The United States have quickly “returned” to Europe after the Russian annexation of Crimea and East Ukraine, the lawfulness of which is still to be assessed. Previously the U.S. interpretation of NATO within the EU was optimistic and such as to predict a slow decommissioning, but today it is certainly not.
Nevertheless, in a context of partial return to the “Cold War”, such as the one which is emerging at the moment in which Russia is beginning its “hybrid warfare” in Ukraine and in Crimea, also the configuration of the Western strategic response to Russia’s new actions changes.
In the first phase of the “Cold War”, which ended in 1989, the centre of gravity of the NATO response to a possible attack by the Warsaw Pact or, anyway, by the USSR alone, was inevitably Germany.
Russia launched its strike, while the Warsaw Pact Member States covered the strike and the flanks of the operation.
Therefore, now that the Warsaw Pact is annihilated and much of it has even entered the West, the centre of gravity of a Western countermove against the Russian Federation – now isolated from the context of the old Warsaw Pact – can only be Poland.
The large base of U.S. material in Poland, created in Powidz in March 2019,marked this new condition.
Nevertheless, it is important to note that while West Germany was the axis of German reunification, as well as the tip of West’s possible attack-response against a conventional or non-conventional aggression from the East, now Germany’s role is inevitably more nuanced. Germany has become a rearguard, not the tip of the Western counterattack.
There is currently no German national interest that could support a possible Western reaction against Russia.
Quite the reverse. Germany has obviously every interest in establishing a special relationship with the Russian Federation, even on its own, as seen with the issue of the Nord Stream and Nord Stream 2 gas pipelines.
On the other hand, we can currently perceive Poland’s considerable coldness towards the EU, to which it had enthusiastically adhered on May 1, 2004.
Poland is the sixth largest economy in the EU.
Moreover, during the first years of European unification, Poland was the great operational “source” for the geopolitical changes in the Russian Federation and in the rest of the old “Warsaw Pact”.
It should be noted that only Poland was not directly affected by the economic crisis following the Wall Street collapse in 2008 – a crisis that, as usual, spread throughout Europe.
It should also be noted that the EU is still regarded as an inevitable point of reference for most Polish citizens, regardless of their party preferences – not to mention the 16.3 billion Euros allocated by the various European funds to Poland (2018 data).
The greater the coldness between the EU and Poland – not so much politically but strategically – the greater the link between the United States and Poland.
It is almost a law of the pendulum which, due to the lack of a European strategy, cannot but keep on applying.
President Trump visited Poland in July 2017 and one of his goals was the U.S. participation in the Three Seas Initiative.
This initiative is an extraordinary strategic asset: it entails a correlation between the countries on the Baltic, the Black Sea and the Adriatic, which creates a stable dialogue of Intermarium – especially at energy, but also at strategic levels – between Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.
The strategic link between these countries was officially established in 2016, but the geopolitical significance is clear: the Three Seas network largely replaces the terrestrial limes of the old “Cold War”. It strengthens it and then excludes the old countries that, in the first version of the “Cold Car”, were the real limes, i.e Italy, inter alia.
If all these countries were to redefine a NATO first defence line, as in the times of the first “Cold War”, they would develop it well before the Italian “threshold of Gorizia”, or also the old line of defence in Austria – which, indeed, was not designed to resist – or even the internal defence threshold between the two Germanies.
In other words, Poland is the new global coverage against the Russian Federation which was previously focused on West Germany.
We saw it also with the agreement reached in September 2019 between Poland and the United States on 5G, an essential issue for the latter, not to mention the bilateral Summit on nuclear safety in 2018. However, many significant agreements were reached between the United States and Poland: the “Declaration on the new U.S. posture in the Republic of Poland” in June 2019 or the agreement on the prevention of severe crimes, again in 2019, and some other agreements.
Again in June 2019, a new really essential agreement was reached between the United States and Poland, a bilateral treaty on the civilian use of nuclear energy, as well as a treaty for the supply of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG).
The U.S. exports are worth 5.96 billion U.S. dollars, while Polish imports have risen by 4.3% on a yearly basis.
Poland is the ninth most important partner and the fourth economic partner of the United States among the non-EU countries, after China, Russia and Great Britain.
