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Belt and Road 2013 – 2020: “the roads” of improvements- Lessons for Europe

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Implementing of the BRI in Europe has shown, that the CEE countries, along with the PRC and the EU, should also make an efforts to improve the Sino – European dialogue within initiative. Countries of the Eastern borders of CEE, nevertheless, are also playing an important role in this relation by creating the possible passes through their territories to the logistics of CEE region

Intensification of Dialogue and cooperation

An important starting point for improved coordination of the two policies is greater clarity on the definition of the BRI. The CEE and the EU is not in a position to initiate such studies unilaterally, not least because they would require information from a number of countries along the relevant BRI corridors, as well as from China. However, the EU could encourage their development through the framework of the “Connectivity Platform”. This would require the establishment of an Expert Group to identify key BRI corridors and to collect relevant information from the countries in which they lie.

The analysis of potential future traffic flows suggests that the first study should focus on the New Eurasian Land Bridge Corridor connecting with the North Sea – Baltic Core Network Corridor of the TEN-T. This would require dialogue with other organizations already engaged in the development of rail transport routes in Eurasia, in particular CAREC. It would also require engagement with organizations such as UNIFE, representing manufacturers of rail equipment, with an interest in the promotion and application of EU standards beyond its borders.

Logistics and infrastructure coordination of TEN-T project with Chinese initiative

The analysis of BRI-related traffic flows suggested that the BRI could generate additional rail freight of approximately 3 million TEU (equivalent to 50 – 60 trains per day or 2 – 3 trains per hour each way) between the Far East and the EU by 2040. Subsequently, it was concluded that the most likely TEN-T corridor to be required to accommodate this traffic would be the North SeaBaltic Core Network Corridor.

It is not expected that the BRI changes patterns of shipping traffic materially other than to reduce slightly the volume of freight entering the EU via the North Sea Ports. Any effect might be offset by a growth in the shipment of BRI-generated freight across the North Sea to the UK and Ireland. Nevertheless, it should be noted that maritime trade between China and the EU is already well-established, and that it is not possible to forecast possible changes in related trade patterns as a result of the BRI.

Given these results, and taking account of the uncertainties surrounding the definition and evolution of the BRI, recommendations to address particular constraints or bottlenecks on TEN-T beyond those already highlighted by the corridor studies would be premature. In the absence of greater clarity on the scope and priorities of the BRI, there is a risk that the development of specific investment projects designed to accommodate more traffic on the North Sea – Baltic Core Network Corridor, for example, would prove either inadequate or redundant.

At the same time, the TEN-T Corridor Studies should be reviewed and developed periodically as the work of the “Connectivity Platform” progresses and the BRI is defined more clearly. This would require TEN-T policy to become more outward-looking, with an explicit requirement to take account of major policy initiatives sponsored by countries outside the EU. It could also be facilitated by the development of periodic forecasts of BRI-related traffic, following the model of the European Commission’s Reference Scenario, with forecasts developed under the framework of the “Connectivity Platform” and jointly approved by participating countries.

Improving the SinoEU coordination within EU legislative frameworks

In Europe there is still a number of concerns expressed about the willingness and ability of Chinese investors and contractors to operate within the framework of market rules and standards defined by EU legislation. At the same time, some stakeholders consider that the BRI represents an opportunity to promote EU standards across Eurasia, thereby improving export opportunities for EU-based companies, notably those supplying or constructing transport infrastructure or equipment.

The EC is already alert to these issues, as indicated in the speech given by the President of the Commission in September 2017. This included an outline of European Industrial Policy comprising a number of initiatives of relevance in developing a response to the BRI. In particular:

  • The policy includes an initiative for establishing a modern standardisation system to ensure that the EU remains a global hub for standardisation. This will be particularly important in promoting European Railway Traffic Management System (Hereinafter ERTMS – Auth.) technology, one of the largest beneficiaries of TEN-T funding in the 2007 – 2013 and 2014 – 2020 Multiannual Work Programmes.
  • The policy also includes an initiative to improve the competitiveness of Europe’s export industries and to increase their access to global value chains. This should inform negotiations with China over the Comprehensive Agreement on Investments.

