Authors: Aris Petasis and William Mallinson
A correspondent shared the following with one of the authors of this piece: In an event organised in the USA for a group of Greek luminaries the main speaker was a former American ambassador to Greece. He boasted about his strong philhellenic credentials and even brandished a photo of himself dressed in an ancient Greek tunic, earning universal applause from his Greek audience. When he had finished his address, which was replete with praise and expressions of admiration for Greece, he was asked about America’s position on Graeco-Turkish relations. Suddenly the cheerful and polite speaker turned sour and morose, banging on the table with his palm and asking the audience to get it into their heads that America will never disappoint ‘strategic military ally’ Turkey just to please the Greeks. This episode strikingly describes the reality of Graeco-American relations. When it comes to American support for the Greeks, it boils down to empty words and no deeds. American policy favours Turkey and will continue thus for the foreseeable future. This trend started with the Truman Doctrine in 1947 and continues to this day (for 73 years.) Surprisingly the Greek leadership appears to see nothing wrong in this, and continues without complaint its suppliant relations with America. In exchange for supple behaviour, the Greeks get words of praise for the achievements of their forefathers 2,500 years back. The American response to Turkish aggression against the Greeks is and always has been predictable. Turkey puts out an unreasonable claim against Greek sovereignty, and then uses intimidation to get her way, knowing that at some point America will step in to ask both sides (aggressor and victim) to compromise! Although both Greece and Turkey are NATO members, Turkey sits on the first-tier, while Greece is considered less vital. Greece is expendable; Turkey is not.
There has always been one constant in Graeco-American relations: irrespective of which American administration is in power, American policy consistently supports the Turks over the Greeks. Equally, irrespective of which administration runs Greek affairs, Greece remains an American instrument. The supposedly ‘anti-American’, ‘socialist/communist’ Syriza administration proved to be an American acolyte. Interestingly, when it comes to American presidential elections, Greeks support the most ‘philhellene’ of candidates, only to be disappointed. The ‘socialist/communists’ in Greece typically pray for a Democratic win, only to receive a rude awakening when their prayers are answered. When ‘philhellene’ Jimmy Carter won the Presidency in 1976, church bells pealed in Cyprus to welcome the ‘saviour’ of the Greeks, as he had promised to rid Cyprus of Turkish occupation. But instead of working to free the Greeks, Carter’s administration worked overtime to lift the American arms embargo against Turkey. Clinton glibly yet sweetly fooled the Greeks into believing that he was a man of ideals and fairness, only to see him provide Turkey with arms galore; a staggering $10 billion funded fully by the American taxpayer to the tune of $8billion. These weapons in the end served Turkish aggression against the hapless Kurds and threatened the Greeks. (see, Arming repression) Other Greeks pray for a Republican win, oblivious to the fact that it was the Republican Henry Kissinger who gave the nod to Turkey to invade Cyprus and capture 37% of its territory. Democrat or Republican makes no difference to the Greek cause.
Greece’s membership of NATO, intended to afford her protection from outside attacks, proved illusionary, seeing that her tormentor and only adversary is NATO-member Turkey. This means that the collective defence provision at the centre of NATO’s founding treaty does not apply in this case. Article 5 of the Alliance, which says that an attack on one member is an attack on all, becomes null and void in the event of Turkey attacking Greece; in this sense NATO is of no use to the Greeks. Greece is however valuable to NATO, particularly in her support for American plans against Russia and China, neither of which have harmed the Greeks, nor intend to do so. Aggrieved Greece remains silent, voicing no dissatisfaction with American policy, and instead partaking in American designs against two friendly countries. Perhaps rather absurdly, the Greek political élite praises the ‘strategic military alliance’ with America, although this gives no protection to Greece from Turkish aggression.
