The EU needs to rethink its Russia policy. Instead of chasing after Vladimir Putin’s confrontational regime, European leaders, who are meeting on 25 March, should throw their support behind those who work for social change and promote democracy in Russia.
Europeans must rid themselves of any expectations or hope for constructive engagement with Putin. The Russian leader’s famous social contract—co-opting citizens into accepting authoritarian rule in exchange for economic security, social stability, and Crimea —is bankrupt.
After unprecedented state violence against nationwide protests in January, the regime has embarked on what activists call a “new era of repression.” The picture of a masked riot police officer sitting under a portrait of Vladimir Putin has become a symbol of the confrontation between the state and the people. Russian philosopher Oksana Timofeeva speaks of a “declaration of terror” against society.
But Putin does not represent Russia as a whole. Young, energetic Russians have emerged, working towards a freer, more open society. Local protests have been flaring up all over the country, with citizens rallying against unpaid wages, toxic industrial plants, unwanted landfills, and corrupt officials. Well-documented protests in support of jailed opposition leader Alexey Navalny are the first to show that support can be mobilised on a nationwide scale.
And it’s not only protests. Russian civil society is more active, resilient, and dynamic than EU policymakers recognise. After ten years of repression, it is more creative and diverse than ever. Many groups reach larger audiences, fundraise successfully, and experiment with new business models. Independent online media have joined civic activism, uncovering corruption, reporting on abuses and informing citizens on their rights. Professional groups (journalists, doctors, and scientists) are coming out in solidarity with repressed colleagues. Volunteerism and philanthropy are on the rise.
For the Putin regime, this active civil society is an enemy. In addition to authorising police violence, the regime has pushed some 100 new laws through the Duma since December that attempt to strangle NGOs, civil rights, protests, education, media, and the Internet. Civic experts speak of the beginning of “quasi-totalitarian control of all citizens and international contacts.”
The 2012 “foreign agent” law, which affected only registered NGOs, has been expanded to target individual citizens or unregistered initiatives receiving international funds. It imposes penalties of up to five years in prison for those who fail to register and report on activities. Pressure is rising on the media, who have their own “foreign agent media” register, while new criminal defamation laws make it an offence to criticise groups like the police or security forces. Despite protests from scientists and academics, new laws aim at cutting the educational sector from international cooperation.
At their March summit, European leaders must confront this repressive Russia. “It’s a tsunami,” a veteran Russian civil society representative said recently, calling for more attention and support from Western policymakers.
Beyond imposing further sanctions against Russian officials, it’s time for Europe to actively engage with the “other Russia”. Individuals and groups working for social change and development in Russia are Europe’s best partners. Many of them support Western values and are keen to cooperate with EU partners, share know-how, and connect to cross-border networks, despite laws aimed at stopping them.
Instead of illusions of partnership with Putin and his officials, European policymakers should side with Russians who want their country “to be democratic, modern, dynamically developing, and free from a personalist Putin regime”, a petition signed by Russian supporters abroad states.
EU leaders must finally develop an attractive agenda for its ‘fifth principle’ guiding relations with Russia. This action plan must go far beyond aiding registered NGOs, to address the broad eco-system of activists engaged on the problems Russia’s regime has failed to address: ecology, corruption, domestic violence, torture, HIV/AIDS, election monitoring, migration, and prison reform.
The annual 11 million euros earmarked by the EU for Russian civil society support need to be increased, given the country’s size and its 145 million citizens. To reach new, informal groups, active in remote regions of Russia, the EU needs to develop smaller, more flexible funding instruments. Activists, students, scientists, and artists should be put at the head of the EU visa queue. An EU coordinator for civil society relations with Russia needs to be appointed.
For the Putin regime, the EU is an adversary. Europe’s best chance to support a better future for Russia is to connect to the country’s civic activists and wider Russian society.Barbara von Ow-Freytag Democracy EU-Russia Foreign Policy Leadership
Barbara von Ow-Freytag
The Other Russia – Europe’s Best Bet
22 Mar 2021
Federico Ottavio Reho Democracy
[Europe Out Loud] The EU as a ‘demoicracy’: a chat with Kalypso Nicolaïdis
Europe out Loud - Multimedia
02 Mar 2021
1. It has been six months since the first post-election democratic protests in Belarus. So far, neither the authoritarian regime of Lukashenka nor the democratic opposition have given up. How do you see the next developments and who has a better chance to win this battle?
Maksim Hacak, Journalist for Telegraf and Belsat, Belarus
Lukashenka lost Belarus, but democratic forces have not won yet. Protests have been ongoing for almost half a year. Lukashenka is no longer a legitimate president for most of the people, only staying in power thanks to the support of the police and the military, of government officials, and the Kremlin. The regime tries to frighten and punish everyone. However, I don’t see how we could turn back the page and live as if nothing has happened. Even the KGB says that future protests may become stronger at any time; they obviously will.
Andrius Kubilius, MEP, Lithuania: Many things will depend not only on the streets in Belarus, but also on the street protests in Russia. Events in Belarus are influencing developments in Russia, and vice-versa. The revolution in Belarus, as well as in Russia, will also depend on the ability of the EU to stand up and protect the choice of individuals to live in a free country.
We remember how, 30 years ago, the international community supported our democratic movement ‘Sąjūdis’ internationally. This had a huge impact on our revolution to break the Soviet Union from within. Now we, the EU and the international community, have a moral obligation to help our neighbours in promoting freedom and democracy further to the east of our borders.
Luděk Niedermayer, MEP, Czechia: I am convinced that the dictatorship will lose sooner or later, but there could still be a long way ahead for the Belarusian people to make it happen. We have heard opposition leaders declare that Belarusians are prepared to protest as long as it is necessary to oust Lukashenka, as in their own words, “there is no way back”. The level of determination and resilience shown by the protesters demonstrates nothing less. As an international community, we have to ensure we are constantly assuring the people of Belarus that we stand by them, and not to give in to Lukashenka’s empty promises. It may sound a small contribution, but it is hard to find good ways to support them more…
2. The restrictive measures imposed by the EU against Belarusian individuals who support the Lukashenka regime are a great moral support for protesters. What else could be done to help Belarusian civil society?
Maksim Hacak: It is important that the EU investigates the crimes committed in Belarus. Belarus also needs vaccination aid to deal with the COVID-19 crisis. And the threat that Norway’s Yara might not buy Belarusian potash made Belaruskali declare that they would no longer punish workers for political activities and would restore those who were fired. This is a potential method. We can also mention Nivea, Škoda, and Liqui Moly, who refused to finance the ice hockey championship in Minsk. The EU may support the exclusion of the regime’s propaganda media from the European broadcasting union.
Andrius Kubilius: The EU should be more ambitious in supporting the Democratic Belarus. The EU has a comprehensive toolbox to support the people of Belarus and can be a strong mediation force at the highest international level (G7, Russia).The European Parliament, I hope, will soon initiate a special High-Level mission of recognised political personalities, which will represent the EU position for a dialogue between authorities in Belarus and the representatives of Democratic Belarus. The EU can do more by having a fully-fledged official policy dialogue with representatives of Democratic Belarus. The EU should establish the Democratic Belarus Representation Office in Brussels, with the full credentials of EU institutions and financial support. This office could become a leading example for the EU Member States to engage directly with Democratic Belarus. The EU can do more by setting a special Justice Hub to assist international investigations of crimes committed by the Lukashenka regime, including through coordinated application of the universal jurisdiction by national courts. The EU should announce as soon as possible the reform and investment support plan – the EU Marshall Plan for Democratic Belarus after Lukashenka. The EU must immediately and substantially increase direct social payments to families of victims of repressions, or workers who were members of independent trade unions or fired because they attended national strikes in Belarus. Finally, the EU must immediately adopt a comprehensive non-recognition policy of the Lukashenka regime. Such a policy would be instrumental to maintain pressure on immediately holding new free and democratic elections.
Luděk Niedermayer: Individual sanctions are certainly one of the good options, but they need to be tightened and expanded. For sanctions to be truly effective, they cannot solely target the big fish oligarchs that are closely connected to the regime (or represent the regime), but also other close associates, as well as their relatives. In this regard, it is important that we make full use of the forthcoming “European Magnitsky Law”. Besides this, we should also take advantage of any other opportunity, such as banning the Ice Hockey Championship, which is supposed to be held in Belarus. Though these procedures will likely not provide for an easy fix to the situation, they are a step forward and we should the make most of them.
3. In your opinion, what will be the influence of the EU, the US, and Russia on further developments in Belarus in 2021, especially considering the new US administration and legislative elections in Russia?
Maksim Hacak: We see that Western countries are going to impose harsher sanctions against Belarusian officials and businesses connected with them. For example, US president Joe Biden promised to strengthen the pressure on Lukashenka. And the Belarus Democracy Act allows sanctioning those Russians who support Lukashenka’s regime. But the position of the Kremlin is unclear. The Belarusian regime became extremely toxic for many countries and organisations. Is there a possibility of making it toxic for Russia as well? Of finding ways to persuade the Kremlin not to support Lukashenka? These are the main questions.
Andrius Kubilius: Now is the time for the coalition of democracies to stand together and fight authoritarian regimes, both in Belarus and Russia. This is a litmus test for Western democracies. The EU needs to see that ordinary Belarusians and Russians are going out and demanding changes in the streets of Belarusian and Russian cities. Changes are demanded by a majority of the people in both countries, and demand for change is the major reason why people are going for protest in the streets. Therefore, in 2021, it is time for the international community, for the EU and the US, to devise a value-based mechanism for defending democracies. This mechanism can be adopted as a convention of democracies and should include:
- an automatic global sanctions mechanism from democracies towards those who are “stealing” democracy from the people;
- a comprehensive EU system of financial controls, designed to protect our democracies internally from illicitly financed practices of influence,
- a creation of a ‘Democracy First’ global EU development policy instrument aimed to promote the values of democracy, including via trade-related agreements, conditional on human rights and democratic values.
- a creation of the EU “Justice First” Hub to assist and, where necessary, coordinate the international trial and investigation of crimes committed by authoritarian regimes;
- a creation of a social and economic investment support instrument for newly-emerged democracies from autocratic regimes (Marshall Plan for New Democracies).
This is how the Western community can respond to authoritarian regimes, particularly in Belarus and Russia.
Luděk Niedermayer: Personally, I still think that Belarusians are the ones who must win this “fight”. We should certainly provide support wherever possible, tighten up individual economic sanctions, freeze assets, and impose travel bans on those connected to the regime, but there is not much more that we can do. The new US Administration will likely be more sympathetic to the protesters and more vocal against the regime itself, but their actions are also rather limited. Any widespread economic sanctions should not be an option, as we well know that these will impact the people of Belarus most, rather than the oligarchs. And then there is Russia who represents the main market for Belarus. I believe that some measures should be in place in case the protesters win and Russia decides to harm the new regime economically. The question now is whether Russia will be able to fight its fights on two fronts, given the most recent developments in the country following the return of Alexei Navalny and the mass protests across the country.Viktória Jančošeková Democracy Eastern Europe EU-Russia Leadership
6 Months After the Election, What Next for Belarus?
28 Jan 2021
Even though the decision by the main social media platforms to silence Donald Trump was a relief for many, it was also a source of concern and scepticism. The fact that a CEO had the unquestionable power to block the sitting President of the second largest democracy in the world, a nuclear superpower, shortly after he received a record 74 million votes and without any judicial oversight, was rather alarming.
Social media companies rightly argue that Trump violated their platforms’ rules. It wasn’t the first time, either. But this is not the issue now. For better or worse, these digital platforms are not simply corporate applications. Social media are what Habermas would define as today’s “digital public sphere”. The public sphere, open to all, emerged in Europe in the 18th century as a place for critical dialogue, where citizens formed communities whose shared rationality acted as a regulator for the power of the state, and it has now adapted to the new technological reality. Analogous to the 18th-century newspapers, magazines, reading groups and cafés in Europe, we now have Facebook and Twitter. They are the digital version of the Ancient Greek “Agora”, which often turns into a Roman arena*.
This digital public sphere is opaquely controlled, through arbitrary procedures. Every CEO is accountable to his shareholders and consequently to his clients, one would say in an expansive way. But this balance is not enough. The user-client cannot directly control any CEO. He can only withdraw from the platform. This does not constitute any direct control power.
Due to the size and nature of their operation, big social media companies actually manage a “public good” and cannot be treated with standard corporate rules. Additionally, loose self-regulation is insufficient, regardless of the reactions from the supporters of the internet’s anarchic nature.
Obviously, I would never recommend the strangling of internet freedom, but I strongly believe that it is the right time to discuss the creation of an institutional framework in accordance with the model of supranational institutions.
We need a sort of “international law” for digital platforms and AI, guaranteeing the fundamental rights of citizens – users – and providing specific procedures and even sanctions.
We are sailing in uncharted waters. This means that we must create new maps and possibly new compasses to find our way in this potentially dystopic reality.
Understandably, such an institutional mechanism cannot match the speed of developments on social media, but this should not be discourage attempts to address this complex and challenging situation. After all, supranational bodies and international rules were not created overnight, nor do they ensure that we actually live in an ideal world. But they generally prevent us from being led into the utter chaos of a global jungle.
What happened to the absolutely reprehensible Trump, will happen tomorrow to someone else who is less unfavourable to us, but a CEO will still have the absolute power to press the delete button. As citizens, we cannot be complacent and delegate the right to control freedom of speech to an uncontrolled mechanism.
We are sailing in uncharted waters. This means that we must create new maps and possibly new compasses to find our way in this potentially dystopic reality. Perhaps it would have been more appropriate for the corporate actors themselves, to make the first move and create such a system of checks and balances. But this has not been the case.
The European Commission has taken a double initiative in this direction on behalf of EU member states. The Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act are two crucial steps ahead for Europe, which is acting, albeit slowly, to set some limitations – legal obligations for online platforms, creating a more solid legal framework. It is an attempt to bring order to the digital chaos and contribute to the digital space with our European values. This could prove a profound movement of global leadership. In this framework, the EU needs to lead the way in a constructive international dialogue and join forces with other global democratic allies, since the issue is not solely European, but global.
Following on Donald Trump’s ban from online platforms, a wide public discussion about the uncontrolled power of social media has begun at an international level. Many leaders raised the question of further regulation. It is not about Trump himself, but about the principle of democracy and freedom of speech. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has suggested that lawmakers should set the rules governing free speech and not private technology companies. Thierry Breton, EU Commissioner for Internal Market, raised concerns about the “deep weaknesses in the way our society is organised in the digital space”. Manfred Weber, chairman of the EPP group at the European Parliament, pointed out that “we cannot leave it to American Big Tech companies to decide what we do and do not discuss, what can and cannot be said in a democratic discourse. We need a stricter regulatory approach”. French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire commented that “the regulation of the digital world cannot be done by the digital oligarchy”. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was time for a real debate about the status of big internet companies.
There is no easy conclusion to this discussion, but even its existence is proof that we manage to keep the spirit of modern democracy strong. We cannot expect obvious and “ready to use” solutions. We need a thorough and open-minded discussion to come up with them, with multiple aims: to address the digital world’s existing and emerging challenges in an innovative manner; to use cutting edge technologies to the benefit of societies; to set the necessary ethical rules on AI; and to safeguard the “algorithm of our democracy”.
As a union of some of the most advanced, well established, and oldest democracies in the world, the EU has the duty to break ground on this.
*This idea is expanded upon in the book “Reflections and distortions – The Electoral Impact of Social Media in Europe”, soon to be published by ENOP – CIEPEG.Panagiotis Kakolyris Democracy Digital Leadership
Safeguarding the algorithm of democracy
21 Jan 2021
Among those who remember their experience under communist, totalitarian regimes who imprisoned and sometimes killed freedom fighters, some are now asking: why did Navalny return to Russia? Doesn’t he know what happened to Kasparov, Khodorkovsky and other exiles? The fate of Nemtsov and Politkovskaya? Or has he already forgotten what he recently experienced while returning from Siberia? Moreover, Russian authorities had already stated that should Navalny return to Russia, he would be immediately detained.
Navalny’s return to Russia after his medical treatment in Germany is such a courageous act that it immediately gave rise to various conspiracy scenarios and ‘theories’. Some question his sanity or suspect he seeks martyrdom, while others search for broader geopolitical patterns or various power games.
The vocation of ‘politician’ is undoubtedly a very complex discipline, as is a decathlon in athletics. Like athletics, politics is a competition. And what determines the outcome of every competition is the heart which generates the will, along with the brain which draws up the strategy and the tactics.
To me, it seems that Navalny has the passion for politics. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have, for years, acted in Russia the way he did and does. Today, Navalny feels first and foremost that he has entered a contest, in the top political ‘league’ playable in Russia. Navalny is aware of having embarked on a real struggle. He is aware that he has no other choice. In his heart, he is absolutely clear about that. A fighter would never quit the marathon, mid-race, with slouched shoulders.
Navalny’s brain and intellect have confirmed to him that he has no choice, barring simply giving up. Navalny realises that he cannot achieve anything fighting from beyond Russian borders, the same as Kasparov, Khodorkovsky, and other exiles. But Navalny also knows that by being in Russia, he can potentially achieve something. Just like Wałęsa, Havel, Landsbergis, and many other jailed dissidents or church leaders who suffered and often died in communist prisons because they did not abandon their struggle for freedom. What Navalny does not know is the price he will have to pay for his struggle and victory. He does not even know if he will live to see his victory.
He is fighting for what we, living in the free West, also need: faith in ideals, values, and principles, along with the resolve to defend these principles every day.
In a time where the West has experienced unprecedented prosperity, consumerism, and consequently, selfishness and cynicism, Navalny’s act is morally and ethically revitalising. It reminds us of something much more valuable, and at the same time much more promising than money, villas, yachts, or other possessions: Navalny’s act is the manifestation of ideals. True, Navalny certainly hopes that the regime will not dare to remove him. He certainly believes also in the solidarity of the international democratic community and its impact. He is, however, plainly aware of the extreme risks associated with his return to Russia for himself and his family. That is why he deserves our respect and esteem. He is fighting for what we, living in the free West, also need: faith in ideals, values, and principles, along with the resolve to defend these principles every day. And, where necessary, even at the price of personal discomfort or risk. Those to whom these words seem like platitudes or clichés need only to look at the US Capitol these days.Mikuláš Dzurinda Democracy EU-Russia Leadership Values
The Reasons Behind Navalny’s Return
18 Jan 2021
The riot at the U.S. Capitol was a stress test for our democracy. It is outrageous and inexcusable.
But, despite President Trump encouraging a frenzied crowd that went on to storm the U.S. Capitol, the very symbol of our democracy, our system of checks and balances held up remarkably well – and mostly because Republican leaders did the right thing when history called.
Granted, many Republicans can be faulted for trying to humour the President’s real and perceived grievances long after the states, the courts, and the Electoral College had their say, in the hopes of winning the special election for two Georgia Senate seats. Not only did that turn out to be morally suspect, but it didn’t work.
In the face of yesterday’s crisis, those same leaders stood strong and ensured that our Constitution and the process by which we transfer power to a new President prevailed.
Vice President Mike Pence’s loyalty to the President cannot be credibly challenged. Yet he repudiated the President’s demands to somehow overturn the certified electoral votes of some states. He went around the President to order the National Guard to respond to the Capitol Building. He performed his constitutionally mandated role in transferring power.
Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, even before the attack on the Capitol, gave a passionate plea to respect the results of the election. Although he had supported the President’s right to avail himself of legal remedies if fraud could be proven, he went on to say: “If this election were overturned by mere allegations from the losing side, our democracy would enter a death spiral. We’d never see the whole nation accept an election again. Every four years would be a scramble for power at any cost.”
McConnell also spoke of the necessary conditions for self-government. “Self-government, my colleagues, requires a shared commitment to the truth. And a shared respect for the ground rules of our system. We cannot keep drifting apart into two separate tribes with a separate set of facts and separate realities with nothing in common except our hostility towards each other and mistrust for the few national institutions that we all still share.”
Senator Mitt Romney is the only Republican alive who shares with Trump the emotions of losing a presidential election. The manner in which the two men behave could not be more different. “We gather today due to a selfish man’s injured pride and the outrage of his supporters whom he has deliberately misinformed for the past two months and stirred to action this very morning. What happened here today was an insurrection, incited by the President of the United States”, Sen. Romney said.
Liz Cheney, the current Chair of the House Republican Conference and daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, was unsparing in her criticism of the President. She wrote, “We just had a violent mob assault the U.S. Capitol … No question the President formed the mob, the President incited the mob, the President addressed the mob. He lit the flame.”
Former President George W. Bush, now the elder statesman of the Republican Party, called on citizens to put country above any one politician, party, or election. “I am appalled by the reckless behaviour of some political leaders since the election and by the lack of respect shown today for our institutions, our traditions, and our law enforcement…In the United States of America, it is the fundamental responsibility of every patriotic citizen to support the rule of law. To those who are disappointed in the results of the election: Our country is more important than the politics of the moment. Let the officials elected by the people fulfil their duties and represent our voices in peace and safety”, he wrote. He condemned the rioting, saying “This is how election results are disputed in a banana republic — not our democratic republic.”
These leaders spoke out and stood strong when the system of checks and balances depended on them to do so. This is the leadership that brought Congress late that night to conclude its constitutionally mandated duties and certify the election of Joe Biden as President.
There is much to discuss about this, and we will examine these things in great detail. But for now, my message to my European friends is that while this was a deeply troubling day, American democracy held firm, the checks and balances worked, and even Trump’s own party, including his Vice President, defied him to protect the Constitution and our democracy.
Even in the face of such an unprecedented event, the system of checks and balances held, and Congress carried out its constitutional duty. And that, actually, is what makes America great.
Image from MotionStudios on PixabayMark Strand Democracy US
Congress and the U.S. Constitution Exhibited Strength Amid Crisis
07 Jan 2021
Initially planned for 2020, the launch of the Conference on the Future of Europe has been postponed indefinitely due to the pandemic. Scheduled to run for two years, this conference will bring together Europeans institutions, civil society representatives, and citizens of all ages to debate on the future of Europe. Thus, this conference has the great merit of facing the issue of citizen participation, confirming the constant desire of strengthening European democracy. Similarly to the European Convention on the Future of Europe, this conference would also include citizen consultations, supported by a digital platform allowing online debates and contributions.
Although it is difficult to predict the concrete outcome of this conference, major changes are not expected, but rather more reform proposals on the EU’s architecture and its decision-making processes, which will lead to deeper European integration. However, before the conference can start, the three main EU institutions must still agree on its modalities and, importantly, its chairmanship. It clearly reveals that the main difficulties barring the road to the conference are not of a technical nature, but rather political.
Nonetheless, launching the conference as soon as possible would be a tangible, major achievement, confirming that democracy is still fully functional in Europe, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. It would confirm the European Union as an advanced democracy, and probably the biggest democracy in the world.Democracy EU Institutions Future of Europe Leadership Society
The Potential Outcome of the Conference on the Future of Europe in a COVID-19 World: Strengthening European Democracy
23 Dec 2020
To me, it seems we can no longer go on this way. By this, I mean the disagreements about basic principles that we should all be able to believe in. For us Europeans, a greater threat than the coronavirus pandemic is posed by our inability to act in a number of important areas. Areas that are essential to the future survival of the European Union.
For years, we have not been able to address the rule of law violations by several member states. The most striking cases are those of Hungary and Poland. Beautiful countries I know well from my time leading Slovakia into the EU and NATO in the 2000s. True, the European institutions initiated proceedings against the two countries (Article 7). But these proceedings had no practical result because the potential sanctioning of the “accused” requires a unanimous decision by all Member States. It therefore became another example of the EU failing to adhere to its basic founding principles.
And as a result, Europe risks crumbling from within.
Being aware of this paradox, the European Council and the European Parliament have attempted to make the drawing of funds from the future EU budget and the Recovery Fund conditional on the respect of rule of law principles. But again, as the budget is also adopted by unanimity of all Member States, this is like moving from the frying pan into the fire. The problem has been neither resolved nor simplified. Instead it has been amplified and broadcast as another signal of Europe’s collective weakness.
Likewise, the bravery, resolve, and strength of the revolutionary movement in Belarus compares to the unwieldy and inconsistent imposition of our sanctions against the Lukashenko regime. This comparison shows just how difficult it is to seek consensus on foreign policy issues, even in cases where the bottom line is basic democratic rights. The European Commission also recently put forward a new draft European Asylum Policy. The prospects of its practical application are very hazy. Not only because we do not have the tools and the courage to tackle the root causes of illegal immigration, but also because the agreement on this issue requires the consensus of all 27 Member States.
And we used to think that the British were the problem in EU decision-making?
The diagnosis of the condition which we are in today is bleak, but it is also quite clear: the EU is unable to make decisions in the areas that are vital for its sustainability and future.
We have reached a point when, with some embarrassment, we hear the Ukrainian president say that Ukraine is more European than some EU countries.
The disconnect between the EU’s ambitions and its actual reality has never been greater.
Europe, it seems, is addicted to grand plans and lofty-sounding strategies. But while we are busy developing public consultations, Erdoğan is laughing at us in the Mediterranean and threatening to send us illegal migrants whenever it suits him. We agreed on enhanced cooperation in the field of defence, but over-indebted Greece is compelled to buy new fighter planes to be able to avert Turkish threats. The mention of frozen conflicts, like the one in Cyprus (already 46 years old), seems all too obvious. Europe still stands on the sidelines (and sometimes on opposing sides) as the chaos and destruction continue in Libya.
Indeed, our greatest enemy is not COVID-19. It is our inability to take decisions. Our greatest enemy is the unanimity rule requiring the consent of all Member States in areas which, by virtue of their nature and the constitutional principle of subsidiarity, belong much more to the Community level than the national one.
We are facing a monumental challenge – to change the decision-making rules in the mentioned fields. Its enormity stems from the fact that this would also require the consensus or unanimity of all 27 EU Member States. But such consensus will inevitably have to be found. At any price. Because the current costs are simply too high to bear. It may be necessary to look for a solution even outside the treaties which are currently in force. Passivity now is simply an excuse for inaction. Europe’s only hope is to shape its future in its own hands.
Germany should raise the banner. Not because it holds the EU presidency, but because our fate, and theirs, are now hopelessly intertwined.Mikuláš Dzurinda Democracy EU Institutions Values
Europe risks crumbling from within
29 Oct 2020
Mass protests have rocked Belarus since the 9 August presidential election, with thousands of people marching in Minsk and other cities throughout the country, demanding the resignation of Alyaksandr Lukashenka. The unprecedented wave of unrest was triggered by the results of the election, that handed Lukashenka a crushing victory with 80% of the vote. His main challenger, Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, and her supporters refused to recognise the validity of the result.
In the first days after the vote, Belarusian authorities cracked down brutally on the protesters, detaining hundreds of protesters and prosecuting top activists. Many prominent members of the Coordination Council for the Transfer of Power have either been arrested or forced to leave the country.
This online event aimed to discuss the recent developments in the country, focusing on the radical change within Belarusian society, the driving force of the revolution. How can the EU support the nation’s transition to free and democratic elections? Will Putin give his unconditional support to the last dictator in Europe? These and other questions will be tackled during the discussion.Katerina Jakimovska Andrius Kubilius Democracy EU-Russia
Online Event ‘Belarus: What’s Next?’
Live-streams - Multimedia
19 Oct 2020
Everyone is so eager for the year 2020 to end and be forgotten as promptly as possible. It has been a year of turmoil, despair, uncertainty, and fear. This year has also turned all eyes on government’s ability to handle the health crisis, to take care of its citizens, and to reassure them that any step in their power will be taken to ensure people are safe and protected. The only certainty is that this year will not be forgotten. As for the Corona nightmare ending in 2021, it’s rather unlikely.
The domestic handling of the pandemic crisis set a daunting challenge for countries in the Western Balkans (WB). Known as states with unconsolidated democratic systems, with weak institutions, widespread clientelism, and low transparency, they were truly put to the democracy test. To intercept and halt the virus spread, several countries declared a state of emergency (Serbia, North Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina). This meant the imposition of long curfews and limits on civil liberties, legislative initiatives adopted through fast procedures, and changes to election rules. Furthermore, the names of citizens ordered to self-isolate during the pandemic were published (Montenegro, North Macedonia). In the meantime, a government was toppled through a vote of no-confidence (Kosovo). In all countries, there was a flood of fake news on mainstream and social media, with different conspiracy theories, but also untrue methods for dealing with the disease.
It could be said that this is to be expected in a region where countries have been struggling to consolidate their democracies since the 1990s, and the challenges mentioned above are simply a consequence of decades of political erosion. No wonder that under these circumstances, citizens’ trust in government institutions and their ability to cope with the virus, was low to begin with. The pandemic did impose an additional burden on the political systems, and they did send dangerous signals. If such tendencies continue to erode the societies even after the pandemic is over, they would further damage and significantly slow the pace of WB countries, candidates for EU membership.
On another note, the pandemic is not over yet. A global economic crisis is most likely on our doorstep, and the longer it lasts, the bigger the democratic challenge will be. This would “invite“ other external actors to take advantage of the fragile state of democracy in the Western Balkans and enhance their presence (Russia, China, Turkey, the UAE). Even before the pandemic, these countries have been exercising influence through various instruments. The region has also been known for its fragile stability in terms of security. Further democratic backsliding could be a contributing factor to the region’s renewed instability and conflict.
What can be done to consolidate rather than weaken democracy in the Western Balkans?
At the beginning of the year, the EU announced the revised enlargement methodology, and decided to open negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia. This process has also been affected by the pandemic. It raised fears that this process’ dynamic would be slowed down, since bigger challenges have risen in priority in the EU’s agenda. However, the European Commission has restated its aspirations for the Western Balkans region, and adopted the comprehensive Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans. It would be important to start the negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia as soon as possible, so that the reform process related to it can unfold properly.
In general terms, instead of constantly reassessing the influence of external actors like Russia, China, and Turkey in the Western Balkans, the EU should seriously engage in finding solutions to tackle these actors’ presence. It is apparent that even though their overall investments are much lower than the EU, their communication strategy targeted at citizens is much stronger, and people are being convinced that these particular actors are their real allies (e.g., the media spotlight of the Chinese donations to Serbia to tackle the pandemic). The EU is straining its credibility in the region, leaving it to wait on the doorstep for too long, and leaving space for the “others” to fill in. Instead of “extinguishing fires” in the region and inertly mediating conflicts among neighbouring countries, the EU should be blunt and swift in its decision-making and communication towards the region. The announced Economic and Investment Plan for the WB countries is a great way to show presence and serious commitment to the region. But on the political side, the entire enlargement and accession process is missing dynamism. There are countries which have been candidates for more than 10 years without any prospect to foresee the date of accession and this creates “fatigue” in the EU support by the electorate and a vacuum for tendencies to shift the perspective towards the very known authoritarianism. It is not demanded from the EU to lower the criteria for accession, nor to impose “fast-track” negotiations, but consistency and dynamics which will keep the candidate countries motivated to maintain their course.
Finally, the pandemic was not as encouraging for autocrats as expected. This is true globally, not only in the region. Authoritarian leaders can reinforce their power through crises they can control, with an enemy of their choosing and strings they can pull. The global pandemic has one “monster“ enemy, the Coronavirus, which cannot be negotiated with. Governments must work and show proven results that they are handling it, enabling comparison with other countries through numbers and measures. But citizens cannot be fooled. This showed in Montenegro’s election results, in the Serbian protests about the announced reimposition of a curfew during the summer, but also in Belarus.
The spark of hope is that maybe this pandemic will not significantly enhance democracies in the Western Balkans, but it will not weaken them either. And there are ways of moving away from the status quo.
This article was submitted as part of the author’s application for the Road to Warsaw Security Forum: Western Balkans Program organised by the Casimir Pulaski Foundation.
 This designation is in line with UN Security Council Resolution 1244/99 and the International Court of Justice Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence.
 More on: Tzifakis, Nikolaos. “The Western Balkans during the Pandemic: Democracy and Rule of Law in Quarantine?” European View, (October 2020).Katerina Jakimovska Balkans Democracy
Will the COVID-19 pandemic strengthen or weaken democracy in the Western Balkans?
13 Oct 2020
1. Which role, if any, does foreign policy play in this election?
Dr. Jana Puglierin, Head of Office and Senior Policy Fellow, European Council on Foreign Relations, Berlin: Foreign policy has rarely played a dominant role in American election campaigns, but this time, the topic really has taken a back seat. Due to the conjunction of the COVID-19 pandemic, a huge economic recession, and social tensions in the United States, attention has turned strongly inward in recent months. Relations with China are an exception, however. During the election campaign, both candidates outbid each other on who would take the hardest line against Beijing. Donald Trump has used foreign policy issues during the campaign to show that he is the one who puts “America first” and protects Americans from being ripped off by others. Decisions such as the withdrawal of American troops from Germany were intended to demonstrate that he would no longer stand by and watch America’s wealthy allies freeride.
Erik Brattberg, Director of the Europe Program and Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington, D.C.: US presidential elections tend to be dominated by domestic issues, and this year’s election is no exception to this rule. The top issues for American voters in November are the economy, the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare, and the Supreme Court. To the extent that foreign policy has surfaced in the debate, it is mainly about China, where Trump is touting his own administration’s tough approach, while Biden is criticising Trump’s policy as self-defeating. While most Americans, according to polls, remain interested in the US continuing to play a leading role in the world, Trump’s nationalist agenda is not an aberration, and signals a more fundamental shift in the thinking of Americans about their role in the world.
Dr. Ian O. Lesser, Vice President and Executive Director, The German Marshall Fund of the United States, Brussels: Traditionally, foreign policy has not played a large role in American presidential elections. This election is unlikely to very different. Domestic issues will be the focus. But above all, the election will be a referendum on Trump and his personality. That said, there are several domestic issues with important external implications. These include economic openness versus economic nationalism, immigration and borders, climate change, and questions of election interference. China and Russia are on the agenda, principally via domestic concerns. Biden will try to highlight the international costs of Trump’s behaviour and policies, of course.
Peter Rough, Senior Fellow, Hudson Institute, Washington, D.C.: It has almost become a banality to observe that the world is interdependent, but that does not make it any less true. Globalisation has eviscerated the division between foreign and domestic issues, just as it has erased former US Senator Arthur Vandenberg’s adage, uttered during the Truman administration, that “politics stops at the water’s edge.” The two candidates represent starkly different international profiles, from specific issues like climate change, to regional approaches in the Middle East. Trump is hesitant to involve the US in foreign wars, but he and his party are comfortable in the realm of hard power. By contrast, Biden sits atop a progressive base that has grown hostile to the use of force, but prioritises American leadership in multilateral fora.
2. What would a Trump/Biden victory mean for the EU?
Jana Puglierin: A Trump victory would be a crucial challenge for the EU. Even in his first term, Trump was openly hostile to Brussels. He would try to increase bilateral relations with member states, thereby dividing the EU. While France would strive even harder for European strategic autonomy, the countries on NATO’s eastern flank would try to expand their strategic ties with the US. This would be especially true if Trump conditioned the US security guarantee on economic or political concessions. A Biden victory would give ample room for proactive European initiatives that renew the transatlantic relationship and make Europe a stronger – and, therefore, more attractive – partner for the US. Biden would restore confidence in American security guarantees for Europe, although he would pressure Europeans to invest more in their own defence.
Erik Brattberg: On one level, Trump and Biden couldn’t be more different when it comes to how they view the role of US allies and partners, including the EU. Whereas Trump views the EU as essentially an economic competitor, Biden views Europe as a key partner for the United States. Biden would withdraw Trump’s support for Brexit and populist leaders in Europe, seek to reduce trade tensions, and cooperate more with Europe on issues such as China. However, transatlantic relations are unlikely to bounce back to their pre-2016 level – European distrust in US leadership will remain high and divisive transatlantic issues, such as defence spending and burden-sharing, or digital taxation, will remain complicated, even under Biden.
Ian O. Lesser: It would mean a great deal. I do not agree with those who suggest that the outcome will not change the drift of transatlantic relations. To be sure, there are structural shifts, including the inexorable rise of China as a strategic concern. And Biden could prove less than open on trade matters. But on climate, Iran, NATO affairs, and the general approach to the transatlantic partnership, there would be a big change. The style would change overnight, and that will make a difference. The cadre of foreign policy officials coming into a Biden administration would certainly be a return to the “known world” for EU leaders. Above all, the EU, as an institution, would be taken more seriously in Washington.
Peter Rough: By now, the world has grown accustomed to Donald Trump. In the event he wins re-election, we could expect his approach towards Europe to mirror that of his first term: rebalancing trade and defence. Moreover, he and his team will work to forge a common strategic approach towards the major state-based challenges of the day, from Venezuela in South America, to Iran in the Middle East, and to China worldwide. In all areas, Brussels would face a series of choices, sometimes painful, on how to proceed.
If Joe Biden takes the White House, he will launch a charm offensive towards Europe, including a summit of the world’s democracies in the first year. There will be obvious areas of overlap in regulating our economies, for example, and how to approach Iran—even if our distinct political traditions, geographies, and responsibilities will ensure our share of differences. No matter who wins the White House, however, Europe must recognise that the costs of defending the liberal international order have gone up.
3. What should be the number one item on the transatlantic agenda after the elections?
Jana Puglierin: No matter who wins the presidential election, there is plenty of room for transatlantic cooperation and joint initiatives when it comes to dealing with China. In terms of substance, the EU and its member states share most of the United States’ concerns, such as its trade policy – especially subsidies and forced technology transfers – and its military build-up and destabilising policies in Asia, as well as the further promotion of its authoritarian model in the rest of the world. Europeans should pro-actively approach the Americans with proposals, and not wait until they are confronted with American demands. However, they should make clear that they are not extended instruments of US external policy.
Erik Brattberg: It is not enough to simply aim to restore the traditional transatlantic agenda. Instead, the goal must be to reinvent US-European cooperation to deal with the most pressing future challenges. Key among these are China and the role of technology. In this regard, the establishment of a new EU-US strategic dialogue for cooperation on shared challenges related to China is a welcome development and should be put to good use next year. In addition, EU and US policymakers also need to redouble their effort to forge a more common approach towards emerging technologies – both through establishing a bilateral technological EU-US high-level dialogue, but also through engaging together in new initiatives, such as the British idea of establishing a D-10 format to work on 5G and global supply chain issues.
Ian O. Lesser: A return to trust should be item number one. A stylistic priority, perhaps. But it’s an essential pre-condition for a return to closer cooperation in multiple areas – and the management of differences where they will surely continue to exist.
Peter Rough: The number one issue is China. The US and Europe have a host of issues to sort through, but all of them should be refracted through the ongoing competition with China and its partners, especially Russia and Iran.Democracy Elections Transatlantic
Trump, Biden, and the Future of Transatlantic Relations: The Impact of the 2020 US Presidential Election
12 Oct 2020
Exactly a century ago, the British Parliament passed “An Act to provide for the better government of Ireland”. Commonly referred to as the Government of Ireland Act, this Westminster legislation effectively provided for the partition of the island of Ireland. This law, more than any other British action, has defined Anglo-Irish relations in the proceeding decades. Only with the peace process of the 1990s (and significant US and EU support) was the concept of the Irish border, as a symbol of either oppression or loyalty, finally overcome.
Yet, because of the current British government’s approach to leaving the European Union (rather than Brexit itself), the people of Northern Ireland find themselves again at the mercy of legislation tabled in Westminster. They are centre stage in political events of which they have no control. Unfortunately, the myopic nature of negotiations between London and Brussels leaves little scope for finding solutions that will actually benefit Northern Ireland’s population. The British government’s bombast about sovereignty and “taking back control” bely an administration following increasingly English interests, not great big British ones. Similarly, Brussels’ technically-driven approach is proving ill-suited to pinning down an opponent who constantly changes the rules of the game. Shadow boxing and Twitter spats about blockades, state aid, or fisheries won’t solve the Irish border question. It won’t deliver a manageable Brexit for either party involved.
Rather, what is required is a much more fundamental reset of Anglo-Irish/EU relations, that is informed by practical realities, not political manoeuvring. And that’s why an independent Northern Ireland would give this contested region a real shot at progress and stability.
An independent Belfast administration guaranteed by the Irish and British governments (with EU and US support) could, if all existing member states agree, stay as a member of the European Union. A clear majority of Northern Irish (56%) voted to remain in the EU in the 2016 referendum. Many provisions of the Good Friday peace agreement could remain in place, including the ability of Northern Irish citizens to gain additional citizenship, both from the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland would form part of the British Commonwealth, thus maintaining the British monarch (with all its associated finery) as the titular head of state. The Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Britain could continue to operate a relatively free travel area within the British Isles.
Detractors will argue that Ulster Unionists will never accept any dilution of their relationship with Westminster. However, as they know well, such devotion – “too much loyalty” – has seldom been reciprocated in Westminster, especially by the Conservative Party. Sure, Ulster Unionism can continue to fight against the fading of the light, but that’s not going to change the increasing fluidity of identities within Northern Ireland. Just ask the golfer Rory McIlroy (who struggled to choose between Ireland or Team GB for the Rio Olympics). Or the 50% of Northern Ireland’s population who now view themselves as neither “unionist or nationalist” (up from 33% in 1998).
An independent Northern Ireland, however, would enable Ulster Unionists to circumvent the slow moving – but noticeable – demographic drive towards Irish unity. It would empower them to turn their Stormont administration into a true government, without the fear of direct Dublin (or London) interference. It would protect them against their fear of being subsumed against their will into a united Ireland. A fear that remains blissfully ignored by Dublin.
A political commitment to forsake any referendum on Irish unity (or re-joining the UK) for at least two decades would equip all sides in Northern Ireland with the incentive to work towards normalising political life in still deeply polarised communities. An incentive that could be further sweetened by a joint financial package underwritten by Dublin, London, the EU, and the US in order to mitigate the loss of direct payments from Westminster. In effect, Northern Ireland should become a new Belgium. Hopelessly divided, but perfectly viable and with a chance for real material improvements in living standards.
Two further points should be considered in the context of an independent Northern Ireland. First, this area is far from the economic basket case that it is sometimes portrayed. It has an excellent university system, young adults that consistently out-perform their English, Scottish and Welsh peers in state examinations, and a sophisticated digital infrastructure ( Northern Ireland has the highest full-fibre coverage within the UK), all hint at the potential of an independent Northern Irish economy. An economy free to compete for international investment, owing to full tax autonomy. Second, it is a lazy assumption to believe that Northern Ireland’s independence would automatically result in Scotland following a similar path, or have ramifications for other EU member states. The emergence of an independent Northern Ireland would occur as part of a legal political agreement between London, Belfast, and Dublin. In Scotland, although more ethnically homogeneous, and with a significantly deeper history of nationhood, the 2014 independence referendum highlighted the much more embedded nature of Scotland’s union with England and Wales. Northern Ireland’s prospects shouldn’t be sacrificed on the altar of possible future events in a decentralising United Kingdom.
In opening the Northern Ireland Parliament in 1921, King George V asked for people to “to join in making for the land which they love a new era of peace, contentment, and goodwill”. Northern Ireland deserves a chance, and neither London, Dublin, or Brussels should stand in their way.Eoin Drea Brexit Democracy Leadership
Doesn’t an independent Northern Ireland deserve a chance?
07 Oct 2020
What has happened in Belarus since the massively fraudulent election of 9 August is nothing short of a miracle. Out of all the potentates in the countries of the former Soviet Union, Alexander Lukashenka – once labelled ‘Europe’s last dictator’ – seemed to be the least contested in his own country. The last 4 weeks have changed this image for good already, whatever happens from now on. Repeated massive and peaceful demonstrations in Minsk and many other cities, strikes in crucial factories, songs, pictures of women in red and white handing flowers to police, the disbelief on Lukashenka’s face when booed by workers; but also police brutality and the first signs of panic and collapse among the regime a week after the first protests: these are now imprints on our collective memories. Western democracies have to forcefully react. Here is why a ‘geopolitical’ approach to the issue is misleading, and why a principled reaction is both a moral obligation and in our own enlightened self-interest.
The fact that the regime has averted collapse for the moment, and that we are heading towards a long standoff, is only due to Putin’s public guarantee to keep Lukashenka in power, with all the overt and hybrid means at his disposal. Of course, Putin despises Lukashenka, but the Western pundits who predicted, at the beginning of the protests, that Putin would quickly ditch him and ‘install’ a more dynamic and more clearly pro-Russian leader, were wrong. Lukashenka is good enough for Putin because, in addition to being now totally dependent on the Kremlin, his erstwhile ‘fight with the two monsters’ (i.e. playing the West and Russia against each other) is over, in favour of the latter. For now, only keeping Lukashenka in power is the guarantee that Belarus doesn’t undergo some kind of ‘colour revolution’ – and a democratic revolution is precisely what Putin is most afraid of, because Russian democrats would be tremendously encouraged by it. This is also why Putin tried to eliminate their front man, Aleksei Navalny, in August. The question of external alliances of a post-Lukashenka Belarus is secondary to the democracy factor, especially since none of the leading Belarusian democrats have even touched upon the topic of EU or NATO membership – only Lukashenka and Russian propaganda are labelling the protests, quite ridiculously, as products of Western machinations.
A fallacy called geopolitics
Just like any other crisis involving Russia, this case has seen its share of inflationary use of the term ‘geopolitics’. That time-honoured term comes, roughly speaking, in two variants: one is the (actually rather banal) statement that geography is one of many factors explaining the behavior of political actors – mostly national governments. That’s a fact. Witness the respective importance given recently by the Greek government to the conflict with Turkey, and by the Polish and Baltic governments to the democratic revolution in Belarus. The other variant, which happens to have been particularly overblown in the Belarus debate, is the belief that geopolitics is something akin to a natural science, whose immutable ‘laws’ prescribe or render impossible this or that political development, as if there were a geopolitical law of gravity that says: small neighbours of great powers (such as Russia) cannot choose their own political systems, or foreign policies and alliances. If that were true, the Berlin Wall would not have come down in 1989, and the Warsaw Pact would still be in place. The big lesson of the 1980s – remember, it took a decade from the birth of Solidarność to the end of the Soviet Union – is that politics, not geography, calls the shots in the end.
For our freedom and yours
Regarding the West’s reaction to the miracle of Belarus and Putin’s actions, the first conclusion is that the geopolitical games played by some in the West (for example by the PiS government in Warsaw until 9 August), sucking up to Lukashenka to drag him away from Putin, have turned out to be as useless as they always were. If we want a safe and free future for Europe, we need to put geopolitics in its place.
Secondly, while not being able to change the situation in Belarus directly, there are plenty of things the EU should do: Come up with a ‘Magnitsky’ list of Belarusian officials for asset freezes and travel bans, delegitimise Lukashenka (as the Lithuanians already have), propose the Sakharov or Nobel Peace Prize for Sviatlana and Sergei Tsikhanouski, and a dramatic increase in visual and financial support for all Belarusian democrats, especially those who are victim of oppression. And Germany should do what should have happened years ago: scrap NordStream 2. There are also things Europeans should not do, such as: fall over ourselves to ‘talk to Putin’ about the future of Belarus. That future is the business of Belarusians.
Thirdly and finally, we should all remind ourselves that we ought to do these things not only for moral reasons, but in our own interest. If Lukashenka and Putin get away with their brazen operation, flouting not only all standards of human decency, but concrete commitments signed by them, then our own freedom will soon be at stake. In that sense, Belarus is everywhere. As the globally active Polish freedom fighters of the 19th century would have put it: The struggle is about our freedom as much as about the Belarusians. And this ‘fraternal assistance’ for Lukashenka might actually be the beginning of the end for Putin.
We’re all Belarusians now – a plea for putting the politics back in geopolitics
11 Sep 2020
Revolution is unfolding in Belarus. We just witnessed its first phase – Alyaksandr Lukashenka has been struck by a landslide defeat, with 60-80 percent of voters choosing Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya. Lukashenka is trying to steal this victory from Belarusians, so the revolution continues in the streets and with strikes. People are going to the streets to defend their victory.
Some views can be heard in Lithuania and elsewhere in the West, that this revolution is useful for the Kremlin, that it may even have been orchestrated by the Kremlin’s secret service itself. Some believe that Lukashenka is the sole guarantor of the sovereignty of Belarus and that the alternative candidates are the Kremlin’s project. This way, the Kremlin wanted to weaken Lukashenka and drive him to beg for the Kremlin’s assistance, they say.
These are quite absurd conspiracy insinuations. The driving force of the Belarusian revolution is not one or another candidate, but the radical change within Belarusian society itself. A new civic nation has been born in Belarus. This civic nation is the true leader of the revolution, and Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya is its symbol.
The unconscious, and totally wrong willingness to accept the continuation of Lukashenka’s rule in Belarus reminds me of the Sąjūdis era, more than 30 years ago. Back then some in the West would call on Lithuanians to “slow down” our pro-independence revolution, as it was harmful to Gorbachev. They would say to us ‘we have to preserve Gorbachev because he is the guarantor of perestroika, your revolution is damaging him’. It is only normal that we did not listen to such insinuations. It is good that today, Belarusians are not so keen either to listen to similar “advice”.
And now on to the main question – why, in my firm belief, is the Belarusian revolution nothing but a big headache and a nightmare for the Kremlin?
First, because the birth of the civic nation in Belarus is “contagious” for Russia. We see persistent protests in Khabarovsk, which are very similar to the ones in Belarus – without clear leadership or organisation, but still continuing. Important elections are approaching in Russia – regional elections this September and Duma elections next year. Vladimir Putin understands very well these processes in Belarus, and how they constitute a signal that the authoritarian regimes in the whole post-Soviet hemisphere are approaching their “expiry date”.
Second, Putin must be aware that he is entrapped: he cannot support the revolution in Belarus (because a similar revolution may start in Russia), which is why he congratulates Lukashenka. However, Lukashenka is as toxic for Belarusians as Yanukovych was for Ukrainians in 2013. Back then, Putin supported Yanukovych, occupied Crimea and part of the Donbas, and became the No. 1 enemy of the Ukrainian nation (“Putin – chuilo”). He actually “helped” Ukrainians to unite and choose the Western path of development.
The same may happen to Putin with regard to Belarus – he cannot support the revolution, but by supporting Lukashenka he would alienate all those who voted against Lukashenka, making them eager to look for friendship elsewhere, not in Moscow.
Putin “helped” to consolidate the pro-Western Ukraine. Ukraine has finally left the post-imperial realm of the Kremlin with Putin’s “help” in 2014. Now it’s Belarus’ turn.
It’s a zugzwang for the Kremlin – whatever it does, it’s bad: if it supports Lukashenka, it will alienate the Belarusian nation; if it supports the revolution in Belarus, a similar fate awaits in Russia.
Bad times for autocrats: in Minsk and in Moscow!
Zhyve Belarus!Andrius Kubilius Democracy EU-Russia Foreign Policy
Belarus: A trap for the Kremlin?
12 Aug 2020
On 26 June 1963, the then-President of the United States John F. Kennedy delivered his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech, underlining the support of the Free World for West Berlin and West Germany.
47 years later, the Special Procedure 50 of the UN Human Rights Council has issued a statement denouncing Beijing’s repression of Tibet and Hong Kong. The statement came just before the National Security Law in Hong Kong was approved by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress.
The Pearl of the Orient has suddenly earned a new name, as the “West Berlin” of the New Cold War.
However, unlike in West Berlin, Beijing did not build a wall to prevent its corporations from investing in Hong Kong, nor did it ask foreigners to leave the territory. Beijing has instead always proclaimed that the National Security Law’s introduction was to provide extra assurance of the famed “One Country, Two Systems” doctrine coined by Deng Xiaoping, a leader China has long outgrown.
However, it is precisely this kind of attitude that should push the European Union to act – beyond expressing “grave concern” – and take the Hong Kong question seriously. The enactment of the National Security Law is a litmus test of the EU’s capacity to defend its interests and universal values in the context of the “Great Decoupling”.
International relations academics and EU specialists agree that contemporary EU-China relations are determined by two factors (as suggested by Michael Yahuda). First, the tyranny of distance, and second, the primacy of trade. In short, owing to the lack of geopolitical ambition of the EU and the absence of shared geographical boundaries (terrestrial or maritime), the protection and promotion of EU economic interests in China is the core driver of EU action towards China. As a result, the European Union has long been satisfied with the current model of cooperation. In the field of trade and investment, the EU opts for a good trade agreement with the absence of a human rights clause (from the Trade and Cooperation Agreement signed in 1985, to the long-awaited conclusion of the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment). Unlike its “selective engagement” approach with Russia, the European Union currently does not link its business presence in China with better political development and social reform – not to mention the suspected violation of citizens’ safety in Hong Kong.
The Pearl of the Orient has suddenly earned a new name, as the “West Berlin” of the New Cold War.
However, the new reality after the enactment of the National Security Law in Hong Kong demands exactly this. As detailed in Article 38, the Law will have extraterritorial effects, as it applies to offences committed outside Hong Kong by a person who is not a permanent resident of the Region. For example, any person who joined the Martens Centre’s recent online webinar discussing the situation in Hong Kong is at risk of prosecution under Article 38, as participating can be viewed as provoking hatred, or even sanctions towards Beijing. The National Security Law is without a doubt a threat against the fundamental rights and freedoms enjoyed by European citizens, political parties, think-tanks, or activist groups. The message from Beijing is clear: anyone who wishes to do business in Hong Kong must respect China’s concept of national security – regardless of that person’s nationality or their locality.
The National Security Law impacts European corporations as well. According to the latest implementation rules, the authorities are empowered to “freeze, restrain, confiscate, and forfeit any property related to offences endangering national security”. They also may require foreign political organisations and agents to provide information on activities concerning Hong Kong. The Law deliberately creates a dilemma and makes it clear to European companies. If a company surrenders information to the authorities, they violate their clients’ goodwill. If a company does not cooperate, its business interests in Hong Kong and mainland China will suffer. Beijing is effectively leveraging the West’s extensive business network and economic interests in Hong Kong, in order to test the European Union’s ability to balance its pursuit of commercial benefits and commitment to universal values.
From Beijing’s perspective, should European companies and EU Member States kowtow to the new arrangement in Hong Kong, Beijing will have full confidence that economic interests will always serve as good diplomatic leverage against the EU. In this case, the comprehensive investment agreement in its current form serves the foremost political interests of Beijing. Maintaining the status quo does not give the European Union any competitive edge against China’s sharp power in Europe. Only by acting in one voice and addressing the Hong Kong question seriously, can the European Union change the status quo and explore new possibilities in EU-China relations.
This article does not advocate for sanctions against Beijing, nor does it ask the EU to provide a UK-esque lifeboat policy to the citizens of Hong Kong. Instead, this thesis pleads for Europeans to act with one voice, and for the European Union to re-discover its diplomatic capacity, rooted in the commanding strength of the Common Market, and its formidable global regulatory regime. As history once showed, any hesitation would turn Europe into an ideological battlefield. Should there be a New Cold War in the 21st century, Brussels ought to utilise its structural strength to protect the very foundation of Europe’s peace, prosperity, and the well-being of its citizens.
