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Border Conflict and the New European Reality

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International politics are gradually progressing to a state that has been forgotten, or even unknown among generations of statesmen and thinkers. The novelty of the form and content of the main processes occurring at the regional and global level helps one understand the main thing — it makes any historical analogies senseless, although these, quite often, are nothing more than a manifestation of intellectual laziness. Something really huge is happening — the institutional landscape that has formed in political relations between states since the two world wars in the first half of the 20th century is disappearing.

States continue to ensure their survival, but the disintegration of the institutional system forces them to make decisions that are striking in their novelty. Under the new conditions, things that until recently were considered unthinkable or catastrophic become possible: this is associated with the tragic perception of events that in reality are not so tragic. The elements of familiar persisting globalisation — colossal cross-border trade, communications and information space — already exist in a fundamentally new political environment, compared to the one created as a result of technological advances.

Therefore, the consequences of the destruction of what we used to call the Liberal World Order are more significant than one could expect. First of all, because the basis of this order — the unconditional power dominance of the Western countries in world affairs — has been shaken. Until recently, even those powers that were considered revisionist were counting on the preservation of this dominance, albeit in a more relaxed form. However, they, including Russia and China, cannot look into the future with full confidence either: rather than a change adapted to their own interests, real multipolarity turned out to be a fundamentally new state of the international environment. State leaders are going by their instincts, relying on their loyalty to national interests and common sense, leaving no room for the usual forms of international interaction.

The ideal situation from the point of view of the winners in the 20th century’s Cold War was supposed to look like the interaction of narrow and large groups of states within the international community. At the same time, individual representatives of the second group could, under certain circumstances, be incorporated into the first one. But even if this did not happen (the most enlightened minds in the West understood the inevitability of this), the community of liberal market democracies still hoped to use their colossal power advantages in order to create a protective barrier around their societies. Punishment for violating the limits of this barrier would be so significant that in itself it served as a guarantee of calm development. However, this is precisely what is not happening — the West was unable to rule the world. It cannot fence itself off from international politics using the wall of its institutional and power capabilities. At the same time, internal processes in the United States and Europe are often viewed from the outside as signs of revolutionary behaviour. In fact, this is not altogether unjustified.

Europe is gradually sinking into a state of universal competition, both on its borders and within that world of European integration, which just recently seemed strong and reliably protected. The problem of refugees has become the most powerful challenge to the concept of a “democratic fortress”, outside of which there are sanctions, targeted bombings and political assassinations of opponents of the West. For several years, this has affected Western Europe — the most enlightened and progressive part of the community of market democracies. This year, the problem has taken an unexpected angle and turn — Europe is faced with a movement of Middle Eastern refugees from a state with which the European Union has openly hostile relations. The leading EU countries have been actively fighting against Belarus for more than a year.

For logistical reasons, Belarus under Alexander Lukashenko cannot be a transit country for such a number of refugees as, for example, Turkey or the nations of the Maghreb. However, unlike Turkey or the former European colonies in North Africa, it is a European state itself, but at the same time it is not associated with any institutional obligations to the EU. Since the government of Belarus is not legitimate from the official point of view of the EU, it is difficult to negotiate with it, although the Europeans have never been particularly embarrassed by the legal aspects of the issue. Behind the back of the government in Minsk is Russia, bound to it by strong allied obligations. Even if the Europeans wanted to, they would no longer be able to reverse the movement of Moscow and Minsk towards each other; Europe itself gave the impetus to this process in August 2020 through its policymaking.

The border crisis between Belarus and Poland in the autumn of 2021 is just one example of the behaviour of states within the framework of the new normal in international politics. The fact that the fate of several hundred refugees is at the centre of the conflict is related to Europe’s vulnerability on this very issue. Since the Europeans themselves, acting by the right of the strong, quite actively use their advantages in relation to different states, distributing “sanctions” right and left, they should not be surprised that the place where they feel least confident will be under attack.

