Archive for the ‘Europe’ Category

19
Sep

The Union now has an epochal chance

Written on September 19, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Democracy & Human Rights, Europe, News

A Union Jack and Saltire flags blow in the wind near to Glen Coe on March 24, 2014 in Glen Coe, Scotland.

Like the battle of Waterloo, the battle for Scotland was a damn close-run thing. The effects of Thursday’s no vote are enormous – though not as massive as the consequences of a yes would have been.

The vote against independence means, above all, that the 307-year Union survives. It therefore means that the UK remains a G7 economic power and a member of the UN security council. It means Scotland will get more devolution. It means David Cameron will not be forced out. It means any Ed Miliband-led government elected next May has the chance to serve a full term, not find itself without a majority in 2016, when the Scots would have left. It means the pollsters got it right, Madrid will sleep a little more easily, and it means the banks will open on Friday morning as usual.

But the battlefield is still full of resonant lessons. The win, though close, was decisive. It looks like a 54%-46% or thereabouts. That’s not as good as it looked like being a couple of months ago. But it’s a lot more decisive than the recent polls had hinted. Second, it was women who saved the union. In the polls, men were decisively in favour of yes. The yes campaign was in some sense a guy thing. Men wanted to make a break with the Scotland they inhabit. Women didn’t. Third, this was to a significant degree a class vote too. Richer Scotland stuck with the union — so no did very well in a lot of traditonal SNP areas. Poorer Scotland, Labour Scotland, slipped towards yes, handing Glasgow, Dundee and North Lanarkshire to the independence camp. Gordon Brown stopped the slippage from becoming a rout, perhaps, but the questions for Labour — and for left politics more broadly — are profound.

For Scots, the no vote means relief for some, despair for others, both on the grand scale. For those who dreamed that a yes vote would take Scots on a journey to a land of milk, oil and honey, the mood this morning will be grim. Something that thousands of Scots wanted to be wonderful or merely just to witness has disappeared. The anticlimax will be cruel and crushing. For others, the majority, there will be thankfulness above all but uneasiness too. Thursday’s vote exposed a Scotland divided down the middle and against itself. Healing that hurt will not be easy or quick. It’s time to put away all flags.

The immediate political question now suddenly moves to London. Gordon Brown promised last week that work will start on Friday on drawing up the terms of a new devolution settlement. That may be a promise too far after the red-eyed adrenalin-pumping exhaustion of the past few days. But the deal needs to be on the table by the end of next month. It will not be easy to reconcile all the interests – Scots, English, Welsh, Northern Irish and local. But it is an epochal opportunity. The plan, like the banks, is too big to fail.

Alex Salmond and the SNP are not going anywhere. They will still govern Scotland until 2016. There will be speculation about Salmond’s position, and the SNP will need to decide whether to run in 2016 on a second referendum pledge. More immediately, the SNP will have to decide whether to go all-out win to more Westminster seats in the 2015 general election, in order to hold the next government’s feet to the fire over thepromised devo-max settlement. Independence campaigners will feel gutted this morning. But they came within a whisker of ending the United Kingdom on Thursday. One day, perhaps soon, they will surely be back.

By Martin Kettle; Published on 19 Sept. in http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/19/scottish-independence-union-survived-put-away-flags

17
Sep

Europe’s Messy Political Divorces

Written on September 17, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Democracy & Human Rights, Europe, Security

Divorce among couples rarely ends without scandal, and all the more  so with divorce between states. Those splits inevitably involve political and economic hardships, mutual recriminations and a complex and painful division of property. And even once this nightmare is over, the very presence of the other party causes interminable irritation and anger.

The only example that I can recall of a civilized “state divorce” in Europe was the peaceful division of Czechoslovakia into two parts — accomplished thanks to the efforts of former Czechoslovakian President Vaclav Havel. To this day, the two “former spouses” maintain normal inter-state relations.

Divorce and separation remains a very real problem for Europe. Scotland’s agitation to leave the U.K., Catalonia’s attempts to escape the custody of Madrid and Novorossia’s bloody fight to break away from Ukraine are all ongoing issues.

