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Europe’s Danse Macabre With the Pandemic and the Vaccine Wars Geoeconomics

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It has not been that long since Europe was experiencing a more relaxed Christmas period only to kick start 2021 with more lockdown restrictions related to the finding of a new variant of the virus, which has been fundamental in reshaping our human existence since early 2020.

The threat posed by the new strain of COVID-19 is only adding fuel to the frustration felt by many across the continent, which only complicates those in Brussels and national governments across the world.

Italy may serve as a good example, as the country’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte decided to hand in his resignation to President Sergio Mattarella on 26 January 2021, after being faced with two confidence votes and losing the governing majority in the Senate due to Matteo Renzi’s Italia Viva withdrawal from the coalition on the ground of the alleged mismanagement of the pandemic and recession.

Currently, it is the former President of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, who has been tasked by President Mattarella with forming a new government and solving political crisis in Italy.

Another deeply divided EU member state is Spain, where the health minister, Salvador Illa, resigned from his post the same day as Conte – partly out of fear of his fellow citizens, and partly due to personal motives to try his hand as the Socialist party’s candidate in Catalan regional elections taking place in February.

In Holland, tensions over recently introduced night-time curfews led to massive and violent riots sweeping across the country by “virus deniers, political protesters and kids who just saw the chance to go completely wild,” as leading Dutch criminologist, Henk Ferwerda, argues.

“Member States should introduce additional measures to ensure that travel into the EU takes place safely. This concerns those travelling to the EU for essential reasons, EU citizens and long-term residents as well as their family members, and those travelling from countries for which the non-essential travel restriction was lifted,” the European Commission announced in January, in a desperate attempt to curb the further spread of COVID-19-related infections on its territory.

Following the EC’s recommendations, several EU member states have already announced new travel and entry regulations, each of them maintaining its very own standards for entry rights, as well as further measures implemented to curb the spread of the virus.

In order to help travellers to Europe navigate the pandemic, the EU has introduced a traffic light system, where the bloc has been divided into four zones: green, orange, red, and grey.

An interesting point to note is that according to the latest survey done for Oxford University Europe’s Stories research project led by Professor Timothy Garton Ash, 74% of Europeans believe the EU is not worth having without free movement.

By now, although the bloc with its 450 million inhabitants is undoubtedly wielding important economic and political power in the world, it is clear that it is struggling to keep up with others in COVID-19 vaccinations rollouts, as University of Oxford’s global vaccination tracker suggests.

The future seems to be looking even grimmer when we take into account that the EU has a target of vaccinating 70% of its population by the end of August 2021, in addition to the widely publicised political issues and shortage of vaccines in the bloc.

It is clear that the EU is going to have a serious problem with vaccines supply, as Pfizer-BioNTech have announced temporarily halting the deliveries and AstraZeneca informed of reduction of the previously agreed supplies to the bloc by up to 60%.

Bearing in mind that the European Commission signed a contract with the latter in August to secure 300 million doses of the vaccine (with the option to purchase an additional 100 million) on behalf of all member states, the EU’s huge dissatisfaction with the AstraZeneca’s flimsy pretext of putting the blame on “supply chain problems” should not come as a surprise.

After paying more than €300m (£265m or $364m) to help the British-Swedish company to develop the vaccine by the EC, Ursula von der Leyen made clear that the “best-effort” clause invoked by AstraZeneca, referred to the vaccine development period, not when it comes to its supply after referring to the published version of their contract.

Further rubbing salt into to the wounds are statements like the one made by AstraZeneca’s CEO, Pascal Sariot, who has declared with confidence in his recent interview with Italian newspaper La Repubblica that “by March, the UK will have vaccinated maybe 28 to 30 million people,” as well as arguing that his company will be able to supply the EU once it fulfils its obligation towards the UK. Unfortunately, the UK refuses to publish details of its supply contract due to national security reasons.

