Cyprus conflict has been regarded as one of the conflicts that are so far difficult to find a resolution for it. The conflict has been considered intractable, due to its complexity multiple endeavors failed to bring on a solution. The conflict that erupted between Turkish and Greek Cypriots on the island had a different language, culture, and religion. These two components are the triggers of the Cyprus conflict which have dragged external actors into the conflict. After independence, these two ethnic groups were granted self-governance as one state on the Island. They have been given an authority based on a constitution that has been enacted by the presence of external actors. They shared the governance of the island until the Coup of 1974 that led to separate these two ethnic groups into two constituencies which resulted in two separate regions. Turkish intervention in the 1980s divided the island into two republics. The self-declaring of an independent state for ethnic Turkish in Northern Cyprus has made the conflict intractable. The tension grew strain between them until 2014 when the reunification discussions opened between the two sides. (1)
There is a primary and secondary actor in the conflict, both actors have their interests in the conflict. Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots are the main actors and the external actor such as Turkey, Greece and Britain are the main secondary actors.
Historical background of the conflict
Cyprus has been a victim of its geographical significance, due to its geopolitical importance has been conquered by multiple empires in the region. The ownership of Cyprus has changed hands among the empires such as Greeks, Egyptian, Roman, Ottoman. And British as the last empire took over from the Ottoman empire from 1878 until independence in 1960.Cyprus conflict has national, regional, and international dimensions, so the solution should take the account of multiple actors. In addition to the ethnic nationalism in terms of conflict between Greek -Turkish Cypriots, there are other actors such as Turkey and Greece. Moreover, there are international actors such as the EU,NATO, and the United Nations.(2)As Cyprus connects three continents, its geopolitical importance has lent it both vulnerability and strengths. That is why history has been of external powers’ interest.
The root cause of the conflict attributes to the lack of national identity within Cypriot society, lack of commonality has paved the way to disagreement over multiple cases. When Britain took over the administration of the island did not allow these two ethnicities to intermingle, during the independence made them too strange to each other to get along together under one state. The actual independence struggle itself was to reunification with motherland Greek which was unacceptable for Turkish Cypriots. The guerrilla war itself that was initiated by Greek Cypriot was to reunify with Greece, not for its independent state. The reunification was not in the interest of both Turkey and Great Britain. So, the conflict started, and later the North Cypriots self-declared their ethnic state. External powers fuelled the conflict for their interest. In so case, the conflict in Cyprus took in the international aspect which later UN involved to stop fighting.(3)
One of the main causes of the conflict between these two groups was security, the Turkish Cypriots did not experience security towards their Cypriots counterpart. There was inequality both socially and economically. The Greek Cypriots within the republic had more power in all sectors of life, therefore the Turkish experienced alienation which gave them a feeling of a stranger inside their own country. To fill the security vacuum they resorted to external support and Turkey was ready to present them this security. In this way, external powers such as Greece, UK, and Turkey shifted their role from guarantor to a supporter of one side over the other that made the conflict more intractable. In the referendum, the majority of Turkish Cypriots voted yes to Annan Plan but on the other side most of the Cypriot Greek vote no to this plan. Annan’s plan was an initiative to start the process of the reunification of the Island in one whole state instead of two divided states.(4)
Divide and rule
Divide and rule strategy has been a tactic of all European colonizers from the time of the Roman empire until the end of the colonization. The Dutch and the Spanish have made benefit from this strategy. All of these empires including Britain and France have employed different ways but most Western colonialist have used four basic tactics as 1)“The creation of the differences within the conquered population 2) the augmentation of existing differences 3) the channeling or exploitation of these differences for the benefit of the colonial power; and 4) the politicization of these differences so that they carry over into the post-colonial”. Britain even used an educational system to promote segregated education between ethnic Greece and Turkish Cypriots. In such a way Greek schools were staffed by teachers from Greece and Turkish schools by teachers from Turkey. They used the same tactics in Nigeria between the South and the North in a way opened more schools in the South than in the North which created different education levels.(5)
The policy of divide and rule was one of the most important strategies that have been employed by the British empire during its colony and after decolonization. The British empire has divided the people of the colonized states into multiple parts. The division policy has been followed to facilitate the governing process such as the Partition policy in India. Adoption of this strategy was the paramount goal for British empire expansion. Otherwise, it had been difficult for Britain to keep control over all these places in the world. There are various examples regarding partition policy such as in Palestine in the Middle East or Zimbabwe in Africa. Britain in contrast to France has employed segregation by dividing people to rule better. Internal Cyprus conflict is the result of the independence movement and decolonization process which led to dividing the state between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.(6)The treaties of guarantors and alliances or unworkable constitutions were the start of the intercommunal conflict between Greeks and Turkish on the island.
Multiple differences within Cypriots society laid the foundation of conflict that was exploited by external powers. They have different languages, religions, and cultures which mistakenly have been a catalyst of the conflict.
