Syriza – The Greek Silver Bullet?

Photographer: Yorgos Karahalis /Bloomberg
Photographer: Yorgos Karahalis /Bloomberg

Syriza won the 2015 Greek elections with over 12.5 percentage points on New Democracy. Syriza elections at the head of the Greek government should not be seen as a surprise. It was in fact a continuity of its rise. For instance, in May 2014, the party had already won the majority in Greece, with 26.6%, for the European elections. Ensuing the results, Syriza did not have enough votes in order to fully control the new Greek government. The question was answered when Panos Kammenos, the leader of the coalition partner, Independent Greeks, a right-wing party, decided to join forces with Alexis Tsipras. The Independent Greeks, whom received 13 seats at the Parliament, formed a coalition with Syriza, holding 149 seats (two shy of the majority). Independent Greeks and Syriza share one element in common: desire to renegotiate the terms of the bailouts and ending the austerity measures (See below the distribution of power inside the new Greek Parliament).

Source: BBC News
Source: BBC News

In any case, Alexis Tsipras, will become the next greek prime minister. His mandate is based on ending the austerity measures, while maintaining the flow of European assistance to Greece. M. Tsipras, as Chancellor Merkel, President Hollande, know very well that a Grexit – exit of the Greece from the Eurozone – would be a terrible moment for the Euro and the EU. But one of the core questions is: how much are European partners – Germany, France and the European and international institutions – prepared to compromise with him?

Seeking for Dignity and Political Sovereignty

The current legislative elections in Greece have become more than just an election. By bringing Syriza to power Greek citizens want to change the political direction of their country. For now six years, the greek economy is in recession and the succeeding governments – socialists and conservatives – have all continued the same policy based on austerity measures in order to clean-up Greek finances. However, these measures, attached to the succeeding bailouts, have had terrible consequences on the quality of life in Greece.

For the first time in recent years in Europe, it is not a extreme-right wing party threatening to overtake power, but an extreme-left. These elections raise important question: the future of Greece in the Eurozone; the future of austerity measures implemented by the Troika (Commission, European Central Bank, and International Monetary Fund); and the return of democracy in Greece. After voting, Alexis Tsipras made two pledges: first, “Democracy will return to Greece.” Second, “the choice is clearer than ever. Either the troika comes back and continues its work and its catastrophic politic of austerity, or we are moving towards a difficult and tense renegotiations with our partners in order to re-conquer our dignity.” Tsipras was able to base its campaign on the themes of dignity and national sovereignty. In a report on France Inter, a French journalist was describing the emotions of Greek citizens as they feel proud of having reconquered their political sovereignty, which is not anymore under the helm of the Troika -at least for now-.

However, Wolfango Piccoli, managing director at Teneo Intelligence in London, told Bloomberg Businessweek that “Tsipras will be the celebrated winner, but delivering on voters’ larger-than-life expectations has not become easier after the landslide victory.” The next day will be tough for Greeks and Tsipras. Many questions are now being asked in Greece: who will compose the new government? how will Tsipras be able to renegotiate the terms of the bailout? how will Syriza be able to govern?

The Real Impacts of the Austerity Measures

The case of Greece within the Eurozone diverge from other Eurozone members like Italy, Spain, Portugal or even Ireland. When Greece was on the verge of defaulting in 2008, the main reason was that the political class had cooked the numbers for quite some time. Greece had been for decades under a corrupted political class. Syriza rise to power put an end to the perpetual control of Greek politics by either the Papandreou or the Karamanlis family and their connection to powerful oligarchs. If one recall, it took a long time for the other Eurozone members to decide on saving Greece and then how to implement a plan in order to save Greece and keep it inside the Eurozone. In some way, the members wanted to give a lesson to Greece. It has been now more than five years since the first bailout package was delivered to Greece. The first package included “€110 billion ($150 billion) and was first agreed upon by the euro-zone member states and the IMF in 2010.”

In counterpart to receiving bailout money from the Troika, Greece has had to implement serious structural reform in order to reform the labor market and in liberalizing areas of the product markets. Aside from the reforms, the Greek government had to cut pensions, lay out large amount of public servants, and so forth. Certainly Greece lied and did not follow the guidelines established in the Eurozone once it adopted the Euro in 2001. But the costs of the austerity measures on Greece and the greek society have been terrible. How do the austerity measures translate into daily life? For most of Western citizens, these are two words reflecting government spending cuts in most social policies. Well, for Greece and Greek citizens, austerity measures look like this:

  • on public health
    • left over a million without healthcare (for a country counting 11 million citizens, so 1/10);
    • country’s health budget was slashed by almost 40%;
    • rising infant mortality rates by 43% from 2008 to 2010;
    • soaring levels of HIV infection among drug users;
    • the return of malaria;
    • and a spike in the suicide count;
    • decline of birth rate by 15% (a drop from 118,302 in 2008 to 100,980 in 2012);
  • on the economic life
    • decline of GDP per capita from roughly $30,000 in 2008 to $21,000 in 2014;
    • 1/5 of the country lives under poverty lines;
    • rising unemployment levels at 25.8% in Greece compared to 23.7% in Spain, 13.4% in Italy, 13.1% in Portugal and 10.4% in France;
    • highest youth unemployment rate in Europe with 61.5% in 2013 (see chart below);

chartoftheday_1524_Youth_Unemployment_Still_Unrelenting_in_Europe_b

  • on social life
    • cuts on public education and especially higher education;
    • over 200,000 Greek citizens have left the country since 2009, and a majority of them are going to either Germany or the United Kingdom;
    • a ‘brain drain’ is occurring, which will affect the transition of the country in the decades to come.

In some part of the country, Médecins du monde, an international non-governmental organization, is now providing healthcare. On its website Médecins du monde writes that “the measures destined to save the financial system do not take into consideration the human consequences.” In some ways, considering the numbers above, it is not difficult to understand why Greek citizens picked the Syriza route over the traditional center right/left.

Syriza: A European Experiment?

Will the elections of a radical left party save Greece? Not really. Syriza is far from being a silver bullet. However, it could offer some serious leverage in order to loosen the weight of the austerity measures, re-negotiate the terms of the bailout, and find a long-term plan for Greece. Additionally, Syriza has become for many a political experiment in a Europe in search of a new political and economic life. Syriza does not appear to be a red revolution, but rather a road for more human transition.

Dying in Greece because of poverty is a reality, and is unacceptable on one of the richest continents. Greece is a core EU Member State, it is a Member of the Eurozone. The European Union is a political and social endeavor between a group of states committed to such goal. The force of the austerity measures and the requirements on Greece in order to save the Union back in 2008 may have been a necessity at first considering the degree of interconnection between all world banks. However, the continuity of their effects on Greece should have long been renegotiated. The EU has become a multi-speed Union, composed of a Northern Group and Southern Group (rich and poor) on many important issues: in defense with the CSDP; in democratic and judiciary terms – see at Romania, Bulgaria and Czech Republic -; in economic policies – look at Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy -.

The ECB announced last week the beginning of a massive Quantitative Easing (QE), a program open-ended by nature – at least until the inflation rate of 2% is attained – of a value of €60 billion a month. However, the European QE won’t be enough until the European economic engines are not reformed and become more competitive. In parallel, the European Commission has announced the launch in 2015 of its Juncker Plan, a €315bn investment fund program intended to kick-start the European economy/ies. Both plans, QE and the Juncker Plan, will be necessary, but Member States ought to address their economic, industrial and financial models at home and harmonize them with European regulations and commitments that they agreed to.

