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Explainer: The Eastern Partnership post 2020 priorities

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Why is the EU presenting new priorities for the Eastern Partnership beyond 2020?

The Eastern Partnership aims to strengthen and deepen political and economic relations between the European Union, its Member States and the Eastern partner countries and remains a cornerstone of EU’s foreign policy.

As the ‘20 deliverables for 2020′ agenda adopted at the 2017 Summit was running its course, in June 2019 the European Council tasked the European Commission and the High Representative to present a further set of long-term policy objectives beyond 2020. 

The work on the future agenda started with a broad and inclusive consultation conducted in 2019, which concluded with the adoption of the Joint Communication: Eastern Partnership policy beyond 2020: Reinforcing Resilience – an Eastern Partnership that delivers for all  in March 2020, followed by the Council Conclusions on the Eastern Partnership policy beyond 2020 in May.

The Joint Communication identified strengthening resilience as an overarching policy framework, with five long-term policy objectives: i) together for resilient, sustainable and integrated economies; ii) together for accountable institutions, the rule of law and security; iii) together towards environmental and climate resilience; iv) together for a resilient digital transformation; and v) together for resilient, fair and inclusive societies.

At their videoconference in June 2020, the EaP Leaders stated that the proposed framework should form the basis of a new set of post 2020 priorities to be endorsed at the coming Eastern Partnership summit. The shaping of this new agenda took place in an inclusive dialogues with partner countries, Member States and other stakeholders. 

What is in the proposal? What is different/new?

Since its launch in 2009, the Eastern Partnership has delivered concrete, positive results for the partner countries and the EU. Based on these achievements and the results of the broad and extensive consultation conducted in 2019 and 2020, the future priorities for cooperation continue aiming at bringing tangible benefits for people. This will be done through increasing trade, growth and jobs, investing in connectivity, strengthening democratic institutions and the rule of law, supporting the green and digital transitions, and promoting fair, gender-equal and inclusive societies. 

A regional economic and investment plan will support post-COVID socio-economic recovery and long-term resilience, taking into account the ‘build back better’ agenda.

Why have you highlighted/selected top ten targets? Are they more important than the other priorities?  

The comprehensive agenda includes a number of priorities structured around five long-term objectives, all of them equally important to strengthen the cooperation between the EU, its Member States and the partner countries. 

In order to maximise impact and visibility on the ground, and taking into account the results of the consultation, a selection of top ten targets has been providing concrete examples of actions within the wider framework of cooperation. The targets range from additional support to SMEs, to the reduction of energy consumption, from increased access to high speed internet to the support to health workers, from additional support to civil society to better tackling hybrid and cyber threats. 

What do you mean by strengthening resilience? How does it link with recovery and reform?

Resilience is multi-dimensional and contributes towards stability, security and prosperity. The EaP policy beyond 2020 focuses on the modernisation and implementation of sustainable reforms, which are key for investing in a resilient economy, democracy, environment and climate, and society. Continued delivery on the reform agenda, alongside the respect for fundamental and shared values, are and will remain the foundations of our partnership. 

In light of the COVID 19 pandemic and its socio-economic fallout, the new agenda aims for increased investment and proposes and economic and investment plan to support a sustainable socio-economic recovery. The investment pillar is grounded in a dedicated pillar on good governance, rule of law, security, and resilient societies, leaving no one behind. These two pillars will enhance the resilience of all partners.

How will the EU help create jobs and opportunities in EaP countries?

To support the creation of job and economic opportunities in partner countries, the EU is proposing to further deepen the economic integration with and among partner countries, and to increase trade, which has nearly doubled between the EU and partners in the last decade. The EU will support the full implementation of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas (DCFTAs) with Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, and also encourage enhanced cooperation with non- DCFTA countries, for example through sectoral trade facilitation arrangements of common interest involving all partners.  

How will the new EaP policy address issues of climate change and environmental protection?