It is recommended that the European Parliament supports the Commission in implementing these initiatives and continue to monitor progress on the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment. The key issues to consider in the context of the BRI are:

  • the screening of foreign direct investment (FDI);

Thus, the May 2017 EC paper ‘Harmonising Globalisation’confirmed that openness to foreign investment remains a key principle for the EU and a major source of growth. However, it also recognised concerns about foreign investors, notably state-owned enterprises, taking over technology-intensive European companies for strategic reasons, and that EU investors often do not enjoy the same rights to invest in the country from which the investment originates. In September 2017, it issued a draft Regulation (EC 2017/0224 (COD)80) to establish a framework for the Member States, and in certain cases the Commission, to screen FDI in the EU, while allowing Member States to take account of national circumstances.

It is recommended that the European Parliament supports the EC’s proposal, as it would ensure the EU’s ongoing openness to FDI while preventing the capture of key European intellectual property by competitors.

  • the establishment of a level-playing field in public procurement markets;

Underlining the European Commission’s concerns that many foreign public sector procurement markets remain closed, the EC has adopted a proposal for a “Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the access of third-country goods and services to the Union”. However, this proposal, which was adopted by the EC in March 2012, did not complete its first reading, although it was discussed by both the European Parliament and the Council.

More recently, the EC has announced its intention to amend the initial proposal and to present new draft legislation as part of its current work programme.

It is recommended that, subject to careful review of the amendments, the European Parliament supports the proposal, in order to establish reciprocity of access to public procurement markets in the EU and China as soon as possible.

  • export credit guidelines.

Also there areconcerns that China is not bound by the OECD’s guidelines on export credit, providing Chinese companies with an unfair advantage in export markets. Of the ten largest economies in the world, only China (the second largest), India (the seventh largest) and Brazil (the ninth largest) do not participate in the OECD Arrangement on Guidelines for Officially Supported Export Credits.

It is suggested that, in monitoring progress towards a Comprehensive Agreement on Investment, the European Parliament seeks to ensure that China’s participation in the OECD framework is a key objective of the EU’s negotiating strategy.

Increasing awareness of the initiative in European political and business circles

When analyzing the European media for awareness of the EU political and business elites about the Chinese initiative, it was determined that the level of coverage of the initiative and its main tasks remains unclear. In this regard, an important recommendation is to implement a broader BRI-related information policy of European States.

Improving Trade flows connection

The analysis of the potential effect of the BRI on trade flows conducted for the purpose of this study suggested that a number of changes may take place, at least over the longer term:

  • Some high value goods may transfer to rail, potentially to the benefit of Poland, northern Europe, and landlocked Slovakia, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Austria.
  • Some low value goods may transfer from ports in the eastern Mediterranean to ports in the north of the Adriatic Sea and the Tyrrhenian Seas.

It appears likely that the EU can anticipate and mitigate these changes with existing mechanisms. To anticipate the changes, planning of transport infrastructure, and in particular the TEN-T, should take into account forecasts of trade between EU and China, as discussed further below. To mitigate any material effects on ports or regions which may suffer a loss in economic activity, the EU can make use of existing regional and cohesion policies.

A challenge for the EU will be to ensure that capacity, and commercially viable transit times, remain available through Asia and in rail transit countries including Kazakhstan, Russia and Belarus. This will require increasing coordination at the operational level between railways across Eurasia, rather than specific legislation.

Finally, bottlenecks may emerge in the EU’s transport networks, including the TEN-T, whether because of steady growth in trade with China and the Far East or, in the case of rail, because of allocation of rail capacity to intra-EU, national, regional or even suburban rail traffic. There may be scope for reviewing planning processes at the EU level, in relation to the TEN-T, and at national, regional and local level (For example, widening of the United Kingdom’s M20 motorway locally around Maidstone, between London and the English Channel, was planned in the mid-1980s. One section was designed and built with five traffic lanes in each direction. The traffic forecasts included an “overlay” of the expected traffic growth associated with Channel Tunnel, which was not yet under construction and which did not open until 1994.), to take explicit account of estimates of trade flows with China and the Far East. The analysis suggests that this may be material not only to rail routes (and in particular those in the North Sea – Baltic Core Network Corridor) but also to ports and the infrastructure supporting them (such as container stacks, warehousing and parking) and connecting them (such as onward road and rail connections).

Pending investment to address rail capacity bottlenecks, it might at first sight appear desirable to have mechanisms to reserve capacity for rail freight traffic between the EU and the Far East. The most effective means of addressing this issue may be for capacity allocators to take into account longer term forecasts of potential demand for infrastructure capacity.

