Connect with us

Europe

A Clear View Eastwards: Russia and Germany

Source: regnum.ru

Published

on

Politik ist, wenn man Gottes Schritt durch die Weltgeschichte hört, dann zuspringt und versucht, einen Zipfel seines Mantels zu fassen.”[1]Otto von Bismarck (1815–1898)

Specialist in geopolitical issues, doctorate from Sorbonne Nouvelle University;

speaker and guest lecturer on geopolitical, economic and political issues related to China, the EU and the United States, focusing on Jacques Ancel’s geopolitical vision of “the identity of the heart”.

Author of articles published on moderndiplomacy.eu and worldscientific.com, and author of the book Les relations Chine-Europe à croisées des chemins, published by L’Harmattan, Paris.

Katjais the descendant of ancestors who lived inEast and West Prussia. Her family on her mother’s side had to flee from Königsberg in East Prussia in January 1945 and, on her father’s side, from Schneidemühl in West Prussia. She increasingly connects the topics of identities and bordersin her geopolitical views.

A very personal view: seeing Prussia without complexes – family roots and core identity

Roots, earth and homeland – these are difficult topics for my parents’ and grandparents’ generations, but I and other members of my generation are much more relaxed about our family histories. Experiencing home and family roots on my trip to my parents’ birthplaces in Prussia – and thus my return to my own family roots – made me realise that identity is more than what is written in my passport. Identity is complex and has many layers that need to be uncovered. As a result, revealing family roots, protecting them and living one’s identity of the heart without prejudice is the source of life’s harmony – a harmony that is needed now more than ever.

My Prussian roots are the core of my identity. Walking through the streets of my parents’ hometowns –Schneidemühl and Königsberg– I discovered the vastness, openness and beauty of my homeland in East and West Prussia. I unearthed the deepest part of my family history and, at the same time, German history. With that uninhibited view of my Prussian roots, new perspectives for seeing the world have finally been revealed.

National players versus transnational players

Our world is going through a decisive moment in its history. Not only are relations between China and the rest of the world disrupting the geopolitical order, but numerous economic, political and social crises are causing a widespread feeling of insecurity and powerlessness in light of current events and their complexity. The world and therefore we, humankind, have lost our compass.

Beyond the relations, whether cooperative or conflictual, between the European Union (EU), China and Russia, we should question the durability of power –values versus mercantilism, democracy versus dictatorship, capitalism versus communism, and the growing geopolitical clout of transnational players, whose sphere of influence is increasingly gaining ground against national players, the nation-states. Neither the EU, China, the US nor Russia is an isolated paradise, and no country can claim to know the absolute truth. Violence, increased global competition (for natural resources, food, water, etc.) and, above all, international terrorism are forcing us to face up to current realities, to abandon any ideology driving various ideas, such as the European project, socialism with Chinese characteristics, the Russian state order, and the ideology prevalent in the United States, which styles itself leader of the free world (Banik 2016, 2019).

In fact, the conflict between different ideologies distracts our attention from the real battle that has been going on for a long time. The battle for world domination is not the one between different states, e.g. the US and China, or between different political systems, democracy and dictatorship, but the struggle between national players–the nation-states –and the transnational players– the international organisations, such as the EU institutions; the World Trade Organisation (WTO);groups and associations representing various interests and industries; lobbyists; and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Due to globalisation, these transnational players often act across borders and beyond any national legal framework, and are thus conquering geopolitical space without waging war in the traditional sense. We have to reconcile all our differences, ideologies and clichés and move towards a new and more humane global governance, living our identities, creating “nations of the heart” in keeping with the geopolitical vision of Jacques Ancel (Ancel 1938; Banik 2016).

Everything is geopolitical

Geopolitics is the study of the relationship between space and power. It is a multidisciplinary reflection that encompasses economic, political, cultural, historical and social dimensions. The term “space” refers to land, sea and cyberspace (Banik 2016). Jacques Ancel’s geopolitics provide a vision that complements German geopolitics, specifically that of Friedrich Ratzel (1869–1904), who sees states as organisms “determined by the people and the territory”, “kein Staatohne Boden”(Ratzel 1941).

Klaus Haushofer (1869–1946) added the topics of living space and pan-ideas to this German geopolitical concept. In other words, he emphasised the potential solidarity of a population scattered around the world in order to justify the extension of a people’s living space. Complementary and not in opposition to Ratzel’s perception of the world, Jacques Ancel focused on the human being as creator – of global governance and identities and, subsequently, of borders.

