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Building Europe’s Future

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On November 18, 2020, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Federal Republic of Germany to the Russian Federation Géza Andreas von Geyr was giving an open lecture at HSE University.

What is the place and role of the European Union in the modern world? How is the European integration project developing, and what role does Germany play in it? How are relations between the EU and Russia today?

The event was organized jointly by HSE University and the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Moscow as part of the Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union and of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, as well as in the framework of the Year of Germany in Russia.

Text of the Lecture

Building Europe’s Future

Prof Kuzminov, Prof Prostakov, Dear Students,

Thanks a lot for the invitation to speak to you today.

I regret that, due to the pandemic, I can´t talk to you face to face—but I enjoy that I can reach out to so many of you online.

I´m especially grateful for the invitation as your university is one of the best and most prestigious in Russia. And it is an excellent venue for a discussion dedicated to Europe.

I

From the beginning, the HSE has established a strong cooperation with European Universities—and with European Institutions.

The ties in education and science between Russia and Europe go far back in history, they were mutually enriching—and they still are.

That’s why we can say that the DNA of so many universities in Russia is very much European. And we Europeans learned a lot from Russians in the field of science and education as well.

If I take just my country, Germany:

Cooperation and exchange in education and science is one of the most stable and reliable links between our countries—and for me it is one of the most precious:

Because I take it as a strong investment in our common future.

Yes, I´m proud, that today Germany is the top destination for students from the Russian Federation going abroad.

More than 14,000 students and scientists came to Germany in 2019, each of them contributing to building bridges between our countries.

And the other way round Russia is attractive for German students, as its Universities offer great conditions and high standards.

Our scientific cooperation continues to produce excellent results. To mention just two fascinating projects:

Russian and German research centers work together on the European XFEL, the largest X-ray laser in the world, and Russian and German researchers jointly took part in the largest Arctic research expedition ever—“MOSAiC”—which was successfully completed a few weeks ago.

And this bond continues to grow:

We have just concluded a bilateral year of Higher Education Cooperation and Science, and in September, we have started our year of Germany in Russia, which includes a multitude of education and research related events and projects.

II

(Is the discussion on European-Russian relations adequate?)

What I just mentioned shines a light on only some of the many layers of relations Russian universities and scientific institutions enjoy with European countries.

I´m convinced, if we added them all up, the Euro-Russian dimension would turn out as one of the strongest partnerships in education and science worldwide.

This stands as an example for one part of the European–Russian reality: Things go well—in some areas.

The other one is: we all read and experience that EU-Russian relations are, to put it in diplomatic words: not in the best shape.

Or, to be more precise: On very fundamental, tangible political issues we very much disagree.

I could leave it at that, go on and talk about the need to paint a layered and nuanced picture and that a lot of work will have to be done to solve those problematic issues and to rebuild trust.

But my feeling is that the problem goes deeper.

Something went awry in the way we perceive each other.

Are we still both convinced that good European Russian relations are in our long-term interest?

So, do we give this relationship, be it currently good or bad, the strategic depth it should have?

And even more basic:

Do we still understand each other well enough? Do we explain our views well enough?

Are we attentive enough when listening to each other? And: how do we talk about each other?

I´m convinced that the time has come to reflect well on all of this; if we do not take our time to do that, the very core of our relationship could be seriously harmed.

This is what I have in mind talking to you about Europe today.

To explain and to be ready to understand, in both directions. This is, if you so wish, the essence of diplomacy.

So, what in fact I already started with, is to explain my views, offer some remarks on Europe—and I will do this in the form of answers to questions I often hear.

My remarks will be personal ones, not official positions of my government, nor of the German EU Presidency or Council of Europe Chairmanship.

It´s more a European talking with fellow Europeans. And the other way round, of course, I´m ready to hear your remarks and to learn from you.

And speaking about Europe, I mean of course a wider scope of countries than the 27 member states of the EU.

At the same time the EU as such is not only part of this Europe, it has the essential, decisive role.

It has reached a degree of integration the European continent in modern times has never seen before.

So, the first question is or rather was:

Is the current discussion on European-Russian relations adequate? You have just heard my answer—it is not.

My further remarks will be on the following questions:

Is there a core ratio of European integration? What is the motor keeping Europe alive?

Is the supertanker Europe able to adapt? Is the European model outdated?

Is Europe ready for the globalized future? Which future for European-Russian relations?

III

Is there a core ratio for European integration?

Sometimes when I follow discussions here in Russia—and not only here—I think that Europe must be a lost cause.

Statements are made creating an image of a continent all but united.

The EU is portrayed as having lost its moral compass, in foreign policy a poodle of the Americans, as if with Brexit European integration had run out of steam and as if migration would put an end to European identities.

So what does European Integration stand for?

This year we celebrated the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War all over the world, all over Europe, especially here in Russia.

I was deeply moved listening in September to Johannes Brahms´ requiem played and sung in Moscow´s Lutheran cathedral by Russian musicians, conducted by an Israeli maestro, in honor of the many millions who lost their lives in the most terrible of all wars and in the Holocaust, both caused by my country, Germany.

What did not succeed after World War I, was successful after 1945: Countries in the western part of this continent, who through centuries fought wars against each other, decided to integrate step-by-step, so that wars amongst them would no more be possible or indeed thinkable.

The dimension of this is unique: Proud nation states, hundreds of years old, started to merge parts of their sovereignty and handed them over to shared institutions.

A community of European nations was build, of nations committed to democracy, freedom and the rule of law.

Out of this very spirit and rationale evolved what is now the European Union.

And after the fall of the Iron curtain it attracted the countries who finally regained their freedom, including their freedom to choose partners—and this Europe seems to be very attractive, or let´s say convincing to many who wish to partner with or even join it, until today.

