Emptying the Spirit of the Union – Cameron’s Wishlist

Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty

British Prime Minister David Cameron finally sent his requests to the European Union in light of the upcoming referendum about the membership of the United Kingdom in the Union. In a letter addressed on November 10, 2015, to the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, PM Cameron laid out the areas wherein the UK will be seeking for reforms in order to satisfy the British demands. In some ways, this letter is the first step in starting officially the discussion between the UK and the EU prior the referendum in 2017.

Reforming the Union – Cameron’s Demands

In a letter titled, “A new settlement for the United Kingdom in a Reformed European Union,” PM Cameron identified four main areas where the UK is seeking for reforms.

The first area is Economic Governance. In this section, PM Cameron addresses the problem of a two-speed Europe caused by the Euro. On the one hand, there are the Eurozone members, and on the other the non-Eurozone members. Britain is concerned about “the integrity of the Single Market, and the legitimate interests of non-Euro members.” In other words, Cameron wants to avoid a power grab by the Eurozone members over the others. Cameron wants to see a discussion among the 28 Member States on issues related to the Eurozone that affect the Union as a whole.

The second area is Competitiveness. The UK wants to scale back the number of regulations limiting trade and ultimately the competitiveness of European products. In addition, Cameron wants to initiate “massive trade deals with America, China, Japan and ASEAN.” Ultimately, Cameron wants to lower the number of existing regulations and their ‘burden’ in order to boost productivity and competitiveness.

The third area is Sovereignty. On this particular theme, highly cherished by extreme right and right parties accross the Union, Cameron wants to bring several proposals. The first one, Britain does not want to be part of ‘an ever-closer union.’ So no political union for Britain. Second, Cameron wants to empower national parliaments, which could stop ‘unwanted legislative proposals’ taken at the European level.

The fourth area, and the longest of all, is Immigration. On the point, Cameron wants to limit movement of people as it creates too much pressures on British public services. If Cameron mentions the mass movement of people from outside to inside, he underlines that “we need to be able to exert greater control on arrivals from inside the EU too.” In addition, Cameron is asking for a restriction on distributing social benefits to individuals leaving on British soil.

In order to feel comfortable, Cameron is asking for reaching “an agreement that would, of course, need to be legally-binding and irreversible.” Even if the 27 EU Member States were to agree of these point, they would have to go through national discussion in order to accept a treaty change. This could increase the pressure on each Member States.

Cherry-picking, and Removing the Essence of the Union

In his daily chronicle on France Inter, David Guetta, underlined that the initial response from Europe to Cameron should be ‘best of luck in your new adventure outside the Union.” The UK since his entrance in the Union has not always been a Member State pushing for the deepening and widening of the EU. But as Guetta expressed “irritation is not a policy.” The Financial Times reports that “One European minister involved in the talks described the ‘British question’ as not addressing what the UK or Europe needs, but what Cameron requires ‘to successfully campaign’.” The 28 heads of states and governments will be meeting in December in order to address the British case and see where to start. However, it is quite difficult to sideline some irritation.

The initial response from Brussels was that finally the UK has clarified its positions and demands. European diplomats feel that with this exhaustive wishlist “they will not be ambushed at the last moment with fresh UK demands.” Many experts are arguing that the only major point of contention may be the fourth point on ‘immigration.’ Eastern European members, like Poland, would undeniably reject such point. But it should be a redflag in Paris and Berlin as movement of people is one of the most fundamental freedoms offered and guaranteed by the EU to European citizens. Once citizens are confined to their national territories, the spirit of the Union disappears.

Cameron’s overall plan – which could be conscious or not – is to remove the human and ideational components of the European project in order to transform it into an advanced trade agreement. PM Cameron’s vision of the future of the EU and UK is quite dramatic. The fact that Cameron wants to maintain three freedoms (capital, goods and services) but wants to limit the fourth one (labor) is quite dramatic. The Common Market was set up around the respect of the four freedoms. Cameron political vision is directly aligned with the ultra conservative British view of the world and understanding of the UK.

To some extent Cameron demonstrates that the British conservative political class has not evolved since the entry of the UK in the Union. Cameron’s vision of the European Union is simply a space of trade and transaction without any European identity. His vision and understanding of the European Union are too simplistic and dangerous to be left unanswered. European capitals will have to find the political courage to address London respectfully and highlight the added value of the UK in the Union. But European capitals should not play this dangerous game of emptying the essence of the Union.

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

Cameron’s Gift to Europeans

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron arrives to pose for a family photo during a European Union leaders summit in Brussels April 23, 2015. European Union leaders who decided last year to halt the rescue of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean will reverse their decision on Thursday at a summit hastily convened after nearly 2,000 people died at sea. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

If reelected, David Cameron, British Prime Minister, promised to organize a referendum on British membership with the European Union (EU). With his reelection in May 2015, David Cameron is now working on the details of the referendum scheduled to eventually take place between autumn 2016 and winter 2017. Initially the government had designed the following question “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?” The response would have been ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. But in early September, the Electoral Commission argued that such question was biased and gave an advantage to the ‘Yes’ camp. Ultimately, a new question was drafted and now read “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” Citizens will have to choose between “Remain a member of the European Union” and “Leave the European Union.”

Aside from political, economic and social considerations, the British referendum on its future inside the European club is an excellent thing for Britain and the other 27 Membereu-referendum-british-eu-flags States. The reason is simple. Since Cameron’s reappointment, the question of the EU has been ever present in European and world press. Cameron is in fact offering a gift to the EU and his 27 partners as for a very long time – or even for the first time in European history – Europeans and their leaders will have to finally reflect on the meaning of a EU membership, the role of the EU, and the concept of Europeanness.

Since the 2007 financial crisis, the EU has become synonymous with oppression, incomprehension, and in short the enemy of national sovereignty and regional diversity. These ideas are not new and have always been shared throughout European history. But the degree of integration occurring right after the Cold War with the first stone laid by the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 created a complex problem for governments. Integration has led to a double process of deepening (institutionally) and widening (enlargement). The degree of integration attained today requires more Europe for more cohesion in economic, financial, fiscal, immigration, security and defense policies. But Member States, for many different reasons, are reticent in moving towards deeper integration.

The United Kingdom, like Denmark, is an interesting Member State as it is neither a founding nor a British anti-EU‘fully integrated’ member considering its opt-out clauses. With the collapse of the financial markets, David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party, has driven its country based on highly conservative and ideological policies. He has been focusing on cutting British debt by slashing most of government spending from social policies to defense. In addition, he has sought to attract to the ultra-nationalist base, led by the UKIP party, and one way was to put British membership to EU on the table. As illustrated below, British public opinion is closely divided in either remaining in the Union or leaving it.

Source: The Economist
Source: The Economist

Over the next two years, the press, leaders, and European citizens will have to finally reflect on the EU organized around two questions: what has the EU done for us, Europeans? What can we – Europeans – do for the EU? The first question is historically redundant as Member States are always trying to denigrate the massive contribution of the EU in the quality of life, which includes a ‘perpetual continental peace,’ of its Members and citizens. For instance, Spain, Portugal and Greece all highly beneficed from their membership in terms of development. In a matter of a decade, the standard of living in these countries was considerably increased. Certainly the Eurozone crisis has caused great harm in these countries, but all cannot be blamed on the euro. National governments ought to receive their share of the blame.