Hong Kong Global Research Council
More than “West Berlin”: The EU should take the Hong Kong question seriously
27 Jul 2020
Perhaps there is no better proof of Hagia Sophia’s universality than the array of names it has borne over the centuries. Αγία Σοφία, Sancta Sapient, Ayasofya, were all used to refer to this Christian Basilica dedicated to the Holy Wisdom. It served for 1500 years as a place of worship for Christians and Muslims and, as of a few days ago, as a World Heritage Museum under UNESCO’s patronage.
It is this monument that Turkish president Erdoğan decided to re-convert into a mosque by reversing Kemal Atatürk’s decision from 86 years ago. For Atatürk, the symbolism of turning Hagia Sophia into a museum was clear. After a century of wars and persecution of its religious and ethnic minorities, the Ottoman Empire had been significantly reduced in both size and population. His dream for “peace at home, peace in the world” required neutralising religion as a source of internal division or external threats.
The reopening of Hagia Sophia as a mosque is planned for 24 July, the anniversary of the signing of the Lausanne Treaty in 1923. The Treaty regulated the borders and international commitments of Kemal’s new republic, including respect for both minorities within its borders, and the sovereignty of its neighbours. The symbolism could not be more apparent: Erdoğan sees this treaty as an obstacle to his ideological and strategic revisionism. The geopolitical implications of the Hagia Sophia decision are clear.
This decision goes beyond Turkey’s relationship with Greece, a country that has, for obvious reasons, taken the decision as an affront. It also goes beyond Europe and the West as a whole, as Erdoğan’s objective is to keep his domestic base mobilised. This move undermines global norms, rules, and efforts of inter-civilisational dialogue. The casualty of this decision may end up being nothing less than peace and understanding on a global scale, undermining relations between the West and Islam as a whole.
Turkish officials claim that Hagia Sophia is a purely internal matter. However, it is hard to see how the international community can ignore the emergence of radical civilisational discourses in Turkey, like the statement of AKP Party’s deputy chairman, Numan Kurtulmus, that “[…] those who conquered It by the sword also own the property rights”. Such statements are unworthy of a country privileged to host myriad World Heritage monuments, which, however, also come with international responsibility. All states hosting UNESCO sites are repositories of humanity’s shared history and universal values. Consequently, they are accountable for how they treat this global patrimony.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the Hagia Sophia decision comes at a very delicate political time for Erdoğan. The recent local elections in Turkey, the collapsing economy, and the mismanagement of the COVID-19 crisis have created unrest in Turkey that the AKP government cannot handle. As is typical for populist and authoritarian regimes, the remedy for the inability to deal with citizens’ actual problems is a turn to nationalism and religious fanaticism.
The decision was preceded by a publicity campaign to create the impression that the Turkish population is supportive. But in a recent survey by Istanbul Economics Research, Turks appeared divided: 47% were in favour, while 38% were against. Additionally, many Turkish scholars and politicians (Orhan Pamuk, Ahmet Davutoglu, and Ekrem Imamoglu, among many) called it a terrible mistake. Much as everything else Erdoğan does these days, this decision just serves to divide Turkish society, solidifying his base while targeting his opponents. Contrary to how Erdoğan tries to present it, opposing Hagia Sophia’s reconversion into a mosque does not equate to ‘opposing Turkey’: it means standing up to a regime which an increasing number of Turks are growing hostile towards.
Erdoğan is on a frontal attack against all values of the West’s past and present, from secular ideas of democratic liberalism to its Christian heritage. When geopolitical reorientation becomes embedded in a language of cultural inconsistency, it is difficult to see how there is any way back. A move that signals such blatant disregard for Turkey’s international commitments, even in the cultural field, can only portend further brinkmanship in the political and strategic field. Europe must be under no illusion. Turkey is an important partner. But you can only be a partner with someone who also sees you as one. If the EU wants Turkey to return to the table as a reasonable interlocutor (under the current government, or another one), the EU must prove it is a serious actor in its own right against Erdoğan’s provocations.
The Hagia Sophia decision is part of a long series of hostile acts against Europe by a regime degenerating into a rogue actor. The EU has more than sufficient justification to impose targeted, proportionate, but, if necessary, escalating sanctions in a variety of fields – economic, touristic, military – on Erdoğan. This is not meant as a punishment against the Turkish people, or to rupture the EU’s ties with Turkey terminally. There is simply no justification to indulge a regime that engages in such blatant authoritarianism at home, and aggressive revisionism internationally. A firm stance against Erdoğan is in the interest of both democracy in Turkey, and stability in the region.
Finally, a note about EU foreign policy more generally: Hagia Sophia has highlighted the importance of cultural heritage, particularly in the Mediterranean and the Middle East, as a topic of international diplomacy. Cultural heritage beyond the EU’s borders is a legitimate concern. The EU has long been absent in this area, at a time when wars have taken a horrible toll on cultural and religious diversity in its strategic periphery in the Middle East and the Mediterranean. A ‘strategic Europe’ must also be one that is ready to defend culture, civilisation, and diversity, not only at home, but abroad as well.
“Oh Kemal, I Have Surpassed Thee!” – Erdoğan’s Folie des Grandeurs
16 Jul 2020
Almost two decades after the European Council summit in Thessaloniki, the promise of EU membership remains unfulfilled in the Western Balkans. Although the process of EU accession is continuing, the current pace throws the Thessaloniki promise into doubt. Despite initial success, the current approach to enlargement has reached its limits, as it seems to be slowing down the integration process rather than accelerating it. At the same time, the transformative power of the EU is too weak to positively impact on democratic and economic setbacks in the region. That is why this article considers various strategies that the EU could employ to recalibrate the accession of the Western Balkans, notwithstanding the need for sincere reforms in the aspiring member states.
Read the full article of the June 2020 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Marko Kmezić Democracy Enlargment EU Institutions European Union
Recalibrating the EU’s Approach to the Western Balkans
15 Jul 2020
With over 51% of the vote, the incumbent Andrzej Duda of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has won the presidential election against Rafał Trzaskowski from the Civic Platform (PO). This is a narrow victory, but the country’s descent into authoritarianism will continue nonetheless. This result will be taken as a sign of encouragement by all autocrats in Europe. But they shouldn’t rejoice too soon. A closer look at the result, and especially at the dynamics of recent weeks, reveals some cracks in their narrative.
1. These elections were free, but not fair
This contest was David against Goliath. Andrzej Duda not only had at his disposal the government (very important during the pandemic), but also state media. During the pandemic, he could de facto campaign while exercising his office, travelling around the country, whereas opposition candidates were literally confined to social media for much of the campaign. What is more, Polish public media, especially television, overtly and consistently endorsed his campaign. True, most governments – in Poland and other formerly communist countries in the last 30 years – have ensured that public media were rather government-friendly. But that is nothing compared to the relentless transformation of Polish public TV into an Orwellian propaganda instrument for PiS since 2015. Another example of the unequal playing field was the deliberately bureaucratic and inefficient treatment of expatriate voters by consulates in those countries where past elections had been unfavourable for PiS.
2. Rafał Trzaskowski has put himself and his party firmly back on Europe’s political map
Rafał Trzaskowski will now return to his post as Mayor of Warsaw. But he has left his mark, and sooner or later, will return to national and European politics. Among younger voters, and in medium-sized and larger cities, he clearly beat Andrzej Duda. Two months ago, when PO decided to change their candidate and nominate Trzaskowski, no one would have predicted that he could come even close to half of the electorate. Between the first and the second round, he gained an additional 18 percentage points, meaning he swept up practically the entire left-wing vote, and most of those voters who rejected both him and Duda two weeks ago because they both represented the establishment. Against such overwhelming odds, Trzaskowski, in a breathtaking impromptu campaign, inspired and mobilised half of the electorate in Central Europe’s biggest nation.
3. The authoritarian narrative about East and West in Europe is a myth
Europe’s autocrats like to state that not only are Central European societies more socially conservative (which is true to an extent), but also have fundamentally different approaches to liberal democracy, to the rule of law, and checks and balances. Rafał Trzaskowski received almost half of the votes, mainly because so many Poles were fed up with the way PiS has usurped the Polish state, the judiciary, and the public media. Equally aggravating is the party’s use of hatred and bigotry in its treatment of the opposition, and how its actions have isolated Poland in Europe. The culture war narrative about a wealthy, liberal, decadent, overbearing, and Soros-controlled West that wants to lecture a young, dynamically growing, and conservative East about the rule of law has been proven wrong in this election. The insistence of EU institutions, such as the Parliament, the Commission, and the majority of EU Council members on the rule of law is not Western arrogance. It is the insistence on implementing what every country signed up for upon accession to the Union – in terms of values, but also in terms of procedures to safeguard them. To present this effort as a West European or Brussels-based politicised witch-hunt against conservative governments is a distortion that has been exposed by this Polish election.
The immediate future for Poland is predictable: PiS will expand its control over the judiciary, go after private media and push out foreign owners, and curtail local and regional governments’ power. The European People’s Party should raise its voice against such efforts to destroy liberal democracy, no matter which member state they are taking place in. It should expose authoritarian narratives no matter who voices them. And, as importantly, it should recognise who its real future talents are.Roland Freudenstein Democracy Elections EU Member States European People's Party
Poland: A hollow victory for authoritarianism
14 Jul 2020
Despite the triumphant mood of Russian officials and state media about the recent constitutional ‘referendum’ results, no one in Russian civil society seems genuinely impressed. The consequences of the vote for Putin’s future may be drastically different from what he expected.
A few things are important to understand. Primarily, this was not a ‘referendum’, but rather an opinion poll with fairly relaxed rules and a near-complete absence of independent supervision over voting and vote counting. It was exempt from the standard rules of holding elections regulated by the law, and was instead regulated by a vague instruction of the Central Elections Commission. This body had strictly limited observers to those de facto appointed by the authorities, banned media from being present at the vote count, and allowed very relaxed rules for casting ballots (voting from home, voting electronically, even voting in public parks, shopping malls, etc). The vote was held over 7 days, with no real control over possible tampering with the ballots during that period. A pocketful of irregularities are explained in detail by the independent NGO Golos, who concluded that this ‘vote’ cannot be taken seriously by any reasonable standard.
Despite the fact that Putin wants to portray this ‘vote’ as his personal triumph, authorities and state media have deliberately hidden its real purpose from the people. As Golos correctly stated, most ‘information materials’ concentrated on the populist amendments to the Constitution (pensions, wages, animal rights protection, etc.), which only constitute about 10% of the total amendments. Major changes to the system of power – including the extension of Putin’s possible term of office to 2036 – were barely mentioned at all. There are recorded cases of exit poll interviews with voters who voted in favour of the amendments, yet had no idea that Putin’s term extension was included in the package (videos like that are widely available online, like this one).
It is in fact a very open question what Russians really voted for. Public opinion on the most important amendment, the extension of Putin’s term in office, is sharply split, unlike opinion on the populist amendments which are largely supported. But the real purpose of the vote, as mentioned above, was carefully hidden.
Then comes the fraud. Sergey Shpilkin, a renowned electoral mathematician who has carefully analysed all Russian elections for well over a decade by examining voting results anomalies, concludes that about half of the ‘yes’ votes were rigged. This was especially easy to pull off this time due to the relaxed rules of the ‘referendum’.
The hard reality for Putin is that the public is aware of this. No one was convinced by the results announced, since everybody saw how the fraud took place, and pressure on state-affiliated employees and their relatives to vote ‘yes’ was truly enormous this time. One thing that was visibly lacking in Russia during the days of the vote was enthusiasm to support Vladimir Putin – one can hardly find even a few drops of it in the ocean of voting fraud and compulsion.
And yet, despite all this, 21% of Russians according to official results, and 35% according to estimates of real voting by Mr. Shpilkin, have voted ‘No’. That is deeply disturbing news for Putin, who, in previous years, had tried to dwell on the assumption that his opponents in society are measured in single-digit percentage points.
What next? Record low support for Putin and continuing negative trends give the opposition strong tailwinds in the upcoming political battles. In the forthcoming ‘real’ elections regulated by election law – such as the regional elections of this September and upcoming State Duma elections in 2021 – Putin will face an uphill battle of a magnitude which he probably never experienced before. In hindsight, the Moscow municipal ballot and ensuing protests of 2019 will look like a light rehearsal compared to this.
Putin also understands this. In response, he keeps modifying electoral rules, making it harder for independent candidates to get registered, and is considering applying the recently tested 7-day voting period to all future elections (which makes it effectively impossible to safeguard ballot boxes from fraud). But the opposition is now much more skilled to bypass novel obstacles, and, more importantly, we now have stronger backing from civil society than ever before. For starters, the Navalny Live YouTube channel now enjoys around 10 million unique viewers a month, making it a truly strong competitor to state propaganda (whose viewership numbers are fading). We have been tested through repression and intimidation and can withstand it.
Difficult times lie ahead, and Putin’s romance with Russia is over. He completely failed to revive it with a totally fraudulent and unconvincing ‘constitutional vote’.Vladimir Milov Democracy Foreign Policy Values
Putin’s referendum: what next?
06 Jul 2020
While most of the world underwent some degree of confinement due to the spread of COVID-19, the Belarusian government not only denied the existence of the virus, it actually continued with business as usual, scheduling the country’s presidential election for August 9. While in the past, Lukashenka’s victory was a given, this time the election’s outcome is not as predictable. For the first time in 26 years, there are real contenders who could challenge the sitting President.
In order to qualify for the election, candidates must secure a minimum of 100,000 signatures, which will be verified on July 14. Popular YouTube blogger Sergei Tikhanovski was considering joining the race, but since he was detained and then banned from running, it seems there will be two candidates allowed to go forward, besides those controlled by the government. They are the former Chairman of Belgazprombank, Viktor Babariko, (also currently detained) and the former leader of the Belarusian IT hub Hi-Tech Park, former ambassador to the United States, and Deputy Head of the Foreign Ministry, Valeri Tsepkalo. The surprising thing about these names is that they are not part of the opposition – they are regime insiders, members of the business elite.
While jailing opposition leaders, intimidating independent media, and cracking down on peaceful protests continues to be the modus operandi of Lukashenka, this constitutes a deeper development that the regime cannot control. Belarusians are discontent with the government and are taking their frustration to the streets. The hundreds of people demonstrating against Lukashenka’s re-election demonstrate their courage and strong motivation for change, especially when considering the unorthodox methods of repression employed by the government.
Years of economic stagnation, a pessimistic economic forecast of a 4 to 5% decline in the country’s GDP by the end of the year, increasing pressure from Russia, and a disregard for fundamental freedoms have led civil society to actively voice their opposition to the establishment’s methods. The fact that two other candidates from the regime’s inner circle stand ready to challenge the status quo is a strong political signal.
It is difficult not to draw similarities between what is happening in Belarus and the Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine back in 2014. Belarusian civil society is expressing its dissatisfaction with the lack of democracy, close ties to Russia, and abuse of freedoms by the government – a very similar picture to what we saw on Majdan Square during Yanukovych’s rule. In the worst-case scenario, Lukashenka can decide to follow Yanukovych’s footsteps, and resort to using violence against protesters, but too many eyes are watching. Several MEPs issued a statement on Belarus on June 18, calling for a fair campaign and a fair election. The EU and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) both have condemned the crackdown on peaceful protests.
Looking back at the Ukrainian experience, we can definitely say that a push for change from civil society can be very powerful and lead to significant developments. In the Belarusian case, it does not necessarily mean regime change. Lukashenka’s demise has been predicted several times in the past, but he has survived to this day. However, it is important that Belarusian people understand that they are standing at a crossroads between the status quo of an authoritarian regime and a democratically elected President. “Choosing” the regime means remaining in Russia’s orbit, who resorts to blackmail if things don’t go as planned. Indeed, the Kremlin has cut oil flows to Belarus earlier this year, after the collapse of last year’s talks between Russia and Belarus over forming a “union state”.
For the elections to be free, fair, and transparent, all candidates should have equal access to independent media, which unfortunately will not be the case. Opposition leaders are being detained, threatened and silenced. Nevertheless, long queues to place a signature for a candidate, despite COVID-19, have shown that Belarusians highly value democracy and structural reforms. A poll conducted by independent media outlets, later banned, placed Lukashenka with only 6% support within the country.
As in the case of Ukraine, there is no magic spell to transition from repression of political opponents and peaceful protesting, to full democracy – it takes time, strong will, and perseverance. But having the option of choosing a President freely is a prerogative of the Belarusian people, one that the citizens are fighting for.
Belarus’ southern neighbour, Ukraine, has undoubtedly beat the old corrupt system of elections, as its people have now voted freely in two Presidential elections since the protests on Majdan. The country still has a long way to go in terms of reforms, but a democratically elected President is the first and most important step towards success.
Belarus would benefit immensely from the respect of democratic values, closer ties to the EU, structural reforms, and a break from the past. After 26 years in power, it’s time for Lukashenka to accept the new direction that Belarusian citizens are asking for. Should he win the election, he must let go of the old ways and embrace the fundamental freedoms that the country deserves.Anna Nalyvayko Democracy Foreign Policy Society Values
Curtain Call for Lukashenka?
29 Jun 2020
Few symbols of upheaval are as powerful as the toppling of a statue. The last couple of weeks have been a good demonstration of this, across all Western societies – and Belgium is no exception. The cities of Antwerp and Ghent in Belgium removed statues of King Leopold II from their streets. This political compromise may appease radical demands, but it constitutes a missed opportunity to engage in a broad civic debate on identity and history.
There was a time when these statues honoured the Belgian sovereign for what was seen as his national and colonial heroism. Today these monuments inconveniently remind us of an embarrassing past, and of political and ethical norms that have long lost their validity. Still, Belgians are divided whether or not the statues should go because many interpret history differently.
The controversy around Leopold II doesn’t stand alone. In the Belgian town of Zottegem, a statue of Julius Caesar was vandalised. In London, protesters aimed their anger at a memorial for Winston Churchill, and in Johannesburg, paint was thrown at a statue of Mahatma Gandhi. Radical polarisation around identity has intensified emotions; it condemns those who assumed the role of ‘privileged’ leadership, and it hinders an objective debate on history. We deserve better than that in our democracies.
It is not the first time that statues fall prey to public anger. During the 4th century reign of Roman Emperor Constantine, monuments of as many as 25 former emperors were removed from public view. Europe’s Great Iconoclasm of the 16th century saw Catholic art and church decorations destroyed in Protestant mob actions across the continent. Statues and monuments are also a prime target after wars or violent regime change. ISIS materialised political change by destroying the artefacts in the ancient Semitic city of Palmyra. The Taliban blew up Buddha statues. And who does not remember the gripping images of Iraqis, or Libyans, celebrating their freedom by dancing on the fallen monuments of Saddam Hussein or Moammar al-Qadhafi?
But against the backdrop of this history – and a recent racial incident in the United States – should we therefore conclude that a statue of Leopold II symbolises the structural racism of the Belgian people or their government? Is a monument to Winston Churchill the embodiment of white British exceptionalism? Should we tear down a statue of Julius Caesar for the same reasons Americans are now removing Confederate symbols across their nation? Will this damnatio memoriae – the condemnation of memory – contribute to social progress? Most likely not.
Perhaps a fairer debate is first to understand why some democracies struggle to talk about their history openly? Why is it sensitive in the Netherlands to touch on the role of the Dutch East India Company in 17th century Indonesia, or to talk in France about the atrocities committed during the Algerian War in the 1950s? The answer lies in part in our values, and in the fact that our societies still have a very complicated relationship with our principles of equality – principles enshrined in every democracy’s constitution, but that are, or at least were, difficult to implement correctly.
Pioneers advocated women’s suffrage as early as the 19th century, but only in the 20th century did a critical mass support such a political innovation. Today, even if the public has grown accustomed to narratives of pluralism, multiculturalism, and wealth redistribution, the reality is too often one of isolation, gentrification, and inequality. The fact that government leaders or public influencers rarely raise this topic is not a sign of racism. Rather, it demonstrates a more significant inability to conduct a proper reflection that includes all groups of society. In an environment dominated by peaceful debate and within the framework of the rule of law, public attitudes are slow to evolve, and even the most progressive minds are often hesitant to embrace disruptive change.
That is why change coming from the grassroots needs to focus on creating a broad consensus and avoid polarisation. Only this way can powerful ideas transcend and transform into concrete evolutions. Today’s protesters will need to work with the political leaders that they oppose. And more importantly, they will need to win the hearts and minds of the silent majority, so that everyone embraces the proposed change. Clearly, destroying statues divides the public and achieves no progress on either front. Exceptions to this rule are rare. The removal of Nazi symbols in post-World War II Germany or the toppling of Lenin statues after 1989 in Central and Eastern Europe are different cases: That was about visualising fundamental change in, or at the end of, a systemic upheaval within the lifetimes of the citizens.
Today’s bilderstürmer are right to condemn the mistakes of the past. But censorship rarely works. History cannot be a subject one likes or dislikes, and exists for us to learn from. We need more conversations about history, not less. Looking at statues and monuments can actually serve as a helpful reminder of the undesirable. Today in our democracies, there is a broad consensus against racism. Civic and political leaders would be wise to promote more debate on that positive foundation. Blaming old statues may please the strongest emotions, but it will take more than that to make for a better society.
Statues have been destroyed throughout history, it rarely spurred social progress
22 Jun 2020
What should be the European Union’s reaction to the Hong Kong national security law adopted by China? More generally, what should be the EU stance towards China’s oppression of various minorities?
José María Aznar, Former Prime Minister of Spain:
“We should align our efforts with those of our allies, creating a diplomatic coalition to put pressure on Beijing and to warn against China’s failure to preserve Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedom under “one country, two systems”. We have to prepare possible economic sanctions as our response to China’s decision to impose new security legislation. Our response must be convincing to discourage possible Chinese coercion of minorities and especially of Taiwan.”
Carl Bildt, Former Prime Minister of Sweden:
“On the issue of Hong Kong, it’s important to coordinate our stance closely with international partners, especially with the UK, since it is very much the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984 that we must insist on being implemented to the letter and the spirit. Only by acting together, with a broader group of countries – including Canada and Australia – can we have any possible impact.”
Antonis Samaras, Former Prime Minister of Greece:
“When Hong Kong was integrated back to China in 1997, the general agreement was that nothing should challenge the overall sovereignty of China, and nothing should undermine the basic democratic principles already enjoyed by the people of Hong Kong, including the right of self-governance, their separate western-based judicial system, or the rights of various minorities. The Basic Law of Hong Kong – its formal term – was acceptable by all sides, and formalised the “one country, two systems” principle. This was a balanced approach that has worked so far and I do not believe it should change. I am gravely concerned about the repercussions of any attempt to undermine this agreement.”
Can the EU adopt a common strategy in response to China’s bid for global hegemony, and what should this be? Can Europe “decouple” from China?
José María Aznar: “For most of the last decade, the EU has looked at China through the prism of economic opportunity. Beijing’s transgressions, whether they are phasing out human rights in the country, dislodging South China Sea neighbours, stealing intellectual property from the West, or running propaganda and disinformation campaigns, have been ignored. Now, democratic nations need to make themselves less vulnerable to potential Chinese economic pressure and focus on security issues related to 5G networks. The EU’s common strategy must be based on three principles: 1) recognising that Europe’s values and interests are indivisible, 2) asking China’s government for reciprocity of market access, 3) cooperating with China on cross-cutting issues.”
Carl Bildt: “I don’t think China aspires to “global hegemony”, but they clearly seek to gain increased influence in different ways, particularly in their widely defined periphery. The EU’s policy must rest on two pillars. To engage with China on issues like climate, global trade, and global health, but also to stand firm on issues of human rights, democracy, and non-interference. However, “decoupling” is a strange concept – we are not “coupled” with China. And no one will be able to ignore what will eventually become the largest economy in the world.”
Antonis Samaras: “I believe we should have a common policy vis-à-vis China. But it should be an inclusive approach, not an exclusive one. Extensive dependence on international supply lines from China is not good for Europe or China. On the other hand, alienating China is also wrong. There is room for an “intermediate” solution, balancing the legitimate concerns from all sides.”
The US is pursuing an increasingly unilateral approach on China, which might put the EU in an uncomfortable position. How do you expect this to affect the transatlantic relationship, and what is the best policy for Europe?
José María Aznar: “The EU is in an uncomfortable position, but even with the current deep crisis in the transatlantic relationship, there can be no contest for the EU between its alliance with the world’s most powerful democracy, and a communist state that parades its contempt for European values. There is a strategic imperative to work together with the US, because the challenge posed by China will grow in the years to come, and only together can we safeguard the liberal international order.”
Carl Bildt: “We must develop our own approach, and the paper from March of last year is a good start. What is profoundly embarrassing is that the EU is often blocked by some member states from being critical towards certain Chinese policies, notably when it comes to human rights. We must also hope that there will be someone in the White House open to constructive dialogue with the EU on these issues, so that a common position can evolve.”
Antonis Samaras: “Europe is a long-standing trading partner and security ally of the United States. Europe is also a valuable trading partner of China. We will probably have to redefine both of these partnerships. However, most importantly, we must make them “compatible”. Europe can act as a valuable mediator between the US and China.”Crisis Democracy European Union Foreign Policy
How should the EU handle relations with China?
15 Jun 2020
EU countries have begun to ease national restrictions aimed at countering the COVID-19 pandemic. When it comes to the Visegrád Group, how do you evaluate the emergency powers granted to the executive branch?
Pavlína Janebová, Deputy Research Director at the Association for International Affairs (Prague):
“Strengthening the powers of the executive branch is certainly a logical and legitimate step in times of crisis. Regarding the Visegrád states’ governments (i.e. the Hungarian, Polish and Czech governments, as the Slovak one took office only recently), handling the COVID-19 pandemic has largely confirmed the tendencies that we had seen before. Fidesz-KDNP is taking Hungary yet another step further from democracy and the rule of law (with the EU still unable to react adequately). PiS in Poland is pushing for controversial legislation including a change to the electoral code despite the pandemic. Finally, the coalition of ANO and the Social Democrats in the Czech Republic is struggling to produce clear and comprehensible policies for their citizens, and although this is not surprising, it is far from encouraging.”
Péter Krekó, Executive Director of Political Capital, independent policy research, analysis and consulting institute (Budapest):
“The V4 varies in this respect, and I think we can observe somewhat uneven tendencies within the V4. We can find more problematic tendencies of executive (mis)use of power under the pretext of fighting the pandemic in Poland and Hungary, and less in Czechia and Slovakia. In Poland, for example, the government is using the pandemic to put further restrictions on abortion, while it is not obvious at first sight how this might help to stop the epidemic. A law, similar to one in Russia, Hungary and Israel, which aims to discredit NGOs critical of the government by revealing their “foreign funding”, is underway.
In Hungary, the government also took steps to silence critical voices. Under the veil of the COVID-19 crisis, the Parliament amended the criminal code to make spreading hoaxes or ‘distorted facts’ about the coronavirus punishable by up to five years in prison. Government-organised think tanks and media then listed opposition journalists as sources of hoaxes to make the message even more evident. Authoritarian practices are also more widespread. For example, police fined citizens who were peacefully protesting against certain government measures without physically gathering, by making noise with their car horns and bicycle bells.
What instead seems to be a common trend in Central and Eastern Europe is a narrative that China is providing help amid the coronavirus crisis, and the EU is not. Ironically, China might end up extending its sharp power influence in the region as a result of its ‘mask diplomacy’.”
Milan Nič, Head of the program for Central-Eastern Europe and Russia at the German Council of Foreign Relations-DGAP (Berlin):
“None of the other Visegrád group countries went as far as granting special powers with no time limit to its head of government, as in Viktor Orbán’s Hungary. His rule by decree, adopted on March 30, did not make Hungary’s response to the spread of COVID-19 more effective than elsewhere in the region. In the regional context, Budapest was rather late in its response, less transparent and also had the lowest testing capacity. The Czech Republic and Slovakia, in contrast, closed schools in early March and enforced early lockdowns without the need to widen constitutional frameworks in place. Both countries also made wearing masks mandatory ahead of other European countries. Granted, they also made a number of confusing moves along the way, but these were corrected in response to public criticism and free media coverage.
If we want to take lessons for the future, the overall response showed that none of the V4 governments had developed civilian crisis management systems for emergency situations, and had to rely on their armed forces or improvised decisions at the verge of legality, e.g. the very strict supervised treatment of their own citizens returning from abroad.”
Do you think there was an East-West divide in the way governments addressed the COVID-19 pandemic?
Pavlína Janebová: “While I do not like the connotations of an ‘East-West divide’, it is clear that imposing strict containment measures early on helped prevent a much more serious spread of the disease in some Central and Eastern European countries. While that certainly is great news, the relative ease with which the borders were closed and the fact that the restrictions were largely undisputed might be a dangerous precedent for the future of Schengen and EU integration in general.”
Péter Krekó: “I do not really see this. We can see across the world, and in the region as well, that even politicians who were initially hesitant to recognise the pandemic as a significant threat were later just following international trends and the recommendations from doctors and scientists. The region is lucky in that it seems to have been hit by the virus much less than Western Europe. The reasons for this are still to be analysed, and the region’s smaller global role matters. But even that only gave an advantage of 2 to 3 weeks for the countries in the region, and lockdowns, following Western formulas, began earlier here. The region also regards Western Europe as a model now, in the incremental opening process.”
Milan Nič: “Yes, by now it is clear that the EU’s East moved faster to enforce lockdown measures than most Western European governments, despite a much lower level of confirmed COVID-19 cases. This was partly motivated by fear and awareness that their relatively weak and underfunded health care systems might not be able to contain a major outbreak.
For the moment, I am concerned that an East-West divide could also be repeated with lifting the lockdowns, just in reverse mode. So far, V4 governments have been too careful and risk-averse when it comes to restarting their economies, which will have a severe impact on the economic recovery and social burden in the whole region.”
In addressing the impact of the COVID-19 crisis at the EU level, how can the V4 contribute to economic burden-sharing?
Pavlína Janebová: “In tackling the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, solidarity and mutual cohesion in the EU will be crucial. While the Visegrád countries tend to consider themselves to be among the ‘poorer’ EU member states, and they will certainly experience economic downturn, it will be important for them to realise that other states will be taking the hardest hit. The Visegrád states should be ready to show solidarity in financing economic recovery.”
Milan Nič: “That remains to be seen, as so far the V4 countries have neither been part of the problem nor the solution – most of them being outside of the Eurozone. But the main part is still ahead of us: political bargaining over EU recovery instruments and the next MFF (budget). For the entirety of Central and Eastern Europe, this is a crisis without precedent in the post-transition period as well as in their period of EU membership. Regarding the Visegrád countries, their government’s response is not going to be the same. It will likely shape individual countries’ political position in Europe, along with prevailing perceptions of the entire region by Western European public opinion – with a tendency to see them as one unit – for years to come.Crisis Democracy Eastern Europe European Union
How have V4 countries responded to the Corona crisis?
25 May 2020
This online event aimed to look at how the pandemic is changing the relationship between governmental authorities and citizens in Europe and beyond. Governments all over the planet are adopting intrusive and restrictive measures, including the use of advanced technologies to track and control their population. They are encountering little resistance and even a fair degree of social consensus in the process. The example of ruthlessly effective authoritarian regimes such as China risks becoming more alluring and increasing divides within the EU.
As often in the past, a potential trade-off between national health and security on the one hand, and civic and individual freedoms on the other hand is becoming evident. Does this pandemic herald far-reaching changes in the nature of our political systems? Will it result in permanent restrictions of some individual and civic freedoms and encourage more invasive forms of governmental control? How should we assess developments so far and how will our social contract look like in the post-pandemic era?Angelos Chryssogelos Christian Democracy COVID-19 Democracy
Online Event ‘COVID-19 and the Future of Liberal Democracy’
Live-streams - Multimedia
16 Apr 2020
A podcast series that aims to challenge commonly held assumptions about the European project in a tour de force through European history, culture and civilisation. Podcast host Federico Ottavio Reho redefines political correctness with the help of razor-sharp arguments and beautifully drawn historical parallels.Federico Ottavio Reho Christian Democracy Democracy EU Member States EU-Russia EU-US European Union
[Europe Out Loud] “The light that failed?” a chat with Ivan Krastev
Europe out Loud - Multimedia
10 Apr 2020
The outcome of the Slovak parliamentary election held one month ago resonated with the mood of Slovak society, which clamoured for a change. Election winner Igor Matovič and his party OĽANO, (Ordinary People and Independent Personalities) was the only opposition party to have tapped into that emotion. With a pledge to rid the state of the mafia, it sent into opposition corrupt socialists after they had spent almost twelve years in power. The election also brought other surprises, such as the failure of the ambitious conservative-liberal alliance Progressive Slovakia and SPOLU (Together) to obtain seats in parliament or yet another failed parliamentary attempt by the Christian Democrats. Still, there was no space for their political analyses. Winners and losers alike lacked time to process emotions brought up by the election results.
This lack of time was due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which also resulted in the appointment of the government in the record time of three weeks. The new government took over the reins with a collapsing healthcare system and with no reserves of medical supplies. With its slightly more than 400 infected patients to date, Slovakia belongs to the less affected countries. This may be due to insufficient testing capabilities as well as the timely introduction of strict measures and a disciplined population. What played its part in this regard was not only a health concern, but also a particular legacy of communist times. Back then, civil defence drills to prepare for enemy attacks and donning oxygen masks were a normal part of life.
The fragility of the new coalition
Igor Matovič, a seasoned political marketer with a propensity for populism and an admirer of Orbán’s national referendums, undoubtedly had a different idea about taking over the reins of power. Even under standard circumstances, his coalition consisting of parties with diverging views about relations with the EU, and also regarding fundamental ethical issues, would draw bets on how long it would survive. OL’ANO is hardly a normal political party and is run by Matovič like a company. His theatrical manner of appearance, egocentrism and tendency to shoot from the hip has earned him the reputation of a dangerous manipulator, not only in the media.
A security risk exists with the second strongest party, Sme Rodina (We Are Family). Its chairman, who has a history of mafia contacts and money laundering, is currently the speaker of parliament. The party is a member of the same political group in the European Parliament as Marine Le Pen and Matteo Salvini.
The third member of the coalition is the SaS (Freedom and Solidarity), with its chairman Richard Sulík advocating the return of EU governance to the state level. In 2012, his party did not approve the European Stability Mechanism in a vote serving as a proxy for expressing confidence in the government. This resulted in the demise of the pro-reform government and the comeback of the socialists. Ironically, this time, Sulík as the newly appointed minister for the economy, will call on the help of the ESM to bail out entrepreneurs who are in danger of going bankrupt.
The Za ľudí party (For the People), was also made part of the coalition mainly to obtain the constitutional majority. Its chairman ex-president Andrej Kiska gave up his mandate on the grounds of health making its further crystallization or European profiling remain unclear.
The campaign is over, leadership is needed
Faced with the pressure of the predicted broad spread of the virus, the extraordinary government sessions take place on a daily basis. The biggest car manufacturers shut their factories two weeks ago. Every day brings new self-employed entrepreneurs unable not only to pay their bills, but even to provide for the basic living necessities of their families.
However, the adoption of relevant measures will have to be intensified even further. The media note that Prime Minister Matovič has not yet been able to switch from a campaigning mode to assuming an executive position, as he spends much of his time speaking to the cameras rather than sitting at the negotiating table. Considerable criticism has also been raised by the newly adopted “lex corona” legislation, which allows monitoring people infected with the virus via mobile operators. Let’s hope that such information will not be misused and that Slovakia will not follow the path of Hungary, which restricted democratic freedoms, allegedly in the name of the fight against the virus.
Despite the internal ideological discrepancies, the new Slovak government enjoys considerable support from Slovak society. This is also a consequence of the fact that the opposition is being represented by corrupt socialists and neo-Nazis, who are just waiting for the first faulty step of the current government.
The opportunity is there for Igor Matovič himself to prove, through extensive engagement, cooperation and supporting solidarity within the EU, that his election was the right choice for Slovakia. He has a tremendous opportunity to not become another Beppe Grillo, but a statesman who will lead the country out of this crisis.Viktória Jančošeková COVID-19 Crisis Democracy EU Member States
Slovakia and the Pandemic: Never let a crisis go to waste
02 Apr 2020
In 1891, Rudyard Kipling published ‘The Light that Failed’, his first novel about an artist’s unrequited love for his childhood playmate and his progressive loss of sight. It must have been this last theme that made the title seem appropriate for a new important book by Bulgarian political scientist Ivan Krastev and American political theorist Stephen Holmes. Since Sophocles’ depiction of King Oedipus in ancient Greek tragedy, Western culture has associated loss of sight with hubris. Also known as the ‘pride that blinds’, this dangerous overconfidence often provoked the downfall of even the mightiest in history.
The authors’ goal is to explain the ongoing global retreat of liberal democracy after the long end-of-history ‘illusion’ that saw it as the inevitable destiny of the entire post-Cold War globe. Resorting to the instruments of political psychology, they essentially impute this retreat to the hubris of liberal democracy’s upholders in the last three decades, and to the resentful reaction of those they patronised. Francis Fukuyama, the leading theoretician of triumphant liberalism, suggested in the early 1990s that an ‘Age of Imitation’ was dawning. In this new age, western liberal and capitalist democracy would come to be seen as the highest form of political organisation, and the rest of the world would be expected and invited to converge on it – to imitate it.
What Fukuyama did not realise, Krastev and Holmes observe, is the antagonistic nature of imitation: if I want to be like you, I ultimately want to replace you. The politics of imitation implied a moral asymmetry (one side, the original, was by definition better than the other, the copy), put inherited identity at risk and exposed the imitators (post-communist countries and beyond) to the judgmental monitoring of conformity by supercilious imitated. This was particularly true for Central Europe, one of the book’s three case studies, together with Russia and the US.
Central Europeans seemed not only to wholeheartedly adopt the means and techniques of western liberal democracies, but also to introject their goals and desires. Somewhat puzzlingly, in the region the model long imitated has increasingly become an obstacle to the self-esteem and self-realisation of the imitators. The authors convey this complex twist of political psychology by showing how, in countries like Hungary, Poland, Romania or Bulgaria, the gripping fear of incoming foreigners really conceals the existential anguish created by millions of their own citizens leaving to the West over the last three decades.
Theirs, Krastev and Holmes contend, is a desperate defensive posture against the model – the ‘original’ – that attracted so many of their best and brightest, awakening the spectrum of depopulation and demographic implosion. They are thus creating a countermodel based on the ideal of tightly-knit and culturally homogeneous national communities, which they hope will make them worthy and attractive in their own right, and not as pale and approximate copies of an unattainable original: the liberal, multiculturalist West.
The mutation of liberalism over the last decades – something I have myself tried to capture in the past with the concept of liberal overreach – is also given due attention. It is accurately described as the story of ‘liberalism abandoning pluralism for hegemony’ and creating the resentful impression that ‘(imposed) no-alternative Soviet communism, after 1989, was replaced by (invited) no-alternative Western liberalism’.
Though written by two longstanding defenders of liberalism, the book acknowledges the reality of liberal hubris and its negative consequences.
On the international scene, this hegemonic posture was outspokenly articulated in the ambitious – and disastrous – agenda of neoconservatives. However, and this is something the authors are almost silent about, the same trajectory could be observed in the internal affairs of Western democracies, where the rise of political correctness has created a thought-and-speech police chastening conservative positions about religion, national identity and traditional societal values. This probably contributed to the illiberal backlash of latter-day too. After all, as Krastev and Holmes do write, ‘in the eyes of conservative Poles in the days of the Cold War (…) Western societies were normal because, unlike communist systems, they cherished tradition and believed in God. But today, suddenly, Poles have discovered that Western ‘normality’ means secularism, multiculturalism and gay marriage.’
The authors are well aware that theirs cannot be the whole story. They recognise the ‘one-sidedness, incompleteness and empirical vulnerabilities’ of their thesis. It cannot, for example, account for the evolution of post-communist countries such as the Baltic states, which did not so far experience a major illiberal backlash. Most importantly, it does not explain why the backlash had to take the precise form it did. Why could it not produce a more moderate form of central European, conservative liberalism that would have continued to believe – like the Cold War West of Thatcher and Reagan that so many anti-communist dissidents admired – in God, nations and traditional values, but without questioning the foundations of liberal democracy? Besides, the important question of what precisely the liberal democratic West could and should have done differently since the fall of the Berlin wall is never precisely answered.
Nonetheless, the book is commendable on several grounds. It abandons the crusading tones so far adopted by both liberals and anti-liberals in their important debate about the current state and future prospects of liberal democracy. Though written by two longstanding defenders of liberalism, it acknowledges the reality of liberal hubris and its negative consequences. Through the concept of imitation, it offers an innovative interpretation not only of Central Europe, but also of Russia and Trump’s US. Most importantly, the book is rather plausible in its reading of the historical phase we have now entered.
The rise of China, we are explained, marks the end of the ‘Age of Imitation’ because, unlike Russia, the country’s leadership never even pretended to imitate the liberal democratic West. On the contrary, much like the strategists of the Meiji restoration in Japan one and a half-century ago, the communist heirs to the Middle Kingdom have selectively appropriated the technical prowess of the West at the service of their own political and cultural system, which they have no intention of abandoning. Meanwhile, the US has for the first time elected a president that is openly dismissive of America’s calling to spread democracy and human rights and sees his country as just another great power looking to increase its wealth and defend its interests. Those are significant moves away from the various universalisms of the last century.
In the passage from the Cold War to the Age of Imitation, the authors claim, the clash between two universalist political doctrines – liberalism and communism – gave way to the energetic exportation all over the world of the one that seemed victorious. However, we now start to apprehend that, in its sudden and bloodless death, universalist communism might have wounded universalist liberalism too, slowly reawakening the more atavistic forces of nation, culture, ethnicity and religion in the process.
We therefore might be entering ‘a pluralistic and competitive world, where no centres of military and economic power will strive to spread their own system of values across the globe’. A world that might vindicate Samuel Huntington’s predictions more than Francis Fukuyama’s. And one that the European Union – with its edifying but increasingly quixotic liberal messianism – might find most challenging and inhospitable to inhabit. The ‘chastised liberalism’ proposed by Krastev and Holmes – a moderate liberalism that abandons hegemony and returns to authentic pluralism both internally and internationally – might thus be needed in the EU more than anywhere else.Federico Ottavio Reho Centre-Right Democracy Values
Federico Ottavio Reho
Liberalism: The Light that Failed?
25 Mar 2020
A doctrine whose propagators ask the question “What if we were wrong?” is a doctrine that must be doing something right. Western nations, together with their guiding philosophy, liberalism, have asked themselves this question repeatedly, through centuries, more often and more intensely than any other doctrine, philosophy or civilisation. Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes quote Barack Obama who, at the end of his term in 2016, asks this question, and they apply it to the history of post-1989 liberalism in the world. Looking at the new illiberalism in Central Europe, Russia’s militarised kleptocracy, the United States under Donald Trump and increasingly assertive authoritarianism in China, they admit to being former defenders of liberalism (if Irving Kristol hadn’t coined the term for neo-conservatives, Krastev and Holmes might be called “liberals mugged by reality”). And with the zeal of the disillusioned and newly converted, they emphatically answer that, indeed, post-1989 liberalism has spectacularly failed.
In the text that follows, they join the fashionably growing chorus of authors who claim that Western universalism is outdated and that post-1989 liberalism is passé because the West, Icarus-like, flew too high – victim of its own hubris (think Fukuyama 1989), hypocrisy (think Iraq 2003) and undermining of its own principles (think PC liberal illiberalism). We’ve been hearing this narrative in different versions for at least 12 years now, since the beginning of the global financial crisis. For some particularly remarkable examples of post-liberalism literature, look up US scholar Patrick M. Deneen’s ‘Why Liberalism Failed’ or Polish MEP Ryszard Legutko’s ‘The Demon in Democracy’. Consequently, there is nothing new about the failure thesis. The only novelty in Krastev and Holmes’ book is the application of personal psychology to the politics of post-1989 liberalism with their imitation scheme used to characterise elites in Central Europe, Russia, and China.
Without a doubt, Krastev and Holmes have written a well-formulated and well-documented study. But I would like to pick out three fundamental problems in ‘The Light That Failed. A Reckoning’: They relate to the way the authors frame liberalism itself, the way they depict the “process of imitation” in Central and Eastern Europe after 1989, and finally the way they sketch out the world of the future.
The framing of liberalism
The West is a normative project, says the German historian Heinrich August Winkler, which means that it represents a model, an ideal state which is never fully reached. (Here’s a little element of Catholicism, for what it’s worth). It has always had its internal acts of betrayal of its own norms. France under Napoleon, for example, was a military dictatorship, even by contemporary standards. But more than any other civilisation, the West, and its guiding philosophy, have the ability to self-criticise and correct their own mistakes. This has always been elementary. And it is overlooked by Krastev and Holmes who suggest that liberalism went astray in 1989.
In characterising Western liberals’ triumphalism in those days, Krastev and Holmes quote avowed illiberals such as Ryszard Legutko with “Communist orthodoxy was replaced by liberal orthodoxy” without exposing the preposterousness of the claim. The same goes for Hungarian historian Mária Schmidt who speaks of “Western colonialism”. But there is no single plausible parallel between liberalism and communism, neither in content nor in method – unless someone can tell me the name of the latest liberal Gulag – except for the claim, upheld for about two decades at most, that “there is no alternative” – which, in itself, was quite significantly a mantra of Margaret Thatcher who amazingly still counts as an idol for today’s illiberals.
There certainly was hubris in Fukuyama’s “end of history”. But no one defends this hubris anymore today, quite the contrary – and least of all, Fukuyama himself.
The depiction of Central Europe’s reformers
In depicting Central Europe’s reformers wholesale as imitators, Krastev and Holmes become victims of their own idea. What may be true for some of that region’s elites, becomes a highly unfair caricature when applied to the entire group. I myself have met, and worked with, a good part of Poland’s intellectual elite before 1989, and its intellectual, political and business elite after 1989. These were not people who wanted to become someone or something different. These were women and men who felt their country had landed on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain in 1945 and they wanted to help bring it back to its natural place, in the middle of Europe and as part of the West. That does not mean they approved of everything the European Commission demanded in terms of reform steps in the accession process to the EU. But to say that Central and Eastern Europe’s “inherited identity” was “at risk” and that it was “forced to enact policies formulated by unelected bureaucrats”, as Krastev and Holmes do, is to adopt the rhetoric of Orbán and Kaczyński.
To present these and other autocrats as the true face of Central and Eastern Europe today is not only playing into their hands, but also factually wrong. There are real conflicts going on in the newer member states of the EU, between different worldviews and different concepts of modernity – just like in Western Europe. To suggest that one side in these conflicts – the nationalists, kleptocrats, and populists – represents the real Central Europe, and the other side thin urban elites removed from the people, is far from the complex reality.
Towards a pluralistic and competitive future?
Like so many interesting texts, this one ends at the most interesting point: How exactly should we imagine the brave new world of “zero hypocrisy”? Krastev and Holmes only very superficially speak about a world that is “pluralistic and competitive” and “where no centres of power will strive to spread their own system of values around the globe”. This begs the question: How will the West compete with Russian hybrid aggression or Chinese neo-imperialism (as if those were without hypocrisy, to put it mildly), if not through self-confident support of democratic ideas and democrats across the globe? How to explain to a Taiwanese or a Hong Kong democracy protester that the West has failed and is now covering its head with ashes?
‘The Light That Failed. A Reckoning’ is beautifully written food for thought. But in attacking liberal hubris, Krastev and Holmes are beating a dead horse. In their rendering of non-Western “imitation”, they are grossly pigeonholing Central Europe’s former dissidents and later reformers. And in their depiction of a post-Western world as a desirable state of things, they risk betraying democrats across the globe and may well be throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Defeatism is the wrong sequel to triumphalism. The West and liberalism may need a more chastised and realistic approach. But despite all their shortcomings, when looking at the alternatives, they remain a promise and an offer to all of humankind.Roland Freudenstein Centre-Right Democracy Values
When Disillusionment Becomes Defeatism – An alternative review of ‘The Light That Failed. A Reckoning’
25 Mar 2020
The fact that Slavoj Žižek sees the end of global capitalism coming, should probably be read more as a sign of normality than a reason for undue alarm. After all, he’s done it many times over the last 20 years. But looking at global developments over the last couple of weeks, the Sars-CoV-2 pandemic is not only changing our daily lives on a global scale. It also has a political fallout with at least three main dimensions: the relations between China and the West, the authoritarian temptation in the West itself, and the renewed calls by the Left for Big Government. They are strongly interlinked because ultimately, they are all about the different forms of organising our societies and the relation between the individual and the collective. While it’s early days to outline political implications, some things can already be said.
The systemic rivalry between China and the West
From the very beginning, when the spread of the virus had barely exceeded Hubei Province, Chinese soft power was at stake, first referring to time-honoured Chinese practices of selling wild animals in unhygienic markets. This likely produced the outbreak, and the cult of cowardice and secrecy in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) allowed the virus to spread initially. Then came the first pushback by CCP spin doctors, with a nationwide war declared on the coronavirus, the shutdown in Hubei Province and beyond, pictures of marching doctors but also a brutal suppression of criticism, epitomised by the fate of the early whistleblower Dr Li Wenliang.
Externally, CCP propagandists quickly began to send two messages to the rest of the world: First, that the Party is not only firmly in control, but also that Chinese authoritarianism is better suited to combat the virus – the famous time-lapse video of the ‘hospital built in 10 days’ comes to mind. Secondly, on social media, Chinese trolls began accusing the West of racism because of travel bans and quarantine for travellers from China –knowing full well that in most Western countries, the racism card plays well, at least with liberal audiences. Of course, these accusations were highly hypocritical in themselves. Imagine for a moment that the virus had truly had its origins in a Western or African country. Anyone who has ever been to China knows how the CCP would have exploited racist tropes in such a situation.
Since the beginning of March, in parallel to the first signs of an easing of the virus spread in China itself, a more ominous phase in CCP propaganda began. Travel bans and quarantine were now pronounced on non-Chinese, the blame for the virus was increasingly openly shifted to the West, and more or less open threats were made by Chinese commentators that for pharmaceuticals, the rest of the world depends on China, and China’s ‘goodwill’ might end. The generous delivery of masks and equipment to Italy in early March won’t make up for the big hit that China’s soft power has taken, together with its image as the selfless force for the good of humankind as it has been impressively cultivated in the Netflix Sci-Fi drama ‘Wandering Earth’.
Accordingly, even when we move back to global economic growth, the West as a whole, not just the US, will want to reduce economic and technological dependency on China. Some soft decoupling will become inevitable. But the mother of all systemic questions is indeed whether the future belongs to societies that are technologically best capable to harness the forces of nature, irrespective of political ideas (i.e. to China, as Bruno Maçães subtly suggests); this stance is highly questionable because it disregards cases such as Taiwan or South Korea.
The authoritarian temptation and the end of European solidarity?
As a general rule, authoritarians love emergencies, in the West as well. Of course, some could not withstand the temptation to conflate the migration crisis with the virus threat. What is more ominous is the quick breakdown of the initial determination of governments in the Schengen zone to keep internal borders open. Within two weeks, this was overtaken by an escalating wave of border closings. Certainly, any return to more national or even regional self-sufficiency as a result of the corona crisis will only reinforce already existing conservative and populist trends criticizing globalisation as such. What may eventually emerge is a new equilibrium between self-reliance and a global division of labour, but the costs of truly reversing globalisation are unlikely to be tolerated by Western societies even after this emergency.
It remains to be seen to what extent this crisis will really be a boon to the West’s new authoritarians, not only because their US idol, President Trump, has performed so dismally in the unfolding crisis in the US, but mainly because Central Europe’s autocrats may show some of the CCP’s dishonesty in dealing with the public while lacking the technology and efficiency to come to grips with the crisis. This is bound to backfire.
To draw a direct correlation between authoritarianism and effectively fighting a pandemic is surely simplistic. Of the two best performing Asian countries in dealing with the pandemic, one is mildly authoritarian – Singapore – and one is a vibrant liberal democracy – Taiwan. Iran, however, one of the worst-performing countries so far, is highly authoritarian.
Return to Big Government?
The Corona pandemic also reinforces authoritarian tendencies on the left. First, there is the classical infatuation of Socialists and Social Democrats with big government and a strong state that are not only able to set tough rules to private behaviour, but also provide high-quality universal health care. Secondly, there are the Greens, asking why tough measures strongly impacting individual behaviour are possible at such short notice in the pandemic, while they are so hard to bring about in the climate crisis – which is, according to the Greens, much more lethal than Coronavirus.
Both trains of thought make the same mistake: They confuse an obvious exception with the rule. People are willing to accept quarantines and lockdowns because they know these are temporary. Big state socialism has failed in the 20th century – catastrophically in the East, and slightly less catastrophically in Western Europe, but failed it has there, too.
We will get over this. In the upcoming weeks and months, some of our ugliest and some of our best behaviour as humans will come to light. Some of our daily routines may well change for good. But the big exception will not become the new normal. Authoritarianism – Chinese or ‘Western’ – will not be the automatic winner. The West will seek new ways of reducing dependence on China. But globalisation is not coming to a grinding halt. And Open Society is far from finished.Roland Freudenstein COVID-19 Democracy Economy Globalisation Society
Brave New Coronaworld? COVID-19 and the Future of Open Society
17 Mar 2020
The Slovak parliamentary election brought a change. A major change.
The fact that this pivotal change has been at all possible represents the best outcome of this election. It demonstrates a high level of democracy and pluralism in our country. This is no empty phrase or statement of the obvious, especially in the light of developments in some, including European, countries. Fair political competition, free media, active civil society, a record-high turnout of Slovaks working and living abroad, made Slovakia score highly for the quality of its democracy and its level of pluralism.
The level of pluralism is an extremely important factor in the health of society. It enables the citizens’ active participation in public life and a smooth transition of power between governments with different programmes, leanings or ideologies. Such changes have regularly taken place in Slovakia since the revolution of 1989, and this is good. If pluralism prevailed in, for instance, the Middle East or in several African countries, there would be fewer wars, violence and ultimately, less migration to Europe.
The new Slovak government will be broad. But the government in 1998 was even broader. Nobody should be a priori excluded. In more than one instance I was reaffirmed in my belief that opportunity creates leaders. Such an opportunity has opened up for the new generation of Slovak politicians. It will not be easy. The parties of the future coalition have raised high expectations. They promised they would replace kleptocracy with Samaritarianism, oligarchy with altruism. We should keep our fingers crossed for them in that ambition. Not forgetting that, in a democratic state, the judiciary is independent of political power. It will thus be important not only to watch the government’s actions, but also to continue maintaining civil society’s attention and pressure on the judiciary so as to prevent it from confusing independence with arbitrariness.
In this electoral campaign centred on corruption, not much space was given to tackling economic issues. Yet, economic problems are considerable. Slovakia did not make use of its years of good economic performance to create savings, carry out structural reforms, and make improvements in the quality of education, science, and healthcare. After a period of gradually catching up with the most advanced countries, the Slovak economy feels like it is stagnating when compared with the leading European countries.
The new Slovak government will be broad. But the government in 1998 was even broader. Nobody should be a priori excluded.