Joint work on combating climate change, ensuring more opportunities for greening societies and economies and fostering a circular economy is an integral part of the Eastern Partnership policy framework beyond 2020. The EU will help partner countries to fulfil their nationally determined contributions to the Paris Agreement and modernise their economies, reducing their carbon footprint and moving towards climate neutrality by 2050, while acknowledging the investment challenges and leaving no one behind. This takes even more relevance in the context of the post COVID 19 recovery efforts, as recently acknowledged by EU and EaP Ministers at the 3rd EaP ministerial meeting on environment and climate change held on 22 June 2021.

How will the new EaP policy address digital transformation?

As indicated in the Strategy on Shaping Europe’s digital future, the digital transformation can enable growth and drive sustainable development for both the EU and partner countries. This is why the EU will invest in the digital transformation of the partner countries, in line with EU legislation and best practice, and aim to extend the benefits of the Digital Single market to them. This will allow for better access to digital infrastructure and services, better public services and administration for citizens, the extension of broadband infrastructures especially in regions and local areas, and a strengthened e-Governance.

How will the new EaP policy address challenges to governance, rule of law and the fight against corruption?

Good governance, democracy, the rule of law and human rights are fundamental values that lie at the heart of the EU’s relationship with partner countries and of the Eastern Partnership itself. They are also preconditions for a functioning market economy and for sustainable growth. In particular, the rule of law is a key factor in ensuring an effective business environment and an important consideration in attracting foreign direct investment.

The EU will keep working together with the governments of partner countries to strengthen the rule of law and anti-corruption mechanisms, as well as the independence, impartiality, efficiency and accountability of justice systems, and to reinforce public administration. The EU remains committed to promote and defend human rights in the region, including through its support to civil society and media. 

There needs to be a renewed commitment to the fundamentals of the partnership and better measure the impact of judicial reforms. In this context, the EU will consider progress in rule of law reforms when deciding on assistance.

How is the EU responding to requests for more security cooperation and overall a more geopolitical approach to the Eastern Partnership? 

We have reaffirmed the strategic importance of the Eastern Partnership, as a specific regional dimension of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), supporting sustainable reform processes and offering close political association as well as economic integration with the EU and tangible impact on people’s lives. The Council in its Conclusions has reaffirmed the joint commitment to building a common area of shared democracy, prosperity and stability.

As outlined in the March 2020 Joint Communication on the EaP future, strengthening resilience will be the key overriding policy framework.  It’s not hard security, which does not fall under EU competence, but strengthening joint governance, economic, environmental, energy and societal resilience, cyber security, fighting crime, reinforcing strategic communications, which all comes into the security envelope. 

We will continue working closely with our Eastern neighbours (in bilateral and regional format – e.g. we hold informal strategic security dialogues with Georgia and Azerbaijan) on tackling terrorism and preventing radicalisation, enhancing cooperation on Security Sector Reform, disrupting organised crime, enhancing cybersecurity and fighting cybercrime, Tackling Chemical, Biological radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) threats.

The proposed priorities for future cooperation include strengthening security cooperation by working jointly on issues such as hybrid and cyber threats, participation in EU missions within CSDP, and European Peace Facility assistance measures. 

What is the EU doing to counter instability and unresolved conflicts in the region? 

The Eastern Partnership is not a conflict resolution mechanism. Nevertheless, unresolved conflicts continue to hamper development in the region. Under the agreed negotiating formats and processes, the EU is committed to promote the peaceful settlement of these conflicts.  In particular, the EU will pursue efforts to support conflict prevention, confidence building and the facilitation of negotiated peaceful conflict settlements. 

What has the EU done to help EaP countries tackle the COVID 19 pandemic?

As part of the “Team Europe” approach, the EU has delivered a robust response to support partner countries’ efforts in tackling the pandemic, including €1 billion to address immediate short-term needs, boost the resilience of healthcare systems, and support the socio-economic recovery process. In addition, a macro-financial assistance package was adopted for Ukraine, Georgia and the Republic of Moldova in the form of loans on highly favourable terms to help these countries cover their immediate and urgent financing needs. The Commission has allocated substantial resources for key protective equipment and means of treatment.

