The State of the Union Address remains the most important annual statement by the European Commission. Yet, despite being broadcast on all the national television stations of Europe, it fails to generate the same level of enthusiasm (and newspaper column inches) as its equivalent speeches in the United States and Russia.
Its theme – “Strengthening the soul of our Union” – is reminiscent of the nation-building rhetoric popular in the mid-19th century. Ursula von der Leyen identifies shared common values such as democracy, the rule of law, the safeguarding of the free and independent media, and the right to live in a society free from corruption. She draws parallels between past and present.
She cites Robert Schuman’s vision of a European “soul”, “ideal”, and “political will to serve the ideal” and argues that this has been fulfilled in the bloc’s recent response to the pandemic. In other words, she presents the European Union not necessarily as something innovative and new, but as the embodiment of universal values which were always present in the continent.
Such rhetoric makes for a fascinating academic analysis, yet it achieves little if not accompanied by tangible actions.
Some initiatives are likely to generate some enthusiasm for Europe. Citing Jacques Delors, “How can we ever build Europe if young people do not see it as a collective project and a vision of their own future?”, von der Leyen announced the 2022 Year of European Youth.
In addition, the Erasmus-style ALMA scheme will allow young people from member states of the EU to find short-term work placements in other EU member states. Its aim is twofold: providing some respite to unemployed youth and allowing young people to build a network of connections across the bloc. In other words, it aims to foster a greater feeling of being European.
In this regard, the Conference on the Future of Europe also aims to encourage a deliberative and participative approach to Europe. Here, the President of the EU Commission took a more cautious approach. She expressed her hope that youths would lead the debate and committed the Commission to follow up on what the Conference agreed.
It is doubtful that these measures will be enough, or whether they should be a priority given the current situation.
The EU is emerging stronger from the pandemic. Despite some hitches at the onset of the pandemic, the vaccine rollout has been broadly successful. Moreover, the President of the EU Commission rightly recognised the geopolitical significance of vaccines, the necessity to cushion the economic fallout of the pandemic, and the need for solidarity within Europe. Indeed, the post-pandemic reconstruction can be a practical exercise in solidarity-building and, indirectly, in identifying this mythical “soul” of Europe.
Nonetheless, the situation is both an uphill struggle and an opportunity that could easily go unexploited. According to the Spring 2021 Eurobarometer survey, 33% of respondents knew of the EU measures relating to the COVID-19 pandemic; 52% of those were not satisfied with the measures taken so far. More encouragingly, while 57% of respondents declared themselves unhappy with the current state of solidarity within the EU, 69% agreed that the EU requires more competencies to deal with crises such as the pandemic.
There are other measures announced in this speech where consensus will be harder to achieve. For example, the much-touted Green Deal will involve considerable infrastructural investment and will undoubtedly lead to an increase in energy prices. Attempts to increase competencies in taxation issues will be vehemently opposed by some member states. Debates on the Future of Europe need to be broader and more realistic in their aims.
Perhaps, what Europe needs at the moment is less “soul” and more realism. The debates about the future of Europe tend to be theoretical and abstract. Whether there is “more Europe” or “less Europe” may mean very little in situations of mass unemployment and higher energy prices. Moreover, though a focus on youth is appropriate, Europe has an ageing population that finds it harder to engage with the European project. Unless these debates are grounded in realism, they may serve to drive an even greater wedge between the European Union and its citizens.
Image Credits: EPP GroupAndre P. Debattista European Union Future of Europe Leadership
Andre P. Debattista
The Quest for a European ‘Soul’?
05 Oct 2021
The Conference on the Future of Europe, which is happening at a time of significant geopolitical shifts, represents a unique opportunity to review our European Union’s priorities. By taking stock of the progress made so far, assessing where we currently stand, and determining what our next objectives are, we can make the right decisions for this all-important coming decade. But offering ideas about or goals is only half the battle; the Conference is also about reviewing the methods and tools of our policies. The most well-conceived and appropriate policies are only as successful as their implementation is effective.
We are convinced that the EU should move forward towards a real, functional, determined, authentic federation of European nations. We believe our Union should be based and developed on a strict principle of subsidiarity, with a clear division of tasks to avoid confrontations stemming from lack of clarity. National capitals should retain primacy on cultural matters for instance, but the EU needs more power in the core areas of defence and foreign policy. This would ensure both EU institutions and Member States are respected. Strict subsidiarity, with clear responsibilities, would lead to more effective decision-making procedures and put the common European interest above national egoisms.
It will also require respect for the values we share, as well as our traditions and our ‘way of life’. Chief among these values and traditions are democracy and freedom of thought and speech. Sure enough, the Conference can only be a success if we are able to freely and openly present and exchange ideas, with the wide participation of EU citizens and civil society. I am confident that we can achieve this by focusing on and truly listening to the needs and concerns of European citizens and involving them in the next steps, as we continue to build the European project. This is singular and truly great opportunity for us, the European citizenry, to come together and shape the EU.
Share your voice, join the debate. Thinking together for the Future of Europe.Mikuláš Dzurinda European Union Future of Europe Leadership
Share your voice, join the debate. Thinking together for the Future of Europe.
17 Sep 2021
Do you expect the Conference on the Future of Europe to be a real turning point for democratic participation in the EU? Or will it rather be a modest consultation exercise that will not fundamentally change citizens’ relationship with the Union?
Alexander Stubb, Director of the School of Transnational Governance, European University Institute, Former Prime Minister of Finland : ‘I think it too early to say. This could potentially be one of those ‘low expectations, high outcome’-events. A bit of an opposite to the Constitutional Convention in early 2000, which kicked off with fanfare, but hit the wall in a couple of referenda. I hope there is grassroots engagement, but time will tell. The key will be the use of modern technology and ‘sexy’ platforms, which would make engagement interesting and meaningful. Fake participation won’t fly.’
John Bruton, Member of the Martens Centre Honorary Board, Former Prime Minister of Ireland : ‘It is difficult to say. My experience of the last Convention is that inter-institutional rivalries and ambitions take precedence over enhanced democratic participation. In the Convention, I put forward a proposal for the election of the President of the Commission by the EU electorate (while leaving the rest of the Commission to be appointed under the existing system). This proposal got no support, I suspect, because all the EU institutions, including the Parliament, felt it would diminish their influence.’
Many important actors remain convinced that the so-called ‘Spitzenkandidaten’ system is the best way to select the next President of the European Commission in 2024, despite its failure to deliver in 2019. Do you agree with them? If so, how would you change the system to make sure it proves workable next time?
Alexander Stubb: ‘Having participated in the race the last time around, I am naturally a supporter of the system. At the same time, I will be the first to admit that we are a far cry from US-style primaries or presidential elections. I guess we just have to be honest and say that our system is a hybrid. As a former Prime Minister, I understand why heads of state and government in the European Council are reluctant to delegate the power of nomination to a process which is essentially not in their control. At this stage, I do not have a suggestion on how to improve the system.’
John Bruton: ‘I think the Spitzenkandidat proposal was an incoherent compromise. Why should the biggest group in the Parliament, which could have as little as 20% of all the seats, have the privilege of nominating the President of the Commission? That is not true democracy. As I said above, the President of the Commission should instead be directly elected by the people, but candidates eligible to go before EU electors ought to have been nominated by parties that have both at least 8% of all MEPs, and are also represented by more than 5% of the MPs in at least 10 national parliaments.’
Transnational lists are seen by many as necessary to enhancing the European dimension of EU elections. Others, however, fear they will end up favouring candidates from big member states and increasing the distance between citizens and MEPs. Would you support their introduction? How should they function?
Alexander Stubb: ‘To be frank, I am not a huge fan of transnational lists. I guess I should be, because of my pro-European, federalist instincts. I really don’t know why I am not too excited about them, perhaps because I come from a small state. Let me be a little provocative here. I think we should scrap lists in which national parties decide the order of the candidates. Go for real democracy, not party democracy. Go for real competition. This would essentially mean that candidates have to fight for public space, and yes publicity, not party favours. This change would make the EP elections more interesting than transnational lists.’
John Bruton: ‘I am in favour of this proposal. But I doubt existing MEPs would accept it. I do not believe it will favour big states in practice.’
Is there any other institutional innovation that you would consider necessary to strengthening democratic participation and legitimacy in the EU ahead of the 2024 European elections (e.g. providing for stronger European political parties, reinforcing the role of national parliaments, etc…)?
Alexander Stubb: ‘We need to think outside the box here. Therefore, provocation number two: make e-voting possible across the board. I would love to see the first transnational, cross-continental elections in the world taking place in the EP elections. It would be the new 1979 moment, when direct elections became possible. And if I may, I am not sure European citizens are that keen on party structures, national or European. People vote for people, not parties. People vote on the basis of issues, not party affiliation. Sorry to be so blunt.’
John Bruton: ‘I have no other suggestions. The EU is a big institution with a big population so some distance between electorates and decision-makers is inevitable, and the only way I see to bridge the gap is the direct election of the President of the Commission. Maybe we should try it for one Parliamentary term as an experiment.’Federico Ottavio Reho EU Institutions European Union Future of Europe Leadership
Can the Conference on the Future of Europe be a turning point for democratic participation in the EU?
29 Mar 2021
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
It is well known that the Sahara Desert was once a large tropical forest. Due to millennia of atmospheric and climate changes, it lost most of its greenery and is now Earth’s second largest desert. Despite this, one can still find a few tiny green paradises in the Sahara, called oasis. And there is nothing of superior beauty than a hidden garden surrounded by an immense mass of sand, is there?
Until a year ago, Europe was one of the world’s largest ‘freedom forests’ and then, not due to a slow, long-term phenomenon, but because of a virus, liberties dried up, and the continent became a desert in just a few months. Initially, the process was not homogeneous, with countries adopting different strategies and some even daring to explore more ‘liberal’ approaches. Then summer came, the first wave ended, and we almost had the impression that this nightmare was finally over.
Unfortunately, as it sometimes happens in the middle of the desert, it was just a mirage, an optical illusion of the sun reflecting on the sand, mixing the optimism and will to believe that most Europeans shared after a very rough few months. A second wave hit us with the end of warm temperatures, and the liberal approaches to the fight of COVID-19 seemed to no longer exist. But, as in the Sahara, nature finds its ways and so does liberty. A handful of places in the continent did not accept lockdown as the only outcome, and came up with some creative ideas to try to save restaurants, bars, culture, sport, and so on. I am extremely glad and proud that one of these places is my hometown: Madrid.
Since the re-opening in July, Madrid’s local and regional authorities decided to maintain open everything they could. Instead of going for city or regional lockdowns, they invested massive resources into mass testing via rapid tests (earlier than most authorities in the rest of Europe), tracking, and perimetral lockdowns for specific districts/neighbourhoods with high rates of infection. This was always with a maximum length of 15 days, after which every district’s figures were re-evaluated. Elsewhere in the city and the region, cafés kept serving coffee, bars served wine and beer, shops sold their products, gyms or sports teams continued their training and competitions, and theatres, museums, and cinemas maintained a barely breathing culture alive. In late December, Le Monde -among others- explained Madrid’s exceptionalism when it came to culture.
The Madrid phenomenon has reached a level where thousands of French tourists come to the city for weekends, just to experience having some drinks with a couple of friends at a terrace, enjoying a meal in a good restaurant, or going to a concert or an opera. Some started calling the city the ‘Las Vegas of Europe’. ‘It’s liberating to be in a restaurant’, said some of these tourists to France24 recently.
But what is the price paid for this original and fairly unique approach? You are most certainly thinking that the Madrid area must have one of the highest infection and death rates. Well, think again. The mass testing strategy, together with some small efforts of tracking, district lockdowns, and a pedagogical communication that tells citizens the bare truth and treats them like adults, have resulted in fewer cases and deaths in Madrid in the second half of 2020 and the first weeks of 2021 than many other regions in the country and across Europe, despite their much harsher restrictions.
So then, what has been the price paid? Besides the frontal attacks of the national government, and the leftist parties across Spain (both City Hall and the regional government are in the hands of EPP member party Partido Popular), the price that Madrid has and is paying is no other than the regular cost of a movie ticket (around 9 euros), a glass of Vermouth in a downtown Plaza terrace (3 euros), or a rock concert (20 euros). What a frightening world, what a frightening Europe, where these common things are a rarity. And what great news that there are freedom fighters like the politicians in Madrid, willing to go against the predominant consensus, sometimes even within their own political family, and who will always prioritise the welfare of thousands of businesses and employees, with what is in my opinion one of the most imaginative approaches in Europe these days. It feels good to see some bright light as guidance for what we thought was impossible to lose: our freedom. Nothing competes with the beauty of a tropical garden in an immense mass of sand!Álvaro de la Cruz COVID-19 Leadership Values
Álvaro de la Cruz
Madrid: a European oasis
01 Mar 2021
Under Lukashenka’s regime, Belarus has been increasing the similarities with the former Soviet Union. Such policy was all but officially declared on the so-called All-Belarusian People’s Assembly, that took place in Minsk on February 11-12.
The daily protests that began after the presidential election have been ongoing for almost 200 days. The amount of protesters has somewhat decreased from the peaks of summer and autumn, due to the large-scale repression (about 35,000 individuals arrested, resulting in 1,800 criminal cases initiated, and even some protesters killed), the Coronavirus epidemic, and winter temperatures. But people still take to the streets to proclaim their disagreement with Lukashenka.
In this situation, Lukashenka decided to hold the so-called All-Belarusian People’s Assembly. You cannot find it in the Belarusian Constitution or other laws. It’s a simple congress where Lukashenka meets his supporters. The first one was in 1996 when he was under threat of impeachment. After the secret inauguration in September 2020, Lukashenka failed to organise a huge demonstration of his supporters in October, so he decided to hold an assembly instead.
Most of the delegates were officials from all over the country. But even among them, some decided not to attend the Assembly. Minsk was crawling with police, and they were officially authorised to use their firearms against peaceful protesters.
If you know how the Communist congresses were held in the former USSR, or are held in North Korea today, then you can imagine the atmosphere. No criticism, no reflection, and a lot of speeches against the opposition and the West. Two Days Hate, as George Orwell might have said.
The main, official result of the Assembly is that Lukashenka is going to conduct the referendum on the Constitution in December 2021 or January 2022. Previously, it was expected that the referendum might take place in February 2021, and it didn’t happen. Moreover, he mentioned the conditions of his resignation: no more protests and guaranteed immunity for those supporters of his who committed crimes. However, Lukashenka is well known for being rather cavalier with his own words, which means that he may take them back at any time. For example, is there any sense for him to leave when there are no protests?
That is why it’s more important to take into account what the regime wants to do before the referendum. At the Assembly, Lukashenka said that Parliament would soon vote to tighten the criminal code. This would mean any criticism of the regime, especially abroad, may be treated as efforts to discredit the country. For doing so, a person might be sentenced to up to 3 years of imprisonment. National symbols, under which Belarusian independence was declared in 1918 and 1991 and that became the symbols of the Belarusian protests, might be declared extremist. And so on, and so forth.
Moreover, political parties from the opposition may lose their registration before the referendum. That is how we must treat Lukashenka’s order to re-register them; by the way, the last time a political party was registered in Belarus was 21 years ago.
To reinforce the similarities between Belarus and North Korea, one Lukashenka supporter proposed creating a Belarusian internet. And Minister for Foreign Affairs Vladimir Makei said Belarus should no longer be neutral, ignoring the fact that Belarus has been Russia’s main military ally for decades.
In the economic sphere, everything remains the same. The authorities decided to resurrect a communist Frankenstein monster, by claiming that previous reforms in the economy have led the country to financial default. As a consequence, they are going to increase economic and political pressure on private enterprises and support excessive ministries. As Lukashenka admitted, he ordered the closure of 200 private companies that joined the national strike on October 26, and is now “cutting out” a big retail network. There will be no freedom for private business, he emphasised.
So, as we can see, official authorities are pushing Belarus closer and closer to the communist era that collapsed 30 years ago. Under them, the Belarusian people have no future, only the past. However, Belarusians are also those who can leave the USSR behind, where it belongs. The countries of the free world can help them do it faster.
Meanwhile, Lukashenka may try to start a new negotiation process with the West. Such allusions were common at the Assembly. As the person who ruled over Belarus for 27 years, Lukashenka faced deteriorations in his relations with the EU many times. He knows that one day, new governments may come into power, who may try to improve relations with the last dictator of Europe. That is why it’s essential for the EU not to undertake ‘realpolitik’, but maintain pressure until Lukashenka releases all political prisoners (251 as of now), stops police violence, and begins real negotiations with Belarusian society. Otherwise, he will trick the EU once again and use European money to further stay in power and buy new weapons to hurt protesters.Maksim Hacak Eastern Europe Leadership
Back to the USSR?
23 Feb 2021
The von der Leyen Commission has made gender equality a central component of its ambitious programme. This policy brief highlights that, notwithstanding the significant progress of recent years, barriers remain which prevent women from advancing equally in society. The first of these barriers is posed by gender stereotypes. The second concerns differences in preferences and opportunities for work–life balance. The third barrier is caused by the combined negative effects of class and gender.
This brief sets forth a number of policy recommendations aimed at helping the von der Leyen Commission to build a lasting legacy for gender equality. Only by making profound structural changes will the current Commission achieve results that can be viewed as truly transformational.
One recommendation is to put educational investment at the core of Europe’s Social Market Economy. The second recommendation is to develop formal childcare for children from three to school age. This is a public policy that has a positive effect on men’s and women’s attitudes towards gender equality, in addition to wider benefits for the economy, parents’ work–life balance, educational outcomes and women’s equality in general. Finally, all policies at EU level should be assessed to determine their impact across multiple barriers and policy sectors for achieving gender equality. Policies focused on vulnerable groups often overlook the fact that the barriers preventing women from utilising existing resources are found in many different areas.EU Institutions Gender Equality Leadership
Building a Gender Equality Legacy From the von der Leyen Commission
08 Feb 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
The EU is right to boost its relationship with India, who might be the world’s strongest economic power by the end of the century. However, many hurdles remain for India to take on a leading global role.
With the Western world struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic and China strengthening its position, bolstered by a good management of the epidemic, there is a temptation to view the world’s geopolitical future as a game of three players: the United States, China, and the European Union. However, it is clear that in future decades, other continents and countries will increase their role. India especially has the potential to change the global balance in the coming decades.
The ongoing Portuguese EU Council Presidency has set out a priority to enhance EU-India relations, and for good reasons. While India remains in many respects a developing country, it has great potential. Importantly, a strong India can have a stabilising impact in Asia, especially vis-à-vis China. For the West, India’s main attraction comes from its potential future role in the global economy.
For the EU, India can offer great economic opportunities. India has an increasing interest in finding global allies, not least because of China.
While India is fully conscious that China has, for decades, overtaken India in economic and technological development, India has done very well from a global perspective. Though China’s advantage over India is still increasing in many fields, there are factors that strongly play in India’s favour.
India’s advantages over China
Firstly, contrarily to China, India has demographic development on its side. China will peak just below 1.5 billion people in the next decade, before decreasing to 1.3 billion people by 2050. As a result of this development, China’s dependency ratio will challenge the country’s development, similarly to what we’ve seen in Europe and the West more generally. In opposition to this, by 2050, India will be home to an estimated 1.7 billion people, and its dependency ratio is actually declining. While India will remain young, China will become old. Secondly, while India’s infrastructure is much weaker, its potential for growth is greater as a result. Thirdly, despite its political problems, India is a democratic nation, and fostering relationships with the US and Europe will be much easier.
India, however, must deal with several hurdles before truly becoming a global player. India’s domestic political developments are worrying. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi overwhelmingly won the May 2019 elections, ensuring control over the country’s future. Modi has been accused of boosting his popularity by implementing Hindu nationalist policies in a multireligious and multicultural country, which already has a history of ethnic conflicts. Moreover, his illiberal inclinations are concerning. Political instability in spite of Modi’s rule is a factor of Indian politics, directing the policy focus inwards.
At the same time, his nationalistic attitude is reflected in India’s approach to foreign relations, and in global governance and the development of global trade. India has high tariffs and a strongly nationalistic industrialisation strategy, and trade negotiations between the EU and India have been delayed several times.
India’s foreign policy has a strong focus on neighbouring countries, especially on China’s rise. Furthermore, India is in many ways still a developing country, with undeniable potential, but far behind China. The demographic advantage India will hold in the future will also serve as a challenge with the increasing environmental problems and pressure on basic infrastructure and agriculture. China’s influence concerns India, limits its agenda, and has a strong impact on India’s self-confidence as a global player.
For the EU, India can offer great economic opportunities. India has an increasing interest in finding global allies, not least because of China. The EU and India have already set a pragmatic agenda to boost EU-India relations in their roadmap to 2025. While India’s future global role is unclear, both the EU and its individual member states have a lot to gain in enhancing cooperation with India and moving Indian relations higher in their political agenda. India might be, in future decades, the “next big thing” after China. Europeans should be ready for it.Tomi Huhtanen China Foreign Policy India Leadership
While the EU searches for a stronger partnership, India’s future global role remains unclear
27 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
Last week’s scenes at the U.S. Capitol sent shockwaves across the world, delighting America’s adversaries and bringing sorrow to those who normally look up to the majesty of American democracy. The rioting and vandalism in the halls of Congress was a shock to Americans, too. Even President Trump, who incited the mob earlier that day, was reportedly displeased with the “low class” imagery of his violent supporters.
The key question facing Americans and America’s allies is seemingly simple. Did 6 January represent a peak, or breaking point, of worrisome trends that accelerated during the Trump presidency – or was it just another iteration of a process that risks escalating further in the coming years?
The fact that the underlying institutions held firm, the soul-searching demonstrated by Republicans, as well as Trump’s own promise (however half-hearted) to ensure a peaceful transition of power all suggest that the worst may be over.
One imaginable parallel is with the United Kingdom’s Brexit referendum in June 2016, which came shortly after the heinous murder of Jo Cox. The success of the Leave campaign did not herald the beginning of a new dark age for Britain. If anything, the referendum was a culmination of a frivolous and irresponsible populist era and it was followed by the increasingly intrusive reality of Brexit’s practical implications. Whatever one thinks of the final outcome, or of Boris Johnson’s leadership, British politics today appear – to this observer at least – far more ‘normal’ and sedate than in the spring days of 2016.
Trump’s departure from the scene would increase the odds of a similar outcome in the United States. Last week’s violence did not occur spontaneously. Its causes included weeks of delegitimisation of the election’s outcome, by the President, by his campaign, and by prominent Republican lawmakers– all of that on top of years of toxic, grievance-mongering rhetoric that fuelled Trump’s candidacy and presidency.
After last week, the prospect of Trump’s continued control over the GOP has become weaker. Similarly, because of their close association and open support for Wednesday’s ‘putsch’, Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, the most unhinged demagogues within the party, have seen their chances of running successfully in the 2024 election take a hit. Maybe, perhaps, the fever is breaking.
Ultimately, it is up to American citizens and American leaders to decide which of the two scenarios – recovery or a continuing crisis of democracy – materialises.
Despite this, neither Americans nor America’s friends should get overly euphoric. The single most dispiriting fact about last week’s events at the Capitol is that after the building was stormed and thrashed by a mob seeking to overturn the election, 138 Republicans in the House – or 65 percent of the GOP caucus – still voted to reject the slate of electors from Pennsylvania. Worryingly, in a YouGov poll conducted on the day of the ‘putsch’, 45% of Republican voters agreed with the storming of the Capitol.
Joe Biden will not be the first president whose claim to power will not be recognised as legitimate by a sizeable chunk of the electorate because of deliberate efforts by his opponents. In fact, one has to go back to George H.W. Bush to find a U.S. president whose legitimacy was not seriously contested by the other side. Bill Clinton faced impeachment. George W. Bush was elected by the narrowest of margins in Florida and numerous conspiracy theories proliferated about his re-election in 2004. Barack Obama was the target of the popular birther conspiracy (propelled, among others, by Donald Trump). And, of course, many ‘explained’ Trump’s election in 2016 by Russia’s interference in the election and cheered on as congressional Democrats sought to impeach and remove Trump from office.
The point is not to relitigate the past nor to draw moral equivalencies. There is no question that the events on Capitol Hill were far worse than essentially any event in modern U.S. politics. Neither is there any doubt about the party and the politicians who bear responsibility for this singular attack on democratic institutions. However, when examined from a historical perspective, this episode is just another escalation in a cycle that has gone on for some time and can be reasonably expected to continue.
Last week’s violence was not without precedent. In April last year, heavily armed men (“very good people,” according to Trump) “protested” inside Michigan’s Capitol building. The FBI later thwarted a far-right plot to kidnap the state’s governor, Gretchen Whitmer. And, of course, incidents that accompanied the Black Lives Matter protests in the spring and summer resulted in at least $1 billion in damage across major US cities. Without drawing any moral equivalencies, there are good reasons to be concerned that escalating street violence may become a periodic fixture of American political life.
Ultimately, it is up to American citizens and American leaders to decide which of the two scenarios – recovery or a continuing crisis of democracy – materialises. Whatever policy disagreements one may have with President-elect Biden, there can be no question about the sincerity of his efforts to de-escalate, heal, and bring Americans together. But turning a page will be neither easy nor immediate, and Europeans have to plan accordingly. Importantly for Europe, as the British writer Ben Judah tweeted on the day of America’s embarrassing ‘putsch’ attempt, “After this the whole of tone of American, yes Biden’s foreign policy, needs to change: humility, a lower voice, less zeal. It is not just credibility. It is on America now to prove to its allies it is a reliable entity before it can host a Summit for Democracy or take on China.”
Dalibor Roháč is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. and a research associate at the Martens Centre. Twitter: @DaliborRohac.Dalibor Roháč Elections EU-US Leadership
American Democracy at a Crossroads: a Time for Healing
11 Jan 2021
The events that occurred in and around the Capitol on the day of the Epiphany are appalling, revolting, and unacceptable to normal and responsible people.
This was the feeling that was reflected in the statements made by various Congresspeople, both direct, imperilled participants of the drama, and former Members of Congress. By common accord, politicians of both camps – Democrats and Republicans – expressed anger and reprobation. This is important, positive, and necessary.
In one statement that I found particularly fitting, a congressman said that a person inciting others to commit violence is not a leader. A leader is a person who has the strength and courage to tell voters the truth, however inconvenient. Such a truth as ‘I lost the election and it is my duty to transfer power’.
What is ironic about the terrifying experience of storming the Capitol, and the outrage felt and expressed by honest, fair, and responsible politicians, is the realisation that many of them also have their share of responsibility in the gradual polarisation of American society and the emotions associated to that. This goes for both camps, Republican and Democrat.
The American political elites have for years ignored the accumulating economic, social, and political problems in the United States. These problems became especially serious towards the end of the first decade of this millennium, with the outbreak of the financial and economic crisis. Since then, governments have piled up and pushed the problems facing them further away, rather than resolving them. They disregard the anxieties and fears of those who are losing jobs, who are weaker, poorer, sick, or disabled. They ignore the problems of the middle class and of young families.
Rather than implementing necessary reforms, an important part of the political class has, for years, styled itself as the elite that has the right and even the prerogative to judge others, to moralise, and even to denounce those who have not been sufficiently “aware”, “modern,” or “progressive”. In other words: politically correct.
The third factor fanning these flames are the pivotal changes linked to globalisation, especially the changes related to technological progress and immigration. Those who made their voices heard to shout: ‘Hey, not so many (changes), and not so fast!’ were immediately labelled by the elite as homophobes, right-wing extremists, or even fascists. Yet, it is clearly not easy for many of us to come to terms with the existing and expected pace of change, adapt to new labour market demands and opportunities, or cope with the cultural implications of these processes.
Trump did nothing else than pull the cork. Before doing so, he vigorously shook the bottle. Time will tell who was the hardest hit by the cork.
The new American president faces a difficult mission: to unite America and to breathe upon it the spirit of hope and promise. Joe Biden should not be too overjoyed with the fact that, in addition to the House, Democrats also gained control of the Senate. A slim House majority and the tightest majority in the Senate doesn’t change the fact that the country is divided, and passions are running high. Trump is leaving, but millions of his voters remain. If Joe Biden places his wager on the moderates – not only those from among the Republican Party, but also those in his own party, America has a chance for catharsis, that would make it even greater and stronger. This is also in our interest, the European interest.Mikuláš Dzurinda EU-US Leadership Society Transatlantic
USA – Catharsis, or Beginning of the End?
08 Jan 2021
The images of alt-right rioters breaking into the Capitol, of Congresspeople rushed to safety like on 9/11, of weapons drawn and people killed in the heart of American democracy (and a beacon of the Free World), will remain with us for a long time. They certainly will be the defining visual memory of Donald Trump’s four years in office. But the more pressing question now is whether this is the beginning of the end of American democracy, or rather the beginning of the end of a bad patch in US politics. And on the global scale, whether this is another blow for a West in terminal decline, or a low point for global democracy from which things can only improve. I propose to tackle these questions in three steps: looking at what happened and why, what it means for US politics over the next couple of years, and what the implications are for freedom across the globe.
What this was – and what it wasn’t
Let’s be frank but also precise: This was a riot, not an attempted coup d’état. It was a riot in the worst thinkable place, and the symbolism was devastating, especially in its global implications. But whatever Trump and his supporters may have hoped for, it did not have the slightest chance of succeeding to overturn the election results, let alone abolish American democracy. The fact that the certification of the election results continued until late at night, after and precisely because of the attempted interruption, is actually a sign of health of the rule of law in the US. There is more: The way both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Vice President Mike Pence finally manned up to openly counter Trump’s narrative; also, Pence stepping up to call in the DC National Guard after the President’s initial refusal or hesitation; and, what is too easily forgotten amid the outrage at the Capitol’s storming: the victory of both Democratic Senate candidates in the Georgia runoff, securing the Biden administration a much better chance at governing effectively. All of this indicates that American democracy is intact, despite Trump and his aiders and abettors. Because one thing should be clear: yesterday’s riot was a consequence of years of creating ‘alternate facts’ and vilifying checks and balances.
The future of US politics
While it is still early to predict the impact of the Trump presidency and its ignominious ending, my take is that January 6, 2021, has made it easier for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to reform the United States. That is not only because the Republicans lost their Senate majority, but also because the Republican Party is now more deeply split than just two days ago. Despite the whataboutism (‘…and the BLM violence?’) and the conspiracy theories (about alleged antifa agents provocateurs) of mainstream Republicans: the number of Republican leaders who are finally taking a stand against Trump has multiplied. They will be duly condemned by the Trumpists and their fanbase which, thanks to the President’s lies, will remain strong. The Trump wings will either remain in the Republican Party, or fade into irrelevance because of the American electoral system which makes third parties essentially impossible. While a return to the ‘responsible Republicanism’ of the days of Reagan and (partly) Bush can unfortunately be excluded, also because of recent socioeconomic and demographic changes in the US, a takeover of the party by the Trump clan has become equally unlikely. In any case, the civil war that many European commentators are now fantasising about, is simply not on the cards.
Open society and its enemies
In the global context, at first sight, last night’s images are at least as devastating as they are domestically. Chinese government propaganda and other authoritarians are rejoicing at the opportunity to mock the West and predict its demise. And indeed, the ability of Americans to ‘preach’ democracy to the rest of the world has taken a hit. Now America’s partners have to step up and share more of the burden. Fortunately, with a US government which will actually appreciate allies, listen to and cooperate with them, this will become easier than at any time in the past four years. This is especially true for the concept of a global Alliance of Democracies, designed to counter-balance a global authoritarianism, which increasingly falls under Chinese leadership.
Like the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 – almost 80 years ago now – this Day of Infamy has shaken the West. This time, the enemy came from within, which is a stark reminder that all democracies are vulnerable from internal radicals and populists, as well as from external authoritarian powers, and most of all from the collusion of both. Which is why they must not tolerate intolerance, to paraphrase Karl Popper. Last night, after a couple of chaotic hours, the American Capitol was successfully defended. Now we all have to defend ours.Roland Freudenstein Elections EU-US Leadership
A Day of Infamy for the West – But a Bright Light at the End of the Tunnel
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
The social and economic role of cities, regardless of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, is set to remain crucial for global development. However, the importance of cities is not mirrored in the European centre–right political agenda. Over recent years, cities have become increasingly distant— in terms of their residents’ self-perception and voting patterns—from the rural parts of Western countries. In this context, cities are striving for more tangible powers, improved rights of self-governance and new development support tools, which would allow them to better address the challenges they face.
The European People’s Party (EPP), the leading political family in the EU, should acknowledge the importance of cities and the fact that city-based electorates share particular political expectations. The recent string of elections in various European countries has shown that EPP-affiliated parties and candidates can only win in big cities when they adopt a more city-oriented political platform. The EPP cannot afford to lose urban voters; therefore, it should develop a ‘City Agenda’. Urban-related issues should be at the centre of the EPP’s political activity, as is the agricultural policy.
This agenda, drawing on the experience of EPP-affiliated mayors and members of the Committee of the Regions, should identify the challenges cities face and come up with ways to address them. Among the most pressing are climate change–related themes such as public transportation and urban planning, but also the ongoing housing crisis and, more broadly, rising social inequality. This paper suggests that the EPP could promote a new ‘EU Cities Fund’, a city-tailored, directly accessible fund that would add financial heft to the EU’s existing urban policy.Centre-Right Elections Leadership Political Parties
Retaking the Cities: A Plan for the Centre–Right
16 Nov 2020
It’s been said after the US election that if outer space could transmit sound waves, someone standing on the surface of the moon could have heard a thunderous sigh of relief from Europe – and most of the world – on 7 November, around midday Eastern Time. And sure enough, immediately the debate started whether across the Atlantic, we will just see an improvement in tone, or whether there would be substantial Transatlantic warming. This debate overlapped with another controversy: Whether Europe would have to decouple entirely (sooner or later) – or make a stronger contribution in order to reinforce the relationship and make it sustainable for the future.
Neither of these debates is entirely new. But the change in the White House is adding a new salience to them. This op-ed argues that the chance for a Transatlantic Renewal goes far beyond a warmer atmosphere between Europe and North America, and that decoupling from the US is neither possible nor desirable. In contrast, the chances for Europe taking on more responsibility, and thereby strengthening the Transatlantic partnership and alliance, are better than at any point in the last 20 years. Let’s take a look at the areas where consensus is relatively easy and success probable, the fields where things will be more difficult but success equally indispensable, and finally at the mid-term future of the relationship.
Fighting COVID together will be the most immediate joint priority, and the news about a vaccine enhances the chances for this to bear fruit very soon. The Paris Climate Agreement is the other issue where cooperation will replace mutual frustration very soon. Biden’s announcement of an American return to the Agreement is great news. Global institutions should be the next area where US isolationism will make way for a constructive approach: re-engaging with the World Trade Organization and the World Health Organization while closely cooperating with Europeans to make both fit for the 21st century, and opposing the advance of authoritarianism. On many regional issues, from Russia to the Middle East, cooperation will qualitatively improve. Finally, Biden’s announced global ‘Alliance of Democracies’ should be greeted with enthusiasm by the EU. The only way for liberal democracies to push back against an increasing authoritarian pressure whose global cheerleader is now the Chinese Communist Party, is to cooperate, coordinate, and exchange best practices, ranging from fighting hostile influence to global democracy support.
Three big topics will require more effort: trade, defence, and China. Biden/Harris will have the Republicans breathing down their necks on all three. Nevertheless, the chances of a new Transatlantic deal on trade and investment are good. Remember, TTIP failed not primarily in the US, but in Europe. Defence may well be the most persistent issue where, after an initial exchange of niceties, the risk of protracted US frustration is highest. Post-COVID, those EU countries which haven’t reached the two-percent-of GDP goal in defence spending of 2014 are unlikely to reach it anytime soon. Europeans within NATO should focus on continuous nuclear sharing, and assume tasks like naval and airspace surveillance and better airlift capacities, also improving their ability to secure Europe’s neighbourhood without always calling Uncle Sam for help. On China, finally, Europe and the US may not be able to agree on an identical strategy, but they can now very well formulate a common core agenda which allows for different approaches while remaining in coordination. Germany will have to rethink its transactional approach and somehow drop Huawei out of its 5G network building, if values mean anything to us. What will be decisive is the common definition of China as a systemic rival, and future competition with China not as a ‘geopolitical’ conflict but as part of a global struggle between liberal democracy and authoritarianism.
Why time is of the essence
Joe Biden will, in all likelihood, remain a one-term President simply for age reasons. But he is currently the most Atlanticist powerful Democrat now. Already Kamala Harris – from California – has a much more ‘Pacific’ outlook, and less experience in, and therefore attachment to, Transatlantic affairs. True, the new administration’s foreign policy will be dominated by ‘2021 Democrats’, who believe in global democracy and want the US to re-engage. This cannot be said about elements of the left wing of the Democratic Party, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is predicted by some to have a bright future in US politics. And then there is the scenario of a continuously Trumpist Republican Party coming to power in 2028, maybe in 2024, and possibly gaining influence as soon as the 2022 midterm elections – but in any case, remaining a national-populist working-class party, powerful even in opposition. All this means that Europeans and the Biden administration have to seize the moment now, and create a framework in which Europe proves its added value to the US much more clearly, also in the future – and which even less internationalist American leaders will hesitate to destroy.
Above all, Europeans now have to beware of three things: complacency, delusion, and defeatism. It would be complacent to lean back and trust the warmer Transatlantic tone to turn into substance by itself. That would backfire badly. We have to put meat on the bone ourselves; no one will do it for us. Delusionary is the idea that Europeans can guarantee their own security and prosperity without a strong Transatlantic bond anytime soon – and that means for decades. The risk of defeatism, finally, lurks in a cash-strapped post-COVID Europe aware of its shortcomings, unwilling to invest in any alliance, and therefore incapable of standing up to autocrats. It would mean burying the hatchet with Putin, the Chinese Communist Party, and their fanbase inside the EU, because all other options are thought to be exhausted. In other words, the officially certified end of Europe, as a community based on values. This bleak scenario can only be avoided in a clear-sighted, determined, and concerted effort to ‘grab history by the coattails’, as Helmut Kohl would have put it, and work on a Transatlantic Renewal now.Roland Freudenstein Defence EU-US Leadership Transatlantic
Let’s Seize the Chance for a Transatlantic Renewal!
10 Nov 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
The Swedish policy response to COVID-19 is exceptional by international standards. This In Brief explains how this approach is determined by three articles in the Swedish Constitution. The first guarantees freedom of movement for Swedish citizens, ruling out nationwide lockdowns. The second establishes unique independence for public agencies, allowing them to design the policy response to the pandemic. The third grants exceptional powers to local government. In addition, the Swedish approach is fostered by strong trust in the government and in public authorities.COVID-19 EU Member States Leadership Social Policy
The Constitutional Basis for Sweden’s Exceptional COVID-19 Policy
28 Sep 2020
For policymakers and politicians, it’s easy to discount the millennial generation as lazy, footloose and obsessed with social media. In Italy, a whole generation are now derided as bamboccioni (big babies) who prefer to lounge at home with their aged parents, rather than embrace a more financially independent lifestyle. But such easy stereotypes belie a much harsher economic reality. And nowhere is this despondent realism more evident than in an Italy seemingly on the verge of perpetual economic and societal collapse.
Italian millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) have confronted the 2008 financial crisis and the ongoing Corona crisis. But even these crises are mere bookmarks in the longer story of Italian economic fragmentation which began with the recession of the early 1990s. This is a stagnation which has already resulted in a whole generation of young Italians being without steady employment, bereft of economic independence and increasingly without hope for the future.
This millennial disenfranchisement has caused frustration, distrust of government and a tendency to vote for populist parties. This is a society where young women are still exposed to the ridiculously discriminatory and illegal ‘dimissioni in bianco’ (blank resignation) letter which allows employers to dismiss workers on account of any future pregnancy or marriage. An economy where the richest 1% of Italian adults increased their share of total personal wealth from 17% to 24% in the two decades up to 2016 notwithstanding a stagnating economy.
Although Italian millennials are more educated and skilled than their parents, two out three workers with a short-term contract are under forty. As a result, young Italian adults are poorer than the previous generation. A 2018 study showed that Italians in their thirties earn 17% less than their parents did at the same age. This had led to reluctance to start a family (Italy has one of Europe’s lowest birth rates) and a gradual decline in the size of the traditional middle class.
Closing this dichotomy – between the struggling younger generations and their often affluent parents and grandparents – is the biggest obstacle to fundamentally rebooting Italy’s economy.
But to give millennials a fighting chance at success means confronting two bedrocks of Italian society: an antiquated education system and a reorientation of political power away from well-heeled middle-aged and retired Italians.
The Italian education system is exacerbating millennial struggles. Highly theoretical and based on the acquisition of general background knowledge but few practical skills, the Italian teaching system at the post-primary level is not attuned to the realities of the 21st-century labour market. The results are either abstract or controversial. Italy (the third largest economy in the EU) has no university in the top 100 globally. This compares to eight from Germany and seven from the Netherlands.
Closing this dichotomy – between the struggling younger generations and their often affluent parents and grandparents – is the biggest obstacle to fundamentally rebooting Italy’s economy.
Perhaps even more importantly, giving young Italians a fair opportunity at economic independence requires challenging the stranglehold on policymaking held by older Italians. Italy has become the Florida of Europe with the conservative (and often regressive) economic policies to match. The oldest population in the EU (22% of Italians are aged over 65) benefit disproportionally from a welfare system designed to protect their interests over all else.
Over 77% of public social spending in Italy goes to retired people while only 3% of total expenditure is targeted on working families and children. Remarkably, Italian retirees enjoy the highest net pension replacement rates in the EU (nearly 92%) notwithstanding Italy having the largest public debt in Europe.
It’s a retirement heaven for older Italians. But it’s deliberating sabotaging the prospects of millennials. It is also – very obviously – totally economically unsustainable.
A country famous for putting family at the heart of society is in fact dressing up this wealth grab as a continuation of traditional norms. Witness the mass hysteria when former Prime Minister Mario Monti attempted to reform the unaffordable public pension system in 2011. The reforms were subsequently rolled back and the Italian retirement gravy train (just like Snowpiercer) is still speeding around and around the tracks.
So what can Italian millennials do?
The first thing is to realise that neither a naive EU nor its much-heralded Economic Recovery Plan will save Italy. Such initiatives will only facilitate existing Italian policymakers clinging to power while the money flows from Brussels. Tens of billions of euros of investment in combatting climate change and digitalisation, while very welcome, will change nothing if more deep-seated structural reforms are ignored.
Second, Italian millennials should refuse to accept the current status quo as the only available path for Italy. This will mean confronting the older generations (including parents and grandparents) about the illogicality of such generational inequality. It means the young need to inject a sense of urgency and positive disruption into their approach to mainstream politics. It’s time for a productive movement of change that is not just the same old negative messaging stuck on repeat. For all the noise they generate groupings like the Movimento delle Sardine (Sardines Movement) are devoid of tangible reform proposals.
Italy needs a generational awakening dedicated solely to pursuing the interests (and rights) of young Italians. Unburdened by history and unfettered by the conservatism of wealth preservation, this movement should work towards fundamental economic and social reform by working for young Italians across the political spectrum. Only then will Italian millennials have a fighting chance.
Existing politicians are incapable of reforming Italy because that would mean compromising their own tightly held privileges. That’s why only its ‘big babies” can save Italy now.
Only its ‘big babies’ can save Italy now
20 Jul 2020
Last time when the Spitzenkandidaten succeeded, many people believed that it was a kind of miracle. But of course we know that miracles are normally relatively rare and even in the Catholic church, before they decide that something was a miracle they have some expert groups or scientific advice.
