Tsipras, a Political Master

ggt2

Europe and the world should be taking a moment and reflect on the political mastery of Alexis Tsipras of Greece. In less than a year, Mr. Tsipras won two general elections, won a referendum and implemented contradictory policies, all this by changing his political standing and under terrible domestic and economic conditions. Aside from political ideology, Alexis Tsipras is undeniably one of the most talented European politicians. However has his mastery of politics translated into sound governing skills?

Early 2015, most Europeans, including a some Greek citizens, had never heard of Alexis Tsipras. The 41 year old tieless politician finds his political ideology in extreme left affiliated at first to the Communist Party. His political house is centered in the extreme left side of the political spectrum. After years of internal evolution in the Greek lefts, he then became the leader of the exteme-left wing party, Syriza (which means Coalition of the Radical Left) and was elected at the helm of Greece in February 2015. This was the beginning of his true political exposition.

Chapter 1: His election in February 2015 marked the end of the decade long transfer of power between the two leading parties. Tsipras was elected based on a program of anti-austerity policies, fight for Greek interests before the Troika (ECB, IMF, and Commission), increase of minimum wages, restauration of state employees and increase of pensions. If European media were deeply skeptical about his rise and thought that he would not last a year, they have appeared to be wrong. Ensuing his election, Tspiras disappeared from European minds until the looming of the deadlines for debt repayments of the IMF and ECB.

Chapter 2: The second chapter of his reign started several weeks prior the eventual default 478861728of Greece for the repayment of a  €1.5 billion to the IMF on June 30th, and a second one to the ECB mid-2015. These negotiations at EU finance ministers level and EU leaders level were extremely tense as neither Tsipras nor his finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, wanted to accept the deal put on the table by the Troika and Germany. At the last minute, PM Tsipras called for a referendum on July 5th asking Greeks to decide on their fate: voting yes to the deal implied more austerity measures; a no vote was a rejection of the deal and could lead to a Greek default and leaving the Eurozone, known as a Grexit. Not only did Tsipras organized the referendum without noticing his European partners, but he campaigned for the no vote.

Chapter 3: The no camp, or Oxi, won the referendum with 61.3% and Europe was expecting a progressive departure of Greece from the Eurozone. Even President Juncker of the European Commission asked for a report on how to accompany Greece outside the Euro area. Instead of using his domestic mandate, Tsipras fired his finance minister (officially he resigned desipte winning) and went back to the negotiation table

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)

requesting the initial deal. Germany refused and France played an important role of holding together the parties and the negotiations alive. Ultimately, Greece agreed on a worst deal than previously offered and Tsipras implemented additional austerity measures and required reforms. The deal entailed the following aspects: 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 €86 billion until 2018.

Chapter 4: Tsipras agreed on the second deal, agreed at EU level on July 13th, which was worst than the initial offer, and brought it back home for a vote. 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. Throughout July and August, Tsipras was facing serious political criticism and opposition by the members of his own party. Syriza was divided between a radical branch, led by Mr. Lafazanis, and a more centrist one counting Tsipras. The radical branch of Syriza had not accepted the political move by Tsipras to go against the popular vote of the referendum. “Mr Lafazanis’s supporters speak of an ‘ideological betrayal’ and ‘treachery’ by Mr Tsipras’s faction.”

Chapter 5: On August 20th, PM Tsipras announced his resignation and his candidacy for the next general election that would take place mid-September. His rationale was to get reelected without the radical branch of Syriza. His political gamble worked as he was reelected with 35.5% of the vote and was able to drop the hard-liners from his party. Syriza won 145 seats out of the 300 seats of the parliament, only four fewer than after the January elections. In order to assure a majority, Tsipras agreed on a coalition with right-wing party Independent Greeks (ANEL) with its leader Panos Kammenos. ANEL is an ultra-nationalist anti-immigrant party, often compared to UKIP in the United Kingdom. With this alliance, the Syriza-ANEL coalition offer the majority with 155 seats in the Parliament to Tsipras. Even President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, expressed his concerns directly to PM Tsipras about this political alliance.