The course towards convergence has halted, the economy lost its momentum, and it is again facing the risk of falling behind. Even though the political parties did not stress these themes in their campaigns, they know all too well that it will be difficult to restart the economy and provide it with new, sustainable and forward-looking incentives. All the more so given that external factors are not as favourable for Slovakia as they were in “our” years.
New resources are needed for defence and security, environmental protection, new technologies, and for the reform of a heavily indebted Europe, and not least for responding to coronavirus.
What I missed even more in the campaign was the European context of Slovakia. Looking at Slovakia through the European optics is not a cliché, nostalgia or a customary phrase. The developments in Europe in our nearer or more distant neighbourhood have an increasing impact on us. Greek islands protest against the construction of immigration detention centres, worried Greek inhabitants of Lesbos and other islands are leaving their homes and moving inland. Turkey threatens to open the gates and send new migrants to Europe.
Looking at what’s happening these days in Syrian Idlib, there will clearly be no shortages of new asylum seekers. And the pressure on Slovakia to contribute to finding a solution will keep growing. Do we have solutions? If so, what are they? Are they solutions that will contribute to forging European unity, or solutions that will contribute to deepening its divisions?
What I perceive as a great risk for the future government is the attempt to rule by surveys or polls among the citizens. This is nothing new in Europe. Italian comedian Beppe Grillo established his Five Star Movement in 2010. He founded his programme (and largely also his candidate roster) on the Internet and through opinion polls. He wanted to rule based on the wishes of the citizens. When the movement first ran in parliamentary elections in 2013, it ranked second and ended up in opposition. In 2018, running already on the independent ticket, it obtained the highest share of votes – close to 33%. However, in February 2020, after less than two years in government, its poll numbers were down to 14%. And after years of a Five Star Movement government, Italy is not in good shape.
It is no doubt necessary to know how to listen to people. It is necessary to feel for and empathise with them. But, at the same time, making decisions and taking responsibility for their decisions is not only a privilege, but also the elementary duty of politicians in whom the citizens vested their trust.Mikuláš Dzurinda Democracy Elections EU Member States
Slovakia’s bloodless Waterloo: A historic opportunity
06 Mar 2020
Digital authoritarianism is no future prospect. It is already here. The People’s Republic of China has institutionalised draconian measures for citizen surveillance and censorship, as well as gaining almost full control of online political discourse. The Chinese Social Credit System is an intricate extension of this tactic. A coordinated administrative system which feeds on data from different governmental sources and has the ability to sanction and publicly shame individuals would be a powerful tool in the hands of the Chinese Politburo. In parallel, China is pursuing an aggressive agenda of techno-nationalism which aims to move the country closer to technological self-sufficiency and to maximise the penetration of its technological giants on the global stage. The majority of these digital champions have been nurtured by generous public subsidies and successfully shielded from international competition.
This research paper analyses the unique features of the Chinese model of digital authoritarianism and its international spill-overs. China’s oppressive model is no longer just applied domestically but is successfully being exported to other countries across different continents. As a new decade begins, the EU must make sure that its citizens have the necessary institutional and legal protection from abuses of modern technology such as facial-recognition software and the advanced application of AI. Europe must remain a global influence when it comes to ensuring a coherent regulatory approach to technology and stand ready to oppose the spread of digital authoritarianism.China Democracy Economy European Union Innovation Technology
Made in China: Tackling Digital Authoritarianism
11 Feb 2020
A closely watched trial was opened last Monday against suspects in the murder of journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová. The police have yet to identify who commissioned the murder and on what motive, but the investigation is gradually unravelling the kleptocratic functioning of the state apparatus, which uses mafia-style practices for its enrichment. The still incomplete facts that the investigation has revealed show a gruesome picture of linkages between mafia-type oligarchs and the justice system, police and the ruling social democrats’ party. This is the picture of contemporary Slovakia, which was considered until recently to be one of the better democracies of the Visegrad Group. However, its reality today is rather reminiscent of the Balkans in the darker period of the 1990s.
The brutal murder of two innocent people two years ago triggered an unprecedented wave of citizens’ protests whose pressure resulted in a partial government and police reshuffle and replacements at the top of the police force. People’s fervent desire for change and the struggle for a decent Slovakia found their positive reflection in last year’s presidential and European elections. However, it cannot be said today that the same positive wave has survived in the run-up to the parliamentary elections at the end of February. Just the opposite, it risks being transformed into a devastating tsunami, as Slovakia could become another EU member state with a far-right government.
In only a few weeks, Slovaks have the chance to halt the alarming trend of injustice, arrogance, intimidation and attacks on minorities becoming the new normal.
This risk can be explained by the fact that the street protests grew silent over time and the hope for change has been replaced by skepticism in the wake of political developments. The main reason is the fragmentation, lack of readiness to cooperate and strong egos, as well as the lack of political experience among the leaders of the democratic opposition.
The opposition consists of Christian democrats, liberals, the party of independent personalities, and three new parties which all compete for leadership of the opposition camp, more so than for voters. The latter group of parties includes that of former President Kiska – Za ľudí (For the People), which has no clear-cut party profile, and over which hangs a shadow of unclear financing of its founder’s presidential campaign. Then there is a conservative-liberal party SPOLU (Together), which will run together with another new party, Progresívne Slovensko (Progressive Slovakia), the party on whose ticket President Zuzana Čaputová initially ran. Their programmes are almost identical, calling for a fair and functioning judiciary, better education and health care. All of them declare support for the EU and NATO. However, looking at the demands for strengthening the nation-state at the expense of EU institutions which have been trending in Central Europe and elsewhere, concrete initiatives are missing.
Three scenarios are possible:
1. A government composed of socialists and neo-Nazis
In this scenario, the Social Democrats (SMER) remain the strongest party. Their chairman, former prime minister Robert Fico, plays the gamble and toughens the tone of the campaign by raising fears of immigration and smearing political opponents. His negative rhetoric is close to that of the increasingly stronger neo-Nazi party of Marian Kotleba. They use the motto of restoring order in the country, which implies spreading fear and hostility towards minorities. A possible coalition partner is also the nationalist Slovak National Party whose chairman is a great admirer of the Kremlin and who, as the speaker of the National Council of the Slovak Republic, has long represented a security threat to Slovakia’s interests. To secure a majority, they could be helped by the populist party Sme Rodina (We Are Family), a member of the Identity and Democracy Party. It seems that this party could be tipping the scales in the formation of the coalition. Needless to say, such a government would be a disaster for both Slovakia and the EU.
2. A government of change
In this scenario, the democratic opposition somehow manages to achieve a majority and overcome its differences. That would mean a chance for real change in Slovakia. But the problem is that this opposition is fragmented and focuses more on its internal matters than on the real problems of the country. It lacks a leader capable of unifying six prospective coalition parties. It is former president Kiska who styles himself into that role, reminiscent of the anti-corruption President of Romania, Johannis. However, Kiska’s problem is his inability to convince voters that he is serious about making a transition from the office of the President to that of a Prime Minister. And there is also the question of whether the rest of the opposition would accept him as their leader.
There is a real danger of a standoff if neither side achieves a majority. This is also because of the possibility that, for the first time since the 1989 revolution, no ethnic Hungarian party would cross the parliamentary threshold. This is due to the fragmentation of the Hungarian community, but also to the punishment of the MOST-Hid party for participating in the current coalition alongside nationalists and socialists. This would mean a period of increased turbulence and uncertainty for Slovakia, as well as further fragmentation of the political spectrum. It would also mean a costly waste of time for the country which has been plunged into a deep political and moral crisis. The country needs to rebuild its democratic institutions and return to the reform path of the first decade of this millennium.
But what Slovakia needs most at this moment, is a return to morality and decency on all levels of public life. In only a few weeks, Slovaks have the chance to halt the alarming trend of injustice, arrogance, intimidation and attacks on minorities becoming the new normal. This is a unique chance. It is also an obligation for all democrats towards Ján and Martina. Their tragic deaths should not have been in vain. They should, at last, help bring about a wind of change.Viktória Jančošeková Crisis Democracy Elections Political Parties
Elections in Slovakia: More of the same kleptocracy or wind of change?
24 Jan 2020
On January 15th, Vladimir Putin delivered a landmark address to the Russian Parliament, announcing changes to the Russian Constitution paving the way to shaping the post-2024 system of power, and dismissed Dmitry Medvedev’s cabinet, suggesting the new candidate for the position of Prime Minister for the first time since 2012. What happened and why did it happen now?
Why Putin made such major steps so early?
It is quite unusual for Putin to make such radical election-oriented steps four years before the expiration of his current Presidential term. Normally, his tactics were to keep his plan secret until about 2-3 months before the elections, to be able to catch his opponents off-guard and push his agenda through voters’ approval quickly, before its potential wears out. This happened in 2000, when Boris Yeltsin announced his early resignation to pave way for Putin’s Presidency; then in 2007, when Medvedev was announced Putin’s nominal seat-keeper successor three months before the March 2008 election; and further in 2011, when Putin’s comeback to power was announced two months before the State Duma elections. Why make such major steps now, when Putin still has a lot of time ahead?
One explanation is that Constitutional changes will take time to be adopted – but that still isn’t enough, because the current Constitutional majority of the ruling party and total control over the media allow Putin to adopt whatever changes he wants rather swiftly. The other odd thing is that there are no immediate reasons – neither economic nor political – to sack Dmitry Medvedev’s cabinet right now. Russia’s economy is not doing too well, but there’s nothing catastrophic happening either. The situation is hardly different from where it was months ago and where it is expected to be further into 2020: full-bodied stagnation, as described in economics books.
It may have made sense if only Putin had appointed a decisive reformist Prime Minister to reshuffle things and move the economy forward – but the candidacy suggested to replace Medvedev, the head of the Tax Revenue Service Mikhail Mishustin, is anything but that (a few more words on him below).
Politically, one would also expect that such an advantageous move as the sacking of the quite unpopular Medvedev would be tied to some kind of upcoming elections, but these are not on the immediate horizon (State Duma elections are only scheduled for September 2021, and there are no plans yet to move them earlier). The political effect of Medvedev’s sacking (which would most likely be approved by the majority of Russians) will rather quickly expire. So why throw everything at the table at once – Constitutional changes, sacking the Prime Minister, plus also announcing a major social spending package worth around $6,5-7,5 billion a year – while elections are quite far away?
The obvious answer is that Putin grows extremely worried about his plunging approval ratings and weakening political positions, and his nerve somehow shows up
It should also be noted that Putin’s moves came as a complete surprise to many top Russian officials. Russian media has even cited unnamed federal Ministers who admitted that Medvedev’s resignation came as a complete surprise to them. This corresponds to my own knowledge – I used to work in the Russian government and have a lot of contacts there, who confirmed to me the completely surprising nature of Putin’s decision on the cabinet’s fate.
The obvious answer is that Putin grows extremely worried about his plunging approval ratings and weakening political positions, and his nerve somehow shows up. An eye-opener was his annual December 2019 press conference, which was intended to be the usual show of popular support, but instead demonstrated the severe extent of society’s fatigue with Putin: even most of the questions from loyal media were about the country’s serious troubles instead of praising Putin’s leadership, and the commentary on social media was so overwhelmingly negative that Russian TV channels were forced to turn off comments and hide dislikes on Youtube broadcasts under pressure from Putin (the same thing happened with Youtube videos of his New Year’s address).
Looking at the broader context, another process which is happening in the background are the Kremlin’s preparations for the 2021 Duma elections, which shows a lot of panicking and desperation on the Presidential administration’s part. They seem to be in a desperate search for any fresh ideas and non-political celebrity recruits for the election campaign, ending up with such ridiculous moves as the recent announcement about the creation of a new political party led by the founder of the World of Tanks online game.
A solid, self-assured leader would definitely be rationing all the major steps that Putin made on Wednesday, gradually announcing them piece by piece on the pathway to 2024: Constitutional changes, Government reshuffle, major social aid packages. To throw them out all at once, way ahead of any elections, looks a bit like panic and desperation to me.
Act fast to prevent the disastrous political consequences
There are constant rumours circulating among the Russian power circles that the fresh “classified” opinion polling constantly done by the Kremlin shows that things are much too bad for Putin in terms of public opinion, such that he needs to somehow act fast to prevent the disastrous political consequences. It is also worth saying that the openly published polls also do not paint too bright a picture of him: his popularity is way down, and Russians are clearly unhappy about the situation in the country and disapprove most of the official policies.
Another sign that Putin may be getting nervous is the candidate for the new Prime Minister. Mikhail Mishustin is the anti-hero of the modern-day Russian economy, a true incarnation of The Beatles’ “Taxman” – he was essentially in the tax collection business for most of the past 20 years, and recent months were filled with headlines of him bragging about tax revenue collection growing by 10-12% year on year, despite a lack of economic growth (which essentially meant a dramatic increase of the tax burden on the economy through toughening tax collection administration).
Russians are clearly unhappy about the situation in the country and disapprove most of the official policies
FNS, or Tax Revenue Service headed by Mishustin, is arguably the most hated Government agency by Russian entrepreneurs, and high taxes and burdensome tax collection administration were always occupying the top positions in many recent surveys of business as key factors constraining economic growth. Mishustin was never known for any involvement in the forward-looking and reform-drafting business. He was always fully in the tax collection business. Most definitely, this appointment is not reassuring news for the Russian economy; it rather means further fiscal pressure.
So why appoint such a man? Arguably, the explanation is similar as to why the Government has been raising taxes and thus killing the economic growth, while at the same time the budget runs huge surpluses and has no immediate need for extra money. Putin is uncertain about the economic future and prefers to entrust Government to a man who guarantees him cash at hand – even at the expense of growth.
Essentially, the aura of Putin’s Wednesday speech was all about cash redistribution, not growth. He doesn’t seem to care about growth as such. Putin and the new Prime Minister-designate Mishustin are blood brothers in this regard.
Uncertainty and nervousness behind Putin’s actions
Uncertainty and nervousness. These are probably the keywords describing the whole set of Putin’s initiatives yesterday. The same goes for proposed Constitutional changes: despite many details announced, it is totally uncertain how the new system of power will work.
One thing is clear though: there will be no union with Belarus or any full-powered Putin successor as President, as Putin has deemed these scenarios too risky and challenging for his supremacy. He would prefer to stay in power beyond 2024 in a good old-fashioned Central Asian way, a replica of what his buddy Nursultan Nazarbayev did in 2019 – leaving the Presidential post, but retaining power in many ways. Putin has suggested various options to make that happen: we’ll see increased powers of the State Council (Gossovet, which he probably will chair beyond 2024), and more powers on forming the Government devolved to the State Duma.
Again, it is too early to see how all this will play out – we’re yet to see the draft Constitutional changes – but one thing is clear: Putin has proposed a shift from the current system, which is too centred on the powers of the President, to a more complicated system of checks and balances, which would allow him to retain power beyond 2024 in some new capacity (most likely as the Chair of Gossovet).
Which means he’s not going anywhere – at least by free will. We will have to get rid of him through political means – shifting the public opinion towards the support of the opposition, and participation in the parliamentary and presidential elections. More on that to follow – but Putin has just unveiled a plan to stay in power as lifetime leader.Vladimir Milov Democracy EU-Russia Foreign Policy
Putin and the road to 2024: What happened?
16 Jan 2020
Brexit has consumed, humiliated and frustrated Britain and its political leaders. Amidst the chaos and uncertainty unleashed it is easy to overlook some of the longer-term trends and changes it represents, not least how European the UK is and how Brexit is not a one-way movement of the UK away from the rest of Europe but in many ways has actually moved Britain closer to European norms.
The British might have long struggled to recognise their European identity, and many still reject it. However, Brexit has confronted the British with some of the realities of that identity. That reality is that the past forty years has seen the UK’s politics, constitution, economy, society and place in the world grow more European. This is a reality many UK governments have accepted and quietly worked with in searching to build and shape the UK’s relations with the rest of the EU.
It’s also a reality that has been on display in a General Election defined by European-style multi-party politics; commitments to welfare spending that would put the UK closer to European norms than US ones; and a growing realisation – if not acceptance – of Britain’s economic and security interdependences with the rest of Europe.
Many of the formal EU-centred links might now be severed or altered by a UK withdrawal. However, future negotiations about the UK-EU relationship mean those links could once again be formalized or reconstituted in new ways. Calls for this will be helped by Britain’s new-found pro-European voices who have been created, or in some cases brought out of the shadows, by the UK’s vote to leave.
The British might have long struggled to recognise their European identity, and many still reject it. However, Brexit has confronted the British with some of the realities of that identity.
Close alignment between Britain and the EU, however, should not be taken for granted in a post-Brexit environment. As recent debates about the UK’s withdrawal from the EU have highlighted, on both the Right and Left some continue to hope that withdrawal will allow the UK to diverge significantly from European standards.
Such efforts, however, will run into the problem of the Europeanised state of Britain and the ever-present strategic need on the part of the UK’s government, businesses and civil society to engage closely with the continent to which the country is forever bound. The success of the EU and the UK’s need to shape it will therefore remain two of Britain’s leading concerns.
Does this mean the departure of a Europeanised Britain will inevitably lead to it rejoining? This is unlikely because the UK’s terms of membership would not be the same as now. Opt-outs from the Euro, Schengen, some areas of Justice and Home Affairs matters, and the British rebate are unlikely to be offered. The feelings of regret this creates could boost pro-European sentiments. But accepting such conditions will make for a very difficult sell in any referendum on rejoining.
As the Norway and Switzerland examples also show, support can also decline if the EU’s approach to future negotiations and relations appears abrasive, bullying or overbearing. It is important not to overlook how corrosive this could be on UK public support for links with the EU.
This should not be taken to mean that the UK and EU cannot negotiate a new relationship where the UK can continue to come to terms with its overlapping European and global identities. Negotiations have so far focused on the UK’s withdrawal. The future relationship remains an undiscovered country.
Nor does this mean the UK has to withdraw to become more European or recognise how European it is. Our forthcoming research into whether Brexit has made Britain more European might be taken to mean a non-EU Europeanised UK will pose no problems and that Brexit should not be resisted or regretted.
However, in an emerging multipolar world Brexit carries significant economic, political, constitutional, security, defence, social and diplomatic risks for the UK. It will also cause significant ongoing problems for the EU to have to manage relations with a Europeanised but estranged UK struggling to come to terms with the fallout of Brexit. Far easier to face this with the UK inside the EU.Tim Oliver Garvan Walshe Brexit Democracy European Union Euroscepticism Political Parties
The Brexit election and the making of a European Britain
12 Dec 2019
The East-West divide in the EU has recently received much attention. While certain national leaders on both sides have tried to capitalise on it politically, data on the attitudes of the general public in the two subregions convey a more complex picture.
This paper analyses European polling data on people’s attitudes regarding several key societal questions. It concludes that the opinions of Western and Eastern European populations are in fact converging on key societal issues, and that EU policies should reflect this growing consensus.Democracy European Union Religion Society Values
East Versus West: Is There Such a Thing as a European Society?
11 Dec 2019
What was it that we wanted, what did we long for thirty years ago? What did we declare during the peaceful mass protests in the squares in November 1989?
First of all, we wanted to trade communist dictatorship and tyranny for freedom. For freedom in the broadest sense. We promised that we would push freedom not only into the political system, not just into the economic and business environment, not just into education and culture, but above all to give freedom to our ideas, plans and visions.
We also promised to spread love, understanding, mutual respect and decency instead of hatred and intimidation. That we would assign responsibility to freedom. We have learnt a new concept: values. We began to learn to understand this concept, we tried to grasp it and start working on it. Well, we promised to break out of isolation and enter Europe. Physically, politically and culturally. That we were integrating into the Western Community, a group of mutually shared values.
My view of the present tells me that the basic ideals of November ’89 have been fulfilled. The former post-communist countries are today full-fledged members of NATO and the EU. But, at the same time, it seems to me that there is not a lot to celebrate. It seems to me that even after thirty years of our journey have passed, we are much more divided than united. Why?
I think it is mainly because we have not grasped freedom for the right end. For many, freedom has become the means of individual promotion at all costs – within the bounds of the law, but without consideration for its authority. Many of us started catching up too fast, regardless of the surroundings and the consequences of our actions. We plunged into the prey that had been hiding from us for more than four decades.
We began to glorify consumerism, becoming not only individualists but also egoists. We have forgotten values and often also decency. We wanted to open ourselves to the world, but we began to close in our neighbours. Around the lavish dwellings, we began to build our small, stone, individual curtains … and so hatred replaced the envy and frustration of many. The space of freedom has been overrun with too much information, and recently by fake news. On the other hand, political correctness has emerged, often masking a real goal: to maintain or gain power.
We are already in Europe, but we do not know what to do with it and what to do with us in it. Instead of contributing to solving common problems, we closed ourselves in the jacket of the Visegrad Group, from which we shout almost exclusively “NO“. We have become part of the problems, not the solutions.
Significant anniversaries are an opportunity for renewing promises. Well, let’s go back to November ’89 as to spring, from which we can draw. Above all, let us make a promise to the strength of the years to come, during which our Western Community, with us in it and with it, must do so much.
In protecting our security, but also the environment, in reforming our economies and in the Eurozone, in dealing with pressures of migration, but above all – in protecting our shared values. In protecting our ‘way of life’. There is also a duty to help those who still don’t live in freedom and long for their own ‘November’. Whether they are people in or outside our European Neighborhood.
Finally, complicated our present may seem, it is great that we can live it. It is up to us how we handle it and what tomorrow we prepare for ourselves and for our children. We owe this also to the bravery of the men and women who were able to resist the communist regime and, with belief in liberty, sacrificed their lives. It seems to me that the real importance of November ’89 is to understand that however important historical moments are, our daily commitment and efforts remain crucial. May the message of November ’89 strongly encourage us in that determination.Mikuláš Dzurinda Democracy EU Member States
Is this what we wanted in November ’89?
15 Nov 2019
Since the time that the popular uprisings in Syria mushroomed into a civil war, prospects for a negotiated political settlement have been thwarted because of the myriad diverging interests of the regime, local opposition groups, and regional and global actors, all of which are vying for power and influence in the country. Europe is deeply troubled by the human rights situation in the country. However, as currently organised, the EU lacks the foreign- and defence-policy mechanisms that would allow it to make a significant impact on the conflict.
Any chance of influencing the situation that the EU may have had in the beginning of the conflict dissipated relatively quickly. This paper recommends that the EU broadens its policy options and engages in ‘linkage politics’ with key powers, particularly Turkey, which has shared interests on certain fronts and direct influence on the ground in Syria. The EU has a long-standing relationship with Turkey, which was developed through the EU accession and customs union processes and more recently in connection with migration management.
Its concerns about Turkey’s descent into authoritarianism notwithstanding, the EU should build on this relationship to promote, as much as possible, a democratic, stable, just and prosperous Syria and greater Middle East region. More specifically, this broader policy framework should emphasise deeper and more sustained coordination of humanitarian responses, border management and de-mining. It should also stress the need for inclusive economic growth as concerns both the displaced Syrian private sector operating in Turkey and its Turkish business counterpart.Democracy Foreign Policy Human Rights Middle East
Thin on the Ground: Recalibrating EU-Turkey Engagement in Syria
08 Jul 2019
The perspective that the Union is a project is holding us back. The Union simply needs to be pragmatic.
In 2008-2010 I served as secretary general of Felipe Gonzalez’s reflection group on the future of Europe. The title of its final report was “Project Europe 2030”. While several recommendations remain valid, I have been gradually realizing that the title was a mistake.
That it is exactly this kind of understating of the European Union that is holding us back. The Union is not a project. It is not an unfinished project. It is a product. It is a product of countless thinkers, politicians, civil servants and citizens. It is a result of centuries of dreams and decades of institution building.
The Union is here to be utilised. It is not here to be upgraded, rebuilt or reformed. With the coming European elections, political parties and politicians are publishing their election platforms. Promising change has always been an effective political strategy. Almost everyone is promising some kind of a reform of the Union.
The other usual strategy to motivate voters is creating some kind of sense of urgency. It is supposed to be urgent to reform the Union. Because of populism, economic crisis, Brexit, migration … What I will explain is that most reforms are neither urgent, nor possible, nor reasonable.
Project ‘socially just Europe’?
The reform that the progressives are promising is in the direction of a fairer, more social Europe. What they understand by justice is redistributive justice. This is not something that can be achieved on the EU level. For the Union to redistribute between the rich and the poor it simply does not have the budget.
Technically it could create such a budget but the citizens are willing to show solidarity within their group, their nation-state. It is quite unlikely that the, say, Germans would be willing to pay for Italian social benefits. Such promises are just creating expectations which, when unfulfilled will create the disillusionment with the European project.
The other possible interpretation of more socially just Europe is for the Union to instruct member states how they should redistribute between the rich and the poor. But it does not have this competence. Indeed, it could be reformed to get it. But it would be stupid to centrally prescribe the social model, harmonize tax policies, social security policies etc.
The strength of Europe has always been diversity and the opportunity for different countries to search for solutions in different directions. Then we have been quick to learn from each other. The social model innovation will be important because of the changes in the labour market caused by the technological revolution therefore it is important to keep Europe innovative in this regard. In summary, more social Europe is mostly hot air.
Project ‘ever closer Union’?
The reform that the liberals are advocating is an ever-closer Union. United States of Europe. Union of European Socialist (well, liberal) Republics. This is not impossible. An ever-closer union has been a kind of underlying belief of Brussels European, of the EU administration. It is the “project Europe” by excellence.
The project would be unfinished until there is a European super-state. Such as state is possible. But it is not possible for it to be democratic. For one simple reason. Democracy assumes there is a demos. There is no European demos. There are demoi – Germans, French, Slovaks etc. Demos is not an intellectual construct that could be created by good PR coming from Brussels. It is a feeling of belonging. And according to Eurobarometer, Europeans identify with their nations an order of magnitude more than they identify with the European Union.
A monolithic Europe is also not European. It does not matter if European competitors, like China, are growing stronger. China has always been a centralized empire. Europe’s strength has been its diversity. In fact, periods of fastest progress were when European entities were competing with each other – like rivalries among ancient Greek states, among city states of renaissance Italy, among the members of the Hanseatic league, among the kingdoms on the Atlantic competing for colonies.
Even when it looked that the Catholic Church would create a single authority over the continent Martin Luther rebelled. The Italian renaissance from which Emmanuel Macron is borrowing a title for his vision was a result of a competition among many city-states of ununified Italy and not a centrally driven project.
Generally, the Union is close enough. Macron’s plan is an “ever-closer union light” with a couple of new Brussels agencies, including the rather scary “European agency for the protection of democracies”. Centrally policing the political systems in member states sounds like something from the Warsaw pact playbook.
Yes, human rights, freedoms and liberties need to be guaranteed at the European level and the EU would do well to position itself as the ultimate defender of human rights on the continent. But is should be the judicial arm, not the political executive that should be dealing with it.
Project ‘Europe of Nations’?
The far right rather unintelligibly pasted the idea of nation copied from a member state context to a Union context. While one can understand (though not endorse) the idea of the national populists to pit the original citizens against immigrants, the French against the Arabs, the Germans against the Turks, etc., Europe of nations suggests those ethnicities are represented at the European level.
Which is very different from the Union of the member states, which is what we have today and works reasonably well. Member states are represented at the European Councils, states elect representatives into the European Parliament, states appoint one Commissioner to the European Commission. This reform too is hot air, a dangerous one.
Even further to the right are those whose reform would be to dismantle the Union altogether. Which might get them some protest votes. But they can only advocate the breakup of the Union while there are enough of us who understand that the Union is a tremendously valuable achievement and want to protect it.
The problem with projects is that they are by definition unfinished. They require attention. They are an excuse that work they should be doing is not done properly.
Imagine a family starting a project of a summer home. As long as the summer home is a project they work on the summer home. They do not enjoy it for vacation. They don’t go sunbathing, they are adding another porch. If the stove is not working properly it is because it is a project. It will work when the project is finished, but not yet. Guests should tolerate some cold. Temporarily, of course.
Thinking of the EU as a project is preventing us from exploiting in full what we have built so far. Instead of thinking how to solve problems at hand – such as migrations, terrorism, security, growth, innovation – the institutions are tempted to think how these problems could be solved if the institutions were reformed, if the project was more advanced, if only Brussels had this or that authority, if only this or that agency existed in Brussels.
Instead of making use of what is available, administration is tempted to dream of what would be nice to have. For politicians too, advancing the project is a more noble call than using the institutional and legal tools the project has created so far.
Of course, we need to work on improving the Union. Like living organisms, the Union needs to adapt to a changing environment. What could be needed is an evolution for which current treaties provide many possibilities. If the political will is there. It is the lack of political will not the inadequacies of the treaties that is preventing action.
Perspective is important. And the perspective that the Union is a project is holding us back. The Union simply needs to be pragmatic. In the service of the citizens, businesses, regions, member states. It should provide services that make life safer, easier and the economy more competitive and productive.
This does not sound as noble as starting a renaissance, but someone has to do this as well. As Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer wrote, there is work to be done. Let’s just do it.
This op-ed was originally published on Euractiv.com.Žiga Turk Brexit Democracy EU Institutions European Union Integration Values
Europe is not a project!
26 Mar 2019
One year ago, Slovakia was shaken by the brutal murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová. Prior to his untimely death, Kuciak was working on the links between the Italian mafia and Slovak government officials, focusing on the misuse of EU funds.
In particular, Kuciak was working on the case of an oligarch who has, time and again, emerged from various scandals unscathed simply because he had “buddies” in the government, the police, and the prosecution. Now, all of the evidence is pointing to the conclusion that the oligarch is behind the murders. The outcome of this investigation could bring results that might cause a major earthquake throughout the Slovak political scene.
The socialist government, who is responsible for the current state of the country, is seen as an unbending force that is taking the country in the wrong direction, most notably for its failure to modernise the country, for its complicity in corruption, and for the controversial declarations made by former prime minister of Slovakia, Robert Fico, regarding Slovakia’s ambition to be among the core members of the EU. After its successful EU presidency, Slovakia enjoyed a solid pro-European image when compared to other Visegrad countries.
Today’s image of Slovakia is largely that of a corrupt-ridden country. In the latest Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index, Slovakia was ranked as the sixth most corrupt country in the EU. Slovakia has become a country where journalists, civic activists or ordinary citizens who expose corruption scandals are intimidated or, in the worst cases, silenced. Presently, Slovakia is in the grip of the kleptocrats, and after almost 15 years of EU membership, the foundations of democracy and the rule of law are still very fragile.
The murders of Kuciak and his fiancée have mobilised Slovaks to take to the streets and protest under the slogan “For a Decent Slovakia”. These protests were the largest rallies since the fall of Communism. The gatherings eventually led to the resignations of Prime Minister Fico, the minister of the interior and the president of the police force.
Nevertheless, Slovakia has not yet witnessed any genuine policy changes. Fico’s puppet has since been appointed Prime Minister and Fico himself has since escaped from politics by running to be a judge of the Constitutional Court. By being appointed as a new president of the Court, Fico would obtain 12 years of immunity and a status that would allow him to review the constitutionality of laws and measures that his own government drafted and pushed through parliament.
The Socialists’ coalition partner, Andrej Danko, a nationalist and the parliament’s speaker, has a different passion – he loves the Kremlin and its regime, and is openly critical of the “uselessness” of sanctions against Russia. He is a frequent guest of Chairman of the State Duma who is on the EU sanctions list.
After US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo concluded his visit to Slovakia, Andrej Danko flew to Sochi to meet Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov, where he stated that “[Slovak] politics should not, as it had been under Communism, be oriented to only one side, and that we should talk to both the Eastern and the Western countries.” That sounds familiar: In 1990, Slovak politicians remained undecided regarding the anchoring of the country towards the West, which resulted in the exclusion of Slovakia from EU and NATO accession talks.
This year, Slovakia is celebrating its 15th year as a member of the EU and NATO and the 30th anniversary of the fall of Communism. These milestones are a testimony to Slovakia’s failures, but also to its ability to rise again and realign its course to the right path.
In two weeks, Slovakia will be put to the test in terms of maintaining democratic process and on its ability to return to the right path, through the presidential elections. Fico’s presidential candidate will be European Commission Vice President Maroš Ševčovič, who still recently had the ambition of leading the European Socialists into the European Parliament elections in May.
Last week, however, Fico and his SMER party blocked a parliamentary vote on the appointment of judges to the Constitutional Court. As a result, Slovakia has been plunged into a constitutional crisis – the Constitutional Court is left with only four sitting judges, instead of its normal composition of 13.
Fico has blocked the election of new constitutional judges because he fears that even if he were to be elected by Parliament, President Kiska would not appoint him to the Constitutional Court as its member, let alone its chairman.
It seems that he is waiting for a new president ‘of his choosing’. The problem is that Maroš Ševčovič has been avoiding the question of whether, if elected President of the Republic, he would appoint Robert Fico to the Constitutional Court.
What is at stake in this case is not Ševčovič as a person, but rather the future of Slovakia. It is a question of what principles will prevail in Slovak politics: Will it be those of liberal democracy with its checks and balances, or will it be an even further concentration of power in the hands of a modern-day kleptocracy?
Last Thursday, peaceful demonstrations took place in several Slovak and European cities in memory of Ján Kuciak and Martina Kušnírová. Let’s hope that this encourages all Slovak democrats to vote in the upcoming presidential elections with a mindfulness of the very needed opportunity to realign with the path of justice, morality and decency in public life to be restored.Viktória Jančošeková Democracy EU Member States Leadership Political Parties Society
Is Slovakia heading towards a political earthquake?
26 Feb 2019
Superficially, one might frame Venezuela’s current drama as the classical conflict between a regional hegemon (in this case: the US) and a nearby country (Venezuela under Chavez/Maduro) whose government tries to escape the bully, seeking outside help (read: Russia) and promptly being confronted with a hegemon-sponsored insurrection (Guaidó).
In other words, Ukraine in the Americas. That’s the picture that Kremlin media are painting, pointing once more at the alleged ‘hypocrisy’ of the West, unfortunately but predictably seconded by a ragtag coalition of European ‘progressives’, populists and self-appointed geo-strategists.
In their eyes, what we are seeing is just another case of the jungle growing back over the remnants of the Western-dominated world order of the second half of the 20th century. In that vein, it would make sense for Europe to stay out, or limit its actions to the habitual appeal to both sides ‘to refrain from escalation and exercise utmost restraint’.
What Venezuela has in common with Ukraine
But nothing is further from the truth. There is a parallel between both cases, but it works exactly the other way around than self-appointed realpoliticians and progressive Kremlin appeasers would have it. Just like Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine in 2014, a systemically corrupt, kleptocratic leadership under first Hugo Chavez, then Nicolás Maduro, has ruined the country – albeit in Venezuela’s case even more dramatically than in Ukraine’s.
In both cases, Putin’s Russia has been the protector of the corrupt regime, doing its best to help the local strongman to suppress any democratic opposition and trying to keep out Western support for the democrats who want nothing else than to restore a modicum of stability, regain prosperity and enhance the rule of law – again, this happened even more drastically in Caracas than in Kyiv.
But as much as the Kremlin may be able to destabilise Ukraine through military aggression and try to prevent it from politically becoming part of the West, the question is: why does it cling to an apparently lost cause such as keeping Maduro in power in faraway Venezuela?
There are several factors at play: first of all, Maduro’s reign may not be such a lost cause, at least in the immediate future. Assad’s rule in Syria seemed over by the summer of 2011. Eight years later, he is firmly back in power, thanks to a combined Russian and Iranian intervention.
Although it is unlikely Russia or any other outside player would intervene in Venezuela as massively as that, it is very much in Putin’s interest to demonstrate that authoritarian rulers can be saved if they are friends with him. Allegedly, 400 private security personnel have already been sent by the Kremlin to Venezuela.
Second, as the Kremlin thinks of the world in terms of spheres of influence, and of relations between Russia and the West in zero sum terms, it makes perfect sense for Putin and his entourage to not only defend his own ‘backyard’, but also attack the opponent’s.
Third, every ‘saved’ autocrat across the globe helps the Kremlin to spin its narrative that authoritarianism is the wave of the future, and democracy (i.e. the West) is on the wane.
Putin has this point in common with all other autocrats around the globe, of course, as well as the fourth point: the strict principle of non-intervention other than to save the incumbent government, no matter how illegitimate, and the total rejection of any Responsibility to Protect (R2P).
To defend Russia’s substantial investments into Venezuela may be a fifth point: at a time when real incomes are falling in Russia itself, costly foreign adventures that bring no returns are increasingly hard to justify.
Sixth, in Xi Jinping’s China Putin has a powerful ally – whose financial investments weigh even more heavily than Russia’s. Xi, although less keen than Putin for open confrontation with the West, nevertheless does subscribe to most of Putin’s points regarding a global effort to sustain autocrats.
The delusion of realpolitik and the correct response of the West
The West urgently needs to react to this, and demonstrate that solidarity against dictators can be stronger than the naked violence used by Maduro’s regime against its own people. Prolonging Maduro’s rule would not only be inhumane for the Venezuelans.
It would also prolong a source of instability, mass migration and organized crime that Venezuela has become in recent years and that threatens the entire region.
Support for Venezuela can range from political declarations to aid deliveries, to financial and other support for the opposition, to economic sanctions against the regime and ultimately – as a means of last resort – to military support or intervention. Especially the latter point is hotly debated, after the experience of the past 2 decades in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, but to take military intervention off the table from the very beginning is nonsense.
The question is not whether ‘war is the solution’. The question is always whether we can come closer to any solution without the use of the military.
Venezuela today, just as Ukraine in 2014, show that saving the incumbent government for the sake of international stability, if it has as consistently failed as here and begins to slaughter its own population, is neither realistic nor humane. It breeds catastrophe.
Venezuela used to be a rich country for Latin American conditions; it has a middle class (in place or in exile) which is capable of returning stability, democracy and prosperity to this country. That is why Europe and the Americas jointly need to act now.Roland Freudenstein Democracy Foreign Policy Human Rights
Venezuela’s Maidan moment – and why Realpolitik is against the interests of the West
25 Feb 2019
Democracy needs to be improved and updated. Today, due to the fast-changing nature of our society, democratic structures have difficulty to respond to the demands for more participative and transparent political processes, both at national and EU level.
However, it is often easier to ask for an improvement than to propose solutions. This is also the case with the improvement of democracy, which is ultimately defined by the way people discuss, interact and come to an agreement. All these characteristics have not essentially changed even though the modern means of communication have.
Events like Gilets jaunes demonstrations in France underline the importance of involvement in the democratic process of ordinary people. For some years now, high expectations have been put on the power of Internet to bring people closer to politics as well as on direct democracy tools such as direct voting. However, various Internet-based political initiatives have not been groundbreaking, and after the Brexit referendum doubts are increasing whether the direct vote is the way to go to improve democracy.
The Irish Example
Citizens’ Assembly, Ireland’s own example and experience with innovating deliberative democracy, is worth studying when tackling politically sensitive and potentially divisive topics.
For years, the topic of abortion was seen in Ireland as a highly controversial theme. The establishment of the Citizens’ Assembly proceeded two previous assemblies (The independent We the Citizens initiative in 2011 and the government sponsored Convention on the Constitution from 2012-2014) which helped to create space and acceptance for the assembly.
The Irish Citizens’ Assembly was launched in November 2016. Ninety-nine citizens from across Ireland gathered in Dublin to begin a national conversation on abortion. Assembly members were selected by a private marketing research firm hired by the government aiming to be broadly representative of the Irish society, based on citizens’ geographic location, gender, age and social class.
The results of the Assembly’s final, highly anticipated vote were released on April 2017: 87% of the Assembly voted in favor of easing the Irish abortion restrictions. In their formal report to the Irish Parliament, participants recommended legislation legalising abortions.
The Irish Citizens’ assembly showed that purposeful smaller representative groups can indeed make a difference. The Assembly facilitated the presentation of various views and insights on the topic. The media coverage of presentations triggered intensive discussion and expert input and the forum informed public opinion and thus facilitated greater understanding of the issues.
However, the Assembly still had relatively limited public visibility and the majority of the population was not aware that the assembly actually took place. Thus, it is important that such a process is supported by the political system in order for the opinions to reach the public debate. For example, the University College of London organized a Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit, but due to total lack of visibility, the assembly did not have any impact on the public debate.
An EU Citizens’ Assembly?
The European Parliament has a clearly defined role to represent European citizens. However, the question whether a European Citizens’ Assembly, with an advisory role, could be valuable in engaging with the citizens when the EU has a clear decision to make, remains.
The Irish example shows that a Citizens’ Assembly is the most effective when the debate is on a specific topic. An EU’s Citizens’ Assembly could take place when discussing enlargement, trade agreements or major EU institutional changes. The first Citizens’ Assembly should have a limited lifespan, related to a topic. If the Assembly was a success, it could be relaunched.
A European Citizens’ Assembly with rotating members could enforce the view that the EU is accessible to ordinary citizens and enforce the dialogue between the EU institutions and its citizens. The Assembly could bring some fresh air to Brussels and provide the Brussels-based EU officials with a better sense on the concerns of citizens.
In any case, the Citizens’ Assembly is a tested and useful idea when considering a referendum in EU member states. In the Irish case it created a basis for a passionate, yet rational debate leading to a decision which did not appeal to everyone, but which the Irish society was able to digest. In light of the current situation with Brexit, that is what one would hope from all referenda.Tomi Huhtanen Brexit Democracy EU Institutions Innovation Society
An EU Citizens’ Assembly to enforce European democracy?
19 Feb 2019
In the last few years, digital platforms and social networks have provided a space for conspiracy theorists and theories to reach thousands of online users. As a consequence, some conspiracy theories have become part of the political debate at both the national and international levels. This policy brief provides a data-driven comparative analysis of a group of conspiracy-oriented Twitter accounts in Spain, Germany and Poland. The analysis suggests that there is a thematic alignment between conspiracy circles and populists.
In particular, the data shows that both have similar positions on the mainstream media, the corrupt nature of governmental institutions and migration. Moreover, the analysis indicates that there are users who are active both nationally and internationally and give a conspiratorial reading of current affairs that influences populist approaches to these same issues.Crisis Democracy Elections Populism Society
Suspicious minds: Conspiracy Theories in the Age of Populism
11 Feb 2019
The information space that is used by voters, politicians and interest groups in Western nations is being contested and challenged by new risks and threats, both from within and from without. The aim of this report is to identify some of the main vulnerabilities with respect to current forms of political subversion, and to propose a set of policy principles to guide ongoing reflections on how best to respond to that challenge.
Four areas of vulnerability are identified, namely individualised political messaging, group dynamics and political polarisation, platform algorithms and self-radicalisation, and falsehood dissemination dynamics. This leads to the formulation of four proposed policy principles, followed by a discussion of the extent to which recent measures, in selected Western nations and at EU level, are sufficient to address the challenge at hand.Democracy Elections Internet Technology
Political Subversion in the Age of Social Media
22 Oct 2018
Over the past 15 years, the space for civic engagement in Russia has continuously shrunk, and it looks set to be cut further during Vladimir Putin’s fourth presidential term. Following a wave of repressive measures, it is already more restricted than it has been since 1991. Non-governmental organisations and activists have been stripped of funds as their activities have been criminalised.
They increasingly face a double disconnect: from international partners and within their own society. The clampdown on civil society reflects the growing repression of Russian society as a whole. But growing local initiatives and rising protests across the country undercut the narrative that Russian civil society is dead.
And despite the pressure, Russian civil society is proving to be more active, resilient and diverse than is generally assumed. It continues to have new ideas and the capacity to be a key agent of development and social change in Russia. Many groups and individuals continue to have a vision for the country’s future and are willing to work with Western partners. The example of Ukraine shows that civil society is an indispensable factor in overcoming the authoritarian legacy of post-Soviet societies.Democracy Elections EU-Russia Society Values
Filling the Void: Why the EU Must Step Up Support for Russian Civil Society
27 Apr 2018
My fingers are shivering under the bitingly-cold Brussels weather as I check my phone on my way to work. It’s a text message from a former colleague and journalist, and it freezes me in my tracks. Investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová have been murdered in Slovakia. A premeditated murder, execution style, apparently related to his work.
In one winter morning Slovakia has been set back to where it had once been: to the dismal nineteen nineties. I suddenly feel the same feeling of nausea that overwhelmed me in 1996 when, after a forceful abduction abroad of the then-President’s son, ex-police officer Robert Remiáš was assassinated just as he prepared to give a deposition about the matter on which he possessed vital information.
They planted a car bomb in his vehicle. They. Although it has never been proven who was behind his murder, from the very beginning the evidence pointed to the involvement of the Slovak Secret Service.
These murders share a common story: both journalists vigorously explored the signs of corruption, for which they paid the ultimate price.
I did not know Ján Kuciak personally. According to the media, he was a young investigative journalist who probed into and reported on tax frauds involving senior business figures with links to the representatives of the current government, especially the Minister of the Interior. He wrote about corruption cases associated with the use of EU funds, scandals of the party in power, and covered the Panama Papers case.
That he had filed a criminal complaint in September alleging threats indicates that he was on the right track. However, the police repeatedly failed to act on his concerns before finally playing them down. Had they acted differently, it is likely that this young couple would be alive today. His violent death makes me look at and perceive the work of investigative journalists, several of whom were my university classmates, in an altogether different light.
In the space of a few months, Ján Kuciak became the second journalist to be murdered in the EU, following the murder of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. These murders share a common story: both journalists vigorously explored the signs of corruption, for which they paid the ultimate price.
According to a Journalists without Borders report, Slovakia is ranked as a country with a high degree of press freedom. However, in recent years, that freedom as well as the state of democracy in Slovakia and neighbouring countries has been jeopardised. In November 2016, when the media questioned Slovak Prime Minster Robert Fico about the state of corruption and its links to government, he had no qualms about publicly labelling them as “dirty Slovak prostitutes”.
This official denigration of the status of journalists was repeated in the Czech Republic when President Zeman spoke about the need to “liquidate” journalists. This was said in public during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, although his spokesman did later claim that it was “just a joke”.
These paragraphs offer just a brief outline into the decreasing press freedoms in this region, a region where the politicians in power seek to build a New Europe.
In Poland, the government recently put forward a bill that aims to limit foreign ownership of Polish media, a move that has been viewed as an attempt to hinder the work of media outlets that dare to criticise the government. As well as his plan to “reform” the Polish judiciary, Kaczyński has made no secret of his desire to deconcentrate the ownership of Polish media.
This regional trend of curtailing press freedoms has potentially been most visible in Hungary. By establishing a “Commission” of select journalists (really a guild), Viktor Orbán has taken actions to make his dream of a compliant media a reality. Here journalists are given significant tax reliefs to encourage them to join this Commission and many publishers feel pressured to join in order to safeguard their operations.
This means that journalists favours will be purchased by granting them certain privileges while existential challenges and threats will be created for those reluctant to adhere to the policy of uncritical commentary of the work of Viktor Orbán.
These paragraphs offer just a brief outline into the decreasing press freedoms in this region, a region where the politicians in power seek to build a New Europe. The murder of a young journalist and his fiancée paint a stark picture of a democracy that is moving towards crisis point. I feel saddened and frightened, but also ashamed.
I am ashamed because, in recent years, the leaders of these countries have acted strategically to diminish the space of democracy and weaken society’s sensitivity to corruption scandals. Freedom of speech and an independent police, judiciary, and prosecution are fundamental pillars of democracy and in this region they are being eroded.
While these post-communist countries are still experiencing the early days of democracy, the response to these developments will tell a lot about the direction of their democratic trajectory. If these countries are to one day become mature democracies these limitations on press freedoms must be stopped and those behind the murder of Ján Kuciak must be brought to justice in a courtroom free from political interference by independent jurors.Viktória Jančošeková Democracy Ethics EU Member States
A chilling morning: the Ján Kuciak case and press freedom in the Visegrad countries
27 Feb 2018
What a difference a year makes! Early in 2017, President Xi Jin Ping’s Davos speech about openness and sustainability seemed to herald a new China, globally responsible and therefore in many ways a potential strategic partner for Europe – especially when compared to Trump’s America which just seemed to have said goodbye to the West.
But come 2018, global media’s biggest China stories are about Australian universities being bullied into firing staff for ‘insulting the feelings of Chinese students’, European investors complaining about intrusive Communist Party cells in their Chinese factories, EU direct investment in China actually decreasing recently, German counterintelligence warning about a broad offensive of Chinese spy agencies and, most ominously, the impending nationwide introduction in China of a Social Credit System which would make Big Brother green with envy.
And this is not to mention the familiar stories about tightening controls of social media, crackdowns on Civil Society and foreign NGOs (aka ‘closing space’), and now perpetuating the authoritarian rule of one person (Xi) within the authoritarian rule of the Chinese Communist Party (CPC).
The Economist had three China cover stories in four months – all with a critical spin: One about China’s questionable trade practices, one about the dangers of Xi Jin Ping’s new authoritarianism, and the last one about how China is spreading its ‘sharp power’ across the globe.
There is no doubt that the rise (or re-emergence) of China is one of the great events of our time that will ‘echo down the ages’ as Mark Leonard said in his seminal ‘What Does China Think?’. But in the past year, the European debate about how advantageous the rapid power shift to Xi Jin Ping’s China is for us, has taken a healthy turn towards realism.
Above everything else, Europeans, and indeed Westerners in general, will have to perceive this as an ideological challenge. Xi’s ‘Chinese model’ (brutally simplified: market economy minus democracy) is not only in direct competition to the Western model of combining economic and political freedom (the takeaway from 1989 to the 21st century, if you will).
But 2017 was the year when it became abundantly clear that the Chinese model has mutated from a competing design to a threat in many ways, through a combination of military expansion, bullying neighbours, strategic investments (including ‘buying’ institutions and people) and political arm-twisting. Of course, such pearls of Western democracy as Trump or Brexit, or electoral successes of national populists across continental Europe are grist on the mills of the proponents of the one party state.
But then again, as long as the one party state produces psychopathic mass murderers such as Kim Jong Un, there is no reason for an overdose of Western contrition. Neither are we powerless, nor is head-on confrontation the only alternative to total acquiescence. Instead, here are eight steps to a more solid response by the EU:
- Putting things in perspective:
Of course, China is not – and will not be – the only show in town. Take a look at the much-hyped relevance of China to the EU’s foreign trade: In 2016, Germany, the EU’s no. 1 economy, traded with China goods worth 170 billion Euros. But Germany’s combined trade volume with the V-4 countries (together about 65 million inhabitants) was 255 Billion Euros. China’s phenomenal economic growth notwithstanding, it still faces enormous challenges in social stability, corruption, the environment and private debt.
- Maintaining unity in the EU:
Even if it’s hard, we should strive for a more coherent answer to China’s ‘Belt and Road Initiative’, coordinating among member states. A joint strategy, or at least, best practice, vis-à-vis Chinese direct investment, would be a good idea. And the governments inside as well as outside the EU participating in China’s 16+1 initiative addressing cash-strapped former communist countries should at least be offered some analysis and intelligence about Chinese investment strategies in connectivity, especially in the digital field.
- Working with our allies:
Even Trump and Brexit have not changed the laws of gravity, nor the relative community of values and interest between Europe and North America. Confronting China on its authoritarian trade model (forced technology transfers, large state-owned enterprises, WTO rules manipulation) will be an excellent field of strategic coordination with a post-Brexit Britain and a US with checks and balances still intact. NATO is also a good framework to do so.
- Compartmentalising relations:
Cooperating with China where useful and possible, but by all means pushing back where necessary. While trade, fighting climate change and, in future, even defending parts of the global liberal order such as copyright law (as Chinese inventors become more defensive) may be good areas of strategic cooperation, China’s sharp power needs to be resisted, by means of our open societies as well as the rule of law and counter-intelligence.
- Learning Mandarin (or Cantonese, for that matter):
The EU and its member states need to quickly and sustainably improve their expertise on China. That ranges from linguistic abilities to analytical capacities. It will be crucial that these efforts are financed from within Europe, and not by the Chinese government, universities or private investors.
- Institutional networking:
Think tanks and experts analysing China (and not on a Chinese payroll) must cooperate more closely, and build sustainable networks to exchange information and analysis. The EU, as well as national governments and civil society, all have crucial roles to play here.
- China mainstreaming:
China should be factored into all strategic policy areas in Europe. Our pushback against Putin is an excellent example: The Chinese leadership is watching very closely how Russia fares with its territorial annexation and military aggression. There is a Chinese factor even in our sanctions policy towards the Kremlin. Whether energy, foreign investments, technology cooperation, relations with Africa (not only in the migration context), even defence policy: there is a Chinese angle to many EU policy fields, hence China must become part of our strategy in all of them.
- Reaching out:
To Taiwan, which is the living proof that democracy and the rule of law are very much compatible with Chinese culture, contrary to what the CPC would make us believe; to Hong Kong and its courageous democracy activists; to the growing Chinese expat community, and within China to regional and local partners who often genuinely desire more independent relations to Europe. As to China’s neighbours: Countries such as Japan, South Korea and Vietnam should become part of an informal network of intelligence exchange and strategic coordination.
The West has seemed to be losing out already a couple of times in history. In the 1930s, communism and fascism looked like the wave of the future. In the late 1950s, with the Sputnik shock, the victory of the West in the Cold War looked less than sure, to put it mildly. The West has the ability – amazing to many and annoying to its detractors – of bouncing back when it’s least expected to. If 2017 was the year the Chinese dragon began to audibly growl, let 2018 become the year we developed a valid response!Roland Freudenstein Democracy Economy Foreign Policy Globalisation
Dancing with the Dragon: how the EU should respond to the Chinese challenge
10 Jan 2018
Political participation can be regarded as a basic need in democracies. After a worrying 2016, a year of populism and post-truth politics, two different narratives for the future have emerged: one optimistic, the other pessimistic.
The former refers to a growing pro-European spirit and the arrival of a new civic culture, epitomised by movements such as Pulse of Europe. The latter sees the worrying growth of fake news and the decline of traditional institutions, as well as the rise of authoritarian tendencies, which seems to indicate that political engagement is seen as old-fashioned.
In any case, today’s reality in this age of new technology requires a project- and network-based approach.
Read the full article in the December 2017 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Florian Hartleb Democracy Populism Society
Political participation today: a radical shift, but with a positive or negative outcome?
27 Nov 2017
The rule-of-law procedure against Poland, opened in January 2016, has painfully tested the safeguards supposed to protect the EU’s fundamental values. It is now obvious that the protective mechanisms need to be strengthened. For in their current form, tested in real life for the first time, they have not dissuaded the present Polish government, led by the nationalist Law and Justice party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, PiS), from seriously and continuously breaching the rules. All interested EU parties—that is, willing member states and institutions—should acknowledge this and start preparing modifications both to Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union, which includes a sanction mechanism, and to the European Commission’s Rule of Law Framework, so that the EU’s internal defences are strengthened for future needs.
Read the full article in the December 2017 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Konrad Niklewicz Democracy EU Member States Political Parties
Safeguarding the rule of law within the EU: lessons from the Polish experience
20 Nov 2017
Last Friday, the Czechs and the Slovaks commemorated the fall of Communist totalitarianism and the advent of a new era of freedom and democracy. We reflect on the events of November 17th and ask ourselves: was it all worth it? Are we living the life we imagined? Some go further and question whether we are really better off than we were under totalitarianism.