Moreover, here the behaviour of the Belarusian authorities underscored another weak spot of the EU — the specificity of the political culture and foreign policy manners of the Eastern European countries. It is Poland, the largest country in this region, which separates Russia from the countries of Western Europe, which are presumably capable of more civilised behaviour. For the Polish authorities, who have been in the grip of nationalist propaganda for several years now, the fight against the invasion of “aliens” from the other side of the border has truly become a matter of state. The armed forces of the republic, which normally lag not only Russia or the United States, but also the more advanced European armies, are in a fight against several hundred unarmed men, women and children. And the Polish soldiers feel right at home.

At the same time, the crisis that arose, like most crises of the new era, does not risk escalating to the level of a general war. Neither side initially had any reason to interpret the situation as an interstate conflict. Therefore, Warsaw and Minsk had no reason to scale down tensions, both states showed assertiveness, the scale of which might not have been expected from them even by their powerful neighbours in the East and West. The movement towards the settlement of the conflict was the result of the joint peacekeeping efforts of Moscow and Berlin, even if it has not been accurate to characterise relations between them as friendly for more than a year. However, they were able to find a common language among themselves, when faced with the tough position of countries that sometimes are viewed as their wards.

After the countries of Western Europe implemented their large-scale project of expanding the European Union to the East in the early 2000s, they hoped to create a belt of countries around its perimeter, which could ensure a peaceful neighbourhood. This, however, turned out to be impossible — now the EU borders are a continuous conflict zone. However, something else is much more unusual for the countries of Western Europe — within the European Union and NATO itself there are states, such as relatively large Poland and small Lithuania, which are willingly and gladly drawn into border conflicts with their neighbours. This makes Europe itself not an arbiter, but a party to the confrontations that it would like to avoid forever.

So far, Germany’s political and, most importantly, economic influence on its emotional partners in the eastern EU is sufficient to settle their squabbles with neighbours in Berlin’s own interests. However, it is hardly likely to continue indefinitely. Already this autumn, Russia and the leading countries of the European Union upped the ante — we heard threats, the implementation of which could cause devastating damage to the international transport and trade infrastructure in this part of Eurasia. The next conflict of this kind is likely to lead to their, albeit partial, realisation. Then the leading European powers, like Russia, will face the need to interact in a completely new reality.

From our partner RIAC

PhD in Political Science, Programme Director of the Valdai Discussion Club; Academic supervisor of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies, HSE University, RIAC Member

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Europe

The Economist: “Europe looks like… a sucker”

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© European Union 2019 – EP

Don’t be fooled by the rush of good news from Europe in the past few weeks. A brutal economic squeeze will pose a test of Europe’s resilience in 2023 and beyond, – predicts “The Economist”.

There is a growing fear that the recasting of the global energy system, American economic populism and geopolitical rifts threaten the long-run competitiveness of the European Union and non-members, including Britain.

Energy prices are down from the summer and a run of good weather means that gas storage is nearly full. But the energy crisis still poses dangers.

Gas prices are six times higher than their long-run average. On November 22nd Russia threatened to throttle the last operational pipeline to Europe. Europe’s gas storage will need to be refilled once again in 2023, this time without any piped Russian gas whatsoever.

The war is also creating financial vulnerabilities. Energy inflation is spilling over into the rest of Europe’s economy, creating an acute dilemma for the European Central Bank. It needs to raise interest rates to control prices. But if it goes too far it could destabilize the Eurozone’s weaker members, not least indebted Italy.

Too many of Europe’s industrial firms, especially German ones, have relied on abundant energy inputs from Russia. The prospect of severed relations with Russia, structurally higher costs and a decoupling of the West and China has meant a reckoning in many boardrooms.