The availability of capacity within the EU would be of limited benefit without sufficient capacity also being available on non-EU transit networks. This suggests that the TEN-T process could be more outward-looking. The TEN-T already provides maps for “neighbouring countries” including Norway, Switzerland, the Balkans and Turkey, as well as Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine, but not Russia, which could be included, being a core country of the BRI rail flows. However, studying and sharing information with neighbouring countries will not, in itself, resolve problems of capacity and capacity allocation or prioritisation.

  1. To ensure that Europe remains a global hub for standardisation, EU institutions should foster the establishment of modern standardisation systems, in particular with reference to the ERTMS technology, one of the largest beneficiaries of TEN-T funding in the 2007 – 2013 and 2014 – 2020 multi-annual Programmes.
  2. EU institutions should continue to engage with the Chinese Government to agree possible specific contents of an EU and China Investment Agreement as soon as possible.
  3. The European Parliament and the European Council should support the proposal of the European Commission (EC) to establish a framework for the Member States to screen foreign direct investments in the European Union (EC 2017/0224). This would ensure the EU’s ongoing openness to foreign direct investments while preventing the capture of key European intellectual property by competitors.
  4. The European Parliament and the European Council should support the development of a legislative instrument, based on the European Commission’s COM(2016)34, to guarantee reciprocity of access to public markets in the EU and China by European and Chinese businesses.
  5. Increasing awareness of citizens and media control
  6. Creating a favorable business climate in the CEE countries and the Eastern borders of the region

The CEE countries have relatively recently embarked on a path of independent development and are significantly behind their neighbors in the West. Having passed through a socialist experiment, a series of crises and a systemic transformation in the second half of the twentieth century, the countries of Central – Eastern and South – Eastern Europe came close to solving the problem of creating and improving a social legal state only in the 2000s.

It is worth noting that the CEE region is affected by external factors, such as the economic depression of neighboring regions, inter-ethnic skirmishes and military conflicts. At the same time, the states of the region develop their economies in a special way, sometimes significantly differing from their Western neighbors in their openness.

Before the global financial crisis, this region was one of the most dynamically developing regions in the world. However, at the moment of its height, CEE entered a difficult period, accompanied by many negative consequences – economic downturn, lack of development dynamics, and weakening of the banking sector.

Despite the fact that they managed to overcome the obstacles of the first two crisis decades of the XXI century with varying degrees of success and gained rich, invaluable, and generally significant experience in the struggle for a better future, the business climate and policy for investment flows in the region still remains quite weak.

Thus, the normalization of the business climate in the region , as well as the increasing economic integration of CEE, with an ultimate goal of joining the EU (which seeks the most reforming states), requires adaptation and constructive dialogue between all the partners.

Resolution of conflict situations and disputes in the region

The security of the CEE region deserves special attention. The following conflict zones should be taken into account when resolving inter political tensions in the region.

In almost all countries of CEE, all conflicts have now been resolved. In each case, it is possible to trace a political solution to the conflict (it should be borne in mind that some conflicts may again turn into an armed stage (we are talking not only about the territory of Kosovo, but also about the geopolitical plans of Albania). The conflicts resolution took place either as a result of a military victory by one of the parties and subsequent negotiations, or under pressure from the military forces of NATO, the US and the EU. Thus, only on the territory of Ukraine, which is at the stage of transition to the geopolitical axis of EU democracies, there are clashes that are at the stage of armed confrontation.

The development of the region shows that the crisis due to internal political instability can be resolved through diplomatic channels, but it should be understood that the threats of border conflicts in the Balkans, as well as in the East of Ukraine and terrorism have unpredictable and irreparable consequences. In this regard, the countries of the region should more actively establish inter-state relations through constructive dialogue in order to minimize the occurrence of possible future contradictions.

Strengthening the region’s economic security

The current socio-economic model of the CEE countries, as a result of their long-term adaptation to the EU market conditions, is more focused on external sources of economic growth. Thus, there was a reorientation of industrial production from the domestic market to the external one. The achieved openness of the region’s economies and their involvement in the world economy were primarily due to integration into the production links of European (and partly global) TNCs and subordination to their interests.

The acquisition of Western funds and technologies, on the one hand, led to a general modernization of the economies of these countries, and on the other – made them dependent on supranational capital and associated not only economic, but also political influence.