The second question is the most interesting of the two, as it will lead to a bottom-up reflection. What can European citizens and countries provide and offer to the EU? Member States and their citizenry ought to finally see how their contributions are necessary in order to grow and shape the EU of the 21st century. Most European citizens complain about the lack of connection between Brussels and themselves. European citizens are not doing enough in order to have their voices been heard when one reflects on the degree of abstention at the latest European elections. Being opposed to specific EU policies is one thing, contributing to European civic life is another. By asking the second question, European citizens will re-discover the sense of togetherness, identity, Europeanness, and the ‘we’ in European.

Source: The Economist.
Source: The Economist.

David Cameron is facing a very tricky battle head, but the history of Britain inside the Union is quite complex. Back in 1967, French President Charles de Gaulle opposed to the inclusion of Britain within the European Economic Community (EEC). His rationale was that de Gaulle “accused Britain of a ‘deep-seated hostility’ towards European construction.” De Gaulle was not totally wrong and understood the complexity of a British inclusion within the Union. Once in, Britain has played an important role in the integration of the common market, defense policy, and foreign policy.

China and the US have expressed their opposition to a Brexit and are worrying about the negative consequences of Britain’s departure from the Union and global markets. In addition, European diplomats, civil servants and the national capitals have all expressed some degree of frustration with London as no clear points of negotiation for reforming the EU-Britain relationship have been sent to Brussels. Aside from broad wishes – limitation of movement of labor and people, greater power for national parliaments, limiting the growth of the single market in favor of Eurozone members, reduction of social benefits for EU nationals – and calling for Treaty change, Brussels has yet to receive very clear and implementable demands. Cameron has his back in the corner and is now managing to survive a very complex domestic debate. Until 2017, the EU will be at the heart of political debate around the world. Politically speaking, David Cameron does not want his legacy to be remembered as the PM whom could not keep Britain in the Union.

(Copyright 2015 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).

Providing Leadership – Juncker’s Call for ‘Collective Courage’

Photo: Euranet Plus/Flickr
Photo: Euranet Plus/Flickr

The current context in Europe over the migration crisis is not going to stop any time soon (for more contextual and analytical information read previous pieces published by Politipond, here, here, here, here, and take a short survey here). If migrants are not dying at sea, national authorities like the ones in Macedonia, are using force against migrants seeking to cross the country to access Western European countries (see here several pictures showing the situation in Macedonia). The situation is clearly worsening on daily basis.

The French President and his German counterpart are meeting today in order to discuss the migration crisis and the situation in Ukraine. Germany has been the EU Member States, with Sweden, taking the largest share of refugees, but it cannot do it alone any longer. According to the Financial Times, Germany is expected to receive 800,000 asylum seekers this year, which is more than what the entire EU welcomed in 2014. Based on Frontex’s data, in the first eight months of 2015, 340,000 migrants have crossed EU borders, which is already 60,000 more that the overall number for 2014.

If the EU Member States are working, or not, on solving the migration crisis by either welcoming migrants (Germany and Sweden) or trying to chase them away (Hungary and the

Photo: AP
Photo: AP

United Kingdom), the European Union has contributed to solving the issue, but without a clear leadership and strategy. For instance, Frontex has seen its role quickly increasing with more funding of its two naval missions in Italy and Greece, Europol has worked more on assisting national authorities, the EEAS has provided a platform in order to coordinate, and the Commission has been the voice of the EU and brought up some projects. For instance, Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the Commission, brought in June and July some proposals on quotas, redistributions, reform of asylum policy and so forth. His recent op-ed in NewEurope, posted below, offers the leadership that is missing and is highly needed at the European level.

Naturally, EU Member States are working on protecting their interests and national borders, the EU is a central actor in recalling that migratory flux go beyond national borders and the current crisis can only be solved through European cooperation, coordination and solidarity. In short, President Junker is calling for “Collective Courage.” The word courage is more powerful than solidarity for two reasons: first, despite many calls, solidarity has not brought Europeans together; second, courage implies that each European head of state and government (and even each European citizen) will have to make the ‘right’ decision and go against short-termist nationalist rhetorics. This position by Juncker to work on a common European solution reflects in many ways to his original call, once appointed last summer, for a more human and social Europe (read here an analysis soon after his appointment last summer).

Juncker’s op-ed, which should be understood as a call for action, comes at a crucial time and should be read in one piece without further comments. For such reason, Politipond copied it in its entirety below (or it can be read on NewEurope’s website here):

The European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, writes on the challenge of the migration issue. By Jean-Claude Juncker

Europe for me is and always has been a community of values. This is something we should be and yet are too seldom proud of. We have the highest asylum standards in the world. We will never turn people away when they come to us in need of protection. These principles are inscribed in our laws and our Treaties but I am worried that they are increasingly absent from our hearts.

When we talk about migration we are talking about people. People like you or I, except they are not like you or I because they did not have the good fortune to be born in one of the richest and most stable regions of the world. We are talking about people who have had to flee from war in Syria, the ISIS terror in Libya and dictatorship in Eritrea.

And what worries me is to see the resentment, the rejection, the fear directed against these people by some parts of the population. Setting fire to refugee camps, pushing back boats from piers, physical violence inflicted upon asylum seekers or turning a blind eye to poor and helpless people: that is not Europe.

What worries me is to hear politicians from left to right nourishing a populism that brings only anger and not solutions. Hate speech and rash statements that threaten one of our very greatest achievements – the Schengen area and the absence of internal borders: that is not Europe.

Europe is the pensioners in Calais who play music and charge the phones of migrants wanting to call home. Europe is the students in Siegen who open up their campus to accommodate asylum seekers who have no roof over their head. Europe is the baker in Kos who gives away his bread to hungry and weary souls. This is the Europe I want to live in.

Of course, there is no simple, nor single, answer to the challenges posed by migration. And it is no more realistic to think that we could simply open our borders to all our neighbours anymore than it is to think we just cordon ourselves off all distress, fear and misery. But what is clear is that there are no national solutions. No EU Member State can effectively address migration alone. We need a strong, European approach. And we need it now.

That is why in May, the European Commission, under my leadership, presented detailed proposals for a common asylum and refugee policy. We have tripled our presence in the Mediterranean sea, helping to save lives and intercept smugglers. We are assisting Member States the most affected, sending teams from the EU border agency (Frontex), the EU asylum office (EASO) and the EU police network (Europol) to help the often overburdened national authorities identify, register and fingerprint incoming migrants, speed up the processing of asylum seekers and coordinate the return of irregular migrants. We are clamping down on smuggler networks and dismantling their cruel business models. We are showing solidarity with our neighbours like Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon by resettling 20,000 refugees from outside of Europe. We are working with third countries of origin and transit to open up legal channels of migration and to conclude readmission agreements to facilitate returns of people who do not have a right to stay in Europe. And we are putting a renewed focus on enforcing the recently adopted EU rules on asylum, from reception conditions, asylum procedures to the obligation to take fingerprints.

