Tag Archive | "EU"

Brexit Served: UK, EU to Face Off Over Exit Details, €60 Bln Debt


British Prime Minister Theresa May invoked Article 50 of the EU treaty on Wednesday, formally launching the Brexit process. The Brexit letter was later delivered by the UK’s Permanent Representative to the EU Tim Barrow to European Council President Donald Tusk.

Nine months after the June 2016 referendum on Britain’s exit from the European Union, London is bracing for tense talks with Brussels on the exit deal that could cost it hundreds of billions of euros.

It is estimated that Brexit would cost the United Kingdom around 60 billion euros ($65 billion) that London would have to pay to the European Union under the existing agreements.

Hard Brexit

Prime Minister Theresa May has opted for a tougher exit from Europe. London is opposed to the free movement of labor, refuses to pay anything to the EU and wants to withdraw from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights.

As a result, it risks being frozen out of the common European market of an estimated 500 million consumers.Several non-EU countries like Norway still enjoy access to the European market in exchange for allowing in labor migrants from the EU.

In a worst-case scenario, Britain could end up having even less ties with the EU than Switzerland, which has never planned to join the European Union.
Pessimists warn about the possibility of a recession setting in after 2019 even though economically the United Kingdom is doing just fine.

French leave

Meanwhile, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has said it would be “perfectly OK” for Britain to fail to negotiate a trade agreement with the EU and crash out of the bloc on the hardest World Trade Organization terms.

“We have a very strong, very robust economy and we have a chance now to do free trade deals… with countries we have not been able to engage with properly for 44 years,” he added.

“Brexit without a deal” would result in mutual taxation and falling expert revenues for both Britain and its trading partners in the EU. France alone stands to lose 4 billion euros and Germany could lose even more.

Less radically-minded supporters of Brexit still hope that Britain could retain some of its trade benefits with the EU.

Meanwhile, many in the EU leadership, including European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and to a lesser extent, French President Francois Hollande, are holding out for “hard” Brexit.

France could “punish” Britain by nixing a 2003 agreement with the UK under which checks for migrants trying to illegally cross into Britain are carried out by British border guards at French ports.Where to now?

Now that Britain has formally announced its decision to leave the EU on March 29, the ball is in Brussels’ court. European Council President Donald Tusk has said  that he would formally respond to the notification on Friday.

During their emergency summit scheduled for April 29, the EU leaders will try to agree upon a concerted action plan before they sit down with the UK delegation to work out a final deal, which needs the approval of all the 27 remaining EU members.

According to the trade credit insurance company Euler Hermes, the discussion of the details of Britain’s exit could drag out until 2021, which is way beyond the two-year limit set by the Treaty of Lisbon, which serves as the EU’s unofficial constitution.

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Posted in UKComments Off on Brexit Served: UK, EU to Face Off Over Exit Details, €60 Bln Debt

Juncker to Member States: We Need To Talk!

Adelina Marini

What is wrong with the EU? It is the product of compromise, the result of which is complex legislation, with many exceptions, which creates pockets of integration and practically just the illusion of a single market and community in general. Compromise is deeply embedded in the fabric of the EU, but this fabric has become very diverse. In the beginning, compromises needed to be made between countries with similar views, value systems, which saw their development in the same direction. With EU enlargement and the growth of populism and euroscepticism compromise has become more difficult, because of collision with different and lately increasingly conflicting value systems. Dialogue has degenerated into blackmail and looking for accountability for past events. Some member states have ran out of patience and started to ask more and more often if there is any sense in continuing this way. Others, on the other hand, believe that it is better not to bring up the topic about the future, but to continue as if nothing had happened. Others are completely inert and go with the flow.

Another problem is that the unanimity rule is applied in making decisions, although it is not compulsory for all forms of legislative activity. This hinders the work of the Union. At the same time, however, the application of qualified majority voting creates additional tensions between member states, as it did happen with the quota allocation of refugees. This led Hungary to holding a referendum against this legislation with the support of Poland and other countries. A third very serious problem is that adopted decisions are often not applied or are deformed when they set foot on national soil. The reasons are usually political – upcoming election in some member state or a government is of “our” political family, or there is a danger of a government falling if the measures are implemented in full. The examples are numerous and vary from the European semester to the rule of law.

All this increases the division between member states and condemns the Union to timelessness, as it is completely unable, under its current setup and attitudes, to make quick and effective decisions. Existing mechanisms for multiple speed development further complicate the construction because, regardless of the advancement of integration in separate integration circles, all members have equal weight, regardless how deeply they are integrated. In other words, if a group of members are keen on advancing to a new supranational level, this will require opening the treaties for change, which will be blocked by those who want a looser union. The opening of treaties would mean for the EU to lose another decade in dealing with itself.

Juncker will bring Pandora’s box to Rome

In recent months, there has been increased talk within the EU that this can no longer continue and something needs to change. There was talk of a multi-speed Europe. Basically the idea is not new, but – attention – there is something new envisioned. Current EU legislation also allows different speeds of integration, based on the assumption that the direction is the same. Nowadays there is talk about the choice of different directions, i.e. multi-directional or multi-level Europe. On March 25, leaders of member states will gather in Rome to mark the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. All agree that this is a good occasion to analyse the past and to draw a plan for the future.

The veteran of European politics Jean-Claude Juncker (Luxembourg, EPP) presented this week to the European Parliament five scenarios with an appeal to the member states to choose one. This is actually a Pandora’s Box, the opening of which will radically alter the European political and economic map. The scenarios are a summary of everything which has already been spoken about more or less. What the White Paper of Juncker does for Europe’s future is to systematise. It shows in a very straightforward and simple way what the pros and cons of the five scenarios are, what the real implications are, and exactly how it will affect the lives of European citizens. In this sense, Juncker’s White Paper is the event of the year.


The first Juncker scenario is for the EU to continue on its current path. That means sticking to the plans for the future contained in the Commission agenda, the Bratislava declaration, and other documents which provide for strengthening integration in the euro area and the fight against terrorism, strengthened cooperation in the field of defence. According to the EC, the advantages of this scenario are that there will be concrete results. The rights of European citizens, stemming from European legislation, will be protected. Cons are that the Union will continue to be exposed to tests of its unity, and this means instability. In particular, this scenario will lead to a strengthening of the single market that will expand to the digital sphere and energy; will improve the functioning of the euro area; will lead to a gradual acceleration of cooperation in the field of border control and will move to a common asylum system.

There will be progress regarding foreign policy and defence, but it will be a moderate one. The common budget will be partially modernised. This scenario, however, will not be able to fully meet the expectations of European citizens. Juncker’s White Paper confirmed the conclusion of the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini (Italy, Socialists and Democrats) that the soft power of the EU is an already exhausted approach.

A loosening of the EU

The second scenario could safely be named British, although other states aspire to it like Hungary and Poland for example. This scenario downshifts by several integration gears and turns the Union into a simple common market. Member states turn primary towards a bilateral approach to bargaining, a solid part of European legislation is eliminated. This scenario, however, raises the question about the possibility of its implementation, for in order to have a truly common market legislation in many areas needs to be harmonised in order to facilitate the free movement of goods, services, people, and capital. Currently, the services market continues to be fragmented. There are already visible processes of fragmentation in the possibility for free movement with different legal restrictions being imposed in destination states.

