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).

Let’s talk Schengen, and the Future of European Ideals

Photo: Oona Raisanen
Photo: Oona Raisanen

Most of the killers of Charlie Hebdo in January and of November 13th were European passport holders (read here an analysis on the terrorist attacks of November 13). So why should European leaders propose to close Schengen? And why would Europeans feel more secure behind national borders, when French nationals are killing other French citizens? The rationale in dismantling the Schengen agreement is quite ludicrous and ideologically-based. Schengen is one of the great European endeavors, like the Euro, that is facing serious scrutiny because of political unwillingness and reticences by the Member States to fully complete it by fear of losing national sovereignty. Today, the EU Member States, and their citizenries, can only blame themselves for having failed to complete such mechanisms in the name of national sauvegarde. The EU is facing its worst crises not because of its inefficiency, but rather because of its incomplete construction. No one should expect a sailing boat to sail without its sails.

Protecting the Homeland

Should Schengen be blamed for the attacks on Paris? Not at all. Schengen is a legal agreement not an actor. The open-border agreement was put into force 20 years ago and counts 22 EU Member States plus 4 non-EU states. Schengen can only succeed if its members are willing to guarantee that all the mechanisms are properly enforced. Not enough coverage has been done about the lack of police and intelligence cooperation between EU Member States. In order to enforce Schengen and guarantee its success, which implies national security, the Frontex agency was created, but has never been empowered or even properly funded. The best example is the border assistance program off the coast of Italy, wherein Frontex has a huge mandate without substantial human and material capabilities, as well as fund (read here a recent analysis on the Joint Operation Triton). In an interview for the New York Times, Jan Techau of the Carnegie Europe said “those trying to benefit from the situation, are trying to redefine the entire Schengen debate in a way that makes Schengen look like the culprit here.”

Brookings

Schengen can only be as good depending on the protection of the European common borders and neighborhoods. EU Member States have been risk-averse for too long and have free-rided their security responsibilities on NATO. Now Ukraine is split in two and is fighting a vicious civil war. Europe let Russia took Crimea almost two years ago and has yet to fully criticized such violation of international law. In the Middle East and North Africa, Europe has not followed up on its promises and short-term engagements like in Libya and Syria. Since 2011 (in the case of Libya) and 2013 (in the case of Syria), Europe has been looking the other way and avoiding to deal with the root causes of today’s crises. Now Europe is dealing with the worst migration crisis of the 21st century, and instead of seeking to address the root causes and take a human approach to welcoming refugees, EU Member States have chosen short-termism once again and blamed the other. Only Germany and Sweden have welcomed refugees in large quantity and the rest of Europe is instead talking of building fences, selecting only christian among the Syrian refugees, and so forth.

Cartoon: KAL in the Economist of November 21st, 2015
Cartoon: KAL in the Economist of November 21st, 2015

No EU Member State, at the exception of France, has been willing to participate in the war effort against ISIS and even finding a political solution for Syria. EU Member States are incapable to think strategically and refuse to spend money in their national foreign and defense policies. Instead of building an army, why not strategically pooling ressources at the European level through the empowerment of the CSDP and military industrial production (here is the link to a book on CSDP). EU Member States, France included, rather protect one military industrial sector, for short term political gain, than really building up a common army and a common industrial military complex. If EU Member States are unwilling to go it alone or simply spend money into their militaries, then the EU alternative should be the appropriate one. What the 21st century has proven to experts and leaders is that realpolitiks are well alive and shaping foreign policy decision-making. The European neighborhoods are demonstrating the need to boost-up military capabilities in order to assure the basic security of the homeland, which most EU Member States are unable to do and provide.

Falling into the Nationalist Trap

In the whole debate about freedom, empowering the state, and dismantling the core aspects of the European Union, one player has been purposely absent, British Prime Minister David Cameron. If Britain has demonstrated warmly its support to France ensuing the attacks, Cameron has been quiet and to some extent welcoming the ideological debate about the EU and Schengen. Weeks after sending his letter to President of the Council, Donald Tusk, wherein PM Cameron is asking for less human Europe and more for a trade agreement (read here an analysis on the letter), David Cameron is simply looking at European capitals offering him what he has been asking and campaigning for: less Europe and more national power. It is very unfortunate to see these attacks against the European project and the reactions from European capitals.

The Schengen agreement is one of the greatest successes and materialization of the European project. Seeing France overreacting and shifting towards an almighty executive-power led country is worrisome. The extension of the ‘state of emergency’ for an additional three months can be explained considering the existing threats representing by ISIS affiliates in the homeland and the upcoming COP-21 meeting in December. The French government does not

Photo: GettyImages/AFP
Photo: GettyImages/AFP

want to see another attack during the international climate talks as it would undermine its abilities to protect the homeland and offer a primetime moment for terrorists. France is shifting dangerously towards extreme right. The call to extent the state of emergency is one thing, but closing the borders and seeking to remove French nationality to bi-nationals are straight from the Front National playbook. Not only they violate French republican values and principles, but they validate to a scared and emotional french electorate that the policies advocated by the Front National for decades are actually legitimate. The Socialist government is empowering the extreme right and could make such fascist party even more acceptable. Marine le Pen, President of the Front National, is absolutely correct when talking to the press that the current government is implementing her policies.