Cyprus geographically is important for major powers in the region therefore all three so-called guarantor countries such as Greece, Turkey, and Britain sought to keep influence on the Island. Through developing nationalism, the external powers gained a foothold there, from the 1960s onwards they urged national identity based on primordial principles. Both Greek and Turkey alongside Britain in a variety of ways intervened in the internal situation of the people of Cyprus. The population in Greece attached to different countries to protect themselves from another side. In such a way the idea of union with Greek the mainland for Greek Cypriot was the goal. And for the Turkish Cypriots, the partition of the Island was a case of maintaining the Turkish identity. The importance of the Island came to the surface even more in the period between 1960 -1974 when the two ethnic groups divided, and the external powers entered the conflict with support confined to nationalism toward both sides(7)
National identity is what binds the people together, in Cyprus, there are religion and language have been the main elements of their national identity. But for the new generation in Cyprus, there are other elements alongside religion and language to become an individual identity. Most of the new generation are speaking fluently English which gives them a new allegiance and a new identity. In the modern era, principles of gender, human rights, freedom, and democracy are the main goals for human beings to stand for it. So multiple factors replaced the traditional elements of identity building.(8)
The conflict in Cyprus starts directly after the independence before the independence both Turkish and Greek Cypriots were fighting Britain and seeking independence. But after Britain’s withdrawal, primordial values in terms of ethnic affiliations were promoted, and intercommunal fighting erupted between them.
Geopolitical interests in Cyprus have played a big role in regional politics in the Middle East. This significance made the Island a victim of regional and international politics. It is an important gateway for three continents namely Asia, Europe, and Africa. Due to its location which is connecting three continents, has attracted major powers. It locates in a place that can control the connections of the most important chokepoints in the Mediterranean such as Bab-el-Mandeb, the Suez channel, and the Hormuz Strait. Where through these chokepoints import and export from oil and gas producers are transported to industrialized countries. Due to its significance has become of external powers’ interest throughout history. From Cyprus, it is easier to surveil all these chokepoints and from modern time, the USA has established an intelligence base to observe the Eastern Mediterranean and further.(9)
Even though Cyprus far away from most of the international powers, due to its importance geopolitically most of the major power through one or another way established a kind of link with it.USA under the excuse of NATO alliances with Turkey and Greece has a presence there. Britain has physical military bases and works as a guarantor based on the London-Zurich agreement. Turkey as a guarantor and links to ethnic Turkish Cypriots, Greece as a guarantor and links to Greek Cypriot, European Union through the republic memberships. So, the conflicts in Cyprus have both national and international aspects. (10)
Late discoveries of natural gas in the Eastern Mediterranean surfaced the importance of the Island again. Egypt, Israel, and the Republic of Cyprus started to explore gas in the area which provokes Turkey. Against this background, Turkey intensifies its presence in the Mediterranean by starting to explore natural gas alongside other actors there. This development triggers the start of shifting a balance of power and new alliances which leads to a new equilibrium in the region. Even Turkey has threatened to blacklist those firms that are developing offshore gas exploration.(11) findings of gas in the Eastern Mediterranean have enhanced amicable relationship among Israel, Greece, and the Republic of Cyprus, on the other side Turkey got a foothold in the waters of Southern Cyprus through the Northern republic which is recognized by only Turkey. These alliances made all countries in the region insecure which reflected negatively on the other conflicted areas such as Syria and Libya.(12)
The conflict in Cyprus is considered intractable which means resolving is more difficult than the other. Establishing peace on the Island can be achieved by adopting a conflict transformation approach. In this method, all walks of society participate in the peacebuilding process. , through individual participation, reconciliation will be materialized in a way that all citizens on the island are direct contributors and participators in the process. In doing so conflict transformation make benefits from civil society promoting which binds individual from both ethnic groups. In so case the allegiance shifting away from ethnicities to citizenship based on individual rights and interests. Conflict transformation is suited to the case of Cyprus which refrains the two ethnic groups form an in-group attachment.
So far peacemakers on the Island have sought to find a solution for the conflict based on the conflict resolution approach. This kind of solution has promoted ethnic nationalism and in-group allegiance, therefore international mediation whether coercive or non coercive has failed to find a common interest between these two ethnic groups. Coercive peacebuilding is a Modell that is practiced by Russia which has never given sustainable peace such as Russia’s mediation in Ukraine, Chechenia, Libya, and Syria. (13)
There is non-coercive intervention conflict resolution such as the ideas of William Zartman which allows the conflict parties to reach a mutually hurting stalemate. This method at the end of the day creates a time ripeness for negotiation in which both sides reach a level of damage in terms of the utility of war.Ripeness moment has been used as a strategy to convince and force the conflicting sides to apply to the negotiation and come into a sustainable agreement which results in peacebuilding.(14)
Resolving the conflict through international and external mediation results in a temporary solution that potentially re-emerges after the international system and shifting of their interests. Thus, the conflict can be sustainable only in the case of internal solutions based on individual rights and finding common interests among the population regardless of religion, language, and cultures.