While these questions may be disconcerting, we should not be afraid of asking them. Instead, we should worry about our unwillingness to address them. Why is it that the post-November development often leaves a bad taste in our mouths? Why is it that we sometimes experience disappointment, or even fear and regret?
One of the reasons is that we have not yet met the expectations of 28 years ago. Euphoria over the fall of totalitarianism coupled with our lack of experience with the free world meant we were ill-prepared for the obstacles that needed to be overcome in order to integrate ourselves into this new reality.
Another reason for this frustration is the turbulence that the free world itself has experienced over the last quarter of a century. This turbulence has forced us to re-think many of the things we took for granted about the Free World. That the 2008 Economic and Financial Crisis had its origins in the USA is significant.
For decades, the US had stood as a symbol of freedom, civil liberties and prosperity for the freedom-loving people behind the Iron Curtain. Central to this was the belief that the President of the United States stood as the natural leader of the democratic world. Today we are confronted with the reality that this may no longer be the case.
We wanted the world to be open to us, and for borders to become a thing of the past. But massive waves of migration and numerous terrorist attacks are leading people to demand that borders be closed once more and new fences be built. Throughout its existence, the EU has expanded and its membership has grown. Now, as we are faced with the exit of the United Kingdom we must acknowledge that this too is no longer guaranteed.
How do we find our bearings in this maze of tumultuous, often unforeseen, developments? In the past, we had a clear idea: to free ourselves from totalitarianism and plan our economy we joined the OECD, NATO and the EU. The goal was clear, and so was the way. Today, when we are facing truly unprecedented challenges, when unrest and instability are so present in our European neighborhood, we seem to be losing our bearings. Today the goal is not as clear.
Last week, I had a peculiar experience. I got lost on my way to a conference I was due to open. After walking in the wrong direction for close to an hour, it transpired that I had inadvertently inserted the wrong hotel name into my smartphone. I believe my experience helps me to articulate an essential point: the reasons for our dissatisfaction and frustration are usually our own failures and mistakes. It is not the essence of the free world. We feel frustration because, although we cherish freedom, we are avoiding its unshakeable cost – accountability.
We are yet to grasp that the EU is not “them” while Slovakia is “us”. “Us” now includes the EU and NATO. The government is engaged in a war of words with the opposition over whether or not we should be part of the core of the EU. However, neither side has said that it is also up to us: the Slovaks, the Czechs, the Poles, and the Hungarians to proactively shape such a core.
In the aftermath of the 2006 General Election, a prominent Slovak political writer stated that “even the losers have a right to their government”. No doubt they do. However, the winners must be aware of their responsibility if they leave the governance to the losers. As liberal-minded people, we must be aware that freedom is inseparable from responsibility and the readiness to assume that responsibility is what we collectively strive for.
Globalisation, the fourth industrial revolution, and the proliferation of social media has expanded the space of our freedoms, but equally it has enhanced the degree of our responsibilities. Unfortunately, the space of these new freedoms can be misused; for instance, by spreading misinformation or by committing cyberattacks.
There is no doubt that the world has changed since November 17th 1989. There is no doubt that it will continue to change in the future. But neither is there any doubt that the best answer to both present and future challenges will be our ability and readiness to safeguard our freedoms, and to assume responsibility. Responsibility for what we stand for and for our decisions.
This is true for us as individuals, this is true for Slovakia, and also for the EU. It is also true for regional cooperation, for the Visegrad Group. Regional groupings can only play a positive role by encouraging inclusive dialogue rather than pursuing individual interests or generating imagined conflicts.Mikuláš Dzurinda Democracy EU Member States European Union Euroscepticism
The Velvet Revolution at 28: from euphoria to responsibility
20 Nov 2017
In mid-September, together with former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, chairperson of the Committee on Foreign Affairs at the German Bundestag Marieluis Beck, and former US Ambassador to NATO Alexander Versbow, I visited Toretsk, the so-called contact line in South-Eastern Ukraine. It is a line separating Ukrainian territory controlled by Ukraine from Ukrainian territory that Ukraine does not control.
We were brought to the Dnepropetrovsk airport from Toretsk by a Ukrainian military helicopter. When we descended from the helicopter, its captain asked Rasmussen to patiently listen to him for two minutes. The captain said to the former General Secretary of NATO and current advisor to President Poroshenko something along these lines: “Mr Rasmussen, I fulfilled the duty assigned to me. I safely transported you and your friends from point A to point B. But you arrived in point A 15 minutes late. This was very bad, because it made our big helicopter exposed to the attention of the enemy for 15 minutes. In a similar situation, I recently lost a group of soldiers who were shot down by the enemy because of the delayed take-off.”
It was only then that I understood why, after the helicopter got off the ground, its captain made several manoeuvres to change the flight direction and why for about 10 minutes we flew so close to the ground that we almost touched it. “But now comes the most important part,” continued the captain, “I know you are advisor to President Poroshenko. Show him this photo – the picture showed the captain with President Poroshenko during one of the President’s visits to Eastern Ukraine – and tell him that I am the soldier who was the first and the only one to speak up during critical moments on Maidan square, wearing the uniform of a member of Ukrainian Armed Forces, and I publicly urged the Ukrainian military not to intervene against the demonstrators. I am 53 now. I risked everything, my family, my work. I believed then and I still believe in democratic changes in our country. But please tell the President, because I cannot get near him, that if he does not do away with corruption, we will lose the war with Russia and we will lose our country. I earned 5 euros today for my service to you. But I’m not complaining. I did not do it for money. I did it because Ukraine needs your help, it needs the solidarity of the entire democratic world. I still believe that Maidan had and continues to have a meaning. But our President must take a strong stance on corruption.”
I decided to share this experience with the public. At home in Slovakia, in Ukraine and in Brussels. Because the future, and not only that of Ukraine, lies with people like the captain of our helicopter.Mikuláš Dzurinda Democracy Foreign Policy Values
Why Poroshenko must take a strong stance on corruption
19 Sep 2017
2017 marks the 70th Anniversary of the Marshall Plan as well as the centenary of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia. For Lithuania, virtually the whole of the 20th century was overshadowed by developments in the East – the Bolshevik revolution, the rise of the Soviet Union and subsequent half-a-century-long Soviet occupation since 1940.
Left on the other side of the Iron Curtain, Lithuania could not enjoy direct benefits from the Marshall Plan. However, because of the Marshall Plan, the EU and NATO were born, and that is what gave us freedom. Both anniversaries provide a good opportunity to look into a broader historical and future perspective.
Why are we drawing parallels between 1947 and 2017? Because nowadays, as back then in 1947, we face the very same problem – Russia/Soviet Union and its development, which is still very much influenced by the events of 1917.
However, because of the Marshall Plan, the EU and NATO were born, and that is what gave us freedom.
In 1947 George Marshall became concerned that Stalin would be able to establish his political dominance in Western Europe, where people were suffering due to the collapse of their economies, destroyed by World War II. It was known that local Communist Parties in France and Italy, following political directives from the Kremlin, were ready to exploit the dissatisfaction of the people to win political domination in those Western European countries.
In 2017 we are concerned that in Ukraine Putin may come back with a re-establishment of political domination over the whole country, where the dissatisfaction of the people is a natural consequence of deep and painful reforms, of weak economic recovery and of prolonged war in the Eastern part of Ukraine, initiated and supported by the Kremlin.
It is not only the future of Ukraine, not only the security of our region, but also the future of Russia itself and the long-term relationship between Russia and Europe that we need to be worried about. We need to remember that in the 20th century Europe suffered because of two tectonic conflicts: the ‘Germany–France’ conflict and the ‘Russia/Soviet Union – continental Europe’ conflict.
The main goals of the Marshall Plan in 1947 were:
- recovery of Western Europe in order to prevent Stalin to succeed in establishing his political domination there
- a solution to the first European tectonic conflict – the one between Germany and France, with the beginning of European integration and the establishment of the Coal and Steel Community in 1951
The main goals of the Marshall Plan in 2017 should then be:
- recovery of Ukraine in order to prevent Putin to assert his political domination in the country
- a solution to the second European tectonic conflict – the one between Russia and continental Europe.
This can be achieved only if Russia transforms itself into a normal European country. Success in Ukraine is the single instrument available to the Western Community to encourage a positive transformation of Russia. The example of success in Ukraine would have a major impact on the opinion of ordinary Russians. Russia, therefore, should be surrounded by the ‘belt of success’ of the Eastern Partnership region, where Ukraine is the most important country.
Putin is fighting against the success of Ukraine, because it endangers his regime. He anticipates that painful reforms in Ukraine will overwhelm the Ukrainian people with dissatisfaction. In democratic elections, such frustration would bring into power political forces, which would abandon the implementation of necessary reforms. That would be a strategic victory for Putin, one which we cannot allow to happen.
How did we, in the Baltics, achiev our success without any kind of Marshall Plan? We were lucky, because soon after regaining our independence at the beginning of the 1990s, we were promised membership in the EU, conditional on implementing complex reforms. A clear membership perspective helped us to reach a national political consensus in Lithuania and kept alive our motivation for reforms. That is how our success was created.
Since World War II the Western Community has invented only two effective geopolitical instruments, which prevented Russia/Soviet Union from expanding its political influence on countries suffering immense economic challenges of recovery or transformation: it was the Marshall Plan in 1947 and the EU enlargement in the 1990s. For the time being, Ukraine cannot expect an invitation to join the EU. That is why we need a Marshall Plan for Ukraine.
We need to bring back the inspiration and wisdom of 1947.
The Marshall Plan for Ukraine would be a package of investment funds into the real economy of Ukraine, conditional on implementing reforms. Following the institutional example of the Marshall Plan 1947 – the European Reconstruction Agency – a similar agency should be created for Ukraine. Five billion USD annually are needed to bring the growth of GDP up to 6 – 8% in Ukraine. The EU External Investment Plan provides a real possibility for financing schemes of the Marshall Plan for Ukraine – it entails 88 billion USD until 2020.
A big part of this money from the External Investment Plan will be used to implement what the German Government calls ‘Marshall Plan with Africa’. We support this initiative and we hope that the similar idea of a ‘Marshall Plan for/with Ukraine’ will be supported by other countries. Our initiative gathers momentum, as the European People’s Party (EPP) in its Malta Congress expressed support for the Marshall Plan for Ukraine. Together with Ukrainians, we have already brought this initiative to Washington, and we shall go to Berlin and Brussels.
1947 and 2017 – a lot of similarities and similar challenges. We need to bring back the inspiration and wisdom of 1947: George F. Kennan’s deep understanding of why a ‘Russia Containment Strategy’ is needed; George Marshall’s boldness to propose a successful geopolitical initiative; the courage of Harry S. Truman and the leaders of Western Europe to take responsibility and confront Stalin with the Marshall Plan and defend Berlin during the blockade.
The same type of leadership and behavior is needed now – for the sake of lasting peace and stability in Europe through support of Ukraine in order to inspire transformation of Russia.Andrius Kubilius Baltic Democracy Eastern Europe EU-Russia
Marshall Plan: why we need it again in 2017
28 Jun 2017
For the first time the EU has reached not just a stopping point, but a possible turning point. The Brexit decision has only made this more evident. Using the current crisis for a ‘great leap forward’ towards ever closer ‘political union’ hardly seems realistic, even in the absence of the notorious British opposition.
Even the member states that are most ardently calling for a ‘political union’ do not agree on what that should actually mean. Using the examples of France and Germany and their seemingly identical calls for a ‘fiscal union’ of the eurozone, this article shows that the two countries have contrasting interpretations of what such a union should do, and how.
Both the French ideal of a voluntarist ‘economic government’ of the eurozone and the German model of a rules-based ‘economic constitution’ would require substantial changes to the EU treaties, for which there is no real hope of democratic consent. The legitimacy challenge has thus become both more urgent and more difficult to overcome.
Read the full article in the June 2017 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Michael Wohlgemuth Democracy European Union Eurozone Integration
Political union and the legitimacy challenge
24 May 2017
In the EU we have the luxury of reflecting upon if we would rather have a one-speed or two-speed Europe, we complain that governments do not do this and the EU does not do that. We take our democratic rights seriously every four years when we go to elections.
If we are really pissed off, we vote for someone who appears to be fresh and critical of the non-performing political mainstream. Someone like a populist, for example. And then we go back to our day-to-day lives.
Maybe lash out some discontent on Facebook, Twitter or, exceptionally, in a critical blog post. You could call this hamster-wheel democracy: it takes some steam out of the system, but nothing much changes. There are places in Europe that do not have this luxury.
Say you want a revolution?
Ukraine is the only former communist country that had not one, not two, but three major civil uprisings, in 1990, 2004 and 2013. What people have learned from these repetitive revolutions is that it does not suffice to go on the streets and achieve political change.
They have found out – the hard way – that things also need to happen after revolutions. There needs to be a follow-up after each revolution: improvements, modernization, reforms. In a word, real change.
The revolution taking place in Ukraine today is not on the streets. It takes place on the internet and on the social networks (real and digital) that civil society is weaving.
Ukrainians have been seeing failure in the running of the country top-down, both during communism and during post-communist democracy. The first failed spectacularly, the second only had mixed success.
Ukraine is the only former communist country that had not one, not two, but three major civil uprisings, in 1990, 2004 and 2013.
The long legacy of communism left the country with poorly performing public services – education, healthcare, public administration, justice, police, and the list can go on. Corruption – small and big – has always been a way to get things done.
Democracy made corruption worse. Communists had privileges without having to resort to corruption. Corruption of others in communist times was suppressed by secret and non-secret police.
After 1991, communist institutions failed to be transformed into inclusive institutions at the service of the citizen. Instead, extractive elements on every level were preserved, institutions and monopolies extracting profit enabled by their position of power.
Ukraine was failing to create an inclusive “infrastructure of opportunity” for all. This is why nations fail, Darren Acemoglu argues.
After Euromaidan, people are determined to change that; citizens even more so than the government. Coming from Slovenia where we are tired and depressed from not seeing reform, it was so refreshing to see many young people who were literally taking matters into their own hands. Not by becoming politicians, but by facilitating bottom-up policymaking and bottom-up state-building.
Reanimation of reform
An example of the first is the “Reanimation package of reform” movement that is basically doing the job of a reform ministry. It is similar to what I had in Slovenia in 2007-2008, or what the prime minister of Slovenia Mr. Pahor had in 2010, the “reform scoreboard”. They – civil society – are pushing for reforms and overseeing their progress: speaking to the Rada, lobbying the MPs, talking to the ministers.
This includes more than 80 NGOs, such as the Ukrainian Center for European Policy, Institute of World Policy, Europe without barriers, Civil society Institute, Anti-corruption Action Center and others.
Examples of bottom-up state-building are the numerous on-line services that civil society is developing on top of government open data. Some match and exceed the quality of similar services that are being created by bureaucracies in the West.
For example, the online service that makes spending from national budgets totally transparent, or applications which allow citizens to decide how to use parts of the city budget.
In some respects, Ukraine is a huge living lab of participatory democracy.
The first fights corruption, the second improves the management of local communities and makes sure that public money is invested where citizens consider it important.
But more importantly, such online services create commitment, a sense of belonging, ownership and improve the web of trust in a society. The thousands who participate in creating those services and the hundreds of thousands who are taking an active part in using them form a resilient social network, independent of potential hacking, control or censorship on mainstream social networks. These are the people who will go to the streets again if needs be to protect Ukrainian independence and democracy.
In some respects, Ukraine is a huge living lab of participatory democracy. And more: it is an example of participatory state-building. As should be the case after revolutions, the people are taking power.
From what I have seen it is not so much about taking power in Ukraine, but about doing the work for the country and building it again with the expertise of NGOs such as Center for Innovations Development of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, Center for Democracy and Rule of Law and Easy Business and Center for Economic Strategy.
I find the very idea that people, freely collaborating on the internet, can come in and deliver where the state and its bureaucracy are failing, fascinating. It is not another Facebook or Twitter revolution. It is not the “click-tivism” of likes and retweets. It has serious elements of online bottom-up state-building.
If it succeeds, Ukraine will be a textbook case of what the Internet can do for democracy. As a believer in the positive effects of technology on society and as a believer in Ukraine, I do hope it succeeds.
It also puts Ukraine on the world map, not as a country that has the Сrimea and “coal and steel” problems with its big neighbor, but as a hub of technology for participatory democracy and know-how of civil-society-driven reforms.
This technology and the related social know-how is something we could use in the West as well – to take some wind out of the sail of the populists, for example.Žiga Turk Democracy Eastern Europe EU-Russia Technology
Ukraine’s quiet revolution
20 Apr 2017
On April 16, Turkish voters will decide if President Erdogan will maintain the presidential powers he has held in practice since instituting a state of emergency after the failed coup attempt in July 2016. The new constitutional amendment will centralize his power, giving massive authority over legislature and judiciary without a proper checks and balances system. Though NATO and Europe have dealt with autocratic leaders in member states before, the situation with Turkey’s leadership is setting the conditions for a serious security risk to the Alliance.
United by Values?
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg continually reiterates the core principles outlined by signatories of the Washington Treaty: “Democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of the media, independence of the judiciary, protection of minorities. These are the values that unite us. They are the values NATO has defended since its foundation in 1949.”
But are these values truly upheld by all Allies? Despite the Turkish government’s promise to foster democratic principles in the last decade, Turkey has drifted sharply away from these values under the rule of President Erdogan. Contrary to Ataturk’s secular Turkey, Erdogan’s government is far from being a bridge between East and West. His new regime is using religion as a political tool to consolidate his internal power and project his authority abroad.
Under his rule, freedom of expression has been eliminated through intimidation, and violation of basic human rights is not a rare phenomenon. As a member nation, Turkey is capable of blocking the decisions on defending critical values — as already evidenced by Turkey’s refusal to allow military training with NATO partner nations due to the political tensions with Austria.
Heightened political tensions between the Turkish government and its NATO Allies are initial indications of the potential future security crisis for Europe. By exploiting this tense situation, the Turkish government has created propaganda material against the West, even going as far as to explicitly threaten European countries to not feel safe in their homelands if the diplomatic row continues.
Erdogan’s attempts to mobilize the considerable Turkish diaspora in Europe with strong rhetoric should not be taken lightly. If Erdogan attains his goals via referendum, he will completely dismantle the foundation of the Turkish secular republic. Thus, post-referendum Turkey would no longer be a true ally but rather an unpredictable one.
Turkey Turns East
Once backed by NATO against Russia during the downed jet crisis in November 2015, the Turkish government initiated the normalization of highly-tensioned relations with Russia after the failed coup attempt in Turkey.
The new partners, Russia and Turkey, have held positive discussions on Syria, on the construction of a nuclear power plant, and likely sale of Russian S-400 long-range air and missile defence system. Additionally, Turkey’s appointment by Russia and China to chair the 2017 Energy Club of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) was a significant indication of her divergence from the West. And in the most concerning move toward the East, Turkey signed an intelligence sharing agreement with Russia.
Although European institutions typically analyse this rapprochement as a tactical manoeuvre before the referendum, it seems to have already started providing strategic outcomes.
The methods Erdogan has used against Europe are evolving to be similar to those used by President Putin. Turkey, though, has an additional tool of leverage that can be traced within the Turkish diaspora in Europe. The revealed ill-favoured intelligence activities of Turkish government among the Turkish origin European citizens is similar to Russian intelligence activities in Ukraine.
State-sponsored AK Trolls operate in social media channels very similarly to Putin’s Kremlin Troll Army. Such integration between Russia and Turkey would certainly be a worrying development for NATO’s cohesion.
The EU-Turkey Refugee Deal, as well as the country’s geostrategic location are important points of leverage for President Erdogan. In the fight against ISIS, for example, the West is leaning on Turkey to provide staging areas for equipment and aircraft, and seeks agreement on opposition targets. Particularly for countering the threats and risks emanating from the South, it is important that the cooperation and partnership with Turkey remains solid.
However, there is no doubt that Erdogan’s new Turkey will not maintain a foundation for a feasible alliance with Europe. It is worth remembering that many in the Turkish public are also looking for alternatives to Erdogan’s regime. Current public opinion polls show that around 50 percent of Turkish voters who do not support the constitutional change seem extremely oppressed by fear.
As indications of Turkish deviation from the West are growing each day, Europe needs to set priorities for mitigating this risk. Otherwise, Erdogan’s Turkey will likely turn from a NATO ally to a source of instability for the entire region.Fatih Yilmaz Democracy Elections Foreign Policy Leadership Security
NATO ally or insider threat? How Turkey’s referendum vote will affect European security
11 Apr 2017
The talk of a multi-speed EU has started in Europe. While no one knows what exactly is to be its scope, what it will precisely look like, we all know one thing: the EU cannot continue with business as usual. Because there will be no business as usual.
The EU needs to take serious decisions. It must respond to such challenges as Brexit, the new U.S. administration, the growing interest of Africans in Europe, but also to such threats as the rapidly arming China, the unhinged and nervous Russia, the growing autocracy in Turkey or the nationalism in the Western Balkans and, finally, also to the natural evolution – the globalisation and the advent of the fourth industrial revolution.
In addressing these key issues, the EU needs to stand united and be ready for action. Otherwise it will not be respected and will not have the strength to defend its values and to pursue its interests. The first clear signals suggesting that a multi-speed EU is a real alternative of the future direction of the EU have evoked varying reactions from the various countries.
Two big foursomes stand on two opposite poles: THE BIG FOUR (Germany, France, Italy and Spain) on the one, THE VISEGRAD FOUR on the other. While at the Versailles meeting the Big Four declared their unity in promoting the idea of a multi-speed Europe, the Visegrad Four countries became puzzled and have responded with verbal vacillations.
The clearest position was taken by Hungary, which is opposed to a multi-speed EU, while Slovakia wants to be in the first line of the accelerating Europe at any cost. I am convinced that a better and even existential choice for all the Visegrad Four countries is to stay in the group of countries that maintain the closest cooperation. To stay in the group of countries around the Big Four that will seek and enforce relevant solutions.
However, what I see as a problem is that when it will come to taking tough action, no one will have to ask us whether we want to play the highest European premier league or not. No one will be obliged to ask us whether we are strongly against or passionately for such action. It will be mainly our actions and our conduct that will speak for all of us. And, moreover, our ability and willingness to contribute to finding solutions and bearing the costs of their implementation.
In this regard, the Visegrad Four countries have certain problems. For instance, Slovakia under the government of Robert Fico appears to be much more a “centrifugal” component of the reunited Europe than a component that unites, cooperates and seeks mutually beneficial solutions. Fico’s reaction to mandatory quotas was at first understandable. They were adopted in a hasty manner, apparently without appropriate advance consultations, in a directive manner.
But there had been two problems right at the beginning: first, we failed to show at least an elementary understanding of the fact that immigration suddenly emerged as a critical problem for several countries (Greece, Italy and especially Germany) and, second, we have as yet offered no alternative to the solution advocated by Germany, France and the European institutions. Yet, in the second half of 2016, we held the presidency of the EU Council. Towards the end of that mandate we presented a chimera of “effective solidarity”, which was eventually ridiculed or not even noticed.
Let’s be honest and truthful with one another. The theme of immigration to Europe is probably the biggest challenge for the EU in the coming years or even decades. And it is not mainly about the war in Syria. Africa is a huge continent, and a number of its countries are plagued with hunger, as well as with violence and terrorism.
But it is a very populous continent with a high birth rate. In spite of economic and social hardships, mobile phones and social networks are reaching an ever growing number of inhabitants of African countries who are thus discovering prosperity lying not too far away from their homes. It is not difficult to solve this equation with the above parameters: the result will be further migration pressures on Europe in the coming years.
Because of its attitude and inability as well as unwillingness to contribute to solving this quintessential equation, Slovakia is slowly but surely gravitating towards the edge – an area of diminishing interest for those who bear the greatest burden. Fico offers a similar experience with Slovakia’s stance on Russia and its aggressive policy not only towards its neighbours but also towards the West.
Fico thinks that he is very smart when, regarding the decision to introduce or lift the sanctions against Russia, he says in Bratislava that the sanctions against Russia are stupid and should be lifted, but keeps silent when the actual decisions are taken at the Brussels summit, only to subsequently declare, “I oppose the sanctions, but I did not want to destroy the unity of the majority at the negotiations”.
It is possible that Fico lives in an illusion that he has satisfied both – his voters and Putin on the one side and those who are really concerned about or threatened by the aggressive regime of Vladimir Putin on the other side. But this is a deep mistake: it is well known in Berlin, in Paris, in Brussels and elsewhere that Fico has been a great help to Putin, breaks the unity of the EU, and distinctly weakens Putin’s respect for the West. By doing so, he increases Putin’s appetite. Fico’s actions strongly contribute to Vladimir Putin’s policy of divide et impera!
As regards the remaining Visegrad Four countries, they do not seem to be in the “centripetal” mood, either; rather the opposite. Hungary has announced the abandonment of liberal democracy and is looking for enemies also in academic institutions, such as the Central European University. Concerning anti-Russian sanctions, it holds the same position as Fico.
Since its last parliamentary elections, Poland keeps the European institutions busy with the review of the constitutionality of some of its steps, for instance in connection with appointments to the Constitutional Court. The most consolidated Visegrad Group country appears to be Czechia.
The European Union is harmed by the opportunism of some of its leaders. They say different things at home and in Brussels. They take credit for the successes, and put the blame for failures on Brussels. However, being a member of the EU and NATO, an ally to the others in the community of Western countries, means not only the right to jointly enjoy its advantages, but also the duty to jointly share and face the difficulties and costs.
It means to be responsive to the problems of the others. Even the biggest and the most powerful ones face problems from time to time. If we betray them at such time, we lose the allies. I am overwhelmed by such feelings at this very time.Mikuláš Dzurinda Democracy Eastern Europe European Union
The Visegrad four group gravitates towards the edge
07 Apr 2017
Massive anti-corruption protests on March 26th have effectively ended the sleepy landscape of the Russian politics that have existed for the past three years since the annexation of Crimea, a period dominated by the notion of “unchallengeable” sky-high approval ratings of Putin. The country is visibly fed up with Putin’s cronyism, obscene corruption and inequality, which were the prime targets of the protests.
There are a few remarkable things about Sunday’s rallies. First, about 100 cities were affected, including such names as Komsomolsk-na-Amure, Saransk, Novokuznetsk, Nizhny Tagil – provincial towns which are normally unheard of in regular Russian political life. In regional capitals, up to several thousand were attending, setting records of participation in many cases. Second, this is the first time when most of such rallies were forbidden by authorities – but people turned out regardless. Beforehand, opposition was only able to mobilize big masses of protesters on the condition that rallies were officially approved; non-sanctioned rallies normally scared off most people and were down to a narrow number of dedicated oppositioners.
This time, it was all different – people across the country have shown no fear despite arrests and heavy police pressure. This is a sharp contrast with anything we’ve seen before. There are clear signs that people in Russia are fed up with the rule of the same faces who have been in power for almost two decades now for the benefit of enriching themselves. Dominating young faces also suggest that the younger generation sees no opportunity for a decent future within Putin’s system, which largely provides benefits and social lifts to insiders, and excludes everyone else.
You can get a glimpse of people’s resolve to stand against pressure in my short video which I’ve captured right at the heart of the events at Pushkinskaya square in Moscow on Sunday – people chanting “Russia against Putin”. All right, I could have been wrong predicting last year that you may see such mass demonstrations of discontent with Putin’s regime at the September 2016 Parliamentary elections – but in fact this demonstration turned out just to be delayed for six more months. Elderly opposition figures at the Duma elections failed to impress Russians who want change, but a younger and much more energetic Alexey Navalny have finally managed to ignite people. Navalny has been remarkably successful in finding a common cause and building a wide network of support across the country and his regional visits gather huge crowds of supporters, something also unseen in many years, as a lot of opposition forces were, unfortunately, too Moscow-centric.
Together with Navalny’s ongoing Presidential campaign, further rallies like that would build more and more pressure against Putin and his regime in the coming months. Arrests won’t stop the momentum. The resolve of protesters on Sunday is a stark contrast with passiveness and fatigue of bleak pro-Putin demonstrations marking the anniversary of the Crimean demonstration just a week before. On March 26th, no one ever showed up on the streets in Putin’s defence, except heavily armed police and troops — supposedly existent “armies” of Putin’s diehard fans are nowhere to be seen. It seems that the tale of “universal 90% support for Putin in Russia” has effectively ended right in front of our eyes.
Mass arrests and exceptional armed police defence, however, clearly suggest that Putin doesn’t want to easily let go. But for the first time, this was confronted by real mass resolve to protest despite personal risks, and current pressure, arrests and insane accusations against protesters on state TV which only make people angrier. The bad news is that serious confrontation sometime in the future seems inevitable, as protest rallies have only just begun and Russians are passionate to turn to the streets once again. Youth forums are now filled with anger, particularly after Putin’s spokesman’s remarks that youngsters who attended rallies were “paid” to protest. It is very likely that things may turn violent soon if Putin doesn’t back down with his repression machine.
The good news is that Russia is back: our people have remembered who they really are, and demanded freedom and respect of their rights with energy previously unseen. Sunday was really a turning point.Vladimir Milov Democracy EU-Russia Values Youth
Sunday’s Protests: Russia Is Back
28 Mar 2017
In these heady days of the early Trump era, one may be forgiven for thinking that for Europe, none of the old certainties hold true anymore. Consequently, to many European pundits, it is obvious that whether we want it or not, we are forced to rethink our strategic posture from scratch. Some advise that we now have to become self-sufficient in security – because the new US President has, at least in interviews and tweets, sown doubt about the 70 year old US security commitment to Europe.
Some have argued that we should kiss and make up with Russia because under Trump, the US risk to overtake us in the race of who’ll be Putin’s darling – at least until recently. And some claim that the best thing we can do now is to replace the US by China as a strategic partner, because they seem to have so much to offer economically and, let’s be honest, also just to spite the new occupant of the White House.
President Xi’s chiseled words don’t match the bleak reality of what China is doing.
Quite frankly, this type of knee-jerk ‘Europe First’ strategy can only backfire because it is built on false premises. It is true that, while Donald Trump’s tweets continued to haunt us, President Xi Jin Ping held a remarkable speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos. In it, he sang the praise of socially conscious globalisation, open borders and global governance – just as the new US President was shouting ‘America First!’ from our TV screens.
Rhetorically, China has also been an advocate of a strong EU for some time. And last but not least, the grandious project of a ‘New Silk Road’ linking Asia to Europe might come to symbolise not only stronger economic but also strategic links. But one thorough look at China and the world today is enough to see that President Xi’s chiseled words don’t match the bleak reality of what China is doing as we speak.
The Chinese Communist Party has never stopped considering ‘Western’ ideas about human rights a threat.
First, in the South China Sea, the Beijing government is continuing its expansion against all global rules, to the great worries of its neighbours in the region, and rejecting the consultation and arbitration mechanisms foreseen in the UN system and the International Court of Justice. This is all the more dangerous because Russia has, in recent years, begun doing exactly the same in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine: undermining the global liberal order, not only with words, but also deeds.
Second, China does not really seem to favour a strong European Union. Its ’16 + 1’ initiative, comprising 16 cash-strapped countries inside and outside the EU, is clearly designed to create a generic grouping of countries that share a communist past as well as financial dependency on China turning into some degree of political subservience.
Hungary is a case in point – its breaking ranks with the rest of the EU on condemning Chinese expansionism in Asia is exemplary of Beijing’s divide et impera strategy. Chinese support for sub-EU regional groupings now also seems to extend to the Mediterranean members and even to the Nordics.
Third, President Xi’s lofty appeals to global governance eclipse China’s peculiar ideas about national governance, as they come out in its unconditional support for corrupt, dictatorial regimes in Africa, and even more in its crackdown on freedom of expression and the first buds of civil society in China itself. The increasing suppression of previously assured civic rights in Hong Kong, and especially the kidnapping of EU citizens (Chinese with double nationalities) from South East Asia, are examples of what is really going on.
The Chinese Communist Party has never stopped considering ‘Western’ ideas about human rights a threat. All this is not to mention the regular military threats against democratic Taiwan. Finally, one has to mention Chinese state-sponsored criminal activity, as in the systematic violation of copyright law and the organised hacking of American and European technology firms.
All this does not mean that Europe should not seek cooperation with China on issues of global importance, such as trade and climate change. But let’s remain realistic as to the prospects of a strategic partnership with a country whose governing elite and many of its citizens have such a different outlook on our world.
Making America great again is not possible without friends and allies.
Instead of flirting with China, we’d better try to convince the US administration that making America great again is not possible without friends and allies, and that the most natural members of that group will always be found in Europe. The President’s State of the Union speech on 28 February, though mainly focused on domestic affairs, should be read as a sign that the administration is thinking along those lines now.
Given America’s old and strong democracy, Trump, even if he tried, would have a hard time overturning the global liberal order against America’s own creation – a system of value-based alliances that has been developed for over a century. For Europe, it’s time to get real and start working with what we still have, instead of relying on what we’re supposed to hear in Davos and other places.Roland Freudenstein Democracy EU-US Foreign Policy Trade
Why China is still a threat and America still our ally
03 Mar 2017
“Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as the new US president have brought the score to 2-0 for populism last year”, according to Member of European Parliament Eva Maydell (Paunova). “The only thing left to figure out is whether we are in the half time or only ten minutes into the game”.
MEP Maydell, together with Martin Mycielski, Founder of the Committee of Defence of Democracy International, and Roland Freudenstein, Policy Director at the Martens Centre, were invited to discuss the resistible rise of populism in Europe, an event named after the title of the latest issue of the European View, the policy journal of the Martens Centre.
The articles gathered under this slightly provocative title, a subtle nod to the brilliant play of Bertolt Brecht, shed light on the interaction between populist parties and conventional parties and make proposals for potential ways forward. They also discuss the role and influence of political communication , as well as the refugee and economic crises, identified as potential breeding grounds for populism.
During the event, the speakers discussed the situation in their respective home countries. According to Martin Mycielski, the disconcerting trend is that populist communication in Poland enforces the perception that “a real Pole cannot be European”. This type of narrative promotes the division of the two identities instead of seeing them intertwined.
In order to tackle the situation, Mycielski proposes to introduce the concept of local ambassadors to the EU. He emphasised the importance of grassroot, local level actions and communication to show people practical and positive examples of what the EU can give them.
Populism is a relatively newer phenomenon in Germany. Freudenstein claimed Germany was “10 to 20 years behind its neighbours when it comes to developing right-wing populism”.
Due to historical reasons rooted in the Second World War, parties such as AfD, the Alternative for Germany, and the PEGIDA movement, have only recently started raising their heads and have rapidly increased in size. Freudenstein, however, thinks it would be unlikely for other parties to form a coalition with AfD after the federal elections later this year.
A problem in tackling populism is that people do not always understand the political solutions offered, as they will benefit Europe and people only in the long-term. When speaking in her home country Bulgaria, Eva Maydell (Paunova) likes to divide her speaking time with experts in certain fields to make the policy actions in those fields more understandable.
Demonstrating concrete outcomes achieved in shorter-term projects is also important, just as well as the established political parties being a little bit more entertaining in their communication, as pointed out by Roland Freudenstein.
MEP Antonio López-Istúriz White gave some sobering final remarks: “Populism is not new in history”, he said, “but today, it is different in its attempts to undermine democracy”. In order not to repeat the mistakes of the 1930s and its symbiosis with extremism, it is time to fight populism at its roots.Democracy EU Member States Euroscepticism Political Parties Populism
Brexit and Trump: 2-0 for populism, says centre-right MEP
31 Jan 2017
Declining election turnouts and popular disillusionment with politics show that our political systems are being put to a test. Citizens are turning away from traditional political involvement (voting, party membership, contacting a local politician) and turning towards other forms of political participation (signing online petitions, taking up ad-hoc causes, organising demonstrations).
With our political systems becoming more and more complex, no wonder democratic institutions are being perceived as remote by voters. In the era of internet and social media, discontent is easier voiced than solutions. The rise of populist parties can in part be interpreted as people’s attempt to revolt against processes, institutions and elected officials they no longer feel represented by.
As a political think tank, we are continuously trying to understand these trends and to find opportunities to improve political participation. Together with our partners, EDS (European Democrat Students) and YEPP (Youth of the European People’s Party), we are launching a new ideas contest where we want to hear your concrete proposals addressing one of the 3 following fields:
- Political parties: How would you make political parties work better (more accessible membership, more democratic, more efficient use of resources)?
- Political institutions and processes: How would you improve democratic processes such as electoral systems, election campaigns, referendums, etc.? What should be the role of the internet in general and social media in particular for political institutions and processes?
- Politicians: How can politicians really connect with citizens? How can they improve their image, record, etc., for example by using technological advances?
If you would like to participate, please choose and submit your proposal in one of the fields above. The word limit for each proposal is 500 words. If you would like to submit more than one proposal (for example, one proposal for the field “political parties” and another one for the field “political institutions and processes”, or two different proposals for the same field), you can do so by submitting each proposal in a separate document. Your proposal should have the following structure:
- The problem: identify and briefly describe the problem that your proposal is trying to address
- The proposal: elaborate on your proposal, explaining the practical steps needed to implement it
- The outcome: wrap-up by explaining the positive effects of your proposal in addressing the initial problem
All proposals should be concrete, feasible and address national or EU politics.
What’s in it for you? All proposals will be carefully read and evaluated by our experts working on this topic. The 3 participants who submitted the 3 best proposals will win an all expenses-paid trip to Brussels to discuss with us their proposal. The best proposals will also be published on our blog and promoted on our social media channels.
Please send your proposals by email at email@example.com by March 1st, 2017. Please mention “Ideas contest” in the subject line of your email.
Good luck, we are looking forward to receiving your ideas!Democracy EU Member States European Union Political Parties
If it’s broken, let’s fix it!
25 Jan 2017
As Tunisia continues to move forward on the path of democratisation and pluralism, the problems it may still face remain significant. A comparative analysis of the (failed) Algerian attempt to democratise and the current process underway in Tunisia could shed light on what Tunisia needs to do to avoid a setback in its democratisation process.
Read the full article in the December 2016 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Dario Cristiani Arab Spring Democracy Foreign Policy Mediterranean North Africa
Consolidating pluralism under the terrorist threat: the Tunisian case and the Algerian experience
07 Nov 2016
The current Western liberal order is in danger of becoming vulnerable to threats posed by political systems which have no regard for universal values, such as human rights, and are willing to use brutal force—as is the case with Putin’s Russia and aggressive Islamist movements.
The spillover effects of instability in the regions outside of the EU are taking a significant toll on the Union. Unless the West succeeds in making a case for the universality of the values underpinning its institutions and shows the capacity to defend those values, in the medium and long term, the West could lose this battle. Europe has no better way to defend itself than by expanding the geographic reach of its ideological sphere of influence.
This is why the EU has to invest in state-building and security in its Eastern and Southern neighbourhood. This paper argues that the EU needs to rethink the focus of its European Neighbourhood Policy; it needs to go beyond the limited scope of technical cooperation or the project of economic integration, and must invest in itself as a ‘geopolitical’ actor.
The best way to do so is through the Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy. The EU has to prioritise its role as a ‘stabiliser’ and security actor in its immediate neighbourhood.Democracy Foreign Policy Neighbourhood Policy Security
Good or Bad Neighbours: The Main European Security Challenge
07 Nov 2016
The latest coup attempt in Turkey came as a surprise both due to the baffling logic behind it and the awkwardness of its implementation. Of course, many reasons existed that made some in the army unhappy with Erdoğan. However, the leadership of the army had been already replaced with Erdoğan’s loyalists, while the population would not support a coup.
Many both within and outside Turkey disapprove of his authoritarian tendencies: the resumed war against the Kurds; his early support of Islamist rebels in Syria; the crackdown on democratic freedoms and free press; humiliating apology to Russia’s Putin after all previous sabre-rattling; and, finally, his desire to change the constitution aiming at super-presidency. However, Erdoğan still enjoys the support of about half of Turkey’s population, due to the prosperity he brought to many, his appeal to traditionalist feeling, clever populism and macho charisma.
Erdoğan, like many opportunistic rulers, is excellent at turning even the most unfavourable circumstances to his personal benefit. This pattern is being reiterated once again, as the coup is used as a pretext for doing whatever he intended to do anyway – pursuing a one-man rule by cleansing of all opposition. Still, the coup serves as a gloomy harbinger of future troubles, as Erdoğan tries to use these events to further strengthen his already formidable authority and clout. However, it is far from obvious that this will be equally beneficial for the country’s democratic future or even prosperity.
Indeed, the writing is on the wall for Turkey. Apart from the slowing of the Turkish economy, one may expect falling investment amid potential instability and civil strife, as well as scared-off tourist flows diverted to safer destinations. If capital punishment is introduced that will mean a long-term goodbye to European integration plans, while cooling relations with Europe will hurt both trade and the international standing of the country.
Immediately after the coup, Federica Mogherini explicitly warned Turkey that countries allowing the death penalty cannot join the EU. However, John Kerry’s warning sounded even more chilling – while America stands squarely on the side of the elected leadership in Turkey, NATO also has a requirement with respect to democracy. Now, if Turkey’s government is ready to drop the Western support and its European aspiration, and even risk losing its NATO membership, it is difficult to imagine any bright future either for the country or its leadership.
Now one may look at all of this from a totally different, Caucasian perspective. Turkey is one of the key actors in the South Caucasus, and either its weakening or its alienation from the West may damage the currently existing fragile balance and bring around instability, along with strengthening the Russian dominance. After the attempted coup, Erdoğan has applied efforts to restore ties between Turkey and Russia, and such rapprochement may even lead to Turkey’s political realignment.
Erdoğan’s actions have caused strong criticism from Turkey’s NATO allies for the unproportional crackdown on alleged opponents, while Turkey in its turn has praised Russia for its support since, and Erdogan will visit Russia on 9 August, which now, according to Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek “isn’t just our close and friendly neighbor, but also a strategic partner”. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in his turn stated, that Turkey receive “unconditional support” from Russia over the coup attempt, while anti-U.S. sentiment was rising in the country.
There is one more important development in the Turkey-Russia relationship: beyond lifting all anti-Turkish sanctions introduced after the downing of the Russian military aircraft in Syria, Russian officials started talking about the revival of the South Stream gas pipeline project, which may negatively influence alternative energy projects involving Azerbaijan and Georgia. No doubt such changes may indeed endanger the big-scale projects aiming to bring Caspian gas and oil to the West, with Georgia serving as an important transit hub.
Some other developments related to events in Turkey can already be expected in the South Caucasus. Turkey’s weakened geopolitical weight or its geopolitical realignment may in turn lead to the dangerous weakening of Azerbaijan’s position vis-à-vis Armenia regarding the Mountainous Karabakh issue and may bring back the flaring of hostilities if not full-blown war.
Immediately after the coup, Azerbaijan’s president Aliev sent a letter of unequivocal support to Erdogan, but other developments are even more expressive. Already on July 20, Azerbaijan’s Education Ministry announced that an allegedly Gülen-affiliated Qafqas University in Baku has been closed down, and more action along the same lines is expected, as Gülenists have been actively supporting educational institutions both in Azerbaijan and in Georgia.
But the repercussions of the Turkish coup may go even further, both in reality and in public perception. Even the timing of the recent hostage-taking and violence in Armenia’s capital Yerevan has been paradoxically linked by some observers to developments in Turkey. While in the case of Georgia Turkey can hardly be seen as an important military factor, Turkey’s weakening and the total regional domination of Russia hardly gives grounds for expecting anything good for Georgia’s pro-western aspirations and security.
On the whole, the recent developments in Turkey give cause for concern and illustrate that the future of the region remains in limbo.Teona Lavrelashvili Defence Democracy Eastern Europe Foreign Policy Security
A failed coup in Turkey and its possible repercussions: the view from the Caucasus
28 Jul 2016
A lot remains unclear regarding the attempted coup that shook Turkey. But it is possible to draw some preliminary conclusions about its background and implications.
The coup was not planned and implemented within the chain of command. The Chief of General Staff and the heads of the crucial First Army and Special Forces remained loyal to the government. This, not people on the street, was the key reason the coup failed. Not least, it allowed President Erdogan to slip out of Marmaris before being caught and to get to Istanbul.
The coup appears to have been hastily put together and poorly implemented. The failure to seize or liquidate the president, cabinet, and vital communication infrastructure made it possible for Erdogan to regain the initiative. This suggests that the plotters’ hands were forced, and that the coup was launched prematurely. There are suggestions that a list was leaked before the coup of officers scheduled for discharge and arrest, which could have precipitated the coup, explaining the lack of proper preparation.
The most vexing question concerns the exact identity of the coup plotters. Who were the architects behind what appears on the surface to be a faceless, even leaderless coup? The Turkish government is pointing fingers at the Fethullah Gülen movement – something that may seem counter-intuitive, because it was precisely Erodgan’s confrontation with them two years ago that led him to let the military back in from the cold and rebuild for himself a ruling coalition much more right-wing nationalist in nature, united by the struggle against the Kurds.
But that said, it has long been assumed that Gülenist cliques were present in the military at mid-career ranks. But no one believes that Gülenist officers had risen to the ranks of three or four star generals. Thus, while it is very likely that Gülenist officers were involved, it is equally obvious that they could not have carried this out on their own. The more senior generals apparently involved do not seem to have any Gülenist affiliations.
Hence, the coup may have been carried out by an unholy alliance between a faction of old-school Kemalist and Gülenist officers. If this is the case, it would mean that while Erdogan allied with the top military brass against the Gülenists, another military fraction allied with the Gülenists against Erdogan.
This is what Turkey has come to: its politics in the past few years can best be understood as a struggle for power between two Islamic sects. In the process, Turkey’s military appears now to have at least three separate fractions and to be much more politicized and divided than has been assumed.
A further important aspect of the coup was President Erdogan’s response: he mobilised his supporters through the use of Islamic rhetoric that would have been unthinkable even five years ago. Mosques were ordered by the State religious directorate, which Erdogan has built up into a behemoth, to broadcast calls for prayer all through the night and to call regime supporters out on the streets. Often, the call appears to have been framed as “Jihad”.
And indeed, those who came out to oppose the coup almost exclusively looked like Islamist activists singing Islamist chants. It is already apparent that President Erdogan has concluded that Islamist mobilisation was what saved him, hence the remaining inhibitions against further Islamisation of Turkey will dissipate. Erdogan’s Turkey is likely to more openly deploy Islamist rhetoric and policies.
The Gülen fraternity’s alleged responsibility for the coup is already being used as pretext for a full-scale purge of state institutions. Unlike previous occasions, the coup gives Erdogan the opportunity to arrest and jail opponents by the thousands. It is already clear that repression will spread beyond Gülenists: entire lists of scholars, journalists and officials to be jailed have already been leaked. Whatever is left of Turkish democracy is about to be neutralised, and if Erdogan completes this repressive purge, it goes without saying that Turkey can no longer be called a democracy.
The failed coup will have important foreign policy implications. Erdogan and his entourage have long believed the Gülen fraternity to be following Washington’s orders, and senior government officials have already suggested that the U.S. was behind the coup. Erdogan appears to be making extradition of Gülen a litmus test of the U.S.-Turkish alliance, a demand that will likely not be granted, given the lack of any kind of concrete evidence. In fact, the involvement of Gülenist officers does not necessary implicate the ailing preacher himself in the coup.
In any case, the U.S.-Turkish relationships has been put at risk, and Secretary John Kerry’s threat of consequences for Turkey’s NATO membership has shown that perhaps Washington is tiring of Erdogan’s antics. The most likely immediate point of contention will be the Incirlik military base, which the U.S. uses to hit ISIS targets in Syria.
Similarly, Turkey-EU relations will be impacted, most immediately because it is hard to imagine how the EU will now go ahead with visa liberalisation. In turn, that likely puts the cynical migration deal between Brussels and Ankara to death. If Turkey reinstates the death penalty, which is quite plausible, Turkish-EU relations are likely to deteriorate even further.
In conclusion, it is important to see the coup attempt as an indication of the deeper decay of the Turkish state under Erdogan’s rule. As Erdogan has sought to concentrate power in his own hands, the exercise of power has become increasingly informal, all checks and balances removed, and all institutions including his own political party increasingly ineffectual. This made the coup possible in the first place, and future coups can be avoided only if Turkey develops strong, accountable democratic institutions.
But instead, under Erdogan’s personal rule, Turkey’s destabilisation is likely to continue. Thus, European leaders now need to see what has been obvious for some time: rather than an ally with which to handle regional problems, Turkey will itself increasingly be the problem.Svante Cornell Democracy Foreign Policy Islam Security
A botched coup and Turkey’s descent into madness
19 Jul 2016
The result of the UK’s EU referendum has provided impetus for European political parties to rethink their communication strategies.
The referendum result came as a shock here in Brussels because many of us in the Remain camp probably couldn’t name a single individual who would have voted for Leave. By the same logic, there are likely communities in England I could visit to become the only Remainer in the village.
Once upon a time, in the days before Facebook, we revelled in finding like-minded souls.
It was the British novelist CS Lewis who quipped that “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one”. Today, however, it has never been easier to connect with people with whom you share common ground.
In the internet age, we are surrounded by like-minded people. We tweet into echo-chambers, we take selfies to ‘get likes’ or we delete the posts if we don’t. We’re increasingly surrounded by Yes Men and Women and we’re unconsciously isolating ourselves from the rest of the world.
As we reverberate in the Brexit aftershock, when we find ourselves asking ‘how did this happen?’ or ‘who voted to Leave?’ it is my opinion that we actually need to ask ourselves why didn’t we see this coming?
Enabled by over-sharing, algorithms and trending topics, the echo-chamber as a concept is flourishing.
To sum it up, it involves like-minded people sharing like-minded views and circulating contentedly and uninterrupted in like-minded circles. Whether espousing moderate centre-right values or advocating for attributes found elsewhere on the political spectrum, as we scroll through our social media feeds, in search of ‘likes’ or distributing them, we find ourselves increasingly unable to distinguish like from maybe too alike.
The UK referendum, in this regard, is a wake-up call. Populist ideas must be addressed and this has to be done not with a giant POPULIST rubber stamp aimed at silencing the conversation, but by listening to the concerns of voters and effectively communicating the positive value of the European project.
By virtue of the very nature of our echo-chambered existence, most of the people reading this blog will probably agree with me. That’s all well and good but ultimately we should seek to employ the echo-chamber to our advantage. There are two things we need to do. The first is instrumental in achieving the second. We need to utilise the circular nature of the echo-chamber in which we revolve to remind ourselves of the following message;
The European construction is exactly that, a construct, and it is ours to build. The remaining 27 member states, their political parties, and our political family in particular, are under no obligation to subscribe to the British motto of Keep Calm and Carry On and to shrug our shoulders in the difficult discussions which will soon take place on the future of Europe and the need for reform. We do not need to ‘take back control’ because we already wield it but we do need to utilise it to strive for the Better Europe called for by Commission President Juncker.
Once we have realised this, and structured our vision for an EU of 27, we need to break the sound barrier and defy the limits of the echo-chamber. This will involve sensible, sensitive discussion and debate. It is the role of everyone from think-tanks and political parties to ordinary citizens to recognise that we do not exist in a vacuum and that the opinions and ideas of others are to be listened to with respect because they serve to better inform us about Europe and our world.
At the individual level, it is easy to break out of the echo-chamber. You can follow those whom you sometimes disagree with on Twitter or pick-up a newspaper different to your regular Sunday read. For political parties and think-tanks, it’s slightly more nuanced. A balance has to be found in order to avoid preaching, propaganda, or worse again, spam.
Communication strategies have to be clever, they need to adapt to new media, embracing visuals, videos and Vines. There’s nothing to say a political party can’t SnapChat or Boomerang either. Aside from adding madness to the method, it is content that remains key. Twitter has grown its empire on the intrinsically human art of storytelling. Today more than ever people are hungry for narratives. Political think-tanks can offer genuine, credible narratives – not only about how we would like our world to be, but also about how it can be achieved. Reaching out to citizens beyond traditional circles can help to create a healthy diversity of narratives on the future of Europe.
The European project has suffered from preaching to the converted for a little too long. Looking forward, the only ‘–exit’ on the horizon should be from the problematic depths of the politically divided echo-chambers. It is imperative that we create one inclusive conversation on the EU, unless we wish to succumb to the same fate of self-interest and repetitiveness that ultimately saw the end of Narcissus, and his estranged lover, Echo.Erica Lee Brexit Democracy Elections EU Institutions EU Member States European Union
The Brexit Echo: how to break the “echo-chamber” effect in political communication
06 Jul 2016
Now that the UK has voted to leave the EU, the first step has to be taken by the UK Government. It must decide what sort of relationship it wants to have, trade wise, with the rest of the world. At the moment, that is governed by agreements negotiated for the UK by the EU.
If the UK simply leaves the EU, all those agreements will fall, as does UK membership of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Agreements with dozens of non EU countries will have to be negotiated again, at the same time as negotiating with the EU. A lot of work.
Basically the UK government will have to choose between three options:
- Leave the EU and, like Norway, apply to join the European Economic Area (EEA)
- Negotiate a new special trade agreement, like the agreement Canada or Switzerland have with the EU
- Leave the EU without any trade agreement and apply, as a separate country, to join the WTO
The EEA option
The EEA option could be put in place quickly and would not disrupt trade all that much. The EEA is a readymade model for external association by a non member with the EU. It could be taken down from the shelf, so to speak. But, as an EEA member, the UK would still have to implement EU regulations and contribute to the EU budget. It would not allow curbs on EU immigration. The EEA option has been dismissed by “Leave“ campaigners, but it does involve leaving the EU, and complies with the literal terms of the referendum decision.
If the UK experiences severe balance of payments problems over the summer, the EEA option may become attractive. The UK already has a big balance of payments deficit anyway and capital inflows may be inhibited by the Leave vote. The EEA option would buy time, and would not preclude leaving altogether eventually.
The trade agreement option
The second option, a special trade deal, would be much more difficult. It would require a detailed negotiation on every type of product or service sale between the UK and the 27 member countries of the EU, including across our border.
Such an agreement would take years to negotiate (probably 7 or 8 years), because it would be subject to domestic political constraints, and political blackmail attempts, in all EU countries, each of whom would have to ratify it. If it proposed curbs on immigration from the EU, the EU countries affected would make difficulties with other aspects of the deal, as a bargaining counter.
It is unlikely that a Trade Agreement would allow the UK to sell financial services into the EU. Indeed it would be in the interest of EU countries, that might hope to attract financial services, to make sure the UK got few concessions .
Leave without any deal
The third option, leaving the EU with no agreement, could come about, either because that was what the UK chose, or because the negotiations on a special trade deal broke down or were not ratified by one or two EU states. It would require the application of the EU common external tariff to UK or Northern Irish products crossing the border into the Republic.
Average EU tariffs are around 4%, but on agricultural goods the mean tariff is 18%. The imposition of these tariffs is a key part of the Common Agricultural Policy, which protects the incomes of EU farmers. We would have no option but collect them at customs posts along our border. All forms of food manufacture and distribution within the two islands would be disrupted.