And although each case is very different, they share one aspect in common: London, Madrid and Kiev are exerting great efforts to prevent those disunions. However, a strict interpretation of international law indicates that, in all three cases, those advocating separatism have every right to at least advocate their cause. In 1945, the right to self-determination was included in the United Nations Charter. Then, in 1966, this right was enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Still later, this right was confirmed in documents of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

What’s more, the concept of self-determination covers a wide range of possibilities and is defined as “The establishment of a sovereign and independent state, the free association with an independent state or the emergence into any other political status freely determined by a people.” In theory, the people living in the area affected should resolve these disputes, without any outside interference. The UN Charter states that “all states shall, in accordance with the provisions of the UN Charter, encourage the right to self-determination, and shall respect that right.” The only problem is that nobody “respects” that right, much less “encourages” it.

There are several reasons for political leaders’ inability to honor their obligations, to greater or lesser degrees. First, the UN Charter also contains the contradictory principle of “the inviolability of borders” because after World War II the leading powers wanted to ensure stability by any means. Consequently, for every argument for self-determination, a persuasive counter-argument is available. The second reason is that the clause on self-determination was introduced during the collapse of the colonial system when the authors had the African states in mind. At that time, few colonial powers wanted to keep their states, and so their passage into freedom was relatively uncomplicated.

Nobody could have guessed that Scotland and Catalonia would one day invoke the same principle. There are many more examples besides those: the Ukrainian Donbass, Spain’s Basque region, Russia’s Chechnya and so on. The underlying problem with the current world order is that it has long outworn its original set of clothing and just plods on wearing the same old, uncomfortable and increasingly tattered rags. A prime example of this is the fact that the victors in World War II continue to control the UN Security Council, a completely inappropriate situation given the wealth and power of the world’s developing nations. But unfortunately, the fear of making desperately needed repairs to the structure of the UN has already led to numerous squabbles, and threatens to undermine the very foundation of the organization. Perhaps humanity will simply have to wait for another world war, after which the winners will spell out the new rules of the game for the few remaining survivors. No matter the international body, though, the world’s issues are not just about rules written on paper. The problem is the egoism that drives the world today. If not for this egoism, the Catalonians and Basques would create their own states and live in peace alongside Madrid and as a part of the European Union. Scotland would settle down. And if Kiev and Moscow had enough sense, it would avoid all this bloodshed by letting Novorossia go in whichever direction it wanted. Thus freed from that heavy burden, Kiev could finally pursue meaningful integration with Europe. However, Madrid will continue desperately clinging to Barcelona, London to Scotland and both Kiev and Moscow to the Donbass. Despite considering itself the leader of civilization, Europe has yet to learn how to formulate reasonable and sound policies. If only someone would follow the example set by Vaclav Havel.

Published on Sept. 14 by Pyotr Romanov in http://www.themoscowtimes.com/opinion/article/europes-political-divorces-are-often-messy/507012.html

9
Sep

showdown in scotland

Written on September 9, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Democracy & Human Rights, Europe, Op Ed

 

GLASGOW, Scotland — All of a sudden, Scotland has gotten very interesting. That Scots would reject independence from the United Kingdom in a referendum on Sept. 18 has been conventional wisdom from Washington to Westminster for practically every day of a two-year-long campaign on the matter. But not anymore.

On the evening of Sept. 1, the Scottish Twittersphere, febrile at the best of times, went into meltdown. A fresh poll had just been released showing the “No” camp just six points ahead of the “Yes” side. The same pollsters had put the No camp’s lead at 14 points in mid-August, and a whopping 22 points earlier the same month, excluding undecided voters. Yet the Sept. 1 poll was no outlier, as Peter Kellner, the doyen of British polling,explains. As if on cue, a Sept. 6 poll now has the Yes camp holding a 51-49 percent lead. 

The latest polls give a scientific sheen to what anyone who has spent time in Scotland in recent weeks has noticed: Support for independence is building. Looking out the window of my apartment in Glasgow, I can count half a dozen blue Yes stickers and a Scottish Saltire flag (a nationalist symbol) with the same motto across the street. Most have appeared within the last month. Across Scotland, particularly in poorer urban areas, the political landscape is shifting in the nationalists’ favor. Rumors are rife that Rupert Murdoch’s widely circulated tabloid, the Sun, will declare its support for independence in the coming week.