Intensifying the bombing over Syria and building a coalition, which has legal legitimacy after the approval of the United Nation Security Council Resolution 2249, which condemns the terrorist attacks and calls on members states to act against ISIS, are appropriate foreign policy measures. But at home, François Hollande ought to lead by empowering the existing European mechanisms, calling for greater cooperation at the European level, and sticking to French democratic values without falling into the nationalist trap. These steps would be symbols of leadership and show to Europeans and terrorists that France is not scared and feels confident in its legal and political structures developed by President Charles de Gaulle in the early years of the Fifth Republic. For the French government and citizenry, this is not just about terrorism, but as well about how France deals with the migration crisis, the euro crisis and national social tensions and inequalities. Right now, it looks like ISIS is winning and this is well too bad. François d’Alançon, a french analyst, said about the Europe ideal and project that “it’s all gone, it’s just a big fog.”

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

Nobody Kills France – A Call for National Unity and Courage

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129 dead, 99 critical injured and over 35o injured, these are the numbers ensuing the terrorist attacks taking place on November 13 in the streets of Paris. These are the worst attacks on European soil since the Madrid and London bombings in 2004 and 2005. In a period of 10 months, France has seen two successful terrorist attacks with the January mass killing against French satire paper, Charlie Hebdo, and a Jewish supermarket (read here a previous analysis on the January terrorist attack) and yesterday night. And during the summer, three American tourists stood up and disarmed a man seeking to massacre people in a Thalys train from the Netherlands to France. These attacks on November 13 were highly sophisticated with three teams of terrorists attacking simultaneously (see below the location of the attacks).

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Here are some reflections on these horrific attacks. The attacks on Charlie Hebdo and on November 13th demonstrate that the executioners are for the most part French and European citizens. Yes, Charlie Hebdo had received some international attention after the publication of the Danish cartoons of the Prophet, but aside from that it was a low print paper. Very few people around the world knew about Charlie Hebdo. The November attacks on cafés in the 10th and 11th arrondissements and the music venue, the Bataclan, confirm that these executioners are French. These locations are places where locals and Parisians go, they are not highly touristic locations. The attackers wanted to send a clear message to French people that they won’t be safe any longer. These attacks seek to go after the basic components of French life by targeting the arts, music, social interactions, and freedom. Members of radical Islamic networks simply seek to restrict and oppress humans in the name of bigotry and racism. There are no religious justification of such heinous crime, only ignorance and stupidity.

A Solid Leadership

The French leadership, as of today, has been exemplary. François Hollande, French President, has certainly not been a model on his socio-economic agenda and has had

Photo: AFP PHOTO/ CHRISTELLE ALIX
Photo: AFP / Christelle Alix

difficulties in bringing needed reforms to the country. However, the criticisms emerging from the French rights (from the mainstream right, Les Républicains, and extreme right, Front National) are abject and unfounded. In the last year, François Hollande has been an exemplary leader in combining toughness and calling and maintaining national unity. His leadership during and after the Charlie Hebdo attacks was subtle and strong. Yesterday night’ speech prior the exceptional council of ministers at midnight, François Hollande addressed the Nation with an impeccable short speech. Not only did he call for an immediate state of emergency and territorial lockdown of France – which has only been done three times prior under the Fifth Republic – but closed his address by calling for solidarity and national unity. It was a difficult exercise that he managed to pull off.

Ensuing the Council of Minister on November 14th at 9am, François Hollande declared:

It is an act of war, which has been perpetuated by a terrorist army, ISIS, a jihadist army, against France, against the values that we are defending all around the world, against what we are: a country of freedom speaking to the totality of the world.

It is an act of war, which has been prepared, organized, planned from the outside, and with domestic assistance that will be demonstrated by the current investigation. It is an act of absolute barbarity.

The use of word and repetition of ‘act of war’ could underline the possibility of the use of ground military forces in Syria in the days or weeks to come. French army could be working on bringing another dimension to its war efforts over Iraq and Syria. However, launching a ground offensive in Syria is quite of a headache considering the current Russian involvement and the Assad forces. Can France conduct military operations in Syria against ISIS without the assistance of Syrian and Russian forces? What would be the endgame? How can France identify and quantify success with a ground offensive against ISIS? After a decade of military involvement in Afghanistan, the Talibans are back and Al-Qaeda, which has been severally armed, has been replaced by ISIS (read here an analysis by François Heisbourg).

National Mood and the Respect of French Values

Domestically, French citizens ought to show the same determination than after the attacks on Charlie. It appears that the national mood is darker than in January and French citizens seem heartbroken, rightfully so, but they need to stand up and demonstrate to these radical movements the impenetrable French spirit. François Hollande said

France is strong and even if she can be hurt, she will always stand up and nothing can break her, even the sorrow that touches us. France, she is solid, she is active, France is brave and will win against barbarity. Our history is a reminder.

Now, France, as after Charlie, has to look at itself and reflect on its failed social policies implemented almost five decades ago (read here a solid analysis by Javier Solana, former EU High Representative). The degree of inequalities in France is continuously increasing and the sense of belonging to the French nation seems to be disappearing in a wide segment of the population. Blame can be attributed on both side, but it will be unproductive. French

Plantu
Plantu

values of Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité are the foundation of our Republic and should be rediscovered. This means opening our arms to the refugees leaving Syria and fleeing other authoritarian regimes. Welcoming these refugees and offering them chances to success and leave productive lives are the remedy to such hate and violence. France cannot close her borders and reject the others, as it would be a direct repudiation of its values.

Understandingly, the initial reaction is anger and desire to make a distinction between us and them. But once our time of grievance is complete, French citizens ought to remember their history and values. The rhetoric coming for the French rights calling for closing the borders, leaving the European Union, protecting the homeland from any outside forces are the wrong solutions. It may be the easiest road in the short term, but in the long run it would be a direct repudiation of the republican spirit of France. The coming regional elections next month will be a turning point for French politics and could offer some insights prior the presidential elections in 2017. The amalgam of migration and terrorism continuously hammered by the rights is misleading, wrong, unfunded and abject. But amalgams tend to be integrated by a large segment of the population across the world.

