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EU-Russia Strategic Partnership: Uncovering Latent Rivalry between Two Ideologies

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The world is not pleased with Russia’s decision on Ukraine. In the last few days, thousands of clips showing the plight of Ukrainians have been doing the rounds on news channels, social media platforms, and private messaging apps worldwide. The situation has escalated faster than a lapse video but what is happening in Ukraine is an exposition of just the visible aspect of the problem. The problem is far deep-rooted and complex, with many years of latent contesting between two ideologies. A quick overview of the EU-Russia strategic partnership might help uncover this ideological contestation that had been dormant on the outside but was strongly blazing underneath the surface.

Russia is the largest country bordering Europe and an important trade partner  to the EU.  After the end of the Cold War, the two sides acknowledged one another’s importance in the new era and mutually decided to rise above Cold War politics to pursue common goals. This inclination towards a new beginning resulted in the “EU-Russia Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA)” in 1997 which is considered to be the first legal document establishing the EU-Russia bilateral relations. On the EU side, its official Russia strategy was published in 1995, three years before the PCA came into force. This strategic paper was titled “The European Union’s strategy for future EU-Russia relations”. This document demonstrated the EU’s interest in guiding Russia towards reforms in order to integrate Russia into the community of free and democratic nations. The language used in the document can be considered as one of the early red flags in the EU-Russia bilateral ties. Similarly, scholars who have studied the EU-Russia PCA in details also point out that there is a sense of inequality between two partners. In many of the earlier documents, the EU comes across as the more successful partner responsible for guiding Russia which is struggling and in need of help. The phrase “strategic partnership” was not used in the PCA document.

The EU-Russia bilateral ties were described as a strategic partnership for the first time during the EU-Russia summit in 1998 in Vienna. In 1999, the Presidency conclusions of European Council again used the phrase “strategic partnership” and in the same year an important EU paper titled “Common Strategy of the European Union on Russia” (1999) called for EU- Russia cooperation to solve “continental problems” and “welcomed Russia’s return to the rightful place in the European family”.

After the end of the Cold War, the EU along with its western allies have established a strong belief that an international order with liberal values and a rules-based order is the one and only path ahead. This sense of subtle supremacy of the liberal ideology is visible in many of the EU’s communications with countries like Russia and China. Javier Solana’s speech in 1999 as the High Representative designate of the European Union serves as a good example. Solana remarks,

 “Russia is a country in transition towards democracy and market economy. It is strongly in our interest that this transition is successful so that we can live in harmony with Russia. The EU, with its trade on the basis of mutual economic self-interest, has the best means of supporting this process of transition and helping Russia achieve the necessary reforms”

Documents such as the EU’s Declaration on Chechnya (1995) and the EU’s Resolution on Chechnya (1999) also played a crucial role in inhibiting close ties between Russia and the EU. The liberal values endorsed by the West strongly emphasizes on the promotion of democracy and protection of human rights but authoritarian countries believe it to be an internal matter.In the EU’s resolution on Chechnya, in one section, the EU stresses on the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation and its right to fight terrorism and in another section, it strongly criticizes human rights violation by Russia.

The EU’s stance on Russia mirrors the West’s political posturing towards Moscow and such an overtone from the West was not going unnoticed in Russia. Additionally, in 1999, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) which comprises of a majority of EU member states decided to expand despite Russia’s strong opposition.

In 2000, the EU-Russia strategic partnership took a new turn when Vladimir Putin came to power. Under Putin’s stewardship, Russia refused the EU’s interference in its domestic affairs, including its economic policies, or the Chechnya conflict. The “Foreign policy concept of the Russian Federation” published under Putin talked about the EU as a key partner but not the ‘only’ key partner. Putin’s reconstruction of Russia’s image as a “great power” changed the EU-Russia dynamics.  Finally, the EU-Russia strategic partnership was a partnership between two equals.  Putin announced the end of ’the younger brother’ policy and soon his assertive foreign policy led the EU to acknowledge Russia’s strengths. In the EU-Russia summit held in Moscow in 2000, the EU remarked that crisis management operations in the future would benefit from Russia’s participation. In the 2001 joint summit statements, the EU reaffirmed its support for Russia’s inclusion in the WTO. However, this phase of rapprochement between the EU and Russia was short lived. In 2004, NATO decided to expand further by including seven Central and Eastern European countries. Russia’s strong disapproval of NATO expansion was disregarded once again. This brings us to the present context.

How is this power tussle between two strategic partners relevant to the Ukraine crisis? The war on Ukraine finds its origins in the same ideological underpinning that hinders cordial ties between the EU and Russia – West’s belief that all states should follow their footsteps and become a part of the liberal order. According to Prof. Mearsheimer, the West sought to accomplish its goal through NATO and EU expansions bringing Ukraine and Georgia into the West’s fold.

