A Half-Tone Victory for Merkel

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Credit Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters

Angela Merkel won a fourth term at the helm of Germany ensuing the German federal parliamentary election. In postwar Germany, she is now one of the longest serving Chancellors after Konrad Adenauer and Helmut Kohl. Despite winning her fourth mandate and maintaining her status of most seasoned European politician, she is facing some serious challenges at home. Her conservative party, the CDU, scored one of the lowest results in recent memory and lost almost 1 million voters to the extreme-right anti-immigrant party, Alternative for Germany (AfD). Time will tell, but this general election sends a signal to Germany, Europe and the world: traditional postwar german politics appear to be changing. This election marks very well a substantial political shift.

Data and Political Landscape

The big story of this election is the rise of the AfD as the third largest bloc in the parliament with over 88 deputies, as it received 12.6% of the vote. As argued by Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times, “Germany now looks more like a ‘normal’ western country. And that, ironically, is not something to be welcomed.” The normality implies a Western country with a relatively strong presence by a extreme-right anti-immigrant party. Germany is not immune anymore.

The AfD was founded in 2013 in response to the bailout of the Eurozone economies. It was an eurosceptic party created by conservative intellectuals six months prior to the 2013 elections, led by a professor of economics at the University of Hamburg, Bernd Lucke, opposed to the bailouts by Germany of other eurozone economies. At that time, the party failed to make it into the Bundestag receiving only 4.6% of the vote, or 0.4 percentage points below the 5% cutoff. The 2015-16 refugee crisis leading to an open-door policy by Chancellor Merkel, welcoming over 1 million refugees, was used by the AfD leadership in order to shift the party ideology from eurosceptism to anti-immigration. The three figureheads of the party being Alexander Gauland, Alice Weidel, and Frauke Petry have used incendiary rhetorics and not shied away from addressing Germany’s nazi past.

Screen Shot 2017-09-25 at 11.14.51 AM
Source: The Guardian

With 32.9% of the vote, Merkel’s CDU won the night and a significant share of the Bundestag. However, it is a half-tone victory considering one of the worst results for the CDU losing over 8.6% of the votes compared with the 2013 general election. Furthermore, Merkel’s CDU saw the migration of roughly 1 million voters towards the AfD (see chart below). Merkel’s agenda throughout the campaign was mainly based on the concept of continuity. But the migration towards the AfD may not be only about immigration policies. Chancellor Merkel played a considerable role on making Germany one of the strongest world economies and the economic power of the European bloc. The reforms began in the 1990s, continued by Merkel, implementing neoliberal economic programs permitting to grow the economy, lower unemployment and averse the debt. For instance, four of the world largest companies are German and the country has one of the lowest unemployment level at 5.7%. But these policies came at a cost as the trade-off allowed a huge wealth to companies and low wages. Over the 12 years under Merkel, the disparity between the wealthy and the poor has widened and 16% of the population is at risk of poverty.

Arguable one of the major losers of the 2017 election is the SPD receiving its worst defeat since40674809_303 postwar with 20.5% of voters. In a four year period, the party led by Martin Schulz, the former President of the European Parliament, lost over 5% of voters. One of the major problems for Schulz, whom lacked strong domestic presence, was his inability to articulate a clear alternative to Merkel’s CDU. In addition, traditional SPD voters, its blue-collars base, is declining and represents roughly 19% of the electorate. This number almost mirrors the final results of the SPD at this election. In addition, almost half a million of SPD voters migrated towards the AfD during this election cycle. Schulz’s call to bring the party into the opposition, meaning it won’t join the coalition with the CDU, is no surprise. During his announcement, the SPD leader declared that “in a democracy the opposition is perhaps a more decisive force than the government.” The hope and strategy is to redefine the values, policies and ultimately ideology of the SPD for the next general election in order to attract more voters.

Voter Migration - 2017 German Elections
Source: Deutsche Welle

This illustration below provides a substantial and brief analysis of the Bundestag since the end of the World War two. As one can observe, the SPD-CDU have historically held a substantial majority until the 2017 elections. Last, as illustrated at the bottom of the illustration, a extreme-right party, the AfD, makes his first appearance in the Bundestag since postwar Germany.

Screen Shot 2017-09-25 at 11.09.52 AM
Source: Financial Times

Jamaica Coalition

In order to govern, Chancellor Merkel will need to form a coalition. The evening of results, SPD leader, Martin Schulz, called for the party to stand as the opposition and not forming a grand coalition with Merkel’s CDU. This leaves Merkel with the possibility to join forces with the pro-business Free-Democrats, or FDP, and Green party. This triumvirat is known as the Jamaica Coalition, considering that the colors of each party mirror the colors of the flag of the Caribbean island (Black, Green and Yellow).

The development of the coalition is a priority for Merkel, which will be a major challenge for the Chancellor. For starter, candidates of the FDP and Green party disagree on substantial issues and won’t be imageseasily brought together. A “deal to form a coalition” writes Stefan Wagstyl “could take months to put together, given stark policy differences between the parties on several issues including environmental protection.”