Team Europe has mobilised close to €3 billion in support of the COVAX Facility, which remains the priority instrument to ensure equitable and fair access to safe and effective vaccines. All partner countries (except Belarus) participate in the Facility and have received several batches of deliveries. In addition, the Commission is facilitating, through an EU sharing mechanism, the sharing of  vaccines purchased by the Member States under the EU Advanced Purchase Agreements with third countries, directly or through COVAX.. Several Member States have announced direct sharing targeting Eastern partner countries.

To support the roll-out of vaccines, the EU, through a regional programme in cooperation with the World Health Organisation launched on 11 February 2020 and worth €40 million, is providing technical and logistical assistance to the vaccination process in the six partner countries.  The programme will also facilitate the access to vaccines.  

How will the EU help the EaP countries to respond to potential future pandemics? 

The concept of resilience is even more important against the background of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The EU’s programme on vaccine preparedness implemented by the WHO also has a longer term component to strengthen national immunisation systems and improve capacities of the health workforce in the partner countries in vaccine preventable diseases and communication. Beyond this ongoing support, the EU is ready to strengthen health resilience and systems in the partner countries by taking concerted actions to provide affordable medical care and promoting life style changes (healthy living) to reduce the incidence of non-communicable diseases.

How much money will the EU invest?

The implementation of future priorities will be supported through the various EU tools and modalities, including the new ‘Global Europe / NDICI‘ instrument and the Team Europe initiatives bringing together resources and expertise from the EU and its Member States, through the cross-border cooperation programmes and through the partners’ own investments.  Ongoing programming under the new ‘Global Europe’ instrument is in full alignment with the post 2020 EaP policy framework.

The key new element of the Joint Staff Working Document is the economic and investment plan for the Eastern Partnership. By using all available NDICI tools, including the European Fund for Sustainable Development Plus, backed by its External Action Guarantee, it will foster sustainable development and leverage public and private investment. The Economic and Investment Plan will mobilise up to €2,3 billion from the EU budget in grants, blending and guarantees, to stimulate jobs and growth, support connectivity and the green and digital transition. This is expected to leverage potential investments of up the €17 billion to support the post-pandemic recovery and to transform the economies of the Eastern Partnership to make them more sustainable, resilient and integrated. 

What is in the Economic and Investment Plan?

The economic and investment plan for the Eastern Partnership supports the investment pillar presented in the joint staff working document. Transforming the EaP economies to make them more resilient and integrated has become even more urgent in the context of the post-COVID socio-economic recovery.

Investments focus on enhanced transport connectivity; access to finance for SMEs; investments in equity to strengthen competitiveness and integration into EU value chains; support to the digital transition; investment in environment and climate resilience, including energy efficiency; health resilience and human capital development.

EU support under the economic and investment plan should facilitate and leverage public and private investments, by joining the forces of the EU, the European Investment Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, other IFIs; the EU Member States’ development finance institutions (continuing the Team Europe approach); the partner countries’ national, regional and local governments, municipalities where relevant; and private investors.

The European Fund for Sustainable Development will play a critical role in scaling up and leveraging significant volumes of investments. Synergies can also be sought with other financial tools offered by Member States, such as export credits, investment guarantees, etc. The plan will combine actions to be implemented at local, national and regional level, and will be adapted to the specific needs of each partner country (like the economic recovery plan for Moldova, which identifies priority areas for investment). To ensure sustainable impact, the plan also includes investments in innovation and human capital.

Improving the policy and regulatory environment is essential if the investment in the infrastructure is to be effective and to foster sustainable economic and social development.

Why do we have separate country specific flagships?  Which flagships are envisaged for each country

The Economic Investment Plan proposes concrete country flagship initiatives for each of the partner countries. These will contribute to maximise impact and visibility on the ground and concentrate efforts on concrete priority projects that can make a difference to people and businesses in the Eastern Partnership.