Here again we can easily see the U.S. very strong interest in the “Three Seas Initiative”: a project that is carried out through all reliable and friendly countries for the United States, unlike in the phases of the first “Cold War”. It is a project that makes the major EU countries alien to it – countries which now have autonomous strategic interests (except for Italy, of course). It is a project that strictly contains the EU relations with Russia and creates a belt of pro-USA countries in a new context of U.S. relative abandonment of Western Europe which, however, can no longer be fully supported in its entirety.
President Trump participated in the Three Seas Initiative Summit held in Warsaw in 2017.
It is not the alternative option to NATO-Europe, but it much looks like it.
The first U.S. availability was shown for the energy projects in Trimarium, as the authors of Limes currently call it.
The Polish bank BGK is the main instrument of the Three Seas Investment Fund, with the relationship – with the United States – between Trimarium and P-TEC, Transatlantic Energy Cooperation.
In essence, the United States is selling its shale LNG to particularly friendly countries, such as Poland, to isolate the E.U. countries that, instead, buy gas and oil from the East.
This adds to a stable relationship between the United States and Poland for civilian nuclear power.
In the military field, bilateral treaties are even more significant: Poznan is the new HQ of the U.S. forces’ Advanced Division; in Dravsko Pomorske there will be a centre for military training used by both U.S. and Polish Armed Forces; the central base of the U.S. Air Force will be established in Wroclaw-Strachowice; Lask will be the base of the squadron for drones and Powidtz will be the base of a series of U.S. special forces.
The U.S. soldiers currently in Poland amount to 4,500 and the armed units to 2,000.
The Operation Defender Europe 2020 -involving 37,000 Alliance soldiers, albeit with the limitations resulting from Covid-19 – was an extremely significant operation, capable of sending a clear message to the Russian Federation and to Germany.
A message from “Trimarium”, not from the old border of the “Cold War”, but above all a message from the U.S. new reliable allies, which also buy its LNG, to Old Europe’s unruly and quarrelsome allies, now possibly very untrustworthy, treacherous and unreliable.
Poland has also bought 32 F-35 missiles. The air system is largely interoperable with the Patriot framework, bought by it in 2018, but we must not neglect Poland’s role in diplomacy.
Since February 2019, in fact, there has been the “Warsaw Process” for the Middle East with 60 participating countries. An operation that serves to divert the great policy line of Middle East peace negotiation from the increasingly evident and, in any case, ambiguous E.U. pressures on Israel.
A series of Closure Options by the United States, which can use Poland and Trimarium as a form of pressure on the old EU allies of the equally old “Cold War”.
As is easy to predict, all this results from President Trump’s choice to reduce U.S. Forces in Germany from 52,000 to 25,000 units.
A very strong signal sent to Russia, but also a still weak signal of maximum coldness towards the relationship between the United States and Germany, which is not reliable for gas relations with Russia, but above all not reliable for United States’ international trade: Germany has a current account surplus of 261.1 billion Euros, with 7.6% more GDP exported than imported.
The other issues that the United States wants to harshly discuss with Germany include its particular policy of economic relations with China.
Volskwagen accounts for 40% of the Chinese car market, but German companies also operate under a quasi-monopoly regime. What is the German strategy? Simply making huge profit in China and then play the card of this global primacy in the EU.
The United States does not like it very much, as can be easily imagined.
In Hong Kong there are still 2,200 European companies, with their branches and subsidiaries. The Euro area is Hong Kong’s second largest trading partner, but it is Germany that dominates trade with its 14 billion Euros.
Hence, hit the EU to hit Germany, Trump’s first objective, as well as support the Trimarium network to avoid the old Atlantic relationship with old friends that are now untrustworthy and unreliable. And also hit the Russian Federation hard, defuse and weaken the NATO network in Europe without harming the U.S. interests in the region.
All these are the reasons for a new relationship between the United States and Poland.
The spirit of “Greater Albania” acquires Brussels substance
A meeting of Serbian and Kosovo leaders which is scheduled to take place in Brussels in September may result in the signing of an agreement on the normalization of relations. According to reports, the EU leaders, who act as mediators in the Belgrade – Pristina dialogue, have prepared a draft agreement. Serbian and Brussels sources say the draft provides for recognition of the self-proclaimed independence of Kosovo by Belgrade in exchange for Serbia’s membership in the EU.