The Jamaica coalition will affect the ability of Merkel to work with French president, Emmanuel Macron. The FDP agenda, as advanced during the campaign, goes in opposition with Macron’s proposals, as it opposes the French proposition to reform the Eurozone (i.e. creation of a European budget). On this point, President Macron will be announcing his vision for the reform of the Eurozone on Tuesday, September 26, as he was waiting for the official results of the German election. Ensuing his speech, FDP reactions will be critical for Merkel in order to define the terms of the coalition and therefore her future line with regards to European reforms.

Finally, Chancellor Merkel will need to deal with a growing opposition within her own party. For instance, Merkel is starting to see some opposition coming from Klaus-Peter Willsch, a conservative CDU, opposed to Merkel’s immigration policy. The dealing with the FDP and Green party will be challenging, but keeping in check her own party will be major dilemma.

German Political Realities and Beyond

Despite winning a fourth term and a clear mandate, the outcomes of this election cycle respond to Merkel’s most critical policy-choices: the bailouts of some of Germany’s Eurozone partners and open-door policies vis-à-vis refugees. Both decisions taken by Chancellor Merkel were the right one at the time (for the bailouts avoiding a collapse of the Eurozone) and morally justified and politically courageous (welcoming over 1 millions refugees). Unfortunately, she is now confronting the reality of a changing German electorate.

The strong result by the AfD to the 2017 federal election sends a significant signal that German politics is changing. Populism, which has been present and rising all around Germany and across the pond, finally arrived in Germany. AfD will be a force to reckon with in the legislative process, but could be the necessary evil in order for mainstream parties to craft more substantial social and integration policies.

However, the day ensuing the results, co-chair of the AfD, Frauke Petry, surprised her colleagues by announcing that she will not be part of the AfD group, but will be present as an independent. This announcement illustrates a reality regarding extreme-right parties in Europe. Winning elections has become easier for these parties, like the Front National (FN) of France and even the UKIP party in the UK, able to attract a substantial

Frauke Petry flounces out
Credit: Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch

share of the electorate. But they are unable to maintain unity once elected and even less able to govern. The most striking case is exemplified by the FN arriving, as expected, to the second round of the French elections in front of two mainstream parties, Les Républicains (right) and the Socialist Party (left). Marine le Pen, president of the party and presidential candidate, was correct when claiming that the FN was the largest party of France. However, after losing the second round with a high percentage (33.6%), the party has been dealing with major internal crises and is now almost irrelevant in shaping the debate and agenda. Petry’s announcement seems to prove the point that extreme-right parties grow strong as an opposition force using identity politics and deeply inconsistent policies in order to get elected. But their lack of political consistency and leadership tension affect their abilities to survive, despite stronger results at elections, and therefor to govern.

This elections mark a turning point in German politics and may bode some major difficulties ahead for Merkel. Furthermore, ensuing the election of Macron in May and its legislative majority, the world expected France and Germany to be finally on the same political page in order to advance and reform the EU. Hopefully, Europe will not be the big looser of this election.

(COPYRIGHT 2017 BY POLITIPOND. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED WITHOUT PERMISSION).
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Interview with eFM This Morning – The German Elections

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Listen here to my interview with Alex Jensen on tbs eFM This Morning on the German elections (interview begins at 07m13s).

(COPYRIGHT 2017 BY POLITIPOND. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED WITHOUT PERMISSION).

2015 in the Rear-view Mirror …

happy-new-year-20152016-with-happy-new-year-compass-images-pictures-photos-hd

Should 2015 be identified as the year of multilateralism? Despite the multitude of crises facing the West throughout 2015, the signature of three major multilateral agreements was not only meaningful, but will contribute to the shaping of world politics well beyond 2016.

2015, or the Year of Multilateralism

Could 2015 be seen as the year of multilateralism? Even if this question seems quite absurd considering the succession of negative news from terrorism, to economic slowdown, racism, populism, so on and so forth. But looking back, 2015 was to some extent the most promising year in recent years in getting regional and global leaders around the table and having them signed important documents. Three highly impactful agreements ought to be reviewed.

World-Climate-Summit-bannerFirst, the Paris Agreement of December 12, 2015 ought to be number one on the list. Yes, climate change is a reality. Yes environmental destruction is the greatest threat facing humanity. If polls, like the recent one produced by the Pew, show that Euro-Atlantic citizens feel that terrorism is the greatest threat to their security, they are certainly looking at it from a narrow angle. If ISIS has demonstrated to be effective at slaughtering unarmed civilians drinking coffee and listening to music, it does not represent the existential threat that climate change presents.