Yes, this community succeeded in creating a region of enormous economic prosperity – but first and foremost it is and remains a unique peace project.

It was the peaceful togetherness of democracies and the rule of law that gave the people an unprecedented degree of freedom to seize their economic opportunities—not the other way round.

And the encouraging effects of this reach out far beyond the boundaries of the EU.

This remains relevant today, when we talk about the “who we are” of the European institutions.

The answer to the “why” of European integration is to be found on the countless military cemeteries all over Europe, including here in Russia.

IV

What is the real motor keeping Europe alive?

Last week the Ermitage Museum and a Berlin Museum jointly opened a wonderful exhibition in Saint Petersburg on the Iron Age—with the wisely chosen subtitle: “A Europe without borders”.

Yes, it´s worth recalling, that in former times Europe did not define itself by borders, people were trading their talents and goods across the continent, influencing each other´s development from the Italian Peninsula to the German regions and the Caucasus.

This is part of our common heritage, our common history.

And in a special way this reflection of the past also gives us a hint to how our future could look like: A Europe with boundaries, as we are used to it, is not a given or a must.

Since the 1990s big steps were taken into this direction: Within Europe almost 30 countries introduced the so-called Schengen system, de facto abolishing the boundaries amongst them. From Portugal to Estonia, from Sweden to Greece, people can travel without being controlled. Young people can study, work and live in any place they want.

The Erasmus program has enabled, over the last seven years alone, 2 million students to study and train abroad and thus gain a personal experience of Europe growing together. And by the way: This program explicitly includes Russia.

These are some of the most exciting successes of European integration.

Others are the Euro, a common currency well appreciated in the world, in which most EU members participate.

Or think about the economic powerhouses Germany, France or Italy: despite their national strength, trade agreements with Tokyo or Washington are not negotiated by Berlin, Paris or Rome, but by Brussels alone, in the name of all 27, protecting our joint interests with far more leverage than any of us individually could do.

Think about the Council of Europe with its unique mechanism of protecting human rights and defining human rights standards, accessible for every citizen—next year we´ll celebrate 25 years of Russia´s membership. 2019 alone some thousand Russians turned to the court.

Or recall the mechanisms established in the OSCE on transparency, confidence building and verification where again Russia is member.

Its mechanisms were essential for the overall peaceful end of the Cold War in Europe. Today its instruments serve to at least calming down the conflict in Eastern Ukraine, the OSCE is asked to continue giving a framework for negotiations on the future of Nagorno Karabakh and could well help solve the crisis in Belarus.

And, by the way, the OSCE was invited to observe the presidential elections in the USA, as it is in many European countries.

Or more recently, take PESCO, an initiative 25 EU members took for closer cooperation on defense matters: more efficient coordination and joint procurement, thus strengthening European defense.

And I could mention many more areas.

Has Europe established a perfect system? No, there is daily work being done to intensify, to improve, to readjust.

But is European Integration a lost cause? Definitely not, and this is the point I want to make:

What generated European Integration in the first place and pushes it further is its unique way of interacting: it is the culture of compromising.

In fact, European Integration, especially the EU as such, is probably the most efficient compromise machine the world has ever seen.

Every day EU member states meet on different levels on a multitude of issues to discuss, propose, regulate, improve, correct, decide together.

Yes, we all know that there are issues the Union sometimes can´t find a common view on—but compared to the amount of successful coordination and joint decisions those are just very few.

And yes, decision-making might be complicated, sometimes slow, requiring a lot of patience. But let me ask: is there any group of 27 countries constantly defining common policy on almost all areas of politics more quickly and effectively? I don´t think so.

It is the readiness to compromise which is the motor of European Integration.

And compromising becomes possible because all member states are convinced that peace and prosperity are best preserved in togetherness, and because they all are bound to democratic values and the rule of law.

And they can all carry the compromises because they know that in the decision-making process all points of view matter.

V

Is the supertanker Europe able to adapt?

The culture of compromising is demanding.

We experience this daily, even we EU Ambassadors do when meeting here in Moscow. Searching for common positions is not easy, but fair compromises make the solutions found sustainable.

Again, a deeper look into the EU—why not on the most difficult current crises situations:

Let´s take Corona: when the pandemic emerged, no country on the globe was really prepared, everywhere the search began for an acceptable balance between medical and economic health, and of course first reactions were national and inward-looking.

It took a while until the EU found a common approach, first comments from the outside were full of Schadenfreude/malicious joy—and not willing to recognize the fact that the EU succeeded to maintain the trans-border flow of goods: to the profit of countries inside and outside the Union.

Mocking the EU stopped when the 27 rather soon came up with the decision to support those who suffer bad economic consequences of the pandemic with an unprecedented volume of 750 billion €. All this in addition to the EU budget and national investments for recovery.

Or take the Brexit.

I do well remember EU council meetings I attended right after Great Britain took its decision to leave.

There were many in- and outside the Union who seemed to enjoy that the Union was shaken up by London, and who may have hoped that even more member states would follow.

But: it didn’t take long until member states reconvinced each other that in this globalized world no European country could be more successful on its own than together as a Union. And since then my impression has been that the 27 regained even closer unity than before.

It might be surprising to some how quickly the EU adapted to this fundamentally new situation and how strong the common line for the negotiations with London proves to be.

Think about climate policy and the consensus found on the extremely ambitious, progressive “Green Deal”, proposed last December by the European Commission, which might become a decisive, catalyzing element for the world to stop or at least slow down global warming.