It takes a year, sometimes it takes decades, sometimes it takes centuries. So we should not be too quick to assume that it was a miracle. I rather believe that there were some objective preconditions, but also some subjective preconditions for that success. And I think that it is useful to remember them also in view of where we are right now for the 2019 European elections.
The objective preconditions were that the Treaty had been changed in three critical parts. First, it asked the European Council to make a proposal taking into account the outcome of the European Elections. Secondly, the European Council was requested, before it made that proposal, to consult with Parliament to see which candidate would have the chance of a qualified majority.
And thirdly, the language for what Parliament is doing was changed: it is now saying the European Parliament “elects”. The key moment as foreseen under the Lisbon Treaty is now the election of the European Commission President by Parliament. The Treaty was changed in three crucial parts and therefore it would have been very strange if the procedure would have been exactly the same as before.
I think objectively there was also a special situation because there was a higher need for legitimacy. Remember the 2008 financial crisis. We said 2008, but in fact it was not limited to a year, it was a long stretched-out process. In the course of that crisis, the EU needed to take a lot of decisions which sometimes were perceived as extremely tough by citizens.
Think about Greece, think later about Cyprus, think about some other countries. Objectively the need to improve the degree of legitimation in the system had become higher. People wanted to know that they had a say on somebody who can impose those kind of decisions. Also objectively, I think the Parliament decided early to invest.
We decided one and a half year before the European elections, so roughly in January 2013, that the motto for the elections should be “This time it’s different, choose who’s in charge”. If you say “choose who’s in charge” it is the offer to determine through European Parliament Elections who should lead the executive.
And we followed-up with invitations to 1000 journalists in Brussels, we ran our whole campaign on it. We did something administrations are normally not doing. Normally administrations go for “low risk, low return” strategies. Think a moment about it: low risk, low return. Instead we decided to go for “high risk, high return”.
We took a high risk, because if it had gone wrong, people would have said “they are stupid, they did not understand, they could have known in advance”. But if successful, the positive outcome for democracy in the European Union would be strong and that is what we went for.
It has been said already that this success was not a foregone conclusion, but the degree to which there was doubt in the system nevertheless should be remembered. It was regarded as so unlikely that ambassadors decided collectively to remain deeply asleep. Because it would not happen anyhow. So no need to alert capitals. It would not happen. The general disbelief was enormous.
I was invited to numerous discussion fora to present, and normally the outcome was “very interesting idea, of course it’s not going to happen”. There was a sense of general disbelief that this could ever come into being. But it’s equally true that there is also no guarantee today. Therefore, I would like to mention the critical informal preconditions of success 2014 we have to be aware of.
There were formal preconditions for success, objective preconditions for success, but there were also informal, subjective preconditions for success. I would like to name five. First point, the principle of the European Council, which was applied ever since Jacques Delors left office, which is that the office should go to one of us, which means not one of us, one of them, one of the heads of state or government. Jean-Claude Juncker was, I think, the ultimate Council insider.
Nobody around the table had so many years in the European Council. Before he was Minister for Finances and Minister for Labour and probably Minister for half of the other cabinet posts in Luxembourg as well. Nobody was so much a Council insider and the principle they had applied after Jacques Delors, that it should be one of us, was respected with the nomination of Jean-Claude Juncker.
The candidate’s, the successful candidate’s cross-party appeal was very strong. If I read it correctly in the newspapers, Juncker is saying from time to time “I’m a Christian Social Democrat”. So if I were to be a Social Democrat that would be a message which would not make me very unhappy.
So he is saying I’m a Christian Social Democrat. Of course he could say I’m a Christian democrat, but he likes to say I’m a Christian Social Democrat. So from the point of view of Social Democrats, he was surely the most acceptable EPP candidate for Commission President. Because of where he positioned himself.
Thirdly, the core groups in the Parliament were absolutely united in this institutional battle. And fourth point, some of the key actors concentrated the decision making power in the final phase which made coordination needs much less heavy. Martin Schulz was Group President and lead candidate and outgoing President of the European Parliament. Joseph Daul was outgoing Group President and EPP President.
Which means that Joseph Daul had to coordinate with himself and Martin Schulz had to coordinate with himself and then they had to coordinate with each other. It is a slight simplification, but not too much. Of course coordination among themselves was not so difficult because that is exactly what they had been doing the last five years. So that means the decision making process in the critical phase could be based on trust and could be based on concentration of key decision making functions.
The fifth point was that there was already the spirit, others would say the demon, of the big coalition in the room. I would have said the spirit, but others maybe would have had a less positive view of this. So there was this idea of a big coalition in the room. I strongly believe that these were five informal preconditions, subjective preconditions which made success in 2014 not only more likely, but in the end, possible.
None of those informal preconditions exist anymore. None of the candidates is former Prime Minister or Head of State and Government. It’s true that some had government responsibility, but nobody has been a member of the European Council. This time we are asking from the European Council to abandon the principle of “one of us” which they have insisted on ever since Jacques Delors left.
Secondly, these are all very strong candidates, but on the EPP side there is no candidate who is saying “I’m a Christian Social Democrat”. Of course he is coming from the Christian Social Union – so that’s getting close, right? – These are normal candidates from their parties, but whether they have specific cross-party appeal remains to be seen, but I would dare to say not to the degree of Jean-Claude Juncker.
Thirdly, we have a kind of question mark in the liberal family behind the concept, where Macron has insisted that he would not join anything or anybody or support anybody who has been in favour of the lead candidates. We can clearly see that the posts of responsibilities are more divided between different persons. So that means after the elections and already before the elections, but especially in the crucial hours and days after the election, the need for coordination between different and independent actors will be much higher.
And five, the big coalition is broken. We do not have a big coalition. We could see that already at half-term there was no longer an alliance to elect the President of the European Parliament. So those five elements, informal preconditions for success, which made it easier last time, will not be available this time. If it is to be successful the core forces will have to come together very quickly.
Between the parties and inside the parties, between the groups and inside the groups, and between the Spitzenkandidaten, there has to be an effort, stronger than last time, to come together and to ensure that the Spitzenkandidaten principle is again applied.
On the other hand, there are positive elements for the Spitzenkandidaten which were not present last time. First, I think we have learned in the meantime that there is strong public support for the fact that citizens should have a say in who is running the executive. That was one of the key learning points last time round. When some of the Prime Ministers were wavering, the reaction they got, especially from the press, was extremely harsh. So they have learned, that this does not come cost free, but that it has a political price.
Secondly, we know from the last election that the Spitzenkandidaten system has the potential to increase participation in elections for at least about 12%. We know that last time in the countries where the Spitzenkandidaten were the most present, in after-election opinion polling 12% of the voters said they voted because of the Spitzenkandidat. If you take for example Germany where they were very active, we had a participation rate which was clearly going up, the same for Austria, the same for Luxembourg. So the potential is there.
Third, we had and we will have an even stronger media engagement which will also restrain politically afterwards. Forth, we have a much longer campaign, we have a better financed campaign, we have a better organised campaign. Last time Jean-Claude Juncker came to his position a little bit to his own surprise, very last minute. Nowadays all the political parties are planning this for months, conducting their campaigns for months, are present all over Europe for months. The outreach this campaign is having is much bigger and more important.
And fifth, all the Prime Ministers this time have been very solidly involved in the selection process of their candidates. None of them can say he didn’t know, he was not consulted, he is not in agreement.
We are expecting a Parliament which will be more divided because of developments in national party systems. This also means that the potentially available majority to carry a candidate will be smaller than last time. If that majority is smaller, it also means that the space for the European Council to disregard the Spitzenkandidaten is shrinking massively.
Because if only you lose one of the three major groups, or if only you lose an important part of one of the three major groups, you are losing any potential majority for a Spitzenkandidat in that system. Therefore, the European Council will also have to realise that in fact its own choice is limited.
There are many definitions of democracy. I like the one which is “democracy is if you can change your government without bloodshed”. I know it is a very basic definition, but it is important and until very recently, there were some question marks whether as a citizen in Europe you could change your executive without bloodshed.
How should you do that? You were not asked that question. You were just asked the question to elect members of Parliament. So with the Spitzenkandidaten, under the existing Treaties, we have established a clear relationship between citizens, parliamentary majority and the head of the executive. I think, and I fear, that for quite some time we will have to work with the existing Treaty, small changes here or there not to be excluded.
Which means that our systematic approach has to be to maximise the unused potential under the Treaty. The Spitzenkandidaten is the prime example how this can be a very successful strategy, changing the constitutional nature of the EU.
Speech delivered at the Martens Centre event “25 Years of Spitzenkandidaten: What does the Future hold?”, Brussels, 5 March 2019Klaus Welle Elections EU Institutions Leadership
25 years of Spitzenkandidaten: what does the future hold?
03 May 2020
The pandemic that has now affected billions, forcing nearly half the world’s population into some form of lockdown, is far from over. In fact, infectious disease experts warn that the majority of countries grappling with the virus have not yet reached their respective apex. For the European Union, this means that thousands more will fall ill; supplies of ventilators, masks and other personal protective equipment, as well as hospital beds, will increasingly become scarce; businesses will continue to suffer or face bankruptcy and economic output will stagnate, with a Eurozone (and global) recession all but guaranteed.
As such, this is not only the problem of any one, or a few, EU member states. It is a uniquely European problem, that only a European solution can effectively solve.
In the EU, knee-jerk reactions like the closure of internal borders, and the initial freezes on national exports of protective medical equipment and testing kits — later rectified by the Commission — run contrary to our European way of life, making them appear particularly abrasive and extraordinary.
There have also been numerous examples of member states donating medical supplies to other members who need them more urgently, with some even welcoming cross-border corona patients to their hospitals. But, as noble and heart-warming as these instances of EU solidarity are, alone, they are not enough.
The EU has been far too divided in its response, to its own detriment. A remedy to a crisis of this magnitude (455,901 cases in the EU/EEA and UK at the time of writing) must be proportional, uniquely European, centralised at EU-level, and better communicated to the general public. It must present “EU solidarity” not merely as a platitude, but as a resounding, undeniable fact.
The EU is a coalition of 27 member states that agree to work intimately with one another for benefits they could not otherwise obtain alone. If the EU wants to pass the post-stress test that will inevitably follow this pandemic, and the inescapably intertwined questions of legitimacy, it must start acting like its future depends on it. After all, that is exactly what is at stake.
There have been numerous attempts, and there will be many more temptations, to close off our open societies and revert back to mere nation states. Some measures are indeed vital to contain the spread of the virus, such as internal border closures, but the EU must take coordinated action to counter potential consequences, like threats to food security.
Although the Commission has already taken necessary action to address some of these concerns, like the implementation of “green lanes” throughout the EU, more oversight will be needed to ensure the flow of goods goes unhindered. For instance, it should also lead a coordinated effort to oversee and expedite the distribution of medical equipment from members where production is concentrated, namely the Czech Republic, France, Germany, and Poland, to members in dire need.
This is not only the problem of any one, or a few, EU member states. It is a uniquely European problem, that only a European solution can effectively solve.
The EU must also continue to pass swift, sweeping emergency measures to support the hardest-hit member states. The Commission-proposed EU Solidarity Fund is a good start, but it is only a temporary lifeline.
The next major hurdle for the EU is the negotiation of a more long-term, far-reaching, joint fiscal package to address the wider economic repercussions caused by the virus. Herein lies the most significant bottleneck for the EU’s COVID-19 response to date, one for which the von der Leyen Commission, as well as the Council, must find a way to overcome. If the already-tainted idea of ‘corona bonds’ does not receive the traction necessary to make it a viable option, then emergency crisis meetings must be held with more frequency in order to expedite alternatives, like the pan-European unemployment reinsurance scheme.
There is one more area, however, where the EU, and the Commission in particular, needs to improve: communication. Rather than highlighting instances of EU solidarity via the actions of individual member states, the EU’s communication strategy should be centralised as well, involving joint press conferences between the heads of the Commission, Council and Parliament, at least once per week. In addition to presenting the latest trends and figures, the EU should use such an occasion to better communicate the co-ordinated efforts that it is spearheading, which to date are largely flying under the radar.
Furthermore, information on the Commission’s webpage documenting the assistance provided by the EU to the member states (and among member states) should be more easily accessible, streamlined, and categorised by country.
This pandemic is a defining moment for the European Union. It has the opportunity to prove its potential and demonstrate that it can overcome a threat of such magnitude, together, by navigating the crisis as a union. Failure to respond in a unified manner could de-rail the progression of the European project for decades to come, or deliver a blow to its legitimacy from which it may never recover.
On the other hand, if the EU effectively demonstrates the benefits of a more coordinated, federal-like response, it could leave the doorway open to further integration and centralised autonomy – from finance to security – to better prepare and respond to crises of similar proportion in the future.
Before we rid ourselves of this virus in Europe, and on a global scale, things will get worse before they get better, but we are all in this together. Instances of EU solidarity, alone, will not be enough to overcome this crisis. However, if the Commission and the other Institutions step up their role as the central nerve system of the EU, facilitating a more centralised, unified, and better-communicated response to Europeans, we may even emerge as a stronger Union.
After all, the coronavirus knows no boundaries, why should our response?Gavin Synnott COVID-19 Crisis EU Institutions EU Member States Leadership
COVID-19 in Europe demands a centralised European response
03 Apr 2020
There is no doubt that 2019 was an eventful year which brought us many opportunities, but it was also one filled with challenges and changes. Not only did it deliver the new European Parliament, but it also brought us the new Commission which will be in place for the next five years.Centre-Right EU Member States European Union Leadership
Activity Report 2019
06 Mar 2020
I say Europe you say?
Europe, Europe as well.
What was the biggest myth about the EU that you had to dismantle during your career? Or to explain to your co-citizens?
There were many, but I think the most common one, and to some extent, the most dangerous one, is the myth that the EU is going to take away national states and identities. I think that we have to make clear to people that we live in a world where you have different identities. For example, I have a regional identity of the place in Sweden where I was born, a national identity as a Swede, and a European identity as a European. The fact that we can upgrade our identities to double or triple ones is very important but sometimes slightly difficult to get across.
You often argued that Europe is far behind China and the US in terms of internet governance, global technology, and digital economy. How can the EU take the centre-stage?
We are gradually losing that particular race and I’m afraid that when we go to the next stage of the race with artificial intelligence we are going to fall even further behind. I think what is needed first is that we fund basic research and our universities. So that’s the number one: fund basic research so that talent remains in Europe. Secondly, we need to have capital markets that work. We need to deepen the digital single market and avoid regulatory digital protectionists.
Could you share with us one of your favourite visits while you were either the Prime Minister or the Minister of Foreign Affairs back in Sweden and why you picked that specific one?
When I was Foreign Minister we also chaired the Arctic Council for two years, so I went to strange places where most people haven’t been. I am going to mention two. Salekhard in Northern Siberia up where the Ob River meets with the Cora Sea. The Ob River is six kilometres wide at that point. It is frozen ten months a year and Salekhard has no road connection, no railway connection, but it’s still a really important place.
Second, Iqaluit which is the capital of Nunavut which most people don’t know what it is, but it is one of the northern provinces of Canada, which is a huge area. The northernmost part of Nunavut is closer to Stockholm than to Ottawa and has the population density of northern Greenland.
After French President Macron has stated that the EU should first reform itself before it considers taking up any new members, how do you see the European perspective for the Western Balkans?
I think the French have really messed it up, which is based on a certain reluctance that has been there the entire time when it comes to enlargement and a lack of understanding about what is happening in the Balkans. How exactly they are going to get themselves out of this particular hole remains to be seen. The European perspective for the Balkans is extremely important – we have a role and a responsibility there. And if we back off, it is not primarily about the fear that the Russians or Chinese or anyone else will step in.
It is rather about the fact that the forces of disintegration will take over from the forces of integration and we know from history what that might lead to and why those forces are dangerous. So exactly how we are going to solve this remains to be seen. I think it will be or rather it has to be one of the key talking points of the Council and the Commission next year. We have a Croatian Presidency in the first part of next year, we have a summit meeting of the EU and the Balkan countries coming up in Zagreb in May.
Over the years some of the headlines in which you have been featured had named you a Twiplomat. In the world of hyper-connectivity we are living in today does it seem like digital diplomacy could replace the public one?
Well, it’s already an obvious part of diplomacy. Of course, more and more of the things that we do are an integral part of the digital sphere. So is diplomacy. You have to be there, in the social media sphere, you have to use all the instruments of digital communication. Because that’s where, particularly young people, live. And if you’re not in the digital world, you’re not in the world.
Speaking of digital, we have seen on your social media that you are a frequent flyer. Do you happen to know how many photos of planes, for example, you have on your Twitter feed, or how many times have you been up in the air?
When I was Foreign Minister, there were some people who were saying ‘you travel too much’ and I said, ‘it is an unfortunate fact that most of the world is outside of Sweden’. Some people have difficulties accepting that fact, but it is a fact. But yes indeed, I must fly quite often as there are no good train connection from Stockholm to Los Angeles.
With which EPP colleague would you choose to assemble a piece of IKEA furniture with?
Probably my wife, Anna Maria Corazza Bildt, but I’m not quite certain that she’d like to do it with me!
As the co-chair of the European Council on Foreign Relations could you maybe choose one favourite project or initiative that you are doing?
There are two things I would like to outline that I think we have devoted our attention to over the last year. The first is European sovereignty issues, same as the Martens Centre is doing, and this has become much more topical, but still remains fairly complicated. European countries are increasingly vulnerable to external pressure that prevents them from exercising their sovereignty.
The second we have done is a work looking at the experience of European common foreign and security policy reforms during the last five years, and see what can be done in order to reform it, less the substance, more the mechanism of institutions and the way they’re working in order to make them more effective. So those are two things that have been fairly high up on the agenda lately.
Which topic would be your favourite one to discuss over Fika?
Over Fika, I want to discuss…the weather. The news of the day. Fika is a time to be slightly less serious, to discuss what’s on your mind today, things like that.
What is, in your view, the most effective level of governance at which we could tackle climate change? Is it the local, is it the regional, is it the national, or the supra-national?
Well, the problem, of course, is that the answer has to be all of the above, I mean we clearly need a global approach. Because if you look at it at the moment, Europe is in the lead, tackling the issue, but we need to do more, we need to implement more consent on what we are going to do. But the main challenge is going to be the coal use of China and India, these sort of rather booming billion-people economies of Asia.
To get them, or have them to get off coal, and be on a sustainable track to reducing emissions, that is absolutely critical. And that can only be done at the global level. At the same time, we need to continue to demonstrate leadership in Europe. To demonstrate that we are not a utopia in doing it, and to demonstrate that it is actually feasible to be doing it. And some of that will have to be done at the local level.
Swedish Krona or Euro?
Well, it would be the Euro. At the moment, we don’t have any public support for that, so we had to bet it on the krona, yes.
European Commission or the European Council?
I very much appreciate the Council as the fora for dialogue with different political leaders of Europe. It is very useful to sit down and listen to the different perspectives that are coming from different nations. If we don’t anchor what we do in Europe on the national level, we are lost. The Commission has its role, which is of indispensable importance, but it is in the Council where we anchor what we do in the different national political cultures.
Which EPP colleague or person would you nominate for our next interview, and what would be the questions that you would ask?
Donald Tusk: what he’s going to do with Viktor Orban. That’s got to be an interesting one.Centre-Right European People's Party Leadership Values
I say Europe, you say…? Interview with Carl Bildt
I Say Europe
04 Nov 2019
I say Europe, you say…?
What was the biggest myth about the EU that you had to bust during the campaign?
There are a lot of myths about the EU. I’m a first-time politician, never ran a European campaign, never ran in any campaign. But I am very passionate about people. One of the myths was that if you are not from a political family or with political experience, you would never make it to the European Union. And I am very honoured to be an example that you can kick that myth in the derrière and make a difference.
You are one of the youngest MEPs in the European Parliament, but it would be interesting to know what your first job was?
I was 8 or 9 and I used to work in our local market where animals are sold. I used to help farmers load and offload sheep into the trailor. My first paying job was when I was 12, I worked in a local guest hotel, cleaning and serving. This enabled me to build a rapport with different personalities and was fun.
What was the inspiration behind serving as a member of the Army Reserve in Ireland and volunteering with the Cavalry Corps? What was the most interesting part of that experience?
This is really important to me. If I could do both, be an MEP and a trooper in the reserves, I would do it happily. I was born American and raised in Ireland, and I always had admiration for our volunteers, as well as towards our fulltime soldiers men and women who put on a uniform and represent our country.
Now, Ireland is a neutral state and we protect that. But we also have soldiers who are constantly training to protect us in climate issues such as flood relief, or in a bomb squad, special forces, or protecting our dignitaries. Our defence force does a number of jobs even in a neutral state. When I realised I was getting a bit older and if I didn’t go for the reserves when and if I did, it would’ve been one of my greatest regrets. I absolutely adored it. It challenged me, it allowed me to be a better team player and to appreciate my Irish flag much more.
You mentioned that you spent a part of your life in the United States and I know that you are a member of the delegation for the relations with the United States. What do you think is the future of the transatlantic relationship?
It is not lost on me that the Commissioner-designate for trade is an Irishman called Phil Hogan, with a breadth of experience, particularly in agriculture. As the European Union, we are constantly negotiating better ways for our citizens and our trade to be protected. And then you asked me earlier, democracy. That is important now in the US more than ever and we need to make sure that our politics and the way our communities are thriving, being built and rebuilt is protected by both sides. There is a lot more to be done and I am excited to sit on that delegation.
This year we have witnessed the election of the first female Commission president and for the first time, we will have a gender-balanced Commission college. What do you see as the next milestones to further gender balance in Europe?
When Ursula Von der Leyen spoke in the hemicycle in Strasbourg, I, as a first-time MEP, as a female, as the youngest MEP coming from Ireland – it was remarkable to see history in its making. And I think perhaps it was lost on some, but it wasn’t lost on me. We need to work better together on the gender pay gap, on gender pension issues, and I would love to see more diversity in the Commissioners college. What do I mean by that? Well, our ethnicity, our cultures, our religions, our orientations, that’s more important, not just gender, because we have a number of words attached to diversity.
What are your three favourite Twitter and Instagram accounts?
This is so hard. I go through a bit of a love-hate relationship with social media. But it’s now more than ever that social media has a great footprint for us on how to translate the information back to our Member States. In terms of politics, I love and I highly recommend people to follow Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – @RepAOC, a first-time Congresswoman. When it comes to diversity there is The Shona Project @shonadotie and when it comes to mental health it would be Jigsaw Offaly @jigsaw_offaly. You can find them both on Twitter and Instagram. I am a big sports fan so @MayoGAA would be a big one to follow from my side.
You’ve just mentioned mental health and I know that this has been of the topics that you have urged the new Commission to take as a priority. What should we focus on first to address this issue?
All throughout the campaign, I’ve talked about driving the European year of good mental health. I’m not expecting that to happen tomorrow but within the mandate of 5 years, but I personally want it next year. I want it as quickly as possible. Because I think if we are really looking at trade, as we talked about earlier about the US and China, about trade with our neighbour the UK, we’re actually talking about currency and developing skillsets for our labour market. At the centre of every conversation is mental health. And if we have citizens being mindful of the impact of the positive and negative mental health, then nothing moves.
Our whole communities break down and it frustrates me that it hasn’t been a competency of the EU yet. But that’s why we have passionate people like you and me here to drive that message. We need to get it into our education programmes and get funding for pilot programmes on mental health resources for both our young and old. Education and up-skilling is a great start for that. But I personally need every Commissioner talking about mental health as if it’s bigger than anything else that they’re going to look at. Everything is a thread into mental health and we need to secure that.
Speaking of translating topics to citizens, you are already a sitting member on the Employment and Social Affairs Committee. How do you translate complex topics such as social policies and employments to the voters back home?
Firstly you have to constantly make sure that you are asking the questions that you think the citizens would like you to ask. It’s important that you dissect that and bring it home. When people think of the EU, they think of European symbols like funding. But the EU means a lot more than that. Over the campaign, I’ve challenged voters, particularly young ones to look for European symbols such as EU supported buildings, universities, and roads. When we look at the visible footprint, not just the financial impact, we begin to understand the pro-European stance better.
Let’s say that you are playing football. You are the captain of “Team Europe” and it’s the last minute of the game. You have to pick one colleague to make the penalty. Whom do you pick?
I should wear my country jersey and say that Sean Kelly could kick a good penalty. He was the president of GAA, which is the biggest sports organisation in Ireland, so I would say that he would be pretty dissent in taking a pint or a penalty. I’m going to regret saying this though. Yes, I say Sean Kelly.
Coming back to your home country, agriculture is a big part of life there and your economy relies heavily on this sector. How do you see the adoption of sustainable agricultural practices?
Actually, I just came from a call with a young constituent that I have in my area, a man called Kevin Moran who won ‘Young Farm of the Year’ a couple of years ago. He is not only planting trees but he’s also targeting his herd emissions, aiming to be close to 0% emissions as soon as the next 2-3 years. We need to start listening a little bit more to our younger and older farmers who farm the land.
All throughout the campaign, I’ve talked about a transition period. We cannot point fingers and say ‘you’re not green enough and this hasn’t happened enough’, but we need to help our citizens along on this transition and it can’t happen too fast because we can’t leave people behind. Our first female Commission President has tasked herself with the Green Deal and all eyes are on that. It’s my job as a new MEP to keep the pressure on my government and to make sure citizens are heard.
Heels or army boots?
Pizza or fries?
Hozier or U2?
Which EPP colleague would you suggest for the next interview and what would be the question you would ask?
I would choose Polish MEP Magdalena Adamowicz. She is a phenomenal woman tackling hate speech through her own personal circumstance and also a first-time MEP in the EPP Group. She could kick a good penalty too if needed! My question to her would be: what is the one thing that we could do tomorrow in the EU to reduce hate speech?Centre-Right EU Institutions EU Member States European People's Party Leadership
I say Europe, you say…? Interview with Maria Walsh
I Say Europe
10 Oct 2019
On 16 July 2019, the European Parliament elected Ursula von der Leyen president of the European Commission by a narrow majority of nine votes. To be elected, von der Leyen had to make numerous concessions to the Socialists and Liberals—and to the Greens, even though they had announced they would not support her in the vote. This document recommends areas where action by the new Commission would be considered beneficial from a centre–right perspective. It does so selectively, without addressing all the possible areas of initiative. The recommendations are designed to highlight general areas of action, give a sense of direction and offer ideas, as opposed to prescribing specific measures. Thus, the authors intend this to be a discussion paper that contributes to the public debate on the priorities of the next Commission.EU Institutions European Union Future of Europe Leadership
Recommendations for the new European Commission President
09 Oct 2019
Ukraine has been making the front page of newspapers all over the world for a couple of weeks now, due to an incriminating phone call between Donald Trump and Volodymyr Zelensky on 25th July. This conversation, the transcript of which was released on 25th September, led to the launch of an impeachment inquiry of President Trump and to the resignation of the US Special Envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker. But what have been the consequences for the Ukrainian President? To quote the character of Anatoly Dyatlov from the famous TV series Chernobyl, “not great, not terrible”.
Zelensky has scored an unprecedented victory in the history of Ukraine, being elected President with 73,2%. A popular comedian, with no experience in politics, he has been chosen to lead the country instead of Petro Poroshenko. Zelensky campaigned on memes and irony, promising to free Ukraine from corruption and transform it into a thriving democracy.
However, his gains did not end there. One day after his inauguration as President of Ukraine, Zelensky dissolved the Verkhovna Rada calling for parliamentary snap elections on 21st July. Despite the fact that there was no policy content in most messages during Zelensky’s presidential campaign, Ukrainians rewarded him once again, by giving his party, Servant of the People, an absolute majority in the Parliament – 254 out of 450 seats.
Zelensky is in the most favourable position to turn the country around, controlling all levels of power and having massive support from his electorate. He already delivered on some of his promises made during the campaign, by signing a bill creating the procedure to impeach a president and simplifying the firing of government officials as part of his fight against corruption.
President Zelensky is determined also to lift a longstanding ban on the sale of farmland and start a process of privatization of state-owned enterprises to boost investments and move on with the economic reforms that the country really needs.
And of course one of his biggest accomplishments in his few months of holding the presidency has been the prisoner swap between Ukraine and the Russian Federation, trading 35 prisoners each. Zelensky is undoubtedly more open towards dialogue with Putin than his predecessor and wants to show progress on the conflict resolution in Donbas. Even though the Minsk II Agreement is still far from being implemented the prisoner exchange gave hope to Ukrainians that there might be an end to this war.
However, Zelensky’s presidency is not all fun and games. His reputation is overshadowed by his close relationship with the oligarch Kolomoisky, owner of the 1+1 Channel, where Zelensky’s show was aired, and his alleged sponsor in the elections. Also troubling, the reconfirmation of Arsen Avakov as Interior Minister, an obstructionist to legal reforms who is tainted by numerous corruption allegations that he denies.
The real trouble on the international scene though, began for Zelensky only on September 25, when the White House released a memorandum of a phone conversation between President Trump and Zelensky himself, in late July. Apparently, shortly before this call, Trump had ordered $391.5 million in military aid to Ukraine to be frozen, to then pressure Zelensky to look into the case of Joe Biden’s son in relation to his position on the Board of the oil and gas company Burisma.
The speaker for the US House of Representatives launched an impeachment inquiry into Trump immediately after the release of the memorandum and the first head to fly was that of Kurt Volker. He was appointed as a special envoy on Ukraine in July 2017 and was involved in negotiations over the conflict in Donbas.
Volker has facilitated a meeting between Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Zelensky’s advisor Andriy Yermak, which made him look involved in the scandal. However, Ukraine considers Volker’s resignation a big loss as he was highly regarded in the country and seemed to be the “voice of reason” in the U.S. -Ukraine relations.
This situation, however, did not have a terrible impact on the Ukrainian President. For sure he will have some explaining to do to France and Germany, after openly criticising Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel in the incriminating phone call. Zelensky complained about the lack of support to Ukraine from the EU while praising all the United States is doing for his country. However, in the age of unaccountability for what one says, and considering his lack of political experience, he will most likely be quickly forgiven.
With regards to Ukrainian population, if Volodymyr Zelensky brings peace to Donbas, creates better economic conditions for the country and takes even some tiny steps in eradicating corruption, they will not withdraw their support for the new President. According to the Rating Group poll, 71% of Ukrainians are satisfied with Zelensky’s work.
Recent developments in the conflict resolution will gain him even more support among people who feel the war fatigue. On October 1st, Zelensky agreed to the “Steinmeier Formula”, allowing local elections in the Eastern regions of Ukraine under the control of the separatist supported by Russia. One has to agree that with this decision he got back into EU’s good graces quite quickly paving also the way for the Normandy Four meeting.
Even with some missteps along the way, for now, Zelensky is still being given the benefit of the doubt by both the international community and his electorate and at least for the time being his support in the country is likely to stay at 70%.Anna Nalyvayko Eastern Europe Elections Leadership Transatlantic
Not great, not terrible –the repercussions of Ukrainegate
08 Oct 2019
I say Europe, you say…?
When I think of the European Union, I always think of an old Irish word: “meitheal.” It’s an old tradition where people from the neighbouring farms came together to help each other, to save the crops, to save the hay. The essence of it was to be reciprocal, and it benefited everybody. This is the way I feel about Europe. When we come together, we devise a way in which we can work together. We share our sovereignty to some extent, but we help each other. And I think that Ireland, my own country, can certainly be a testament to this kind of solidarity.
What is the most interesting myth about the EU you needed to bust in your career?
Yeah, the first thing I suppose in my own portfolio, I had to debunk the myth that farmers were not needed in order to ensure that we achieved a number of our objectives in relation to public goods. You cannot actually have a good environment, a good landscape, you cannot have good conditions of food standards and food security without the participation of our farmers.
So, I had to convince people that if we want to have action on all these public goods, including growing ambitions on environment and climate action, we need people in the rural areas who will do this work for us. And I don’t know of any other sector that can do this work except farmers, and we have to reward them. So, the common agricultural policy is a good vehicle in order to ensure that we achieve a lot in our public goods agenda.
You grew up on a family farm, so we wanted to ask you what your favourite chore was.
Well, first of all as a young person I was really thrilled when I could drive the tractor. And then of course, when I was a little bit older, I liked managing the dairy herd, particularly in the summertime, it’s not so easy in the wintertime. But it was wonderful to see the cows eating the fresh grass and seeing the flow of high quality milk during the summer months.
You have said that the Common Agricultural Policy is “constantly evolving to meet the challenges of the day.” What are the major challenges for agriculture going to be over the next decade or so?
I suppose generational renewal is always going to be an issue. We need to get more young people involved, it’s a big disappointment that only 6% of the farmers of Europe are under 40 years old. And equally then we have to get our farmers to do more on the climate and environment agenda. They are the big challenges; protection of our natural resources, climate action, and getting more young people into the area of agriculture and the food business.
You have developed a reputation as a tough negotiator over your political career. What do you do to avoid “having beef” with your counterparts?
I respect everyone’s point of view. And, you know, I think if we are good negotiators, we have to understand that there has to be an outcome that each side can sell to their respective stakeholders and constituents. And this is the basic principle which I apply to all politics: negotiation is a people business, and therefore if you respect people and understand their personal objectives in any negotiation you will hopefully be able to find an accommodation that is good for both sides.
This May, you said “we urgently need to tackle climate change and the degradation of our ecosystems if we want to preserve the planet for future generations.” What is the EU doing to make the agri-food sector more environmentally sustainable?
Well, as we see in the Common Agricultural Policy proposals that we published in June 2018, we have doubled the amount of funding in relation to actions on climate, and we have to make sure that these targets are met by every member state, and by each sector, in line with the Paris international agreements. Also, we are linking every cent of the Common Agricultural Policy to climate and environment action in areas of conditionality, and in areas of direct investments. So, we have to make sure that our farmers play their part.
Your home county, Kilkenny is famous for its success in hurling, Ireland’s national sport. Which Commissioner do you think would make the most formidable hurler?
Oh, I would certainly say the President of the Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, he has mastered the concept of the political side-step – which is very important in hurling. He’s always one step ahead of the game as well.
According to Eurostat, by 2050, the population of Europe’s urban regions is projected to increase by 24.1 million people. By contrast, the population of rural regions is projected to fall by 7.9 million. How is the Commission going to tackle rural depopulation and revitalise our rural areas?
Well I am very conscious of this major challenge for the vitality and vibrancy of our rural communities. And this is why I convened all stakeholders in 2016 to a conference in Ireland, and we adopted the Cork 2.0 declaration for rural areas. And we are now implementing these proposals in the Common Agricultural Policy reform; which require investments by every member’s state in rural areas.
Also in broadband connectivity, and in the concept of smart villages – which is putting the focus on village settlements to ensure that they have all the connectivity and social, economic and environmental capital that they need for people to live there. And if we focus on these issues in the context of our pillared funding in our Common Agricultural Policies and our Rural Development Policies, I think this would make a big difference in the next 7 years.
What are the three things you must have in your suitcase when you travel?
Well apart from the usual necessities I need an iPad, I need a good book to read for the long-haul flights, and of course I need to have the latest proposals and policy papers from the Martens Centre!
Ireland is going to be the EU member state most impacted by Brexit. How is the Commission preparing to shield Ireland’s vital agri-food sector from the effects of the UK’s withdrawal?
Well first of all the European Commission on the whole has really acknowledged the unique difficulties that would emerge in Ireland in the event of a hard Brexit, and this is appreciated by the Irish people. We now have 95% of the people of Ireland in recent surveys saying that they are very pro-European. So, I am very pleased about this. And Mr. Barnier and Mr. Juncker have made it clear on many occasions that it’s Ireland first.
But of course, we are developing the necessary responses in all of the Commission to help all member states, including Ireland, in the event of a hard Brexit. And we will see in the event of a hard or soft Brexit that we’re able to cope with some of the difficulties in Ireland. We want to maintain the peace process, and we want to maintain the strong trading relationships between Ireland and the rest of Europe in the event that we are cut off from some of the opportunities in mainland Europe by the bridge that we have through the UK at the moment.
So, many challenges, but European solidarity is very much appreciated in Ireland.
The EU recently signed off on a free trade agreement with Japan. What will the benefits for Europe be?
Well most of the tariffs have been eliminated, and particularly on industrial goods, and we have the biggest trade deal ever achieved by the European Union. Japan represents 120 million people, but it represents about a quarter of the world’s GDP, and therefore it is certainly a contributing factor to the enormous amount of purchasing power for European and Japanese consumers alike, when we join together as 630 million people. So, this in agriculture and industry is a wonderful opportunity, and we already see the benefits of it.
Guinness or Kilkenny Beer?
Kilkenny; it’s brewed in Kilkenny, my native city.
Which comes next: US or China trade deal?
US is to be expected, if they start to behave themselves a bit better.
The ‘1-hectare Initiative’ or ‘Trees for Kids’?
‘Trees for Kids’ because it’s nice to see the young generation embracing the climate and environment impact of more deforestation as quickly as possible.Agriculture Brexit Centre-Right EU Institutions Leadership
I say Europe, you say…? Interview with Phil Hogan
I Say Europe
27 Jun 2019
5 things to remember from the last four weeks:
1. OMG. Turnout increased, for the first time in years, reversing decades of decline. In some member states, like Germany and Poland, the increase in the number of voters going to the polls was spectacular. With more than 50% turnout, the European Parliament elections performed better than the US midterm elections.
This will certainly give a boost to the legitimacy of the European Parliament, but the effect will be short-lived, as in half a year nobody will talk about it anymore. If you’re not convinced of this, ask yourself: did the low turnout in 2009 affect the European Parliament, except for in the immediate post-election analysis season?
2. Wow. The opinion polls were right. A Green wave was expected, but only in the North-West of the Union. Similarly, the Liberals grew, but only because of electoral doping, not because of winning the elections: the extra seats won by the LibDems (a temporary effect that will wear off once Brexit has taken place) and the alliance with Macron’s Renaissance.
Also as predicted, the Grand Coalition of EPP and S&D is not so grand anymore, since it lost its absolute majority for the first time since the direct elections of the Parliament in 1979. But here too there is more continuity than change, as the Grand Coalition already ceased to exist in the second half of the 2014-2019 legislature. Remember that Antonio Tajani was elected President without the support of the S&D Group.
3. Relax. The populists caused a wave, but not a tidal wave. Matteo Salvini and his friends gained seats but have not been able to put together the 3rd largest EP Group. This is basically because of internal disagreements in the ‘populist’ family and because of the decreased popularity of parties like FPÖ and the Danish People’s Party. In other words: the populists are here to stay, but with winners and losers, like everyone else.
4. More representative? Seriously? Some claimed the new European Parliament is more representative. Fine, but wait, more representative vis-à-vis what or whom? Thanks to the Green and the populist wave, the new Parliament is certainly differently composed – and much more fragmented – compared with the outgoing Parliament; but that is exactly what elections are for.
Or are some claiming that the votes in 2014 were not representative? Or that voters in 2014 did not vote for the right parties? If it means that a new parliament is more up to date with the voters’ opinion, then it applies to every election, not only this one, and as such the statement is meaningless.
5. Stability versus change. During the campaign, but also when the votes are cast and the battle for interpretation starts, some favour stability, while some favour change. Interestingly, on election night EPP Spitzenkandidat Manfred Weber made a plea for stability, stating that now it is not the time for revolution.
ALDE Spitzenkandidat Margrethe Vestager, by contrast, reminded the audience that as the Commissioner responsible for Competition Policy, she worked to break corporate monopolies, and announced her intention to do the same with political monopolies. Clearly, Vestager wants to oust the EPP from the Commission Presidency.
PES Spitzenkandidat Frans Timmermans was much more diplomatic – after all, that is his profession. He had probably already foreseen that an anti-EPP-coalition of Socialists, Liberals, Greens and the extreme-left would still narrowly lack a majority.
5 things to look forward in the coming days and weeks:
1. The informal European Council two days after the elections resulted in a draw. Neither the heads of state and government nor the European Parliament group leaders were able to impose something, neither a Spitzenkandidat nor the end of the Spitzenkandidaten system.
While the Europarty delegations meet in order to help forward the search for a package deal (Commission, European Council, Parliament and European Central Bank presidents), Donald Tusk has the formal task of finding a majority within the European Council for the nomination of a new Commission President. If he fails to do so by 20-21 June, there is still some time left for an extra Summit before the new Parliament meets on 2 July.
2. The first thing the European Parliament has to do, however, is to vote on a president. Likely, this will indicate the composition of the working majority for the 2019-2024 legislature.
3. Next, onto the positions, where there is an ongoing battle over content. Formally, the Commission is in charge of setting the agenda for the next five years, given its prerogative of legislative initiative. However, both the European Council and the European Parliament want to have a say on this strategic agenda. In other words: will the new deputies or the member state governments decide what the priorities of the new Commission will be?
4. Once the Commission President-elect is known, national governments will be asked to nominate their Commissioners. This raises the question: what kind of strategy will the governments of Poland, Hungary, etc. follow? Will they oppose the Commission by sending candidates with clear Eurosceptic profiles, relying on these Trojan horses to undermine from within? Or will they accommodate the new Commission President, hoping to receive powerful portfolios for their Commissioners in return?
5. Brexit. Exactly in the same period, the Tories will choose a new leader. He (there are no female candidates left) will become the new UK Prime Minister. In any case, October 31st is the new Brexit deadline. Preparing for a no-deal scenario or granting another extension will be the responsibility of the ancien regime, but whatever the outcome will be, it will be an issue on the table for everyone taking up political responsibility in the EU for the forthcoming 5 years.Steven Van Hecke Brexit Elections EU Institutions EU Member States European People's Party Leadership
Steven Van Hecke
4 weeks after the European Elections: what to remember and what to watch out for?
19 Jun 2019
I say Europe you say..?
More Europe! More solidarity! More communication! Why not, more humanity?
You have said that education is an often-overlooked element in emergency planning, and the EU has recently increased its budget for education in emergencies.What would you say are other key areas that fly under the radar in crisis management?
Education is the foundation of everything else. It is a human right, but it has also become a basic need. Over the last 4 years, increasing the EU humanitarian aid budget for education in emergencies has been my number one priority. Because education in emergencies remains one of the most underfunded sectors in humanitarian aid. I am proud to say that in 2019 we are investing 10%, compared to 1% in 2015, of our humanitarian funding to education in emergencies.
The European Union is leading by example. One other key area where we have to do more — and we are doing more — is gender-based violence in emergencies. Gender is already an essential component of the EU’s humanitarian actions, through our Gender Action Plan, for instance. Putting an end to gender-based violence is a precondition for gender equality.
We demonstrated the EU’s engagement to fight gender-based violence by undertaking the leadership of the Call to Action on Protection Against Gender-Based Violence in Emergencies for 1.5 years. Under our leadership 18 new partners joined the initiative, raising the number to 82. But much more needs to be done. Only international partnerships will turn words into actions. In this spirit, we have set up, together with the United Nations, our important “Spotlight Initiative” which addresses gender-based violence at the global level.
As a commissioner, you spend a great deal of time travelling. What’s your go-to meal when you get back home to Cyprus?
I miss the taste of many Cypriot delicacies. I am fanatical about Mediterranean cuisine! I miss the meze plates like seftalia, grilled halloumi, Cypriot ravioli and the unique taste of Cypriot vegetables.
What role will rescEU play in adapting to increased natural disasters brought on by climate change?
You are absolutely right in raising this issue: because of climate change natural disasters have become more frequent, more intense, more unpredictable. And they often happen simultaneously. rescEU is a sensible evolution of our current EU civil protection system which, admittedly, has reached its limits. It was created in another time for another time. Business as usual is no longer an option. European citizens expect action.
rescEU is an investment in disaster response. We are upgrading our response equipment through increased EU funding which reinforces our collective ability to prevent, prepare and respond to disasters. Equally important, we are cultivating a shared culture of prevention. Without strong prevention and preparedness no amount of response equipment will ever be enough. rescEU is a “safety net” to be activated in exceptional circumstances, when national capacities are overwhelmed. Ultimately, with rescEU we are strengthening European solidarity.