Syriza won’t solve Greece’s problems, but it will once and for all bring important issues on the European table. The 2008 financial crisis has had devastating effects on most European citizens. The European welfare states are under-attack; unemployment levels among European youth is too high for any viable future of the EU-28 and the Union; and the rise of political extremes – right and left – endangered democratic foundations. Syriza’s message embodies all these elements. Money won’t solve it all, but politics will. As underscored by Christian Odendahl and Simon Tilford of the Center for European Reform, the three areas of negotiations will be required in Greece: debt relief, austerity, and structural reform. Both side, Greece, and the international institutions and EU Member States, will be bargaining for their side during tense period of negotiations. Both have some nuclear options, as highlighted by Odendahl and Tilford, “the withdrawal of liquidity for Greek banks, which the ECB has said it is considering; and the unilateral default on official loans by Greece.” The bottom is line is keeping Greece in, while loosening government maneuvers.

These elections are for the first time since the 2008 financial crisis illustrating a real popular call for ending austerity measures through neo-keynesian policies (read here a good analysis on the issue), and not anti-globalization and mercantilist policies advocated by extreme-right parties. As Tsipras told Greek citizens a week ago, “Our victory is also a victory of all the people of Europe struggling against austerity, which is destroying our common European future.” Europe will be watching carefully the way Tsipras implements its reforms, while keeping Greece in the Eurozone, keeping the flow of foreign aids, getting private investments, and rebuilding the public sectors to acceptable standards. “Populist parties across Europe” writes Judy Dempsey “are cock-a-hoop over Tsipras’s victory, seeing it as an inspiration for their own political ambitions.” But a failure by Tsipras will be the nail in the coffin for radical lefts and socialist parties around Europe; while a mild- or full- success could change the economic, social, fiscal and monetary debates in the decades to come. Greece is hoping; Europe is monitoring; the World is watching.

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

Year in Review – A Relentless 2014

wiatrowski-us-eu-article-image

2014 has certainly been a complex and eventful year for the world; and 2015 already started at full throttle with the recent terrorist attacks in France. The relentless year was marked by a succession of events affecting directly or indirectly the Euro-Atlantic community at every level of analysis imaginable: individual, domestic, national, regional and naturally international. This year Politipond has identified six axiomatic issues occurring in 2014 with likely future repercussions.

The election of the European Parliament – the European earthquake

Were the European Parliament elections in May 2014 a wake-up call for Europe? Or the beginning of a new direction for the Union? The elections underscored a trend in most EU Member States, a shift towards the extremes (right and left). Some EU Member States have seen an increasing attraction to extreme-left parties. Greece, which has been at the heart of the future of the Eurozone since 2009, is still experiencing considerable traumas caused by the austerity measures implemented as required by the terms of the bailout. Today, Greece is still facing political problems, which has been a blessing for Syriza, a far-left populist party led by Alexis Tsipras. In other EU Member States, the shift has been towards the extreme-right wing political parties. This is the case in several large EU Member States such as France (with the Front National led by Marine Le Pen), the United Kingdom (with UK Independence Party with Nigel Farage), the Netherlands (Party of Freedom with Geert Wilders), Austria (Freedom Party of Austria and Alliance for the Future of Austria with Heinz-Christian Strache and Josef Bucher), among others.

Among these parties, the Front National, UKIP and the Freedom Party have increased their visibility on the European stage and their influence on shaping national debates. In the case of the Front National, the party received the most votes in France for the 2014 EP elections with 25% of the votes representing an increase by 18.9% from the 2009 EP elections (read analysis on France here). Marine Le Pen even called her party the first one of France. The graph below illustrates the votes received by extreme-right wing parties in the 2014 EP elections.

Graph by Alexandre Afonso
Graph by Alexandre Afonso

The 2014 EP elections were certainly a political earthquake in Europe as large EU Member States fell to extreme parties. However, institutionally, the influence of right-wing parties at the EP remains minor as they only have 52 seats out of the 751. At the end of the day, the EP remains in the hands of the EPP (Social Democrats) and the S&D (Socialists). But the increase of votes received by extreme-right parties underlined several aspects: a high discontentment with the EU; a misunderstanding of the EU; nationalist feelings; and the permanent anger towards immigrants. During Pope Francis’ speech before the EP in December, he described the EU as an “elderly and haggard” Europe. Europe needs to reconnect with its citizens, and it won’t be with the help of its radical parties.

A new EU leadership

2014 was the year of the renouveau in terms of changing personnel at leadership positions in the EU. This was the case for the High Representative (HR/VP), known as the EU foreign minister, the President of the Commission, and the President of the European Council. Ensuing the European elections for the European Parliament (EP) in May, the President of the EP remained the same, Martin Schulz. Considering the HRVP and the

Source: Getty
Source: Getty

President of the Commission, the latter went to former Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Juncker (read here an article on the Juncker Commission) and to the former Italian Foreign Minister, Federiga Mogherini. These two individuals have been welcomed as they are expected to bring a new wind to Europe and their respective institutions. The José Manuel Barroso’s years have affected the dynamism of the Commission, especially in his last quinquennat; while, for his counterpart, Catherine Ashton, she never seemed at her ease leading the European foreign policy machine and the EEAS. However, Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council left the position to Polish Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, in excellent standing. Herman Van Rompuy, undeniably discrete but efficient, was axiomatic in holding European unity especially during the period of tense negotiations to save the PIIGS and the Eurozone (read here one of the best peer-reviewed articles on Ashton and Van Rompuy).

Soon after his appointment Jean-Claude Juncker pledged before the EP that he would seek to reboost and/or reboot the European economic engine. Later this fall, he announced his strategy, known as the Juncker Plan, a €315bn investment fund program intended to kick-start the European economy/ies. The Commission argues that the Juncker plan could “create up to 1.3 million jobs with investment in broadband, energy networks and transport infrastructure, as well as education and research.” This public-private investment fund program (the Commission and the European Investment Bank (EIB) would create a €21bn reserve fund allowing the EIB to provide loans of a total of €63bn, while the bulk of the money, €252bn, would come from private investors) would allow to fund broad construction and renovation programs across Europe. Some experts argue that the Juncker plan is too little, in terms of the size of the investments, while EU Member States are reluctant to invest their shares in such program. In any case, it won’t start before mid-2015.

Sluggish negotiations around the TTIP

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), initiated in July 2013, has become a sluggish and complex series of negotiations between the EU and the US. At first this massive bilateral trade agreement was expected to be quickly completed and agreed. The TTIP consists in removing trade barriers in a wide range of economic sectors as well as harmonizing some rules, technical regulation, standards, and approval procedures. According to the European Commission, the TTIP is projected to boost the EU’s economy by €120 billion; the US economy by €90 billion; and the rest of the world by €100 billion. “The TTIP’s goal” argue Javier Solana and Carl Bildt, “is to unleash the power of the transatlantic economy, which remains by far the world’s largest and wealthiest market, accounting for three-quarters of global financial activity and more than half of world trade.”

Almost two years in, the negotiations on the TTIP are facing serious criticisms inside Europe. The TTIP has provided the arguments to anti-globalization movements, fear of decline of democratic foundations, declining national sovereignty, as well as destruction of national/regional identities and cultures. Nevertheless, as demonstrated below, a majority of European citizens are in favor of the TTIP at the exception of Austria.

