With a view to understanding how Erdogan’s Turkey thinks strategically, we need to analyse the recent evolution of Turkey’s political system, together with its historical geopolitical determinants, which are always defined.
As Napoleon used to say, you only need to look at a country’s map to define its foreign policy.
The first government of the AKP – an Islamist party that was reorganized and refounded after some of its members were not considered regular by the Constitutional Court – lasted from 2002 to 2010- and later, as we all know.
In 1970, however, the first truly Islamist party was established in Turkey, the “National Order Party” (MNP) led by Necmettin Erbakan.
As mentioned above, the MNP was disbanded by the Constitutional Court, but it re-emerged a year later under the name of “National Salvation Party”, which won as many as 48 Parliamentary seats in the 1973 election.
In 1981 it was again dissolved by the National Security Council, along with all the other political groups, none excluded, due to the military’s “constitutional” coup.
In 1983, when it was again allowed to form the various political parties, the “Welfare Party”, always led – behind the scenes – by Erbakan, was born from the ashes of the MNP and the “National Salvation Party”.
It was always Erdogan’s explicit and revered model.
Not even this party, however, had the military’s consent to participate in the 1983 election.
Throughout the 1980s, the “Welfare Party” did not exceed the 10% threshold and hence was not represented in Parliament. Nevertheless, it began to grow considerably and unexpectedly in the 1990s, until its victory in the 1997 election and the subsequent and then inevitable intervention of the Turkish Armed Forces.
In 1998 the Constitutional Court “disbanded” the Welfare Party again, which then re-emerged in 1999 as the “Virtue Party”, but it reached little consensus in the 1999 election and was anyway banned again as unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court.
Later the “Happiness Party” emerged from a traditionalist split of the “modernist” wing – so to say – that would be found later in the AKP. It did not go much far.
The ideology was the Milli Gõruş, i.e. the “national perspective”, which saw a very clear separation between the Western materialist, colonialist and repressive civilization vis-à-vis “third” countries, all destined to a quick death, and the Islamic civilisation, based on an essential and typical factor, namely justice. That was an important feature.
Therefore, based on that ideology, not even the modernising reforms which, starting from Ataturk, had secularised Turkish society and politics, were good at all.
But the nationalism which also characterised the Turkish “secular” tradition in the early 20th century was fine.
No accession to the EU, of course, nor any relations with Israel, if not aggressive, at least in words.
However, the mainstay of the AKP’s new ideology we could generically define as “Islamism” was that only Turkey should lead the new united Islamic world.
Secularism was in fact accepted only because it allowed freedom of religion, but it was rejected in the name of Islam which was the only truth.
Another aspect of Islamist ideology, which was later encompassed almost entirely in the AKP, was the “just order” (adildűzen), a “third way” model superior to capitalism and Socialism.
No interest in trade, although the financial mechanism is often currently organised according to the Islamic banking system, modelled on the policy lines of Al Qaradawi, Al Jazeera’s major preacher and one of the most important personalities of the Muslim Brotherhood.
A figure that currently both Saudi Arabia and al-Sisi strongly question.
In January 2020, Moody’s verified that the Islamic banking transactions in Turkey now account for approximately 15% of total transactions.
Much more than in many Middle East countries, but less than in Saudi Arabia or even Malaysia.
Hence, again, massive hatred for the International Monetary Fund, the EU, even NATO, but we will talk about this later on.
The Turkish Islamic parties, however, are the only mass parties left today, after the post-modern political era has also infected the Middle East or even the Eastern countries.
“The AKP is the conservative democracy” Erdogan said when he won the 2002 election. But he also made explicit reference to free market, privatisation and foreign investment in Turkey and to the strong relationship between Turkey and the United States, and even with NATO and the central Asian Republics, sometimes of Turanian origin.
Democracy is mainly regarded as a shield against the secular State’s interference.