You worked as a dental surgeon before you entered politics. Which is more important, flossing or brushing?
As you know, now I am a Commissioner. So, it would be a “conflict of interest” to give professional medical advice! But, all ads recommend the value of both. So, do both! And “follow the rules”!
The EU just announced it will provide 120 million to Yemen and 50 million to Iraq in humanitarian and recovery aid in 2019. What are the EU priorities for the humanitarian and recovery aid in non-EU countries over the next number of years?
Syria remains one of our main priorities. We recently organized the Third Brussels Conference for Syria. I am proud that, under the leadership of the European Union, the international community came together and mobilized a record 8.3 billion Euros for 2019 and beyond, out of which, 6.79, is the contribution of the EU and its Member States. We are committed to continue helping the Syrian people for as long as it takes.
One of the biggest challenges is, of course, Africa. In Africa, we see a massive humanitarian crisis with multiple dimensions, including poor governance and corruption. I have been on the ground in many places hit by conflict and disasters such as droughts. I spoke to the victims of armed conflict and rape. Devastating conversations. Ones you never forget.
I will never forget my visit to the Panzi Hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo and my conversations with my friend Dr. Denis Mukwege— the recipient of last year’s Nobel Peace Prize. A doctor that does an admirable job under extremely severe conditions. Africa needs a global strategy to address these immense challenges. A comprehensive plan that mobilises the best ideas from the best minds from every sector of society.
We must address, for example, Africa’s demographic explosion. What some call “a ticking time bomb”. Africa as a whole is projected to nearly double in size by 2050. And, of course, we remain vigilant about Ebola. We are following the latest Ebola outbreak in the DRC very closely. I am in a regular contact with the Director General of the World Health Organization. Here again the European Union is leading by example, providing the necessary support in terms of funding but also of expertise. I assure you that we are not complacent.
What is the most interesting myth about the EU you needed to bust in your career?
The myth that European integration destroys, on purpose or by default, national identities! That the European project is an enemy of our distinct identities. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our Europe is rich and blessed because of its diversity. This is our strength. Yes, as Europeans we have two kinds of patriotism. Our national patriotism, our national identity and at the same time, our European identity, our European patriotism. These by no means contradict each other. On the contrary, they perfectly complement each other.
In a recent speech, you said that “steady progress is possible by joining forces”. How can the EU reduce obstacles to cross-border cooperation in responding to increasingly frequent flooding, forest fires, etc that do not respect national boundaries?
In today’s complex global reality it’s an illusion, a dangerous illusion, to think that a single state can face challenges and make progress alone, in isolation. This principle applies especially to climate change and its devastating consequences. When it comes to climate change, we are all in the same boat.
With rescEU we are fostering greater solidarity among our Member States, through collaboration. We are building a shared culture of prevention from the ground up by streamlining our communication networks, and by sharing innovative techniques and best practices all across Europe. Moreover, through rescEU, we are offering new financing opportunities for cooperation projects in prevention, preparedness and response.
Our a new Union Civil Protection Knowledge Network, for example, offers opportunities for cooperation on training, research, innovation and knowledge-sharing. We are also building on the already strong record of cooperation in place in regional exercises, like the Modex Exercises in Romania and Austria in 2018 and the upcoming one in Croatia.
Which NGOs have been the most pro-active ones in helping on the ground with the aid delivery?
I am very pleased with the cooperation and coordination we have with all our humanitarian partners on the ground. Each one, based on their capacities and expertise, provide an invaluable service in making sure aid is delivered, even in the most hard-to-reach areas. Many times under extremely difficult and dangerous conditions. Aid delivery is a big responsibility and a big challenge. I pay tribute to all the humanitarian workers who risk their lives, on a daily basis, to save the lives of others. Their bravery is unparalleled.
Could you name 3 Commissioners you would invite to dance syrtaki?
All of my fellow Commissioners are excellent dancers! I have seen it with my own eyes. So, all would be eligible partners to dance syrtaki with me. This College of Commissioners is the “crème de la crème”, even on the dancefloor!
This year we took our Economic Ideas Forum to Cyprus and one of the panels will reflect on the economic success of Cyprus as a template from the Eurozone to the MENA region. Could you tell us what were, in your view, key ingredientsto the Cyprus success story?
We all came together: the government, parliament, civil society, the business community, the workers. We saw the necessity to work together. Through our painful experiences, we realised the value of the European framework. We really focused on the implementation of the programme. Cyprus realised that Europe is our only shield in our most difficult times. It is our family. We are proud to be part of the European family.
Choose one of the following: halloumi or belgian fries?
Halloumi. But I can’t resist Belgian fries!
OSCE or UN?
Both. The UN is the umbrella of the multilateral system. Both together are parts of the safety net for peace, prosperity and stability in the world.
Cypriot wine or Belgian beer?
Cypriot wine in Old Town Nicosia and Belgian beer in Place Luxembourg in Brussels.
Which EPP colleague would you suggest for the next interview? What would be your question for her or him?
All of my EPP colleagues are very knowledgeable, spontaneous and excellent communicators. Ready to answer any question, any time. So, feel free to interview any one of them!European People's Party Leadership
I say Europe, you say…? Interview with Christos Stylianides
I Say Europe
25 May 2019
European security and defence cooperation has seen more progress
in the past several years than it had in the previous 60 years.
But have we reached strategic autonomy yet?
The development of autonomous European security and defence cooperation has been characterised by unprecedented dynamism and vigour in recent years. European Commission Vice-President Jyrki Katainen once noted that the EU has made more progress in this area in the past several years than it had in the previous 60 years. He is correct.
Since 2016, the EU has, inter alia, set up a Coordinated Annual Review on Defence for harmonising its members’ defence planning and procurement cycles, established Permanent Structured Cooperation for voluntary (but legally binding) project-based capability development, and launched a European Defence Fund for funding joint defence research and capability development projects. Such progress would have been unthinkable only a few years ago.
The progress has not been limited within the framework of the EU, however. In 2018, France and its closest European partners launched the European Intervention Initiative (EI2) to enhance contacts between the participating countries’ armed forces and, in the long-term, to facilitate the emergence of a common strategic culture. In 2019, France also setup an Intelligence College in Europe to improve the connectivity and visibility of European intelligence cooperation. Although European in character, these structures are outside the EU.
The quest for strategic autonomy
The purpose of all these new initiatives is to facilitate Europe’s quest for ‘strategic autonomy’, its grand strategic ambition. Strategic autonomy as an idea was introduced to the general public by the EU’s 2016 Global Strategy. Although the document mentions strategic autonomy five times, it makes no effort to define the term. However, strategic autonomy can be understood as the ability to act on the world stage but especially in Europe’s neighbourhood without third-party (i.e. American) assistance.
This kind of autonomy depends on several things. It depends, first of all, on Europe having the capabilities that enable it to handle various crises and challenges. In the past, Europe’s effectiveness as an actor has often been undermined by shortages in specific capability areas.
In 2008, Russia contributed four helicopters to an EU-led operation in Chad because the Union could not get its own member to contribute a sufficient number of helicopters. During NATO’s 2011 operation in Libya, European countries quickly depleted their stocks of smart munitions and had to purchase stockpiled munitions from the US.
The good thing about capabilities is that they are material in character: they can be researched, developed and purchased for a price. However, strategic autonomy is not just about muscle; it is also about a specific mindset that enables an actor to use its capabilities when necessary. In the past, this has often proven challenging for Europe.
Due to its member states’ reluctance act in areas in which they have no immediate interests at stake, EU action has often fallen below of what was initially required (e.g. in Mali in 2013), been prohibitively slow (e.g. in the Central African Republic in 2014) or non-existent (e.g. in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2008).
Not just about institutions and capabilities
In fact, Europe’s ability to achieve strategic autonomy is likely to depend far less on Brussels-based institutions and the acquisition of capabilities than it will on Europe’s ability to overcome what could be labelled as the ‘aspirations-leadership gap’: a gulf between Europe’s desire to become a fully-fledged international actor and the level of leadership that especially big European countries are willing show in turning that desire into reality.
To illustrate this, think of NATO. Contemporary discussions on strategic autonomy often miss that NATO is an effective actor not because it would have its own army (it doesn’t), because it would use qualified majority voting for decision making (it doesn’t), or because it would have its own resources (it doesn’t). Instead, NATO is able to act because the US is the Alliance’s de facto leader. When push comes to shove, Washington has had—at least in the past—the authority to bang heads together and convince its allies over the necessity of action.
The EU has no such leader. France tries to play this role and has some claim to it by virtue of its defence spending and highly capable armed forces. However, most EU countries don’t share many of France’s strategic priorities in areas such as the Sahel and Sub-Saharan Africa. Germany could play this role but is unwilling to do so due to its semi-pacifist strategic culture that has been shaped by its difficult twentieth-century history.
Finally, the UK, arguably Europe’s most capable country, is expected to leave the EU sometime in the not-too-distant future and is in no position to show leadership on any European issue for a long time.
A possible solution for closing the aspirations-leadership gap might be to utilise various core groups or directorates more actively. Indeed, this seems to be the direction where Europe is heading with initiatives such as PESCO and the EI2.
French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Paris, to which he also invited German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, is also a step in the right direction but should be expanded to make such meetings geographically more representative of Europe’s diversity. They could also help in paving the way for the creation of some kind of European Security Council, an idea that is being discussed.
These and other plans currently on the table such as the formation of a ‘European army’—most likely by expanding and revising the EU’s existing battlegroup concept—need to be discussed openly. When choosing the EU’s next foreign policy chief after the European elections, the member states should also prioritise the appointment of someone who enjoys a high level of confidence in all major European capitals to improve the general effectiveness of EU foreign policy.
Every little helps in closing the aspirations-leadership gab but the main effort needs to come from the member states themselves.Niklas Nováky EU Institutions EU Member States Leadership Security
Europe’s aspirations-leadership gap
20 May 2019
The Martens Centre is pleased to announce that this year’s awards for “best cooperation” and “best activity” during the year 2018 have been awarded to Kós Károly Akadémia Foundation (Romania) and Wetenschappelijk Instituut voor het CDA (CDA Research Institute) (Netherlands), respectively. Now in their seventh year, the annual Martens Centre Action Awards underscore outstanding cooperation in all aspects and serve as recognition of the immense quality and impact of projects in cooperation with the members of our Europe-wide network. While the competition for this year’s awards was fierce, given the sheer quality of our member foundations and the projects to choose from, in the end the decision was unanimous.
Throughout 2018, KKA has worked diligently and effectively, forming synergies throughout our network and beyond, to deliver smooth-functioning joint activities with the Martens Centre. Their exemplary work was particularly highlighted in a jointly organised training seminar in Cluj-Napoca, “Millennial Leaders: Effective involvement of the touchscreen generation”, where 19 participants from 7 countries were trained in cutting edge communication techniques, with the overall aim of encouraging greater political participation of the millennial generation.
For the category of “best activity” of 2018, CDA WI has been awarded for their exceptional work on Het Midden (The Middle Class: The middle class as the moral core of society). This timely edition, a follow-up to the 2017 research No Robots: The position of middle-class households in nine European countries, explores the current state of the middle class in the Netherlands and the rest of Europe and what impact this has on civil society as a whole and on European politics. This impressive publication is already having an impact and is gaining traction among policy makers.
With these awards, both political foundations have become strong examples to our other members, raising the bar of the quality of our joint projects while illustrating the sheer talent of the Martens Centre’s network. Working closely with national partners in 2019 and beyond will continue to allow us to bring the European debate where it matters the most: closer to the European public.EU Member States European People's Party Leadership
Two Martens Centre member foundations rewarded for outstanding achievements in 2018
08 May 2019
On the 1st of May 2004, the EU was enlarged by eight post-communist countries along with Malta and Cyprus. Today, we are quite obviously asking a number of questions: what has this massive European enlargement brought to these countries? And, on the other hand, how and in what way have the new member states enriched the EU?
We should also ask what mistakes should be avoided in the future because, while the vision of Europe ‘whole, free and at peace’ has not yet been fulfilled, we are already facing the phenomenon of an East-West divide within the EU itself.
These days my country Slovakia is taking stock of the first fifteen years of its merge with the West. This is happening just before the European elections, and, since January, I have held discussions with Slovak secondary school and university students, looking together with them for answers to the questions raised above.
Slovakia is an ice-hockey obsessed country, so I borrowed ice-hockey parlance to assess my country’s membership of the EU, and I divided this fifteen-year period into three thirds.
The first third: Honeymoon with the West
In May 2004, the weather during the ceremony in Dublin was beautiful; the Slovak national flag was raised on one of the 25 flagpoles in the garden of the Irish President’s residence. It seemed as though the fair weather boosted our conviction that the future would be similarly cloudless. And, for a few years, this was indeed the case.
Enlargement euphoria and the strong desire to emulate the West of Europe encouraged us to pursue deep structural reforms that transformed Slovakia into one of the economic leaders in the region. This great commitment to changing the country was completed through joining the Eurozone in 2009.
Our strong ‘drive to score’ was also carried over into foreign policy, culminating with the Bush-Putin Summit held in 2005 in Bratislava. EU membership had consolidated our democracy and brought stability and prosperity to Slovakia, the region, and also the EU.
The second third: Awakening
Despite these auspicious beginnings, we soon woke up to the realisation that in this newly-united Europe we would not always be blessed with ‘good weather’. The first clouds had already started to gather right when Chancellor Schroeder’s government signed-off on an agreement with Russia to build the Nord Stream II pipeline.
No regard was taken of the fact that the capacity of the existing pipeline leading through the CEE countries was more than sufficient. Later on, we would have to endure further storms, like the aftermath of the global financial crisis.
The bailouts to Greece, granted in order to keep it in the Eurozone, were painful for us, the new member states. I did not understand the pressure exerted on us by the leaders of certain older member states, who failed to recognise the consequences of harsh economic reforms and structural changes in the post-communist countries.
From one day to the next, we were asked to comply with the same demands as older and significantly richer member states. Just as we had managed to overcome our own existential difficulties, we instantly became embroiled in the existential difficulties of others – difficulties we had no part in causing.
Not infrequently, the leaders of the CEE countries felt that when it came to serious decisions they were simply expected to play along, without being given a chance to influence those decisions in a more substantial way. This is how it played out in the case of the Greek loan facility, or in the case of the already mentioned North Stream II.
The third third: Disenchantment
The developments of recent years tied to migration flows have shown that these new member states are neither ready, nor willing to bear this common burden, or to put forward solutions. This status quo has no future and must be changed. The CEE countries must learn to better understand the solidarity principle.
At the same time, older and more cosmopolitan countries must learn to better understand the completely different historical experience and degree of social conservatism that exists in this part of Europe.
There are too many misunderstandings and too little real dialogue in the EU today, especially between East and West. There cannot be real dialogue if we do not acknowledge and respect of each other’s culture and history.
An important takeaway drawn from the current climate of disenchantment in Europe has been the realisation that establishing a democracy is not a one-off event, it is an ongoing project that must be protected and nurtured each day.
It is true that this does not apply only to Visegrad countries. Populism and extremism are also gaining a foothold in Europe’s advanced democracies. Therefore, the EU needs to become a true federation combining a strong but limited centre with strong members states.
That said, there may also be light at the end of the tunnel for Slovakia. The squares crowded with people after the murder of journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée brought down the prime minister and re-activated civil society, as well as mobilising the political participation of young people.
Recently elected to the presidential office in Slovakia is a civil activist who managed to stand her ground against evil and prevailed against the odds. This trend must be fostered and encouraged by putting forward a new, attractive and forward-looking vision for the whole of the EU.
I am convinced that such a vision has the potential to inspire and motivate us in the same way I was inspired by the vision of a Europe “ whole, free and at peace” in 1998. That year, I rode my bike across the country in the name of such a vision, calling on my fellow citizens to join me on the journey.
I still remember how distant this vision seemed to me then, but the undying belief in that vision brought change to Slovakia – change for the better. In an era of similar challenges, the time has come to set out on a similar journey once again.Mikuláš Dzurinda Enlargment EU Member States European Union Leadership
The Big Bang Enlargement at 15: lessons learned vs lessons applied
30 Apr 2019
It’s one of the more naïve, but appealing, narratives circulating around disbelieving Brussels at the moment. Britain – sick of the convulsions of this never-ending Brexit – will eventually allow pragmatism to win out.
Parliamentary compromise (however tortured) will restore Britain to its rightful place in the EU, or in a worst-case scenario, to a cashmere-soft Brexit complete with a customs union and possible membership of the single market. Teresa May will resign with the Tories destined for the opposition benches amidst an in-house civil war.
But this is a delusion. Rather than cause a British (or English) political revolution, Brexit will actually solidify existing British political structures. Brexit – soft, but real – will strengthen Tory rule. This is disturbing, but inevitable.
As the Fabian Society have pointed out, Labour is becoming increasingly concentrated in major cities with higher levels of ethnic diversity and young adults. But, even more importantly, in areas most commonly defined as ‘working class’ there has been a noticeable swing to the Conservatives since 2005.
Although, the current ‘first past the post’ system mitigates against dramatic upheaval the longer-term implications are clear. Limited potential for future electoral gains for the Labour Party in urban areas (for example, Labour already holds 23 out of 27 seats in Greater Manchester) coupled with the potential for the Conservatives to gain traction, if not seats at first, in staunchly Labour, but Brexit supporting areas.
This isn’t science fiction, or even political fantasy. It’s the new politics of the vulnerable, disconnected masses. Nor is this unique to Britain, electoral maps and traditional voting patterns have been eviscerated in states as diverse as Italy and the Netherlands in recent years.
A Tory party – with an engaging and coherent leader (if this exists) – should be able to act as an umbrella for all Brexit supporters from the hard right to the more malleable centre. Will Jacob Rees-Mogg and his European Research Group (ERG) friends really prefer the principled isolation of Westminster to the Conservative high table? The Tories are too fond of power for that. In fact, the composition of the “Independent Group” in Westminster shows that while the Tories may splinter, Labour might lose a whole branch.
The absence of a coordinated Remainer group in the Conservatives also renders their overall strategic position relatively clear. Hard Brexit or soft Brexit is up for discussion, but Brexit it will be. Those who will leave the Tories over Europe have, in fact, already left. Closet Remainers, such as Phillip Hammond, will never jeopardise party unity for Europe.
They simply don’t care enough about Brussels to make that leap. Moderate, pro-European Tories – such as Ana Soubry and Nick Boles – have already been written out of Conservative Party history. Ken Clarke stands as a noble and proud throwback to a different age, and a different Tory party.
Finally, any sort of Brexit – be it May’s deal or anything softer – will allow the Tories to make a coherent election pitch lifted straight from Labour Party policy: we delivered Brexit but simultaneously protected jobs and trade in the long run. This isn’t really coherent policy or even good for Britain, but its clever politics and would make the most of Teresa May’s dreadful period in charge. This approach will also allow the Ulster Unionist’s to sing loudly of the United Kingdom’s territorial integrity.
Of course, in a political context, the fissures of Brexit aren’t that unique. The Suez crisis of 1955/56 was marked by Conservative Party splits (including a ‘Suez Group’ whose emotionally charged nationalism echoes clearly in today’s ERG), divided families and ultimately the fall of a once well regarded Tory Prime Minister. But Suez, driven by an almost visceral need to sustain a global role, ultimately failed because of economic realities and American pressure.
But Suez is more important because it shows a pathway forward for the Conservatives. Suez did not spell electoral disaster for the Tory party or for the British economy. Under Harold Macmillan (ironically one of the staunchest initial backers of military action in Suez) the Conservative Party successfully retained power in 1959 with a larger majority. Increasing middle-class mobility, economic growth and a recast Anglo-American alliance (albeit with Britain as very much the junior partner) sustained a relatively harmonious political landscape for the Tories up to the early 1960s.
Clever Conservatives should now prioritise delivering a cashmere Brexit; soft to the touch but warm enough to repel the chill from the political extremes. This is not the best solution for Britain, nor for Europe. But Brussels has resigned itself to Britain leaving and now understands that Britain in Europe is no longer possible.
It’s simply too destabilising for the entire European project. Nobody in Brussels believes that Jeremy Corbyn’s instincts lie anywhere other than in a dated view of the EU blocking his socialist revolution. In that context, for both Britain and Europe, there can be no turning back.Eoin Drea Brexit EU Member States Leadership Political Parties
Why a cashmere Brexit will save the Tories
09 Apr 2019
As NATO marked its 70th anniversary last week, what better time to reflect on its achievements? Those who are critical of the alliance and what it has accomplished, need only be reminded of the reality in which we live: that there has been no armed conflict between major powers since its creation and zero armed conflict among its members.
Prior to its creation, the world was devastated by not one world war, but two, in the span of only 20 years. In fact, NATO is fulfilling its mandate at this very moment, shielding 512 million citizens living in the EU by maintaining a deterring presence in eastern Europe, staring down Russian armed forces amassed along the EU’s external borders, our borders.
Likewise, the same logic that the EU is fulfilling its own mandate should be applied to counter the argument of every Eurosceptic. By acting as a string, linking Europeans together, it too has succeeded in preventing any armed conflict within its borders since its inception. The world needs these great constructs, more than ever, as it and the balance of power becomes increasingly unstable and fraught with dangers.
Among them, as already mentioned, a resurging Russia is escalating tensions at almost every opportunity, by means both conventional and radical, utilising old tricks and new. From increasing its presence along European borders, engaging in proxy standoffs like Syria and now Venezuela, to routinely perpetrating acts of espionage in the US, the UK and Continental Europe, Russia has shown it intends to remain a key challenger of the West.
But these are all from the Kremlin’s old playbook. Turning a page to the Kremlin’s playbook 2.0, we see a Russia that is actively involved in new means of disruption and confrontation, many of which the West is struggling to address.
To name just a few, these include multifaceted disinformation campaigns in central and eastern Europe, interference in foreign elections (a major concern for the upcoming European Parliament elections), using its energy supplies to coerce its dependents – a trap that the EU should seek to avoid at all costs – and removing itself from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty while instigating a new arms race.
On the latter point, both Russia and the US have renounced their participation in the INF Treaty, with Russia proclaiming its alleged progress in developing new weapons, such as low-flying hypersonic ICBMs (like the Russian R-28 Sarmat, nicknamed ‘Satan-2’) that significantly alter existing theories and strategies relating to nuclear weapons, including deterrence. In response, the US has already proclaimed its plans to test similar ICBMs in a few months’ time.
To compound these concerns, perhaps the most significant threat to stability and world peace does not involve Russia at all, but rather an emerging China eager to assume its place on the world stage as the hegemon. In addition to relying on conventional means to assert its dominance, it too is actively engaged in new and innovative techniques to gain leverage over its Western rivals, escalating tensions at a worrying rate.
In particular, China’s present modus operandi includes cyber warfare, foreign interference and espionage (exacerbating fears of possible malicious intent by telecommunications giant Huawei), flexing its muscles in the Pacific and jeopardising regional peace and shipping routes, infrastructure investment schemes and charm offences to sway favour towards the East rather than the West, and developing new military technology far superior to Western capabilities.
With both the US and Russia leaving the INF Treaty, which China was never a part of, and all three heavyweights vying for position, deterrence by other, tried and trusted means becomes crucial. That is why the West needs NATO and why it remains the greatest alliance the world has ever known. When soft power fails, hard power or the threat thereof must be present to fill that void.
Donald Trump, for all his follies, is not off the mark when he claims that NATO’s members need to step up their defence spending, a point reiterated by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on his trip to Washington last week. NATO members appears to be listening, with a noticeable increase in spending (by Canada and European members) by 4 percent from 2017 to 2018, and Stoltenberg predicting those same allies will increase spending upwards to $100 billion USD by the end of 2020.
That is why the West needs NATO and why it remains the greatest alliance the world has ever known. When soft power fails, hard power or the threat thereof must be present to fill that void.
On NATO expansion, most notably North Macedonia looking set to join the ranks of NATO’s 29 members, and further accession possibly on the horizon, the alliance is sending a clear message that it is here to stay and remains a force to be reckoned with. But is this enough?
Indeed, the European Union must continue to up its game and walk the walk when it comes to security burden sharing. Not because Donald Trump says so, but because it’s high time that it improves its preparedness and autonomy and becomes the superpower the world needs it to be. The EU has the means to do so and the political will is (slowly) gaining traction. Continuing this trend would not only improve autonomy but it would also reinforce NATO and, by extension, enhance deterrence and tip the balance of power in the West’s favour.
After all, NATO was founded on burden sharing, enshrined in its charter under Article 5. What use is NATO to our allies if we are incapable of coming to their rescue, just as we expect them to come to ours?
The threats posed to NATO’s members are becoming very real in an increasingly unstable world. That is why fortifying the alliance is paramount, at a time when the strength and appetite of our adversaries is growing. The world barely survived two world wars and, thanks to NATO, it has survived another seventy years. Would it survive a third? Given the level of assured destruction it would certainly endure, I’m not so sure.
As Albert Einstein once said on the matter: “I do not know with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” Will we avoid his prophetic warning of total destruction? Perhaps, but neglecting NATO is a sure way to put his theory to the test.Gavin Synnott Defence Leadership Security Transatlantic
NATO at seventy – why it remains the greatest alliance the world has ever known
09 Apr 2019
In the run up to February’s EU-Arab League summit in Sharm El-Sheikh, the EU was criticised by major media outlets such as the Financial Times for conducting high-level diplomacy with Middle East strongmen. By engaging in summitry with autocrats, it was argued that the EU is legitimising them and undermining its own value-based foreign policy. However, the premise of this argument is wrong.
Over the last number of years, the EU has become more pragmatic in the way it conducts international affairs, most notably by showing a cautious willingness to define and pursue an interest-based foreign policy instead of one based mainly on values. This pragmatic turn was reflected in the 2016 Global Strategy, which called for an EU foreign policy based on ‘principled pragmatism’ and resilience building in the EU’s neighbourhood rather than democracy promotion.
Resilience refers to the ability of a society to withstand both internal and external pressures to its stability. It became a Brussels buzzword following the triple shock of the Arab Spring, the Ukraine conflict and the Mediterranean migration crisis. These events made the EU realise that democracy promotion did not necessarily always translate into stability around its borders, which it needs to guard itself against phenomena such as uncontrolled migration, Islamic terrorism and hybrid warfare.
Some see that this pragmatic turn in EU foreign policy undermines the Union’s ability to promote values and principles such as democracy, the rule of law, and human rights internationally. Furthermore, pragmatism or even realpolitik in EU foreign policy is seen to question the Union’s self-image as a postmodern normative power, a benign actor that uses the attractiveness of its norms and values to induce change in the world instead of hard power.
However, the EU’s willingness to engage in summitry with a group of countries that Freedom House rates predominantly as “not free” is not in itself a negative phenomenon. Instead of undermining EU foreign policy, it suggests that the Union is slowly growing up strategically and distancing itself from a purely idealist way of dealing the world around it. This can be seen a positive development for three reasons.
First, all international actors need to be concerned first and foremost about the security and prosperity of their own citizens, not value promotion beyond their territory. If the EU can accomplish this by engaging in summitry or deal making with unpleasant autocrats, without waiting until they become liberal democrats, then that is the prudent path to take.
A good example of such pragmatism is the EU-Turkey deal in which the Union agreed to provide funds to Ankara in exchange for the latter’s help in stopping irregular migration across the Aegean. This might undermine the EU’s ability to project itself as a normative power, but the deal is in the best interests of its member states.
Second, in its neighbourhood, the EU does not have the luxury of dealing only with “nice” regimes. Geography dictates that instability in countries with which the Union shares a land or maritime border will inevitably have ripple effects for the EU as well. This means that it cannot simply turn a blind eye to countries such as Egypt, Libya or Saudi Arabia, even though they are far from model democracies.
Ignoring nasty regimes is easy when they are far away and strategically insignificant to one’s security, but not when they are on one’s doorstep and one needs them to take care of one’s interests.
Third, value promotion has been a lowest common dominator EU foreign policy, not a strategic one. Given that EU foreign policy is conducted intergovernmentally, it is always a reflection of what the 28 member states can agree with each other. Quite often, they find it excruciatingly difficult to set common strategic objectives at the EU level, as the recent European cacophony over the political crisis in Venezuela again showed. However, it is relatively easy for them to support—at least rhetorically—the international promotion of the EU’s own values and principles.
However, none of this is to say that the promotion of values and principles should not be an important element of EU foreign policy. It will continue to be so, not least because it is codified into the Lisbon Treaty as an objective of EU foreign policy. Furthermore, the Union should continue to promote its values and principles especially now given that great power competition is intensifying and the liberal international order is under unprecedented pressure.
This is also why the EU needs to support the important work done by organisations such as the European Endowment for Democracy.
The point is rather that value promotion should not be treated as the only or even the main goal of EU foreign policy. It is in nobody’s interest if the EU sees itself as a giant NGO that is more concerned about making the world outside its borders a better place than taking care of the security and prosperity of its citizens.
For this reason and regardless of the optics of it, the Union’s willingness to talk to regimes that do not—to put it mildly—fully share its values and principles shows that it is taking modest steps to grow up strategically. This makes it a welcome development.Niklas Nováky European Union Foreign Policy Leadership
The EU is growing up strategically
14 Mar 2019
2018 was a very special year for our organisation as we celebrated the first decade of our existence. We took our anniversary not just as an opportunity to celebrate, but also as a chance to reflect. It seemed crucial to us to set up objectives to counteract all political challenges for the decade ahead.Centre-Right EU Member States European Union Leadership
Activity Report 2018
04 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
2019 is an important year for politicians all over Europe: MEPs running for re-election in the European Parliament, Spitzenkandidaten working to secure support for the top floor of Berlaymont, and eurosceptics finding common ground to disrupt the Union.
Another top job is up for grabs in a country which aims to become a member of the EU in the near future – the presidency of Ukraine. With elections scheduled for March 31, 30 candidates registered so far for the highest office of the country.
Candidacies were announced at different moments: the incumbent President Petro Poroshenko came forward only a few days ago, formally announcing that he’ll run for elections on 29 January. His main opponent, Yulia Tymoshenko declared her participation on 22 January, even though her slogan “New Course for Ukraine” was everywhere to be seen on billboards alongside Ukrainian roads for already some months.
The actor and comedian Volodymyr Zelenskyi broke the news to his audience on 31 January during an appearance on TV. As a follow up, Zelenskyi launched a website, on which he extends an invitation to join his team, putting forward one condition: the applicants must have zero experience in politics.
Every candidate promises something new and pledges to do the job better than his or her opponents. Poroshenko promises to apply for a full membership to the EU in 2024, as well as to lead Ukraine to NATO; Tymoshenko suggests a new constitution, a new economy and a new social system; Zelenskyi is not making any promises, but is gaining traction for being anti-establishment and disconnected from the “old system”.
Other candidates like Andriy Sadovyi, the mayor of Lviv, plays with words such as “decisive change”; Oleh Lyashko, the leader of the Radical Party, is travelling across the country to show he is a man of the people; Anatolyi Hrytsenko, the former Defense Minister of Ukraine said he would deal with corruption and the oligarchic system of power in the country.
However, the one thing that is missing in the platforms of all the candidates is a clear plan for achieving peace in Donbass. The war with Russia in Eastern Ukraine is entering in its 6th year and the solution is nowhere to be seen. The Minsk Agreements were revealed to be a failure, trapping the actors in a vicious circle considering Russia’s and Ukraine’s opposite positions and interpretation of the 13 points contained in the document.
The new President of Ukraine will have a tough job in handling the conflict resolution, as one thing that has emerged from polls is that for 72% of Ukrainians peace in Donbass is a number one priority.
While all candidates state that they plan to bring peace to the nation, no one is ready to share technicalities of how they plan to achieve the goal. Tymoshenko suggests a “Budapest+” negotiation format involving the European Union, China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, skillfully avoiding to explain what she is ready to compromise – although she is thought to be willing to go pretty far to accommodate Putin.
Zelenskyi’s “we’ll meet in the middle” approach also does not say much about what exactly he is ready to give to Putin. For Poroshenko, making any concessions to the Kremlin would be a political suicide, therefore trapping him in the current deadlock.
One thing that is quite clear to all candidates is that the Minsk agreements cannot be fulfilled and that there is a need for a new approach. However, anyone who is open to dialogue with the separatists would be seen as making concessions to Putin and lose public support. In fact, if there is something positive about Russian aggression in Ukraine, is that it strengthened the people’s unity and created a stronger Ukrainian identity.
The lack of openly pro-Russian candidates in the 2019 elections is indeed a major difference from all the other elections ever held in Ukraine. Even Yuryi Boyko, the candidate of the Russian friendly party Opposition Block, is careful in phrasing his campaign, reiterating that he represents interests of all Ukrainians “regardless of what language they speak and what church they go to’’.
Despite the fact that Opposition Block is portraying itself as “the party of peace”, it will be very difficult for Boyko to top the list given that he is perceived as the successor of the Party of Regions, which formally ceased to exist after Yanukovych fled the country in 2014.
The problem is that at the moment there are no meaningful alternatives to Minsk agreements and that at least some compromises have to be made. OSCE is working on a new peace plan which would include the deployment of UN peacekeepers, a provisional international government, and the setting up of a reconstruction agency in the currently Russian-occupied region of Ukraine’s east, but Putin immediately rejected the idea.
One thing to take into account is that Ukrainians do not vote based on party ideology, but rather on the personality of the candidate. The weakness of ideology in political parties and the prominence of party leaders have always characterised the country’s system.
Therefore, for the final result it is not important if the party of the candidate places itself on the right or left of the political spectrum, but rather if the people trust Poroshenko, Tymoshenko and the other names on the presidential list to deliver on what they are promising.
For sure Poroshenko’s eyes are on the West. With his 2019 election slogan “Army, Language, Faith” he managed to score two out of three points so far, making Ukrainian the required language of study in state schools across the country and obtaining autocephaly for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
According to him, “only full EU and NATO membership would completely and irreversibly guarantee the independence of our Ukrainian state and Ukrainian national security”, so seeking a second mandate could maybe help him fulfil the slogan and lay out a strategy for seeking the light and the end of the tunnel.
Photo by Denys Rodionenko on UnsplashAnna Nalyvayko Eastern Europe Elections EU-Russia Leadership
War and Peace: the struggle that awaits the winner of Ukraine’s top job
05 Feb 2019
I say Europe you say…?
Home. That’s what I say when you say Europe. I am Irish, I live in Ireland, it is my home. I work in Brussels, but I very much see Europe, the European Union, as also home. I hope that people look at it that way.
First of all, thanks to Marianne for nominating me. I think my message is a consistent one: to try and understand what Europe is rather than looking at what its failures are. I think we look only where the European Union is weak, but tend to forget where it is strong.
I would say to people to look at the values the European Union has brought to their lives and the value of peace, the difficulty of working together, but also the importance of countries working together. The value of being around a table is much greater than when countries operating completely separately or drifting off, as it is happening with the United Kingdom. I think we are greater when we are together.
You’ve been a presenter of the show “Ear to the ground” in Ireland. We wanted to ask you how do you manage to keep the ear to the ground and listen to the needs of your constituency?
Wherever I am or whatever I am doing either working in plenary or in this office, I’m always thinking of the people I represent. When I am in Ireland, I am with the people I represent. So I never lose touch. I even use the phrase ‘keep my ear to the ground’ all the time, because it makes people connect with my past and with the television programme I worked on but it also says a great deal about the work I do and how I do it. I mean what would be the point of being in this job if we didn’t work tirelessly for and on behalf of the people who have elected us!
Do you think that we are looking at a no deal Brexit and if so do you think that the EU is ready for possible scenarios?
I think for all of us a no-deal Brexit is almost unthinkable. The EU and individual Member States and especially the United Kingdom, are putting plans in place for that possibility, but I don’t think there is anybody wishing for a no-deal Brexit, because every single aspect of all our lives will be negatively impacted. Sometimes I get the impression that some in the United Kingdom think that they will be
immune to the negative impacts of no-deal, but in fact they will be hurt by a no-deal. I am really hoping that good politics will prevail over mediocre or bad politics and that we can see the value of the withdrawal agreement that is on the table and that it will be ratified, I hope, by the House of Commons in January.
What is the most interesting myth about the EU you needed to bust in your career?
Funnily enough, I think a lot of myths have been busted because of Brexit, which to some extent happened because there were so many myths out there that got oxygen in the UK press and that were never discredited. I think the expression I find most distasteful is ‘faceless Brussels bureaucrat’ – I have been called that when I have been on British media. It is a generic term of disrespect for anyone involved in the EU, elected or not.
I am not faceless and I am not a bureaucrat. But I have great respect for bureaucrats. The people who work in this office with me could be termed faceless bureaucrats and in their work every day they have people front and centre in their minds, assisting them on an individual basis where required and collectively through work on legislation.
How do you think that digitalisation and robotisation are impacting health systems of European countries? What is the EU doing to use the technological advancement to ensure healthy and active life for its citizens?
I recently visited a company in my own constituency, a new company that was developing a robotic production line for sale to the US. I was mesmerized by the technology. These robotic production lines are going to replace some of the difficult jobs that individuals were doing. So I think at that level you are going to see a displacement of people by robotics and hopefully those people can be trained to do other work, which may be more stimulating and more beneficial.
When it comes to the health systems, I recently had someone I know undergo surgery with robotics. So I think for our health systems and for the quality of the health care, robotics will be more common in diagnosis, treatment, and surgeries. The biggest challenge for the European Union and Member States is to ensure that our legislation and our rules keep up to speed with the pace of change in new technologies – this is part of our Medical Devices Regulation, which is currently being implemented. I think these issues will have huge impacts and what we all want to know is that they will be positive.
As the VP of the European Parliament, could you share with us your favourite anecdote from a plenary or committee session? Which MEP has the best sense of humour in your view?
What I love about chairing the session, especially when there are votes and there are issues, is the challenge of maintaining control. I think it is quite a mind game and I enjoy that. Funnily enough, I did use a gavel in the chamber recently, which was produced by a voluntary group called Men’s Sheds Ireland, who had won a European Citizen’s Prize. I bought the gavel from them and opened the voting session with it. I got a great warm round of applause.
I think the Irish have a great sense of humour. And we have the ability to make people laugh, to laugh with others and laugh at ourselves. I hope we have scattered a little bit of our sense of humour across the Members States. Frankly, I think the more laughter we have, the more humour we have in our work in the plenary, I think the easier it is to get work done, because sometimes being too serious and too methodical and too rigid all the time doesn’t get the best for people. We all need to laugh more.
Could you pick your three favourite Twitter Accounts?
The Grand Auld Stretch (@theauldsthretch) is certainly one of my favourites. My next one would be an account dedicated to Seamus Heaney (@HeaneyDaily), one of our very famous poets. Every day somebody somewhere puts out a few lines written by him. On one occasion when I was chairing the plenary and it was a bit tense, I took an eye to what was up that day and I decided to read it at the end of the debate, and it fitted quite perfectly with the debate that was going on.
The third one, well there’s a very interesting dairy farming family in Cork in Ireland. Their user name is @Peterhynes15, but it’s not just about Peter, but his wife Paula and their 3 daughters. They tweet all the time from their milking parlour, from their car, from their kitchen and it’s absolutely fantastic.
Who of your colleagues would you team up with to sing Christmas carols?
We were doing a picture with the EPP and Deirdre Clune, Eva Paunova and myself decided to sing along as well. So, the three of us have already sang, so we could do that again! I do like singing, I don’t have a great voice, but again I think in Ireland we sing regardless of the quality of our voices! Though there are some fantastic Irish singers.
With a post Brexit pressure on the CAP budget, what can be done to create funding for new policy initiatives in agriculture?
I think the problem Europe faces is that the more we do together, the more we want to do together. I think we’re going to have to have a very honest conversation amongst ourselves. If we’re going to have less money for those policies, what we need to do, and we’re doing it, is look at what the market failures are when it comes to food. We just signed off on legislation banning unfair trading practices in the food supply chain. I hope this legislation will help reduce the relentless pressure on producers and hopefully give them a better share of the final retail price.
What it comes to getting more money for the EU budget, it is down to the member states. They will have to look into their hearts and ask themselves if they will match their words of support for agriculture and rural regions with hard cash. The more we have moved away from linking support payments to production, the more difficult it has become to find a system that is sustainable, that meets the needs of farmers and is fair.
What made the top of your New Year’s Resolutions list for 2019?
I am going to be kinder to myself, to ourselves in the office. We work hard and we work long hours. We are very committed to do the best we can. I think that sometimes in all of that delivering and trying to answer everybody’s needs, we forget that we’re all human beings and that we need a little time off. And I suppose because of the elections, I’m going to have to make sure I don’t run at too fast a pace. I’m saying this knowing I’m going to fail in my own aspirations. But it is no harm to set out this, at least as an objective.
Choose one of the following: radio or print journalism?
Radio for the drama and communication. Print for endurance.
Leprechauns or smurfs?
I mean there is no choice here! Smurfs aren’t real, but leprechauns are.
Guinness or Stella Artois?
Which EPP colleague would you suggest for the next interview? What would be your question for her or him?
I think you should interview Esteban González Pons. Maybe you could ask him about the Smurfs versus the leprechauns. Not as the first question, but just don’t forget to ask him that. I won’t explain why.Agriculture Brexit European People's Party Leadership
I say Europe, you say…? Interview with Mairead McGuinness
I Say Europe
20 Dec 2018
I say Europe you say..?
Peace, freedom, good living standards, protection without protectionism.
You have been nominated by Alexander Stubb and his question was: Marianne, you had a fantastic career in Belgian and European politics. You have been a role model for many of us in the EPP. What are you going to do next?
Next year I will continue to focus on my job as Commissioner and work hard for a stronger social Europe. It is not enough to launch proposals in order to achieve results for citizens; we also need to finish them. The planes in the air must land.
This is my big priority until the end of the mandate. Afterwards, I hope my life will take on a new dimension. But I’m not thinking of that yet because my focus is on the next 12 months.
What was the first job/gig you had before entering the world of politics?
My very first job was assistant at the law faculty of my alma mater, KU Leuven. Then I worked more than 10 years for the most representative Belgian SME organisation UNIZO, one of the founding members of SMEunited (former UEAPME).
By defending the interests of SMEs and the value of strong social dialogue, I came into close contact with the political world. Herman van Rompuy, party leader of CD&V at that time, asked me to participate in the European elections and I became a member of the European Parliament in 1991.
What is the most interesting myth about the EU that you needed to bust in your career?
That Europe only works in the interest of big banks and companies. That’s a myth. We work for people. People is what Europe is about.
You are the first female commissioner from Belgium and a strong advocate for equal pay. How far do you feel the EU has come in achieving equal pay?
Europe has always been a pioneer in creating equal opportunities and fighting discrimination between men and women. We should be proud of that. The principle of equal pay was already an objective in the Treaty of Rome! Is that enough? No. There is still a pay gap of 16% and that’s unacceptable. We need to make it easier for women to choose both children and a career without being penalised.
A very important step towards achieving this goal is to distribute the caring responsibilities between women and men in a more balanced way. That’s why my proposal for better work-life balance is so important. In the context of demographic ageing and shortages that we face on the labour market, we cannot afford to leave the huge talent of women untapped. Our initiative can help to closing the pay gap.
We’ve witnessed a reform of Erasmus+ with new funds allocated to new opportunities for adult learning and vocational training. If you could picture yourself starting over and taking up a course, what would it be?