Political Talent over Governing Skills?

In less than a year, PM Tsipras has demonstrated his political talent in remaining alive and electable despite party, domestic and European pressures all this under dire economic conditions and an unemployment level around 25%. If Tsipras proved to the world that he cannot lose an election, he needs to now tackle the true problems of Greece: crony capitalism, clientelism, systemic corruption, and implementing structural reforms of the economy and state. The country has been on life line for over 5 years, its intellectuals are fleeing away, higher education is barely financed and Greece cannot even protect its borders. Winning elections is one thing, implementing reforms and governing are another.

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

Will Tsipras 2.0 be better than Tsipras 1.0?

Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

Alexis Tsipras resigns after seven months in power, but is seeking for reelection in elections in late September. His time at the helm of Greece was marked by a impossible conundrum: defend Greek interests against powerful European and international forces, ending the austerity while finding growth, and dealing with an ideological split within his party.

Prime Minister Tsipras is calling for a new round of elections, most likely scheduled for September 20th, and he will lead the Syriza party. “I believe we haven’t yet seen our best days” announced the Prime Minister on television “and I’m going to ask for the people’s vote to govern this country – with more experience, with my feet more firmly on the ground.” With a disastrous economic and fiscal situation, Greece is now facing even deeper political uncertainties. With his resignation the country will be governed by an interim-government until the next snap elections in September 20th. Tsipras is leaving office for a better comeback and freeing himself from the rebels of his party. He is looking to “return to power with a more manageable coalition.”

Reflection on Tsipras’ First Tenure

Several points need to be reflected upon his time in office. First, PM Tsipras came into power based on an anti-establishment campaign. His extreme-left party, Syriza, took the power based on many promises: defending Greek interests by ending the international and european austerity measures; and an anti-establishment campaign.

Second, his time in office was quite smooth until the looming of the deadlines for repayment of the IMF and ECB loans. Even though he remains one of the most popular politicians in Greece, the summer has created serious political tensions within his party Syriza. The fight between Greece and the Troika (ECB, Commission, and IMF) over an agreement after missing the initial deadline forced the Tsipras’ government to close Greek banks for almost three weeks. Tsipras was obliged to agree to the terms requiring tax hikes and further spending cuts under the threat of complete collapse of the Greek banking system (read here a past analysis). The deal with European creditors infuriated members his party Syriza, but Tsipras managed to get it approve through the Parliament with the help of the opposition.

Third, the resignation of Alexis Tsipras, which should be seen as a two-step process – first the referendum, and second the agreement to the terms of the bailout – marks in some ways a complex existence and survival of socialism in Europe. To many, Alexis Tsipras was the last embodiment of socialism in Europe. Now the question is: was the international market seeking to make a point in going after Tsipras? With Tsipras’ departures, it seems that austerity measures have become the European landmark in solving deep structural economic crisis. But if reelected, Tsipras would be a much more centrist politician than seven month ago. Tsipras had to move towards the middle creating a split with the radical core of his party.

Referendum, Bailout and Political Tension

When did it go all wrong for Tsipras? And, did it go wrong for Tsipras? For many Europeans, PM Tsipras lost the battle after calling for a referendum and advocating for the no vote (remember the oxi?). In retrospective, the results of the referendum actually did not matter, aside for many Greeks feeling that Tsipras tried to defend them. The referendum was perceived by European partners, especially the Germans, as an act of treason. Greece was already on the thin line with his Eurozone partners since the collapse of its economy and the first bailout five years ago. Greece had mis-behaved and lied to its partners (read here a previous interview on the topic). The referendum was another act of treason for European partners. Once Greeks had voted in favor of the no