The disruption of the complex supply chain of the modern food industry would be dramatic and the knock on effects impossible to calculate. A similar effect might be felt by the car parts industry, which is subject to tariffs, and is important to some parts of England.
The EU response: more EU democracy
Meanwhile the remaining 27 countries of the EU, and the EU institutions, will have a lot of thinking to do too. They need to respond decisivly to the (false) claim that the EU is not democratic.
All EU legislation has to be passed by a democratically elected European Parliament, and also by a Council of Ministers who represent the democratically elected governments of the 28 EU countries. The members of the European Commission must be approved by the democratically elected European Parliament.
But there is room to further improve EU democracy. I would make two suggestions:
- The President of the European Commission should be directly elected by the people of the EU in a two round election, at the same time as the European Parliament Elections every 5 years
- To create a closer link between national parliaments and the EU, a minimum of nine national parliaments agreeing should be sufficient to require the Commission to put forward a proposal on a topic allowed by the EU Treaties. National Parliaments can already delay EU legislation, so they should be free to make positive proposals too. This would give them an active interest in the potential of EU action to improve lives.
Stop pretending the EU can do the job of member states
That said, the EU should avoid over promising, and should not allow itself to be blamed for all the problems people face in their daily lives. The EU is not an all powerful monolith that can solve the problems caused by technological change and globalisation. It is just a loose voluntary confederation of 28 countries, with no tax raising powers of its own. Nor is the EU responsible for debts mistakenly taken on by its members.
If the losers of globalisation and technological change are to be sheltered from misfortune, it is the 27 states, not the EU itself, that have the taxing power to redistribute money and opportunities from the winners of globalisation to the losers. If member states fail to do so, that is their responsibility, not that of the EU.
The UK has not been particularly generous in this regard. Its welfare system is modest, and its investment in productivity improvement has been poor. In some respects, UK voters have just mistakenly blamed the EU. for the effects of the omissions, and under performance, of successive UK governments.
The difference between the two Unions exposed
The fact that English votes could take Scotland and Northern Ireland out of the EU, against their will, highlights the different natures of the UK and European Unions. In the EU Union, each nation has a veto on major constitutional changes. In the UK Union, they do not.John Bruton Brexit Democracy EU Institutions European Union Euroscepticism
Now what? Post-Brexit trade scenarios for the UK
27 Jun 2016
When the Tiananmen demonstration took place in late spring 1989, the west and other democratic countries were expecting that developments similar to those that took place in Central and Eastern Europe in the same time period would equally ensue in China. Communist powers were losing their grip on society around the world and China was expected to follow suit.
“For many years, a big revolution in China
was predicted, but never materialised.”
The government initially took a conciliatory stance toward the protesters but as the demonstration spread over 400 cities by mid-May, China’s government decided to use force. Martial law was declared on May 20 and 300,000 soldiers were mobilised to Beijing. Demonstrations were cracked down upon and many protesters were arrested. In the end, Chinese political power did not change and the country moved forward to become the greatest economic miracle of the past decades.
Over the years many have predicted that eventually China will be forced to change, as it can go only so long with its huge growth leaning on industrial production and ultimately, when trying to ensure the growth through increase of innovation, it will lead to more open and democratic society.
But year after year, these predictions have fallen empty. China has remained tightly politically controlled by the communist party. The China’s communist party was able to hold power, due to the huge unquestionable economic success and the continuous growth of the past 40 years.
Nevertheless, China today is a capitalistic economy, even if it is state capitalist economy. A modern market-based economy, it has inherited a tendency for cyclical changes. This is linked to the fact that China’s competitive potential for productivity increases has declined and is bringing China to a totally new situation unseen in past decades.
Rapidly cumulating debt, falling exports and imports, and news of expectations to lay off 1.8 million workers in the coal and steel industries are not signals of slowing economy. They are signs of major economy heading towards severe economic depression – a totally new phenomenon in new modern China.
For many years a big revolution in China was predicted but never materialised. As a result, today very few are speculating about what might happen internally in China if an economic crisis accelerates. In 2011 when the Arab revolutions swept through the Middle East and North Africa, this came as surprise to many experts.
“People […] usually rebel when they have something and they are about to lose it.”
Political establishments which had ruled for decades were suddenly challenged and in many cases overthrown, without any substantial rapid change in societal or political conditions before. The lessons learned from Arab revolutions is that the question is not if societies under stress have a tipping point but rather when that point is reached – and what can trigger it.
People do not usually intend to rebel when they don’t get what they want. They usually rebel when they have something and they are about to lose it. Today in China a large amount of people feel that they are losing something they had or something that was promised to them.
The economic crisis has invited societal backlash in China for a number of reasons. First and foremost, there is a growing fear that jobs will be cut. It has already been announced that 5-6 million state workers will be dismissed over the next two to three years in order to curb industrial overcapacity.
Additionally, working conditions deteriorate in times of labour market uncertainty. Powerful employers have potential to abuse employees by failing to pay them on time or ensure safe working conditions. While enterprises still report growth, Chinese households are struggling. Personal debt frequently goes unrecorded but this climate of unrest and fear has led to increasing numbers of demonstrations. Already in 2010 over 180,000 protests, riots and other mass incidents took place across China and that number is steadily growing.
How is China’s political leadership prepared to manage the upcoming turmoil? China’s leaders Xi Jinping seems to be establishing tighter rule and control, and enforcing his own cult kind of image. These are not very ‘outside-the-box’ tools to deal with China’s population potential discontent.
China’s model has been portrayed by China as an example also for other countries. China’s political establishment is now facing the ultimate test. Whether this boils down to the continuation of dynamics started in Tiananmen Square remains to be seen.
But today’s China is so significant for global developments and the economy that the wishful scenario for rest of the world is that any internal tensions China might have will be relieved in a stable and non-destructive manner. Hopefully, at the end of the process, China’s leadership will have the insight that China today is strong enough to offer freedom and empowerment to its people in order to guarantee China’s future success.
 Wall Street Journal http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424053111903703604576587070600504108Tomi Huhtanen Democracy Economy Globalisation
China and the return to Tiananmen Square
19 May 2016
Almost everywhere in the EU we see growing doubts about the EU’s capacity to act: in many countries, populist parties are getting stronger. They reject European integration and call for a return of the nation state. The gap between high expectations and the harsh reality has undermined the public support for the European integration project. In particular, during the refugee crisis, the European Union has failed to meet expectations. But does this justify the calls for less Europe?
The terrorist attacks which struck at the heart of Europe were planned across national borders: National actions alone will not counter them effectively. International terrorism, the conflicts in our immediate vicinity which are the cause of so much instability and human suffering, and the flow of refugees are problems which no EU member state can tackle on its own. Yet, what could a European solution look like?
Despite of the different approaches taken by the member states, the refugee crisis has illustrated the need for a European Border and Coast Guard with far-reaching powers. The protection of our external borders, and consequently of the security of the whole Union, can no longer be the sole responsibility of, in some cases overburdened, national authorities.
The March 18th agreement between the EU and Turkey shows that only a united European Union, in co-operation with its neighboring countries, can find sustainable solutions. However, further steps are necessary. We urgently need a reform of the Dublin system including a fair distribution of asylum seekers among all EU member states. The same rights, duties, and rules must apply to all refugees across Europe. The further development of the European Asylum System is therefore the only viable solution. One thing remains clear: In a globalized world, in which Europe is and intends to remain an important actor, we will have to deal with the question of migration for a long time to come, irrespective of the conflict in Syria.
The numerous crises in our immediate neighborhood highlight the need for a coherent EU foreign policy. Europe should also be able to guarantee its own security – both internally and externally. Therefore, the EU has to step up its support of democratization processes, in its Eastern and Southern neighborhood. In the long term, we should aim for a common economic area with our neighbors. The common threats we face also call for an ambitious European security strategy with a vision for Europe’s role in the world. We need to strengthen the co-operation of our national military forces with the goal of joint military action. In the fight against terrorism, a better exchange of information between our intelligence services is indispensable, as well as a closer cooperation between both police and judicial authorities.
European citizens justifiably expect the Union to act faster and more flexibly in order to fulfill these goals. To this end, we first need to speed-up the decision making process in the EU by expanding majority decisions, particularly in the area of foreign and security policy. This is the only way that the Union as a whole can act efficiently without always resorting to a “coalition of the willing”. Naturally, we must also strengthen confidence among EU members. The opinion of every member state should be heard and carefully considered before taking such decisions. Secondly, the EU should be able to expand its own resources, as to be more flexible in the prevention and management of future crises. In the long term, the European Union should not limit itself to mere crises responses. Rather, it should claim its position in shaping global developments and demonstrate leadership in its immediate neighborhood.
The basis for this is a unified EU: the division into East and West, North and South which we are currently witnessing, presents a danger to us all. It is therefore of utmost importance that the United Kingdom remains a part of the European Union. And we should never forget that it is our common European Union values that connect us: human dignity, freedom, democracy, peace, and the rule of law. We should not waste our energy focusing on our divisions, but to concentrate on making Europe, “the community of destiny”, work again. We have no doubt that Europe can succeed in this.
[This article was originally published in Komentare]Mikuláš Dzurinda Hans-Gert Pöttering Democracy European Union Values
Europe is doomed to succeed
08 Apr 2016
Let’s be clear: This is not about ‘punishing Poland’. This is about proving that we are a Union built on values, that among those is liberal democracy (based on separation of powers, checks and balances and iron-clad guarantees for minorities), and that no member state government, however democratically elected, can flout its basic principles. And it is about reaching out to the many Poles who actually like the EU and are now worried about their country’s role in it.
Poland’s new government is losing no time: In its first couple of weeks, it has brought the intelligence services under the control of a politician earlier convicted for abuse of power, severely weakened the Constitutional Court (declaring it a politically biased institution) and undertaken rather strange shenanigans against a Polish-Slovak NATO Centre for Counterintelligence. Now it is about to bring public radio and television under the direct control of the government.
Next may be the Public Prosecutor and the rest of the judiciary, and then the Constitution itself. Law and Justice (PiS) is legitimising these steps by two main arguments: That all of this is necessary to ‘cure Poland of some illnesses’ and that the predecessor government by the Civic Platform (PO) did the same. And protests from Brussels meet with indignation in Warsaw, and when they are made by Germans, with open historical resentment.
Let’s tackle these arguments and then ask what precisely the EU institutions and Poland’s partners should do now. As to the Constitutional Court’s fifteen judges, it is true that PO had nominated two too many in summer (when the risk of losing the elections was already clear), but when the Court declared PO’s move unconstitutional, PO took the blame and apologised.
Over the past eight years, the Court had annulled several of PO’s legislative projects. PiS’ actions, however, are of a completely different magnitude, such as: Having the PiS-supported President refuse to swear in any of the five, then nominating its own five judges overruling the Court’s protest, and finally the law severely hampering the Court (f.e. introducing a two thirds majority). When a right wing MP declared: ‘The interests of the people are above the law. When the law doesn’t serve the people, it becomes injustice!’ he received standing ovations from PiS – and summed up an ideology which rings ominously familiar to anyone who remembers Communist rhetoric before 1989.
The attack against the NATO facility may be just a bizarre episode but it has already enraged the Slovak government. Nothing of the sort ever happened under PO. But more importantly, the media law goes far beyond anything PO did. Four major international journalists’ associations have already officially complained to the Council of Europe. The OSCE sees the ‘independence, objectivity and impartiality of public service broadcasters’ in danger. Surely, in Central Europe in general, parties winning elections often put their people in high positions in media and administration. The PO majority in Polish media supervisory bodies also gradually put people friendlier to the government into key posts. But it left a larger margin for pluralism: 3 months after the 2007 elections, a PiS-appointed functionary was still at the helm of public TV. And PO never thought about passing a law that would put the government directly in charge of media personnel decisions.
Hence, for all its sins in terms of arrogance and sloppiness, PO tried to follow the path of liberal democracy, navigating most of the time through the fallout of the global crisis. More importantly, it immensely increased Poland’s standing and influence in Europe. PiS, however, is making no false pretence: it wants the illiberal detour. Jarosław Kaczyński might be a very intelligent and well-educated leader, some even say: an erudite – but he’s no friend of Montesquieu’s trias politica. Toutes proportions gardées, he’s more into Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince’. And we all remember: That old Italian recipe had a lot of ingredients, but checks and balances were not among them.
Let’s spell it out: what PiS is doing, comes dangerously close to violating the Copenhagen criteria which are conditions for membership, which Poland signed up to and which clearly postulate the rule of law with stable institutions, minority rights etc. When Viktor Orbán’s government in 2010/11 made moves that were not in accordance with media freedom and an independent judiciary, the Commission raised its voice, and some laws were altered. At the very least, one should expect the same now. Consequently, Commission Vice President Timmermans sent two requests for clarification to Warsaw.
The Commission is discussing PiS’ moves on 13 January, and the European Parliament on 19 January. There is talk about starting the Rule of Law mechanism created in 2014 which might, theoretically and after many intermediate steps, lead to a Council procedure to curb a member state’s rights, including voting rights, according to Article 7 of the EU Treaty. That’s what is called the ‘nuclear option’ in Brussels, and it would, in its last phase, require unanimity among all 27 remaining member states: Improbable, looking at the new sympathy between Viktor Orbán and Jarosław Kaczyński.
But the main purpose of clear words from Commission and Parliament in the upcoming weeks would be a different one: Demonstrating to Poles how quickly their government is dismantling the pole position in the EU that its predecessors had built up, and encouraging Polish civil society which is stronger than PiS expected, and which is criticising its government without restraint. For the EU’s popularity in Poland is one of the highest in the EU: Year by year, Eurobarometer polls show that the Poles’ image of the EU and its institutions is one third higher than the EU average.
Many in PiS will claim that such criticism, published abroad, amounts to high treason, as the dirty laundry should be a family’s best kept secret. We strongly disagree. Poland has been a member of the European Union for more than ten years. It has grown into the community the same way the community has grown into Poland. Poland has become a part of a common political, social and economic endeavour, its citizens are at the same time ‘Polish’ and ‘European’. What happens in Europe, influences Poland, and vice versa.
Moreover, Poland is not Hungary. After eight years of PO, its economy is in very good shape for a Central European country – so there is a lot of room for deterioration by PiS, whether we like it or not. There are now two opposition parties, PO and Nowoczesna, which are well organised. Polish Civil Society has responded forcefully to PiS within days. Opinion polls, for the moment, indicate that PiS has only a minority of voters on its side. Especially in Central Europe, governments can unravel if they don’t deliver. In this situation, the EU has a role to play.
And one last point: No one is happier about Central European governments’ illiberal drift than Vladimir Putin, for two reasons: First, because the rise in Euroscepticism weakens the EU and therefore the West, and second, because the weakening of checks and balances in EU member states gravely undermines our posture when we complain about Russian authoritarianism.
So, please, Brussels institutions, show some cojones and stand up for the values that our united Europe is built upon! But do it smartly. Germans, particularly, must be aware of historical sensitivities, but they should not stay silent just because of their nationality. Let Poland’s partners and friends have their say!
 European Federation of Journalists, the European Broadcasting Union, the Association of European Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, and the Committee to Protect Journalists.
 Timmermans is no mere ‘unelected bureaucrat’, as Foreign Minister Waszczykowski would have it. He has not only been an MP several times, and a Dutch state secretary, but his knowledge of Russian dates back to his time in Dutch military intelligence during the Cold War – his job would have been to interrogate Soviet prisoners. If anything, that should please PiS.Konrad Niklewicz Roland Freudenstein Democracy EU Institutions European Union Euroscepticism
The new Polish government’s illiberalism: What the EU should do about it
08 Jan 2016
While both the EU and the US consider support for civil society an inseparable part of international democracy support schemes, they differ in their understanding of who the key partners for transformation are. US aid to support democratic change in societies includes providing assistance to non-governmental organisations, political parties, trade unions and businesses. In contrast, the EU restricts access to its support primarily to the non-political part of the civil society spectrum.
Including political parties and political non-governmental organisations among EU aid recipients would be a quantum leap on the way to a stronger and more comprehensive transition to democracy. This article lays down arguments to support this proposal, draws on ideas from the US experience and outlines basic schemes for its implementation.
Read the full FREE article published in the December 2015 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Miriam Lexmann Democracy EU-US Political Parties
No party, no society: the EU’s and the US’s differing approaches to providing international aid to political parties
08 Dec 2015
The US and the EU began negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) in July 2013. The resulting deal will affect almost 40 % of world GDP and have a significant impact on market access for goods, services and investments (European Commission 2015). It will therefore create benefits for citizens and businesses—including SMEs, which are the backbone of economic activity in many European regions.
It is estimated that TTIP will save companies millions of euros and create hundreds of thousands of new jobs on both sides of the Atlantic. According to official estimates from the European Commission (2013), the average European household could save €545 per year and European GDP may increase by nearly 0.5 %. These are welcome forecasts as many Europeans have yet to see the effects of economic recovery following the financial crisis.
Given the extent of the deal and its impact on citizens, democratic control of the negotiations must be guaranteed at all times. The TTIP negotiations have been met with severe criticism as lacking transparency. Moreover, anti-TTIP campaigners claim the deal will lead to a lowering of environmental, food safety and other standards. The speed and power of the Internet and social media mean that these fears, misconceptions and myths have been spread amongst citizens.
Whilst both the EU and the US have underlined the need for confidentiality, efforts have also been made to improve transparency by including relevant stakeholders in discussions, dialogues and open meetings. More specifically, the European Committee of the Regions (CoR), the EU’s Assembly of Regional and Local Representatives, welcomed the decision by the Council of the EU on 9 October 2014 to publish the negotiating directives for talks on TTIP (European Committee of the Regions 2015b; Council of the European Union 2014a). This decision has been hailed as a step in the direction of greater transparency. However, the CoR also noted its regret that this took place several months after the text had already been leaked online.
It is also widely accepted that member states and the European Commission should step up their efforts to communicate the benefits of TTIP and that the need for transparency and dialogue with civil society should be embraced (European Council 2015). Whilst the Information Working Party’s proposal on how the EU’s communication strategy on TTIP could be enhanced is still eagerly awaited, the CoR believes this strategy should go one step further and incorporate the EU’s local and regional authorities. Unless this happens, it will be difficult for citizens to see—and to have confidence—that the EU is working towards economic growth and job creation across Europe whilst maintaining a high level of protection for the environment, health, safety, consumers and data privacy.
With this in view, the EPP Group in the CoR would like to propose a communication strategy that is focused on stories of real-life experiences from local communities, stories that address the concerns of citizens and show how TTIP will offer significant benefits. This strategy needs to be both transparent and balanced to counterbalance the unsubstantiated negative view which is prevalent in the media in many EU member states.
Read the full FREE article published in the December 2015 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Michael Schneider Democracy Trade Transatlantic
Mobilising the masses: a grassroots communication strategy for TTIP
30 Nov 2015
The universalism of liberal democracy is under attack. While the number of democracies in the world has increased, the level of freedom in them has declined. Electoral or illiberal democracies only provide the minimum standard of democracy, where individual liberties remain unprotected. Furthermore, these illiberal democracies have developed counter-narratives that attack the liberal international order, and with it, liberal democracy.
These counter-narratives, supported by Russia, China and other undemocratic regimes, confront liberal democracy in three ways: first, they trivialise the violation of individual liberties for the sake of increasing state security; second, the claim of civilisational diversity is used to reject democratic values as incompatible with their culture; and third, they accuse the West of the moral decay of ‘traditional’ values.
Moreover, these authoritarian narratives play to the West’s weaknesses. The West needs to defend its hard-won liberties, rights and values by confronting these counter-narratives. Furthermore, citizens have a moral duty to participate politically in order to ensure that democracy continues to work. The transatlantic community needs to ensure that liberal democracy remains at the top of its agenda.
Read the full FREE article published in the December 2015 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Ingrid Habets Democracy Values
Liberal democracy: the threat of counter-narratives
23 Nov 2015
Disclaimer: The facts and opinions expressed in the blogpost are those of the author and thus they do not reflect the official position of the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies.
Indeed, the huge majority of Muslims are not terrorists. But the majority of perpetrators of terrorist acts in Europe since 2001 are Muslims. That fifteen million European Muslims generate more terrorists – including the thousands that travel to join ISIS – than half a billion of Europeans shows that their integration in Europe, especially in France, is failing.
What can’t Europe do?
Campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq achieved little but a regrouping of radical Islamists into a different organisation. Bombing the Middle East to Stone Age will not achieve much either. We should stop the migration flows and improve border controls. This would make sense at least until we learn how to better integrate Muslims into our societies.
But what about all those who are already in Europe? Again, I do not believe much can be achieved by violence. Fencing off Muslim ghettos or sending young jobless people to labor camps is unjust, inhumane and stupid. Policing and security checks are just the last line of defense. Battles with Islamists may be won with weapons, the war not.
Maybe we need more social workers for Muslim neighborhoods. More basketball and football fields. More and better teachers at schools. More jobs and/or higher welfare. Maybe. I am not so sure, because these services are quite extensive already.
Win the culture war
Recently, it became politically incorrect to claim that at least in the last five hundred years, the European civilization has been by far the most successful one on the planet, with clearly superior achievements to its neighbors across the Mediterranean. Calling that Eurocentrism does not make these claims false.
Europe did not achieve that because of some kind of racial or genetic superiority. We did not have better hardware, we had better software. The fight with Islamic extremism is a fight of two softwares – one that enabled the most successful civilization on earth and the other that – if used dogmatically – was keeping whole nations in the middle ages.
Simply put, being a member of the European civilization needs to become more attractive. It should be “hip” not to be a member of a local gang of immigrants, but be part of the civilization that built the Champs Elysées, Tulleries and the Arc de Triomphe, Cathedral of Notre Dame, the Church of Saint-Sulpice and the Eiffel Tower, the civilization that has painted the artwork in the Louvre and Orsay, be a part of a country that gave humanity Joan of Arc, Louis Pasteur, Marie Curie and Claude Debussy.
How does this compare to the achievements of the countries that Muslims came from? Politically incorrect question? Here is a politically incorrect answer: at the climax of their power, they added minarets to the largest building on earth at the time, the Christian church of Hagia Sophia. This might be a dramatic exaggeration, Arab Science in the Middle Ages had quite a few achievements, but was held back in the ivory towers. It was Western Science that changed the world.
Why are we Westerners unable to share the pride for the achievements of our brilliant civilization to immigrants? Why don’t all of them want to become a contributing force to this? Muslim youth could participate in the construction of the largest aircraft and the fastest trains in the world; instead, some are planning to bomb them. Europe had an open border for a long time, they were welcomed, and yet so many remain strangers.
But not with relativism
Perhaps this is so because some of the Westerners have lost faith in themselves, have stopped to take pride in their own achievements and roots. Yes, I am talking about the readers who were appalled by the deliberate political incorrectness and Euro-supremacism of the last couple of paragraphs.
How can we give an African or Arab the desire to become part of this great civilization, when some Europeans prefer to deny their fathers, religion, civilization and its achievements? How can becoming European be attractive if values that are immanently European are labelled “universal human values”?
No, comrades, liberté, égalité, fraternité are not universal human values. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness neither. These are Western values. Fabriqué en France, made in the USA! As long as some are ashamed to be European, we can’t expect immigrants to want to become a part of our society and culture.
This society is secular in principle with enough room for Muslim and other faiths, cultures and identities, but without genital mutilation of women, arranged marriages of minors, gender inequality, stoning of gays and bloggers etc. If being European is not able to inspire people, then it is only right that Europe is occupied by a culture that can. The vacuum created by relativism, conceptual entropy and cultural capitulation will be filled with something else. Anything, including Salafism and the sooner, the better. There will be fewer victims.
Remember Paris 1789
But if it matters to be European, then our response to the atrocities must also be European. Civilized not barbaric, determined not wishy-washy, proud not shy. Guilt is always individual and never collective. Their way is to kill the innocents, our method is to process the suspects. Sharply, strongly and fairly. If we want to win the war of culture, the last thing we should do is abandon our principles and values.
As long as proven otherwise, everybody, Muslims and non-Muslims, are free and equal first-class citizens with all their freedoms, rights and duties. They were, are and will be equal, maybe because 2,000 years ago someone said that we are all children of God. And definitely because it was in Paris in 1789 that someone wrote: “People are born free and with equal rights.”
Not only if we forget what that means, but also if we deny who and in what tradition invented it, Europe as we know it, will be dead.Žiga Turk Democracy European Union Society Values
18 Nov 2015
The US political party system has displayed remarkable stability, unmatched by any other country. The US has had a two-party system with the same two political parties for over 150 years. Since the 1860s, all presidents and nearly all senators and representatives have been members of one of these two parties.
In recent years, however, dissatisfaction with the parties has been high. A record number of Americans now describe themselves as independents. Certain groups have arisen—for example, the Tea Party—which some believed might evolve into a third political party. All of these developments have led some observers to believe that the time is right for a third party.
These observers are probably wrong. Although a multiplicity of parties is the rule in most European democracies, the hurdles for third parties have always been high in the US. At the moment the two parties are as dominant in winning elections as they have been in any period. However, this electoral dominance does not mean that the American party system has been static.
The parties are in the midst of several dramatic changes: (1) the Republican and Democratic parties have become highly polarised, ideological parties with significant differences in worldview, (2) the two parties have weak discipline and fractures within their ranks, and (3) the two political parties now have significant competition from outside groups in terms of raising and spending funds on political campaigns. All of these developments have made the challenge of governing significantly more difficult.
This article will lay out why, despite evidence to the contrary, there is little prospect of the emergence of a third party and how the above-mentioned developments in the political parties present challenges to effective governance.
The hard road for a third party
US politics has several features that have always made the successful formation of a third party difficult. In all federal and the vast majority of state elections, the country has single-member districts and does not have proportional representation. The extensive size of the country, combined with the winner-take-all aspects of congressional elections and the Electoral College, mean that a party must not only be strong enough to win in individual states and districts, but also have electoral strength in several regions of the US. Add to these systemic factors that many states have erected obstacles to ballot access and it is clear that the road to success for a third party will always be a difficult one.
Read the full FREE article published in the June 2015 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.John C. Fortier Democracy Elections Party Structures Political Parties Transatlantic
John C. Fortier
Polarised and fractured US political parties and the challenges of governing
09 Sep 2015
Our society is living in turbulent, yet exciting times: an unprecedented political crisis on the European level is shaking up the political status quo, leaving no stone unturned. Europeans have begun to realise that they live in a more complex, interdependent and connected era than ever before.
Citizens are now questioning the current political situation and are not satisfied with the means of participation. Where European politics is concerned, many citizens do not feel sufficiently informed and are unable to get actively involved. According to the latest Eurobarometer results, more than 50 % of European citizens feel ‘that their voice is not heard’ on the EU level (European Commission, Directorate-General for Communication).
However, democratic processes, and policymaking tools especially, remain very traditional. Voting for representatives during elections is still the primary source of legitimacy in the law-making process—with only rare ‘adventurous’ participatory exceptions, for example in the Nordic countries.
The desire for more legitimacy in representative democracy, combined with the unprecedented technological possibilities available for realising greater citizen involvement, is exciting for citizens and political actors alike, as its achievement would offer a more encompassing assessment of society’s sentiments. Existing digital communication tools that are readily available and just waiting to be exploited are expected to improve the quality of democracy through an increase in citizen participation. Most promisingly, digital methods can improve the dialogue between civil society on the one hand, and elected officials and political parties on the other.
This article will address crowdsourcing in democratic processes and especially how the process of crowdsourcing legislation can be implemented by political parties to augment democratic processes. One example of how legislation can be crowdsourced will be presented in greater detail, and the implications for the citizens who participate in the process will be discussed. The article will look at possible challenges to crowdsourcing activities and then conclude with recommendations on how political parties can use this new technology effectively.
Read the full FREE article published in the June 2015 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Maria Lastovka Democracy Innovation Political Parties Society Technology
Crowdsourcing as new instrument in policy-making
09 Sep 2015
Traditionally, political parties have had a large and fixed membership that they could count on for support. Not only was membership seen as permanent, but it was also passed down from one generation to the next. This relationship was an essential part of political life in our democracies. However, globalisation and technology, amongst other factors, have forever altered this reality. These phenomena have opened up a new world where citizens can engage in politics outside of the framework of political parties.
Western society has changed from a church-centred community to an individualistic society. The ties between its members are weaker—and sometimes missing altogether. At the same time, people feel more connected than ever: via the Internet, reaching out to like-minded people has never been easier and more effortless. This combination of local disconnection and global connection has repercussions for politics as a whole and for political parties in particular.
The free flow of information is vital for a modern, functioning democracy as it helps people to engage with their representatives. We very much encourage this flow, especially as democracy not only gives freedom and rights to citizens, but also gives them the responsibility of proactively engaging with the society in which they live. However, as we can see from Russian propaganda, information can be manipulated or distorted to create false perceptions. In this respect, political parties have an important role to play: not only must they guide citizens through the sea of available information, but they must also act responsibly when engaging with the media.
While people are benefiting from the enlargement of their world, globalisation also seems to have instilled fear in citizens, by bringing previously unknown threats into their living rooms. Moreover, the economic crisis has created discontent among voters, not only about the practices in the financial world but also about how politics and the political establishment have handled the crisis.
This has created the opportunity and made way for protest movements and new types of parties to emerge. Unfortunately, these new parties are strongly populist, lean to either the extreme left or the extreme right, are single-issue based or anti-establishment, and are polarising our society. Moreover, they fail to provide a feasible vision for the future of our community. It is worrying that many voters believe that these political parties are serving our democracy. However, we can do more than sit back and hope that these parties will destruct themselves.
The rise of these parties offers an opportunity for people’s parties to show clear leadership and vision, and prove to our electorate that we do not shy away from taking difficult decisions and explaining them to the people. Established parties with well-elaborated policies are particularly capable of tackling the complexity of today’s challenges. However, such action may require people’s parties to modernise and effectively adapt to the new and empowered society that is emerging. Citizens are demanding results and proper representation. Furthermore, we need to make an effort to win back the hearts and minds of the citizens.
The articles in this issue of the European View provide ample food for thought regarding the modernisation of our people’s parties to meet the needs of our new society. Some authors question whether the representative model of democracy is still valid, and propose the introduction of direct democracy or open source democracy, where citizens use the Internet to tell their representatives how to vote. Others believe that political parties remain the best vehicle for translating citizens’ concerns into policy, but simultaneously argue that the parties need to do more to engage citizens, to explain themselves and to serve voters.
As the president of the European People’s Party, I too believe that the citizens are best served by the representative model and that political parties are the best-developed vehicles for this purpose. We have to make sure that we not only keep pace with developments, but that we also use these changes to engage citizens on the largest scale possible. It is important for democracy that parties behave responsibly and always act in the best interests of the whole of society—and not merely in the interests of those who have voted for them or even in the interests of the current generation. We need to look beyond the present and create sustainable solutions to ensure a secure future for our children and grandchildren.
This editorial was originally published in the June 2015 issue of the European View, Martens Centre’s policy journal.Joseph Daul Democracy Elections EU Member States Political Parties
The future of political parties
08 Sep 2015
Many current societal trends seem to be working against party-based democracy. A major decline in the membership of political parties has long been observed. Similarly, voter participation in elections, of all types, has fallen. As a result, the need for the renewal of political parties has become prominent in public discourse. Almost ironically, while democracy and the values it presents are still considered of high importance, public perception of political parties and institutions is rather negative.
Party politics is seen by many as a necessary evil. Yet, political parties are an essential part of a well-functioning democratic system, as democracy is a universal value and the democratic system undoubtedly one of the greatest achievements of Western civilisation.
Political parties and their structures evolved when society was fundamentally different—mostly in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century—and the origins of our current modern parliamentary systems can be dated to almost 350 years ago. In today’s world, the environment in which political parties find themselves operating has fundamentally changed.
Globalisation, through the digital communications revolution, has changed how society is structured, how individuals work and how they communicate. However, parliamentary democracy as a system remains largely unchanged, and the same is true of political parties.
To what extent can one expect political parties to renew themselves and to better respond to current societal challenges? Is such an adaptation even possible without the evolution of the political system which includes the democratic and state institutions?
In order to answer these questions, one must understand the changes in the political environment, analyse the changing dynamics between different political actors, and understand the global trends affecting political parties on the national and local level.
A new environment for political parties: fragmentation, globalisation and changing societal dynamics
The traditional left–right divide in party politics was based on clear divisions in society which largely no longer exist. Large segments of society are fragmented and this means that the major political platforms of the past are now being challenged or are no longer functioning. Fragmentation is the new norm in politics and parliaments. In recent years supporters within parties have coalesced politically while moving ever further away from the supporters of other parties.
This phenomenon is very visible in the US, but it is also present in Europe. The result is that party politics has become increasingly polarised on both sides of the Atlantic. This polarisation makes compromise, and thereby effective governance, more difficult. Voter volatility, decreasing credibility and the corrosion of party loyalties have become normal in European party politics.
Read for FREE the full article published in the June 2015 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Tomi Huhtanen Democracy Internet Party Structures Political Parties
Can political parties evolve if the political system does not?
08 Sep 2015
In an act of irresponsibility and opportunism, Alexis Tsipras put on the shoulders of the Greek people the burden of the decision about the country’s destiny. The referendum, scheduled for next Sunday, 5 July, rests on shaky grounds for several reasons.
- Is it legal? It is questionable whether it is in conformity with the Greek Constitution as it concerns an issue of fiscal economics. There are also serious procedural deficiencies.
- Is it late? The referendum is untimely as it will be waged five days following the date on which Greece failed to make a debt payment to the IMF. The Tsipras government has planned to receive the people’s verdict when it might be too late.
- Is it fair? The Greek people are asked a very cunning question. They are called to say whether they approve or not a program consisting of a series of austerity measures, following five years of recession. The ‘Yes’ vote is set to signify approval of some version (as negotiations were never completed) of the bailout program. The ‘No’ vote, that carries the endorsement of the government, indicates disapproval for the program and, allegedly, nothing more. Although the crux of the matter is the country’s position in the Eurozone, Tsipras deceitfully tries to conceal or downplay the true consequences of the people’s choice.
The Greek government has admittedly committed a series of mistakes since its election in January. To be fair, the creditors too have underestimated the socio-economic consequences of a long array of austerity measures that have been applied since 2010. There is widespread ‘austerity fatigue’ in the country and despair for the lack of a clear vision for the return to growth.
Yet, the overwhelming majority of the Greek people unequivocally supports the country’s EU membership. The most vicious part of this campaign is that the government uses a deeply divisive nationalistic rhetoric that seeks to alienate and separate the Greek from the European identity. But this is a nonstarter.
- Are the ‘Yes’ voters less Greek? On the contrary. In the referendum, most Greeks are expected to vote ‘Yes’ in order to protect their country’s place in the European family. In an unprecedented demonstration of wisdom and bravery, thousands of low-income pensioners and employees may vote themselves (in the place of their government and contrary to the latter’s suggestion) in favor of a bailout plan containing measures that will affect their lives directly.
- Are the ‘No’ voters less European? Far from the truth. Those who will vote ‘No’, do not collectively form an anti-European constituency. Many pro-European forces may buy into the rhetoric of Tsipras that Greece’s position in the Eurozone is not in jeopardy and cast a vote for ‘No’ out of fear of prolonged austerity.
The outcome of a referendum revolving around a complex and nastily articulated question that additionally takes place within just a week in a climate of fear and uncertainty is hard to predict. Although the country’s European future is at stake, we should not hastily read the referendum result as a vote containing a genuine answer to the question, in or out of the EU. Remember, the government has not dared to articulate such a clear-cut question.
Irrespectively of the referendum outcome, the EU is urged not to turn its back to the Greek people. For every Greek, being European is not a matter of choice. It is self-referential. And the EU should not lose sight of the insidious way Tsipras attempts to extract the ‘No’ vote. In all circumstances, the EU partners should be ready to help the country to overcome a hardship that has lasted for too long. If the ‘Yes’ vote prevails as I am expecting, the referendum will be studied in the future as a paradigmatic case of a demos that defied its government in times of crisis and put its European identity above and beyond any other discussion.
[Photo source:www.bloomberg.com]Nikolaos Tzifakis Crisis Democracy European Union Eurozone
The right answer to the wrong question
01 Jul 2015
On June 18th, the Ukrainian Parliament had the chance to decide on possible reforms of the legislation for local elections, which will be held next October. This strategic decision aims at strengthening decentralisation by introducing new election procedures and optimisation of local councils. As a result, the draft law has been accepted in the first reading, which parliament may then alter or amend. In doing so, however, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine has compromised its chance to implement a comprehensive, open, and inclusive reform of the law on local election.
According to the current law, half of the municipal rayon (district) and oblast (province) councils are elected by the proportional system, and the second half is decided in single-member constituencies. This system has continuously proven to be a breeding ground for the misuse of administrative resources[i], corruption and numerous manipulations. If you include elected representatives of all levels it totals 240, 000 people.
Mayors of large cities are currently elected by a ‘first past the post’ system allowing the use of political technologies like spreading votes among many candidates. An excellent example of this was the Kyiv election of 2006 when Leonid Chernovetskyi – famous for his singing, buying votes and corruption – was elected mayor: there were two centrist candidates fighting for the same electorate and each received 20-25% of the vote. But the winner was a third candidate, representing a populist party, who received 30% of the vote.
The coalition agreement of the majority in the Ukrainian Parliament, signed by five parties, contained electoral reform in the first half of 2015. It proposed the following:
The purely proportional method will apply in parliamentary and local elections, where votes will be cast for individual candidates and not political parties (this may mean that constituency lists will have to be introduced and constituencies will have to be redrawn). The majority system will only be maintained in the case of elections to village and city district councils. Mayors of big cities will be elected by an absolute majority.
Ukrainian parliamentarians had to choose between four proposals:
Proposal #1 – Initiated by Yulia Tymoshenko and the Batkivshchyna party, but the proposal was withdrawn on the voting day.
Proposal #2 – Drafted by Mykola Fedoruk from Popular Front.
Proposal #3 – Introduced by Cross-factional group of deputies and experts of Reanimation Package of Reforms[ii].
Proposal #4 – Proposed two hours before the deadline by some deputies from Liashko Radical Party and Petro Poroshenko Block.
During the ranking voting the fourth proposal got the most support and was adopted in the first reading. According to the proposal, mayors of cities with more than 90, 000 inhabitants are elected with an absolute majority which means elections with two rounds for such communities. Another positive achievement is optimisation of total number of elective representatives in local communities.
On the other hand it is not fully complying with the Coalition Agreement, in the way that it does not formalise a holding of local elections under a proportional voting system, and forbids self-nomination at some levels. In some way it creates quasi-majoritarian election system where parties assign candidates to districts. New system reintroduces bloc system, which is a step back according to experts of Reanimation package of reforms. Another negative change is the threshold of 5% for parties and 7% for blocs, which makes it almost impossible for new parties to rise. The authors call their proposal ‘an open-list proportional voting system’ – either by mistake or in order to manipulate public opinion. The results of election held under this system might discredit the election system, and the open-list proportional voting system, as well as the entire institute of local election.
The experts have already replied to this legislative initiative. They call for the inclusion of the following regulations into the draft law which is being finalized:
– to ban or strictly limit paid-for political advertising on radio and television, as well as outdoor political advertising;
– to create conditions for due participation of the internally displaced persons in the election;
– to make financing of election campaigns more transparent by publishing full financial reports both before and after election;
– to introduce effective mechanisms securing balanced representation of both women and men in the elective agencies;
The voted draft eliminates the existing parallel system for local council elections, which has been widely blamed for recurring irregularities in local elections and for a lack of representativeness in local councils. At the same time the law fails to introduce effective mechanisms to secure proper representation of women in the local councils, to make the funding of the election campaign more transparent, and to cut down the expenses of the parties and candidates for the election propaganda. The draft law includes no regulations to guarantee that internally displaced persons will have a possibility to vote at the election.
In any case, a significant effort will be needed to ensure voters understand how the new system works and how to fill out the ballot papers. Extensive training of election commissioners and observers will also be needed to ensure smooth implementation of the new system. Moreover, these changes will help to discipline voters to be more responsible in local elections, because they are not taken seriously when compared to the general election. The understanding of this responsibility by local communities for those whom they are electing is a precondition for decentralisation. If Kyiv made this step towards the strengthening of local self-government, it will support the ranks of Poroshenko and Yatseniuk and their parties which were depleted after the elections in November. Thus, the adoption of this proposal with the amendments mentioned above would be the best possible, but certainly not the best imaginable, result.
[i] The misuse of administrative resources is forcing state employees to vote for the ‘right’ candidate, using local budgets for election campaign etc.
[ii] The Reanimation Package of Reforms is an initiative of public activists, experts, and journalists who have teamed up to facilitate the implementation of reforms in the country.Viktor Artemenko Democracy Eastern Europe EU-Russia Foreign Policy
The battle for local democracy in Ukraine
30 Jun 2015
Walking in the streets of Pristina nowadays, you may be surprised to find a magazine discussing sexuality, Kosovo 2.0, in a region where these issues are usually never discussed. Inside, articles on seduction techniques, on homosexuality and on discrimination against young women; a stark contrast to the reality in the country, where there remains a wall of silence on such topics. The publication of this issue has caused great public discussion and even aggression on the street close to a stand where the magazine was being sold. The culprits were immediately condemned by the courts and by a large part of the population.
This event exemplifies the pride the European Union (EU) should feel for social dynamics that fall in line with its values. Yet, political and economic advances are slow. The new Juncker Commission stated it would not support the integration of new countries in the EU over the next four years. European public opinion explains that stance partly: support for the integration of new members has fallen to 20-25%. Brussels insists on the need to stabilize a ‘28 nations EU’ — Croatia having recently joined in 2013 — and the need to accelerate the pace of reforms in the area.
Conditioning the integration of the Western Balkans on progress re; corruption, unemployment and public services makes sense. Rumours abound linking political manipulations to a shootout in the northern Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia town of Kumanovo, leaving twenty-two dead, including eight police officers, on May 9th. In Kosovo, a corruption case opened in 2014 against the rule of law mission EULEX, was used as one of the pretexts for an entrenched institutional stalemate while the rule of law makes little progress. The gains of twenty years of US/EU stabilization efforts are at stake.
Those gains are now up for grabs. Vladimir Putin is making headway in the Western Balkans as well. The Serbian President presented Putin with the highest honour of the country in October 2014, a ceremony that owes much to the Russian control of Serbian oil and gas companies. Moscow also encourages the secession of the Serb Republic of Bosnia (Republika Srpska), which was ultimately discouraged by Belgrade in 2014 for the sake of its European integration perspectives. Given that growing regional competition, is Europe as decisive as it is demanding? Are we influencing events through assistance injected through our EU missions and delegations?
The European integration dynamic still works and some Balkan countries, such as Albania, moved towards pre-accession negotiations. The EU brokered an essential agreement between Kosovo and Serbia in 2013. Overall the knack for Europe still outweighs external pressures and ethnic divisions. Nevertheless, Brussels remains cornered by the dilemma of a potential Balkan shift towards Russia and Turkey on one side, and the prerequisite of reforms needed before joining the EU on the other, to prevent a major migration and economic shock. Eventually, bar German activism in the area, Europe offers little love in that uneasy transition period. Few EU politicians travel there to insist that Balkan societies share our values and are part of our family.
That is a shame. Civil society has finally woken up after decades of communism, ethnic conflicts and peacekeeping interventions. They feel European but still need our attention to progress further as their elites are only viewing policies in a self-serving light. In Bosnia, citizens’ groups’-dubbed “plenum”- have organised anti-government protests since February 2014. A year earlier, the Bulgarian government had fallen due to protests denouncing the rise in electricity bills and rampant corruption. Again, on May 17th, thousands gathered in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to demand the resignation of long serving Prime Minister Gruevski.
What is Brussels doing in the meantime to show support for democratic and anti-corruption movements? We need to continue to show an interest in the progress made by reformist Balkan politicians or otherwise support popular movements. Only then will the EU foster political alternatives in line with its values and interests, creating the space for further integration in Europe. Failing states on the European continent should not be an option.Michael Benhamou Paolo Brandi Balkans Democracy European Union
Western Balkans and Europe: showing the love, finally?
19 May 2015
This week, Europe gears up for the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. Sure enough, Russian propaganda does everything to use the narrative of Russia the liberator – then and now – for their purpose of whipping up patriotic fervour. At the same time, the Central Europeans from the Baltics to Bulgaria have a different view: The Soviet victory of 1945 brought them from one catastrophe to another one. And today, Putin’s Russia is a clear and present danger to their freedom, and their ambitions to strengthen democracy and the rule of law in the Eastern Neighbourhood. So there is a clear alternative to Russia’s narrative about war and about its own place in history.
But there is another war we should think and talk about: Russia’s blatant aggression against Ukraine. The West should not have been as surprised as it was, back in March 2014. The writing had been on the wall since Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008 – and its ongoing violation of the ceasefire agreement afterwards. The Kremlin is waging war against Russia’s neighbours because it sees successful democracies in the region as a threat to its own power. It needs the narrative of the alleged past humiliation at the hands of the West in order to justify its aggression. It needs the confrontation with the West in order to distract attention from the failure of the economy. In the words of Ed Lucas, the West’s reaction to this war has been mixed, at best. It is true, we have managed to maintain unity on sanctions – so far. And yes, NATO has reacted robustly by beefing up its capacities to come to the rescue of Balts and others threatened by Russian aggression. Despite this, the assessments among Europeans of the significance of Russia’s breach of basic norms have not converged. And, no, the danger of an unravelling of EU and NATO solidarity is not over.
This brings us to the war that Russia is now threatening to bring upon the West every day in its media. In March, 2014, Kremlin media mogul Dmitri Kisilyov stated that Russia was ‘the only country in the world really capable of turning the United States into radioactive ash’. Ever since then, the Kremlin has hammered the message home to Russians that war with the West is looming. This is accompanied by the narrative that the ‘decadent’ West will roll over if you only threaten it firmly enough. Look at the ending of the infamous ruski okupant video and you know what we have to react to now.
Si vis pacem, para bellum – if you want peace, prepare for war. This apparent paradox is at the core of what has come to be called military deterrence in modern times, but in reality is a principle of conflict as old as mankind itself. In order to keep your adversary from attacking you, you have to prepare your defences, including counter-attack, precisely because you don’t want to have to use your weapons. So we must re-learn deterrence. We have forgotten about it in the last 25 years, as articulated by Anne Applebaum last year. Some of the members of our political classes have also been traumatised by the ‘peace movement’ of the 1980s which was essentially directed against the principle of possessing nuclear weapons.
However if we want to prevail in this confrontation, further spread democracy and the rule of law eastward, and live in peace, we cannot avoid relearning a couple of simple truths. Most importantly, is the truth concerning deterrence. If it is to be credible, it must be based on three pillars: The capacity to defend yourself, the willingness to do so, and the communication of both to the opponent. At this point in time, the West must shape up in all three categories. That presupposes, first and foremost, a frank public debate about the military threat we are facing: conventional, hybrid and nuclear. It includes the insight that we can only live in freedom today because the United States has been, and ultimately still is, risking thermonuclear war for us – remember the Cold War? And it also means that we – political parties, leaders, think tanks and NGOs, need to start a frank and rational debate about all of this.
So do mention the war: the one that ended 70 years ago and about which Europe still has to find a narrative that lives up to our values. The one that Russia has started against Ukraine, and to which the West is still struggling to find a consistent, determined and sustainable answer. And the big one between Russia and the West, which will hopefully never happen but which we have to be ready to wage if we want to prevent it.Roland Freudenstein Defence Democracy EU-Russia Values
Do mention the war!
07 May 2015
On 26 April 2015, former prime minister of Slovakia Mikuláš Dzurinda will be taking part in the Kyiv Half Marathon. He will be leading a team of runners including members of the European Parliament Dita Charanzova (Czech Republic), Ivan Štefanec (Slovakia) and Roman Babjak, European Commission Programme Manager. Under the slogan ‘Run for Ukraine’, the team led by Mikuláš Dzurinda wants to send a clear signal that responsible European leaders have a moral obligation to show solidarity with Ukraine during the comprehensive reform process the country has embarked on.
‘This is a deeply symbolic act to show our support and solidarity with the Ukrainian people. I see many similarities between running a marathon and implementing reforms: both require long-term commitment, they can be painful at times, but nothing compares to the rewarding feeling of crossing the finish line. And they both require team effort’, said Mikuláš Dzurinda, who is currently President of think tank and political foundation Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies, based in Brussels.
‘Run for Ukraine’ is part of the ‘Ukraine Reforms’ campaign, an initiative of the Martens Centre led by its President Mikuláš Dzurinda to bring together the expertise of senior EU decision makers in support of the reform process in Ukraine. The initiative is supported by local partners including Ukrainian NGOs Reanimation Package for Reforms and Center UA, as well as the Kiev School of Economics.
The Kyiv Half Marathon is an annual international sports event which aims to promote a healthy lifestyle and to consolidate Ukraine’s position on the international marathon circuit. For the 2015 edition, organisers are expecting more than 6,000 participants to tackle the 20km run.
Mikuláš Dzurinda is the former prime minister of Slovakia (1998-2006) and current President of the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies. Previously, he has held various positions in government since first entering politics in 1990. Dzurinda introduced far-reaching reforms which have enabled Slovakia to successfully join the EU and NATO. In his free time, he is also a committed marathon runner with notable achievements. In November 2001 he took part in the famous New York Marathon to show solidarity with the American people following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.Democracy Development Eastern Europe Economy
Mikuláš Dzurinda runs Kyiv half marathon in show of support for Ukraine
20 Apr 2015
Upon leaving Europe for a research work with the Martens Centre, I have to admit I was mostly ruminating about the Islamic State. I came back with my thoughts focused on Iran and on how this country is now shaping events in Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories, Syria, Iraq and even Yemen, under the umbrella of a well-intentioned nuclear deal.
Iran fills a void left by the withdrawal of the Western powers from the Middle East but has enflamed the Sunni/Shia sectarian divide in the process. This is disastrous for the Middle East’s Muslims – UNHCR now counts 4 million refugees in the region. This is disastrous for minorities – Christians now represent less than 5% of the population, compared to 20% a century ago. This should be deeply worrying for Europe whose security is directly at stake.
Christian wedding in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley
The EU is served on the ground by dedicated delegations that have spent roughly €3.2 Billion since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011, “the largest aid package provided so far”, according to diplomats met in Amman. Those funds are vital to tend to the basic needs of affected populations. Yet is there a long term strategy of influence behind that money? Are we thinking about ways to alleviate the crisis? Western powers do conduct airstrikes, around 2500 so far, but Iran is facing the Islamic State on the ground and its Shia affiliates expect to reap benefits few Sunnis will accept.
President Obama’s refusal to bomb Bashar Assad after he crossed the announced ‘red line’, by using chemical weapons in September 2013, was a major turning point. Western nations have lost a great deal of credibility. Some allies feel outright betrayed: Sunnis in Iraq, opposition fighters in Syria, Christians in Lebanon. Europe and the United States are losing friends because of their failure to decide on a strategy and stick to it. US Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent statement about the “necessity to speak to Assad” surprised no one when I visited Beirut: “Iranians know how to play the long game, Westerners lack the patience”, one interlocutor said.
This long game is destabilising the region further though. The question for Europe is: how long can we let the pot go on boiling? Can we cope with a generation of poor and barely educated Syrians raised in refugee camps? How do we prevent the rise of a radical Sunni movement that war and misery breed and best embodied by the Islamic State today?
The good news is that civil society in the Middle East has awoken. That is why we should not make the mistake of reducing our engagement out of political/security fears or because we feel lost in the complexity of the oriental chessboard. This Middle Eastern civil society needs our attention and every sign of indifference or cynicism we give – lately French MPs meeting Bashar Assad for instance – has lasting negative consequences.
Europe should be prepared to take political risks and increase the effectiveness of its civilian-military response. And we should continue to engage our southern partners, develop new projects with them. The tide always turns for those who dare.
Refugee camp in LebanonMichael Benhamou Democracy Foreign Policy Middle East
Engaging the Middle East: A travel diary in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon
26 Mar 2015
For the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies, 2014 was a year of significant changes that reflect the organisation’s maturity and its established position on the European think tank scene.Democracy Economy Elections Foreign Policy Transatlantic
Activity Report 2014
19 Mar 2015
So what’s our takeaway from the unexplained 10-day disappearance of President Putin, now that it’s over?
1. if he didn’t plan it (f.e. because he may have had a flu initially) he certainly started enjoying it after a couple of days, when speculation went into overdrive. And he really used the whole thing in his favour. I believe the disappearance/reappearance thing has an almost spiritual dimension, especially for Russians. Like a kind of resurrection. He is in control of reality. Now you see him, now you don’t. He knows the world exists, but the world doesn’t know whether he exists. It’s a form of domination, creating a dependency.
2. And weren’t we all relieved (except for a few diehards) when he turned up again, and Russia was spared anarchy and upheaval, or some other fate worse than Putin? Wasn’t the world happy that no Chechen finger was suddenly on the nuclear trigger? And didn’t some people draw the conclusion that if there are so many things and people worse than Putin, maybe we shouldn’t be so tough on him with the sanctions? Mission accomplished, Vladimir Vladimirovich!
3. And for at least half of the 10 days of absence, didn’t we spend far too much time on speculation, neglecting Russia’s aggression against its neighbours, the nose-diving economy, and the political oppression? Again, mission accomplished! Molodyets!
But, 4. – and this has, fortunately, often been pointed out over the final weekend of Putin’s stunt: This, or anything remotely like it, would never be possible in an open society. No freely elected leader accountable to his or her citizens could or would go incommunicado like that. And this difference really counts. Because it means, and this cannot be repeated often enough, it means that we don’t have two equivalent empires locked in some kind of geopolitical struggle. We have liberal democracy vs. kleptocratic authoritarianism. If not good vs. evil, that’s at least better vs. worse. That’s what gets me when people say that the West has made mistakes, too, or that Ukrainians are no angels either. All true, but does that mean we can assume some kind of moral equivalence between the two sides? Hell, no!!!! So instead of continuing the speculation, let’s draw the right conclusions from Putin’s absence. Though I admit the thought of Vladimir V. Putin sitting in a dark prison cell has its charm……Roland Freudenstein Democracy Neighbourhood Policy
The Great Putin Absence
17 Mar 2015
So what’s our takeaway from the unexplained 10-day disappearance of President Putin, now that it’s over?
1. if he didn’t plan it (f.e. because he may have had a flu initially) he certainly started enjoying it after a couple of days, when speculation went into overdrive. And he really used the whole thing in his favour. I believe the disappearance/reappearance thing has an almost spiritual dimension, especially for Russians. Like a kind of resurrection. He is in control of reality. Now you see him, now you don’t. He knows the world exists, but the world doesn’t know whether he exists. It’s a form of domination, creating a dependency.