More precisely, this means “human groups that reach a harmonious balance and end up recognising borders due to a common memory, history, culture and language”. It is a“nation of the heart in itself, not rational(Ancel 1938, Gauchon 2011, Banik 2020).

Man creates borders. Today, this human dimension and the use of human values and identities are decisive elements in our ever changing world. According to Ancel, the concept of nation-ideas or a nation of the heart is the crucial element for achieving a more humane and harmonious global governance in the future. It is therefore imperative that we revitalise Ancel’s geopolitical views. The world is not rational. Human beings are guided by their feelings. Consequently, we are all either victims or perpetrators of propaganda.

According to Ancel, internal factors, i.e. human factors, must also be taken into account. The process of transnationalisation and deterritorialisation inevitably brings us back to the issues of borders, identities and nationalities. Nationality is defined as the legal bond that connects an individual to a country or territory (Gauchon 2011, Banik 2020). As with the return to my family roots, we should be aware that every identity is made up of various layers and primarily determined by human factors.

The cruel question today is how to ensure a peaceful return to our roots, to our sources and to achieving a balance of power. How to create a new governance based on cooperation, one that is more equitable and stable, more in harmony. How can we be unique and identity-based within unity?

According to Ancel, “human groups (that) reach a balance in harmony thus end up recognising borders deriving from a common memory, history, culture and language. It is therefore important to create strategic alliances, alliances of proximity, and overcome ideologies by leaving propaganda behind.

One answer – which would be in Germany’s interest in particular, but also in the EU’s – is the peaceful integration of Russia by creating a great pan-European space, while at the same time taking advantage of China’s BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) as a link encompassing the Eurasian region.

But first, let us accept the following realities:

No change in political system through trade

China has never given up communism. The “red forces” are still shaping the strategy behind its domestic and foreign policy. The communist identity is the source and thus the root that determines the solidity and solidarity of Chinese society and, subsequently, its economic strength. China continues to pursue its “China first” strategy, which includes its determination to have more economic independence.

“Les États n’ont pas d’amis, ils n’ont que des intérêts”[2]

We need to break out of the EU’s post-war narrative. There are no real common European policies, no single voice is possible for the EU, which is a union of shared interests. Economic intersections and interests exist, shared by some member countries. The important thing is to recognise the presence of these different political, economic and strategic interests, to respect and cultivate them. The future of Europe lies in the strength it derives from being a union of European nation-states.

No global supremacy by one country, no rivalry of political systems

The world’s various ideological propagandas are fuelling the conflicts and thus diverting us from the real source of struggle. That is, the competition for world supremacy between nation-states and transnational forces, including international institutions and organisations, all of which stem from the post-war narrative. It is a narrative that makes us believe that only the nation and identity arethe unique cause of all wars.

Nothing is unlimited and nothing can be controlled

Our prosperity and global economic growth are neither linear nor unlimited. Thus, our planet’s natural resources are limited. Although globalisation has created prosperity for a very large part of the world’s population, it has, at the same time, created regions of winners and losers. Poverty and inequity persist; injustice is growing as a result. Transnational forces are increasing their spheres of influence, often acting beyond national laws and consequently increasing injustice.

No enemies, no rivals

The illusion of having enemies must be overcome. Neither China nor Russia is an enemy or ideological rival. All political, economic and social challenges are global. Strategic cooperation is the only solution.

Globalisation reinforces the need to return to one’s roots

The flows of globalization do not erase borders, countries, regions, territories or places” (Zajec 2016). On the contrary, the more the world is linked, the more the debate about identities and borders plays a key role in any geopolitical concept. In the whirlwind of globalisation, we need to remain ourselves, to have roots and a cultural base in order to ensure a harmonious societal solidity.

Let’s stay vigilant

We must stop propaganda based on ideology and disseminated through media, along with political moralism, political correctness and the purging of language. We are all unique. We all have deep within us an identity of the heart that is unique toeach of us. And this identity is free and beyond all judgements.

The cruel challenge is how to ensure a peaceful return to our roots, to our sources and the logic of geography. How to create a more equitable and stable governance based on cooperation – how to be unique and identity-based within unity without being divisive. The solution is to allow the strength of geographical proximity to prevail, the creation of strategic alliances in order to achieve “a balance in harmony, due to a common memory, history, culture and language”, in keeping with Ancel.

Russia and the big pan-European house

According to this logic, the priority for Europe should be the reintegration of Russia into the big Pan-European house. Especially for Europe, Russia is an important link for connecting the Eurasian region with China in order to create a new global political order.

