Connect with us

Europe

American support for democratization in Southeast Europe: The case of Romania

Published

on

With the dramatic collapse of communism in Southeast and Eastern Europe, the newly democratically elected governments had to face the harsh reality of being unable to properly run their countries based on a liberal democratic political system. Also, neither the governments nor their productive sector was able to cope with the rising private enterprise, which was based on supply and demand, fruitful competition, and quality of products. As a result, promoting the essence of democracy and free markets, fell into the hands of the U.S, which for years tried to find a way to make its presence in the region clear. The response of the U.S government after the fall of communism in 1989 and the dissolvement of the Soviet Union in 1991, was swift and methodical. With the signing of a series of legislative acts in the period of 1989-1995, known as the Support for East European Democracy (SEED) Act of 1989, and their implementation through the United States Agency for International Development, the U.S has managed to leave its footprint in the region and establish a network of democratic support to all the former Warsaw Pact country members, as well as the country members of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance.

The SEED Act and America’s objectives in post-communist Eastern Europe

The Support for East European Democracy (SEED) Act of 1989, was part of a series of legislative acts that passed by Congress in the period 1989-1995. The laws were passed under the presidency of both George H.W Bush and Bill Clinton. The legislation was passed as a response to the growing demand for international help in post-communist countries. It is regarded by many as the most successful policy act towards Central and Eastern European countries. While initially the focus of this policy was targeted towards Hungary and Poland, with the growing request from other nation-states in the region, the U.S encompassed more countries such as Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Albania e.t.c, and later on, after the end of the Yugoslavia wars, it managed to include more countries from the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

The primary goal of the SEED is to promote the establishment and enhancement of democratic institutions and help transit the economies of the respected countries that are part of this act, into a free market economy, that will allow any of those countries not only to overcome the centralized bureaucratic communist system but also to become more productive, reliable and trustworthy members of the greater Transatlantic community like their fellow Western democracies. At first, this legislation was focused on Poland and Hungary allowing the U.S to designate two private, nonprofit organizations such as the Polish-American Enterprise Fund and the Hungarian-American Enterprise Fund to promote the development of the Polish and Hungarian private sectors. With that being said, the initial thought of the American side was to not recreate a full-scale of the Marshall Plan, simply because the crushing budget deficits of those countries provoked little interest for the U.S. Instead through the SEED, the U.S government managed to establish different assistance programs, that over time, managed to assist more countries in Central and Eastern Europe and later on, in the Balkan region. These programs were focused on stabilization assistance, development assistance, technical assistance, and political conversion. Also, the aid that would come from the U.S would be directly focused on the agricultural sector, the private sector, educational and cultural programs, as well as scientific programs.

The core message that was expressed through the SEED was the fact that, although at the beginning, any sort of financial aid would be minimal, there would be a possibility of a change to this tactic, only if the fledgling democracies that were undergoing a massive transformation would agree to adopt the ways of Western Europe and the ways that the U.S was proposing for the. In other words, this meant that, if by any chance any of the countries that wished to benefit from the SEED Act, had to fulfill some pre-requirements. For the financial assistance to be implemented, the interested countries had to remove trade restrictions while fully liberalizing the investment and the capital of the country, including foreign investment, while allowing any interested U.S investors to export their profits from these countries. Also, there had to be an increased focus on the development of the capital financial markets that would allow privatization of any public assets. Throughout the years, the SEED Act, allowed the U.S to leave a footprint in the countries that got rid of communism and further help them through other independent agencies such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which is responsible for administering foreign aid and development assistance. If we provide an analysis as to why the U.S is so keen on the development of the post-communist countries, we can identify the two main reasons as to why the U.S was and still is so interested in the democratic and free-market development of the region. The first reason was the fact that if the U.S would financially assist these countries, then it will manage to increase its economic transactions with more countries while also boosting its trading and the uninterrupted free flow of capital profits back to it. The second reason has to do with the geopolitical aspect of the SEED act and the role of the USAID.

If we examine this from a realistic point of view, the U.S has managed not only to increase its economic capital but also establish close diplomatic and military ties with the respected countries in an effort to counter any foreign interest coming from Russia or China. Also, this means that, once the U.S has assured the economic development and establishment of democratic institutions in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, then their accession to the NATO and eventually their incorporation into the European Union, would allow the U.S to maintain close ties in the region and add to its already large military cooperation with third countries. Out of all the countries that the U.S has managed to assist, Romania is one of those interesting cases in Southeast Europe, and it has proven itself as a reliable strategic partner for the United States of America.

