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Russian Perspective on the Challenges to the European Project

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The contemporary political discourse in Russia mostly shares the criticism regarding the current state and the future of the EU. This criticism is driven not only by numerous problems which the EU encounters today but also by the dire relations between Moscow and Brussels. While setting the tune for expert and public discussions, official statements are marked by unprecedented toughness and undisguised pessimism regarding a common European future. Under the sway of this rhetoric, most of the Russian experts focus on the multiple challenges that the EU encounters today rather than on the obvious historical achievements of the European project. As a result, such forecasts suggest the EU’s prospects to appear bleak and pitiful.

Still, the Russian academic community has a vocal group of Euro-optimists, mainly comprised of experts who deal with the European issues and a number of liberally-minded politicians from the opposition. It is only natural that the views of the EU shared by this group are drastically different from the official voices. They consider the common European project not only as the most historically successful but also as the most promising for regional integration. While admitting certain problems and crises that accompany the EU’s development, Russian Euro-optimists are still confident that Europe will eventually put the boot on the other foot, benefitting from the crises and timely adjusting the strategy for further institutional development of the EU.

Although both camps of experts differ in their vision of the EU, they concur on several material challenges to the EU legitimacy and its successful operation. It is the response to these challenges that will define the future of the EU. Russian politicians and foreign policy experts highlight the following most pivotal issues:

Poor strategic autonomy of the EU. Russia notes that despite numerous declarations of the need to become strategically autonomous, independent from the U.S., little of this has essentially translated into practice. Moreover, Joe Biden’s coming to power and taking the seat in the Oval Office is frequently interpreted by the EU as that there is no longer need to be more independent. The de facto abandoning of the objective to achieve strategic autonomy, divorcing from the U.S., simplifies the EU’s strategic planning, while also narrowing the room for European policy-making, including with regards to Russia.

Most of the Russian observers believe that Europe will pay a heavy price for such shortage of strategic autonomy, with these costs only going up with the time. In particular, the EU will be affected by the inevitable exacerbation of the Sino-American confrontation as well as the resulting pressure exercised on Brussels from Washington in order to strengthen the common anti-Chinese stance of the West. Amid a more pronounced bipolar nature of global politics, the EU will have to follow in the U.S.’ footsteps, thus giving up its own agency. Projects similar to Nord Stream 2 will no longer be politically feasible. At the same time, reliance on the U.S. fails to safeguard Western unity in the long run: we cannot rule out that a politician similar to Donald Trump may be sworn in in Washington as early as 2024, something Brussels is totally unprepared for.

Loss by the EU of its economic and technological competitiveness. Despite its considerable economic, scientific and technological potential, the EU today is lagging behind North America and East Asia in many key technological areas. If this gap expands further, the EU may eventually turn into the world’s industrial museum. Subsequently, it may be driven to the sidelines of the global economic and technological development. Problems that have to do with the traditional features of the European social model will grow in number—more than lavish welfare programs will see the European workforce become too expensive to be competitive on the global markets. At the same time, its professional and geographic mobility in many EU member states remains relatively low.

For Russia, such negative tendencies within the EU would accelerate the country’s pivot from the EU to China, South-East Asia and other Asian nations. This pivot could get another impetus once the EU introduces more sectoral sanctions against Russia in the area of high technologies or copies similar exterritorial sanctions as instituted by the U.S. In more broad terms, loss by the EU of its economic and technological competitiveness may cast into doubt the value of the European social model as a token of modernity and an example to be followed by other countries, including Russia.

Exacerbation of European unity problems. Russia, just like the EU, warns of some dangerous potential lines of division within the EU to prospectively emerge, such as the divide between “old” and “new” Europe, North and South, bigger and smaller member states, donors and recipients of the EU funding. Brexit has only exacerbated this situation, bringing in multiple imbalances. Further break-up processes may slow the integration down or even turn it back. National identity in many EU member states could push the common European identity to the backburner. Although most Russian experts do not believe that the EU would finally collapse, some predict that some of the functions that Brussels is now endowed with will be recovered by nation states, which in turn would be reinforced through supranational administration bodies.