Lessons from France’s Atlantic Neighbor and Ally

France can learn three lessons from the United States. First of all invading countries is not a valuable option. The US went to war and occupy Afghanistan and Iraq for over a decade and the situation in both countries has not improved. One could even argue it has worsened as Afghanistan is seeing the return of Talibans and Iraq is highly fragmented and home of ISIS. Second, violation of the habeas corpus and invasive laws like a French

Photo: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque
Photo: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

Patriot Act won’t be the answer as well. Some members of the French rights are calling for the creation of jails for incarcerations of suspected terrorists. The US has created Guantanamo Bay and is unable to deal with its prisoners. And it would be an error and a core violation of French democracy to start incarcerating individuals based of suspicion. Guantanamo Bay, and the other American jails in Iraq and Afghanistan such as Abu Ghraib have been instrumentalized by radical islamic networks in order to recruit. Third, since 2001, American citizens have learned to live with terrorist threats and seen an increase of state forces in the streets. These could be the only alternative for France. The November 13th attacks could be the end of innocence for France. But these attacks remind us how precious are our values and way of life and how threatening they are to these radical movements. We have lived for too long taking for granted our freedoms and liberty, it is time to finally reflect on them, cherish them and defend them by living them consciously.

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

Film Review – An Artistic Window into the Horror of Islamic Fundamentalism

imagesCitizens and leaders of the Euro-Atlantic community are scared, and to some degree fascinated, by the rise, power and influence of fundamentalist islamic movements such Al-Qaeda, AQIM, and most recently with the notorious Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL). These powerful networks are attracting Westerners, especially their young adults, to either join the fight in Syria, Mali, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan or even taking it to their homelands, like in Paris, Toulouse, Brussels, and in the Thalys. Westerners are trying to understand the logics and thought process of these networks. So far the narratives have been engrained in the traditional framework of us versus them, Christian versus Muslims, and the inevitable clash of civilization. The recent picture Timbuktu offers us an artistic look into one of these islamic networks, their ideologies, their contradictions, and the horrors perpetuated in the name of bigotry and oppression.

Aside from traditional hollywood mainstream pictures, Abderrahmane Sissako dug deep, his powerful Timbuktu (2014), into the darkness of an fundamentalist islamic movement ruling over Timbuktu, the historical Malian city and a scholarly centre in Africa. Sissako, a Mauritanian-born film-maker, decided to make this movie after hearing about a story of a unmarried couple being stoned to death by a fundamentalist islamists for having children outside of the sacred bound of marriage. This movie is, as titled by a Guardian’s article, ‘a cry from the heart,’ which shows the horror, stupidity, ignorance of radical islamists over the inhabitants of Timbuktu. However, the picture is much more than a basic criticism as it  confronts the viewers to a complex conundrum. Sissako is very careful in maintaining the humanity of these men fighting the jihad.

One of the most beautiful scenes of the movie is a group of young Malian playing soccer on a soccer field without a soccer ball. On a previous scene, a young Malian is being physically punished by the newly-established Islamic tribunal enforcing the Sharia law for owningTimbuktu 5 and playing with a soccer ball. The scene of soccer game, so well choreographed playing with a red sunset light and the yellow dust of the sand, offers one of the most stunning moments of the picture. While the youngsters are playing ‘virtual’ soccer, which includes corner kick, penalty kick and counter-attacks, two jihadists are riding in circle around the field on their motorcycle in order to assure that no soccer ball is being used. In some way, the game illustrates the limits of oppression and Sharia law. The soccer match offers a powerful moment demonstrating the power of the mind and the desire for freedom under oppression. One can compare this scene as one of the many examples written in Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning.

Throughout the movie, one cannot stop making connection with any authoritarian regimes, from the Nazis to the Soviets and so forth, about the basic concept of power and authority (reference to Foucault, Freud and other great thinkers can be undeniably made throughout the picture). Even though scenes of oppression and injustice are ever-present and make the movie difficult to watch at times, Sissako wanted to give humanity to the fundamentalist fighters, the jihadists, by showing their doubts, lack of convictions of their actions and beliefs, and their violations of their bans on the inhabitants. For instance, one leader continues smoking even though it’s forbidden; another one, in a moving scene, is dancing ballet-like; others are continuously talking about the best soccer players being Zidane, so on and so forth.

A large part of the success of ISIL and other group has been to attract muslims in joining the jihad either at home or abroad. A lot of emphasis in Western media has been done on the successful PR campaign of these groups recruiting in US, France, Britain either in person (in prisons and/or in mosques) or through social media (facebook, youtube, twitter and so forth). Sissako spends a look moment filming the making a video for recruitment, wherein the speaker, a young fighter, talks with a real lack of conviction about his past ‘sins’ being a smoker and a rap singer. The man, behind the camera whom is much older and clearly not from Mali (as it has been the case in most of these terrorist networks), is desperate by the lack of conviction of the young jihadist.

1214559_Abderrahmane-SissakoTimbuktu whom was nominated for an Academy Awards for Best Foreign Picture and for a New Regards at the Cannes Film Festival, was celebrated by receiving Césars Awards, the French equivalent of the Oscars, for Best Picture and Best Director in February 2015. This movie offers the only artistic look into the horror of oppression, violence, power, and morality. It does respond to the growing interest, fear and fascination of Westerners about ISIS and alike networks.

For instance, a recent study produced by the Pew Research Center looking at the perceptions of global threats by citizens of the world demonstrates that ISIS is considered as the greatest threat in every members of the Euro-Atlantic community. ISIS is perceived as more dangerous than global economic instability and climate change.

