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 Sea – Baltic 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 Sino – EU 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Increasing awareness of citizens and media control
- 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 ever – expanding 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 EU – CEE – Russia 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.
Iceland’s Historic(al) Elections
The morning of September, 26 was a good one for Lenya Run Karim of the Pirate Party. Once the preliminary results were announced, things were clear: the 21-year-old law student of the University of Iceland, originating from a Kurdish immigrant family, had become the youngest MP in the country’s history.
In historical significance, however, this event was second to another. Iceland, the world champion in terms of gender equality, became the first country in Europe to have more women MPs than men, 33 versus 30. The news immediately made world headlines: only five countries in the world have achieved such impressive results. Remarkably, all are non-European: Rwanda, Nicaragua and Cuba have a majority of women in parliament, while Mexico and the UAE have an equal number of male and female MPs.
Nine hours later, news agencies around the world had to edit their headlines. The recount in the Northwest constituency affected the outcome across the country to delay the ‘triumph for women’ for another four years.
Small numbers, big changes
The Icelandic electoral system is designed so that 54 out of the 63 seats in the Althingi, the national parliament, are primary or constituency seats, while another nine are equalization seats. Only parties passing the 5 per cent threshold are allowed to distribute equalisation seats that go to the candidates who failed to win constituency mandates and received the most votes in their constituency. However, the number of equalisation mandates in each of the 6 constituencies is legislated. In theory, this could lead to a situation in which the leading party candidate in one constituency may simply lack an equalisation mandate, so the leading candidate of the same party—but in another constituency—receives it.
This is what happened this year. Because of a difference of only ten votes between the Reform Party and the Pirate Party, both vying for the only equalisation mandate in the Northwest, the constituency’s electoral commission announced a recount on its own initiative. There were also questions concerning the counting procedure as such: the ballots were not sealed but simply locked in a Borgarnes hotel room. The updated results hardly affected the distribution of seats between the parties, bringing in five new MPs, none of whom were women, with the 21-year-old Lenya Run Karim replaced by her 52-year-old party colleague.
In the afternoon of September, 27, at the request of the Left-Green Movement, supported by the Independence Party, the Pirates and the Reform Party, the commission in the South announced a recount of their own—the difference between the Left-Greens and the Centrists was only seven votes. There was no ‘domino effect’, as in the case of the Northwest, as the five-hour recount showed the same result. Recounts in other districts are unlikely, nor is it likely that Althingi—vested with the power to declare the elections valid—would invalidate the results in the Northwest. Nevertheless, the ‘replaced’ candidates have already announced their intention to appeal against the results, citing violations of ballot storage procedures. Under the Icelandic law, this is quite enough to invalidate the results and call a re-election in the Northwest, as the Supreme Court of Iceland invalidated the Constitutional Council elections due to a breach of procedure 10 years ago. Be that as it may, the current score remains 33:30, in favor of men.
Progressives’ progress and threshold for socialists
On the whole, there were no surprises: the provisional allocation of mandates resembles, if with minor changes, the opinion polls on the eve of the election.
The ruling three-party coalition has rejuvenated its position, winning 37 out of the 63 Althingi seats. The centrist Progressive Party saw a real electoral triumph, improving its 2017 result by five seats. Prime-minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir’s Left-Green Movement, albeit with a slight loss, won eight seats, surpassing all pre-election expectations. Although the centre-right Independence Party outperformed everyone again to win almost a quarter of all votes, 16 seats are one of the worst results of the Icelandic ‘Grand Old Party’ ever.
The results of the Social-Democrats, almost 10% versus 12.1% in 2017, and of the Pirates, 8.6% versus 9.2%, have deteriorated. Support for the Centre Party of Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, former prime-minister and victim of the Panama Papers, has halved from 10.9% to 5.4%. The centrists have seen a steady decline in recent years, largely due to a sexist scandal involving party MPs. The populist People’s Party and the pro-European Reform Party have seen gains of 8.8% and 8.3%, as compared to 6.9% and 6.7% in the previous elections.
Of the leading Icelandic parties, only the Socialist Party failed to pass the 5 per cent threshold: despite a rating above 7% in August, the Socialists received only 4.1% of the vote.
Coronavirus, climate & economy
Healthcare and the fight against COVID-19 was, expectedly, on top of the agenda of the elections: 72% of voters ranked it as the defining issue, according to a Fréttablaðið poll. Thanks to swift and stringent measures, the Icelandic government brought the coronavirus under control from day one, and the country has enjoyed one of the lowest infection rates in the world for most of the time. At the same time, the pandemic exposed a number of problems in the national healthcare system: staff shortages, low salaries and long waiting lists for emergency surgery.
Climate change, which Icelanders are already experiencing, was an equally important topic. This summer, the temperature has not dropped below 20°C for 59 days, an anomaly for a North-Atlantic island. However, Icelanders’ concerns never converted into increased support for the four left-leaning parties advocating greater reductions in CO2 emission than the country has committed to under the Paris Agreement: their combined result fell by 0.5%.
The economy and employment were also among the main issues in this election. The pandemic has severely damaged the island nation’s economy, which is heavily tourism-reliant—perhaps, unsurprisingly, many Icelanders are in favor of reviving the tourism sector as well as diversifying the economy further.