Had I been given the opportunity, I would have definitely wanted to go on Erasmus! It’s a unique chance to learn another language, new skills and to become independent. That’s why I also created the newest baby in the Erasmus+ in the family: ErasmusPro. I want to make long-term mobility also possible for students in vocational and educational training.
You’ve had an extensive career in Belgian politics and end your political career on a high note as European Commissioner. Would you say European politics was more challenging than national politics?
Politics is challenging at all levels. I’ve been locally active for 14 years, I was a Member of the European Parliament for 23 years and I have been a Commissioner for five years now. We work on the same issues everywhere. Growth and jobs. Security. Innovation. Climate change. The challenge is to create a framework in which every person has the opportunity, freedom and responsibility to make something of his or her life. To make sure we leave nobody behind. If all those levels work well together, we have the biggest chance at being successful.
How to abolish the practice of social dumping whilst enabling the free movement of workers on European level?
By making the rules clear, fair and enforceable. And that’s exactly what we did with this Commission’s work: to ensure fair labour mobility. With the deal on equal pay for equal work at the same place. And with our proposals to update the rules on social security coordination and to create a European Labour Authority.
What was, in your personal view, the most interesting report or piece of data produced by the Eurostat during your mandate so far?
Timely, consistent and reliable data is essential to develop and support our policy making. All data is important, but one of the things I always look forward to receiving is Eurostat’s monthly unemployment data. Every month, since I started this mandate, the figures are getting better. All our efforts are geared towards making sure we can sustain that trend.
Whilst preparing for this interview I came across the fact that you are still cheering for your local football club and visiting their matches. Who was your favourite “Red Devil” this year in Russia?
Football is a team sports so I have to disappoint, I don’t have any favourites. I think the Red Devils did an incredible job precisely because of how they played as a team.
As you were the president of the European Parliament’s beer club for 15 years — may I ask you in the capacity of an expert to tell us which Belgian beer is your favourite one?
Though it was a European club my favourite beer is of course Belgian – Orval.
Choose one of the following: law or politics?
Politics. Because first you need a vision and conviction to turn values into rights.
Fries or waffles?
Do you also offer pancakes?
Leuven or Brussels?
I’ll always be grateful to my alma mater.. so Leuven!
Which EPP colleague would you suggest for the next interview? What would be your question for her or him?
My dear colleague from the EPP, Mairead McGuinness. My question to her would be: “What is your message to European citizens ahead of the upcoming European elections?”EU Institutions European People's Party European Union Leadership
I say Europe, you say…? Interview with Marianne Thyssen
I Say Europe
29 Nov 2018
The ‘known known’ in the basket of uncertainties that is Britain’s withdrawal from the EU is the intention of the Commission’s negotiating team to maintain the integrity of the four freedoms. On the British side the objective is to enjoy some of the benefits accruing from its EU membership, whilst at the same time seeking to fulfil the democratic mandate to leave the EU conferred by the referendum verdict.
In large part the withdrawal negotiations that ensued after the British Government invoked Article 50 have been a contest between these quite different, indeed conflicting, mandates. Both sides, each from its own standpoint, have offered quite different solutions to the conundrum of the Irish border. With Brexit day fast approaching, this singular issue has become a proxy for the altogether wider question of future EU–UK relations.
At the time of writing, the entire sweep of these tense negotiations is concentrated on resolving the ‘Irish Question’—without success until finally a ‘technical’ agreement’ was reached by the negotiators. Whether this ‘solution’ will survive resistance from arch-Brexiteers remains to be seen.Brexit EU Member States European Union Integration Leadership
Brexit and the Irish question, Part Three: Solving the Border Conundrum?
14 Nov 2018
This paper aims to provide a critical analysis of the federalist doctrines that influenced the development of European integration. It argues that four federalist visions emerged at the dawn of European integration, each with its own specific ideological background and its own idea of what the federal Europe of the future should look like. The progressive federalism of Altriero Spinelli was different from the technocratic federalism of Jean Monnet, as much as the liberal federalism of Luigi Einaudi diverged from the personalist federalism of Christian Democrats.
The paper also contends that the two federalist philosophies most influential throughout European integration—those of Spinelli and Monnet— are founded on a unitary view of sovereignty and care little about protecting and retaining local state identities. On the contrary, within the Christian Democratic tradition there developed a bottom-up, culturally rooted federalism that was mindful of national and regional autonomy and averse to the concept of absolute sovereignty, be it national or European. Today, it is from this tradition that we should draw inspiration to redesign a more legitimate EU.EU Institutions EU Member States European Union Future of Europe Integration Leadership
The Four ‘Classical Federalisms’
Future of Europe
22 Oct 2018
European socialists have held a de facto monopoly over the position of the EU’s foreign policy high representative ever since it was created almost two decades ago. When new people will be appointed to the EU’s senior leadership positions in autumn 2019, the centre-right should seek to deny the socialists from having an almost automatic right to determine the person who is appointed as the high representative by carefully vetting all candidates. The minimum goal should be to ensure that the next high representative’s views and believes are more aligned with the centre-right’s vision of europe in the world than they currently are.Centre-Right Foreign Policy Leadership Security
Time for a (more) centre-right EU foreign policy chief
16 Oct 2018
I say Europe you say…?
What is the most interesting myth about the EU you needed to bust in your career?
There are probably hundreds of myths, lots of misinformation, fake news, but probably the most classic one is about curved cucumbers – the one about how the EU, through its legislation, controls the producers of cucumbers. The logic behind the idea was that the EU wanted to help producers to fit as many cucumbers into the box as possible.
With a euro-sceptical government in Italy, we’ve witnessed an increase in the discussion about the eurozone’s debt and deficit rules, as to are they befitting for crisis-fighting. What is your view on the current rules?
Since the last financial crisis, we have advanced the leaps and bounds by introducing two pack, six pack ESN, Banking Union. They all take us in the right direction. It is important that the rules are followed and that we have mechanisms to ensure that everyone follows them. As our economies integrate and converge, we can, step by step, move towards more mutualisation.
Right now, do you think we are looking at a no-deal Brexit scenario and if so, how could this affect the EU?
I think we have three options – soft Brexit, hard Brexit or no deal (which could be called a cliff edge option as well). I would wish for a soft Brexit, but I think we will end up with a hard Brexit and I honestly hope that a no deal Brexit scenario will not take place. It would be economically and politically disastrous, both for the European Union and the United Kingdom.
You often tweet about different projects EIB implements across Europe. Could you share your favourite one so far and explain why you picked that specific project?
There are hundreds of favourite ones, but for instance we gave a loan to a Danish company which was working on a revolutionary antibiotic cream, that will help the lives of many people in Europe and across the world. But it can’t be slimmed down to a single project – for example every airport in Europe which we use to travel across our continent has been funded in one way or another by the EIB.
Can you name your three favourite Twitter Accounts?
As you might know already, I am a sports fan, let’s say I’d go for Tour du France for cycling, I would follow Jean-Claude Junker on European politics and from the media side, let’s say Politico.
Speaking of your social media, you participated in a TEDx conference in Finland last year, you explained your 1+1+1 day rule for the year ahead of you (1hour for a book, 1 hour for exercise and only 1 hour for social media). Following your activity on social media one has to wonder have you been breaching it?
Yes, I succeeded for over half a year to read a book for one hour. I had a little bit of a break, but now I am back at it. I have always succeeded in exercising for one hour, but my biggest problem indeed was staying away from social media and going over the one hour a day.
What would be in your view a must-see in Helsinki, since we are less than a month away from the EPP Congress which will take place there?
Ah, we are not going to see much because it is going to be so dark in November, but I would definitely check out the new Helsinki library, which will open in December.
In your capacity of Chairman of the Crisis Management Initiative you’ve recently shared that only 8% of the peace negotiators are women. What can be concretely done to bring more women to the negotiating table in this regard?
The worst joke I’ve ever heard in this context was “What is the similarity between flowers, a table, and a bottle of sparkling water, a notebook and men; they are more often in peace negotiating tables than women.” Having said this, I think we must raise awareness to the fact that women are not just needed at the peace negotiating table but are quite often better peace mediators than men are! And if we do that properly ourselves, I think we could end up getting more women at the peace negotiating table.
In the process of preparing for this interview we learned that you always wanted to learn how to play guitar. If you could pick any person in the world to give you guitar lessons who would it be and which song would you like to master first?
Bono. Well, I am a big fan of U2 and I have always been. I guess I belong to that generation. I like his way of thinking about Europe and I think he is doing a great service to Europe by waving the European flag in his concerts.
The proposal for the EU Copyright Directive has been in the public eye since it has been initiated. It has received lot of criticism, especially from tech giants. What do you think about the proposal as it is now and do you think it will be adopted in January?
I think it has a fairly good balance between copyright, privacy and tech giants. This is what Europe is and should be about. We are a regulatory superpower and it is challenging to find a right balance in between different stakeholders, but in this case I think it was done well.
Choose one of the following: Twitter or Instagram?
I’d have to say Twitter… Maybe I am a slightly more verbal than visual type of person.
Politicians or bankers?
Haha, the choice between two evils – probably politicians.
Triathlon or trialogue?
Oh, definitely a triathlon.
Marianne Thyssen: Marianne, you had a fantastic career in Belgian and European politics. You have been a role model for many of us in the EPP. What are you going to do next?Brexit European People's Party Leadership
I say Europe, you say…? Interview with Alexander Stubb
I Say Europe
15 Oct 2018
Since 1998 the Irish border has become invisible, more conduit than barrier between Ireland North and South and at every level. Cross-border trade has expanded exponentially and increasing civic engagement is both entrenching and normalizing the peace process on both sides. The border region is slowly but surely becoming as much a shared civic and political, as a merely functional or economic space. The prospect of a reinstated border threatens that endeavor, concentrating minds in both communities, in government and in Brussels about the malign consequences of what seems to most observers to be an entirely retrograde move.
In these uncertain times, the likelihood is that the significantly altered status of the post-Brexit border will have far-reaching and mostly negative consequences for future relations on the island of Ireland, and at every level. Brexit threatens a fundamental reversal of a tentative yet tangible peace process, a fundamental downshift in political, commercial and civic relations that means North-South co-operation cannot continue on present terms. Certainly not, if as seems likely, quite different economic and regulatory arrangements will pertain in the island’s respective political jurisdictions, a fact that will become even more conspicuous with a reinstated and formal border.Brexit EU Member States Leadership
Brexit and the Irish question, part two: Brexit’s unintended consequences. Five key challenges
09 Oct 2018
The outcome of the 2016 British referendum on EU membership will have significant and lasting consequences. For the United Kingdom and its relations with European neighbours, for the constitutional fabric of the British State and for the EU at a time of uncertainty over the future of the European project. The consequences of this decision will have no greater impact however than on the still-fragile peace process known as the ‘Good Friday’ or Belfast Agreement, negotiated in 1998 by parties representing Northern Ireland’s principal cultural communities and the governments of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. This historic event brought to an end decades of political violence and centuries of sectarian bitterness, or so it was thought at the time. Brexit has thrown into doubt the future of that peace process.Brexit Elections EU Member States Leadership
Brexit and the Irish question, Part one: Ireland’s Slow Road to Peace
20 Sep 2018
I say Europe, you say…?
Our future. A lot of people focus on the past and the fact that Europe has brought us peace; today Europe is about our chance at having a voice in the world and being able to properly face the challenges of the future. Europe is our future.
You have been nominated for this interview by EPP Group Chairman Manfred Weber and his question was: “What do you think could be the best way to open up what is sometimes perceived as the black box, the European decision-making process, to the people?”
Chairman Weber has announced that he is entering the race within the EPP for the nomination for Spitzenkandidat. This nomination process is a clear-cut example of transparency in the run-up to the election of the President of the European Commission.
Secondly, and I say this as Vice-President of the EPP for Relations with National Parliaments, we have to inform but also be informed by national parliaments. We need to know: what do they find important, how is their European debate taking shape and thirdly to take into account that there is a lot of frustration in Member States or amongst citizens about Brussels.
These frustrations are caused by what are sometimes very technical things and not even political decisions. Therefore we should be a lot clearer in communicating to our citizens who makes which decisions here in Brussels and back home: we would have to clean up the comitology procedure to make it more transparent.
What do you perceive as the main long-term repercussions of the trade war with the US as regards to the Future of Europe?
A trade war is always lose-lose. Trump, in this case, is not helping the people who actually voted for him and who work, for example, in car and steel factories. However, you do notice that Trump’s arrival in the White House coincides with a more assertive policy from China when it comes to direct investments in Europe, and together with Putin’s divisive rule, in a way they are forcing Europe to take a more adult approach. That’s a good thing!
There was a great Dutch football player, Johan Cruyff, who always said that every disadvantage has an advantage. The advantage of the current disadvantage, which is the difficult trade relationship with the US, is that Europe is growing up quickly.
What is the most interesting myth about the EU you needed to bust in your career?
I had to bust many, I have to admit; I even had municipalities in the north of the Netherlands saying that they have been forced by the Commission to collect their garbage in a certain way. Obviously, this was not true at all.
Perhaps the one that I got angry about recently is a funnier one. It was around Christmas time and in the Netherlands you often have the Salvation Army collecting money for people in need. So, for years, in a big shopping centre in Utrecht we had a Salvation Army guy dressed up as Santa Claus collecting money for the charity. And then, I saw an article in the local newspaper saying “Europe bans Christmas, charity fundraiser” and I thought: that can’t be true! I got really angry, got to the bottom of it and it turned out that it was the new owner of the shopping centre (a hedge fund, by the way), who in reality didn’t want the money raising to take place in his shopping centre. So we immediately busted that myth and corrected it.
Having had an Erasmus-experience as a student yourself, in your view, what would be the main benefit of increasing the funding for the programme?
Well, what is so healthy about Erasmus is that you are forced to look at your own Member State from the outside and see things from a different perspective. That’s always a very positive experience. I would like for as many people as possible to be able to have that opportunity. This is why the Parliament has always been pushing to increase its budget and the Commission got on board to initiate the increase for the next period.
Personally, I would love to extend this experience not only to those who go to university, because they are the exception to the rule. In fact, most people don’t. They go to technical colleges after completing secondary school. So why not maybe come up with another format of Erasmus, find a way to also provide that experience to all the young people, not just university students.
One of your Instagram posts shared an amusing insight into the experience of being a trainee in the Brussels bubble. Namely, you posted a photo of notes written by your intern having difficulties identifying between 751 MEPs. Recently, the EP Bureau voted on banning unpaid internships, what is your take on this?
I have a bit of a double feeling about that because I started as an intern myself. I was working in Brussels part-time and I really wanted to work in the European Parliament, so I wrote to all the MEPs of my political party and I offered, on a part-time basis, to work for them for free just because I wanted this experience so much, next to my part-time job. In the end, one MEP offered me a paid internship, though initially I offered to volunteer.
Therefore, I don’t think there’s a problem if someone is willing to do it on a voluntary basis and if it’s a really short period of time and a first working experience. However, I always pay my interns. What we have to tackle furthermore is abuse. There has been abuse in the sense that people are full-time working, either not paid for a long term or on a very low wage under the excuse of being hired as an intern, and this is not the way to go! We want to be a social market as well, so we have to give the right example ourselves.
We are already less than a year away from the European Elections. Over the past few years support for the far-right has been increasing, as has been the case in the Netherlands. What can be done to counteract them and bring centre-right politics closer to the people?
In a way, you actually saw this support going down after Brexit, same as the support for Nexit actually decreased after people saw what it actually means to leave the EU. But populism is on the rise everywhere in Europe, so also in the Netherlands. What helps is to show that a lot of these people, these politicians, they actually copy what voters say, which means that they are good at understanding, or like Clinton would say at “feeling the pain.” But they are not actually providing answers and delivering solutions, and we need to show that.
I think a lot of people will grow tired of these new populist politicians rather soon, because people understand that though it’s nice that somebody feels your pain, you might want them to address the issues at stake as well, in which case they should maybe look at a trustworthy political party like the EPP.
In one of your previous interviews, reflecting on Brexit, you have stated that Europe has always been sold as something economic, where you can calculate the benefits. Which vision for the Future of Europe should be championed to portray the EU as more than just that?
That was pretty much a paraphrase of Delors saying that you don’t fall in love with the market. That’s just a part of the problem. One British colleague also said to me “we always told the Brits that they were entering a market”, but Europe is just so much more than that. I really think that Europe 1.0 was the Europe of 1945, 1952, 1957. It was really about war and peace between France and Germany and it was such a huge achievement.
But, for the younger generation the European project is something they take for granted. Europe 2.0 emerged basically after the Wall fell. Indeed, that was the completion of the market and there was an enlargement and the zeitgeist was very economic.
The Europe we’re in now is very much about the “European way of life”. How do we position ourselves, with a more assertive China, Trump starting a trade war, how much gas do we want from Russia, do we want to be so dependent? These questions will make Europe 3.0 much more about our voice in the world and assuring that we can maintain our “European way of life”.
Considering that you are a passionate advocate of principles of subsidiarity and proportionality, how far have we come in adapting our EU corporate tax system to reflect these?
The problem with the whole tax issue (don’t mention the “T” word) is that it is not a European competence. Small and medium enterprises have to pay their taxation, while the big tax giants pay in a very limited way or not at all and people are angry about that. So here you actually see a clash between something that is not a European competence and people asking us to make it a European competence. So I think in these cases where these companies make a lot of money, some of them get our data for free, etc., they should take their responsibility as well with regards to paying tax, so that we can continue to be a social market economy.
As a working mum, what are your “must haves” for your children’s schoolbags?
Actually, I am pretty organised in getting their bag ready in the morning. What I essentially need is my phone because my phone is my lifeline to everything that goes on at home.
Once during an EP Plenary I was seated in the front row, and there was a debate taking place with the Belgian Prime Minister, and I got a message from the babysitter asking about my son’s football training equipment.
Not to complain, but I really think this doesn’t happen too often to my male colleagues. But the advantage of being a woman is that actually without even looking, I knew exactly where it was! So as long as I have my phone, the issue will get solved.
If you had to spend your summer vacation with one colleague from the Parliament who would it be and why?
You know, I think my colleagues are absolutely fantastic, but I did enjoy the fact that I didn’t see them for 3 whole weeks and I actually managed to catchup on my reading, enjoy nature and lovely French cuisine. So no, in that regard, I can’t imagine spending my holidays with them, I think it would be very unhealthy if I did!
Choose one of the following: Belgian waffles or stroopwaffels?
Cheese from all over Europe. I do not have a sweet tooth. Cheese anytime instead!
ETIAS or Copyright Directive?
Both are very important, but I would choose ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorisation System). Because it is of fundamental importance to actually show our citizens that we can be strong in protecting our borders, while simultaeously upholding our soft values, like bringing assistance to the refugees that really need it.
Home baking or policy making?
Policy making, of course! I am a politician after all, but, in a way, they have a lot in common. At home, baking helps me relax after all the policy making. Both can be messy jobs. But what counts is the end result, both in home baking and policy making. So that’s what you should judge us on.European People's Party European Union Leadership
I say Europe, you say…? Interview with Esther de Lange
I Say Europe
17 Sep 2018
It’s the summer torpor that dictates it : nothing juicy to report on the news except the usual columns of chiens écrasés and our ever repeating marronniers: it’s never been hotter, the drought has never been worse, France won the World Cup and will reign on football until the end of time.
But something is rotten in the Kingdom of Macronie : a close aid of Emmanuel Macron since the days of him being a mere dot on France’s political spectrum, seems to have gone berserk and kicked the living daylights out of some May 1 demonstrators, all this while pretending to be a police officer. It turns out the man has skyrocketed through the ranks of the réserve of the Gendarmerie Nationale (not to be confused with the career militaries, as has been the case on social media where Benalla has been compared to having the same status as the heroic lieutenant-colonel Arnaud Beltrame) and been given considerable privileges simply for being close to the Président.
As soon as Le Monde had published the videos of Alexandre Benalla attacking the demonstrators, it should have been clear-cut that he needed to be dismissed immediately and brought to justice: this didn’t happen. Instead, we found out that the Elysée had already been aware of the bodyguard’s actions and he had been “mis à pied” at the time, i.e. suspended for 15 days. Since July 18 when the videos were published by Le Monde, the Elysée has barely communicated on the entire affair, hoping to put a lid on it quickly and be done with it.
All in all, it’s a story that should have been quite ordinary, yet instead took an air of “affaire d’état” and has become the object of a parliamentary inquiry, with the minister of Interior, Gérard Collomb, former mayor of Lyon and close ally of Emmanuel Macron from when he was a member of the Parti Socialiste, audited today at the Assemblée Nationale, along with other governmental and institutional personalities over the next days. Though the Assemblée was supposed to work on a revision of the Constitution to reduce the number of parliamentarians, this affair has now halted all other legislative work.
But there is something far more daunting about this entire scandal: while the Président has stayed conspicuously silent on the entire matter, his most dangerous opponents at both opposing ends of the French political spectrum, have seized this vacuum to spout their criticism and are reveling in it.
In what will now go down as one of the most disastrous press conferences ever held in the Assemblée Nationale, Christophe Castaner, the State Secretary of the Prime Minister, whose primary job is to communicate between the government and Parliament, gave Marine Le Pen a golden ticket last Friday to lash at the government and Emmanuel Macron in particular.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the France Insoumise, the party that came 4th in the French presidential elections of 2017, calls it France’s Watergate moment. He declares the Président to be responsible for this entire scandal and therefore has proposed a censorship motion on the government since the Assemblée Nationale has no means of attacking the head of state directly.
From the party that Emmanuel Macron created, La République en Marche, and which holds a heavy majority in Parliament, not a peep has been heard. Here and there some of its MPs have stated how stunned they are, but nothing more substantial. As usual, they are proving themselves to be loyal soldiers and have done honour to French politicians’ traditional “langue de bois” (a manner of speaking wherein the user is purposefully being vague and ambiguous or pompous so as to divert attention from the issues at stake).
From the two mainstream parties that used to share power in turn in French politics, we didn’t hear anything weighty either, except perhaps from Laurent Wauquiez, president of Les Républicains, who asked those who work at the Elysée to be “exemplar”. Exactly what the candidate Emmanuel Macron said he would expect from his tenure at the Elysée as well.
What has this entire scandal shown us? That the comms-savvy team at the Elysée has not exerted damage-control on the scandal when it clearly should have. The vacuum they have let settle has been seized by French democracy’s most dangerous opponents, especially at a time when far-left voters were being lulled into their own summer torpor with the train strikes finally being over, and the Front National being busy fighting its own judicial demons.
Though this World Cup should have seen Président Macron’s popularity soar, the Benalla affair has put a damper on everyone’s high spirits according to the latest BVA opinion poll. Instead, we can’t help thinking Président Macron did a Lloris. In other words: this won’t be detrimental to the Macron presidency but it does make it look rather clumsy.
Photo by Stefan Steinbauer on UnsplashAnna van Oeveren EU Member States Leadership
Anna van Oeveren
Benalla, or why France has les Bleus
23 Jul 2018
I say Europe, you say…?
Democracy, rule of law, freedom, peace, our European way of life: the best continent to live in.
You have been nominated by MEP Roberta Metsola and her question was: “What do you think is the one issue which challenges every single EU Member State and individual EPP parties in each member state?”
Migration. If we do not manage to provide a comprehensive and united answer on this issue this year, radicals and populists across the EU could gain more ground for their activism.
If we don’t, the consequences are clear: the next European Parliament would be made up of even more anti-European members than there are now. We must solve the issue before the elections and deliver on it.
As the Chair of the EPP Group in the Parliament you recently had the chance to ask Mark Zuckerberg questions about data privacy breaches and the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which the public/we could watch online. Was there a follow-up after the hearing and what do you intend to do next in order to ensure the privacy of European citizens and to enforce GDPR?
Indeed, there was a follow-up. Additional questions were posed to Facebook and the answers were sent to us. Another hearing with Facebook officials took place. What conclusion have I drawn for the Zuckerberg hearing? Facebook only seems to take data protection seriously only if the legislator decisively intervenes or if there is a public scandal.
That is why Europe must continue bearing its teeth and discuss further regulations. We all know that trust is the currency in social media. Zuckerberg has responded to us because it is about the sustainability of his business model. Most probably, we cannot expect voluntary measures from this tech company.
A positive prejudice which majority of Europeans have about Germans is that you are super precise: why then is Oktoberfest in September?
Good question! As far as I know there are historical reasons for it. The first Oktoberfest took place at the beginning of the 19th century and was organized in honour of the wedding of the Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig with Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. This really happened in October.
Later they changed the beginning date because of the weather. It is not unusual to have a snowstorm in Munich in October. So this is more a Bavarian solution. Just for the sake of precision – yes I am German! – the last Oktoberfest weekend is always in October.
You have been quite outspoken on the EU-US trade conflict. The imposition of steel and aluminium tariffs by (President) Donald Trump could have a strong impact on the economic recovery of Europe. Do you think Europe should retaliate or what strategy would you advocate for?
The trade measures taken by the US against the EU can’t be justified. What security threat are we talking about? There is no dumping in the European Union, our prices must be kept uninjured. This is why I am advocating for a clear and firm yet proportionate European answer. Europe must defend its industry, jobs and interests.
Which is the most interesting myth about the EU you needed to bust in your career?
The most recurrent one: Germany is the “paymaster of the EU”. Facts and figures show that this is not true. In 2016, Germany transferred a total of 23.3 billion euros to the EU, of which 10.1 billion euros were returned to Germany as aid for structurally weak regions, for agriculture and for numerous training and employment programmes.
When it comes to payment per capita other countries like Luxembourg, Belgium or Ireland pay more to the EU budget than Germany. I always mention that no other European economy benefits from the EU internal market as much as the Germany’s. Almost two thirds of German exports go to Member States, and exports to the new Member States have developed much faster than exports to the rest of the world.
This year for the first time 15,000 18-year-olds will have the chance to travel around Europe with a free interrail pass, thanks to your flagship initiative. What place in Bavaria would you recommend they visit and why?
There are many exciting places to visit in my home region Bavaria: for example, the World Cultural Heritage City Regensburg or certainly Munich with its wonderful Biergarten places. For sure I would suggest visiting one of the jewels of my home region Lower Bavaria, the Weltenburg Monastery with its famous Asam church.
This is probably, besides the Neuschwanstein Castle, one of Bavaria’s well-known spots. As a personal tip: Visit the Bavarian and Bohemian Forest in Bavaria and the Czech Republic, which includes a national park crossing the borders. It is truly a beautiful region.
In the framework of the recently held EYE in Strasbourg we witnessed a lip-sync battle between MEPs: If you were to participate in a similar setting, whom would you like to team up with and which song would you pick?
Great that I would only have to move my lips! Anyway, for this kind of challenge I would like to team up with my EPP Group colleague Tomas Zdechovsky from Czech Republic. He is a very good singer and a rapper. I am sure that he would not let me down. As for the song: maybe “Smoke on the water” from Deep Purple.
You attended the summit on the Western Balkans in Sofia in May where you outlined the importance of putting the region at the forefront of the EU decision-making process. Do you think that in the scope of the enlargement policy, countries should be assessed case by case or you are more prone to assessing the region as a whole?
Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina are part of Europe and therefore need our support and stabilisation. However, EU accession is only possible if the countries fully meet all criteria and standards. There is still a long way to go and we hope that the Western Balkans will deliver.
Already, we are less than a year away from the European Elections. Recent polls have indicated that pro-EU sentiment is growing but also that the younger generations remain more reluctant to participate. You have been politically active since a very young age so I would be curious to hear what type of strategy Europe could employ to increase the overall turnout of youngsters, regardless of the political affiliation?
I have the impression that young people are very interested and even enthusiastic when it comes to Europe. Yet the challenge will be to get them to vote, but I am quite confident. The last Eurobarometer shows that the trust in the European Parliament has never been higher than it is now.
It is great that we have now the DiscoverEU project, which allows 18 year olds to travel for free throughout Europe. If they see the beauty and diversity of this continent, they will want to get more engaged and may vote. However, the important point to make is that the European elections are about the future of this continent, about defending our way of life and the European project itself.
Choose one of the following: apfelstrudel or waffle?
Apfelstrudel! Yummy! One of my favourite desserts.
Facebook or Twitter?
European Parliament or European Commission?
European Parliament of course, because the parliamentary democracy is the future of Europe.
I am nominating my Dutch colleague Esther de Lange. And my question is: What do you think could be the best way to open up what is sometimes perceived as the black box, the European decision-making process, to the people?European People's Party Leadership
I say Europe, you say…? Interview with EPP Group Chair Manfred Weber
I Say Europe
16 Jul 2018
This paper reflects on the notion of differentiated integration in the context of the future of Europe. It argues that differentiation is only acceptable as an instrument of ‘unity in diversity’ and within strict limits. All forms of differentiation that risk fragmenting the Union and its institutional framework should be excluded. In the field of external policies existing treaties and the recent jurisprudence of the European Court of Justice allow the Union to speak with one voice and to privilege unity over differentiation.
As far as internal EU divides are concerned– from divisions over migration to those involving the rise of regional groups of countries—they are all transient and changeable and are not relevant subjects for differentiation. Finally, attempts to redefine the euro area as the new ‘hard core’ of European integration should be rejected, as they can only lead to the disintegration of the European project. Out of all the available legal techniques of differentiation, enhanced cooperation carries the lowest risk.EU Institutions European Union Future of Europe Integration Leadership
Differentiation, not Disintegration
Future of Europe
15 May 2018
I say Europe, you say…?
Peace. Prosperity. Opportunity.
Commission Vice President Katainen’s question to you was: “What do you think are the three most important themes for the future development of the European Union?”
We need stronger action to protect the rule of law. There are fundamental values in our treaties that some Member States often find convenient to ignore.
Second, we need to focus more on trade and job creation. I strongly believe that if we further open up our markets we can finally eliminate the problem of poverty we have in Europe and provide better opportunities for the more vulnerable classes of our society.
Third, migration is the challenge of our generation. Mid-term goals which show solidarity with Member States which are facing migrant influxes are needed. In the long run it is essential that we, the EPP Government, attempt to aid the countries from which migrants are fleeing to help them get back on their feet – to show people there can be life without fear.
As one of the most active MEPs on social media and EPP Coordinator for Justice and Civil Liberties, what is your take on the Cambridge Analytica scandal and its ramifications on EU citizens? Have you thought about leaving Facebook yourself?
For our generation, data is the new gold. I think that the recent revelations have been shocking! What we have to understand is that social media is used by unscrupulous politicians and people who try to sell propaganda as facts.
I still believe that Facebook is a good tool; it is useful for me personally to reach a large number of people, both in my constituency and across Europe. The EU’s regulatory response to privacy concerns was the introduction of GDPR and privacy shield but some loopholes remain that must be worked on, and it is our responsibility to make sure that potential abuses are stopped.
Everyone who follows your work knows that you are quite outspoken when it comes to defending freedom of speech, particularly in light of the murders of journalists in Malta and Slovakia in the last six months. What should the EU do to comprehensively ensure that these travesties do not happen again?
The assassinations of Daphne Caruana Galizia and Jan Kuciak must be seen as a watershed moment in the development of Europe. What we have realised after these assassinations is that we still do not have enough tools to ensure that the protection of journalists in Finland is the same as it is in my country, or Slovakia etc.
At the same time, we don’t have the right mechanism at European level to ensure that the corrupt, the criminal and the complicit bear the political responsibility for their actions, whether directly or indirectly. We are currently pushing for the introduction of mechanisms that will remedy these issues. If we don’t do that, those who orchestrated and carried out these murders will win and we cannot allow that to happen.
Bearing in mind that you are a Vice-Chair person of the Petitions Committee in the European Parliament, one has to ask which was the most interesting petition/initiative you came across during the last 5 years?
I truly believe that this committee is the answer to the disconnect that many citizens feel, in being too far away from the EU and its institutions. We have people coming to us and saying: “look, you in Europe are not doing enough” or “I feel like my rights as a European citizen have been breached, what can you do?” These queries range across a wide variety of issues- the quality of drinking water in a small town in a member state, discriminatory or denial of pension rights and services in other member states.
Perhaps one of the most interesting cases was a man who was not allowed to take his pet dog on a plane to Ireland by a particular carrier. The excuse the carrier used was that it was an issue with national agricultural policy. This man came to us and we provided him with facts which demonstrated that this was not true.
As a mother of four, what is your favourite cartoon show that you enjoy watching with your children?
With the younger ones, classics always work, like Tom and Jerry. With the older ones, Lego Batman and Japanese cartoons. Obviously, I try to limit the amount of screen time, but I also want to ensure that they are not exposed to too much violent imagery.
Which is the most interesting myth about the EU you needed to bust in your career?
Perhaps the one that the EU and President Juncker can help us address parking issues in our country. I had to say that this is something that Juncker cannot do, although he can do a lot and he has done a lot for us.
You have been politically active since a very young age and as you were Secretary General of European Democratic Students: would you advise your kids to join the world of politics one day and how you do believe that the EU could motivate youngsters to get more involved?
Well as you can see my son is now shaking his head very vigorously. In my case, I think I joined politics because my parents taught me it is useless to complain unless you try to change something. There are too many “arm chair critics” in our society. The people need to be the ones to advocate the changes we want.
This means you should be active, not necessarily on a European level, but also on a local level or a national level. It is a pity that the younger generations don’t remember the battle Malta had to fight to actually join the EU, as we are proud Europeans. We can’t take our membership for granted and we must have enough young voices to be able to push the most important European issues forward.
Which song do you like to carpool karaoke to and with which colleague from the Parliament would you like to have a duet?
(Laughs) He is not going to like this but it would have to be Esteban González Pons, who is my direct superior as Chair of the Legal and Home Affairs working group in the EPP, and also Vice-Chair of the Group. I think it would have to be a Spanish ballad and it would definitely go viral but for all the wrong reasons.
How do you think the EU could help to put an end to the uncertainty on Post-Brexit citizens’ rights?
It has been a red line for the European Parliament that the rights of EU citizens currently residing in the UK, but also for UK citizens currently residing in the EU, must have water tight guarantees of their status, post-Brexit. We cannot allow a second “Windrush” situation, whereby you have people who have been legally residing in the UK or member states for decades, finding themselves in an unstable situation with non-secure status.
I reiterate this also as a member of a Commonwealth country: we are looking for watertight guarantees for all EU citizens, in the UK post-Brexit. Without such guarantees, we will not green light any Brexit agreement!
Choose one of the following: Ftira or baguette?
EPP Congress in Malta or EPP Congress in Helsinki?
Malta, just don’t tell my husband!
Bruges or Brussels?
Brussels definitely (although I loved living in Bruges)
I would like to nominate Manfred Weber, the Chairman of the EPP Group in the European Parliament. My question to him: “What do you think is the one issue challenging every single EU Member State and individual EPP parties in each member state?”Centre-Right European People's Party Leadership
I say Europe, you say…? Interview with Roberta Metsola
I Say Europe
08 May 2018
Who doubts that history doesn’t repeat itself? In Brussels, 2018 is the new 1989. Everybody seems to have a “blueprint” or “vision” for the future of the Eurozone. The only problem is that three decades after the Delors report, Eurozone leaders risk the sustainability of the single currency area. The reason? Political goals rather than economic priorities are guiding Eurozone proposals. The possible result? A repeat of the mistakes of the 1990s and a Eurozone still ill-equipped to deal with future crisis.Crisis European Union Eurozone Leadership Macroeconomics
Keeping it Real: Building a Realistic and Inclusive Eurozone
11 Apr 2018
According to radical chic writer and lover of ties Tom Wolfe, in 1959 dozens of students enrolled in experiments at the Veterans Hospital in Menlo Park that involved the use of psychotomimetic drugs. Wolfe states that Ken Kesey and his followers—the Merry Pranksters—emerged as a group from those experiments, and it was at that moment that they began loosening their ties.
In politics we have had to wait slightly longer for ties to be loosened. Just a decade ago, before the economic and financial crisis that plunged Europe and the world into recession and a state of deep pessimism, it was highly unlikely that any male political leader who chose to abandon the tie would be perceived as a viable candidate.
In the famous US presidential debate between Kennedy and Nixon (YouTube 2010), which few doubt significantly influenced the result, the youthful Kennedy appeared smiling, tanned, well dressed and, most importantly, relaxed.
Nixon, on the other hand, who was recovering from surgery, looked emaciated. He was sweating and jittery and his pale complexion was exacerbated by the light-coloured tie he wore, ultimately making him appear dishevelled and weak.
Since then, the use of the tie by American male contenders for the presidency has been sacrosanct. Bright red and electric blue have prevailed as the tie colours that symbolise power and leadership and, in short, make a candidate appear ‘presidential’. The culmination of this trend came in 2015 with Donald Trump.
It is rare to spot the self-made, self-tanned millionaire wearing anything other than a suit, often boxy and navy blue. But his choice of tie may be one of the most unmistakable trademarks of his style—or lack thereof.
The bright and sloppy, unusually wide and disturbingly long red tie is one of Trump’s most remarkable hallmarks. When Trump posed after his inauguration at the foot of the White House steps, wannabe-Jackie-Kennedy Melania Trump’s powder-blue designer outfit contrasted starkly with the hastily applied line of Scotch tape holding Trump’s tie together. ‘Tape gate’ has already shown that easy solutions are often unsustainable, if not ridiculous.
But there are solutions that are even easier than applying Scotch tape to tie-related problems—for instance, not wearing a tie at all. For the European left this is symbolically nostalgic. This is the only way to explain their dislike of the tie.
Podemos (We Can!) in Spain, Syriza (Coalition of the Radical Left) in Greece and Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise (Unsubmissive France), to mention but a few of the most recent bastions of the new European left, have decided to agree on the militant abandonment of the tie. The politicians of the new European left have not abandoned moral superiority in the tone of their speeches, but have added an inferiority of dress that they want to pass off as exemplary.
Pablo Iglesias of Podemos has surprised on more than one occasion by attending Congress or receptions with the head of state in a sad Alcampo shirt. After entertaining the public with his calculatedly dishevelled style, he tried to catch up with expectations at the Goyas, the Spanish Oscars, by wearing a hired dinner jacket that was two sizes too big. The message was clear: a leader of the new left does not surrender to the powerful, but to ‘Mother Culture’.
If the twentieth-century left wanted a monopoly on the heart, the twenty-first-century left wants a monopoly on kitsch. Of course Iglesias did not choose to wear this dinner jacket to the vernissage of a modest painter, or to a book fair in a Spanish village.
Like the bigots of another era, who preferred to give alms at Sunday Mass in front of the whole parish rather than committing to a discreet good deed, Iglesias has decided that his efforts at dressing badly should be broadcast live from the red carpet.
Interestingly enough, the leader of Syriza has also made a symbol out of his ‘un-tie-diness’. When Tsipras visited Brussels in May 2015, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker decided to take the matter into his own hands.
As Tsipras walked up for their official photograph, Juncker cheekily stretched his own tie over the Greek leader’s shirt, to the delight of the gathered journalists. Tsipras is a bit more measured in his non-use of the tie though. His rebellious instincts have been dampened by a sort of good taste. He renounces ties but still uses outfits and shirts with collars, giving him the air of a best man whose friend’s wedding has gone on for too long.
The title of Tsipras’ former finance minister and former best friend’s bestselling economics book in Spanish is Economía sin corbata (Tieless Economy) (Varoufakis 2015). This proves that the left’s renunciation of the tie is not just a matter of happenstance, but almost an esoteric symbol that goes to the very core of its political reflections.
In France, a heated debate was sparked in the National Assembly when Jean-Luc Mélenchon—nostalgic for the times before the fall of the Wall—arrived in the chamber in an un-French, open-necked shirt. President Macron’s party called it an ‘insult’ to the French people, and angry French Internet users shared photos of Mélenchon wearing a tie when meeting the late Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Mélenchon seems to want to reserve the tie for honouring leaders rather than for serving the people. Despite this, he still adopts his signature, faded green Mao-style jacket, which confers on him a certain resemblance to a harmless 1970s comic-book villain.
There is in fact a contradiction between the European left’s love of symbols and its aversion to ties. By declaring war on ties, the European left has deprived itself of a subtle symbol. On the centre–right, Mariano Rajoy’s timeless ties are just like his policies: foreseeable, recurrent and somewhat reassuring.
Fillon brought impeccably tied ties to the French election campaign, but they were perhaps too refined for general tastes. Equally, Sebastian Kurz brought bold, open collars and dry, efficient ties to his bold, dry and efficient programme in the Austrian campaign.
If we return to Tom Wolfe’s anecdote, and to the appearance of the tieless, which began in the early 1960s as a way to indicate non-conformity, it demonstrates once again the conservative tics of the European left.
Revolutionaries have turned into reactionaries. Trapped in an incurable nostalgia, the new left is tied in knots: this nostalgia contradicts the left’s longing for subversion but alas, it is the subversion of another era.
And in the process the left has ended up resigned to an uninspiring ideological copy paste, whose bulwark has been Jeremy Corbyn, the timid, blinking star of European socialism. The market system, we were told at one of the British Labour Party’s recent congresses, has failed (The New Statesman 2016).
This sounded preposterous, not so much because of the statement per se, but because we were left waiting for an alternative. The sauce for the frozen turkey Corbyn served came with an anxiogenic promise—to introduce an era of ‘new forms of democratic public ownership’ brought back from the dead.
Very often we know what the European left is against. But seldom have we known what it is for. Well, the point is taken: it is against ties. Trying to make a statement out of sloppy protocol, the European left is determined, once again, to put old ghosts in old sheets. Tieless sheets.
This satirical review was originally published in the December 2017 issue of the European View, the policy journal of the Martens Centre.
- The New Statesman. (2016). Jeremy Corbyn’s full speech at the 2016 Labour Party conference. 28 September. https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/staggers/2016/09/jeremy-corbyns-full-speech-2016-labour-party-conference. Accessed 29 November 2017.
- Varoufakis, Y. (2015). Economía sin corbata: Conversaciones con mi hija [Tieless economy: Conversations with my daughter]. Barcelona: Destino. Google Scholar
- YouTube. (2010). TNC: 172 Kennedy–Nixon first presidential debate, 1960. JFK Library, 21 September. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gbrcRKqLSRw&utm_source=Direct. Accessed 29 November 2017.
José Luis Fontalba
The revolution of the ‘sans-cravates’
18 Dec 2017
Thinking about the basics of human interactions, there is a well-known expression that can explain the purpose of this post: today’s friends can be your enemies tomorrow and today’s enemies can be your friends tomorrow.
At the moment, this expression perfectly describes the relationship between President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, and Mikheil Saakashvili, former President of Georgia, former Ukrainian Governor and more recently (having lost his citizenship) – “the man without a country”.
Last week, the Ukrainian police failed in an attempt to arrest Saakashvili from his own house in Kyiv. This happened because Poroshenko overlooked one of the greatest skills a politician can have: the ability to mobilize civil society and to increase the public salience.
We all know what happened afterwards: thousands of his supporters mobilized extremely quickly in front of his house and “saved” him. However, his freedom did not last long, as he was arrested by the Secret Service last Friday evening, with the prosecutor putting him under house arrest.
The friendship between Saakashvili and Poroshenko goes back to the 1980s, when they were both students at a university in Kyiv. As President of Georgia, Saakashvili was a revolutionary politician, an anti – Putin and pro EU and NATO adept, implementing substantial reforms in the country.
In February 2015, after two presidential mandates in Georgia, he was invited by Poroshenko to lead the International Advisory Council on Reforms. Soon after, he was appointed Governor of the Odessa region, a key port city of Ukraine. By accepting this position, Saakashvili gave up on his Georgian citizenship and he officially became a citizen of Ukraine, emboldening his commitment to Ukrainian politics (not that he had many alternatives, having being convicted in his home country, Georgia, for allegedly using public funds on personal needs).
