Archive for the ‘Europe’ Category

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

21
Jul
18
Jul

The downing of a Malaysian commercial airliner flying at 33,000 feet over Ukraine could dramatically broaden the Ukrainian crisis, even before it is determined who bears responsibility.

What has been a months-long shooting war between the U.S.-backed government in Kiev and Russian-supported separatists — and a war of words and sanctions between the West and Russia — now includes the deaths of nearly 300 people from several nations.

Britain, which a Malaysia Airlines manifest indicated had nine citizens aboard the aircraft, has called for an emergency meeting Friday of the U.N. Security Council. Although no Americans were initially reported aboard, early information from the manifest accounted for only 242 of 283 passengers aboard. Fifteen crew members also were aboard.

In the Netherlands, where Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 took off from Amsterdam on Thursday en route to Kuala Lumpur carrying more than 154 Dutch citizens, Prime Minister Mark Rutte rushed home from a vacation.

“I am deeply shocked,” Rutte said in a statement. “Very much is still unclear about the facts, the circumstances and the passengers.”

Other fatalities included citizens from across a wide swath of Europe, East Asia and Australia.

“This is a new element that nobody expected,” James F. Collins, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia who now works at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said of the plane’s downing. “It’s one of those events . . . that can have unpredicted negative or positive consequences.”

On the negative side, it marks a clear escalation of both firepower and the willingness to use it that could draw the patrons of both sides into more overt participation on the ground and more direct confrontation with each other.

World leaders, including some U.S. allies in Europe, who have seen the conflict as a regional one and been reluctant to turn on Moscow could be forced to reassess their position, said Wilson, who worked on European policy at the White House between 2007 and 2009. “It’s pretty difficult to continue playing that game if you have clear Russian fingerprints on the shooting down of a civilian airliner,” he said.

Former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton said in an interview with Charlie Rose that “if there is clear evidence linking Russia . . . that should inspire the Europeans to do much more” to punish Russia and assist the Ukrainian government.

But Collins and others suggested that the shocking nature of the incident could also be a wake-up call to all involved. “It may bring certain people to decide that some different approach is needed because this is really getting out of hand,” Collins said. “All of a sudden, it could mean a lot more people talking about [the Ukraine situation] and saying enough is enough.”

Both the Ukrainian government and the separatists pointed the finger at each other, and Russian President Vladi­mir Putin indirectly accused Kiev, saying that if it weren’t fighting the separatists that have taken over much of the eastern part of the country, no one would be shooting.

The United States and its allies were hesitant to quickly assign blame, and there was no overt suggestion that a civilian aircraft had been intentionally targeted. But there was a clear undercurrent in the Western response that the separatists were believed to be responsible.

“While we do not yet have all the facts, we do know that this incident occurred in the context of a crisis in Ukraine that is fueled by Russian support for the separatists, including through arms, materiel, and training,” said a statement released by the White House Thursday night after an extended meeting of President Obama’s senior staff.

The West has charged Russia with sending increasingly sophisticated weapons into eastern Ukraine. As recently as Wednesday, when Obama announced stepped-up sanctions against Moscow, officials cited extensive surveillance showing new Russian arms shipments and additional Russian troops deployed to the border. Read more…

July 17

Published in http://www.washingtonpost.com

4
Jul

Hollande sets his sights on sarkozy

Written on July 4, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Democracy & Human Rights, Europe, Op Ed

Nicolas Sarkozy was charged on Wednesday for corruption and abusing his position of power

François Hollande had pictured it for years: Nicolas Sarkozy, his vanquished adversary in the 2012 presidential election, slumped in the back of a Citroën saloon, his necktie loosened, his face grey with fatigue, after a gruelling 15-hour interrogation. Sarkozy has been charged with corruption and illegal use of his influence. He now faces, in theory, up to 10 years in jail and a fine of one million euros.

He had faced charges before (the previous ones, accusations that he received money from the L’Oréal billionairess Liliane Bettencourt, were dismissed last year) but this was the first time he, or indeed any former president, had been held in custody for a day. And Twitter went crazy for it.

It has been open season on Nicolas Sarkozy ever since President Hollande was inaugurated on May 15 2012. Never an easy-going, approachable character, François Hollande has a mean, vindictive streak: like Louis XI, he won’t be happy until Sarkozy is in a fillette, one of those small cages that hold enemies in a crouching position. After all, Sarkozy remains Hollande’s most dangerous adversary in 2017. The important thing is to stop him from running: which is why, every time Hollande’s ratings plummet, a new accusation is levied against his predecessor.