ATHENS, GREECE - 2014/10/13: MP with the SYRIZA political party, Mr Panagiotis Lafazanis, talks with a megaphone to the demonstrators expressing SYRIZA support. Kurdish people that live in Athens organised a demonstration in support of the Kurdish fighters that defend the Kobani town in Iraq from ISIS insurgents. (Photo by George Panagakis/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Photo: George Panagakis/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

vote, and a week later PM Tsipras agreed to the new terms of a third bailout, his time was counted. His vocal lieutenant, finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, announced his resignation days after the victory of the no vote. Once Varoufakis was gone, and Tsipras agreed with the terms (criticized by the IMF) and started his transition towards the center. But in some ways, Tsipras’ fate was sealed, or not? In addition, it created a real ideological split within Syriza. Tsipras is undeniable moving towards the center, while the old guard of Syriza, led by the former Energy and Environment Minister, Mr. Lafazanis, have not changed their position. On the referendum, The Financial Times reported that “Mr Lafazanis’s supporters speak of an ‘ideological betrayal’ and ‘treachery’ by Mr Tsipras’s faction.” The paradox between calling for the referendum opposing the bailout and then accepting the terms of the bailout created an unsustainable political condition for Tsipras.

Some experts and media are comparing Greece to a European protectorate (at least in the leftist literature) after the agreement on the third bailout’s terms. But aside from asking for the approval of his policies, does Greece need another election in such dire times? Tsipras is gambling on a new election in order to get rid of rebels, or what The Economist calls the ‘wild ones,’ build on its domestic legitimacy, and try to govern and reform Greece with a fresh flow of money. Let see if Tsipras can win another election, and how different will Tsipras 2.0 be from the Tsipras 1.0? Can Tsipras 2.0 bring Greece to reform and become a growing and sustainable country under the current conditions? This remains to be seen.

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

Grexit, Zombies and Back to the Future

grexit

With the looming Greek deadline, it is interesting to revisit an interview conduced back in 2011 about the future of Greece as a member of the Eurozone. Not surprisingly, not much as changed since then aside from the perpetual rotation of Prime Ministers unable to balance the debt, european and international pressures, and domestic forces.

In almost five years, the EU, the Eurozone and Greece are in the same situation that they initially were. Today Greece is on the verge of defaulting on its debt of €1.5 billion to the IMF on June 30th. Since the election of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, the fight between Greece and the Troika+Germany has been tense with no real solution (read a previous analysis on Syriza here). The bargaining process has brought the EU and Greece in front of a wall. The only difference between 2011 and 2015 is the acceptance of the concept of Grexit. In 2011, Grexit was only a word to express the unthinkable. In 2015, Grexit is an option.

Here is the interview of Dr. Lorca-Susino taken place in Miami in 2011:

“What makes a currency unique? The symbols, monuments, leaders figuring on the paper money, are exemplifications of the collective identity and shared culture. In the case of the Euro, as underlined by Gideon Rachman, the symbols on Euro’s coins and bills are fictitious.

Last week [September 15th, 2011], I ask one of my close friends, Dr. Maria Lorca-Susino, and also co-worker at the EU Center of Excellence at the University of Miami to grant me a little of her time for an interview on the future of the Euro and its impacts on the EU as whole. The fraternity among Europeans living abroad is such that she could not refuse. Dr. Lorca-Susino has emerged as one of the top thinkers on the Euro and recently published an outstanding book, The Euro in the 21st century, from the ashes of her dissertation. I had in mind to do the interview à la Financial Times, unfortunately neither lunch nor coffee were part of it.

Zombies have become a very trendy concept to use in International Relations and mass culture [it was the case in 2011 with all the movies, tv-shows and Drezner’s book Theories of International Politics and Zombies], and I could not resist on using it for this piece. Is Greece a zombie? Can a bite from Greece lead to contagion to the other members of the Eurozone? and ultimately to the European Union as a whole? Could it lead to the comeback of national currencies? Would a default of Greece be like a heat shot to a zombie? These were my general questions throughout our discussion.