In the last decade, there has been an increase in the independence of the region –  in the process of economic restructuring and adaptation to EU standards, the countries of the region are beginning to rely more and more on themselves, on their region. In other words, as the share of mutual supplies increases, the region’s reserve independence increases. However, despite significant progress in building economic security in the region, the process of adaptation of CEE economies to EU standards is uneven and requires further strengthening of coordination of energy security, environmental friendliness of production, patenting authorship of technical developments,which will lead them to form a unified policy on an everexpanding range of issues.

Solving the problem of refugees and illegal migration in the CEE region

The problem of refugees has caused the most painful blow to the CEE countries, because in the situation with migrants from Africa and the Middle East, it were the southern border of the EU, in the case of Ukraine – that took on the main flow of labor migrants from the East.

The main recommendations which UNHCR and EC can implement are:

  • to increase quotas for the reception of migrants;
  • to agree on lists of “dangerous” and “safe” states;
  • to establish at all “problematic” EU borders, refugee reception centers that will register migrants;
  • to start an active fight against the criminal structures which are engaged in the transportation of migrants.

Of course, it will be extremely difficult to implement these recommendations in practice, however, their gradual implementation can in the near future eliminate the negative consequences of the crisis and reduce the risk of its inflaming.

Normalization of EUCEERussia relations in the sphere of economic and political relations

Today, the issue of normalization of relations between the countries of the region and Russia is also on the agenda of the European countries. This resolution of this issue is urgent due to, first, to the problems of Russian gas supplies, which have become more complicated after the failure of Russia and Ukraine to reach a consensus on the price of fuel transportation and as a result of the crisis in Russian – Ukrainian relations. All the schemes of the European Union, so-called “diversification”, deprive the region of its former privileged position as the first recipient and further distributor of Russian gas if it is supplied through Ukraine. Attempts by both individual countries and the EU as a whole to block bypasses of Russian supplies increase the uncertainty and concern of these countries about the prospect of providing themselves with a necessary and yet uncontested source of energy, while the leading EU countries themselves in the new conditions benefit from any alignment in resolving the issue of supplies.

The Ukrainian – Russian territorial conflict in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine added to the tension in the EU – CEE – Russian relations in the sphere of economic and political relations, which later served as an extension of the EU’s economic sanctions against Russia.

Thus, it should be understood that cooperation between Russia and Central Europe without finding a solution to the Ukrainian – Russian conflict is doomed to very low rates of development. Therefore, it is necessary to make joint efforts through the policy of “common neighborhood” and “joint Eastern European partnership”.

  • Resolving the issue of how to approach financing, researcher proposed few recommendations.
  • to develop commercially attractive, revenue-generating projects, with a sound financial rationale;
  •  to develop projects of key economic impact with lower financial returns.

Thus, summarizing the approaches of improving the Sino – CEE countries cooperation within BRI, it should be noted that, the geopolitical realities in the region should be considered. Thus, being located on the border of the EU, this region is a geopolitical map of the interests of both Western and Eastern countries. Based on this, it can be concluded that lying along the border of two civilizations, the region, strengthening its economic and infrastructural positions, creates a problem of contact between the geopolitical interests of the EU, the United States, the Russian Federation and, since 2012, the PRC. In order to resolve this conflict of interests, as well as for the peaceful promotion and participation of the region in the BRI initiative, the recommendation to continue pragmatic cooperation with all the subjects of the initiative comes to the fore.

PhD in International Politics, Central China Normal University, Wuhan, the P.R.of China Research Associate , Ukrainian Association of Sinologists

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NATO’s Cypriot Trick

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UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

When the Soviet Union collapsed and the Warsaw Pact died, there was much speculation that NATO would consider itself redundant and either disappear or at least transmogrify into a less aggressive body.

Failing that, Moscow at least felt assured that NATO would not include Germany, let alone expand eastwards. Even the NATO Review, NATO’s PR organ, wrote self-apologetically twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin wall: “Thus, the debate about the enlargement of NATO evolved solely in the context of German reunification. In these negotiations Bonn and Washington managed to allay Soviet reservations about a reunited Germany remaining in NATO. This was achieved by generous financial aid, and by the ‘2+4 Treaty’ ruling out the stationing of foreign NATO forces on the territory of the former East Germany. However, it was also achieved through countless personal conversations in which Gorbachev and other Soviet leaders were assured that the West would not take advantage of the Soviet Union’s weakness and willingness to withdraw militarily from Central and Eastern Europe.”