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: 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]

Interestingly enough, if climate change has been considered as a direct threat to humanity as whole for decades, ISIS was a non-factor two years ago. Al-Qaeda was the principal network since 2001. It is quite interesting to see that Westerners consider ISIS as a greater threat than climate change.

In the case of Mali, the French have been the only Western power to use their military2_TIMBUKTU force in order to protect Timbuktu and block the progression of the radical islamists. At the time of the 2012 American Presidential campaign, between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, only Mitt Romney acknowledged the growing threat taking place in Mali. When François Hollande launched Operation Serval 63% of the French citizens were in favor of the use of military force in order to maintain order in Mali, block the progression of radical islamists in Mali and throughout the Sahel region (read a previous analysis on Operation Serval here). A little later, President Obama provided assistance to the French army through transports and through intelligence gathering.

Timbuktu offers Westerners a needed look into the reality of oppression in the case of Mali. It falls in the same category of great movies looking at bigotry, power, oppression, violence, injustice and stupidity like Path of Glory and Dr. Strangelove. It confronts the viewer with contradictory emotions of anger and amazement. Dark as it is, Sissako’s core message of the unbreakable human spirit is an ode to hope.

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

Syria – Russia Returns to the Table of Great Powers

Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

Russia just started its airstrike campaign in Syria after approval by the upper house of the Parliament. “We [Russia] ’re talking exclusively about operations of Russia’s Air Force,” announced Mr. Ivanov, Mr. Putin’s chief of staff, “as our president has already said, the use of armed forces on the ground theater of military operations is excluded.” The airstrikes have for objectives to assist the Bashar al-Assad regime in his war against the Islamic State.

After more than four and half years of war, Syria is the home of a complex crisis seeing a war between the Bashar al-Assad regime, Syrian militias, and many terrorist networks. The Syrian war has permitted the rise of the Islamic State in Syria and Levant (ISIS), and has been costing the lives of 250,000 civilians and a million injured, displaced millions displaced, and put million refugees on the road. The Syrian civil war is taking a new turn with the direct military involvement of Russia. A simple, but yet complex question, ought to be raised: Does Russia dictate global politics in the European sphere of influence?

The Syrian Civil War

In Syria, Bashar al-Assad never lost his power. Even though the country is highly divided among a multitude of militias, terrorist networks and the al-Assad forces. The interesting case of Syria is that the West did not see coming the fall of Mubarak and Qaddafi and wanted to be proactive in the fall of al-Assad. In September 2013, the West was trying to build a coalition in order to start bombing Syria and the al-Assad forces after he was found guilty of having used sarin gas against civilians. Two forces played in favor of al-Assad, and

Photo: AHMAD ABOUD/AFP/Getty Images
Photo: AHMAD ABOUD/AFP/Getty Images

still are, avoiding the launch of airstrike against Syria’s al-Assad: Russia and Western public opinion.

Vladimir Putin has played an important role in sponsoring the al-Assad regime through military and financial assistance. Putin’s rationale is that the Assad regime is a better alternative and protection against radical Islamic groups than rebels. In the case of western public opinions, they had grown war-worn especially for the Americans and Brits both involved in Iraq and Afghanistan for over a decade. British citizens, through the UK House of Commons rejected to grant authorization to Prime Minister Cameron to participate in military airstrikes in Syria. The British aversion to use force in Syria was a powerful signal for the Obama administration, whom refused to intervene despite the fact that al-Assad had crossed the ‘redline’ in using sarin gas. Ultimately since 2013, the war in Syria has seen the rise of refugees, displaced individuals, rise of ISIS and a continuation of war without any direct role being played by the West to stop the conflict.

US-Russia Divergences

Mr. Putin has been very clear. Russia uses military force in order to fight ISIS and support the al-Assad regime. Vladimir Putin does not want to see his regional ally go and wants to maintain Russia’s influence in the region. Putin sees Russian intervention in order to stop the expansion and rise of ISIS in the region. If attention has been raised about radical islamists trying to conduct terrorist acts in Western Europe (like in Toulouse, Charlie Hebdo, the Thalys) and the US, Russia has as well been dealing with radical islamic terrorism for decades. Since being in power, Vladimir Putin has been fighting a lengthy war in Chechenya. Major Russian cities have been the targets of acts of terrorism over the years. In Syria, President Putin has played his game carefully by first bringing military capabilities, like fighter jets, in Syria at the airbase base of Latakia, in Western Syria.

In the case of the US, President Obama is neither interested in protecting al-Assad nor keeping him in power. As demonstrated by his two mandates, President Obama has been150928153854-barack-obama-vladimir-putin-toast-exlarge-169 trying to leave the Middle East and readjust American power towards Asia. Obama’s presidential promises were to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which he has done even though some military forces are still on the ground. During the Arab spring, the US with his European allies missed the moment. The US was leading from behind in 2011 in the implementation of a no-fly zone in Libya. The mission was led by France and the UK, under the UN Security Council Resolution 1973 (2011), which facilitated the fall of the Qaddafi regime. Since 2011, and especially after the killing of US ambassador in Benghazi, the Americans have been extremely reluctant in playing an active role on the ground and rather remain in the sky. But ISIS has brought back the US in the region. As demonstrated in recent polls, Americans consider ISIS as the greatest threat to the US.

Chart: Global Perceptions of Major Threats (Only the ‘Very Concerned about’ are being represented here)

Threats
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]

With the rise of ISIS over the region, President Obama was obliged to send some hundreds of military advisors in Iraq in order assist the Iraqi army and leadership. Since then, the US with France have conducted airstrikes over Iraq in order to limit the rise of ISIS.

