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Explaining Germany’s hybrid Ostpolitik: Business as usual or turning point?

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Image source: kremlin.ru

The lack of a decisive German stance towards Russia has been already strongly criticised in the post-2014 build-up of Russian-Ukrainian escalation but is now reaching a new peak with the outbreak of war. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine took a surprising turn of political events in Europe: Germany as a military power. “Wir sind entschlossen und handeln geschlossen” [We are determined and act united”] was German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’ (SPD) first significant statement in response to the Russian invasion, which his government, the ‘Ampelkoalition’ of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), the Free Democratic Party (FDP), and the Greens was, at first, unable to put into effect. In comparison to its Western allies, USA and the UK, Germany was criticised for not reacting quick enough, e.g., by putting the brakes on the EU’s SWIFT sanctions for a few days and only being willing to restrict Russian banks later than most of its EU partners. Now, the EU-27 have decided on a new package of sanctions, which comes at the end of a two-day EU leaders’ summit in Versailles, in which the bloc ruled out speeding up its accession process for Ukraine. At the core of the new sanctions is the ban on the export of EU luxury goods to Russia, which will hit France and Italy particularly hard. Meanwhile, Germany’s continues to reject a full embargo on Russian gas and oil, threatening its credibility in the EU. Why is it so difficult for Germany to join other leading EU states in putting morality above economic interest?

Germany’s historical ties with Russia

Germany and Russia undoubtedly have a complex relationship with many ups and downs. In the 20th century, it was marked from bitter enemies in two world wars through the Soviet occupation zone in East Germany to the historic reconciliation when Russia supported German reunification in 1990. Gorbachev is known as the pioneer of German unity, particularly in Western Germany, where he is still hailed as a “hero”. The fact that the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 did not set relations back is mainly thanks to Willy Brandt’s (SPD) “new Ostpolitik” of the early 1970s which has been defended by the social democrats ever since. Based on the idea of change through rapprochement, economic engagement on both sides developed into an overall positive relationship towards the Soviet Union, including the Eastern European states. Re-unified Germany continued this policy while putting even greater weight on change through economic interlocking. Also culturally, bilateral engagement flourished. The Petersburg Dialogue and the German-Russian Forum boosted communication and mutual encounters between both societies through e.g., student exchanges. Hundreds of thousands of Russians of German origin settled in Germany and nowhere are so many people learning German as in Russia. In a nutshell, Germans no longer regarded Russia as a threat, while Russians have begun to regard Germany as one of Russia’s most devoted allies with Berlin attempting to assist the Kremlin in its efforts to integrate with the West, for example, by lobbying for Russia’s admission to the G7 in 1998. Only with Putin’s controversial re-candidacy in 2012 did a trend reversal become apparent, which intensified in 2014.

The Nord Stream 2 dilemma

While Germany condemned Russia’s annexation of Crimea through the EU and its sanction regime, its initiation of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project in the immediate aftermath reverses this logic. Nord Stream 2 and Germany’s gas dependency has long been the number 1 contentious issue in Germany’s positioning vis-à-vis Moscow. Gas plays an important role and serves as a substitute as long as renewable energies are not sufficient. Germany has very little natural gas reserves. Only about 5% of consumption could be met by the country itself and the trend is downward. Over half of its natural gas comes from Russia (51%), which makes Germany the largest importer of natural gas from Russia in the EU. Plus, there remains the risk that Putin may even shut down Nord Stream 1 or that the gas supplies through transit countries like Ukraine are disrupted due to the invasion. National gas storage facilities are already only half full and Germany’s only alternative to Putin’s gas is US liquefied gas but, according to experts, this is far from compensating for Russian natural gas.

Until recently, this project was maintained with the narrative of a “purely economic project”, but from the moment it was negotiated, it served the resurgence of ‘old Russia’ and Putin’s geopolitical ambition. The pipe would have rendered the traditional Russia-EU gas routes through Ukraine insignificant with an estimated economic loss of 2 billion euros per year. For the Kremlin, it was not about getting the gas out of Russia, but about changing the supply routes. It took the invasion of Ukraine with its devastating political and humanitarian consequences, as well as international pressure, including from US President Joe Biden, who threatened to put an end to the project himself, for Germany to decide against the flow of gas through Nord Stream 2 for the time being. Finally, the German public too seems to understand the political component, who publicly say they would rather freeze than get gas from Putin.