Whatever the polemics about Russia’s claim that NATO broke its promises, the facts of what happened following the fall of the Berlin wall and the negotiations about German re-unification strongly demonstrate that Moscow felt cheated and that the NATO business and military machine, driven by a jingoistic Cold War Britain, a selfish U.S. military-industrial-congressional complex and an atavistic Russia-hating Poland, saw an opportunity to become a world policeman.

This helps to explain why, in contrast to Berlin, NATO decided to keep Nicosia as the world’s last divided city. For Cyprus is in fact NATO’s southernmost point, de facto. And to have resolved Cyprus’ problem by heeding UN resolutions and getting rid of all foreign forces and re-unifying the country would have meant that NATO would have ‘lost’ Cyprus: hardly helpful to the idea of making NATO the world policeman. Let us look a little more closely at the history behind this.

Following the Suez debacle in 1956, Britain had already moved its Middle East Headquarters from Aden to Cyprus, while the U.S. was taking over from the UK and France in the Middle East. Although, to some extent under U.S. pressure, Britain was forced to bring Makarios out of exile and begin negotiating with Greece and Turkey to give up its colony, the U.S. opted for a NATO solution. It would not do to have a truly sovereign Cyprus, but only one which accepted the existence of the Sovereign Base Areas (SBAs) as part and parcel of any settlement; and so it has remained, whatever the sophistic semantics about a bizonal settlement and a double-headed government. The set of twisted and oft-contradictory treaties that have bedevilled the island since 1960 are still afflicting the part-occupied island which has been a de facto NATO base since 1949. Let us look at some more history.

When Cyprus obtained its qualified independence in 1960, Greece and Turkey had already signed, on 11 February 1959, a so called ‘Gentlemen’s Agreement’, agreeing that they would support Cyprus’ entry into NATO.1 This was, however, mere posture diplomacy, since Britain—and the U.S. for that matter—did not trust Cyprus, given the strength of the Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL) and the latter’s links to Moscow. The Ministry of Defence (MOD) wrote: ‘Membership of NATO might make it easier for the Republic of Cyprus and possibly for the Greeks and Turks to cause political embarrassment should the United Kingdom wish to use the bases […] for national ends outside Cyprus […] The access of the Cypriot Government to NATO plans and documents would present a serious security risk, particularly in view of the strength of the Cypriot Communist Party. […] The Chiefs of Staff, therefore, feel most strongly that, from the military point of view, it would be a grave disadvantage to admit Cyprus to NATO.’2 In short, Cyprus was considered unreliable.

As is well known, the unworkable constitution (described as such by the Foreign Office and even by David Hannay, the Annan reunification plan’s PR man), resulted in chaos and civil strife: in January 1964, during the chaos caused by the Foreign Office’s help and encouragement to President Makarios to introduce a ‘thirteen point plan’ to solve Cyprus’ problems, British Prime Minister Douglas-Home told the Cabinet: ‘If the Turks invade or if we are seriously prevented from fulfilling our political role, we have made it quite clear that we will retire into base.’3 Put more simply, Britain had never had any intention of upholding the Treaty of Guarantee.

In July of the same year, the Foreign Office wrote: ‘The Americans have made it quite clear that there would be no question of using the 6th Fleet to prevent any possible Turkish invasion […] We have all along made it clear to the United Nations that we could not agree to UNFICYP’s being used for the purpose of repelling external intervention, and the standing orders to our troops outside UNFYCYP are to withdraw to the sovereign base areas immediately any such intervention takes place.’4

It was mainly thanks to Moscow and President Makarios that in 1964 a Turkish invasion and/or the island being divided between Greece and Turkey was prevented. Such a solution would have strengthened NATO, since Cyprus would no longer exist other than as a part of NATO members Greece and Turkey. Moscow had issued the following statement: ‘The Soviet Government hereby states that if there is an armed foreign invasion of Cypriot territory, the Soviet Union will help the Republic of Cyprus to defend its freedom and independence against foreign intervention.’5