Promoting common interest within the conflicting sides can result in sustainable peacebuilding. to achieve this goal enhancing the principles of democracy such as human rights, freedom, and supporting civil society which finally binds the individuals together based on citizenship than ethnicities allegiance. Through the principles of democracy, primordial nationalism is replaced by civic nationalism. This strategy has been used in Canada which resulted in positive consequences in terms of coexistence between Quebec and the rest of the populations. The people of Quebec find their interests with the English people than with the French people in the other land.(15)
“There are four main factors which tend to create internal conflict: discriminatory political institutions; exclusionary national ideologies; intergroup politics; and elite politics”. (Michael E. Brown 1997).These factors apply to the conflict on the island, due to the longevity of the conflict common national identity has been weakening year after year. And there are four main schools to settle ethnic disputes that can be used to mitigate the hostility between Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots. The first school concentrate on coercive intervention to create a balance of power(Fen Osler Hampson1997),the second school concentrate on non-coercive intervention through confidence building or ripe moment and power-sharing(Fen Osler Hampson1997),and the third schools argue that just political order is important and supporting civil society(Fen Osler Hampston1997),and the fourth school includes the use of the conflict resolution workshops which seek to reduce stereotyping in the citizen level(Jhon Burton1972)(16)
Creating a national identity in Cyprus is of paramount importance to mitigate the hostilities between the two ethnic groups, in away the people of Cyprus should promote their Cypriots attachment instead of external attachment towards Greece by Cypriot Greek and attachment to Turkey by Turkish Cypriots. Finding commonality between these two ethnicities inside Cyprus in away way both ethnicities feel secure toward each other is a path for a solution. Geopolitically a powerful Cyprus is not in the interest of external stakeholders such as Turkey and Greece therefore they always are seeking to hold the republic of Cyprus divided and weak. In such a way they would be able to intervene and make benefit from its geopolitical importance in the region which has its importance by locating among three continents. Creating a sense of Cypriot’s identity facilitates establishing a civic nationalism which paves the way to coexistence and cooperation toward a common goal. Democratic principles that give citizenship, equal economic and social rights, and free political participation are elements that can be achieved under civic nationalism, in such a way materializing a Cyprus nationalism based on duty and rights, not ethnic belongings.(17)
Through civil society promoting and confidence-building measures, the relationship between communities is possible to yield positive results. As Christopher Michell says, “Local peacebuilding and national peace” In a way Channels of communication can be promoted through grassroots communication. Building multiple organizations would lead to building more trust among the ordinary people in such a way mutual interest facilitates the foundation of peace. Through civil society promoting the relationship between local and national level which ultimately peacebuilding is achieved.(18)
Enhancing the role of civil society based on track two diplomacy, the two communities can open multiple channels of communication which at the end of the day the fear of insecurity is dissipated for those who voted no in the referendum in 2004. As these two ethnicities have different backgrounds in terms of language and religion and both of them have a connection to the different motherlands, they are seeking security from their respective motherlands. But in the case of building internal security through low politics strategy and micro-level communication, this fear is covered as Oliver Richmond says “NGOs fulfill vital roles that states and their agencies cannot take on”. (19)
Another alternative to promote peace and finding a resolution for the Cyprus conflict is economic factors through gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean which gives benefits for economic prosper for the people of Cyprus. In 2014 enormous gas discovery in the region has given the prospect of the reunification of Cyprus and ending the long conflict. As multiple actors have been involved in the Cyprus conflict, its resolution should be internationally in a way all actors experience security towards each other.(20)
After Cyprus accession to the European Union, there was more possibility of finding a mutual solution thatyields joint interest for both communities in Cyprus. The people of Cyprus have lived peacefully through history the conflict flared up in 1950 during the independence war against the United Kingdom, therefore, the application of the methods of Roger and Fisher (2011) can result in positive consequences. There are some of the methods that underpin the process of negotiation of the resolution of the conflicts. These methods are” 1)Don’t bargain over position 2) separate the people of the problem 3) focus on interests, not positions 4) invent options for mutual gains 5) insist of objective criteria”.(9) In the case of Cyprus, joint gains can be achieved through gas exploration and redistribute the resources’ revenue equally over the Cyprus population.(21)
Based on the oven mentioned points Greek and Turkish Cyprus can find commonality and mutual interests which leads to coexistence and cooperation instead of fighting each other and experiencing insecurity.
Cyprus has been a pivotal case for most empires in the old and new history. All empires had sought to keep control over the island, which they were using as a corridor between East and West. As it connects Asia, Africa, and Europe, the major powers were interested to keep control over it. The Island was occupied by the Greek, Roman, and Ottoman empires until 1870 was deliver to the British empire. These external powers made the way for inter-communal groups to fight each other. Its significance urged these external powers to sow the soul of dissension between the two main ethnic groups as a divide and rule strategy. There are primary and secondary actors in the Cyprus conflict, the primary are the two ethnic groups such as Turkish and Greeks who are living on the Island. Finding the solution for this conflict can start from the primary actors such as Greek and Turkish Cypriots. Through the transformation approach, the relationship between these two ethnic groups is promoting and based on low-level interaction peacebuilding starts to flourish. Moreover, there are secondary actors are playing an expansive role within the Cyprus conflict. The fatherlands of Greece and Turkey are involved by supporting their ethnic groups on the Island. Through establishing the bases of security for both ethnic groups is the foundation of the conflict resolution for the intractable conflict of Cyprus.