Source: Source: Carle, Jill. 2015. "Climate Change Seen as Top Global Threat Americans, Europeans, Middle Easterners Focus on ISIS as Greatest Danger." Pew Research Center. July 14. Online: http://www.pewglobal.org/files/2015/07/Pew-Research-Center-Global-Threats-Report-FINAL-July-14-2015.pdf [Accessed on September 15, 2015]
Source: Source: Carle, Jill. 2015. “Climate Change Seen as Top Global Threat Americans, Europeans, Middle Easterners Focus on ISIS as Greatest Danger.” Pew Research Center. July 14. Online: http://www.pewglobal.org/files/2015/07/Pew-Research-Center-Global-Threats-Report-FINAL-July-14-2015.pdf [Accessed on September 15, 2015]

The Paris Agreement (which will only come into force once signed by the Parties on April 22, 2016 and ratified by 55 Parties) is more a political victory than a great climate deal. The political victory comes as the developed and developing nations have finally been able to agree on a global agreement. For instance, the World Trade Organization (WTO) is unable to get its Doha Round anywhere and most of the global initiatives are going nowhere. But in Paris, world leaders were able to show unity for a cause. However, the document falls short as there are no enforcement mechanisms in place in order to penalize states that do not comply. The European Union wanted a binding treaty with serious teeth and got instead an Agreement pledging to limit GHG emissions in order to maintain global warming below the 1.5 degrees Celsius target and a 5-year review of national progress and target readjustments. More work needs to be done domestically in order to transform current models of production and ways of living, especially in the US, India, China and the EU, but it is a good starting point.

The second major success for multilateralism is the Nuclear deal with Iran. After almost a GTY_iran_world_leaders_ml_150402_16x9_992decade of negotiations initiated by the EU (remember the EU3+1?), the US under the leadership of its Secretary of State, John Kerry, was able to come to an agreement on the nuclear negotiations with Iran. If the US and European nations were quick on framing it as a political victory, such deal would not have been possible without China and Russia. Both nations were central in order to have Iran signed the deal.  If the Europeans were on the side of the Americans, it was quite uncertain throughout the process to count the Russians and Chinese in. But Russia has appeared as an important partner. For instance, on December 29, Iran shipped more than 11 tonnes of low-enriched uranium to Russia. But the deal came through and is, as the Paris Agreement, imperfect. At least, it permits to relaunch diplomatic relations with Tehran and re-includes Iran as a member of the international community. Some of the sanctions will be lifted, permitting Iran to sale its crude oil starting next year, in exchange for a discontinuation of the nuclear program.

The third major agreement is the signature of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Since the collapse of the financial markets in 2008, which have caused an economic decline of the US and its allies and seen the rise of China, the US has initiated two major trade agreements: one with its Pacific partners (Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, United States, and Vietnam), the TPP, and one with its European allies, the Transatlantic Trade and Investmenttpp eng Partnership (TTIP). If the negotiations with European partners on the TTIP are still ongoing (read here a book on the topic), a result for TPP was finally reached in October 2015. In a document released by the Office of US Trade Representative, it is argued that “The result is a high-standard, ambitious, comprehensive, and balanced agreement that will promote economic growth; support the creation and retention of jobs; enhance innovation, productivity and competitiveness; raise living standards; reduce poverty in our countries; and promote transparency, good governance, and enhanced labor and environmental protections.” Regardless of the supports for such trade agreement, the TPP will have undeniably major impacts on regional and global economic and political relations. The US is solidifying its position in Asia and diplomacy is playing a big role in promoting cooperation. However, one question clearly remains: should have China been included in such deal?

Notable European Leaders in 2015

A paragraph could have been written on each of the 28 European leaders. But this piece focuses only on three EU leaders.

François Hollande, President of France, could very well be at the top of European leadership by the way he has maintained his position at the helm of France under such 98cebbe6a5319916285991f0e66baa545b8bf9bddegree of threats and instabilities. Economically, the French economy is not picking up. The French GDP growth is of 0.3% in the last quarter of 2015 with an unemployment rate of 10.6% illustrating a situation of stagnation and difficulties to draft and implement meaningful structural reforms. In addition, his approval rating in 2014 and early 2015 was around 13%, the lowest for all Presidents of the Fifth Republic. In the middle of these domestic turmoils and failed reforms, Paris was struck twice by terrorist attacks, once in January targeting Charlie Hebdo, and nine months later against civilians in a hipster arrondissement of the capital. Despite all these crises, François Hollande has been able to see an increase of his approval rating, avoid the take-over of regions by the Front National at the regional elections, and host one of the most welcomed global summits in Paris. 2015 was quite a year for François Hollande, whom has demonstrated serious skills of leadership against adversity. However, this is coming at a cost as he has taken a securitarian approach and is now passing laws, like the removal of citizenship, that are in complete opposition with the philosophical roots of his party (and arguably his own).

Angela Merkel, or the Emotional Leader of Europe. If François Hollande is shifting towards the right in order to make the homeland more secure undermining French

Generated by IJG JPEG Library
Generated by IJG JPEG Library

republican values, Angela Merkel has managed to maintain Germany in a sound economic direction (even though German economy is showing some signs of weakness), while becoming the emotional leader of Europe. Germany’s friendly policy of welcoming refugees was in some degree one of the most positive policies of 2015 in Europe. If EU Member States were calling for the construction of walls, use of army and other aberrations (Denmark planning to confiscate refugees’ jewelry) in order to stop the flow of refugees, Germany instead welcomed them. Angela Merkel’s decision to go against her political allies and political foundation illustrates one of the most human moves in Europe (read a recent piece here published in the New York Times). Chancellor Merkel may very well paying the cost of her actions if Germany is the target of a terrorist attack later on and struggle in integrating all these refugees.