Germany holds the key to integrating Russia. According to Ancels logic of “regained harmony, the fixed national consciousness, and, even without borders, the Nation [that] exists”. The path to this harmony leads us to an uninhibited view of our own history and thus a reconciliation of the past. A path that I have chosen by uncovering my family roots.

Russians, Poles and Germans have a common history. This history is a strength and not a weakness. According to Jacques Ancel’s vision, these three countries are at the crossroads of arbitrary borders and borders of civilisation.

Ancel differentiates mainly between two characteristics. On the one hand, there are so-called arbitrary borders. These are more tense, more strategic borders stemming from military pretensions. Treaties draw these borders, which are temporal and purely based on the national interests of the different states.

The borders of civilisations, on the other hand, are more permanent. These borders are based on a common memory, history and language created by a human group in balance. The borders of civilisations are “nevertheless more complicated because they are subject to numerous political and commercial interpretations”. Even if the commercial justifications are aimed at “clearing a path” and not “enclosing” as the military justifications do (Ancel 1938, Banik 2020), for Russia, Poland and Germany, reconciliation of the past means “clearing a path in harmony” towards the strength offered by their common history.

The balance of power

And what are the tools for establishing this new policy of global cooperation and peace based on the principle of non-interference? For the most part, we already have them at our disposal. At the human level: listening, communicating, respecting the interests of others without judging them and, above all, building trust.

At the institutional level, we simply need to reactivate the spirit of trust that led to the Helsinki Accords of 1975, the Charter of Paris for a New Europe of November 1990 and, finally, the NATO-Russia Council of 2002 (Teltschik, 2019), thereby avoiding any re-creation of two blocs but pursuing instead the path towards a new multipolar global governance.

The window of opportunity has been wide open since the Charter of Paris was signed on 21 November 1990 (Teltschik, 2019). Indeed, in the spirit of cooperation, this charter was endorsed by 34 countries, including the Warsaw Pact countries. In the context of German reunification and the fall of the communist regimes in Eastern Europe, Helmut Kohl and Mikhail Gorbachev thoroughly supported this vision of the “common European home”.  Yet this opportunity was not seized, as mistrust prevailed.

Ultimately, it is the Russians and Chinese who share the same vision of “a strategic balance of power in which no country interferes in the internal affairs of other countries”(Habahbeh, 2020). According to Russia, the US is acting outside its own sphere of influence. However, the geopolitical approach of the US is still reflective of Zbigniew Brzezinski’s vision, meaning it does not accept that a region will be dominated by a single country (Brzezinski, 1998).

The US is still pursuing its containment strategy mainly in Europe and Asia in order to hinder the spread of communism. The propaganda around “democratisation” and “defence of the liberal world order” are used to justify the US’s extension of its sphere of influence, particularly in the Eurasian region. On the other hand, Russians are exercising control over their sphere of influence through “the desire to protect Russian identity and broader Slavic identity through their belief that they have the right to regional dominance for divine and ethnic purposes”. (Habahbeh, 2020). Thus, the geopolitical conflict between these two powers is a conflict between the “ideology of the liberal world” and the “moral ideology”.

Oblast Kaliningrad-Königsberg: at the heart of German-Russian cooperation

The BRI is a spatial security device that can be used as a means of strategic cooperation between Germany, Europe, Russia and China.

Although the BRI is, according to China, a “geostrategic-military” initiative, since it combines civilian and military interests under the topic of “security”, it is a vehicle that conceptually encompasses the intertwined interests of political and economic actors in China, but also in all the other participating countries (Banik, Lüdert 2020). The BRI vision thus mobilises the Chinese nation by safeguarding China’s unity, stability and harmony at the national level and beyond (Banik, 2019). It is an ideology for maintaining internal order.

This undoubtedly “China first” approach,  however, should not hinder Europe and especially Germany from using the infrastructure project to strengthen economic relations and the geopolitical link between Russia and Germany. Eurasia is a region of high importance, both economically and geopolitically. Moreover, it is precisely the Kaliningrad enclave, formerly Königsberg, that is at the heart of German-Russian cooperation. The oblast Kaliningrad lies between Poland and Lithuania and has an important port of strategic interest in the Baltic Sea, since it is accessible even in winter. This is a key hub for goods arriving by rail via the BRI, destined for shipment by sea to Germany and Scandinavia.

Since 2011, the EU and Russia have signed agreements to facilitate border movements and exempt goods in transit between Kaliningrad and Lithuania from customs duties. Basically, the oblast is a highly significant link between Russia and the EU.

BRI: Trans-Eurasian Railway Routes

Source: http://rtsb.group/belt-and-road-initiative/

Although resources transiting through the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad are relatively new, the number of trains and thus the volume of freight is constantly increasing. The big advantage is that the busy border crossing between Poland and Belarus at Brest is avoided.