However, even if Belgrade chooses to sign the above-mentioned agreement, – such a step will do nothing to secure normalization in the Balkans. On the contrary, it could open a new chapter in the political and administrative “reformating” of the region. What comes as a key factor here is activization on the part of Albania, which is using the Belgrade-Pristina deal for its own purposes, and these purposes are infinitely far from what the leading European capitals count on. It would hardly be an exaggeration to say that a full-blown international and legal recognition of Kosovo’s independence (which is supposed to result from the agreement prepared in Brussels on the normalization of bilateral relations between Belgrade and Pristina) will become a prologue to more active efforts on the part of Albanian radicals to establish “Greater Albania”, which would incorporate Albania proper, most of Kosovo, Presevo Valley, parts of Macedonia, Montenegro, and, possibly, Greece, with a total population of up to 10 million.
Statements in support of creating such a state have come recently from many high-profile political and public figures in Kosovo, who maintain close ties with the Albanian community abroad and with influential American and European politicians. One of them is Azem Vlasi, who headed the regional branch of the Union of Communists of Kosovo and was a member of the Central Committee of the Union of Communists of Yugoslavia in the 1980s. He doubts that the recent talks in Brussels on the division of Kosovo will produce an agreement. In his opinion, the authorities in Pristina are not prepared to give up control of the entire territory of the region. Besides, it’s Kosovo that could become a center of the “collection” of Albanian lands in the Balkans.
The main guidelines to methodologically justify the program of creating “Greater Albania” were presented in the 1990s, by one of the most outstanding of Albanian intellectuals, Recep Chosja, who pointed out that «Albania has never accepted its present borders, always trying to remind international circles that its present borders are unfair, as they divide Albanian territory into two parts. These borders run across the very heart of Albanian people».
The official position of neighboring Albania, which is same nationality with Kosovo, is the acknowledgment of inviolability of the existing borders. In 1992 the head of government from the Democratic Party of Albania Sali Berisha said in an interview that «the idea of creating “Greater Albania” is alien to Albanian ruling circles and political forces».
Nevertheless, in May 2011, member of the Presidium of the Democratic Party of Albania, Azgan Khaklai, openly demanded that all Albanian territories should be united to form one state, while the incumbent head of government Edi Rama has been indicating that unification of Albania and Kosovo is Tirana’s Plan A and should be regarded as such in connection with the agreement between Pristina and Belgrade.
Public opinion polls conducted among the Albanian population of the Balkan countries suggest that the program of creating “Greater Albania” has been acquiring ever more popularity among the Albanian population of the Balkan countries. The idea of making Albania’s borders “ethnic” has already won the support of more than 80% of the population of Kosovo, over 70% of residents of Albania, and of more than a half of Macedonian Albanians. About one half of respondents in Kosovo and 40% in Albania believe that Greater Albania with its widest ethnically conditioned borders will come into being in the near future.
Meanwhile, at the end of 2006 a similar study conducted by experts of the UN Development Program found that only 2,5% of Kosovo Albanians considered unification with Albania the best solution, whereas 96% wanted Kosovo to become independent within the existing borders.
Such a situation may force leading world powers and international institutes to reconsider their recent policies, which focused on a state rather than on a territory and which envisaged that each Balkan country should search for a solution of its problems by itself. «A territory-focused policy regards the Balkan region not as a community of established countries, but as a system of territories that stay in dynamic balance and are thus capable of reformatting. «A carve-up of regional borders on the ethno-linguistic and religious principles may acquire fresh impetus in the course of current talks between Belgrade and Pristina. Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic has expressed readiness to recognize Kosovo in exchange for territorial concessions, while his counterpart Hashim Thaci hopes to invite to his country Serbian Albanians», – points out Le Monde diplomatique, emphasizing the situation in Presevo Valley, which borders on Kosovo.
Another potentially explosive “hot spot” covers three South Serbian communities (Bujanovac, Medveja and Presevo). According to the last census conducted in Serbia, about 90, 000 people live on the territories of these three communities. The ratio of Serbs and Albanians is as follows: in Presevo – 89% Albanians and 9% Serbs, in Bujanovac – 55% Albanians and 34% Serbs, in Medveja – 26% Albanians and 67% Serbs.