On the geopolitical level, Erdogan reaffirms – by mixing them – the pieces of the traditional Turkish global strategy: firstly, careful control of Mediterranean ports to avoid the sensitive areas of Ankara’s territory being the target of easy enemy operations; secondly- and this is the core of the issue – Cyprus.
It was Bulent Ecevit, the secular and centre-left Turkish Prime Minister, who ordered the invasion of Cyprus in 1974.
It is true that, shortly before, Greece had overthrown Archbishop Makarios and declared enosis, i.e. the union with Greece.
Now there is Turkey’s clear refusal to anyway accept an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Greek Cyprus, and then the agreement with Muslim Brotherhood’s Libya,i.e. that of Tripoli, for a Turkish EEZ stretching from the Libyan coast of Tripoli to the (Greek) island of Kastellorizo and the whole Cypriot sea, with parts of the possible future new Greek EEZ.
As is well-know, EEZs are areas spreading up to 200 nautical miles from the baseline of a coastal State and, from a legal viewpoint, they are the “territorialisation of the sea”, as they allow to exploit the seabed natural resources.
Italy and Greece have recently ratified an agreement, which is still to be signed by the Italian President of the Republic, although Italy already has a “quasi-EEZ” in the Tyrrhenian Sea, stretching from the Ligurian Sea to the above-mentioned Tyrrhenian Sea, especially for the protection of marine fauna.
Considering the great fear that Italy has of Turkey and the obsession – already certified by Cavour – for favouring anyone on a diplomatic level just to “be present and have a say in the matter”, Greece and Italy, however, have already established that in the future the Italian-Turkish EEZ will most probably be the one defined by the 1977 Treaty.
The agreement on the Greek side to allow 68 Italian fishing boats to have access to Greek territorial waters, pursuant to EU Regulation 1380/2013, is also valid for the future.
Italian politicians think only about fishing – which is certainly important – but they never think about Internet cables, remote defence positions of relevant areas of the Italian territory, commercial lines, first or second response channels to adverse operations. They are cabin boys, in essence. Or fish freezers.
Certainly Greece has silenced Italy, which deals only with mullets, mussels and tuna fish, with a favourable agreement, but it is looking above all at the proclamation of its “great EEZ”, which will spread as far as Egypt and most of Cyprus, as is well-known by Turkey.
Greece’s next move will be an arrangement with its neighbours, again for its “big” EEZ, particularly with Albania.
But also Egypt, which has the great gas field of Zohr, which was discovered the ENI but which I would not be surprised if it were “shifted” to Greece, for the typical generosity of the poor wretched people, since for the time being Italy has no effective EEZ negotiations in place with Egypt.
I would not want Italy to end up in the mire, as was the case with the Treaty of Caen in 2015.
With the “wrong maps” coincidentally spread by France, which were then declared false. I wonder why.
Certainly the Treaty of Caen is still a secret with seven seals. As far as we can read, the “median line” of waters and all the other UNCLOS’ legal nonsense are safe, but doubts remain about the effective protection of our economic, military, commercial, political and tax borders.
When it comes to EEZs and borders, there is always a backside available, namely Italy’s.
Hence this is the primary scenario: at the beginning of August – after Turkey conducted naval exercises throughout the Eastern Mediterranean, with the extension of its seismic analyses of the seabed and Greece considered these “observations” and military exercises totally illegal – clashes between Turkey, Greece, France and even Italy began, initially diplomatic ones and later also maritime military confrontation.
There have also been Italian and French ships operationally supporting the Greek ones, but Turkey has already placed all its pawns in the Eastern Mediterranean.
It should be noted that the 2019 agreement between Turkey and Tripoli’s Government of National Accord (GNA) mainly concerns military cooperation and maritime jurisdiction.
Between the two countries, namely Tripoli’s GNA and Turkey, the EEZ already defined bilaterally overlaps with the Greek Exclusive Economic Zone both in the south and in the north and Turkey can make explorations – on an exclusive basis –in the sea in front of the very weak State of GNA and al-Sarraj.