To be sure, a Yes outcome is still an outside bet with the bookmakers. But the odds are shortening — and fast.

***

What makes this surge all the more remarkable is that the charismatic leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), Alex Salmond, was widely seen as having lost a much-vaunted first debate with Alistair Darling, head of the No campaign, on Aug. 5. Salmond was hotly tipped — one of his own MPs predicted a “slaughter” – but in front of a TV audience of almost 2 million (in a country of just over 5 million), Salmond struggled to answer questions about what currency an independent Scotland would use and how it would transition from the United Kingdom to separate statehood.

Despite Salmond’s televised travails, however, opinion polls rose slightly in favor of the nationalists after the debate. Then, in late August, he SNP leader wiped the floor with a lackluster Darling in the second and final live clash. Unsurprisingly, pro-United Kingdom spin doctors in the pressroom looked visibly worried.

Unionist solicitudes may have come too late. The “Better Together” campaign, as the No side is called, has maintained a relentlessly negative tone, which has earned it the nickname “Project Fear.” Just days before the latest opinion poll, a Better Together video featuring a housewifeunable to think about independence amid the clatter of family life was roundly criticized for being sexist and condescending — which is particularly damaging, as the female vote could prove decisive in just under two weeks’ time. The video went viral; even BuzzFeed picked up on the “Patronising BT Lady.”

Moreover, a parade of (mainly London-based) celebrities calling on Scotland to stay in the union was more cringe-inducing than voter-swaying. Warnings against independence from international leaders — whether Barack Obama or Tony Abbott — have also had little effect on the Scottish electorate. Read more…

Published on Sept. 8th in http://www.foreignpolicy.com/ by Peter Geoghegan

4
Sep

NATO’s Urgent Challenges

Written on September 4, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Europe, Op Ed, Security

More than anyone, President Vladimir Putin of Russia has set the agenda for NATO’s 65th summit meeting this week, which could well be the most consequential since the Cold War ended.

Early this year, the alliance was deep into one of its periodic assessments about the future as its role in Afghanistan was winding down. Now Mr. Putin, who has long been eager to see NATO weakened, has forced on it a new and urgent purpose by effectively invading Ukraine and demonstrating his utter disregard for the international system. He seems to delight in taunting the West, including supposedly telling a European official that he could “take Kiev in two weeks,” according to a report in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica.

The question is whether NATO is up to the challenge of pushing back against Mr. Putin’s expansionist tendencies, starting with the need to reassure Eastern European countries that feel most threatened by Russia’s push into Ukraine. While leaders of NATO’s 28 member states are expected to reaffirm the alliance’s core principle of common defense — an attack on one is an attack on all — when they meet in Wales, they have serious differences that could undermine the initiatives intended to deal with Russia and other threats.

The summit meeting’s centerpiece is a formal agreement on a new rapid-reaction force of 4,000 troops, capable of deploying on 48 hours’ notice to protect any NATO member from external aggression, which under the current circumstances means Europe’s periphery — the Baltic States and Poland. Wisely, alliance members have decided to abide by the NATO-Russia Founding Act, a 1997 agreement under which NATO pledged not to base substantial forces in Eastern Europe permanently, which could harden the growing divide and make a diplomatic solution to Ukraine, if one is still possible, more difficult.

There are no plans for new permanent bases or deployments, but troops will be rotated to that region for three- to four-month stints. The force will be supported with logistics and equipment, including weapons and fuel, pre-positioned in Eastern European countries closer to Russia. This will be enhanced by more military exercises and air patrols.

All this will take money, which has been a source of friction among NATO members. The United States bears about 75 percent of the alliance budget, while the contributions from most European countries have fallen. That’s partly because of the economic recession and because the United States has always filled any gaps. They are also divided on the threats. For instance, while NATO opposes Russian moves against Ukraine, Eastern Europe feels more directly threatened and determined to act than, say, Italy, which has been more willing to appease Mr. Putin.

The Europeans obviously have to do more, including increasing defense budgets and imposing sanctions on Russia that could finally cause Mr. Putin to reverse his dangerous course in Ukraine. They should use the Wales meeting to make clear they are prepared to back up their words with action.