In May, we proposed to establish a relocation mechanism to assist Member States by relocating a small portion of the high numbers of people in genuine need of international protection arriving in Italy and Greece. The Commission proposed to relocate 40 000 to other EU Member States – national governments were prepared to accept just over 32 000. We want to go much further, establishing a permanent mechanism that could be automatically triggered in emergency situations – for whichever EU Member State needs it. When we have common external borders, we cannot leave frontline Member States alone. We have to show solidarity in our migration policy.

Some of the measures proposed by the Commission have already found support. All the others now urgently need to be taken up by the EU’s 28 Member States – even those who have until now remained reluctant to do so. The dramatic events of the summer have shown that we urgently need to put this common European asylum and refugee policy into practice.

We do not need another extraordinary summit of heads of state and government. We have had many summits, and we will meet again in November in Malta. What we need is to ensure that all EU Member States adopt the European measures now and implement them on the ground. The Commission already proposed, nine years ago, to have a common EU list of ‘safe countries of origin’, making it possible to fast track asylum procedures for specific nationalities. At the time, Member States rejected the idea as interfering with national prerogatives. And yet it does not make sense that on the one hand, Member States have decided to make Western Balkan countries candidates for EU accession and, on the other, nationals of these countries are applying for asylum in the EU. In September, the Commission will thus submit a common list of safe countries of origin to the Member States.

What we need, and what we are sadly still lacking, is the collective courage to follow through on our commitments – even when they are not easy; even when they are not popular.

Instead what I see is finger pointing – a tired blame game which might win publicity, maybe even votes, but which is not actually solving any problems.

Europe fails when fear prevails. Europe fails when egos prevail.

Europe will succeed if we work together, pragmatically and efficiently.

I hope together we, Member States, Institutions, Agencies, International Organisations, Third Countries, can prove we are equal to the challenge before us. I am convinced we are able.

Europe’s history if nothing else proves that we are a resilient continent, able to unite in face of that which seeks to divide us. This should give us courage for the weeks and months to come.

Juncker’s op-ed was initially published on NewEurope’s website.
(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

Does the World Hate Russia?

Photo: Kremlin.ru [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Kremlin.ru [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A large segment of the academic literature reflects on the power of attraction, known as well as soft power, of the European Union and the United States. But what about Russia? and Putin? What are the global perceptions of Putin’s Russia since the turn of the century? In a recent survey produced by the Pew Research Center, most of the world – aside from China, India, Ghana and Vietnam – has a largely unfavorable opinions of Russia and Putin (see below).

Russia-Image-World Opinion

The concept of soft power is a very theoretical concept famously developed by Joseph Nye in his book ‘Soft Power: The Mean to Succeed in World Politics’ (1998). His argument is directly connected with the earlier work produced by Antonio Gramsci. But Nye was able to take the core of Gramsci’s argument and bring it at the global level in order to talk about foreign policy. Gramsci was mostly concerned about domestic Italian politics and non-change in the 30s. When talking about opinions and perceptions, the concept of soft power is certainly directly connected as it does influence state’s foreign policy. But let’s take a look at the way the transatlantic community see and perceive Russia and Putin.

Transatlantic Perceptions of Russia and Putin

The US-Russian perceptions are very much aligned with change of leadership in the US (from Bush to Obama), policy change (failed 2009 reset policy and the pivot), and the regional crises (Ukraine, Syria) and domestic narratives controlled by Putin. The graph below claims that the opinions have worsened on both sides of the Altantic. The last two years of the Bush administration were a period little more stable between the two superpowers despite the 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia. With the election of President Obama and his tentative to soften and deepen the relationship with Russia, the opinions of one another become more favorable in Russia (+13 point of %) than in the US (+6 point of %) though. From 2010 to the invasion of Crimea, the options were pretty stable. The lowest point was in 2014 with the annexation of Crimea and the beginning of the war in Eastern Ukraine.

Russia-Image-US-Russia

Considering the European views and opinions of Russia, the Pew did not produce a graph, but included a set of numbers at the end of the survey. The transatlantic opinion is very homogenous since 2007 (since chart below). Not surprisingly France and the United Kingdom have had the most favorable opinion of Russia, and Poland the lowest in recent years. The US is in the mix of the transatlantic opinion. However, it would have been interesting to see how the Baltic and Nordic EU Member States (Finland, Sweden, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Denmark) and Eastern EU Member States (Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Austria) perceive Russia over the years. The survey failed in providing the data for these states.

Source: Pew Research Center. 2015. p.11
Source: Pew Research Center. 2015. p.11 / Data compiled by Politipond

Vladimir Putin, Global Villain?

A big part of the negative views of Russia in the US and Western Europe is directly connected to the person of Vladimir Putin. The press, academia, and think tank communities (here are some excellent works and examples such as book by Fiona Hill, and a book review of Karen Dawisha’s manuscript) have created some type of admiration/incomprehension around the person of Vladimir Putin. There is a certain fascination about Putin in the US and Western Europe as Vladimir Putin has been framed as either an irrational actor, or a master of realpolitik (read here and here previous analyses). In any case, the US and Americans have never had the highest degree of confidence in Putin.

Even though the impacts of Russian influences on the 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine and 2008 war in Georgia were not major, as demonstrated by the data below, in affecting the confidence in Putin, the turning point was the incursion in Crimea and ultimately its annexation. Then with the lingering war in Eastern Ukraine, and even the ‘accidental’ targeting of the civilian Malaysian flight last summer, they have contributed in lowering the confidence and trust in Vladimir Putin. In some ways, the low degree confidence has been materialized in the isolation of Vladimir Putin, whom has been absent (or more accurately kick out of the G-8) of the recent G-7 meeting. In addition, Putin has not demonstrated being serious in trying to solve the Ukrainian crisis, as he was never committed to make the Minsk Protocol II work.

Russia-Image-Putin & US

All these graphs and data provided by the Pew highlight one common trend, most of the world share a common negative perceptions of Russia and his president. In the 21st century, it is quite rare to find such unanimous position on an issue. More seriously these data demonstrate that Putin’s Russia is not concerned about global perceptions. Putin has a vision for Russia and has demonstrated that he can not only remain in power (which he has done since 2000), control the domestic narrative (through playing the nationalist card and  limiting the freedom of press and civil society), and advance Russian interests where and when required.

European and American sanctions are certainly hurting the Russian economy, already weakened by the historically low prices of hydrocarbons, but Putin has been tactical in choosing which issues are important to fight for. For instance Ukraine is, but Iran was not so much as Putin, with his Chinese counterpart, agreed on the Vienna agreement in July. Putin will continue to fascinate and certainly won’t stop in leading Russia where he desires, with or without the approval of global opinions.