In 2008, the Bucharest Summit Declaration announced yet another round of NATO enlargement, this time involving Ukraine and Georgia. As Russia shares its border with Ukraine, it strongly voiced its opposition and in 2014, the situation escalated and involved the use of force. Russia being a powerful actor with a determined leader decided to leave no stone unturned to ensure that Ukraine would not join NATO. While this cannot be a justification for starting a war, in international politics it is not an uncommon strategy. “Realpolitik” and “Security Dilemma” are two basic concepts of international politics that explain how and why countries act the way they do. As explained by Prof. Mearsheimer, the 2008 Bucharest Declaration rattled Moscow resulting in tension between Russia and NATO. In 2014, the situation escalated when Ukraine’s pro-Russian President Yanukovych was ousted by protesters in favour of better Ukraine-EU and Ukraine-NATO ties. The ousting of President Yanukovych who consequently fled to Russia sparked an immediate unrest resulting in Russia’s annexation of Crimea including the port city of Sevastopol which is an important naval base in the region. With a pro-Russian President out of power, the West’s involvement in Ukraine increased. The involvement took a military shape when the Trump administration decided to heavily supply antitank missiles and provide other military assistance to Ukraine. In 2018 alone, it sold Ukraine USD 47 million worth of antitank missiles and approved many more of such deals in the following years. These deals between the West and Ukraine threatened Russia’s position in the region. The actions taken by Russia as well as the West serve as an apt example of the theory of Security Dilemma; which suggests that a security measure taken by one state is often interpreted as a security threat by another state resulting in the increased security measures in the second state ultimately leading to escalation.

As a country positioned between two ideologically opposing powers, Ukraine is currently caught in the tug of war between the East and the West. Up until now, West’s liberal hegemony was unchallenged but of late we have seen a rise in differing worldviews. The West’s staunch belief in the supremacy of the liberal democratic world order has time and again ruffled feathers in countries that are not liberal democracies. Victims of such power contestations are generally bordering countries, in this case Ukraine simply because of its geographic location. As authoritarian regimes grow stronger around the world, the liberal order is struggling to adjust to a world with opposing values. The differences between the East and the West is likely to be more defined in the coming future. Nonetheless, mechanisms such as strategic partnerships aid in providing a platform for dialogues between two opposing parties. For now, the EU- Russia strategic partnership is at one of its lowest points as EU has recently announced an array of sanctions against Moscow.

Preksha Shree Chhetri is a Research Associate at the Institute of Chinese Studies (ICS), Delhi. She has recently submitted her Ph.D. Thesis to the Centre for European Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. Her PhD thesis is titled “The EU-China Strategic Partnership, 2003-2017” and her research interests include EU-China relations, EU-Taiwan ties, China’s role in the global climate change negotiations, Connectivity and Democracy. In the past, she has worked as a Research Assistant for many research projects. She has also received the Huayu Enrichment Scholarship (2021-2022). Her recent publication includes a chapter in a co-edited volume titled “Tailspin: The Politics of India-China Economic Relations” published by Routledge.

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Austerity, corruption, and neglect: How the Greek railway became Europe’s deadliest

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Image source: Wikipedia

“Aren’t trains supposed to be safe?” This was the question on the minds of most Greeks after the fatal collision between a passenger and a freight train that took place on February 28th in the Tempi area of Central Greece. The crash cost the lives of 57 people, mostly young students returning home after the Clean Monday holiday. As it turned out, the trains in Greece were not safe at all. In fact, according to a 2022 report by the European Union Agency for Railways, Greece had the deadliest railway among 29 European nations even before the Tempi catastrophe.

The official inquiry into the disaster concluded that the station master had committed a series of critical errors that night; however it also highlighted that there were no safety systems in place to prevent or correct human errors. In the days following the catastrophe, the phrase “a serious accident was waiting to happen” was used many times by those working at the Greek railway.

Thanasis, 22, a driver for Hellenic Train, had the same opinion. Despite its name, Hellenic Train is a subsidiary of Trenitalia and is responsible for the operation of passenger and freight trains on the Greek railway lines. The state-owned Hellenic Railways Organization (OSE) is responsible for running and maintaining the lines as well as the accompanying infrastructure and systems (signals, stations, etc.).

That fateful night, Thanasis drove the IC62 passenger train from Athens up to Larisa, one station before the disaster. There, he changed shifts with his colleagues, who had to drive the IC62 to Thessaloniki. Approximately one hour later, they died from the collision. Thanasis learned about the accident on his way back to Athens.

“Shortly before we reached Thiva, we learned that something had happened because they called us from the Rentis train depot to ask if we were OK. At first, we did not give it much thought because we were told it was a derailment and derailments happen a lot. Afterwards, we learned that it was a head-on collision and that there were deaths. Shortly before we arrived in Athens, we began to see the first photos and videos [from the place of the accident],”he said.

According to the inquiry report, the absence of the European Train Control System (ETCS) played a central role in the disaster. ETCS is being used by the majority of European countries and it would have automatically stopped both trains after they entered a collision course. ETCS was installed gradually on Greek train engines from 2007 to 2018, but in order for it to be operational, the railway signals on the lines need to work.