Judge after judge has initiated proceedings. These are for anything from dodgy party financing, to authorising bribes relating to the sale of French warships to Pakistan two decades ago, to taking money from Libya’s then dictator, Colonel Gaddafi, for his victorious 2007 election campaign.

Whenever one case became unstuck, another one started up. Judges authorised the tapping of Sarko’s phone, as well as his lawyer’s, for eight months – officially to follow up on the Libyan accusations. This yielded nothing; but soon other judges started dropping by to listen to the tapes, “trawling at random for interesting stuff”, one told Canard Enchaîné, the well-informed satirical weekly, never friendly to Sarkozy, months ago. This yielded the recordings that led to Tuesday’s interrogation.

Sarkozy himself has called such methods “Stasi-like”, and it would be logical to see such tainted evidence – collected indiscriminately, without a specific warrant – thrown out of court. He is accused in this instance of trying to bribe a senior judge with promises of a plum job in the Monaco judiciary in exchange for information on the state of his case in the Bettencourt accusations. The senior judge was unconnected to the case, and as it happens did not get the Monaco job.

Sarkozy is also accused of trying to obtain protected information. The irony is that a good deal of the Sarkozy tapes, supposedly protected by the same confidentiality, have been published by the Mediapart investigative website, headed by a respected former Le Monde journalist, Edwy Plenel, who happens to be a long-time personal friend of Hollande’s.

Sarkozy’s friends will also point out that one of the two judges conducting the current investigation, Claire Thépaut, is an active member of the most Leftist judges’ union, the Syndicat de la Magistrature. She signed an anti-Sarkozy column during the 2012 campaign, describing herself as a “personal foe” of the president’s, while formally supporting Hollande’s challenge. Yet now she will decide whether the former president will go to trial over the latest accusations – at the risk of making him look more and more like a martyr to his partisans.

There is a wealth of additional cases to bring: so if not this time, something may yet stick to Sarkozy. At least this is what the Hollande crowd hopes, because Sarkozy, like Freddy Krueger in the horror movies, is just getting angrier and angrier – and he will get back at them if he ever wins again.

By Anne-Elisabeth Moutet

Published on 3 July in the Telegraph , http://www.telegraph.co.uk

25
Jun

Martin Schulz (left) and Jean-Claude Juncker

Mr Juncker (right) now has support from the European Socialists’ leader Martin Schulz

 

Time is running out for Prime Minister David Cameron, as most EU leaders look set to back Mr Juncker at the EU summit this Friday. And a majority in the European Parliament will back him too, commentators say.

So what are the chief arguments for and against choosing the 59-year-old former Luxembourg Prime Minister? Generally his supporters are in the pro-EU integration camp, while his opponents tend to be Eurosceptic, urging far-reaching reform of the EU.

FOR:

  • His centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) won the European elections in May
  • He is a veteran of EU politics and played a key role in the bailouts for Greece, Portugal and other debt-laden countries
  • Appointing him would give the European Parliament more credibility among voters, since he was the EPP’s lead candidate, rather than EU governments picking a name behind closed doors
  • Many argue that the euro will only work long term if there is a political, as well as monetary, union – and he stands for that
  • He believes the EU is much more than the single market – it stands for solidarity between nations and help for Europe’s poorest regions

AGAINST:

  • He is too federalist and will not favour transferring powers from Brussels back to member states – a key policy issue for David Cameron
  • Appointing him could jeopardise efforts to keep the UK in the EU, making the UK more isolated in Europe
  • He represents “old school” Brussels thinking, at a time when millions of voters have shown they are fed up with the EU
  • His experience is in forging EU compromises through slow negotiations, not the agile policy-making that many reformists demand
  • He has not pushed for more democratic accountability in the EU.

What powers does the Commission president have? Well, it is the top EU job, because the Commission is the only body that can draft EU laws.

Those laws are often extensively amended by the Council – that is, European ministers – and by MEPs, who negotiate the fine details.

The Commission also imposes penalties on governments and firms that break or ignore EU laws. So in some ways the Commission president is also the EU’s “top cop”, ensuring compliance with EU treaties. Fair competition and human rights come under the Commission’s remit.

But the Commission was set up to be more a civil service than a government. Its officials are supposed to be above national politics, instead acting in the interests of the EU as a whole. MEPs monitor the Commission’s actions and are often quick to flag up perceived bias.

And the Commission negotiates far-reaching EU trade deals with other countries. There are hopes that a planned free trade zone with the US could give a much-needed boost to Europe’s struggling economies.

The battle for this top job has become a battle of competing visions for the EU. The worry is that the EU may get bogged down in institutional bickering – again – when it really needs to be tackling economic stagnation and record unemployment.

: Published on June 24, http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-eu-27993218