Getting to Yes which is concentrating on interests than position is helpful to resolve disputes between conflicting sides. In the case of Cyprus looking forward than looking back is facilitating the process of negotiation. Some points can be used in the process of negotiation in the Cyprus conflict. Most important points er 1) bargaining over interests than position 2)separating the people from the problem 3)mutual gain 4) insisting on objective criteria.(22)
Based on the conflict transformation strategies and win-win negotiations, citizens can be drawn into the negotiations. These measures within conflict resolution by engaging civil society the fear of insecurity can be dissipated. In that case, the conflicting parties within Cyprus society could be reunified and the main causes of their internal conflicts are transformed and resolved.
- 1)Bishku, Michael B. “TURKEY, GREECE AND THE CYPRUS CONFLICT.” Journal of Third World Studies 8, no. 1 (1991): 165-79. Accessed January 17, 2021. https://www.jstor.org/stable/45193321
- 2)IlkeDagli, “The Cyprus Problem:Why Solve a Comfortable Conflict?”,5 April2017.Accessed 15 Januar2021.https://www.oxfordresearchgroup.org.uk/Blog/the-cyprus-problem-why-solve-a-comfortable-conflict
- 3)ZenovStavrindes,The Cyprus Conflict: National Identity and statehood, Second edition 1999, accessed Januar 15,2021. https://www.academia.edu/25355954/THE_CYPRUS_CONFLICT_National_Identity_and_Statehood
- 4)Hadjipavlou, Maria. “The Cyprus Conflict: Root Causes and Implications for Peacebuilding.” Journal of Peace Research 44, no. 3 (2007): 349-65. Accessed January 4, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/27640515.
- 5)Morrock , Richard. “Heritage of Strife: The Effects of Colonialist “Divide and Rule” Strategy upon the Colonized Peoples.” Science & Society 37, no. 2 (1973): 129-51. Accessed January 13, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40401707.
- 6) Christopher, A. J. “‘Divide and Rule’: The Impress of British Separation Policies.” Area 20, no. 3 (1988): 233-40. Accessed January 5, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20002624.
- 7)Navda Morag.” Cyprus And the Clash of Greek And Turkish Nationalisms”, Nationalism and Ethnic Politics(2004), 10:4, 595-624.AccessedJanuary5,2021. DOI: 10.1080/13537110490900368
- 8)ErgünÖzgür, Nur Köprülü& Min Reuchamps,” Drawing Cyprus: Power-sharing, identity, and expectations among the next generation in northern Cyprus”, Mediterranean Politics,(2019) 24:2, 237-259, DOI: 10.1080/13629395.2017.1404720
- 9) Legh,James &VukovicPredrag.”A Geopolitics of Cyprus” A Middle east review of the international affair,Vol15,Iss.4(Dec2011)pp 59-70.Accessed January Dec2021. https://search.proquest.com/openview/549749e72a734a643fd5ce00fa64b493/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=54955
- 10)Roucek, Joseph S. “CYPRUS IN THE MEDITERRANEAN GEOPOLITICS.” Il Politico 41, no. 4 (1976): 732-46. Accessed January 6, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/43209935.
- 11)Tagliapietra, Simone, Towards a New Eastern Mediterranean Energy Corridor? Natural Gas Developments between Market Opportunities and Geopolitical Risks (February 26, 2013). FEEM Working Paper No. 12.2013, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2225272 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2225272
- 12) Efrain Inbar &Shmuel Sandler,”The Importance of Cyprus” Middle East Quarterly,spring2001,pp.51-58.Accessed Januar132021, https://www.meforum.org/29/the-importance-of-cyprus
- 13)David Lewis,”Russia as Peacebuilder?Russia’s coercive mediation strategy,”George CMarshall European Center for Security Studies,June 2020,Nr.061.Accessed Januar142021,
- 14) William Zartman,” The timing of peace initiatives: Hurting stalemates and ripe moments”, Global Review of Ethnopolitics2001, 1:1, 8-18, DOI: 10.1080/14718800108405087
- 15) Raymond Breton, “From ethnic to civic nationalism: English Canada and Quebec, Ethnic
- and Racial Studies”, 11:1, 85-102, DOI: 10.1080/01419870.1988.9993590
- 16) Oliver P. Richmond , “Ethno‐nationalism, sovereignty and negotiating positions in the Cyprus conflict: obstacles to a settlement”, (1999),Middle Eastern Studies, 35:3, 42-63, DOI: 10.1080/00263209908701278
- 17) Christopher Mitchel, “ Beyond Resolution: what does Conflict Transformation Actually transform?”, Peace and Conflict Studies, 5,1,2001,Vol.9,Nr 1.Accessed 13Januar 2021.https://nsuworks.nova.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://scholar.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1020&context=pcs/
- 18) Landon E. Hancock & Christopher Mitchell, “Local Peacebuilding and Legitimacy: Interactions between National and Local Levels”, Routledge,2018.