That fear has been amplified by America’s economic nationalism which threatens to draw activity across the Atlantic in a whirlwind of subsidies and protectionism. President Joe Biden’s ‘Inflation Reduction Act’ involves $400 bn of handouts for energy, manufacturing and transport and includes make-in-America provisions.

In many ways the scheme resembles the industrial policies that China has pursued for decades. As the other two pillars of the world economy become more interventionist and protectionist, Europe, with its quaint insistence on upholding World Trade Organization rules on free trade, looks like a sucker.

Many bosses warn that the combination of expensive energy and American subsidies leaves Europe at risk of mass deindustrialization.

Compared with its pre-COVID GDP trajectory, Europe has done worse than any other economic bloc. Of the world’s 100 most valuable firms, only 14 are European.

America’s financial and military support for Ukraine vastly exceeds Europe’s, and America resents the EU’s failure to pay for its own security.

America is irritated by Europe’s economic torpor and its failure to defend itself; Europe is outraged by America’s economic populism.

…High-level relationship – where will it all lead to?

International Affairs

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More Europeans will perish from energy crisis than Ukraine war death toll

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More people will perish in Europe this winter because of unaffordable household energy costs than those who have died on the battlefield in the Ukraine war, according to research by the British weekly newspaper The Economist.

Last week, the United Nations said the official civilian death toll from the Ukraine war has risen to nearly 6,900, with civilian injuries topping 10,000.

Whilst the death of military forces in Ukraine has been difficult to verify, the number of soldiers thought to have died in Ukraine is estimated at 25,000-30,000 for each side.

The Economist modeled the effect of the unprecedented hike in gas and electricity bills this winter and concluded that the current cost of energy will likely lead to an extra 147,000 deaths if it is a typical winter.

Should Europe experience a particularly harsh winter, which is something likely when considering the growing effects of climate change, that number could rise to 185,000. That is a rise of 6.0%. It also reports that a harsh winter could cost a total of 335,000 extra lives.

Even in the rare case of a mild winter, that figure would still be high with tens of thousands of extra deaths than in previous years. If it is a mild winter, research by The Economic indicates the death toll would be 79,000.

The Economist’s statistical model included all 27 European Union member countries along with the United Kingdom, Switzerland, and Norway.

It is anticipated that Governments across Western Europe would be alarmed and concerned by these shocking figures published by the study.

But it remains to be seen what measures these governments will take to prevent so many extra fatalities in their own countries because of the energy shortage.

The energy crisis itself began when Europe, which was heavily reliant on Russian gas, imposed heavy sanctions on Russian energy exports following Moscow’s war in Ukraine. Before the war, Russia supplied 40-50% of the EU’s natural-gas imports. One of Europe’s strongest economies, Germany for example, had become dependent on Moscow’s gas flows and had no Plan B.

The move clearly backfired on Western economies, with inflation reaching record levels not seen in decades, mainly as a result of the soaring energy prices. That has left pensioners and other poorer as well as middle-class income households facing a choice of putting food on the table this winter or heating their homes.

The study by The Economist says that despite European attempts to stockpile as much gas as possible to fill their storage facilities, many consumers are still being hurt by the rise in wholesale energy costs.

It adds that even as market prices for fuel have slightly declined from their peaks, the real average residential European gas and electricity costs are 144% and 78% above the figures for 2000-19.

As it is being hurt the most, Europe could take serious and concrete efforts to push both Kyiv and Moscow to the negotiating table and hold peace talks that would bring an end to the war.

That would ease a lot of problems facing the continent – and the world – from energy shortages to the global food supply chain disrupted by the war.

However, critics argue, this would backfire on many Western arms manufacturers who are making lucrative profits from their weapons shipments to the warzone.

There are many officials and other influential figures in the West, especially the U.S. congress (despite America not being included in a study by The Economist), who have links to arms manufacturers; which makes the possibility of peace somewhat unlikely.