Or take EU Foreign Policy in the last weeks:

The fact that the 27 rather quickly agreed on sanctioning those in Belarus responsible for election fraud and violence against their own people will have been a surprise for some, who

might have hoped that the Union be split—the EU is not and kept a clear position, faithful to standards we agreed upon in the frame of the OSCE.

Do these examples mean that everything is perfect?

No, we constantly have to work on our relations amongst each other, on very practical issues as well as sometimes on the mutual respect we have to pay to each other´s specific national experiences and identities.

But the ability of the supertanker EU to adapt should not be questioned.

VI

Is the European model outdated?

Is Europe, especially the EU a modern place, open to the future? My answer is two-fold:

First:

Europe has the industrial base, the scientific base, the human capital and the necessary open society which allows it to keep up with the other top players in the technological vanguard and in the competition for the top brains.

But we may not rest on our laurels, we have to ensure that we remain at the cutting edge of tomorrow’s technologies, in areas such as digitalization, nanotechnology or biotechnology.

That’s why the EU is intensely working on a Single European Digital Market and on a roadmap called the “Digital Compass”. We are also discussing the issue of Europe’s so-called Digital Sovereignty that to our understanding should pave the way for a rules-based framework for the digital sphere.

Our efforts in climate change I mentioned before, on health the European Commission and the German Presidency last week announced, drawing lessons from the pandemic, to be working on a “Common space of Health”, part of a future European Health Union,

and Foreign policy is definitely a field, where we will have to find a way to better speak with one voice.

Now here comes the second part of my answer:

If we look at all the key challenges, we are faced by globalization—be it climate change, reducing poverty, a fair access of all to the more and more limited natural resources of the planet, establishing rules in the information and cyber space—we see that solutions will only be found in togetherness: across nations, countries and continents.

And I speak about challenges not only as problems.

It´s all the wonderful possibilities a globalized togetherness could offer, providing food and water to all humans, as well as education, medicine, and I would absolutely add: freedom and security.

To assure this, a willingness to open up to the world is needed—at the same time there needs to be a willingness to refrain from the wish or even the political goal to dominate others.

This is another lesson, we Europeans learned from the painful history during the last century on our continent.

A very wise European once said: If any European thinks he could be more than Nr 2—then Europe is in trouble.

So we Europeans know from our tragic past that any policy claiming: “my country first” will not work for us.

This is why we, in the EU, manage to be a community of equals—even if some of us might be economically or militarily stronger or politically more powerful than others.

This is sometimes hard to sell to others, because it does not match traditional lines of international power policy—but this is what defines the strength of our togetherness.

And more than that:

Just think about it the other way round: Because the EU members as Nation States regard and treat each other as equals, we together, since decades, are trained to cherish and to promote both: unity and diversity. Or, in other words: a high degree of tolerance.

A croissant in France, a cappuccino in Italy and a slivovic in Zagreb or Prague—on this small continent we enjoy diversity and our cultures will never melt into one—and that is good.

Diversity is at the core of our history, culture, arts, languages.

At the same time there is something that strongly unites us. And this goes beyond the joint code of legislation:

It´s our understanding of freedom and of the dignity of every single human being.

And here I´m not talking just about the EU.

Think about the Council of Europe with its 47 Members having established a highly sophisticated and intense human rights protection system.

Or think about those many issues covered by the Human Dimension of the OSCE, setting and observing standards to the freedom of press, for free and fair elections and so on.

The best expression for what I mean I found in the title of a book written by a British author some years ago: “dignity of difference”. (Jonathan Sacks)

Without space for difference and diversity no Europe.

Does this mean that just everything is possible? Not at all: the protection of the dignity of each human and of their freedom is defining the limits of freedom.

Is this undisputed? No, it is not, we all witness intense discussions on the balance between freedom and security and these discussions are important as they show the vitality of our democracies.

An example: Chancellor Merkel, during the pandemic underlined – with a view to the necessity to limit rights and freedoms of the citizens – that the virus was a tough challenge to a democratic society (“das Virus ist eine demokratische Zumutung”).

And in many European countries during the different crises of the last decade political forces gained momentum, who argue for exclusion and a very national way. My country, too, is not immune against this.

Currently an extraordinary exhibition of contemporary art is being put together, to be shown next year in Berlin, Paris and Moscow.

It brings together more than 80 of the most prestigious artists from 35 European countries, including Russians, expressing themselves on Europe under the slogan “Diversity United”. I´m very much looking forward to this big European event that will be part of the Year of Germany in Russia and which fits so well with respecting and promoting cultural diversity being one of the core tasks of the Council of Europe.

So, this was my second answer to the question about Europe being modern:

Our globalized future will ask for a high degree of tolerance across continents and cultures—of tolerance, which has for a long time already been a prerequisite for our European Integration.

VII

Is Europe ready for the globalized future?

Europe as such does not claim to be a world power.

But we do have interest in peace, stability and prosperity in the world.

And the world means: a more and more globalized world, where problems and opportunities can quickly bridge any distance and cross any border.

During the last years we all learned a lot about this. Just a few examples concerning Germany:

When a few years ago Europe had to deal with an enormous influx of migrants a German politician, now President of the Federal Parliament, Wolfgang Schäuble, called this a “rendezvous with globalization”.

Or: Just a decade ago nobody in Germany would have thought that our soldiers would be sent to Western Africa, Mali, training Sahel forces to fight Transnational Terror and trying to stabilize that fragile part of the world.

We have understood that, in the globalized reality, what seemed to be far away has become part of our own national and European security interests.

Currently especially climate change and the pandemic demonstrate that global problems need global solutions.

Europe´s answer can and will not be building a fortress that must be shielded from a dangerous outside-world. We know that our own well-being and security depend on the well- being and security of our neighbors.