Source: Eurobarometer
Source: Eurobarometer

The TTIP is seen as a way to relaunch the transatlantic economy, but mainly European economies stagnating since the financial crisis. The TTIP is as well a response to the other trade agreements, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and the rise of Asian economies. Economists and experts argue that a failure to conclude the TTIP in 2015 could lead to the collapse of the negotiations and leave the European economy in difficult position in the years/decade to come.

A Climate Deal for the Earth?

President Obama announced on November 11 the historical climate deal with his Chinese counterpart to control the level of pollution of the two nations. The US pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 26% below the 2005 levels by 2025, while China committed to increase its share of power produced by non-carbon sources, nuclear and solar, to 20%. Nevertheless, China recognized that its greenhouse gas emissions will continue peaking until at least 2030.

pol_climatechart48_630

This climate pact between the two largest polluting nations was agreed weeks prior the Lima summit laying down groundwork for the comprehensive UN greenhouse gas reduction pact expected to be agreed at the 2015 Paris summit, known as the United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNFCC COP21). The 2014 US-Chinese climate pact is an important stepping-stone prior the 2015 climate summit in Paris. The 2015 Paris summit may be a turning point for the EU and the EU-28 to lead on this question after the 2009 Copenhagen fiasco.

A Terrorist Triad: ISIL, Boko Harm, and Al-Shabaab

Terrorism has always existed and will continue to live on. However, the type of terrorism faced by the Euro-Atlantic community since the mid-1990s has been principally based on radical islamic terrorism. The principal group on top of Western lists was Al-Qaeda, which has lost some of its grandeur since the assassination of its leader Ben Laden. The year 2014 was important as three groups have shaped Western foreign policies: the new comer, Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL, also now referred as the Islamic State, IS), and two more established groups, Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab. Each group does fall under a similar category of being inspired by Islam, but have different agendas and different radiance.

In the case of Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab, both groups are located on the African continents. Boko Haram, an Islamic sect, recognized by the US in 2013 as a foreign terrorist organization, seeks to create an Islamic state in Nigeria. Boko Haram became a familiar house-name in 2014 with the kidnapping of hundreds of school girls creating an outcry in the US. In the case of Al-Shabaad, a somali islamic terrorist group, is an Al-Qaeda militant group fighting for the creation of an Islamic state in Somalia. The group has started to increase its attacks outside of Somalia’s borders and especially against Uganda and Kenya (remember the terrorist attack on a Nairobi Mall in 2013) as both states are actively involved in fighting Al-Shabaad.

The last terrorist group, ISIL, is more recent. It has risen from the rubbles of the Syrian civil war, ensuing the Arab Spring. Prior its existence as ISIL, it was identified as Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and emerged during the US campaign against Saddam Hussein. The group became ISIL in 2012 when the ambition of the group became regional and some fighters moved their fight to Syria. Even though Western governments were aware of its existence, ISIL became a top priority for Western citizens – regardless of its real threat to Western homelands – in June 2014 after several victories in overtaking large Iraqi cities like Mosul and Fallujah. ISIL has progressively begun a territorial warfare in order to create its own state, a caliphate, over parts of Syria and Iraq.

Sources: Jasmine Opperman, Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium; Hisham Alhashimi. Photograph by The Associated Press.
Sources: Jasmine Opperman, Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium; Hisham Alhashimi. Photograph by The Associated Press. Published in the New York Times on September 16, 2014

The core distinction between ISIL and the two other groups lays in their soft power. ISIL has been extremely attractive to many Europeans and Americans citizens, while Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab have remained more local/regional in their recruiting efforts. A large number of Western citizens, mainly from France, Belgium and the UK, have decided to join the fight aside ISIL fighters in Syria. These fighters have been perceived as a real threat to homeland security (as proven by the January 7th attacks in France against Charlie Hebdo).

Published in the Economist of August 30, 2014
Published in the Economist of August 30, 2014

Ultimately, these three terrorist organizations will keep their importance on influencing Western foreign and defense policies as the US and some of its European allies are already involved in military actions in Iraq and Syria. In the case of Europe, France is actively fighting terrorist networks in the region of the Sahel (Operation Barkhane, read here a previous analysis) and other African nations like in Mali (Operation Serval).

Russia Unchecked?

On the European chessboard, 2014 belongs to Russia. Russia brought back the European continent to traditional warfare with territorial invasions and other types of military provocations unseen since the Cold War (including the destruction of an airliner above Ukraine). 2014 started with the ‘invasion‘ of Crimea by the Russian army leading to its annexation to Russia validated by a referendum. By mid-Spring 2014, Ukraine had lost a part of its territory without any actions by the members of the Euro-Atlantic community. The West started to act against Russia during the summer once reports revealed the presence of ‘green men’ in Eastern Ukraine and movement of military equipments across the border.

During the summer, EU Member States agreed on a series of sanctions against Russian individuals and some financial institutions. At first, many experts thought that20141122_FBC287 the sanctions were too little too late, but in late 2014 the Russian economy was showing serious signs of weakness. However, one needs to underscore that the slowdown of the Russian economy is related to the collapse of the oil prices and a decrease in consumer spendings. In almost one year, the rouble has lost 30% of its value and the Russian economy is on the verge of recession. As reported by the Economist, “Banks have been cut off from Western capital markets, and the price of oil—Russia’s most important export commodity—has fallen hard.”

Despite the economic situation of Russia, at least until now, Vladimir Putin has maintained throughout 2014 a very strong domestic support and sky-high approval rating. Putin’s decision to invade and annex Crimea was highly popular in Russia (as illustrated below). Additionally, the anti-Western narratives advanced by Putin have been well received domestically. However, with the decline of the Russian economy the shift from Russian foreign prestige to more concrete concerns, like jobs, economic stability, and social conditions, may re-become of importance in the national debate.

PutinApproval2000-sept14

2015, Year of the Renouveau?

The economists seem very optimistic considering the forecast of the global economy. According to Les Echos (of December 30, 2014) 2014 was indeed an excellent year for world markets with record results for Shanghai (+49.7% since December 31, 2013), New York (+13.1% for S&P 500 since December 31, 2013), a modest result for Stoxx Europe (+4.9%), a stagnating French CAC40 (+0.5%), and a declining British FTSE (-1.7%). But with rising world markets, declining oil prices, increasing US gas production, and an increasing American growth, 2015 looks bright for the US, but remain mitigated for European economies.

The Grexit may be back on the table based on the elections of January 25th. With Syriza at the head of the polls, his leader has been calling for a renegotiation of Greece’s loan terms implemented by the Troika (IMF, Commission, and ECB). Neither Berlin nor Brussels want to go down this road. According to Der Spiegel, Berlin is willing to let Athens leave the European Monetary Union (EMU) if it decides to abandon the austerity measures. Two aspects can be underscored: on the one hand, some argues that Berlin is not worried anymore about a contagion to other European economies in case of a Grexit. While on the other, some others are claiming that it is part of a ‘tactical game’ played by Berlin in order to lower the chances of a Syriza victory at the end of the month. In any case, the question of the Euro and EU membership will remain throughout 2015.