According to the EC, this scenario will keep the differences in many areas such as consumer, social and environmental standards as well as in the taxation sphere and the use of public subsidies. EC sees in it a risk of a race to the bottom. The result will be that the free movement of people and services will not be guaranteed. The euro will suffer as well, there will be more checks at national borders because of a lack of sufficient cooperation in the security and migration spheres.

It is difficult to identify any positive sides in this scenario. The EC believes that citizens’ rights deriving from EU legislation will become limited over time. Overall, this scenario will increase the gap between expectations and delivery at all levels. What is not said in this scenario, but can be derived as minus from the British case is that the elimination of EU legislation will require strong legislative efforts in the member states, which will block them for years, will isolate them from the ever more aggressive global environment and make them vulnerable. It is not clear whether they have the capacity for such hard work. There are huge risks to fragile democracies hidden here.

Multi-tier Europe

The third scenario appears the most realistic at this stage. It envisages the creation of coalitions of the willing to deepen integration in various fields of their choice. Current European legislation offers similar capabilities too, like the enhanced cooperation procedure settled the matter with cross-border transfer of property rights between married or unmarried couples (including same-sex), with the financial transactions tax, with the creation of a European Public Prosecutor’s Office and others. The problem with this procedure is that by law it is required to have a minimum of nine countries willing to participate. If member states choose this scenario, then perhaps an elimination of the mandatory threshold should be considered.

The pluses of the third scenario are that the unity of EU27 will be preserved, at the same time relieving the pressure generated by the constant brakes being pulled by eurosceptic governments. Problems could arise from the manner of making decisions and the accountability of this process. The EC expects that this scenario will build on the first scenario in the euro area, Schengen (plus migration and justice), foreign affairs and defence, European budget (through the development of separate budgets for the different integration circles).

More through less

The fourth option is for member states to focus on those areas they agree on and stop working on the ones they don’t have a consensus on. According to the EC, the areas in which there could be consensus are innovations, trade, security, migration, border management, and defence. The spheres where cooperation will gradually cease because there is not enough value added or commitments cannot be met are regional development, healthcare, employment, and social policy, which are not directly linked to the functioning of the common market. Should member states pick this scenario, it will mean for the poor ones to fend for themselves. A total reworking of the common budget will be needed and European funds will be stopped for countries like Bulgaria, because the results are dubious.

Pluses, according to the EC, are that this way it will be much easier to clearly distribute responsibilities between Brussels and the capitals and people will have a much better understanding of how the Union works. The problem, however, is that member states are experiencing considerable difficulties in negotiating which areas should be prioritised and which ones should not. This division is seen each time the next 7-year EU financial framework is being negotiated.

Quantum leap forward together

The fifth scenario, supported by all pro-European groups in the European Parliament, provides serious integration steps in many areas in a way to make the Union much more effective. Pros in the eyes of the Commission are the much faster decision-making and the cons – that there is a risk of alienating a part of society even more because of the feeling that the EU takes too much power from national authorities. A problem that exists now as well. This scenario envisages deepening the integration of the common market through the harmonisation of standards and stronger enforcement, trade is to be taken out fully on a supranational level. The euro area is expected to walk the full path outlined in the five presidents’ report. Creating a defence alliance and having the EU speak with a single voice in foreign affairs. The consequences for the European budget are also expected to be serious – a bigger budget, powered by its own resources; separate budget for the euro area.


There are already ongoing debates in the public domain about which is the most high-speed scenario, with many pointing at the fifth one. The third one, however, looks a lot speedier in integration sense, but it is also the scenario that institutionalises a multi-speed Europe as a concept. At the presentation of the White Paper Jean-Claude Juncker expressly warned that it is not offering anything detailed, so that it leaves the debate in the hands of member states and leaves them the freedom to decide exactly how they are to go forward. Should member states pick this scenario, then the amendment of the founding treaties looks inevitable, and with it come the great dangers for slowly moving countries like Bulgaria, because each integration circle will probably ask for a change of the rules for entering that circle.

This is already evident in the expansion of the entire EU towards countries of the Western Balkans and Turkey. It is important to note, by the way, that in the White Paper there is no change of position towards enlargement. It is expressly noted that no new members are expected “in the short term”. The change is noticeable in Schengen as well. Bulgaria and Romania have technically (on paper) fulfilled all membership criteria, but several member states, led by The Netherlands, are adamantly opposed to it because they do not trust these countries because of their failure (especially that of Bulgaria) to deal with high-level corruption and set up an independent judiciary. There are currently no formal obstacles to euro area membership, but the ECB boss hinted last year that accepting new members will cause some serious considerations because of the failure with Greece and other states, whose condition brings potential risks to the common currency.

There is one more thing, which was not mentioned in the five scenarios, but which Jean-Claude Juncker emphasised upon in his speech at the presentation of the White Paper on Wednesday afternoon – common values. This is a very serious dividing line, which lays at the foundation of today’s pressure between several new members and the old EU members. Differences in the understanding of EU fundamentals like democracy, rule of law, fundamental rights, have in recent months grown into a true confrontation and even a competition between two opposite ideologies. In this sense, the debates on the procedure against Poland for the protection of the rule of law as well as the protection of fundamental rights and democracy in Hungary are especially indicative.

In his speech Mr Juncker sent out a strong message to Eurosceptics and populists as well, who do not have a reserved place in the future European architecture, as well as to the ones who consider Brussels to be the enemy. I offer you several quotes from Mr Juncker’s speech in front of MEPs, which show quite clearly what the reason is for requesting a re-commitment of European vows:

“There will come a day – I am sure – when the Treaties will have to be adapted because there is a collective will to do so. That collective will does not exist today”. 

“The patriotism of the 21st century is two dimensional: a happy patriotism, accepted and acceptable looking inward and a form of solidarity, which is the extension of patriotism to the outside. There are values that continue to bind us together: peace, democracy and solidarity, the rule of law – often threatened – as a foundation helping us to build a fairer society, the equal dignity of all human being, a free and independent press”. 

“Democracy is a European product and we will defend it everywhere and with all our might”. 

“The future of Europe cannot be held hostage by electoral cycles, party politics or short-term wins”.

“Let us be honest: For too long there has been a gap between what people expect and what Europe is able to deliver?”

“We should not make people believe that we can deliver the sun and the moon if we are only able to deliver a telescope. We should stop communicating on intentions and start focusing on where we can deliver the most tangible results instead”. 

The EC plans to organise a series of debates in national parliaments about the future of Europe, but promises to be an impartial observer. “Contrary to how it may have been done in the past, this Commission does not prescribe, it does not dictate, it does not instruct. This Commission wants to listen before deciding. No diktats – this is not compatible with my character. I am no dictator”, said Jean-Claude Juncker, who has recently undertaken a battle against member states to make them stop seeing Brussels as the enemy. The Commission is set to publish specific proposals in several spheres. The leaders of member states will have the opportunity for the first time to discuss the White Paper during their spring summit on March 9-10. Juncker hopes that they will adopt it as a foundation for their talks in Rome on March 25 as well. His expectations are that by December member states will have already made their choice.