Of course, we need a Europe that efficiently protects its external borders, and we are making progress on this. But at the same time we will have to intensify opening up to neighbours and beyond, and look for partnerships with like-mindeds.

And we will do this more and more together as EU, as our national interests become more and more identical with our joint European interests.

The rationale for this is rather clear:

The big geostrategic trends and dynamics shift towards Asia and away from Europe.

And the demographic trends describe shrinking societies in Europe, while those in Asia and Africa are growing.

As a consequence we Europeans have the choice between acting more nationally, each one of us becoming more and more irrelevant or to intensify our unity and thus stay relevant together.

This means for our partners, that relations with us will stay bilateral, but at the same time they will—like it or not—become more European.

VIII

Which future for European-Russian relations?

Having said all this—where does Russia come in? The simple answer is: on almost all of it.

No country can escape two things: its history and its geography.

In this sense we do already live in what was called “one common European house”. Of course, we all make friends outside, seek best possible relations with neighbors. But moving out—that is not a realistic option for any one of us.

So, back to the questions from the very beginning: How do we think it is best to relate to each other? Do we still follow the rules we agreed upon?

How do we solve problems amongst us?

Do we both still wish to build our future together? And: How do we talk about each other?

Each side has to make up its mind.

I see, as a German and European, the following three perspectives:

First:

Concerning those current very political problems, on which we fundamentally disagree, we have to work very seriously on solutions.

Be it the annexation of the Crimea, the Skripal case, the poisoning of Alexej Navalny, the massive hacking attacks on the German Parliament and the OPCW, and so on:

on all of those issues we have very clear EU positions, and with the so-called “Tiergarten- murder” in Berlin some more might follow.

They all concern issues which are essential to the core of our European self: when international law is harshly violated and Human Rights are harshly violated, when rules we all are bound by are violated, we cannot stay indifferent, we speak out.

An EU or Europe being silent or simply tolerating this, would give up its identity.

And this is not an interference into internal affairs:

The Council of Europe and in particular its Convention on Human Rights guarantee access to a European Court to the citizens of all Member States.

On the OSCE side in the Charter of Paris of 1990 all members are bound to commitments like abiding by common standards of human rights, democracy and the rule of law, refraining from the use of force against each other, respecting territorial integrity and adhering to a concept of joint and indivisible security.

Because of these commitments, violations of basic democratic standards or human rights are no longer a purely internal affair of a member country.

These are standards that all European countries signed up to.

Second:

At the same time we have to care about the strategic view on our relations and about areas where we share the interest that cooperation is needed.

Two weeks ago, the EU Delegation and my Embassy organized an expert meeting with the Russian International Affairs Council about this.

Only one single Russian voice pronounced repeatedly a very skeptical position on the future of EU-Russian relations.

All others present, Russians and Europeans, tried to identify areas where and how cooperation could make sense and improve.

Especially on climate change and transnational health we seem to have a common interest in working on common solutions—not to speak about the crises in Libya, Syria, in Ukraine or in the Caucasus, which need pragmatic cooperation and concertation in order to develop solutions.

And about a strategic view on the relations:

From the EU side, there is a strategy and there are intense discussions about it, just a few weeks ago on the level of our Foreign Ministers.

The five principles of this strategy do have a forward-looking approach,

mentioning the possibility of selective engagement on areas of common interest and stating the way out for the toughest of the problems that stand between us, that is Eastern Ukraine and the implementation of the Minsk agreements.

Speaking about the Council of Europe, of which Germany is taking over the chairmanship today, my government worked hard in support of readmitting Russia to the parliamentary Assembly one and a half years ago.

And concerning the OSCE, we very much hope for more Russian engagement.

Currently Russia is in favour of using the OSCE Minsk Group instruments for working on the status of Nagorno Karabakh—but is not willing to advocate OSCE mediation in Belarus—why?

And I would ask about strategies the other way round:

Where is Russia, given all that happened since 2014, with a forward looking strategy on European Affairs?

I think we should continue the discussions on these questions. Our relations do need strategic depth and we should both find consensus on that.

What I would propose is reflecting on kind of a destination map.

To me, there seem to be many good reasons for that—and only very few against.

By the way, given comments I sometimes hear here in Russia about the EU: I´m convinced that a strong and powerful EU is in the long run the best partner Russia can find to cope with the challenges coming up by globalization.

Third:

The people are close to each other.

In my country there is great affection to Russian culture—and the same is the case all over Europe.

We should do our best to intensify contacts.

Let´s see how the people in Russia think about all this:

The last Levada poll dealing with the EU in Russian public opinion in May 2020 asked Russian citizens whether they consider Russia to be a European country. It brought a split result: 45 % answered yes, 44 % no, the others found it difficult to answer.

One other thing emerged from the Levada poll: The EU is seen positively and considered as an attractive place to study, work and live.

When Levada asked where Russians would like to go if they had to move abroad permanently, three EU countries were among the top-5.

The most appreciated qualities of the EU were a high standard of living, stability, democracy and the rule of law.

82 % said that closer relations with the EU would be in Russia’s interest.

I wonder how a poll would look like if the question is asked how far people in Russia feel European and how far “western”—but this could be a good topic for a future lecture.

IX

These were my remarks on “Building Europe´s future”. I gave you my view on different aspects of Europe,

I expressed my hope for Europe being taken here in Russia for what it is, not perfect, but, as many European politicians put it: The best Europe we have ever had.

And I was trying to show how far Russia is part of all this and could or should be in the future. But this is of course for Russians to decide.

So where are we?

Let me end with the title of a book written on a historical topic a few years ago: “un seul lit pour deux reves”—only one bed for two dreams.

We might have different dreams, but waking up we realize each day that we live together and that we better ought to look for harmony in the daily life of our relationship.