David Cameron – The British Prime Minister was reelected in late Spring 2016 on an ultra-David-Cameron-Europenationalist and anti-european platform. Since his reelection, he has now identified himself as the British leader fighting for Britain’s national interests and integrity against the European Union. The publication of his demands to Brussels initiating negotiations in light of a future referendum about the membership of the UK solely responded to a national agenda without any clear vision for Britain’s future. Cameron is another European head of government with no long-term vision for his country and the Union. He embodies the shift of the past rights moving to the extreme without a clear political philosophy. Cameron’s polices have proven to be more based on ideology than facts.

Voices from Brussels?

What about HR Mogherini, President Tusk, President Schulz, and President Juncker? The heads of the largest EU institutions – EEAS, Commission, Parliament, and European Council – have not been that vocal at the exception of President Juncker at the ‘beginning’ of the migration crisis. The European leadership was pretty quiet throughout the year (at the exception of Commissionner Vestager going after the largest global corporations one after the other). Eventually 2016 could be the year for Federica Mogherini, whom is scheduled to release the new European Security Strategy in mid-Spring (read here an analysis on the current strategic thinking). 2016 could be as well the year for Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, as Warsaw will be hosting the 2016 NATO Summit. Such meeting in Poland will be important for two reasons: first, promote European principles and values in a country moving away from Europe’s ideals; second, it should address the ongoing regional crises from Ukraine, to Syria, to Iraq, Afghanistan and think seriously on how to engage with President Putin.

(Copyright 2016 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

Greece – Failure of Leadership with Global Consequences

Photo: EPA
Photo: EPA

“Le drame grec n’est pas et ne sera pas seulement national : il a et il aura des effets sur l’ensemble de l’Europe, dont la Grèce fait partie intégrante par son histoire et sa géographie” – Jacques Delors, Pascal Lamy et Antonio Vitorino in Le Monde of July 4th.

Greece and the European Union have their backs against the wall. Greece faces two deadlines, June 30th repayment of €1.6bn to the International Monetary Fund (which remains unpaid until the results of the referendum), and the July 20th of €3.5bn to the European Central Bank (ECB). Even if Greece were to repay the first bill, it would be unable to do so on July 20th.

So far, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, feel that the terms of the new bailouts are too destructive and would require more cuts on Greek social programs that they have asked Greek citizens to vote on their futures (the referendum is currently taking place in Greece). Without an extension of his first debt, Greece has no chance of receiving the remaining of the credit of €7.2 billion and would ultimately default. So, how has a crisis starting in October 2009 been so poorly managed and is putting at risk the stability of Europe and global markets?

A Call for Democracy?

On the night of Saturday  27th, Prime Minister Tsipras announced on television, at the great surprise of his European counterparts, that he would be holding a referendum on July 5th asking the Greek citizens to decide on the future of Greece, either by accepting the deal and the ensuing austerity measures, or by rejecting the deal and ultimately having to default. In order to hold the referendum, Tsipras asked his creditors to postpone the June 30th deadline by five days, which has been rejected. For instance, the leader of the Eurogroup of Eurozone finance ministers, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, said at a news conference that “The Greek government has broken off the process. However regrettable, the program will expire on Tuesday night.”

International public opinions have been deeply divided when reflecting on Tsipras’ call. On the one hand, some have argued that Tsipras is gambling with the future of Greece and ultimately the Eurozone and the stability of global market. While others have talked of a smart political move by Tsipras. On the question of the referendum, Prime Minister Tsipras has already expressed that he will be campaigning for a ‘no’ vote (read here Varoufakis’ recommendation for a no vote). Two of the top American economists, Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman, announced in separate editorials that they would vote ‘No’ at the referendum. Joseph Stiglitz said clearly in his op-ed that the tension between Greece and its creditors (troika) is about power and democracy rather than economics. Yet, many media outlets have been very critical towards Tsipras as one can see the recent cartoon published by the Economist:

The Economist - July 4th
The Economist – July 4th

Merkel & Hollande, European Leaders? Think again…

The current crisis is more of a political failure than an economic/monetary one. It is the failure of Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and François Hollande of France to recognize that saving Greece is more important than letting a Eurozone member

Photo: EPA/WOLFGANG KUMM
Photo: EPA/WOLFGANG KUMM

defaulting on its payments and obligations. Chancellor Merkel has been portrayed as the leader of Europe, which seems to be a wrong assessment in retrospective. A leader is not an individual working on protecting solely the interest of his/her country, but in the interest of the system as whole. In addition, one needs to recognize that Merkel rejected a last minute call by Tsipras to redefine the terms of the agreement. She reiterated that there was no point in holding talks with Greece before the July 5th referendum. Her finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, was more critical, saying, “Greece is in a difficult situation, but purely because of the behaviour of the Greek government … Seeking the blame outside Greece might be helpful in Greece, but it has nothing to do with reality.” As hard it may be to justify another rescue of Greece to her electorate, Angela Merkel needs to recognize that a Greek default would endanger Germany, the Eurozone, the EU and global financial markets as a whole.