To an independent observer, Greece seems to be interested more in American strategic designs against Russia and China and less in defending herself against Turkish aggression, enough to bewilder any political science scholar. Confusion sets in when one begins to think that Russia is a traditional friend of the Greek people and China an economic partner of debt-ridden Greece. Ingratitude hits roof level when one is reminded that Russia played the key rôle in freeing the Greeks from 400 years of Ottoman/Turkish occupation. In that period Russia even fought a war against Turkey (1828-9), with many Russians dying, when the Ottomans failed to avenge Russia’s involvement on the side of the Greeks at Navarino in 1827. Another twist to this saga is the fact that Turkey hardly co-operates with the USA on pivotal American challenges. Indicatively, in his memoirs Decision Points, President George Bush made reference to the 2003 second Iraq war saying that ‘ally’ Turkey proved not to be a true ally: “On one of the most important requests we had ever made, Turkey, our NATO ally, had let America down.” Yet, America steadily supports ‘ally’ Turkey, but not ally Greece which, unlike Turkey, fought on America’s side in both World Wars.
Linda S. Heard (October, 2020) correctly observes that Erdogan and Turkey behave aggressively against all and sundry because America turns a blind eye to Turkish aggression: “Instead of taking the moral high ground, NATO’s chief marshal and chairman of the NATO Military Committee, Sir Stuart Peach, recently praised Turkey’s role within NATO and its essential contributions to NATO operations and activities.” Was Sir Stuart playing games with people’s intelligence and memory, one wonders, when in the same breath he added, perhaps mendaciously, that, “[…] no other ally has suffered more from terrorist attacks,” conveniently hiding the fact that Turkey is a net contributor to terrorism (see “There’s no doubt Turkey sponsors terrorism; why won’t the State Department say so?”)
Seeing that things work in her favour and against the Greeks, irrespective of the merits of the case, Turkey has found it expedient to press for further advantage through the employment of lobbyists in America, as the ineffectual and powerless ‘Greek lobby’ looks on passively. Just over a year ago Ahval News reported that, “Turkey paid nearly $9 million to lobbying firms in U.S. in 2018.” Even a former US National Security Adviser lobbied for Turkey. Ahval notes that the Turkish lobbyist list includes international law firms. Even more bizarrely, a former senior American naval officer of Greek decent, though not a lobbyist, finds it morally acceptable to support the continued arming of Turkey.
The [Athenian] Greek political élite pretend not to see and not to hear and maybe not to bother. Lately the American Ambassador in Greece publicly mandated the Greco-Turkish agenda saying that Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis “[…] will make all the needed comprises […]” (SLPress.) Turkey is trying to encroach on Greece’s sovereignty; yet the Ambassador asks Greece to compromise. Meanwhile, Pompeo has announced cheerfully that the Graeco-American relationship is “at an all time high and getting stronger.” In his last visit to Crete, Pompeo even boasted that he was in Greece, “[…] to showcase one of America’s strongest military relationships throughout all of Europe […]” Not to be upstaged, the Greek Prime Minister heralded the permanent docking of «USS Hershel «Woody» Williams» in Souda Bay in Crete. Pompeo capped it all by adding that he was incredibly proud to support the Greek leadership (29 September, 2020 Washington Post). Pompeo spoke with no pretence and made no attempt to hide America’s real intentions as regards the three American military bases on continental Greece and the naval base in Crete. He said, “[the military relationship] is especially important, as Russia continues to destabilize the region, especially in Libya, where the U.S. calls for the withdrawal of all foreign military forces and support for military de-escalation and for Libyan reconciliation.” So, we see Greece in a Graeco-American ‘strategic military alliance’ that targets friendly Russia rather than enemy Turkey. The Greek political élite have yet to articulate a single benefit for Greece’s security needs from the Graeco-American recently announced ‘strategic military alliance.’
The Greek political élite are used to getting empty promises and by now are numb to these. The Greeks asked the EU to apply sanctions against Turkey for her violations of Cyprus’ sovereignty. A meeting was arranged for September 24-25, 2020, but was postponed to 1 October on the pretext that someone tested positive to the corona virus. Even that meeting was to be conducted remotely. Meanwhile, the agenda was miraculously expanded to include China, Belarus, Nagorno-Karabakh and the Navalny assassination, leaving little time to discuss sanctions against Turkey!. (see EU incompetence .)