Everything was running smoothly until November 2016, when Saakashvili resigned from his role as Governor, citing corruption in general, and corruption of the current political elite in particular. That was the end of their friendship. Soon after, President Poroshenko revoked the Ukrainian citizenship of Saakashvili by decree (claiming irregularities in his citizenship application).
According to Ukrainian law, for non-citizens, they cannot be elected to Parliament or lead a political party, meaning he could no longer formally lead the party which he had created, the “Movement of New Forces”.
The allegations he currently faces are that he received half a million dollars from Serhiy Kurchenko, a Ukrainian oligarch close to former president Yanukovych. This is therefore a direct connection to Russia. The alleged purpose of these funds was to organise protests in Ukraine against Poroshenko the ultimate goal of toppling him. After Saakashvili’s arrest, several thousands of his supporters marched through the city centre of Kyiv demanding his release from jail and Poroshenko’s resignation.
There are many factors that make this situation both suspicious and confusing. First, it is quite obvious that Saakashvili’s options after losing his Ukrainian citizenship are quite limited. Secondly, the polls are not giving him much hope for a political career in Ukraine, as he currently commands a mere 1-2% of political support in the country. Hence, the first question is, why are the Ukrainian authorities, namely Poroshenko, so concerned about him?
The second point reflects the official political agenda of Ukraine. During the recent Eastern Partnership Summit held in Brussels in November of this year, the EU reiterated once more its continued support and commitment towards Ukraine in maintaining implementation of necessary reforms, which are much needed for the development of the country.
It also emphasized the need for more active steps in fighting corruption. Undoubtedly, significant steps were taken in the right direction in Kyiv, but the pace of implementing the vital reforms proved to be a bit slower than expected.
Recent developments show that Poroshenko is keeping substantial control over law enforcement bodies, thus, this may raise questions about the relationship between the political elites and judicial institutions. On the other hand, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine has survived recent attacks the prosecutors, who are most certainly acting on behalf of the oligarchs.
Given the complicated political path of Saakashvili (to put it mildly), but also the fact that Ukraine is still fighting with endemic corruption and oligarchy (while aspiring to European values), it is difficult to assess the situation.
Nevertheless, there are several points which are more important to be considered. First, Ukraine cannot currently afford new elections. The disruption of the ongoing reforms would result in severe and sustained damage to the country. If there is one thing which is irreversible, then it is timing.
Secondly and most importantly, there are always losers and winners in a battle. Unfortunately, in the case of this new political crises, there is no loser other than the people of Ukraine and there is no other winner other than Russia.
This inquiry plagues not only Ukraine, but all of the Eastern European countries that committed to work towards building veritable democracies where the rule of law stands strong according to EU values. The stake is too big to make mistakes, otherwise the “Big brother” is always around.Ana Rotaru Eastern Europe Leadership
The Poroshenko-Saakashvili Saga or why Ukrainian politics is never boring
18 Dec 2017
Regional cooperation is mutually beneficial collaboration between neighbouring countries. This holds regardless of whether it is a matter of cooperation between the Benelux countries, the Nordic–Baltic states, France and Germany, or the Visegrád countries. The last-mentioned countries’ dismissive attitude to tackling the migration crisis has thrust them into the limelight.
The most recent cooperative forums in the Central Eastern Europe region, such as the Slavkov Triangle and the Three Seas Initiative, evidence a new dynamic and a regrouping of forces on the basis of national interests and EU themes. Western and Eastern Europe have different approaches to the most pressing challenges, such as migration.
These differences have caused deep divisions between their respective leaders. However, the disagreements on the migration issue and the future of the EU notwithstanding, regional cooperation among the Central and Eastern European countries remains valuable in areas that include the integration process, security and defence.
Read the full article in the December 2017 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Viktória Jančošeková EU Member States Leadership Migration
Regional cooperation in Central and Eastern Europe and its implications for the EU
14 Dec 2017
The inability of the British government to gain Ulster Unionist support for “regulatory alignment” between Northern and Southern Ireland is baffling many in the Brussels bubble. “Why is this so important?” they ask, as Irish diplomats take on an unusual prominence which makes every Irish person slightly uncomfortable.
But to understand why the border matters so much to the Republic of Ireland it is first necessary to understand the position of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and to acknowledge that their loyalty to the wider United Kingdom is total and absolute. It is this loyalty, this requirement to assert their “Britishness” in any way possible that is determining their current actions.
Alas, centuries of Anglo-Irish conflict have seemingly failed to leave any hint of understanding on Tory decision makers.
The stated vision of the DUP, as per their official website, is to “maintain and enhance Northern Ireland’s constitutional position within the United Kingdom”. Nowhere in this “vision” do the concepts of improving Northern Irish relations with either the Republic of Ireland or the European Union feature. In this context, it is probable that the only thing by which the DUP was really blindsided in recent days was Prime Minister May’s continuing belief that they would agree to any proposed deal that threatened their direct equality with the rest of the UK.
Alas, centuries of Anglo-Irish conflict have seemingly failed to leave any hint of understanding on Tory decision makers. Just over a century ago, Bonar Law led the Tories in full blown support of the Ulster Unionist opposition to the 1912 Home Rule Bill.
His infamous message to Belfast – “Whatever steps you may feel compelled to take, whether they are constitutional, or whether in the long run they are unconstitutional, you have the whole Unionist Party, under my leadership, behind you” – showed just how far political manoeuvring can undermine civil democratic society and buttress insular, sectarian views: views which later exploded into action as the Irish War of Independence in 1919 and the partition of Ireland in 1921.
On this issue, Prime Minister May is caught in a classic Unionist-Brexit dilemma. Following the traditional Bonar Law, the Tory position will keep the DUP happy (and maintain her power in Westminster) but destroy the Good Friday agreement and place in jeopardy a decades long (and very hard won) peace process. To place the interests of peace first, Mrs. May would probably have to resign, the Tories to lose DUP support and ultimately face the uncertainly of another general election.
By 2021 and the centenary of the partition of Ireland we could be back to where it all started: strife in Ireland because of Tory party politics.
The Irish fear, as evidenced by their quite aggressive diplomatic efforts over the past weeks, is that British misunderstanding of North-South Irish relations will always result in a “solution” solely in the interests of Westminster power politics and not in the interests of either Northern Ireland, its people or the island of Ireland as a whole.
Contrary to much comment in the British media, the agenda of the Irish government is not to promote the idea of a “United Ireland”. Public support for this concept in the Republic of Ireland is far from overwhelming.
Rather in promoting a more open, connected Northern Ireland, the Irish government is desperately seeking to allow normal society, a society where army checkpoints and senseless violence are not the norm, to continue to flourish. For this to occur, a soft border allowing the tens of thousands of daily interactions – both personal and business – to occur unhindered is an absolute pre-requisite.
Anglo-Irish history is, as historians know, full of many cruel ironies. But perhaps the cruellest yet is that by 2021 and the centenary of the partition of Ireland we could be back to where it all started: strife in Ireland because of Tory party politics.Eoin Drea EU Member States Leadership Political Parties
Tory party politics and strife in Ireland
05 Dec 2017
President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on climate change, albeit predictable, presents both challenges and opportunities for the global system of multilevel governance. Various stakeholders are ready to fill the void, including other world leaders, such as the EU, and in particular Germany; US state actors, such as California; and even cities and businesses. Whatever the outcome, the reaffirmed joint commitment to implementing the climate targets is good news for the planet.
Read the full article in the December 2017 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Eva Palacková Environment Globalisation Leadership Sustainability Transatlantic
The race for climate leadership in the era of Trump and multilevel governance
02 Nov 2017
It has been a challenging year for the European Union. The hangover from Brexit, election fever in a number of European countries, terrorist attacks in European capitals, the perennial existentialist question of quo vadis Europe, and now the Catalan crisis.
After Macron’s victory in France, liberal democratic Europe breathed a sigh of relief. The outcome of the French presidential election and Merkel’s much anticipated victory would restore confidence in liberal democracy, and put the European project back on track. And to a large extent this has happened. It has not been a clean sheet, however.
Germany did not manage to escape the predicament of other European countries: the weakening of traditional democratic parties and the surge of nationalist populism and extremism. The western liberal order has survived for now but the party pillars of the political system have been weakened.
Those that are left behind by change, frustrated and alienated, direct their anger towards mainstream politics.
The centre-left, centre-right divide, for many decades, offered European societies a set of different ideological creeds, policy options, and solutions, within the framework of free market-based liberal democracy. Now, we are witnessing the erosion of this post WWII European political divide.
Structural changes such as globalization, the fiscal conformity in preparation for the monetary union, and the monetary union itself created a policy of convergence between parties. The main victims of this fusion were the centre left parties that travelled most of the political distance towards the centre.
The adoption of centre-right elements in economic policies and structural reforms gave them electoral victories in the short run but in the long run was a prologue of their demise. Mainly because it severed the ties with their party base and their traditional electorate. The financial crisis and the backlash against globalization further eroded the political centre.
Exacerbated economic inequalities, blamed on globalization and automation, have altered societal stratification, creating new haves and have-nots. New waves of immigration have created a demographic and cultural panic. Technological advances created a new divide in society between technologically literate and illiterate, and a new kind of technological unemployment.
Open societies does not mean lawless societies and certainly not borderless states.
Those that are left behind by change, frustrated and alienated, direct their anger towards mainstream politics. The centre-left parties may have become something of an endangered species, but the centre-right parties have come under pressure as well.
The disdain of politics as usual and political correctness has empowered populist leaders and parties from both ends of the political spectrum. From Beppe Grillo, Tsipras, Podemos, and Die Linke, to Trump, Farage, Le Pen, and Orban, all have run against status quo politics. They have tried to manipulate the anger and disappointment in government, the establishment, corruption and nepotism, stagnating salaries, and rising unemployment.
A new dividing line is being formed: on one side are the traditional political formations, and on the other side is an abrasive, anticonformist populism. A populist surge that is based on economic protectionism, an assertive nationalism, xenophobia, anti-immigration and anti-globalization policies.
The populists have also capitalised on the return of identity politics. When threatened, people tend to resort to fundamental values intrinsic to their identity. Germany managed, in the decades following WWII, to place the debate on identity within the European context. Now, AfD, breaking old taboos, brings back the debate to the national level, exploiting the uneasiness of part of the society from the presence of a million refugees on German soil.
The return of identity politics is interconnected with euroskepticism. The incomplete European project is at a critical juncture. The populist demagogues make a case against Europe as being unable to provide policy responses to the challenges of immigration, border security, homeland security, or economic inequalities.
They are questioning, in essence, the wisdom of transferring authority and sovereignty from the nation states to Brussels. The antiglobalization of the populist left feeds euroskepticsm, while the extreme right of AFD and Le Pen resort to xenophobia, protectionism, and nationalist extremism.
We can be patriotic without being nationalistic, we can defend freedom and human rights as well as law and order with equal conviction.
The new political landscape is a minefield for centre-right parties. Populism, extremism and especially right-wing extremism and nationalism have appealed to voters by distorting our ideological agenda. In an effort to repatriate those voters, centre-right parties might be tempted to veer to the right and trail extremism as it sets the agenda. That would be a political folly.
Before repatriating our voters we should repatriate our ideological agenda, reclaim it and project it forcefully. Centre-right parties have to stay the course, defend liberal values, respond to the challenges based on our own ideological arsenal. We can be patriotic without being nationalistic, we can defend freedom and human rights as well as law and order with equal conviction.
Open societies does not mean lawless societies and certainly not borderless states. We can defend the market economy while addressing inequalities. We can address the inequalities resulting from globalization and automation without becoming protectionist and isolated.
Compromising our values and principles will only present us with short term political gains, if it does. It will hurt, however, our fortunes in the long run, as the socialists have discovered.Constantine Arvanitopoulos Centre-Right Elections EU Member States Leadership Political Parties
Centre-right parties: sailing in stormy seas
18 Oct 2017
I say Europe, you say…?
In our last interview, Eva Maydell’s question to you was: what is your vision for Europe in 2040?
In 2040 the European Union will be more integrated in some areas, such as defence and security. Europe will be stronger as a trading block, and its role in the world political scene will also be strengthened because of increased unity. We have improved considerably our internal market, so that it generates more prosperity and jobs. There has been a significant convergence between the Member States in terms of social justice and fairness – mostly because of the measures the Member States have taken themselves, but also because of what the EU has done.
Do you think now is the time to push for an EU defence co-operation? Why?
Yes, it is the right time to further develop EU defence cooperation, because no country can on its own afford to invest sufficiently in security and defence. It makes sense to pool resources together. Also, more efficient use of existing resources can strengthen security in Europe. Furthermore, there is a whole range of new threats, such as terrorism and cyberattacks, which need more European cooperation.
Is there any Finish foods which you love but find it is impossible to get anywhere else?
The autumn season ahead is sure to be a busy one, what will you be mainly focused on?
I will be focused on 2 things: the EU defence policy and the trade agenda.
What was the last movie you saw?
It was a children’s movie, Inside Out.
What is your biggest Brexit worry?
That there is no solution.
You have now been 3 years as Vice-President of the Commission – what do you enjoy most about the job?
I enjoy the most the feeling that I can work for a more integrated and unified Europe. The feeling when I can see that concrete measures open up new opportunities for people and companies throughout Europe.
What do you think is the single greatest benefit of being a citizen of the EU?
The whole Europe, it’s all 28 Member States are as free and as achievable for everyone as one’s home country.
If you could share a meal with one celebrity you haven’t met yet, who would you pick?
How is the #investEU plan working? Can you give us a couple of examples?
The European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) functions well. Already over 460 000 European SMEs can get financing through EFSI. The Investment Project Portal is up and running to match investors with project promoters, so that projects can find financers. We have lowered capital charges of insurance companies so that they can invest easier in infrastructure.
Are you keeping up with any TV series at the moment?
House of Cards.
Do you like to cook? Are there any signature Katainen dishes?
I love cooking. My signature dishes are wild game food and warm-smoked salmon.
What do you remember most fondly about your Erasmus experience and why would you recommend young students to go on an Erasmus today?
Erasmus changed my life completely. It gave me a view from living in a multicultural environment, surrounded by fellow students from various countries. It also strengthened my self-confidence and gave me a feeling that Europe is open for me.
Which EPP colleague would you suggest for our next interview? What would be your question for her or him?
I would like to suggest MEP Roberta Metsola. My question to her is: what are your 3 key themes for the future development of the EU?Centre-Right Economy European People's Party European Union Leadership
I say Europe, you say…? Interview with Jyrki Katainen
I Say Europe
18 Oct 2017
Much ink has been shed on the prospect of the emergence of a European public sphere, with several scholars, politicians, and journalists engaging in intense debates on the issue. While the times of ‘permissive consensus’ have passed, today the EU faces a series of challenges within the globalised environment, that require, inter alia, legitimate, accountable, and transparent action.
In this regard, the establishment of a genuine European public sphere should be considered as more urgent than ever. The seminal State of the European Union (SOTEU) speech delivered by President of the European Commission (EC), Jean-Claude Juncker, seems capable to provide notable opportunities.
Habermas has defined the public sphere as an intermediate open forum which is beyond the state and the market, where private citizens assemble in order to deliberate, problematise, criticise, debate, and (inter)act on equal terms with public authorities, in the context of constitutional democracy, having received knowledge and information by different associations and the media.
This way individuals act as a counterweight to decision makers’ authority. Regarding the emergence of a European public sphere, a vast majority of researchers have adopted a media-related approach, through which the number of media outlets’ references to EU actors, policies, and politics is examined, while at the same time the content of the relevant information is analysed. The dominant view is that the increase of the EU’s visibility within media outlets will render the emergence of a European Public Sphere plausible.
Besides, mass media hold a pivotal role in what we call a public sphere. They supply the public with information and enable them to monitor decision-makers’ activity, facilitating the electorates to decide among different competitive parties, thus paving the way for citizens’ participation in politics or even challenging the legislative and executive branch.
In the meantime, there is a broad consensus towards the argument of the Europeanisation of national public spheres instead of suggesting that a single and genuine pan-European public sphere has emerged. The lack of a common European identity, of a shared language and a European discourse as well as the limited capacity of pan-European media such as Politico, Euronews or EurActiv to reach wide constituencies outside of Brussels, have led various researchers to this conclusion.
However, distinct events such as the annual speech of the President of the European Commission, which received great coverage across media outlets in Europe, and attracted the vivid interest of European constituencies, may lead many to reconsider their views.
More concretely, more than 500 media outlets published related articles directly mentioning SOTEU with overwhelmingly positive tonality, while almost 1000 pieces referred in general to President Juncker on that day and the days that followed. At the same time, TV channels showed lively interest in the event, as approximately 150 of them reported on the speech. Not least, about half of them broadcasted live President Juncker’s address.
Meanwhile, the number of viewers who watched the SOTEU live through social media and the Commission’s AV portal approached 1.5 million. As the speech was broadcast by TV channels and the European Parliament’s portal as well, one might reasonably assume that the current number was probably far more remarkable.
Some of them seemed very pro-active on social media, posting and interacting about proposals and content of the speech. The SOTEU hashtag was used more than 80.000 times, while mentions to President Juncker were almost twice as much. The SOTEU hashtag was a worldwide top trend that day.
Even without a qualitative analysis of this data, it is certain that President Juncker’s proposal on the Future of Europe, as well as his suggestions on key policies, provoked strong reactions and discussions among decision-makers, journalists, and ordinary citizens.
Undoubtedly, it met the requirements that different scholars have set for the establishment of a genuine European Public Sphere (e.g. discussion of the same issues at a given timeframe, and indicating similar aspects of relevance among others).
Although one might appear hesitant to admit that a genuine European Public Sphere can be established by any single event, regardless of how bright and seminal it could be, the SOTEU in conjunction with a series of key initiatives towards the strengthening of European democracy could prove to be decisive.
The preservation of the lead candidates’ system, running for the Commission Presidency – the Spitzenkandidaten – the wide and inclusive Pan-European campaigns in the context of the European Parliament elections, the Citizens Dialogues, and other initiatives are some key examples.
Certainly, a European Public Sphere will not emerge all of a sudden. Paraphrasing the historical words delivered by the French foreign minister Robert Schuman on 9 May 1950, a European Public Sphere will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. Instead, it will be built through concrete initiatives and policies which first create a de facto solidarity and we-feeling.Stergios Fotopoulos EU Institutions European Union Integration Leadership
The making of a European public sphere: the State of the Union 2017
16 Oct 2017
Watershed. Earthquake. Tectonic shift: the hyperbole is palpable in Berlin, on the morning after a memorable election. But let’s be clear: this election will remain memorable not because of a change of Chancellor. Angela Merkel will lead the next government as much as she has led the previous one. But this election will be remembered for three other reasons:
- First, both big tent parties, Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and Martin Schulz’ Social Democrats (SPD), have dramatically lost votes. Most of the smaller parties have gained in strength, and the new Bundestag will have six parliamentary groups (i.e. seven parties, because CDU and CSU have a common caucus). While there is no desire for radical change in Germany – the economy is doing very well – there seems to be a certain unease with the way both big parties have been running things.
- Second, Germany now has a very self-confident right-wing populist party, AfD, which will be the third strongest force in the Bundestag. That means there will be more provocations, more passionate debate, but also more nonsense in Parliament.
- Third, in a refreshingly clear and early move, right after the first exit poll, Germany’s Social Democrats have taken themselves off the map for coalition talks, saying they will have to rebuild themselves in opposition, and also in order to prevent the AfD from being the strongest opposition party.
Source: The Federal Returning Officer
Here are the three most important takeaways from this election:
1. The only coalition option for the moment seems to be ‘Jamaica’ – a four party coalition of CDU, CSU, Liberals (FDP) and Greens
Even before the election, everyone knew that coalition building would be tricky. But now that the SPD has clearly ruled out remaining in government, there is only one option left. Its nickname refers to the colours of Jamaica’s flag – black (CDU/CSU), yellow (FDP) and green. It also implied, until now, a certain outlandishness which is now gone. But coalition talks will be excruciatingly difficult. In immigration policy, energy and environment, as well as family and gender questions, conflicts between the Greens and the others (especially the CSU) are obvious.
The FDP may turn out to be difficult in questions of the Eurozone. And at the end, any coalition deal will have to be approved by the members of both Greens and the FDP: by no means a foregone conclusion. If this coalition option fails, either the SPD will have to join the government against its will, or there will be snap elections. Both options sound unpalatable, hence ‘Jamaica’ may well be condemned to success.
2. The right wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD’s) success is news for Germany, but will not revolutionise German politics
Contrary to what many of Germany’s scandalised bien-pensants are now saying, Germany is getting what other European democracies (France, Austria, the Netherlands and many others) have had for a long time: right wing populists in the national Parliament. Some in the AfD rehash elements of racist nationalism, and many others are Eurosceptic conservatives, but most of them bear a fundamental grudge against Chancellor Merkel’s migration policy since 2015.
According to all opinion polls made around the election, people did not vote AfD because of economic fears or income inequality. They did so as a protest vote against what they perceived as a government losing control of our borders, a rise in crime and terrorism, and against a very centrist drift of the CDU in recent years. New infighting between and inside CDU and CSU about identity politics and the right amount of social conservatism will be unavoidable.
As to the AfD, there will be ugly scenes in the Bundestag when its politicians claim that Germany’s coming to terms with its past (Vergangenheitsbewältigung) belongs to the past. But the one million former CDU/CSU voters that voted AfD in 2017 will not be impressed if they’re labelled Nazis by everyone else. We will have to live with this paradox for the time being. It makes no sense to frame European politics primarily in terms of ‘open vs. closed’ instead of left vs. right, which is another reason why the SPD’s decision to join the opposition benches is probably a good idea.
3. Changes in Germany’s foreign and European policy will be only gradual – but they will be in the right direction
In a ‘Jamaica’ coalition, Chancellor Merkel will most likely determine foreign affairs even more than in recent years. She will continue to represent the steady hand at the helm in turbulent times, as she emphasised time and again on election night. In the Franco-German couple, the ideas will mostly come from Emmanuel Macron (he has announced a major speech this week) and Angela Merkel will accept some and reject others.
The FDP’s staunch opposition to a transfer union in the Eurozone will limit her maneuvering space. She will definitely reject the notion of a two-speed union, but together with EU institutions uphold the rule of Law in Europe, against individual governments such as Poland’s and Hungary’s. But she will want to avoid the impression of a new East-West conflict between old and new member states.
On European defence, a ‘Jamaica’ coalition is likely to push forward together with France, but incrementally and within NATO, not replacing the Alliance. Sanctions against Russia are set to remain in place – the Greens’ disdain for Putin will likely help Merkel against any appeasing steps that CSU and Liberals might have in mind.
Whether all this is really enough to respond to the urgent need for leadership in Europe, in times of Anglo-Saxon withdrawal through Brexit and Trump, and mounting insecurity in the EU’s neighbourhood, that is the question. But if she wants to form a legacy beyond the 2015 refugee crisis, Angela Merkel will have to push Germany to a more active role in European and international security.
Finally, on this bittersweet election night, most observers agree that Angela Merkel’s fourth term as Chancellor will also be her last. But if she wants to leave her successor, whoever it may be, a fair chance of proving themselves in power, she might have to leave the stage a year or so before the election in 2021.
At the moment, nobody can really imagine a CDU without Angela Merkel, or Germany or Europe without her. And yet, that moment will come. The complicated coalition talks of the next few weeks, and the difficult government afterwards, may yet look harmless compared to the bumpy times of 2020 and beyond.Roland Freudenstein Education EU Member States Leadership Political Parties
Angela’s bittersweet victory: takeaways from Germany’s election
25 Sep 2017
The State of the European Union address by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker contains five takeaways for Romania which prove, once again, that the country has an important role in the Commission’s plans to reform the European Union. Romania has a unique chance to be amongst the member states that will take the next step towards European integration.
1. The Sibiu summit: linking Romania to the future of the EU
One of the most important takeaways for Romania announced by President Juncker is the proposal to hold an EU summit in Sibiu on the 30th of March 2019, the day after the UK leaves the European Union. This summit, which will take place during the Romanian presidency of the Council of the EU, will constitute a means for EU leaders to reflect and make decisions about the future of the EU. It is a great opportunity for Romania, as all future steps of European reform and integration will be linked to our country and the city of Sibiu.
In addition to this historic summit opportunity, Romania can also use the fact that it holds the Presidency to explain to Romanian citizens what the European Union means and what joining the EU has meant for the country. Related to this, I believe the decision to hold all informal meetings at ministerial level of the EU Council in the Palace of the Parliament in Bucharest is a mistake. Romania is more than Bucharest and the Parliament Palace: it holds the seventh largest population in the EU and has large, well-developed cities with a modern hotel, administrative and air transport infrastructure, capable of providing all the conditions for such an international event.
I would propose instead to organise the ministerial meetings in several cities of the country. Why not have the Defence Ministers’ meeting in Constanta, near the military base in Kogalniceanu where we could talk about security in Europe? Moreover, why should we not organise the meetings on education in a university centre with tradition and prestige such as Cluj-Napoca or Timisoara? Why should we not organise the meeting of Foreign Affairs Ministers in Iasi, near the border with Moldova, where we could also talk about the Eastern Neighbourhood and about Russian threats?
2. and 3. Renewed support for our strategic priorities: the eurozone and Schengen
President Juncker also announced the launch of a European Commission instrument that will provide technical support to Member States which are not yet members of the euro area, but that will have to join in the near future, as is the case for Romania. It will be a very useful tool for our country, as it is certain that euro area Member States will continue to integrate further and there would be a risk for countries that have not yet adopted the single currency to remain on the outside.
President Juncker’s message is clear: when we take future steps in the direction of European integration, the countries that are not yet in the euro area will not be disregarded. This is the same request that I made earlier this year as rapporteur on the fiscal capacity for the euro area.
This budget must be open to all EU Member States, including those that are not yet members of the euro area, but who have the obligation to adopt the single currency in the future. They must receive full participation rights, contribute and benefit financially and be part of euro area governance in order to be fully prepared when they adopt the single currency.
Beyond technical support for joining the euro area, President Jean-Claude Juncker has asked European politicians to allow Romania and Bulgaria to join the Schengen area. His message was clear: if we want the EU to have stronger external borders, Romania and Bulgaria must join the Schengen area immediately. It is time for other European political leaders to understand that our country’s place is in Schengen, that our country’s borders are part of the solution, not part of the problem.
4. Brexit will not reduce European funds for Romania
The budget of the European Union after the exit of the UK will have to be even bigger than before: this was one of the key messages of the President of the European Commission. The truth is that we cannot have a strong Union with a weak budget. This is the case especially since we see that a new traditional priority of the European Union has been added alongside growth and job creation, namely security challenges.
Thus, President Juncker’s announcement means that the level of European structural funds allocated to Romania will not be influenced directly by the exit of the UK, since we will not be talking about a reduced budget, but on the contrary, about a larger budget.
However, for Romania to benefit from the same high level of EU funds beyond 2020, it has to convince other Member States that allocations for our country are being used efficiently. The only way to prove this is to have an absorption rate close to 100% during the current multiannual financial framework (2014-2020).
5. Respect for the rule of law remains an obligation
President Juncker’s statement on the rule of law, which according to him is binding for all Member States, is bad news for all politicians in Romania who think they can control justice. This is however good news for the many honest citizens who advocate for the respect of the rule of law.
The rationale is clear: it is simply not possible to enjoy the benefits of joining the European Union (free movement, billions of euros in non-reimbursable funds, etc.) and at the same time try to control justice and state institutions. The Commission will not tolerate even the slightest deviation from the rule of law – this is the firm commitment given by President Juncker.
The speech by President Jean-Claude Juncker contrasts with all the gloomy scenarios that were predicting a Union in which our country would be disregarded or on the outside. The message is clear: there is no predefined group of countries, a core nucleus. Romania, like all other Member States, will have the chance to participate in all steps of European reform and integration.
Moreover, because we will hold the Council Presidency during Brexit and because we will host the first summit on the future of the post-Brexit EU, Romania has a unique opportunity to be amongst the member states that will lead the future steps of European integration. It depends only on us, especially on the Government and other state authorities to take advantage of this truly historic opportunity.Siegfried Mureşan EU Member States Eurozone Leadership
SOTEU: 5 key takeaways for Romania
14 Sep 2017
I say Europe, you say…?
Achieving Europe. Europe of Success. Europe of the Youth.
Ramón Luis Valcárcel’s question to you was: how do you think the EU could better contribute to equipping our youngsters with the digital skills needed to thrive in the digital economy?
There are two significant areas where additional effort is urgently needed. Firstly, improving teaching quality and equipping educators with the instruments and skills they require is key to offering an effective 21st century learning environment and promoting digital literacy. The way governments and communities recruit, prepare, support and retain teachers has a direct impact on the kind of training young people receive and how prepared they are for the demands of the modern labour market.
Secondly, the traditional, tired 20th century education model with its standardised assessment tests, memorising and regurgitating facts, and subject knowledge disconnected from real-life context, is no longer enough. The learning experience of the future should be based around student empowerment, building key competencies, fostering an open and flexible learning environment and ensuring actual business and life opportunities are being presented and taken advantage of.
If you could have dinner with ANY European leader right now, who would it be and what would you ask them?
Digitalising the EU is one your passions in parliament, what obstacles remain to achieving a European digital single market?
The Digital Single Market Strategy is about transforming European society as a whole and making sure it can face the future with confidence. It is true that both technology and our daily lives are often changing at a much faster pace than policymakers can keep up with. However, we have been very quick in legislating on the Regulation for Portability of Online Content, which is a clear victory for consumers.
We have also worked on a report on digitising European industry, intended to lay the groundwork for a new Europe of technology, innovation and a skilled workforce. What lies ahead still are the e-Privacy regulation, the Directive on Digital Content Contracts and the Single Market Information Tool regulation, among others. It is our responsibility to resolve the remaining obstacles to a fully-functioning Digital Single Market and make sure that any legislation is as future-proof as possible.
If you were not an MEP right now, what do you think you would be doing instead?
A combination of two things, probably: helping communities get access to quality education and skills, in whatever capacity, and something more creative on the side – art or interior design, perhaps?
As we continue to grow and innovate the European data economy, do you think it is possible to strike a balance between digital innovation and protecting a citizen’s right to privacy online?
In my work I have always sought to strike a balance, so I don’t consider reconciling concerns around online privacy and the data economy to be impossible. Online privacy is of huge importance, of course, but it is also important to communicate what it actually means and how users can protect themselves. Many people, for instance, do not like the so called “cookie banner” and believe that all cookies out there are ‘bad’ or at least intrusive. This stems from a lack of understanding of what they are actually for.
Digital literacy is one of the main characteristics of a thriving modern society, and the process of raising awareness of our digital footprint and personal data should be led by businesses and NGOs as much as by the European Institutions. As we are trying to move forward, talking to citizens and businesses is a priority – we need to think carefully before introducing any legislation that could change the user experience of the internet as a whole.
Summertime is upon us, so please share with us your favourite holiday destination?
The Mediterranean blue mixed with Bulgarian natural green.
Bulgaria takes over the Presidency of the Council of Europe in 2018, what are the key priorities and challenges for Bulgaria during this 6-month tenure?
It has been proven that successful presidencies are based on effective administrative execution and extensive coordination with the other two members of the trio, as well as with the European Commission. In this regard the key priorities of the Bulgarian Presidency, due to be officially announced in the coming weeks, include security and migration, the debate on the Future of Europe with a particular focus on the Cohesion policy after 2020, and the future of the Western Balkans. Recent political developments in FYROM and Montenegro have pushed the region back to the top of the EU agenda, and being in immediate proximity, the Bulgarian government intends to bring up the topic and advocate for a decisive but forward-looking EU policy on the subject.
For a European perspective, what do you see as the key takeaways from the recent French presidential election?
Undoubtedly the loudest, clearest message from the recent Presidential and the first round of the Parliamentary elections in France is that people chose Europe. Their individual preferences for left- or right-wing domestic policies notwithstanding, the French did not fall in the trap of anti-EU populism. Another emerging trend in Europe, solidified by the French elections, is the rise of a new generation of young and dynamic pro-European politicians.
What albums and artists are on your phone right now?
I’m currently on a relaxation kick – a lot of Ludovico Einaudi, as well as a very old traditional Bulgarian folk song called ‘Yovano Yovanke’, performed by renowned cello player Ian Maksin.
As a young politician, how do you think we can better engage young people in the electoral process both domestically and at a European level?
Let’s seek to engage the bright and best young people of Europe not only through party ideologies but through issue-based projects. Young people today are much more practical and a lot less traditional. They dream, create and commit themselves to concrete initiatives, sometimes regardless of their political orientation. When we want to get the young passionate about Europe we have to tell the story of Europe and engages with both – their hearts and minds. They need to feel European in order to achieve for Europe.
Brussels or Strasbourg?
Strasbourg is a beautiful city. I particularly admire its architecture, friendly people and young character. But I’m also a practical person and when it comes to functionality I believe the European Parliament could function better only from Brussels.
The West Wing or House of Cards?
House of Cards. Haven’t watched the West Wing.
Which EPP colleague would you suggest for our next interview? What would be your question for her or him?
Vice President of the European Commission Jyrki Katainen. I would like to ask him: what is your vision for Europe in 2040?Centre-Right European People's Party Leadership Youth
I say Europe, you say…? Interview with MEP Eva Maydell (Paunova)
I Say Europe
22 Jul 2017
Since last year when the UK made the decision to leave the EU, we at the Martens Centre have been having an intensive discussion on how to deal with this issue, particularly how to avoid a risk of negative escalation between the UK and the EU. While emphasising constructive communication, just over a week ago we gathered in London to discuss with like-minded experts and decision-makers how to avoid disaster and make the best of it for those of both sides. Here are some of my personal recommendations on how to manage the ongoing negotiations, based on my own experience from the division of assets after the break-up of the former Czechoslovakia.
1. Tackle strategy first, tactics second
To begin with, it is necessary to define the end result, namely the expected outcome of the EU-UK negotiations: the shape of our long-term relationship after the UK leaves. Do we want to remain allies, or just friends and partners, or simply neighbours? If we want to remain allies, does this only apply to NATO or also to other areas of cooperation? Depending on what conclusion the two sides will eventually agree upon, we can proceed to formulating the content of the new deals in all specific and relevant areas – the free movement of persons, trade, security and other topics.
2. Define the “what”
This regards the status of the EU citizens living in the United Kingdom and vice-versa, the final bill for the UK’s exit from the EU, the regime at the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and that between Gibraltar and Spain, and possibly other issues directly related to Brexit.
3. Be flexible on the “when” and the “where”
When, at a relevant moment, the negotiations show that we are on the right track but more time is required to strike a good deal, we should agree on a transition period for the UK to leave the EU. Several factors should be taken into account for that transition period (such as conformity with the EU financial planning period).
4. Consider Brexit irreversible
There will be no second referendum. We should not work with this hypothesis, not even at a theoretical level; we should not fuel false hopes of those who continue to believe that the process of the UK’s exit from the EU can still be reversed.
5. Remember: non-agreement is not an option
Both sides should clearly declare their awareness of the fact that an uncontrolled exit of the UK from the EU in the absence of any agreement on mutual relations is the worst possible outcome for both sides. Brexit-related losses must be kept at a minimum on both sides. To this end, an agreement is inevitable: That means both an agreement on the future arrangement of mutual relations and one on the divorce.
6. Keep it realistic
We should strive for concluding the deals that will be enforceable, sustainable and feasible within the set deadlines. This is the only way to avoid misunderstandings in the future and to minimise the harm caused by any such misunderstanding.
7. Communicate more, squabble less
There is no doubt that Brexit is a lose/lose “game” for both sides (the EU and the UK). The time before the UK’s exit from the EU becomes final (March 2019) should thus be used to cut the losses. The squabbles over the amount of the bill to be paid by the UK could drag on for years (it took close to ten years to resolve the division of assets of former Czechoslovakia). But it would be a waste if those squabbles went on at the detriment of our citizens, trade, investment, or security cooperation.
8. Let diplomats do their job
Brexit talks are now an arena where every spoken word becomes the object of analyses, comments and, of course, reactions. In this kind of atmosphere, it is difficult to offer concessions. Yet we know that concessions are inevitable. Thus, in addition to official negotiations exposed to public scrutiny and media comments, it is also necessary to engage in an intensive “silent” diplomacy.
9. Strive for a compromise…
The most promising method in a win-win or lose-lose game is the search for a compromise. Both sides must realise that compromise is a state where both sides leave the negotiation table (after reaching a compromise) either equally satisfied or equally dissatisfied.
10. …and achieve a win-win
The final decision will be political. It will be made by politicians at the time of ratifying the deals. Both the rhetoric and the expectations should be shaped accordingly. There is a need to work with public opinion right from the beginning. Public discourse should be dominated by the emphasis on mutual benefits and not by rivalry or even vengeance. The EU can only survive if it is built on a positive vision, on positive emotions and, in particular, if it brings added value to its member states.
At one moment, the Communist bloc collapsed like a house of cards in spite of being held together by force, threats and intimidation. It disintegrated because it was becoming an ever greater burden on, and not a benefit for, its member states. That is why the final deal will only be sustainable if it entails the best for both sides.Mikuláš Dzurinda Brexit EU Member States Leadership
The ten commandments of Brexit negotiations
05 Jul 2017
President Trump’s foreign policy remains paradoxical and as yet highly uncertain. European leaders face the challenge of communicating both their interests and values in ways that the new president will welcome. Thus far, practical discussion combined with a personal connection seems the likeliest path to success. Ultimately, the EU has the opportunity not only to partner with the US but to lead the way forward based on the EU’s own fundamental commitments and values. Three important areas this could affect are security and defence, climate change policy and global trade.
Read the full article in the June 2017 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Nathan Shepura Environment EU-US Foreign Policy Leadership Transatlantic
Ledgers, anecdotes and leadership: guidelines for partnering with the new US president
22 Jun 2017
Emmanuel Macron’s election to the French presidency has been welcomed as a ray of spring sunlight in the cloudy skies of Brussels. It is believed to be the first salvo of a mainstream counteroffensive against the insurgent forces of populism in Europe. Since his first visit to Berlin last May, Macron made it clear that his European ambitions pass through a revitalisation of the Franco-German relationship, long debilitated by the imbalance between the two historic partners.
In the short term, Macron’s relaunch of European integration pursues three objectives: the creation of common European rules on asylum, stronger reciprocity in trade with external partners and new rules to stop the ‘social dumping’ effect of posted workers from Central and Eastern Europe.
Although Macron’s rhetorical virtues managed to present this last demand as impeccably European, in practice it can only amount to further restrictions on the free movement of services and people, two fundamental EU freedoms much resented by French – and British – public opinion.
However, we should all wonder whether Macron’s success may not turn out to be as risky for the Union as his failure.
In the long term, the President wants a eurozone budget to promote investments, a eurozone finance minister to administer it and a eurozone parliament to legitimise both. These plans may require not only changes in the EU treaties, which the President has not excluded, but also in Germany’s constitution.
A credible French leader with an ambitious European agenda is surely good news for the old continent, whose unity has shown in recent years to be very fragile and in need of new safeguards. However, we should all wonder whether Macron’s success may not turn out to be as risky for the Union as his failure. There are two serious reasons to harbour such fears.
The first is the potentially divisive nature of many French ideas about the future of Europe. Two of them, a weak commitment to the free movement of services and people and a tendency to focus on integrating the eurozone without much attention to the interests of the euro-outs, are particularly problematic.
The former is an old thorn in France’s relationship with the EU, at least since the bogeyman of the ‘Polish plumber’ contributed to its rejection of the constitutional treaty in 2005. Since then, no pro-EU politician in the country has really been able to convincingly defend free movement without adding a plethora of qualifications about ‘social dumping’ and ‘fairness’ that are difficult to digest in Central and Eastern Europe. Emmanuel Macron is no exception here.
The latter stems from the French tradition of economic ‘dirigisme’, which makes the notion of a ‘depoliticized’ currency based on constitutional rules and market discipline incomprehensible to the French way of thinking. Hence the insistent demands for a ‘managed’ currency, one complemented by an economic government responsible for promoting investment and, in the long run, harmonizing social standards in order to prevent, once more, ‘social dumping’ and enforce ‘fair competition’.
Like it or not, Central and Eastern European countries instinctively distrust centralisation, dislike differentiated integration and are especially attached to the Single Market and its four freedoms.
Those are highly divisive ideas that will prove potentially difficult to reconcile with the pursuit of unity among the EU27 – not just the EU19 – after Brexit. Like it or not, Central and Eastern European countries instinctively distrust centralisation, dislike differentiated integration and are especially attached to the Single Market and its four freedoms.
The second reason is the geopolitical implications of France’s ambition to restore the Franco-German axis to its former role as the engine of European integration. French elites have gradually understood that there are structural reasons why Germany has come to play a more central role than France in Europe. Its good economic performance is one of them, and the economic and demographic consequences of reunification are another.
However, the main reason is the geopolitics of the 2004 enlargement: Germany is the pivotal player because it is the guarantor of Central and Eastern Europe’s participation in the European project and because the EU membership of this region has given it a much larger playing ground on which to build its coalitions. This was a momentous change from previous decades: as long as the European project was limited to a small group of Western and Southern European countries, France was inevitably the pivotal partner of Germany.
The most far-sighted French observers have long understood that the Eastern enlargement was bound to make France more marginal and Germany more pivotal in Europe. Mitterand, who was certainly one of them, tried to counter this tendency by proposing to include countries newly freed by the communist yoke in a broad confederation within which the European Community would have retained its inner balance.
Today the only way for France to regain its geopolitical centrality is for the European project to be recentered on its western and southern core. This is well captured by Macron’s plans on the future of Europe, which de facto amounts to de-emphasising the single market, limiting free movement, and investing much political capital on integrating the euro zone.
The most far-sighted French observers have long understood that the Eastern enlargement was bound to make France more marginal and Germany more pivotal in Europe.
If French demands are taken up by Germany, the risk is that the project will tacitly refocus in a direction that weakens, not strengthens continental unity. Germany’s historic mission is to lead the continent towards a model of unity that is sustainable and acceptable to everyone. The adoption of Macron’s agenda implies the exact opposite.Federico Ottavio Reho Eastern Europe Enlargment EU Member States European Union Leadership
Federico Ottavio Reho
Macron’s vision will split the EU, not unite it
08 Jun 2017
Donald Trump has repeatedly chastened European NATO members for spending less than 2% of their GDP on defence. In spite of recent reassuring declarations, his commitment to NATO has seemed wavering, and he displayed a readiness to coordinate with Russia in the Middle East.
Should the Trump administration reach a similar understanding with the Kremlin on Eastern Europe, the Europeans will shed tears of regret for not having followed his advice and invested in their defensive capabilities earlier.
Russia’s aggression in Georgia and Ukraine leaves little doubt as to the real unwillingness of the Kremlin to respect the sovereignty of the former soviet republics. And the Baltic States are next on the firing line. Urgent actions are needed in this field.
First, defence spending needs to be increased. West Europeans have relied upon the USA since the 1940s for their own security, de facto freeriding on US taxpayers in this field. With 23 European NATO members below the 2% threshold in defence spending, it is clear that Europeans have overlooked their national security for too long.
The time has now come for them to invest more on it. All of the European NATO member states increasing their defence spending to 2% of their GDP will send a powerful message to the Kremlin that they are serious about protecting Europe’s security and independence.
Russia’s aggression in Georgia and Ukraine leaves little doubt as to the real unwillingness of the Kremlin to respect the sovereignty of the former soviet republics.
Second, European battlegroups need to complement NATO troops in the Baltic States. Increasing defence budgets does not instantly create a safer security environment. In a 2016 report, RAND made clear that the current national defence forces of the Baltic States and the NATO units stationed there are insufficient to hold off the neighbouring Russian forces, should the latter decide to invade. Germany and other NATO members have since contributed to forming battlegroups in the Baltic States and Poland.