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

Agenda on Migration – Forget about Soft Power and Solidarity

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With the death of 600 migrants in April, the EU and its Member States have been working on finding a solution to a serious and pressing regional crisis. In a matter of a month several proposals, with diverging philosophical orientation, have been drafted. On the one hand, the Juncker’s proposal, initiated by the European Commission, seeks in deepening the integration process through an harmonization and homogenization of EU immigration and asylum policies. While on the other hand, the Council of the EU agreed on the creation of a military CSDP naval mission, EU Naval Force in the Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR-Med), in order to disrupt smugglers. Even thought the Juncker’s proposal addresses a long-term need, it fosters opposition in most EU Member States, while EUNAVFOR only provides a quick and superficial fix to the problem of mass migrations. So far the EU and its Member States have not found the proper answer to this crucial regional crisis.

The Juncker’s Proposal: European Agenda on Migration

The European Commission presented its European Agenda on Migration on May 13th in order to contain and solve the current crisis taking place in the Mediterranean sea. The publication of the Commission’s agenda is a reaction of the massive influx of migrants and refugees coming from Libya, a transit country (read here a previous analysis on the migration crisis). Ensuing the largest human tragedy causing the death of 600 migrants in mid-April and an extraordinary European summit meeting leading to no real lasting solutions, Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the Commission, declared on announcing its Agenda that “We will be ambitious. We will be bold.”

The Agenda produced by the Commission laid out several policies. The first one consists in finding solutions through immediate actions:

  • Tripling the capacities and assets for the Frontex joint operations Triton (off the coasts of Italy) and Poseidon (off the coasts of Greece) in order to save lives;
  • destroying criminal smuggling networks through a possible Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) operation in the Mediterranean to dismantle traffickers’ networks and fight smuggling of people. Federica Mogherini, EU foreign policy chief, was at the UN Security Council on May 11th seeking for a UNSC resolution allowing EU Member States “to deploy military force to seize and destroy smugglers’ ships before they take on their human cargo”;
  • Relocation of migrants;
  • an EU-wide resettlement scheme to offer 20,000 places distributed in all Member States. The EU budget will dedicate an additional €50 million in 2015/16 to solve this problem;
  • Working with third countries in order to solve the root causes of migrations;
Source: EurActiv
Source: EurActiv

The infogram produced by EurActiv (see above) illustrates which EU Member States are the largest recipients of migrants and refugees and the main destinations. No surprise in finding Germany, France, Sweden and Italy as the main destination for migrants and refugees.

The second dimension of the Commission’s Agenda is about managing migration better on the long run.

  • first, the EU wants to address the root causes of migrations, crack down on smugglers and traffickers, and provide clarity in return policies;
  • second, develop better border management capabilities and increasing the power of Frontex;
  • third, develop a common asylum policy at the EU level. The Commission wants to create a Common European Asylum System;
  • fourth, a new policy on legal migration in order to attract skilled workers to the EU. The Commission wants to solidify a Europe-wide scheme, called the Blue Card Directive;
Source: European Commission
Source: European Commission

National Oppositions to the Juncker’s Proposal

All the EU Member States are not welcoming these new directives. For instance, the United Kingdom has announced that it would not participate in any quota scheme to distribute refugees across EU. In the case of Britain and Ireland, both countries have an ‘opt out clause’ allowing them to decide to participate or not on a specific program of this nature. The Home Office of the UK already released a statement saying that “We [Britain] will not participate in any legislation imposing a mandatory system of resettlement or relocation.” For Denmark, the country has an opt-out right where they do not participate at all. “The exemptions granted to the three countries are making it difficult for the commission to impose binding quotas on the 25 remaining EU member states, EU sources told AFP.”

The position of several EU Member States challenges the concept of European solidarity. “The European Council clearly stated that we need to find European solutions,” said First Vice-President Frans Timmermans “based on internal solidarity and the realisation that we have a common responsibility to create an effective migration policy.” Dimitris Avramopoulos, Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Commissioner, underscored the same message when saying that “In a spirit of greater solidarity, we are determined to implement a comprehensive approach that will improve significantly the management of migration in Europe.”

France already announced over the weekend that it was against the provision (read here a piece by Politico on France’s position). In case the quotas were to be implemented, “France would be asked to accept 14.17 percent of all those who reach the EU, while Germany would receive 18.42 percent, Italy 11.84 percent, and Spain 9 percent.” Instead France would be in favor to increase the number of asylum seekers. “Asylum is a right, attributed according to international criteria …” said French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, “That is why the number of its beneficiaries cannot be subject to quotas, one is an asylum seeker or not.” The Commission’s plan was rejected by seven other EU Member States, Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, and Poland. These ought to be added to the three EU Member States with opt-out rights like Britain, Ireland and Denmark.

The difference between the quota system and the current asylum rules is quite simple. By implementing a quota system, the Commission seeks in helping frontline states, like Greece, Italy and Spain, and sharing the burden across the EU. While the current system of asylum, established under the Dublin II, stipulates that the asylum seekers ought to ask for asylum in the country of arrival. The Commission’s plan is in fact a strategy in order to avoid frontline countries to be overflow by migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers in case of an explosion of migrating flux as predicated for 2015 and the coming years.

This agenda produced by the Commission is unlikely to be adopted as such. The foreign ministers discussed the agenda on May 18th, and will be preparing for the final plan for the June 25 EU leaders meeting.

The Military Option – EUNAVFOR to Combat Migration

Photo: Lynsey Addario for The New York Times
Photo: Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

Ensuing the May 18th meeting between European foreign and defense ministers, the EU agreed on the launch of a CSDP naval mission in order to stop and disrupt smugglers in the Mediterranean. In the conclusions of the meeting, the Council argued that “This [global security environment] calls for a stronger Europe, with a stronger and more effective Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP).”

The EU naval force – EUNAVFOR Med – will be based in Rome and headed by Italian Rear Admiral Enrico Credendino. EUNAVFOR Med will cover the Southern Central Mediterranean road and work in partnership with Libyan authorities. It will receive an initial 12 month mandate and a budget of €11.82 million for the first phase. As per HR Mogherini, EUNAVFOR will follow a specific progression: first stage, planning and assessment of smuggling networks; second stage, searching, seizing and disruption of assets of smugglers within the framework of international law.

However, in order to launch the naval mission, several crucial aspects will need to be discussed and agreed on. First, the EU will need more talks, and then reach an agreement on a resolution, under Chapter VII, from the United Nations Security Council. So far, it is yet unclear if the UNSC will be granting a resolution to the EU for such type of operation off the coast of Libya as it could establish a precedent for other maritime migration routes throughout the world. Additionally, Russia has already expressed its opposition to the use of jets and helicopters for the mission. Second, the EU Member States will have to agree on whom will be providing the required military capabilities and forces. It was already a problem with the Frontex’s operation Triton, so it may be another difficult negotiations for this one.

Last but not least, some wonders about the usefulness of such military operation. For instance, “Military operations in the Mediterranean are only really likely to have any impact” said Elizabeth Collett, the director of the Migration Policy Institute Europe, to the New York Times, “as one very small piece in a far more comprehensive strategy to address smuggling.”

Another Lost Opportunity?

The migration crisis illustrates once again a central problem for the EU and its Member States, the Member States.  How to solve a global crisis requiring greater cooperation and integration without deepening the EU? In other words, more Europe is necessary in order to address a crisis as a bloc, but some Member States are either calling for less Europe or are cheery-picking. The challenge of the Juncker Commission and other EU institutions is how to advance the interests of the Union when most Member States are not willing to deepen and increase cooperation at the EU level.

