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Belt and Road in the EU, Central and East Europe : Roads of challenges

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Today at a broader diplomatic and strategic level, the BRI has become a symbol of China’s growing importance in international affairs, changing regional dynamics in geographical areas close to or even within Europe. At the most basic level, the strategic implications of expanding China’s policy in the EU stem not so much from a set of projects with a single link, but from its comprehensive nature.

China-related initiatives, such as the AIIB and the BRI, have already changed the global financial development landscape. Similarly, in the sphere of security relations, there is a need to protect assets and citizens abroad leading to the“securitization” of Chinese BRI participation abroad, which is likely to significantly change China’s role in the regions of European interests. Within Europe, and in conjunction with sub–regional “mini-initiatives” in China, such as CEE 16 + 1, the BRI also contributes to changes in the policy-making landscape in Europe and China.

When analyzing China’s relations with CEE countries in the framework of the BRI initiative, it should be noted that the initiative was put forward with the principle of mutual complementarity of economies, taking into account the differences between China and neighboring countries, as well as taking into account all existing shortcomings in the infrastructure of all prospective participants in this economic project. Such complementarity provides an important basis for long-term business cooperation between China and neighboring countries, and even the creation of the Eurasian Union could not affect the complementarity of the economic systems of China and neighboring countries, because only in the process of joint efforts to create the “Silk Road Economic belt” will it be possible to fully overcome the underdevelopment of infrastructure in this region.

The Chinese government emphasizes that the “One belt, One road” initiative “complements” existing national and European plans (for example, the so-called “Junker plan” or plans promoted by individual EU member States) to develop infrastructure and expand connectivity in Europe and beyond. Most of the ambassadors in European countries note the importance of the BRI and its significance for the development of relations between China and European countries.

Analyzing the role of CEE countries in the implementation of the Chinese “One belt, One road” initiative, it can be noted that the specifics of the region’s countries are the potential for market development and geographical advantages. An important role is played by projects to create continental and Maritime transport routes that can transport goods between China and Europe. In developing cooperation, first of all, it is necessary to focus on market requirements, follow the principle of “first simple – then complex”, avoid political risks, give enterprises a guiding role and take into account the leading role of important projects.

It should also be underlined that in the format of the initiative, there are equal partnerships between all countries, it does not have strict mechanisms, and its structure allows for multi-level, multi-layered cooperation that covers all areas of collaboration, including politics, economy and humanitarian exchanges. This multi-functional format is useful for promoting bilateral relations between China and the CEE countries, and it can also play a stimulating role in the development of China – Europe relations. At the same time , when building ties between within the 16 + 1 format and China – EU cooperation, a number of questions arise that cause concern in the EU government circles about the role played by the PRC in the region.

Today the CEE region is located at the junction of the “Economic Belt of the New Silk Road” and the “Maritime Silk Road of the 21st century”. Both routes connecting the markets of Europe and Asia – sea and land-pass through it; it performs an important function of ensuring the passage of commodity flows. The CEE region has the advantage of location; through it, cargo is sent overland from Western China via Russia or Central Asia to Western Europe. China gains a strategic advantage from redistributing some of its Maritime supplies, reducing the use of the Strait of Malacca. In addition, there are commercial considerations: in terms of time, this overland route speeds up transportation twice as compared to the usual way of delivery by sea with reloading to the railway, and at a price it is much more profitable than air transportation.

The sea route from China to the Greek port of Piraeus for the delivery of goods to the Balkan Peninsula, which lies at the intersection of transit communications in Europe, Asia and Africa, has great prospects. Currently, 80% of cargo from China to Europe goes through the Atlantic ocean to the ports of Northern Europe. The sea route through the Arabian sea and the Suez canal to the Balkans will reduce the transport time by 7 – 10 days: this is the shortest sea route from China to Europe. However, to do this, CEE needs to build transport infrastructure, which the region has a huge need for. This is especially true for the Balkan Peninsula, which has entered a period of stable development after riots and wars that caused serious damage to infrastructure.