However, the size of NATO’s battlegroups is negligible compared to that of the Russian forces they face. Establishing permanent European battlegroups of significant size, with the necessary equipment to deter Russian aggression, would reduce the EU’s vulnerability in the east, and perhaps lead to an improvement in its relations with Russia, as the Kremlin will have to accept that it cannot encroach upon its European neighbours’ territory.
According to the RAND report, this would cost around $2.7 billion, which is far less than what would become available if countries reached the 2% threshold in defence spending.
Third, the supply of military hardware for the battlegroups needs to be homogenised. Each member state using unique military equipment takes away the option of lending that hardware to one another. Lending military hardware contributes to cutting down the costs of transferring it, and it is an invaluable asset, as troops in warzones could use leased equipment right away.
For example, Greek F-16 and Mirage 2000 pilots, being experts in intercepting Turkish military aircraft violating Greek airspace, could assist in the protection of the Baltic States’ airspace using allied jets of the same type. Creating defence equipment homogeneity requires political will. So far the EU has been unsuccessful in creating military interoperability. Nonetheless, this should become a priority in order to secure European borders.
Europeans need to direct their militaries into defending the entire EU, and not just individual European states.
The President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Junker, has repeatedly spoken in favour of establishing a single European defence force. That currently being unfeasible, the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) needs to be focused on the creation of battlegroups in member-states under threat.
Assuming that all NATO member states reach the 2% objective of defence spending over GDP that would still not deter Russia from being aggressive towards its neighbours. The fact that the European NATO member states spend on defence five times the Russian defence budget, and remain unable to secure Eastern Europe is embarrassing.
Europeans need to direct their militaries into defending the entire EU, and not just individual European states. After the end of the Napoleonic Wars the German states were facing similar threats to their existence by France and Russia. The Germans established the Federal Army to defend themselves, which was a collection of the armed forces of the member states of the German Confederation.
The EU could imitate this model in the near future, while bearing in mind that the Federal Army fell apart in 1866 due to the lack in commitment of several of its members. Thus, even more ambition may be needed in the long run.Konstantinos Lentakis Defence EU Member States Foreign Policy Leadership Security
Beyond 2%: establishing a true European defence force
10 May 2017
From Immanuel Kant and William Penn to Aristide Briand, the idea of European Unity represents something of an age-old dream in Europe.
The early post WWII attempts at European unity, however, were the result of the destructive excesses of nationalism, and war. The motivation was to transcend the tradition of national antagonism, and create a network of economic interdependence that would virtually eliminate the possibility of renewed conflict among European states. So that Europe would not regress to a “dark continent” ever again.
Building a new economic and political structure in Europe, would subordinate national sovereignty to a wider European loyalty and decision-making process. The prospect of European unity also meant enhanced, and quicker economic recovery and eventual prosperity.
There was also the realization on the part of Western European powers that the scale of world politics had radically changed as a result of WWII. None of the great European powers alone would be able to reinstate their global position in the post war era. Only united they stood a chance of reestablishing their influence in world affairs.
European unity also became a major US foreign policy objective after the war. For one reason or another, the US found itself deeply involved in two European wars inside a generation. It became an accepted proposition that the US had a right and an interest to become involved in Europe’s postwar reconstruction. Support in Europe and the US for European unity rose dramatically with the beginning of the cold war.
The Berlin blockade and the communist takeover in Prague, with the backing of the Soviet Union, were a stark evidence of the Soviet threat to European security. In the emerging bipolar structure of the cold war, the strengthening of Western Europe became a vital interest of both western Europeans and Americans.
A further American motivation for unity was the German problem. European unity was seen as a way of addressing the German problem by anchoring Germany in the West. Germany’s economic potential could also be vital for west European recovery. It is no secret that this was a major American motive in proposing the Marshall plan in 1947 and associating W. Germany with it in 1948.
For skeptical members of Congress, European unity was seen as a major means of avoiding a situation of permanent European economic dependence upon the US.
For that reason the Marshall plan intended to rebuild European production capabilities to enable the Europeans to export sufficiently to support their import needs through their export earnings. The US position was that any new dollar aid would have to carry reliable guarantees of getting the Europeans off the US dole within a period of four years. For that reason the Marshall plan was based on a concerted regional basis unlike the earlier UNRRA bilateral aid approaches.
The US made it clear that continuation of Marshall aid funds would depend upon European cooperation and institutional creativity. In that sense the US encouraged the creation of OEEC as an organization, which would encourage West European unity. OEEC would get the questions of who gets what, settled by the Europeans themselves. Then the Europeans would present their agreed upon proposals to Washington for consideration.
OEEC was an intergovernmental organization without any pretension of supranationality or federalizing tendencies. It was an institution for the coordination of nationally determined economic recovery projects. It could not compel states to do anything.
OEEC did, however, contribute greatly to west European economic recovery, which was a precondition for European integration later represented by the ECSC and the EEC. Furthermore, OEEC through the European Payments Union (EPU) stimulated major European trade increases leading to the growth of European assets in the 50s, which was a precondition to allow European currencies to become convertible.
This, in turn, was a precondition for the integration that started with the treaty of Rome. OEEC was also successful in the import quota abolition. It also made an important contribution to the restructuring of the locus of European decision-making in the economic realm. It developed and consolidated a process of consultations among European governments with respect to economic plans and policies, which smoothed the way to the next level of economic cooperation in the context of the EEC.
The conditions of the post war era and the realities of the emerging cold war motivated and rallied a number of European statesmen around the dream of European unity. Exceptional figures such as Schuman, Adenauer, Spaak, Monet, Spinelli, and de Gasperi, seized the moment to promote the vision of a united Europe. They, rightly, came to be called the founding fathers of European unity.
To a large extent, however, the early impulses for European unity in the immediate post war era came from the so called “external federators”. The positive and decisive role of the United States, on the one hand, and the emerging challenges and threats posed by the Soviet Union and the cold war, on the other.
Europe at sixty is facing a similar set of challenges, and the reasons for the continuity of the European project remain as strong as ever. Europe can only united face the challenges of globalization, and cope effectively with its current polycrisis. Its unity remains vital for the West and US interests, even under the Trump administration. While, on the other hand, Putin’s assertive Russia makes unity imperative for its survival.Constantine Arvanitopoulos EU-US European Union Euroscepticism Leadership
Early attempts at European unity: the “External Federators”
19 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
I say Europe, you say…?
Hans-Gert Pöttering’s question to you was: How do you see the relations between the regions in Spain and the Spanish state in the framework of the EU?
The Autonomous Communities and the Autonomous Cities of Spain count on a wide variety of institutional solutions, such as the Conference of Presidents, together with the Conference for Matters related to the European Communities. They serve as a valuable platform to coordinate and represent the interests of the regions at the EU level.
Likewise, the Committee of the Regions provides for a framework within which local and regional authorities can make their voices heard at the European level. In this sense, the relations are dynamic and can be incremented anytime there is a special issue or concern on either side.
What was the most interesting myth about the EU you needed to bust in your career?
Some think MEPs are always flying first class, with the most renowned airlines. Well, I am an MEP and I can tell you that, 90% of the time, we fly economy class or use low-cost companies.
What is your strategy to improve the way in which the EU is being communicated?
The European Parliament efforts towards engaging millennials through apps such as Snapchat, Instagram or Facebook are indeed remarkable.
However, many citizens still use printed media, radio and the vast majority still gets its information from the television, so we have to make sure that we keep providing both with the sufficient high-quality content. We have to focus on translation: not all citizens speak English or French, and therefore more effort should be put on making information available for them in their own language.
Simultaneously, in times when fake news are the new propaganda technique, the EU should not just focus on unmasking the so-called “alternative facts” but also on offering a resilient counter-narrative. We have a myriad of good stories to tell, of success examples to share. So let’s all tell them, let’s all share them!
What was the last book you borrowed from the Parliament’s library?
It was Resolving Cyprus: New Approaches to Conflict Resolution. I borrowed it in December and I have already renewed it twice. Achieving a comprehensible solution for the Cyprus issue would benefit not just the population of the entire island, but also the EU as a whole. It is something we all need.
Tell us a not-that-good movie that is a “guilty pleasure” for you.
A Man for All Seasons is definitely my favourite movie. But I would like to draw the attention to the films of “Paco” Martínez Soria, as they are emblematic of post-war Spanish cinema.
I am referring to the genre of the 50s, 60s and 70s that was endearing, warm, considerate, homey. These movies never won Oscars, but have always accompanied us, Spaniards, in our path to reconciliation, peace, democracy and prosperity.
What was your first job?
At the young age of 20, when I was still in university, I opened my own art gallery in my hometown, Murcia. I did not have money, but I was lucky enough to share a passion for art (I’m an Art History graduate) with a friend who did. He put the money and I put the knowledge. Our gallery, which we called ‘Mica’, eventually became one of the most prestigious in the region.
Which should be, in your opinion, the main targeted areas in which the European Structural and Investment Fund should create jobs and growth?
At the core of this policy are the Smart Specialisation Strategies. By fine-tuning our regions’ specialisation priorities –encouraging local, regional and national authorities to pursue evidence-based policy strategies- we improve the efficiency of the way in which public money is spent.
If I had to pick two flagships for job creation, I would go for SMEs and youth. As well as boosting our SMEs’ competitiveness, effectively responding to the high levels of youth unemployment in Member States is vital to enhance a sustainable and inclusive model of growth.
If you would need to participate in a karaoke contest which song would you sing? Which MEP would you pick for a duet?
Singing is not my strongest point. But if I had to pick someone to sing with, that person would definitely be my colleague Carlos Iturgaiz. He is a real music master. And we would go for something from It’s happening! featuring Diana Ross and Neil Diamond.
Why should defence research be a strategic priority for the Union, in your opinion?
In a world constantly evolving, where change comes rapidly and in which uncertainty is now a commonplace, advancing in research and technology in all areas but especially in Defence and Security is of vital importance for the EU to remain autonomous, to maintain independence from third actors. Strategically speaking, research should be a priority in all areas but especially within the EU’s defence package.
What is your life moto?
Call it a life moto, call it a way to face life on a daily basis. When someone asks me how I am, I always respond: “I’m good, and feeling signs of improvement”. Looking at the bright side of life has always worked out to be the best possible approach.
How did you manage to make it on the Kremlin’s blacklist?
The reason for me being (still) on Putin’s blacklist is pretty simple: standing with the people of Ukraine and not with those who were giving orders to kill them. In 2014, at the beginning of the Euromaidan movement, I travelled to Kyiv in my role of President of the Committee of the Regions, the post that I held at that time. The official programme of my visit included a meeting with government representatives, but the dramatic events that happened at the Maidan while I was there changed the course of things.
What should the EU’s strategy in tackling the situation in Eastern Ukraine be?
The European Union is with the people of Ukraine. It is at their side. And it remains committed to trying to make sure that the conditions in the country improve. The EU has repeatedly called for the full implementation of the Minsk agreements in order to provide for a real beginning of the peace process.
The role of the EU is to actively engage in supporting and assisting Ukraine in its remarkable reform effort, while trying to achieve a better security situation for its people, especially in the East.
Sailing or cycling?
Sailing. Just for the sake of feeling as free as a drop in the ocean.
Gazpacho or Paella?
I could not possibly choose one. It would be like asking a parent to choose his favourite child. So I would say gazpacho for starters and paella as main course.
Analogue or digital camera?
As a photography lover, I go with both and decide on the spot depending on the situation. Analogue works better for portraits, probably. But when it comes to editing, digital photography is a must.
Which EPP Group colleague would you suggest for our next interview? What would be your question for her or him?
Eva Paunova. First of all, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate her on her recent marriage. And second, I would like to ask her how she thinks the EU could better contribute to equipping our youngsters with the digital skills needed to thrive in the digital context.EU Institutions European People's Party Leadership Regionalisation
I say Europe, you say…? Interview with EP Vice-President Ramón Luis Valcárcel
I Say Europe
23 Mar 2017
The rapid deterioration of relations between European governments and Turkey in recent weeks may come to be seen as a watershed in EU-Turkey relations. The leader of a NATO ally and EU accession candidate country did not hesitate to exploit the vulnerability of European leaderships ahead of crucial electoral battles by mobilizing thousands of people in the heart of Europe.
Given also his role in the refugee issue, his authoritarianism, and his fickle personality, it is time for the EU to start viewing Erdogan’s Turkey as nothing less than a long-term security risk.
In the last few years Europe has seen security threats multiplying. The annexation of Crimea heightened anxieties about Russian aggression. Russia also has other levers of pressure, including energy resources, cyber-warfare and, most recently, a multifaceted project of disruption of Western democracies, ranging from support for populist parties to disinformation campaigns. Then, a series of terrorist attacks in 2015 and 2016 revealed the extent of the jihadist threat.
All these are clearly major threats for Europe, covering a broad range of security challenges: geopolitical and ideological, global and regional, internal and external. But if there is one actor that embodies all these different dimensions of risk at the same time – geopolitical pressure, internal subversion, democratic disruption, and an increasingly erratic behavior of its leadership – it is Turkey.
It is time for the EU to start viewing Erdogan’s Turkey as nothing less than a long-term security risk.
Turkey has always been a crucial strategic partner of the West, but the refugee crisis of 2015 severely upset the power relationship between Turkey and the EU, punctuated by Turkey’s desire to accede to the Union. Not unlike Russia with its gas, Turkey found itself controlling the flow of a critical commodity – refugees.
Not unlike Russia, it saw this as an opportunity to extort benefits from the EU, which it promptly did by forcing upon the EU a deal in which it gained various concessions in return for curbing the refugee flows into Europe.
This process took place in parallel with increasing authoritarianism and concentration of power in the hands of President Erdogan internally. After the failed coup of the summer of 2016, Erdogan engaged in sweeping purges of the Turkish state and society.
If his intended constitutional reform goes through in April, Turkey will differ very little from Putin’s Russia, a personal semi-authoritarian nationalist regime with populist overtones, where the main legitimating mechanism of a deeply entrenched leadership is antagonism of the West.
Events of the last few weeks have added a new layer to the difficult geopolitical relationship between Europe and Turkey. The massive rallies in favour of Erdogan in Austria, Germany, Holland and France have highlighted that, while Europeans were agonizing over the compatibility of Islam with liberal democracy, they long underestimated Turkish nationalism – an ideology as sticky and potent as any religion – as an obstacle to the integration of thousands of citizens of immigrant descent.
If his intended constitutional reform goes through in April, Turkey will differ very little from Putin’s Russia.
The difficult relationship between Turkish immigrants and their host countries is nothing new of course, but only now has a leader in Turkey shown the intention (and ability) to use these populations as levers of pressure on European governments and to settle domestic scores.
Despite his effort to disrupt European democracy through trolls and hackers, Putin could only dream of commanding the kind of street power in European capitals that Erdogan enjoys.
Erdogan embodies today the sum of all that urope fears: an authoritarian and populist leader (like Putin), with the capacity to strong-arm European leaders thanks to his key position in the refugee problem (akin to Putin and energy), and now with the expressed ambition to use diasporas as a weapon of foreign and domestic policy, disrupting electoral processes and fracturing societies in Europe (thus playing a role akin to that of radical Islamism) and crashing opposition at home.
Instead of an ally, or even a difficult partner, the EU must start viewing Erdogan’s Turkey as a multidimensional security risk.
The current standoff with the Netherlands will probably cool off after the Dutch and the Turkish electoral campaigns are over. But with elections in Germany looming, Erdogan will surely be tempted to employ his hybrid (internal and external) geopolitical arsenal again.
The EU is dealing with a leader who understands his relationship with Europe not simply in transactional terms, but as an opportunity for extortion in every available facet.
Instead of an ally, or even a difficult partner, the EU must start viewing Erdogan’s Turkey as a multidimensional security risk. Breaking off relations completely of course is not an option, but a serious discussion on a strategic approach to Turkey must now start. This must include a thorough appreciation of how Turkey can challenge European security and democracy internally and externally.
As a multidimensional security risk Turkey requires a holistic approach, including both internal (e.g. addressing the lagging integration of immigrants of Turkish descent in European societies) and external (e.g. effectively securing European) defense.
The EU must remain alert about opportunities to engage Turkey diplomatically. But it must be ready to face up to extortion or internal disruption as well.
Perhaps nothing would work better to rebalance the EU-Turkey relationship than challenging Erdogan on his own turf. As the regime in Turkey is rapidly losing all vestiges of a functional democracy, and given the lack of genuine democratic opposition (opposition parties in Turkey are either secular-nationalist or ethnic-sectarian), the EU must engage in serious bottom-up democracy promotion in Turkey, helping to foster a real liberal democratic culture in Turkish society.
If Erdogan thinks he can turn European societies into a battleground of the EU-Turkey relationship, the EU must answer in kind. Europeans must make the emergence of a genuine Turkish democracy the key strategic goal of their policy towards Turkey, and must be ready to invest resources and time to ensure this outcome comes to fruition.Angelos Chryssogelos Elections Foreign Policy Leadership Security Values
Erdogan: an EU security risk?
16 Mar 2017
I say Europe, you say…?
In our last interview, MEP David Mc Allister’s question to you was: “Where do you see the European Union in 20 years?”
With citizens who have a strong European identity and who are defending our values both inside and outside of the Union.
What was the most interesting myth about the EU you needed to bust in your career?
In the early 90s, the British Royal Family was not very popular and in Britain there was a rumor that the EU had a plan to abolish their Kingdom. My answer was that the British can only do it themselves. In the end, I am happy that the Royal Family is still accepted.
What advice did you give your sons when they started doing politics?
I didn’t give them any advice, they didn’t ask for it, they just did it.
Recently you presented your book United for the Better: My European Way in Brussels. What do you miss most about living there?
I had a very good time in the European Parliament and I am very thankful for that but I don’t miss Brussels.
What is your favourite Konrad Adenauer quote?
‘The situation is serious but not hopeless’.
Being at the forefront of advocating for the big-bang enlargement, what do you think are the prospects for a new enlargement?
We need to do it very carefully because we need the backing of the people of the European Union.
Who is your favourite movie character of all time and why?
Miss Marple, because I like crime stories where you can also enjoy and laugh.
What is your favourite moment from European history, depicted in the House of European History?
The description of the change from communism to liberty in 1989-90.
How do you think the present moment we are living in will be depicted in the House?
As a moment of challenge which we have successfully overcome.
What was the most awkward moment you experienced as President of the European Parliament?
It was the signing of the Charter of Human Rights, in the EP in Strasbourg on 12 December 2007. The anti-European members created a chaos in the Parliament and the King of Jordan, Abdullah II waited to make his speech.
What about most amusing moment?
It could be when Dalai Lama addressed me as a ‘comrade’. I said to him: ‘Your holiness, I prefer you call me a friend’ to which he replied ‘my friend’.
German or Belgian beer?
Working in Academia or in Politics?
Politics with intelligence and emotion.
Historical or crime novels?
Crime novels with historical background.
Which EPP colleague would you suggest for our next interview? What would be your question for her or him?
I would like to ask Ramon Luis Valcárcel Siso the following question: how do you see the relations between the regions in Spain and the Spanish state in the framework of the EU?Centre-Right EU Member States European Union Leadership
I say Europe, you say…? Interview with Hans-Gert Pöttering
I Say Europe
15 Feb 2017
In December 2014 under the leadership of Mikuláš Dzurinda, president of the Martens Centre, former prime minister of Slovakia and successful country reformer, we launched the #UkraineReforms programme to bring together the expertise of senior EU decision-makers in support of the reform process in Ukraine. This transfer of experience is organised through public events, town-hall style meetings, TV debates, online articles and interviews held in Kyiv and other major Ukrainian cities. The initiative is supported by local partners including Ukrainian NGOs Reanimation Package for Reforms and Stronger Together, as well as the Kyiv School of Economics. By the end of 2016 the programme presented over 20 activities, 18 high-level visits in Ukraine in 7 different cities, around 70 meetings and lectures and over 40 media interviews. This brochure gives an overview of the project’s milestones and achievements following 2 successful years of expert visits and exchanges.Eastern Europe Economy Leadership Macroeconomics
Ukraine Reforms: milestones and achievements
01 Feb 2017
I say Europe, you say…?
What was your first job?
Serving in the German Army (Bundeswehr) for two years.
Which was the most interesting myth about the EU you needed to bust in your career?
Being a coffee drinker myself, I was amused to read in a British newspaper that Brussels was trying to restrict the drinking habits of the United Kingdom’s coffee lovers. Of course, this was not the case.
The article referred to a study undertaken by the European Food Safety Authority, which assessed the different levels of caffeine intake. It concluded that a regular caffeine consumption up to 400mg per day is not worrisome for non-pregnant adults. The European Union never proposed to regulate how much coffee people drink.
How do you see transatlantic relations after 20 January 2017? As Chair of the US Delegation, is there still a perspective for TTIP, and, if not, what is the alternative?
The outcome of the US presidential elections was not what we expected but as with all democratic decisions, we have to respect it and work with it. Good transatlantic relations are crucial for us and we will continue to work on strengthening our partnership. At the moment, we are facing many uncertainties.
The new Trump administration is still being formed and we will have to wait for a clear political agenda. Even before the US election, the TTIP negotiations had already been tough. Considering the President-elect’s take on trade, a comprehensive free trade agreement between the EU and the US seems rather remote.
Soft or Hard Brexit?
Prime Minister May’s strategy resembles a “hard Brexit” of rigid border and customs controls to reduce migration and a British withdrawal from the jurisdiction of the ECJ. The European Union’s position is clear: the British objective of restricting the freedom of labour while maintaining full access to the Single Market tries to “square the circle”. Full access to the European market without applying the fundamental freedoms is not possible.
We noticed you have your website in 6 different languages – how much is the EU level communication important for you?
The variety of languages, cultures and traditions is what makes the European Union unique. By now, my website is available in eight different languages to reach as many EU citizens as possible. We should never get tired of explaining the EU to the people. This is why I regularly inform about my work on Facebook, Twitter and my website. By subscribing to my newsletter, you can also receive monthly updates directly in your e-mail inbox.
As a former president of CDU’s Junge Union how do you feel about lack of youth participation and overall interest in politics and what needs to be done to change the negative trend?
When I was district chairman of the Junge Union, I enjoyed the positive energy of our group. Politics affects us all in our everyday lives and it is the youth of today that will change tomorrow. I encourage young people to get involved. Programmes like Erasmus or the newly launched Interrail campaign by Manfred Weber are good initiatives to engage young Europeans.
But there is certainly more that needs to be done. Education is key: How much do children and young adults learn about the EU at school? Often not enough. Therefore, I believe that the history of the European Union and the values it is founded on should be given more space on the curriculum.
Choose one of the following: moules frites or waffles?
Law or Politics?
Politics based on the rule of law.
German or British humor?
British humor in Germany.
Which EPP colleague would you suggest for the next interview? What would be your question for her or him?
For your next interview, I would like to suggest the former President of the European Parliament, Dr. Hans-Gert Pöttering. He initiated the idea of a “House of European History”, which is expected to open in 2017. The question I would like to ask him would be: “Where do you see the European Union in 20 years?”
“I say Europe, you say…?” is a series of candid interviews with centre right movers and shakers of the European project. From legislative work to food preferences, from weekday causes to weekend hobbies, we show you the human face of EU politics and its main protagonists.Centre-Right EU Member States European Union Leadership
I say Europe, you say…? Interview with MEP David McAllister
I Say Europe
17 Jan 2017
The past year has witnessed a major shift in the relationships between the four Central European countries that make up the Visegrád Group. In matters related to migration, the members of the alliance have worked together in Brussels as a cohesive bloc throughout 2016.
But in the wake of Brexit, simmering internal divisions have arisen within this regional alliance over the EU’s future. The Visegrád Group acts as an amplifier, an ad hoc coalition, reinforcing regional positions where they exist. Its diplomatic infrastructure and other structural factors are here to stay, but the key drivers of its stances are now domestic politics and the role of the countries’ leaders.
In the absence of a shared vision for the future of Europe and the role of EU institutions, the honeymoon period seems to be over. A ‘conservative revolution’ in Poland has created an illiberal axis with Hungary, where a sovereigntist narrative holds sway, while the Czech and Slovak governments have maintained a more pragmatic line on the EU. The new risk is that reinventing the EU will come at the expense of (divided) Central Europeans.
Read the full article in the December 2016 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Milan Nic EU Member States European Union Foreign Policy Leadership
The Visegrád Group in the EU: 2016 as a turning-point?
20 Dec 2016
The existence of natural panaceas or silver bullets in diplomatic agreements is currently under examination. Diplomacy has evolved from the classical theories of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, which stressed the importance of objective factors, to modern ideas that highlight the human element as well.
This explains why finding generalised models in diplomatic arrangements was easier in the old forms of diplomacy than in its more modern counterparts. Diplomatic agreements have become increasingly complex, covering many fields beyond conflict in the traditional sense. The Dayton Accords and Minsk Agreements are good examples of this.
This complexity hampers our ability to find a universal formula which can work for all diplomatic situations and agreements. For some scholars a settlement must produce a set of arrangements that lasts for generations, demonstrating robustness and permanence, while for others, the measurement of success is based on the ability of the agreement to meet initial expectations.
Read the full article in the December 2016 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Jorge Mestre-Jorda Foreign Policy Leadership
Are there formulas for successful diplomatic agreements?
19 Dec 2016
On 27 June 2016, the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies Honorary Board held its first meeting.
In the aftermath of the UK Referendum on the EU, the members of the board agreed that now is the time for not less, not more, but a smarter Europe. It has become evident that the EU institutionalism process has not been a satisfactory response for European citizens in furthering European integration.
The meeting was focused on current developments in Europe, on how to (re)shape the EU, not only in today’s context of post-Brexit, but also on how to address the EU’s challenges of migration, terrorism, security and populism.
The Martens Centre newly formed Honorary Board aims to reinforce the expertise background of the organisation, not only for the purpose of enhancing the think tank’s expert profile, but also in order to boost its intellectual capacity, enabling our experts to address the EU’s current and future challenges.
The members of the board are all former prime ministers and former Heads of EU institutions belonging to the EPP family, with a successful track record of country and institutional reforms.
The meeting was attended by Jacques Santer, Herman van Rompuy, Jan Peter Balkenende, John Bruton, Jan Krysztof Bielecki, Andrius Kubilius, Antonio Samaras, Lawrence Gonzi, as well as by president of the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies and former Prime Minister of Slovakia, Mikuláš Dzurinda.
Other board members who could not be present for the first meeting include Jose Maria Aznar, Wolfgang Schussel, Pedro Passos Coelho and Carl Bildt.Centre-Right Leadership
Former Prime Ministers pledge to smarter Europe
29 Jun 2016
As the shock waves continue to pass through Europe following the UK referendum, it is easy to draw a long list of mistakes that UK leading politicians have made. It is equally simple for continental Europeans to place the blame solely on the British and shake their heads at the referendum results.
Already before the referendum, there was a school of thought within the EU that if Brexit happened, the separation should be as painful as possible in able to make sure that no other member states would follow suit. The more isolated the UK would be, the better it would be for European unity, or so the logic goes. However great the temptation towards an angry response, to punch back even, is, it will not help Europe or the EU – nor is it justified.
First of all, the dynamics that led to the disappointing result of UK referendum exist in other EU member states. In fact, there is no guarantee as to how other member states would vote if they held similar referenda. The UK referendum result is mainly a responsibility for UK politicians, but obviously EU leaders and all of us working in promotion of the positive European development have a fair share of responsibility of not being able to show the EU for what it is – a necessity for our continent.
Secondly, even with a strong desire from both the UK and EU sides to have as smooth negotiations as possible, the negotiations will not be easy. The two year timetable set for the completion of an exit is extremely short by any standards. Both in the EU and the UK only general emergency plans were made in case of Brexit, but detailed plans are yet to emerge.
In other words, the challenge today is that we don’t even know all the challenges. 27 member states promoting their individual set of interests and the UK trying to guarantee the best possible deal while undoing 42 years of institutional cooperation will be a painful experience for everybody, even without additional hostility from the EU side.
As a third point of consideration, despite the UK referendum result, the UK is an essential part of the western world and will stay that way. We should not forget that 48.1 % of the UK voters voted in favour of staying in the EU, despite the brutal campaign of misinformation and, at times, plain lies. Reading the text of UK citizens in social media and the articles and op-eds of journalists one understands that very large proportion of UK citizens are not only disappointed or sad, but heartbroken by the direction their country has taken.
“Already before the referendum there was a school of thought within the EU that if Brexit happened, the separation should be as painful as possible in able to make sure that no other member states would follow suit.”
Young people in the UK reacted to the referendum results with deep disappointment. Among citizens 50 years old and under, the Remain option had clear overwhelming support and among 18-24 years old 75% of voters were in support of staying in the EU. The generational divide is evident. Should the UK referendum have taken place ten years later, the Remain side could have had a clear victory.
A very large part of UK sees the importance of European unity, globalisation and openness. That part of the population is an important part of the future make-up of Europe, even if for a couple of years the relation between the UK and the EU will be reflected by this referendum result.
The UK voters have decided the course of their country and we will respect the results. In consequence, we will conduct the exit negotiations with the UK aiming for the most advantageous result for the EU and its 27 member states. In this negotiation, the UK will be considered as an external 3rd country.
However, when those negotiations are over, our goal needs to be to enhance and strengthen the relations with the UK as much as we can, because the values UK holds dear are still the same as those of the 27 member states. We should not discard decades of friendship and trust just because of one unfortunate referendum.Tomi Huhtanen Brexit EU Member States European Union Leadership Trade
Brexit: Revenge on the British will not help Europe
27 Jun 2016
25 years after the foundation of the Visegrad Group is a good time to evaluate its role and to take a look at its current functioning within the EU. A historic goal of the group was already fulfilled, as all four states; Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia are now members of the EU and NATO.
The Visegrad Group played an important role in 1998 when it strongly supported Slovakia, which was internationally isolated after the government of Vladimír Mečiar. Slovaks could thus catch up with the integration process. Later, they showed their will to grow in a regional context, but also to be credible, even if sometimes also difficult partners within the EU (particularly in the negotiations on the EU budget, or in pursuit of national interests).
The Visegrad Group did not focus only on their interests, but also responsibly took on a regional role. Its support focused on the Western Balkans and the Eastern Partnership countries. European integration of those countries is a long-term priority on the Visegrad group agenda. It is no secret that Slovenia has tried for a long time to become a member of this regional club. This only demonstrates the weight and prestige of the club.
Regional partnerships have a very strong tradition in Europe. Whether Benelux, Nordic cooperation or the Visegrad Group, all of them serve to strengthen the EU further. They create a balance especially between small and big countries. Every community needs such healthy tension, because it forces players to make compromises and seek the best possible solutions for the whole community.
Unfortunately, any positive result of the Visegrad Group´s cooperation is currently overshadowed by its attitude to the migration crisis. The policy endorsed by the Visegard Group on the issue rightfully raises a concern. This attitude neither solves the problem, nor does it defend the countries and their citizens, as leaders of these countries like to present.
The refugee crisis and its impact are not a short-term phenomenon. The problem will not be solved, on the contrary, it will deepen if they are not willing to listen to each other and patiently seek for a common solution from the very beginning. The consequences can be fatal for the entire community.
The attitude of the Visegrad Group portrays them as fair-weather Europeans. They do not yet have the tools to deal with bad weather. Unfortunately, this is the reality, although the reasons of this attitude can be different, from historical to mental or political.
Historically, it is well known that ethnicity was often a source of unrests in Central Europe. From a psychological point of view, the former Soviet bloc countries are still closed societies. There is a lack of education and a lack of system methods on how to integrate people from other cultures. We should not forget that these countries still have a huge problem with the integration of their Roma minority.
Thus, it is difficult to imagine and even more difficult to implement the integration of people from completely different backgrounds. However, the most likely reason for this attitude is politics.
The leaders of these countries selfishly abused the refugee crisis in order to gain political capital. Many of them have built their whole electoral campaigns and long term strategies with a sole purpose: to remain on the political scene for as long as possible. They do not struggle with the fact that, more than 25 years after the fall of communism, they have created a new enemy and they have showed their resistance to Brussels, in a manner that certainly pleases Russia.
Regarding the quotas, there has already been a lot said. The Visegrad group countries, but also others who refused the quotas system should realise the fact that it is a temporary redistribution of burden, not a long term solution for migration.
The proposed redistribution is very favourable for small countries. If they show a will to share the burden now, they will help create a space for a more conceptual, long-term solution for migration. Unfortunately, the quotas themselves put us into a vicious circle.
Instead of focusing on protecting the EU external borders and seeking solutions how to prevent further immigration waves into Europe, we have focused on how to punish those who will not accept the quotas. I believe the latest proposal of the European Commission in this regard will increase the gap among EU countries.
We all know we have a problem. The question is, where should we start tackling it from? Firstly, we should respond to three basic questions: Do we want to remain in the European club? What kind of club do we want? Are we willing to invest in this club? If so, it’s time for a compromise.
The older members should listen more and try to understand the arguments of the new member states. I know that reconciling the heterogeneous interests of a large community is difficult, but this is the only way to keep the EU project alive. It is also important to show political will and initiative on the part of small and new members.
Slovakia taking over the rotating Presidency of the EU this July is a good timing to do just this. They have an excellent opportunity to come up with solutions on migration issues and to build wide EU support for them. Denouncing and rejecting proposals is not a sustainable strategy: we must show that we are not only recipients of EU policies, but also initiators and contributors.
Former Soviet bloc countries should inherently insist on maintaining a common European future. Regional cooperation is good and necessary; it can be meaningful and beneficial but only when its enforcement is not only regional, but also European. We should not forget that countries like France and Germany will cope with crises more rapidly than the rest of Europe. Small states near Russia however could quickly find themselves back to where they once were. I do hope that this will not be the case.Viktória Jančošeková EU Member States Immigration Leadership Migration
Visegrad at 25: time to show European leadership
08 Jun 2016
Security and defence have become the new front lines of the European project. The time has come to build a Security and Defence Union capable of delivering security to Europe’s citizens and the wider continent in a challenging international environment.
It should be based on five qualitative leaps: a security strategy for Europe, an institutional revamp, renewed military ambition, integration of defence capabilities and a new partnership with NATO.
With the forthcoming Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy, the follow-up ‘white book’–process and the Commission’s defence action plan, 2016 offers the strategic sequence necessary for the Union to move forward.
Read the full articlein the June 2016 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Georg Emil Riekeles Defence Leadership Security
Georg Emil Riekeles
A Security and Defence Union
08 Jun 2016
‘Europe has never been so prosperous, so secure nor so free.’ Even if they still partly ring true today, the first words of the 2003 European Security Strategy would probably not be written in 2016. The context in which we think about security and formulate strategies has changed dramatically. Since 2003 the EU has expanded by 13 member states and NATO by 9 member states. The Lisbon Treaty has created new Common Security and Defence Policy institutions, and introduced a mutual defence clause, invoked for the first time last year.
Moreover, revolutions in Eastern Europe and in the Arab world have radically changed our neighbourhood. We have witnessed a financial and economic crisis, Russia’s armed aggression against Ukraine, the rise of the so-called Islamic State, violent terrorist attacks in the very heart of Europe and a refugee crisis unprecedented since the Second World War. The instruments and institutions of European security stem from a different time and are not able to deal with the world’s changed realities. To adapt, the EU needs a new strategy, and new tools to implement it.
In our neighbourhood, Russia has increasingly used military means to achieve political goals. As you will be able to read in this issue of the European View, Europeans differ on how to deal with Russian aggression and whether NATO should provide permanent forces in Eastern Europe, thereby reassuring the Baltic countries, Poland and others. Our answer, however, must be firmly rooted in our transatlantic alliance and must abide by international law.
Recognising the de jure annexation of Crimea by Russia would represent a diminution of European security. Reaffirming the rule of law vis-à-vis Russia and strengthening our security partnerships are essential to guaranteeing our common security. As Prime Minister of Slovakia, I strived to bring my country into the EU and NATO. I have myself witnessed the strength that lies in our transatlantic and European partnerships.
The barbaric attacks in Paris and Brussels were attacks on our Western and European communities. It is Europe’s values and ways of life that are under threat. Our response must therefore be a European one, made in cooperation with our allies. European security and defence could become the new driving force of the EU, especially in this time of rising Euroscepticism and disillusionment with Europe. The time has come to place European security at the forefront of the European project.
In the wake of such tragic events, we all have an important responsibility to propose concrete solutions on how best to strengthen European security. The authors in this issue offer suggestions on how to assure cybersecurity, formulate a digital foreign policy, improve intelligence sharing, and establish a real Security and Defence Union. They also clarify the role institutions, such as NATO and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, should play.
This issue of the European View delivers important contributions to the debate about a new European security strategy. We are witnessing a defining moment in European security. Defending our citizens is not only fundamentally important: it is literally a matter of survival.Mikuláš Dzurinda Leadership Security
European security: a defining moment?
07 Jun 2016
The possibility of a Dail being elected tomorrow where no feasible combination of parties will be able to form a government is unfortunately quite high. Party leaders were incessantly pressed by the media and others during the campaign into ruling out coalition options.
There was no space allowed for “constructive ambiguity”, although Irish people know well that, without “constructive ambiguity” in the short term, we might have had no peace process in the long term. Media interest and public interest are not always identical.
The questions asked by moderators in the leaders’ debates seemed to focus heavily on catching leaders out about things they said or did in the past rather than on their thoughts about the future, which is what is really important now. Some of the issues pursued were trivial, like the appointment of a member to the board of an art gallery.
It is almost as if the moderators wanted to ask questions about the past because they were themselves uncomfortable dealing with challenges about the future, like:
- the ballooning cost of health services, relative to resources available
- the looming pensions crisis, where numbers at work will decline relative to numbers on pension
- the changes required of Ireland to meet its climate change obligations
- what the leaders would do, next June, if the UK leaves the EU
- the shape of the 2017 budget ( all the focus was on what might be possible in 2021!)
- what the leaders would do if, when the Dail meets, no combination of parties, willing to coalesce with one another, could attain a majority
- how long could we go without a government, if one is not elected on 10 March
These are not very original questions, but they are the ones voters should be thinking about.John Bruton Elections EU Member States Leadership
Eve of Irish election prognosis
25 Feb 2016
The concessions the UK is winning to encourage its citizens to vote to stay in the EU could make the EU even more complicated than it is. They could slow down decision making still further, at the very time when problems are becoming more, not less urgent. This would not be “Reform”. Yet David Cameron says he wants the keep the UK in what he calls a “reformed European Union”.
Already the UK is exempt from joining the euro, exempt from the common border rules of Schengen and does not have to take part in EU activities to combat crime (although it can opt into these on a pick and mix basis). It is a semi-detached member of the EU, which makes it harder for the UK to exercise leadership in the EU.
Now the UK is seeking, and may be granted at a Summit next Thursday, new concessions. These concessions are being sought because UK public opinion is convinced that the EU is undemocratic and should be curbed. They are convinced the only locus of true democracy for the UK is Westminster.
The truth is that neither the EU, nor Westminster are a perfect expression of democracy. In Westminster a party can have an overall majority of the seats with only 37% of the vote. In the EU, while the members of the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers each have democratic mandates, the people of Europe have only a very indirect vote on who is to be the President of the European Commission. EU voters, unlike Westminster voters, do not have a sense that they can throw the EU government out of office.
But, instead of focussing on how to make the EU level governance more democratic, UK negotiators have concentrated on enhancing the capacity of the 28 national parliaments to block EU law making. Given that the UK is a global player, one would have expected it instead to focus on making global and EU wide governance more democratic, rather than slowing things down or simply repatriating powers to the national level.
NEW OBSTACLES TO EU LAWMAKING DO NOT EQUAL “REFORM”
As part of the package devised to respond to UK requests, EU rules are to be changed to allow 55% of national parliaments to apply to have an EU law blocked before it has been properly considered by the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. This “Red Card” power is to be exercised within 12 weeks of the law having been presented at EU level. This blockage is supposed to be grounded on a claim that the EU law breaches to principle of “subsidiarity”.
Subsidiarity is a philosophical concept around which there can be so many differences of opinion, that it does not constrain this blocking mechanism being used for reasons of pure political opportunism. One could easily envisage an EU law that had been introduced to open up the EU market for legal services being opposed virulently by lawyers in every member state. Or one could imagine an EU law to open up the energy market across borders being opposed by high cost producers in a number of states.
As it is, the lawyers and the energy companies can, and do, already fight such laws in the European Commission before they are presented, and then in the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament while they are being debated, voted upon, and compromised in and between Parliament and Council. Now, to allay UK worries, a new field of operation is being opened up for the lobbyists who want to stop an EU law: the 28 national parliaments of the EU.
EU lobbyists will now be tempted to open offices in the capitals of all member states, so that they can be ready to lobby on behalf of clients to persuade members of national parliaments to use of the Red Card to stop a future EU law a client might not like.
Parliamentary majorities can change and many EU countries are governed by coalitions or minority governments, so one could envisage EU lobbyists seeking to exploit domestic inter party rivalries, or domestic instability, to win support for the use of a Red Card by a national parliament.
All national parliaments are equal in this system, so the 55% blocking vote could come from countries that represent only a small minority of the EU population. It is therefore surprising that the UK, which is a big country, is championing this mechanism.
It is also surprising for another reason. The UK is primarily an exporter of services rather than goods. It is in the area of services, rather than goods, that the EU Single market is furthest from completion. Therefore, services is an area where the EU will need to pass the most laws to sweep aside national restrictions on competition from other EU states.
As a services exporter, the UK would have much more to gain than to lose from the EU Services liberalisation legislation. Yet it is the UK which is seeking a red card that would make it easier for opponents of liberalisation to delay and block EU liberalisation legislation!
PREVENTING THE EURO ZONE TO ACT QUICKLY IN A CRISIS DOES NOT CONSTITUTE “REFORM”
Another proposed concession to the UK could also complicate EU decision making on economic and financial matters. Here the UK concern is about rules being made to govern the euro, which might inhibit UK financial operators making full use of the euro zone market.
On the other hand, as we have learned from the crisis, banking problems in one jurisdiction infect others very easily. UK and US banks were exposed by the Greek crisis and did not complain when EU action protected their interests!
The EU authorities may have to act very quickly if there is a new banking crisis. The EU banking union is not complete, especially as far as deposit insurance is concerned. Yet to satisfy the UK, it is now proposed that a member state, like the UK, that is not in the euro zone, be free to appeal a proposed EU law, which is proposed to safeguard the euro, to the European Council (where it may be able to veto it).
This is despite the fact that it is also proposed, in the special package for the UK, that non euro members are to be freed of any financial obligation for euro area costs and that in non-euro zone countries, supervision of banks be a “matter for their own authorities” according to the text.
The proposed procedure would allow a non-euro member, like the UK, to delay an EU law that is needed, in the view of the states that are in the euro, to safeguard their currency or to ensure the solvency and proper supervision of their banks, in the interests of customers and depositors.
It is unclear what happens when the appeal is brought to the European Council. The European Council usually decides issues by unanimity, so one could envisage an urgent EU law to safeguard the euro or the euro zone economy being vetoed there by the UK, which was not even in the euro. This is giving the UK power without responsibility.
The proposal for the UK does say that “member states whose currency is not the euro shall not impede the implementation of legal acts linked to the functioning of the euro area and shall refrain from measures which could jeopardise the attainment of the objectives of the economic and monetary union”. But these are all matters of judgement on which it may not be easy to find unanimity, especially when time is short, and national interests collide.