In the case of François Hollande, he has been too quiet and distant on the question of the Greek default. François Hollande, a socialist by political affiliation, missed a strategic moment in establishing himself as the axiom between the members of the South with the ones of the North. François Hollande’s gamble has been to bandwagon with Germany rather than positioning himself with a clear strategy and eventually offering alternative options in favor of Southern members. Hollande’s gamble is not only failing, but he has become irrelevant on the Greek dossier (not what French finance minister, Michel Sapin, would claim). Such strategic absence by France is regrettable, as the country economic base is so fragile that a Greek default would certainly put a halt to the more than timid recovery if one considers the degree of involvement of French banks in the Greek economy. It is difficult to imagine France striving through another Eurozone crisis with GDP growth rate of 0.6% and an unemployment level at 10.5%.

Global Earthquake, and American Powerlessness

A Greek default would have serious global consequences causing contagion throughout the world. Since Monday morning, global stock markets have been declining and are waiting on the eventual repercussions of a Greek default as many unpredictable consequences could occur considering the complex interconnection of world financial system.

The United States has been following the European drama very closely and powerlessly from the other side of the pond. Even though the US economy is slowly picking up, it has remained very timid with strong quarters and weaker ones. President Obama has been in directly contact (and through his Jack Lew, his Secretary of Treasury) with his European counterparts, Ms. Merkel and M. Hollande, expressing his concerns about the eventual consequences on the global finance and calling for a resolution. Speaking at a news conference, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Janet Yellen, said that “To the extent that there are impacts on the euro-area economy or on global financial markets, there would undoubtedly be spillovers to the United States that would affect our outlook as well.” The US have been very worried about the course of actions taken by the Europeans and has urged Greece and the Europeans to reach a deal in order to avoid a default.

A second reality, beside economics, is pure geopolitics and security. With a Greek default, the country would become unable to secure its borders, a real problem with the current migration crisis in the Mediterranean – wherein the EU and its Member States are failing to address – (read previous analyses here and here). Even if most of the coverage has focused on Italy, Greece is the second entry point to Europe by the sea and land. The second geopolitical reality is the rapprochement of Athens with Moscow. This rapprochement is taking place at a time

Reuters
Reuters

wherein the EU is extending its economic sanctions against Russia (so much for European unity vis-à-vis Russia). Greece and Russia are working on an deepening energy and agricultural ties. “Russia wants to build a pipeline through the Balkans, and Greece wants it, too” said Dimitris Vitsas, a ruling leftist Syriza party lawmaker, “We can develop a common enterprise not only in this, but for agricultural products and so on.” From Moscow’ standpoint, the gas deal with Athens is an important entrypoint into European politics. Moscow has been financing European radical parties and worked on transforming its image from within (read here a previous analysis on Russia in Europe).

Geopolitics highly matter in the Greek dossier and seem to have been sidelined for obvious economical and financial realities. With or without a Greek collapse, geopolitics will remain and affect the stability of Europe.

A New Meaning of Europe?

The European project is based on core principles, norms and values: solidarity, peace, democracy and respect. At several occasions, German Chancellor Angela Merkel used the phrase, “If the euro fails, Europe fails,” in order to talk about the need to save Greece. With the Greek fiasco, it seems that each normative dimension has been violated by all European parties. The concept of European solidarity is not embedded in punishing but assistance.

Greece is so indebted with a debt representing 183.2% of the GDP with an unemployment rate above 25% that its future can only be with a serious assistance by its European counterparts. Even if Greek debt is abysmal, Greece’s economy only represents 2% of the eurozone. In order to make Greece stable and functional, it will need to go through serious structural reforms and clean up the high level of corruption. Certainly some Eastern, Central and Baltic Member States, like Lithuania and Bulgaria, feel that Greece should implement the necessary reforms as the quality of life in Greece, especially the level of pensions in Greece, are much higher than in poorer EU Member States. But this could be adjusted once Greece is under European protection. Can these take place under additional austerity measures?

Last but not least, the European political narratives have evolved these last five years. Back in 2009, the concept of Grexit was not an option, just a concept describing an unthinkable future (read an interview on the topic here). Today, a Grexit appears as an option and eventually a reality. On the verge of a default, it seems that the EU project may be endangered because of lack of flexibility and lack of understanding of its heritage. Letting Greece default would be a failure of leadership and failure of strategic thinking.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

 

EUAM Ukraine – Responding to Geostrategic Realities?