Even within the US team, there is a certain division as reported by the New York Times between President Obama and his Secretary of State, John Kerry. “Obama seems to approach Syria with a professor’s detachment”said David Schenker, the director of the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, “while Kerry — perhaps because of his high regard for his own diplomatic acuity — sees it as something he can solve.” President Obama deeply distrusts President Putin, while Kerry feels that he can work on a deal with the Russians in order to bring in the long-term Bashar al-Assad down from his leadership position.

But the tension between the US and Russia can be sensed. During his address before the UN General Assembly, Russian President underlined that the US air campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria were illegal and a violation of international law. Putin claimed that the US used military force with neither a UN Security Council Resolution nor with the consent of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Now it will be interesting to see if the UN Security Council agree on a resolution in order to fight ISIS in Syria.

Europeans, Russians and Americans

The Syrian crisis is, and ought to be perceived by the Europeans, as the top priority. From Europe, the civil war in Syria is causing regional instabilities all around the Mediterranean front, is at the origins of the worst migration crisis since World War two, and is exposing the failures of Europeans address a direct security threat to its continent. The massive number of migrants seeking for refuge in Western Europe is exposing the weaknesses of European cohesion and solidarity, European integration (see the failure of the Schengen agreement and Dublin rules), and is destroying the myth of Europe as a civilian/normative power.

The only power in Western Europe to be military active is France. Under Presidents Sarkozy and Hollande, France has sought to maintain its global and regional influence and interests. France has been flexing its muscles in Central African Republic (CAR), Mali, Iraq, Libya and now Syria. Back in 2013, France was waiting on the Americans in order to start airstrikes against the al-Assad forces after he was proven to have used sarin gas against civilians. If French air power has been used as part of the coalition with the US over Iraq in order to fight ISIS, but it started its bombing campaign over Syria several days ago. However, François Hollande has maintained the fact that a solution in Syria cannot exist with Bashar al-Assad. As demonstrated during the nuclear talks with Iran, French diplomacy has been one of the toughest in order to assure that French and Western interests would be protected and enforced. On the Syrian case, Laurent Fabius is keeping the similar cap.

_85593741_iraq_syria_air_strikes_624_v45

The United Kingdom has expressed a less clear position. British Prime Minister Cameron said “I know there are people who think Isis is even worse than Assad, so shouldn’t we somehow cut a deal with Assad to team up and tackle Isis.” But the Brits, in order to show support to their American partners, underlined that a long-term solution cannot include Bashar al-Assad remaining in power. The French and Americans have been clear on the fact that any peace deals cannot include Bashar al-Assad.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of Italy said that Russia was a central actor in the fight against ISIS in the region. His tone towards Moscow is much softer than his European partners, as Italy and Russia have always had deep relationship, especially in recent times. For instance, Italy has been the least supportive of European sanctions against Russia.

Russia, The Return of the Global Power?

Since the arrival of Putin to power in 2000, his priority has been to make Russia a great power once again. He has demonstrated that Russia not only plays an important role, but can shape global events. If Putin put himself in a corner after the annexation of Crimea and lingering war in Eastern Ukraine, he has brought Russia back at the table of great powers with his actions in the Middle East. If this aspect has been lost in translation as the world is more concerned about the approval of the deal by the US Congress, Russia played an important role on bringing a deal for the Iranian nuclear program. In the case of Syria, most powers have been reluctant to act aside from airstrike bombings over Syria and Iraq. Now Russia is actually forcing the West to act and do something about the vicious war in Syria.

Europeans have been inactive on dealing with Syria and have struggled on welcoming Syrian migrants. Aside from boosting border patrols in the Mediterranean and increasing financial assistances to countries hosting Syrian refugees, Europeans were unable to agree on a clear military operation in order to address the root causes of the migration crisis. The Americans, under Obama, have been much more reluctant to start another military mission in the Middle East. Obama promised in 2008 to quit the greater Middle East, he certainly does not want to leave office in 2016 with another war in Middle East.

With the escalation of its military intervention, Russia is bringing itself outside of the corner and rejoining the table of great powers. This last decade, Putin has demonstrated his ability to promote Russian influence and interests where and when desired. By using realpolitik, Putin has been able to promote Russia’s interests without any moral dilemmas, while the West is trying to act morally (which is highly debatable) and is actually limiting its flexibility and interests. Russia is back and the West needs to work with a complex partner.

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

Politipond’s Quiz – Summer 2015

school-geography-trips-france-09

Fall is on the corner, and it is time to see how well you have been following the different issues taking place over the summer in the transatlantic arena. Take a short quiz and see if you passed.

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

A Shameful Summer for Europe

Photograph: Philippe Huguen
Photograph: Philippe Huguen

It is difficult to look at Europe and its Member States and feel proud of their accomplishments and actions in the last six months. From the continuous migration crisis getting his coverage since April, to the ultra-nationalist national political campaigns (in Britain, Denmark, Poland), to the Greek fiasco, and now to the Franco-British clash over migrants held in a camp in Calais, European affairs have taken a turn for the worst. All these issues/crises share one factor in common: the inability by Europeans to control their present and shape their futures.

