Archive for the ‘Europe’ Category

3
Jun

Spain’s King Juan Carlos to abdicate

Written on June 3, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Europe, News

 

Juan Carlos coronation

After 39 years on the throne, King Juan Carlos of Spain will abdicate in favour of his son Crown Prince Felipe, the king said in a televised address on Monday.

Hours after the prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, broke the news, the king explained his decision on Spanish television and radio. He highlighted his pride in the “transformation of Spain” and the “tremendous amount achieved by all” since the country’s transition into democracy.

“Today, when I look back, I cannot help but feel pride and gratitude towards all of you,” he said.

The decision to step down, he said, was made after his 76th birthday in January. His son Felipe, he assured Spaniards, “has the maturity, preparation, and sense of responsibility necessary to assume the title of head of state and open a new era of hope which combines the experience and momentum of a new generation.”

Once one of the world’s most popular monarchs, more recently Juan Carlos has been plagued by a series of scandals that have sent his popularity plummeting. A poll by El Mundo last year found that nearly two-thirds of Spaniards thought the king should abdicate.

In contrast, Prince Felipe, a former Olympic yachtsman, has come out relatively unscathed. Frequently photographed while taking their two daughters to school or at shopping malls, Felipe and his wife Letizia Ortiz – a former television news anchor -have cultivated an image of leading a relatively modest lifestyle.

Fluent in English, French and Catalan along with Spanish, Felipe studied for a year in Canada before undertaking three years of military training in Spain’s army, navy and air force academy. A law degree in Madrid soon followed, as well as a Masters in international relations at Georgetown University in Washington, DC

“His goal, his only goal, is to serve Spain. It has been deeply ingrained in him that he must be the country’s main servant,” his mother Queen Sofia once said.

The poll showing rising public support for Juan Carlos to abdicate was astunning reversal for a leader who in 2012, had earned the approval of almost 80% of Spaniards. Taking the throne just two days after the death of Franco in 1975, Juan Carlos won the respect of Spaniards by steering the country from dictatorship to democracy, including foiling a coup attempt in 1981.

But as Spain fell into financial crisis, the king’s standing sank. A particularly low point came when it was revealed that he had taken a luxurious trip to Botswana to hunt elephants, just weeks after telling a reporter that he was so distraught about the growing ranks of the unemployed that he was having trouble sleeping.

The royal family’s image was further tarnished by a long-runningcorruption investigation into the king’s daughter, Princess Cristina, and her husband Iñaki Urdangarin.

Many, particularly young Spaniards, began to see the king as part of Spain’s problems, drawing parallels between him and the economic and political powers that had driven the country into the economic crisis. While the king’s approval rating dropped steadily, that of his son Felipe remained stable at around 66%, leading many to suggest that the monarchy would be better off if the king abdicated.

In Monday’s announcement, Rajoy praised Juan Carlos, calling him a “tireless defender of our interests”. He added: “I’m convinced this is the best moment for change.”

Spain is now expected to change its constitution to make sure Felipe’s first-born daughter Leonor can succeed him.

The royal family has said its wants the change to ensure she is next in line to the throne in the event that Felipe’s wife gets pregnant again and gives birth to a boy, who would become monarch under the current constitution.

Analysts say that could open the door to political negotiations for additional proposed constitutional changes, including demands by the leading opposition Socialist Party to grant Catalonia more autonomy or special financial benefits to ease separatist feelings.

Artur Mas, the president of Catalonia, declared that the king’s abdication would not derail his plans to hold the vote asking Catalans whether they want to secede from Spain. “We have a date with our future on 9 November,” Mas told reporters after the king gave his speech.

Rajoy’s government must now pass a law creating a legal mechanism for Felipe’s assumption of power, which will then allow Juan Carlos to set a date for his formal abdication.

 

Published on 2 June in http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/02/spains-king-juan-carlos-to-abdicate

27
May

Chappatte cartoon: Protest vote in Europe

 

On the day the Bastille was stormed in 1789, King Louis XVI wrote in his diary, “rien“. Few European leaders will have typed “nothing” into their iPads today, but there is a real danger that, in response to the revolutionary cry across the continent, they will in effect do nothing. Today’s rien has a face and a name. The name’s Juncker. Jean-Claude Juncker.