Reuters
Reuters

During the G-20 meeting in Brisbane, Australia, Russian President, Vladimir Putin, received a rather cold welcoming from his world counterparts. It appeared that German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper among others to have had critical words toward Vladimir Putin. It was even reported that Canadian Prime Minister told Vladimir Putin, “Well, I guess I’ll shake your hand, but I have only one thing to say to you: ‘You need to get out of Ukraine’.” Russian President even left the meeting before the end as he explained, “We still have to get home and be ready for work on Monday. It would be nice to be able to sleep for 4 or 5 hours.” During the last Q&A with the press, Putin claimed that “Ukraine was not discussed in any official context during the G20 discussions. The issue did not come up at all and was not even mentioned.” The G-20 meeting confirmed that the relations between the West and Russia are at one of the lowest since the end of the Cold War.

Decisions by the FAC Meeting

After a rather difficult, or even ‘humiliating‘ G-20 meeting for Vladimir Putin, the Russian President is now waiting to see what the EU and its Member States are willing to do in order to tackle the Ukrainian crisis (see here a previous analysis on the topic). On November 17th, the EU-28 met during a Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) in order to discuss the Ukrainian situation among others. HR/VP Mogherini was presiding the FAC, for the first time as the HR, principally focusing on the situation in Ukraine. The conclusions reached by the FAC are once again minimal. The United Kingdom, Poland and the Baltic states were pushing for tougher rhetorics in order to denounce Russian violations in Ukraine. As explained by Mogherini ensuing the FAC meeting, “a major EU political role on the way to find effective means to have a political solution to the crisis, engaging in dialogue with Russia.” Four dimensions were discussed during the Council meeting:

  • first, reaffirming EU’s support for the Minsk Protocol and Memorandums (pushed by France, the Benelux countries, and Finland);
  • second, underscoring the importance of the formation of the new government following the national parliamentary elections of October 26th;
  • third, eventual sanctions targeting Ukrainian separatists, possibly agreed next month. But according to German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, stricter sanctions are not currently on the table;
  • fourth, the launch on December 1st of the EU Advisory Mission for Civilian Security Sector Reform Ukraine (EUAM Ukraine).

EUAM Ukraine – The latest CSDP mission

Source: EEAS
Source: EEAS

The EUAM Ukraine, or the latest Common Security and Defense Policy mission, will be launched on December 1st, 2014. EUAM Ukraine is a civilian, or unarmed, non-executive civilian mission. EUAM was created on July 22nd, 2014 and is led by Kálmán Mizsei, appointed on the 24th of July. From its initial creation on July 22nd to November 30th, EUAM received a €2.68 million for the start-up of the mission. More recently, the Council has allocated a budget of € 13.1m for the first 12 months of the mission’s two-year mandate starting on the 1st of December. The mission of EUAM Ukraine consists in assisting “the Ukrainian authorities in the field of civilian security sector reform, including police and rule of law.” So far, there is no indication of the size of the EUAM.

In the aftermath of its establishment in July, former HR/VP Ashton declared:

“The Ukrainian Authorities have embarked on the critical path of civilian security sector reform and have requested the support of the European Union. The EU is deploying this mission to assist Ukraine in this reform, including police and the rule of law. It will provide strategic advice for the development of effective, sustainable and accountable security services that contribute to strengthening the rule of law in Ukraine, for the benefit of all Ukrainian citizens throughout the country.”
 

Several months later, newly appointed HR/VP Mogherini announced that

“Responding to a request from Ukraine, the EU advisory mission will assist in the reform of the Ukrainian civilian security sector, including police and civilian security services, public prosecution and the courts. EU experts will work for efficient, trusted civilian security institutions under democratic control. Like the Association Agreement, the Status of  Mission Agreement is a further sign of our joint efforts for a genuine reform process for Ukraine.”
 

The Status of Mission Agreement (SOMA) has already been signed between the HR/VP Mogherini and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, permitting an immediate launch of the operation on the 1st of December. Despite a small budget, the EUAM mandate and mission is enormous. EUAM is supposed to advise on a reform strategy over the civilian security sectors, including the police and the rule of law, and oversee its implementation. In a report produced by Bruxelles2, Nicolas Gros-Verheyde underscored the degree of challenges in creating and implementing the rule of law in Ukraine in a two-year period considering the level of corruption, the nature of the police forces – an historically politicized and militarized instrument -, and reaffirming the power of a centralized government – as some regions are under militia control -.

The implementation and deployment of EUAM Ukraine is a positive note for the EU as its represent a certain willingness to act in Ukraine aside the OSCE. Unfortunately, EUAM Ukraine does not address the root cause of the current tension in Ukraine, Russia. Even though, European leaders have talked tough in Australia, they are still not addressing the real problem represented by Russia. In her recent op-ed, Judy Dempsey underscored how Chancellor Merkel perceives Russia as the main threat to Europe’ security and her continuous interaction with her Russian counterpart as she does not trust him.

Following the G-20 meeting, Chancellor Merkel made some comments about the Ukrainian crisis, saying “suddenly we are confronted with a conflict which goes to the center of our values, so to speak. Now we can’t hold speeches at commemorations. Now we have to show what we have learned from all this.” Chancellor Merkel was clear on advancing the need for Europe to stop the talking and finally start behaving as a regional power. Additionally, Dempsey wrote that “The recent bout of Western sanctions against Russia have shown how the diplomatic path is not working. That is all the more reason for European leaders to accept the changing geostrategic realities.” Once again, EUAM illustrates the gap between between the rhetorics and the actions.