Chairman of Presevo community and leader of the Democratic Party of Albanians in Serbia Ragmi Mustafa has spoken in favor of “exchange of territories” between Belgrade and Pristina, underscoring that all three communities “should join Kosovo” while “northern Kosovo should join Serbia”. In his words, the relevant proposal should be presented at the Brussels talks: «I think that this is the future of our region».
According to leaders of Presevo Albanians, the international community should make the Serbian government “refrain from impeding the expression of the freewill on the part of the population of the Presevo Valley».
Such a position echoes the program of the radical Kosovo movement “Self-Determination”, headed by former Prime Minister Albin Kurti. Kurti believes that Kosovo and Albania “should coordinate their actions and simultaneously streamline their legislation with a view to prepare for two referendums, in Albania and Kosovo, on the outcome of which Kosovo will unite with Albania”. “I think that this meets the interests of our people in the economic sphere and in the sphere of security”, – Albin Kurti points out, saying that after the referendum the time will come to “solve pan-Albanian issues, in the first place, in Macedonia, Eastern Kosovo [Presevo Valley], Montenegro and Greece”. In the opinion of the “Self-Determination” leader, Kosovo authorities ought to hold talks not with Belgrade, about the division, but with Tirana, about the unification.
Given the situation, there are grounds to expect activization of efforts on the part of both Kosovo authorities and Albanian leaders in other Balkan countries and territories with a view to build up their military and political might. In fact, this process is already taking place. Deputy Director of the Information and Press Department of the Russian Foreign Ministry Aleksei Zaitsev has made a statement to this effect drawing public attention to the fact that the United States has begun to supply Pristina with military hardware. According to the diplomat, the US is thus openly undermining international efforts oriented at ensuring peace and stability in the Balkans.
Pristina has also stepped up efforts to establish military cooperation with Germany. All this testifies to the escalation of conflict in the Balkan Region amid the ongoing activization of the “Albanian factor”.
From our partner International Affairs
Legacy of antifascism for the common pan-European future
The post WWII architecture is a strong and decisive reaction to the Great Depression, the rise of fascism, the horrors of WWII and the Holocaust. The United Nations, created in San Francisco on 26 June 1945, are built on three main pillars: Freedom from fear and violence, freedom from want and poverty, human rights and respect for human dignity. For the first time in human history, war has been prohibited in international law with only minor exceptions, namely the right of States to self-defence and the collective security system under the guidance of the UN Security Council. For the first time in human history, the promotion and protection of human rights were acknowledged as a legitimate goal of the international community and international law. For the first time in human history, the main perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity had been brought to justice before international military tribunals in Nuremberg and Tokyo. And for the first time in human history, economic and social development, prosperity and the eradication of poverty have been defined as goals of a new world order. These ambitious aims and objectives were only possible thanks to the antifascist consensus among the allies, which at that time seemed to be even stronger than the differences between capitalism and communism. When the UN Human Rights Commission, the predecessor of the current Human Rights Council, drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights between 1946 and 1948, this antifascist consensus was still strong enough to achieve a synthesis between the Western and the Socialist concepts of human rights. The Universal Declaration, solemnly adopted in Paris on 10 December 1948, contains civil and political rights together with economic, social and cultural rights and with the vision of a new “social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized” (Article 28).
As soon as the Human Rights Commission started to transfer this historic compromise between liberal freedoms and social security into a legally binding universal convention on human rights, the United States and its allies in 1951 forced a decision in the UN General Assembly to split human rights again into two categories, which dominated the ideological debates during the time of the Cold War. The International Bill of Rights, which was finally adopted after long negotiations in 1966, was divided into the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, favoured by the West, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, favoured by the Soviet Union and its allies. Civil and political rights and freedoms were conceived as immediately binding State obligations to respect and ensure the rights to life, personal liberty, privacy, security and integrity, freedom of expression, religion, assembly and association and the right to participate in democratic decision making processes. Economic, social and cultural rights to work, fair, equal and healthy working conditions, social security, the rights to food, housing, health, education and an adequate standard of living, on the other hand, were conceived as mere “programme rights” to be achieved step by step through progressive implementation.