A disastrous “the same only more so” response from Europe’s leaders would be signalled by taking Juncker – Spitzenkandidat of the largest party grouping in the new European parliament, the centre-right European People’s party – and making him president of the European commission. The canny Luxembourgeois was the longest-serving head of an EU national government, and the chair of the Eurogroup through the worst of the eurozone crisis. Although he has considerable skills as a politician and deal-maker, he personifies everything protest voters from left to right distrust about remote European elites. He is, so to speak, the Louis XVI of the EU.

The danger also lies in what now seems likely to happen inside the European parliament. The most probable development is a kind of unspoken grand coalition of the current mainstream party groupings, centre-right, centre-left, liberal and (at least on some issues) greens, to keep all the anti-parties at bay. If another six of the more xenophobic, nationalist parties accept the lead of the Marine le Pen’s triumphant Front National, papering over their differences to form a recognised group within the parliament, that will give them funding (from European taxpayers’ pockets) and a stronger position in parliamentary procedure, but still not enough votes to overpower such a centrist grand coalition.

Surely that is a good thing? Yes, in the short term. But only if that grand coalition then supports decisive reform of the EU. It should start, symbolically, by refusing ever again to make its absurd regular commute from its spacious quarters in Brussels to its second luxurious seat in Strasbourg – the EU’s version of Versailles – at an estimated cost of €180m a year. If, however, the unspoken grand coalition does not deliver more of what so many Europeans want over the next five years, it will only strengthen the anti-EU vote next time round. Then all the mainstream parties will be held responsible for the failure.

The one silver lining to this continent-sized cloud is that, for the first time since direct elections to the parliament began in 1979, overall voter turnout has apparently not declined. Turnout varies greatly from country to country – in Slovakia it was estimated to be 13% – but in France, for example, significantly more voters showed up than last time. What pro-Europeans preached for so long has finally come to pass: European citizens actively engaging in an EU-wide democratic process. But, irony of ironies, they do so to vote against the EU.

So what were Europeans telling their leaders? The general message was perfectly summed up by the cartoonist Chappatte, who drew a group of protesters holding up a placard shouting “Unhappy” – and one of their number shouting through a megaphone into the ballot box. There are 28 member states and 28 varieties of Unhappy. Some of the successful protest parties really are on the far-right: in Hungary, for example, Jobbik got three seats and more than 14% of the vote. Most, like Britain’s victorious Ukip, draw voters from right and left, feeding on sentiments such as “we want our country back” and “too many foreigners, too few jobs”. But in Greece, the big protest vote went to the leftwing, anti-austerity Syriza.

Simon Hix, an expert on the European parliament, has identified three main schools of unhappiness: north Europeans outside the eurozone (Brits, Danes), north Europeans inside the eurozone (the kind of Germans who secured several seats for the anti-euro party Alternative für Deutschland) and south Europeans inside the eurozone (Greeks, Portuguese).

That leaves the east Europeans, many of whom are unhappy in their own ways. The fact that the Unhappy come at the problem from such different angles makes it harder to address. The Syriza voter’s dream for eurozone policy is the Alternative für Deutschland voter’s nightmare.

Yet one thing they all have in common: fear for the life chances of their children. Until about 10 years ago, the general assumption was that things would be better for the next generation of Europeans. “Europe” was part of a larger story of progress. But a Eurobarometer poll earlier this year found more than half saying that the lives of children in the EU would be “more difficult” than their own.

There is already a generation of European graduates who feel they have been robbed of the better future they were led to expect. They are members of a new class: the precariat.

In such a dramatic moment for the whole European project, it is worth going back to the very origins, to the 1948 Congress of Europe, where the veteran advocate of Pan-Europa, Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi, admonished his fellow founders: “Let us never forget, my friends, that European union is a means and no end.” That is as true today as it was then. European union is not an end in itself. It is a means to the end of delivering better – more prosperous, free, secure – lives for its people.

So what we need now is a radical focus on delivery. Enough of those endless institutional debates. The question is not “more Europe or less Europe?” It is: more of what and less of what? For example, we need more of the single market in energy, telecoms, the internet and services, but we may need less Brussels-led policy in fisheries and culture.

Every step that produces a single job for a currently unemployed European should be taken. Every centimetre of red tape that puts someone out of work must be torn up. This is no time for Junckers. The moment demands a European commission of all the talents, led by someone of proven ability like Pascal Lamy or Christine Lagarde, entirely dedicated to the task of convincing the legions of the Unhappy that there is a better future for their children, and that it lies with Europe.

