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Restructuring diplomacy in the Republic of North Macedonia

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Reasons to care — In lieu of an introduction

Many European leaders look hopefully at the Republic of North Macedonia’s (RNM) endeavours to improve relations with its neighbours. But local elites have constantly ignored the fact that the country’s future and its very existence depend on diplomacy. On the contrary, both right- and left-leaning leaderships have jeopardised bilateral relations for domestic political gains. Even the bi-decennial name dispute with Greece seems not to have taught the RNM to appease rather than pretend. As of now, a breakthrough in bilateral relations would surely improve the country’s chances to join the EU quite soon. However, a stall may cause EU enlargement to halt altogether leaving the RNM’s tandem partner, Albania, out of the Union. Even if Brussels decouples Tirana, the damage to the Union’s credibility and the Western Balkans’ regional stability may be immense.

Diplomacy: A game the RNM has not played well

The great game of international relations is not only difficult to master, but expensive to play. Moreover, the experience of the Cold War shows that foreign policy is more effective when it rests on internal consensus. All these factors – expertise, resources, and unanimity – are missing the RNM for structurally and historically determined reasons. As a matter of fact, the country is deeply divided along at least two focal cleavages.

On the one hand, there is an ethnic divide between Albanian and Slav populace. This fracture has already led the country on the brink of a civil war once, in 2001. On the other, the ethnic Slav majority is polarised between the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) and the VMRO. The SDSM has been the main opposition to Nikola Gruevski, head of the VMRO, rather authoritarian government for years. In 2016, the SDSM ousted Gruevski despite losing the elections due to the popular outarge fro allegations of widespread wiretapping. Since then, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and the SDSM, has been governing owing to a slim parliamentary majority. The cabinet holds on a mere 52-to-48 majority thanks to the support of two Albanian parties.

The SDSM has promised to accelerated the RNM’s integration in the EU and NATO. But the Prime Minister’s and his party have proven inept to consolidate any diplomatic gain.

A step forward: Reaching NATO membership

During his tenure Zaev has made some steps forward in resolving the RNM’s longest rows with a neighbour. The quarrel dates to 1991, when the poorest Yugoslav republic declared independence after breaking away from Serbia’s deadly embrace. Back then, Greek authorities refused to recognise the new-born State, imposed an embargo and supported Serbia in the Yugoslav wars. Indeed, the reason is quite simple: Athens feared claims on the homonym Greek region and on Alexander the Great’s legacy.

Retorting to Greece’s hostility, the VMRO government began alleging a direct connection between the Slav majority and Ancient Macedonians. To substantiation this claim, Gruevski started a policy known as antiquisation with the aim to appropriate Alexander’s legacyin 2006. A decade later, Zaev terminated antiquisation not to anger Greece further and opened the door to new negotiations. Finally, in 2018, Zaev struck a deal with his Greek counterpart – the leftist Alexis Tsipras – normalising Greek-Macedonian relations. Albeit controversial, the Prespa Agreement gave the FYROM a proper name putting an end to the name dispute with Greece.

In March 2020, shortly after the parties ratified and implemented accord, Zaev’s government scored an important point: NATO membership.

Continuing on the right track: Towards EU membership

The first years of Zaev’s tenure yielded some positive results for those who were looking forward to Euro-Atlantic integration. However, the biggest prey was still out there, waiting for someone to chase it down: EU membership. Overall, the RNM was already quite aheadin adopting the reforms needed to join the EU under Gruevski’s rule. In fact, according to the European Commission, in 2015 the FYROM was

at a good level of preparation in developing a functioning market economy. The country benefits from a stable macroeconomic environment, supported by sound monetary policy, favourable conditions for market entry, and a sound legal system.

Moreover, “some progress was made […] on strengthening administrative capacity” and reforming bureaucracy.

As such, inducing the EU to officially designate the RNM as a candidate country was not a difficult task. True, reforms had to proceed and there was still much to do before the RNM could actually join. But candidate status – and the annexed financial benefits – were essentially at hand’s reach.