- 19) Henry Carey &Oliver Richmond, “Mitigating Conflict: The Role of NGOs” 2003 Frank Cass & Co. Ltd.
- 20) Ayla Gürel& Laura Le Cornu, “Can Gas Catalyse Peace in the Eastern Mediterranean?”, The International Spectator, (2014) 49:2, 11-33, DOI: 10.1080/03932729.2014.906799
- 21) Roger Fisher & William Ury,“ getting to yes: Negotiation an Agreement without Giving in”,2011, penguin books, New York.
- 22) Roger Fisher & William Ury,“ getting to yes: Negotiation an Agreement without Giving in”,2011, penguin books, New York.
Tactical Retreat: Madrid Makes Concessions to Catalonia and the Basque Country
The November 2019 general parliamentary elections in Spain resulted in none of the parties getting an absolute majority needed to form a government. Following two months of negotiations, a left-wing coalition between the PSOE (Spanish Socialist Worker’s Party) and Unidas Podemos (United We Can) was formed in January 2020. Having received the necessary parliamentary support, Pedro Sanchez, the leader of the socialists, assumed the post of the Spanish Prime Minister.
Catalan and Basque parties are now vital for the Spanish government
Since this is the first coalition government in the history of modern Spain that does not rely on a stable parliamentary majority, the role of regional parties has significantly increased. The PSOE-Podemos coalition only has 155 mandates, falling short of the majority (176) by 21 votes. In such a situation, success of any initiative put forward by the left-wing government depends on the support of other parliamentary parties—in particular, the nationalist movements of Catalonia and the Basque Country. The Republican Left of Catalonia (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, the ERC) and “Together for Catalonia” account for 13 and 8 seats, whereas the Basque Nationalist Party (BNP) and the EH-Bildu are each represented by 6 and 5 MPs.
Support of the four regional parties facilitated a number of crucial events in the Spanish political process. These include Pedro Sanchez, the PSOE leader, taking the office of Prime Minister in January 2020, a repeated extension of the state of emergency in the country in spring 2020, the adoption of the state budget for 2021 as well as passing the bill on the distribution of money from the EU recovery fund into law.
In this regard, both Catalonia and the Basque Country are now presented with more opportunities to promote their interests in broadening autonomous powers in exchange for their support of the governmental projects. At times of the bipartisan system, when the party to win general elections could independently form a majority government, regional forces had weaker bargaining positions. However, the value of their votes in the Congress of Deputies today has increased drastically. Amid such conditions, P. Sanchez has no other way but intensify interaction with the two autonomies on the issues of interest to them. He is driven by the desire to sustain support of the regional forces, ensuring the viability of his government.
Different aims: Catalonia is seeking referendum while the Basque Country is keen to broaden its autonomy
The coronavirus pandemic, which broke out in 2020, did not allow to launch another stage of negotiations between the Spanish government and the political leadership of Catalonia and the Basque Country. Notably, each autonomy has its own strategy and aims to pursue in their negotiations with Madrid.
The negotiations agenda of the new Catalan government, formed by the ERC and “Together for Catalonia” following the regional elections on February 14, 2021, includes: 1) amnesty for all the prisoners detained after the illegal referendum on October 1, 2017; 2) agreement with the government on holding another, this time official, referendum on the status of the autonomy; 3) revision of the current structure of financial inflows in favor of increasing investments from Madrid in the budget of the autonomy.
At the same time, the Basque government, headed by the BNP, has a different set of objectives: 1) implementation of all the remaining provisions enshrined in the Statute of Autonomy of the region, namely the transfer of some 30 competencies in self-governance to the regional authorities; 2) resuming talks on a new Statute of Autonomy; 3) formation of a broad negotiating platform involving the largest Spanish and Basque political forces.
In 2021, negotiations on these issues were intensified between Madrid and the regions. Each autonomy has managed to achieve certain results in pursuing their interests.
Catalonia: two tactical victories with no prospects for a referendum
Both Catalonia and the Basque Country managed to get a number of significant concessions in the course of June to October 2021. By doing it, P. Sanchez has shown the importance of the two autonomies in maintaining stability in the PSOE-Podemos coalition government.
Catalonia succeeded in achieving two important outcomes. The first victory was a judicial one. On June 23, 2021, amnesty was granted to all 12 prisoners sentenced to terms from 9 to 13 years on the charges related to the illegal referendum on the status of the autonomy that was held on October 1, 2017. This step sparked a severe backlash in the Kingdom, with demonstrations held in many regions. The majority of Spaniards (61%) expressed disagreement with such a move. However, it manifests that P. Sanchez is ready to make controversial compromises to maintain his political allies, despite possible long-term losses of the electorate support.
