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Brexit clock still ticking?

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The European Union (EU) has been under a glaring spotlight for a while now; the whole of Europe per say over the past year ever since the United Kingdom announced its most precedent withdrawal from the bloc leading through the referendum held back in 2016. With shuffle of governments in Britain to the deadlock in the house, the British parliament finally settled on the much-championed idea of exiting the bloc.The British Prime minister, Mr. Boris Johnson, led the way to enter a transitionary period to finally stand independent from the bloc. However, the ensuing impediments were far less predictable than anticipated by either parties.

Arguably the most well integrated economic bloc, EU has been operational within the core of Europe dated back earliest to the 1950’s. The renowned union today shaped in the 1990’s proving to be a haven of economic flourish and regional peace and tranquillity. The bloc encompasses 28 member-nations primarily located in Europe. Despite of the challenges faced by the bloc over decades like the Global Financial Crisis of 2007, the member states stood steadfast and waded through every obstacle whether in terms of economic support, policy structure, terrorism or refugee crisis. However, with the exit of the UK from the bloc, the 27 remaining member states are yet to finalise the way forward with the Great Britain and the rest of the world, something that was highly unorthodox a year prior to the talks.

The 11-month transitionary period signed on 31st January 2020 ends with the year itself; mere days leaving the region dreading last-minute negotiations to strike finality to avoid a baffling open to the new year since a high possibly already loomed over a No-Deal scenario. A few points stick out as matters of dispute which stretched the negotiations this far along. Level playing field is one major point standing out and possibly the most known clause in the agreement. With Britain’s exit from the Union, it was and indeed is highly expected that UK would derive disparity in the business cycle which could garner a highly competitive advantage to the businesses anchored in Britain since they would no longer be expected to abide by the rules and regulations imposed under the Charter of European Union. Therefore, while EU continues to stress upon a closer focus of UK-denominated firms to adhere to the policies dictated by EU regarding state sponsored subsidies, workers’ rights and environmental regulation, UK tends to steer clear of such a notion in the agreement, presumably holding a polar position since it challenges the stance entirely claiming ‘Brexit’ literally means freeing UK from EU’s rules and regulations and thus slashing corporate taxes is only justified.

Furthermore, the agreement signed continued to pull autonomy to the European Union to impose penalties in guise of a power statement over UK post their exit from the Bloc. Albeit their agreed position of not imposing the penalties unilaterally, EU continues to fear the means of Britain to exercise unfair policies in key areas. Sectors related to fishing, cross-border security, and surveillance are something regarded only to the member states under the laws of EU. Therefore, the agreement brings about the power to the Union to impose tariffs and taxes in the core areas, nexus to both the parties, to be exercised only as a retaliation lest UK incorporates any means beyond the span of the Deal agreed upon.

The UK-EU Brexit Trade Agreement was published full-text on the day of Christmas highlighting key areas of negotiations and settlements. The Brexit declaration vaguely refers to the state-offered aid issues, mutually agreeing the sectors allowed to be subsidised while still bearing fair competition in mind. This clause aligns with the looming fear of the EU officials regarding UK’s inadvertent efforts to offer economic flexibility to its businesses as it divorces from the union. However, the intricacies involving subsidy controls and tax schedules are still broader to interpretation which could lead disputes in the foreseeable future.

Moreover, the financial sector itself is narrowly touched upon, ironic since UK enjoys a significant edge over the region in financial services and the new Europe could suffer a deadlock under the new agreement. The agreement offers a memorandum of understanding in the financial services, extending the cross-border trade and deals under mutual rules and policies till March 2021. While financial stability is the key agenda for the entire region under the pandemic, the brief coverage of the sector under the agreement garners complexity in adjustments.

Furthermore, the labour rights and rules were probably the most nail-biting points in the negotiations. The Mutual Recognition of Professional Qualification (MRPQ) deal under the Brexit declaration relays recognition of professional qualifications across border; providing relief to the professions across border. Despite of the uncertain implementation plans and market expectations and supposed biases post Brexit, the deal brings about a hint for the region to adjust to the changes in the norms and work relations. However, the transition is far more simpler on paper than in reality since the shift would differ from member-state to member-state and profession to profession.