The membership of 11 of the 16 CEE countries in the EU is an advantage that provides “system guarantees”. EU members and candidates comply with European laws and standards, which reduces the risks for Chinese investment in infrastructure projects. According to the researcher, continuing economic growth and expanding market demand make the CEE region an ideal “target market”. Thus, political stability has bring results, and in the first decade of the XXI century many Central and Eastern European countries have gone from “transition countries” to European representatives of “new markets”. This is not only a transport corridor on the way to the core of traditional Europe, but also an increasingly important investment and consumer market in itself. It is attractive because the laws there are European, but land and labor are cheaper than in Western Europe.

Based on the analysis of China – CEE relations, it can be seen that cooperation between China, the EU and CEE countries can also contribute to the balanced development of Europe. The bilateral ties between China and CEE for 70 years have laid a solid Foundation for cooperation in the 16+1 format. The relationship is now entering a new era of multilateral cooperation that is not focused on a single European sub-region, but reflects Trans-regional characteristics. Thus, when analyzing the relations between China and the countries of the region, we should not limit ourselves to the regional level, but we should go to the Trans-regional and global scale.

For example, the 16+1 initiative is an inter-regional cooperation in which China focuses on linking its efforts with those of Europe and considers rail links, ports and foreign direct investment as the basis for ensuring balanced development and social cohesion in European countries. For example, the construction of a railway between Hungary and Serbia was far more important for both countries than obtaining short-term economic benefits. It is part of an Express route connecting land and sea from the port of Piraeus across the Balkan Peninsula to the main corridor in Europe. In the future, the Express route will be extended to cover new areas near the three seas that wash the coasts of the CEE countries.

However, the economic relations between China and the CEE countries are still underdeveloped, but they have a great future due to the fact that China is one of the most important investors in Europe. Thus, it is worth noting that before the start of cooperation in the 16+1 format, Chinese investment and trade were not spatially balanced and were concentrated in the North – Western part of Europe. Due to the poorly developed transport infrastructure, trade between China and the CEE countries was carried out through the ports and railways of Germany, Holland and France.

More importantly, China has begun to develop cooperation with Central and Eastern European countries in the field of innovation. This is a very promising direction. At the summit in Dubrovnik in 2019, China and the CEE countries expressed the idea of building a bridge as a sign of strengthening cooperation between China and the EU, which would reflect the great potential of China and Eastern European countries as partners with the same level of development.

The projects that China is able to offer are thought out comprehensively and can be effectively implemented with the participation of state corporations. They will help countries like Croatia achieve their goals faster and more effectively. In short, the 16 + 1 Initiative will help transform this region from a marginal region of Europe to a link between Europe and China.

Cooperation in the 16 + 1 format is sub-regional in nature, but the PPI will help it become a Trans-regional way of developing connectivity on land, in the air, in the ocean, and on the Internet. Now even North Africa and the middle East can become part of this interface. Its results will be systemic in nature.

The goal of China’s cooperation with Central and Eastern European countries is not to continue to use CEE countries as a trade route, but to combine the industrial development needs of these countries with China’s large production capacity, using the potential of Central and Eastern European countries in the Chinese market. If Chinese products are close to the Central European market, it is necessary to ensure the presence of high-tech products from CEE countries in the Chinese markets.

Cooperation between China and CEE countries should reflect the future development trends. The interface includes not only traditional modes of transport, energy, labor and capital, but also digital infrastructure and data flows based on new technologies. There are huge opportunities for expanding cooperation between China, the 5G industry and service businesses. Cooperation with China is also intended to contribute to the economic revival of the Balkan region, the implementation of Internet and smart city projects. Small countries can play the role of connecting links between China and Europe.

However, despite the positive aspect of the development of relations between China and CEE countries within the framework of the BRI initiative, they also continue to face new challenges and problems.