Picking the Juncker’s proposal would allow the EU and its Member States to harmonize their immigration policies at the EU level. Choosing the Member States’ route of military action will only be a quick and temporary fix. In any case, both proposals do not address the root causes of the problems of mass migrations from MENA and Central Africa. If the EU and its Member States want to be a ‘security provider,’ they will have to do more than a naval mission in the middle of the Mediterranean sea.

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

British Elections, or the Illustration of a National Malaise

Source: Euronews
Source: Euronews

Is the United Kingdom, especially Britain, sick? For years, the media has called France the sick man of Europe, it appears that Britain has caught a similar cold. If France is facing dire economic conditions and is unable to implement real reforms launching the economic engine once and for all, Britain has for its part disappeared from the European and international stage. Britain is on election mode and these elections are serious for the future of Britain and its future within the European Union. Because Britain has fallen from the table of relevance, the general European public is unaware of them. May 7th will be a big day for Britain, the United Kingdom, and the European Union.

The election is being disputed between seven candidates. The two main candidates belong to the two big parties: conservative led by Prime Minister David Cameron; and the Labor led by Ed Miliband. The others are from smaller parties, which have nevertheless shaped the debate, like the Scottish and Welsh nationalists, the Democratic Unionists in Northern Ireland, the Greens, and UK Independence Party (UKIP). These smaller parties may not produce the next Prime Minister, but “could hold the balance of power in the next Parliament, making government policy subject to negotiation.” The expectation is to see either Miliband or Cameron winning the popular vote. So far, the campaign has revolved around the following three issues: the economy, health care, and immigration.

Risk-Aversion or Pessimistic Isolationism?

Since the election of Prime Minister David Cameron in 2010 Britain has lost some of its grandeur and relevance. Just on foreign and defense policy, Britain has disappeared from

Credits: Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Credits: Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

the international arena. From a mid-size power to a small power, Britain lost its appetite for international relevance and action. The turning point was the no vote by the Parliament for a military intervention in Syria against President Bashar al-Assad in August 2013. Since then, Prime Minister Cameron has just looked inward and tried to clean up the house letting foreign affairs aside. Ed Miliband, Labor Party Leader, has described Cameron’s foreign policy of “pessimistic isolationism,” and for electoral purposes argued that Cameron has “weakened Britain.”

In terms of foreign policy, Britain has been a no-show on really important issues like Ukraine (France and Germany signed the Minsk agreement with Russia), on sanctions against Russia, on Libya, on the migration crisis, on Africa, on fighting ISIS in Syria and Libya and so forth. Britain is only assisting the US on bombing ISIS in Iraq. In Africa, Britain is barely assisting the French in the mission in Mali and has expressed very limited interests in fighting Boko Haram. The absence of Britain and Cameron on dealing with Putin and Russia over the question of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine has been damaging to the credibility of the country and the EU on trying to solve serious regional crises.

One reason for such risk-aversion by Britain is the Iraq and Afghan campaigns. The costs on going to war in Iraq with the Americans in 2003 are still being felt. Then the mission in Afghanistan lasted over a decade and Britain does not want anymore to get drag down in another foreign campaign with no success at the end, which Syria and Libya could very much be. In Iraq and Afghanistan, Britain has not been able to justify the size and length of both missions and the population has grown opposed to another foreign intervention.

Letting your Allies down

The US is now extremely worried about the future of the ‘special relationship.’ Britain may tend to believe that the ‘special relationship’ is set in stone, but like any relationship, without discussion and connection they tend to dry out and die. Britain cannot expect the US to be its closest ally when Britain does not reciprocate. Maybe the British leadershiparticle-0-0C42551000000578-462_634x393 believes that all GOP candidates ought to pass by London in order to be presidential, but so far none of them has been successful at it – recall McCain and Romney – and a talk in London by a non-elected and/or elected official in his personal capacity does not make up for the core of the ‘special relationship.’ Additionally, the US saw the move by the Foreign Office to decide to make Britain a founding member of Beijing’s new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, a competitor of the World Bank, as some sort of backstabbing. France, Italy, and Germany have followed the UK on this policy-choice.

For France and Europe, an inward looking Britain is a real concern as well. France and Britain have certainly a long past fighting one another, but there is one core dimension wherein Paris and London see eye to eye: defense and foreign policies. European defense was created, functioned and has deepened thanks to the Franco-British couple. The Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) was established ensuing the 1998 bilateral Saint-Malo meeting. Since the disappearance of Britain on common defense questions, France has become anxious. For instance, top French expert, Camille Grand of the Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique argued in the New York Times that “We in Paris understand that Germany is a complicated partner on defense, but the assumption is that Britain is a like-minded country ready to intervene, would spend enough on defense and remain a nuclear weapons state. All this is being challenged, and it makes Paris feel lonely.” Despite some historical and cultural divergences, Paris and London have always shared a common acute sense of foreign affairs and valued their cooperation in foreign, security and defense policies.

So Long Britain?

Britain is an interesting European case for two reasons: first, the raison d’être of its political class has become so anti-European that it goes against its national interest; second, there is no long-term vision for Britain in interacting with Europe and the world.

Britain must for once and for all accept its role and place within the European Union. If it wants to leave, the referendum ought to be implemented and the country will adjust accordingly towards a Brexit or not (see the short video above). But having Britain being so anti-European and

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Credits: Olivier Hoslet/AFP/Getty Images

blocking any initiatives (against the CAP, against a large common budget, against police and judiciary cooperation, against the Schengen agreement, and so on) in Brussels is counter-productive for Britain, the EU, and the 28 EU Member States. For instance, having London fighting for the increase of the budget of Operation Triton is counterproductive. The perpetual fear of lost of sovereignty and stripping away British independence cannot last any longer. A balance ought to be found between anti-EU and constructive bargaining.

Second, the British political class, as its French counterpart, is composed of visionless politicians. There is no long-term vision for their respective countries with serious political, economic, social and financial agendas. There are only bureaucrats seeking for perpetual reelection at great cost for the country. Hopefully, the May 7th elections will allow British citizens and politicians to reflect on the role of Britain in Europe and the world. This is only wishful thinking, as in reality the general election appears to be another wasted opportunity for a clear national reflection on Britain’s future.

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

France under the Front National

Credit: Jacques Brinon/Associated Press
Credit: Jacques Brinon/Associated Press

“France would have lost her soul in her eyes and those of the world.” This sentence ends the recent column by Jacques Attali, an influential French economist and policy-advsior. In his recent op-ed titled, Do you really want this kind of France?, Jacques Attali reflects on the surge of the Front National (FN) and what France would look like under its reign.

The extreme-ring wing party Front National finds its roots in the conservatism of the old fascist and colonialist France. In its early years, the FN demonstrated without any shame its admiration for the Vichy government, which collaborated with the Nazis during World War two. Additionally, many of its leading members belonged to the Organization de l’Armée Secrète (OAS), an underground organization composed of former French soldiers opposed to the independence of Algeria in the 1960s. The OAS tried at several occasions to assassinate General de Gaulle and committed a series of terrorist attacks in Algeria and France.