Russia is perplexed by the Graeco-American ‘strategic military alliance’ that is steered against her. Thankfully Russia has not taken vindictive action against her friends the Greeks, who always turn to her for support in the UN Security Council. Greece is obviously unhappy with Russia supplying Turkey with the S-400 air defence system, but the truth is that Russia first supplied the Greeks with the S-300 over twenty years ago. A secret agreement between America and the then defeatist Greek government made this powerful defence system inoperable. Russia supports Cyprus unequivocally on the issue of the withdrawal from Cyprus of all Turkish occupation troops. America is vague on the issue, seeing that the Turkish occupation troops are also NATO troops. Most important, Russia spared Cyprus from the damage the American/British-initiated Anan Plan of 2004 would have brought to the Greeks of Cyprus.
. A lie was deliberately circulated many years back, to the effect that Russia was opposed to Greece extending her territorial waters to 12nm. This served America well in that it stopped Greece from exercising her legitimate rights in the face of an aggressive Turkish casus belli that could end in a war between two NATO [supposed] allies. In direct contrast to the disinformation, Russia’s Ambassador to Athens Andrei Maslov came out recently stating in no uncertain terms that all islands have a continental shelf and an EEZ of their own, thus rubbishing Turkish claims to the contrary. This unnerved the USA, which is now in a quandary, and worried that Greece may finally exercise her rights to 12nm. However, the Greek political élite made little use of the Russian pronouncement, for this would have meant having to take a decision that would have angered America and Turkey.
Is the Greek political éite therefore suffering from auditory illusions, creating false perceptions of what they actually hear the Americans telling them in clear words and actions? The Americans are crystal clear, saying openly that Turkey is their ‘strategic military ally’. Equally, the Americans tell the Greeks to concentrate their military energies on the perceived Russian threat to America, and not the real threat to Greece coming from Turkey. They tell the Greeks to compromise on Turkish demands that are outside international law and to stop creating problems for NATO, because if it comes to the USA taking sides, the Greeks will be the losers. For now Greeks have to be satisfied with the praise they get for their ancestry: Leonidas, Pericles, Xenophon, Plato et al. The Greeks do to Russia as America does to them. Whilst verbally praising the common cultural bonds and Christian Orthodoxy between Greece and Russia, in practice they provide Americans with bases to frustrate Russian plans in the Eastern Mediterranean. As long as Greece supports anti-Russian American plans, Russia will not openly favour their fellow Christian Orthodox Greeks. If Greece thinks that Turkey will be expelled from NATO anytime soon, with Greece filling the gap, that would prove illusionary; America is marking time, waiting for Erdogan to leave; then it’s back to business. Greece could test American sincerity and support for the Greeks by asking for a ban on servicing Turkey’s F-16s, to undermine her combat capabilities against Greece and to stop her from being a menace to her neighbours.
Conclusion: In a world of auditory illusions, games, international trickery and cunning, the [Athenian] Greek political élite stands little chance of gaining anything for Greece.
From our partner RIAC
Belgrade and Pristina: Will a territorial exchange really happen?
The European Union is dialing up pressure on Serbia and Kosovo in an effort to convince Belgrade and Pristina to sign an agreement on normalizing bilateral relations. This would allow Brussels to seize the initiative in the Balkans from the United States, which has previously managed to get the two sides clinch a similar deal on trade and other economic issues. Moreover, the EU is even ready to break from its previous policy and give a nod to a territorial exchange between Serbs and Albanians, which was categorically rejected, above all by Germany. However, while the Serbian leadership largely welcomes the idea, the Kosovo Albanians’ radically-minded leaders rule out any territorial concessions to Belgrade, thus deepening the Kosovo impasse.
Albin Kurti, the leader of the radical Vetëvendosje (“Self-Determination”) movement, who has regained the Kosovo premiership, categorically rejected the idea of any territorial exchange with Serbia, proposed by the EU’s High Representative for International Affairs Josep Borrell.
“I do not think that we should give anything away.” … “This is pressure from Serbia. They want us to give in,” Kurti said.
