruitful relation among countries.” Fournié made clear that the war in Ukraine, inflation, migration, social discontent in Europe and the ongoing reconfiguration of the US society create conditions for Asian nations to become key partners in the post-war reshaping of Europe. “Thus, BRI, or the Indonesian Global Maritime Fulcrum are magnificent assets. Fournié also suggested that ”the current economic model creates tensions, and it’s time for  people to apply mutual aid and to unite to create coo-petition, a term coined by himself, and not competition. He recommended people to “no longer analyze Asia with European eyes.”

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