The current honorary President and founder of the FN, Jean-Marie le Pen, has always been sympathetic to such xenophobist, racist and colonialist ideologies. Nevertheless, the FN was never targeting the presidency nor trying to gain power under his leadership. The FN saw itself as an opposition force to the socialist and right political establishment, and did not want to govern. The attraction to power appeared with the 2002 presidential election when Jean-Marie le Pen rose to the second round facing Jacques Chirac. Mr. le Pen ultimately lost the election, but the influence of the FN in shaping political narratives and policies was initiated. As illustrated below the rise of the FN since 1974 has been progressive.

la-force-du-front-national-de-marine-lepen-en-france-e1336213611418

From 2002 to today, the rise has been steady, progressive and meticulous. The architect behind such political consolidation is Mr. le Pen’s daughter, Marine le Pen. Her entire platform rests on shifting the image of the party from an ultra-nationalist party into a conservative and nationalist party. She has worked on making the FN an acceptable voting option and political alternative for a larger segment of French citizens.

France is currently in election mode with the departmental elections. These ongoing local elections – the first round was on Sunday, March 22nd, and the second one on Sunday, March 29th – are supposed to solidify the political weight of the FN. The conclusions of these 2015 department elections are that even tough the FN does not win any department, as hoped, the party nevertheless demonstrates some serious gain. It received 40% of the votes in the 1100 counties still present for the 2nd round. Ensuing the elections, UMP takes 66 departments (currently at 41) and the PS 30 (so loosing 31 departments). The FN does not gain any, but its presence can now be felt all around France.

727524-lib-departementales-deuxieme-tour-resultat-petit-01

Marine le Pen, with her slogan le Rassemblement Bleu Marine, has played the rhetoric of leading the first political party of France ensuing the European elections of May 2014. French citizens gave the majority to the representatives of the FN, followed by the right-wing UMP and then the socialist PS. Since May 2014, the FN has been campaigning on the base of being the first party of France. The FN has used the current political status-quo with a sluggish socialist presidency and a very divided right-wing UMP led by former President Nicolas Sarkozy. The FN appears as the only stable and united political force with a simple agenda. From campaigning to governing, the gap remains to be filled.

Attali Looks at France under the FN

In an intellectual exercise, Jacques Attali draws a picture of France under the FN if elected at the presidency in 2017. His point is that even though it could be a one and done type of mandate, the consequences of the FN policies, politics and laws would be disastrous for France, the EU and the image of France at home and abroad for several decades.

In European politics, the FN would certainly work in removing France for any common European project. It would in some ways look like the Cameron’s mandate seeking for increasing his political leverage in his consent euro-bashing rhetorics. The FN would push for a referendum to leave the common currency, the Euro, and ultimately the EU. The Schengen agreement

Credit: Reuters/Pascal Rossignol
Credit: Reuters/Pascal Rossignol

would certainly see its last hour, killing the free movements of people in Europe. In terms of defense and security policy, France would leave NATO and any cooperative agreements with other European partners and may instead solidify her relationship with Russia.

At home, Attali argues that the core values, principles and norms adopted and incorporated for century in French politics would be erased. In practice, the death penalty would be re-instituted, and human rights and the social contract would deeply suffer. Currently, in some cities of France under FN mayors, associations and other local initiatives have lost funding and are being progressively removed (listen here to an investigation by FranceInter at the life of French citizens in cities under FN control).

Economically, a national currency, most likely the Franc, would be reinforced creating some serious financial and economic trouble in France and in Europe. In terms of religion, aside from Christian heritage, the others will have most likely to adapt or leave. Political rhetorics and narratives will resemble to ones used by Nicolas Sarkozy in order to create a split within the French society based on the modo of us versus them. Us being the good Frenchman, and them the unwanted French. Anything foreign would be rejected in order to protect French uniqueness and culture.

Attali does not foresee a successful mandate for the FN and underlines that the FN would face a choice between dictatorship and repudiation considering the disastrous consequences of its policies. Ultimately, the FN would pick the latter in order to maintain its power and criticize any oppositions as root causes of France’s problems.

FN: A Necessary Evil?

The FN illustrates the real malaise in the French society. The malaise comes from a core aspect in French psyche: exceptionalism. France perceives itself as such because of her history – the birthplace of the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, the Napoleonic Code, the Trente Glorieuses, its nuclear arsenal, among others – and its role in shaping regional and world events as an exceptional nation. France as the United Kingdom and United States share this exceptionalist component in their political belief and system and foreign policy. France understands her role as an important part of world politics and does not perceive anymore being able to shape it.

Such concept of exceptionalism demonstrates a belief in France in shaping events, not being subject to them. Globalization is perceived as a threat to France’s uniqueness and autonomy. Such belief holds no empirical grounds considering the numbers of French firms leading in their respective sectors thanks to globalization, French as one of the most spoken languages in the world and French citizens are present all around the world. The selective-memory/analysis of globalization as a menace to the sovereignty of France is a constructed myth for obvious political reasons.

Credit: BERTRAND GUAY / AFP
Credit: BERTRAND GUAY / AFP

Last but not least, Attali’s analysis falls under a new trend of work, prediction. For instance, the recent book by Michel Houellebecq, Soumission, projecting the reader into a France in 2022 seeing the rise of an Islamic party leading to a progressive islamization of France society, has launched a serious polemic about the societal and political trauma of France in time of crisis. If Houellebecq is a divisive and satirical author, Attali is a respected economist and intellectual. Nevertheless, both work underlines complex societal and national crises. France is a nation in search of an identity and voice in the 21st century.

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

A French Headache Called Mistral

Credits: Jean-Sébastien Evrard/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Credits: Jean-Sébastien Evrard/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The Mistral warships are becoming one of the hottest issues for the French government in light of the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea and now Eastern Ukraine. On November 25th, some media outlets (read here and here) announced that France was moving on with the delivery of its first Mistral ship on November 27th. Soon after these reports, the French President, François Hollande, announced in a communiqué published by the French Embassy in the US that:

The French President believes the current situation in eastern Ukraine still does not permit the delivery of the first [Mistral] amphibious landing ship. He has therefore considered it appropriate to postpone until further notice the examination of the authorization request necessary for the export of the first amphibious landing ship to the Russian Federation./.
 

Ultimately, the questions have been since the invasion of Ukraine: Will France deliver the Mistral-class warships to Russia? and when? Additionally, another one has emerged: how can France arm the principal aggressor on the European continent?

Origins of the Deal

The Franco-Russian deal was signed in 2011 and consisted in the construction of two Mistral-class helicopter carriers. The first one, the Vladivostok, is supposed to be delivered this month, and the second, the Sevastopol, later in 2016. The value of the contract for the construction of the two warships is of €1.12 billion, which has already been paid in full by Russia. The 2011 contract for the sale of two Mistral-class amphibious assault ships was the first large sale from a NATO country to Russia in the post-Cold War era.