The consequences entailed by a potential weakening of the EU’s institutions and mechanisms are still a subject of heated discussions in Russia. Some experts believe that Moscow will benefit from such developments as it historically achieved better results from its bilateral relations with Europe’s leading nations, such as Germany, France and Italy, rather when dealing with the European Union as a whole. Others believe that a weak EU, incapable of speaking in one voice, does not fit for the Russian concept of a multipolar world and cannot be regarded as a Moscow’s reliable partner. In terms of security, a weaker EU would inevitably mean a stronger NATO and a more robust U.S. presence in Europe, which does not meet the Russian interests. In economic terms, a weaker EU cannot adequately counterbalance the growing domination of China in the Russian foreign trade.

European isolationism. Russian observers believe that further EU development and its legitimacy can be challenged by the rise of isolationist sentiments in the EU nations and de facto abandoning of an active foreign policy by the EU leaders. The EU nations fail to agree on such burning international issues as Kosovo, Venezuela, Israeli-Palestinian conflict and so on. Further self-confinement would mean that the EU not only gives up its active role in such regional conflicts as Syria, Libya, Afghanistan. This way, the EU will also give up creating and promoting global commons in the area of climate change, global web governance, human rights, food security and many others.

European isolationism will have a two-fold impact on Russia. On the one hand, Russian authorities will be happy if the EU no longer meddles in Russia’s internal affairs under the pretext of protecting human rights and if Brussels abandons its plans to possibly expand to the East in foreseeable future. Once Europe curtails its activity to its East and to its South, this will create more opportunities for Russia in Syria, Ukraine etc. On the other hand, if the EU is relieved of responsibility to develop and promote new rules of the game in important domains of world politics and economy, such rules would be increasingly imposed by Washington and Beijing. We cannot take it for granted that such a change of leadership in global rules-setting meets Moscow’s long-term interests.

Demographic trough and new migration crisis. Russia takes note of the long-term tendencies of a shrinking EU population and a new possible large-scale migration waves to Europe from the Middle East, South Asia and Africa. Numerous Russian conservative analysts associate the drop in demography with the features of the modern European liberalism, such as same-sex marriages, collapse of the traditional family, loss of faith. Meanwhile, Russia, having abandoned a liberal development model, is still running into even graver demographic problems. Anyway, gradual change in the demographic structure in the EU in favor of European Arabs, European Africans and other non-indigenous ethnic groups can be regarded as one of the most serious challenges to the very existence of the EU and to the future of the European nations in general—especially since there are no optimal models for integration and adaptation of such groups in Europe, at least as of yet.

Russia is monitoring Europe’s experiments to manage international migration and its demographic strategies with particular attention. Conservative analysts regard what is going on in Europe as another reason to restrict migration inflows to Russia (thus avoiding the mistakes committed by Europe). Some believe that Russia has to become a legitimate heir of Europe’s traditional values (such as family, faith, state) which Europe is giving up one by one. For liberals, Russia and Europe are sharing the same demographic problems. On the one hand, it proves that Russia is a European nation. On the other, it necessitates closer cooperation between Moscow and Brussels on demography and international migration.

This text was prepared as part of the international project on the legitimacy issues of the European Union under the German Hanns-Seidel Foundation. From our partner RIAC

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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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Bangladesh-UK strategic dialogue: Significance in the post-Brexit era

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On September 12th, Bangladesh and the UK held their fifth strategic dialogue. The future of Bangladesh’s ties to the United Kingdom in the wake of Brexit has been the subject of much conjecture. Analysts questioned Dhaka’s duty-free access to Britain, which has been generous to an LDC economy like Bangladesh’s, as the UK prepared for its exit from the EU. However, the United Kingdom and Bangladesh have weathered these worries quite well. Rather, the statement by FCDO Permanent Under-Secretary Sir Philip Barton during the dialogue, sums up the strength of Bangladesh-UK relations in current times- “The Dialogue is a reflection of the growing relationship between our two countries, and our desire to work together more closely on our economic, trade and development partnerships and on regional and global security issues.”