EIP: Flagship Initiatives for Armenia Flagship 1: Supporting an innovative and competitive economy: direct support to 30 000 SMEs Flagship 2: Boosting connectivity & socio-economic development: the North-South Corridor Flagship 3: Investing in digital transformation, innovation, science and technology Flagship 4: Building resilience of the Southern regions Flagship 5: Investing in a green Yerevan: energy efficiency and green buses
EIP: Flagship Initiatives for Azerbaijan Flagship 1: Green connectivity: supporting the green port of Baku Flagship 2: Digital connectivity: supporting the digital transport corridor Flagship 3: Supporting an innovative and competitive economy – direct support to 25 000 SMEs Flagship 4: Innovative Rural Development Flagship 5: Smarter and greener cities
EIP: Flagship Initiatives for democratic Belarus (Proposals are indicative and subject to a democratic transition) Flagship 1: Supporting an innovative and competitive economy – direct support to 20 000 SMEs Flagship 2: Improving transport connectivity and facilitating EU-Belarus trade Flagship 3: Boosting innovation and the digital transformation Flagship 4: Supporting a green Belarus – energy efficiency, waste management and infrastructure Flagship 5: Investing in a democratic, transparent and accountable Belarus
EIP: Flagship Initiatives for Georgia Flagship 1: Black Sea Connectivity – Deploying a submarine electricity cable and fibre optic     cable Flagship 2: Transport across the Black Sea – Improving physical connections between Georgia and the EU Flagship 3: Economic Recovery – Supporting 80,000 SMEs to reap the full benefits of the DCFTA Flagship 4: Digital Connectivity for Citizens – Developing high-speed broadband infrastructure for 1,000 rural settlements Flagship 5: Improved Air Quality – Helping over 1 million people in Tbilisi breathe cleaner air
EIP: Flagship Initiatives for the Republic of Moldova Flagship 1: Supporting an innovative and competitive economy – direct support to 50,000 Moldovan SMEs Flagship 2: Boosting EU-Moldova trade – construction of an Inland Freight Terminal in Chisinau Flagship 3: Increasing energy efficiency – expanding the refurbishment of district heating systems in residential buildings (condominiums) in Chisinau and Balti Flagship 4: Improving connectivity – anchoring Moldova in the Trans-European Network for Transport Flagship 5: Investing in Moldova’s human capital and preventing “brain drain” – modernisation of school infrastructure and implementation of the National Education Strategy
EIP: Flagship Initiatives for Ukraine Flagship 1: Supporting an innovative and competitive economy – direct support to 100 000       SMEs Flagship 2: Economic transition for rural areas – assistance to more than 10 000 small farms Flagship 3: Improving connectivity by upgrading border crossing points Flagship 4: Boosting the digital transformation – modernising public IT infrastructure Flagship 5: Increasing energy efficiency – and support for renewable hydrogen

What is in there for Belarus?  How does it link with the Plan for a democratic Belarus presented a few days ago? 

The EU regrets the decision of the Lukashenko regime to suspend its participation in the Eastern Partnership framework. The Eastern Partnership aims to deepen and strengthen relations between the European Union, its Member States and partner countries, with the overall objective of bringing concrete benefits to the citizens of our respective countries. This decision serves only to further isolate Belarus and is yet another demonstration of the regime’s disregard for the Belarusian people, who benefit from the cooperation and various programmes as part of the Eastern Partnership.

The EU remains open to continue working with Belarusian people also within the Eastern Partnership framework and will continue to support the Belarusian people and civil society, as well as their democratic aspirations.

The country flagships for Belarus included in the Economic Investment Plan are fully aligned with the €3 billion comprehensive plan for a democratic Belarus announced in May. The EU offer is conditional to a democratic transition.

How will the new EaP policy address challenges civil society faces?

The Eastern Partnership goes beyond relations with governments. Partnerships with other key stakeholders, such as civil society organisations are equally important.  Working with civil society has become an indispensable element of the Eastern Partnership and plays a vital role in promoting democracy, the rule of law and advancing key reforms.