That is what should happen. But will it? I have a dreadful feeling in my bones that future historians may write of the May 2014 elections: “This was the wake-up call from which Europe failed to wake up.”

Timothy Garton Ash is a historian, political writer and Guardian columnist. His personal website is www.timothygartonash.com. He directs the 13-language websitefreespeechdebate.com, and is writing a book about free speech

 

Published on Monday 26 May 2014 in the www.theguardian.com

 

21
May

A Finland Model for Ukraine?

Written on May 21, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Democracy & Human Rights, EU Expansion, Europe, Op Ed

 

WASHINGTON — After months of war fever over Ukraine, perhaps the biggest surprise is that citizens there will be voting to choose a new government in elections that observers predict will be free and fair in most areas.

This electoral pathway for Ukraine seemed unlikely a few weeks ago, given Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea and his covert campaign to destabilize the Russian-speaking areas of eastern Ukraine. There were dire warnings of a new Cold War, and even of a ground war in Ukraine. The country seemed at risk of being torn apart.

If this Finland-like status is what Ukrainians support (and recent evidence suggests their new leaders may indeed choose this course) then it should be a welcome outcome for the West, too. Ukraine’s problems are internal; it needs ideological coherence more than territorial defense. It needs the breathing space that nonalignment can provide. The Ukrainian people can’t be barred from seeking membership in NATO or the European Union, but it’s unimaginable that either body would say yes, perhaps for decades. So Putin can breathe easier on that score.

Maybe the elections will dull the self-flagellating domestic rhetoric in America that Putin’s menacing moves were somehow the fault of President Obama and his allegedly weak foreign policy. Obama has made mistakes, especially in the Middle East, but his Ukraine policy mostly has been steady and correct. He recognized that the U.S. had no military options and fashioned a strategy that, with German help, seems to have deterred Putin from further recklessness.

If the election goes forward (with Putin maintaining his current “wait and see” stance), Obama deserves credit for crisis policymaking of the sort recommended by the respected British strategist Lawrence Freedman. “The basic challenge of crisis management is to protect core interests while avoiding major war.” Freedman wrote in a March essay on the blog “War on the Rocks.” He argued, even then, that criticism of Obama’s allegedly weak stance was “overdone.”

The case for “Finlandization” emerges in a monograph prepared recently by the State Department’s Office of the Historian. It argues that “Finnish foreign policy during the Cold War successfully preserved Finland’s territorial and economic sovereignty, through adherence to a careful policy of neutrality in foreign affairs.” Ukraine’s new government may pursue a similar nonalignment, judging from the leading candidate, billionaire oligarch Petro Poroshenko, who has pro-Western ties but also served in the Moscow-leaning government of deposed president Viktor Yanukovych.

The State Department study also noted that nonalignment allowed Finland “to serve as a bridge between the Soviet bloc and the West.” Helsinki became a meeting ground for arms-control and human-rights talks that eventually transformed Eastern Europe. A similar bridging role for Ukraine would be welcome, as it would draw Russia west, away from an atavistic strategy of creating a Eurasian trade bloc to re-establish Soviet-style economic hegemony.

For all the war talk, Ukraine has really been a test of nonconventional forces and covert action rather than military intervention. Putin, the ex-KGB officer, launched a deniable “stealth” invasion of Crimea in February, using troops without insignia. He continued the pressure in eastern Ukraine by working with pro-Russian irregular militias, though their unruly behavior eventually seemed to worry even Putin. He may have threatened invasion but he never seemed eager to roll his tanks across an international border.

What seems to have slowed Putin’s allies in Ukraine is similarly unconventional. It wasn’t Ukrainian government troops that restored order in eastern cities such as Donetsk and Mariupol. The army’s performance was middling, at best. Stability returned because of the deployment in at least five eastern cities of steelworkers and miners apparently dispatched by Ukraine’s richest man, Rinat Akhmetov, who opposed a breakup of his country.

“This has to be Ukraine’s choice,” argues Karen Donfried, the new president of the German Marshall Fund (where I’m a trustee) and former National Security Council director for Europe. If Ukrainians seek an accommodation with Moscow, it must be their desire for self-limitation, not a policy imposed by Washington or Berlin.