Migration – All the Roads Do not Lead to London

The question of migration is more than a European problem, it is a global tragedy. Reports, from newspapers, think tanks, NGOs, and other international agencies, all identify the current migrants as political, economic and environmental refugees.Faces of defiance and a despairing message as migrants prepare for the French onslaught on the Jungle These migrants are in fact for most of them coming from countries destroyed by war (Syria, Libya, Sudan, Afghanistan), by terrorism and political repression (Eritrea, Yemen, Somalia) and so forth. These migrants are traveling thousand of miles through the toughest conditions imaginable all in direction of one of the richest and most stable region in the world, Europe. As previously reported (read here and here), the routes to Europe are by the Central Mediterranean region in direction of Italy, or by the short distance between Turkey and Greece (more Eastern route). Once in Italy, the migrants just go North in direction of France, Germany and some Scandinavian countries. In Greece, migrants go North through Macedonia and then West in direction of France and Germany (see the map below)._82353692_key_migration_routes_624

Once on the European continent, these are the different routes and final destinations of most migrants as illustrated by a map produced by Europol:

Print

This massive migration wave is highlighting two problems: a human tragedy for all these migrants (the episode of Lampedusa and so forth illustrate the dangers of such journey); and a political tragedy of European inabilities to deal with this crisis seriously. Instead of developing a serious set of policies in order to adjust their national laws, the tensions have increased among neighboring Member States. For example, France and Italy had a rift over several hundred migrants being stuck in the border-town of Vintimille, and between France and the United Kingdom over what captphoto_1253605518858-1-0is described by London of an invasion of migrants located at the infamous so-called ‘Jungle’ camp near Calais. This camp is counting between 3,000 and 5,000 individuals (as a comparison, Turkey and Lebanon are dealing with camps from 1 to 2 millions refugees, so it is difficult to believe that one of the richest country in the world, France, cannot manage a camp of roughly 5,000 refugees). American and European media have covered in recent days a little more the camp, even though this precarious camp has existed for years and was preceded by the camp of Sangatte. Interestingly enough, all migrants in the Calais’ camp are not all trying to get to Britain. Some of them are trying to remain in France.

National Rhetorics and the Fear of the Other

The problem of migration – legal and illegal – is a central one for anyone wanting to understand the current political debates at the national and European levels. Even legal migration between the 28 EU Member States is a cause of domestic tension even though such sort of migration is directly connected to the freedom of movement, one of the four freedoms guaranteed by the common market.  So in the case of illegal migration, it is not difficult to imagine the tone of the debate.

Domestically, the radical parties (especially the extreme right) have risen above their former status of opposition parties, to becoming a shaping-force of the national debate. In the case of France, the Front National (currently facing internal family-feud) is now considered as one of the top french parties, with the Socialist Party and the newly-renamed right wing party, Les Républicains. The Front National (FN) has made its name by blaming all France’s troubles and decline on Europe, globalization and the immigrants. In the United Kingdom, the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), led by Nigel Farrage, was as well an important actor framing Britain’s crises because of Europe and immigrants. His sudden rise, despite some disappointing results in the May elections, has forced Cameron’s government to talk tougher. Ensuing the June elections in Denmark, the anti-EU and anti-immigrant party, Danish People’s Party (DPP), has risen to the second rank of national parties. And these radical parties have only been identified because of the recent elections in each country. But other EU Member States, like the Netherlands, Hungary, Poland, Austria, Italy, Greece, and so forth, are as well dealing with a powerful extreme right political force changing the tone of the debate.

Now, two questions remain to be answered: First, to what extent are these extremist parties throughout Europe influencing the debate on migration? Second, are mainstream right wing parties eventually showing their true colors? For instance, the recent rhetoric emanating from London are quite worrisome. Prime Minister Cameron has had some24A20A8C00000578-0-image-a-20_1421106386798 tough words about these migrants ‘invading’ Britain. In July, PM Cameron compared the migrants stuck in Calais as a “swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean” and has been advocating for stricter immigration rules in Britain. Weeks later, British foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, made comments aligned with his leadership about the current migration crisis and claimed that Europe “can’t protect itself.” He continued saying that “The gap in standards of living between Europe and Africa means there will always be millions of Africans with the economic motivation to try to get to Europe.” In France, under President Sarkozy, the tone towards immigrants was very negative and aggressive. Sarkozy and his Minister of Interior, Brice Hortefeux, stole some of the narratives from the Front National either for political gain or by sympathy for such belief. For instance, in June 2010, Brice Hortefeux was fined for making racist comments towards a man of North Africa origins.

It is time that center-right parties finally opposed once and for all the xenophobic and anti-EU narratives advanced by extreme-right parties. If their electorates increase it is not because Europeans are becoming more racist or anti-EU, but that they are tired of a visionless, leaderless, and scared political class. All these radical national parties in Europe share this commonality of stating clearly what they think, even though it is not true (like linking terrorism to immigration; or opposing globalization and returning to a protectionist economy). In addition, the current socio-economic climate in Europe is propice to such rise as the center-right and left parties have been unable to real make the required changes in order to launch the economic engine.

Creative Thinking for a Complex Challenge

The fear of the immigrants has always existed and Europe is not the only continent to face such problem. The current political debate in the United States about securing the southern border with Mexico and the legalization of long-term immigrants will play an important role in the 2016 Presidential election. In the case of Europe, the flow of migrants continues to grow every year and require some serious discussion, reflection and policy change at the European level.

Credit: The New York Times
Credit: The New York Times

Europe is facing serious crises requiring long-term thinking and necessitating cooperation and solidarity. In trying to ‘control’ the influx of immigrants seeking refuge in Europe, the 28 Member States will have to agree at the EU level on a ‘real’ set of measures such as quotas per countries (all the MS) based on a 10 year plan, an increase in common border control, national and european reforms of the current laws on asylum, and eventually more international operations in order to stabilize the political situations in countries of origins.

These measures can only be agreed on if the national leaders are serious in finding long-term solution and are ready to defend such plan before their electorate. On the one side, European leaders have become visionless administrators enslaved by polling numbers and reelections. On the other, Europeans have to realize that solidarity will be necessary even in these dire economic times. There are not that many options and the influx will continue. The Europeans still have the time to open their doors to these migrants with cohesive European policies and real structures to integrate them in the different societies. Integration of these migrants is possible and necessary. Rejecting them will only widen the gap and push European cohesion to its limits.