That being said, the former Kosovo president, Hashim Thaci, actively lobbied the idea of a territorial exchange, even more than others. Back in August 2018, he and his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic reached a preliminary agreement on this when meeting on the sidelines of the European Forum in Alpbach, Austria. Thaci and Vucic voiced their intention to double down on signing a comprehensive deal, and invited the EU to act as its mediator and guarantor.
“We have a small window of opportunity,” Hashim Thaci said at the time. The planned agreement was supposed to be inked in Brussels already in September 2018, with the participation of the EU leadership. However, the whole process immediately hit a snag due to disagreements over border delimitation and opposition protests in both Belgrade and Pristina.
According to the plan, devised by Hashim Thaci, the delimitation issues should be discussed as a “package” and provide for a complex exchange of territories, including both the Serbian-populated North Kosovo communities of Leposavic, Zvecan and Zubin Potok (roughly one-fifth of the territory of Kosovo), and the southern Serbian communities of Buyanovac, Presevo and, preferably, Medvedja, adjacent to Kosovo, populated mainly by ethnic Albanians. The Kosovar leader argued that a territorial exchange whereby regions with a majority Albanian population would end up in Kosovo, and those with a predominantly Serbian population – in Serbia, would help ease tensions between Belgrade and Pristina.
According to the latest census in Serbia, about 90,000 people live on the territory of the three southern Serbian communities: in Presevo, 89 percent are Albanians and 9 percent are Serbs; in Bujanovac, 55 percent are Albanians and 34 percent are Serbs; in Medvedja, 26 percent are Albanians and 67 percent are Serbs. Thus, Albanians already make up the majority of the population of Presevo and Bujanovac. In Medvedja, their share has also been steadily rising.
While President Aleksandar Vucic generally agrees to the partition of Kosovo with the return of control over the province’s northern regions to Belgrade, he is still against the idea of extending the “package” exchange to include the southern Serbian communities of the Presevo Valley.
There is no unity on this issue outside the Balkans too, with Germany and France initially rejecting the idea of territorial exchanges as such, arguing that this could fire up tensions in North Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“The territorial integrity of the Western Balkan states is already a hard fact and cannot be changed,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said.
Austria has been foursquare behind the partition of Kosovo as a means of normalizing relations between Belgrade and Pristina.
“If Serbia and Kosovo agree on a border correction, the agreement will have our support,” Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said.
The EU’s Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy Johannes Hahn equally favored the upcoming agreement. He urged his EU colleagues not to obstruct the deal between Pristina and Belgrade, even if it involves changing borders. Such an agreement, if it is reached, will be a one-off affair though and “should not be used as an example for solving other problems,” Hahn said at the end of August 2018.
The US administration backed the upcoming deal, with President Trump’s national security advisor John Bolton going on record saying that “Our policy, the US policy, is that if the two parties can work it out between themselves and reach agreement, we don’t exclude territorial adjustments.”
The agreement on the exchange of territories, drawn up in 2018 never came to fruition though. Responsibility for this failure lies with radical nationalist forces in both Belgrade and Pristina, not interested in any compromise solutions that won’t sit well with their own political intentions. While Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic is still in power and has not changed his position, Vjos Osmani, who replaced Hashim Thaci as President of Kosovo, is less inclined to accept any compromises with Belgrade.
This situation adds to EU and US headaches with Barack Obama’s de facto foreign policy team, now back in power in Washington, being eager to strengthen the position of the United States in the Balkans through more active military and political activity and pressure (not trade and economic scenarios and proposals, as was the case under Donald Trump). The EU and the US now have two options to choose from – either to ramp up pressure on Serbia in order to force it to recognize Kosovo without any territorial exchanges (which is more to the Joe Biden administration’s liking), or to convince the Kosovar leaders to accept territorial compromises (more preferred by the EU).
And here we should not forget about the Bosnian factor, since any changes to the status and borders of Kosovo will inevitably reflect on the domestic political situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina and, in particular, on the position of the Bosnian Serbs. When briefing reporters a few days ago, the chairman of the Presidium of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Milorad Dodik, said that in any case he would insist on the implementation of the concept of “peaceful divergence,” that is, the disintegration of the country, which, according to him, is already happening. He stated that the integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina cannot be maintained, and this is something that has increasingly been discussed by the international community.