Two steps back: Antagonising Bulgaria

The only thing that Zaev’s government needed not to do was to enflame patriotic ressentiment in another EU-member neighbour. In fact, the EU opens negotiations to the countries with which it discusses serious membership prospects. However, this is not a decision that the grey technocrats sitting on the Commission can take on their own. This faculty in on member States’ representatives gathered in the so-called European Council, each of whom has veto powers.

Despite understanding that there were outstanding unresolved issues with Bulgaria, Zaev decided to call a snap election before the Council. Zaev seemed persuaded he could have won a larger majority only if he siphoned some of the VMRO’s nationalist voters. Thus, the SDSM decided to adopt reckless electoral tactics whichhave sored anti-Bulgarian sentiments. Predictably, the Bulgarian government seized the opportunity to score points in upcoming elections by vetoing the RNM’s accession.

Rearrangements at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Building a national foreign-policy consensus

In a word, the RNM does not find itself in the European region with the friendliest neighbourhood relations. Surely, Greece and Bulgaria are not be as tolerant as Austria Czechia and Slovakia were in the 1990s. Yet, Skopje has arguably invoked his neighbour’s ire this time — and needlessly so.

At the moment, no political force in Bulgaria argues for a softening of positions vis-à-vis the RNM. Hence, the two bordering countries are heading off for a diplomatic clash fought with soft power, cohesion, and sheer stubbornness. In view of this inevitable runoff, the RNM’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) is undergoing a deep renewal. The hope is to retain the expertise developed in the thirty years since independence and building a national consensus. According to Minister Bujar Osmani his decennial foreign-policy strategy has three founding. First, extensive consultations with civil society actors and stakeholders. Second, a series specialised thematic conferences to elaborate new tactics. Third, the Minister a ‘Strategic Council on Foreign Policy’ (SCVP).

The SCVP is probably the most interesting of the three elements Osmani mentioned. In fact, it may offer a solution, together with the thematic conferences, to the lack of expertise. At the same time, it may enhance the effectiveness of wide consultation in building a national foreign-policy consensus.

The SCVP will include some high-profile figures associated to Gruevski and the VMRO. Amongst them:

  • Valentina Bozinovska and Srdjan Kerim, former VMRO deputies;
  • Marian Gyurovski, former UN General Assembly President;
  • Nano Ruzin, former Ambassador to NATO;
  • Denko Malevski, former Foreign Minister;
  • Marko Trosanovski, head of a think tank;
  • Ivana Tufegdzic and Gordan Gorgiev, SDSM deputies;
  • Lazar Elenovski and Zhivko Mukaetov, businessmen;
  • Viktor Gaber, former diplomat;
  • Aydovan Ademovski, President of the Macedonian-Turkish Chamber of Commerce.

In effect, according to former Ambassador to NATO Nano Ruzin, the Osmani’s choice was deliberate. In addition to cumulating expertise, Osmani is attempting to coalesce the “different thoughts, which constantly creates excitement in foreign policy.”

Conclusion: The RNM is finally taking diplomacy seriously

The composition of the CSVP shows that Zaev’s government is now ready to take foreign policy seriously. The decision to include former Gruevski associates whom the public has no love lost for is a sign of maturity. In the RNM diplomacy seems to be moving closer to the centre stage and becoming more consensual. The inclusion of a few businessmen and the President of the Macedonian-Turkish Chamber of Commerce is also telling. There seems to be acknowledgment of the fact that diplomacy is not just a fine form of political communication.

It is legitimate to expect that there will not be grand diplomatic pushes due to the lack of sufficient funds. Nonetheless, the RNM’s diplomacy is becoming more active and multifaceted. One should expect Skopje to begin engaging the EU and Turkey more intensely. And not just on political topics, but also in the economic, cultural, and social spheres. In a wat, diplomacy may also become a tool to ‘attract foreign investments with other means’. People close to the circles of power point at promoting tourism and lobbying as profitable diplomatic activities for the country.

The jury is still out on the Bulgarian-Macedonian dispute, but the former’s political instability already hints at a winner. Perhaps, the EU will have 29 members sooner than many expect.

