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The Global Mediterranean and the OSCE Platform for Dialogue

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On the historic date of March 08th – International Women’s Day, a large number of international affairs specialists gathered for the second consecutive summit in Vienna, Austria. This leg of the Vienna Process event titled: “Europe – Future – Neighbourhood at 75: Disruptions Recalibration Continuity”. The conference, jointly organized by four different entities (the International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies IFIMES, Media Platform Modern Diplomacy, Scientific Journal European Perspectives, and Action Platform Culture for Peace) with the support of the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, was aimed at discussing the future of Europe and its neighbourhood in the wake of its old and new challenges.

This highly anticipated conference gathered over twenty high ranking speakers from three continents, and the viewers from Australia to Canada and from Chile to Far East. The day was filled by three panels focusing on the rethinking and revisiting Europe and its three equally important neighbourhoods: Euro-Med, Eastern and trans-Atlantic (or as the Romano Prodi’s EU Commission coined it back in 2000s – “from Morocco to Russia – everything but the institutions”); the socio-political and economic greening; as well as the legacy of WWII, Nuremberg Trials and Code, the European Human Rights Charter and their relevance in the 21st century.

The event was probably the largest gathering since the beginning of 2021 for this part of Europe.

Along with the two acting State Presidents, the event was endorsed by the keynote of the EU Commissioner for European Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Excellency Olivér Várhelyi. The first, of the three-panel conference, was brilliantly conducted by the OSCE Sec-General (2011-2017), current IFIMES Euro-Med Director, Amb. Lamberto Zannier. Among his speakers was Emiliano Alessandri, OSCE Senior External Co-operation Officer.

In his opening, officer Alessandri reminded audience that after the Cold War – the age of great hope was there: “It was widely believed that the unevenly developed, conflict-torn Mediterranean region could finally stabilize around a rapidly integrating Europe, the gap between the Southern and Northern economies reducing through greater access to the European common market, and a truly ‘Euro-Mediterranean’ region emerging as a more coherent space” in economic, security and P2P terms.

A decade later, after 9/11, the region was singled out again as an epicenter of global insecurity. Unleashing long-standing grievances, the ill-named and ill-fated Arab Spring of 2010-2011 was prematurely welcomed as a region-wide movement towards democracy, portending the demise of an alleged Arab “exception”. “As protest movements gradually subsided, leading to what many have perhaps too harshly defined as a new “Arab winter”, views of the region have turned markedly negative again.”

Mediterranean: Promised but undelivered

For one, the Mediterranean appears less and less a coherent space – notable speaker claims: “Growing interdependence between Europe and the Mediterranean on the one hand, and the Mediterranean and Africa on the other, has not translated into convergence, let alone triggered a drive towards integration.” He suspects that the region is now linked up through its proliferating smuggling routes and fast-expanding organized crime networks.

“Contrary to what Europeans had envisaged, moreover, the Mediterranean region is also less and less a European “neighborhood”– a role that would have never done full justice of the region’s inherent diversity, multi-layered cultural identity, and wide-ranging international connections and influences. Europe undoubtedly remains a strong reference for some countries – economically as well as culturally. But the region increasingly looks in other directions –towards both Asia and Africa.” He claims that China invests heavily in the region. He singles out Turkey and Russia as key players in regional conflicts while the Gulf States and Iran expanding their clout either directly or through proxies. Therefore, the region looks as a global chessboard rather than a European “inland sea”.

Scholar Alessandri is concerned about Libya and its “divisive internal dynamics that create a dangerous vacuum of governance. But overall local regimes have recovered from the wave of protests of 2010-2011, either by adapting or fighting back.” This all despite dysfunctional governance and the challenges posed by terrorism and other transnational threats.

Mediterranean: Embracing the symmetric dialogue

Mediterranean regional dialogue is more important than ever, especially in the security realm, which – according to him – require a level of trust, and a “focus on a common positive agenda.”

Speaker claims that the rise of China, Russia’s re-engagement in the region after a post-Cold War hiatus, the Gulf States’ growing influence is an opportunity for the region, diversifying the region’s international portfolio. As dialogue continues to be in short supply, no available platform should be discarded such as the Barcelona process/ Union for the Mediterranean, the EU and NATO, the Mediterranean Partnership of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

“The CSCE/OSCE process has traditionally addressed East-West relations, with a focus on European security. But from the start and before many others did the same, the CSCE/OSCE built ties across the Mediterranean basin in an attempt to foster regional security and promote an Helsinki-like “method” or “model” for the prevention, management, and resolution of conflicts. The OSCE Mediterranean Partners now include all of the North African countries with the exception of Libya (which, however, has repeatedly expressed interest in joining), as well as Jordan and Israel in the Middle East.

Over the years, the OSCE Mediterranean dialogue has come to look at the Southern countries as an actor rather than an object of security. Successive OSCE Chairmanships havefocused on outlining a positive agenda for Mediterranean security, that countries from the North and the South can advance together to tackle a growing set of shared concerns, from countering transnational organized crime to addressing environmental threats” – stated Alexandri.

Conference participants were reminded that the OSCE Mediterranean dialogue has two key features that could prove fitting for the specific challenges of the 21st century Mediterranean: To address international conflict and, despite a growing focus on transnational threats, the organization still relies on a security toolkit that is particularly tailored to preventing or mitigating inter-state tensions. This double focus feature on the inter-state and transnational security aspects is highly relevant for the present Mediterranean security environment.

Further in his talk, speaker reminded all about the freedoms and liberty which are  alarming eroding in Europe now:  “The 1975 Helsinki Final Act – the CSCE founding document – was among the first international texts to elevate human rights and fundamental freedoms to the rank of international norms. Through its Office on Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the OSCE has developed a solid track record of supporting free and fair elections, promoting democratic governance, and ensuring the protection of human rights.”

Contextualizing it, Alessandri stated “The notion that states are as secure as their citizens is most relevant in a region where too often the interests of states have been defined against those of the peoples.”

Revisiting the OSCE Med-Partnership

Although the OSCE Mediterranean Partnership remains visible with its capacity-building projects of cooperation in security-relevant policy areas, Alessandre believes that the future of the OSCE Mediterranean dialogue should benefit from:

First, conflict-cycle related issues, including the proper form of confidence and security building measures (CSBMs). This was initially concepted for the European context, but well fits for the MENA region, too (including the arms control and military activities CSBMs, energy to cyber security).

Second, the OSCE Mediterranean dialogue should promote economic cooperation and how to foster youth participation in decision making processes.

Third, the door should be kept open to other Southern countries to join the dialogue (including Libya or countries of the Sahel that are already part of other interregional formats). “In line with its vocation as an inclusive multilateral platform, countries from the Levant and the Gulf could also be brought into an expanded dialogue format in the future.” For the formats of the de-nuclearized MENA and similar, he proposes “a new dialogue between Iran, the Gulf States, and other key regional and international actors”.

Fourth and finally, Alessanri is convinced that “the OSCE could step up its engagement with other regional and international organizations, including some that are yet to develop a Mediterranean profile, such as the African Union (which, however, has a focus on conflict resolution). As the largest regional arrangement under the UN Charter, the OSCE is well placed to promote cross-regional connections. This would anchor the new Mediterranean dialogue to a revival of multilateralism, one based on the recognition that a more global and multipolar Mediterranean needs inter-locking institutions to support the creation of a stable and effective security regional order.”

*the above text is based on the informal transcript and conference recordings, which may have nonintentionally caused minor omittances or imprecisions in the reporting.

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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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