In this regard, the EaP Civil Society Forum is a unique, multilateral platform for experience-sharing, mutual learning, support and partnership building. The EU will also further develop strategic partnerships with key civil society organisations to strengthen cooperation, build up the leadership skills of civil society activists, and engage with social partners such as trade unions and employers’ organisations. Finally, it will continue to measure CSO space by using the dedicated tool prepared for the Eastern Partnership (CSO meter) and use this as a basis for policy dialogue with the partner countries

Will the EU continue to tackle fake news and disinformation from Russia?

In the wake of growing disinformation against EU values in recent years, the EU has worked to put in place a stronger and more strategic approach to communication. We have strengthened the EU’s communication in partner countries through clear, tailor-made messaging and raising awareness of the positive impact of EU policies and actions to people across the region. Under the new Eastern Partnership framework, there will be a renewed focus on outreach to youth. Strategic communication is crucial for building resilience and is a core duty for policy-makers at the service of citizens.

The EU will also provide training opportunities and capacity building to the partner countries, including on countering hybrid and cyber threats, where appropriate.

What has the EaP delivered in the past 11 years?

Over the past 11 years, the Eastern Partnership has progressed based on common values

mutual interests and commitments, as well as on shared ownership and responsibility. This strategic partnership has matured and evolved with achievements such as Association Agreements (including Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas), a Comprehensive Enhanced Partnership Agreement, Visa Facilitation and Readmission Agreements, visa liberalisations and Partnership priorities, which are today the cornerstones of our relations and cooperation.

Trade between the EU and Eastern partner countries has nearly doubled in the last decade. The EU is the first trading partner for Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine and second biggest for Armenia and Belarus. In the period between 2016 and 2019, trade volumes between the EU and Armenia went up by 27%, by 55% with Azerbaijan, by 40% with Belarus, by 7% with Georgia, by 42% with Moldova and by 50% with Ukraine. Furthermore, over 185,000 small- and medium-sized companies in the Eastern partners have benefitted from EU funding, creating or sustaining 1.65 million jobs.

In the area of transport connectivity, a €20 million technical assistance facility to help implementation of the extension of the Trans-European Transport Network has been set up. The EU’s TENT-T extension foresees 4,800 km of new and rehabilitated roads and railways by 2030, which will open new opportunities for economic development and exchanges between the EU and Eastern partner countries and amongst themselves.

In terms of investments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the fund of the Energy Efficiency Partnership (E5P) now covers all partner countries.  It has provided over €164 million in investment grants to 40 projects benefiting 11.7 million people and leveraging a total investment of almost €1.2 billion. Investments include all six countries and range from the provision of energy efficient trolley buses in Tblisi and Batumi to municipal investments in district heating in Lviv or investments to enhance energy efficiency in public buildings in Yerevan.

The Eastern Partnership is also delivering for the youth and researchers. The EU has supported 100 projects supporting civic engagement and entrepreneurship amongst the young people and 25,000 young people in the region have benefitted from EU4Youth grants to support six large-scale projects to boost youth employment, their employability and transition to work and 1,100 researchers from the region benefit from the Marie Curie scheme. Since 2016, 43,000 students and academic staff from the Eastern partner countries have participated in academic exchanges thanks to Erasmus+ and over 54,000 young people were involved in other exchanges, including volunteering. The European School in Tbilisi is in place since September 2018 allowing students across all partner countries to graduate on European studies; a fully-fledged European School should be established by 2023.    

The structured consultation in 2019 confirmed that the Eastern Partnership is robust and delivering concrete benefits to citizens. The results-oriented approach “20 deliverables for 2020” has delivered notably on stronger economy, stronger connectivity and stronger society. However, challenges remain, particularly when it comes to judicial reform, fighting corruption and organised crime. In addition, issues relating to media independence, civil society space, gender equality and non-discrimination, continue to pose serious concerns. Equally, climate mitigation and environment need to be addressed further. The future agenda will continue to prioritise these jointly agreed key reforms. 

What will happen next? When will the implementation start? 