I started straight with a large, contentious and complex question, “How do you see the future of the Euro?” As a true academic, she replied by “it depends,” and then claimed that it will be “without Greece.” Greece has been at the heart of a massive political storm in Europe for several reasons: first, Greece is seen by the Troika – EU, IMF, ECB – as not doing enough; second, Greece could be considered as a failed-state. The problem with Greece is that the Greek government is unable to raise money [this changed in 2014 in Greece], as opposed to be unwilling to. Furthermore, from an economic standpoint, the case of Greece is a problem of solvency – no more assets – as opposed to have a problem of liquidity, which is the case of the Italy.

Dr. Lorca-Susino underlined that the Eurozone without Greece is not a “big problem” as the Treaties have been already breached many times. The no bailout rule has been breached, so why would it be a problem to remove Greece for the Eurozone? At that time, I should have raised the fact that one of the problems is perhaps not political, but instead unethical. But even the notion of ethics on the Greek fiasco lost its value a long time ago, when the Greek government cooked the books. The fact is that Greece lied and did not report the “real” data concerning its deficit and debt. The expulsion of Greece from the Eurozone is not a question of economic weakness, as argued by Dr. Lorca-Susino, but instead a consequence of its dishonesty to the other Member States. The cover-up by the Greek government did put the entire system in jeopardy, as she recalled, but also limited the time for action or reaction of the other Member States in dealing with such crisis.

I, then, wondered about the need to restructure, redesign the architecture of the Eurozone. She replied very simply that, “the Eurozone has all the requirements. But the only problem is that they have not been respected.” Originally and “in good faith” – as underlined several times throughout our discussion – Member States were allowed to maintain their fiscal autonomy. She went on and argued that the “unwritten rule for this fiscal independence” was because of a shared belief that Member States were part of a so-called “gentlemen club.” In other words, Member States’ words were the only guarantee needed for a stable and safe economic climax within the Eurozone. Short-term breaching was permitted, as it was the case with France and Germany, as long as Member States readjusted their deficits.

What about a common EU fiscal system? “Fiscal unity is complicated,” argued Dr. Lorca-Susino, “because it would send the entire European political class to unemployment.” Her vision of the role of politicians is reduced to their abilities to make the budget in accordance with the country’s needs. Fiscal unity is not a fiscal question, but instead a political one. However, another problem would be to design a common European taxation system with all its complexity around the question of redistribution in accordance with national taxation and European needs. Fiscal unity would ultimately lead toward a federal state along the lines of the United States.

But, what is the role of the European public in all that? Have European citizens been removed from the equation? Since the beginning of the crisis in 2008, the European public, all across the Union, has been extremely critical and vocal of all the austerity measures undertaken, especially the ones implemented in Greece, Spain, Italy, Britain, and to some extent France. A large segment of Europeans see the European Union as the supra-entity forcing national governments to cut their budgets and ultimately weakening the power of the welfare state. Her answer, once more, was sharp and clear, “the Euro is like Bush! Everybody blames it!” Her argument is that European citizens truly believe that life post-Euro was better. To some extent, the economic rationale is valid, monetary autonomy. Furthermore, national governments have used the Euro as a shield in order to push unpopular national economic policies without affecting the electability of its political class.

On the international stage, the Euro has been used as an instrument from diversion especially in the US. On the money market, the Euro is not seen anymore as a strong, stable currency leading investors in buying massive amount of Swiss Franc with all the consequences it entails for the Swiss authorities.

To conclude this piece, I would emphasize two points: first, the Euro is far from being perfect, however, it has become an European scapegoat. At least, Member States can agree on something; second, as argued by Dr. Lorca-Susino, “Greece is not buyable as a country, as an economy.” Greece looks like a zombie. One of the problems with zombies is the difficulty to find a vaccine. “

0,,18530052_303,00Putting this interview in perspective and as a concluding remark, one should mention the call by Prime Minister Tsipras to put the decision in the hands of the Greeks by holding a referendum on July 5th. This fascinating political move by Tsipras put the Greeks in the driver seat. Tsipras and his finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, are opposed to the terms of the new bailout. For instance, in his public address on June 26th, PM Tsipras said “After five months of tough negotiations, our partners ended up with a proposal in the form of an ultimatum,” with “new, unbearable measures,” which would force for additional cuts to pensions, salaries and tax increases. He added that “the goal of some of Greece’s partners is the humiliation of an entire nation.” It is the first time since the beginning of the eurozone crisis that a government is asking directly its citizenry to make a choice on their future.