“We are waiting for the moment when a peaceful gap becomes real,” Milorad Dodik noted, adding that he was not a warmonger and was only offering a way out of the current situation, which he described as unstable.
The EU too appears ready to “reformat” Bosnia and Herzegovina. When, during a visit to Sarajevo in early March of this year, Slovenian President Borut Pahor informally asked members of that country’s collective leadership whether a “peaceful divergence” was a possibility. Bosnian Muslim Shefik Jaferovic and Croat Zeljko Komšić responded that this was impossible, while Milorad Dodik, for his part, said that it was a likely scenario.
The current situation of “unstable equilibrium” around Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina is serious enough to prod all the disputing parties to more actively seek Russia’s mediation. Serbia and Republika Srpska maintain partner relations with Moscow. Meanwhile, the disagreements between the EU and the United States could make the other participants in the discussions more accommodating, including the Kosovar Albanians, who are interested in normalizing relations with Belgrade and implementing large-scale regional projects.
From our partner International Affairs
A leaderless ship: The Bulgaria’s political crisis and the storm to come
Internal and international tensions
Politics tends to develop in a complex conundrum in all Balkan countries. Thus, never can observers take their eyes off the ball, investors feel completely safe or international partners express enduring satisfaction. In effect, this is the case also for bits of the region that have joined the European Union in the last decade. Recently, Bulgaria has been the most interesting hearth of, popular outrage, institutional instability and international tensions amongst the latter countries.
Actually, the atmosphere began simmering back in Summer 2020, when thousands of people took to the streets for several weeks. Arguably, the combination of the umpteenth high-echelon corruption scandal involving andthe pandemic-induced recession was only the most immediate cause. Swiftly, dissatisfaction led to vigorous calls for the Prime Minister’s and the Attorney General’s resignation and early election. Even the President of the Republic, Rumen Radev, broke with his supposed non-partisanship and joined the protestors gathering vast support. However, the winter suppressed street protests and Boyko Borisov, the Prime Minister, exploited the pandemic to justify his indifference.
In the meantime, the cabinet embroiled Bulgaria in a dispute which the country had refrained from ever since 1991. The so-called ‘Macedonian question’predates the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s independence, but only then turned into a crisis. Indeed, the hardest-fought issue was that surrounding the use of the name ‘Macedonia’, which Greece opposed until the Prespa Agreement. But the newly named Republic of North Macedonia has failed to acknowledge the deep historical and cultural connection with Bulgaria. Eventually, the former’s lack of real cooperation led Sofia to veto the opening of negotiations on EU membership. Thence, scholars have criticised the country’s government while foreign politicians tried to persuade Borisov to lift his veto.
Against the background of such a delicate, multifaceted domestic and international circumstances Bulgaria celebrated regular election on April 4. The country needed everything but being left leaderless, but this is exactly what happened.
Election results: Who to form a cabinet?
The most recent elections speak volume about the difficulty in understanding Bulgarian politics and understanding what the popular sentiment is. For a start, GERB, Borisov’s party, lost about 300,000 votes falling from 33.65%in 2017, to 26.18% this year. Moreover, the nationalist collation United Patriots, GERB’s reliable allies, split up and failed to clear the 4% threshold. Thus, with his 75 MPs in the 240-seat Parliament Borisov had no more a majority and desperately needed a partner.
At the same time, the elections produced an unusually hostile environment for GERB. In fact, a number of new leaders and formations emerged — all of which declared GERB a “most toxic party”. Still, opposing Borisov’s “model”, as they use to say, was not enough to form a government. Neither the protest party There is such a people (ITN) nor the establishment Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) even tried. Therefore, the two smaller protest parties – Democratic Bulgaria (DB) and Stand Up! Bastards Out (ISMV) – and the Muslim Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) had to accept new elections in July.