The political moment for this has already matured. Ideas are circulating from all sides as euinside reported. Where there are no differences in the system of values, there are differences regarding speed or the approach or both. But there are also ideological differences. The Hungarian prime minister, for example, wants a loose union where member states are free to choose their own values. Poland supports the same position. A member of this group is also the leader of the National Front in France Marine Le Pen, who is leading in the polls for the presidential elections this spring. After these ideas have been shared once and sometimes more than once in the public space, it is time for member states to tell each other eye to eye whether they wish and how do they wish to continue together.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

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EU Did Not Commit Suicide. It Is Reinventing Itself

Adelina Marini

The year 2016 started off quite depressing for the European Union. At the very beginning of the year forecasts started piling in of the impending suicide of the Union, and not just by anybody, but by its institutional leaders. euinside’s text about the upcoming suicide was the most-read one for the entire year 2016. Causes for the European political elite’s depressive condition were the refugee crisis, the economic aftermath of the crisis, and the upcoming Brexit. The Union, however, did not commit a suicide. Quite the contrary. Not only did it refuse to commit suicide, but it recalled why it exists in the first place and that this continues to be a valid reason to continue to live.

The question, which member states never answered

The depressive state consumed the Union again in the autumn after, at the beginning of summer, Brits did finally prefer to leave the EU. The annual address of the boss of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker (Luxembourg, EPP), on the state of the EU was very depressing. After painting the bleak picture of the state of the Union, Mr Juncker set a task for the 27 for their informal summit in Bratislava, at which they were expected to draft their vision of the future of the Union. The task was to provide three reasons why the EU is necessary. Alas, they did not even make the effort to discuss this issue during their one-day gathering in the capital of Slovakia in mid-September. Moreover, some member states stated that due to the fact that Juncker is not the head of the Council, there were no discussions on his appeal.

The issue, however, is quintessential, so euinside decided to send out the same question to all member states, but it got replies from just a few. The answers were quite general in nature, but despite that some of them give some idea about what the direction that member states, which replied, want the Union to develop in. The most comprehensive and speedy reply came from Finland. Helsinki’s position is that the EU’s most important task is providing peace, security, prosperity, and the rule of law. Finland advocates for the community approach – meaning staying at the level of European institutions and European law, instead of intergovernmental agreements. “EU membership is a political choice that connects Finland to the Western community of values”, is written in the Finnish government’s programme.

Helsinki believes that the Union needs to be reformed to improve its functioning, but any amendments to the founding treaties need to be avoided. According to Finland, the EU needs to concentrate on the most important issues and does not necessarily need to deepen integration in all spheres. Main priorities to Finland are the energy union, the defence union, and cooperation in the field of security. The country is traditionally positioned against solidarity when it comes to bailing out states in trouble within the euro area.

Sweden, too, is against any changes in the founding treaties, but is also of the opinion that it is high time that member states begin administering the decisions, made by consensus. The Swedish government’s priorities are employment, a more ambitious programme for environment protection and fighting climate change, and a long-term sustainable migration policy, which guarantees the right to an asylum. Stockholm backs the position that all members must accept their responsibility in dealing with the refugee crisis. This means that “all member states have reception systems with sufficient capacity, a legally secure asylum process, an equivalent assessment of the need for protection and certain basic rights linked to the need for protection”.

Main priority to Estonia is taking advantage of the digital world. In a special article by the already former Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas it is said that it is high time that the four freedoms of the EU common market be joined by a fifth one – the free movement of data. This is something which the now former President of Estonia Toomas Hendrik Ilves talked about during his address to the European Parliament in 2016 (this was also one of the most-read articles of euinside during the past year).

Austrian Prime Minister Christian Kern shared his belief that the EU is still capable of returning to its initial idea – being a project of hope. In his opinion, the main priority needs to be the battle against tax evasion by multinational companies. He thinks that although important, the issues of the powers of the boss of the EC, the Council, or the European Parliament have no direct effect on citizens. They are interested in whether the EU has improved their life perspective. “Europe must once more become an Enlightenment project, not simply one for the markets”, he wrote in a special article regarding the Bratislava meeting, which was forwarded to us by the Austria embassy in Zagreb as a reply to our question.

The reply of Hungary is not as Eurosceptic as could be expected. According to it, the EU needs common armed forces, an institutional reform, unity at the common market – which means protecting the four freedoms – innovation, and enlargement. According to Budapest, the main problem of European politics of today is the existence of a gap between the actions of European institutions and the expectations of societies in many member states. The first step to bridging that gap needs to be the reinstatement of trust, says the Hungarian reply. Hungary is of the opinion that the Union needs more time for diagnostics before making a decision on the reforms legal framework. The Hungarian position is that the EU should return to the idea that member states stand at the foundation, not European institutions. This position is well familiar from statements of Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán, who made no exception last year as well.

The EU put away the razor in Bratislava

The summit in the Slovak capital brought nothing radical, but its main achievement was managing to unite member states around a single reason for the existence of the EU – preserving peace. Several years ago this sounded as a cliché, but now it is more meaningful than ever. The year 2016 could be described as the year, in which the EU began reinventing itself. Looking back now it could be argued that a large portion of the depressive condition of some of the older European politicians were due to the realisation that the EU had given up on the ideology that dominated its evolution during the 20th century – federalism. This is mission impossible in the 21st century.

The EU chose to be pragmatic. Contrary to the feeling of disintegration and walking backwards, the EU actually worked hard on the creation of common policies. The European Border and Coastguard Agency is already a fact (based in Bulgaria), active work is being done on the creation of a defence union, as well as on the building of a security union. All this is happening without resorting to intergovernmental agreements or exceptions. Compared to previous community initiatives, the new ones may look less ambitious, but keeping in mind the expectations for disintegration and suicide, those are serious steps forward.

Agreement was reached to work on the global strategy of the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini (Italy, Socialists and Democrats). Despite having some serious zig-zagging, up to now there are no radical changes in the course of the euro area and economic policy in general. Some busy legislative activity went on in the EU throughout the year 2016. Noticeably there was work for more Union in the spheres where member states and their public opinion are aware they cannot deal with alone. Integration slowed down in other spheres and even took steps back, like with the work on the creation of a common European Prosecution, which would investigate European funds fraud.

Eroding the rule of law is the greatest risk for the EU

The biggest challenges the Union will face this year are the rule of law, losing the enlargement and, lastly, populism and Euroscepticism. The first one is the scariest for a Union, surrounded by authoritarian regimes, with illiberalism slowly starting to creep in the EU itself. Currently, the European Commission is waging a desperate war with Poland. Despite expectation that it will lack the courage to stand against the largest and strategically most important member state in the Eastern part of the Union, the Commission did wrap up the year with a new step against the government of Beata Szydło (or rather of Jarosław Kaczyński). On December 21, the First Vice-President of the Commission Frans Timmermans (The Netherlands, Socialists and Democrats) sent out new recommendations to the government in Warsaw, concerning ending the Constitutional Court crisis.