In order to do so Tsipras had asked to his creditors and the Eurogroup to give a 5 days extension. The next day, June 27th, the finance ministers of the Eurogroup rejected Tsipras’ demand. Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the leader of the Eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers, told a news conference that “The Greek government has broken off the process. However regrettable, the program will expire on Tuesday night.” Ultimately, Greece seems on the verge to leave the Euro. A Grexit is now a reality.

This piece was initially published on Foreign Policy Association’s Blog on September 23rd, 2011 under the title of “Euro, Zombies, and Greece: A Discussion with Dr. Lorca-Susino”
(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

Euro-tic – The European Nightmare?

trash

The EU is stuck for one reason or two, its euro-tic dilemma. The EU is stuck between 1+28 chairs: the European chair (European level) and the National chairs (Domestic forces). The challenges facing the EU can be solved through two types of policies: either through more integrated policies, or through individual/national policies. However, the current status-quo centered around this Euro-ticism is unsustainable in the short-, mid-, and long-term.

Today two pressing issues are facing the EU with serious consequences if left unresolved, the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean Sea and the Greek debt crisis. Both crises are challenging and complex in their root causes, in the policy design to solve them, in the policy implementation, and on top of it the outcomes – positive or negative – will only be visible in the mid- and long-term. Considering the current negotiations process at the EU level due to the institutional design of the EU and the domestic pressures no viable and sustainable long-term solutions can neither be designed nor adopted.

Fortress Europe

In the case of the migration crisis in the Mediterranean sea, the EU and its 28 Member States are failing in trying to solve the crisis. So far the only solution has been to increase the funding of the EU agency, FRONTEX, by providing more money and capabilities to EUNAVFOR Med. Nevertheless, the CSDP operation does not have a search and rescue mission, only a border management mandate (refer to chart here). So the EU will be patrolling around Italy and Greece in order to assist the member states in the protection of Europe.

_82453476_migrant_routes_624_14_15_v3

The solution seems quite simple, an orchestrated distribution plan between the 28 Member States to accept a number of refugees over a 10 year period by offering them a blue-card (similar to the American green-card) allowing them to integrate and find a job in Europe. Such policy is sustainable and acceptable based on European values and norms. Additionally, it would work as most of the migrants trying to reach Europe are principally composed of members of the middle-class in their home countries destroyed by war, terrorism and

Source: The Economist
Source: The Economist

other sorts of crisis.

It is difficult to imagine that neither France nor Germany cannot assimilate 1000 refugees on year basis. Even if this policy could work on the long-term, it would be political suicidal for Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande to come home with such plan. The domestic radical forces (right and left) would build such a front against the leadership that their political parties would not survive another elections.

Grexit or Nothing?

In the case of the Greek debt crisis, the Euro-tic dilemma is once again ever more present. For over five years, the Greek hot potato has been switching hands in Europe. The present crisis, between Prime Minister Tsipras and the Troika (Commission, ECB, and IMF)+Germany, illustrates the euro-tic tension facing the EU and its Member States. Greece is on the verge of defaulting on its debt of €1.5 billion to the IMF on June 30th (some news in the media claim that an agreement will be reached). The

Photo: AP
Photo: AP

country is dealing with a debt of €130 billion representing 180% of its GDP.

Like the migration crisis, the solution would consist in deepening the integration process of the Eurozone. The Eurozone cannot have several gears with on the one hand the ECB in charge of monetary policy and on the other 19 individual fiscal policies.