Even as Russia preoccupies NATO’s attention today, the alliance should not revert to its Cold War role with Russia as its chief focus. The world will also be looking to NATO for leadership on dealing with the Sunni extremists, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Because of other crises, Afghanistan appears to be getting less attention at this meeting. There are still thousands of American and allied troops on duty there, and NATO has to use its clout and aid money to press the Afghan presidential rivals to settle their election dispute so a president can take office.

NATO is strongest when its members are united in a common purpose, and it will take leadership — and not just talk — from the United States, Germany and others to produce a meaningful consensus.

The New York Times Editorial Board, Published Sept. 2nd

27
Jul

The E.U. is the world’s great no-show

Written on July 27, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Europe, Foreign Policy, Op Ed

The Ukraine crisis has shone a spotlight on one of the glaring gaps in the world: the lack of a strategic and purposeful Europe. The United States can and should lead on the response to this conflict, but nothing can really happen without Europe. The European Union is by far Russia’s largest trading partner — it buys much of Russia’s energy, is the major investor in Russian companies and is the largest destination for Russian capital. Some of President Obama’s critics want him to scold Vladimir Putin. But ultimately, it is European actions that the Russian president will worry about.

Consider how Europe has dealt with Ukraine. For years, it could not really decide whether it wanted to encourage Ukrainian membership in the union, so it sent mixed signals to Kiev, which had the initial effect of disappointing pro-European Ukrainians, angering Russians and confusing everyone else.

In 2008, after Moscow sent troops into Georgia, Europe promised an “Eastern partnership” to the countries along Europe’s eastern fringe. But, as Neil MacFarlane and Anand Menon point out in the current issue of the journal Survival, “The Eastern partnership was a classic example of the EU’s proclivity for responding to events by adding long-term and rhetorically impressive, but resource-poor, bolt-ons to existing policy.”

European leaders were beginning to woo Ukraine without recognizing how this would be perceived in Russia. Moscow had its own plans for a customs union, to be followed by a Eurasian Union, which was meant to be a counter to the European Union. Ukraine was vital to Russia’s plans and was dependent on Russia for cheap natural gas. Plus, of course, Ukrainians were divided over whether to move west or east.

Negotiations between the European Union and Ukraine for an association agreement meandered along, with the lawyers and translators taking a year to work out the text. In describing this tardiness as a mistake, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said, “The same thing applies to the [European] Union as to the Vatican. God’s mills grind slowly but surely.” The deal that was offered to Ukraine was full of demands for reform and restructuring of its corrupt economy, but it had little in the way of aid to soften the blows and sweeten the pot. When then-President Viktor Yanukovych rejected Europe’s offer and sided with Moscow, he set in motion a high-speed, high-stakes game that Europe was utterly unprepared for and could not respond to.

If Europe was trying to move Ukraine into its camp, it should have been more generous to Kiev and negotiated seriously with Moscow to assuage its concerns. Instead, Europe seemed to act almost unaware of the strategic consequences of its actions. Then when Russia began a campaign to destabilize Ukraine — which persists to this day — Europe remained a step behind, internally conflicted and unwilling to assert itself clearly and quickly. Those same qualities have been on display following the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

The European Union still has a chance to send a much clearer signal to Ukraine, Russia and the world. It could demand that Russia pressure the separatists to cooperate fully with the investigation of Flight 17 and allow the Ukrainian government — which Moscow recognizes — to take control of its own territory in eastern Ukraine. It could put forward a list of specific sanctions that would be implemented were those conditions not met within, say, two weeks.

In addition, Europe should announce longer-term plans on two fronts, first to gain greater energy independence from Russian oil and gas. European nations must also reverse a two-decade downward spiral in defense spending that has made the E.U. a paper tiger in geopolitical terms. Germany, for example, spends about 1.5 percent of its gross domestic product on defense, among the lowest rates in Europe and well below the 2 percent that is the target for all NATO members. It’s hard for a country’s voice to be heard and feared when it speaks softly and carries a twig.

If we look back years from now and wonder why the liberal, open, rule-based international order weakened and eroded, we might well note that the world’s most powerful political and economic unit, the European Union, with a population and economy larger than America’s, was the great no-show on the international stage.

Published on July 24 by Fareed Kakaria in http://www.washingtonpost.com

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