As a result, RZD, the Russian railway company, has recorded a strong increase in the flow of intermodal freight between China and Europe since 2019. Intermodal traffic amounted to 387,900 TEU between January and September 2020, “more than of 1.6 times the same period in 2019” (Railway Journal 2020). In particular, maritime transport from the port of Kaliningrad has increased more than tenfold compared to 2019, reaching about 6,900 TEU in September 2020 alone (Railfreight, 2019).In this context, it is important to highlight the regular maritime service between the port of Kaliningrad and the port of Hamburg.

Revealing roots and back to our origins

Returning to one’s family roots is not a dead end in the past, but, on the contrary, a valuable opportunity for considering future cooperation between Russia and Germany, cooperation that goes beyond ideologies and judgements.

A border is, according to Ancel, “a political isobar which fixes, for a certain time, the balance between two pressures: mass balance and balance of forces” (Ancel 1938).The real problem is not related to the question of borders. Borders will always exist, even in the globalised world. “There are no border problems. There are only problems of Nation”(Ancel 1938).

The world is at a crossroads. It is therefore necessary to lay aside ideologies and preconceived ideas. It is up to us, humankind, to think “out of the box” by living up to our identities while respecting the uniqueness of countries, cultures and identities.

As we have already seen, Jacques Ancel focuses on the human being as creator. The important thing is to recognise and calmly accept the feeling of belonging to a country, to a region– that is, the need for identity. And identity is much more complex than what is written in a passport. The identity of the heart goes beyond any ideology. The identity of the heart has deep roots and requires no justification or explanation.

Ancel’s geopolitical vision should be revitalised since “one does not revise borders, except by force, one changes minds”(Ancel 1938; Lomnica 1938 foreword).

Thus, with my uninhibited view of my Prussian roots, new perspectives are being created, especially for the strengthening of German-Russian cooperation.

                                                                          Back to the roots

 ………to be continued

Author’s Note: The paper was previously published by the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC)

References (selected works)

  • Acte final d’Helsinki (1975): OSCE, www.osce.org
  • Ancel, Jacques (1938):  Géographies des frontières, Gallimard, Paris
  • préface de André Siegfried, avant-propos de Tatranská Lomnica.
  • Banik, Katja (2016): Les relations Chine-Europe: à la croisée des chemins,L’Harmattan, Paris.
  • Banik, Katja (2019):  Europe, China and the G-zero world, China and the World: Ancient and Modern Silk Road, Vol. 1, No. 4, 1–9, World Scientific Publishing Company.
  • Banik, Katja (2019):  Europe and China in a globalized world. The geopolitical impacts of Beltand Road, www.worldsientific.com 
  • Banik, Katja, Jan Lüdert (2020): Assessing Securization: China’s Belt and Road Initiative, E-International Relations, www.e-ir.info
  • Boniface, Pascal (2017): La Géopolitique, Eyrolles, Paris.
  • Brown, Kerry (2019): China’s rise: The three key things everyone needs to know, TEDx Thessaloniki.
  • Brzezinski, Zbigniew (1998): The Grand Chess Board, Paperback.
  • Charte de Paris (1990): www.osce.org
  • Conseil OTAN-Russie (2002): NATO, www.nato.int
  • Eurotransport.de (2020): https://www.eurotransport.de/artikel/mukran-als-drehkreuz-nach-china-neue-seidenstrasse-startet-in-ruegen-russland-rotterdam-schiene-gueterbahn-11172438.html
  • Foucher, Michel (2019) : L’Europe doit venir au monde,www.diploweb.com
  • Gauchon, Huissoud (2008): Les 100 mots de la géopolitique, Presse Universitaires de France, Paris.
  • Habahbeh, Lawrence (2020): A state of flux in the World Order, https://diplomatist.com/2020/05/07/a-state-of-flux-in-the-world-order/, dipolomatist.com
  • Marshall, Tim (2015):  Prisoners of Geography, Elliot and Thompson Ldt., London.
  • Nida-Rümelin (2017): Über Grenzen Denken: Eine Ethik der Migration, Körber-Stiftung, Hamburg.
  • Overholt, William (2018): China and America: The Age of Geoeconomics.
  • Railfreight(2019):
  • https://www.railfreight.com/beltandroad/2018/06/27/utlc-celebrates-1000th-train-on-new-silk-road-in-kaliningrad/
  • Rail Journal (2020) https://www.railjournal.com/freight/rzd-exceeds-2019-china-europe-freight-figures/
  • Ratzel, Friedrich (1941): Erdenmacht und Völkerschicksal, Alfred Kröner Verlag, Stuttgart.
  • Teltschik, Horst (2019): Russisches Roulette: vom kalten Krieg zum kalten Frieden, CH Beck, München.
  • Zajec, Olivier (2016) : Introduction à l’analyse géopolitique, Éditions du Rocher, Monaco.