In effect, once the elections results became clear, no one nurtured many hopes for a stable government. The BSP had offered it external, conditional support to an ITN cabinet as the DPS and even GERB did. Perhaps, members of DB and ISMV could have joined the project to ensure wider representation. But all attempts failed in front of ITN’s leader, the showman-turned-politician SlaviTrifonov, display of “political fearfulness”. The ultimate result of these developments was the shortest parliamentin Bulgaria’s two-century history.
What the parliament produced
Without a fully-functioning political government and with a lame-duck Parliament, Bulgaria is traversing a difficult period. The legislature has yet to approve the Recovery and sustainability plan towards which the EU has granted €6bln ($7.3bln). Without these funds, it will be harder for the country’s economy to rebound after the last recession. At the same time, no one is in charge of managing the ongoing feud with the Republic of North Macedonia. Hence, Sofia can neither substantiate its claims and pretences vis-à-vis Skopje nor backtrack and let membership negotiations start. Finally, in the last weeks tensions between Bulgaria and Russia have risen with mutual expulsion of several high-ranking diplomats. In fact, Czech authorities have found out about a “Bulgarian connection” in the incidents allegedly blamed on Russian security services.
On the offense: ITN, DB and ISMV against GERB
Yet, the parliament has found not time to address any of these really pressing issues. As it often happens after the elections, foreign policy has disappearedfrom the order of the day. There was no discussion of either the bilateral relations with Russia nor the North Macedonian issue.
Representative from ITN, DB and ISMV wrapped up the Recovery plan into their wider attempt to publicly discredit GERB. Thus, they refused to let the competent executive official introducing the bill and pretended Borisov himself did it.
Meanwhile, the three parties and the BSP also forced a vote on the cabinet’s resignation. Hence, the government is officially in charge only of managing current affairs: it cannot update the budget or adopt new economic measures. The opposition also blocked the automatic renewal of key concession for Sofia’s airport and some highways to Borisov’s closest allies.
So-called ‘Protest parties’ also formed a parliamentary commission to investigate Borisov governments’ misdeed. However, the legislature will soon dissolve, so nothing will come out of it besides some gossipy kompromat. The only real change is a new electoral law,remedying to some of the previous legal framework’s most evident fallacies. The hope is that it will curb the purchase of votes and other instances of fraud.
Wait-and-see: Borisov’s unkind defence
Borisov’s loyalists in the government, in the Parliament and, more importantly, in the media are repelling this frontal assault vehemently.
Figure 1 Acting Prime Minister Boyko Borissov called the Parliament “a show” in a video on his Facebook page.
Acting foreign minister Ekaterina Zakharieva has spoken out against the supposed attempt to make 850,000 GERB voters ‘disappear’. The chair of GERB’s parliamentary group, Desislava Atanasova, accused other parties of having “failed to fulfil society’s interests”. Borisov himself went out for the biggest prey: President Radev.On Facebook he declared
I hope that Radev is not proud [of the result of last year’s protests …]: This parliamentary show costs 19 million [leva, €9.5mln] a day. It is better that they closed it because we would have gone bankrupt.
The opposition motto offers no way forward behind the idea that “What GERB did must be cancelled”. Yet, GERB is not less destructive in its agenda. Currently, Borisov’s clique is challenging both the moratorium of concessionsand the electoral reformin front of the constitutional court. According to many experts, the justices could strike down or rescale at least one of these two measures. Hence, all hopes for a real democratic change will likely evaporate as long as GERB holds the levers of power.
Forecast: A leaderless ship in a stormy sea
Some have been talking about the rebirth of parliamentarism. But partisanship, anger and personal hatred currently dominate Bulgaria’s politics. Thus, a disenchanted observer could only see the dismaying polarisationand personalisation of the mainstream political discourse. At this time, Bulgaria is like a ship whose crew has mutinied, but whose captain refuses to jump off. Fortunately, the peaks of the economic and sanitary crisis seem over — for now. But the international setting conspires against the vessel. A storm is mounting from the East and the West. Winds of reprisal spire from Russia, whereas the EU is increasingly discontent with Bulgaria’s management of the North Macedonian issue. Assuming that the next elections will produce a working government, either the mutineers or the old captain will be just in time to manage the gale. But should this not happen, the country may soon regret the current lull.