While the United States has sent weapons to the tune of $40 billion dollars, European countries show no sign of opting for peace with the new British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, the latest to announce plans of maintaining or increasing military aid to Ukraine next year

The other course of action is for Western governments to ease the cost-of-living crisis by spending more on social welfare and hiking the tax rates for the rich.

This would save lives by allowing families to heat their homes but many Western governments are taking the opposite route, by claiming they need to cut spending in order to strengthen economic growth in the long run. 

As things stand, the new research by the Economist will add to the fears already facing families in Europe ahead of the winter season. The lower the temperatures will be in Western Europe, the more likely it will be that higher-than-usual death tolls are going to hit the continent. 

As The Economist notes, although heatwaves get more press coverage, cold temperatures are usually deadlier than hot ones. Between December and February, 21% more Europeans die per week than from June to August.

The report says that in the past, changes in energy prices had a minor effect on mortality rates in Europe. But this year’s hikes to household bills are remarkably large.

The Ukraine conflict has exposed other massive costs that have accompanied the violence. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development estimates that the world economy in 2023 will be US$2.8 trillion smaller than was estimated in December 2021, before the fighting erupted in February.

The British weekly newspaper, which built a statistical model to assess the effects of the sharp rise in energy prices, forecasts deaths based on weather, demography, influenza, energy efficiency, incomes, government spending, and electricity costs, which are closely correlated to prices for a wide variety of heating fuels.

It used data from 2000-19, (excluding 2020 and 2021 because of covid-19) and says the model was highly accurate, accounting for 90% of the variation in death rates.

High fuel prices can exacerbate the effect of low temperatures on deaths, by deterring people from using heat and raising their exposure to cold.

It says that with average weather, the study found a 10% rise in electricity prices is associated with a 0.6% increase in deaths, though this number is greater in cold weeks and smaller in mild ones.

In recent decades’ consumer energy prices have had only a modest impact on winter mortality, because energy prices have moved or swung back and forth in a regular rhythm.

In a typical European country, increasing fuel prices from their lowest level in 2000-19 reduce the temperature from the highest level in that period to the lowest which means colder weather increases the death rate by 12%.

The study cites the case of Italy, where electricity bills have surged to nearly 200% since 2020, extending the situation, which it said was a linear relationship that yields extremely high death estimates. It has been reported that the country will suffer the most extra deaths. The results show that Italy, which has an older population along with soaring higher electricity prices makes it the most vulnerable. 

Other countries such as Estonia and Finland are also expected to suffer from higher fatalities on a per-person basis. People in Britain and France will also be affected. The model for the effects of fatalities from high energy costs did not include Ukraine.

However, damage to the energy infrastructure in Ukraine as a result of the war, will also certainly have a dire humanitarian effect on Ukrainians as well.

Over the past weeks, many reports have emerged citing Europeans as saying they will be forced to switch the heating off because of the high fuel prices, essentially exacerbating the effect of cold temperatures on deaths by raising people’s exposure to low temperatures.

The most vulnerable people in Europe, the elderly and those living alone or on low pay to medium paychecks will pay the highest price: Death.

Tehran Times

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Europe

Significance of first EU-Bangladesh political dialogue

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Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen with Deputy Secretary General of the European External Action Service Enrique Mora. Photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bangladesh Oct. 2021

The European Union (EU) and Bangladesh held their first “political dialogue” on Thursday (November 24) in Dhaka to “elevate” their partnership by providing strategic direction and stepping up their cooperation on foreign and security policy.

Md. Shahriar Alam, state minister for foreign affairs of Bangladesh, leads the delegation there, while Enrique Mora, deputy secretary general of the European External Action Service (EEAS), represents the EU.

It was the first-ever political discussion in an effort to strengthen their ties at a time when Bangladesh’s influence is rising around the globe. All have an opportunity to discuss all sorts of political issues that they have shared concerns on.

When Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen and the Deputy Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS) met in Brussels in October 2021, the two parties decided to begin the political dialogue.