Dhaka and London are having a great year on cooperation and connectivity. In the post Brexit era, the year 2023 seems like to be the year that will shift the ties between these countries from a bilateral partnership to each other’s crucial strategic partner in the current geo-politics.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina went to participate in the formal inauguration of the new King Charles III of the United Kingdom earlier this year. UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had only good things to say about Bangladesh during the visit. This is also reflected in London’s post-pandemic approach to Dhaka.

Bangladesh-UK held their first ever defense dialogue in March of 2022 where they discussed various ways of strengthening cooperation including defense, security and trade and climate change. This year started with the second Bangladesh-UK Trade and Investment Dialogue on February. Both the UK and Bangladesh agreed during the discussion that they would want to enhance their trade connection in order to increase their prosperity. This discussion was followed by signing an agreement on March for working together in climate action bilaterally and multilaterally to help deliver the outcomes of COP26 and COP27.

UK’s Indo-Pacific Minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan signed the doctrine during her visit to Bangladesh which also signifies UK’s understanding of Bangladesh’s geostrategic importance in the Bay of Bengal and in the Indian Ocean.

So, this dialogue was surely a much anticipated one among the foreign ministries of these countries.

The provisional agenda included the state visit of President Mohammed Shahabuddin to the United Kingdom in November and the possible visit of British King Charles III (Charles Philip Arthur George) to Bangladesh in 2024. Other than that bilateral trade, investment, and market opportunities; migration, mobility and a new visa scheme for students are expected to be at the top of the agenda. Discussions on the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the Rohingya crisis will also be featured.

The more complex agendas this year include discussions on mutual legal assistance and the extradition of convicted persons.

But Bangladesh has failed to gain an extradition treaty with UK. Although both countries agreed to constitute a joint working group to discuss migration, mobility and mutual recognition of qualifications, and agreed to sign a standard operating procedure (SOP) on returns of Bangladesh nationals in irregular situations in the UK.

The discussions regarding extradition issues if was fruitful, it might have helped the government to bring fugitives to national justice finally. Except this, the strategic dialogues between these countries in recent years have usually brought deep discussions and decisions on bilateral issues.

On the first of this strategic dialogue was in 2017, the issue of defense purchase was discussed- a much needed ground setting for the Forces Goals 2030 of Bangladesh. On the last edition of this dialogue, held in London back in 2021, the UK pledge to extend duty-free, quota-free access to its market until 2029, aiming to facilitate Bangladesh’s export-led growth.

Not only that, UK also added Bangladesh’s name to the list of the Developing Countries Trading Scheme (DCTS) where the country will experience a more simplified regulation system and reduced tariffs on its products entering the UK. This only adds to UK’s commitment towards Bangladesh’s development – where the country is already one of the biggest developing partners of Bangladesh.

UK’s such generosity towards Bangladesh isn’t only because of the benevolence of its heart. The country is now out of the shell of EU, certainly has to widen its reach across other regions. Indo-Pacific is its preferred place to start.

Bangladesh’s geostrategic location between China and the Indian Ocean with its advantage of having a gate way to Southeast Asia makes Bangladesh seemingly the perfect candidate for UK’s strategic interests. Both countries have also announced their Indo-pacific policies which focuses mainly on their economic aspirations. With such resonating goals for the region, the countries can definitely build a bigger stage of collaboration with each other.

The countries used this occasion as the pinnacle of their further economic cooperation as Bangladesh and the UK have agreed to create new institutional cooperation to promote business, trade, investment and are considering signing a new MoU on economic cooperation. They also discussed potential increase of cooperation and capacity building on global and regional security issues of mutual interest, including maritime and blue economy goals in the Bay of Bengal in the Indian Ocean.

The UK also announced a further £3m contribution to the Rohingya response, taking its total contribution since 2017 to £368m.

Another important discussion was on defense and cooperation where UK expressed its interest in selling advanced weapons to Bangladesh for protecting its air and maritime territory.

UK already recognizes Bangladesh as a critical stability provider in the Indo-Pacific and as both the countries have played their cards right, one could argue that bilateral ties are stronger than ever before. The dialogue has served as a further golden thread binding their visionary future together.

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