As stated by the Turkish Defence Minister, the Turkish Mediterranean strategy, known as Mavi Vatan (the “Blue Homeland Doctrine”), is based on the fact that the great spreading of Greece’s Peloponnese islands” cannot have the effect of excluding Turkey from the rest of the Mediterranean, and with the agreement with GNA’s Libya we have shown that we cannot accept any fait accompli“.
Defending Turkey’s autonomy and “hands free” in the Eastern Mediterranean is an absolute strategic priority for Turkish strategists.
Let us see, however, how Turkey reacts to the U.S. and Russian gas policies, which is the real plot to understand what is currently happening.
On June 15, 2020, the U.S. Department of State developed a restrictive policy for companies operating in Nord Stream 2, the Russian pipeline, and also for Turk Stream 2.
The sanctions on Turk Stream 1 and 2 are essential to currently understand Turkey’s maritime reactions.
As already noted, TurkStream sends gas from Russia to Turkey, with minor sections to Bulgaria, Greece and North Macedonia. It is a pipeline that started operating in January 2020.
Gazprom, the well-known Russian company and BOTAŞ, the Turkish state-owned company, are still completing the final phase of TurkStream2.
The Turkish interests in the TurkStream 2 network, however, are currently marginal.
They are only rights-of-way, which do not solve the Turkish economic crisis and the sometimes colossal projects of Erdogan’s regime.
Turkey, however, has three real goals in the gas sector: firstly, the quick development of the gas field in Sakarya, Black Sea, accounting for 320 billion cubic metres. Secondly, Turkey also wants to stop gas competition from Russia and the Mediterranean and finally favour the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline, which brings Azerbaijani gas through Turkey to the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline towards Greece, a line that could be expanded also with gas from Israel, the Iraqi Kurdish country and Turkmenistan.
Turkey also favours the passage of ships containing LPG through the Istanbul Canal, a project consisting of the construction of an artificial canal connecting the Black Sea to the Marmara Sea for 28 miles towards Bulgaria, Romania and Ukraine.
It is supposed to be completed in 2025, or maybe sooner.
The ships’ rights-of-way should be much more than those of the pipelines, and could even slowly change the Turkish State’s financial equilibria.
Therefore, Turkey has little interest in the U.S. sanctions against TurkStream2 – or probably it even likes them.
Coincidentally, it was precisely when the United States began to become a major exporter of liquefied gas everywhere that the legislation against Russian pipelines to Europe was developed.
NordStream2was hit by the United States in July 2018, but TurkStream was not sanctioned until June 2019.
The gas industry is now undergoing a very complex phase.
From January to May 2020 the EU demand for gas fell by 8%, also for the well-known pandemic reasons, but there is a real possibility that natural gas can fully participate in the next hydrogen race, considering that the methane extracted from natural gas can produce hydrogen, which can also be easily transported in the old pipelines.
Therefore, given the world market’s volatility, no more new gas explorations are made. This keeps the future of Mediterranean gas and, above all, of the Eastern Mediterranean on hold.
Turkey, however, has been reducing its dependence on Russian gas since 2018.
Turkey imports gas also from Qatar, the United States, Algeria and it is currently the third largest importer of U.S. natural gas in Europe after Spain and France.
Turkey has recently discovered a new underwater natural gas field in the Black Sea, namely the Tuna-1.
Hence Turkey is no longer dependent on gas from the old pipelines, but Israel has now won its geoeconomic battle with the agreements with Egypt and Jordan as stable importers of its new natural gas.
Only if Cyprus remains far from Turkish influence in the newly-prospected gas area, it will remain a reserve that cannot be banned – except in special cases – by Turkey’s hegemonism, even vis-à-vis Egypt or the Lebanon.
EU playing a zero-sum game in Kosovo
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.
From our partner International Affairs
Talking Turkey With Greece: Turkey and Israel’s Marriage of Convenience
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.
From our partner RIAC
Has The European Integration Process Reached A Dead End?
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 Ki–moon 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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