The next step is moving toward the Union’s “nuclear bomb”, namely the activation of Article 7 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, which takes away a member state’s right to vote in the Council. Should it come to this step, and surely Poland’s government will go all the way, it will make a precedent for the EU. At this stage, the Commission is left almost entirely by itself to deal with this problem. It receives support from the European Parliament, but it is a double-edged sword, for a major problem in the battle with risks faced by rule of law is that it is often blocked by partisan interests. Poland is not the first state the government of which undermines the rule of law. The first one was Hungary. The difference is thatthe ruling party in Poland, Law and Justice, is a member of the party of European Conservatives and Reformists.

They have the third largest group in the European Parliament, but because the majority of this group are British Conservatives, it is not very influential, nor consistent. In contrast to the ruling party in Hungary – Fidesz – which is a part of the largest and most influential party in the EU – the European People’s party. If the EU fails to prove that the rule of law is a value upheld by all, as it is written in Article 2 of the Treaty for the EU, in the long run this will create huge risks for the integrity and security of the Union.

Protecting the rule of law is in direct correlation to another very large risk to the EU – losing the enlargement, as euinside thoroughly reported. Should the EU fail in dealing with the problems with its fundamental values within the Union, then it will not have the legitimacy to ask those outside, and this is the foundation of its “soft” foreign policy. A re-orientation of foreign policy is currently underway, but the process is slow and not too ambitious, so this remains a challenge and most of all a security risk, for the bulk of the enlargement package is situated on the Balkan Peninsula.

Setting populism and Euroscepticism as a third and smallest risk was quite bold, but I do believe that the year 2016 brought huge victories to populists and Eurosceptics, although it is exactly this that will bring their doom. The Brexit is a guide to the harms of populism and this already produced results during the repeat presidential elections in Austria, which were not won by the far-right-wing candidate as expected. Greek populists too are losing support in the polls. In 2017, there are elections scheduled in the twin-engine of the European Union – France and Germany. The performance of the follower of Nigel Farage and Donald Trump Marine le Pen will prove my thesis that the end of populism is at hand.

Populism wins based on twisting facts or the intentional dropping of untruths. 2017 will be the year of fighting false news, myths, untruths, and propaganda. This battle is already underway in the European Union, but currently it is not coordinated but rather expressed in spontaneous actions or rather reactions. The important thing, however, is that thanks to the Brexit and Donald Trump’s election the masks of populists came down. This is a significant step in fighting them, but is also a challenge for mainstream parties, which do not look prepared to offer an alternative to their citizens. The biggest mistake of mainstreamers would be to offer more of what they have been offering for decades, and these are inadequate solutions in the 21st century.

It is very important that political parties do a deep analysis and come out clean in front of themselves and their voters. One of the reasons for the popularity of populists and Eurosceptics is that traditional parties failed to realise that their ideologies from the 20th century are invalid in the 21st. This allowed the appearance of extreme right-wing and extreme left-wing parties, which exploited the side effects of globalisation. Liberal forces lost much and practically there were no progressive political formations to point the way forward, instead of looking for solutions in the past. This is exactly what is needed at the European political scene, so that the Union itself can slide in comfortably into the 21st century and its global reality.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

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EU Has Lost Its Transformative Power. Enlargement Hits a Dead End

By: Adelina Marini

For the first time in the recent history of EU enlargement the year ended without conclusions for the candidate countries. This is one of the biggest news of the December European Council, held on 15 December in Brussels. Traditionally, every December, the leaders of the member states view the progress of candidates and reach conclusions which, usually, overlap with the conclusions of the European Commission in its progress reports. However, 2016 marked the beginning of the end of the enlargement process as we have known it. Latest developments, especially in Turkey, clearly show that the European Union has lost its transformative power and appeal and is no longer able to play the role of a lever for the transition to democracy and market economy in the candidate countries.

In fact, the process of weakening of the European transformative power has been going on for some time. For at least five years expansion was virtually stagnant. After the last enlargement in 2007, when the Union was joined by the unprepared Bulgaria and Romania, the process practically stopped. Croatia managed to sneak in at the last minute in 2013, but this happened in a period when the temperature of the enlargement process was already close to zero. Opening of chapters with Turkey was virtually frozen because of disagreement between the two sides about Cyprus and the lack of unity within the EU on whether Turkey, indeed, has a future as a full member in Christian Europe. Macedonia also spent more than 10 years in the freezer because of the veto of Greece. And the rest are moving so slowly along the now non-inspiring negotiation process that actually run in circles and even go backward.

In the last years of the mandate of the Commission of Jose Manuel Barroso (Portugal, EPP), there was an attempt made to revive the process by the then EU Commissioner for Enlargement Štefan Füle (Czech Republic, Socialists and Democrats), but success was symbolic. Reports each year had identical content. The most common words in the texts were “limited progress” which is synonymous with no progress, especially in the most important for transformation to democracy and the rule of law indicators – public administration, judiciary, fight against corruption and organised crime, treatment of minorities, and human rights. Amid the overall bleak picture, Füle’s attempt to inject new blood into enlargement had a short-lived effect. The EC never did dare to take more radical steps in the process, and for member states the topic was not on the agenda amid the debt crisis, then the refugee crisis,and now the severe geopolitical crisis.

Therefore, it was somehow natural to expect the statement of Barroso’s successor, Jean-Claude Juncker (Luxembourg, EPP), that within his term (2014 to 2019) there will be no further enlargement. The portfolio of commissioner for enlargement transformed into a post in charge of enlargement negotiations. However, though, there have been some changes in reporting progress. This year, it is noteworthy that the language in the reports is much sharper, problems now are called by their real names, though not all, but even half-revealed the picture is pretty bleak.

The candidate countries – further away from EU 

The most discouraging part of the report is the recognition by the Commission that several countries in the region show varying degrees of state capture. “In recent years, all countries have strengthened their frameworks for tackling corruption and organised crime. New institutions – such as the Montenegrin Anti-Corruption Agency – have been established and substantial efforts were deployed to foster specialisation, both in the police and within the judiciary. Despite these efforts, several countries in the region continue to show clear symptoms and various degrees of state capture”, says in the report. By state capture it is meant that companies, institutions, or influential persons are using illegal practises to exert influence and form policy in their best interest. They take advantage of the legal environment and the economy to follow their goals.

And another important and extremely unpleasant, although not at all new conclusion: “The declared political commitment to fight corruption has not translated sufficiently into concrete results”. Progress in building a functioning and independent judiciary remains weak, as most countries have shown problems with efficiency and lack of independence and accountability. The pressure on judges and prosecutors is common throughout the region. The report shows that in the worst condition in this sense are Turkey (after the coup) and Macedonia.

Another unpleasant conclusion is the media situation. “Freedom of expression and media remains a particular concern in most enlargement countries, albeit to different degrees. The lack of progress in this area, already observed over the past two years, has persisted and, in some cases, intensified. The situation with regard to freedom of expression has deteriorated further significantly in Turkey, in particular through arrests and prosecution of journalists on terrorism charges and closure of a wide range of media outlets”, is written in the general part of the report. In countries of the Western Balkans there is evidence of political intervention in the work of public media, non-transparent financing of media and continued threats against journalists, goes the EC’s assessment this year.