Long-lasting conflict between Russland-Versteher and Russland-Kritiker

Chancellor’s Scholz’ initial silence on Nord Stream 2 can be explained by the position of his own party as the SPD just cannot seem to let go of the success story of Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik. In Germany, there is an obvious non-consensus policy towards Russia with the dividing line being between the so-called ‘Russland-Versteher’ (Russia-understanders) and ‘Russland-Kritiker’ (Russia-critics). Turbulences between Russia-understanders and Russia-critics are not new. In 2014 their divergent positions led to fierce disagreements about EU sanctions towards Russia; this now explains the initial reluctance of the German government to impose SWIFT sanctions. Yet, the tables have turned even for Putin’s allies in Germany when Russia brutally invaded Ukraine. Matthias Platzeck, who as chairman of the German-Russian Forum cultivated a particularly close relationship with Russia and strongly criticised Russia’s exclusion from the G7 as a response to the annexation of Crimea, is now more lenient and admits there’s “nothing left but a pile of broken pieces”. And while some ‘Russland-Versteher’ like Platzeck are distancing themselves from the Kremlin, others are being distanced. In a clear sign of disapproval, the office staff of Ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, or “Gas-Gerd” as he is called because of his controversial lobbyist role as head of the shareholder committee for Nord Stream 2 and the supervisory board of Rosneft, cleared their desks after he failed to break ties with his long-time friend Putin. Schröder has travelled to Moscow on his own initiative, where he is seeking talks with Putin. Perhaps for him a chance to rehabilitate himself in Germany, and for us a glimmer of hope that Putin’s closest can dissuade him from his madness. Especially after the diplomatic attempts between Lavrov and Kuleba in Antalya failed in a shocking and sobering way.  

U-turn in German Foreign Policy

In contrast to Scholz, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock does not seem to take on the softer SPD stance and is clearly more tough on Moscow. What is surprising is that she – more directly than Scholz – goes against her party’s principles (pacifism), invoking the need of military deliveries by justifying the urgency to protect Ukraine and the UN Charter. Many see this as an absolute U-turn in German foreign policy after the Second World War. With Bearbock, Germany is heard as more offensive, bluntly accusing the Kremlin of lying, emphasising how this is not a Ukraine crisis, but a Russia crisis and calling on the world to ostracise Russia, new tones in German foreign policy.

Considering that only days ago, the coalition considered arms deliveries as dangerous conflict accelerators and the NATO’s 2% target to be only attainable in distant future, one can certainly argue in favour of a fundamental shift. As Scholz’s hesitancy fades, he has astonished not just the opposition but also the public with his proposal for a 100-billion-euro special fund for the Bundeswehr. Even compulsory military service, which had been suspended after 55 years is on the table again. Yet, it remains questionable whether this would reduce current threats or rather serves as a distraction from actions that are more urgent in the short-term such as a full stop on oil and gas from Russia.

Sabrina Luh is holding a MSc double degree in Public Policy and Human Development from Maastricht University and United Nations University. With a background in European Studies, her research affinity lies in EU diplomacy and public policy, complemented by an interest in foreign policy, security, and human rights topics. She has published on EU diplomacy during the COVID-19 pandemic and is currently considering a PhD in International Relations.

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Is European humanity skin deep?

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At the border crossing between Ukraine and Moldova at Palanca, refugees stand in line. © UNICEF/Vincent Tremeau

When talking about security the most common line of thought tends to be war and the actors involved in the attack, however, all the people who had regular lives within those territories that are jeopardized are as important. With the increasing tensions and armed conflicts happening within the Twenty First Century, the movement of people searching for shelter has increased. More asylum seekers leave their home countries every single day and contemporary politics is still struggling to find a way to catch up. Europe, history wise, is the zone of the world that deals with more refugees wanting to enter the continent due to different factors: geography, proximity, democratic systems, level of development and more. Nevertheless, with the Russia-Ukraine conflict, true sentiments towards refugees are now being put on display.

Even though all refugees are fleeing their countries because their lives are in mortal danger, authorities and government officials do not seem to care. Processes to apply for the refugee status are getting harder and harder. In Europe, to apply for a refugee passport, people are asked for identifications, online questionaries and many other unrealistic aspects that if not answered correctly, the whole process is cancelled. It is ridiculous to believe that when people are scaping in order to stay alive, they will take under consideration all these requirements to receive help, sometimes even from neighboring countries. Which inevitably leads to the following question: why are refugees accepted based on the legality of their applications and not of their status?