The proposed future agenda will be discussed with Member States, partner countries and other stakeholders in view of its endorsement at the 6th Eastern Partnership summit in December 2021. 

The preparatory work for the implementation of the future agenda has already started and it will continue in the coming months, including on securing the funds to implement the ambitious agenda.   

Why are you proposing to change the EaP multilateral architecture?

The current multilateral architecture was revised and officially adopted at the 2017 EaP Summit (along with the ‘20 deliverables for 2020′), and it has been operational since 2018.

The 2019 consultation on the future of the EaP showed a clear consensus that the current structures were functional and fit for purpose, as well as the importance of the multilateral dimension of the EaP cooperation. However, the architecture would benefit from: (i) further streamlining; (ii) better operational arrangements (e.g. as regards the preparation and follow-up of meetings); and (iii) more flexibility. Some adjustments are required to accommodate the new priorities.

The underlying principle for the proposed revision is to maintain elements that work and make suggestions to address shortcomings. It is expected that this will be further discussed with EU Member States and partner countries in view of its validation at the EaP Summit in 2021.

Europe

EU: The stalemate in negotiations brings Serbia ever closer to Russia and China

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Serbia has been waiting since 2012 for the European Union to respond to its application to become a full member of the EU.

In spite of exhausting negotiations, this response is slow in coming and the main cause of the stalemate has a clear name: Kosovo. Before accepting Serbia’s application for membership, the EU requires a definitive solution to the relations between Serbia and that region that broke away from it after the 1999 conflict – when NATO came to the aid of the Kosovo Albanians – and proclaimed its independence in February 2008.

Serbia has never recognised the birth of the Kosovo Republic, just as many other important countries have not: out of 193 UN members, only 110 have formally accepted the birth of the new republic, while the rest, including Russia, China, Spain, Greece and Romania – to name just the most important ones – refuse to recognise the independence of the Albanians of what was once a region of Serbia.

The European Union cannot accept that one of its members is in fact unable to guarantee control over its borders, as would be the case for Serbia if its membership were accepted.

In fact, since the end of the war between Kosovo and Serbia, there is no clear and controlled border between the two countries. In order to avoid continuous clashes, Kosovo and Serbia have actually left the border open, turning a blind eye to the ‘smuggling economy’ that thrives on both sides of the border.

In this situation, if Serbia were to become a full member of the European Union, it would create a gap in the borders of the entire Schengen area, as anyone passing through Kosovo could then move into all EU countries.This is not the only obstacle to Serbia’s accession to the European

Union: many European chancelleries are wary of Serbian foreign policy which, since the dissolution of the Yugoslav Federation, has maintained a privileged relationship with Russia, refusing to adhere to the sanctions decided by Europe against Russia after the annexation of Crimea to the detriment of Ukraine.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Serbia even agreed to produce the Russian vaccine ‘Sputnik V’ directly in its own laboratories, blatantly snubbing EU’s vaccine offer.

For the United States and some important European countries, Serbia’s formal accession to the European Union could shift the centre of gravity of Europe’s geopolitics towards the East, opening a preferential channel for dialogue between Russia and the European Union through Serbia.

This possibility, however, is not viewed unfavourably by Germany which, in the intentions of the CDU President, Armin Laschet, the next candidate to succeed Angela Merkel as Chancellor, has recently declared he is in favour of a foreign policy that “develops in multiple directions”, warning his Western partners of the danger resulting from “the interruption of the dialogue with Russia and China”. In this regard, Laschet has publicly stated that ‘foreign policy must always focus on finding ways to interact, including cooperation with countries that have different social models from ours, such as Russia, China and the nations of the Arab world’.

Today we do not know whether in autumn Laschet will take over the leadership of the most powerful country in the European Union, but what is certain is that Serbia’s possible formal membership of the European Union could force Europe to revise some of its foreign policy stances, under the pressure of a new Serbian-German axis.

Currently, however, Serbia’s membership of the European Union still seems a long way off, precisely because of the stalemate in the Serbia-Kosovo negotiations.

