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Troubles in the Irish Sea: Brexit Continues to Test Britain’s Forbearance

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The critics of Brexit are rejoicing their deft prophecies. The referendum held in 2016 dismissed a handful of issues, deemed them mere redundant, only to leave them festering for the long-term reality post severance from the European Union (EU). However, neither the critics nor the defendants expected the consequences to follow in such a short period. Months after the much-anticipated exit from one of the world’s most illustrious economic blocs, the United Kingdom faces an uphill battle on multiple fronts: externally and within the Kingdom. An outcry for a second independence referendum in Scotland, renewed calls for seceding the Gibraltar territory, and even the looming financial distress; various issues are now pushing Great Britain under duress. However, a key anomaly is the brewing tension in Northern Ireland.

A protocol that was signed rather hastily, as if to quickly draft a withdrawal strategy, now poses an existential threat to the order of Westminster as alienation is reigning the region for the first time in over a centurial course of domination by Great Britain. And while the ground reality exudes no hostility, it is only a matter of time before a tussle ignites, fulled by the pilling resentment of a decades-long conflict: only this time directed towards England perverse to its historical lineage.

The roots of the tempering situation today go back to the early 20th century. In the aftermath of the outbreak of World War I, while most of the Irish population remained loyal to British rule, the stout Catholic Nationalists rebelled against Britain in 1916. The execution of the rebels by the British forces led to a fissure that soon bifurcated the sentiments in Ireland. The North – predominantly comprised of Loyalist Protestants – celebrated the execution of the rebels whereas the South – dominated by the Catholic community – sympathized with the nationalist agenda of the rebels. Following World War I, guerrilla campaigns emerged in the South as Catholic Nationalists started their struggle for an Independent Ireland. The Anglo-Irish war rivaled the South against the North as loyalists resisted the nationalist struggle for independence from Great Britain.

Under the Government of Ireland Act 1920, the United Kingdom tried to unify the conflicting communities of the Loyalist Protestants and the Nationalist Catholics. Yet, the nationalists continued to launch campaigns to detach Ireland as an Independent state, liberated from British rule. The struggle eventually weighed heavily on the Kingdom leading to the creation of the Irish state: comprising of 26 catholic-dominant counties in the South. Though the Irish Free State existed under British rule, the South eventually parted as the Republic of Ireland in 1949.

However, the border mishap shaped the conflict for decades to follow. Irregular partition plan left a few Catholic-majority counties in Northern Ireland, fuelling resentment as the Protestant-Unionists drafted discriminatory policies for the state; oppressing the Catholic minority to exact revenge. Similarly, the Catholic-Nationalist regime of the Irish Republic heavily influenced its constitution with a Nationalist agenda envisioning a future of unified Ireland. The conflicting ideologies resulted in three decades of violence between the Unionists and the Nationalists: notoriously known as The Troubles.

Probably one of the most harbored resolves came in the form of the power-sharing accord, renowned as the Good Friday Agreement, in 1998. The agreement led to the dissolution of physical borders between the North and South, eradicated violence between the butting Unionists and Nationalists, and presumably solved the problem sowed decades ago. However, despite the historic agreement, the UK exiting the European Union threatened the bargain as Britain failed to account for equity. Resultantly, the Brexit deal poses a passage for violence to return but transfiguring in a rather unique proposition.

In order to retain the Good Friday Agreement, that is, to avoid any increased surveillance and re-erecting borders between the North and the South, the Northern Ireland Protocol was added to the Brexit Agreement. The Irish Protocol entails that the Northern Ireland Peace Deal would be respected, provided that checks are placed on trade between the rest of the UK and Northern Ireland. Simply put, the goods entering to and fro between the UK and Northern Ireland are now subject to checks and regulations, over-sighted by the European Commission and the European Court of Justice, to enjoy an open border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. The protocol was inserted as a safeguard against the prospect of a resurgence of violence between the dueling sides if physical borders were to re-structure. While the regulation of trade was easier when the UK was a part of the single EU market, Brexit complicates matters beyond expectations. While many expected the complexity of the matter at hand – Northern Ireland being a non-EU member and subject to inspections unlike the Irish Republic (still a member of the EU) – hardly anyone expected the pervading feelings of betrayal and growing hostility within the peripheries of the North.

Many of the Unionist-Protestants have addressed the Irish Protocol as a betrayal from Great Britain since, unlike Scotland and Wales, Northern Ireland now faces an imaginary border in the Irish Sea – a mark of separation from Great Britain and a symbolic step closer to the aspirations of the Nationalist-Catholics of a unified Ireland. The inauguration of the customs border in the Irish Sea sparked a Unionist protest in Belfast which led many scrambling in the echelons of England. The clashing Protestants argue that the Irish Protocol is an abomination as it breaches the Good Friday Agreement. In the perspective of the Unionists, the protocol does sketch a line separating Northern Ireland from the rest of the Kingdom which is proclaimed as a customs check yet symbolizes inequity within the Kingdom. While Scotland and Wales continue to trade boundless with England, Northern Ireland would be continually adherent to checks and regulations as if a separate state instead of an offshoot of the UK.

UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson tried to make amends and provide some semblance to the baffling situation. However, he fell short in his efforts and ended up reiterating that Northern Ireland is still a part of the UK much like Wales and Scotland. His frustration was clearly visible as he made half-witted attempts to blame the EU for implementing the protocol rather harshly. The Conservative party, however, betrayed his effort to consolidate a unified stance over the issue. The Party extended support to the Unionists, acknowledging that the Irish Protocol must be re-negotiated into the Brexit’s Irish Customs Provision. The European Union, however, has been terse yet straightforward regarding its position on the matter. While it assured of implementing the terms of the Protocol exactly as negotiated by the Johnson regime, the EU insinuated that it would not re-negotiate any provision and would resort to levying heavy fines on the UK if it attempts to unilaterally bypass the Protocol.

The situation, thus, is dire but not yet catastrophic. Any sane mind would attest that the EU would not resort to upholding the Protocol if violence erupts between the North and the South. Nor would the UK hesitate to use Article 16 to suspend the Irish Protocol entirely. However, calls for an Independence referendum are emerging in Northern Ireland, echoing the demands of Scotland. This is where the fear dens. One could only predict that the ominous silence of the protestants implies patience over their loyalty to Great Britain. However, this proposition fails to sustain. Mr. Roy Montgomery, a former Irish Representative to the EU, stated: “Trust in the British government’s good faith, never high, is now minimal on all sides in Northern Ireland”. If his words are relied upon then neither a unified Ireland nor a rebelling North seems a farfetched reality. It would be ironic, however, as the impending doom of Great Britain would go down in history as a self-etched downfall.

The author is an active current affairs writer primarily analyzing the global affairs and their political, economic and social consequences. He also holds a Bachelor’s degree from Institute of Business Administration (IBA) Karachi, Pakistan.

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Europe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Germany and its Neo-imperial quest

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

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

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

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

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Should there be an age limit to be President?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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