The second success of Catalonia was in the political domain. Due to a flexibility of the central government, the first talks in a year and a half that took place between Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Pere Aragones, the head of the Catalan government, became possible. While the sides only exchanged views on topical bilateral issues at their first face-to-face meeting on June 27, 2021, the parties could hold a substantive discussion of a plan to normalize interaction during the second round on September 15.
In the meantime, it was the Catalan side that set the agenda. This emphasizes the increasing role of the autonomy in bilateral relations, while indicating that Madrid is keen to garner support among the Catalan deputies. This is the why the central government is ready to offer some concessions.
Following the talks, the Prime Minister stated that the sides managed to agree on 44 out of 45 points of the document presented by P. Aragones. However, the only stumbling block remaining is a new referendum in Catalonia. On this issue, P. Sanchez is not going to make any concessions.
The Basque Country: higher flexibility and new competencies for the autonomy
Madrid has also stepped up negotiations with the Basque Country. However, it should be added here that the region has managed to achieve more tangible results in terms of expanding its autonomous powers in judicial and financial matters.
First, as the agreement signed in April 2021 suggests, three penitentiary centers with 1,378 prisoners were handed over to the Basque Government from October 1, namely the Department for Equality, Justice and Social Policy.
Second, the talks on July 28 between Pedro Sanchez, Spanish Prime Minister, and Inigo Urkullo, head of the Basque government, within the framework of the Joint Economic Commission resulted in new tax competencies handed over to the Basque Country. Local authorities are now in charge of collecting taxes from e-commerce, financial transactions and digital services. This may lead to an inflow of additional 220 ml euros to the Basque budget.
In response to such steps of the Spanish government, I. Urkullo made an eleventh-hour decision to attend the Conference of regional leaders on July 29, 2021. This event is of political importance as it unites the heads of all Spain’s 17 autonomies. At the same time, the Catalan Pere Aragones did not participate in the meeting. Had both Catalonia and the Basque Country been absent, this would have come as a real blow to P. Sanchez. Therefore, it was of utmost importance for the Prime Minister to persuade at least the Basque leader to attend the meeting. Urkullo’s presence partly contributed to the image of Sanchez as a politician who can reach agreement with the regions.
Key differences between the Catalan and the Basque government that influence relations with Madrid
In Catalonia, the coalition government is dominated by the ERC, which is more moderate and ready to move away from harsh rhetoric in favor of discussing common problems with Madrid. At the same time, its partner, “Together for Catalonia” that lost the February 2021 regional elections to ERC by only a narrow margin, stands for more straightforward actions.
Such a configuration within the coalition restricts Catalonia’s flexibility. The main goal of the radical wing is a new referendum. The ERC’s moderate approach is counterbalanced by “Together for Catalonia”. It does not support excessive rapprochement with Madrid or any deviation from that idea.
At the same time, the situation is different in the Basque Country. The moderate BNP enjoys leading positions in the government coalition while the EH-Bildu has a much lower weight in strategy setting. It allows the autonomy to be flexible, interacting with Madrid in a more successful manner.
Moreover, the talks between Catalonia and Madrid are still held in a narrow format of face-to-face meetings between the Prime Minister of Spain and the head of the autonomy. At the same time, the Basque Country has already resumed dialogue within the Joint Economic Commission. This is a more inclusive format that enables the sides to cover a wider range of topics.
Currently, the Basque Country’s give-and-take strategy results in smaller but more meaningful concessions, bringing about a broadening of its autonomous powers in exchange for political support of the central government. Meanwhile, Catalonia’s attempts to achieve more significant results, which may affect the image of P. Sanchez, bump up against Madrid’s reluctance to cross the red line. The Prime Minister is ready to make some tactical concessions to the autonomies in order to garner political support for his initiatives. Despite certain criticism from the right wing, such steps confirm the effectiveness of the PSOE-Podemos coalition, demonstrating the viability of the incumbent government to the electorate.
Talks have future as long as the left-wing coalition remains in power
The future of the negotiations between the center and the autonomies heavily depends on the 2023 Spanish general elections. Right-wing parties like the People’s Party, VOX and “Citizens” are not inclined to broad negotiations with Catalan and Basque nationalists. If these parties form the next government just in two years, the entire process of normalizing relations with the regions may be put on hold.
P. Sanchez’s excessive flexibility in negotiations with Catalonia and the Basque Country may lead to a higher popularity of the right-wing VOX party. Those among voters, who are dissatisfied with the policy of offering concessions to nationalists, may switch to the forces that safeguard the Spanish constitutional order. Another problem for the PSOE-Podemos government is the socio-economic recovery of Spain from COVID-19.
Little progress in these two directions is likely to result in the loss of public support. The influence of Catalonia and the Basque Country will not see a decline in the coming years. It is therefore essential for Madrid to make new concessions similar to those made to the Basque Country. But they should be gradual to provoke less publicity.