From our partner RIAC

Ph.D, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Federal Republic of Germany to the Russian Federation

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Europe

The projection of Turkish power in the Eastern Mediterranean

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The recent military conflict between Greece and Turkey over potential gas fields located in disputed waters is linked to a complex historical and political conflict between the two nations, so geographically close, but also culturally and politically distant. The superpowers have problems and alliances linked to the two countries, thus globalizing the conflict. Furthermore, all the countries concerned need the cooperation of Greece and Turkey in various fields such as the refugee crisis.

It is symptomatic of the changing nature of geopolitics, geoeconomics and the aftermath of Covid-19. The frictions reflect Turkey’s strategic rebalancing. The conflict in the eastern Mediterranean is mainly the result of a dispute between Turkey and Greece. Two aspects in particular of this balance of power form an explosive mixture in the Eastern Mediterranean, firstly the conflict stems from the fact that there are no agreed maritime borders between Turkey and Greece. The two countries contest their mutual claims on maritime territories and thus contest their respective rights to search for underwater energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea.

Secondly, Turkish policy in the Middle East has helped lure other powers into maritime conflict.

The rift between Turkey and its eastern Mediterranean neighbors mainly affects Cyprus. While the Republic of Cyprus is internationally recognized as a sovereign state, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus has only been recognized by Ankara since its establishment in 1974. And above all, it sees the southern part of the island as secessionist. Turkey has longstanding objections to exploration licenses Cyprus offers to international energy companies, including ENI and Total. These licenses are mainly concentrated in the south and southwest of the island. These zones are included in the exclusive economic zone claimed by Cyprus but which, according to Ankara, violates its continental shelf as well as the territorial waters belonging to.

International law currently offers few possibilities for resolving maritime complaints. The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea states that coastal nations are entitled to a 200 mile exclusive economic zone where they can claim the rights to fishing, mining and drilling. But shorter distances in the eastern Mediterranean force states to settle on a negotiated dividing line. Turkey’s position adds further complexity to these issues: Turkey is in fact not a signatory to the UN convention and defends a different interpretation of maritime rights, arguing that the waters adjacent to the Greek Cypriot administration remain an integral part of the continental shelf of Turkey.

The agreement of 27 November 2019 signed between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj defined a maritime border between the two signatories. The agreement was the most important signal of Turkey’s ambitions. The text delineates a 35-kilometer line that will form a maritime border from the southwestern coast of Turkey to the north of Libya, and crosses the areas claimed by Greece and Cyprus. It tilts the balance of power in the eastern Mediterranean in favor of Turkey. This disrupts the planned route of the 1,900-kilometer Eastern Mediterranean gas pipeline that would carry gas from Israel through Cyprus and Greece to southern Europe. Greece called on the United Nations Security Council and NATO to condemn Turkey’s maritime agreement and for this expelled the Libyan ambassador to Greece. Apparently, as a countermeasure to Turkey’s tactics, Israel, Cyprus and Greece have teamed up to carry out the Eastern Mediterranean pipeline.

It must be said that Ankara has the ambition to be an energy hub for Europe. The Turkish state wishes both to guarantee the Turkish Cypriots a share of future gas revenues and to free Turkey from its dependence on Russian gas supplies. Erdogan had sent his own drilling vessels into disputed waters north-east and west of Cyprus, as well as south of Kastellórizo.

Turkey fears it will be cut off from most of the Aegean Sea and therefore from major sea routes if Greece unilaterally expands its territorial waters and creates new areas of maritime jurisdiction. Erdogan responded by adopting a more assertive line with more aggressive rhetoric. The Turkish government says that as long as talks on maritime disputes are pending and Greece and the Republic of Cyprus continue to do research or drilling, Ankara will too. For their part i Greek officials say Turkey’s new policy is what has reignited the dispute and strained Ankara’s relations with its neighbors. Greeks are increasingly concerned about the safety of hundreds of islands that are very close to Turkey.

Whether it is Turkey or Greece, the two countries are using the migration issue to exert pressure. The situation on the Greek-Turkish borders in fact remains tense and very unstable; the current status quo in the region has all the hallmarks of a hybrid battle. Turkish officials and security forces push migrants to the neighboring country, often even helping them with illegitimate means. Meanwhile, the press and social media are fully used to shape public opinion in favor of interested parties. Propaganda in this context plays a vital role in this conflict. In addition, Ankara also uses its strategic position with the Bosphorus Strait and threatens to close the US Incirlik base to serve its interests.

Turkey has pursued an aggressive and expansive policy in its region for the past decade. This Turkish government approach is steeped in neo-Ottomanism and pan-Islamism. We find in this approach the ramifications of a much older school of Ottoman imperialist thought. The wave of bellicose maneuvers by the Turkish government can be attributed to the 2016 coup attempt, which gave the Erdogan government carte blanche to implement its long-sought power projection policy.

The government’s strategy to create a sense of successful foreign policy in the country, and thereby destroy most of the opposition parties, involves a discourse that emphasizes national interest. This vague but extremely useful term has had a paralyzing effect on the various opposition factions in the country, as they are unable to formulate a counter-narrative without risking being accused of lack of patrioticism. Very often the analysis of modern Turkey’s foreign policy as neo-Ottoman politics ends with the assertion that Erdogan and his party are nostalgic for the restoration of Ankara’s influence in the ancient regions of the Ottoman Empire.