[1]“Politics is hearing God striding through history and leaping to grasp a corner of his cloak”inTeltschik (2019).

[2]States have no friends, they only have interests”, Charles de Gaulle (1967).

Author, speaker and guest lecturer on current geopolitical, economic and political issues related to China, EU and the US, focus on Jacques Ancel’s geopolitical vision “identity of heart”. Author at worldscientific.com, at moderndiplomacy.eu and book author at éditions L'Harmattan, Paris. As a member of the successor generation of the displaced population - her family had to flee on her mother's side from Königsberg in East Prussia in January 1945 and on her father's side from Schneidemühl in West Prussia - Katja increasingly connects the topics of identities and borders in her geopolitical views. Personal website: www.katjabanik.com

Continue Reading
Comments

Europe

Iceland’s Historic(al) Elections

Published

on

The morning of September, 26 was a good one for Lenya Run Karim of the Pirate Party. Once the preliminary results were announced, things were clear: the 21-year-old law student of the University of Iceland, originating from a Kurdish immigrant family, had become the youngest MP in the country’s history.

In historical significance, however, this event was second to another. Iceland, the world champion in terms of gender equality, became the first country in Europe to have more women MPs than men, 33 versus 30. The news immediately made world headlines: only five countries in the world have achieved such impressive results. Remarkably, all are non-European: Rwanda, Nicaragua and Cuba have a majority of women in parliament, while Mexico and the UAE have an equal number of male and female MPs.

Nine hours later, news agencies around the world had to edit their headlines. The recount in the Northwest constituency affected the outcome across the country to delay the ‘triumph for women’ for another four years.

Small numbers, big changes

The Icelandic electoral system is designed so that 54 out of the 63 seats in the Althingi, the national parliament, are primary or constituency seats, while another nine are equalization seats. Only parties passing the 5 per cent threshold are allowed to distribute equalisation seats that go to the candidates who failed to win constituency mandates and received the most votes in their constituency. However, the number of equalisation mandates in each of the 6 constituencies is legislated. In theory, this could lead to a situation in which the leading party candidate in one constituency may simply lack an equalisation mandate, so the leading candidate of the same party—but in another constituency—receives it.

This is what happened this year. Because of a difference of only ten votes between the Reform Party and the Pirate Party, both vying for the only equalisation mandate in the Northwest, the constituency’s electoral commission announced a recount on its own initiative. There were also questions concerning the counting procedure as such: the ballots were not sealed but simply locked in a Borgarnes hotel room. The updated results hardly affected the distribution of seats between the parties, bringing in five new MPs, none of whom were women, with the 21-year-old Lenya Run Karim replaced by her 52-year-old party colleague.

In the afternoon of September, 27, at the request of the Left-Green Movement, supported by the Independence Party, the Pirates and the Reform Party, the commission in the South announced a recount of their own—the difference between the Left-Greens and the Centrists was only seven votes. There was no ‘domino effect’, as in the case of the Northwest, as the five-hour recount showed the same result. Recounts in other districts are unlikely, nor is it likely that Althingi—vested with the power to declare the elections valid—would invalidate the results in the Northwest. Nevertheless, the ‘replaced’ candidates have already announced their intention to appeal against the results, citing violations of ballot storage procedures. Under the Icelandic law, this is quite enough to invalidate the results and call a re-election in the Northwest, as the Supreme Court of Iceland invalidated the Constitutional Council elections due to a breach of procedure 10 years ago. Be that as it may, the current score remains 33:30, in favor of men.

Progressives’ progress and threshold for socialists

On the whole, there were no surprises: the provisional allocation of mandates resembles, if with minor changes, the opinion polls on the eve of the election.

The ruling three-party coalition has rejuvenated its position, winning 37 out of the 63 Althingi seats. The centrist Progressive Party saw a real electoral triumph, improving its 2017 result by five seats. Prime-minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir’s Left-Green Movement, albeit with a slight loss, won eight seats, surpassing all pre-election expectations. Although the centre-right Independence Party outperformed everyone again to win almost a quarter of all votes, 16 seats are one of the worst results of the Icelandic ‘Grand Old Party’ ever.