The case of Romania

The bilateral ties between Romania and the U.S were always more or less on warm status, but both countries built a strong bilateral relationship after the Romanian Revolution of 1989. The U.S was focused on the legal and fair transition of power in Romania. In 1990, right after the end of the revolution, Secretary of State James Baker expressed the concern of the U.S towards the unfair discriminatory treatment of opposition parties in the May elections in Romania and made it clear that the U.S would not support an undemocratic Romanian government. The Romanians quickly realized that if they wanted any support from the U.S they would have to incorporate more Western democratic values in their country. As a result, in 1992, Romania conducted fair parliamentary and presidential elections. Encouraged by the fair democratic results, Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger visited Romania in 1992. It was a symbolic visit because it allowed the Romanians to demonstrate their commitment to fully implement Western democratic values in their country. The same year, both countries signed a bilateral investment treaty (BIT), and one year later, in 1993, Romania returned to the status of Most Favored Nation (MFN). These agreements allowed Romania to completely transition its economy, allowing for American investment in energy, manufacturing, telecommunications services, consumer products sectors, and information technology.

With that being said, it was clear that Romania was managing step by step to take substantive steps toward institutionalizing political democracy and economic pluralism, the sole requirement of the SEED act. Besides that, the USAID had a critical role in Romania. In a span of 17 years, until Romania’s “graduation” from the program in 2008, the socio-economic profile of the country has changed for the better. The USAID has managed to fund and establish various NGOs that focus on the rapid decrease of children in orphanages and improving the condition in the remaining institutions for these kids. Also, the civic organizations in Romania, have managed to establish sustainable partnerships with the public and private sector and improve transparency and fairness in both sectors. Last but not least, the private businesses in Romania have managed to become an established feature of Romania’s civil society by gaining sustainable funds from the USAID that are directly invested in the tourism, agriculture, food processing, and the industrial sector that allow Romania to flourish as a stable economic power in Southeast Europe.

Apart from the socio-economic factors, the U.S has contributed to the enhancement of the military treaties between itself and Romania. On March 29, 2004, Romania joined NATO and established itself as a reliable ally of the U.S in Southeast Europe. A year after that, in 2005, Romania and the United States signed the Defense Cooperation Agreement, the framework for any future military engagements of both countries. With Romania joining NATO, the U.S managed to gain a foothold in Southeast Europe, close to Russia, and demonstrated its capabilities in creating and sustaining reliable military alliances, helping Romania avoid any influence from the East, while protecting its national interests in the region. With Romania joining NATO, the road towards a future integration in the EU was clearer. With the help of the U.S, Romania managed to meet the requirements for an EU integration. Some of those requirements were focused on reforms that would help Romania become more Western, such as the acknowledgment of respect for human rights, the commitment to personal freedom of expression, having a functioning free-market economy e.t.c. Romania joined the European Union on January 1st, 2007 and according to the European Commission, the country is set to join the Eurozone sometime in 2024. Some may argue that Romania has to be thankful to the U.S for the tremendous progress that has been made, and this will not be far from the truth, since until today both countries enjoy strong military and economic ties.

Democratization or Americanization of Romania?

However, there are always some voices from within Romania that see this whole progress with skepticism. Some argue that although Romania is a democracy, it does not have a democratic society. There are reports of high levels of corruption and nepotism in the public sector. According to Transparency International, Romania is the fourth most corrupt country in the EU, after Hungary, Greece, and Bulgaria. Besides that, the standard of living in the country has not changed significantly since the end of communism, and there is a strong demographic collapse that is connected with the so-called “brain drain” of the country, with high levels of labor export towards Western Europe. There is some criticism towards the U.S, that points to the fact that the changes in Romania have benefited the American side more than the Romanian one, and there is a feeling that Romania is still stuck in the past.

Although any sort of criticism should be reviewed thoroughly, one can argue that the U.S is not to be solely blamed. After all, the aid that was sent to Romania and the efforts of the U.S to westernize the country were always focused on the national and economic interests of the United States. It is safe to say that the U.S was applying a realistic aspect in its policy towards Romania, realizing the strategic geopolitical position of the country and the important economic outcomes that would come if Romania became a close ally of the United States. The alliance between the two countries and their ties are relatively strong even today, and although there are corruption problems in the country, Romania seems to have benefited more than any other post-communist country regarding aid from the United States. In a way, the policy of the U.S towards Romania was a success as both countries remain close allies, and Romania is enjoying a better socio-economic and political situation within its borders.