The Use of Economic Power to Asserting Europe’s Power?

To some degree EUAM Ukraine can be compared, in terms of strategic choice, to the failed EU mission in Afghanistan, EUPOL-A, trying to reform the Afghan National Police (ANP) in wartime. Despite, American and Western military presence, the EU was unable to perform such complex and lengthy process considering the security challenges in Afghanistan among other reasons. In Ukraine, wherein combats are taking place in the Eastern part of the country, wherein Russian presence and influence is undeniable, how can the EU be successful at reforming the civilian security sector in two years. Not significant reforms can be implemented until the borders are secure, the political situation of Eastern part of Ukraine is settled, and the central government of Ukraine is legitimate all around the country. EUAM Ukraine should be launched once the status of Ukraine is settled and Russian influence minimized, not before.

Right now, the EU ought to address the military threat represented by Russia on the European continent against Ukraine and some EU Member States. The EU and its Member States are not committed to use hard power, so they will need to increase the economic sanctions against Russia. EUAM does not respond to the geostrategic realities in Europe, deeper and stricter economic sanctions would finally demonstrate EU commitment to enforcing its influence and responding to Russian actions. The EU has demonstrated that it is not and does not want to become a military power in order to assert its influence and power, its economic engine and market may be the instrument to do so. “Merkel believes that German industry, and Europe as a whole,” argued Dempsey, “must be willing to pay the price for Putin’s violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity.” History has demonstrated that there is always a cost to pay in order to assure one’s security. The EU feels that by adopting a ‘wait and see’ approach, the security threat embodied by Russia will eventually disappear. The battle over Ukraine may be a bigger fight about the future of geopolitics and peace on the European continent.

(Copyright 2014 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

The Promise of a more Political, Social and Human Europe

European Parliament 2014
European Parliament 2014

Jean-Claude Juncker has been approved as the next President of the Commission by the European Parliament (EP) during a meeting in Strasbourg on July 15th, 2014. The new rules, since the Treaty of Lisbon, entail that the President of the Commission must be elected by absolute majority by the EP, meaning at least 376 of the 751 total votes. Juncker received 422 votes in favor, 250 against and 47 abstentions, which represents 56% of the vote (note that only 729 MEPs were in Strasbourg for the vote).

The election of Juncker does not come at a surprise considering the new institutional design implemented by the 2009 Treaty of Lisbon. Following the European elections in May 2014, the leading party, in this case the center-right Europe People’s Party (EPP), won the most seats at the EP (see the results here). For such reason, Juncker became the leading candidate for the Commission’s top job. He was then approved by European leaders during the Council meeting in late June 2014. The vote at the EP marks the end of the appointment process of the Mr. Juncker as the new President of Commission. Following the vote, the Euroskeptics, and especially the MEPs from the French extreme-right wing party, le Front National, expressed their opinion comparing such elections as a mascarade and a direct threat to national sovereignty. Such opinion could not be further from the truth; as argued by Juncker in his speech, “For the first time, a direct link has thereby been established between the outcome of the European Parliament elections and the proposal of the President of the European Commission” (p. 2).

A more social Europe

Prior to the vote, Mr. Juncker delivered a speech before the EP in French and German. The linguistic choice is already marking a split with his predecessor principally using English (yes, languages still matter in Europe especially for the French). In his speech, entitled A new start for Europe: My agenda for Jobs, Growth, Fairness and Democratic Change, Mr. Juncker laid out his ‘political guidelines’ for his next Commission. In short, he promises a more social Europe.

In his introduction, Mr. Juncker explains his vision of his job for the next five years:

As candidate for President of the European Commission, I see it as my key task to rebuild bridges in Europe after the crisis. To restore European citizens’ confidence. To focus our policies on the key challenges ahead for our economies and for our societies. And to strengthen democratic legitimacy on the basis of the Community method.
 

In sum, Juncker wants to establish himself as the transition from a Europe in crisis to a reforming and growing Europe. Could it be that the EU finally stop seeking solutions in perpetual institutional make-up, and now focuses on launching meaningful policies? His agenda for his quinquennum is based around 10 policy areas listed below:

  1. boosting employment, growth and investment
  2. creating of a digital single market
  3. establishing a European Energy Union aligned with environmental standards
  4. stronger industrial base to boost the internal market (related to the four freedoms of the common market: goods, services, capital and people)
  5. adjusting the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) through greater convergence of national economic, fiscal and labor policies
  6. concluding the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)
  7. promoting fundamental rights and rule of law
  8. developing a new EU policy in migration (common asylum policy, policy on legal migration and irregular migration, securing the borders)
  9. continuing the fostering of the EU as a global actor (more effective EU foreign policy; greater cooperation with the HR/VP; deepening the defense market at the EU level; and digestion of the 13 recent EU Member States). Juncker underscores, even put the sentence in his speech in bold, that no further enlargement would take place in the next five years (the Balkans and Ukraine will have to wait)
  10. promoting and developing a more democratic Europe with greater transparency and communication

This speech seems aligned with national demands – from European citizens -. An important problem that Barroso may not have handled well enough was the low level of the communication and understanding between European citizens and Brussels. Juncker’s agenda is broad, but yet focused, and tackles a lot issues important to the European citizens such as legal and illegal migrations, TTIP, GMOs, energy, environmental policy and so on. Now, his task will be to convey the message to Europeans.