2. And weren’t we all relieved (except for a few diehards) when he turned up again, and Russia was spared anarchy and upheaval, or some other fate worse than Putin? Wasn’t the world happy that no Chechen finger was suddenly on the nuclear trigger? And didn’t some people draw the conclusion that if there are so many things and people worse than Putin, maybe we shouldn’t be so tough on him with the sanctions? Mission accomplished, Vladimir Vladimirovich!
3. And for at least half of the 10 days of absence, didn’t we spend far too much time on speculation, neglecting Russia’s aggression against its neighbours, the nose-diving economy, and the political oppression? Again, mission accomplished! Molodyets!
But, 4. – and this has, fortunately, often been pointed out over the final weekend of Putin’s stunt: This, or anything remotely like it, would never be possible in an open society. No freely elected leader accountable to his or her citizens could or would go incommunicado like that. And this difference really counts. Because it means, and this cannot be repeated often enough, it means that we don’t have two equivalent empires locked in some kind of geopolitical struggle. We have liberal democracy vs. kleptocratic authoritarianism. If not good vs. evil, that’s at least better vs. worse. That’s what gets me when people say that the West has made mistakes, too, or that Ukrainians are no angels either. All true, but does that mean we can assume some kind of moral equivalence between the two sides? Hell, no!!!! So instead of continuing the speculation, let’s draw the right conclusions from Putin’s absence. Though I admit the thought of Vladimir V. Putin sitting in a dark prison cell has its charm……Roland Freudenstein Democracy Neighbourhood Policy
The Great Putin Absence
17 Mar 2015
The West is being challenged in an unprecedented way: as crises and conflicts multiply in the eastern and southern neighbourhoods of the EU, terrorist movements, authoritarian regimes and especially a newly aggressive, fundamentally antagonistic Putin’s Russia are threatening the core values as well as the cohesion of the West. But the West is stronger than it looks and has lost none of its normative attraction to democrats across the globe or the subversive power that authoritarian regimes fear. A West that is rising to the challenges can open the way to a bright future: a Western Renaissance.
The confrontation with a newly aggressive Russia is the most severe test. The European Union has to bury the idea of a modernisation partnership with Russia as long as the Putin regime is in power, let go of its Russia First approach, engage massively on reform in Eastern Europe and learn to accept the reality of a substantial conflict with Russia.
The EU as an organisation must become stronger economically, streamline its decision-making structures and improve its security and defence policy while intensifying links with NATO. It has to reform its eastern neighbourhood policy and reduce its energy dependence on Russia. NATO members will have to increase defence spending, reform structures and find new answers to the challenge of hybrid warfare. EU member states will also have to find answers to the growing Russian propaganda and information warfare.
Transatlantic relations remain the foundation of the global liberal order. They have to be strengthened and put on a more strategic basis. This includes much more determination on both sides to make the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership a success. But it also implies a better burden sharing, with Europe assuming more responsibility in security and strategy, and improved Euro-American coordination in global democracy support.Crisis Democracy EU-US Leadership Transatlantic
The Renaissance of the West: How Europe and America Can Shape Up in Confronting Putin’s Russia
24 Feb 2015
The ceasefire negotiated in Minsk last week by the leaders of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine (with delegates from the Separatists) is supposed to end the fighting, it fixes the ‘line of contact’ along the old one of the Minsk I agreement of September 2014, postulates the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the front line, assures administrative decentralisation and Ukrainian government control of the border with Russia, and calls for the withdrawal of all foreign troops.
But we can safely predict that a sizeable part of these conditions will not be met, above all by Russia and the separatists. That is because it is obviously in the interest of the Russian government to destabilise Ukraine and try to prevent a successful transformation of Ukraine into a free and prosperous country with the rule of law. Hence, the confrontation with Russia will continue, and last week has shown that the United States is an indispensable strategic partner for Europe when our most vital interests are concerned.
IN FOCUS is a new series of commentaries in which the Martens Centre looks closely at current policy topics, dissects the available evidence and challenges prevailing opinions.Defence Democracy Eastern Europe EU-Russia Security
Ukraine after Minsk II: The military situation on the ground
13 Feb 2015
A significant town in the north of France – Hénin Beaumont, 26.000 inhabitant-strong – has recently decided to shift from seventy years of socialism to Front National (FN), France’s extreme right anti-EU party. The 2014 Municipal elections gathered 64% of voters and 50,3% of their ballots went to the new FN Mayor, Steeve Briois. No second round was needed.
The first source of discontent turned out to be the former Mayor’s fraud scandal and budget mismanagement, yet the debate revealed a deeper feeling of abandonment : « after World War II, French governments took a lot of taxes from our coal, textile and steel outputs and when all that closed down, nobody invested in our region to transform it ». Workers, engineers were left with the choice of unemployment or migration to other regions in France’s East-central areas. When asked about Charlie Hebdo and the recent terrorist attacks, the answer is quite blunt : « all of this is very Parisian here, far from our concerns. We want jobs ».
The European Union is perceived as being unsupportive of those violent social changes : « Europe forgets the young and the old, […], Europe only brings more austerity to our problems, […] Europe is breaking up social achievements and serves the interests of free marketeers ». Others complained about the difficulty of filling FEDER’s paperwork, the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), in small towns where none are trained for it.
For many citizens of Hénin, despite their proximity to Belgium, Brussels is perceived as a cold place where few of them are at ease. Bringing a case or a project to the EU is « simply distressing ».
Panelists answered back that Europe actually brings more opportunity and solidarity. The example of a participant’s close friend was mentioned : Italian born, she studied in France thanks to Erasmus and later on found a job in Sweden, learning two new languages in the process. One listener interjected that « she also sent her kids abroad, to Germany, and Europe requires a lot of efforts, a lot of contortions to reach employment. Eventually what you see scares you ; the lack of activity is everywhere in the south, in Spain, in Italy ». And Europe’s institutions are « just confusing ».
Hénin residents believe they have accepted a lot of compromise and adapted to the best of their abilities. Many left their families and region to find work elsewhere with very limited support from Paris and Brussels, in their view. They wonder where all those economic and political disruptions are leading them to, for what Europe ?
This is where Front National plays its best cards : you are making sacrifices for a Europe that accelerates that instability and favors immigration […] bring back your energy to a project you can control and understand : your nation and your community.
Combating that fatigue, and the egoistic temptations conveyed by far-right parties, reminds us of the challenges that awaits political representatives and all of us:
• Engage citizens in towns where participation at EU’s elections is low or negative ;Michael Benhamou Democracy European Union Populism Values
• Persevere in explaining Europe and the direction of its policies ;
• In a nutshell : make Europe a frontier that can be reached again.
Defending Europe in Hénin Beaumont
23 Jan 2015
Freedom of expression was the assassins’ first target on January 7th in Paris, at Charlie Hebdo’s offices. But, deeper, lies a widespread feeling amongst those radicalized groups that resolve is on their side: nothing can challenge a strength drawn from the belief in God – and a sizable contortion of Islamic texts. We, Westerners, are just getting weak and lonely.
One of the masterminds of 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), wrote pages on the subject while imprisoned in Guantanamo: “hundreds of American crusaders join the US Army, wear the latest military gear, eat the best food in Iraq and Afghanistan and play with their play stations while their enemies, the poor Muslim, can’t find their daily bread (…) but at the end, the American soldiers go back home and commit suicide.” (“KSM’s Statement to the Crusaders of the Military Commission in Guantanamo”, p.11).
Fundamentalists live off those narratives of sacrifice that mirror Western weak spots, turned into signs that history is presumably shifting in their direction. Favorites of that propaganda are plenty: hostages certain European nations are willing to give millions for, soldiers protected behind heavy concrete walls, caricatured as devilish drone players, the loss of meaning, the absence of values that fundamentalists believe a democracy cannot sustain in the long run. To paraphrase KSM again, “happiness is not found in music, dancing, or in living a so called free life (…)” where only divorce and AIDS supposedly await all of us.
Charlie Hebdo had found happiness in freedom, like many of us. They were targeted because they pushed freedom to an edge that some refuse to handle and accept. Facing that tiny minority, Charlie cartoonists never lost themselves in excuses, fear or hatred. They continued their work despite recurring threats with visible glee and great courage. “I would rather die standing up than live on my knees” were Charb’s famous words. There is a lot of inspiration to be drawn from this behavior.Michael Benhamou Democracy Extremism Islam Religion Values
Charlie Hebdo massacre: a test for Western character
09 Jan 2015
Ukrainian Prime Minister Yatseniuk, along with a number of ministers, came to Brussels this week for talks about ongoing reforms in Ukraine, the Association Agreement and the security situation. Ukraine now has a new parliamentary coalition and therefore, a new government. Hopefully, we will now see real reform.
But the long process of negotiation between the parliamentary elections on 26 October and the actual appointment of ministers has left many with a somewhat ambiguous impression. Before anyone actually started to get to work, the whole process became mired in intrigue. All of us remember 2005 and the ensuing unraveling of the Orange Revolution. Nobody wants to see that story repeated.
Before the election, President Poroshenko had hoped that he would be able to nominate a government of his choosing. But that became impossible with the unexpectedly high electoral support for “Narodnyi Front”. Its leaders, Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Oleksandr Turchynov, led Ukraine through the complicated period of spring 2014 and their party has thereby gained a degree of national sympathy.
The composition of Poroshenko’s political group was not helpful for the President. The “Poroshenko Bloc” contained a number of candidates of a less than savory variety. Poroshenko’s triumphant presidential campaign before 26 May also appears to have bred a sense of complacency and inertia. While Ukrainian society has changed rapidly, politicians have simply not caught up.
A similar complacency could yet come to haunt Arseniy Yatsenyuk. He received the trust of the people and must not squander it. It is integral that he repays this trust with action beyond mere public criticism of his government partners.
Raised in an environment of endless talk shows, Ukrainian politicians appreciate the media component of their work too much, assuming a good speech on television to be more important than dozens of specific actions. We are living in an information era where the appearance of action without substance becomes a more and more difficult juggling act by the day.
Last week, the Ukrainian Prime Minister presented a governmental action programme which aroused a lot of discussion in Ukrainian society and within the coalition itself. The programme was eventually changed with the addition of one significant sentence: the current coalition agreement was identified as an integral part of the governmental action programme. Why this detailed agenda of reforms and legislative initiatives designed by politicians and civil society representatives together was not deemed a sufficient action plan for government in its own right is anyone’s guess. We are now left with numerous contradictions between the Government’s plan and Coalition agreement with no agreed method for resolving them.
Successful reform requires not only good law but also effective implementation. Here are some of areas of reform identified in the Coalition agreement:
– Constitution: A proper political framework of checks and balances cannot be designed by one of branches of power, so a Constitutional Assembly should be created. According to the Agreement, a special working group in the Parliament will select delegates to constitute the Assembly.
– Anticorruption: So far anticorruption is the brightest example of reform in Ukraine. The October 5 anti-corruption law has been adopted by the Parliament. The creation of a register of real estate owners allows for the tracking of those who bought “New Mezhyhirya” and for questioning of suspicious landlords. It is a great success for the Minister for Justice. Beneficial owners legislation is another triumph, it allows for finding the ultimate holders and those who legally or illegally profit the most.
– Judicial: The “On restoration of confidence in the judiciary” law obligates checks on the general jurisdiction of judges and the prosecution of those who violated the oath or committed a criminal crime. In addition, a new law on prosecution has to change the paradigm of this institution from civil surveillance to actual prosecution. Those two laws have been adopted but they met natural resistance from the whole Court and Prosecutor system.
– Decentralisation and public administration: The main challenges faced by decentralisation are efficiency and authority. Hanna Hopko, a newly elected deputy registered a project of law that promotes quality deputies and leads to the cutting of unnecessary costs in the maintenance of local councils. The next step is to make amendments to the Constitution to steer duties from Kyiv to local and regional communities and it should be done before the New Year. This reform will boost the real transformation from a post-soviet to a democratic state.
– Economic development and growth
– Regulation, Business and competition
– Financial sector
The real indicator of reforms in economic and financial sector is the Budget 2015. When the Government presents it we will see what rule-set the Prime Minister has chosen: the old (crisis) or the new (reforms).
The previous Yatsenyuk government is not remembered for reformist solutions even within the government and administration itself. And Yatsenyuk, despite loud statements of his willingness to sacrifice his career, seeks to share responsibility for unpopular decisions with other political forces. Maybe he believes that will help him to become President himself one day. In other circumstances, this could be understandable. After the killing on Maidan in February and amidst a drawn out war in the East – it is not.
Yesterday Petro Poroshenko has appointed Oleksandr Turchynov as a Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council. The president wanted to send a clear signal that there will be no war between him and Yatsenyuk. His signals are transparent. Turchinov is a bridge in relations between Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk, a sign of mutual trust. Poroshenko gave a member of Yatseniuk’s team a position in his territory. This move shows understanding from the President that Ukraine’s future depends the Parliament and the President working together.
In general, the Governmental programme in concert with the Coalition agreement look promising; let’s see if there is enough political will to make it happen.Viktor Artemenko Democracy Eastern Europe Enlargment
Ukraine’s Reforms: Real or Fake?
17 Dec 2014
“Mantra” (Sanskrit मंत्र) means a sacred utterance… or group of words believed by some to have psychological and spiritual power. – Wikipedia
As 2014 is drawing to a close, let’s take a look at how the West has debated its reaction to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. With all the controversy, there is nevertheless a number of statements that more or less everybody can agree on, at least in Europe. I call them the four mantras of the Ukraine debate. I don’t claim they are false or mistaken. But the way they are formulated, none of them stands closer scrutiny, because they all are more or less massively beside the point.
1. ‘The West has made mistakes, too’:
Actually, the statement as such is what Americans call a no-brainer. Who doesn’t ever make mistakes? The question is: which were the mistakes? And here we get some interesting disagreement. One school claims that the West was too triumphant after the end of the Cold War, expanded NATO ignoring Russia’s fears, and crossed another Russian red line with its attempt to drag Ukraine into the West (thereby also forcing an unwanted choice upon the poor Ukrainians: Russia or us). This argument, or at least parts of it, has been made by many – probably in its most coherent form by the neo-realist U.S. pundit John Mearsheimer.
The other school is best represented by the American journalist Anne Applebaum: If anything, the West has nurtured the illusion of a cooperative Russia modernising along Western lines for much too long. Even when those who know better (i.e. the Poles, the Balts and a few others) had warned their Western partners that it was an illusion. As Estonian President Toomas Ilves likes to say: Georgia in 2008 was the wake-up call but we’ve been hitting the snooze button ever since. From France’s sale of the Mistral assault ships to our slow reaction to Russia’s blatant attack on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in February 2014: It was our mistake not to challenge Russia much earlier and more decisively. We might actually have saved Ukraine, ourselves and the whole of Europe a lot of trouble.
2. ‘We need to keep the channels for dialogue open’:
Sure, talking always feels good. Some say that ‘as long as people talk, they don’t shoot!’ – Nice. The problem with this conventional wisdom of Western diplomacy is that by the time it is uttered, the shooting usually has been going on for some time – just not by NATO, the U.S. or the respective coalition of the willing. Because to talk it takes two, but to shoot it only takes one who has at least a Kalashnikov and the determination to use it. And as we have seen, the shooting in the Donbas can very well go on while the talking is being solemnly carried out in Geneva, Vienna, Paris or Minsk.
It all boils down to the street thug techniques that Vladimir Putin learned as a teenager in the backyards of Leningrad, in what he still proudly calls his ‘street university’(look it up in Masha Gessen’s book). A good khuligan (=hooligan) first punches you in the nose, and then leaves you a choice: you can be unreasonable and escalate the situation, or you can be reasonable and work out a mutual compromise: You give him your wallet, and he will even smile at you again.
So where does this leave us? Communication is good, but only if it serves a purpose and if it doesn’t keep us from calling a spade a spade, and from doing what needs to be done, such as broad-based economic sanctions. The West needs to have a position that is based on our core values, and back up this position with hard power, otherwise it’s pointless.
3. ‘There is no military solution’:
This one is really popular. From UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to Chancellor Angela Merkel, even to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, everyone agrees on this one. Again, there is nothing wrong with the sentence as such. Of course wars never solve anything. They never sort anything out (except for slavery in the US, the holocaust and a few dictators, as P.J. O’Rourke likes to point out). The trouble with Russia’s new cold war is that there is no quick solution to it, period. Ed Lucas from the Economist has pointed that out brilliantly. As long as Putin wants it to drag on, it will continue, no matter what he signed. The fate of the Minsk agreement should have demonstrated that. What amazes me is that anyone in their right mind and not on the Kremlin’s payroll still believes that Mr Putin’s public statements, assurances in interviews, or even signatures, have any true meaning whatsoever.
Now, instead of uttering banalities such as ‘There is no military solution’, the much more interesting question is: Can there be an improvement in the situation as long as Ukraine is militarily as hopelessly inferior to Russia as it is at the moment? As for me, the answer is a clear no. Ukraine, after a democratic revolution, has been wrongfully attacked by its neighbor who is now bullying the whole neighbourhood. To take Western military intervention off the table from the very beginning, was tactically questionable but may have been necessary to calm down public opinion in Europe and America. But that does not mean that the West, or at least individual countries, shouldn’t help Ukraine to at least partly redress the imbalance militarily. That goes from training to the delivery of non-lethal equipment to modern small arms and anti-tank and air defence weapons.
The simple truth is that sanctions may not be enough to make Russia change course. The military price tag of Russia’s aggression counts: The more of those ‘vacationing volunteers’ come home in body bags, the more precarious Putin’s image will become at home, all Novorossiya talk notwithstanding. All this does not mean stability will return if and when military options are brought back to the table. But it means that the Ukrainian government will be able to talk and act with more self-confidence. Which should be a worthwhile goal, and would spur the domestic reform effort of Ukraine.
4. ‘There is no stability against or without Russia’:
This is another beauty. As if Putin’s Russia was interested in stability as we define it – or at least most of us do. Frankly speaking, I have no idea how people can consider a Europe with buffer zones and spheres of influence a stable place. I thought we’ve been through that for a few centuries. I cannot see why we should even endorse the idea that some countries which have the bad luck of being close to Russia, cannot freely choose their political system and alliances, and are somehow doomed to live in an authoritarian kleptocracy.
So it all depends on which Russia we’re talking about. As Mikheil Saakashvili said in 2013: We will have stability in Europe when Russia becomes a normal nation state. Because at the moment, it isn’t (and hasn’t been for a long time). Instead, at least in its self-description, Russia is an empire and empires have no borders. As long as that is the case, there will be no stability. We’d better prepare for a long conflict with Putin’s Russia. It will have political, diplomatic, psychological, economic and military aspects. It will neither be all-out war nor a repetition of the Cold War. It will even still contain elements of cooperation. But it will only be over when there is a fundamental change in Moscow.
If we really want a better future for the Ukrainians and the people in Eastern Europe (including Russians) and if we seriously aim at a Europe Whole and Free, we should go beyond the mantras. We need to shape up and win this. Otherwise, Mr Putin wins. And that would mean the end of NATO, the EU and Europe as we know it.Roland Freudenstein Democracy Eastern Europe EU-Russia European Union Foreign Policy
Ukraine beyond the mantras
15 Dec 2014
25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, for most Europeans, personal reminiscences mingle with historical reflections and a certain idea of an uncertain future. The opening of the border between East and West Berlin on the evening of 9 November, 1989, not only opened the road to the unification of Germany. It also brought European communism to an end, the classical East-West confrontation (a.k.a. Cold War) to a close, and it paved the way to a ‘Europe Whole and Free’, in the words of the then U.S. President George H. W. Bush.
In the midst of so many comments and observations about that magic year, here are three simple insights:
First, the Wall was brought down by the people, not by Mikhail Gorbachev. The revolution of 1989 was, first and foremost, not made by somehow enlightened communist first secretaries that had suddenly come to their senses, or fallen in love with free elections. The Wall came down because the people had had enough of it, and were willing to risk everything, even their lives, in order to change their political system. That was also because a functioning alternative, Western Europe’s liberal democracy, was there. And it was because there were leaders in the West that were alert and determined enough to help the freedom movements in the East at the right time: Helmut Kohl, Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and George Bush senior. The reason why most party leaders of the Warsaw Pact and their henchmen in army and secret police did not use force, was that they did not believe force would ultimately be able to save communism. But saving communism was still their project – from Warsaw to Moscow via East Berlin, different speeds notwithstanding, they all tried an organised retreat, step by step, until it was too late for them to keep the Wall standing.
Second, the fall of the Wall was a great moment in time. On the backdrop of what came before, but also what we seem to go through today, 1989 and the decade that followed were a time of universal human progress. Democratic revolutions were achieved almost bloodlessly, and the transformation to the rule of law, democracy and the market economy in Central Europe was a huge success, compared to any other attempt made elsewhere since then. Economic, political and cultural globalisation received a huge boost in the two decades after 1989, thanks to that. Even Western economies felt a need to reform and become more globally competitive as a consequence. The Eastern enlargement of the two decisive Euroatlantic institutions, NATO and the EU, was another achievement. But maybe even more importantly, democratic capitalism spread globally. Political and economic freedom, and the idea that they are deeply interlinked, made dictators recede and emboldened democrats in Latin America, Africa and Asia as well.
But, third, the end of the Wall was not the end of history. Liberal democracy and democratic capitalism, 25 years after 1989, seem in retreat. The Slovene neo-Marxist Slavoj Žižek recently said that global democracy was shaken by 9/11, and global capitalism took a hit in the economic and financial crisis since 2008. China seems to prove every day that economic prosperity and impressive growth figures are possible without political freedom – and that authoritarian systems may even be better for the economy than multi-party democracy. From Vladimir Putin to the jihadists of Islamic State, the rejection of ‘Western decadence’, and a broad refusal to take any ‘lessons’ anymore, seem to be gaining ground. But it would be very short-sighted to believe that the West is finished. Authoritarian systems, and illiberal democracies without proper checks and balances, feel much less secure than they like to pretend. Witness the intensifying crackdowns on internet freedom in China, Russia and other countries, even Turkey. And note that from Kiev’s Euromaidan to Hong Kong’s ‘Occupy Central’, the people refuse to believe that multi-party democracy is not good for them.
Remembering 1989 makes sense only if we seriously try to define what that year means for our future in the 21st century. Liberal democracy has taken many more hits in the last 25 years than we hoped in those crazy days of November. But as much as the triumphalism of the 1990s may have been exaggerated, the belief in the decline of the West of recent years has been an error at least as dangerous. It will not stand the test of time. Many walls are still standing around the globe, and some have been freshly put up. It is the mission of the EPP political family to help the people bring them down, and replace them with a more durable order based on political and economic freedom. As former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said in 2013, history may not have ended in 1989, but freedom remains its motor and its horizon.Roland Freudenstein Democracy European Union Values
The meaning of ‘89
10 Nov 2014
Jacek Saryusz-Wolski (PL), Vice-President of the European People’s Party, is known for his clear and often controversial opinions on Europe’s relationship with Ukraine and Russia. In this interview he offers his views on the Eastern Partnership program. He also explains why the Euromaidan movement that he nominated for the Sakharov prize should win this prestigious award (the winner will be announced on October 21st).
Is the Eastern Partnership a successful project?
The project was first drafted when Europe’s relationship with Russia was approached within a different paradigm. The design was right, but our assumptions were wrong. We wanted to be encircled by a ring of friends whereas it is now apparent that we are in fact encircled by a ring of fire. Eastern Partnership is a geopolitical project – had it been perceived as such from the beginning we wouldn’t have the current problems. As signora Mogherini said during her hearing: ‘There is no such thing as strategic partnership with Russia.’ When diplomacy fails, the time comes to act, so we should now move from appeasement to containment. We need to move from the paradigm of ‘Russia first to Russia next’. When we are eventually successful in our Eastern Partnership, I believe that we will also achieve change in Russia, because that nation doesn’t deserve the today’s situation.
How should we reform the Eastern Partnership project?
The goals should remain as they are: to provide our Eastern neighbours a chance to achieve European standards in society, economic life and the rule of law. But we should move from the current state-centric approach to a citizen-centric approach. The project should be also enshrined by the European Union as public. Unfortunately it was seen in the beginning as a purely political project and the public wasn’t involved.
How can we involve the public?
By encouraging EU civil society to engage with civil society in our Eastern neighbours. We should provide financial assistance directly to civil society and not through intermediaries. Also, gates of programs like Erasmus+ should be opened as wide as possible. Nowadays, Ukrainian students can participate only in Erasmus Mundus program. And as was already achieved with Moldova, we should have a visa-free relationship with the Eastern Partnership countries.
Why should the European public care about these countries?
We should care because European values in our neighborhood mean more security and prosperity for us. Countries like Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan are not distant. They are closer than we imagine.
Should the aspiration of the Eastern Partnership be accession to the European Union?
At this stage, no: because there is no agreement among the member states about enlargement, so we should stick with the position enshrined in all the documents of the European Parliament that based on Article 49 of the European Treaties these countries may apply for membership only if they fulfill the prescribed conditions. But at this stage we should focus on the association stage, which is very robust already. It means wide opening in political and economic terms, but also meeting most European standards.
Is Georgian or Azerbaijani accession realistic, even in the distant future, considering that they don’t share a border with the EU?
They do share a border – the Black sea. In the more distant future they are potential members, but at this stage raising this debate is counterproductive.
How will the situation develop after the elections in Moldova and Ukraine that are taking place in October and November?
It depends whether Russia will continue its warfare. It is highly probable that it will continue and we should be prepared to help those countries resist Russia by raising sanctions and by helping them to arm .
You nominated Euromaidan, represented by four people: Mustafa Nayem, Ruslana Lyzhychko, Yelyzaveta Schepetylnykova and Tetiana Chornovo, for the Sakharov prize. Do you think Euromaidan is deserving of this prize?
To the highest degree. If Sakharov was alive he would surely give his vote to Euromaidan as the very embodiment of the values for which he fought for.
Isn’t it just a political decision? Wasn’t there also violence on Euromaidan? And can it succeed in a competition with such candidates as a Congolese doctor Denis Mukwege, who treated over 30 000 women raped by war criminals?
All of the nominees are excellent people deserving this award. My candidate is Euromaidan because of the precedent it sets in nature, size and courage of the people. For the first time in history, people were dying under the European flag.Democracy Enlargment EU-Russia
MEP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski: “On Russia, we should move from appeasement to containment”
21 Oct 2014
I have been in Hangzhou in the past week attending a Global Investment Conference organised by Euromoney. Hangzhou was for a time the capital of China and the biggest city in the world. It is about 200 km from Shanghai, or an hour’s journey on the high speed train, a trip that I was told costs only 10 euros. Hangzhou was a centre of the silk business and was visited by Marco Polo. Silk from Hangzhou went along the ancient Silk Road all the way to Europe, thereby making Hangzhou one of world’s first globalised economies.
I spoke in Hangzhou just as the Asia Europe Economic Meeting (ASEM) of heads of Government was taking place in Milan. As the President of the European Council, I attended the first ever ASEM meeting in Bangkok in 1996. I met the Mayor of Hangzhou and key commercial and political figures.
Since 2010 there has been a huge surge in outward investment from China in the rest of the world, jumping from 6.1 billion euros to 27 billion euros in just three years. This investment is going into buying high tech companies, companies with globally known brands, and tourist resorts (like Fota in Cork). Just as China’s export drive enabled it, not only to gain income but also to gain market knowledge, this wave of investment is also designed to strengthen China’s global competitiveness and sophistication.
Children in the Shanghai are getting the highest test results in Maths, Science and Reading comprehension in the global PISA tests, which shows that they will provide strong competition for European and Irish children in the global economy. Irish Universities are accepting Chinese students and also investing in developing University facilities in China. This will help China to become a high income economy, its people enjoying lifestyles that will make similarly exorbitant demands on global resources, to the ones already being made by European and American lifestyles consumers.
Wage levels are rising fast in China, as demand for workers is beginning to exceed supply, partly thanks to the one child policy. China is losing low cost jobs to Vietnam and Mexico, so it has no choice but move higher up the value chain.
There is a shift in the allocation of credit away from big, relatively inefficient, state owned heavy(and often polluting) industries, towards privately owned businesses in the consumer goods sector. While the raw GDP growth rates in China may decline as a result, the life style enhancing quality of future GDP will improve.
China is becoming a middle class country, with middle class tastes and material aspirations. With wealth has come anxiety, with many Chinese wanting to invest some of their savings overseas. This provides opportunities for the Irish international financial services industry.
While I was in Hangzhou, the protests in Hong Kong were still under way. The protesters wanted anybody to be eligible for election, not just candidates approved by a single nomination committee. I read an article on this controversy in the “China Daily”, by an Indian Professor, M D Nalapat, entitled “Hong Kong must avoid the democracy trap”, which challenged the notion that, at every level of economic development, democracy is a guarantor of economic success.
He also said: “ Political chaos can act as a speed breaker for rising Asian economies, dampening the challenge they pose to western counties. Iraq, Egypt, Libya and Ukraine are examples of countries where hundreds of thousands of youths believed that replacing of existing structures through street protest would result in a better life. Instead what they have got are deteriorating living standards and increasing insecurity.”
This is unfortunately a fair comment, and demonstrates the danger of making exaggerated claims of automatic economic advantages from any change of governmental system. Democracy requires patience and self restraint, sometimes absent in recently liberated societies.
Professor Nalapat went on: “Hong Kong is still moving upward, when the present generation in the US and the EU are worse off than the generations preceding it”
This is a superficial comment. Mature economies will never have, or need to have, the same rates of economic growth as economies, like China, which are in the “catch up” phase. Indeed, there is a case to be made that, beyond a certain level of economic development, diminishing returns in human wellbeing and environmental quality set in. 5% plus annual growth rates cannot continue to infinity…..anywhere in the world.
It is not surprising that an article like Professor Nalapats’ should appear in the “China Daily”, but is troubling that it should be written by an Indian, an inhabitant of the world’s largest democracy, a country in which there are 3 million freely elected legislators at differing levels of government, with real competition between parties unlike the tightly controlled system obtaining in China.
But Professor Nalapat is showing that people in the developing world are watching European and North American democracies, as we squabble about how to restore dynamism and optimism in the wake of the 2008 economic crisis, and are drawing conclusions about our systems of government, and the capacity of those systems to enable us to get our economic act together, and democratically to reconcile citizens expectations with economic realities.John Bruton Democracy Development Economy Education Trade
Reflections from the Silk Road
20 Oct 2014
The Eastern Partnership (EaP) Initiative is the bridge which connects Europe to the countries in its eastern neighbourhood. Those countries were left out of the cycle of peaceful development, which the European project brought to the continent following the Second World War. It aspires to transform these countries into more democratic and prosperous societies. Over the last five years, the EaP has achieved more in some partner countries than in others. Structural policy weaknesses and different socio-economic realities of the partner states notwithstanding, the main challenge to the success of the EaP has come from Russia, which chose to view this policy as a zero-sum game for geopolitical dominance in its shared neighbourhood with Europe. This paper argues that in order to achieve the desired transformations, the EaP needs a fresh start, focusing on different players, methods and political technologies. Failure of the EaP to achieve its goal could deprive another generation of Georgians, Moldovans, Ukrainians and others in the EaP countries of an opportunity for a better life.Brexit Democracy Eastern Europe Enlargment EU-Russia Neighbourhood Policy
Building a Lifeline for Freedom: Eastern Partnership 2.0
07 Oct 2014
Ukraine is passing through a civilisation change. Ukraine has made a fundamental strategic decision: UKRAINE DECIDED TO BELONG TO THE WEST. Similarly to how we in Slovakia decided in 1998. Russia’s reaction represents its response to this fundamental Ukrainian decision. This is no action organised by the United States, no CIA conspiracy against Russia – this is the free choice expressed by the Ukrainian people not only on Maidan, but also by electing a clearly pro-European President Poroshenko and ratifying the Association Agreement in Parliament by overwhelming majority on 16 September.
Why was Russia’s reaction to the decision of Ukraine so harsh? I believe that the main reason is that Russia strives to maintain its status of a global superpower. It is concerned about the loss of influence. And it also fears that Western influence would weaken the position of its ruling elite. The intervention in Crimea was quick and smooth because Crimea had always been, as it were, at Moscow’s disposal: the Crimean nomenclature, the ruling political elite was mentally closer to Moscow and had for years preserved considerable political and administrative independence from Kiev. Thus, it was not a big problem for Russia to intervene militarily in Crimea and to hastily organise a referendum on whether the Crimean population wants to join Russia. It was all the easier given the fact that many Russians felt in their minds and hearts that Crimea had “always” been Russian.
Why is the situation in eastern Ukraine so dramatic? The main reason is that after Russians took control of Crimea, they tried to use a similar scenario also in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions (Oblasts) of the Donbass area. However, this time Ukraine decided to defend its territory. Even at the cost of armed clashes and the loss of human lives. In the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, Russians met with a much “less warm” reception than in Crimea. In response to the determined stance of Ukraine, the EU and NATO agreed on the need to draw a red line, which is represented today by economic sanctions.
IS THIS ONLY A FEUD BETWEEN RUSSIA AND UKRAINE? The Prime Minister says that this is a GEOPOLITICAL CONTEST BETWEEN RUSSIA AND THE UNITED STATES OVER UKRAINE. That is not true. However, the confrontation between Russia and Ukraine does have a more global character. IN THIS WAY, RUSSIA IS CHALLENGING THE WEST. The West did not and does not incite Ukraine to join the EU or NATO. The West says that it will fully respect Ukraine’s choice. Just the other way around – it was Russia that was actively and openly trying to make Ukraine join its Eurasian Customs Union. The West would have accepted that choice just as it accepts Ukraine’s choice to belong to the EU. It only made it clear that Ukraine must make a choice. It is not possible to belong to both the EU and the Eurasian Union. President Yanukovich apparently played to both sides. Like asking Russia for loans. And certain “strategic” investments. We don’t know what “guarantees” he offered for these loans. But it is very likely that he raised high and unrealistic expectations by Russia. This is probably why Russia responded as it did to the ousting of Yanukovich by Maidan. The fact that Russia is challenging the West and not only Ukraine is also witnessed by reduced gas deliveries to Poland, Slovakia and Hungary. It is therefore not only Ukraine that is concerned; it is also Russia challenging the West. It is a test about how far can the Russians go. This challenge to the West also conveys a strong message for the domestic audience: it should demonstrate the strength of the ruling regime and its determination to defend Russia against the penetration of the values or ideas of the Western world into Russia. Moscow does not want its Maidan.
WHY IS THE TENSION IN AND AROUND UKRAINE SO HIGH
The basis of Western political culture is democracy. Basic tenets of democracy are free elections and pluralistic society. An essential attribute of free elections is that the government defeated in the elections hands over the power to the opposition. And, moreover, that the winner of elections shares the power it has acquired. It shares it with the opposition to which it assigns, for instance, the function of parliamentary oversight. And also with civil society, which must be allowed to freely and independently carry out its activities. Democratic governance means the de-politicisation of the police, courts and prosecution.
Russia’s problem is that – practically at all times (except perhaps for the short period of perestroika) – it had been dominated, ruled by an authoritarian regime. First by the czars, then by the Bolsheviks, later (and up to the present) by the nomenclature, called the Family. The nomenclature opposes democratisation with the argument that loosening the reins to democratisation, liberalisation and pluralism would lead to the collapse of the state. In reality, it strives to maintain its power, and its policy often includes the search for an external enemy to make people ignore problems at home.
Not only Ukraine but also Russia faces serious challenges. Both internal and external. They are, in particular, adverse demographic trends, economic dependence on extraction and export of raw materials, and also the pressure – growing, albeit slowly – of civil society towards the promotion of pluralism. Russia’s neighbourhood – from its perspective – is not exactly favourable or friendly (in the words of one participant of a recent conference in Kiev – with big China in the east, Islam with its ever stronger extremist factions in the south, liberal “decay” in the west, and cold seas and ice in the north).
For these and also other reasons, a sustainable agreement with Russia has been and will remain a problem for the West. Russia, its ruling elite, will feel increasingly vulnerable and therefore increasingly less predictable. In particular, it will be afraid of what presents the most serious threat to its political monolith. This means the West. The ruling nomenclature will do anything to prevent the Maidan spark jump over to the Red Square.
WHAT OPTIONS DOES THE WEST HAVE?
In this situation, the West has only two options: to abandon the promotion of democracy in the world, abandon the support to Ukraine, and to subsequently backtrack and yield to the authoritarian regimes in other parts of the world, allowing these regimes to get increasingly “bolder”, or to accept the challenge of and engage in a hard struggle with Russia.
The baseline of the political struggle between the West and Russia must be the conviction of its citizens and gradually also of the others that the West does not present a threat to Russia. If anything, it presents a threat to its political monolith, the establishment, the nomenclature. The determination of the West to accept the challenge of Russia and respond to it has taken the form of economic sanctions imposed on Russia. The more often Fico criticises the sanctions, the more often it should be repeated to the citizens: ECONOMIC SANCTIONS HAVE BEEN IMPOSED ON RUSSIA BY THE EU. THIS MEANS BY INDIVIDUAL MEMBER STATES, INCLUDING SLOVAKIA. THUS, AS REGARDS SLOVAKIA, ECONOMIC SANCTIONS HAVE BEEN IMPOSED ON RUSSIA BY THE GOVERNMENT OF ROBERT FICO.
I do not criticise this decision of Robert Fico’s government. I do not criticise this decision because I perceive it as a fundamental, principled response of the West to the Russian challenge, and I consider it to be the best of available responses. However, I do criticise Prime Minister’s statements regarding the sanctions that received also his approval. It is highly immoral and damaging for Slovakia when the Prime Minister approves sanctions in Brussels on Monday, only to subject them to harsh criticism at home, in Slovakia, on Tuesday. Such conduct leads to distorting the truth, turning things upside down, confusing the cause and effect. All this leads to the rise of primitive anti-Americanism, opposition to the EU, and the subsequent polarisation, flaring of tempers, but mainly to the loss of Slovakia’s reputation. I do not recall any ambassador of a neighbouring country having ever commented the statements by the Slovak Prime Minister the way the Ukrainian ambassador did referring to Robert Fico: Robert Fico talks like a bad neighbour.
Ukraine is facing serious challenges. The most serious of them is the defence of its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Ukraine has made its choice. It is defending its rights, even at the highest cost: the cost of human lives. That is one reason for its successful defence efforts. This is also the reason why Ukraine should be helped. Especially in the MORAL sense. I appeal to Prime Minister Fico to stop falsely claiming that Ukraine is breaking down, that Ukraine is falling apart. Such statements are false and cynically inappropriate. They harm Slovakia and do not help Ukraine. Who they help are the aggressors who want Ukraine to disintegrate.
Besides this crucial and vitally important challenge, Ukraine is facing and will continue to face three truly monumental and several major challenges. (Môj návrh: Ukraine is facing and will continue to face a few truly monumental and a number of major challenges.) Monumental challenges are, in our opinion, modernisation of its economy, restructuring of its industry, stabilisation of its currency and the financial sector, diversification of energy sources, and resolution of its defence capability and security issues.
These challenges are also challenges for the West. It is true that no one will do for Ukrainians what they must do themselves. But the West must help them. In each of these areas. It is commendable and encouraging that Slovakia has contributed by ensuring the reverse flow of gas to Ukraine. The Slovak Government deserves praise for having mastered this process much earlier than it had been initially indicated. But, by no means is it possible to claim victory. The fact that Russia is challenging not only Ukraine but also the West is documented by reduced deliveries of Russian gas to Poland, to our country, and to Hungary.
But there are many other serious challenges that Ukraine is and will be facing, such as the need to combat corruption, decentralise and streamline public administration, improve the quality of education, healthcare, modernise the pension system.
Not only the West but also Slovakia as its part have things to offer to Ukraine. Like moral and political support, and also experience with the transition process and reforms. This is also in the supreme interest of Slovakia, and not only of the regions in the eastern part of the country.
Among those who spoke in the opening section of the already mentioned conference which was held on 11-13 September in Kiev was the frontman of Ukrainian band “Okean Elzy”, Svyatoslav Vakarchuk. He is one of the most visible faces of Maidan. The last question he was asked was: What does Ukraine expect the West to do? Svyatoslav paused in thought. I expected he would make a request for financial or military assistance, a kind of a new Marshall Plan … But after some thought, Vakarchuk said: What is going on in Ukraine right now is painful for us. And we realise there still will be a lot of pain for us to bear. It would be good if also the West could bear and withstand some pain. Because, if the West does not do it and is not ready to do it at a lesser scale now, it will also suffer much pain later.
I understood what he meant. And I am convinced there are many of us who understand.Mikuláš Dzurinda Democracy Eastern Europe Neighbourhood Policy
What’s going on in Ukraine?
30 Sep 2014
As Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine finalise association and free trade (DCFTA) agreements with Europe today (27 June), these Eastern Partners, together with the EU, are proving that while geography is destiny, history does not have to be so.
The EU’s Eastern Partnership policy is the bridge which connects Europe to countries which were left out of the cycle of peaceful development brought to post-WWII by the European project.
Even as the voice of increased scepticism towards the EU rang loud and clear in the latest European elections, the citizens of these advanced Eastern partners still believe the European project offers them the best way forward.
They have proven ready to pay a heavy price for their European choice, in the knowledge that no sacrifice is too great for the sake of freedom.
The EU and its three Eastern Partners have come to this point against all odds. Russia failed to force these countries, considered to belong to its “privileged sphere of influence,” to give up on Europe in favour of joining the Eurasian Economic Union.
Neither political and economic pressure, nor direct military intervention, have managed to compete with Europe’s soft power.
While the agreements signed today will not automatically force open the doors to European accession, they are paving a way towards it. The road ahead, however, is a difficult one.
The immediate challenges will be to implement the agreements and to withstand continued Russian pressure.
The Kremlin is unlikely to bury the hatchet. The warnings from Russia have been crystal clear all along, most recently with Russiaan foreign minister Sergei Lavrov declaring that his country will take the necessary “countermeasures” in response to the EU accords.
If history is any point of reference, the Russian response might defy both the letter and the spirit of international law.
Additional Russian economic pressure can still have an impact on the economies of all three Eastern partners. Our voters have high expectations for the benefits of the agreements, but the positive socio-economic impact of the DCFTAs will not come immediately.
Knowing full well the value of predictability and stability for the international investors which these DCFTAs ought to attract to the signatory countries, Russia is unlikely to abandon its chosen policy of exporting instability.
As European integration will not deliver immediate prosperity, the Kremlin’s likely tactic is to foster growing disappointment of the public in its European choice.
The role of the Church
By offering to Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine the way forward towards a more democratic, secure and prosperous future, the EU still has a much stronger hold on the hearts and minds of their citizens than Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
But the future support of our voters cannot be taken for granted. Further success of the Eastern Partnership will depend on securing continued support for democracy, as well as for the European choice of the public in these countries.
In the short term, helping Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine to cope with the implementation of the DCFTAs the and speedy introduction of visa-free travel for Georgia and Ukraine will be instrumental.
As the prospect of Nato membership looks less and less likely for any of the Eastern partners, enhancing the framework of co-operation between them and the EU in terms of security will be another important challenge.
A broad engagement with the citizens, supporting democracy and building solid constituencies for Europe, reaching out to the most influential opinion-makers in these countries, will also be key to success.
In some cases, the potential opinion-makers might be outside of the regular realm of civil society and include influential religious organisations or figures. Religion has started playing an increasingly important role in Russia’s current confrontation with the West. The authority wielded by the religious establishment in some Eastern partners is a sign of weak civil society and needs to be addressed in a medium and long term prospective.
In the immediate future, the Church will continue playing an important role in determining the public attitudes in Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. The EU needs to find ways to engage with the relevant players to counter Russian influence.
The successful transformation of the three advanced Eastern Partners can be managed only through a European policy which has clearly defined objectives.
Next year, the Riga Eastern Partnership Summit should offer concrete deliverables for each of these countries, aiming at enhanced contractual relations with the EU. Most importantly, it should deliver a membership prospective in the long term and the chance to join a Common Economic Area in the immediate future.
Today marks yet another important achievement of the EU’s transformative power, but Europe needs to be ready for the challenges ahead.
Injecting a new momentum into the Eastern Partnership Initiative, building on today’s success, will rectify the historical injustice which deprived the people of the Eastern Partnership countries of the chance to develop as democratic and prosperous societies for almost a century.
But it will also send an important message to the increasingly sceptical European voters about the magnetic pull of the European project for those, who, so far, have been left out of it.
[Originally published as a guest editorial in EUobserver: http://euobserver.com/opinion/124781 ]Salome Samadashvili Democracy Eastern Europe Enlargment EU-Russia Foreign Policy
The magnetic pull of Europe’s soft power
30 Jun 2014
One of the first lessons of a law student is that not only must justice be done; it must be seen to be done. It seems that in recent times this principle has been hijacked by regimes hungry for legitimacy; to create an outward projection of democracy, citizens are asked to vote, thereby putting the regime beyond reproach. Voting and democracy are inextricably linked in the minds of many; yet often we have one without the other. Egypt and Syria are two recent examples of this. Undeniably citizens voted; democracy was seen to be done. However, when we examine events preceding election day and the elections themselves in a broader context, it is clear that there was little democratic about these elections.
In 2013 violence once again broke out on the streets of Cairo in protests against President Morsi, Egypt’s first president after the initial Arab Spring protests. Army General Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi delivered an ultimatum to President Morsi’s government in July 2013 that unless reforms were delivered in 48 hours it would be removed. When he deemed them incompliant, al-Sisi removed the government, Morsi supporters were violently repressed and al-Sisi appointed an interim president. The army once again intervened to successfully manoeuvre its candidate into the position of president. Jumping on al-Sisi’s popularity, presidential elections were brought forward and held before parliamentary elections contrary to the programme of Morsi’s government. Al-Sisi and the army sought ‘revolutionary legitimacy’ from a democratic election.
This intervention in 2013 was similar to the army’s intervention in 2011 which was pivotal in toppling the Mubarak regime. These interventions were motivated by self-preservation of the army’s status and position in Egyptian society, not by any sympathy for the demands of the protesters. The Egyptian army has been part of the ruling class since the foundation of the state. It presides over an economic empire of its own, financing and managing major projects in areas such as tourism and agriculture. The election was held at the end of May 2014, originally polling was to take place over two days but the polls were extended to three days when the turnout was lower than desired, thereby jeopardising the army’s quest for legitimacy and democracy.
Observers all report that people were intimidated into voting, threatened with fines and charges of treason if they did not go to a polling station. Al-Sisi was declared the victor of a ‘free but not always fair’ election according to EU observers; he had greater campaign resources and media coverage. Democracy International and the European External Action Service found that state-owned and private media coverage overwhelmingly favoured al-Sisi and real debate was stifled; in fact several journalists were imprisoned in the lead up to the election. With 93% of the vote al-Sisi came in well ahead of his only competitor, Hamdeen Sabahi, who received 3% of the vote. Sabahi previously came third in the presidential elections in 2012 that brought Morsi to office. He has lodged a complaint to the elections committee disputing the votes cast on the third day as well as campaigning at polling stations by al-Sisi’s supporters.
Elections were held in Syria with the same lip service to democracy as in Egypt. The Arab Spring in Syria has led to a complex and multi-strand conflict. The unrest in Syria ranges from calls for greater democracy to all out civil war and the ISIS separatist campaign in the north; the only thing in common is the desire for change from President Bashar al Assad’s government. Voters went to the polls as the government dropped bombs from the sky. As a result of the current conflict millions of Syrians have been internally displaced, over 100,000 have been killed and millions more are in camps in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. This is the first multi-candidate election in Syria in decades. Before this al Assad and his father before him renewed their mandate in single candidate referendums. However, the other candidates in June 2014 were vetted by the government and had expressed support for al Assad in the past— – hardly a competitive election. Al Assad was elected with 88.7% of the votes cast. After his election, he said that his government was given fresh legitimacy by the vote and a message was delivered to the West; proof that the aim of holding the election was to put the administration beyond criticism.
The election was packaged as the route to peace and stability in Syria. Here again, the act of voting was used to create the illusion of democracy; how can a vote bring peace and stability to such a volatile situation? A change in leadership must happen. The US and the EU condemned the Syrian election. In April the UN urged the Syrian government not to hold an election as to do so would go against the spirit of the Geneva Communiqué which calls for a transitional government to lead free and fair elections. Voting only took place in regions under government control. Many displaced people were unable to vote and neither were people in rebel-held areas. The election of al Assad was a foregone conclusion; much like in Egypt, voters were asked only to confirm a decision made by elites to create the image of a legitimate democratic government. In Syria this decision was made by the ruling ethnic group, the Alawites, while in Egypt it is the result of an internal power struggle between many actors where the military currently hold the upper hand.
For Egypt and Syria these elections are just the latest development in their long Arab Spring. Though they can be distinguished by different domestic circumstances in both cases an appearance of democracy was created to quieten protesters. The very ideal they seek was used to appease them and maintain the status quo. The ordinary citizens that called for democracy have themselves become disillusioned; why vote when the outcome is predetermined? The promotion of democracy and human rights are founding principles of the EU and play a central role in its external relations policy. The role and use of soft power by the EU is regularly commented on, but when regimes strive to create the illusion of democracy where there is none, it can be argued that this is an impact of the EU’s soft power.
However, the EU can be criticised for a haphazard approach to the effective promotion of democracy, an example of this is an over emphasis on the importance of elections at the expense of, for example, the importance of political pluralism. If we are to pursue this policy direction in external relations then it must be done in a more even-handed manner with equal focus on all the constituent parts of democracy, as proposed in the 2012 EU Strategic Framework and Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy. Events in Egypt and Syria prove that elements in isolation are not enough to ensure a democracy.Kathryn O’Donovan Arab Spring Democracy Elections
Elections in Egypt and Syria: two tales of hollow democracy
20 Jun 2014
Yesterday, we commemorated the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, or as it is called in Chinese, the 4th of June incident (六四事件). That day marks a turning point in Chinese history as much as the year 1989 has been a crucial turning point in world history. On that date a student-led occupation of Tiananmen Square, which had been ongoing for seven weeks, was stopped.
The protest was triggered by the death of former Communist Party of China (CPC) General Secretary Hu Yaobang in April 1989. Students took to the streets to voice their criticism of the high level of corruption in politics and demanded political change in favour of a more liberal system. The Chinese government has condemned the protests to this day as a ‘counter-revolutionary riot’, and has prohibited all forms of discussion or remembrance of the event since. But did the Tiananmen Square protests nevertheless have a long-lasting impact, and led to some democratic progress in China?
One of the most recognised photographs of these protests in Western media is that of a lone man facing tanks driving out of Tiananmen Square. It does not just symbolise a protest movement that didn’t stop despite the fact that several hundred people were killed by armed forces the day before, but also the fact that ever since the 4th of June 1989, the CPC has been acting out of fear of a repetition of such political protests. In the following years, the CPC decisively implemented economic reforms but combined these with political oppression. These driving forces of Chinese politics can still be witnessed in every day policy decisions. Party officials are eager to appeal to the masses through the recently introduced anti-corruption campaign and economic reform package by President Xi Jinping. These steps are part of an effort to achieve political legitimacy through performance.
The political aftermath of Tiananmen therefore has become a political paradox in the eyes of Western observers: free markets combined with a hindered free will, a toothless and powerless justice system, and an oppressed national media. Apart from this general impact, two different trends over the last five years show that ideas of democratic participation still exist in China and find their roots in the Tiananmen Square protests.
The first one is the increasing internet access and use that has led to more public pressure regarding certain policy issues, such as transparent budget spending and environmental pollution. Local party officials are being scrutinised by the public and there have been several cases where such pressure led to resignations of officials because of corruption. As a consequence, the costs to the Chinese government to maintain stability by spending more and more resources on curtailing the free exchange of information and opinion have risen.
The CPC has pushed for projects such as the ‘Great Firewall’ and the ‘Golden Shield’ to create a truly national internet that is filtered and monitored in real-time. It created a cyber-cage in which ideas are allowed to flourish as long as they do not challenge the party line. This also includes and allows for criticism of local party officials as long as it does not turn into a general criticism about one-party rule. This concept of guiding public opinion is deeply connected to the party’s recollection of the Tiananmen protests. In the 1990s former leader Jiang Zemin emphasised that ‘control of news and public opinion has to be placed firmly in the hands of those who have a deep respect for Marxism, for the Party and for the people.’
Nevertheless, the internet remains the most crucial battleground for public opinion in China. What freedom of information can achieve is demonstrated by the example of the fishing village of Wukan. In light of a serious corruption case and after much public pressure, the CPC agreed to hold free and democratic elections with truly independent candidates. These local elections are held every three years for local village committees all across China, but are usually manipulated by local Communist party officials. Nevertheless, this case shows us that there is mounting pressure on the Communist leadership to implement political reforms and that local elections offered the citizens of Wukan a tool to demand change without violence.
A second trend is the closer involvement of social organisations in the Chinese political system. These organisations have moved from abstract demands like democracy, to specific policy issues such as the environment, birth control and education. They have changed strategy, learning from the political oppression of the past 25 years, and don’t include oppositional thinking directed against the state. This has led gradually to more empowerment of grass-roots organisations which use concrete cases to raise their political demands and win the public’s trust and, more importantly, the trust of the CPC.
The New Citizens’ Movement (NCM) is part of this trend that calls on the CPC to respect constitutionally guaranteed rights, enforce transparency of officials’ assets and ensure equal access to education. But the case of the NCM founder Xu Zhiyong, who was sentenced to four years in prison in January, also shows that there is a thin line between civic activism and unrest as perceived by the CPC. Today, China is not a democracy in a Western liberal sense. The CPC has a monopoly on political power, and the country lacks freedom of speech, an independent judiciary, and other fundamental attributes of a pluralistic liberal system.
The strengthening of civil society in our understanding of the term will continue to be perceived by the CPC as a frontal assault on its authority: in April 2013, an internal memo ‘Document No. 9’ was issued to all cadres throughout the country, warning party members that they risk losing their authority unless they address ‘subversive currents coursing through Chinese society’. These include ‘Western constitutional democracy’, human rights, media independence, civic participation, pro-market ‘neo-liberalism’, and outside criticism of the party.
To conclude, the Tiananmen Square protests have had a long-lasting impact on the democratic progress in China because they defined an approach of ‘adaptive authoritarianism’ in the CPC that is nurtured by the fear of losing control over the masses. However, there are signs of hope for more liberal concepts based on constitutionalism and democratic participation. In this regard, Hong Kong and Taiwan are proof that the rule of law and a liberal democracy are very well compatible with a Confucian culture.
[Photo source: www.famouspictures.org]Benjamin Barth Democracy Human Rights
Did the Tiananmen Square protests lead to more democracy in China?
05 Jun 2014
Ukraine had Presidential elections while Kyiv was electing its mayor and the members of the Kyiv City Council. Preliminary results suggest that Poroshenko is winning with 54%, while Klitschko is on 57%. Both elections represent a major step forward in the stabilisation of an independent and democratic Ukraine. The presidential elections gave Ukraine a long-awaited legitimate president, while the citizens of Kyiv have elected their mayor and Kyiv City Council; for the last two years Kyiv was without permanent leadership.