Democracy is hobbled at the level of parliaments too, as the report is noting that the functioning of democratic institutions remains a major challenge in many candidate countries. “The central role of national parliaments for the democracy needs to be embedded in the political culture”, is the recommendation of the European Commission, which notes that measures taken in Turkey following the prevented coup attempt in July raise many questions, such as the lifting of immunity off a huge number of members of the Turkish Parliament. In the Western Balkans, the functioning of parliaments has often been accompanied by boycotts. The most severe is the case of Macedonia, but there were similar boycotts in Kosovo as well. Parliamentary control over governments is weak or totally absent, often resorting to emergency procedures for adopting legislation.

Moreover, one of the tools of democracy – elections – is also showing flaws. According to the report, elections continue to be viewed as an opportunity to ensure political control over the administration, including institutions, which are independent by nature.

Economically, the situation in the countries of the enlargement process this year is slightly better. Economic growth was stronger, investments intensified, and the number of jobs has increased. However, youth unemployment is still alarmingly high, infrastructure and education systems are not well. The fiscal positions of many of the candidate countries are deteriorating. EC clearly says that the investment climate in many candidate countries is adversely affected by the continuing weakness of the rule of law and there are signs of state capture, especially regarding the independent and effective judicial systems, unequal application of competition rules, poor public finance management, and frequent changes of permits and licenses regimes.

A serious shortcoming of the Western Balkans is seen within their corporate governance frameworks, small and fragmented markets, unfinished privatisation and limited integration of regional trade.

Enlargement is not what it used to be

Prior to 2004, enlargement was done in a different geopolitical context. It was a purely internal process flowing in already allocated territories. With the exception of the Greek case, enlargement up to 2004 was undoubtedly successful. Countries, which had experienced military dictatorships, were able to transform and stand firmly on their feet. What united the countries on the left side of the Iron Curtain were common values ​​and the common enemy. With the fall of the Berlin Wall began the romantic period of the EU when the Union opened itself to integrate all those countries caught up against their will in the Soviet sphere of influence, believing that democracy and liberalism will only multiply.

This approach has completely underestimated the many pitfalls hidden in societies ruled by a communist dictatorship. These pitfalls are currently sabotaging the EU – erosion of democracy in Hungary and Poland, failure of attempts to plant it in Bulgaria. When one reads the reports on the Western Balkan countries, one feels like they are reading about Bulgaria and on 1 January it marked its 10th anniversary in the EU. Those left in the enlargement process are the most problematic countries. The EU, however, turns out to be completely unable to solve their problems. Moreover, more and more often it becomes involved in them, something which it is also quite unprepared for. And the geopolitical tension exerts pressure over the EU to compromise on its fundamentals.

The most problematic country in the process is Turkey, which seems completely lost to the EU. This year’s report reviews its progress in two parts – before the attempted coup and after. The Commission document states that EU-Turkey relations have faced the same challenges before July 15, but after it the situation has deteriorated dramatically. Turkey has gone backwards significantly in terms of fundamental rights, freedom of expression and functioning of the judiciary. There is deterioration of the security situation. Even before the assassination attempt parliament was working on a busy schedule to implement the “ambitious” government action plan for 2016, in which, however, key legislative initiatives were not in compliance with European standards.

There are also steps backwards regarding civil service and human resources management, especially after the attempted coup. The EC expresses serious concerns about gender-based violence, discrimination, hate speech against minorities, hate crimes and violations of human rights of people from the LGBTI community. The business environment also deteriorated due to targeted actions against critical media and businessmen. The quality of education is also poor, reports the European Commission.

It was namely Turkey that was the main reason behind the enlargement process being virtually frozen. At the EU General Affairs Council, when preparing the conclusions for the December summit, Austria blocked the adoption of conclusions on enlargement because it insisted that the current negotiations with Turkey be frozen. Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajčák, whose country presided the Council of Ministers in the second half of 2016, expressed disappointment with the lack of consensus on the conclusions. “We attach great importance to the credibility of the enlargement process and we are stressing that this is a two-way street. It’s clear to understand that the enlargement process is not about giving gifts to the participating countries but it’s really about hard and credible work that benefits both sides”, he stated at a press conference following the end of a very intensive meeting.

It was declared by the Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister Meglena Kuneva as “one of the most dramatic Councils we have attended.” Meglena Kuneva was the chief negotiator during the accession of Bulgaria to the EU, and then became the first Bulgarian commissioner (consumer protection). According to her, it was very hard to find a compromise on the wording, whose purpose was to send two signals. The first is about the political values ​​that hold Europe together and the second is that the door of negotiations should stay open. Meglena Kuneva also said that for Bulgaria it is economically and geopolitically beneficial that the enlargement continues.

Due to lack of consensus there were no conclusions, but the Slovak Presidency published the draft anyways, in which an especially serious concern is expressed about the continuing backward motion regarding the independence and functioning of the judiciary, as well as in the sphere of freedom of speech. “Particularly worrying are the restrictions and measures targeting journalists, academics, and human rights defenders, as well as frequent and disproportionate bans of media sites and social media”, is said in the statement of the Slovak Presidency.

Montenegro is the state, which is the least problematic, although this year it was the arena of a heavy geopolitical clash. It is said about it in the EU that it is the most advanced, but, actually, the country marks little progress in key areas. The EC recognises that the new legal framework to increase the independence, accountability and professionalism of the judiciary, as well as the Code of Conduct has not yet been fully implemented. Corruption prevails in many areas and remains a serious problem. It is pointed out that despite some steps taken, there are no concrete results. Special attention is paid to organised crime, where a very small number of detected suspicious bank transactions are reported.

Same as other countries in the process, Montenegro, too, has made no progress on freedom of expression. In 2015, the building of a commercial medium was partially destroyed in a bomb blast, several journalists were physically and verbally attacked and threatened. There is no progress in the investigation of cases of attacks on journalists.

Serbia was the other country because of which the enlargement process stalled. It shows similar problems as Montenegro, but in addition to that Serbia has an important geopolitical significance, as it attempts to walk holding both Russia and the EU under one arm. Corruption remains prevalent and is a serious problem. There is no progress in improving the freedom of expression. All these look like minor problems at the background of tension between Serbia and Croatia, which was duly noted in the EC report and the statement of the Slovak Presidency. It is these relationships, which caused Croatia to block the opening of Chapter 26 (Education and Culture) of the negotiation process with Serbia. On 13 December, Serbia opened only two, instead of the expected three chapters, but this turned into a huge drama.

Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić had come especially for the occasion in Brussels and expected to send a strong domestic and foreign policy message of Serbian success. Outraged by the veto he left Brussels and cancelled all his appearances in the Belgian capital, blaming it on Croatia. Zagreb protested against the opening and preliminary closure of Chapter 26, which concerns education, as it believes that Serbia does not fulfil its commitments to provide textbooks and learning materials for the Croatian minority in Serbia. Bulgaria also had remarks but claims that it has not blocked the chapter.