Privately, Britain, realising the unworkability of the 1960 treaties, was embarrassed, and wished to relieve itself of the whole problem. The following gives us the backstage truth: ‘The bases and retained sites, and their usefulness to us, depend in large measure on Greek Cypriot co-operation and at least acquiescence. A ‘Guantanamo’6 position is out of the question. Their future therefore must depend on the extent to which we can retain Greek and/or Cypriot goodwill and counter USSR and UAR pressures. There seems little doubt, however, that in the long term, our sovereign rights in the SBA’s will be considered increasingly irksome by the Greek Cypriots and will be regarded as increasingly anachronistic by world public opinion.7

Following the Turkish invasion ten years later, Britain tried to give up its bases: ‘British strategic interests in Cyprus are now minimal. Cyprus has never figured in NATO strategy and our bases there have no direct NATO role. The strategic value of Cyprus to us has declined sharply since our virtual withdrawal from east of Suez. This will remain the case when the Suez Canal has reopened.8

A Cabinet paper concluded: ‘Our policy should continue to be one of complete withdrawal of our military presence on Cyprus as soon as feasible. […] In the circumstances I think that we should make the Americans aware of our growing difficulty in continuing to provide a military presence in Cyprus while sustaining our main contribution to NATO. […]9

Britain kept trying to give up the bases, but the enabler of the Turkish invasion, Henry Kissinger, did not allow Britain to give up its bases and listening posts, since that would have weakened NATO, and since Kissinger needed the bases because of the Arab-Israel dispute.10

Thus, by the end of 1980, in a private about-turn, Britain had completely succumbed to American pressure: ‘The benefits which we derive from the SBAs are of major significance and virtually irreplaceable. They are an essential contribution to the Anglo-American relationship. The Department have regularly considered with those concerned which circumstances in Cyprus are most conducive to our retaining unfettered use of our SBA facilities. On balance, the conclusion is that an early ‘solution’ might not help (since pressures against the SBAs might then build up), just as breakdown and return to strife would not, and that our interests are best served by continuing movement towards a solution – without the early prospect of arrival [author’s italics]11.

And so it is today: Cyprus is a de facto NATO territory. A truly independent, sovereign and united Cyprus is an anathema to the U.S. and Britain, since such a scenario would afford Russia the hypothetical opportunity to increase its influence in the Eastern Mediterranean.

From our partner RIAC

[1] Ministry of Defence paper JP (59) 163, I January 1960, BNA DEFE 13/99/MO/5/1/5, in Mallinson, William, Cyprus, a Modern History, I.B. Tauris (now Bloomsbury), London and New York, 2005, 2009, 2012, p.49.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Memorandum by Prime Minister, 2 January 1964, BNA CAB/129/116, in ibid, Mallinson, William, p.37.

[4] British Embassy, Washington, to Foreign Office, 7 July 1964, telegram 8541, BNA FO 371/174766, file C1205/2/G, in ibid.’, Mallinson, William, p. 37.

[5] Joseph, Joseph S., Cyprus, Ethnic Conflict and International Politics, St Martin’s Press, London and New York, 1997, p. 66.

[6] In 1964, Cuba cut off supplies to the American base at Guantanamo Bay, since the US refused to return it to Cuba, as a result of which the US took measures to make it self-sufficient.

[7] Briefing paper, 18 June 1964, BNA-DO/220/170, file MED 193/105/2, part A. Mallinson,William, Kissinger and the Invasion of Cyprus, p. 127.

[8] ‘British Interests in the Eastern Mediterranean’, draft paper, 11 April 1975, BNA-FCO 46/1248, file DPI/515/1.

[9] Cabinet paper, 29 September 1976, in op. cit. Mallinson, William, Kissinger and the Invasion of Cyprus, p.134.

[10] Mallinson, William, Britain and Cyprus: Key Themes and Documents, I.B. Tauris, London and New York, 2011, and Bloomsbury, London and New York, 2020, pp. 87-121.

[11] Fergusson to Foreign Minister’s Private Secretary, minute, 8 December 1980, BNA-FCO 9/2949, file WSC/023/1, part C.

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Belarus divorces from the Eastern Partnership: A new challenge for the EU Neighborhood Policy

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The Eastern Partnership (EaP) is the Eastern dimension of the EU Neighborhood Policy adopted back in 2009 aimed at deepening relations between Brussels and six Eastern European partners – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. The EaP has been regarded as a strategic initiative based on mutual interests and common values with a goal of strengthening political and economic relations with those countries, helping them enhance their institutional capacity through sustainable reforms. While increasing stability and paving the way for the sustainable development of those societies, the EU’s overall goal has been to secure its Eastern borders.