BRITAIN SHOULD RAISE ITS SIGHTS
For the past two millennia, Britain has had a vital interest in the peace and prosperity of continental Europe. It has gone to war many times to preserve it. English is the language of EU governance. The EU Single Market is a modern application of the ideas of Adam Smith.
Two hundred years ago, when European states were much less interdependent than today and were recovering from the Napoleonic Wars, the then UK Foreign Secretary, Lord Castlereagh, persuaded the European powers to make, in his words, “a systematic pledge of preserving concert among the leading powers and a refuge under which all minor states may look to find their security”. While his views on Ireland were mistaken, Castlereagh’s views on Europe were not.
Rather than seeking a series of further exemptions and so called “reforms” that will slow even further an already complex EU lawmaking system, David Cameron should follow Castlereagh’s example and set out his country’s own comprehensive vision for the peace and prosperity of Europe.
Then he might give himself a chance of winning the Referendum he has chosen to have.John Bruton EU Member States European Union Leadership
David Cameron and the courage of real reform
15 Feb 2016
As a consequence of the dramatic events in 1989 and the fall of the Berlin wall in Europe, the introduction of the Euro and the speedy EU enlargement some years later gave an impression that the EU’s future development would continue at a very rapid pace.
Those years were also a source of optimism and inspiration for EU integrationists, who realised that EU integration could and had to move forward quickly. The assumption was that the end result would be, in a relatively short amount of time, something close to a political and economic union.
Meanwhile, however, memories of the 2nd word war started to fade away and the stated purpose of the European Union as a guarantor for peace started to have less meaning for the voters. In most cases, peace in Europe was taken for granted. On the other hand, as the European Union started to develop, it started to have an influence on the national sovereignty of EU member states.
In addition to these developments, Europe’s long term economic prospects, demographic changes and rapid globalisation created worrying concern. While globalisation provided many opportunities for European firms, it also had a profound impact on many areas of citizen life, which was perceived by many as a threat. Citizens felt that the European Union had not been able to perform in relation to the big challenges facing the economy and security in Europe.
As a result, the idea of a united Europe became less and less convincing. The ongoing crisis within the European Union was understood as a crisis of the future existence of the European Union – and the question of whether or not the European Union had a long term future emerged.
In his article on the development of the EU, Steven Hill made a point to compare the development of the United States with the development of the European Union. He emphasised the fact that severe crises, even existential, were essential to the development of the US. It took around 80 years before the idea that the US would be one country became accepted by mainstream thinking.
Before reaching that point, the US had to deal with the fact that, in the beginning, there were various currencies, various religions and various languages which citizens could not unite around. Only after various financial crises and one civil war did it become clear that the US would be accepted as a single national project by everybody. Similarly, Hill points out that we should not see European integration as a technical process, but rather as a cultural and social one, which by definition will take decades rather than years to achieve.
Can we accept the fact, just maybe, that the EU will become both psychologically and emotionally important for the people in the distant future, much like a nation state is today? And if so, what shall we do in the meantime?
Offering “More Europe” as a solution for problems may resonate well in many establishments, but obviously it has become less and less popular as an argument for the voters. In fact, if we look now at the rise of populist parties and the challenges that the EU is currently facing on many fronts, it seems unlikely that the EU will move forward very quickly in its integration process.
But the EU has been taking great steps in integration throughout the last 7-8 years. The motivation for that was not found “values” or in a principle based debate, but rather in the need to quickly create instruments to tackle urgent challenges of the economic crisis.
What we, those who are in favour of a closely-integrated Europe, need to accept is that, before we find a solution to the challenging questions of security and economy, it is rather meaningless to focus on bold visions of the future of Europe when communicating with citizens– because the popular support is just not there today. The EU has a toolbox, rich with instruments, so we need to concentrate on solutions with instruments that we currently have.
Secondly, we need to challenge our thinking of the linear development of the EU and be ready for unorthodox ideas. The idea of a united Europe is a precious one, but it should not be taken as a religion. A dogmatic approach is futile. Situations and conditions will change, so the EU needs to be able to adapt.
Comparing the idea of a united Europe to the Soviet Union is unfair and incorrect, but nevertheless, some historic lessons can be drawn. The Soviet Union did stick to its communist ideals rigidly almost to the very end and did try to adapt too little too late. As a result, the system broke down. In contrast, China came to terms with reality and took a path clearly contradicting its original communist ideology. The result: the Soviet Union collapsed but China became a global superpower. The lesson: you should be ready to challenge your basic assumptions, even if those assumptions are very dear to you.
We should not be scared if the solutions we find now do not correspond strictly to views on the EU as they were presented a half century ago. The reality that we face will force us to accept options which today may seem unconventional. As an example, the sacred token of the EU, Schengen, is today de facto only partly functioning and we need to redesign that basic element of the EU. Furthermore, if the UK would leave the EU, we would be forced to rethink the entire European construction.
The European Union is not only about technical and political decisions, but it is also about the psychology of the people – commitment, emotions and feelings. What we are asking nations and people to do is to commit to each other in a manner unseen in human history. While some of the positive sentiment is already there, it needs time to grow. We now realise that this will take decades, maybe even more than a lifetime.
So what is left of the dream of a united Europe? If we who believe in the united Europe stick to our main argument that deeper cooperation among European states is the only way to deal with the global challenges that we face, then there is a future for deeper European integration. For example, the majority of European citizens are unsure of rapid integration but a great majority agree that the dilemmas which we face, namely the refugee crisis, ongoing terrorist threats, and Russia’s challenge, need to be met with stronger cooperation from within the EU.
People are today reluctant to accept deeper integration, but are very willing to accept a model on which they have the confidence to provide a solution even if it means strengthening the EU’s level of cooperation. Therefore, the main issue is to focus on the problems. While the EU’s institutional set up is relevant, it is secondary.
We need to accept that that the development of the EU will be done to some extent by trial and error and we should not panic when setbacks happen. Let us not live in denial. It is possible that the Schengen area will be reduced temporarily, or it is even possible that Brexit will occur. But let us go beyond defeatist pessimism. Those events may seem dramatic if they happen, but if we employ a longer historical perspective, we can understand these events as invitations to recalibrate our common European institutions and political instruments.
We will not find a new narrative for the European Union as, at the moment, there is no overarching story to sell the tale of a united Europe. If one existed, it would have already been found. In order to gain the support of European citizens, it will be necessary to find solutions to the challenges, case-by-case, and communicate our success stories to the rest of the world – and that is the narrative and vision that the majority of Europeans can agree upon.Tomi Huhtanen European Union Euroscepticism Leadership
What future for the EU? Beyond pessimism and denial
22 Jan 2016
In a recent interview on the television show 60 Minutes, US President Barack Obama was questioned about the challenge that Russia’s move into Syria represented to his leadership. Obama brushed off the question, saying Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin was acting out of weakness and that the need to prop up President Assad was a sign that the Syrian dictator was losing his grip.
More strikingly, the president added: ‘if you think that running your economy into the ground [referring to the Russian economy] and having to send troops in order to prop up your only ally is leadership, then we’ve got a different definition of leadership. My definition of leadership would be leading on climate change, an international accord that potentially we’ll get in Paris’ (60 Minutes 2015). This sense of priority might have surprised the audience, especially given the context of the ongoing Syrian tragedy.
More than six years into office, observers are still at pains to define Obama’s foreign policy vision, the philosophy guiding his actions on the international stage. Is the president mostly motivated by domestic aims? To what extent can his foreign policy be defined by a doctrine, and how does it fit into American traditions? Despite the hope created by Obama’s election in 2008, European policymakers have often found the US president disengaged, even aloof.
Early decisions such as the ‘reset’ with Russia, the decision to scrap the missile defence sites in Poland and the Czech Republic, or the long and largely unilateral Afghanistan review have fuelled this narrative. Understanding the president’s vision thus matters greatly to Europeans and transatlantic relations, not only as a way to engage Washington in Obama’s last year in office, but to gauge the potential for change and continuity after the end of his second term.
Henry Kissinger, in Diplomacy, describes US foreign policy as oscillating between the traditions of its first two internationalist presidents, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, between a belief in the need to defend US national interests and balance power politics, and an almost messianic self-proclaimed mission to promote liberal democracy (Kissinger 1994). Where does Obama fit into this? He has alternately been called an ‘idealist’ (French 2014) and a ‘realist’ (Kaplan 2014). Some claim that he himself does not know and that it is more than time to choose (Drezner 2013).
The concentrated and opaque nature of decision-making at the White House makes it difficult to deduce the foreign policy vision of a president from the views of his main cabinet members. While the G.W. Bush administration (especially in the first term) was famous for its turf battles between strong personalities such as Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleeza Rice, Dick Cheney and Colin Powell (Mann 2004), Obama seems firmly in charge of foreign policy, relying on a close-knit group of advisers.
In the case of the conflict in Ukraine, for example, while Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Secretary of State John Kerry both signalled their support for the delivery of weaponry to Kyiv to sustain the Russian invasion, the president decided against this course of action, firmly set against any risk of escalation with Moscow.
As a recent Politico article noted: ‘Obama’s West Wing inner circle serves as a brick wall against dissenting views. The president’s most senior advisers—including National Security Adviser Susan Rice and White House chief of staff Denis McDonough—reflect the president’s wariness of escalated U.S. action related to Syria or Russia and, officials fear, fail to push Obama to question his own deeply rooted assumptions’ (Crowley 2015). While Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN, is known for her work on the prevention of genocide and mass atrocities (encapsulated in her book A Problem from Hell), it is unlikely she has much say over decision-making today.
Read the full FREE article published in the December 2015 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.Benjamin Haddad Foreign Policy Leadership Transatlantic
Is there an Obama doctrine?
14 Dec 2015
In these turbulent times, we very much need allies, partners and friends we can rely on and work with. Our partnerships have to be based on trust and a vision, but also on concrete cooperation—political, economic, military and cultural. The US and Europe have been natural partners from the start. Over time they have created a common space where the values of human dignity, freedom and responsibility, and solidarity are paramount. These values are now being threatened by independent groups of violent extremists, who are spreading terror worldwide, and by non-democratic regimes that are challenging our liberal-democratic order.
The US and Europe need to continue to stand their ground and be strong together. We have to defend what we believe in and assist others who cannot defend themselves. As prime minister of Slovakia, I have personally experienced the success of transatlantic cooperation. The vision of transatlantic unity between the US and Western Europe has brought democracy and a sustainable economy to Central and Eastern Europe.
The region has come a long way, but we can never sit still. I see unnerving developments in some of the neighbouring countries, and it reminds me that we need to continually reach higher: to keep liberal democracy as the basis of our societies, where non-governmental organisations and political parties can freely develop and play active roles.
Still recovering from the economic crisis, Europe and the US need to push harder to get back to the standard of living they enjoyed before 2008. There can be no doubt that our common economic agenda is driven by the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Not only will TTIP bring us more jobs and economic growth, but it will also enable us to set high standards for products. And if it includes an investor–state dispute settlement clause, then—despite what the treaty’s opponents would have us believe—TTIP will strengthen the rule of law.
This is because it will protect both states and companies by providing for the minimum standard of treatment required under international law. Therefore, it is rather unsettling that TTIP is facing so much hostility. As partners, the US and Europe need to proceed in the conviction that what we are doing will benefit both parties to the negotiations. It is important that our citizens should also be convinced of this. A strong communication strategy should be put in place to make TTIP opponents see the flaws in their reasoning.
The US and the EU have sometimes approached foreign policy very differently, but their aim has always been the same: to secure a free and safe world. We need to determine how we can best cooperate with rising powers such as Russia, China and Iran. But if necessary, we must endeavour to compel them to respect human dignity and democracy. The West’s foreign policy goals have sometimes been frustrated by its energy needs.
The US’s energy revolution and the EU’s policy of energy diversification may ease this tension a little. However, our growing energy independence cannot become a reason to retreat from the responsibilities we have regarding the citizens of countries that are rich in energy but lacking in freedom.
This issue of the European View addresses the urgent problems outlined above. As we consider the transatlantic relationship, we should bear the following in mind: what challenges lie ahead, what can we learn from each other and what is the way forward?
The transatlantic partnership is strong. We are partners with the same goal on the horizon: a whole and free world.This editorial was originally published in the December 2015 issue of the European View, Martens Centre’s policy journal.Mikuláš Dzurinda EU-US Foreign Policy Leadership Transatlantic
Revitalising transatlantic relations
08 Dec 2015
Prime Minister David Cameron’s letter to European Council President Donald Tusk about the renegotiation of the terms of UK membership of the EU shows that he has invested time in trying to understand the perspective of other EU states. This is good.
That said, the timing of this renegotiation is bad, because the EU has so many other politically difficult problems on its plate just now, problems from which the UK has excluded itself, namely:
- the refugee crisis and the threat it poses to free movement within the Schengen zone
- the fact that a number of EU states are at risk of breaching the terms of the fiscal compact on debt reduction and fiscal deficits.
A supportive attitude by the UK on the resolution of these EU wide problems would help create the impression that the UK is, potentially at least, in the EU for the long haul, which would make it worthwhile for other members to go all the way to their bottom lines in attempting to meet the UK’s requests.
It is welcome that David Cameron’s letter says that he is open to “different ways of achieving the result” he sets out in his letter. It is also welcome that he seeks to put his proposals in a context of “reforms that would benefit the European Union as a whole”. He further says that it “matters to all of us that the Eurozone succeeds”.
Although David Cameron has expressed similar sentiments himself before, these sentiments have not been prominent in much of the general UK debate on the EU, which has often tended to treat the EU as something alien and a matter of indifference to the UK, which objectively it is not. Occasionally in the UK debate, “schadenfreude” has trumped UK interests.
David Cameron’s approach is shaped by the contents of the Conservative Party Manifesto. It is a response to an expression of identity politics, which is a form of politics on which compromise is inherently very difficult indeed, as we know from Irish history. David Cameron’s letter deals with four sets of issue, and I will deal with each in turn.
On Economic Governance of the EU, David Cameron says that:
- the integrity of the Single Market for non Eurozone countries must be protected
- that non Eurozone countries must not be liable for operations to support the Euro as a currency
- that the financial supervision of banks must remain a matter exclusively for national institutions in the non Eurozone countries and that
- any issues that affect all member states must be decided by all member states.
I am not sure that these issues can be as neatly separated as David Cameron suggests. For example, the bailout of Greece by the EU and the IMF was not just an operation in “support of the euro as a currency”. If Greece had gone under, UK banks would have been hit hard.
Furthermore, it is arguable that, even if it is not in the euro, the UK had a greater obligation to help a fellow EU member, in the situation Greece was in, than had (say) the United States. After all, the UK, even if not in the euro, as a member of the EU, had agreed to treat economic policy as a “matter of common concern” with all other EU states, including Greece, under Article 121 of the EU Treaty.
Furthermore, the UK has had power to join fellow members in warning member states like Greece if they were deviating from agreed economic policies under Articles 121 (4), and under Article 126 . Non EU states were not in that position. In light of those articles, it is hard to see that the UK, as an EU non euro member, could say it has no more responsibility for helping Greece, than has a country that is not in the EU at all. If the UK wants that to be the position, its role in EU economic governance under article 120, 121 and subsequent articles of the Treaty should be changed.
David Cameron also asks in his letter that the EU “do more to fulfil its commitment to the free flow of capital”, presumably across the whole of the EU and not just within the Eurozone. That sits uncomfortably beside his insistence that the Bank of England alone be involved in supervising UK banks lending across borders into the rest of the EU, including the Eurozone.
As we in Ireland know, unsupervised flows of capital can contribute to bubbles in another country, and if those bubbles were to burst, none of the countries involved would escape the pain, including the countries whose banks had been lending the money, even if those countries were not members of the Eurozone.
His principle that “any issues that affect all member states must be decided by all member states” is very widely drawn. Few EU decisions affect all members in precisely the same way. This principle could be interpreted to mean that the UK should have a vote on all Eurozone decisions. Virtually all Euro zone decisions will affect the UK to some limited and indirect extent , not least because the UK does so much business with the Eurozone. This is so even though David Cameron insists the UK will not be financially liable for any of those decisions.
In a sense, his request could amount to the Boston Tea Party demand in reverse, namely as a demand for “representation without taxation”.
David Cameron makes an interesting proposal under the heading of Competitiveness. It is potentially a big opportunity for Europe. I hope it will be strengthened and emphasised in the negotiations. His proposal is that the EU should “bring together all the different proposals , promises and agreements on the Single Market, on trade and on cutting regulation, into a clear long term commitment to boost the competitiveness of the EU, and drive jobs and growth for all”.
This idea of a big competitiveness package, as a price for continuing UK membership of the EU, could be used to drive through changes that have been stalled for years by inertia in individual member states. In Germany, for example, the implementation of Single Market rules is often blocked at the level of the Lander. France is another country that could do more to open its market to EU competition, to the advantage of French consumers.
If the British are to get a credible package on competitiveness, it may be necessary to demand prior enactment package of measures at national level, in all member states, in the same way as the Greeks had to pass certain laws, before they could get access to bailout funds. There is, however, one aspect of David Cameron’s letter which could potentially run directly counter to his desire to complete the Single Market.
This is a proposal he makes under the heading of “Sovereignty”.
Under this heading, David Cameron proposes that a group of national parliaments, presumably a minority, should be able to come together to stop what he calls “unwanted” (EU) legislative proposals.
This idea that a minority could block a majority would alter the entire dynamic of EU decision making. It would make it hostage to the vagaries of national electoral politics in a new and unpredictable way. We should not forget that Lord Cockfield, the UK Commissioner, would never have been able to create the EU Single goods market, without the majority voting created by the Single European Act.
his proposal is actually as likely to be used against UK interests as in favour of what the UK wants under the heading of Competiveness. It is easy to envisage such a veto mechanism being used by a sufficient number of national Parliaments of other EU states to block legislative proposals to complete the Single Services Market or the Single Digital Market, both of which David Cameron wants, to protect some national vested interest.
A solution might be to exempt all Single Market related legislation from this blocking mechanism. Another solution might be to associate all national parliaments with the EU legislative process in a manner similar to the involvement of the Economic and Social Council or the Committee of the Regions, but without creating a new veto point.
David Cameron also wants the UK exempted from the commitment to “ever closer union”. This phrase has been in all EU Treaties since the UK joined and was in the EU Treaty when the people of Great Britain and Northern Ireland voted in a referendum to stay in the EU in 1975. Essentially the UK wants to “constitutionalise” the idea that there are two types of EU members: those committed to “closer union” and those who are not committed to it.
This is a formal recognition that there is a “two speed” EU. This idea may be welcome by some big states but not by smaller ones. If Britain is exempted from the commitment to ever closer union, it is not hard to imagine that other EU countries will demand a similar exemption. He says he wants this distinction to be “irreversible”, which implies that a future UK government could not decide to commit itself to ever closer union in future, without getting the permission of all other EU states, by means of a Treaty change, or the amendment of a protocol (which is the same thing legally speaking).
This runs counter to David Cameron’s own expressed wish for flexibility in the UKs relationship with the EU. The notion of legal irreversibility is contrary to the British constitutional tradition itself, which declares that Parliament is not trammelled by external legal constraints. A legal device can probably be found to accommodate this request but it does raise a wider question of whether the UK will ever be satisfied.
The UK already has special arrangements on the euro, on passport controls and on Justice and Home Affairs. The more exemptions it gets, the more exemptions it seems to want. Will this renegotiation/referendum process result in a full and final settlement, or will it just be an instalment This is not a mere debating point. If the UK will keep coming back for more, the EU will never settle down. Indeed other member states may not be prepared to go all the way to their bottom line, if they feel whatever they offer could never satisfy UK public opinion.
Immigration is the area in David Cameron’s letter which has attracted the most comment. There is no doubt that the UK has been more open to immigration in the past than have many other EU states. This is partly because English is a second language for people from all over the world. The restraint David Cameron is proposing will not change that.
Clearly, if one does not like immigration, the fact that English is a second language for so many of the world’s population has disadvantages, as well as advantages. On the other hand, the cost of living in London and the south east of England is already a strong deterrent to immigration to that part of the UK.
David Cameron wants, if the UK remains in the EU, to be able to require that people coming to the UK from other EU states (presumably including from Ireland) must have lived in the UK for four years before they qualify for in work benefits or social housing. If this four year principle is accepted, it could be implemented in all other EU states for other purposes as well.
David Cameron also wants to “end the practice of sending child benefit overseas”, which presumably means that an Irish worker in the UK could no longer get child benefit for his children, if the children are living in Ireland. The principle of not “sending benefits overseas”, if accepted , could conceivably be applied to pensions, which would affect the UK pensioners living in Spain.
If one has to live four years in another EU country to get benefits, access to health services could also be denied to people living in another EU country. David Cameron then acknowledges that these issues are “difficult for other member states”. This is a revealingly narrow way of putting it. In his speech, David Cameron mentions “other member states” but does NOT mention Article 45 of the EU Treaty, which covers free movement of workers within the EU.
Article 45 bans “any discrimination based on nationality as regards employment, remuneration and other conditions of work and employment”. There is no reference in this Treaty Article to any qualifying period of residence to be free of such discrimination. In the UK, tax credit payments are dependent on worker’s hours worked and income, and whether they have children.
So restricting them would amount to discrimination in income, between a UK citizen and EU immigrant, doing the same job in the UK. It would presumably apply to Irish workers in the UK who have been there for less than 4 years. It will be difficult for an Irish Government to consent to this. I would have expected David Cameron to have directly addressed the interpretation of Article 45 of the EU Treaties, rather than pretending the difficulty is with “other member states”. By targeting in work benefits so explicitly, David Cameron has left himself very little room for manoeuvre in light of the provisions of that Article.
Indeed there were reports on the BBC this morning that the UK Government is now considering applying the 4 year rule to UK residents as well, which could mean that young, new UK born entrants to the UK labour market may not qualify for in work benefits until they have been working for 4 years. That would create a whole new swathe of people inclined to vote for the UK to leave the EU.
This negotiation will not be easy. Sides have already been taken in the UK , regardless of what may be conceded in response to David Cameron’s letter. The impact on the EU itself, of a possible UK exit, is incalculable. So also are the effects of the precedent the UK is setting, and the consequences for the EU, of conceding some the UK requests. Solving this politically generated problem will require statesmanship and imagination of a very high order indeed. Keeping the UK in the EU is a vital matter for Ireland and for Europe.
Speech by John Bruton, former Taoiseach and former EU Ambassador to the United States at a seminar on “Free Movement and Labour Mobility in the European Union” organised by the Institute of European Democrats on Friday 13 November 2015.John Bruton EU Member States Euroscepticism Eurozone Leadership
How difficult will it be to keep the UK in the EU?
13 Nov 2015
Power is decaying everywhere. In business, politics, the military, religion and even in chess, jokes economist Moisés Naím pointing at the decline of Russian supremacy in this field. In The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being in Charge Isn’t What It Used To Be (2013) Naím argues his case with compelling evidence, while making an obvious reference to Francis Fukuyama’s classic book The End of History and the Last Man.
A book in which the American political scientist saw the triumph of Western liberal democracy after the Cold War as a possible end point of mankind’s ideological evolution. Does the ambitious reference live up to its promise then? The author surely comes close to that.
He kicks off by presenting a very clear definition of power as ‘the ability to direct or prevent the current or future actions of other groups and individuals.’ ‘Power’, he says, ‘has a social function. Its role is not just to enforce domination or to create winners and losers: it also organises communities, societies, marketplaces, and the world.’ This refined analysis proves to be an indispensable foundation for his conclusions later on.
When debating the issue of ‘power’ Naím does not forget to mention the patriarch of power theory: 17th century political philosopher Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes said that ‘during the time men live without a common power, a Leviathan to keep them all in awe, they are in that position which is called war and such a war as is of every man against every man.’
These days, the world is confronted with power shifts, secularization and a steady decline of traditional institutions. According to the author, the current Leviathan is therefore nowhere to be found and with this statement he does have a point.
In business, for example, the market power of large firms has declined due to global competition in emerging economies. Large enterprises like Nokia and Yahoo have lost their significance, and it is clear that the future belongs to creative small firms and dynamic technological companies. Power in the corporate sector is diminishing and harder to hold on to when you get it.
The monopoly position once held by traditional political parties as spokesperson for society’s grievances, hopes and demands has been eroded. In Europe especially, the influence of traditional political parties is fading rapidly: on average only around 4.7 per cent of the national electorates are members of a political party today.
This trend has paved the way for the success of ad hoc, fast paced, electoral machines. Some extremist parties are also profiting from it, given the fact that they often profit from the so called ‘protest vote’. One has to look no further than the results of the 2014 European elections for a confirmation.
The author presents the case of the decline of military power too. He coins the term ‘minilateralism’ to indicate that at present it takes a smaller amount of countries or resources to make a global impact. Al Qaeda spent about $500,000 to produce 9/11, whereas the direct losses of the destruction plus the costs of the American response to the attacks were $3.3 trillion.
Unfortunately as with this case and other examples, facts and figures used in the book we do not get the most up to date information. In a rapidly evolving international world order where regional conflicts multiply this is no minor detail, and one might have wished for more recent examples.
Finally, Naím considers the decline of religion, arguably one of the direst cases in the book. Religious organisations traditionally had the power to determine the patterns of social behaviour. The decline in the number of practicing Christians represents a drastic case of decay of power, removing it from large hierarchical and centralised structures and in favour of a constellation of small and nimble autonomous players.
The overall decay of traditional institutions cannot be without consequences; without them, the risk of disorder emerges. Moreover, their demise implies the disappearance of the highly specific knowledge they often embodied, which is not easy to replicate for newcomers. Additionally, the more slippery power gets, the more likely it is to be governed by short term incentives and fears.
On a psychological level, these changes in power structure, traditional hierarchy, predictable norms and rules can lead to disorientation, because the social function of power, so clearly captured in Naím’s definition of it, is hindered. Interestingly, Naím believes the danger of alienation in modern societies is even more severe than that of recent threats such as radical Islam. Had it been written this year (as opposed to 2013), this position would have been controversial, to say the least.
In the final chapter, the author states that ‘big power is not dead, but these old institutions are more constrained than ever in what they can achieve.’ For our societies to adjust to this new reality, a new wave of political and institutional innovations will be needed. We had one such wave of political innovations after World War II, when the desire to prevent another global conflict led to the creation of institutions such as the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the European Union. A new wave of innovations brought about by the transformation of power structures, Naím argues, is inevitable.
Overall, The End of Power is a highly sophisticated work. Although the book is not flawless – for a second edition the author should definitely consider updating his facts and figures – it offers an interesting interdisciplinary reflection on the corrosion of traditional powers. It remains to be seen if the book will become a classic comparable to Fukuyama’s The End of History. In the meantime, The End of Power certainly makes for provocative reading and helps us realise what momentous and often unnoticed transformations power is undergoing in our time.
The European centre-right was a front runner in developing some of the now ‘traditional’ institutions founded after World War II. It should therefore remain future-oriented and open to innovative solutions for the pressing societal challenges of today. However, it should do so without undermining its belief in the importance of strong communities and civil society.
The End of Power: A book review
14 Oct 2015
A Daily Mail poll last week showed that, in a sudden change, 51% of UK voters now want to leave the EU, whereas 49% want to stay in.
This big change in opinion seems to be related to the refugee crisis, because the poll also shows voters strongly favour David Cameron’s unwillingness to accommodate large numbers of refugees as against Angela Merkel’s support for all EU countries accommodating a substantial quota.
This dramatic change in opinion shows how a referendum result on a particular day can turn on unexpected events, and how a permanent decision can be influenced by what may prove to be temporary phenomena. The UK already had a referendum on whether to stay in the EU in 1975. Now it is to have another in 2017. But will this 2017 referendum settle the question?
Eurosceptics, like Nigel Farage, have welcomed the decision of David Cameron to change the wording of the question UK voters will be asked to decide on, from a “Yes” or “No” to UK membership, to one which asks whether UK voters want to “remain” in, or “leave”, the Union.
This change was recommended to David Cameron by the Electoral Commission who felt the earlier formulation favoured those who wanted the UK to stay in the EU. “Leave” implies action, “remain “could be construed as endorsing passivity. “Yes” would have implied positivity, “No” negativity. Generally people prefer to be positive. So perhaps Nigel Farage is right to be happy.
The bigger risk here is not in the wording of the question. It is in the political reality that, in a referendum, temporary considerations, like anger at some current government policy on an unrelated matter may induce people to make a permanent decision that they would not make in normal circumstances.
That is why I prefer parliamentary democracy to referendum democracy. In a referendum, the issue has to be reduced to a single question decided on a single day. In the parliamentary system the decision is usually taken over many months, in a process which allows greater flexibility, and opportunities to change direction in light of what is learned.
But a referendum is what we are going to have, so it behoves everyone in all the 28 EU countries to do what they can to ensure, if they want the UK to stay in the EU, that the negotiation is concluded in a way that presents the EU in the best possible light to the UK electorate.
The UK’s negotiating approach, and the frame of mind in which the UK people approach the negotiations are important here too. If the UK gets a good deal, that is endorsed in a referendum, will UK citizens then fully commit to the EU, or will they retain an attitude of conditional and sceptical membership, waiting for the next opportunity to find fault?
In 2003, I was chairman of the committee of the Convention on the Future of Europe which dealt with Justice and Home Affairs. Our task was to redraft the provisions of the EU Treaties dealing with cross border crimes. The UK had long been suspicious of continental courts having jurisdiction over UK citizens and wanted to limit EU activity in this field.
At each stage in the negotiation, the other parties to the negotiation went as far as they thought they could to accommodate UK concerns, only to find that once that was settled, the UK came back looking for more concessions on the same points. The Convention’s “final” draft of the proposed EU Constitution was not final. The UK looked for, and got, more concessions in the draft approved by the Heads of Government.
Then, when the Constitution failed in referenda in France and the Netherlands and was replaced by a slightly slimmed down “Treaty” in Lisbon, the UK looked for, and got, even more concessions on their concerns, including a complete opt out, with a right to opt in at will.
Will the other states go all the way to their bottom lines, in the negotiation of the “improved” terms of UK membership if they think the UK will adopt a similar tactic and keep coming back for more? They will ask themselves how an EU of 28 members would work, if every country that UK approach.
Suppose the final deal is one that satisfies UK voters by a narrow margin, will future UK governments then be likely to go on looking for further concessions afterwards, on the same issues, every time there have to be any further revisions of the EU Treaties?
If the answer to these questions is yes, and there are many in the UK who will never be satisfied with what the EU offers, then the other 27 members may hold back from their maximum concession. David Cameron may then find he has raised expectations in the UK unduly and may fail to convince UK voters to remain in the EU. Or he may find that his electorate wants to “experiment” with leaving the EU, just as many US voters want to experiment with Donald Trump, or some UK voters seem to want to experiment with Jeremy Corbyn.
There also is the related risk that UK voters may see the referendum as an opportunity to “make a statement” about their sense of who they are, rather than make a final, fully considered, decision about the future of Europe. So we must prepare for the possibility of an EU without the UK.
[Photo source: UK Electoral Commission]John Bruton EU Member States Leadership
UK’s EU membership: will the 2017 referendum settle the question?
07 Sep 2015
The present Greek debacle is the result of a clash of political cultures.
On the one hand is the culture of the European Union, where every decision has to be mediated through complex institutions representing 28 different countries, each with its own political culture, and then often has to win the assent of the European Parliament and of an independent European Central Bank. Theatrical gestures and moments of brilliant eloquence count for little in this world. Building a good track record, with good civil service staff work to back it up is what counts in the EU political culture.
EU bailout decisions also have to be approved by the IMF, a global body, most of whose members and clients are far poorer than the Greeks. This creates an additional layer of interests which Greece must try to satisfy, additonally to its EU partners. In this setting, credibility and patience are vital to success. The new Greek government did not have patience and soon it lost credibility as well.
In stark contrast with what was needed, it seems to me that the Greek Government is made up of people who come from a revolutionary tradition, who believe that progress will come from a harsh rupture with the past, and whose proponents envisage a nationalist or socialist utopia once that rupture is complete.
The Greek government are also people who have little or no previous experience of government. They have thrived politically by agitating against the existing order, without the necessity of explaining how things would work after they obtain power, and how they would survive and govern in the complex interconnected reality that is the global economy of today.
That the Greek electorate would elect such people to office is explained by the desperation into which they have been led by the irresponsible policies pursued by successive Greek governments since the 1980’s, who tried to win the votes of Greeks by promising them a standard of living that was not matched by their productive capacity, and by the mistaken decision to take Greece into the euro before the results of these bad policies had been properly rectified.
The problem is that the activities of the new government made things much worse than they were when they took office.
By creating doubt about whether they would honour the debts incurred by their predecessors, the new government created a crisis of confidence, and this loss of confidence led to a suspension of normal commercial activity. By looking for debt relief before reforms were implemented they put the cart before the horse.
The underlying problem of Greece is a lack of productivity and export potential, but the Greek government, and to a great extent the EU authorities too continue to ignore this. Greece’s productivity problem will take years to solve, not least because Greece is an elderly society. The structural reforms urged by the EU will help, because they will clear the clogged arteries of the Greek economy and allow talent to be reallocated to where it can do something productive. But the ageing of the Greek society will remain an intractable problem.
As a result of the drama generated by their new Government, Greeks, instead of focussing on ways to invest to make more money, became in recent months obsessed instead with protecting what they already had. Whereas the economy was on a path towards modest growth when the old government left office, it quickly plunged back into recession as money was withdrawn from the Greek banks, thereby further weakening Greece’s ability to meet its ongoing expenses, and to pay its debts as they fell due.
The timing of the Referendum, AFTER Greece has already run out of money, and on a proposal that has already been withdrawn, could not be worse. It compounds the panic and uncertainty. It is probably in breach of the Greek constitution. Apparently the Greek constitution does not allow referenda on fiscal issues, and the bailout offer contains many elements that are fiscal.
If ever there was a case study that shows how important it is to have political leaders who understand and face up to their responsibilities, and who deal with the world as it is rather than as they might wish it to be, it is to be found in Greece today. The lessons for Ireland are too obvious to require to be spelt out.John Bruton EU Member States Eurozone Leadership
Tsipras vs the rest: A clash of political cultures
03 Jul 2015
The self declared Conservative and Unionist Party won the General Election in England by harnessing English Nationalism, and the Scottish Nationalists did the same in Scotland by harnessing Scottish Nationalism. The two nations, by the rhetoric of their respective election campaigns, have thus set themselves on a collision course.
The Conservative Party scared English voters with the prospect of a Labour Government taking office with parliamentary support from the Scottish National Party. English voters were persuaded that a Labour Government, dependant on Scottish Nationalists, would somehow steal English money for the benefit of Scotland. If there was deep pro Union sentiment in England, this appeal would not have worked, but it did work.
The implication of the successful Conservative ploy was that Scottish Nationalist MPs, although freely elected to and sitting in the United Kingdom Parliament, would not be fit to have influence on the fiscal policies of the government of the UK as a whole, simply because they are Scottish Nationalists. They are thus cast in the role of “second class” MPs.
The Conservative Party was saying that Scottish Nationalists are not welcome as full participants in the Union, at least as far as having a say in the fiscal policy of the Union is concerned. That was a very anti Unionist stance for a self declared” Unionist” party to take.
Meanwhile, the Scottish National Party itself won support in Scotland on the false premise that a Scotland separated from England could avoid austerity, whereas the reality is that an independent Scotland would, on present policies, have a larger proportionate fiscal deficit, than the UK( including Scotland) now has. Arguably, an independent Scotland would have to have more, not less, austerity.
That is not, of itself, a reason for Scotland to reject independence, but if it opts for independence, it should understand, and be willing to pay, the extra cost. This was not teased out because, unlike almost any other country in Europe, Scotland has no serious, centre-right, fiscally conservative , party.
This is not the first time that the Conservative Party has adopted English Nationalism as an electoral tactic.
It did so in the 1911 to 1914 period, when it sought to de-legitimate the minority, Asquith led, Liberal Government of that period, on the ground that the Liberals were dependent for their continuance in office on the Irish Party of John Redmond, and were pursuing a policy of Home Rule for Ireland within the UK. The Conservatives even went so far, at that time, to advocate extra parliamentary methods to defeat the Home Rule policy of their duly elected UK Government.
At that time, the Irish Nationalists, unlike their Scottish brethren today, understood that an independent Irish Exchequer could not afford to introduce some of the fiscal measures then being introduced for the UK, as transpired when an Irish Government in 1924 had to take a shilling off the old age pensions Lloyd George had introduced in 1909. Scottish Nationalists could learn from that.
The difficulty for the Conservatives, in again adopting an overtly English Nationalist stance to win English electoral support, is its effect on Scottish opinion, over the next five years, while Scotland will being governed, as far UK matters are concerned, by a Conservative Party that fought an election on the basis that MPs the Scottish electorate have chosen ought not influence UK fiscal policy.
Meanwhile the Conservatives are committed to a referendum on EU membership which could result in English votes taking both Scotland and England out of the EU, even though Scottish voters might, by majority in the referendum, vote to stay in the EU.
In a Union where England’s population is so much greater than that of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the use of a simple majority referendum to decide such existential questions as EU membership is unnecessarily crude and divisive.
It reduces subtle and difficult matters to a simple “yes/no” question, and takes no account of the fact that the four components of the UK are not only different in size and population, but also very different in political culture. Imagine what would happen if there had to have been an EU wide referendum of the bailout packages for Ireland and Portugal!
Nationalistic passions are all too easy to stir up, as a means of winning elections, but once kindled they are not easily or quickly extinguished.
Now that the election is over, David Cameron needs to break with Westminster’s confrontational traditions, and adopt a consensual approach towards all the opposition parties and enlist their help in finding a way of devolving more powers to Scotland without aggravating the rest of the UK, and of negotiating with the EU on basis that will not further deepen divisions within the UK itself.John Bruton Elections EU Member States Euroscepticism Leadership Political Parties
An expensive victory for English and Scottish nationalism
11 May 2015
Ukraine and its people are facing a very tough period in their history. We all know that Ukraine needs not only monetary but also political and moral support. That is why I decided, together with three friends, including two members of the European Parliament, to take part in the Kyiv half marathon. They agreed with me that you do not need a reason to run, but it is great to have a cause to run for, and joined the team. What do marathon running and implementing reforms have in common? For starters, they both include a long and arduous journey in which you will run into difficulties. You may even feel pain at times, but nothing compares to the feeling one has when crossing the finish line.
That was the key message of our ‘Run for Ukraine’ campaign: we wanted to express our solidarity and to inspire the brave Ukrainian people to bear with the pain of reforms so that they can soon feel the rewarding feeling of crossing the finish line.
This was a unique opportunity for all of us to meet people in the marathon and exchange views: they told me that every year as the marathon movement becomes more popular, it is becoming part of their everyday life and culture. It is important to understand that our routine too is a marathon of fighting bad habits and each time you win, it makes you stronger, because when you are committed to something, you accept no excuses, only results.
Last year, together with my friends and colleagues from the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies we decided to start a big project entitled ‘Ukraine Reforms’. I visited Ukraine in December and talked to students, young people, business representatives, and media. I explained them why reforms are needed. After my visit, Ivan Miklos, former deputy Prime minister of Slovakia, also visited Kyiv to discuss macroeconomic reforms. Now he is an advisor to the Ukrainian Minister for Finance and to the Minister for Economic Development and Trade.
In February, former Prime Minister of Lithuania Andrius Kubilius visited Kyiv and also Dnipropetrovsk as part of the project. Last week, Janez Jansa, former Prime Minister of Slovenia visited Odessa and Kyiv. He held discussions about security and defence, an area he knows well since his time in office as Defence Minister in the first Slovenian democratic government. Under Communist rule, he had been a dissident and fought for the freedom of his country.
In May, two friends of mine, Jan Bielecki and Leszek Balcerowicz, accomplished Polish politicians, will visit Ukraine. They can be described as the architects of the first model for the transition from communism to a market economy. I am looking forward to see the results of their exchange of expertise on the ground.
Reform in Ukraine today should be comprehensive. I would say the three major reforms include the tax system, the labour market and public administration, with a profound decentralisation of power. Having had the opportunity to speak to diverse and local communities, I saw that the people of Ukraine have the determination and commitment required for them to push through these difficult times.
I hope that the advice and expertise of the team of reformers we assembled under the umbrella of the ‘Ukraine Reforms’ project will make a positive contribution. Their journey now is a marathon of reforms: Ukrainians have a long way to go and are sure to stumble over difficulties but their will is strong. Nevertheless, I believe that, together, we will make it to the finish line.Mikuláš Dzurinda Eastern Europe Leadership Values
Committed to reforms
04 May 2015
Acemoglu and Robinson have produced a book that has attracted a lot of interest and discussion amongst the ranks of political scientists, institutional theorists and development economists. They attempt to answer a fundamental question that has occupied some of the greatest minds of our age and that has produced a number of illustrative theories.
It is no mistake that the writers choose to address all these theories in the second chapter of the book (titled under the provocative label “Theories that don’t work”). First, they criticise Jeffry Sachs’s approach of economic geography and move on to tackle the vast bibliography that attempts to associate cultural characteristics with economic prosperity (here they point to Max Weber and his monumental work on the Protestant ethic and the spirit of Capitalism).
They try to deconstruct what they call the ‘ignorance hypothesis’: the theory that political leaders simply do not know the way to lead nations towards prosperity and sustainability. The two authors point out that all these theories fail to explain long-term trends of inequality. They also fail to account for the contributions and the effects of cultural exchanges; of political horse-trading and of the numerous financial aid programmes that have been offered in order to tackle global inequality.
The two renowned professors articulate at length their main argument which is easy to understand and supported by strong historical and modern empirical evidence.
For Acemoglu and Robinson, the main reason that nations prosper or collapse has to do with the structure and the functioning of their central institutions. Concretely they go further than other theorists (see North, Wallis and Weingast in ‘Violence and Social Orders: A Conceptual Framework for Interpreting Recorded Human History’, 2012) saying that having the effective monopoly of violence or even the ability to form ruling dominant coalitions is not enough. They argue that it is necessary for the majority of the population to be included inside the governing structures. Inclusiveness here is not strictly limited to the input side of the political process. It also refers to the equal (or at least to the fair) apportioning of economic benefits.
In fact, the notion of inclusiveness, as used in ‘Why Nations Fail”, implies that having people participating at the input phase of policymaking, would inevitably lead to the creation of rules, norms and conventions that will also promote fairer output sharing. Thus the book argues that the fate of nations is closely correlated to whether they are ruled by extractive (that disseminate benefits to limited privileged groups) or inclusive institutions.
A quite significant part of the book is dedicated on listing and explaining cases that are meant to confirm the original hypothesis. The most telling and characteristic example supporting this hypothesis regards the city of Nogales- which lies right on the border between the US and Mexico. The city is administrationally split in half- the southern part is governed by the Mexican national and regional authorities, while the north forms part of the US. Unsurprisingly, despite their common geographical location and their regular cultural exchanges, the US part is far more prosperous rather than the Mexican one.
For the writers it is obvious that this is because of the different respective national and regional institutions that are operating in the two parts of the city. US institutions are far more inclusive and prosperous as opposed to the Mexican extractive state. ‘Why nations fail’ is a compelling book that attempts to explain and interpret the mechanics of history by adopting a macroscopic method to it. The approach used in the book was heavily influenced both by institutional theory (as developed by Douglas North) and by Lipset’s theses on democracy and economic development.
However, the book is not bereft of imbalance.
The argumentation about inclusiveness as the central factor in whether nations fail or prosper does not acknowledge other important exogenous factors that shape the status of nations. For example, the book fails to point out that violence between states is also a major variable that can decide the emergence or the destruction of nations. Carthage was raised to the ground not because its institutions were not inclusive enough but because it faced a powerful enemy (Rome) that, at a certain point, had focused all its efforts and resources on destroying the city. Similarly, global economic imbalances can lead nations with inclusive democratic institutions into chaos and disorder. For example it is undeniable that the global economic turmoil that erupted in the 1920acontributed to the fall of numerous European democracies and thto the rise of fascism.