Fabio A. Telarico was born in Naples, Southern Italy. Since 2018 he has been publishing on websites and magazines about the culture, society and politics of South Eastern Europe and the former USSR in Italian, English, Bulgarian and French. As of 2021, he has edited two volumes and is the author of contributions in collective works. He combines his activity as author and researcher with that of regular participant to international conferences on Europe’s periphery, Russia and everything in between. For more information, visit the Author’s website (in English and Bulgarian).

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Nurturing Sino-EU Ties through Multilateralism

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Considering the fact that relations between China and the EU are shifting, they will continue since China’s position as a crucial economic powerhouse for the EU cannot be understated, especially as the EU confronts a real and technical economic downturn. In the Eurozone, countries such as the Czech Republic, Lithuania, and Germany are experiencing a deceleration in economic growth, which requires immediate consideration. The primary reason for this is the industry-related crisis caused by the collapse of export operations on both domestic and global markets due to a lack of purchasing power.

If this mild downturn becomes a full-blown crisis, the economies of both the European Union and the United States could stagnate. Because of these challenges, the European Union (EU) must strike a fine balance between resolving the current crisis and accommodating U.S. demands. The recent summit of European Union leaders holds great importance as the EU determined its policy towards China. The EU’s economic prospects are highly dependent on developing strong ties with China.

When combined with China’s growing consumer market and massive expenditures in infrastructure, the European Union’s economy has a once-in-a-generation chance to rebound and thrive. The European Union (EU) stands to gain from closer economic connections with China due to the opportunities it presents for increased collaboration, broader trade, and the infusion of much-needed Chinese investment into the EU’s flagging industrial sectors.

Recognizing this undeniable potential, the EU must priorities capitalizing on the benefits of its partnership with China, whilst likewise making sure that the relationship remains mutually beneficial and sustainable. The path towards achieving such equilibrium, however, is fraught with obstacles, mainly due to external pressures from the United States. Notably, the United States has imposed tariffs and trade restrictions on a number of European products, creating financial challenges for European companies. These actions are frequently used as pressure to influence Europe’s approach to China.

The EU is in a precarious position, compelled to navigate an environment where financial goals, geopolitical issues, and common values intersect. Maintaining a delicate equilibrium is essential. The pressure exerted by the United States highlights the necessity for Europe to assert its own interests and independence in international affairs. It is essential that the EU devise an independent and principled strategy that protects its own interests while approaching China with a productive discussion.

European Council President Charles Michel’s recent statement that it is in the EU’s best interest to maintain “stable and constructive” ties with China has, in a sense, confirmed the continuation of EU-China relations. In a latest commentary, Josep Borrell, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, pointed to how the EU could modify its policy towards China. However, he advocated for “vigorous engagement” between the EU and Beijing.

Under the weight of US pressure, maintaining a delicate balance in EU-China relations requires careful handling. European leaders will have the opportunity to define the EU’s position on China at the upcoming EU summit, ushering in a future of balanced, constructive, and mutually beneficial engagement. It is essential that European leaders seize this opportunity and set a course that protects their economic interests and fundamental values. In this manner, the EU can promote stability, resilience, and sustainable growth in the face of changing global dynamics.

At this critical juncture, leaders must engage in exhaustive dialogues that incorporate the many facets of the EU’s relationship with China. The promotion of human rights should be coupled with economic considerations. Considerations such as trade disparities, rights to intellectual property protection, and the development of equitable market practices must be addressed in an open discussion. This strategy will ensure an equitable playing field for EU and Chinese businesses, fostering an environment conducive to healthy competition and long-term economic growth.

The foundation of Sino-EU relations should base on mutual interest and respect, multilateralism, and economic exchanges, and they should be exempt from illicit US interference and pressures. By navigating these complexities and forging a path that safeguards economic interests and fundamental values, the EU can promote stability, resilience, and sustainable growth in the face of changing global dynamics.

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China-Germany Win-Win Cooperation



photo:Yao Dawei / Xinhua

The China-Germany cooperation exemplifies the transformative potential of collaboration based on mutual regard, shared objectives, and complementary strengths. This exceptional partnership has spawned a domino effect that extends beyond bilateral relations, inspiring other nations to pursue similarly mutually beneficial partnerships.