If we take the example of Libya, one of Turkey’s goals in Libya is to completely control the country’s market and establish economic dependence on Turkey. It should be added that Turkey has signed two memoranda with LNG, one on military support and the other on demarcation at sea. Under the maritime border demarcation agreement, LNG has supported Turkey’s demands on part of the waters of Greece and Cyprus. Furthermore, Ankara intends to exploit any gas reserves on the Libyan coast. Indeed, in exchange for military support, Ankara imposed a treaty on Tripoli to take control of a significant portion of the country’s oil and gas wealth and forced LNG chief Fayez Sarraj to support its territorial claims in neighboring countries. This is a classic example of Turkish imperialist politics.

As a result, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Turkey has engaged in the past two years in a remarkable series of geopolitical foreign interventions from Syria to Libya via Cyprus and more recently alongside Azerbaijan. Some have called it Erdogan’s “New Ottoman Empire” strategy. Yet a collapsing lira and a collapsing national economy threaten to unexpectedly put an end to its great geopolitical ambitions. To date, in 2020, the lira has fallen 34% against the US dollar and 70% over the past five years. While some believe it would increase Turkey’s exports of goods, what it does is expose the entire Turkish banking system and economy to a colossal debt explosion. It can also be noted that at this point Erdogan’s interventions met with unserious sanctions or opposition from the EU. One obvious reason is the high exposure of EU banks to Turkish lending. Spanish, French, British and German banks have invested more than $ 100 billion in Turkey. Spain is the most exposed with 62 billion, followed by France with 29 billion. This means that the EU is walking on eggshells, unwilling to pour more money into Turkey but hesitant to precipitate a collapse on economic sanctions.

The eastern Mediterranean has become a hot spot for the natural gas industry. The discoveries have generated growing interest among several international oil companies and countries. It all started with Noble Energy (based in Texas) which announced the discovery of the Tamar field off the coast of Israel in 2009, with an estimated capacity of 280 billion cubic meters. In the space of two years, Noble Energy announced two further discoveries: the Leviathan field, also off the coast of Israel, in 2010 and the Aphrodite field, in Cypriot waters, in 2011. This has reinforced regional ambitions to make the Eastern Mediterranean a gas exporting region. . These ambitions were also based on two assessments made by the US Geological Survey (USGS) in 2010, which estimated the presence of nearly 9.8 trillion cubic meters of undiscovered technically recoverable gas and over 3.4 billion barrels of petroleum resources in the area. However, the real turning point (for regional energy ambitions) came in 2015 when the Italian Eni announced the discovery of the gigantic Zohr gas field off the coast of Egypt. With its 850 billion cubic meters of estimated average gross resources, the Egyptian offshore field is the largest ever discovered in the Mediterranean Sea. It should be added that these fields have another feature: geographical proximity. Thus was born a regional alliance with a pipeline project that excludes Turkey from the energy dynamic. The presence of natural gas has become an axis of cooperation and rivalry in the region. It can be said that gas is the main motivation behind Erdogan’s maneuvers. Indeed, Turkey’s unique geopolitical situation stems from the fact that it is poor in hydrocarbon reserves while its neighborhood has abundant resources. It is therefore imperative for Ankara to maintain stable energy ties with neighboring energy-rich countries or regions. In line with Turkey’s growing domestic demand, efforts to focus on energy security have become an integral part of the country’s foreign policy over the past two decades. The search for hydrocarbons, in particular natural gas, has become a fundamental geopolitical and geo-economic objective for the country.

The rationale for Turkish natural gas policies can be described by three aspects:

1. Being a country dependent on imports, Turkey’s main objective is to guarantee its access to natural gas supplies to satisfy its internal demand.

2. aims to diversify its current supply structure and counterbalance Russia’s dominant role in its energy portfolio.

3. Turkey aims to strengthen / increase its integration into the regional energy security architecture by promoting its role as an energy transit country and a potential hub for supplying Europe.

At the moment, the Eastern Mediterranean region does not supply gas to Turkey, with the exception of market agreements with Egypt. However, it emerges as a critical point on the Turkish foreign policy agenda, as the region is viewed by Ankara not only through the prism of energy security, but also through the prism of its protracted conflict with Cyprus and in the broader context of competition for regional power in the eastern Mediterranean.

In line with the above, it is possible to identify at least five key factors that explain Turkey’s greater involvement in the Eastern Mediterranean:

1. Turkey looks for potential gas reserves in its waters that could bring economic benefits to the country.

2. Turkey does not want to be excluded from developing a new regional energy agenda and is ready to protect its interests.

3. Turkey intends to be an energy transit country that could strengthen its role as an energy hub and undermine rival projects such as the EastMed pipeline.

4. Turkey intends to involve other countries in the region to support its objectives, as seen in the case of the maritime border agreement with the government of national agreement based in Tripoli in Libya, to promote its position by preventing it from doing so. way for others to gain influence;

5. Turkey intends to demonstrate its capabilities as a military power in the eastern Mediterranean.

The Greek-Turkish crisis is likely to influence the shift in the balance of power in the Eastern Mediterranean region. It is possible that over time the United States will relocate its military base from Incirlik to one of the military installations in Greece. Athens wishes to modernize and strengthen the army and navy to contain Ankara. Greece, Cyprus, France but also regional actors such as Egypt and Israel do not agree with the Libyan-Turkish synergy. Analyzing the differences in this balance of power, it is clear that Erdogan appears to be in a position of strength. But from this analysis it also emerges that Ankara does not have sufficient capacity to realize its imperialist ambitions .

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Recovery action plan of the Union: On Next Generation EU & a New Independent authority?

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The first address of the European Commission since the pandemic was one highly anticipated by all the citizens of the EU block. On September 16, President Ursula van der Leyden took it upon herself to reveal the EU’s roadmap for a post-Covid world following the approval of the recovery funds last July which constituted a breakthrough and sent a welcome signal in terms of cohesion and solidarity on the part of the 27 members.