The EU membership, by far a ‘traditional’ issue in Icelandic politics, is unlikely to be featured on the agenda of the newly-elected parliament as the combined result of the Eurosceptics, despite a loss of 4%, still exceeds half of the overall votes. The new Althingi will probably face the issue of constitutional reform once again, which is only becoming more topical in the light of the pandemic and the equalization mandates story.
New (old) government?
The parties are to negotiate coalition formation. The most likely scenario now is that the ruling coalition of the Independence Party, the Left-Greens and the Progressives continues. It has been the most ideologically diverse and the first three-party coalition in Iceland’s history to last a full term. A successful fight against the pandemic has only strengthened its positions and helped it secure additional votes. Independence Party leader and finance minister Bjarni Benediktsson has earlier said he would be prepared to keep the ruling coalition if it holds the majority. President Guðni Jóhannesson announced immediately after the elections that he would confirm the mandate of the ruling coalition to form a new government if the three parties could strike a deal.
Other developments are possible but unlikely. Should the Left-Greens decide to leave the coalition, they could be replaced by the Reform Party or the People’s Party, while any coalition without the Independence Party can only be a four-party or larger coalition.
Who will become the new prime-minister still remains to be seen—but if the ruling coalition remains in place, the current prime-minister and leader of the Left-Greens, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, stands a good chance of keeping her post: she is still the most popular politician in Iceland with a 40 per cent approval rate.
The 2021 Althingi election, with one of the lowest turnouts in history at 80.1%, has not produced a clear winner. The election results reflect a Europe-wide trend in which traditional “major” parties are losing support. The electorate is fragmenting and their votes are pulled by smaller new parties. The coronavirus pandemic has only reinforced this trend.
The 2021 campaign did not foreshadow a sensation. Although Iceland has not become the first European country with a women’s majority in parliament, these elections will certainly go down in history as a test of Icelanders’ trust to their own democracy.
From our partner RIAC
EU-Balkan Summit: No Set Timeframe for Western Balkans Accession
On October 6, Slovenia hosted a summit between the EU and the Western Balkans states. The EU-27 met with their counterparts (Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Kosovo) in the sumptuous Renaissance setting of Brdo Castle, 30 kilometers north of the capital, Ljubljana. Despite calls from a minority of heads of state and government, there were no sign of a breakthrough on the sensitive issue of enlargement. The accession of these countries to the European Union is still not unanimous among the 27 EU member states.
During her final tour of the Balkans three weeks ago, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that the peninsula’s integration was of “geostrategic” importance. On the eve of the summit, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz backed Slovenia’s goal of integrating this zone’s countries into the EU by 2030.
However, the unanimity required to begin the hard negotiations is still a long way off, even for the most advanced countries in the accession process, Albania and North Macedonia. Bulgaria, which is already a member of the EU, is opposing North Macedonia’s admission due to linguistic and cultural differences. Since Yugoslavia’s demise, Sofia has rejected the concept of Macedonian language, insisting that it is a Bulgarian dialect, and has condemned the artificial construction of a distinct national identity.
Other countries’ reluctance to join quickly is of a different nature. France and the Netherlands believe that previous enlargements (Bulgaria and Romania in 2007) have resulted in changes that must first be digested before the next round of enlargement. The EU-27 also demand that all necessary prior guarantees be provided regarding the independence of the judiciary and the fight against corruption in these countries. Despite the fact that press freedom is a requirement for membership, the NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urged the EU to make “support for investigative and professional journalism” a key issue at the summit.”
While the EU-27 have not met since June, the topic of Western Balkans integration is competing with other top priorities in the run-up to France’s presidency of the EU in the first half of 2022. On the eve of the summit, a working dinner will be held, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, called for “a strategic discussion on the role of the Union on the international scene” in his letter of invitation to the EU-Balkans Summit, citing “recent developments in Afghanistan,” the announcement of the AUKUS pact between the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom, which has enraged Paris.
The Western Balkans remain the focal point of an international game of influence in which the Europeans seek to maintain their dominance. As a result, the importance of reaffirming a “European perspective” at the summit was not an overstatement. Faced with the more frequent incursion of China, Russia, and Turkey in that European region, the EU has pledged a 30 billion euro Economic and Investment Plan for 2021-2027, as well as increased cooperation, particularly to deal with the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Opening the borders, however, is out of the question. In the absence of progress on this issue, Albania, North Macedonia, and Serbia have decided to establish their own zone of free movement (The Balkans are Open”) beginning January 1, 2023. “We are starting today to do in the region what we will do tomorrow in the EU,” said Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama when the agreement was signed last July.
This initiative, launched in 2019 under the name “Mini-Schengen” and based on a 1990s idea, does not have the support of the entire peninsular region, which remains deeply divided over this project. While Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro are not refusing to be a part of it and are open to discussions, the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti, who took office in 2020, for his part accuses Serbia of relying on this project to recreate “a fourth Yugoslavia”
Tensions between Balkan countries continue to be an impediment to European integration. The issue of movement between Kosovo and Serbia has been a source of concern since the end of September. Two weeks of escalation followed Kosovo’s decision to prohibit cars with Serbian license plates from entering its territory, in response to Serbia’s long-standing prohibition on allowing vehicles to pass in the opposite direction.