The elections were significant from both the domestic and the international perspective. Firstly, the election was a factor of domestic consolidation for Ukrainians. The high voter turnout and high percentage of vote given to Poroshenko has reaffirmed the vast support of Ukrainians for the new authorities, as well as their strong support for the course of European integration. Consequently, the election results have destroyed the myth advanced by Russia that the authorities in Kyiv are neither supported by Ukrainians, nor that European integration is a priority. Secondly, Ukraine has got a legitimate president who for the upcoming five years will advance both security and foreign policy. Strong political commitment as well as support of Ukrainians is what the EU, IMF and the World Bank are expecting to see. Therefore the President, with his clear commitment to this agenda, is a reassuring factor. Thirdly, the Russian Federation has a legitimate Ukrainian representative as interlocutor. Previously the negotiations with Ukraine were blocked by Russia, as according to Putin the ‘Kyiv junta’ which took power as a result of a coup d’etat had no legitimacy to represent Ukraine (1).
PRELIMINARY RESULTS OF PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS
The Central Electoral Commission is still working on the final results. Poroshenko has won in the first round having obtained a majority of votes – 54%. He is followed by Tymoshenko – 13% and Lyashko – 8%. The far-right, such as Tyagnybok (Svoboda) have got only 1,17% and Yarosh less than 1%. This destroys Russia’s argument about a popular fascist movement in Ukraine. Moreover, those two parties have failed to establish any stable cooperation with European far right parties, as the latter have developed close ties with Putin.
The average turnout was 60%, with 77% in Lviv and 14% in Donetsk, 12% in Lugansk and 0% in Crimea, as the ones from Crimea had to go vote on the continental part of Ukraine. The low turnout in the East is clearly explained by the disruptive actions of the separatists. In Donbas there were a number of attacks on the polling stations by the armed separatists. The National Guard was successful in arresting some of the heavily armed terrorists at the polling stations; however, they did not manage to stabilise the situation. Consequently, the elections were massively disrupted in Donbas.
The international community has recognised the elections as fair and democratic. According to the Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions, the ‘presidential election in Ukraine was characterized by high voter turnout and the clear resolve of the authorities to hold what was a genuine election largely in line with international commitments and with a respect for fundamental freedoms in the vast majority of the country’ (2). Consequently, the exit polls have prompted immediate congratulations from world leaders to Poroshenko.
REACTION OF THE RUSSIAN LEADERSHIP
The day of elections in Ukraine was marked with the official visit of Medvedev to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in March. This gesture was taken by the Ukrainian side as a provocation. The next day Lavrov expressed an interest to negotiate with official Kyiv representatives stressing that this dialogue needs no intermediary (meaning the EU and US). Nevertheless, the Russian leadership welcomed the participation of the EU and US in the framework of the OSCE Roadmap. Later, both Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk will confirm that they will participate in the meetings only where both the EU and the US will participate.
On Monday, Yanukovych, former president, was quoted by ITAR-TASS saying that he respects the votes given by Ukrainians, but he considers the elections illegitimate. Poroshenko has immediately reacted by saying that Yanukovych could only comment when he returns to Ukraine where he is to assume criminal responsibility.
FIRST COMMENTS BY POROSHENKO
– Preliminary parliamentary elections will be held by the end of the year at the latest.
– His first visit might be paid to Donbas. Preliminary local elections in this region are a possibility. Moreover, he might also hold his inauguration in this region.
– Yatsenyuk will remain Prime Minister.
– The dialogue with Russia will happen in the framework of the EU-UA-Russia-Ukraine negotiations, as previously Russia did not acknowledge the legitimacy of the authorities in Kyiv and refused to deal with the Kyiv authorities.
– Crimea was and is a part of Ukraine. The state will return it with the help of the international legal framework.
POROSHENKO – HOPE FOR STABILITY
Even within the parliamentary-presidential system, the President plays an important role as he is responsible for foreign and security policy. Today Poroshenko has stressed a) the wide support of Ukrainians for the course of European integration, as testified by the elections and b) the importance of changing the approach to the anti-terrorist operation in the East. Being the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, his first official visit will be paid to Donbas where he plans to grant full amnesty to the separatists who had guns, but who have not been shooting.
Firstly, Poroshenko is a unique politician who has managed to negotiate and agree with all political parties. In 2000, he was one of the founding fathers of the Party of the Regions and was on friendly terms with Kuchma and Medvechuk. A year later he established his party ‘Solidarnist’, but even in 2004 he became an important ally of Yushchenko.
Both Poroshenko and Tymoshenko were promised the position of Prime Minister, but Tymoshenko and Yushchenko agreed a secret deal. In 2007, Poroshenko headed the council at the National Bank of Ukraine. In 2009, he was FM for one year. In 2012, he was a member of the Azarov government as a Minister of Economic Development and Trade. Therefore, he has access to all political circles in Ukraine; unlike other politicians he has avoided open political confrontation with influential politicians.
Secondly, Poroshenko is seen by many Ukrainians as an apolitical man as he has no party behind him. Even at EuroMaidan, his appearance was not marked by strong speeches or proactive positions; at the same time he was present and from time to time he would give strong comments. An apolitical leader ‘sitting between the different political chairs’ is someone Ukrainians want to see.
Thirdly, Poroshenko is an oligarch and oligarchs are and will be important in the decision-making in Ukraine. According to Forbes, his assets are worth $1600 bln (3), making him the 7th richest man in Ukraine (4). Oligarchs play an important role in both the stabilisation and the destabilisation of Ukraine. The best example is contrasting actions of Kolomojski and Akhmetov. Kolomojski in Dnipropetrovsk has acted against the separatists, chasing them from his region. This is in stark contrast to the near complete lack of involvement by Akhmetov in Donbas. Poroshenko, having access to the club of the richest and the most influential people of Ukraine, will try to bring them together on common terms with regards to national priorities.
Fourthly, Poroshenko has clear priorities. While he has acknowledged the importance of Russia in the context of stability, he has immediately started building credibility based on the election results which have testified obvious support for the European integration course. Therefore he has declared this to be his priority along with the stabilisation of the situation in the East.
Therefore, to conclude, there are many expectations on Poroshenko with regards to stabilising the East as well as making European integration a major agenda point. Being reinforced by Klitschko as the mayor of Kyiv will help these leaders to lay a solid foundation for the parliamentary elections.
Ukrainian elections: hope for change?
30 May 2014
With the hottest phase of the European election campaign approaching, it is hardly surprising that the attacks of the most rampant Eurosceptics against the EU are multiplying. Populists of all sorts describe it as a power-hungry leviathan keen on controlling people’s lives, hampering businesses with its regulatory fury and bound to stifle European freedoms and democracy in the grip of its bureaucratic tentacles. There may well be a grain of truth in some of these criticisms. However they all overlook the fundamentally liberalising force displayed by the European project in the last sixty years.
The origins of European integration were as much about peace as they were about individual freedom. This is hardly surprising in light of the mighty enemy these two ideals had in common in pre-war continental Europe: aggressive ideologies aimed at totalitarian control of individuals and societal resources, allegedly in the superior interest of the community. It is no surprise that the first architects of the European project were to a large extent liberals and Catholics, both committed to the preservation of an individual sphere autonomous from state control, while the collectivist left stayed largely hostile to it. After centuries of centralizing tendencies, nation states accepted an unprecedented pooling of sovereignty under common supranational institutions. Where threats to freedom used to come from the ambitions of aggressive foreign powers, such as in Eastern European countries and the UK, it may be difficult to understand that national rulers and overbearing nation states have been for a long time one of the most acute dangers to individual liberty on this continent. It was the European project that finally addressed this problem.
In spite of the many mutations and difficulties of the following decades, European integration has stayed loyal to this original inspiration, constantly increasing the range of individual possibilities and restraining state powers. Under the Treaties of Rome, member states relinquished control of their trade policy and committed themselves to the abolition of state-imposed obstacles to the free movement of goods, services, capital and workers. For that purpose, they resorted to the most liberal of all possible means: a new supranational judicial system, under which the centuries-old dream of the rule of law replacing the rule of force in interstate relations was realised. In fact, in the first decades of European integration it was the rule of law that enlarged the scope of individual freedom against the statist tendencies of most national governments. It was the ruling of the European Court of Justice in the Cassis de Dijon case (1979) that fired the first salvo of what was to become the long and still ongoing battle to complete the European common market. In the 1980s, with the Single Market project on track, freedom-loving politicians from all member states enthusiastically joined the Commission in its effort to open up national markets, break up state monopolies, encourage competition and roll back the frontiers of the state in national economies. We owe a great deal of our economic freedom, the great variety of goods we enjoy and the high quality of many of our services to this unprecedented liberalising effort.
In the 1990s Europe made yet another gift to its citizens: the freedom to move, take up jobs and settle anywhere they liked within the common market, soon to be transformed into a fully-fledged European Union. Plans for the creation of a new common currency were also advanced. The euro did away with state control of the money supply, one of the most ancient pillars of state grip on society and the economy. For centuries, and until the very eve of the European Monetary Union, political institutions had used their monopoly of the money supply to surreptitiously extract resources from recalcitrant societies. While the ancient kings were used to debasing their gold and silver coins, modern democratic states have consistently resorted to the printing press to artificially support increasing levels of public debt. For past generations, this vicious practice came at the price of higher and higher inflation, the most unfair tax one can imagine; an even greater pain is inflicted on many contemporary Europeans, upon whose shoulders the short-sightedness and irresponsibility of past governments have placed a heavy burden. Once again, it is the European project that has unmasked the traditional deceptions of national politics and restrained the tendency of many governments to treat their economies as the ancient kings treated their hunting reserves.
I am very well aware that the European Union of our days has many severe limitations and contradictions and that its liberal spirit has taken on a scary appearance to many of us. However, I am firmly convinced that the European project can still be the most cherished endeavour of freedom-loving people all over the continent. If there are problems, let us fight hard for them to be tackled and overcome; if the project seems to have derailed, let us get together and hurry to put it back on track. Let us never forget the prescient words of Friedrich von Hayek, the doyen of twentieth century liberalism, in 1939: ‘There seems to be little possible doubt that the scope for the regulation of economic life will be much narrower for the central government of a federation than for national states. Since the powers of the states which comprise the federation will be yet more limited, much of the interference with economic life to which we have become accustomed will be altogether impracticable under a federal organisation’. All Europeans of the twenty first century should remember that.Federico Ottavio Reho Democracy European Union Euroscepticism Values
Federico Ottavio Reho
Would we really be more free if the EU had never come into existence?
28 Apr 2014
The chessboard has become the metaphor of choice in the debate about Russia’s aggression. For more than a month now, our condition humaine can be aptly described as ‘waiting for Putin’s next move’ [http://ces.tc/1gsEU2b]. On a more abstract level, this is reflected by the inflationary use of the term geopolitics. Especially among conservatives, we hear appeals that the West, and especially the ‘post-modern’ European Union, has to learn hardcore geostrategy. But on the Left as well, it is fashionable to frame the conflict as an imperial struggle between the West and Russia over a Ukraine which is, in itself, allegedly the embodiment of an East-West split. Geopolitics is not mentioned, but clearly implied. Now, this is how Wikipedia [http://ces.tc/1fQK8oZ] defines the term: ‘… a method of foreign policy [http://ces.tc/1kwRod1] analysis which seeks to understand, explain, and predict international political behaviour primarily in terms of geographical variables.’ Or, as Napoleon put it more bluntly: ‘La géographie, c’est le destin des peuples’.
I beg to differ. Because if that was true, then neither Ukraine nor Georgia, neither Belarus nor Kazakhstan, would ever have the chance to be free countries and choose their alliances, as long as Russia remains as big as it is. Needless to say, this perspective very much suits the Kremlin view in which NATO enlargement (and increasingly also EU enlargement or even association) to Russia’s borders represents a hostile act because they penetrate Russia’s sphere of ‘privileged interest’.
Zoom in on the Euromaidan and it’s easy to see that the geopolitical perspective is profoundly mistaken. What is it that hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians took to the streets for? For what were many of them risking their careers, their health, their personal freedom and their lives – and about 100 actually lost their lives. Was that for this or that empire? For a direction on the compass? Definitely not! What these Ukrainians wanted was something ultimately very simple: a decent future in a halfway modern state, without rampant corruption, with freedom of expression and a fairly functional justice system, and the ability to democratically choose its alliances. Or, as Anne Applebaum [http://ces.tc/Pv2NA2] put it: ‘this conflict pits Ukrainians (both Russian- and Ukrainian-speaking) who want to live in a “European” democracy with human rights and the rule of law, against Ukrainians (also both Russian- and Ukrainian-speaking) — who support an undemocratic, oligarchic capitalist regime that is politically and economically dependent on Russia.’ That is not geopolitics. That is a struggle of political systems. Incidentally, this also puts the alleged conflict between Western and Eastern Ukraine into perspective.
In fact, even Putin and the Russian power elite seem to have at least enriched their erstwhile purely geopolitical narrative with an increasingly comprehensive Eurasian ideology [http://ces.tc/1pYFr17] that casts itself as a grand alternative to the West – although admittedly on clay feet, as far as stringency and philosophical underpinnings are concerned. Nationalism and – increasingly – ‘traditional values’ are blended into imperial rhetoric by the Kremlin and its ideologues. They believe liberal democracy is finished. Hence, like all really important conflicts between political models, this one is ultimately about which one owns the future and which one belongs to the past.
This is actually good news for the EU. Its soft power finds traction with the people of Eastern Europe – or, at least, with their most dynamic parts, including Russians, by the way. But this will only work under four conditions: firstly, for the EU’s soft power to be effective, it has to be backed up by NATO’s hard power – both to deter further aggression and to reassure the allies. That requires political resolve. Secondly, the EU has to be serious about answering to the aspirations of the people who want to live in ‘European’ countries. That requires short term help as well as a long term perspective – which must, in the end, include membership. All this will be a hard sell inside the EU. Thirdly, the West will have to reinvent itself, both in terms of a new transatlantic bond, and in terms of the West Europeans taking the Central and East Europeans more seriously. Fourthly and maybe most importantly, this conflict with Putin’s Russia has to be seen for what it is: a political struggle not identical to, but with a similar intensity as the Cold War. And just like the systemic conflict between 1945 and 1989, this one is winnable.Roland Freudenstein Democracy EU-Russia Foreign Policy
It’s not geopolitics, stupid!
07 Apr 2014
Speech by Bruno Maçães at the Second Germany-Portugal Forum, Berlin, 11th March 2014. [Translated from Portuguese to English].
The idea of a European Union is an idea imagined by artists and thinkers. It originally represented a project that sought to expand the limits of our experience, discovering different ways of thinking beyond our nearest community. Europe represents a specific ideal, dating back to the eighteenth century: the good European, a refined cosmopolitan, who knows how to harmoniously combine the best of several countries or nationalities, becoming himself a means of communication between countries. Think of Goethe and his voyage to Italy: the discovery of a new form of life, so different from what he had known in his youth and thus a kind of second youth.
But this ideal emerged and submerged many times. A number of times it even risked disappearing altogether. And it was always an ideal limited to a small class of people. The European Union as we know it is a project to make this ideal safe and perpetual.
How can we make it safe and perpetual?
First, we must understand that the European Union does not seek to create a new nationality. It aims to be a communication vehicle between a number of different ways of thinking and living: a combination of these differences.
Secondly, it is a space for free flowing communication where borders tend to fade. There is no free communication in a world of borders. When we think of communication, we think of trade, exchange of ideas and knowledge, mobility of persons, and of course, political communication as well. Politics cannot fall outside this scope. If we want to create a large communication space, that space must be based on rules and institutions. Eliminating barriers is not enough. If intuitions continue to be merely national, then a true European space will never exist, because those institutions will work themselves as barriers.
This was very clear in the case of financial markets. Financial markets are unable to operate without institutional structures that, for example, define the right approach for bank supervision and resolution. If these are national institutions, then we will inevitably witness financial fragmentation along national borders. Perhaps not under conditions of credit expansion, but sooner or later borders will reappear, as was the case in 2008.
The euro was not sufficient to create integrated financial markets. We could say that the euro was a further, and no doubt, crucial step in financial integration, but one element was still missing: common supervision and resolution tools — which are being developed in the meantime. Banking union plus monetary union plus free movement of capital, only together can they build a genuine financial union.
Financial markets need a common institutional structure. A structure that allows agents to act freely, while creating a centripetal force at a deeper level. The same will of course be the case for other institutional structures. Fragmentation can just as easily be found in labor markets, product markets, as well as the education system.
It’s not about creating a European power. It’s about creating a centripetal force to fight political fragmentation, just as the banking union fights financial fragmentation. For example, if a country does not implement the necessary reforms, growth and employment will suffer, with a negative impact on import demand. This becomes even more apparent when markets become more integrated. For this reason, political communication is essential, allowing member states to have a word on certain aspects of policy reform within other member states.
The establishment of a financial union where financial borders progressively disappear is essential. But one must also see the logic behind the existence of an open space in which communication on public policy can take place. Let me reiterate again, my claim does not call for the establishment of common public policies. It is about creating a space where different public policies are in fluid communication with each other. I neither believe in a common European state nor in states that live reclusively within their borders. These ideas represent two extreme options, equally to be avoided.
My key question today is: how do we ensure that national policies can communicate?
Let me give you an example, which directly concerns Germany. We are all aware of the strong German industrial sector, especially its Mittelstand, a complex web of middle-sized businesses that are extremely competitive and extremely innovative at the global level. But its service sector is not anywhere nearly as competitive. I know this well because I lived in Germany. I am aware of the entry barriers new competitors are faced with, the resistance to competition, the regulatory obstacles, the weak productivity in law firms and pharmacies. What Germany needs is a service sector that matches its industrial strength.
Is this an issue that concerns only Germany? Of course not. An open and competitive service sector would encourage more investment, the opening of new businesses, with the transfer of less qualified workers in the industrial sector to the service sector. The German industrial sector would move up the value chain, and countries like Portugal would have the opportunity to occupy those manufacturing activities from which German industry would be moving out. Productivity would grow in both Germany and Portugal.
How can we guarantee that all countries implement the reforms that other countries need? This is the decisive question.
I admit that for me it is difficult to understand why this communication is so difficult. Constructive criticism, learning from others, all this should contribute to the normal functioning of the Union. Friendship is built on sounder foundations where honest criticism is possible and accepted. It is for me quite easy to openly say it on this occasion: Germany needs to implement many of the structural reforms that Portugal has implemented during the past few years.
A more difficult question and one where EU institutions will inevitably come in, concerns the appropriate mechanisms to ensure that structural reforms in different member states are better combined and coordinated. It is at this point that we move from economic theory to political practice.
I don’t want to get into the specifics of this mechanism. I will just cover three points I think are fundamental.
First, we need to adopt a preventative logic. Up until now structural reforms were implemented in situations of emergency, or constantly postponed. That is, they are applied in the worst possible conditions or they are simply not done.
Second, this new mechanism would need to resolve the political problem. In other words, it would need to reduce reform costs in the short-term and ensure that returns do not have to wait for the next electoral cycle.
Third, it must work as a form of collective responsibility. The costs must be shared because the advantages in an integrated economy will also be shared. At the same time the responsibilities and obligations of each member state before the others must be firmly established.
The European Union establishes an intermediate space where we can see things from another perspective, from a number of perspectives, rather than merely our own. This is a space where we can also contribute with our perspective so that others will be able to access it.
Even more than Goethe, it is perhaps Fernando Pessoa who truly represents the European ideal. In his The Book of Disquiet (Livro do Desassossego), Pessoa is a man who wants to know and explore everything, who wants to be a lot of different things at the same time.
Goethe and Pessoa are two magnificent examples of the European spirit. This European spirit is not limited to the cultural sphere. It is not merely an economic space. It should also be a political space. This is the true essence of political union, that elusive goal we have been seeking for over fifty years.Bruno Maçães Democracy EU Institutions European Union
Political Union: establishing a communication space
31 Mar 2014
Adolf Hitler’s 1938 threats to, and eventual occupation of, Czechoslovakia bore some similarities to what is now happening between President Putin and Ukraine.
In 1938,Hitler exaggerated, and stirred up, grievances over language rights in the German speaking part of Czechoslovakia. He directed the local German speaking leaders inside Czechoslovakia to ensure that they did not reach any settlement with the Czech Government. He used the lack of an internal settlement as a basis for seeking to incorporate these areas in Germany, under the pretext of protecting the rights of the German speakers.
Western leaders tried to mediate and negotiate without success, culminating in the showdown at Munich, where Chamberlain abandoned Czechoslovakia in return for piece of paper signed by Hitler and himself in which both agreed on “the desire of our two peoples never to go to war again.”
Eventually, when Hitler broke his word and occupied the whole of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, trust broke down completely.
Hitler tried the same game with Poland in August 1939, possibly thinking he would get away with it again and the British and French would again huff and puff but do nothing. If that was his calculation, he was mistaken.
The crisis over the Sudetenland in 1938 played out more slowly than the one over Crimea. Putin has acted with much greater speed. In the former case, there was even time for a British Commission of Enquiry, the Runciman Commission, to spend a few weeks studying the situation on the ground in the Sudetenland and reporting back to London.
There is another important difference between the situation of Ukraine and that of Czechoslovakia. France had a Treaty of Mutual (military) Assistance with Czechoslovakia, which had been signed in 1925, guaranteeing Czech borders. Britain had no such Treaty but was drawn in because of its strategic commitment to France. That is why the Czechs feel, to this day, a particular grievance about France’s lack of action in 1938.
In contrast, Ukraine does not have a military alliance with any western country. It is not a member of NATO, and has no Treaty based military guarantees of its borders.
But, since 1994, Ukraine does have a general guarantee of its borders from Russia, the US, and Britain, given in return for giving up its nuclear weapons arsenal. According to this so called Budapest memorandum, Russia, the U.S., and the UK confirmed, in recognition of Ukraine becoming a member of the nuclear non proliferation Treaty and in effect abandoning its nuclear arsenal to Russia, that they would,
+ respect Ukrainian independence and sovereignty within its existing borders,
+ refrain from the threat or use of force against Ukraine, and
+ refrain from using economic pressure on Ukraine in order to influence its politics.
This is hugely important, and creates a major moral obligation because one of the goals of global policy is to get countries with military nuclear capacity to give it up in return for guarantees. If such guarantees can be unilaterally abandoned without consequence, this strategy for opposing nuclear proliferation breaks down.
President Putin may feel that Russia should not have agreed to that memorandum in 1994. But it did. Hitler certainly felt the then German Government should not have signed the Versailles Treaty. But it did. Indeed, German negotiators had much less choice, in signing the Versailles Treaty in 1919, than Russian negotiators had in 1994 in signing the Budapest Memorandum. There was no duress in 1994.
What is happening to Ukraine, and in a different way what happened to Libya, will make it more difficult to get nuclear armed regimes to give up weapons in return for guarantees, however solemn. This is not just a matter of international law. It is one of practical politics and global security, for everybody including militarily neutral countries, like Ireland.
Unlike Ukraine, the Baltic States, Latvia and Estonia, which also have Russian speaking minorities, are members of NATO and do have military alliance guarantees.
It will be the existential test for NATO, if Russia makes or carries out threats on Latvia or Estonia, similar to the ones it has carried out on Ukraine.John Bruton Democracy Eastern Europe EU-Russia
Are we seeing a repetition of 1938?
21 Mar 2014
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and a number of countries became independent on its former territory the number of states armed with nuclear weapons increased by three: Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine inherited the Soviet nuclear weapons on their territory. By far the largest arsenal remained in newly independent Ukraine, including 2500 tactical nuclear weapons plus 130 SS-19 and 46 modern SS-24 Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) with about 1900 strategic warheads. At that time this was the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world. International diplomatic efforts led to the signing of the Lisbon Protocol to the START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) in 1992. Under this agreement, Ukraine (as well as Belarus and Kazakhstan) would join the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a non-nuclear weapons state and would return the nuclear weapons on its territory to Russia, which would become the successor of the Soviet Union as a nuclear weapons state.
The practical implementation, however, took time and met with resistance: the last weapons were only returned in 1996. In the meantime, a debate had begun whether the strategic nuclear weapons (ICBMs and warheads) should be retained by Ukraine. The 1994 Budapest Memorandum, signed by Russia, the United States and the UK was a key piece to overcome these problems in the transition of Ukraine to non-nuclear status by giving security guarantees (both against territorial and economic threats) to Ukraine as well as assistance for the return of the warheads to Russia and the elimination of the missile systems in Ukraine. Even though the Budapest Memorandum falls short of explicitly giving security guarantees that would trigger automatic military response, the document contains strong political assurances that are legally binding for the signatories.
Leaving aside the question whether Ukraine would have been able to maintain the nuclear weapons systems it inherited from the Soviet Union, one might ask (and people in Ukraine actually do this) if the current crisis would have evolved in the same ways if Ukraine were still a nuclear power. While this question is, of course, theoretical it has significant impact in the reasoning of those countries that are either thinking to develop a nuclear arsenal or those who think of giving up their nuclear weapons. What transpires from the current crisis is that you should not give up your nuclear weapons for declarations of political will or assurances unless your conventional capabilities are sufficient for self-defence or you are member of a military alliance with strong security guarantees and automated mechanisms to invoke defence of your territory by the alliance in case of attack. If you are thinking to ‘go nuclear’, the current events might boost your intentions even further. For the goal of international non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, for the NPT and naturally for the ongoing negotiations with Iran, these conclusions are of course disastrous. At the same time, the nervous responses from the Baltic countries are a reminder that the US concept of extended deterrence fundamentally relies on the assurance of its allies that the US will fulfil its security obligations. That assuring allies can be more difficult than deterring adversaries is a lesson already learned at different stages during the Cold War.
What are the conclusions from this for Europeans and transatlantic partners? The damage to nuclear non-proliferation efforts has already been done but the reactions of the West in the ongoing crisis will determine whether this damage can be contained or more ‘fallout’ is produced. For the West, this basically means that any changes to Ukrainian territorial integrity by force, pressure and action not in accordance with international law must be and have to remain unacceptable. There are many possible actions that fall short of military intervention that can and should be explored. But beyond the actual crisis in Ukraine there are things to be learned and considered. Any possible window of opportunity for further nuclear (reduction) treaties between the US and Russia is definitely closed for some time to come. But there is no need to be afraid of a new nuclear build-up at this moment. The US should remain focused on coming up with a nuclear force structure that is sufficient and also affordable in the mid to long-term. Current forecasts predict the US will spend a total of $1 trillion on the nuclear triad (aircraft based systems, land and submarine based missile systems) over the next 30 years. These costs are likely to be unsustainable. Therefore a discussion is needed on the future of the US deterrent including both strategic and budgetary implications. While this will primarily be a discussion going on within the US, the voice and opinions of those countries ‘under the US nuclear umbrella’ should be heard as well. For Europe, this means answering some rather uncomfortable questions: How do we deal with the threat perceived by NATO members on the Eastern periphery of the alliance? What is the political and military role of US tactical nuclear weapons in Europe? What kind of “assurance” do European allies of the US require and expect? How would Europe with its partners respond to a scenario in which the ban of intermediate range missile systems under the INF treaty fell? There have been ongoing allegations that Russia is either violating or at least trying to circumvent the INF treaty. On the other hand, Russia could simply terminate the treaty, arguing that a similar move had been made by the US in terminating the ABM (Anti Ballistic Missile) Treaty in 2002.
While one could say that these are indeed bleak perspectives, one should not forget that there are still areas for nuclear cooperation that should not be spoiled. The risk arising from nuclear terrorism is real not only for the West but also for Russia and other countries. Even though President Putin will not attend the Nuclear Security Summit that will take place next week in The Hague there can be little interest on the Russian side not to continue international cooperation. The same should be true for us.
[Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog post are entirely those of the author and do not represent those of any organisation.]Marc-Michael Blum Defence Democracy Eastern Europe EU-Russia
Russia, Ukraine and the question of giving up nuclear weapons
18 Mar 2014
At the Election Congress of the European People’s Party (EPP) in Dublin, EPP affiliated leaders from Eastern Partnership countries Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan discussed the situation in Ukraine and its wider implication for Europe’s Eastern Neighbourhood during a panel organised by the Centre for European Studies (CES), the political foundation and official think tank of the European People’s Party (EPP).
In his opening remarks, CES President and former Prime Minister of Slovakia, Mikuláš Dzurinda kicked off the panel by paying tribute to Ukrainian citizens for making huge sacrifices for democracy. Alexander Stubb, Minister for European Affairs and Foreign Trade of Finland, emphasised that “money is the best pacifier”, as demonstrated by the reaction of the markets in Russia in the recent days. The European Union needs to act firmly to secure Ukraine’s European future and, in this context, the Association Agreement and an EU visa policy towards Ukraine remain essential.
Leonid Gozman, President of the Union of Right Forces in Russia, pleaded for the strengthening of democratic forces in Russia, by saying: “Let me make it clear that thousands of Russians do believe that Russia committed an act of aggression in Ukraine. Crimea is the worst action taken by my country since the invasion of Czechoslovakia.”
Speakers moved on to analyse ways of dealing with Russia in light of the lessons learned from the Ukrainian crisis. Elmar Brok, member of the European Parliament, emphasised that a comprehensive solution for Ukraine requires a more coordinated European policy and a united Western front towards Russia. According to the International Republican Institute Eurasia Regional Director, Stephen Nix, channels of communication with Russia should be kept open, which does not necessarily exclude sanctions against Russia, as US policy shows.
The panel concluded with a discussion on the lessons learned and consequences of the Ukrainian crisis on the wider EU Eastern Neighbourhood. CES Visiting Fellow and former Head of Georgia’s Mission to the EU Ambassador Salome Samadashvili highlighted the fact that the Cold War ended without a settlement and that Russia is currently taking advantage of the lack of clear terms of engagement in the region. Yusif Bagirzade, Chairman of the National Independence Party of Azerbaijan, declared: “The Ukrainian crisis should serve as an incentive for the EU to offer real opportunities to Moldova and Georgia before similar crises erupt there.”
Speakers agreed that in the long run, the EU will have to strengthen its Eastern Partnership Initiative and address civil society (which desires modernisation and stronger ties to the EU) more than governments (which resist that).Defence Democracy EU-Russia Foreign Policy
Eastern Partnership leaders discuss crisis in Ukraine during debate at EPP Congress in Dublin
07 Mar 2014
The weekends of February and March 2014 will be remembered for a long time to come. Russia’s unprovoked military attack on Ukraine has taken most of the West by surprise, and the implications of the intervention are staggering.
NATO and the EU are shell-shocked and still figuring out how to react. Direct military involvement is out of the question. But there are a few other things the West can do. Here are some ideas, which relate to mind-sets as much as to concrete actions.
First and foremost, the West must act together—notwithstanding the slightly undiplomatic reference to the EU made by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland. In fact, the Ukraine crisis could be the beginning of nothing less than a direly needed transatlantic reset.
In their joint efforts, the United States and Western Europe should take the newest NATO and EU member states in Central Europe more seriously. They should stop assuming that these countries are somehow traumatized by Russia and therefore slightly irrational. The West should use these nations’ knowledge and creativity on issues from cyberdefense to intelligence collection to their fullest potential.
The West has much to learn from Central Europe’s transformative experiences after the fall of Communism. It should apply that knowledge better to support democracy and the rule of law among Eastern partners, not only Ukraine. The EU should heed Central European states’ proposals for better energy networks and reduced dependence on Russian gas and oil. And the West must reassure countries with strong Russian minorities, if necessary by military exercises or redeployments of NATO forces.
There are also a number of sanctions the West can enact immediately: it can exclude Russia from the G8 group of industrialized nations, issue travel bans against Russian oligarchs and leaders, and freeze their assets. But these are only pinpricks, which Russian President Vladimir Putin has probably factored in to his actions. To take a real stand, the West will have to define Russia as a threat to its core values.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that diplomacy means seeing the world through the eyes of others. Even if that is true, diplomacy does not work unless it is firmly rooted in a system of values that one can defend against one’s adversaries. For the West, that does not exclude the option of talking to Russia. But the West must build up its military muscle, its capacities for intelligence gathering, its instruments for democracy support, and its long-term planning to counter the Russian threat.
The current Ukrainian crisis is ultimately about Russia’s future. Contrary to what some observers have said, this is not the last stirring of the Soviet Union. Rather, it is a reassertion of a deep-seated Russian pathology of which Soviet Communism was only one expression. The sleazy, aggressive authoritarianism that the West is witnessing now is another expression—and one that the West must mobilize against.
Europe and the United States need to find a new quality of response to the Ukrainian crisis, in both the short and the long term. To paraphrase a quote often misattributed to Winston Churchill: the West will end up doing the right thing, after it has exhausted all other possibilities!
[Originally published by www.carnegieeurope.eu]Roland Freudenstein Democracy Eastern Europe EU-Russia EU-US Transatlantic
Russia’s war on Ukraine and the coming transatlantic reset
04 Mar 2014
With world attention fixed on Ukraine, the referendum on Sunday (2 February) in Gagauzia, a part of Moldova which few people have heard of, did not get much attention.
The Gagauz – some 150,000 people, who are Turkic-speaking Orthodox Christians – voted overwhelmingly in favour of joining Russia’s Customs Union instead of EU integration.
EU neighbourhood commissioner Stefan Fuele had recently visited the region. He spoke of the potential benefits of closer EU-Moldova ties, highlighting prospects for EU visa-free travel. His intervention did nothing to change the outcome, however. As Gagauz envoys explained on a visit to Brussels last week, they want easier access to the Russian labour market instead.
Sunday’s referendum also had a question about Gagauzia’s right to declare independence from Moldova. Again, an overwhelming majority wanted the right to secede. The referendum has no legal consequences because Moldovan courts have ruled it illegal. But it does have the potential to revive recent protests against Moldova’s plan to sign an EU association and free trade treaty. More dangerously, it has the potential to enflame separatist tendencies.
Moldova already has one breakaway region, which has become a de facto state and a source of long-term instability: Transniestria. The business interests of the Transniestrian elite are becoming increasingly tied to the EU, however. The region has no border with Russia, and it is does not depend on Russian markets or subsidies to the same extent as other breakaway entities in the former Soviet territories.
If Moldova-Transniestria relations mend, the Gagauzia referendum is an alternative source of instability. Some pro-Russian politicians in Chisianu are already calling for similar votes in other parts of Moldova.
As a former Georgian ambassador, I can tell you that these processes can, in the worst case scenario, spiral into armed confrontation. This is what happened in Georgia in the 1990s. Our civil wars began with autonomous regions deciding, via referendums, to stay in the USSR.
The Gagauz development clearly serves Russian interests. There are rumours the referendum was funded by Russian oligarchs of Gagauz origin. Some low-level Russian MPs frequented the region recently and Russian media have increased pro-Customs-Union content in Moldova. But there is no hard evidence of a Russian destabilisation campaign.
Whether or not the Gagauz vote was a spontaneous event, the EU needs to maintain a watchful eye. It should step up its public diplomacy in Moldova, with high-visibility economic projects that benefit local people and more high-level visits, including to local municipalities. It should speed up preparations to sign the association and free trade pact. It should also start a dialogue with Russia to avert the kind of crisis which unfolded in Ukraine.
Russia, which knows the nooks and crannies of its former empire better than EU diplomats do, also knows how to make pro-EU reforms falter. It would be great if the Kremlin understood that the spread of stability, democracy, rule of law, and the prosperity they bring, are in Russia’s own interests. But it seems we are still a long way from reaching this point.
[Originally published by EUobserver on 04.02.2014: http://euobserver.com/opinion/123000]Salome Samadashvili Democracy Eastern Europe Enlargment EU-Russia
Gagauzia: A new attack on the Eastern Partnership?
05 Feb 2014
The battlefield for defending European values has shifted to the East, to the streets of Kiev, Tbilisi and other Eastern neighbours. While these regions are willing to take full responsibility for this push for freedom, this is not only their battle and the European Union should signal this loudly and clearly in its dialogue with Russia, writes Salome Samadashvili.
As the events in Kiev have taken on a truly dramatic, violent and bloody turn, Brussels is preparing for yet another EU-Russia summit. Russia’s Ambassador to the EU has declared that this summit will not be about Ukraine. His boss, Foreign Minister Lavrov, using the terms of ‘strategic rivalry’, reminiscent of the days of the Cold War, has asserted that Russia will not allow foreign powers to break-up Ukraine. Meanwhile the EU continues to talk about ’strategic partnership’ with Russia and has not, publicly at least, pointed a finger at Moscow as the party responsible for turning Ukraine into a virtual war-zone.
The Cold War has ended without a peace treaty which would settle the terms of the outcome of this decades long standoff between the West and Russia. It was assumed that the constituent parts of the former USSR, Russia included, as well as its former satellite states in Central and Eastern Europe would venture on to become full democracies. The ‘end of history’ would bring stability and peace to the European continent. While in a long term this assumption might still be true, believing that the strategic rivalry between Russia and the West has already become a distant history, will be of the most tragic consequences for us, people living in the former Soviet republics. It can will also certainly be damaging to the long term interests of Europe.
Let’s have no doubts – what we witness in Ukraine today is the Kremlin’s attempt to impose on the world its own terms of the end of the Cold War. The settlement is written not in ink, but blood, shed in the streets of Ukraine today and my own country, Georgia, five years earlier. So at the highest political forum of the EU-Russia cooperation, it would be both timely and necessary to ask, what does “strategic partnership” with the current Kremlin administration mean? If it means a shared vision for the future and cooperation around common objectives, than the EU-Russia summit indeed cannot be only about Ukraine, it has to be about even bigger questions, which should define the EU’s policy towards Russia in the years to come.
It would be helpful if Russia got a clear signal that it cannot aspire to remain a “strategic partner” of Europe, or be part of the club of nations consisting of the wealthy democracies, for example G8 or OECD, as long as in addition to disregard for democracy in its own country, the Kremlin continues to support instability and non-democratic regimes in its neighborhood. Russia needs to know that its vital interests – such as cooperation in the field of energy, will suffer due to its choice to undermine democratic transformation and modernization of the nations in its former Empire. Freedom to travel to Europe, both for the citizens of the Russian Federation and for the elites with diplomatic passports, is another point of influence at the EU’s hands. The EU can signal its readiness to use measures such as the Magnitski Act to make clear that it does not view the current Russian government as a partner with whom it can do business as usual.
While the options, which the EU has at its disposal are not numerous, the leverage which Europe has over Moscow is much stronger, than the EU has so far been willing to acknowledge. Russia cannot continue its economic development without access to the EU markets, technological know-how or investment. Europe can make it clear that these cannot be taken for granted. Using its leverage on Russia now rather than later is in Europe’s own strategic interests. While the economic interests of the European countries in cooperation with Russia are self-evident, in a long-term perspective, an increasingly assertive, non-democratic and aggressive Russia will also hurt the EU’s economic and business ventures in the region.
“No new Munich” has been the modus operandi of the past 20 years – the West has assured the newly independent states of the former USSR, over and over again, that there would be no more agreements on spheres of influence at the expanse of the small, formerly captive nations. The fact that this continues to be true, I hope, will also be made clear at the Summit. In the coming months this should also be proven not only through words, but by demonstrating a clear commitment of the EU for greater reengagement with our countries, focused on broad support for democratization and economic growth.
Yes, we live in an increasingly complex world and the EU needs the Russian cooperation on many fronts, not least on the Middle East and Iran. But the challenges posed by the recent economic crises notwithstanding, we also live in an increasingly prosperous world, secured by advancement of democracy and freedom. We see what EU integration has brought to the countries in Central and Eastern Europe and we aspire to the same for our nations. Freedom, security, prosperity and the right to make independent choices about the future: That is what we hope for. The fact that the current Russian regime, which denies those same rights to its own people, sees this as a threat to its security, does not make our choice any less wise or legitimate. Undermining these freedoms is not a “legitimate” interest of the Russian Federation with respect to its neighbors. Which I hope will also be made clear at this Summit.
In competition of different visions for the best value system for the advancement of humanity, the battlefield for defending European values has shifted to the East, to the streets of Kiev, Tbilisi and other Eastern neighbors. While we are willing to take full responsibility in this strife for freedom, this is not only our battle. I hope the European Union will signal this loudly and clearly in its dialogue with Russia.
[Editorial published by EurActiv on 28 January 2014]Salome Samadashvili Democracy Eastern Europe EU-Russia Values
What should the EU-Russia summit be about?
28 Jan 2014
Yanukovych still has the choice to emerge from the current ordeal as the man who has taken Ukraine’s statehood and democracy to the next level, by securing free and fair elections and making its European future irreversible. In exchange he will be allowed to get away with the economic benefits he has gained in his three years in power.
The stakes in the epic battle for securing democratic future of Ukraine have never been higher. A signature of the Association and Free Trade agreements between Ukraine and the EU would have been seen as an irrecoverable loss by Russia under any circumstances. However, if Ukraine’s European future is sealed by the massive democratic movement we are witnessing in Kiev today, it will bring a double blow to current Russian regime. It will create a substantial obstacle on the way of Russia’s ambition to rebuild an empire, but Kiev will also become a “Rubicon” for democracy’s advancement towards Kremlin.
Yanukovych’s refusal to sign the agreements with the EU in the coming weeks will only signal that he has never intended to do so, manoeuvring to buy more time. And time is of essence-Sochi Olympics are already starting to be a disappointing affair for Putin, with the heads of several European states refusing to attend the opening ceremony. Once Sochi is over, however, the Russian President will turn his full attention to the most important jewel of his crown-the Eurasian Union. The 15 billion credit line and substantial cut in gas prices presented to Yanukovych in Moscow, make it clear that the costs of the project, as with Sochi Olympics, do not matter.
In the coming weeks the EU cannot afford to yield-Yanukovych must either sign the agreements with the EU or the new elections are in order. The argument of the opposition is clear: When the elected representatives change the strategic alliances of the country, without having a popular mandate to do so, they lose any legitimacy to take the decisions on behalf of their people.
That said the challenge posed by the new elections, is also considerable. The opposition is divided and Vitali Klichko, the most likely candidate to defeat Yanukovych, lacks the necessary political infrastructure. Yanukovych’s hold on the administrative resources, which he will use to try to falsify the election results and the likelihood of heavy Russian interference, also present a considerable threats to the outcome of the elections.
However, the longer the period of uncertainty lasts, the greater will be the damage to Ukraine-massive collapse of the economy, social unrest and instability, are the most likely consequences. The EU’s margin of interference will diminish even further, as the conditions attached to the EU assistance will never be acceptable to increasingly cornered Yanukovych, focused on his survival. Weaker Ukraine, will be an even easier prey for Russia.
To paraphrase the Austrian Philosopher, Otto Neurath, the countries in transition from authoritarian rule into modern democracy are like sailors who on the open sea must reconstruct their ship. “Where a beam is taken away a new one must at once be put there.” Ukraine and other former Soviet republics are racing against time-longer is the interval between replacement of the beams, greater is the likelihood of sinking. In the coming weeks, the EU and the US need to think strategically how to avert sinking of Ukraine’s democratic future, which is clearly a looming disaster.
While the current administration in the US might think that it is time to take a backseat and let the EU lead in its shared neighbourhood with Russia, Putin views the absence of the US as an opportunity to bring the region back under his neo-imperial rule. The Russian government is only too well aware, when it comes to confronting them, the EU, plagued with its own internal economic problems, is still a rather divided camp. It does not respect the EU’s “soft power.” Transatlantic Unity is a sine qua non for advancement of the democracy in our part of the world. We see encouraging signs of the US reengagement in the region and hope it will continue.
Western support for democracy groups in Ukraine turned out to be the most efficient form of foreign assistance. One can only regret that the leaders of the civic groups behind the mass protests, who today might be Ukraine’s last hope for securing country’s European future, do not have the time to organize themselves into the coherent political force, able to lead beyond street protests. The West needs to continue assisting broad democratization in the countries of the former USSR-helping to replace the Soviet citizens used to passivity with the ones who know how to hold their governments accountable.
Granted that Yanukovych does not sign the agreements with the EU in the nearest future, it will be up to these groups, supported by the Western political pressure, to force Yanukovych to call early elections. The West should already start mobilizing massive electoral assistance to Ukraine to prevent electoral fraud, securing the right of the Ukrainian citizens to have their voices heard through the ballot box.
Yanukovych should feel a real threat of becoming an international pariah in case he tries to steal the elections. A serious discussion of the potential sanctions against Yanukovych and his economic interests in Europe and the United States would be a good start.
Finally, convening an internationally mandated group of experts to look at real economic foes of the country and considering the potential need for “Marshal Plan” for Ukraine, which the country will likely need in order to shore up its economy, as the political crises deepens, would also be helpful.
Yanukovych still has the choice to emerge from the current ordeal as the man who has taken Ukraine’s statehood and democracy to the next level, by securing free and fair elections and making its European future irreversible. In exchange he will be allowed to get away with the economic benefits he has gained in his three years in power.
An alternative would be abandonment to the mercy of Vladimir Putin. If this choice is clearly framed, one might hope that if not patriotism or other sentiments of higher moral category, than a simple instinct of self-preservation prevails and Ukraine will be given a chance to win the race against time, securing its democratic future.
[Originally published on EurActiv.com: http://ces.tc/1fDVP3Z ]Salome Samadashvili Democracy Eastern Europe EU-Russia Neighbourhood Policy Values
Race Against Time-The Democratic Future of Ukraine
18 Dec 2013
Two weeks can be a long time in politics. Remember the downbeat mood in the EU on 27 November, after Ukrainian President Yanukovych’s decision to ditch the deal with the EU? With the Eastern Partnership in near shambles, the finger-pointing, the recriminations, the understanding shown for Ukrainian industry dependent on Russian, not EU export markets, the suggestions that Brussels had not offered enough incentives to Ukraine, and, of course, the accusation that it had been a fatal mistake to stick to principles about Yulia Timoshenko?
All that seems ages ago now. Last Sunday’s mass demonstration in the streets of Kiev, the biggest since 2004, came as a culmination of a rising groundswell of protest against the government, and against its violent crackdown on a pro-EU demonstration on 30 November. Of course, only a fraction of the 45 million Ukrainians are demonstrating here. And yet, it’s some of the best and brightest, and they are not only from the West of the country. Plus, although this was initially a rather leaderless people’s protest, with Vitali Klitschko, the opposition now has a fresh leader that can at least hold out the prospect of a better future and credibly promise not to repeat the mistakes made by centre right Ukrainians after 2004.
To put it in a nutshell: Last Sunday’s toppling of the Lenin statue was the best expression of what this is all about: It’s about lies, it’s about Russia, and it’s about freedom.
Because three things have transpired in these heady two weeks:
Ukraine is in a mess. Its oligarch-based government is facing default. Yanukovych doesn’t seem to be able to raise the minimal credits required to keep the country afloat, not to mention sorting out the economy. Make no mistake: That man is no friend of Putin’s. In the world according to Yanukovych, Ukraine pushes its national interest in some kind of a balancing act between the West and Russia. In the eyes of the oligarchs, it thereby preserves lucrative sleaze and avoids bothersome controls by eurocrats. But a rising number of Ukrainians don’t buy this any longer because it doesn’t produce the minimal prosperity and stability they expect. They want freedom. And Russia wants Ukraine ‘back’.
Russia is playing hardball. Some people have known that for many years, but it has dawned on really everyone in the EU in the last couple of weeks. Russia is actively and ruthlessly rolling back the already meagre successes of democracy and the rule of law in the countries of the former Soviet Union. It is using not only strongarm tactics, such as trade boycotts, energy blackmail and threats about national security – or throwing money around by buying assets and people. It is also spreading ideology – as incredible as it seems. This ideology is based on the notion of a common past – sometimes referring to the good old days of the Soviet Union, sometimes to centuries before. But in any event, the putinist narrative goes, Western ways are evil ways. We Europeans can tell ourselves a thousand times that international relations in Europe’s east can be win-win for all: That is to no avail as long as Russia defines the game as zero-sum. But current Russia is a giant with clay feet. Its long term economic and demographic prospects are atrocious. And it has its own growing disenfranchised middle class whose first stirrings we have seen in the Moscow demonstrations a year ago.
The Ukrainians are showing us what believing in the West means. Hundreds of thousands of them are braving the cold, and even risking to get beaten up by riot police. As Ed Lucas wrote in the Economist, no one takes to the streets in favour of sleazy authoritarianism. What the demonstrators want is a whole range of things, from the rule of law and an end to corruption, to decent wages and pensions, to true independence for their country. For any future government, these are daunting expectations, in view of the current mess.
There is one drawback to the developments of the last two weeks, though: The political meta-concept of geopolitics has never been more fashionable in EU discourse. Now, I’m far from claiming that geography has no influence on politics. But if, as Napoleon claimed, geography was the destiny of nations (and, by implication, political ideas like freedom of secondary importance), NATO would have collapsed instead of the Warsaw Pact, and the Soviet Union might as well be alive and kicking. And today in Ukraine (just as in 2004), there is no neat automatic East-West divide that would suggest a politico-geographic split in the country. There is more of a divide between different groups in the population: Those with a desire for fundamental change, and those with an interest in the status quo, out of greed or out of fear.
And this is where the EU’s response to the situation has to begin: With the power of ideas such as freedom and the rule of law. We were losing faith in that ourselves. It took people like Vitali Klitschko and the men and women in ‘Euromaidan’ to remind us. However the situation in Ukraine develops now: At some point in the future, a new government will be in place that requires our help. It is good that the European People’s Party already has both Ms Timoshenko’s Batkivshchina and Mr Klitschko’s UDAR parties as observer members. And it is good that the EU and the US have unequivocally supported free speech and condemned police brutality and provocations in Ukraine. Second, we need to stick to the prospect of trade and political dialogue (in association agreements) while intensifying work on civil society, especially students, entrepreneurs and future leaders. Visa policy is extremely important in this respect, but also coherent democracy support. Third, of course more resources will be needed for some time to facilitate economic reforms – that’s unavoidable. Last but not least, we have to become much more patient and farsighted, not focused on political and economic success in a few years. The struggle over Eastern Europe is closer to its beginning than to its end. But it’s good that virtually everyone in the EU now recognises it as a struggle.Roland Freudenstein Democracy Eastern Europe EU-Russia Neighbourhood Policy
The message from the streets of Kyiv
10 Dec 2013
Freedom and equality. If there was ever a human being who united these values within himself — it was Nelson Mandela. Mandela served 27 years in prison for these values, in a land subject to inequality for many years. Over the years, freedom and equality have become universal values.
Mandela was an abolitionist. He strived to abolish apartheid, in an aggressive manner as a young and upcoming lawyer and in a peaceful way as an elder statesman. Conciliatory policy without violent actions was his aim in a land where a white minority was so afraid of losing control to a black majority. In the 1960s, Mandela knew that his imprisonment was more than being locked between four walls. For him it was a symbol. A symbol of freedom and equality for which he was willing to fight, meaning he was willing to sacrifice even his own freedom.
Quickly after his release from prison he led the negotiations with South African President De Klerk to establish the first ever multiracial elections in 1994. De Klerk knew he had to step aside. For Mandela embodied more than just an elected president. He embodied an almost transcendent spirit of hope and renewal which would ultimately lead to a democratic transition.
In an attempt to end ethnic tensions he formed a Government of National Unity and made sure to investigate past human rights abuses with the instalment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He did it with a combination of vigorousness and compassion rarely seen in a politician. But Mandela was not just a politician. He carried the entire history of a country with him. He experienced true injustice first hand. There was no one better suited to do the job and De Klerk was fully aware of this.
Even during his imprisonment, an international campaign lobbied for his release, uniting countries from all over the world. The necessary reforms he introduced to combat poverty, to abolish inequality and to decrease the violations of human rights led to the end of the international economic boycott against South Africa. A development, of which the country still sees the benefits today.
Mandela was not only loved and a source of inspiration for many high-level politicians but by people from all walks of life. They are inspired by his intelligence, his political and sociological sensitivity but most of all by his perseverance. The perseverance to fight for a cause — freedom and equality.
This summer, at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, José Manuel Barroso choose the following quote by Mandela to illustrate why he was a source of inspiration to him, and many other political leaders for that matter:
‘… the hunger for my own freedom became the greater hunger for the freedom of my people. It was this desire for the freedom of my people to live their life with dignity and self-respect that animated my life. I am no more virtuous or self-sacrificing than the next man, but I found that I could not even enjoy the poor and limited freedoms I was allowed when I knew my people were not free. Freedom is indivisible; the chains on any one of my people were the chains on all of them, the chains on all of my people were the chains on me’.
He was a humble man and he never felt the need to emphasise his own accomplishments. For him it was a personal ideal with a universal vision of freedom and equality for every man.Barend Tensen Democracy Leadership
Nelson Mandela: the embodiment of Freedom and Equality
06 Dec 2013
Georgia is unquestionably the most open polity of the South Caucasus, and its political development will be a bell-wether for the prospects of democratic development across Eurasia. This research paper analyses the achievements and shortcomings of the Rose Revolution era as well as the prospects for the country under the leadership of the Georgian Dream Coalition. Furthermore, it discusses the influence of Russia on Georgia’s development on the path of European integration and democracy-building. In the past decade, Georgia has transformed from a failed state to a functioning one; President Saakashvili helped modernise Georgia’s conception of itself and moved Georgia irrevocably toward integration with Euro-Atlantic institutions. Prime Minister Ivanishvili has continued Georgia’s foreign policy priorities of EU and NATO integration, declaring these to be irreversible. Meanwhile, Russia is doubling down on its efforts at coercive integration of the post-Soviet space, with the explicit purpose of undermining the east–west corridor. Should Georgia’s democratic progress be reversed, the very feasibility of democratic governance in post-Soviet countries as a whole would be called into question. Should it continue to progress towards European norms, the viability of the model of state–society relations that Vladimir Putin euphemistically terms ‘sovereign democracy’ would instead be challenged.Democracy EU-Russia Foreign Policy Neighbourhood Policy Security
Getting Georgia Right
02 Dec 2013
A decade has passed since the colour revolutions ushered in a new wave of democratisation into some countries of the former USSR.
Later this week the capital of another former Soviet republic, Lithuania, an inspirational model for the other Newly Independent States emerging from the ruins of the “evil empire,” will host what was hoped to be a historical summit of the Eastern Partnership Initiative. The Initiative encompasses six former Soviet republics with the overarching goal of strengthening the political and economic ties between them and the EU. An ambitious action-plan, or “Roadmap to Vilnius,” envisioned cementing the European future of the most advanced eastern partners at this milestone event.
Sadly the outcome of Vilnius summit will be falling short of these high expectations. Following the decision of Armenia to abandon the path towards the European integration and consider joining the Russian led Eurasian Customs Union, another partner, Ukraine has also refused to sign the association and free trade agreements in Vilnius, leading to mass public protests and deepened political confrontation in the country, the outcome of which is yet to be seen.
Georgia and Moldova are now set to be the “stars” of the Vilnius summit, initialing association and free trade agreements with the EU. This will be an important step forward for both countries. However, the game is far from over.
The declining economic performance of Georgia under its new government, as well as the concerns about selective justice it applies against political opponents, rampant corruption and the volatile domestic political scene in Moldova, alongside the ongoing security challenges posed by unresolved conflicts, all create a fertile ground for impeding the progress of the two champions of the Eastern Partnership in the nearest future.