As WWII had started as a European war between fascist and democratic States, Europe felt a particular responsibility to prevent another war and catastrophe like the Holocaust through economic and political cooperation and the protection of human rights. While the European Communities of the 1950s aimed at preventing another war through economic integration, the Council of Europe was established already in 1949 as a political organization based upon human rights, pluralistic democracy and the rule of law. The Council of Europe was a Western European organization, which defended these “European values” against any form of totalitarianism, whether fascism (as practiced at that time in Spain and Portugal) or communism (as practiced in a growing number of Central and Eastern European States).By adopting the European Convention on Human Rights(ECHR) in 1950, which only contained civil and political rights, the Council of Europe left no doubt that it was a Western organization, which did not feel bound by the indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights, as expressed in the Universal Declaration. Economic, social and cultural rights played and unfortunately still play in the Council of Europe a subordinate role. The European Convention with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which decides in a legally binding manner on tens of thousands of individual applications per year, is the light-tower of human rights protection in Europe, while the European Social Charter of 1961 and its monitoring system is much weaker and very little known to the public. Nevertheless, this is the time when the social welfare state, based on the economic policies of John Maynard Keynes, was developed in Western Europe, North America and other industrialized nations. The architects of the social welfare state or a market economy with a human face were, however, not even aware that they were implementing economic, social and cultural rights, as these rights were primarily associated with the Soviet Union and its allies.
During the Cold War, human rights were the subject of fierce ideological battles between Western and Communist States, and to a lesser degree, the newly independent States of the Global South. Nevertheless, this was the time when human rights were codified at the universal and regional level. In addition of the two Covenants of 1966, the United Nations adopted a number of universal human rights treaties, such as the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination of 1965, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women of 1979, the Convention against Torture of 1984 or the Convention on the Rights of the Child of 1989. These core human rights treaties are today almost universally ratified. On the regional level, the two most important treaties, which were largely based on the European Convention, are the American Convention on Human Rights of 1969 and the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights of 1981.
With the implosion of the Communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe and the velvet revolutions of 1989, which quickly led to the fall of the iron curtain and the end of the Cold War, a historic window of opportunity opened for a new world order based upon human rights, democracy and the rule of law. The 1993 Vienna World Conference on Human Rights and the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action promised a new era, based upon the equality, universality, indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights, spear-headed by the newly created Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. For the first time, the collective security system of the UN Charter was applied in practice and led to new generations of peace-building missions with human rights components and peace-enforcement actions, which also tackled some of the worst human rights violations. Two ad-hoc international criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda were established by the UN Security Council as the first ones after the Nuremberg and Tokyo military tribunals and led to the creation of a permanent International Criminal Court in 1998. In the same year, the 11th Additional Protocol to the ECHR entered into force and transformed the European Court of Human Rights into a full-time court which since then has delivered thousands of judgments every year, most of them in relation to the newly admitted former Communist States in Central and Eastern Europe. In 2000, the EU adopted a Charter on Fundamental Rights, and the United Nations adopted Millennium Development Goals, which promised a better future, above all for the poor and marginalized communities in the Global South. Despite the genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia and Herzegovina, which happened before the eyes of UN peacekeepers, one can conclude that never before were human rights advanced in such a quick, innovative and forceful manner than during the 1990s.
Let’s go back to 1989, which was a truly remarkable year in human history. In addition to the velvet revolutions, the world wide web was created, and with the “Washington Consensus”, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund agreed to adopt the neoliberal economic policies of privatization, deregulation and minimizing the role of the State, which had been advocated for many years by the Chicago School of Economics, thereby replacing the more interventionist economic policies of John Maynard Keynes. This meant that the rapid digitalization and globalization of our world were driven by neoliberal economic and financial policies. As a consequence, the historic opportunity of implementing a new world order inspired by universal human rights, democracy and the rule of law wassoon replaced by a new world order driven by transnational corporations and global financial markets. On the one hand, these policies led to an unprecedented economic growth and global digitalization, which contributed to more prosperity and a significant reduction of poverty, above all in China, India and other Asian States. On the other hand, these policies led to a dramatic increase of economic inequality, which is undermining the social coherence and democratic values of our societies. Radical policies of privatization, which had started already in the US and the UK during the 1980s, include even core State functions, such as the military, intelligence, police, justice and prisons (rise of private military and security companies), as well as providing social security, pensions, health care and education. The policy of minimizing the role of the State, which is often imposed on governments by the international financial institutions, result in drastic reductions in social security and social welfare and undermine the obligation of States to protect and fulfil economic, social and cultural rights, but also civil and political rights. In this context, we observe the rising phenomenon of failed and fragile states, which lead to insecurity, armed conflicts, the rise of organized crime and terrorism. Finally, the deregulation of global financial markets led to unprecedented speculations, tax evasion, money laundering, corruption and the undermining of the banking system, which directly resulted in the global financial and economic crisis of 2008. There can also be no doubt that the neoliberal economic policies contributed significantly to the current climate crisis, the ruthless exploitation of nature, deforestation and the destruction of our environment. The slim neoliberal state has no longer the power and the political will to regulate and control transnational corporations and global financial markets, and international organizations, such as the United Nations, the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization or the European Union, which would have the power by concerted efforts to regain political control over global markets, are either at the forefront of neoliberal economic policies themselves or are increasingly undermined by nationalistic and populistic politicians. The Brexit, attacks by the Russian Federation against the Council of Europe, the sidelining of the United Nations in relation to the armed conflicts in Syria, Libya and other regions, and open attacks by the United States against the United Nations, its specialized agencies, such as the World Health Organization, or against the International Criminal Court are only a few symptoms of the current crisis of multilateralism.