For the first time, a political dialogue between Bangladesh and the European Union (EU) has been held in the capital Dhaka which bears some significance message for Dhaka and Brussels both. Various issues were discussed in the dialogue. However, things like democracy, fundamental rights, rule of law and human rights have gained importance. Bangladesh and EU have pledged to work together on these issues.

Besides, both sides agreed to sign a Partnership Cooperation Agreement (PCA) in view of 50 years of relations between Bangladesh and the European Union. It is reported that the agreement will include issues such as connectivity, defense, cyber security framework and addressing the risks of climate change. And the basis of this new legal framework will be human rights.

There is no doubt that the economic and political alliance of 27 developed countries of Europe will bring benefits to Bangladesh in various fields if cooperative relations are developed with the European Union. Such relationships are also important in the current global context. So, we welcome this initiative. It has not yet been determined when the partnership agreement will be signed.

However, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam has expressed hope for its implementation in the context of 50 years of relations with the European Union. He said, ‘We have agreed to work on a partnership and cooperation agreement. It has a negotiation process. Taking into account the growing capacity, growth and journey of Bangladesh with the European Union, there is an opportunity to deepen and expand the relationship between the two sides.

One thing that has become clear through this dialogue is that the European Union’s interest in Bangladesh is gradually increasing. It was also understood in the speech of EU representative Enrique Mora at the end of the dialogue. He said, ‘We are reconsidering our relationship with Bangladesh for two reasons. One is the incredible growth and achievement of Bangladesh. That’s why we want to cooperate on various issues. The other is that we have important interests in the Indo-Pacific region. Our objective and strategy are to take a bigger position here. To achieve this goal, we want to increase the partnership with the countries of the region.

A country’s foreign policy is determined based on the country’s national interests. Just as the European Union has interests in strengthening relations with Bangladesh or countries in the region, Bangladesh also has interests in strengthening relations with the EU. Bangladesh’s policy makers have to adopt the strategy of how to make maximum use of this opportunity. There is an opportunity to expand the commercial relations of Bangladesh with the developed countries of Europe. Bangladesh needs the cooperation of those countries in the field of education, science and technology.

On issues like the Rohingya crisis, Bangladesh can expect the support of the EU in various international forums, including the United Nations. Bangladesh can also ask for special benefits for tourism in EU countries. Therefore, the potential of mutual cooperation created through the Bangladesh-EU dialogue, the sooner it becomes a reality, the better.

The EU recognized Bangladesh’s renewed national confidence and growth momentum and expressed interest in working with Bangladesh to address issues of mutual interest, including by emphasizing the Indo-Pacific.

The fields of collaboration between Bangladesh and the EU are growing, and both nations have a variety of international and bilateral interests. While convening the first-ever “political dialogue” between the two sides in this location, Bangladesh and the European Union (EU) indicated a strong desire to take their current relationships to the next level.

State minister Alam and EU representative Mora announced at a joint news conference that they have expressed a willingness to sign a “partnership cooperation agreement” to improve Bangladesh’s relationship with the EU. Alam stated at the briefing that “They (EU) do have such a pact with main economies of ASEAN.”

The state minister reported that during the meeting they also discussed finding a political solution through the repatriation of the displaced people from Bangladesh to Myanmar and examined the Rohingya situation from a security viewpoint.

Additionally, both parties discussed a number of topics of shared interest, such as security cooperation, free and fair Indo-pacific, the Ukraine crisis, food security, trade facilities, and the issue of continuing duty-free access for Bangladeshi goods to the market after Dhaka graduates from the LDC status. Charles Whiteley, the ambassador of the EU to Bangladesh, was also present.

The EU will also have a scheme for duty-free benefits called “GSP Plus. But EU puts some conditions. Bangladesh has made significant economic and social advancements in recent years. The most significant achievement Bangladesh might make in the next years will be leaving the LDC category. But the issue still stands: Will Bangladesh’s commerce sector be equipped to handle the challenges when it leaves the Least Developed Country (LDC) category in 2024? The most difficult part of the journey to seamless graduation appears to be losing privileged market access in many export destinations.