In 2013 Kosovo and Serbia signed the so-called ‘Brussels Pact’, an agreement optimistically considered by European diplomats to be capable of rapidly normalising relations between Serbia and Kosovo, in view of mutual political and diplomatic recognition.

An integral part of the agreement was, on the one hand, the commitment of Kosovo’s authorities to recognise a high degree of administrative autonomy to the Kosovo municipalities inhabited by a Serb majority and, on the other hand, the collaboration of the Serbs in the search for the remains of the thousands of Kosovar Albanians presumably eliminated by Milosevic’s troops during the repression that preceded the 1999 war.

Neither of the two commitments has so far been fulfilled and, during the meeting held in Brussels on July 21 between Serbian President Alexander Vucic and Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti, harsh words and reciprocal accusations were reportedly exchanged concerning the failure to implement the ‘Pact’, to the extent that the Head of European foreign policy, Josep Borrel, publicly asked the two parties to ‘close the chapter of a painful past through a legally binding agreement on the normalisation of mutual relations, with a view to building a European future for its citizens’. This future seems nebulous, to say the least, if we consider that Serbia, in fact, refuses to recognise the legal value of degrees and diplomas awarded by the Kosovo academic authorities also to members of the Kosovo Serb minority.

Currently, however, both contenders are securing support and alliances in Europe and overseas.

Serbia is viewed favourably by the current President of the European Union, Slovenian Janez Jansa, who is a supporter of its membership because “this would definitively mark the dissolution of the Yugoslav Federation”. The vast majority of European right-wing parties, ranging from the French ‘Rassemblement National’ to the Hungarian ‘Fydesz’, also approve of Serbia’s membership application and openly court the Serbian minorities living in their respective countries while, after the years of US disengagement from the Balkans under Presidents Bush, Obama and Trump, the Biden administration has decided to put the region back on the list of priority foreign policy commitments, entrusting the ‘Serbia dossier’ to the undersecretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, Matthew Palmer, an authoritative and experienced diplomat.

With a view to supporting its application for European membership, Serbia has also deployed official lobbyists.

Last June, Natasha Dragojilovic Ciric’s lobbying firm ND Consulting officially registered in the so-called EU ‘transparency register’ to promote support for Serbia’s membership. ND is financed by a group of international donors and is advised by Igor Bandovic, former researcher at the American Gallup and Head of the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy, by lawyer Katarina Golubovic of the ‘Committee of Human Rights Lawyers’ and Jovana Spremo, former OSCE consultant.

These are the legal experts deployed by Serbia in Brussels to support its application for formal European integration, but in the meantime Serbia is not neglecting its “eastern” alliances.

Earlier this month, the Head of the SVR, the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, Sergey Naryshkin, paid an official visit to Belgrade, a few weeks after the conclusion of a joint military exercise between Russian special forces (the “Spetznaz”) and Serbian special forces.

In the Serbian capital, Naryshkin not only met his Serbian counterpart Bratislav Gasic, Head of the ‘Bezbednosno Informativna Agencija’, the small but powerful Serbian secret service, but was also received by the President of the Republic Alexander Vucic with the aim of publicising the closeness between Serbia and Russia.

The timing of the visit coincides with the resumption of talks in Brussels on Serbia’s accession to the European Union and can clearly be considered as instrumental in exerting subtle diplomatic pressure aimed at convincing the European Union of the possibility that, in the event of a refusal, Serbia may decide to definitely turn its back on the West and ally with an East that is evidently more willing to treat the Serbs with the dignity and attention that a proud and tenacious people believes it deserves.

A piece of news confirming that Serbia is ready to turn its back on the West, should Europe continue to postpone the decision on its accession to the European Union is the fact that China has recently signed a partnership agreement with Serbia in the field of pharmaceutical research, an agreement that makes Serbia one of China’s current largest commercial partners on the European continent.

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Europe

NATO’s Cypriot Trick

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UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From our partner RIAC

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

[2] Ibid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Europe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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