By 2016, nearly 5.2 million refugees reached European shores, which caused the so called refugee crisis. They came mainly from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq: countries torn apart by armed conflicts. Similarly, with Russia’s invasion over the Ukraine in 2022, only few days deep within the fighting,  874,000 people had to flee their homes. Nonetheless, the issue seems to be that, for Europe, not all refugees are the same. When the refugee crisis in 2015 was declared, the European Union called for stopping and detaining all arriving refugees for around 18 months. There was a strong reluctancy from Europeans towards offering them shelter. On the contrary, countries such as Poland and Slovakia have said that Ukrainian refugees fleeing will be accepted without passports, or any valid travel documents due to the urgency of the situation. Therefore, stating with their actions, that Ukrainian refugees are more valuable or seem to be more worthy of help than refugees from Asia, Africa, or the Middle East.

Correspondingly, it is true that not all countries inside Europe deal and act the same way towards refugees, be that as it may, with the current refugee crisis it has been proved that they all share strong sentiments of xenophobia and racism. For instance, Hungary is a country that refused to admit refugees coming from outside Europe since 2015. In 2018, Prime Minister Viktor Orban described non-European refugees as “Muslim invaders” and “poison” to society, in comparison with Ukrainian refugees who are being welcomed without hesitation. In the same way, Jarosław Kaczyński, who served as Prime Minister of Poland and is the leader of the Law and Justice party, in 2017 said that accepting asylum seekers from Syria would be dangerous and would “completely change our culture and radically lower the level of safety in our country”. Furthermore, Germany in 2015 with Chancellor Angela Merkel in charged said that they would accept one million of Syrians. Although, as time passed, Europe’s solution was to make a deal with Turkey, who is not part of the European Union, to close the migrant route. Moreover, the promise of letting refugees integrate into German society was not fulfilled since. Seven year later, an impressive amount of refugees are still in camps and centers, with their lives frozen in time. Sadly, most European governments gambled towards the idea of sending them back once the armed conflict was over, without caring for the aftermath of war’s destruction.

The common narrative until now pushed by leaders, politicians, and mass media has been that Ukrainians are prosperous, civilized, middle class working people, but refugees coming from the Middle East are terrorists, and refuges from Africa are simply too different. Despite, refugees are all people who share similar emotions and struggle to grasp the fact that their lives may never be the same; having lost their homes, friends, family and so much more. Plus, being selectively welcomed based on their religion, skin color or nationality by the continent which’s complete rhetoric is universal rights, just adds another complex layer to the issue. Conjointly, the displacement of people due to war displays how regular individuals are always the ones who suffer the most in consequence to the interests of the few that represent larger powers. Hence, greed, envy, and cruelty are stronger than recognized, even in a developed continent such as Europe.

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What Everyone Should Know About Preventing Ethnic Violence: The Case of Bosnia

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Image source: srebrenica.org.uk

When the Balkans spiraled into violence and genocide in the 90’s, many wondered what caused this resurgence in militant ethnic nationalism and how a similar situation may be countered.

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The 1990’s were a vibrant decade, that is unless you were living in the Balkans. 1995 was especially bad, as the 11th of July of that year marked the Srebrenica Massacre, which saw Serbian soldiers murder over 8,000 Bosnian Muslims over the span of two weeks. This shocked the world, as it was the first case of a European country resorting to extreme violence and genocide on ethnic lines since World War II. After World War II, the idea that a European country would resort to genocide was unthinkable. As Balkan nations continue to see the consequences of the massacre after over 25 years, it is increasingly evident that more needs to be done to curb ethnic violence.

We must first investigate key causes of ethnic violence. According to V.P. Gagnon, the main driver of ethnic violence is elites that wish to stay in power. Ethnic nationalism is easy to exploit, as creating a scapegoat is extremely effective for keeping elites in power. This is exactly what happened in Yugoslavia, which had previously seen high levels of tolerance and intermarriage in more mixed areas that saw the worst violence during the war. Stuart J. Kaufman argues that elites may take advantage of natural psychological fears of in-group extinction, creating group myths, or stereotypes, of outgroups to fuel hatred against them. While they may take different approaches to this issue, Gagnon and Kaufman agree that the main drivers of ethnic violence are the elites.

David Lake and Donald Rothchild suggest that the main driver of ethnic conflict is collective fears for the future of in-groups. Fear is one of the most important emotions we have because it helps secure our existence in a hostile world. However, fear can easily be exploited by the elites to achieve their personal goals. In a multiethnic society such as Yugoslavia, the rise of an elite that adheres to the prospects of a single ethnic group could prove dangerous and sometimes even disastrous. The destruction of Yugoslavian hegemony under Josip Broz Tito and the resulting explosion of ethnic conflict at the hands of Serbian elites in Bosnia underline this because of the immense fear this created.