  1. The first challenge is how to balance China and CEE relations with China’s relations with the European Union. China, when developing relations with the CEE countries, now has to think about the concerns of the EU and some Western European countries. They fear that the countries of the Western Balkans that have not yet joined the EU will “choose China and reject the EU”, and the countries that have already joined the EU will “move closer to China and away from Europe”, which will lead to a split in Europe.
  2. The second challenge is how long it will be possible to maintain China’s economic advantages and how to make the development of economic cooperation sustainable. Thus, today the countries of Central and Eastern Europe are showing interest in cooperation with China, and after the financial crisis they wanted to get Chinese capital. However, the indispensability of Chinese investment for CEE is not so high. Mutual complementarity in trade and economic cooperation is increasing, but at the stage of the rise of the EU – China proto-languages is also increasing. When the European and American economies recover after the crisis, there is a risk that Chinese investment in CEE will be in a state of fierce competition with investors from Europe and the United States. This is not only a question of the size and volume of investments, but also their competitiveness, degree of interdependence and attractiveness. In trade, the main partner for the CEE countries is Western Europe – their mutual complementarity and mutual dependence is much greater than with China.
  3. The third challenge is the asymmetry of the strategic needs of the two sides. There are no historical problems between China and the CEE countries, and there is no serious conflict of interests. Nor do they have a strategic mutual need for each other. Thus, in fact, there is not a single important issue where CEE countries need China’s support (the problem of Kosovo is an exception for China and Serbia).
  4. The fourth challenge is the issue of roadssafety, caused by the unstable political situation in the Balkans, as well as the Eastern borders of CEE. Also problematic issues include the strained economic relations between the EU and the Russian Federation, which provoke difficulties in transporting goods across the borders of these countries. Central and Eastern European countries are closely monitoring China’s position on this issue. They are concerned about security and are moving closer to NATO, and the growing level of Sino – Russian relations may arouse suspicion in some EU states. In the construction of the “One belt, One road”, any traditional threats, especially security – challenging geopolitical games, can have an impact on the participants. Therefore, China’s reaction to the violation of international norms becomes an important criterion for psychological judgment in the development of CEE countries ‘ relations with China.

Thus, according to the researcher, China, as a towering large state, should pay attention to not taking a position and not making statements that can give rise to security concerns and distrust in the CEE countries.

  • As a fifth challenge, we should point to the problem of the balance of large States and external pressure on the development of China’s relations with CEE. Thus, after the end of the Cold War, the countries of Central and Eastern Europe became truly subjects of international relations with their own interests. The US does not want the deepening of CEE countries ‘ relations with China to harm their strategic interests in Europe. Russia also allegedly fears that China, relying on the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, will penetrate to its Western borders and take its place there. Therefore, in some areas and issues, these countries can put pressure on China and the CEE countries.
  • Wasted or misdirected investment should be considered as a threat as well. Thus, South East Europe Transport Observatory (Hereinafter SEETO – Auth. said that the availability of Chinese funding can be an advantage and an opportunity. While the availability of Chinese funding might pose a threat on the EU financial institutions, which would have to compete with Chinese institutions for clients, alternative sources of financing might represent a positive development for the business sector or the countries accessing such sources (see Map 1 below).

Map 1.: China`s 16+1 grouping built around EU`s newer, poorer members

Source:IMF, FT research

  • The EU is also concerned at the potential dominance of rail transit by Chinese parties. The apparent implication was that this would give China market power over the EU’s trade (For example Apple, Boeing, Google and Microsoft all originated in the USA, but this does not mean that the US Government manipulates access to their products to disadvantage the EU.). A large global economy such as China will almost inevitably gain market power through its economic size and its importance as a trading partner.
  • Another challenge can be new Chinese investments in transit countries. Thus, it is suggested that Chinese companies may begin production not only in north – eastern China but also in transit countries such as Kazakhstan and Russia. This would make EU consumers more accessible to Chinese industry without making Chinese consumers more accessible to EU industry. Nonetheless, consumers in the EU would in principle benefit from wider choice or lower costs. The extent of this effect would, however, depend on the extent to which transit countries, or China itself, were open to inward investment from the EU.
  • Also there is a risk for the EU to ensure that transport infrastructure being developed not only in China but also elsewhere in Asia would meet the EU’s needs. At the same time, a supplier of rail services outside the EU suggested that the focus of the TEN-T has been building the single market, and that it has not been sufficiently outward-looking.

Thus there is an urgent need to upgrade the rail infrastructure in Belarus and Ukraine, which caters for transit traffic to and from the EU. And also conflicting views appeared on whether and how Chinese parties, and particularly contractors, would adapt to, and comply with, EU standards in areas such as construction.