Will the Brexit occur? In 2015, British subjects will be voting for the next Prime Minister. The elections are going to be closely monitored considering the possibilities of an eventual referendum on the future of the United Kingdom’s EU membership. The current PM, David Cameron, has been promising a referendum for 2017 if re-elected and has been a counter-productive force in Brussels. Additionally, Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), getting strong results at the 2014 EP elections seem a strong frontrunner for the post of PM. He has, as well, promised a referendum on the EU membership of the UK. The financial hub of Europe, the City, has been concerned about the financial and economic repercussions of a Brexit. The City’s argument is that by being outside a powerful club, the EU, the UK won’t be able to influence its decision-making and direction. In a recent poll, 56% of British citizens are favorable in staying within the Union.

Last but not least, 2015 may be the year of another large debate in Europe about terrorism versus immigration, freedom versus security and the solidification of the rise of anti-immigrants parties. The terrorist attacks of January 7th, 2015 in Paris will change the national and European debate about counterterrorism, social-economic policies, domestic political narratives, and naturally foreign policies towards the Arab world.

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

Four Questions for the New Commission

Juncker-Commission-600x427

The European Parliament (EP) has finally approved the new Commission, known as the Juncker Commission. After his election with a large majority by the European Parliament on July 15th, 2014, Jean-Claude Juncker, former Prime Minister of Luxembourg and long-time European advocate, has been working on shaping its tenure and designing his Commission for the 2015-2019 period. On October 29th, Jose-Manuel Barroso, the current President of the Commission, will participate at his last meeting at the helm of the Commission. On Thursday, Barroso will be meeting with Juncker and the newly appointed President of the European Council, Donald Tusk – whom would take his functions on December 1st -, for a last transition meeting before the beginning of the Juncker era.

On September 10th, 2014, President-elect Juncker presented his team and the distribution of the portfolios accordingly. Ensuing his presentation, each Commissioner-to-be was facing individual hearing before the relevant European Parliament committees. From September 29th to October 20th, the EP was interviewing each candidate. Out of the 27 designated, only one was rejected, Alenka Bratušek, the Slovenian candidate responsible for the Energy Union. Other candidates like France’s Moscovici, UK’s Hill, faced tough confirmation hearings. Jonathan Hill, candidate for the financial DG, was even called back for a second hearing. It is Frans Timmermans, a former foreign minister of the Netherlands, whom becomes the first vice president and will serve as Mr. Juncker’s deputy.

Source: European Commission. 2014.
Source: European Commission. 2014

Four Questions for the Juncker Commission

Even though Barroso is still at the helm of the Commission (read here his defense of his tenure), one should take the time to raise a series of questions prior the shift of power at the Berlaymont.

1. Will the Juncker Commission be the political, social and human commission promoted at the time of the appointment of Juncker?

2. Making Europe closer to Europeans – reconciling Europe with the Europeans. How successful will Juncker and its apostles be at it? This issue is more than simply explaining to Europeans citizens what the EU does and doesn’t. It is in fact an important dimension considering the rise of the extremes – right and left combined – in most EU Member States. Juncker needs to create a new narrative explaining the importance of the EU – without sounding like a history professor – and demonstrating its relevance in order to assure the survival of European uniquenesses under the forces of globalization. The recent outcomes of the European Parliaments’ elections in May 2014 clearly demonstrated the gap between Brussels and Europeans. The blame ought to be distributed across the board: Member States have played the Brussels’ bashing game in order to cover up their incompetencies for too long; Brussels has sounded to distant and cold by adopting the approach of one policy fits all; European citizens have not done their jobs of citizens for too long – and even enjoyed the ride when the economic situation was stable and rosy – and have blamed the Euro and Europe for all their traumas – including high level of unemployment, which the Commission has no power over it -.

3. Member States – their support to the Juncker Commission will be crucial for a new energy in European politics. Under Barroso, the Commission has lost some of its relevance and power at the benefit of the Council and European Council. Juncker ought to make the Commission once again relevant and guardian of the Treaties. According to the Treaties, “the Commission has the sole right to initiate European legislation and the power to enforce treaties by suing member governments at the Court of Justice of the European Union.” But Juncker cannot do miracles with the current governments like the ones in the UK and France blaming all their turmoils on Europe. The most recent outcry by David Cameron about the extra €2.1 billion bill is a ‘joke.’ According to the EU budget commissioner, Jacek Dominik, British officials knew for 10 days the adjustment of their share to the EU budget based on changes in their gross national income (watch the video here). Cameron’s anger is simply political to attract his electoral base and the more extremes branch of the UKIP. In France, the recent submission of the new French budget falls under the same category, minus the anger. Core EU Member States are playing the card of domestic political appeal at the cost of European soundness. France cannot be upset at the rules that it had previously agreed on and voted in favor. Barroso undermined to some extent the power of the Commission, will Juncker bring it back?

4. How does Juncker get the EU become more integrated on important policies like foreign affairs, energy/environmental policies and fiscal policies among others. On foreign affairs, that would be in the hands of the HR/VP Mogherini. But on energy and environmental policies, the Juncker Commission could once and for all initiate a clear agenda for a shift towards greener energies, while contributing to economic growth – which has been addressed during the recent European Council meeting in late October -. In any case, “there is a sense that Juncker will try to solve Europe’s ongoing problems pragmatically,” writes Alice Pulh, “instead of launching brand new polices with innovative ideas.”

Food for Thoughts

Yes this section may be too far fetched, but it is actually an important point of discussion. A Commission with the representation of the 28 Member States (MS) is not only too large, but also anti-supranational by nature. The fact that MS are still the ones selecting their candidates and bargaining for the DG of their choosing is contrary to what the Commission should be all about. The President ofjean-claude-juncker-1-Copy Commission should be the one selecting the candidates of his choice in order to compose its own Commission. Additionally, having the MS promoting a candidate to represent themselves at the Berlaymont goes against the idea of the Commission being ‘above’ the Member States in terms of influence and power, and truly European -for whatever it means-. The Commission is not about defending national interests, but European interests. This new commission has highlighted a series of problems in balancing national and european interests, as illustrated by the difficult hearings and negotiations over three nominated commissioners, France’s Pierre Moscovici (economic affairs), the UK’s Jonathan Hill (financial services) and Spain’s Miguel Arias Canete (climate and environment).

Then, the Juncker Commission is facing a serious challenge, relaunching the economic engine of the EU. Following the EP vote approving the Juncker Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker said that

[it was] “time to roll up our sleeves and get down to work: to kick-start economic recovery, create more and better jobs, address the plight of Europe’s youth for a better future, protect the most vulnerable in our society and cope with the rapidly deteriorating geopolitical situation.”

In order to re-launch the economic engine of the Union, two options are on the table. Juncker has inherited one option, the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP), and he has been advocating, option 2, for an EU-wide economic boost through investments. So one approach is from within, the other from outside. The TTIP was initiated under Barroso and has turned into difficult negotiations between the EU and the US and among the EU-28. The TTIP is supposed to create the largest economic bloc in the world in order to balance the rise of new powers like China, India and Brazil. The second option is the €300 billion investment package introduced back in July by Juncker. The package has been contentious as nobody knows where the money would come from and it seems very unlikely that the EU-28 would anytime soon pool the money into a common fund supervised and utilized by the Commission. Both aspects, the TTIP and the €300 billion investment package, shall be understood as ‘new deals’ in order to relaunch European economic engine. Juncker understands very well that a long-term sluggish economic environment could affect the survival of the European welfare states and ultimately the EU as whole.