Regions with high Serb populations in Bosnia sought independence from the rest of the country when they found themselves separated from Serbia by the dissolution of Yugoslavia. Republika Srpska was formed by these alienated Serbs. The leadership and elites in Serbia riled up the Serb population of Republika Srpska by stereotyping and demonizing Bosnian Muslims as “descendants of the Turkish oppressors”. This scared the Serbs in Bosnia so much so that they obeyed the elites of Serbia in supporting and fighting for the independence of Republika Srpska by any means necessary. As was seen in Srebrenica, they were not opposed to genocide.

We know how the elites fuel ethnic tensions to secure power as well of the devastating effects of these tensions reaching their boiling point. But what could be done to address ethnic conflict? David Welsh suggests that a remedy for ethnic conflict could be the complete enfranchisement of ethnic minorities and deterrence towards ethnic cleansing. This means that we must ensure that ethnic minorities are able to have a say in a democratic system that caters to all ethnicities equally. Fostering aversion to genocide is also vital toward addressing ethnic conflict because it is the inevitable result of unchecked ethnic conflict.

There is also the issue of members of ethnic groups voting for candidates and parties on ethnic lines. For example, in the United States, White American voters have shown to prefer White candidates over African American candidates, and vice versa. Keep in mind that the United States has a deep history of ethnic conflict, including the centuries-long subjugation of African Americans by White Americans.

Ethnic violence is horrifying and destructive, but it can be prevented. The first measure would be the establishment of a representative democracy, where members of all ethnicities are accurately represented. Another measure would be to make ethnic conflict and ethnic stereotyping taboo so that the average person would not resort to genocidal behavior once things go wrong. Lastly, making people feel secure is the most important step towards preventing ethnic conflict. If the people feel secure enough, they will not even need to think about ethnic violence. In short, while it is important to consider the differences of the various ethnic groups in a multiethnic society, it is vital that each group is kept represented and secure, free of any fears of subjugation.

While the case of Bosnia was extremely unfortunate, it provides an integral view into what could happen if perceived subjugation and fear of eradication reaches a breaking point. As was seen in Bosnia, ethnic violence can be extremely violent, resulting in untold suffering and death. That is why we must take necessary steps towards de-escalation and remediation of ethnic conflicts. These measures can, quite literally, save millions of lives.

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French Presidential Election 2022 and its significance for Europe

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Eugene Delacroix’s infamous painting “la liberté Guidant le Peuple” reminds the whole world of the July Revolution of 1830 that toppled King Charles X of France. The lady in the centre of the painting with the French tricolour still symbolizes the concept of liberty and reminds the whole world of revolutions and sacrifices made for freedom. France indeed has a long journey from revolting against “if they have no bread, let them eat cake” in 1789 to establishing a modern democratic society with the principles of “liberty, equality and fraternity”.  

France and the United States are rightly considered the birthplace of modern democracy. The French revolution taught the whole world lessons about revolution, freedom modern nationalism, liberalism and sovereignty. In 2022, France celebrates the 233rd year of Bastille Day which led to a new dawn in the French political system. From establishing 1ere Republique (1st Republic) in 1792, France has evolved and is currently under the 5eme Republique (5th Republic) under the constitution crafted by Charles de Gaulle in 1958.

Today, France is holding its presidential elections. As the French believe, ‘You first vote with your heart, then your head’, the first round of voting was concluded on Sunday 10th April and the Presidential debate on 20th April 2022. While the whole world waits for the 24th of April’s second round of elections and their results, this article attempts to understand the French electoral system and analyze Why French Presidential elections are important for Europe?

French electoral system

France is a semi-presidential democracy; the president is at the centre of power and Prime Minister heads the government. The president of the French republic is elected by direct universal suffrage where all French citizens aged 18 and above can vote, whether residing in France or not. In France, there is a two-round system in which voters vote twice on two Sundays, two weeks apart. This two-round system is widely practised in central and eastern Europe as well as Central Asia, South America and Africa.

In order to apply, a candidate needs 500 signatures of elected officials and they should be at least from 30 government departments. A candidate can be an independent or he or she can represent a political party. There is no limit to how many candidates can run for presidential elections. For instance, in 2002 there were 16 candidates, in 2017- 11 and in 2022 there are 12. While all the candidates have the right to equal media presence, the amount of spending on campaigns is also monitored; for the 1st round, the spending must not exceed 16.9 million euros and for the second round, it has been limited to 22.5 million euros.

This year, the 1st round of voting was concluded on 10th April while the second one is scheduled to be held on 24th April 2022. In the first round, all 12 candidates were eligible but for the second round, only two candidates who got the maximum votes are qualified for the second round.