Aside from paying tribute to our frontline workforce and praise the courage and human spirit showed by all in the face of virus spread, van der Leyen set out what she called NexGenerationEU; a movement to breathe new life into the EU but also and most importantly to adapt and lead the way into shaping tomorrow’s world. Through her speech, the president highlighted roughly 8 key themes which will be at the centre of this new European era’s agenda for the next 12 months, in accordance with the cardinal principles of trust, tolerance and agility. In other words, the 750 billion recovery funds raised extra-ordinarily will be directed towards the following areas:

1° Economy: the Union members must all breed economies that offer protection, stability and opportunities in the face of the continuous health crisis with a specific wish expressed for a stronger Health union – and thereby an extension of the Union’s competencies on the matter – but also the advent of European minimum wages.

2° Green Revolution: the Union will adopt more radical attitudes towards mitigating climate-change and safeguarding our planet, starting with the ambitious aim of becoming the first climate-neutral continent by 2050 through the EU’s Green Deal. So called ‘lighthouse’ high-impact and hydrogen-based projects will become an additional focus.

3° Technology: Europe has to step up its game and become a digital leader through securing industrial data and using it to support innovation. Delineating the use of AI by regulating the field, creating a secure EU e-identity and ensuring connectivity deployment so as to fully cover rural areas are also high on the list.

4° Vaccine management: The Union praises the open approach followed up until now in facing the virus whilst many others have opted for withdrawal and undercutting of cooperation. Having served as an example regarding vaccines research and funding, the EU must uphold its policy all the way to the finish line and ensure its accessibility for every citizen around the world.

5° Multilateralism: the current international order system needs some rethinking and international institutions need reform in order to de-paralyze crucial decision-making in urgent situations. This starts with the EU taking faster univocal positions on global issues (Honk-Kong, Moscow, Minsk, and Ankara) and systematically and unconditionally calling out any HR abuses whilst building on existing partnerships with EU’s like-minded allies.

6° Trade: Europe will be made out as a figure of fair-trade by pushing for broker agreements on protected areas and putting digital and environmental ethics at the forefront of its negotiations. Global trade will develop in a manner that is just, sustainable, and digitized.

7° Migration: A New Pact on Migration will be put forward imminently as to act on and move forward on this critical issue that has dragged for long enough; in that regard every member state is expecting to share responsibility and involvement including making the necessary compromises to implement adequate and dignifying management. Europe is taking a stand: legal and moral duties arising from Migrants’ precarious situations are not optional.

8° Against hate-inspired behaviours and discriminations: A zero-tolerance policy is reaffirmed by the Union by extending its crime list to all forms of hate crime or speech based on any of the sensitive criteria and dedicating budget to address de facto discriminations in sensitive areas of society. It is high time to reach equal, universal and mutual recognition of family relations within the EU zone.

Granted, the European ‘priorities forecast’ feels on point and leaves us nearly sighing in relief for it had been somewhat longed for. The themes are spot on, catch words are present and the phrasing of each section is nothing short of motivational with the most likely intended effect that the troops will be boosted and spirits lifted subsequently. When looking closer to the tools enunciated for every topical objective, there seems however to be nearly only abstract and remote strategies to get there.

This is because a great number of the decisive steps that the Union wishes to see be taken depend on the participation of various instruments and actors. Not only does it rely for most on the converging interests, capabilities and willingness of nation States (inside and outside the euro zone), but it is also contingent on the many complex layers and bodies of the Union itself. And when a tremendous amount of the proposed initiatives for European reconstruction is reliant on such a far-reaching chain of events, it simply calls into question the likelihood for the said measures and objectives to be attained – or at the very least in which timeframe.

One might then rightfully wonder whether good and strong willpower coupled with comprehensive projections can be enough. And perhaps in the same vein, whether we can afford to wait and let it play out in order to find out? In his recent writing Giles Merritt, founder of the platform ‘friends of Europe’ tends to suggest we most certainly do not have the luxury of waiting it out and not pushing the forward thinking even further. Indeed, according to him, Europe could and should do more. More than a call for action and change that might end up echoing and fading in the depths of the EU’s bureaucracy, the Union would be expected to back up its ambitious intentions with the setting up of an independent planning agency to ‘ensure revolutionary ideas and projects are speedily implemented’, to borrow Merritt’s words.

Whilst van der Leyen’s announcement was promising and efficient in that it sent an important message – the EU is wanting to get in the driver’s seat – only the follow-up with radical motions such as the creation of a readily available tool to implement fast and impactful changes can lend support to a claim that Europe is in a position to resolve current internal and external EU challenges, and more generally to bounce back from conceded decline suffered in the most recent decades.

As a matter of fact, Diplomat Ali Goutali and Professor Anis Bajrektarevic were the firsts to make an analysis in that sense as they articulated their proposal for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) earlier this year. Faced with similar challenges and need for sharper thinking and tools in order to be at the forefront of the economic and technologic challenges ahead, the OIC had relied heavily on its Committee on Scientific and Technological Cooperation and agenda reform to reinforce its cooperation and innovation capabilities as a global player.

Nevertheless, Goutali and Bajrektarevic already felt months ago that additional steps ought to be taken for the OIC to be able to respond swiftly and reaffirm further its mandate of facilitating common political actions. To that end, it was suggested that a mechanism for policy coordination in critical times – the Rapid Reaction Capacitation – in charge of, primarily, vaccines management and AI applications should be introduced. Furthermore, the stakes behind the urgent need of strengthening our international order through cohesive endeavours are evidently the same for both the EU and the Arab World. That is to permanently leave behind a pseudo-competitive nation-based attitude that is nothing but a relic from the past and has achieved little in the context of the Covid outbreak.