The agreement, however, is deeming far more futile than it did back in 2016. Whilst UK planned the split 4 years ago, the proponents of the exit have diminished since then. US was probably the major supporter of the clause, Mr. Trump not only championing the split but promising trade deals to Mr. Johnson. However, the president elect, Mr. Joe Biden, effusively cultivated the cause of alliance and collaboration, opposing the exit from the bloc and maintaining the motto of ‘America First’. Its apparent that any trade deal with the United States is out of question till America regains economic control which seems more far fledged than ever before. The Britain, despite surpassing the trade barriers across English channels, has served stringent alliances in the region whilst has tarnished its chances of alliance with China under the antagonistic position UK adopted whilst chasing the US agenda in the 5G network. Under the uncertain times and no concrete alliances, UK finds itself in more despair than any country in the region while EU stands on the verge of striking a landmark financial deal with China which could nudge EU into a superior phase of operational control of the East.

Now with the much quarrelled and bickered deadlock laced with uncertainty of months, a deal is struck. The clock apparently stands no longer ticking, so were the words of the EU chief negotiator Michael Barnier, deeming the Christmas Eve as ‘the day of relief’. Yet with the fishing waters still sparing under uncertainty, the Northern Ireland borders still rendered undecided for and the newfound restrictions over travel to and fro UK in the alarming situation of a new strain of coronavirus, the success of the Deal is yet to unfold. Although the deal is quoted as ‘A Balanced Deal’ by the European Commission President, Ursula von Der Leyen, exactly how the deal is executed and how far along it lasts is just as uncertain as every event were in the past year, completely under the shadows.

The author is an active current affairs writer primarily analyzing the global affairs and their political, economic and social consequences. He also holds a Bachelor’s degree from Institute of Business Administration (IBA) Karachi, Pakistan.

Europe

Europe tells Biden “no way” to Cold War with China

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Amidst the first big transatlantic tensions for the Biden Administration, a new poll shows that the majority of Europeans see a new Cold War happening between the United States and China, but they don’t see themselves as a part of it.

Overwhelmingly, 62% of Europeans believe that the US is engaged in a new Cold War against China, a new poll just released by the European Council on Foreign Relations found. Just yesterday US President Joe Biden claimed before the UN General Assembly that there is no such thing and the US is not engaging in a new Cold War. So, Europeans see Biden’s bluff and call him on it.

The study was released on Wednesday by Mark Leonard and Ivan Krastev at the European Council on Foreign Relations and found that Europeans don’t see themselves as direct participants in the US-China Cold War. This viewpoint is most pronounced in Bulgaria, Hungary, Austria, Portugal and Italy, according to the study. The prevailing view, in each of the 12 surveyed EU member states, is one of irrelevance – with respondents in Hungary (91%), Bulgaria (80%), Portugal (79%), and Austria (78%) saying that their country is not in a conflict with Beijing.

Only 15% of Europeans believe that the EU is engaged in a Cold War against China. The percentage is so low that one wonders if there should even be such a question. It is not only not a priority, it is not even a question on the agenda for Europeans. Even at the highest point of EU “hawkishness”, only 33% of Swedes hold the view that their country is currently in a Cold War with China.  Leonard and Krastev warn that if Washington and Brussels are preparing for an all-in generational struggle against China, this runs against the grain of opinion in Europe, and leaders in Washington and Brussels will quickly discover that they “do not have a societal consensus behind them”.

“The European public thinks there is a new cold war – but they don’t want to have anything to do with it. Our polling reveals that a “cold war” framing risks alienating European voters”, Mark Leonard said.

The EU doesn’t have the backing of its citizens to follow the US in its new Cold War pursuit. But unlike the views of the authors of the study, my view is that this is not a transatlantic rift that we actually have to be trying to fix. Biden’s China policy won’t be Europe’s China policy, and that’s that, despite US efforts to persuade Europe to follow, as I’ve argued months ago for the Brussels Report and in Modern Diplomacy.

In March this year, Gallup released a poll that showed that 45% of Americans see China as the greatest US enemy. The poll did not frame the question as Cold War but it can be argued that Joe Biden has some mandate derived from the opinion of American people. That is not the case for Europe at all, to the extent that most of us don’t see “China as an enemy” even as a relevant question.