What’s next?

The overall process for the appointment of the new Commission is composed of several steps: first, the European elections; second the appointment of the new President of the Commission; third, the selection and appointment of the new Commission and other EU’s top jobs. The transfer of power from Barroso to Juncker is scheduled for November 2014. The rest of the Commission, meaning the Commissioners (read here the possible nominees for the different seats at the Commission), has yet to be approved by the European Parliament after the summer.

But the hiring process seems much more difficult than expected. For instance, European leaders were supposed to have selected the new EU foreign policy chief – legally called High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the Commission (read here an analysis on the position) – and the President of the European Council, but have failed to do so. The political fight, or bargaining process, over the appointments of top EU’s jobs has been difficult. German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, was quoted saying during the negotiations, “it can very well be that it’s just a first discussion and no decision yet. I am rather sceptical we can agree today.” The meeting ended after midnight with no decisions on the next EU diplomatic chief and President of the European Council. EU leaders are scheduled to meet again on August 30th. The time lapse may indicate the difficulty of the negotiation and lack of agreement on the these two top positions as well as some of the candidates for positions in the Juncker Commission.

(Copyright 2014 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

EU’s Conclusions on ISIS and the Crisis in Iraq

Photograph: ph: Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Images
Photograph: ph: Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Images

Finally EU foreign policy ministers have commented on the situation in Iraq. After the Foreign Affairs council meeting on June 23, 2014 in Luxembourg, the Council of the EU expressed several conclusions on the crisis in Iraq.

Here are some of most important points of the conclusions:

  1. Europeans condemned the attacks perpetuated by ISIS – identified by the Council as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) – and affiliated groups in Iraq.
  2. The EU expresses its concerns about the humanitarian crisis taking place in Iraq and will increase the total of humanitarian assistance by €5 million, bringing it to a total for 2014 of €12 million.
  3. The EU underscores its commitments to the unity of the state of Iraq and finding a political solution to achieve such goal.
  4. The EU calls on the Iraqi government to implement “decisive measures to promote an inclusive approach, respect the rule of law and human rights and address the needs and legitimate aspirations of all components of Iraqi society, which are prerequisites for the stability and security of the country and the region.”
  5. One of the most important conclusions, the EU “notes the close link” between the crisis in Iraq and the “situation in Syria” causing the “flow of foreign fighters, which contributes to exacerbating tensions in both countries, and reiterates the urgency to move towards a genuine political transition in Syria.”

Ultimately and as expected, the conclusions advanced by the Council are toothless and do not reflect the degree of the crisis on the ground and in the region. The gap between the framing of the problem on the two sides of the pond is certainly quite interesting. From an American perspective, US officials have undeniably securitized the issue of ISIS and the Iraqi chaos. The debate in Washington is in between the neoconservatives arguing in favor of military interventions, and the others in favor of a more political and diplomatic approach. From an European stand point, ISIL and Iraq seem only some sort of foreign/remote problems. There is no mention of the degree of the threat and the national security crisis caused by ISIS; or even a possible partnership to American efforts on the ground in terms of providing assistance in the training of Iraqi Armed Forces – police and army combined –. The ministers strategically avoided the core of Iraq crisis (see the previous analysis on the matter as well as Biscop’s from Egmont), which could lead to conclude that the EU may remain passive on the matter.

So far the EU is consumed by two current crises. First, the Ukrainian crisis seems the priority for the EU considering the innumerable numbers of talks and declarations coming for the EU and the EEAS. The situation between Ukraine and Russia is certainly alarming, however, avoiding the Iraqi crisis may hurt the Union in the long-term. How can the EU wanting to be a regional security power continues cheery-picking the crisis it wants to tackle? Second, since the elections of the new European

Photographer: Jock Fistick/Bloomberg
Photographer: Jock Fistick/Bloomberg

Parliament in May 2014, the current European game of thrones has been taking place (see several analyses on the issue here, here and here). The European heads of states and governments are now in crisis management mode around the divers appointments of future high level positions such as the President of the Commission, the President of the European Council, the President of the European Parliament and the next HR/VP for Foreign Affairs. Most of the attention is taking place on the ongoing political fraught between British Prime Minister Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the appointment of the Jean-Claude Junker as the next President of the Commission. So far for Europeans, the fight around the control of European institutions seems more important than the one over the complete shift and crisis taking place in one of the most volatile regions of the world.

(Copyright 2014 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)