The results of the Social-Democrats, almost 10% versus 12.1% in 2017, and of the Pirates, 8.6% versus 9.2%, have deteriorated. Support for the Centre Party of Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, former prime-minister and victim of the Panama Papers, has halved from 10.9% to 5.4%. The centrists have seen a steady decline in recent years, largely due to a sexist scandal involving party MPs. The populist People’s Party and the pro-European Reform Party have seen gains of 8.8% and 8.3%, as compared to 6.9% and 6.7% in the previous elections.

Of the leading Icelandic parties, only the Socialist Party failed to pass the 5 per cent threshold: despite a rating above 7% in August, the Socialists received only 4.1% of the vote.

Coronavirus, climate & economy

Healthcare and the fight against COVID-19 was, expectedly, on top of the agenda of the elections: 72% of voters ranked it as the defining issue, according to a Fréttablaðið poll. Thanks to swift and stringent measures, the Icelandic government brought the coronavirus under control from day one, and the country has enjoyed one of the lowest infection rates in the world for most of the time. At the same time, the pandemic exposed a number of problems in the national healthcare system: staff shortages, low salaries and long waiting lists for emergency surgery.

Climate change, which Icelanders are already experiencing, was an equally important topic. This summer, the temperature has not dropped below 20°C for 59 days, an anomaly for a North-Atlantic island. However, Icelanders’ concerns never converted into increased support for the four left-leaning parties advocating greater reductions in CO2 emission than the country has committed to under the Paris Agreement: their combined result fell by 0.5%.

The economy and employment were also among the main issues in this election. The pandemic has severely damaged the island nation’s economy, which is heavily tourism-reliant—perhaps, unsurprisingly, many Icelanders are in favor of reviving the tourism sector as well as diversifying the economy further.

The EU membership, by far a ‘traditional’ issue in Icelandic politics, is unlikely to be featured on the agenda of the newly-elected parliament as the combined result of the Eurosceptics, despite a loss of 4%, still exceeds half of the overall votes. The new Althingi will probably face the issue of constitutional reform once again, which is only becoming more topical in the light of the pandemic and the equalization mandates story.

New (old) government?

The parties are to negotiate coalition formation. The most likely scenario now is that the ruling coalition of the Independence Party, the Left-Greens and the Progressives continues. It has been the most ideologically diverse and the first three-party coalition in Iceland’s history to last a full term. A successful fight against the pandemic has only strengthened its positions and helped it secure additional votes. Independence Party leader and finance minister Bjarni Benediktsson has earlier said he would be prepared to keep the ruling coalition if it holds the majority. President Guðni Jóhannesson announced immediately after the elections that he would confirm the mandate of the ruling coalition to form a new government if the three parties could strike a deal.

Other developments are possible but unlikely. Should the Left-Greens decide to leave the coalition, they could be replaced by the Reform Party or the People’s Party, while any coalition without the Independence Party can only be a four-party or larger coalition.

Who will become the new prime-minister still remains to be seen—but if the ruling coalition remains in place, the current prime-minister and leader of the Left-Greens, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, stands a good chance of keeping her post: she is still the most popular politician in Iceland with a 40 per cent approval rate.

The 2021 Althingi election, with one of the lowest turnouts in history at 80.1%, has not produced a clear winner. The election results reflect a Europe-wide trend in which traditional “major” parties are losing support. The electorate is fragmenting and their votes are pulled by smaller new parties. The coronavirus pandemic has only reinforced this trend.

The 2021 campaign did not foreshadow a sensation. Although Iceland has not become the first European country with a women’s majority in parliament, these elections will certainly go down in history as a test of Icelanders’ trust to their own democracy.

From our partner RIAC

Continue Reading

Europe

EU-Balkan Summit: No Set Timeframe for Western Balkans Accession

Published

on

From left to right: Janez JANŠA (Prime Minister, Slovenia), Charles MICHEL (President of the European Council), Ursula VON DER LEYEN (President of the European Commission) Copyright: European Union

On October 6, Slovenia hosted a summit between the EU and the Western Balkans states. The EU-27 met with their counterparts (Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Kosovo) in the sumptuous Renaissance setting of Brdo Castle, 30 kilometers north of the capital, Ljubljana. Despite calls from a minority of heads of state and government, there were no sign of a breakthrough on the sensitive issue of enlargement. The accession of these countries to the European Union is still not unanimous among the 27 EU member states.

During her final tour of the Balkans three weeks ago, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that the peninsula’s integration was of “geostrategic” importance. On the eve of the summit, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz backed Slovenia’s goal of integrating this zone’s countries into the EU by 2030.