A related concern was that weak legislation in rail transit countries might permit environmental damage. The EU cannot impose higher standards on the construction or operation of railways in non-EU states such as Russia and Kazakhstan. There are, however, a number of mechanisms by which the EU can encourage higher standards:

-through the terms and conditions of EU involvement in financing or supporting infrastructure projects;

-through the supply of products compliant with (high) EU environmental standards; and

-through operating, or encouraging other parties to operate, through rail services using locomotives and other equipment with a high environmental performance.

An institutional stakeholder made the point that EU standards could always be imposed and, in principle, enforced if a project was funded by the EU, but that this was less likely to be possible if the same project was funded by China.

  1. One the the challenges, which causes the emergence of many contradictory and negative opinions about the Chinese initiative in European political and business circles is primarily due to Europe’s low awareness of the project, its main goals and structure. Thus, analysis found the the BRI is generally positively perceived, but differences are marked at the country level with some countries having negative perceptions.

Figure 1.: Media sentiment for most positive countries

Figure 2.: Media sentiment for most negative countries

Source : Bruegel based on https://www.gdeltproject.org/

Figure 1 and Figure 2 above further report the countries with the most positive and negative sentiments towards the BRI. The first impression is that Europe and Asia both extremes of positivity and negativity. That means China`s initiative has particularly penetrated the two regions, but is evaluated very differently by different countries and regions.

Within Europe, BRI members tend to have a much worse view of China`s initiative (especially Bosnia and by Poland), compared to others, especially the Netherlands. Thus, China does not seem to be necessarily improving its image through efforts made through BRI projects or, at lest, not when the way it is perceived in non-BRI countries.

Thus, as a result of the analysis of China – CEE relations in the framework of the BRI project, it can be concluded that there are both positive trends and possible challenges in China – CEE relations and their role in China’s relations with the EU.

While the specific impact of the “integrity” of the BRI on European territory is still limited, new transport corridors are already emerging and their frequency of use is growing rapidly. One is a rail link between China and Western Europe via Poland to Germany and beyond; the other is a North – North corridor between Greece and the Baltic region through Central Europe, and Piraeus as a fast–growing center in the Mediterranean, and actors in Italy are involved in expanding their profile as part of an expanding South – North logistics network. At the same time, cooperation with third countries (Ukraine, Russia, Belarus) remains at very early stages, as the degree of readiness of European companies to participate in Chinese-led infrastructure projects outside Europe remains unclear

PhD in International Politics, Central China Normal University, Wuhan, the P.R.of China Research Associate , Ukrainian Association of Sinologists

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EU playing a zero-sum game in Kosovo

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When it comes to Kosovo settlement, the European Union is clearly trying to regain the initiative. It was with poorly concealed jealousy and irritation that Brussels watched the delegations of Belgrade and Pristina sign an agreement to normalize their bilateral trade and economic relations in early September in Washington, and with the current change of guard in the US, is now trying to get back its levers of influence. Therefore, Brussels wants to organize a new high-level meeting between Serbia and Kosovo.

Miroslav Lajcak, the European Union’s Special Representative (EUSR) for the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue, made this intention clear on December 2, when speaking at the European Parliament event marking the 25th anniversary of the Dayton Peace Agreement on Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to him, preparations are now underway for a new high-level meeting to be held as part of the dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade.

Tellingly, according to a report by the Albanian news agency Telegrafi, citing sources in Brussels, the upcoming talks are expected to focus on resolving property rights in Kosovo. This means that Brussels is looking for an agenda that the sides can agree on and one that would differ from what they discussed in Washington. This is all the more important now that the negotiating process has virtually ground to a halt since September. According to Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, Belgrade will not agree to have a new summit unless the Kosovar authorities are prepared to create an Association of Serbian Municipalities on the territory of their province (primarily in the north). This provision is part of the accords signed by Belgrade and Pristina in Brussels under the auspices of the EU, but since then the Kosovo authorities have actually blocked its implementation. However, because the European Union hasn’t got any really ambitious initiatives to come up with, the planned parley (if it takes place any time soon) looks bound to be less effective than the September talks in Washington. This, in turn, will deal a new blow to Brussels’ ambitions in the Balkans.