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

Mogherini’s Choices

Hearing of Commissioners-designate at the European Parliament

On the 6th of October, Federica Mogherini was facing the European Parliament for her confirmation hearing as the next High Representative/Vice President (HR/VP). In an hearing of over 3 hours, she described and presented her vision of the job and the role of the EU on the international stage.

In her opening statement, Mogherini framed quite well the main questions that are oftentimes sidelined and unfortunately left continuously unanswered by national and European leaders: “In this difficult world, in these difficult times, what does the European Union do? Where do we stand? How do we make sure that we play our role in these difficult times?” She presented her plan in order to make the EU more relevant on the global stage. She laid out three driving forces: first, to shape ‘a real common policy;’ second, to deepen the degree of cooperation between the EU institutions, Parliament, Council, Commission and EEAS; third, to increase coordination and communication among the agents involved on similar policies.

In terms of area of actions, Mogherini wants to narrow down the area of European interests. She wants to “taking care of our part of the world,” which entails the direct and broader neighborhoods: East (Russia, Caucasus and Turkey), South (Middle East and North Africa). A clear area of actions for the EU and the CSDP is long due as it will allow Member States and European institutions to clearly identify the pressing issues and the strategy to adopt and implement.

Mogherini’s Challenges

However, Mogherini is facing several core challenges: first, an inside one – Member States & institutional; second, an outside one – Europe declining global position in the world; third, a series of unstable regional and global crises. Her opening statement before the Parliament illustrates clearly that she is well aware of the challenges ahead of her.

First, the institutional tensions between EU institutions, Member States and from the Member States are real. They can seriously affect the efficiency of the European foreign policy machine as it was the case under Ashton. Mogherini was appointed at one of the most difficult position. Her title says it all: High Representative and Vice President of the Commission. She has a double-hatted position half intergovernmental – Member States – and half supranational – Commission -. As argued by Jan Techau, Mogherini’s role and tasks are very complex as “[European] institutions are strong on trade and development but have almost zero executive power in classic diplomacy and crisis management.”

Ashton has demonstrated the degree of challenge entailed in the HR/VP position. For instance, she had been criticized for not assisting at many meeting at the Commission, when in fact she was traveling for the EEAS (at least this is the official argument). In order to avoid a similar scenario, Mogherini has been proactive and has announced that she will be moving with her Cabinet to the Berlaymont Building (the Commission’s building). Her rationale is that “I [Mogherini] cannot ask structures to work together if I do not work with all of them myself.” She is planning to assist at the College of European commissioners’ meetings. Techau frames quite well the reality and dilemma of the HR/VP job and all decision-making in foreign policy at the EU level. Techau calls it the dilemma between the internal realities – Brussels bubble – (what is possible), and the external realities (what is needed). Mogherini, as her predecessor, will have to try to narrow this expectation-reality gap as much as possible.

Undeniably, Mogherini is taking over a broken foreign and defense policy machine. The last five years under the helm of Catherine Ashton, the EEAS and CSDP have been under serious tensions and attacks from the Member States. The Big Three, especially France and the UK, see the EEAS as a direct threat to their national foreign ministries; while the CSDP has simply been relegated to a second grade defense instrument stabilizing context after French or international interventions. This has been the case in Mali, Central Africa and Libya. Mogherini will have to deal with the powerful European foreign policy leaders, and re-affirm the credibility and contribution of the EEAS in Europe. She will have to sell the EU foreign policy to Europeans.

Second, the declining position of the EU on the global stage is undeniable. The rise of new powers, especially China, and the continuous affirmation of American powers, despite a broad literature demonstrating American decline, are clear challenges. Mogherini holds one dimension of the global relevance of the EU. She needs to remain committed and avoid the “rapid erosion of European power and influence in the world.” At this rate of decline and inaction, the EU will become a second-grade power. In the current global dis-order, the EU can maintain a premier role if it wants to. The HR/VP can play a role in it.

Third, Mogherini will have a lot on her plate once HR/VP. The list of security issues from public health (with the Ebola), to energy security (Russia and Ukraine), to territorial tensions (Russia and the Palestinian files), to homeland and international terrorism (ISIS and homeland radicalization of the European youth) are all awaiting clear common European strategies. Each of these issues has to be coordinated at the European level as all of them are transnational problems. Additionally, Mogherini will have to empower the CSDP or simply shift the CSDP into NATO. The CSDP under Ashton has been in decline in terms of objectives, role and influence. The 2013 Defense summit (read here, here, and here in depth analysis on the summit) led to a re-commitment by the EU-28 towards European defense and the CSDP, but the words have yet to be translated into actions.

Food for Thoughts

On a positive note, Mogherini embodies a new class of European leaders. She is young and understands foreign policy. Her past experience, despite being short and limited, nevertheless was directly connected with foreign affairs. This was not the case of Catherine Ashton when she got appointed in 2009. Mogherini embodies a younger Italian political class that wants to reaffirm the serious commitment of Italy to the European project.

“We need a long-term vision to prevent crises and to manage post-crises. We need to think big,” underscored Mogherini during her opening statement “with a far-reaching look at the global landscape, and we have to realise that this is in our own interest.” Such statement Catherine_Ashton_and_solanadeserves credit and attention as leaders with a strategic vision have become rare. Javier Solana, the first HR, was this kind of politician with a broad strategic vision. He understood that a clear narrative and strategic vision was necessary in order to have an active EU on the global stage; and he understood which fights to pick. Again, the political, social and economic realities of the EU are to some degree similar and arguably worst that the ones under HR Ashton. The economic slump of the Eurozone and the EU is continuing; anti-Europe sentiments are growing all around the EU and are even becoming core components of domestic policies like in Britain; and the national desire to spend money on foreign policy and defense is not present. Mogherini will have to convince the EU-28 that the EEAS and CSDP are not a redundancy in costs and are in fact complementary to national commitment to foreign policy and defense. Mogherini certainly has a positive aspect going in her favor as a large majority of Europeans are in favor a EU leadership in world affairs as demonstrated below. Europeans at 73% consider that the EU ought to contribute to the making and shaping of world affairs.

Source:  German Marshall Fund. 2014. Transatlantic Trends. Key Finding 2014. p.16
Source: German Marshall Fund. 2014. Transatlantic Trends. Key Finding 2014. p.16

Last but not least, Mogherini’s hearing before the Parliament underlined her ease in expressing herself – and in several languages -. She seems to understand – and we will see if she will ‘enjoy’ it – the highly political dimension of her position, which was apparently not shared by her predecessor. As underscored by Nick Witney of the ECFR, “To succeed, she will also need luck, determination, and more support – from the member states, from the President of the European Commission and from the other Brussels institutions – than her predecessor ever enjoyed.” Based on her performance before the European Parliament, Mogherini wants to appear as the person in charge in order to reform the EU strategic approach to foreign policy.

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

Summer 2014 – The Melting of Western Influence?

Credit: Vieuws.eu
Credit: Vieuws.eu

Summer 2014 has been non-stop, and it is not even over yet. It started on a positive note with the success of European soccer teams in Brazil – and France even displayed a good team and produced creative soccer -. But the summer quickly turned sour for Western powers.