In the case of Greece, one solution could be to pool the debts of all Eurozone members, naturally keeping track of the percentage of each national debt. One common debt would allow better interest rates and strengthen the Eurozone. Naturally, most European citizens would feel cheated if their elected officials came back home after agreeing on such policy. The domestic price for such policy choice would be serious for national leaderships.

Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

The solution for Greece is only long-term at the EU and national level. For the EU, the Member States may have to revisit the treaties and address the weaknesses once and for all. This will not happen as most EU leaders are reticent to touch at the treaties – the last one, Treaty of Lisbon, was a continuity of the failed Constitutional Treaty of 2004 -. Several EU Member State’s constitutions require a referendum in order to validate a Treaty. That would probably not pass the domestic vote.

Greece, one of the weakest Eurozone members, is seeking for a ‘silver bullet’ at home. The Grexit seems a possibility – as opposed to five years ago -. Tsipras is now talking with Russia and signed an energy deal with the country, which is under European sanctions. Moscow and Athens deny talks of an eventual financial assistance. Such move by Athens is quite an aberration considering the current sanctions implemented by the EU against Russia for its annexation of Crimea and continuous involvement in the war in Ukraine.

If Greece is in such precarious situation it is because of its recurrent and embedded problem of corruption and mismanagement of money. In order to really make Greece a sustainable EU and Eurozone member, Greece will need to do some serious structural reform and get once and for all ride of corruption. These will take at least a generation.

Euro-tic nightmare, or the end of solidarity

The tension between European and domestic levels has always been present throughout the European construction. So far, it was manageable because of lesser number of Member States, ‘better’ national leadership, and most importantly a continuous economic growth. The 2007 financial crisis changed everything. Solidarity is much easier in time of growth than hardship. Today, domestic public opinions, throughout the Union, feel more comfortable with extreme political parties – see the latest results of elections in Poland and Denmark – calling for a return to inward looking and revisionist policies than with more center political parties unable to govern. Big Member States, like France, are flirting with extreme right and Britain is getting ready for an eventual secession from the Union.

Ultimately, the Union and its national governments are unmanageable. In this period of socio-politico-economico troubles surrounded by serious geopolitical crises and shifts, the European dream of an ‘ever closer union’ seems on the brink of collapse. EU leaders ought to bring more EU into their domestic policies and narratives, and the EU needs to build new bridges towards domestic electorates. Europe is entering a real period of darkness.

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

Putin, Master of Europe?

Credit: Alexei Druzhinin / RIA Novosti / Associated Press
Credit: Alexei Druzhinin / RIA Novosti / Associated Press

Is Russia winning its war against Europe? It surely looks like it. Since 2008, Putin’s Russia has been over active in dividing and conquering the members of the European Union and the Euro-Atlantic community (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization). Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, has been successful by implementing a strategy on two fronts: regional/international and domestic. Despite his track record of not bidding himself to any agreement, Putin has transformed Russia into the ‘indispensable nation’ in Europe.

Geopolitics – Maintaining Regional/International Chaos

Putin understands one thing: safeguarding Russia’s neighborhood and empowering its sphere of influence at any cost. In order to fulfill both goals, Putin has been using military force in order to limit the horizontal expansion of NATO and the EU. On the European continent, Russia is the only state willing to use military force to advance its interest. It has done so in Georgia in 2008 and in Ukraine since 2013 (this does not include the lengthy war in Chechnya). In 2008, Putin saw the need to attack Georgia as the Bush administration was foreseeing the incorporation of Georgia within NATO. By attacking Georgia, Putin forced Euro-Atlantic leaders to rethink about the consequence and strategic soundness of including a small state like Georgia within the Alliance. The Article 5 was a powerful deterrent during the Cold War, but could be in the current multipolar order a threat to the security of the Euro-Atlantic community.