The largest buyer of Bangladeshi goods has historically been the European Union (EU), which accounts for 64% of all clothing exports and 58% of all exports overall. As a least developed country (LDC), Bangladesh has benefited from the finest Generalized Scheme of Preferences of the European Union programs with zero tariffs. One of the nations to make use of the EU’s preferred market access is Bangladesh. Therefore, following LDC graduation, Bangladesh must maintain its tariff preference in all significant markets, but especially in the EU market. The country’s exports would increase if favorable tariffs were used to maintain export competitiveness. As a result, there would be more manufacturing, more export revenue, more employment opportunities for women, and ultimately less poverty.

 Both parties should prioritize the issue. As Bangladesh is on the way of development, EU should support Bangladesh to be a developed country.  Bangladesh has been included in a new EU initiative named “Talent Partnership’.

Bangladeshi migrants are increasingly choosing to go to Europe, particularly to Italy, Greece, Spain, and Portugal. The EU insists on stopping unauthorized immigration, and both are working to do so.  Although there is still space for improvement, Bangladesh has achieved great strides in the area of labor, and the EU is pleased with it.

The EU has supported Bangladesh strongly on the Rohingya issue and this is discussed in the meeting. Bangladesh looks for financial aid for climate change adaptation as well as technology support for renewable energy. The discussion centers on the need for a free and open Indo-Pacific region and cooperation in counterterrorism initiatives.

After the loss of the duty-free and quota-free market access facility in the EU under the Everything but Arms (EBA) scheme in 2029, Bangladesh shall work to take advantage of the Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) facility of the European Union (EU).

Bangladesh is going to sit in political dialogue with the European Union (EU) for the first time. The deepening and broadening of relations with the EU and the current complex geopolitical context necessitate a political dialogue.

In addition to discussing bilateral relations, political discussions were held on the three issues discussed in the Bangladesh-EU Joint Commission meeting since 2001 namely development cooperation, trade and good governance and additional issues of human rights. The purpose of this political dialogue is to give a strategic direction so that the stakeholders understand what they have to do.

Security issues was discussed on a large scale in this forum. The security agenda covers terrorism, cyber security, peacekeeping, food and energy security, climate change, international crime and more.

The two sides discussed about creating and expanding the cooperation relationship on the issues between the two sides. The EU has already announced its Indo-Pacific Strategy. Bangladesh’s position on the Indo-Pacific is being worked on. Besides, there are various mechanisms of cooperation between the countries of this region. The region’s importance was greater than ever as the world’s center of power shifted towards Asia. Regional cooperation is very important to the EU and they want to know how Bangladesh is positioned in the region – that is normal. Enrique Mora also said that Bangladesh has become an important state with excellent economic progress.

More important for Bangladesh is Rohingya repatriation. On the other hand, the situation in Myanmar is normal for the EU. EU countries have been supporting the solution of the Rohingya crisis since its inception. But after the military seized power in February last year, restoring democracy in Myanmar became paramount to them and the Rohingya issue took a back seat. The two sides must highlight their respective positions and discuss how to work to resolve the issue. It is not the only issue of Bangladesh. Again, this is not a bilateral issue between Bangladesh and Myanmar. He said, this is an international problem. The international community should be concerned about this. EU IS putting pressure on Myanmar’s military authorities by suspending various types of sanctions and development aid, including arms. The EU reiterated its gratitude for the continued generous role and actions of the Government and people of Bangladesh to temporarily shelter more than 1.1 million Rohingya forcibly displaced from Myanmar for more than five years.

However, to ensure mutual advantage, EU and Bangladesh can cooperate in a variety of fields and approaches. This initial political discussion may open the door to further fortifying the bonds.

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