Since the very beginning the EaP has been suspiciously viewed by Russia as an attempt of expansion of the sphere of influence and as a first step of EU membership of these countries. Russians point to the EU and NATO ambitious expansion eastward as the main reason for complicated relations and in this context the EaP has been regarded with traditional fears and paranoic perceptions. The Russian hard power approach causes serious problems for the EaP which fails to mitigate security concerns of partner countries and to come up with serious initiatives for conflict settlement. Being a laggard in terms of soft power, the Russian ruling elite has continuously used all hard power foreign policy instruments at its disposal trying to undermine the coherence of the initiative. And the very recent démarche of Belarus to withdraw from the EaP should be seen in this context of confrontation.

On 28th of June, the ministry of foreign affairs of Belarus announced a decision to halt its membership in the EaP as a response to the EU sanctions imposed on Minsk accompanied by the recalling ambassadors from both sides. Actually, this isn’t the first case of the EaP walkout blackmailed by Lukashenko. The first escape was attempted in September-October 2011, but the difficulties were soon resolved and Lukashenko revised his decision. This time situation seems very complicated and these far-reaching tensions may have tough consequences for Lukashenko’s regime. This new group of sectoral sanctions which target banking, oil, telecommunication spheres and also ban the export of potash, is a harsh response from the EU against Lukashneko’s scandalous hijacking activity in May to detain a Belarusian opposition journalist and blogger Roman Protasevich.

Lukashenko’s administration not only challenges the EU Neighborhood Policy and shows no retreat, but also goes forward escalating the situation. Minsk takes high risks freezing the Readmission Agreement signed by the EU. This document is a legal basis for bilateral cooperation aimed at struggling against irregular migration flows. It’s not a secret that the territory of Belarus has been used for illegal migration for the groups from the Middle East to penetrate into neighboring EU member states such as Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. Moreover, Belarus territory has served as a transit route for smuggling circles going from East to West and vice versa.  And now closing eyes on all these channels, Minsk hopes to increase the bargaining power vis-à-vis Brussels. However, given the Western reactions, it seems that this time the EU is resolute.

Despite the fact that Charles Michel, the President of the EU Council, described this withdrawal as “another step backwards” and even threatened that “this will escalate tensions having clear negative impacts”, the EU wants to continue working with the Belarusian society  as Josep Borrel stated. The EU’s determination to keep the bridges alive with the Belarusian people, in spite of Lukashneko’s radical stance, is aimed at preventing further isolationism of Minsk which would benefit only Russia.

In contrast to the increasing level of tensions with the EU, the Russian authorities continue to support Lukasheno’s administration, thus trying to deepen the gap and to bring Belarus under their total influence. Russia uses Belarus in its chessboard with the EU and the USA in Eastern Europe. Last year’s fraud elections and brutal crackdown by Lukashenko left him alone with the only source of power stemming from the Kremlin. Thus the withdrawal from the EaP should be understood not only as a convulsion of the Belarusian authorities in response to the sanctions, but also Russia’s employment of the Belarus card to respond to the recent joint statement of the EU-US summit in Brussels, when both parties declared their intention to stand with the people of Belarus, supporting their demands for human rights and democracy simultaneously criticising Lukashenko’s regime and his reckless political behavior and also criticising Russian’s unacceptable behavior.

So, Lukashenko’s step to quit the EaP can be seen as a well-calculated adulatory sign towards Moscow sacrificing the last remnants of sovereignty in order to receive financial and political lifebuoy amid the increasing crisis in the result of sanctions.  And the recent visit of N. Patrushev, the Secretary of the Security Council of Russia, to Minsk right after the withdrawal decision shows Russian inclination to strike while the iron is hot and to abuse the vulnerable situation of Belarus. Patrushev stated that the ultimate goal of foreign powers is to change the power in Belarus and he suggested instead of focusing on internal issues, to bring their forces together against external threats as their influence affects internal developments. For this reason, deeper integration of security and military services of both countries are on the table.