However, the unanimity required to begin the hard negotiations is still a long way off, even for the most advanced countries in the accession process, Albania and North Macedonia. Bulgaria, which is already a member of the EU, is opposing North Macedonia’s admission due to linguistic and cultural differences. Since Yugoslavia’s demise, Sofia has rejected the concept of Macedonian language, insisting that it is a Bulgarian dialect, and has condemned the artificial construction of a distinct national identity.

Other countries’ reluctance to join quickly is of a different nature. France and the Netherlands believe that previous enlargements (Bulgaria and Romania in 2007) have resulted in changes that must first be digested before the next round of enlargement. The EU-27 also demand that all necessary prior guarantees be provided regarding the independence of the judiciary and the fight against corruption in these countries. Despite the fact that press freedom is a requirement for membership, the NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urged the EU to make “support for investigative and professional journalism” a key issue at the summit.”

While the EU-27 have not met since June, the topic of Western Balkans integration is competing with other top priorities in the run-up to France’s presidency of the EU in the first half of 2022. On the eve of the summit, a working dinner will be held, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, called for “a strategic discussion on the role of the Union on the international scene” in his letter of invitation to the EU-Balkans Summit, citing “recent developments in Afghanistan,” the announcement of the AUKUS pact between the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom, which has enraged Paris.

The Western Balkans remain the focal point of an international game of influence in which the Europeans seek to maintain their dominance. As a result, the importance of reaffirming a “European perspective” at the summit was not an overstatement. Faced with the more frequent incursion of China, Russia, and Turkey in that European region, the EU has pledged a 30 billion euro Economic and Investment Plan for 2021-2027, as well as increased cooperation, particularly to deal with the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Opening the borders, however, is out of the question. In the absence of progress on this issue, Albania, North Macedonia, and Serbia have decided to establish their own zone of free movement (The Balkans are Open”) beginning January 1, 2023. “We are starting today to do in the region what we will do tomorrow in the EU,” said Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama when the agreement was signed last July.

This initiative, launched in 2019 under the name “Mini-Schengen” and based on a 1990s idea, does not have the support of the entire peninsular region, which remains deeply divided over this project. While Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro are not refusing to be a part of it and are open to discussions, the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti, who took office in 2020, for his part accuses Serbia of relying on this project to recreate “a fourth Yugoslavia”

Tensions between Balkan countries continue to be an impediment to European integration. The issue of movement between Kosovo and Serbia has been a source of concern since the end of September. Two weeks of escalation followed Kosovo’s decision to prohibit cars with Serbian license plates from entering its territory, in response to Serbia’s long-standing prohibition on allowing vehicles to pass in the opposite direction.

In response to the mobilization of Kosovar police to block the road, Serbs in Kosovo blocked roads to their towns and villages, and Serbia deployed tanks and the air force near the border. On Sunday, October 3, the conflict seemed to be over, and the roads were reopened. However, the tone had been set three days before the EU-Balkans summit.

Continue Reading

Europe

German Election: Ramifications for the US Foreign Policy

Published

on

Image source: twitter @OlafScholz

In the recent German election, foreign policy was scarcely an issue. But Germany is an important element in the US foreign policy. There is a number of cases where Germany and the US can cooperate, but all of these dynamics are going to change very soon.

The Germans’ strategic culture makes it hard to be aligned perfectly with the US and disagreements can easily damage the relations. After the tension between the two countries over the Iraq war, in 2003, Henry Kissinger said that he could not imagine the relations between Germany and the US could be aggravated so quickly, so easily, which might end up being the “permanent temptation of German politics”. For a long time, the US used to provide security for Germany during the Cold War and beyond, so, several generations are used to take peace for granted. But recently, there is a growing demand on them to carry more burden, not just for their own security, but for international peace and stability. This demand was not well-received in Berlin.

Then, the environment around Germany changed and new threats loomed up in front of them. The great powers’ competition became the main theme in international relations. Still, Germany was not and is not ready for shouldering more responsibility. Politicians know this very well. Ursula von der Leyen, who was German defense minister, asked terms like “nuclear weapons” and “deterrence” be removed from her speeches.

Although on paper, all major parties appreciate the importance of Germany’s relations with the US, the Greens and SPD ask for a reset in the relations. The Greens insist on the European way in transatlantic relations and SPD seeks more multilateralism. Therefore, alignment may be harder to maintain in the future. However, If the tensions between the US and China heat up to melting degrees, then external pressure can overrule the internal pressure and Germany may accede to its transatlantic partners, just like when Helmut Schmid let NATO install medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe after the Soviet Union attacked Afghanistan and the Cold War heated up.