The US’s China pursuit is already giving horrible for the US results in Europe, as French President Macron withdrew the French Ambassador to the US. The US made a deal already in June, as a part of the trilateral partnership with the UK and Australia, and stabbed France in the back months ago to Macron’s last-minute surprise last week. Max Boot at the Council on Foreign Relations argues that it is Macron that is actually arrogant to expect that commitments and deals should mean something: “Back in February, Macron rejected the idea of a U.S.-E.U. common front against China. Now he complains when America pursues its own strategy against China. What’s French for chutzpah?” What Boot does get right is that indeed, there won’t be a joint US-EU front on China, and European citizens also don’t want this, as the recent poll has made clear.

The US saying Europe should follow the US into a Cold War with China over human rights is the same thing as China saying that Europe should start a Cold War with the US over the bad US human rights record. It’s not going to happen. You have to understand that this is how ridiculous the proposition sounds to us, Europeans. Leonard and Krastev urge the EU leadership to “make the case for more assertive policies” towards China around European and national interests rather than a Cold War logic, so that they can sell a strong, united, and compelling case for the future of the Atlantic alliance to European citizens.

I am not sure that I agree, as “more assertive policies” and “cold war” is probably the same thing in the mind of most Europeans and I don’t think that the nuance helps here or matters at all. Leaders like Biden argue anyway that the US is not really pursuing a Cold War. The authors caution EU leaders against adopting a “cold war” framing. You say “framing”, I say “spin”. Should we be in engaging in spins at all to sell unnecessary conflict to EU citizens only to please the US?

Unlike during the first cold war, [Europeans] do not see an immediate, existential threat”, Leonard clarified. European politicians can no longer rely on tensions with China to convince the electorate of the value of transatlantic relations. “Instead, they need to make the case from European interests, showing how a rebalanced alliance can empower and restore sovereignty to European citizens in a dangerous world”, Mark Leonard added. The study shows that there is a growing “disconnect” between the policy ambitions of those in Brussels and how Europeans think. EU citizens should stick to their sentiments and not be convinced to look for conflict where it doesn’t exist, or change what they see and hear with their own eyes and ears in favor of elusive things like the transatlantic partnership, which the US itself doesn’t believe in anyways. And the last thing that should be done is to scare Europeans by convincing them they live in a “dangerous world” and China is the biggest threat or concern.

What the study makes clear is that a Cold War framing against China is likely to repel more EU voters than it attracts, and if there is one thing that politicians know it is that you have to listen to the polls in what your people are telling you instead of engaging in spins. Those that don’t listen in advance get the signs eventually. At the end of the day it’s not important what Biden wants.

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Germany and its Neo-imperial quest

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In January 2021, eight months ago, when rumours about the possibility of appointment of Christian Schmidt as the High Representative in Bosnia occurred for the first time, I published the text under the title ‘Has Germany Lost Its NATO Compass?’. In this text I announced that Schmidt was appointed to help Dragan Čović, the leader of the Croatian HDZ party, to disrupt the constitutional structure of Bosnia-Herzegovina and create precoditions for secession of the Serb- and Croatian-held territories in Bosnia and the country’s final dissolution. I can hardly add anything new to it, except for the fact that Schmidt’s recent statements at the conference of Deutsche Atlantische Gesellschaft have fully confirmed my claims that his role in Bosnia is to act as Čović’s ally in the latter’s attempts to carve up the Bosnian Constitution.

Schmidt is a person with a heavy burden, the burden of a man who has continuously been promoting Croatian interests, for which the Croatian state decorated him with the medal of “Ante Starčević”, which, in his own words, he “proudly wears” and shares with several Croatian convicted war criminals who participated in the 1992-1995 aggression on Bosnia, whom Schmidt obviously perceives as his ideological brethren. The question is, then, why Germany appointed him as the High Representative in Bosnia? 