Continue Reading
Comments

Europe

Europe tells Biden “no way” to Cold War with China

Published

on

Amidst the first big transatlantic tensions for the Biden Administration, a new poll shows that the majority of Europeans see a new Cold War happening between the United States and China, but they don’t see themselves as a part of it.

Overwhelmingly, 62% of Europeans believe that the US is engaged in a new Cold War against China, a new poll just released by the European Council on Foreign Relations found. Just yesterday US President Joe Biden claimed before the UN General Assembly that there is no such thing and the US is not engaging in a new Cold War. So, Europeans see Biden’s bluff and call him on it.

The study was released on Wednesday by Mark Leonard and Ivan Krastev at the European Council on Foreign Relations and found that Europeans don’t see themselves as direct participants in the US-China Cold War. This viewpoint is most pronounced in Bulgaria, Hungary, Austria, Portugal and Italy, according to the study. The prevailing view, in each of the 12 surveyed EU member states, is one of irrelevance – with respondents in Hungary (91%), Bulgaria (80%), Portugal (79%), and Austria (78%) saying that their country is not in a conflict with Beijing.

Only 15% of Europeans believe that the EU is engaged in a Cold War against China. The percentage is so low that one wonders if there should even be such a question. It is not only not a priority, it is not even a question on the agenda for Europeans. Even at the highest point of EU “hawkishness”, only 33% of Swedes hold the view that their country is currently in a Cold War with China.  Leonard and Krastev warn that if Washington and Brussels are preparing for an all-in generational struggle against China, this runs against the grain of opinion in Europe, and leaders in Washington and Brussels will quickly discover that they “do not have a societal consensus behind them”.

“The European public thinks there is a new cold war – but they don’t want to have anything to do with it. Our polling reveals that a “cold war” framing risks alienating European voters”, Mark Leonard said.

The EU doesn’t have the backing of its citizens to follow the US in its new Cold War pursuit. But unlike the views of the authors of the study, my view is that this is not a transatlantic rift that we actually have to be trying to fix. Biden’s China policy won’t be Europe’s China policy, and that’s that, despite US efforts to persuade Europe to follow, as I’ve argued months ago for the Brussels Report and in Modern Diplomacy.

In March this year, Gallup released a poll that showed that 45% of Americans see China as the greatest US enemy. The poll did not frame the question as Cold War but it can be argued that Joe Biden has some mandate derived from the opinion of American people. That is not the case for Europe at all, to the extent that most of us don’t see “China as an enemy” even as a relevant question.

The US’s China pursuit is already giving horrible for the US results in Europe, as French President Macron withdrew the French Ambassador to the US. The US made a deal already in June, as a part of the trilateral partnership with the UK and Australia, and stabbed France in the back months ago to Macron’s last-minute surprise last week. Max Boot at the Council on Foreign Relations argues that it is Macron that is actually arrogant to expect that commitments and deals should mean something: “Back in February, Macron rejected the idea of a U.S.-E.U. common front against China. Now he complains when America pursues its own strategy against China. What’s French for chutzpah?” What Boot does get right is that indeed, there won’t be a joint US-EU front on China, and European citizens also don’t want this, as the recent poll has made clear.

The US saying Europe should follow the US into a Cold War with China over human rights is the same thing as China saying that Europe should start a Cold War with the US over the bad US human rights record. It’s not going to happen. You have to understand that this is how ridiculous the proposition sounds to us, Europeans. Leonard and Krastev urge the EU leadership to “make the case for more assertive policies” towards China around European and national interests rather than a Cold War logic, so that they can sell a strong, united, and compelling case for the future of the Atlantic alliance to European citizens.

I am not sure that I agree, as “more assertive policies” and “cold war” is probably the same thing in the mind of most Europeans and I don’t think that the nuance helps here or matters at all. Leaders like Biden argue anyway that the US is not really pursuing a Cold War. The authors caution EU leaders against adopting a “cold war” framing. You say “framing”, I say “spin”. Should we be in engaging in spins at all to sell unnecessary conflict to EU citizens only to please the US?