Furthermore, as data gathered by Duke University suggests, AstraZeneca has plenty of orders from countries outside Europe, with the second-biggest deal struck with the U.S. Similarly, Pfizer has also managed to close multiple deals with non-EU countries, including the U.S. and China.

With a more deadly variant of COVID-19, known as the B117 type, in the background, as well as immunisation program’s setbacks and critically low supplies of available vaccines, many European countries were forced to cancel or delay first dose injections to make sure that those already-vaccinated get their second jab within an appropriate timeframe.

Brussels, on its own part, decided on 29 January 2021 to push for more transparency by introducing a new export mechanism, which requires from all vaccine suppliers to notify any intent to export vaccines produced at its territory to countries not exempted by the EU, and equips its members with powers to reject any application detrimental to the bloc’s own supplies. On the other hand, the European Commission has reserved the right to issue binding opinions concerning the very matter.

As it was confirmed, the said mechanism would not impact (along with countries like Switzerland, Norway, Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Syria, or Ukraine) humanitarian aid or COVAX, the global initiative intended to distribute vaccines to less fortunate countries around the globe. Nevertheless, it puts in an inconvenient position vis-à-vis Europe countries like UK, U.S., Canada, Russia, or Turkey, as they are not exempted from the EU’s list due to their level of development.

Moreover, as the EU’s trade chief Valdis Dombrovskis informed at the press conference on 29 January 2020, “companies applying for export authorisation will also have to provide information on their exports and export destinations, quantities and so on, for the period covering three months prior to entering into force of this regulation.”

It is perfectly understandable, as opposed to what some critics may argue, that in its race against time (and most certainly the death of European citizens) the EU took extra measures due to the fact that “the protection and safety of our citizens is a priority and the challenges we now face left us with no other choice but to act,” as Dombrovskis stated.

Putting money where its mouth is, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) approved AstraZeneca’s vaccine on 29 January 2021, which makes it the third vaccine to be cleared for use in the EU’s territory. What more, while the virus definitely knows no boundaries and is further taking its toll around the world, Germany’s Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn argued on 31 January 2021 that vaccines from China (already approved by Serbia) and Russia (already approved by Hungary) could be used in Europe to overcome the current deficit of doses.

“Regardless of the country in which a vaccine is manufactured, if they are safe and effective, they can help cope with the pandemic,” Spahn told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper.

Although the mentioned move could have potentially caused further frictions between the EU and the U.S., or UK, it is good if we become honest with ourselves about the severity of the current state of pandemic affairs and put (sometimes) blinding realpolitik aside in order to take into account the following objective factors.

Let’s face it, the longer it takes us to bring the pandemic under control, the more lives will be lost.

As of today, according to the Johns Hopkins’ live dashboard, the current global COVID-19-related infection cases have reached 103,523,528 with 2,241,147 deaths.

Knowing that a successful vaccination effort is the only sustainable way to help the economic recovery globally—the aim extremely difficult, as Oxford Economics’ “baseline forecast already assumes the crisis will cut the long-term level of world GDP by around 2%, or USD 2.1 tn” (with a “long-term GDP losses of 5%, or USD 4.9 tn”)—all countries realistically capable of helping themselves (including, despite what Liz Truss disappointingly argues, also the UK) and others should try to resist vaccine nationalism or even vaccine wars. Doing otherwise could cost the West about $4.5 trillion and the global economy $9.2 trillion, as commissioned by the International Chamber of Commerce study estimates.

Without any doubt, the current situation and the unquestionable power of big pharma compromises the health of millions around the globe, and will definitely prove to be a litmus test for the integrity of governments but most importantly of human unity.

Having said that, the West (for health-care, economic and security reasons) will be well advised to remember the prophetic wisdom of President Harry S. Truman, in that “selfishness and greed, individual or national, cause most of our troubles.”

From our partner RIAC

London-based foreign affairs analyst and commentator, who is the founder of AK Consultancy and editorial board member at the peer-reviewed Central European Journal of International and Security Studies (CEJISS) in Prague.

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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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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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