In response to the mobilization of Kosovar police to block the road, Serbs in Kosovo blocked roads to their towns and villages, and Serbia deployed tanks and the air force near the border. On Sunday, October 3, the conflict seemed to be over, and the roads were reopened. However, the tone had been set three days before the EU-Balkans summit.
German Election: Ramifications for the US Foreign Policy
In the recent German election, foreign policy was scarcely an issue. But Germany is an important element in the US foreign policy. There is a number of cases where Germany and the US can cooperate, but all of these dynamics are going to change very soon.
The Germans’ strategic culture makes it hard to be aligned perfectly with the US and disagreements can easily damage the relations. After the tension between the two countries over the Iraq war, in 2003, Henry Kissinger said that he could not imagine the relations between Germany and the US could be aggravated so quickly, so easily, which might end up being the “permanent temptation of German politics”. For a long time, the US used to provide security for Germany during the Cold War and beyond, so, several generations are used to take peace for granted. But recently, there is a growing demand on them to carry more burden, not just for their own security, but for international peace and stability. This demand was not well-received in Berlin.
Then, the environment around Germany changed and new threats loomed up in front of them. The great powers’ competition became the main theme in international relations. Still, Germany was not and is not ready for shouldering more responsibility. Politicians know this very well. Ursula von der Leyen, who was German defense minister, asked terms like “nuclear weapons” and “deterrence” be removed from her speeches.
Although on paper, all major parties appreciate the importance of Germany’s relations with the US, the Greens and SPD ask for a reset in the relations. The Greens insist on the European way in transatlantic relations and SPD seeks more multilateralism. Therefore, alignment may be harder to maintain in the future. However, If the tensions between the US and China heat up to melting degrees, then external pressure can overrule the internal pressure and Germany may accede to its transatlantic partners, just like when Helmut Schmid let NATO install medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe after the Soviet Union attacked Afghanistan and the Cold War heated up.
According to the election results, now three coalitions are possible: grand coalition with CDU/CSU and SPD, traffic lights coalition with SPD, FDP, and Greens, Jamaica coalition with CDU/CSU, FDP, and Greens. Jamaica coalition will more likely form the most favorable government for the US because it has both CDU and FDP, and traffic lights will be the least favorite as it has SPD. The grand coalition can maintain the status quo at best, because contrary to the current government, SPD will dominate CDU.
To understand nuances, we need to go over security issues to see how these coalitions will react to them. As far as Russia is concerned, none of them will recognize the annexation of Crimea and they all support related sanctions. However, if tensions heat up, any coalition government with SPD will be less likely assertive. On the other hand, as the Greens stress the importance of European values like democracy and human rights, they tend to be more assertive if the US formulates its foreign policy by these common values and describe US-China rivalry as a clash between democracy and authoritarianism. Moreover, the Greens disapprove of the Nordstream project, of course not for its geopolitics. FDP has also sided against it for a different reason. So, the US must follow closely the negotiations which have already started between anti-Russian smaller parties versus major parties.
For relations with China, pro-business FDP is less assertive. They are seeking for developing EU-China relations and deepening economic ties and civil society relations. While CDU/CSU and Greens see China as a competitor, partner, and systemic rival, SPD and FDP have still hopes that they can bring change through the exchange. Thus, the US might have bigger problems with the traffic lights coalition than the Jamaica coalition in this regard.
As for NATO and its 2 percent of GDP, the division is wider. CDU/CSU and FDP are the only parties who support it. So, in the next government, it might be harder to persuade them to pay more. Finally, for nuclear participation, the situation is the same. CDU/CSU is the only party that argues for it. This makes it an alarming situation because the next government has to decide on replacing Germany’s tornados until 2024, otherwise Germany will drop out of the NATO nuclear participation.
The below table gives a brief review of these three coalitions. 1 indicates the lowest level of favoritism and 3 indicates the highest level of favoritism. As it shows, the most anti-Russia coalition is Jamaica, while the most anti-China coalition is Trafic light. Meanwhile, Grand Coalition is the most pro-NATO coalition. If the US adopts a more normative foreign policy against China and Russia, then the Greens and FDP will be more assertive in their anti-Russian and anti-Chinese policies and Germany will align more firmly with the US if traffic light or Jamaica coalition rise to power.
|Issues Coalitions||Trafic Light||Grand Coalition||Jamaica|
1 indicates the lowest level of favoritism. 3 indicates the highest level of favoritism.
In conclusion, this election should not make Americans any happier. The US has already been frustrated with the current government led by Angela Merkel who gave Germany’s trade with China the first priority, and now that the left-wing will have more say in any imaginable coalition in the future, the Americans should become less pleased. But, still, there are hopes that Germany can be a partner for the US in great power competition if the US could articulate its foreign policy with common values, like democracy and human rights. More normative foreign policy can make a reliable partner out of Germany. Foreign policy rarely became a topic in this election, but observers should expect many ramifications for it.
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