Since June a series of crises broke out. The conflict in Ukraine increased in intensity, while the West remained cautious on sanctioning Russia. At this point, most analysts and reporters thought that Putin had won the war. Putin had already stolen annexed Crimea and the pro-Russian militiamen were solidly backed by Moscow. It was until the pro-Russian militiamen brought down a commercial airplane flying over Ukraine and killing over 290 civilians, most of them being Dutch. Such event was a turning point in the conflict

Credit: European Pressphoto Agency
Credit: European Pressphoto Agency

in Ukraine. EU Member States finally agreed on tougher sanctions against Russia. Weeks later, Moscow responded by banning the imports of EU foods. Since then, Moscow has tried to maintained its support to pro-Russian militiamen with the progression of a ‘civilian convoy’ for humanitarian purposes sent by Moscow. With the progression of the tensions in Ukraine, Germany has progressively shifted its pro-Russian foreign policy and has emerged as a leader against Russia. For instance, as a reaction to the Russian convoy, Berlin has pledged more than $690 million for reconstruction and aid to Ukraine. Moscow may have been able to keep the fight alive in Eastern Ukraine, but seems to have lost an ally in the West.

The second main crisis has been the intensification of the ebola virus disease (EVD) affecting Western African nations. In recent days, reports have emerged underscoring that the outbreak has been underestimated. Even tough, the EVD does not directly threaten the citizens of the Euro-Atlantic community, it has become a serious issue for the West. Starting in Guinea, and then in Liberia and Sierra Leone, it has now spread to Nigeria. The main concern has always been Nigeria, one of the most populous and developed countries in Africa. The recent cases in Nigeria have been a cause of concern for Western powers considering the deep connections between Nigeria and the West. The EVD becomes of global nature due to the complexity of the globalized world we live in. Globalization has made the EVD an eventual threat to most world nations.

The third main crisis has been the solidification of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Iraq. The rise of ISIS, a radical Sunni Muslim terrorist group, has been progressive and it has benefitted from the vicious war taking place in Syria since 2011 (read here a previous analysis on the issue). The civil war in Syria was a piece of the Arab Spring puzzle with popular opposition to the regime of Bashard al-Assad. The members of the Euro-Atlantic community, at the

Credit: Reuters
Credit: Reuters

exception of the French, were reluctant to either arm anti-government groups by fear of arming extremist groups and/or launch airstrikes against Assad’s forces. ISIS has grown and strengthened itself in fighting government forces. Early summer 2014, in June, ISIS started its invasion of Iraq. It has received some assistance by Iraqi sunni, that have felt undermined by the former shiite government of al-Maliki. Since, ISIS has used violent and vicious tactics in order to strengthen its control over its controlled territories. In the past week, the US has re-launch military interventions in Iraq through airstrike bombings, arming Kurdish and Iraqi forces. However, US Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, underscored that “the defeat of ISIL is not only going to come at the hands of airstrikes. It’s bigger than just a military operation.” He added that in order to defeat ISIS, the US will have to go to Syria. Such vision is increasingly been shared in Washington. For instance, Steven Simon, a former White House adviser to Mr. Obama on the Middle East, argued that “common sense suggests you need to hit them in Syria.”

Last but not least, the war in the Middle East between Israel and Hamas, launched by Israel on July 8th, has already caused high level of destruction in Gaza and heavy civilian casualties with over 2,100 deaths. The war has underscored the diverging strategic positions of the members of the Euro-Atlantic community. In large EU Member States, populations and governments have expressed their concerns regarding Israel’s actions. The US, historically a close ally of Israel, has not budged its position. In recent days, talks have increased in order to agree on a United Nations Security Council Resolutions including the following conditions: “prevent Hamas and other militant groups from rearming, give the Palestinian Authority control, relax the Israeli embargo, reopen all border crossings and expedite reconstruction.” In a recent op-ed in the New York Times, titled Club Med for Terrorists, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN underscores that the problems in the Middle East are all financed by Qatar. He wrote “Given Qatar’s considerable affluence and influence, this is an uncomfortable prospect for many Western nations, yet they must recognize that Qatar is not a part of the solution but a significant part of the problem.” The war between Hamas and Israel is going much further than Gaza.

The end of Western domination?

Let’s be clear, none of the crises analyzed above have suddenly appeared; they have all been slowing progressing and evolving. It is just that Western powers have become some type of risk aversion and have implemented a certain status-quo in avoiding to directly confront complex crises and issues. The US certainly leads the way in its ‘wait and see’ strategy. So, what can be said about the handling of these crises by Western powers? It surely looks like the early 1990s all over again. Even though it is debatable to justify the real control of Western powers on all foreign events, summer 2014 has underscored the inabilities of western powers to shaping and containing them. The US and its European partners – Britain, France, Germany, Poland, Italy among others – have simply been trying to catch up.

In the case of the US, to paraphrase Hillary Clinton, the Obama’s foreign policy approach

Credit: AP
Credit: AP

of ‘don’t do stupid stuff’ may have been a root cause of the limited US influence in shaping events. She has been much more vocal in advocating for a more interventionist foreign policy. She argued during her recent interview with Goldberg of the Atlantic, that “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.”

Summer 2014 could be identified along two lines: either, it is an anomaly, meaning it just happens that crises followed one another; or, is it the continuation of the sliding process of Western grip over the international system? I will tend to go with option 2, Western decline.

In order to look at the question of Western decline, one should look at two dimensions: external and internal dynamics. Externally, the succession of crises and western inabilities to shape the outcomes and/or prevent them are obvious and were analyzed above. Internally, both the US and European powers/and EU have been facing deep political, societal and economical challenges. This accumulation of domestic crises and tensions contribute to affecting the global aura of the West. Even among the Euro-Atlantic community, its members are unable to actually find an agreement on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) (see here a comprehensive book on the topic). This agreement seen as a way to relaunch the transatlantic economy has become a tense political fight between the 29 + 1 actors (28 EU Member States, the US + the European Commission). The difficult negotiations are affecting the global credibility of the Euro-Atlantic community as its members cannot agree on the values, norms and identities supposedly shared and exported. As demonstrated below, the transatlantic soft power is clearly loosing its grip and credibility.

Domestically, the US appears very weak. Between a blocked government, a lame duck president, a weak economic recovery, and tense societal relationships among the different segments of the population, the US is facing serious challenges. The debates of inequalities, minority rights, healthcare, religion, immigration, education and economic changes are slowly affecting the identity of the US. The US, as most European countries, is on the brink of chaos at any moment. The violence in Ferguson, after the death of an African-American man shot by a white cop, have taken the nation by surprise. The emotions around the situation in Ferguson are powerful as such event is underlining a dark reality of inequalities and racial tensions to most Americans. Once again, Richard Haass was correct in claiming that foreign policy starts at home.

Across the pond, the European economic situation is worrisome and has now led to serious internal challenges within each Member State. Experts, like Michael Heise, even wonder if Europe is not entering into its ‘lost decade’ the same way Japan went through the 1990s. European economic growth remains anemic. Germany has maintained its status of the strong man of Europe, but its economy is starting to contract, while the French economy is stagnating (ant the government is unable to govern, read here) and the Italian is in recession. “GDP fell in Germany, the biggest,” according to the Economist, “and Italy, the third largest, by 0.2%; France, the second largest economy, stagnated.” The consequences of this continuous weak economic outlook in Europe, causing high unemployment levels, increasing inequalities and affecting the moral of Europeans, have fostered this ramping euro-skeptic sentiments. Additionally, the message of European unity is not even present in Brussels, as illustrated by the difficulties to select the next top EU leaders. In this context, it is difficult to imagine a strong Europe willing to shape and influence events. The EU has always lacked hard power, but domestic tensions within the EU have affected the credibility of its soft power.