Geopolitics of Europe and the Third Wave
With hospitals filling up across the continent, new variants of the virus proliferating and vaccine shortages biting back, Europe can be seen to be under the third wave of the COVID crisis. This wave has been a confused sea across Europe in which some national epidemics are worsening, some are reaching their peak and some are declining. Although lockdowns have eased as vaccine drives make headway, the end of state emergency does not undermine the inevitable long-term consequences of the crisis. COVID has brought to the forefront new geopolitical dynamics and created risks for the foreign policy of the European Union on several fronts. Beyond the epidemiological challenge of the impending health calamity, economic, political and geopolitical challenges are also plenty.
The crisis has held up a mirror to the Western countries as their effectiveness in managing the pandemic has been distorted and has brought about de-Westernisation of the world. As globalisation is under strain, the crisis is bound to redraw the borders between the state and the markets in democracies such as the Member States of the EU. Such an environment is likely to emphasise on national initiatives to the detriment of international cooperation. In a post-COVID world, the EU may have to deal with its geopolitical problems with less external credibility as well as internal solidarity among its member states.
The potential geopolitical consequences of the virus can be identified by extrapolating those trends that were taking place before the onset of the virus. Amidst evolving global scenarios, there has been a constant push from the EU to establish itself as a relevant geopolitical actor to realise its global power aspirations. In this context, it becomes important to note the two areas of concern raised by the crisis consist of questions on the internal cohesion of the EU and Europe’s ability to adapt to the increasing rivalry and competition among other global powers.
The EU as a player derives its identity from its supranationalism. However, with COVID wreaking havoc on the already unequal economy of the Northern and Southern Europe, the downslides of globalisation are being highlighted. This is likely to further embolden nationalist narratives, rather than European solutions. This will lead to the fragmentation of the region into its component member-states part, threatening the very identity if the Union. This has been a challenge to the EU as the Union recognizes solidarity as a fundamental principle as per Article 2 of the Treaty of the European Union. With the EU is facing the increasingly centrifugal ‘member states first’ approach put forward by the European capitals, the European integration project is under threat.
Further, with the pre-existing tensions between US and China, the European Union has been facing heat from both the sides of the Pacific. While the EU has put forward its own Indo-Pacific Strategy in order to constructively engage with the region, it continues to be challenged by America’s confrontational foreign policies and also being apprehensive of China’s refusal to open up their markets at a time of dwindling global economies, China’s assault on Hong Kong’s independence as well as China’s growing support towards the populist parties of Europe. The EU has come to perceive China as a systemic rival promoting alternative models of governance with this perception largely being shaped by China’s revisionist challenge and its alarming nationalist narrative.
It is important to understand that coronavirus is not here to kill geopolitics. However, the European Union will have to strengthen their efforts towards ensuring that the pandemic does not kill the EU as a geopolitical force. The European Commission must step up its efforts to broker the Multilateral Financial Framework (MFF) among member states which was long pending even before the pandemic struck the continent. It would enable the Union to act collectively in funding recovery efforts in a post-COVID reconstruction of the economies. Further, the EU should focus on shortening their supply chains pursuing a policy of strategic autonomy such that EU’s external dependencies are diversified. The need of the hour is to rebuild an economically sound healthcare Europe while at the same time working towards a more geopolitical Europe. This will require EU to continue investment as a full-spectrum power in military as well as other security capabilities along with assistance and aid to the neighboring countries to rebuild their resilience in a geopolitically volatile environment.
The EU needs to defend and promote the European model which is struggling to stand amidst the global battle of narratives along with maintaining its strategic autonomy in health, economic and other sectors. At the same time, the Union needs to bolster existing and forge new alliances in order to fill the gap on multilateralism. It needs to locate a strategic edge to resist the external pressures and protect its presence in the global scene and continue being relevant in the changing global order with its extraordinary transcontinental presence of soft power.
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