The deal was signed in January 2011 between two former Presidents, Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Dmitry Medvedev of Russia. Aside from the obvious economic gains and industrial prestige, Nicolas Sarkozy justified the deal in order to end once and for all the old Cold War enmities. He claimed that “One cannot expect Russia to behave as a partner if we don’t treat them as one.” Was it Sarkozy’s ‘reset button’ moment?

Following the signature of the deal, former french President told STX workers that this deal “represents 6 million hours of work and 1,500 jobs over four years” at the shipyard in the coastal town of Saint-Nazaire. Once elected in May 2012, François Hollande declared that the deal would remain. It was only in 2014, months prior the first delivery, that the tension increased considering the geopolitical context. In May, despite the annexation of Crimea and invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the French government declared that the deal was still on creating some concerns across the pond. Despite the economic sanctions implemented by the EU-28 during the summer against Russia (principally individuals), France was still willing to deliver the warship on time. It was only early September that France, under pressures by its allies, laid out two conditions for the delivery: a cease-fire and a political resolution of the Ukrainian crisis. And since October, a political game between Moscow and Paris has begun between the two partners, with Moscow claiming that France would deliver the ship on time, and Paris responding that the government has yet to make a decision. In recent time, Russia is telling his French counterpart that France has until the end of the month to deliver the first Mistral, otherwise, Moscow could eventually seek for claims for a breach of contract. However, on Tuesday, November 25th, Yuri Borisov, Russian Deputy Defense Minister, has announced that so far Russia would not seek for damages.

The Mistral – A Game Changer

The Mistral-class helicopter carriers produced by the French shipyards of Saint Nazaire are important and powerful logistical military instruments. These Mistral-class ships offer a variety of tactical and materials advantages as explained by Military-Today (for more technical information on the Mistral amphibious assault ship (LHD) class see here):

  • transport and rapid deployment of helicopters (from 16 to 35 helicopters with 6 landing spots);
  • mechanized landing craft;
  • carry a full tank battalion (from 40 tanks to 70 lighter vehicles);
  • carry from 450 marines up to 900 troops;
  • become modular field hospital;
  • be deployed as command and control vessel with up to 150 personnel;

The figure below illustrates the versatility of Mistral-class warship.

Mistral

Undeniably, the Mistral-class would offer a serious strategic advantage to the Russian navy. For instance, in the case of the 2008 Russo-Georgian war, Russian admiral Vladimir Vyssotsky argued that “With a Mistral-type vessel during the South Ossetian conflict, the Russian military could have accomplished all its missions in 40 minutes instead of 26 hours.”

The headaches of the French Government:

Aside from the obvious technological and military functions, the Mistral-class warships are causing complex problems, of different orders – political, economic, and strategic -,  for the French government.

First, when money tromps regional stability. The financial crisis and its domestic impacts on the French economy and society are affecting the strategic vision of French leaders. The deal signed in 2011 was seen as an important economic boost for France. It not only created hundreds of job in the shipyards of Saint Nazaire, but as well boosted the production of heavy military armaments by the French armament industry. The French industrials are now fearing that a breach of contract may affect their global credibility and reliability for future armament sales with foreign states. Currently, France stands as the fifth world largest arms supplier. In 2012, France totaled €6.87 billion of arms sales, which provide over 50,000 jobs in France. Ultimately, the economic impacts could be serious for the French economy and its military-technological industries. Such claim was validated by a conversation between President Obama and Hollande in Paris in June. As reported by Vincent Jauvert of Euromaidan Press, Obama said “I am deeply concerned. The annexation of Crimea is not a good signal. Why not cancel the deal?” To which, Hollande replied “Because I do not wish to discard the reputation of France.”

Last but not least, with the €1.12 billion already paid in full, the penalty for France for not delivering the warships is valued at €250 million. In case, the Socialist government decides to stop the sale of the warships, €250 million fine plus the two unsold warships could become a serious political headache for the current government.

Second, the delivery of the Vladivostok would send the wrong message to Moscow. By providing such military instrument in times wherein Russia is destabilizing the Eastern neighborhood of the Union, France cannot afford from a strategic point of view to deliver it. Since 2008, Russia has perturbed the European continent with the war in Georgia (2008), the invasion and annexation of Crimea, the incident of Malaysian airliner (weapons provided by Russia to Ukrainian separatists), and the sponsoring of Ukrainian separatists. Politically, France, despite its deep and historical ties with Russia, cannot provide such capability. The invasions of Crimea and now of Ukraine directly threaten the stability on the European continent. President Hollande argued that the delivery was on hold because of Russia’s behavior running “against the foundations of security in Europe.” Additionally, Vladimir Putin is advancing Russian interests until he will meet a serious challenge. Until then, Putin won’t alter his strategy.

Third, what about Europe? The EU has had trouble formulating a clear response and strategy in dealing with Russia for over a decade. For France to deliver the warships in this difficult time for the Union would demonstrate its absolute irrelevance in foreign affairs. Individually, EU Member States such as the United Kingdom, Germany and naturally Eastern EU Member States have expressed their concerns. London has for instance called on suspending the deal. Despite the criticisms emerging from 10 Downing Street, the UK is still receiving large amount of money and investments coming from Russia. From Eastern Europe, these warships represent a real threat to their national security. Radek Sikorski, Polish Foreign Minister, advanced that “Russian generals have already said what these ships will be used for: to threaten Russia’s neighbors in the Black Sea and that means Europe’s partners.”

The deal is a bad one for European security. How can France provide military assets to a state in search of destabilizing the European balance of power and promoting its interests at any cost? France is unable to respond to such crucial question.

Fourth, what about the French political voices? The French political extremes, right and left combined, have expressed their opposition to the current status-quo on delivering the warship. For instance, Marine LePen of the Front National, extreme-right, argued that it was a clear demonstration of French submission to American hegemony.She said that it “reveals our subservience to American diplomacy.” A similar argument about American imperialism was formulated by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the extreme left.

Marine Le Pen, whom has become an apparent force in shaping the French political debate, added that the decision to uphold the delivery is serious as “it runs contrary to the interests of the country.” From her point of view, the reasons are double: French jobs would be at risk and France would have to pay a fine if it failed to deliver the warships. Aside from the economic argument made by the Front National, one should underscore that the party recently accepted a €9 million loan from a Moscow-based First Czech Russian Bank. Moscow has become a large financial sponsor for extreme-right parties throughout Europe.

Even, Nicolas Sarkozy holds the same message that the extreme right, which is not surprising, when arguing mid-November that “France needs to honor its words and deliver the Mistrals, France decides by itself, not from what the US wants.” Sarkozy, in search of re-gaining the leadership of the right wing party, UMP, and ultimately the French presidency is demonstrating once again his desire to fulfill his personal ambitions rather than demonstrating his understanding of geopolitics.

In sum, the future of these two Mistral-class warships is still unclear. On the one hand, as advanced by the New York Times, “a decision by France to suspend the deal would encourage other European countries to accept whatever sacrifices future sanctions might entail.” Such action would demonstrate the commitment by France to stand against Russia in its clear violations (read analyses on the issue here and here). On the other hand, some experts have argued that France could sell it to other buyers, preferably NATO members. In recent days, Canada, or even the European Union (in theory), have appeared as a possible buyers of the warships. Until then, the Mistral-gate is here to stay.