According to the election results, now three coalitions are possible: grand coalition with CDU/CSU and SPD, traffic lights coalition with SPD, FDP, and Greens, Jamaica coalition with CDU/CSU, FDP, and Greens. Jamaica coalition will more likely form the most favorable government for the US because it has both CDU and FDP, and traffic lights will be the least favorite as it has SPD. The grand coalition can maintain the status quo at best, because contrary to the current government, SPD will dominate CDU.

To understand nuances, we need to go over security issues to see how these coalitions will react to them. As far as Russia is concerned, none of them will recognize the annexation of Crimea and they all support related sanctions. However, if tensions heat up, any coalition government with SPD will be less likely assertive. On the other hand, as the Greens stress the importance of European values like democracy and human rights, they tend to be more assertive if the US formulates its foreign policy by these common values and describe US-China rivalry as a clash between democracy and authoritarianism. Moreover, the Greens disapprove of the Nordstream project, of course not for its geopolitics. FDP has also sided against it for a different reason. So, the US must follow closely the negotiations which have already started between anti-Russian smaller parties versus major parties.

For relations with China, pro-business FDP is less assertive. They are seeking for developing EU-China relations and deepening economic ties and civil society relations. While CDU/CSU and Greens see China as a competitor, partner, and systemic rival, SPD and FDP have still hopes that they can bring change through the exchange. Thus, the US might have bigger problems with the traffic lights coalition than the Jamaica coalition in this regard.

As for NATO and its 2 percent of GDP, the division is wider. CDU/CSU and FDP are the only parties who support it. So, in the next government, it might be harder to persuade them to pay more. Finally, for nuclear participation, the situation is the same. CDU/CSU is the only party that argues for it. This makes it an alarming situation because the next government has to decide on replacing Germany’s tornados until 2024, otherwise Germany will drop out of the NATO nuclear participation.

The below table gives a brief review of these three coalitions. 1 indicates the lowest level of favoritism and 3 indicates the highest level of favoritism. As it shows, the most anti-Russia coalition is Jamaica, while the most anti-China coalition is Trafic light. Meanwhile, Grand Coalition is the most pro-NATO coalition. If the US adopts a more normative foreign policy against China and Russia, then the Greens and FDP will be more assertive in their anti-Russian and anti-Chinese policies and Germany will align more firmly with the US if traffic light or Jamaica coalition rise to power.

Issues CoalitionsTrafic LightGrand CoalitionJamaica
Russia213 
China312 
NATO132 

1 indicates the lowest level of favoritism. 3 indicates the highest level of favoritism.

In conclusion, this election should not make Americans any happier. The US has already been frustrated with the current government led by Angela Merkel who gave Germany’s trade with China the first priority, and now that the left-wing will have more say in any imaginable coalition in the future, the Americans should become less pleased. But, still, there are hopes that Germany can be a partner for the US in great power competition if the US could articulate its foreign policy with common values, like democracy and human rights. More normative foreign policy can make a reliable partner out of Germany. Foreign policy rarely became a topic in this election, but observers should expect many ramifications for it.

Continue Reading

Publications

Latest

Tech News3 hours ago

Standards & Digital Transformation – Good Governance in a Digital Age

In celebration of World Standards Day 2021, celebrated on 14 October every year, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)...

Economy6 hours ago

Accelerating COVID-19 Vaccine Uptake to Boost Malawi’s Economic Recovery

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries including Malawi have struggled to mitigate its impact amid limited fiscal...

Human Rights8 hours ago

UN: Paraguay violated indigenous rights

Paraguay’s failure to prevent the toxic contamination of indigenous people’s traditional lands by commercial farming violates their rights and their sense of “home”, the UN Human Rights...

Economy10 hours ago

An Airplane Dilemma: Convenience Versus Environment

Mr. President:  There are many consequences of COVID-19 that have changed the existing landscape due to the cumulative effects of...

Development12 hours ago

Vaccination, Jobs, and Social Assistance are All Key to Reducing Poverty in Central Asia

As the pace of economic recovery picks up, countries in Central Asia have an opportunity to return to pre-pandemic levels...

Africa14 hours ago

Wagner: Putin’s secret weapon on the way to Mali?

France is outraged at the prospect of Russian mercenaries from the Wagner group arriving in Mali. However, Paris is seeking...

st st
Finance15 hours ago

Why Traders Should Never Miss Forex Trading Investment Opportunities

Trading forex is a great opportunity to make money if you know how to do it right. Some of the...

Trending