Deputy Prime Minister Meglena Kuneva explained that Serbia had requested the opening and closing of Chapter 26. “We agree, but the Serbian Ministry of Education is planning reforms in this sector and we want to know what those reforms are. So, if we do know and are dully notified by the Serbian government what their plans are after closing the chapter, we would be able to give a very fast and adequate opinion. In this case we, too, need more time”, she explained. Replying to euinside’s question whether it was possible that under the circumstances Serbia really was not ready to open and preliminary close Chapter 26, Serbian European Integration Minister Jadranka Joksimović, visibly enraged by the situation, vehemently denied the possibility that Serbia might have not been ready.

The EC also declared that Serbia had met all conditions for opening and closing the chapter, which does not prevent member states from having objections. The moment Bulgaria receives the necessary information, Meglena Kuneva assured that everything will go on, which made it clear that there was indeed some sort of a condition. From the statements of Meglena Kuneva it became clear that Bulgaria is hiding behind the Croatian veto. Croatian Foreign Minister Davor Ivo Stier also said that there was a need for additional information. He called not to dramatise. “It is normal that within work groups additional information is looked for. There was no surprise”, he said.

In Serbia, however, the news was met in a very hostile manner. Bulgaria was barely mentioned, even though its objections were identical to the Croatian ones. There was constant talk of honour and dignity, while actually it is about commitments. The behaviour of the Serbian leadership poses a very serious question about the politicisation of the fulfilment of criteria and whether the EU is ready to compromise with criteria for geopolitical purposes. Something that has always cost the Union dearly in the long run.

The EU was not prepared for this situation, although the problems have been known long ago. Croatia kept raising the issue of the Croatian minority throughout the year. Since the Council does not want further complications, especially given how Serbia is dancing on thin ice with the EU and Russia, all reproaches were addressed to Croatia, whose leadership also did not help much to show that Croatia is a constructive participant in the negotiation process and is not using it to solve petty domestic and internal party problems. This placed the Union in a very difficult situation, drawing it into an endless regional conflict and making it an accomplice in its not-solving. In the end, just before Christmas, there was a happy ending of another Serbian-Croatian drama.

On December 23, in Belgrade, an annex was signed to the agreement on textbooks, regulating the issue of Croatian demands. The signing was attended by the ambassadors of Bulgaria, Croatia and the EU. The Croatian top diplomat, Davor Ivo Stier, announced that Commissioner Johannes Hahn had committed personally to monitoring all Serbian commitments under this chapter and Croatia will monitor their performance through chapter 23 as well, which will be closed at the very end of the negotiation process. Zagreb was satisfied with the solution and lifted its reservation. Now all that remains is that the next Council presidency, which has begun on 1 January (Malta) organises an intergovernmental conference at which chapter 26 will be opened. The outcome shows very clearly what the problem is and that when approached without politicisation it can be resolved in the interest of the most affected, namely minorities. Just two weeks and a lot of emotions (mostly in Belgrade) were needed to solve the problem

In its statement, the Slovak Presidency calls on Serbia to treat national minorities with no discrimination, including in the spheres of education and minority languages, access to media and religious services. This is verbatim the request of Croatia, and also of Bulgaria. The Presidency believes that the main priority of Serbia should be to ensure unimpeded freedom of expression and freedom of the media. Serbia is reminded that it must cooperate fully with The Hague war crimes tribunal as well as align its foreign policy with that of the Union. This is a euphemism for imposing sanctions on Russia for invading Crimea and is something that Serbia will not do anytime soon, judging by the signals coming from Belgrade.

Alas, there is no mention in either the EC report or the statement of the Presidency of the fact that more and more often there are calls by governing politicians in Serbia for the rehabilitation of Slobodan Milošević.

Until recently, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić boasted that there were no Eurosceptic political parties in the Serbian parliament like in the developed parts of the EU, but from 2016 there already is, and not just one. Because of them, the head of the EU Delegation in Belgrade, Michael Davenport, failed to present to the Skupština last year’s EC progress report on Serbia. It will not be too much to assume that from now on EU-Serbia relations will become more complex and more difficult, and the progress of the country in terms of transformation to democracy and a market economy (as Serbia still is not) would be negligible. A recently published survey showed that Serbs still have huge sympathy for authoritarian rule. Prime Minister Vučić has the greatest approval to be their leader.

Albania is the most affected country from the blocking of the enlargement process this year as it expected a decision to start negotiations. Disappointment in Tirana is immense. After several years of severe political crisis the country is trying to come out of it and those efforts are rewarded with praise in the 2016 report, mainly because of the adoption by consensus of constitutional amendments that allow for a deep and comprehensive judicial reform and the banning of convicted persons from assuming public offices. Unlike Serbia, Montenegro and Turkey, Albania is considerably better in terms of freedom of expression.

The most problematic area for Albania is the fight against organised crime. According to the EC, the country does not hold sufficient financial investigations of organised crime groups. The number of frozen or confiscated assets acquired by illegal activity is too low. It remains a very serious problem to the EU that there is a huge number of unfounded applications for asylum in the EU countries coming from Albanian citizens.

The year was turbulent for Bosnia and Herzegovina, which comes forward as the central arena for geopolitical conflict in the Balkans. The country filed an application for EU membership this year and the Council approved the launch of technical work on drafting an opinion on the application. The situation in the country, however, is extremely delicate, especially after the referendum in September in Republika Srpska. Moreover, the EC notes that there is a rebound regarding the legal framework for civil service in the Federation because it increases the risk of politicisation. Another problem outlined in the Commission report is the existence of politically motivated threats to the judicial system by individual politicians.

According to the EC, the battle against organised crime remains a major task in the fight against infiltration of criminals in the political, legal and economic system of the country. There is no progress regarding freedom of expression. “Furthermore, the Council notes with concern the lack of progress in the freedom of expression and media and expects Bosnia and Herzegovina to intensify efforts to address this issue”, is said on the subject in the Presidency’s statement. The Council further requests that in the drafting of the opinion on BiH’s membership application, the Commission takes into account the implementation of the ruling on the Sejdić-Finci case, which long held the European perspective of BiH in the freezer of the EU.

Problems in Kosovo are the same as elsewhere in the region – political interference in the judiciary, institutions and agencies, political polarisation, failure of parliamentarism, rampant corruption. The Council of Ministers is alarmed by the continuing political crisis in the country and cases of violence in parliament.

The EC notes that Macedonia is shaken by the most serious political crisis since 2001 onward. “Democracy and rule of law have been constantly challenged, in particular due to state capture affecting the functioning of democratic institutions and key areas of society. The country suffers from a divisive political culture and a lack of capacity for compromise” is the unpleasant diagnose of the Commission. It believes that the inter-ethnic situation is fragile. A step back is noted since 2014 regarding the judicial system. The EC finally admitted that the achievements of a decade of reforms were destroyed by the current political interference in the work of the judiciary. Freedom of expression and the media situation continue to be a serious challenge for Macedonia.

No progress was made towards establishing a market economy in the country. What is curious is the statement of the Presidency regarding the former Yugoslav republic. It states that if the new government urgently tackles the long overdue reforms, that would return the country onto the European path. It is not clear whether this means that Greece is ready to lift its veto and negotiations with Macedonia can be unblocked. Similar to the Serbian case, Bulgaria’s shadow can be clearly seen behind the Greek blockade. After the end of the General Affairs Council, Deputy Prime Minister Kuneva specifically focused on Macedonia by saying that great care has been given to the reading of the opinion of the international observer mission for the elections in the country in early December, according to which they fully correspond to the standards of the Council of Europe.