Four years since the inception of the Eastern Partnership initiative it is both timely as well as necessary to ask, why has this EU policy managed to deliver more in some partner countries than in the others?
Looking at the political, economic and security factors, it is clear that the level of democratic development, the degree of economic dependency on Russia and the nature of the security concerns facing individual partners, all have played their pivotal role in determining respective successes and failures achieved by the Eastern Partnership Initiative vis-a-vis them.
As witnessed most recently in my own country, Georgia, free and fair elections which resulted in the first democratic transfer of power, were largely made possible due to the commitment of the governing elites to the European future of the country. The elections, so far, have not altered the fiercely pro-Western foreign policy orientation molded by the government led by former president Mikhail Saakashvili. As long as democracy and the commitment of the Georgian voters to the European choice survive, it seems that the country will remain safely on the EU path.
A messy, but still democratic process in Moldova, for reasons similar to the ones in Georgia, has also managed to take the country forward towards Europe.
The entrenched political interests of the governing elites in Belarus, Azerbaijan and Ukraine, however, despite the respective differences in the quality of the democratic development of these countries, have been the decisive factor for failure of the Eastern Partnership Initiative to achieve the desired progress there.
As the examples of Armenia and Ukraine also clearly show, strong economic ties with Russia pose a serious threat to the European choice of both the governing elites and the voters amongst the Eastern partners, as do the concerns with respect to the potential security threats and dependency on Russian military assistance.
In this light, what does the future of the Eastern Partnership look like following Vilnius?
The Russian pressure on these countries is likely to increase – as of spring of next year, Russia’s current vanity project, the Sochi Olympics – will be a thing of the past. It is therefore probable that the second, strategically even more important and ambitious project – the Eurasian Union – will be given full attention by the Russian leadership. While the viability of this project still remains uncertain, its potential for undermining the EU’s interests in the region, in light of the recent developments, can no longer be ignored. In the months and years to come, Russian policy towards the countries in its shared neighborhood with the EU will be multifaceted.
Russia will try to agree on deals behind the closed doors with the leadership of those countries where lack of democracy makes it possible to ignore the voters. In the countries where a still nascent but functioning democratic process makes it difficult to discount public opinion, such as Georgia for example, Russia will continue wielding economic and soft power tools to thwart support of voters away from the European future. Russia will also likely deepen security concerns where it can by supporting instability.
What will be the response of the European Union to this increasingly assertive role of Russia? Will it stand up for its strategic interests in the region or will it retreat? Clearly, if the EU is serious about its commitment to the region, after Vilnius it will need to devote substantial intellectual and financial resources to rethinking the policies directed at supporting democracy, economic development and security of its Eastern neighbors.
Five years ago, the disastrous war between my country and Russia served as an impetus for some serious policy thinking in Brussels and other European capitals on the way to stabilise the EU’s eastern neighborhood. This has resulted in the creation of the Eastern Partnership initiative, which despite its limitations, was an important step forward in securing the democratic and European future of our countries.
Let the recent setbacks serve in a similar role, as catalysts for renewing the commitment of the EU to its eastern neighbors.
The strategic interests of the European Union in creating a stable and prosperous neighborhood around its borders, access to the human and natural resources of the Eastern partners and the benefits from the common economic space with them, all are self-evident.
However, strategic interests aside, the people who braved to confront the authorities in the streets of Tbilisi and Kiev some 10 years ago demanding their freedom, who, despite all the disappointments of the decade following the colour revolutions, have not lost their faith in democracy and are willing to go back to the Maidan to defend their European choice, count on the European Union.
Europe must not disappoint us.
[Originally published on euobserver.com: http://ces.tc/1iZpsPD]Salome Samadashvili Defence Democracy EU-Russia Foreign Policy
What next after the EU’s Vilnius summit?
29 Nov 2013
In its first part this publication contains a survey about the level of knowledge of young people in Bulgaria about the communist regime and the European democratic values. What significance does the educational system assign to the recent history of Bulgaria and what do young people know about the history of dictatorship in Europe as a whole? It turns out that 33 % of young people in Bulgaria have never heard anything about the Berlin Wall, more than 85% are unfamiliar with the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact or Solidarność. According to the survey, 17.5 % of young people prefer to live during the time of the communist dictator Todor Zhivkov, and only 30.8% during the democratic period after 1989. The publication is thus intended as a methodological tool for history teachers and in its second part contains a compilation of best practices from different Central and Eastern European Countries for teaching the history of the communist regimes and their consequences. The aim is to provide a source of inspiration for people working in educational institutions, ministries and even administration and to improve the quality of tuition on the subject. The publication also offers a list of online information sources about this period of Bulgarian history which pupils and teachers can make use of.Democracy Eastern Europe Education
Teaching the History of Communism – Compendium for history teachers
15 Oct 2013
The monument commemorating the Soviet army in the centre of Sofia has long been a popular meeting point for Sofia’s youth. And if you, like me, happen to wonder where is the link between the communist relic of the Soviet army and Bulgaria’s juvenile skaters, the answer is simple: they both know nothing about each other.
This is confirmed by a recent project of CES in cooperation with KAS Sofia and Hannah Arendt Centre on “The education on the communist regime and the European democratic values of the young people in Bulgaria today.” A survey which is part of the project shows that 66% of Bulgarians aged 15-35 are not aware of the term ‘Iron Curtain’, 88 % know nothing about the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, 85.5 % have never heard about Solidarność, and 33.3 % don’t know what the Berlin Wall was.
Historical ignorance is shocking, especially for a country like Bulgaria whose stormy political and economic present is influenced so much by its recent communist past. The results of the survey however should not come as a surprise. The discourse on communist past has been well-hidden from the youth since the beginning of the 90s. As the debate after the presentation of the survey pointed, some of the reasons are educational gaps – programmes of history classes devote very little time to the topic and sideline it on the last pages of textbooks; state exams never include questions on the subject and as a result students have no incentives to learn about that part of history. At the same time, the little that is left in textbooks is totally de-personalised and presented as dry facts, making it extremely boring matter to read on. In addition, and as mentioned in the study, there are almost no memorials of the victims of the communist regime in Bulgaria, which to relate the scarce text in textbooks to real stories, events and places.
The bigger factors however, standing behind the ignorance is the lack of consensus on the discourse about the legacy of communism in Bulgaria and the incapacity to face the regime as part of the country’s own history. This disagreement could be seen by looking at other reincarnations of the Soviet army monument in Sofia. Every 9 September (the day when the Russian army entered in Bulgaria in 1944) there is a small but consistent group of citizens that comes with flowers to commemorate the date. In contrast, another group requests the permanent demolition of the monument as a shameful artefact representing a regime which tortured and imprisoned its citizens in labour camps for political reasons. In 2011, the figures of Soviet soldiers were “dressed up” by a secret graffiti artist to represent characters of western superheroes featuring Superman and Santa Claus. In April this year (2013) the soldiers were painted again, this time in pink and subtitled in Czech: „Bulgaria apologises“(as a reference to the Bulgarian participation in the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia to crack the Prague spring in August 1968). Those incidents sparked polarized comments in the public and media.
All this comes to show the deep discord in parts of Bulgarian society on the topic of communism, making it almost a taboo for everyone else. Such ambiguity and politicisation do not make the tasks of history teachers easy. How do you teach something that you do not agree on to your children? In addition, most of the elderly teachers have been practicing their profession from before the fall of the Wall and had been teaching history of communism as victorious times. Today’s lesson, in turn, puts them in a difficult situation, especially when it comes to personal and career integrity and even more, when they have to face inquisitive pupils and their questions.
Reconciliation of painful histories is a task many nations had to go through, however differently from other Central and Eastern European post-communist countries, Bulgaria seems to be stuck in an impasse. The mature decision would be to face the topic and try to find a socially accepted understanding on it. Digesting totalitarian past would enable young Bulgarians to use it as a resource for future development and will foster a political culture of compromise rather than revanchism. On the contrary, it will be dangerous to keep it in the drawer and thus prevent it from entering into collective social memory and identity. Showing a low culture of remembrance and sending the dictatorial experience into oblivion for the next generations runs the real risk of history repeating itself in the future.
Three processes can help in this respect:
First, as the aforementioned publication suggests an educational reform concentrating on history teaching programmes to include more attention and tangible artefacts about the period. Teachers should be aided in their difficult task of teaching history of communism which has been very politicised and trainings could be provided. The lack of additional platforms on the topic should also be addressed: audio-visual media, interactive internet content, participative projects for pupils, etc.
Second, it should be attempted to find social consensus about the discourse for teaching the history of communism. This is probably the most difficult to achieve since many of the people who lived under the regime have very emotional personal experiences – either very negative or very positive and nostalgic. Consequently, this would require a certain degree of self-censoring of emotions, however without hiding uncomfortable facts. Transparency of facts and accessibility for the society is essential. (In Bulgaria the opening of secret police dossiers was never completely conducted.)
Third, and related to the second factor, stories need to be told in a personalised way to the new generation including narratives of dissidents, political prisoners, but also people who worked for the regime and were part of the ‘system’. This will allow for teaching of ‘histories’ (as opposed to the ‘history’) of communist rule in Bulgaria.Boyan Tanev Democracy Eastern Europe Education
On communism, skating and education
15 Oct 2013
The development of political systems, structures and entities is in the interest of every political scientist. For the CES these topics are very important, especially when it comes to developmental issues and the challenges facing political parties. In March 2013 Moisés Naím, a Venezuelan-born economist and politics scholar, published a very interesting and stimulating book titled ‘End of Power’, which examines some of the same questions the CES has addressed, by posing many of the concepts and questions of political systems in a global context. In his book, Naím observes that developed democracies are faced with elections in higher frequency which leads to a political party landscape that is unstable. Furthermore, Naím points out that new parties are appearing and fading away very quickly while non-decided voters in many developed countries are now becoming the largest voter group. These observations have also been made by many other scholars.
Classically, the dynamics of the political systems is presented as a landscape where the main power is held by the political elite, often characterised of consisting a small group of powerful people who have a privileged status and who are also governing within the society. A great deal of political checks and balances have been created in order to ensure that political elites and decision makers are regularly challenged and their actions revised. Political elitism as a concept is often used even today and garners a perception of stability in the minds of people but as Naím points out; political elites are anything but stable in today’s political climate.
Political entities need new ideas, approaches and solutions when facing the electorate. Such reinvigoration of a political party is brought by new individuals who are interested in politics and who want to engage with the political process. This is essential for a functional political system. However, over the past few decades, the trend has shown that often the best way to succeed in politics is to instead take another career path outside party-politics. An individual with a successful background in almost any field outside of politics is an attractive candidate for any political party. The perception is that those outside the political bubble are more capable to bring in fresh ideas and new thinking to a party’s membership. Throughout Europe, political parties have adapted to this reality and take it to account when selecting candidates for elections.
In all democracies, the political process boils down to individuals who are elected to take decisions and it can take elected officials many years to become accustomed with parliamentary processes and to become effective in their roles. As political parties continue to seek new candidates outside party ranks and due to the formation of new parties, it is now easier than ever for a first-time candidate to get elected. Some new parties and movements, like Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement in Italy, even set term limits for officeholders in order to guarantee rotation. On the flip side, a candidate or member of a parliament who knows that their stay in politics will be short and who reached their position without any great effort or investment, does not have the interest in making the difficult decisions that have a long term impact – simply because they don’t have to deal with long term consequences. Such an elected official can be dogmatic, uncompromising and rigid.
In recent times, there has been a growing trend amongst voters to reject not only professional politicians but professional parties also. This is partly due to voter’s disappointment and anger with a political system and political parties that have in their eyes not served them adequately. In turn, this has created a belief amongst some sections of the electorate that by electing a new political entity, this will bring with it a new way of doing politics, better representing the people and bringing with them better results.
The desire for new faces has become an increasingly strong influence in voters’ behavior, often even overshadowing the achievements and success of governments. An excellent example of this is Sweden, where current Prime Minister Reinfeldt, who has been in government for two consecutive terms, has made Sweden’s economy stay stable and positive in a European economic crisis which has meant the majority of Swedish voters are positive about the future, which is rather exceptional in Europe today. However, this has not led to a surge of support for Prime Minister Reinfeldt and the Moderate Party, with opinion polls in July showing support for the coalition government lagging behind that of its opponents.
Political careers are becoming shorter. Instead of continuing in politics, successful politicians are moving to the private sector becoming senior consultants and members of boards for a range of large and internationally recognised corporations – with a lifetime career in politics now becoming a rarity. This means that young people are not interested to invest in any political career partly because a long-term political career doesn’t exist for a large section of politicians anymore.
So what is the state of the political classes in politics today? Clearly, it has become more difficult to pinpoint who concretely belongs to the so-called political elite. However, although the faces of politics might change across the continent, the mechanisms and institutions in place continue working regardless of who is in power. New people with different professional backgrounds are getting elected to parliaments across Europe, but with less and less previous experience on political process. The newly elected representative often is no longer a career politician, rather a professional in a different career who ended up to be a politician, often temporarily. Political elite is an important concept of political analysis, but it is highly important that we debate what it means and whether is continues to exist in this ever-changing political landscape.
While the political class is increasingly changing, the institutions aiming to influence political process are less unstable. Business presentations, trade unions, NGOs and even think thanks share the political world’s challenges of modern trends but although politicians and parties come and go, these entities increasingly become the guard keepers of the collective memory of the political process, knowledge and its history. As traditional political class weakens, it is a new opportunity for those influencing political process from outside the institutions.
The logical solution to counter voters’ dissatisfaction is to assure that the political system delivers. When voters are satisfied with their representatives, there is less need for adventure in the ballot box. The greatest achievement of Naím‘s observations are in highlighting why it is more difficult than ever before for political systems to deliver in the eyes of the electorate. As insightful and great his analysis is, less surprising are Naím’s conclusions and proposal. He underlines the need to find new forms of governance and to find new innovative ways of political participation. The future challenge might be that when the political elites are requested to act, there will be in fact nobody to respond.Tomi Huhtanen Democracy Party Structures Political Parties Society
Political Elites – Do perceptions meet the reality?
07 Oct 2013
Why is there criticism of lack of democracy in the EU at this time?
One of the criticisms of the policy guidelines, laid down by the European Commission and Council of Ministers for economic policy in the European Countries, is that the European Union lacks adequate democratic legitimacy. I believe this criticism is exaggerated ,but has some underlying validity. The guidelines are ,of course, really require to be followed, not because they have been recommended by the EU, but because lenders in the commercial markets will not lend money to Governments who are permanently spending more than they are raising in taxes, or who are maintaining economic structures, that inhibit the economic growth.
Economic growth is needed to raise tax revenues, and thereby to sustain better public services. But economic growth requires the removal of rigidities in the market for jobs and services that may prevent change. Constant change is actually essential to economic growth. Change is often painful, and evokes anger. Because its advice often requires painful change, the EU is being criticised…and accused of being undemocratic.
But the truth is that, even if the EU, and the euro, did not exist, European governments with budget deficits, ageing populations and rigid economic structures, would be facing painful change at this time anyway. Neither the EU, nor membership of the euro, obliged the governments in difficulty to adopt the entitlement, fiscal or credit policies that have led to their present difficulties. But it is hard to communicate this to the electorate. Austerity would have been unavoidable one way or another.
That said, there is a need for more democracy in the EU.
Democratic legitimacy exists if the voters feel that, if they are not satisfied with what their government is doing, they can peacefully remove them from office. Europeans feel they can do that at the level of their city or local government, and they feel they can do that with their national government. But they do not feel they can vote any part of the EU government out of office. That should change.
What should be done at EU level?
There should, in future, be three, rather than two, sources of democratic legitimacy in the EU:
1. The democratic mandate that member state governments, who make EU policy in the Council, already enjoy from their parliaments and people
2. The democratic mandate that the European Parliament already enjoys from the people in the national constituencies, in which it members are elected. I believe there should also be the possibility that some MEPS might be elected from an EU wide constituency
3. A new EU wide democratic mandate, that a directly elected President of the Commission would enjoy from the entire unified electorate of the EU. . The President should be elected by the entire electorate of the EU, using the alternative vote system of Proportional Representation, whereby the voter would indicate an order of preference among candidates, and the votes of candidates with lower numbers of first preferences would be redistributed according to the second preferences, until one remaining candidate had achieved 50%
This new third element would create a vehicle whereby Europeans, voting all over Europe on the same day, could vote into or out of office an office holder who could help change the trajectory of EU policy. That would enhance the democratic legitimacy of the EU. It would bring the EU closer to the people. It would bring the same degree of democracy to the EU, that Europeans expect at national and local level.
We must first create a truly European electorate, if we are to have the level of common identification with one another across national boundaries, which would be essential if there is to be public support for more federal integration.
Electorates must first learn the” think European” before they will happily pool more powers.
I believe election of the President of the Commission, directly by the people themselves, is preferable to an election of the President of the Commission by the European Parliament. A President of the Commission, who had been elected by the European Parliament, and who can be removed by the Parliament (as happened in the Santer case), and who has no power to dissolve Parliament and call an election(as most national Prime Ministers are, would be too weak, and would not have the necessary independence. We would be introducing, at European level, the sort of weak governance that caused such difficulty in the Third and Fourth French Republics.
I believe the separation of powers is an important safeguard in a Union as complex, and large, as the EU. The direct election of the President of the Commission by the people, rather than by the European Parliament, would preserve the separation of powers on the basis of which the EU has operated successfully since its foundation. This important separation of powers should not be sacrificed to the present ambitions of some in the European Parliament. Some suggest that the EU could gain greater legitimacy if the 27 national parliaments became more involved in EU policy making.
One way of doing this would be by setting up a joint committee of MEPs and national parliamentarians who could question EU Commissioners and the European Central Bank.While this might do some good, it would not close the gap between national electorates and the EU decision makers. I do not believe that greater involvement of national parliaments in European affairs will contribute much to the democratic legitimation of the EU project. National parliaments are national entities with national concerns. That is the role their members are chosen to fulfil.In any event, national parliaments are themselves facing criticism for the performance of their national roles, and giving them a new set of European responsibilities will not necessarily reassure national electorates about Europe. Furthermore, national parliaments are subject to party discipline, and will tend to follow the policy line of the national governments in the Council of Ministers, and thus are unlikely to add many new, or different, inputs from those put forward in the Council by national Ministers.
The direct election of the President of the Commission by the people does raise a question about the quasi judicial functions that the Commission performs, which many believe should not be subject to electoral pressures . These include Competition policy, enforcement of EU laws, and guardianship of the Treaties. Arguably these roles should be hived off to an independent body with a level of independence similar to that now enjoyed by the ECB. I do not favour merging the roles of the President of the Council, and that of President of the Commission, but only one of them(The President of the Commission) should be directly elected. This would establish a natural hierarchy between them, and avoid the embarrassment of sending two Presidents to the G8.
Ideally, I would favour a smaller Commission, but I do not see how it will come about in practical politics because smaller countries will not agree to give up ”their” Commissioner. A solution may be to enhance substantially the role of the vice Presidents, and attribute some of the “surplus” Commissioners to the External Action service to handle EU relations with particular parts or regions of the world.
In addition to the EU electorate, acting as a single body, electing the President of the Commission,10% of MEPs should be elected from in a single constituency of all of the EU. The question of a single EU wide constituency for a proportion of the European Parliament was an issue that the Convention on the Future of Europe was asked to consider, but it did not do so.I believe the EU will evolve a true common foreign policy only after it has evolved a common defence policy, and I believe that will happen, very gradually, and only because of financial necessity, not because of political idealism. But it will never be sustainable to have a common foreign and defence policy until we, as Europeans, feel we have common interests, and common understandings, among ourselves. That has not come about yet. I believe that it can be brought about only if we have elections that are truly European, rather than mere national elections to European jobs.John Bruton Democracy EU Institutions
Making the European Union More Democratic
27 Jun 2013
Much vigorous debate, as well as some initial steps in response to the eurozone crisis, have established some groundwork for a more integrated economic and monetary union. But much less discussion has been devoted to how to redesign European-level political institutions, despite widespread recognition that a political reset is the other side of the coin. Aided by the widespread perception of a “democracy gap” at the European level, Eurosceptics are using this vagueness to spread uncertainty and doubt that is undermining the European project. It’s time to put some meat on the bones of what a functioning continental democracy could look like.
The eurozone crisis has stretched the European Union’s governance capacities to its limits. That’s because the E.U.’s current political institutions are those of a loose confederation of member states — but a loose confederation is inadequate for maintaining a monetary union. Yet several key E.U. member states are tenaciously resistant to the type of federalizing of power that a monetary union requires and other member states desire, so a proposal for redesigning European-level political institutions must be predicated on the reality of a “two speed Europe.”
This proposal outlines a two-tiered structure of: 1) a more federalized and integrated eurozone, and 2) maintaining a more decentralized – but also more streamlined — structure for the European Union, with these two structures co-linked in sensible ways.
A New Structure for Political Europe
As a starting point, Europe can learn something from the political and economic structures that a young America originally designed at the federal level, and how they evolved over two centuries. Granted, the American example is more of an inspiration than a blueprint, due to historical and cultural differences. But nevertheless the U.S. is a successful and longstanding monetary and political union spread over a vast geographic area, and lessons can be learned.
Initially America empowered member states’ legislatures as well as individual voters, both because each member state was sufficiently diverse to have legitimate state-based interests, but also because they needed buy-in from the political elites of each member state (and many political elites, like George Washington, John Jay and Alexander Hamilton, truly didn’t trust the average voter, much less than European elites today). So while voters directly elected the federal House of Representatives, the member states’ legislatures were given the mandate to elect the powerful upper chamber of the Senate, as well as to elect presidential electors that chose the national president. For the next century after the first government in 1789, both the member states and the elites played a significant role in selecting the political leadership of the federal government. But eventually America amended its constitutional structures to empower individual voters over the state legislatures (both with popular direct election of U.S. Senators, and with state legislatures agreeing to abide by each state’s popular vote in selecting presidential electors.
So in drafting a more federalized political structure for the eurozone, it would be wise if both a direct popular vote as well as member states’ legislatures were empowered initially in a parliament. German statesman Joschka Fischer and others have proposed a similar design. How would this look in practice?
A more democratic eurozone governance would have a parliament with two chambers, one directly elected (like the current European Parliament) by voters using a system of proportional representation, with the number of representatives per member state a close reflection of each state’s population (so the more populous member states would have more representatives). The second chamber would be selected by member state legislatures (as the European Council and Council of Ministers sort of are now), with the number of representatives being mostly proportional to the population of each member state, but with a few additional representatives granted to the low population states so that they are not easily overrun by more populous member states. It also would be wise to establish a process for amendment that would allow the second chamber to evolve over time into direct popular election as a pan-European political consciousness and culture takes root.
The lower chamber of this eurozone legislature would then select a prime minister, who would in turn nominate her or his government cabinet, with one cabinet member each from a eurozone member state (similar to the current selection process for the Commission), to be approved by the upper legislative chamber. In addition, a largely ceremonial post of president of Europe would be directly elected on a continent-wide basis (similar to what various leaders such as Guy Verhofstadt, Wolfgang Schäuble, Tony Blair, and Radosław Sikorski have expressed support for). At some point down the road, this directly elected president could be invested with more power via the amendment process if that better matched the zeitgeist.
This kind of streamlined structure – a two chamber parliament that provides direct representation to voters as well as to eurozone states, and empowers an executive branch selected by both types of representatives, as well as a directly-elected figurehead – would do much to simplify continental governance for eurozone citizens, as well as to clarify lines of authority, make decision-making more efficient and transparent, and better connect the public with their continental government.
The Reality of Two-Speed Europe
The likeliest scenario is that the eurozone’s 17 (or so) member core will be the entity that adopts this sort of federalized structure, as the momentum of monetary union drives the need for a more cohesive and effective political union. This entity would have its own common laws, political institutions, budgetary agreements, banking union and tax policies. The eurozone states would have merged their political economies and bound their destinies together in a way that is irreversible.
This new eurozone-based entity would co-exist with a more loosely confederated European Union, composed of the current 27 (soon to be 28) member states. The EU could retain its present governance (albeit with some streamlining recommended below), and retain its degree of confederation but operate under much less pressure to integrate more than its disparate members are willing. And those who want to use the euro currency would be able to forge ahead not only with a fiscal and monetary union but also with the political institutions that are necessary to properly regulate a monetary union and to maintain democratic legitimacy.
Just as important, this two-tiered structure should be constructed so there is the possibility of individual member states moving from the non-euro EU into the eurozone when it made sense.
There are historical precedents for such a two-tiered, inside-outside arrangement, such as the 54-nation British Commonwealth (now known as the Commonwealth of Nations), or even the current United Kingdom, where there is a core Great Britain and other “members” (like Northern Ireland and some islands) that are more loosely confederated.
Note that this design has to do with the STRUCTURE of government, and less to do with the function and specific powers attached to each player within this structure, which requires a separate but parallel conversation too long for this short article. But as we have seen again and again during this eurozone crisis, in which inadequate E.U. structures have made decision-making excruciating and prolonged the crisis, function in many ways follows from form. So it’s important to get the structure right.
The E.U. also could use some streamlining. Without going into great detail in this short article, there are several institutions and practices that are ripe for a redesign. On a basic level, the E.U. should employ more originality for naming its offices and institutions. Currently the terms “president” and “council” are much overused, with a European Council and a Council of the European Union (also known as the Council of Ministers, or simply “the Council”). Outside the E.U. there is the Council of Europe. All of them have their own president, as does the European Commission and the European Parliament. With names so similar, few but the most ardent Europhile can tell them apart. The E.U. also is governed by an odd form of tricameralism (or even quad-cameralism) between the European Commission, the European Parliament, the European Council and the Council of Ministers. That’s too many branches, even for a decentralized confederacy. And the Commission being both the executive and the branch that proposes legislation fosters additional confusion and a loss of checks and balances.
Europeans have passed only the first few bends in the road of a years-long journey to overhaul their key economic and political institutions. It is important to understand that, just like a young America in its “Articles of Confederation stage” prior to its first government in 1789 – which had neither a common currency nor federalized institutions — Europe today is entangled by many contradictions and tensions as it tries to fashion its union and decide how integrated it wants to be. The integration process took decades for Americans to sort out (see http://ces.tc/14sJ6L3 for more details ); indeed, those “united” states fought a civil war over not just slavery but states’ rights and member states’ sovereignty, a full 70 years after its founding. The road toward union is a long and winding one because it takes time for people, cultures and laws to adapt. Europe is a “work in progress,” and it may require a change of a generation or two for a new identity and institutions to form and take root.
Clearly this is a big step, yet at this point it’s also clear that the demands of a monetary union require it. Either that, or abandon the euro. There appear to be no other options. And given the economic rise of population behemoths like China and India that are increasingly assertive in international markets, globalized forces will continue to put great pressure on Europe’s much smaller member states to band together or become less relevant and secure.
This essay is meant to inspire discussion and debate, not to be the final word on a very complex subject. Isn’t it time for European leaders to put forward some specific proposals and ideas about Political Europe, and push that conversation forward? Sometimes the best way to instigate debate is to provide something very concrete and simplified that people can react to. Doing so might give the public more ease over this integration process, if people could see a vision for the future, and get used to the idea of a more federalized eurozone alongside a loosely confederated E.U.
Political Europe: A Blueprint to Close the “Democracy Gap”
20 Jun 2013
Founded in Egypt in 1928 by Hassan al Banna, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is the oldest and most influential modern Islamist movement. As per its motto ‘Islam is the solution’, the MB sees Islam as an all-embracing system governing all aspects of private and public life that, once implemented, constitutes the antidote to all the social, moral, economic and political ills plaguing Muslim societies.
Even though it does not completely eschew the use of violence for political goals, the MB aims to achieve its goal of establishing a purely Islamic system of government as a natural consequence of the peaceful, bottom-up Islamisation of the majority of the population.
The brief analyses the situation of Muslim Brotherhood (MB)-inspired entities throughout the Arab world two years after the beginning of the Arab Spring. In keeping with the flexibility and political opportunism that has characterised the group since its early days, Muslim Brotherhood inspired entities have adopted different positions according to the circumstances. In Tunisia and Egypt, where for the first time in history they have gained power through elections, MB entities are trying to gradually solidify their positions and advance their agendas while avoiding dramatic moves that could undermine their still weak hold on power.
In Arab countries where authoritarian regimes still rule, Muslim Brotherhood entities are adopting positions ranging from participation in government to military confrontation. The brief concludes by analysing potential concerns for Western policymakers and future scenarios.Arab Spring Democracy Elections Foreign Policy Islam
The Muslim Brotherhood after the Arab Spring: Tactics, Challenges and Future Scenarios
29 May 2013
For the European Union, democracy support is both a moral obligation and an expression of enlightened self-interest. Those who live in freedom have an obligation to support those who don’t, if and when such support is desired. At the same time, historical experience shows that democracies are in general more peaceful and more prosperous than countries under authoritarian rule or failed states. Hence, the European Union, its Member States and its citizens have good reasons to assist democrats, support the transition to the rule of law and good governance, and help the development of civil society in the countries of its Southern and Eastern neighbourhood.
The years 1989-1991, with the peaceful revolutions in Central and Eastern Europe, were a perfect example of such a development. Western support for the democracy movements was crucial, and the successful transition of the last two decades has by far exceeded all initial expectations.
In the last ten years, however, it has become clear that the transition to democracy, good governance and the rule of law in the Eastern neighbourhood is by no means as easy (in hindsight) as in the Central and Eastern European countries that have by now joined NATO and the EU. That is because in the Eastern neighbourhood, contrary to Central Europe, civil society is generally less developed, traditions of statehood are often lacking, economic development is far below Central European standards, and Russia has often played a rather nonconstructive role in what it still considers its ‘near abroad’. Since the ‘colour revolutions’ of the early 2000s, there has even been a backslide into more authoritarian rule – for different reasons – in countries such as Belarus, Ukraine and Georgia.
In the EU’s Southern neighbourhood, the enthusiasm after the initial Arab revolts of 2011 has given way to a more sober assessment: Here, too, civil societies are generally poorly developed (although Lebanon and Tunisia look comparatively good), good governance and the rule of law are rudimentary, societies are sometimes deeply divided along sectarian lines or the paradigm of the role of religion in public life – and, above all, some countries are in a civil war (Syria) or and some economies are near free-fall (Egypt). Equally important, Europe as part of the West is tainted in the eyes of many democrats because of its former support for authoritarian rulers. All this makes for a substantial difference to the situation in Central and Eastern Europe in 1989.
In conclusion, it is clear that in most neighbourhood countries today, South as well as East, the basis for democracy support does not exist to the same degree it existed in 1989 and the following years in Central and Eastern Europe. That does not mean one should give up trying to promote central democratic values. But it means that the EU needs a new instrument to make its efforts more political, more sustainable, more flexible and more efficient. Hence, the six key challenges for the European Endowment for Democracy are the following:
• Elections vs. rule of law, good governance and civil society: If there is one overriding lesson of democracy support over the last 20 years, it is that democratic elections alone do not secure democracy, let alone make for a stable and prosperous development. Much more work and resources have to be invested into civil society and its actors and institutions, as well as into the understanding of the rule of law, due process and good governance. Hence, the support for elections and political movements must go hand in hand with a more long-term effort to secure the other factors.
• Good analysis: Democracy support in the EU’s neighbourhood is only possible based on a thorough analysis of the situation on the ground. Assessments of the overall political situation, as well as the crucial actors in the respective countries, and a good overview of NGOs and civil society organisations, cannot come only from diplomatic representations. but must be based on information and analysis from European NGOs that have a permanent presence, as well as local actors themselves.
• Identify the Unsupported: It is often a challenge to identify actors and organisations that are efficient, and fulfil the criteria for support (above all, public traction and/or access to decision makers), and that are not yet supported by any other European or Western donor. This, too, will require close cooperation and coordination with other actors of democracy support.
• Risk management: In many neighbourhood countries , authoritarian rulers pose increasingly high challenges to NGOs and individuals accepting support from external actors (cf. Belarus’ ‘foreign agents’ legislation). In the Middle East and North Africa, there is often not only the danger of legal action against Western democracy support organisations (cf. in Egypt against 17 US & German NGOs), but also a risk of public stigmatisation as ‘agents of the West’. Hence, support must be carefully calibrated to the actual risks for local actors, and damage to them must be avoided.
• Capacity building: In both the Eastern and the Southern neighbourhood, due to the rudimentary structures of civil society, many NGOs and CSOs have poorly developed administrative and analytical capacities. Hence, while they may be politically attractive, any effort to support them must take into account the need to train personnel and provide long term support. This can only be ensured by close cooperation with other democracy support organisations.
• Rivalry/Complementarity: While the EED is an independent private law foundation, it will nevertheless have to not only avoid duplication with existing organisations (such as the EIDHR, or big national political foundations) but also closely cooperate with them. Rivalry is to be avoided, and complementarity is the only way forward.
Hence, the EED will need to carefully balance between political organisations and classical civil society actors, build a solid analytic base (country files), specify the criteria for recipient organisations, take into account the inherent risks in democracy support, be conscious of the need for capacity building, and – above all – cooperate with all other European and extra-European donors and actors in the EU’s neighbourhood.
[Photo source: http://democracyendowment.eu/]Roland Freudenstein Democracy European Union Foreign Policy
Supporting the Unsupported: Mission & Challenges of the European Endowment for Democracy
16 May 2013
The peaceful dissolution of the Czechoslovak federation in January 1993 has been the precondition for the excellent cooperation between Czechia and Slovakia as two independent countries today. This was an agreement among the speakers at the conference ‘Separate, Yet Together’, which I attended on 17 April 2013 in Prague. The conference was the first event that the CES had with our Czech member foundation, the European Academy for Democracy and also the first with one of our Slovak member foundations, the Anton Tunega Foundation. These foundations are affiliated with their respective Czech and Slovak Christian Democratic parties, the Christian Democratic Union (KDU-ČSL; CZ) and Christian Democratic Movement (KDH; SL), and this was the first ever CES event with both the EAD and the NAT.
The conference was very good on content. It included first-hand accounts of some direct participants of the Czech-Slovak constitutional negotiations in the years 1990-1992. For example, the then Czech Prime Minister (1990-1992), Petr Pithart, recounted examples of volatile behaviour of then Slovak leader, Vladimír Mečiar (who later went to install a somewhat authoritarian regime in independent Slovakia). Many Slovaks and Czechs still mourn the common state and regret the split of Czechoslovakia.
Nevertheless, as some participants at the conference put it, had the Czechs and Slovaks stayed together in one state, the relations would not be as friendly as they are, as representations of the respective nations would be engaged in a prolonged struggle over policy competences and the shape of the federal constitution.
The speakers, among them historians, discussed also the causes of the Czech-Slovak split. Among them were uncompromising attitudes and disregard for the issue of Slovak autonomy by some Czech politicians; cultural and historical differences; an absence of constitutional mechanisms to resolve disputes, and arguments over economic policy that culminated after the fall of the communist regime in 1989. I was surprised to hear the results of opinion polls on Czech-Slovak relations, which were conducted as early as 1947.
The politicians present stated that the EU offers a good institutional framework for Czech-Slovak cooperation. Ján Figeľ, the chairman of KDH explained the importance of the EU for Slovakia: Without the EU, Slovakia would have economic and legal problems. Pavel Bělobrádek, the chairman of KDU-ČSL, stated that we need ‘second wave of European integration’ to overcome nationalist passions that are re-emerging in the EU as a result of the European economic crisis. Expressions of solidarity among the EU nations are required more than ever. Jan Surotchak of the International Republican Institute mentioned that the resistance of the Slovak non-profit sector against the authoritarian rule of Vladimír Mečiar up to 1998 serves as a source of inspiration for standing up to authoritarian rulers worldwide.
I was very interested to listen to Petr Pithart, who again proved that he is not only an able politician but also incisive thinker and historian. He spoke about problems with identity that the Czechs now experience. Historically, they were always part of a large state entity. However, after the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, they have become, for the first time in history, ‘alone’ in their state, without a significant presence of other ethnic groups. They are weary of the world beyond the Czech borders and are ‘getting on each other’s nerves.’
The conference was also an opportunity for the Slovak and Czech Christian Democratic parties to meet. The currently more successful Slovak Christian Democrats were, in fact, repaying a visit of the Czech party to Bratislava a year ago. The chairmen of the two parties expressed their readiness to continue working together in promoting the common values.Vít Novotný Centre-Right Christian Democracy Democracy EU Member States
Separate, yet Together: Reflecting on Czech-Slovak Relations
13 May 2013
Rafał Trzaskowski Democracy Elections EU Institutions European Union
MEP Trzaskowski speaks on redistribution of seats in the EP
13 Mar 2013
Lewis Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty says (in a rather scornful tone): “When I use a word, it means exactly what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.” In the debate about last weekend’s Swiss referendum on bonuses of top managers, we are all little Humpty Dumptys. We are ascribing a meaning to the outcome which it legally does not have. Let’s remember, the referendum was about whether managers’ salaries were to be determined by the boards of corporations, as up to now – or by the shareholders, as the “Initiative against corporate rip-offs” demanded. The decision now taken does not at all automatically mean that bonuses will be capped, or reduced in any significant way. Quite the contrary. Seeing that the majority of shares of a given corporation is usually held by one or several other big corporations and not by the proverbial small shareholders, one can easily imagine that the bonus decision will not exactly be taken from an anti-capitalist perspective – or from any other point of view hostile to top managers’ interests. In other words, we will only know in a year or so what the real effects of this vote are: in terms of the development of bonuses, and in terms of Swiss top managers’ reaction to this.
So much for the facts. And yet, the referendum was made out to be an outcry against managerial greed – some would even say against global capitalism – by the Left, whereas mighty employers’ federations and wealthy bankers spent record sums to convince voters that a Yes would mean the end of economic freedom. Both notions have little to do with the outcome of the referendum. But they say a lot about the current state of debate in Europe. Come Monday evening, many in Brussels, Berlin and Paris were enviously advocating that the EU (for once!) should learn from the Swiss, and there were already fears that today’s EU Finance Ministers’ meeting would much too hesitant in its conclusion that the Commission should make proposals for a bonus cap by the end of 2013.
Of course, it is legitimate to question bonuses of several million Euros, no matter what the track record of the recipient. And, yes, one may indeed ask whether anybody should make fifty or a hundred or two hundred times as much as the lowest income. But then one should also reflect upon the eminent question whether governments rightfully should intervene in the fixing of salaries – at least, on the upper end of the scale. Of course, a 75 % income tax may come in handy at this point. But ever since Socialist President Hollande introduced it, not only Gerard Depardieu has migrated: The upper echelons of the Brussels real estate market have been swept by new arrivals from the Paris’ 16th arrondissement. The point is that there are usually ways around any type of income limitation by the state. And, even more importantly, there are already a number of companies, or individual top managers, that have limited or decreased bonuses on their own, mindful of the shift of the public mood in Europe. As soon as some do this, others will feel more pressure to follow.
Which all goes to say that instead of screaming for more toughness against evil managers, we should all take a good long look through the looking glass, and check whether what we believe to see is really what we have in front of us. And we should learn from the Swiss in the true sense, that is wait and see what the result of Sunday’s Swiss referendum really will be, before we copy and paste.
[Picture source: teenbusinesscentral.com]Roland Freudenstein Business Democracy Ethics
Through the looking glass: greed, business and democracy
05 Mar 2013
Tunisia has often been considered both the avant-garde of Arab democracy (having ousted authoritarian leader Ben-Ali already in January 2011), and a bellwether of where its neighbours are going. But ever since the murder of opposition Popular Front leader Chokri Belaïd on 6 February, this country has not been the same anymore. It is true that tension had already been building up in the months before. The economy has hardly recuperated from its 2011 slump, tourism is still at an all-time low, unemployment at dangerous levels and inflation rampant. But the dissatisfaction of many Tunisians with the coalition government of the Islamist Ennahdha and two smaller parties also stems from two political problems they identify with the government: the attempt to impose a more conservative lifestyle on North Africa’s best educated, most secularised society – and the insufficient distinction made by Ennahdha between itself and the more radical, often violent Salafists and other extremists. This dubious role of Ennahdha found its most dramatic expression in the organised violence of the ‘League for the Protection of the Revolution’ (LPR), originally neighbourhood thugs that focused on remnants of the old regime, but that have turned on opposition parties and trade unions in recent months, breaking up meetings and attacking or threatening activists critical of Islamism.
The murder of Chokri Belaïd by as yet unidentified gunmen has radically compounded this already slowly worsening situation. Belaïd, a left-of-centre secular liberal, was a very outspoken critic of Ennahdha and, only one day before his assassination, warned of political violence to come. This violence has now arrived, not only in the murder of Belaïd, but also in street brutality by police as well as the LPR against mostly peaceful protests by secular activists. But the climate of fear that followed is matched by the determination of many thousands of Tunisians that refuse to bend and that will not let the ‘Jasmine revolution’ be hijacked by an Islamism which they now consider a threat not only to their lifestyle but to their very lives.
Yesterday’s resignation of Prime Minister Jebali is a clear recognition of the current Tunisian drama. Early elections are probably the only way now to re-establish some minimal trust of the people in their government. The European Union and its Member States should take note. There are many ways in which the EU can remind the current government of its obligation to stick to minimum human and civic rights standards, especially because it has been democratically elected.
Tunisia can still pull back from the brink. If early elections bring to power a more centrist government with more competence in economics, and police prevents private militias, Salafists and Jihadists from imposing their idea of democracy on the majority of Tunisians, things can in the end turn for the better. Tunisia still has a huge potential. But putting this potential to use will require a strategy with more competence and much stronger roots in civic rights and individual liberty than what we have seen in recent months.
[picture source:www.guardian.co.uk]Roland Freudenstein Arab Spring Democracy Foreign Policy Islam
Tunisia on the brink: After the resignation of Prime Minister Jebali
20 Feb 2013
The sovereign debt crisis in some EU Member States has shown that greater economic convergence, the long-term sustainability of public finan ces and a European approach to banking regulation and resolution is necessary in order for the eurozone to become a sustainable currency area. This requires further economic, budgetary, financial, and thus political, integration of the European Union . However, when EU governance mechanisms are implemented or strengthened there is a need to reinforce the democratic legitimacy of institutions and procedures. In the short term, work should be continued to introduce transnational lists of candidates for the European Parliament and the standard use of roll call voting; the biggest political families should declare their candidate for Commission president before the upcoming elections; and more regular high-level consultation and dialogue between members of national parliaments and European policymakers on economic, financial and budgetary policies should take place. When it comes to long-term reforms, this policy brief puts these proposals up for debate: attributing the right of initiative to the European Parliament and the Council, in addition to the Commission; the direct election of the president of the executive, the European Commission; and having the president of the executive also taking up the role of president of the European Council. Moreover, the European Parliament should be more involved in decision-making, particularly on economic policy.Democracy Economy EU Institutions
Democracy and Legitimacy in an Economic Union
01 Nov 2012
Voting in the ’Hood, a study of immigrant voting behavior, is based on an Internet poll addressed to immigrants in Finland and one-on-one interviews, to recognize the challenges and driving forces behind the movers and shakers in different communities, and to increase political participation as a step towards better social integration. This project was meant to discover possible obstacles to voting amongst immigrants, and to ask our new Finns about their interest in taking part in the next election, and their feedback about the political process to the National Coalition PartyDemocracy Elections Immigration Political Parties Society
Voting in the Hood
18 May 2012
The worldwide economic crisis and the citizen’s crisis of lack of confidence in institutions, politics and the economy means that it has become necessary to scrutinize fundamental political values and economic practices (e.g. quantitative easing), as well as their suitability for the future, much more critically if western democracies intend to maintain their legitimacy and not give way to post-democratic conditions in the medium-to-long term provoked by angry citizens and bureaucracies. The collection of essays in this book discusses weak points and fractures in the political system and shows how reverting to conservative virtues can make democracies and the economy prosper once again. These conservative corrections are a signal that a political life exists outside of utilitarian-materialistic intellectual uniformity.Christian Democracy Democracy Economy
02 Sep 2011
There are an estimated 600,000 Finns living abroad. We know surprisingly little of their voting behaviour even though statistical data is available. What drives expats to vote? Tradition, duty? Genuine willingness to influence in the political life of the fatherland? Is there always a strong correlation between time spent away and non-voting? How big an issue is physical distance? Is alienation shown through non-participation? Which would be ways to activate expat voters to participate? Is national election in the old homeland less interesting than, say, local election in the country of residence? Which lessons could we learn concerning the European election? Are the expats happily assimilated or still identifying themselves clearly as Finnish – or do they end up feeling in-betweens? In short, the purpose of this study was to to examine expat Finns’ voting behaviour through case studies in major expat areas, to discover factors behind political participation abroad; obstacles and driving forces, ways to activate voters and fight “expat inertia”; to identify means to activate and engage expatriates politically and to identify networks and opinion leaders among expats affecting voting activism.Democracy Elections Globalisation Political Parties Values
Voting Far Away: Expats Exercising Political Rights Abroad
01 Jul 2011
On April 28-29, 2011 the Party of European Socialists (PES) organised a Euromed Conference – Arab revolutions: time for democracy and progress – in Tunis together with the main PES political partner in Tunisia Democratic Forum for Labour and Liberties (FDTL), and other representatives of the opposition and political parties in the region. It was the first conference held by a European political party in the region since the revolutions, with the aim to create a platform to promote democratic principles.
The conference brought together around 100 participants from PES member parties and associated organisations from Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Malta, UK, Norway and Switzerland and like-minded representatives not only from Tunisia, but also Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Kurdistan, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Syria, Morocco, Palestine, Yemen. The PES also invited special guests; including people such as the Director of the Foundation Res Publica, Portugal, co-founder of EuroArab Forum, Secretary General of the European Forum and Secretary General of Solidar, as well as representatives from Turkey. The President and Secretary General of the PES attended the conference, and so did the Deputy Secretary General of S&D in the European Parliament and Secretary General of PES’ official foundation, Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS). Some members of the European Parliament, members of national parliaments, international secretaries of the PES’ affiliated parties and a few bloggers also joined the conference. Judging from the list of participants, journalists and other media representatives were not present at the conference.
On the first day the conference was divided into two sessions, discussing how to create a new Euro-Mediterranean partnership, consolidate democracy and ensure the success of the revolutions. During the dinner debate various actors of the revolutions shared their experiences. In general, speakers emphasised the role of the youth and the strong impact of new technologies as new but strong kinds of political mobilisation, and the role of women in the process of democratic reform. Calling FDTL Secretary General Mustapha Ben Jaafar ‘my good friend’ and Tunisian people ‘heroes of democracy’, PES President Poul Nyrup Rasmussen during the press conference apologized for ‘Europe not having done a good job’ in the region in the past. In his speech, he also did not forget to attack the EPP and the leaders of the EPP member parties. This time he directed his criticism towards Italian and French governments for their request to temporarily suspend their Schengen commitments due to an influx of migrants to their countries. The next day, April 29, two morning sessions looked at Social Democrat parties of the region and addressed the social and economic problems, looking at ways how to ‘answer the demands of the people for a fair and just society’.
The conference was followed on Twitter, however, less than 10 twitts have been entered with most of them coming directly from the PES Secretariat. In parallel to the conference, the debate could have been continued also on the Re:new, the PES website-based platform for debate. However, this possibility has not been used. Outcome The conference resulted in the adoption of a formal declaration. The declaration emphasised that the PES must ensure transparent and credible foundations in terms of institutions, law on political organizations, financing of political parties and constitutional safeguards, and underlined the essential role of opposition political parties, trade unions and civil society in the transition process. The declaration encouraged the Socialist and Social Democratic movements to cooperate very closely for the upcoming elections, and to reject any assumptions regarding the incompatibility of democracy and Islamic traditions. The declaration also condemned the actions of the Gaddafi regime in Libya, violence against protesters and civilians in Syria, questioned the extent of reforms undertaken in Morocco, Jordan and Algeria and expressed its concerns about outcome of the protests in Bahrain and of the upcoming local elections in Saudi Arabia.
In addition, the declaration included more concrete recommendations to the EU: 1. The EU must take all necessary steps to implement an Emergency Programme to support the countries in different forms to all emerging democratic movements, e.g. support regional development, investment plans, civil society, media expansion, active engagement of young people and to open European markets for agricultural products from the region. The declaration did not specify how this should be done. For example, the Emergency Programme could include more concrete suggestions on how to develop civil society and independent media or a suggestion for the EU’s rule of law mission to Tunisia. 2. The EU should promote association agreements and advanced status negotiations, as well as specific visa regimes and free mobility, but this should be conditional to progress in key democracy areas. Here again, the declaration could be more concrete: what does specific visa regime and free mobility mean – e.g. reducing the cost of visas, granting long-term visas to businessmen, students and civil society, or giving opportunity for Tunisian students to spend a year at European universities and vice versa.
In this context, the Party of European Socialists committed itself to play a fundamental role vis-à-vis the EU’s actions in the region and via its Action Plan to: 1. Coordinate actions with the S&D Group in the EP, FEPS, the Global Progressive Forum, the European Forum for Democracy and Solidarity and national progressive foundations and provide support for party-building and capacity-building through training and recruitment in close cooperation with the regions’ like-minded parties. Already in its earlier statement from February, the PES underlined the important role of FEPS in the process which should provide assistance and raining for political parties and think tanks and therefore the EU should make extra funding available to European political foundations. However, judging from the FEPS website, no initiative has been taken in this regard since the revolutions (no paper published, no event organised, no mention of the conference organised by the PES, etc.). 2. Help with campaign programmes and political strategies for the upcoming elections. How the PES is going to do this, remains unclear. It could possibly be done through the creation of an advisory commission for elections which should include representatives from Central and Eastern Europe, since they have gone through a similar process in recent history. 3. Help the EU identify new strategies to manage migration flows. 4. Establish a Task Force composed of parties and foundations and create a network bringing together relevant actors from both sides of Mediterranean. The creation of a Task Force has already been mentioned in several earlier documents adopted by the PES. The conference just confirmed the PES decision to form this Task Force but did not come up with any more concrete decisions in this regard.
A follow-up conference to evaluate the implementation level of the Action Plan is scheduled for spring 2012.Katarina Králiková Arab Spring Democracy Political Parties
PES Euromed Conference in Tunisia
02 May 2011
Mart Laar was the Prime Minister of Estonia for two terms, from 1992 to 1994 and from 1999 to 2002. His role in the successful democratic transformation of Estonia made him an internationally recognized expert in “democratic transition”. “The Power of Freedom” tells the gripping story of the journey of Central and Eastern European countries “back to Europe”. It maps the history of Communism in Central and Eastern Europe in times when Europe was divided by the Iron Curtain. On the western side people enjoyed freedom, democracy, the rule of law and successful market-based economies, while those on the other side suffered at hand of violent totalitarian regimes and the socialist planned economy. These regimes destroyed economies and provoked an environmental disaster. The book offers a detailed analysis of the transition to democracy and successful integration into Euro-Atlantic structures. It looks at past achievements, current political, social and economic developments, as well as the challenges ahead – and concludes that the transition has been a true success story. Mart Laar also provides several examples of how the reunification of Europe brought stability and prosperity to Central and Eastern European countries through sound economic policies and democratic political engagement.Baltic Democracy Eastern Europe Enlargment
The Power of Freedom: Central and Eastern Europe after 1945
31 Jan 2011
This book is the long-awaited abridged English translation of Lumedemokratia (Quasi-Democracy, 2009), which sparked a vivid debate about the nature of Finnish society, from recent history to the present day. It condemns the economic policy pursued during the great depression of the 1990’s and Finland’s continued failure to revamp its suffocatingly rigid labour market structures. The authors, Katja Boxberg and Taneli Heikka, claim that Finland still lacks essential elements that earmark a genuine Western democracy and true market economy; for this, they argue, we have to thank the ubiquotous Finnish consensus and the disgraceful era of “Finlandisation”. This is a book for anyone wondering why Finns “eat rubbery cheese, dull plastic-wrapped bread, and meat drowned in marinade”. Professor and historian Martti Häikiö provides a concluding commentary.Democracy Economy Society
Quasi-Democracy: Finland’s Fall from the Cradle of Innovation to the Abyss of Stagnation
06 Dec 2010
The Baltic Sea region is the first macro-region to be recognised in Europe. The region is, therefore, a pilot project, setting an example and offering best/worst practices for other macroregions in the making. Dr. Esko Antola, the Director of Centrum Balticum in Finland, describes the development of the Baltic Sea Strategy and the next steps for the region.Baltic Democracy EU Institutions
Baltic Sea Strategy a Pilot Project for Macro-Regionalisation in the EU
01 Jun 2010
This paper looks at the origins and development of the European political parties, describes the campaign strategies in the recent European elections, analyses the results and implications of Europarties’ campaign involvement and outlines challenges and prospects for the future.Democracy EU Institutions Party Structures
European Political Parties as Campaign Organisations: Towards a Greater Politicization of the European Parliament Elections
01 Apr 2010
József Antall’s generation witnessed the painful conclusions of the partially democratic or outright totalitarian regimes which were in place between the World Wars. They recognised that the time had come for a humanistic political era which would exclude all kinds of inhumanities, injustices and features of dictatorship which differed so widely from democracy. This can be imagined principally as a conservative social policy concept based on Christian Democracy which is able to recognize its own faults and the frailties of human nature, promoting organic development of the world and calling for change without radical turns. Prime Minister Antall considered it essential to return to Christian traditions at a fundamental level which he believed to be the basis of Western Europe: “It is simply about that in Europe even the atheists are Christians. Europe’s Christianity means culture, ethics and approach.” He often referred to the fact that after the Second World War it was the Christian Democrat politicians who began to build a unified Europe and the founding fathers belonged to that circle. József Antall overcame much adversity during his sadly shortened time in government; his political accomplishments were outstanding in the development of Hungary and the neighbouring area. He recognized the challenges of his time and he was able to find substantive answers to promote the integration of Central Europe. That is why his thoughts are contemporary and exemplary even today and should be widely known in Europe and around the world. Speeches selected for this publication were delivered before the General Assembly of the United Nations, at the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe summits, Central European Initiative Heads of the States meetings, or moving, visionary ones, such as those about the concept of Europe, Hungarian foreign policy and challenges of presence, or even pre-electoral ones still are inspiration for many and serve as a tribute not only to a great leader and statesman but also as a monument to the way of approaching political and social affairs.Democracy Eastern Europe Economy
Jozsef Antall: Selected Speeches and Interviews (1989-1993)
01 Dec 2008
This report is about promotion of the democratic constitutional state in the Middle East. The perception of the Western world is not very positive in the Middle East. Religion is seen as part of a confrontation strategy, rather than part of the dialogue. But there is a bridge. For both Christian Democrats and Muslims, religion is a source of inspiration for their lives and their political orientation. Our experience is that religion can be a very rich source for democracy. The question is which elements of our tradition and history are most productive for the dialogue.Democracy Foreign Policy Islam Middle East Religion
Crossing bridges – Democratisation in the Middle East and a Christian Democratic Approach
07 Nov 2008