Germany’s policy towards Bosnia, exercised mostly through the institutions of the European Union, has continuously been based on the concept of Bosnia’s ethnic partition. The phrases that we can occassionaly hear from the EU, on inviolability of state boundaries in the Balkans, is just a rhetoric adapted to the demands by the United States to keep these boundaries intact. So far, these boundaries have remained intact mainly due to the US efforts to preserve them. However, from the notorious Lisbon Conference in February 1992 to the present day, the European Union has always officially stood behind the idea that Bosnia-Herzegovina should be partitioned along ethnic lines. At the Lisbon Conference, Lord Carrington and Jose Cutileiro, the official representatives of the then European Community, which has in the meantime been rebranded as the European Union, drew the maps with lines of ethnic partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina, along which the ethnic cleansing was committed, with 100.000 killed and 1,000.000 expelled, so as to make its territory compatible with their maps. Neither Germany nor the European Union have ever distanced themselves from the idea they promoted and imposed at the Lisbon Conference as ‘the only possible solution’ for Bosnia, despite the grave consequences that followed. Nor has this idea ever stopped being a must within their foreign policy circles, as it has recently been demonstrated by the so-called Janša Non-Paper, launched a couple of months ago, which also advocates the final partition and dissolution of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Such a plan is probably a product of the powerful right-wing circles in the European institutions, such as Schmidt’s CSU, rather than a homework of Janez Janša, the current Prime Minister of Slovenia, whose party is a part of these circles, albeit a minor one. To be sure, Germany is not the original author of the idea of Bosnia’s partition, this author is Great Britain, which launched it directly through Lord Carrington at the Lisbon Conference. Yet, Germany has never shown a will to distance itself from this idea, nor has it done the European Union. Moreover, the appointment of Schmidt, as a member of those political circles which promote ethnic partition as the only solution for multiethnic countries, testifies to the fact that Germany has decided to fully apply this idea and act as its chief promoter.

In this process, the neighbouring countries, Serbia and Croatia, with their extreme nationalist policies, can only act as the EU’s proxies, in charge for the physical implemenation of Bosnia’s pre-meditated disappearance. All the crimes that Serbia and Croatia committed on the Bosnian soil – from the military aggression, over war crimes, ethnic cleansing and genocide, up to the 30 year-long efforts to undermine Bosnia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity – have always had a direct approval and absolute support of the leading EU countries. During the war and in its aftermath, Great Britain and France were the leaders of the initiatives to impose ethnic partition on the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and now Germany has taken up their role. In such a context, the increasing aggressiveness of Serbia and Croatia can only be interpreted as a consequence of the EU’s intention to finish with Bosnia for good, and Schmidt has arrived to Bosnia to facilitate that process. Therefore, it is high time for the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina to abandon any ilussions about the true intentions of the European Union and reject its Trojan Horse in the form of the current High Representative.  

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Europe

Should there be an age limit to be President?

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The presidential elections in Bulgaria are nearing in November 2021 and I would like to run for President of Bulgaria, but the issue is the age limit.

To run for President in Bulgaria a candidate needs to be at least 40 years old and I am 37. I am not the first to raise the question: should there be an age limit to run for President, and generally for office, and isn’t an age limit actually age discrimination?

Under the international human rights law standard, putting an age limit is allowed in the context of political participation under the right to vote and the right to run to be elected. Human Rights Committee General Comment No.25 interpreting the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that an age limit has to be based on objective and reasonable criteria, adding that it is reasonable to have a higher age requirement for certain offices. As it stands, the law says that having an age limit for president is not age discrimination, but is 40 actually a reasonable cut-off? National legislations can change. We need to lower the age limit and rethink what’s a reasonable age for President, and not do away with all age limits.

We have seen strong leaders emerge as heads of state and government who are below 40 years of age. Sanna Marin, Prime Minister of Finland, became Prime Minister at 34. Sebastrian Kurz, the Prime Minister of Austria, was elected at 31. Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, assumed her position at 37. So perhaps it is time to rethink age limits for the highest offices.

The US has plenty of examples where elected Senators and Congressmen actually beat the age limit and made it despite the convention. The age limit for Senator in the US is 30 years old. Rush Holt was elected to the US Senate at 29. In South Carolina, two State Senators were elected at 24 years old and they were seated anyways. The age limit for US president is 35 years old.

In Argentina, the age cut-off is 30. In India, it is 35. In Pakistan, it is 45 years old. In Turkey, it is 40 years old. Iceland says 35 years old. In France, it is 18.

Generally, democracies set lower age limits. More conservative countries set the age limit higher in line with stereotypes rather than any real world evidence that a 45 year-old or 55 year-old person would be more effective and better suited to the job. Liberal countries tend to set lower age limits.

40 years old to be a President of Bulgaria seems to be an arbitrary line drawn. And while it is legal to have some age limits, 40 years old seems to be last century. Changing the age limit for president of Bulgaria could be a task for the next Bulgarian Parliament for which Bulgarians will also vote on the same date as they vote for President.

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