“It is clear, however, that, in itself, the holding of an election is a good step towards overcoming the heavy political crisis in the country, but cannot remain the only step. What is needed is fulfilment of all political commitments – as I said in my speech – made by political leaders on the Pržino agreement, as well as implementation of the reforms. These reforms include the promise of President Georgi Ivanov about the development of good neighbourly relations, which he made in Sofia during his talks with President Plevneliev and President-elect Radev”, were the words of Meglena Kuneva.

The Presidency’s statement specifically mentions the continuation of high-level and expert-level contacts between Macedonia and Bulgaria, stressing, however, that concrete results are expected.

Candidates continue to be a source of migration to the richer parts of the EU

You can see some interesting data in the EC report. In the period 2014-2015, there was a decline of population in several countries in the process – these are Albania (2 895.0 – 2 892.3 mln.), Serbia (7 149.2 – 7 114.4 mln.), BiH (3 827.3 – 3 819.5 mln.), and Kosovo (1 804.9 – 1 772.1 mln.). The picture in education is also not too pretty. The highest number of children leaving the education system early are in Turkey. In the period 2014-2015, there was a decline, but the proportion is still high – 38.3% -36.7%. Turkey is followed on this indicator by Albania, where the percentages for 2014 and 2015 were respectively 26.0% and 21.3%. BiH is third (25.2% – 26.3%). The EU average is 11.2% early school-leavers for 2014 and 11.0% for 2015. The lowest share of early dropouts is in Montenegro – 5.1% -5.7%, followed by Serbia (8.5% -7.5%). Despite the huge number of dropouts, Turkey spends the most on education – 5.1 percent of GDP, followed by Serbia with 4.2% in 2014 and Albania with 3.3%.

The big difference between enlargement now and before is that before there was euphoria. Candidate countries coveted what Europe had to offer back then – namely freedom and prosperity – but romance quickly melted by a lengthy and winding process. Now, there is no euphoria neither within the EU nor among the candidates. There is no will for reform in the countries from the process. The reason is that in most countries leaders are in power, who are part of the problem, not the solution. The EU to this day believes that enlargement still holds the romanticism of the period after the fall of the Berlin Wall. While acknowledging that “the attractiveness of the EU in the enlargement countries has been partly affected by the economic downturn and scepticism regarding the European project”, the EC mentions in its report that “the firm prospect of EU membership, as continuously reaffirmed by all Member States, continues to drive transformation and anchor stability and security in the countries of Southeast Europe”.

A statement, which gets disproved in the same report of the Commission. Not just stagnation, but even steps back are noted in almost all countries in the process. Turkey is practically lost. Serbia is like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – sometimes with the EU, but more often with Russia. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, inter-ethnic tension is at its highest level since the end of the war there. Kosovo is failing, Macedonia – too. Many of the countries seemed ready for membership 10 years ago, and now they are powder kegs. The EU needs to urgently change its narrative and approach if it wants to keep these countries in its sphere of influence and to launch a new process of transformation. The change, however, must first start from within.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

Posted in EuropeComments Off on EU Has Lost Its Transformative Power. Enlargement Hits a Dead End

EU Is Falling into Global Loneliness Following Trump’s Victory

Adelina Marini

It was not until after the USA presidential elections that the EU began to realise that it is left on its own, despite President Barack Obama trying to say it to his European partners on numerous occasions. Donald Trump’s victory is a great opportunity for the EU to deepen its integration in the sphere of defence and security, but is this even possible today? The first reactions following the announcement of the election result bring hope, although, so far, they only show the direction, not the unity. They also demonstrate that something very big has happened, which requires going out of the usual protocol congratulations on the victory and sending a message. The axis, around which the EU needs to spin its unity is liberal democracy and the values the Union is built upon, as cliché as this might sound. It is exactly that, which makes the task difficult, however. But the first step has been made – analysing the situation.

Surprise and perhaps hope as well caused the reaction of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who directly placed all future relations between the US and Germany under condition. “Germany and America are bound by values – democracy, freedom, as well as respect for the rule of law and the dignity of the individual, regardless of their origin, skin colour, creed, gender, sexual orientation, or political views. On the basis of these values, I offer close cooperation to the future president of the United States of America, Donald Trump”. Later in her speech, Mrs Merkel states that the USA will remain a cornerstone for German foreign policy.

Her Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, on the other hand, announced the awakening in the new world. “I think we will have to get used to the idea that US foreign policy will be less predictable for us and we will have to get used to the idea that the US will tend to make more decisions on its own”, said Mr Steinmeier. He sent out a message to the EU itself as well by stating that neither Germany, nor Europe can afford to be thrown off course by the election results. “We should remain a stronghold of reason and we should foster our political culture”, he continued.

First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon as well did not hide her disappointment with the election result. “While this is not the outcome I hoped for, it is the verdict of the American people and we must respect it. I congratulate president-elect Trump on winning the election”. She expressed hope that Mr Trump will not keep to the tone of his campaign and will be a president for everyone “in modern, multicultural America”. Nicola Sturgeon called on all those who believe in tolerance and diversity to speak loud and clear about these values.

The traditional joint statement of the presidents of the European Council Donald Tusk (Poland, EPP) and the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker (Luxembourg, EPP), despite attempting to be composed and politically correct, showed some panicking. In it, the two leaders called for the organisation of an EU-US summit “at earliest convenience”, during which to set the course of trans-Atlantic relations for the next four years. The two of them hope that America, “whose democratic ideals have always been a beacon of hope around the globe, will continue to invest in its partnerships with friends and allies”.

A little later, Donald Tusk came out with an independent, quite more direct statement, in which he admits that the elections have brought uncertainty on the future of trans-Atlantic relations. “The events of the last months and days should be treated as a warning sign for all who believe in liberal democracy. This means that we should finally get our act together and bring back a sense of direction, bring back confidence, bring back a sense of order”, is said in the statement. The leader of the largest political group in the European Parliament Manfred Weber (Germany, EPP) put his finger in the wound by stating that it is obvious that the EU needs to take responsibility for its own future and its own interests. “We don’t have to look anymore so closely to Washington. We have to look what European interests are and defend them”, he said.

In much the same spirit was the Twitter reaction of the leader of the Liberals group in the European Parliament Guy Verhofstadt. He believes that the election of Trump is a “wake up call for Europe to further unite and take charge of its own destiny”. Gianni Pittella (Italy), leader of the Socialists and Democrats group, stated that the victory of Trump opens up an opportunity for Europe to set its house in order. “There are great winds of change pushed by the losers of globalisation, and not only the poorest ones, but people who chose misogyny and racism”, was Mr Pittella’s reaction.

From NATO to a defence union?

The EU has long felt the need to take full responsibility for its own security and President Barack Obama has been trying during the full length of his presidency to explain to his European partners that it is time for them to be at least equal partners in the trans-Atlantic partnership. The EU-USA summits, which grew ever rarer over the years, were a signal for the cooling down of the trans-Atlantic partnership, ignited to red hot by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The securing of the American energy independence by the shale gas revolution, the pivoting of the US foreign policy towards the Pacific region and the unwillingness of Washington to be drawn into Ukraine or Northern Africa were clear indicators that the EU should count on itself ever more. It was, however, busy elsewhere.