The world was in disarray when the Corona virus appeared on the global agenda at the beginning of a new decade, and when the COVID-19 pandemic led to an unprecedented lockdown of the global economy, a fundamental restructuring of our daily life and drastic restrictions of our most cherished human rights. Our world was certainly not well prepared to deal with this pandemic, which has caused already more deaths worldwide than the tsunami as the worst disaster of the 21st century. The most neoliberal States, such as the US, the UK and Brazil, which happen to be governed by politicians, who are used to “solve” crisis situations by spreading fake news and searching for scapegoats, seem to be hit most severely. In Europe, States which had cut down their public health and social security systems most radically, such as the UK, Italy and Spain, encountered much more serious problems to contain the spread of the virus than States, where the public health and social security systems had somehow survived neoliberal policies. Even politicians, who for many years had preached that free markets are much better equipped to solve problems than governments, realized that we need strong and well-functioning States to take the necessary measures and that we should listen to experts rather than populists, fake news and social media in order to cope effectively with this pandemic. It is too early to draw far-reaching conclusions since we are still in the middle of this health crisis and do not know how the coming months will develop. Nevertheless, there is a growing awareness among the people, irrespective of their political opinions and political party alliances, that there is something fundamentally wrong with the way how we are living and that we need to drastically change our economic, political and social world order if we wish to ensure the survival of our planet and a healthy and satisfactory life for our children and future generations.
Where does this leave us with respect to the topic of this conference? What can we learn from this short historical overview for a pan-European future, built upon antifascism as a European confidence building block, mutual trust and good neighbourly relations? One conclusion is obvious: In order to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and other global challenges, such as the global climate crisis, growing economic inequality or global migration, we need to strengthen, rather than weaken, the regulatory functions of States and of international organizations, both at the global and regional (European) level. Secondly, we need to replace the neoliberal economic politics by a new and more social market economy “with a human face”, which is more responsible towards nature, towards economic equality and solidarity with the poor and marginalized sectors of our societies, at the national, regional (European) and global level. This also means that politics need to regain its power to control and regulate the economy, as has been well illustrated during the COVID-19 pandemic. We need to use this new confidence in a responsible regulatory power of politics to also tackle other global threats, such as the climate crisis. At the same time, we need to strengthen the EU by transferring certain powers in the field of social justice, public health, environmental protection, asylum and migration policies from the member States to the EU institutions. The EU, which, despite the Brexit, is still a major global economic and political player, shall further be entrusted by its member States to pursue and strengthen these socially and ecologically sustainable politics also at the global level, above all in the international financial institutions and the WTO.