The reaction of opposition leader S. Tikhanovskaya was very rough, stating that this suspension will cut the opportunities of ordinary citizens who benefit from the political and economic outcomes of the EaP. Moreover, she claims that Lukashenko doesn’t have a right to represent Belarus since August 2020 and his decisions don’t have legal consequences for Belarus. This kind of approach is shared by the leadership of Lithuania too, whose president and minister of foreign affairs not only refuse to recognize Lukashenko as a legitimate president, but also highlight the role of the Kremlin in supporting the dictatorial power of Lukashenko in exchange for decreasing sovereignty.

The blackmail of Lukashenko to challenge the EU Eastern Neighborhood Policy  in order to have the sanctions lifted may bring about such kind of precedents with other partnering countries as well. First of all, this concerns Azerbaijan which continues to face serious problems related with human rights, freedom of expression, the problem of Prisoners of War and other traits of authoritarian power. It’s well-known that  human rights issues have been the underwater stones in the EU and Azerbaijan relations and they continue to pose new challenges for Aliyev’s non-democratice regime. Another weak ring of the EaP chain is Armenia. Even though reelected N. Pashinyan is eager to pursue a balanced foreign policy, post-war Armenia still faces serious limitations given its vulnerable dependence on Russia. Besides, Pashinyan’s main rival and the former President R. Kocharyan, whose alliance will be the second largest faction in the newly elected Parliament has recently stated that this new parliament can last up to one and half years and nobody can exclude the possibility of new snap elections. His pro-Russian attitude and anti-Western stance are well-known and in case he becomes a prime-minister, there is no guarantee that he will follow the path of Lukashenko. 

Therefore  the statement of the Austrian MFA, that ”we cannot leave South Caucasus to others” during the  recent official visit of the Austrian, Romanian and Latvian MFA under the mandate of the EU High Representative to the South Caucasus, reminds  about the EU presence in the region and also the fact that the ‘normative power’ can be a source of balance and a status quo changer.

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Europe

Anti-Macron protests underline classism, as corona protesters and gilets jaune join forces

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photo: Alaattin Doğru - Anadolu Agency

I get it. People in France are fed up with the Covid lockdowns and that’s why they are protesting against the new tightening of the Covid rules. But there is much more to the story.

The new anti-Covid rules by French President Macron came in the middle of the Cannes Film Festival where the rich and famous come out to play for 10 days at the French Reviera. I was there, too, in fact when the new set of rules angered so many ordinary French people. But guess what — the rules didn’t apply to us, those gathered for the Cannes red carpets and parties. Celebrities did not have to wear masks on the red carpet. I did not have to put on a mask at the red carpets. I was not checked even once on the mandatory Covid tests which we took every 2 days anyways. No one at the Cannes red carpets, parties or fashion shows was looking at Covid tests at the entrance, and I attended not one or two things. That’s at the time when the rest of France was boiling. Yes, we were treated differently as the Cannes crowd. That was obvious.

Don’t get me wrong — spending tens of thousands of euros to drink champaigne, walk red carpets and hang out with actors, models, designers and influencers is great. But I couldn’t help but notice that the Cannes elite was being held to a very different standard in comparisson to the ordinary French public. Macron exempted the Cannes crowd from the new rules and that smells of classism and elitism. I can see why the gillets gaune, which I wrote about in my book Trump, European security and Turkey (2020), are angry and want to resume their protests which were put an end to with the Covid lockdowns.

In fact, as soon as you move one or two streets away from the craze and snobbery of the Cannes Festival, you see a very different French picture. Actually, the most pleasant conversations I had in Cannes were with the guy that made my pizza at 2am, a couple of gillets jaune on the street, and the taxi driver who lives in Cannes. These were the pleasant, hard-working French people that represent France so much better than the snotty Cannes Film Festival organizers, the French police or the so-overrated snobbery at the Chopard events. 

From the pizza guy in Mozarella Street I learned that he works two jobs and sleeps 3 hours per night. That’s the reality for many normal French people. Yet, he was the nicest and coolest person I met in Cannes. Somehow I wished that he could trade places with some of the rest I met in Cannes who probably don’t deserve to have an easy life and should be taught a lesson. So I get it. I get the struggle of the gillets gaune and all those that are opposed to Macron’s policies. He is increasingly playing with the far right and that might as well mean that he is looking at his sunset. 

I also get the classism that persists in French society — it’s important to be aware of it even if you’re on the receiving end of a lot of glamor, bemefits and good things. All I can tell you is that next time I am in France, I am joining the gillet jaune protests. Now I really get it. 

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