In 2013, Ukraine was on its way to sign a trade agreement with the EU. Putin saw it as a threat and pushed its influence over the corrupted and pro-Russian leadership, Viktor Yanukovych. Ukrainian President abruptly ended the talks causing pro-Western manifestations in Kiev. In a matter of months, Yanukovych had fled Ukraine, Russia had annexed Crimea and continues supporting pro-Russian militiamen in Eastern Ukraine. Though the annexation of Crimea was not enough to unite the 28 EU Member States against Russia, the evidences gathered by NATO demonstrating the clear military involvement of Russia in

Picture: Reuters
Picture: Reuters

Eastern Ukraine permitted the 28 EU leaders to implement sanctions against Russian individuals and corporations.

Putin was again the heart of the February negotiations with Angela Merkel of Germany and François Hollande of France in order to agree on the baseline for a ceasefire in Eastern Ukraine. The Minsk provisions have not lived to the promises hoped by Europeans.

Aside from the use of military power, Putin has been working on the creation of a Eurasian Union. This Union initiated by Vladimir Putin is a way to balance out the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The Eurasian Union has allowed Putin to attract regional countries from the EU to his Union. As per Nico Popescu of the EU-ISS, it exists two Eurasian Union: one real, an economic union; and, one imagined with geopolitical aspirations. The first one, the Eurasian Economic Union, is led by the Eurasian Economic Commission, which has a staff of 1,000 employees, which was established by the Eurasian Union treaty in May 2014. While the second union, with geopolitical role, is the center point of Putin’s third term seeking to become an organization, like the EU, NAFTA among other, and reintegrating former states of the Soviet Union under one entity.

The Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) is currently under construction. The Treaty came into force on January 1st, 2015 with three core members, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia, and Armenia (entering on January 2nd) and Kyrgyzstan joining in May 2015. As presented by Ian Bremmer of the Eurasia Group the EEU in perspective is quite considerable: “The size of the EEU is not the primary cause for concern; rather, it’s what it reveals about Vladimir Putin and his commitment to maintaining regional dominance. It’s why he will go to such extremes to keep Ukraine from joining Western institutions like the EU or NATO. He’s not willing to cede this sphere of influence, and Ukraine is the crown jewel; there is no viable, robust Eurasian Union without Ukraine.”

Vladimir Putin has masterfully locked in the control of geopolitics in Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia. Additionally, Putin has increased his influence in the conflicts in the Middle East. Bashar al-Assad, President of Syria, owes his power to Putin as he reached at the last minute to his American counterpart, President Obama, in order to agree on an international deal to destroy Syrian chemical weapons.

Playing with European Domestic Malaise

Within the European Union, Russia has been highly successful in creating disunity among the 28 Member States. Putin has used two aspects to Russia’s advantages: Europe’s energy dependence and the sluggish European economic context.

On the question of energy, the EU-28 are highly dependent on Russian hydrocarbons (gas and oil). Germany, France, Italy, Greece and Eastern EU Member States need a constant influx of Russian energy in order to maintain their economic and industrial engines going. Europeans have dealt, poorly, with the security of supply of energy as illustrated below.

Chart: European Dependence on Russian hydrocarbons (2002-2012)

3. Chart 1- EU dependence on Russian energy-B&W
Source: Eurostat. 2014. “Energy Dependency Rate, EU-28, 2002-2012 (percent of net imports in gross inland consumptions and bunkers, based on tons of oil equivalent) YB14

The graph above demonstrates the high degree of dependence on Russian hydrocarbons. The trend has certainly be declining, but the overall average remains too high in order to guarantee a security of supply. In recent years, the Europeans have been working on lowering their dependency on Russia through renewable energy and, for a long time, on nuclear energy.

Figure: Production of Primary Energy in Europe

5. Fig 2-Production of Primary Energy in Europe-B&W
Source: Eurostat. 2014. “Production of Primary Energy, EU-28, 2012 (percent of total, based on tonnes of oil equivalent) YB14.”