With respect to the Council of Europe, which is a truly pan-European organization with currently 47 member States and a pioneer in international human rights protection, we need to introduce economic, social and cultural rights on an equal level with civil and political rights and try to overcome the deep distrust between the Russian Federation and Western European States. This requires confidence-building from both sides. The Council of Europe, as a Western European organization, had quickly opened its doors after 1989 and invited the former Communist States to join. Many States used the Council of Europe as an entry door for quick EU and/or NATO membership, which was not always properly coordinated with Moscow and led even to armed conflicts in Georgia and the Ukraine. Many “frozen conflicts” in Europe, such as Nagorno Karabakh, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Tansnistria, Eastern Ukraine, Kosovo and the Republika Srpska, can only be solved if the Russian Federation is again better integrated into European politics. The Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), provide the necessary diplomatic platforms, but the political will for mutual confidence-building is still lacking. Antifascism is no longer a meaningful basis for a pan-European confidence block, and in fact it had played this role only for a few years immediately after WWII. If the Council of Europe, with the active support of the EU, would be able to build a pan-European social welfare system, which is based on the indivisibility of all human rights rather than on neoliberal economic policies, then it would resume its pioneering role as a political organization that is uniting Europe on the basis of common European values.
(Exclusive speech for the Conference at the DAW, Vienna, 1 July 2020)
Making Europe’s future rhyme for the Next Generation
History does not always repeat itself but for Europe it does usually rhyme. Or at least it used to.
In the face of a virus that has taken lives and livelihoods across the world, Europe did not give in to age-old instincts or re-open barely healed wounds from the financial crisis a decade ago. Instead, we chose to pull each other through and invest in a common future.
This is why we can say that last week’s decision by the Leaders of the 27 Member States to endorse the European Commission’s recovery proposal was historic.
Firstly, the numbers. Europe will have at its disposal a recovery tool worth 750 billion EUR to support those hit hardest by this crisis. Called NextGenerationEU, it will invest in a recovery that builds a greener, more digital and more resilient Union for our children. This will be topped up by the EU budget for the next seven years, bringing the overall package to 1.8 trillion EUR.
Secondly, it is historic because of how Europe makes it work. For the first time on this scale, the European Commission – backed by the 27 Member States – will use its strong credit rating to raise money on the capital markets for NextGenerationEU.
In past crises, the better off survived while the most vulnerable paid a heavy price. But this time it has to be different. This time we can only get back to our feet if we all pull each other up. This is why most of NextGenerationEU funds will be distributed in grants to Member States to finance crucial reforms and investment. This is European money supporting projects and people from Flensburg to Freiburg, creating jobs locally from Cottbus to Cologne, and Europe’s strength globally.
Reforms and investment will be tailored to what each country needs and be in line with our wider European goals. For some, this will support reforms in the labour market to boost productivity, while others will focus more on education and training to help people develop the skills they need. Some will invest in improving digital infrastructure and others on transport connections. But, crucially, all will contribute to the goals of the European Green Deal. 30% of the overall 1.8 trillion will be ring-fenced for climate related spending and a new Just Transition Fund of 17.5 billion will help those people and regions who have to make a bigger transformation than most.
The third reason we can use the word historic is because of how the money will be repaid. To avoid sending a higher bill to Member States in the future, Europe should repay the funds through what we call new own resources. These will include a levy on big tech companies, a tax on non-recycled plastics and putting a carbon price on imports coming from countries with lower climate ambitions.
Some people will ask about why Germany should raise or repay money with another country thousands of kilometres away. The answer is simple. Europe’s prosperity lies in its unity, its community and its single market. So for us solidarity is actually self-interest and a euro invested in one country is actually a euro invested for all.
Think about what happens to our tourism industry if people from across Europe cannot afford to come to our Alps or to visit our Baltic Sea beaches anymore. Think about what happens to our manufacturers if they cannot get the parts they need from their suppliers in different European countries. Think about how the crisis has taken its toll on us all – on the wellbeing of people, the solvency of businesses, the functioning of society and the health of every single European economy. And it is not over yet.
This is why we need to act urgently, decisively and collectively. And last week, Europe has shown that it is up to the task. Of course, some will point to the long and difficult Summit and see that as hesitation or weakness. We see it as the ultimate sign of Europe’s unique strength.
Just take a step back and look around. Nowhere else in the world could 27 different countries even discuss financing their recovery and future together. We did it over one long weekend. At this very fragile moment in history, being in Europe is the best place to be. And now we need to keep it that way for all by working with governments and parliaments to bring this recovery to life.
Our Union should always be judged on what it can offer for the future. That vision of a common future enabled us to take every bold step in our history: uniting Europe after the Second World War or the end of the Cold War, creating our common market and introducing our common currency. Today, it is that same pioneering vision enabling us to make another historic step for our Union.
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