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

Russia: The Unchecked Power in Europe?

Dimitar Dilkoff/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Dimitar Dilkoff/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Russian tanks and combat troops appear, according to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), to have entered in Ukraine. This news was confirmed by NATO’s top commander General Philip Breedlove earlier on Wednesday, November 12th. With these new allegations, the Minsk agreements of September, calling for a ceasefire and reform measures, may be threatening. Breedlove said that the OSCE has reported that “We have seen columns of Russian equipment – primarily Russian tanks, Russian artillery, Russian air defence systems and Russian combat troops – entering into Ukraine.” Over the night, the fight continued and reports are now claiming that “professional soldiers in green uniforms without insignia,” known as the green men, whom carried out the invasion of Crimea, were seen around Donetsk.

The European OSCE monitoring mission, in charged of monitoring the transition to peace and stability, has warned of “a real risk” of further escalation in a conflict. So far the violence of the war in Eastern Ukraine has costed the life of over 4,000 people. The OSCE_78831099_ukraine_rebel_forces_071114 told that fire is continuously being exchanged between the separatists and the Government forces. Additionally, reports have underlined that large convoys of heavy weapons and troops coming from Russia was flowing into rebel control territories.

Reactions at the UN Security Council

On the 12th, the UN Security Council (UNSC) was briefed on the allegations made by the OSCE and met during a little more than 2 hours. “The United States, United Kingdom, France, Luxembourg and Lithuania, among others,” as expressed in a UNSC meeting coverage, “strongly urged the Russian Federation to end support for the separatists, citing reports of convoys bringing materiel over the border and criticizing endorsement of the alternative separatist elections.” Russia responded that “delegates [of the UNSC] had used the Council — and OSCE representatives — to put forward ‘propaganda with new flourishes’.”

Each member of the UNSC made a statement afterwards. Samantha Power of the US argued that “the root of the problem in Ukraine was the Russian Federation’s flagrant violation of the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. […] The Russian Federation

Andrew Burton/Getty Images/AFP
Andrew Burton/Getty Images/AFP

had done nothing to rein in the separatists and had continued to provide them with materiel; it was also holding abducted Ukrainian citizens.  A Russian air defence system was protecting separatists’ convoys, and columns of Russian equipment had been observed by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) entering Ukraine over the last 48 hours.”  In the case of her British counterpart, Mark Lyall Grant underscored “that Russian actions were flouting international norms, including the United Nations Charter, and had undermined the Minsk agreements by continuing support to the separatist rebels.” French representative, François Delattre, used a softer tone and called “on the Russian Federation to end the transfer of arms and men into Ukraine and to pressure the rebels to hold to the ceasefire.” Russian delegate, Alexander A. Pankin, responded – at two occasions – to the members of the UNSC by saying that the Council should not turn these meetings into a “farce” and he “rejected allegations that convoys being sent by the Russian Federation had been filled with anything other than humanitarian supplies, saying that such contents were always recorded.”

Regional Shift of Power: Russian Actions versus European Inertia

The turns of events in Eastern Ukraine are serious and may certainly turns into a traditional war between Ukraine and Russia with real regional consequences. Russia under Vladimir Putin has been in search of its ‘lost’ grandeur and sought to reaffirm to its sphere of influence over ‘lost’ territories. Since his arrival to power in 2000, Putin has continuously challenged Western European powers – France, Germany, the United Kingdom – without any serious responses (refer to Fiona Hill’s book on Vladimir Putin). Eastern EU Member States, like the Baltic states, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria, have been concerned about the resurgence of Russian powers. Their recent integration into transatlantic institutional structures, NATO and the EU, was linked to the Russian threat on their stability and security.

Despite the threat represented by Moscow through the militarization of its energy – gas – and the use of force against Georgia and now Ukraine, the EU and its powerful Members have remained inactive. Each of the Big-three, France, Germany and the United Kingdom, has its own direct relationship with Moscow. For instance, the United Kingdom has certainly tense relations with Russia, but Russian investments in its financial sector outweigh the political tensions. In the case of Germany, its priority consists in guaranteeing a regular flows of Russian hydrocarbons. Last but not least, France, an old Russian partner, has continued selling weapons despite the continuous violations perpetuated by Moscow. The lack of European unity and strategic thinking on dealing with Russia has affected the weight and influence of the EU on asserting its power over the region. Until, the EU-28 does not agree on a common line of conduct in interacting with Russia, the Russian strategy of divide and conquer will remain effective.

In the afterwards of Crimea’s invasion and then its annexion to Russia validated by a referendum, the EU agreed on a series of sanctions against Russian individuals and companies. Experts have been divided on the powers and eventual success rates of these sanctions. Despite some eventual financial and economic repercussions on the Russian economy, Vladimir Putin seems ready to continue the fight and continues to receive a positive popular support. The question remains: Is Puting seeking to expand Russian borders? Or is he testing how far he can get away with? The recent report published by the European Leadership Network, titled “Dangerous Brinkmanship: Close Military Encounters Between Russia and the West in 2014,” identified several risks of close military encounters in recent year. The examples go from Russian air incursions and airspace violations, to “underwater activity” in Swedish territorial waters, to abduction of a Estonian security service operative, to a mid-air collision between a SAS passenger plane taking off from Copenhagen and a Russian reconnaissance aircraft. These are some among the many examples illustrated in the report. Each of them demonstrates the high degree of activity of Russian military forces around NATO airspaces.

Aside from Russian military activity, one of the main problems is the lack of power-check from EU Member States. Russia is shifting the regional balance of power and directly threatening European interests and security. Even under this context, neither the EU nor

EUMM Georgia: EU observers before Russian troops
EUMM Georgia: EU observers before Russian troops

its Member States seem willing to act. France and the United Kingdom, the two EU Member States with credible military capabilities, are neither flexing their muscles nor leading the way in addressing the threat represented by Russia destabilizing the regional balance of power. Additionally, the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) does not represent a credible military force in order to enforce security on the continent. The CSDP may eventually be sent off monitoring the borders like during the Georgia mission, EUMM Georgia, following the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia.

Ultimately, the EU and its Member States are facing two serious problems, both intertwined: on the one hand, they are convinced that European soft power will protect them from regional and international threats. However, soft power tends to be an empty instrument without hard power backing it up (read here and here two pieces on the topic of soft and hard power). Thus, the Ukrainian issue is going to be an important and difficult one for the new HR/VP Mogherini to lead and establish herself as the European diplomatic leader. So far, she has not made any public statement on the matter. On the other hand, the European domestic and economic moods are so dire that European heads of states and governments are principally focusing on domestic questions affecting their vision on the shifting regional balance of power. Domestic politics is causing a greater degree of risk-aversion from the EU. Samantha Power claimed during her statement on the 12th of November in New York that “there must be consequences when Russia continues to flout the commitments it has made.” It certainly does not look like that either the EU or its Member States will be the regional peace and security enforcer.

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