Renewable energy – composed of biomass, hydropower, wind, solar and geothermal energies – are increasing and offering an alternative to Europeans. However, renewables cannot be the only source of energy as they need to be backed up by either hydrocarbons or nuclear power. If Europeans are working on moving towards greener economies, they still require hydrocarbons. Germany has been the prime example with the Nord Stream pipeline bringing Russian hydrocarbons directly at home without depending on transit countries. With the crash of oil prices, hydrocarbons remain an important share of European consumptions.

The second door for Russian intrusion and/or attraction is money. Despite a dire domestic economic and financial situation, Vladimir Putin has been able to attract the most desperate EU Member States such as Italy and Greece as well as building strong ties with some national political parties. Since its financial collapse, Greece has proven to be the weakest EU and Eurozone member. Greece’s default was avoided by a series of multilateral bailouts by the troika – ECB, European Commission and IMF -, keeping the country within the Eurozone. However, these bailouts have come at great costs requiring  large spending cuts in social and welfare programs. Unemployment levels are through the roof, young Greeks are fleeing to Germany to get a higher education, and dying in Greece

Photograph: Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images
Photograph: Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images

is once again a reality (read here a previous analysis).

In addition of this dire domestic context and the succession of powerless former government, Syriza, the extreme-left party led by Alexis Tsipras, was elected in January 2015 (read here a previous analysis on Syriza). Tsipras’ platform was based on renegotiations of the terms of the bailouts and rebuilding Greek national psych. From electoral promises to governing realities, Tspiras was unable to do so and is now seeking for outside funding in order to “come up with money to pay off maturing debts, revive its devastated economy and renegotiate its loan agreements with other countries in the eurozone.” Prime Minister Tsipras was in Moscow last week. Both countries are claiming that Tsipras did not ask for money. Considering Putin’s behavior and Tsipras’ desperation, it is difficult to believe that Tsipras and Putin only talked of the new gas pipeline through Greece and discounts on gas prices. Additionally, Tsipras has been advocating for a removal of the European sanctions against Russia. Such comment is a departure from European unity in order to maintain economic sanctions on Russia.

From state to party-sponsoring, Putin has found a way to change the perceptions within Europe about Russia. In France, recent allegations and press coverage have demonstrated that a Russian bank has been financing the extreme right wing political party, the Front National. Reports show that the Russian bank, First Czech Russian Bank (FCRB), had lent EURO9 million to the party. The party claims that no French banks were willing to lend them money, forcing them to find foreign funding. However, the Front National has been very vocal in defending Vladimir Putin’s domestic and foreign policies and portrayed him as a great leader. The French government is reflecting on launching an investigation to look into the campaign financing of the FN.

The relationship between Putin and the European far-rights has grown thanks to the dire socio-economic context and the rise of euroskepticism all around Europe. “The far right is attracted by Putin’s Russia,” argued Pierre Lellouche, a member of a mainstream conservative party, the Union for a Popular Movement, “because it embodies the traditional social values they feel Europe has abandoned.”

europe-russia

Divide and Conquer

Putin is the key to regional stability and instability. Since his arrival to power in 2000, Vladimir Putin has worked on rebuilding the grandeur of Russia and perceives the collapse of the Soviet Union as the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century. Vladimir Putin is using all aspects of Russian power to increase Russia’s regional and international influence. He has been very successful at it. Bashar al-Assad of Syria is still in power of a destroyed country, Crimea is now part of Russia, Eastern Ukraine seems englobed in a long and nasty war and could end up as the next piece of Russia, and Russia is regularly interfering with national sovereignty of EU and NATO members.

In response, the members of the Euro-Atlantic community have only condemned Russia’s actions, agreed on mild sanctions and are hoping to stop conflicts and tensions through diplomatic agreements. Are Putin’ strategies sustainable? and, what are the endgame? Putin certainly emerges as being very successful in creating discord, affecting the unity of EU Member States, and underscoring the power-aversion of the EU and to some degree the US. Putin has made Russia the indispensable European state.

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

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).