Unlike during the first cold war, [Europeans] do not see an immediate, existential threat”, Leonard clarified. European politicians can no longer rely on tensions with China to convince the electorate of the value of transatlantic relations. “Instead, they need to make the case from European interests, showing how a rebalanced alliance can empower and restore sovereignty to European citizens in a dangerous world”, Mark Leonard added. The study shows that there is a growing “disconnect” between the policy ambitions of those in Brussels and how Europeans think. EU citizens should stick to their sentiments and not be convinced to look for conflict where it doesn’t exist, or change what they see and hear with their own eyes and ears in favor of elusive things like the transatlantic partnership, which the US itself doesn’t believe in anyways. And the last thing that should be done is to scare Europeans by convincing them they live in a “dangerous world” and China is the biggest threat or concern.

What the study makes clear is that a Cold War framing against China is likely to repel more EU voters than it attracts, and if there is one thing that politicians know it is that you have to listen to the polls in what your people are telling you instead of engaging in spins. Those that don’t listen in advance get the signs eventually. At the end of the day it’s not important what Biden wants.

Continue Reading

Europe

Germany and its Neo-imperial quest

Published

on

In January 2021, eight months ago, when rumours about the possibility of appointment of Christian Schmidt as the High Representative in Bosnia occurred for the first time, I published the text under the title ‘Has Germany Lost Its NATO Compass?’. In this text I announced that Schmidt was appointed to help Dragan Čović, the leader of the Croatian HDZ party, to disrupt the constitutional structure of Bosnia-Herzegovina and create precoditions for secession of the Serb- and Croatian-held territories in Bosnia and the country’s final dissolution. I can hardly add anything new to it, except for the fact that Schmidt’s recent statements at the conference of Deutsche Atlantische Gesellschaft have fully confirmed my claims that his role in Bosnia is to act as Čović’s ally in the latter’s attempts to carve up the Bosnian Constitution.

Schmidt is a person with a heavy burden, the burden of a man who has continuously been promoting Croatian interests, for which the Croatian state decorated him with the medal of “Ante Starčević”, which, in his own words, he “proudly wears” and shares with several Croatian convicted war criminals who participated in the 1992-1995 aggression on Bosnia, whom Schmidt obviously perceives as his ideological brethren. The question is, then, why Germany appointed him as the High Representative in Bosnia? 

Germany’s policy towards Bosnia, exercised mostly through the institutions of the European Union, has continuously been based on the concept of Bosnia’s ethnic partition. The phrases that we can occassionaly hear from the EU, on inviolability of state boundaries in the Balkans, is just a rhetoric adapted to the demands by the United States to keep these boundaries intact. So far, these boundaries have remained intact mainly due to the US efforts to preserve them. However, from the notorious Lisbon Conference in February 1992 to the present day, the European Union has always officially stood behind the idea that Bosnia-Herzegovina should be partitioned along ethnic lines. At the Lisbon Conference, Lord Carrington and Jose Cutileiro, the official representatives of the then European Community, which has in the meantime been rebranded as the European Union, drew the maps with lines of ethnic partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina, along which the ethnic cleansing was committed, with 100.000 killed and 1,000.000 expelled, so as to make its territory compatible with their maps. Neither Germany nor the European Union have ever distanced themselves from the idea they promoted and imposed at the Lisbon Conference as ‘the only possible solution’ for Bosnia, despite the grave consequences that followed. Nor has this idea ever stopped being a must within their foreign policy circles, as it has recently been demonstrated by the so-called Janša Non-Paper, launched a couple of months ago, which also advocates the final partition and dissolution of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Such a plan is probably a product of the powerful right-wing circles in the European institutions, such as Schmidt’s CSU, rather than a homework of Janez Janša, the current Prime Minister of Slovenia, whose party is a part of these circles, albeit a minor one. To be sure, Germany is not the original author of the idea of Bosnia’s partition, this author is Great Britain, which launched it directly through Lord Carrington at the Lisbon Conference. Yet, Germany has never shown a will to distance itself from this idea, nor has it done the European Union. Moreover, the appointment of Schmidt, as a member of those political circles which promote ethnic partition as the only solution for multiethnic countries, testifies to the fact that Germany has decided to fully apply this idea and act as its chief promoter.