Realizing this, the EU leadership has been ramping up its criticism of the United States, essentially accusing Washington of trying to phase Brussels out of the Kosovo negotiation process. Josep Borrell, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, recently said it loud and clear that the solution of problems in the Western Balkans is entirely the EU’s patch, and that the bloc’s global role depends on the success of its policy in this region.

“If we are unable to solve the problems in the Balkans, then we can’t be a significant global player,” Borrell said.

Russia insists that the problems of Kosovo and other Balkan disputes can only be solved on the basis of international law through talks to achieve mutually-acceptable compromises. During a December 14 visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reiterated that there is no alternative to ensuring peace and stability through political dialogue and respect for national interests, based on international law and pertinent UN Security Council resolutions.

“It is principally important to help the countries of this region settle their problems via national dialogue and avoid attempts to drag any of these countries into serving somebody else’s unilateral geopolitical interests,” Lavrov emphasized.

Interaction between Russia and Serbia is all the more important amid the ongoing negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina, as it serves as a political and diplomatic counterbalance to the Pristina- Brussels-Washington “axis.” Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic confirmed the invariable nature and timeliness of such interaction during a December 14 joint news conference in Belgrade with Russia’s visiting Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Vucic also underscored his country’s desire to expand friendly and partnership relations with Russia.

When speaking about the possible outcome of the negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina, one should also keep in mind Turkey’s growing interest in this issue. Ankara is trying to play an increasingly active role in the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean region. As the Serbian daily newspaper Informer rightly noted, “One thing the Turkish president can’t be denied is the consistency and frankness with which he is implementing a strategy to bring back a big and mighty Turkey on the territories once occupied by the Ottoman Empire.”

In this situation, it is in Russia’s best interests to expand its partnership with Serbia, while simultaneously working with other key international players to ensure stability and security in the Balkans and counter the nationalist and destructive forces that can still be found in the Balkan capitals.

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Talking Turkey With Greece: Turkey and Israel’s Marriage of Convenience

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On January 25, Graeco-Turkish talks begin, at which Turkish claims to Greek island territories will be high on the agenda. Before we briefly consider the Israeli position, herewith a spot of recent history.

Scorned countries sometimes seek out other scorned countries, for reasons of self-interest. Thus Germany, humiliated after the First World War, co-operated with the Soviet Union, first with secret military agreements, and then more openly after the Treaty of Rapallo in 1922; both countries also had problems with the same country, Poland. Both were considered international pariahs at the time, whether rightly or wrongly.

Israel co-operated closely with South Africa when the latter, under its apartheid regime, was internationally blackballed, with most of the balls being black. The co-operation was largely military, overt and covert. Links between the countries’ external security services, Boss and Mossad, were close. Both countries ignored numerous UN resolutions.

The most recent example of the scorned seeking the scorned is, or course, that of Israel and Turkey, who revived a military co-operation agreement in 1996, that goes back to the late Fifties. Again, both states are hardly a paragon of international virtue, supported only consistently by the USA and its strategic acolyte, Britain, but also by Germany, for atavistic business reasons in the case of Turkey, and a contrived feeling of guilt in the case of Israel.

Both Israel and Turkey ignore numerous UN resolutions; both fear Russia; their respective security services exchange information on Syria; and both have a common enemy, also Syria. Both countries occupy parts of other countries, illegally, Cyprus and Palestine, and Syria’s Golan Heights. An interesting quirk is that Syria has territorial claims on its former coloniser, Turkey: with the connivance of France, Hatay (Alexandretta) was stealthily ‘acquired’ by Turkey in 1939, despite the fact that Syrians were in a majority.

The question is whether this is just another ephemeral unholy alliance, an alliance of pure self-interest, that works in spite of deep-seated historico-cultural differences, or something more significant. The evidence suggests that it is more than a simple marriage of convenience. Anyone who knows about the plethora of secret meetings between the two states, that has gone on for years, of the deep-seated mutual disdain between much of the Arab world and its former coloniser, Turkey, will realise that the military co-operation agreement is but the tip of an iceberg, an iceberg being pushed by hoards of American frogmen, with the avowed objective of achieving firm control over the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean. In this way, Russian influence in the Mediterranean and the Middle East can be contained, á la Kennan, and Israel can be subtly inserted into the de facto NATO fold, with Jordan perhaps being brought into the equation for good measure, while the Turkish mercenaries continue to kill Kurds and Israel conveniently buries the Oslo accords, continuing its ethnic cleansing and illegal settlements.