From our partner RIAC
Is British Democracy in Danger?
On Sunday 12th of December 2021 Boris Johnson went on national television to warn about a tidal wave that would threaten Britain. He was back then referring to the Omicron Covid-19 variant, little did he know back then that he could have been referring to his own political future. Johnson is facing increasing demands from his own party to step down after having admitted to attending a party in Downing Street on May 20th, 2020, during the UK’s first national lockdown.
Johnson has been facing increasing risks for quite a long time by now: from collapsing poll ratings, to violation of lockdown rules and an ill-managed pandemic that has continued to strain the National Health Service; among many others. These crises have compromised his moral authority both with the citizenry and with his own frontbenchers. Although in the UK confidence votes can happen relatively quick: the no confidence vote on Theresa May’s government was held on December 12th, 2018, just a day after she was informed that the minimum threshold had been reached, this is still not on the horizon for the current Prime Minister.
To trigger a leadership contest 15% of the Tory MPs need to submit a letter to the chair of the 1922 Committee. There are currently 360 Tory MPs, 54 of them are needed to spark a confidence vote. As up to now, very few have publicly confirmed to either have submitted or to have the intention to submit a letter. If such threshold is reached, this would open the debate as to whether there is someone suitable enough to replace him. The frontrunners are Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss; neither have the proven record of vote-winning Boris Johnson has had ever since he was the Mayor of London. Such vote of confidence is also unlikely to happen as majority of the crises the government has faced are of their own making. Johnson is not the cause; it is the symptom of a deeper decay of the British State and their politicians.
While the Conservatives will not be able to escape the cumulative effects of current and past scandals, this latest turmoil us unlikely to trigger the collapse of Boris Johnson. The next British election is scheduled to happen in May 2024, giving both Johnson and the Tories enough time to move on from this crisis and work on rebuilding electoral support. Boris Johnson has long defied political gravity and has survived a long history of scandals and mismanagements that may have destroyed the electoral chances of many other politicians and their political parties. It is highly likely that in the coming local elections in May 2022 the Conservatives will suffer electoral defeats, this is still preferable than what the political and electoral consequences for the Conservatives would be if they were to get rid of Johnson. Sacking him now would be accepting losing the war rather than losing a battle in the coming local elections. The long-term aim of the Tories is to hold on power for as long as they can, and at least ensure their electoral base is secure coming the 2024 general elections. For this, Boris Johnson still may come in handy.
Although Boris Johnson’s record has been shockingly poor; the Tories will not give Labour a chance for a general election before the scheduled for 2024, especially not now that they are leading the polls on the question as to who would make a better prime minister. The reality is that although his ratings have plummeted dramatically over recent years, there is no real threat of a general election for at least 2 years if one considers the larger political landscape.
One of the major threats British democracy does not come from Boris Johnson but rather from a deterioration of what sustains democracy as a healthy system of government. The UK electorate is highly volatile. Unlike countries like the US whose electorate has become highly polarised, the British electorate has shown less party loyalty, and voters have switched more and more between political parties in each election. However, this volatility will not get Johnson out of office, that is something only the Conservatives can do. This is closely linked to trust in politicians and the government. Lack of trust in both is one of the major issues of contemporary democracies around the world. Trust, is, after all, the basic condition for a legitimate government. Lack of trust in politicians, institutions, political parties, and the government in general enables populist tendencies, polarisation, political extremism and impacts the voting preference of citizens. It also favours the support of more stringent stances towards minorities, opposition, immigration, and human rights violations. A second threat that should not be disregarded is the attitude towards democratic institutions and bodies that sustain the British political system. While it is true that Johnson’s behaviour does not push to extremes such as Donal Trump did, or many other highly divisive politicians around the world, he is drawn to the same unconventional styles to deal with political challenges.
Democracy around the world is facing a backlash that is organised and coming from within, from elected officials. Our democratic rights can either be taken away suddenly as a result of a revolution or a coup d’état, or gradually through the election of leaders who slowly erode rules, standards and institutions that help sustain democracy. This is potentially more dangerous for the overall prospects of democracy because gradual erosion of democratic values is harder to perceive. The state, under this progressive attack, becomes prone to the systematic corruption of interest groups that take over the processes and institutions in charge of making public policy. It is during this gradual democratic backsliding that elected officials disregard norms and institutions while, at the same time, trying to redesign the structure of the state. An informed and active citizenry is crucial to prevent further erosion of democracy. We need to be aware that it is not only democratic rules and institutions that are in danger, but also the respect of our fundamental civil, political, social and human rights.
The French Dispatch: The Year 2022 and European Security
2021 has been rich in negative events for European security: the world has witnessed the collapse of the Open Skies Treaty, American-French discord concerning AUKUS, the termination of the official dialogue between Russia and NATO, and the migration crisis on the Polish-Belarusian border.