Hence, if such an independent body was to be established, all three authors agree that it could gather the indispensable political power and resources to carry out the desired reforms on multilateralism, cyber and digital infrastructures, Covid recovery measures or geopolitical partnerships. Necessarily streamlined in order to avoid undue blockades, these new regional bodies could be composed of energetic forward thinkers across the private and public sectors empowered to map out and act on adequate strategies for a post-Covid world. This is because we all share the same goal: achieving solidarity not only on paper or as a conceptual motto but in real life and in real time. And after all, didn’t von der Leyen herself concur with that line of thinking as she enjoined Member states to move towards qualified majority voting to avert slow and cumbersome decision-making processes?

It seems pretty clear to me that such discussions in relation to the aggressiveness in actions and potential bureaucratic barriers might raise an old-as-the-world yet still very important questions: Should we, Europe, be ready to risk losing some of the legitimacy or democratic aspects of our political bodies in order to gain in speed and efficiency in times of crisis? And if not, considering the embracement of some of our supra-national entity’s actions is already on shaky grounds, how can we ensure that such bold measures may still be reconciled with maximal legitimacy given our equally urging need for unity?

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Deciphering EU’s new investment deal with China

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The perceived economic gains of the Comprehensive Agreement on Investments (CAI), which the 27-nation European Union recently struck with the People’s Republic of China, come at the cost of disregarding human rights, which the Western bloc is known for, amid clear and irreconcilable systemic differences.

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The closing days of 2020 saw the European Union and China striking a deal known as the Comprehensive Agreement on Investments (CAI), thereby concluding seven long years of negotiations, as per the year-end deadline. China is also the EU’s biggest trading partner after the United States, but a strategic and systemic rival too.

The European Commission, Brussels-based executive arm of the EU, primarily led the negotiations on behalf of the bloc. Germany, being the holder the EU Council Presidency and led by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s continued push, combined with Beijing’s last-minute concessions, proved instrumental in expediting the process of finalising the CAI before the end of 2020.

However, the deal will still have to wait for a formal ratification by both sides and an approval by the Strasbourg-based EU Parliament, a tougher task, before finally setting it on course to be effective in a couple of years’ time, if not by early 2022.

Better rules, level-playing field for European businesses

The EU, by this deal, aims to widen the access for European companies to lucrative Chinese markets, with billion-plus consumers, on a wide range of sectors, particularly in services such as healthcare, finance, cloud-computing and air travel, among others, that has always been restrictive to foreign players in the past.

The deal could bring in a level playing field in the conduct of European businesses in China wherein Chinese state-owned enterprises will no longer be given preferential treatment through subsidies, thereby promoting fair competition and ensuring transparency in technology transfers. Newer possibilities for the expansion European businesses in China will be opened.

The CAI also promise better rules, investment protection, and an investment dispute settlement mechanism within two years of signing, which will replace all the separate bilateral investment treaties currently signed between China and EU member states. The EU maintains that the main purpose of this new deal is to address the economic imbalance in its relations with China.

However, the most striking aspect of the CAI is that, for the first time, China commits to follow accepted standards on climate and labour aspects, even though in a vague form. And for the EU, the timing of this deal with China is significant as a way of signalling its reengagement with the world in the aftermath of a post-Brexit scenario.

At the same time, the CAI reaffirmed reciprocal access for Chinese companies into European markets, which they always had. So, the deal matters to Europe, more than it matters to China. So, the real question is the extent of compromises which European negotiators had to make to strike the deal with the Asian superpower.

The issue of forced labour in China

Many EU member countries and the US had been apprehensive about the human rights situation in the northern Xinjiang province of China where there have been evidences and investigations on the use of forced labour from the media and elsewhere, which has not been duly factored in while concluding the investment deal.

It has been alleged that in the past several years, the Chinese government has forced over a million Uighur minorities in Xinjiang to perform seasonal labour against their will and are often underpaid. But, the Chinese government has repeatedly denied such allegations.

Many European lawmakers believe that China is not interested in fully complying with international agreements after signing it and is not a responsible and trustable partner. The presence of mass detention camps in this province, as verified by satellite imagery and other documents, is also a human rights concern which the EU was not supposed to ignore, considering its historical commitments to human rights.

US concerns and strategic rivalry

The incoming Biden administration has also raised concerns about the CAI, stating that it would “welcome early consultations” with its European partners on shared concerns surrounding China’s unfair economic practices, hinting at the issue of forced labour and the deal’s lacking on the question of enforcement of human rights.

Being a security and strategic partner of the US and part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), any such deal which EU and its member countries sign with its strategic rival, China, could effectively undermine American-led efforts to counter the strategic and geopolitical threat posed by Beijing’s aggressive and expansionist policies around the world.

It also flies in the face of an incoming Biden administration which is openly committed to mend relations with allies in Europe that had been worsened under Donald Trump. Many experts in the US have felt the EU should’ve waited for a few more weeks until the Biden administration takes charge to form a co-ordinated approach, as it related to their common systemic and strategic rival, China.

Moreover, the deal comes at a time when individual EU members such as Germany and the Netherlands have recently released their own outlook on the Indo-Pacific strategy, which is perceivably aimed at containing China’s rise and to ensure balance of power in the region. Meanwhile, France’s outlook is in existence for two years now.

Way ahead for implementation

The deal has now been reached at the technical level, paving way for a final ratification. But, getting the deal through the European Parliament, which attaches far more significance to human rights concerns than the Commission and the Council, is going to be a tough task, as many European legislators are increasingly sceptical of Chinese intentions and commitments to any deal.

The coming months are going to be crucial with regard to how the European legislators will debate and take forward the deal to the next level.

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