The U.S. Embassy in Athens has justified Israeli-Turkish co-operation with the following words: ‘US military co-operation with Turkey and Israel is a matter of long-standing policy and practice. As a NATO ally and friend with Turkey and as a special ally with Israel, both democracies and key regional players, the United States shares core values and mutual security and political objectives in the Eastern Mediterranean. Israel and Turkey have likewise found that they share common objectives, in part from confronting the same set of neighbours which have pursued weapons of mass destruction programmes, have been sponsors and supporters of terrorism, and which have been inimical to democracy, the rule of law and regional stability.’

These neighbours are not actually named, but are obviously Iran and Syria, not to mention some others. There is no mention of Israeli terrorism at home and abroad (vis. Vanunu) or of the treatment of innocent and unarmed Kurdish villagers, no mention of Israel’s nuclear arsenal and chemical and biological weapons programmes, nor of its disregard for international law. Above all, the core values and common objectives shared by the USA, Turkey and Israel are difficult to locate, unless it is to help the U.S. contain Russia.

A few years ago the essentially pro-American Economist wrote that Syria’s concerns about Turkish-Israeli military co-operation were ‘fairly well grounded.’ The article undoubtedly embarrassed the Pentagon and angered the Turkish and Israeli governments. It represented one of those very occasional but authoritative Economist warnings that things had gone too far. The last time the Economist had said anything so risqué was just after the abortive American attempt to rescue the American hostages at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, by printing a front-page cartoon of President Carter dressed as a cowboy, with his six-guns at the ready. Cruel stuff, and exaggerated criticism, maybe unjustified, even, yet nevertheless telling.

Turkey has in the past threatened to attack Syria. Today it occupies part of it, claiming that Syria supports the Kurds in Turkey. Israel also bombs Syria periodically. In 2008, published Israeli-Turkish military co-operation involved a 1998 $ 700 million contract for Israel to upgrade 54 Turkish F4’s, a $70 million one to upgrade 48 F5’s, and joint manufacture of 1000 tanks and ‘some helicopters.’ Israel also hoped to sell Turkey an early warning system, and also used Turkish territory for low-flying exercises.

Then came a sudden deterioration in Turkey-Israel relations, with Israeli commandos killing of nine Turks on a vessel trying to break the Gaza blockade. Military co-operation between Israel and Turkey was suspended. Backstage American pressure on its two key allies, however, along with an American sponsored joint military love-in between Greece and Israel is leading to new Turkish diplomatic pirouetting: relations between Israel and Turkey could be improving. Bilateral talks are in the offing, and full diplomatic relations could be restored by March, meaning re-activating Turkish-Israeli diplomatic and military relations.

For Greece, the unholy alliance could become more than an irritant, because of Cyprus. However far-fetched it may sound, Turkey could easily encourage the Israeli air force and navy to train in occupied Cyprus, with the Pentagon publicly tut-tutting, but privately sniggering. It could even offer a home in northern Cyprus to would-be Jewish immigrants, as it did in the sixteenth century. There is even a small minority of extreme Zionists in Israel that claims Cypriot territory as part of the Jewish heritage. Thus, an already overcrowded Israel could find more Lebensraum. When one looks at the extremist elements in Turkey and Israel, such plans are not beyond the bounds of possibility.

Greece is now part and parcel of the “new” Cold War, co-operating with Israel and the U.S. militarily more than ever before, in the naïve hope that Turkey will drop its claims on Greek territory. But despite irritation with recent Turkish behaviour, the U.S. and Israel are unlikely to be of much help when it comes down to diplomatic detail: in 2003, the U.S. Embassy wrote the following to me: ‘We recognize Greece’s border with Turkey, but not all the territorial waters implications which Greece asserts. We have not taken a position on sovereignty over Imia/Kardak, in part because of the lack of an agreed maritime boundary.’