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

It is Politics, Stupid!

CREDIT: ANADOLU AGENCY
CREDIT: ANADOLU AGENCY

“I really cannot remember, in all my time in European politics, whether I have come across a situation like this. This is really all about the European Union. If the EU is going to have any credible force, it is going to have to demonstrate it is capable of solving its own problems.” – President Martin Schulz on July 12th, 2015 during the Euro Summit Meeting

Forget about economics, finance, banking regulations, social welfare policies, debt forgiveness; the future of Greece solely depends on politics. “The answer [of endless negotiations on solving the Greek crisis these last five years] cannot be found in economics,” writes Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek finance minister, “because it resides deep in Europe’s labyrinthine politics.” Greece’s destiny is a simple political question based on several concept: trust and confidence.

The Deal

After a week long of back and forth between Greece and the European capitals, Brussels is once again the siege of a Greek marathon. A meeting of the Eurogroup finance ministers started on Saturday, July 11th and ended the next day around 3pm. Ensuing it a general EU summit, with the 28 leaders, was supposed to take place, but was instead cancelled and transformed into a crisis summit of the 19 EU leaders of the Eurozone. The future of Greece as a member of the Eurozone was clearly on the line with a very reticent German team (Chancellor Merkel and her Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble proposing an eventual ‘temporary Grexit’).

As reported by the Financial Times, the finance minister negotiations, which were fruitless and tense, let the way to the EU leaders, whom could not do better considering Germany’s position. Until François Hollande, President of France, whom had been extremely active in advising, helping and defending Greece in the last mile, called for a meeting in Tusk’s office. Preisdent Tusk was reported saying “Sorry, but there is no way you are leaving this room” until a deal is reached.

Credit: Aris Messinis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Credit: Aris Messinis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Interestingly enough, Tsipras’ proposal prior the July 11th meeting included: raising the age for retirement; a VAT hike at 23% across sectors; privatization of key sectors of Greek economy; and removal of tax breaks for some Greek islands. These reforms would permit to unlock a third loan package of $59.6bn until 2018. Tsipras’ proposal was highly similar to the one offered by the international creditors. Even Jean-Claude Juncker during the meeting recognized the proposal brought by Tsipras as almost identical to the one put on the table by the creditors weeks earlier. And the President of European Parliament, Martin Schulz, called for avoiding a Grexit and find a solution.

Based on the deal reached on July 13th, the Greek Parliament voted and agreed on July 15th, on the bailout deal, which was approved with a 229-64 majority. However, Tsipras’ party, Syriza, seems to have lost some unity with 32 Syriza MPs defying their leader’s pleas and rejected the deal. Clearly the terms of the bailout are in direct contradiction with Syriza’s policies, beliefs, and promises, as well as sidelining the results of the referendum. These contradictions could push even further the political crisis in Greece and lead to yet another election during the summer.

Chancellor Merkel, the Finish government and others are not convinced about the proposal and especially Greece’s commitment. The Greek drama is taking more than a simple economic/financial turn, it is purely political. It appears that some EU Member States, like Germany, Finland, Slovakia and others, are more inclined to go after Greece and its leftwing government led by Alexis Tsipras, than finding a real deal that would help in the long term the country.

One core reason is trust, or at least ‘lack of trust.’ Some experts have argued that Tsipras was now on Merkel’s black list after his political coup, the referendum. Merkel and others EU leaders do not trust any longer Tsipras and his government. Or even has argued by Yanis Varoufakis, “based on months of negotiation, my conviction is that the German finance minister wants Greece to be pushed out of the single currency to put the fear of God into the French and have them accept his model of a disciplinarian eurozone.”

Death of the European Project?

The Greek file should be considered as an overall failure for the European ethos. Many economists, like Joseph Stiglitz, have been very critical of the negotiation process and the agreed deal. One of the most virulent denunciation of the deal was Paul Krugman, writing that “it’s [the deal] a grotesque betrayal of everything the European project was supposed to stand for.” Even the International Monetary Fund, a global advocate for austerity measures and straightjacket policies, has been critical of the dealbroken_euro_fit calling instead for a huge debt relief for Greece.

Last but not least, Nicolas Gros-Verheyde of Bruxelles2 wonders about a core question: “Is Europe becoming the sum of its egos?” The Greek file embodies more than solving an economic problem, it has become a vicious fight between powerful EU Member States. These egos are affecting their global visions and understandings of the core principles and values of the European endeavor. But right now, the EU is failing at this important crossroad. The EU cannot find a real solution on any major crisis from counterterrorism in Mali, to migration crisis in the Mediterranean, to Ukraine/Crimea, to the domestic rise of nationalism, and naturally Greece. Are politics killing the EU? It certainly looks like it.

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

Greece votes Oxi, Europe says Grexit

ATHENS, GREECE - 2015/06/29: The word 'OXI' (NO) written on a banner in front of the Greek parliament.  Greeks demonstrate in Syntagma square in support to a 'NO' vote in the referendum that will take place on the 5th of July, whether to accept the  new agreement between Greece and it creditors. (Photo by George Panagakis/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
ATHENS, GREECE – 2015/06/29: The word ‘OXI’ (NO) written on a banner in front of the Greek parliament. Greeks demonstrate in Syntagma square in support to a ‘NO’ vote in the referendum that will take place on the 5th of July, whether to accept the new agreement between Greece and it creditors. (Photo by George Panagakis/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

“All of us are responsible for the crisis and all of us have a responsibility to resolve it.” – President Donald Tusk, July 7th, 2015

Greek citizens voted in majority Oxi to the July 5th referendum. The question asked by the Tsipras government, which was campaigning for a ‘no’ vote, was yes or no to accepting a continuation of the bailout program with all the austerity measures coming with it (read here a previous analysis). The results were very clear throughout the country with 61.31% for the no vote and 38.69% for the yes vote (see here the map produced by the Gr20150711_woc001_0eek Ministry of Interior showing that the no vote won in each Greek region). Greek citizens felt that the best option – out of two bad – was to reject the terms of the bailout on the table. If for a day the discussion was about the meaning of the ‘no’ vote (is it against the EU, the Euro, or simply a desire to remain a member of the Eurozone), today’s reality is about the future of Greece as a member of the Eurozone. So where do Greece and the EU go from now on?