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

Key Dates for the Fall in Europe

Image by European People's Party, used under Creative Commons 2.0 license.
Image by European People’s Party, used under Creative Commons 2.0 license.

Summer 2014 was far from peaceful with its wide variety of crises from the European inabilities to select the High Representative, President and Chairman of the Eurogroup, to the continuous and vicious rise of ISIS in Iraq, the war in the Middle East between Israel and Hamas, the continuous chess-game between Russia and the West over Ukraine, the targeting of a Malaysian flight over Ukraine by pro-Russian militiamen, the increase of European sanctions against Russia, the Russian imports bans on EU food products, all this under the complex and dire economic slowdown of European economies. So yes, Summer 2014 was a good one for analysts and a long one for civil servants (listen here to a chronicle, in french, about Western leaders’ vacations).

This succession of events underscores a clear regional shift occurring in Europe and the Arab world. The EU and its Member States have had serious challenges in shaping events in their neighborhoods (see here a recent post on this issue). One reason behind this European inability seats in the complex domestic problems/tensions/issues within the Union. The EU has become so complex with a large number of Member States that it does require a clear leadership. Unfortunately, the original powers – France and Britain – are for different causes trying to remain powerful and influential, when their credibilities are being _75388462_75388461undermined by their behaviors and domestic contexts. Britain is soul-searching about its European future, while France is unable to address its structural problems and its popular dislike of the EU. Germany is otherwise leading Europe by default. With this complex power-shift and power-searching among the Big three – Berlin, London and Paris – the European ship seems in search of a new direction. One of the most obvious examples was the inabilities to appoint a new President of the European Council and High-Representative back in June. Postponing the appointments has sent the wrong message to Europeans and the world, as well as affecting Europe’s credibility as a global power.

This end of the summer and early Fall 2014 are important for the EU as some of the most pressing issues will be addressed. European leaders ought to finally agree on the top jobs. Aside from European politics, NATO will be meeting for its traditional high-level summit, and Scotland’s future within the United Kingdom will be decided. A Scottish independence from the UK could open the Pandora’s box of regional independence and European membership. Here are some important dates to remember for this end of summer and early autumn (based on the original list published by European Voice):

  • 26 August: Summit on Ukraine in Belarus. Scheduled to attend are Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s president, Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, and three members of the Commission
  • 30 August: Summit to name next representative for foreign affairs and security policy,
    Credit: European Council
    Credit: European Council

    president of the European Council, and president of the Eurogroup

  • 31 August: Jean-Claude Juncker expected to announce composition of college of European commissioners and distribution of portfolios
  • 3 September: Deadline for MEPs to submit questions for nominated European commissioners ahead of confirmation hearings
  • 4-5 September: NATO summit in Wales
  • Second half of September: Confirmation hearings for nominees for next college of European commissioners begin
  • 14 September: Swedish general election
  • 18 September: Referendum on Scottish independence
  • 4 October: Latvian parliamentary election
  • 5 October: Bulgarian parliamentary election
(Copyright 2014 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

Talking Europe – Blaming the Media for Europe’s Crisis

tv

In an unexpected radio talk on France Inter, the French public radio, several journalists, experts and two MEPs tackled the theme of time allocated in French media on the questions of European affairs. Such thematic is crucial in order to understand the lack of interest of European citizens on European politics. Should the French and European media be blamed for the lack of interest in European politics? Or, should it be on the European citizens? Once again, a nuanced argument is required.

Yes, they do – Blame it on the Media

The most obvious example was the debate between the candidates for the position of the President of the European Commission. In France, the public channel of France Televisions did not broadcast the debate live taking place on April 28th, 2014, while twenty European channels did. The President of Sauvons l’Europe, Fabien Chevalier, claimed that “french television treats Europe as little as possible” (in French, “La télévision française traite l’Europe a minima”). The lack of mediatization of European politics has contributed to a certain degree of alienation of European politics among French citizens. Europe has become a foreign affair; when it is in fact, as argued by Stéphane Leneuf, an actuality of proximity. European questions have progressively become more neighborhood than foreign questions. This brings back to the overarching question asked at the beginning of the show: Is it possible to talk about Europe without being as sad as an empty fridge?

Such decision by French public network of not broadcasting the first European debate for the President of the Commission clearly send a signal that European politics do not matter. The media need to get a part of the blame in the widening gap between Europeans and Brussels. For so long, Europeans have complained of the foreign and opaque nature of European politics. Now that democracy is slowly being incorporated into the European politic, the media do not play its role of mitigator.

Additionally, members of the media tend to argue that talking Europe is too complex in the short period of time allocated. They argue that nobody is interested about institutional transformation and bargaining power taking place at the European level. It is undeniable that explaining vertical and horizontal integrations can be difficult and certainly dry. Nevertheless, this is part of a European reality. One can argue that institutional and political questions about the French Fifth Republic are extremely complex too. Media do tackle these national questions, why not the European ones? European subjects are just an addition of a second level of analysis; and they do matter on daily basis.

No, they don’t – Blame it on the Europeans

European citizens have the instruments, meaning internet, to do their own research (this was the response by France Televisions for not broadcasting live on TV the debate claiming that it was available online). As it has become predominant trend in France, citizens have lost the real meaning of citizen, which entails rights and duties. In France, French citizens feel more entitled about their rights that actually fulfilling their duties; one of them being voting and being informed. In the 21st century, and in one of the richest and most developed continents in the world, it is difficulty acceptable to have a low informed electorate. If European citizens can find a way to watch online a soccer game, they shouldThe enemy invasion: Brussels braced for influx of Eurosceptics in EU polls be able to find a way to watch the debate between the five candidates to the Commission’s Presidency. Additionally, the rise of populism in France send a double signal: first, the rise of a lazy citizenry. It is always easier to claim that European politics are complex and foreign than trying to understand and learn. Second, the fear of globalization, or what French people call mondialisation. The EU is a clear representation and in some degree, a child of globalization. It embodies a new type of socio-politico-economico actor. French citizens have always been very cautious and fearful of globalization. They view Europe as a threat to their regional and national identities in the same ways globalization supposedly does it. Such fear is unfounded as European Member States are in fact fighting to protect such regional identities. One of the most obvious examples is in the current negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), wherein geographical food names has become an issue of contentions between the US and the EU.

Speed and Humans

Two fascinating point emerged from the discussion: first, the speed of politics; second, bringing Europe to a human level. As argued by a guest, the gap between national and European politics in terms of speed is considerable. National politics tend to be quick and embedded into short-termism, while European politics are much slower and complex moving from the Commission, to the Council, to the Parliament and so on. National politics have instead become some short of a game under constant scrutiny and polls rating. National politics are in some degree a spectacle; European politics are not (or at least not yet).