Further, the causality between inclusiveness and success is not sufficiently demonstrated. There are several examples of nations that had inclusive and functional institutions but still failed. Inclusive democratic institutions do not guarantee the establishment of governments that are responsible and prudent. It is even possible that the electorate will give power to a government that will fgovern destructively. Such governments may lead nations into druin and the margins of history. Collective rationality does not necessarily lead nations to the best decisions.
In today’s globalised world exogenous variables such as technological trends; international dynamics; security and economic risks can prove to be as decisive for the fate of a nation as its institutions. Acemoglu’s and Robinson’s argument is far from wrong but it is not the whole story of modern governance and nation-building. “Why Nations Fail” is without a doubt an insightful book but it is also clear that its authors would prefer it to be a magnum opus regarding the study of institutions and statecraft. Me thinks this is not the case.Development Economy Leadership Macroeconomics Society
Why nations fail: A book review
18 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
Forty rounds of applause celebrated the thirty minute speech given by the new President of the Italian Republic, Sergio Mattarella, in front of a joint session of both Houses of Parliament.
Mattarella, who is 73 years old, was elected last Saturday, 31 January, with a considerable majority of almost two thirds of the eligible electors. “My thoughts go, above all, and before everything, to the difficulties and hopes of our fellow citizens. That’s enough,” he said right after being elected by the Parliament.
A former professor of Parliamentary Law, the newly-elected President sat as a judge on the Constitutional Court after being a Member of Parliament from 1983 to 2008, serving as Minister of Parliamentary Relations from 1987 to 1989, Minister of Education from 1989 to 1990 and as Minister of Defence from 1999 to 2001. From 1998 to 1999 he also had a one-year experience as Deputy Prime Minister. He has a long Christian-Democrat family tradition– his father, Bernardo, was one of the founders of the Italian “Democrazia Cristiana”.Mattarella entered politics after his brother Piersanti, then President of Sicily, was murdered by the Mafia in 1980.
One of his first priorities as the new President will be pushing the process of economic and institutional reforms ahead. Italy is now at a crossroad and reforms constitute the main legacy left by former President Giorgio Napolitano to his successor. A specific focus on the Italian electoral law, which is soon to be voted in the Parliament, is expected due to the expertise of Mattarella in this field (he drafted in 1993 the “Mattarellum”, the electoral law introducing the majority system in Italy).
Mattarella’s agenda will also feature his response to the economic crisis, social exclusion and unemployment. In his inaugural address to Parliament, he pointed out the urgent need for job market reform: efforts to reshape the job market and improve mobility are essential to give hope to workers –especially the young ones – and those that there are looking for jobs. Mattarella has vowed to push ahead with digital innovation in Public Administration, to encourage more participation of citizens in decision making.
Mattarella has also unveiled his plan to fight the spreading frustration with politics in Italy, due also to the high distrust earned by politicians among Italian population. While unemployment rates are increasing and condition of life are generally decreasing, politicians are considered in Italy as a real “casta”, blamed for focusing much more on their own interests than on those of Italian people.. He also referred to “the indignation of younger MPs” in his speech – which was read as a reference to the euro-sceptic 5 Star Movement. These MPs should contribute and support, according to what Mattarella said, a deep change in both society and politics, based on responsibility for the country’s well-being.
Mattarella showed his commitment to fighting crime and corruption – implicitly referring to the scandals that recently hit Rome’s municipality. He vowed to safeguard the natural and historical treasures of Italy. He recognised the value of solidarity, endorsing the integration of ethnic communities. He mentioned the importance of family and traditions.
Mattarella’s speech emphasised that Europe offers a framework for facing tomorrow’s challenges and also the importance of the EU as a political union. Here, reference was made to the growth strategy that the Italian presidency of the Council has tried to pit against the focus on fiscal consolidation dominant in Brussels.
Political observers are still uncertain as to how they should interpret Mattarella’s election, whose name was the only one presented by Prime Minister Renzi and then swiftly approved by Parliament, after a tough round of negotiations with the different political parties. But Mattarella has made it clear that he will remain an impartial referee as Italy strives for structural reforms – to be achieved by parliamentary approval and not through governmental decree.
The high estimation for Mattarella, coming from all corners of Italian political life, could help him in accomplishing his tasks and mission: certainly, it clearly shows the strong link that Italian politics still has with Christian Democratic values and traditions. His respect for the institutions and conscientiousness of duty as head of state reflects his personality: a great defender of the Constitution on which Italians can hopefully rely on.Paolo Brandi Elections EU Member States Leadership Political Parties
Sergio Mattarella: the new constitutional “referee”
11 Feb 2015
We live in turbulent times. Our world is facing serious challenges: Ukraine is struggling for its very survival, while Putin expends all efforts to prolongue his regime; the Islamic State is waging unspeakable violence across the Middle East while the threat of major terror attacks has returned to Europe; the political establishment is being undermined by a new vawe of populism; the Euro is weaker than ever before, threatened by the twin economic woes of stagnant growth and deflation. And if all this was not bad enough, elections in Greece brought victory to a political party that aims to maintain its place in the Euro club while disregarding all its rules.
The new Greek PM claims that “Greece needs space to breathe.” Translated into plain language: a Greek politician won the post of prime minister on the promise that he would negotiate softer terms for repaying (or even writing off) financial aid, which Greece still needs.
And that is the central problem. In fact, the position that will be taken by other members of the Euro area, by the EU, by the European institutions, can become a dangerous precedent for gamblers of Tsipras‘ ilk in other EU countries. Brussels-bashing, Europe-bashing, has become not only fashionable – it has even become an effective tool for scoring success in the domestic political sphere. This is evident not only in post-communist countries, but also in states with more established democratic states. The blame on “evil” Europe is laid by Cameron in the UK, Le Pen in France, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands. But if the EU gives in to Tsipras, a moral contagion will spread. Blackmailing the EU and its disciplined and responsible members will likely come from Spain, Italy and Portugal. The countries that, albeit with many difficulties, are managing to climb out from the bottom of the economic and financial pit.
The populist movement Podemos is gaining in strength in Spain; Italy has Beppe Grillo; the Portuguese populists could be expected to also raise their voice; and the Irish, who have made significant reform efforts in the recent years, are already seeing surging support for Sinn Féin. If the EU and the Eurozone waver and yield to the demands of Tsipras, the project of a unified Europe would be shaken to its very foundations.
Therefore, the next few days and weeks will be a moment of truth: for Greece, as well as for the whole Euro area and the EU. I believe that the bailout funds have supplied abundant oxygen for countries at risk, including Greece. Many politicians paid a heavy political price for committing their countries‘ finances to bailing out Greece and other countries. Greece faces a serious test of its resilience but also of its civil and political maturity. This includes awareness of the fact that support and solidarity also have their limits. Greece has only two currently viable options: either Tsipras comes to terms with reality in a broader, i.e. the European and the global context, or he is swiftly replaced. Any other option would cause the Greeks much more pain.
But we will soon learn the truth about ourselves and about our united Europe. We will get the answer to the question of whether we are capable of taking a strong, principled and thus a forward-looking position, or whether the Eurozone and the EU will be rocked to such an extent that they eventually fall apsunder. What could destroy us is weakness and yielding to populism. The European institutions – both public and private – have had sufficient time, mainly due to the operation of new financial mechanisms, to prepare for a situation where a Member State would be incapable or unwilling to fully function as a member of the Euro area. Potential losses from giving in to populism would be significantly greater than the possible exit of Greece from the Eurozone. Bowing to populists would destroy the project of European integration.Mikuláš Dzurinda Crisis EU Member States Leadership
The moment of truth
03 Feb 2015
‘Gouverner, c’est choisir’ (ruling means choosing). It seems that French Prime Minister Manuel Valls abides by this famous saying by Pierre Mendes-France, head of the French government from 1954 to 1955, and has forced it upon President François Hollande.
The government reshuffle of 26 August indeed shows that the illusion of a compromise between two radically diverging political and economic positions within the ruling Socialist Party has been crushed. The leftist Arnaud Montebourg, Benoit Hamon and Aurélie Filipetti (former Ministers of the Economy, Education and Culture respectively) are no longer part of the ruling team; Montebourg because he publicly claimed that the government’s economic policy was wrong and heading for disaster, Hamon and Filipetti because they backed him. The supporter of the ‘made in France’, of a diplomatic confrontation with Angela Merkel and of the ‘démondialisation’ is gone. Emmanuel Macron, a former investment banker, will replace him. ‘My enemy is the financial world’, Hollande said during his election campaign. But then, the President said many such absurdities in 2012.
What remained of the left wing of the PS has by now (almost) entirely been removed from government. Valls received a standing ovation following his speech before the employers’ union (Medef) on 27 August, where he made his ‘j’aime l’entreprise’ plea. He paid tribute to employees, employers and shareholders. Yes, shareholders. For a moment, I half-expected him to quote Margaret Thatcher’s best lines on popular capitalism.
So is the PS undergoing its ‘Bad Godesberg’, its ‘Clause Four Moment’, before our very eyes? Rhetorically, the right has never dared going that far. I say rhetorically, because Valls resembles more a shady pink Goliath than a French version of the Iron Lady or of Tony Blair. For all the alleged dynamism and decisiveness of the Prime Minister, there is no plan for reform, as the country is set to miss (yet again) its European obligations with regards the deficit. If the old left was killed in government, it survives in Parliament and prospers among the militant base, as the yearly Socialist Congress in La Rochelle has shown.
Already in April, 44 Socialist MPs refused to support the fiscal consolidation programme. The ‘fronde’ (revolt) has grown since then. The Greens can no longer be relied upon. The Communists divorced some time ago. This government has in effect no parliamentary majority, a perilous situation in view of the confidence vote to be held on 16 September. Therefore, however strong the words may sound, the government will have to compromise (rather: mutilate, or at least delay) those reforms which we have heard of so much since 2012. It is the price to pay to keep a centre-left parliamentary majority. The government does not want to beg the support of individual centrist and right-wing MPs. Politically, that would be a dangerous move for both PS and UMP.
Ironically, looking at the polls, one would think that the government has room for manoeuver: over 60% are in favour of cutting expenditure and becoming business-friendly. Moreover, a clear majority of the electorate believes that Hollande and Valls were right in ousting the leftists. Then, one may wonder why three quarters of the country have no trust in Valls’ team. In fact, for months now the prime minister’s popularity has been sliding downwards ever faster. He might enjoy a post-reshuffle boost, but this will be a short-lived relief. This, again, goes to the heart of the relationship that French people have with their politicians. Hollande, Valls, any minister, can claim just about anything; the country hears, but does not listen.
The same is more or less true of the UMP. This is why many right-wing MPs fear dissolution: overall, the UMP does not want to rule the country right now, especially with Hollande as head of state. How could it present itself as an alternative for the 2017 presidential election if the Prime Minister were seen weekly shaking the President’s hand, attending European and world Summits with him and if, as could be predicted, the government lacked any political will in fear of jeopardising the presidential election? It would further fuel Marine Le Pen’s devastating ‘UMPS’ rhetoric and set the picture for a Hollande – Le Pen runoff in 2017 which, according to current poll figures, Le Pen would easily win.
However, there is another option mentioned in the Constitution: should Parliament be dissolved and the UMP win, the party could refuse to govern. This would place the pressure back on Hollande and ultimately force his resignation, thus triggering an early presidential election. Such a move would be a return to the spirit of the Fifth Republic, with a President stepping down when he no longer has the backing of the electorate.
Back in 1953, in his speech to the National Assembly, Pierre Mendes France ended by saying: ‘Let us work together to give [our country] back its faith, its strength and its vigour, thus ensuring its recovery and renovation. Rest assured that once healed, far from blaming you for your thoroughness and courage, [the country] will be grateful that you enlightened it and showed it the way to its revival’. Unfortunately, for now, there is still no Mendes France-like figure on the left side of the French political spectrum.Gerald Gilmore Elections EU Member States Leadership Political Parties
French Socialism: Lost Illusions
12 Sep 2014
Mikuláš Dzurinda, the President of the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies and former Prime Minister of Slovakia has been awarded the prestigious Leopold Kunschak Prize.
The Prize is awarded annually since 1965 by the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) for distinguished work in the areas of human and social sciences and economics. It is named after Austrian politician Leopold Kunschak (1871–1953) of the Christian Social Party of Austria.
President Mikuláš Dzurinda received the prize from the hands of Vice-Chancellor and Minister of Finance of Austria Michael Spindelegger for successful integration and reforms he carried out in Slovakia. In his acceptance speech, Mikuláš Dzurinda stated: “Austria was Slovakia’s gateway to the West and we are very grateful to Austria for having widely open that gate after the revolution in 1989, but especially after the political changes that occurred in Slovakia in 1998.”
The importance of this award is highlighted by previous awardees, which include, among others, Pope Benedict XVI (1991), Lech Wałęsa (2008), or Jean-Claude Juncker (2009).
WMCES President Mikuláš Dzurinda awarded prestigious Leopold Kunschak Prize
14 May 2014
Italy is experiencing the first tepid signs of recovery after years of pain and crisis. According to the IMF, Italian GDP will increase by 0.6% in 2014 and will supposedly reach 1.1% in 2015. Nevertheless, all that glitters is not gold. Unemployment is still high (currently 12.4%) and public debt in January reached a frightening height of 2.089,5 million, more than 133% of GDP. According to Unioncamere, the organization that supervises the Italian Chambers of Commerce, in the first three months of 2014 about 3,600 businesses declared bankruptcy – which equates to an average of forty per day, two per hour.
The decline of the Italian economy started at the end of the 1970s, well before the launch of the monetary union in 1999. The single currency on the contrary gave Rome greater room to manoeuvre by giving Italy access to cheap credit. Instead of using the euro dividend to restructure the economy in the first year of the new millennium the parties in power resorted to an increase in government spending – about €141.7 billion between 2000 and 2010, an increase of 24% – this created a false sense of growth while Italian industry was losing competitiveness in the face of growing global competition. Currently, public spending in Italy accounts for almost €800 billion, which is equivalent to about 50% of the GDP.
In the summer of 2011 the ECB clearly identified the woes of the Italian economy and urged the Italian government to take “bold and immediate action” to balance the budget by reducing taxes, cutting government spending and liberalizing the job market by making it more flexible. However, more than two years later almost none of the abovementioned problems have been addressed.
On the contrary, the incredible tax rises (the fiscal pressure has increased from 41.9% in the early 2000 to 44.1% in 2013) coupled with almost non-existent spending cuts in recent years was a mortal blow to the real economy and plunged the country into recession. According to the World Bank Data, the Total Tax Rate (the amount of taxes and mandatory contributions payable by businesses) in Italy reached the frightening level of 65.6% in 2013 compared to 49.4% in Germany, 34% in the UK and 25.7% in Ireland. If we couple high taxation with slow justice and inefficient bureaucracy, it should come as no surprise that Italy falls behind other big economies, according to the Doing Business ranking – it is in 65th position compared to France 38th and Germany 21th.
After the failure of the previous governments, great hope has been invested in Matteo Renzi, former mayor of Florence and head of the current coalition government. It’s still questionable whether Renzi will be able to reign in the opposition inside his own party, the Democratic Party, and make the necessary reforms. Any action to unravel the current economic crisis will face strong resistance from bureaucrats inside the ministries, who may fear losing their jobs, and from the trade unions, who still enjoy a privileged relationship with some key figures of the ruling élite and who will almost certainly use their power to sabotage the reforms. One example of this is the recent measures aimed at liberalizing the job market, the so called Jobs Act, which faced strong opposition from the leftist side of the Democratic Party that is making every effort to stop or radically change the reform process. Therefore, the chances of success are low.
A failure by the current government would embolden the populist movements and political parties who blame the EU institutions, the common currency and the “eurocrats” for the economic decline. For instance the Five Star Movement, despite being able to uncover and denounce bad practices and corruption cases in politics, still lacks a strategic vision of the future and tends to be easily influenced by conspiracy theories which are of little use in interpreting, let alone solving, the current problems.
Every step to embrace change is going to be delicate and probably painful in the short term. Furthermore, it’s not going to succeed without a clear long-term plan and a new social contract between the citizens, the economic actors, the political élite and the EU institutions. Whoever is at the helm of the country during the current tempest needs to have exceptional leadership qualities and great courage to lead the country towards a better future without being afraid to challenge potential enemies along the way and of opposing populist tendencies for the sake of Italy’s future.
[Photo: European Parliament; Flickr]Davide Meinero Crisis Economy EU Member States Eurozone Leadership
Italy: is the crisis over?
06 May 2014
The Centre for European Studies (CES), the official think tank and political foundation of the European People’s Party (EPP), has been renamed in honour of its late President, Wilfried Martens. The Centre will now be called the ‘Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies’.
In conjunction with the name change, the Centre also changed its logo and can now be found online at www.martenscentre.eu.
During his presidency, Wilfried Martens was deeply committed to, and engaged in, the Centre’s activities. His lifelong motto ‘Thinking Europe’ has guided the Centre since its inception in 2007. ‘Wilfried Martens was the key driver in the development of the CES – now Martens Centre,’ said Tomi Huhtanen, director of the Centre. ‘The objectives of the Centre and the values it represents are inspired directly by him.’
During the EPP Congress plenary session on Thursday, the Centre’s current President and former Prime Minister of Slovakia, Mikuláš Dzurinda, praised Wilfried Martens for his life’s work: ‘The European Union is today a stronger project thanks to his contribution and the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies will continue this work. […] the legacy lives on.’Centre-Right Christian Democracy Leadership Values
Centre for European Studies renamed in honour of its founder Wilfried Martens
10 Mar 2014
The upcoming year will be a very significant year. Important events will be remembered during the course of it; the huge enlargement of both the EU and NATO which occurred 10 years ago; the shot in Sarajevo 100 years ago which triggered the First World War and the fall of the Iron Curtain in Europe which occurred 25 years ago.
These anniversaries are undoubtedly a powerful incentive to ensure that not only political leaders but also people outside of politics contemplate the future of our continent and the world. For political leaders the aforementioned anniversaries are inspiration to responsibly shape the future architecture of the once again reunified Europe.
So it is home, a cosy abode for all countries, nationalities and ethnic groups — an inclusive home for all its inhabitants. The specified milestones in the history of our countries, of Europe and of the world, will be marked at the same time while the EU is working intensively on new rules for mutual coexistence in the common European house. The new rules have in part been forced to be implemented due to the economic and financial crisis, and also as an effort to succeed in intensifying global competition.
We need new rules and effective tools so we can overcome the consequences of the financial and economic crisis with minimal cost to our citizens. And also to help us avoid the repeating the same errors and mistakes that led to the crisis into the future.
It will not be easy to fine tune an orchestra of 28 players, of which many are convinced that they are the virtuoso. But many of us feel that change is necessary, that further development cannot be stopped. Personally, I believe there are still a number of areas suitable for deeper integration.
However, there are also areas in which power should be left in the hands of member states. I think we need more effective European cooperation, but also efficient internal competition that will stimulate the development of a united Europe. It is not just the issue of the consistent application of the principle of subsidiarity, but also artfully creating tools that could and should inspire leaders at national level to form effective economic and social models according to local, regional, historical, cultural, and geographical conditions. Obviously, in strict compliance with the agreed rules. In my experience and in my view: cooperation, competition and solidarity should dominate in the EU.
We all feel that these new rules at the European level are needed. For example, in the banking sector. The banking sector should be more durable, less vulnerable, but also sufficiently conducive for business development. It should be more effective, for example in helping small and medium-sized enterprises. We should not even prevent stricter scrutiny of compliance with the agreed rules.
Personally, I support the legal enforceability of compliance with these rules. Equally I consider structural reforms at the national level, in other words in the individual member states to be as important. The world is changing and changing fast. Previous sources of employment are no longer as strong as in the past, meaning Europe has to begin to look at new areas for growth and employment, like in renewable energies and in the science sector for example.
With innovation and creativity, new opportunities can be born for EU citizens. So I think, in Europe, it is not only more discipline and accountability that we need, but more creativity and the courage to make the required changes. Only then can we stop the threat of unemployment, particularly among the young. Only then can our economy create the conditions for the creation of new jobs, which I consider the largest challenge in the New Year to a common Europe.
I consider a great challenge in 2014 to be how to manage migration and its implications. The EU and its member states will continue to intensively apply itself to the areas and regions from which refugees come (it will continue to be Africa, particularly the north, but it will also be Syria and other Middle East countries, it will also be regions and countries and military conflicts).
To help solve problems in the regions where they arise is by far the best solution even though it is not an easy prevention migration. I think, however, that there is also an urgent need to adopt new rules in this area. So that, for example, the institutes of political asylum is not misused for economic objectives and that the accepted migrants integrate effectively with the citizens of the countries that accept them. At the same time, we must ensure a convergence of our asylum systems and a proper application of existing rules by the member states. Finally, Europe needs a much better system to regulate labour immigration, to ensure that it does not lose out in global competition for the bright minds that can bring dynamism and new ideas to our societies.
Today it often seems that the project of multiculturalism in Europe is failing. This is also true because instead of making use of individual opportunities, immigrants are sometimes promoting their interests collectively. Some groups of immigrants set themselves apart. Instead of contribution to the common good, we sometimes witness abuses to the social system of the country. Europe should continue to show migrants its kind face. However, it should also show the necessary courage and determination against those who would want to abuse this kindness. In order to prevent problems with integration, European political parties should make a strong effort to bring immigrants into the political and public life. Otherwise, we are risking even deeper problems with integration.
Undeniably great, maybe even the dominant challenge to the free world, and also for our European community, is the challenge of security and the duty to prevent attacks like the one of September 11.Likewise, atrocities such as the attack on marathon runners and spectators in Boston, and most recently the residents of Volgograd. I want to highlight just three essential key factors of our European security:
• First, is the transatlantic alliance. A steadfast alliance of the EU and the US; effective cooperation in the NATO environment is and must remain a fundamental element of our European security as well as global stability;
• The second major element I consider to be, is the creation and development of European defence capabilities which will strengthen the partnership element of the European transatlantic alliance and will be complementary to the existing capacities and capabilities of NATO;
• Finally I consider as necessary the modernisation of our armies at national level and the cooperation of national armies at a regional level, which should be dominated by the principle of sharing and pooling, as well as smart defence.
Prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall the then US President George Bush senior stated his dream, his vision, to make Europe whole and free. Much of that vision has come true. It is amazing how Europe has changed in 25 years. But the work is not yet completed, not in the Western Balkans, or in the countries of the Eastern Partnership.
I believe that this year will continue to see the success story of Serbia, as well as the normalisation of its relations with Pristhina. That Macedonia and Greece will manage to unravel the Gordian Knot and further progress will be recorded in Kosovo and Albania and that Bosnia and Herzegovina will also see improvements. Montenegro is already on the right track. 2014 is a year of opportunities for these countries and the challenge for the EU is to develop wise, active and responsible policies to contribute to the realisation of these opportunities.
The big challenge for us all is the movement that is taking place on our eastern borders, especially in Ukraine. The EU should take an interest in the positive and in particular the sustainable development of Ukraine. It should not however compromise on its principles and criteria. Only then can the citizens of this country properly orientate themselves. Because, ultimately, only Ukrainian citizens can decide on their future.
The same as we decided our future ourselves, we, Slovaks, but also Poles, Czechs, Hungarians and the other countries of the former communist bloc 25 years ago.
I believe that this year we will also collectively protect and promote human rights not only in our countries, in those countries that aspire to EU membership, but everywhere in the world. The EU will be consistent and principled with any country in the world. That we will develop strategic partnerships also with countries where human rights are t limited, but that we shall be courageous and consistent in the protection of human rights in these countries.
We enter the New Year as a rule always with hope, with optimism, with positive expectations. It is good and natural. However, one should admit that we live in troubled times. The previous levels of prosperity are over but yet some people are expecting someone to come along to sign a cheque to get ourselves out from these troubled times. For some time it seemed that the answer to the challenges of the 21st century would be globalisation.
Technological development and significant social movements in all corners of the world have indeed led to rapid globalisation. Of growing concern and anxiety for people in today’s world is the frequent feeling that there will be ever less space in it for them.
People feel that they are becoming ever more lost in the labyrinth of communication highways and gigantic corporations. That they are losing their identity, their roots, and their traditions. Young people especially nowadays find it hard to find a job and fell confident about their future.
The number of people who place the blame for their own problems on politics is dangerously increasing. Many blame the so-called standard political parties. In my country – and I think it is not an exception – it is fashionable to vote for extremism. Elections are becoming manifestations of revolt, not choice. Militants, extremists and populists are winning recognition. The challenge of the EU is to offer answers to such trends, to such developments. The answer to the current difficulties cannot be extremism or chaos, as suggested in some circles. The answer cannot be collectivism as suggested by many, even by reasonable people.
We are rich in experience of collectivism in Central Europe: we all had the same, but the same was very little. The answer is the protection and promotion of individual freedom, individual rights, but also of the individual responsibility of every person.
The answer is politics that allows for individual opportunity, individual assertion of oneself, individual dignity. In other words, politics that puts a focus on quality education, on science, research and innovation. Politics that prefers and honours a healthy lifestyle, but also a real solidarity for those who are able to aid those whose handicaps prevent or limit them from creating these values.
I think an important and serious test for all responsible European leaders ahead will be the forthcoming elections to the European Parliament. To join in the efforts of combating populism and shining a light on their rhetoric, regardless of whether it comes from the left or right. The ways to respond to the challenges of today are various but must be offered in the values of our Western world which are also universal values.
These values should be unconditionally returned to, and these values are to be held onto. As did Konrad Adenauer, Alcide de Gasperi, Robert Schuman, and Helmut Khol for example.
If we stick to these traditional universal values, we can find the right answers to the challenges of not only the present, but also to those we will face further down the road.
[Speech given at the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung Annual Reception ‘European Challenges 2014’, 22 January 2014]Mikuláš Dzurinda Centre-Right Economy Leadership Transatlantic Values
Challenges for 2014
24 Jan 2014
Recent months have seen rather little enthusiasm from security experts regarding the upcoming Defence Summit on 19 December. It seems as if despite the pressing issue of increasing security challenges around the EU, no vital decisions are expected to be made when EU leaders will meet this week.
And this although at the beginning experts and politicians were thrilled at the prospect of having a summit that mainly focuses on defence issues with the aim to push member states out of their national defence policy closets. The latest report by the European External Action Service (EEAS) on CSDP in October 2013 outlines ambitious plans and ideas to improve the European defence system that have been on the table for years. The question is, will states move beyond official statements and promises?
Certainly, the pre-Christmas summit lays the ground for the European Council to press ahead with reforms in the areas of operational effectiveness, defence capabilities and the strengthening of Europe’s defence industry. Issues to be dealt with are the reinforcement of the capabilities of the European Defence Agency (EDA), avoiding duplications between NATO and the EU and concrete steps to prevent uncoordinated national budget cuts by member states. Some Brussels insiders, however, fear that discussions on the NSA surveillance affair and calls from southern European countries to tackle illegal immigration at Europe’s external borders could attract most of the attention at the summit.
Notwithstanding these concerns, some aspects should definitely be discussed properly at this summit:
First, indeed, since the ratification of the Code of Conduct of Pooling & Sharing initiatives in by EU Defence Ministers just a year ago, some member states have already made a remarkable effort to harmonise their military capabilities. Take for instance the Netherlands and Belgium, who are conducting coordinated naval training and logistics. Nevertheless, the fact that any naval missions abroad still remain in the hands of each member state has been rightly criticised by senior military officials. We definitely need more investigation in this matter.
Pooling & Sharing initiatives have partly been implemented, as for instance in areas of satellite communication, and this testifies a positive trend in this regard.
But again, fragmented governmental satellite communication systems co-exist. The same applies to EU-wide cooperation in research and technology on cyber defence.
Second, recent joint initiatives on air-to-air refuelling (AAR) by Italy, France and Sweden in September are indeed crucial steps to improve Europe’s military capacities. Nevertheless, cooperation on AAR should be further developed to eventually establish a European multinational multirole tankers fleet.
Third, again the EU should grab the opportunity at this gathering to advertise the increasing role of the European Defence Agency (EDA) in matters of security and defence policy, established to better coordinate member states’ activities in technology, research and procurement. In particular, EDA’s particular capacities and skills to encourage more consultation by EU nations with the agency are of importance.
Fourth, states complaining of high defence expenditures should use the summit to advocate the introduction of a European Defence Review, to get an idea of what Europe’s national military capabilities are. In addition, Europe requires a serious debate on responsibility and effectiveness when it comes to the deployment of EU battle groups.
Fifth, the provision of a fair and effective European defence market, offering also SMEs the opportunity to have a share of the production, should be high on the agenda.
It is understandable that in times of financial crisis member states are obliged to reduce their defence spending.
While it is always debatable whether to engage in any military operation with our partners, capacities, skills and levels of cooperation need to be developed to the extent that we are able to do so if necessary. Some EU states need a wake-up call at this defence summit to realise that more cooperation on the EU level actually means investing less and gaining more.
Let’s face it, our continent cannot afford to lag behind in defence capabilities, given an increase in unpredictable security issues, in particular at Europe’s southern borders, accompanied by a gradual strategic shift of US interest to the Asia Pacific region.Benjamin Tedla Hecker Defence Foreign Policy Leadership Security
Benjamin Tedla Hecker
Political will required to achieve concrete results during today’s Defence Summit
18 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
Mikuláš Dzurinda, former prime minister of Slovakia, has today been elected President of the Centre for European Studies (CES), the political foundation and official think tank of the European People’s Party (EPP).
Reacting to his election as president, Mikuláš Dzurinda said: ‘The late President Martens was committed to the work of the CES and I intend to build on the continuity and creativity of his great work to develop an even stronger and more prominent CES in the future.’
EPP President Joseph Daul warmly congratulated Mikuláš Dzurinda on his election as president of the CES, ‘I know him to be a person of integrity and clear principles and he is the right person to take this responsibilty in such a crucial time for the CES and the EU.’
Mikuláš Dzurinda was prime minister of Slovakia from 1998 to 2006 and is credited in enabling Slovakia begin the process of joining the EU and NATO following the implementation of far-reaching reforms prior to the country’s admission in 2004 . Previously, Dzurinda has been Minister of Transportation and more recently was Minister for Foreign Affairs from July 2010 to April 2012.
Dzurinda is a founding member of the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union – Democratic Party (SDKÚ-DS) and was chairman of the party from 2000 to 2012. He was elected to the Slovak Parliament following elections in 2012 and is currently a member of the Parliamentary Committee for Foreign Relations.Centre-Right European People's Party Leadership
Mikuláš Dzurinda elected new CES President
03 Dec 2013
Henna Hopia Defence Foreign Policy Leadership Security Transatlantic
Breaking down the Walls: Improving EU-NATO Relations
05 Jul 2013
Ten years ago last month, the launch of a second U.S.-led war against Saddam Hussein exposed intra-NATO differences of temperament and philosophy in sharp relief. So stark was the divergence of perspective on either side of the Atlantic that analyst Robert Kagan—in a justly celebrated Policy Review essay and subsequent book titled “Of Paradise and Power”—was moved to declare that Europe and the U.S. had come to inhabit two separate planets entirely.
Americans were still “from Mars,” he suggested, maintaining the alliance’s traditional emphasis on real and potential force-projection as a tool in international affairs. Europeans, on the other hand, were now “from Venus,” their leaders deliberately “moving beyond power into a self-contained world of laws and rules and transnational negotiation and cooperation.” It was a striking metaphor, and Mr. Kagan’s masterful description of its intricacies continues to influence how policy makers on both continents view each other.
The only wrinkle is that in recent years neither continent has behaved the way it is supposed to. In Barack Obama, the U.S. has a president who is clearly not from Mars. His foreign and defense policies—troop drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan, attempts at diplomatic engagement with Iran, and so forth—are guided by concerns that might once have been described as “European”: a presumptive skepticism about military power, and an instinctive preference for multilateralism and diplomacy in its place.
Initially presented as an overdue restoration of “balance” and “partnership” to trans-Atlantic relations, what the president has wrought is considerably more dramatic. “America cannot turn inward,” then-Sen. Obama proclaimed at a July 2008 speech in Berlin. It seems he underestimated us.
America has managed to turn inward with an almost Venusian vengeance. Nowadays it is Europeans who must repeatedly goad Washington to join a humanitarian intervention in Libya against Moammar Gadhafi. It is Europeans who try but fail to enlist the U.S. in an effort to arm the antigovernment resistance in Syria. Europeans—former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in this instance—must lobby the U.S. Congress for tougher sanctions against Tehran. Europeans—François Hollande, Mr. Sarkozy’s Socialist successor—make decisions about troop deployments in Mali more or less on their own.
President Obama’s advisers like to style their last-in-the-saddle reserve as “leading from behind.” In London and Paris and elsewhere on the Continent, behind closed doors and off-the-record, they call it something else.
It is not merely the substance of recent policy that has surprised and distressed our European allies. Paradoxically, “unilateralism”—the great, tragic flaw ascribed by its critics to George W. Bush’s presidency—is the one impulse his successor has most notably retained.
The first shock came in Warsaw, early in Mr. Obama’s first term: The Polish government got only a few hours’ advance notice that Washington had decided to cancel a painfully negotiated missile-defense system that was irritating Moscow. Next came the president’s December 2009 speech on Afghanistan—announcing coalition manpower and scheduling commitments about which the Europeans had been only nominally consulted. Then came the White House advisory that Mr. Obama would break with tradition and not attend the 2010 EU-U.S. Summit in Madrid; EU representatives weren’t informed beforehand.
So the Atlantic Alliance remains as fissured as ever, but for new and very different reasons. These days Europeans don’t complain to visiting Americans about feeling bullied by the White House. They complain about feeling ignored. It isn’t a question of policy per se, but rather a general sense of alienation: a cumulative impression across the Continent that liberal, democratic Europe—as both idea and practical priority—is sliding off Washington’s radar.
More is at stake here than wounded vanity. European responses to this recent retreat from traditional American leadership vary. The French and British seem inclined to fill the vacuum—on an occasional basis and economic circumstances permitting. The Germans and Poles appear to prefer small-bore, bilateral arrangements of convenience—with respect to Russia, for example. Nevertheless, the result is ultimately the same: The vitality of “the West” as a global security lodestar is fading.
In Washington, with isolationist tendencies in both major parties, our policy makers may not have noticed. But the non-Western rest of the world is paying close attention—and eagerly anticipating an international playing field in which vigorous, coherent NATO responses need no longer be assumed.
This op-ed by Kenneth R. Weinstein, President and Chief Executive Officer of Hudson Institute originally appeared in the ‘Wall Street Journal’.Kenneth R. Weinstein Foreign Policy Leadership Transatlantic
Kenneth R. Weinstein
Venus and Mars Revisited
18 Apr 2013
Five years ago, when the Centre for European Studies was founded, we set out four main goals to guide our activities: to advance centre-right thought, to contribute to the formulation of EU and national policies, to serve as a framework for national political foundations and to stimulate public debate about the EU. To achieve these goals, the Centre and its young, dynamic staff started organising conferences, seminars, training events, as well as producing research in the form of policy briefs, research papers, books and collaborative publications with like-minded partners.
The fifth anniversary of our foundation provides an excellent opportunity to look back and take stock of some of our milestones, highlights and achievements. Our research to date now covers all of the major topics of European policy-making; we constantly strive to examine burning issues and cover pressing topics, whether it is the Arab Spring, new ways of political organisation or the increased role the internet and social media are currently playing in politics. We have travelled to almost every European capital to host events, welcoming many distinguished speakers, including Prime Ministers, European Commissioners, Members of the European Parliament and renowned academics. We have also managed to expand our network of member foundations and like-minded organisations, acting as a bridge between them and as a catalyst among them.
We are of course delighted and honoured when members of our political family acknowledge our work and endorse our mission; this was the case during the last European People Party’s Congress in Bucharest, when EPP leaders stopped by our stand, wished us “Happy Birthday” and shared their views on our work and future role (you can watch a highlights video on this topic on our new homepage). At the beginning of this year, we were equally thrilled to see that our results have also been recognised internationally: according to the prestigious Global GoTo Think Tank Index released yearly by Pennsylvania University, CES is ranked 31st in the Top 150 Think Tanks Worldwide (you can read more about the results of this ranking in our news section).
However, we do believe that now is the perfect time to be Thinking Europe more than ever: the European Union is still recovering from the economic crisis, while the next European elections are approaching fast. Citizens, voters and policy-makers alike need to be able to access quality research in order to take informed decisions and grasp the long term consequences of their options.
Our new website aims to provide you with a valuable resource: we wanted to give our stakeholders and target audience a state of the art platform, with easy to access content, as well as a user-friendly way of keeping updated about our past and upcoming events; last, but equally important, we wish to encourage interactivity and dialogue and offer tools for feedback. We believe our new website to be an online mirror of our offline efforts: connecting people, organisations, publications and events in order to create the best research out of these synergies. We thus invite you to take a tour, discover the new features and send us your feedback so that we can fine tune the website further!
Welcome once again and keep Thinking Europe!Tomi Huhtanen European People's Party European Union Leadership Party Structures
Welcome to a new way of Thinking Europe!
06 Feb 2013
Wilfried Martens has devoted his entire life to politics: as student leader, youth activist, President of the Flemish Christian Democrats, Prime Minister of Belgium, President of the European People’s Party and European statesman. In his autobiography Martens offers the inside story on running a complex country like Belgium, fighting for European integration and unification, and transforming the European People’s Party into a strong, united centre-right movement and leading European political family. Above all, this is book about the intricacies of European politics and its guiding ideas, values and principles.Centre-Right Christian Democracy European People's Party Leadership Values
Europa: Lluitar, Sobreviure
01 Dec 2011
Wilfried Martens has devoted his entire life to politics: as student leader, youth activist, President of the Flemish Christian Democrats, Prime Minister of Belgium, President of the European People’s Party and European statesman. In his autobiography, President Martens offers the inside story on running a complex country like Belgium, fighting for European integration and unification, and transforming the European People’s Party into a strong, united centre-right movement and leading European political family. Above all, this is a book about the intricacies of European politics and its guiding ideas, values and principlesCentre-Right Christian Democracy European People's Party Leadership Values
Europa : lupt şi înving
01 Sep 2011
It was supposed to be a historic meeting when EU leaders convened in March of 2000 to establish the Lisbon Strategy—a new goal for making the EU the ‘most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world.’
Ten years later, the EU has realised that the goals of this strategy are not realistic, to say the least, especially given that Europe’s growth has been severely disrupted by the economic crisis.
Therefore, last year, once again in March, the European Commission moved away from the Lisbon Strategy in favour of the more modest, but still ambitious Europe 2020 strategy, which aims to pave the way out of the crisis via three key aspects of growth: smart growth, sustainable growth and inclusive growth. Today, the EU leaders are meeting again to reach a deal on the package of economic measures, already knowing that economic growth alone is not likely to lead to the success of the Europe 2020 strategy unless EU governments restore their public finances. This comprehensive package includes deciding on priorities for structural reform and fiscal consolidation in conclusion of the first phase of the “European semester’- instrument of economic policy coordination established through the Europe 2020 strategy.
It also involves approving six legislative proposals already agreed by Economic and Financial Ministers earlier this month aimed at the reinforcement of economic governance. The leaders will also adopt the Pact for the Euro, thereby committing euro-zone countries to taking all necessary measures in order to foster competitiveness and employment, make public finances more sustainable and strengthen financial stability, while also allowing non-euro countries to adopt the Pact if they wish to do so. Several components of the Pact were inspired by the European People’s Party’s 5-point-plan adopted at the meeting of EPP Heads of State or Government and Party Leaders in Helsinki at the beginning of this month.
Finally, an amendment to the Lisbon treaty proposed by the European Council last December will be approved with regard to a future European stability mechanism. This will be a ‘limited’ treaty change adopted by the simplified treaty revision procedure which, fortunately, does not require a referendum. The amendment will create a legal basis for a permanent management tool for the euro area with an effective lending capacity of 500 bn EUR to replace the current temporary mechanism, the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), in mid-2013. What will happen with the larger and more flexible temporary EFSF fund is still hard to predict and we have to wait for the Council’s conclusions. However, what one can predict is reaching a common agreement on the treaty amendment. Slovakia, which voted against the Greek bail-out, sent Prime Minister Iveta Radicová to Brussels today with the mandate to vote in favour of the ESM. The Czech government was also heard saying that it would fully support the creation of the mechanism, but since it is not a euro-zone member, it would not directly participate in the ESM. Ireland, another Lisbon treaty trouble-maker, has a new centre-right government and fully supports measures that can help Europe move beyond the economic crisis. Prime Minister Enda Kenny, before leaving for Brussels, stated that no referendum was required to enable Ireland to ratify the amendment on the ESM after the amendment’s draft wording was carefully examined. Prior to today’s meeting, a number of other summits have been happening in March – including an un-planned summit due to the dramatic events unfolding in North Africa.
In addition to official summits, there has also been an unofficial one, namely the first ‘shadow’ summit launched by the Spinelli Group consisting of prominent Members of the European Parliament who called for the establishment of a federal policy for economic convergence in the euro zone. One thing has to be granted to EU leaders: they have no time for Frühjahrsmüdigkeit (spring fatigue). And what in the past used to take the EU years to decide is now often decided in days or weeks. This European Council is supposed to be another meeting of ‘historic importance’, as Hungarian Foreign Minister Martonyi said after the General Affairs Council earlier this week. Whether he is right and this Council meeting will really be a game-changer in terms of economic governance, which was also underlined in Barroso’s speech at yesterday’s pre- Council briefing in the European Commission, remains a question. However, one thing is clear even today. Tony Barber, Brussels bureau chief for the Financial Times, was right in saying that the essential ingredient for rebuilding Europe’s economic growth potential is political will.
Setting goals is one thing, but achieving them is another. With the Lisbon Strategy the EU succeeded only in the first aspect. Let’s hope that the lesson has been learned and that this time the EU will succeed also in the latter.Katarina Králiková European Union Leadership
The EU and the Leadership Deficit
24 Mar 2011
After the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty and in the wake of the financial crisis which has challenged a number of certitudes and just as a new world order is emerging, it is now more important than ever to understand the issues affecting Europe today. The 2010 Schuman Report is a reference work to understand the European Union’s progress, its needs and the opportunities open to it. Once more the authors offer you original analyses which are supported by unique data and maps so that you can understand everything about Europe in 2010. The Report includes 22 articles written under the guidance of Thierry Chopin and Michel Foucher with a preface by Jean-Dominique Giuliani. The leading European experts address the following themes: the European Union after the Lisbon Treaty – opportunities and challenges; the European economic model after the financial crisis; the European Union an its neighbours : how are they progressing? What can Europe offer them?; the European Union in the world : how should it position itself in relation to the new powers? What kind of a relation can be established with the USA? What can be done for the Middle East?Economy EU Institutions European Union Globalisation Leadership
Schuman Report on Europe: State of the Union 2010
04 Oct 2010
Wilfried Martens has devoted his entire life to politics: as student leader, youth activist, President of the Flemish Christian Democrats, Prime Minister of Belgium, President of the European People’s Party and European statesman. In his autobiography, President Martens offers the inside story on running a complex country like Belgium, fighting for European integration and unification, and transforming the European People’s Party into a strong, united centre-right movement and leading European political family. Above all, this is a book about the intricacies of European politics and its guiding ideas, values and principles.Centre-Right Christian Democracy European People's Party Leadership Values
Europe: I Struggle, I Overcome
11 Nov 2008