In this process, the neighbouring countries, Serbia and Croatia, with their extreme nationalist policies, can only act as the EU’s proxies, in charge for the physical implemenation of Bosnia’s pre-meditated disappearance. All the crimes that Serbia and Croatia committed on the Bosnian soil – from the military aggression, over war crimes, ethnic cleansing and genocide, up to the 30 year-long efforts to undermine Bosnia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity – have always had a direct approval and absolute support of the leading EU countries. During the war and in its aftermath, Great Britain and France were the leaders of the initiatives to impose ethnic partition on the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and now Germany has taken up their role. In such a context, the increasing aggressiveness of Serbia and Croatia can only be interpreted as a consequence of the EU’s intention to finish with Bosnia for good, and Schmidt has arrived to Bosnia to facilitate that process. Therefore, it is high time for the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina to abandon any ilussions about the true intentions of the European Union and reject its Trojan Horse in the form of the current High Representative.  

Continue Reading

Europe

Should there be an age limit to be President?

Published

on

The presidential elections in Bulgaria are nearing in November 2021 and I would like to run for President of Bulgaria, but the issue is the age limit.

To run for President in Bulgaria a candidate needs to be at least 40 years old and I am 37. I am not the first to raise the question: should there be an age limit to run for President, and generally for office, and isn’t an age limit actually age discrimination?

Under the international human rights law standard, putting an age limit is allowed in the context of political participation under the right to vote and the right to run to be elected. Human Rights Committee General Comment No.25 interpreting the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that an age limit has to be based on objective and reasonable criteria, adding that it is reasonable to have a higher age requirement for certain offices. As it stands, the law says that having an age limit for president is not age discrimination, but is 40 actually a reasonable cut-off? National legislations can change. We need to lower the age limit and rethink what’s a reasonable age for President, and not do away with all age limits.

We have seen strong leaders emerge as heads of state and government who are below 40 years of age. Sanna Marin, Prime Minister of Finland, became Prime Minister at 34. Sebastrian Kurz, the Prime Minister of Austria, was elected at 31. Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, assumed her position at 37. So perhaps it is time to rethink age limits for the highest offices.

The US has plenty of examples where elected Senators and Congressmen actually beat the age limit and made it despite the convention. The age limit for Senator in the US is 30 years old. Rush Holt was elected to the US Senate at 29. In South Carolina, two State Senators were elected at 24 years old and they were seated anyways. The age limit for US president is 35 years old.

In Argentina, the age cut-off is 30. In India, it is 35. In Pakistan, it is 45 years old. In Turkey, it is 40 years old. Iceland says 35 years old. In France, it is 18.

Generally, democracies set lower age limits. More conservative countries set the age limit higher in line with stereotypes rather than any real world evidence that a 45 year-old or 55 year-old person would be more effective and better suited to the job. Liberal countries tend to set lower age limits.

40 years old to be a President of Bulgaria seems to be an arbitrary line drawn. And while it is legal to have some age limits, 40 years old seems to be last century. Changing the age limit for president of Bulgaria could be a task for the next Bulgarian Parliament for which Bulgarians will also vote on the same date as they vote for President.

Continue Reading

Publications

Latest

Middle East2 hours ago

Syria: 10 years of war has left at least 350,000 dead

A decade of war in Syria has left more 350,200 people dead, High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet told the Human Rights...

Economy5 hours ago

Afghan crisis: Changing geo-economics of the neighbourhood

The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan has caused a rapid reshuffle in the geo-economics of South, Central and West Asia. While...

Intelligence7 hours ago

The Role and Place of the Taliban on the Global Map of Islam: Challenges and Threats

The rise to power of the Taliban (a terrorist organization banned in Russia) in August 2021 has raised a number...

Human Rights9 hours ago

Millions in Yemen ‘a step away from starvation’

The crisis in Yemen, now in its seventh year of war, continues unabated, with thousands of people displaced and millions...

Economy11 hours ago

Turkish Economy as the Reset Button of Turkish Politics

Democracy has a robust relationship with economic growth.  Barrington Moore can be seen as one of the leading scholars focusing...

Africa Today12 hours ago

South Sudan ‘determined to never go back to war’

South Sudan is “ready to turn a new page” towards greater peace, development and prosperity, Vice-President Rebecca Nyandeng de Mabior said in her speech in the UN General Assembly...

Health & Wellness15 hours ago

WHO backs Regeneron COVID-19 drug cocktail – with equal access, price cut

The Regeneron antibody drug cocktail – casirivimab and imdevimab – has been added to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) list of treatments for COVID-19 patients, the...

Trending