The stabilizing factor here will be a Ukraine that makes its own decisions.

davidignatius@washpost.com
Published on May 21, 2014 in the Washington Post.
23
Apr

As with any presidency, Barack Obama’s agenda has been heavily driven by external events. His landmark foreign policy initiative (if one doesn’t count ending the two wars in the Middle East) was supposed to be the so-called pivot to Asia. Instead, events at home — such as the government shutdown — and abroad have repeatedly hijacked the White House’s foreign policy agenda. But rather than bemoaning this, the president should now prioritize the Ukraine crisis in order to also rescue the Asia pivot.

This, of course, is a tough message for Obama to deliver to America’s allies in Asia when he arrives in the region this week. Countries such as Japan and South Korea, who originally welcomed the pivot to Asia with open arms, have lately grown wearier about Washington’s follow-through. They want to see a stronger security and political commitment from the United States.

These Asian allies may now worry that the Ukraine crisis will further jeopardize the U.S. role in the Asia-Pacific by consuming valuable time, energy and resources. Obama must therefore use some of his face time with Asian leaders to explain to them why they too have an interest in Washington focusing on Europe at the moment. In fact, there are several good reasons why doing so could be a good thing for the Asia pivot. Let’s consider three of them.

First, and perhaps most obvious, the situation in Ukraine is still very tense and can easily take a turn for the worse. The most serious crisis since the Cold War, Ukraine illustrates that Europe is still far from “whole and free.” Countries such as Moldova and Georgia or the Western Balkans may well be next in line for Putin. Unless the United States steps up its efforts, it could risk getting bogged down in potential future crises in the region. Asian allies should therefore welcome efforts to complete the European project once and for all.

At the same time, it’s in the long-term interest of both the United States and its Asian allies to get capable European countries to assume more responsibility for their own neighborhood. Such a “new transatlantic bargain” would allow America to focus its attention elsewhere in the world. Conversely, Europe should support America’s growing role in the Asia-Pacific even if this means less American troops in Europe in the future. In no way does the pivot to Asia mean Washington is pulling back from its commitments to European security. Read more…

Erik Brattberg is a Senior Fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council in Washington, DC.

Published on April 22, 2014 in http://www.realclearworld.com

18
Apr

russia

FIRST Vladimir Putin mauled Georgia, but the world forgave him—because Russia was too important to be cut adrift. Then he gobbled up Crimea, but the world accepted it—because Crimea should have been Russian all along. Now he has infiltrated eastern Ukraine, but the world is hesitating—because infiltration is not quite invasion. But if the West does not face up to Mr Putin now, it may find him at its door.

The storming of police stations in eastern Ukraine over the weekend by pro-Russian protesters (see article) is a clever move, for it has put the interim government in Kiev in an impossible position. Mr Putin has warned that Ukraine is on the brink of civil war. If the country’s government fails to take control, it will open itself to charges that it cannot keep order within its own borders. But its soldiers are poorly trained, so in using force (operations were under way as The Economist went to press) it risks escalation and bloodshed. Either way, it loses.

The West has seen Russia brush off its threats and warnings. It looks feeble and divided. Yet, after the destabilisation of eastern Ukraine, even doves should grasp that the best chance of stability lies in standing up to Mr Putin, because firmness today is the way to avoid confrontation later.

Red lines and green men

Russia insists that it has played no part in the seizure of towns such as Sloviansk and Gorlivka. This is implausible. The attacks were co-ordinated, in strategically useful places that had seen few protests. Just as in Crimea six weeks ago, troops in unmarked uniforms and with Russian weapons carried out the initial assaults. Russian agents have turned up in custody and in reporters’ notebooks, organising the protests and, some say, paying for them. Russia has been meddling in eastern Ukraine for weeks, occasionally with results from the pages of Gogol. On April 6th “local people” stormed what they thought was the regional administrative headquarters in Kharkiv only to find that they had taken control of the opera house.

Russian diplomats counter that they cannot be behind what is going on, because instability in eastern Ukraine is not in Russia’s interests. True, normal countries benefit from peace and prosperity next door. However, mindful of its own claim to power and the outlook for Russia’s stagnant economy, the Kremlin has much to fear from the pro-European demonstrations that toppled Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych. It appears determined to see the new Ukraine fail.

- See more at: http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21600979-cost-stopping-russian-bear-now-highbut-it-will-only-get-higher-if-west-does#sthash.g32GXOKw.dpuf

Published in the print version of the Economist, April 19th, 2014