Second, the message ought to be that Europe is not a foreign affair. Over 50% of laws impacting Europeans’ daily life come from ‘Brussels.’ It is important to have a greater discussion at the national level about these laws. So far, at least in France, the main political narrative by the French political class, all political parties included, is based along two lines: either, Brussels made us to do it; or, we were able to protect French interests from Brussels. French politicians have yet to continuously demonstrate that European and French interests are intertwined. Such acceptance will not be a sort of political suicide as believed, but rather the acceptance of a fait accompli. Considering the global forces of the 21st century and the domestic condition of France, Europe is France’s best asset for striving in the complex waters of the 21st century.

In a recent comment, I argued that one of the greatest challenges facing the Juncker Commission will be to reconnect Europe with the European citizenry. A large segment of European citizens feels that the gap between their daily life and Brussels is 606x340_268524too wide to care. European citizens considers that Brussels is a cold technocratic and bureaucratic place. In some degree, it is true. However, European politics deeply matter and do influence daily life. As underscored in Juncker’ speech before the European Parliament (read here a review of the speech) important issues will be addressed during his mandate like the TTIP, GMOs, energy policy, digital policies, environmental policies, fundamental rights, immigration policies, economic and fiscal convergences and so on. Well, each of these issues will affect Europeans’ daily life. The argument of Euroskeptic MEPs, like the ones from the Front National, is that European decisions are endangering national sovereignty. The best response to such ignorant statement: try to defend them without the EU.

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

A Rushed EEAS?

Credit: European Parliament
Credit: European Parliament

In a report published on June 30th, 2014, the European Court of Auditors (ECA) finds that the European External Action Service (EEAS) is “operational,” but that “the establishment of the EEAS was rushed and inadequately prepared, beset by too many constraints and vaguely defined tasks.” The reports produced by ECA, based in Luxembourg, are not binding, but EU institutions has “good track record” of implementing the recommendations.

Basics on the EEAS

The EEAS was created by the Treaty of Lisbon (2009). A year later, the EEAS was finally designed and operational counting the headquarter in Brussels and a network of 140 delegations throughout the world. It took quite some times though for the delegations to start fully function as they had to merge the European officials from the Commission (DG RELEX among others) with the ones from the Council (see here the organization chart of the EEAS). As reported in the ECA’s report, the 2014 budget of the EEAS was of 519 million euro, split in two: 41% for the headquarters and 59% for the delegations. It has since then been in search of a clear mission and role in the middle of the European institutional maze between the Council of Ministers, the Commission, the European Parliament, and the 28 national diplomatic corps.

The functioning of the EEAS is extremely complex, as it is neither intergovernmental (like the the Council of Ministers) nor supranational (like the Commission). In fact, the EEAS navigates between the community and intergovernmental decision-making methods. Additionally, the staffing of the EEAS is composed of three different groups with specific competencies: officials from the General Secretariat of the Council (political knowledge); officials from the Commission (technical knowledge); and officials from the Member States’ diplomatic services (national knowledge).

The report

The ECA looked at the establishment of the EEAS from January 2011 to December 2013, and sought to answer the following three questions:

1. Was the establishment of the EEAS adequately prepared?
2. Were the ressources of the EEAS prioritized, organized and allocated efficiently?
3. Has the EEAS coordinated effectively with the Commission and the Member States? 
 

At the end of the report, the ECA underscores several aspects that should be improved:

  • the simplification of the organizational design of the EEAS (point 73(a));
  • a new strategic framework for EU foreign affairs examined with the Commission and the Member States (point 73(b));
  • improve relations with the Commission (point 73(c));
  • improve allocations of ressources, appointment and recruitment procedures (point 73(d,e,f));
  • increase information-sharing (point 73(g));

Interestingly, the report looks at the costs of the EEAS for the Member States. The ECA correctly demonstrates that the creation of a new institution costs money (the entire International Relations literature on neoliberalism explains very well the cost-benefit calculation behind the creation of institutions); however, the ECA underscores the fact that the EEAS has saved money to the Member States on providing political reporting, lesser workload for the rotating presidencies, and seconded diplomats are paid by the EEAS (point 22 p.10).

A double-hatted chief

The Treaty of Lisbon created a double-hatted position of the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the Commission in order to facilitate – at least on paper – the coordination

Photo by EPA/BGNES
Photo by EPA/BGNES

between the EU and the Member States. At the distinction of her predecessor, Javier Solana, HR Ashton was at the helm of European diplomacy centralized around the European External Action Service (EEAS).

This report comes at the right time in light of the soon to come appointment of the next High Representative. HR Ashton has demonstrated clear political and foreign policy weaknesses, but has managed to create the EEAS and make it operational a year after the Treaty of Lisbon. HR Ashton will most likely be remember more for her administrative skills, rather than her strategic vision. The next HR (read a previous analysis on the three top candidates for the job) will inherit a powerful and complex institution with large human and financial capitals. A failure to empower the EEAS by the new HR may be the dagger in the heart of this young institution.

Certainly the appointment of the new HR on July 16th, 2014 will be instrumental for the future of the EEAS. The EEAS certainly needs some organizational revisions and adjustments, but it greatly needs a clear strategic vision in dealing with the broad global shift occurring. In some degree, a savvy foreign policy leader, like the first HR Javier Solana, could provide the framework of a global European strategy. The foundations for actions are always the same, multilateralism – effective multilateralism based in the 2003 European Security Strategy – and strategic partnerships. But the EU is still missing a clear definition of its ‘national interest’ (even though such concept is difficulty applicable for a sui-generis actor like the EU). EU Member States ought to finally tackle the contentious question of European interest. The starting point could come from the EEAS.

Conclusion

A last point shall be underscored. The EEAS has certainly not reached its potential. But the Treaty of Lisbon did not take one important dimension into consideration. The competition between the EU Member States and EU institutions, especially the EEAS, has been fierce in the realm of foreign and defense policies. Powerful Member States, like France and Britain, have when needed sidelined the EEAS in order to advance and promote its interests and influences at the expense of the Union.

One of the five dimensions of the Strategic Agenda laid out by EU leaders at the European Council’s meeting late June underscored the centrality to revigorate the Union’s global aura. The Council’s report states that:

Recent events show how fast-shifting the strategic and geopolitical environment has become, not  least at the Union’s eastern and southern borders. Instability in our wider neighbourhood is at an all-time high. At the same time it has never been as important to engage our partners on issues of mutual or global interest. To defend our interests and values and to protect citizens, a stronger engagement of the European Union in world affairs is crucial.
 

The blame falls across the board: institutional, Member States, international and financial forces. The creation and establishment of the EEAS came at the time of great institutional and domestic turmoils blowing throughout the Union. With the Eurozone crisis peaking with an eventual default of Greece and the collapse of several large European economies, the developments of a European foreign policy and an EU diplomatic corps were not the priorities from most EU Member States. The Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) was a luxury good, even though required due to the seriousness of regional wars in the 1990s, in time of crisis. HR Ashton had certainly dealt with a very difficult political and economic context making her job even tougher.

The EEAS has not attained the degree of relevance once hope for several reasons: reticence of powerful EU Member States (namely France and Britain), institutional maze between the Commission, EEAS and Parliament, limited leadership from top EU diplomats. Additionally, it seems that the EEAS has been more playing catch up than actually shaping events. The multitude of crises, starting with the Arab Spring, Ukraine-Russia, Syria, Mali, Libya, Egypt, CAR, Iran, Iraq, seems to have been left to certain Member States. The EEAS has shined through its absence and irrelevance in stabilizing Europe’s backyard and neighborhood.

(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.)