A brief overview of French presidential candidates

Emmanuel Macron, five years ago at the age of 39, became the youngest French president of the French republic. In 2017, he broke the dominance of the two major French parties- Republicans and Socialists- by running a campaign “neither left nor right”. During the tenure of Emmanuel Macron, a hardcore centrist, France has witnessed a 7% GDP growth, unemployment dropped by 7.2% and the crime rate has fallen to 27%.

A far-rightist, Marine Le Pen is the other presidential candidate who succeeded her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, as leader of the National Front (later National Rally) party in 2011. She was also contesting against Emmanuel Macron during the 2017 elections and before that in 2012, against Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande. While she embraced the party’s anti-immigration stance, she rebranded the party’s Euroskepticism as French nationalism.

This year, in the April 2022 elections, the current President of France, Emanuel Macron and far-right leader, Marine Le Pen are the two candidates with Macron running ahead with a lead of 4.7 per cent votes (Emmanuel Macron-27.8% & Marine Le Pen- 23.1%).

Why French Presidential elections are important for Europe?

While European defence is primarily assured by the US-led NATO military alliance, of which most EU states are members, French president Macron said,  “Europe needs to finally build its own collective security framework on our continent…”, advocating for a ‘European Security’ framework amid tensions with Russia over Ukraine.

On the other hand, Le Pen’s party has been looked upon suspiciously that it might have received financing from a Russian bank connected to the Russian President Putin. In an interview with French public radion, Le pen said, “It will be necessary diplomatically, when the war [in Ukraine] is over, when a peace treaty has been signed, to try to avoid this tie-up which risks being the largest danger of the 21st century for us,” she even further added, “Imagine … if we let the first producer of raw materials in the world — which is Russia — [create an alliance] with the first factory of the world — which is China — to let them perhaps constitute the first military power of the world. I believe that it’s a potentially great danger.” These statements only further reinforce the claims that Le Pen is more pro-Russia.

While Macron is anti-Brexit, Le Pen, on the other hand, has been known for her ‘Frexit’ plan, meaning, that she wanted France to leave the EU and abandon the euro. However, during the 2022 elections, it appears that Le Pen has softened her stance on Frexit. Another important issue pertaining to immigration has been significant not only for France but the whole of Europe. This issue of immigration is directly linked with the “economic and cultural concerns” which raises an important worry about immigrants’ socio-political and economic integration into the French society and abiding by the principle of laïcité (secularism with French characters).

As for Macron, he wants to create a “rapid reaction force” to help protect EU states’ borders in case of a migrant surge and is also pushing for a rethink of the bloc’s asylum application process. Macron also said that he urges the EU to be more efficient in deporting those refused entries. On the other hand, Marine Le Pen during her campaign stated, “I will control immigration and establish security for all.” It is pertinent to note that Macron has introduced strict laws pertaining to immigration and controlling Islamic radicalization. For instance, he introduced the bill to ban foreign funding to mosques.

What is more interesting to mention is the concerns about ‘energy’ in the presidential election. Evidently, the ongoing conflict in Ukraine has gained more attention on the economic and geopolitical consequences of existing national and European energy supply chain choices. In France especially, there is a major rift between the pro and anti-nuclear power fractions. Interestingly, France has the second most nuclear power stations in the world after the United States.  Besides, in the last week of the elections, Macron has been attempting to win the hearts of the French voters with his proposal for a “complete renewal” of his climate policy. He has also promised to build up to 14 nuclear reactors by 2050 and regenerate existing plants. Meanwhile, Le Pen has promised to build 20 nuclear plants and aim to have nuclear power provide 81 per cent of France’s energy by 2050. While the current president Macron and far-right candidate Le Pen have both committed to the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit global warming, it is evident that their approaches differ particularly on energy. Since France is Europe’s second-biggest economy, France’s climate policy could echo right across the EU.

Besides, in light of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine crisis, Macron has played a significant role as he is the bridgehead for Russia and the US. He has also negotiated talks between Washington DC and Moscow and has also condemned the crisis by making the statement, “Russia is not under attack, it is the aggressor. As some unsustainable propaganda would have us believe, this war is not as big as the battle against, that is a lie.” Indeed, he has played the role of Europe’s de-facto leader vis-à-vis the Ukraine crisis. Nonetheless, with a marginal win in the first round against Marine Le Pen, winning the 2nd term is not as easy as it was five years ago.

More importantly, it is pertinent to note that France has the 2nd strongest military and 2nd biggest economy in Europe, further the 5th biggest economy in the world. France is not only the most visited country in the world but also ranks 1st in the global soft power index. It is also the founding member of the United Nations Security Council, North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union which makes it an important player in European politics. Consequently, the policies of the French leadership not only direct the political, social and economic lives of the French but also reverberate in Europe.

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