When I asked about Greece’s twelve mile nautical and ten-mile airspace limits, the reply was: ‘We recognize the six [!]-mile territorial sea claim and a claim to the superjacent air space. We do not recognize Greece’s claim to territorial air space seaward of the outer limit of its territorial sea.’ I doubt that their position has changed. Similarly, the Israel Embassy refused to answer my question about Greece’s air and sea limits.

Clever Turkish diplomacy currently involves balancing itself between the U.S. and Russia, in the knowledge that neither the U.S. nor Israel will do more than protest diplomatically – á la Cyprus invasion – if Turkey snatches a small Greek island. The U.S.’s main aim is to keep Greece in the anti-Russian camp by not agreeing with Greece’s position on its Aegean borders. For if the U.S. – and Israel – came out in support of Greece’s position, this would push Ankara more towards Moscow.

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Has The European Integration Process Reached A Dead End?

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As part of the Geneva Lecture Series concepted and conducted by prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic, President of the Republic of Austria Dr. Heinz Ficher (2004-16) and current Co-chair of the Vienna-based Ban Kimoon Centre for Global Citizens centered his two-hour long mesmerizing talk on Europe and its future prospects. University scholars and diplomats based in Geneva and beyond enjoyed the first hand insights in the very history of Europe and ist integrations since the end of the WWII.

Excellency Fischer elaborated on the important historic moments that forged today’s relations between member states of the EU and pointed out the weaknesses and challenges that the European continent will have to face in order to not reach a dead end in terms of the so-valued integration process.

Dr. Fischer introduced the topic by asking whether we have learned from our previous mistakes. According to him, we did learn from history. However, he believes that “after one or two generations, lessons of history start to fade away and get lost again [and that] we must keep that in mind to avoid dead end”.

Going back to World War II (WW2), the well-known European diplomat reminded us how Germany’s defeat changed the global balance of power, especially with the US and the USSR emerging as the two superpowers. The year 1945 has also been a crucial in the history of Austria, which reborn and reconstructed as an independent state in April 1945.

The end of WW2 left Europe with many questions; how to restore Germany? How to rebuild Europe? How to establish and protect peace and avoid mistakes that have been done after WW1? After the traumatizing events that happened during the war, peace “had a very high value and was a great priority almost worldwide”. Heinz Fischer remarks that “economic and politic cooperation between France, Germany, Italy and other European countries was the best way to retain and reduce nationalistic egoism and link the economist in a way that war cannot be an option to solve problems anymore as it happened so many times before”. However, we should not forget that, at the same time, the tension between Stalin and the western world on the other side was growing.

The Ban Ki-moon Center Co-chair continued by talking about the Cold War and describing the first steps towards the European Union that we know today.

“The US officials urged (western) Germany to take full responsibility for the development in their country and for good cooperation with other democracies. The next importation step was the announcement of the so-called Marshall plan for Europe. [It] was originally designed for the whole Europe but got rejected by countries under soviet dominance. Austria government was in a difficult situation because the eastern part of the country was, in that time, in the soviet occupation zone and, nevertheless, Austria joined the Marshall plan under heavy critics from its Communist party and Soviet officials.

[The] first peak of Cold War was the blockade of Berlin in 1948 and the foundation of NATO in 1949, which consequently made European integration faster and stronger.”

Nonetheless, Europe was still divided between the East and the West. It was only when Stalin died in 1953, that the beginning of a new era with a more collective leadership started. Fischer believes that his death was an important element for successful negotiations about the Austrian state treaty in April because the new leaders in Moscow wanted to demonstrate that they were ready for substantial negotiations and for compromises.

Adding to that, two years later, the Treaty of Rome was signed in March 1957, creating the European Economic Community (EEC) between Western Germany, Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. This accelerated further political integration.

By early 1960s, about 30% of the Old continent was gathered in the EEC – like-minded democracies, neighboring states of a growing politico-economic influence with good preconditions to strengthen and deepen such cooperation. The EEC was successful and attractive. Naturally, the decision-making of the Six was far easier than in today’s Union.

The step from the EEC to the EU was the basis for a better coordinated foreign policy, a precondition for the introduction of the euro currency and it strengthened the role of the European parliament. It was very attractive to join the EU as the union formulated strict conditions and admissions procedures for membership in the club.