Over the past year, the Western countries seem to have been searching for new strategies. Since the end of 2019, NATO has been developing a new concept, and in June 2021 at the summit in Brussels, to the displeasure of sceptics, it was possible to agree on its basis—the transatlantic agenda NATO 2030 (# NATO2030) . While the broad formulations and a direct hierarchy of threats still require clarification, new projects in the field of weapons development, combating climate change, and increasing interoperability have already been declared.
In parallel, since the end of 2020, work has continued on the EU European Parliamentary Research Service project—the Strategic Compass. The dialectic between Atlanticism and Europeanism softened after Joe Biden came to power in the United States, but the European interests and red lines retain their significance for transatlantic relations. In 2022, together with the rotating post of the President of the EU Council, the role of a potential newsmaker in this area has been transferred to Emmanuel Macron, who feels very comfortable in it.
On December 9, the provisions of the Paris programme were published under the motto “Recovery, power, belonging” France, as expected, is reiterating its call for strengthening European sovereignty. The rhetoric of the document and its author is genuine textbook-realism. But now for the entire European Union.
Objectives of the French Presidency, are not articulated directly but are quite visible—making the EU more manageable and accountable to its members, with new general rules to strengthen mobilisation potential, and improve the EU’s competitiveness and security in a world of growing challenges.
Paris proposes reforming the Schengen area and tightening immigration legislation—a painful point for the EU since 2015, which has become aggravated again in recent months. This ambitious task has become slightly more realistic since Angela Merkel’s retirement in Germany. At least a new crisis response mechanism on this issue can be successful, even if it is not fully implemented.
In addition, the Élysée Palace calls on colleagues to revise the budget deficit ceilings of the Maastricht era to overcome the consequences of the pandemic and finally introduce a carbon tax at the EU borders. The latter allows for a new source of income and provides additional accountability for the implementation of the “green” goals by member countries.
The planned acceleration of the adoption of the Digital Markets Act (DMA) and Digital Services Act (DSA), developed by the European Commission at the end of 2020, is also aimed at unifying the general legislation and consolidating the European position in the world. In other words, the French Foreign Ministry quite soberly assesses the priority areas and vulnerabilities of the European Union and focuses on them, but with one exception.
A special priority of the French presidency is to strengthen the defence capabilities of the EU. On the sidelines, the French diplomats note that the adoption of the Strategic Compass in the spring of 2022, as originally planned, is a fundamental task, since otherwise the process may be completely buried. With a high degree of probability, this is so: the first phase of the development of the Compass—the general list of threats—lasted a year, and consisted of dozens of sessions, meetings, round tables with the involvement of leading experts, but the document was never published. If Macron won’t do it, then who will?
As the main ideologist and staunchest supporter of the EU’s “strategic autonomy”, the French president has been trying for five years to mobilise others for self-sufficiency in the security sphere. With his direct participation, not only the Mechanism of Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) in the defence area was launched, where France is the leader in a number of projects, but also the so-far failed European Intervention Initiative. Even without focusing on French foreign policy traditions and ambitions, the country remains a major European arms exporter and a nuclear power, where the military-industrial complex is closely affiliated with the state.
Implementing the 2022 agenda is also a matter of immediate political gain as France enters a new electoral cycle. The EU Summit will take place on March 10-11, 2022, in Paris, a month before the elections, and in any case it will become part of the election campaign and a test for the reputation of the current leader. Macron has not yet officially announced his participation in the presidential race, but he is actively engaged in self-promotion, because right-wing politicians espousing different degrees of radicalism are ready to take advantage of his defeats to purchase extra points.
The search for allies seems to be of key importance for victory at the European level, and the French Foreign Ministry has already begun working on this matter. In 2016–2017 the launch of new initiatives was predetermined by the support of Germany and the Central and East European countries. The change of cabinet in Germany will undoubtedly have an impact on the nation’s policy. On the one hand, following the results of the first visit of the new Chancellor Olaf Scholz to Paris on December 10, the parties announced the closeness of their positions and a common desire to strengthen Europe. On the other hand, the coalition of Social Democrats (SDP) was made up with the Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) who are not at all supporters of excessive involvement in security issues. What “strategic autonomy” means for France, constitutes a more restrained “strategic sovereignty” for Germany Therefore, an intensification of dialogue with Italy and Spain, which are both respected and potentially sympathetic, is likely. The military cooperation agreement concluded in the autumn of 2021 with Greece, an active member of PESCO, can also help Paris.
Gaining support from smaller countries is more challenging. Although the European project is not an alternative to the transatlantic one, the formation of a common list of threats is a primary task and problem for NATO as well. As mentioned above, it is around it that controversy evolves, because the hierarchy determines the distribution of material resources. The countries of Eastern Europe, which assume that it is necessary to confront Russia but lack the resources to do so, will act as natural opponents of the French initiatives in the EU, while Paris, Rome and Madrid will oppose them and the United States in the transatlantic dialogue. The complexity of combining two conversations about the same thing with a slightly different composition of participants raises the bar for Emmanuel Macron. His stakes are high. The mobilisation of the Élysée Palace’s foreign policy is one of the most interesting subjects to watch in the year 2022.
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