During the latest EU-US summit this year in Warsaw, within the framework of the NATO summit, President Obama, fully aware of the situation in his homeland for the election campaign was already peaking, made it perfectly clear that it may be earlier than we all expected or wanted that the EU will have to take its destiny in its own hands. His arguments, again, were based on democracy. “Every member of the EU is a democracy.  No EU country has ever raised arms against another.  An integrated Europe is one of the greatest political and economic achievements of modern times, and this is an achievement that has to be preserved”. “The world needs a strong, prosperous, democratic and united Europe”, continued Mr Obama.

The reply of President Donald Tusk revealed that the EU is not ready. At this same summit the former Polish prime minister insisted that the EU still needs the USA for its security and democratic foundations. “I remember when 27 years ago, it was in my hometown of Gdańsk, members of Solidarity welcomed George Bush-senior outside the famous gate of the Gdańsk shipyard. We were chanting: “Nie ma wolności bez solidarności” that means “There is no freedom without solidarity”. We already knew then, that our newly-gained freedom would require defence and guarantees, which − in a global dimension − implied the closest possible cooperation between Europe and the United States. Today, we can repeat that phrase with only a small change; it has preserved its meaning. ‘There is no freedom in Europe without Atlantic solidarity.’”

This was back in July. In the beginning of November, the shock by the election of Donald Trump starts to build confidence in the EU that it can be an independent superpower. It is the exact wording that was used by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini (Italy, Socialists and Democrats) just a day after Mr Trump’s victory. In her annual speech in front of the European Defence Agency, she stated that the EU hides some true potential of becoming a superpower. “Europe and Europeans have the responsibility, and also the opportunity, especially in these days we see it very clearly, to find our own way to security, to shape the answers to very difficult questions in a world where there is very few things, if any, we can take for granted”, she said.

It is somehow just in time, and perhaps just a bit late, that Mrs Mogherini presented the new global strategy of the Union. This happened in an exceedingly inopportune moment – literally days after the referendum in Great Britain, at which British citizens chose to Brexit and that after a not less ugly and manipulative campaign than the one in the USA. Facing MEPs of the EP’s Foreign Affairs Committee and representatives of national parliaments, Federica Mogherini attempted to explain that the need for deepening of integration in the sphere of defence and security is not a result of the Brexit, but is a priority to citizens.

The new strategy envisages a deepening of integration in the defence and security sphere, which Germany and France named a “defence union”. So far, the obstacle to the realisation of some bolder ideas was NATO. Many EU members, which are also members of NATO, are reserved towards such ideas for they believe that they will duplicate the functions of the Alliance. At the NATO summit in July, however, President Obama gave a carte blanche to Europeans to continue forward. The joint declaration of the EU and NATO says that, considering the common challenges, a stronger NATO and a stronger EU will strengthen each other.

Expressly charted out in the declaration is the development of “coherent, complementary and interoperable defence capabilities of EU Member States and NATO Allies”. It also envisages the facilitation of a stronger defence industry and more serious research and development activities in the field of defence in Europe and on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Part of this declaration could prove a problem, for during his campaign Donald Trump demonstrated contempt towards NATO. He believes the Alliance is outdated, which will make cooperation between Washington and the EU quite a bit more difficult regarding the exchange of information because of the lack of trust towards the president-elect.

If he keeps the same vision towards NATO, it could further untie the EU’s hands in continuing to build its own defence without having to fear Washington’s reaction. This could, however, prove more difficult today, when in the EU Donald Trump and his anti-establishment policy have a growing number of followers. Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán, who all the way back during the election campaign announced his support for Trump, was among the first to congratulate him on his victory. Viktor Orbán even glorified it as a victory of true democracy over liberal non-democracy. This seems to be a new chorus, for two years ago he announced his intention to building an illiberal regime, because he believes that liberal democracy has failed, never minding the fact that it is because of it that he came to power. In Poland, although no official course against liberal democracy has been announced, government actions are aimed in the exact same direction. There are problems with democracy elsewhere in the Union as well.

This is a very serious problem, which will hobble the EU in its attempts to consolidate as an island of liberal democracy and peace. It looks like another obstacle will be Great Britain, which, although it is almost entirely out of the EU, has stated firmly that it is against the plans of the EU to build a defence union. London has threatened to block these plans to the last possible minute. To Theresa May’s government, this is a serious leverage instrument for the winning of more concessions during the exit negotiations of Great Britain. The ruling of the High Court in London of last week, however, shows that those negotiations might not start soon. And this in turn means that the EU plans for a defence union might run late and become even more impossible with the complication of the global atmosphere.

The Union is late as it is. It failed to offer an adequate reply to the Russian aggression in Ukraine, the Middle East, or Northern Africa. The EU turned out to be completely incapable of pushing through even its own policy regarding the migrant and refugee crisis. It will not get any easier over the next few years, just more difficult, as was admitted by the German foreign minister himself as well. Following the US elections, the EU woke up in a world where global balance has already been tipped towards authoritarian regimes. Putin, Erdoğan, and China are no longer global marginals. Their crusade towards a new illiberal world order will be led by the mightiest economic and military power in the world. In order to survive in this ever more hostile environment the EU will need much more than just admitting that the situation is difficult.

Donald Tusk put his finger on the problem all the way back in July, when at the EU-USA summit he charted the boundaries of the new world order. “All those who value our fundamental principles of freedom, the rule of law, democracy, human and civil rights, must act in favour of this cooperation. […]We know, however, that besides  the old world and the new world, there is also a world apart, with different values and different strategic aims. And it has allies, also in the USA, in Europe, and here in Poland. […] We have been building liberal democracy with determination on both sides of the Atlantic. We have followed the lessons of the same scholars, we have been inspired by the same political philosophies. We must now protect this heritage, both rich and indeed surprisingly fresh”.

EC President Jean-Claude Juncker made a speech in a similar spirit back then. “The United States, NATO, and the European Union are central pillars of the global order.  We complement each other, and together provide peace and stability in Europe, our neighbourhood, and beyond”. Alas, by all accounts the US is dropping out of the equation, and without the US NATO is dropping out as well. So the EU, together with several more countries around the world like Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan will remain the only havens of liberal democracy. The good news is that the Union is fully aware of the new situation. Thus, it is as early as this Sunday that ministers of foreign affairs will gather for an informal meeting in Brussels to discuss the new defence plans, fully aware of the urgency of the matter. On Monday, the ministers will discuss in detail Federica Mogherini’s action plan for the implementation of the global strategy. Those meetings will show the state of unity in the EU.

In order to be effective, however, the EU must first of all cleanse itself from the enclaves of illiberal democracy, which are weakening and undermining it. It is now more than ever that determination is needed to deal with this problem, especially after the first reactions, following Trump’s election, showing clearly that the magic key is exactly in liberal democracy and Western values.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

Posted in EuropeComments Off on EU Is Falling into Global Loneliness Following Trump’s Victory

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