 As the world becomes more interconnected, countries can learn from the China-Germany model of cooperation, which fosters economic development, technological advancement, environmental stewardship, and cultural exchange. By adhering to the principles of win-win cooperation, nations can construct a more prosperous, sustainable, and harmonious global community.

China and Germany’s dynamic and mutually beneficial cooperation is a shining example of win-win collaboration on the global stage. Both nations have nurtured strong economic and diplomatic ties over the years, resulting in enormous advances and benefits for their respective societies.

Strong and coordinated global action is needed immediately to combat climate change and advance sustainable development. There is still a lot to be done, but China and Germany have already shown their dedication to environmentally friendly and low-carbon development. By aligning their strategies and exchanging best practices, they can expedite the transition to a low-carbon, sustainable economy.

China’s pledge to peak carbon emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060 shows its commitment to a deep low-carbon transformation of its economy and society. Through the International Climate Initiative (IKI) administered by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, the German Federal Government supports Sino-German climate change cooperation.

 Collaboration in areas such as energy efficiency, renewable energy, the circular economy, and sustainable transportation can lead the way for a greener future, mitigating the effects of climate change and nurturing ecological equilibrium.

China and Germany have established a strong economic partnership that has benefited both countries significantly. Germany’s main commercial partner is China, and vice versa, and this strong bilateral commerce has led to significant economic growth and employment creation. This collaboration has given German businesses access to the sizable Chinese market.

Notably, the exchange of products, services, and knowledge between the two nations has fostered innovation, productivity, and economic resiliency, thereby laying the groundwork for long-term cooperation. This commitment to cooperation has yielded an array of beneficial effects, strengthening the conviction that win-win partnerships can drive progress and prosperity in an interdependent world.

The dynamic economic partnership that has grown between the two nations is one of the pillars of China-Germany cooperation. Germany, known for its scientific prowess, inventiveness, and precision engineering, found a favourable market in China, with its enormous customer base and rapidly expanding economy.

On the other hand, China’s manufacturing expertise and devotion to infrastructure development have presented German businesses with incredible possibilities to expand their operations and enter new markets. Entrepreneurs from both nations could keep pursuing openness, inclusiveness, and win-win cooperation, as well as keep the stability of industrial and supply chains with high-level practical cooperation. This symbiotic relationship has allowed both nations to capitalize on their respective strengths, resulting in economic expansion and job creation for both countries.

China and Germany have also established cooperation in the fields of innovation and research, recognizing that advancements in these fields are crucial agents of economic and societal progress. Through joint research initiatives, academic exchanges, and institution-to-institution collaboration, both nations have been able to pool their intellectual resources, foster innovation, and address global challenges. This cooperation has not only led to revolutionary scientific discoveries, but it has also set the groundwork for future innovations in technology that will benefit all of humanity.

China and Germany have fostered cultural exchange and people-to-people diplomacy in addition to their economic and technological cooperation. By encouraging education exchanges, cultural events, and intercultural dialogue, both countries have built bridges of appreciation, understanding, and friendship. Not only do these interactions enrich the lives of individuals, but they also strengthen the bilateral relationship as a whole. They facilitate dialogue, eliminate preconceived notions, and set the groundwork for mutually beneficial relationships and respect.

By expanding on these accomplishments and upholding a spirit of mutual respect and shared objectives, the China-Germany partnership can continue to advance progress and inspire global collaboration.

The China-Germany model of win-win cooperation provides valuable lessons for nations seeking to forge prosperous partnerships. It emphasizes the significance of mutual respect, trust, and open communication as the foundations for productive collaboration. It also emphasizes the importance of recognizing and capitalizing on balance in strengths and resources, which allows nations to maximize the positive effects of cooperation.

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The Eurasian Zeitenwende: Germany and Japan at the Crossroads

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Image source: X @Bundeskanzler

Russia’s decision to invade in Ukraine in February of last year has been nothing short of a critical juncture in recent history—sending reverberations across the entirety of Eurasia. Seldom have events on one end of the continent been so consequential on the other. Russia’s invasion has shattered the prime directive underpinning the long peace after the Great Wars—the inviolable right to sovereignty has been shattered, as mass armed aggression has reared its head once again. Nowhere is this sweeping change felt than in Berlin and Tokyo—to capitals separated by over 12,453 kilometers of land and sea.