However, copper thieves have been stealing cables from the railway lines for years. The theft and selling of copper are predominately dominated by criminal gangs called the “copper mafia”, but in some instances OSE employees have also been implicated. In 2017, a high-ranking OSE director and seven other employees were arrested after they were found to have taken tens of thousands of euros in bribes from these gangs. Due to its limited budget, OSE does not replace the stolen and damaged cables; as a result, the signaling system that is essential for the operation of ETCS is constantly out of order. The lack of signaling has resulted in the Greek railway relying on an obsolete system of station masters. This leaves no margin for human error, especially when all the traffic takes place on a single line, as was the case on the night of the Tempi disaster.

Another railway driver, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to fear of reprisals, described how vulnerable the Greek railway system really is to criminal organizations taking advantage of it.

“There are extensive copper wire thefts. Even a few days after the accident, wires for the signaling system were installed in Katerini; they were stolen the same night, a few hours after installation. There is a serious problem. The system started to gradually get out of order,” he said. The driver also spoke of human smuggling rings active on the railway.   

During the last few years, the Greek railway system has become one of the main means of transport used by migrants and refugees attempting to reach Western Europe. This has attracted human smugglers, creating a dangerous environment for workers and migrants. In August 2022, three migrants were killed in their sleep near Drama after they got hit by a train.

“There is a trafficking problem within the organization (OSE), migrants have inside information such as the train and route numbers, they know each train’s destination and they are prepared. People have come into the cab and offered me 2.000 euros to hide them inside. Obviously I refused because I would be arrested.” stated the driver.

“Migrants sometimes hide even beneath the trains, when we find out, we immediately stop the train and call OSE, but they often tell us “What do you want us to do?”. Even the police do not come. If it arrives, it is usually just one run-down police cruiser with one police officer inside. Sometimes a train may have 90–100 people (migrants) on it,” he added.

Although copper theft and human smuggling are significant issues, the primary factor responsible for the decline of Greek railway is the severe budget cuts that have been implemented on OSE since 2010 as part of wider austerity policies. As a result, OSE gradually became underfunded and understaffed. It is telling that OSE went from employing around 6.000 people in 2010 to less than 1.000 people in 2021. This has led to many stations being left unmanned, while OSE employees sometimes have to work long hours, which makes them more prone to mistakes. Furthermore, the lack of funds means that damaged equipment and infrastructure cannot be easily repaired or replaced.

To make matters worse, the political clientelism that has plagued the Greek public sector for decades has also been present in OSE, with inexperienced individuals being given important positions within the organization simply because of their political ties. According to several reports in the Greek press, the station master charged with causing the Tempi tragedy was a political appointee of the ruling New Democracy party. He had been given the job in 2022 after a few months of training, despite being 60 years old and lacking prior experience.

Moreover, OSE seems to be afflicted by a culture of silence. Every OSE employee we tried to contact refused to talk, with some of them implying their upper-ups had forbidden them to speak publicly. A couple of weeks after the accident, this culture became evident during the visit of the ex-deputy minister of transportation, Michalis Papadopoulos, to the Larisa station. Papadopoulos, while addressing the press, made some inaccurate remarks regarding the station’s control board. When a station master stepped in and corrected the deputy minister, making him visibly uncomfortable, a high-ranking OSE director intervened, tapped the station master on the shoulder and coldly told him, “End it.” The station master complied and stopped talking at once.

A few days after the disaster, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis referred to it as a “sacrifice” that would help the state to prevent similar disasters in the future. However, if someone roamed the streets during the almost daily large demonstrations in the weeks following the Tempi catastrophe, the word that he would see mostly written on placards and banners was “murder.” This shows that a sizable part of society did not attribute the accident to the convenient explanation of human error but considered the Greek state responsible for the dreadful condition of the country’s infrastructure, including its railway system.

Following the catastrophe, the Mitsotakis government, which managed to secure reelection in June with an impressive 41% of the vote, increased the OSE’s annual funding from 45 million euros to 75 million euros and accelerated construction work, with the goal of having ETCS and signaling installed on the majority of the Athens-Thessaloniki line by November 2023.

Nevertheless, the disintegration of the Greek state’s capacity after 13 years of austerity makes it impossible to close one gap without opening another. In early September, catastrophic floods in Central Greece washed away the new constructions and destroyed a large part of the old railway infrastructure, once again highlighting the authorities’ lack of preparedness.

As a result, the work now has to start from scratch. “It will probably take us many months to return the railway to the point it was 15 days ago [before the floods],” admitted the newly appointed Infrastructure and Transport Minister, Christos Staikouras, in a recent interview. “The work [on the railway] will have been completed by 2026,” he concluded, attempting to reassure the citizens. However, a lot of them will probably be skeptical of the minister’s reassurances

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Nurturing Sino-EU Ties through Multilateralism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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China-Germany Win-Win Cooperation



photo:Yao Dawei / Xinhua

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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