In 1989, after the fall of the Berlin wall, Austria, Finland, Sweden and Norway, four democratic countries with good economic performance, applied for the EU. On January 1995, all of them, excepted Norway, became member of the EU. Then, in 2004, the number of member states jumped from 15 to 25 and soon after 27, etc. These years were the best moments in the European integration process but it was also a turning point, the number of diverging interests was enlarging and it was growing parallel to the number of members. As EU became more and more the voice of Europe, it also brought more and more difficulties in terms of decision making.

Eastern countries were united in their anti-Communist and anti-Russian feelings however in other fields of politics they were more and more not united with each other and the rest of Europe. But the question remained: what was the reason for that development?

Dr. Fischer observed that the national identity of new democracies from the 90s, those that were under soviet dominance, had been brutally suppressed during soviet supremacy and their so-called internationalism was not a genuine development, it had been enforced and, soon after the collapse of European communism and the dissolution of Russia pact, these countries showed that they were fed up with internationalism even European internationalism and nationalism saw a powerful renaissance. With this background, populistic nationalism in some countries, but not all the eastern European countries, became step by step stronger than European thinking and European solidarity.

While growing nationalism is one big obstacle, for the European cooperation and integration, the necessity of consensus in the constitution of the European union in many fields of European policy is another big problem. Consensus is, indeed, recommendable and necessary for very far-reaching decisions with long time consequences. However, too many necessities for consensus are poison for a coherent European policy, the more consensus is necessary, the bigger is the role of national interests and the bigger the role of national interests is the more we have a union with injured wings and the more it is difficult to compete with the other big powers in the world.

Since decades we can observe new developments dimensions and challenges of ecological environmental policy, the figures of climate change and global warming speak a very clear language on global level but also in Europe we have a lot to do in these fields. The Paris climate agreement set the goal of keeping global warming below 2 degrees but the question remains whether we will reach this goal and whether this will be enough to prevent further catastrophes such as biodiversity losses, glacier melting, intensified western conditions, etc. The EU is more and more trying to promote climate-friendly policies. It is indeed trying to reach progress and to mobilize the member countries on this field, they know that this must be a priority. Former President Fischer added that, in the last couple of years, China took more and more the lead in green and renewable energy whereas Trump administration withdraw from Paris agreement. However, the fact that Biden promised to re-enter Paris accord and put effort into fighting climate changes leads to careful optimism.

On the other hand, Excellency Fischer pointed out that the issue of forced migrations should not be forgotten. He added that this represent a huge global problem which the EU cannot solve alone and, even though nobody is expecting them to, they should be ready to contribute to a solution and to do their part. The number of refugees at the border of Europe between 2014 and 2015 increased rapidly to 1,3 million asylum seekers and this caused a lot of problems, troubles, hostilities and a wave of population and nationalism.

Observing the policies in some European countries and Austria is not an exception, the problem is not so much, some governments can solve the issue but the problem is whether they want to solve it.

In the meantime, the second wave has counted higher numbers than ever, we had time to place some coordination at EU level to fight jointly the virus. The Commission has made useful proposals in some areas such as cross-border commuting transport of goods, external borders purchase and distribution of vaccines. Also it tackled the international cooperation of comparable statistics and the strategic introduction of the next generation of EU recovery instrument amounting to 750 million euros which is linked to the next financial framework and the EU budget for the years 2021-2027. All being promising signs of a rapid reaction capacitation.

“The EU is facing challenging times. Cross-European cooperation has no alternative – it is today as fundamental as ever” – was the closing point of Heinz Fischer’s farsighted and comprehensive Geneva talk.

*President Hein Fischer answered the call of the Swiss UMEF University in Geneva on December 10th 2020, and gave this lecture under the auspices of so-called Geneva Lecture Series – Contemporary World of Geo-economics. Lecture series so far hosted former Secretary-General of the Paris-based OECD,current Rector of the Tokyo-based UN University, notable intellectuals such as prof. Ioannis Varoufakis and Nobel prize laureates. Some of the following guests are presidents and prime ministers of western countries, distingushed scholars as well as the chief executives of the important intergovernmental organisations.

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