German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz spoke to the Bundestag just three days after Russia’s invasion, on the ‘historic turning point’, the Zeitenwende this moment presented. Not a year later, on December 16, after much negotiation Japan finally released their first National Security Strategy in almost a decade. Ukraine provided for both governments the impetus to shed decades of consensus on defense policy. Berlin and Tokyo were once partners in the greatest conflict wrought on mankind, and today they are once again on the same page—but this time arming in the name of global peace.

The postwar consensus

With 1945 came the crashing down of the German and Japanese imperial ambitions that underwrote the explosions of violence from 1914 to 1945. The first half of the twentieth century saw successive orders predicated the passing of power; the imperialist order long preceded the turn of the century, and came crashing with the First World War. From there, a brief liberal interlude of the Washington Conference was doomed to fail given Anglo-American isolationism, and from that chaos was born—a return to imperialism. With these passing orders, German and Japanese leaders debated and sought to reinvent themselves in response to changing tides across the globe.

In fact, twice in the last century, during Twenty-five Years Crisis, Wilhelmine and Nazi imperialism exploded in the European theater. For the Japanese, a slow roll to imperial domination in Asia began much before the war and exploded in the 1930s. This imperial flame was extinguished almost as soon as it was ignited—bringing with it the deaths of millions through genocide and war, and the destruction of much of the world’s industrial capacity. In the wake of it, a similar thinking overtook both Berlin and Tokyo. In the wake of the horrors of war, both peoples came to a similar conclusion that militarism ought be eschewed—with Japan going as far as enshrining its anti-militarist urge in the constitution’s article 9. Though it must be noted, the Germans accepted their guilt—the Japanese continue to engage in denialism and apologia.

For decades, under the guise of guilt in Germany, and occupation-enforced constitutional limits for Japan, both countries eschewed providing for their own national defense needs—instead relying on the all-powerful U.S. security guarantee.

A new look in a new environment

This change that has occurred here has happened within the context of what Dr. Kent Calder described in The New Continentalism: Energy and Twenty-First Century Geopolitics, and Supercontinent: the Logic of Eurasian Integration, as ‘proto-continentalism’—the modern stirrings of transcontinental integration. The continent was transformed by China’s Four Modernizations, the Oil Shock, and the Collapse of the Soviet Union—all requiring readjustments on the continent. Continental integration followed the integration and modernization within China, the Oil Shock highlighted the need for energy-driven interconnection, and the collapse of the Soviet Union meant no more Cold War political antagonisms. These changes meant that there were suddenly lower costs for trade across the continent—one rife with great complementaries. Like some geographic providence, the world’s largest energy producers in the Middle East, sat between the world’s biggest consumers in Europe and Asia.

Of course, this integration isn’t just relegated to the economic realm—but also the defense sector. Whereas integration was predicated by the near-collapse of mass interstate conflict, the War in Ukraine would seem to threaten just that. But in fact, integration ensures the costs associated with this conflict are felt from one end of the continent to the other. This inherently ties the most far-flung countries on matters of defense—exactly what ties Berlin and Tokyo, and their similar responses to the war in Ukraine. This integration doesn’t just tie Berlin and Tokyo, but also Seoul and Warsaw, both of which have seen deepened defense cooperation not limited to the production of South Korean tanks and artillery in Poland. Furthermore, Japan has sought out increased cooperation with NATO.

The mutually-reinforcing loop

Russia’s invasion has been an unmitigated tragedy for the people of Ukraine—but a boon for solidarity in the ‘Western’ security architecture, including the West’s numerous Asian allies and partners, and Eurasian integration writ large. In fact, the mutual economic ties that have fostered closer defense ties across the region, will continue to reinforce each other. Integration between these partners, across various sectors is the greatest mitigator of future conflict—an idea that underpins the great postwar peace, and one that will continue to endure.

Today, Germany and Japan, once imperial menaces to the international system, now make a proactive contribution to global peace—in deciding to behave like normal countries, and arm amidst a threatening global environment. Their contribution to the peace is in the solidification of transcontinental defense ties—ones predicated on deep economic integration.

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