Negotiations and Survival

In less than two days, a succession of events has taken place. For over five years, it seems that the Greek file was dragging, it has certainly taken an all new meaning and urgency. Prior to the results, Chancellor Merkel of Germany was meeting her counterpart, President Hollande, in Paris in order to find a common ground. The day ensuing the political victory of the Tsipras government, the infamous Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, announced his resignation. Many advanced that Tsipras had to go in order to demonstrate to his European counterparts that Greece was serious in seeking for a viable option. Varoufakis had gone too far and had lost some of his support within the Eurogroup of finance ministers.

Then on Tuesday, an emergency summit meeting took place with no substantial results.

Credit: Yves Herman/Reuters
Credit: Yves Herman/Reuters

Tsipras was supposed to bring, as highly recommended by the French government, a new proposal. But the summit meeting failed as Athens did not provide an acceptable option. Tsipras has now until Thursday (as requested by Merkel) in order to present a new proposal to his creditors. A failure in finding an agreement could lead to “the bankruptcy of Greece” warned Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, “and the insolvency of its banking system.” Tusk added that “tonight I [Donald Tusk] have to say it loud and clear — the final deadline ends this week.” On Sunday, as announced by the 19 eurozone countries on tuesday, the 28 EU leaders will be deciding on the future of Greece.

In addition, the New York Times reported that for the first time – at least publicly – the President of the Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has announced that he has “a Grexit scenario prepared in detail.” If a Grexit scenario is now on the table, Tsipras will be defending his case before the European Parliament on Wednesday morning.

Consequences of Staying in the Eurozone, or Leaving It?

In the middle of the negotiations and in finding a solution, a key player is the European Central Bank (ECB). Currently the ECB is the institution that is keeping the Greek banks alive by providing liquidity. Because today Greece is unable to borrow money on the international market and the Europeans are the one providing money to Greece in order to have its economy and banking systems going. The ECB will continue to do so if a deal is agreed. However, in the case of a break-up, the ECB will remain a central player as it will stop providing liquidity to Greece. In addition, even if Greece missed its first payment of July 1st to the International Monetary Fund of $1.8bn, the second deadline of July 20th to the ECB of $3.8bn will be key for Greece and the EU.

If Greece wants to stay in the Eurozone, they will have to implement a set of policy measures that will require: tax reforms; fixing the pension program, which will affect early retirement program; labor market practices. Once these are ongoing the international and european creditors will have to give meaningful debt relief.

In the case Greece decides to leave, or is expelled from the Eurozone, then it will have to introduce a new currency. The country will ultimately default on their debts, and will have to create its own economic agenda in order to lay down the foundation for future economic growth. This scenario will naturally require serious structural reforms.

If Size does not matter, Precedent does

The Greek case is not about the size of the Greek economy. In fact the Greek economy only represents 2% of the Eurozone GDP. So far it does not appear that a Greek default could take with it the whole Eurozone and send a massive shockwave throughout the global markets. No, the case of Greece is a matter, for the EU and its Member States, of establishing a precedent. Germany and other wealthy Eurozone members want to avoid such precedent, where a member state refuses to pay its debts and call for a national referendum in order to provide such country leverage at the European level. Chancellor Merkel was correct in claiming that Greece is a sovereign state and has the right to organize such a referendum, however what type of legitimacy does that provide the Tsipras government in coming back at the bargaining table?

The Greek referendum is national decision on a complex financial question. But the Greek referendum does not affect the decision of Greece’s creditors. If the vote empowers Tsipras domestically, it does not at the European level. Now, Tsipras has to navigate in these tumultuous waters of a domestic electorate, opposed to additional austerity, while providing a proposal acceptable to his creditors, most of them highly in favor of additional austerity measures. Tsipras seems to be facing a conundrum, either remaining in the Eurozone and what it entails, or leaving the Eurozone, and dealing with the consequences of a default.

In the mid-term, there are many technicalities that need to be figured out if Greece decided to leave the common currency. The legal baseline is the 1992 Maastricht Treaty,

Photograph by Federico Gambarini — picture-alliance/dpa/AP
Photograph by Federico Gambarini — picture-alliance/dpa/AP

which does not provide any information in order to leave the common currency. In the contemporary European history (aside from the collapse of Habsburg empire), there are no precedents, no rules and no plans in order to leave a common currency. But with a return of the Drachma, the real question for the Greek government will be about the exchange rate between the Drachma and the Euro as all Greek accounts are in Euros. At the end of the day, the Greek savings will be severely devaluated causing massive financial losses.

The Greek drama illustrates the complexity of the unfinished European construction. Since the Treaty of Maastricht of 1992 laying out the current foundations of the European Union, the Member States have avoided any decisions for furthering/deepening the integration process or completely loosening it. Today, if Greece is in such trouble, is certainly because of its domestic problems (high level of corruption and lack of structural reforms), but as well because of an integration à la carte of the Eurozone. At the end of the day, a Grexit or not is only a technicality. The real question is: will the Eurozone members be working once and for all on finalizing a fully integrated and functional Eurozone?

(Copyright 2015 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.

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