When the borders open: the EU rebuilding roads connecting Eritrea and Ethiopia

By Antonia Schräder and Emma Myhre

In September last year, the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia opened, two months after Eritrea’s president Isaias Afwerki and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed signed a peace deal which declared the official ending of the war between the countries[1]. It was a shock for most of the international community. After 2 decades of a hard border and war between the countries, newspapers showed a smiling Afwerki getting keys handed over to the Eritrean embassy from former rival Ahmed[2]. These pictures will be historic, but they also bring up a lot of uncertainties and questions. Will the peace be sustainable? What impact will open borders have on Eritrea as a totalitarian regime? Will open borders cause a decrease in emigration? These questions are taken seriously by the EU, wishing to play a key role in assisting Eritrea towards a better future for its citizens.

There will be many obstacles to overcome. What we see right now in Eritrea is a government that reconciled with its neighboring country, but never with its own population. With all the hope Eritreans have for a peaceful future, human rights abuses are still very present. Though borders have opened and the first planes are flying from Addis Ababa to Asmara, the people of Eritrea still live in a dictatorship.

The EU is committed to accommodate economic growth as a first phase of getting Eritrea on a path to a brighter future. In february of this year, EU Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development Neven Mimica visited Eritrea to launch an initial €20 million project to rebuild the road connection between the Ethiopian border and Eritrean ports. Mimica expressed his hopes on the project:

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“The European Union is committed to support Eritrea and Ethiopia in delivering their historic peace agreement, which ended twenty years of conflict. To back this, we are launching a €20 million programme to rebuild the roads connecting both countries. This will boost trade, consolidate stability, and have clear benefits for the citizens of both countries through the creation of sustainable growth and jobs.” [3]

The programme is part of the EU’s approach to foster political dialogue with Eritrea and hence encourage political and economic reforms. Being committed to human rights, the EU aims to see improvements throughout its cooperation with Eritrea which has a long history of human rights abuses. In short, tackling root causes of poverty and supporting the peace agreement with Ethiopia is at the heart of the EU’s newly launched project[4]. The coming years will show how successful such projects will be in giving Eritrea a better future.

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Perspectives on future relations between the EU and the EAEU

By Emma Myhre

Russia has been harshly challenged on its foreign policy ambitions since the failure to make Ukraine part of its Eurasian integration project. Despite Ukraine’s turn to the West, Moscow remains assertive, and Russian integration efforts in the post-Soviet space has produced the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). Established in 2015 by Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus, the union has since been joined by Kyrgyzstan and Armenia[1]. With internal struggles in the EU and previous tensions between the EU and Russia, it may be difficult to imagine close cooperation between the two unions. However, as the EAEU are keeping their ambitions high and seeing success in various sectors, there has been an increased interest in and recognition of the EAEU[2]. Discussions on the matter are important to ensure the EU does not miss a vital opportunity before Eurasia drifts too far east and hence out of reach.  

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Potential future relations between the EU and the EAEU will get nowhere without a formal dialogue between them. However, to do so, a powerful global objective is needed[3]. Perhaps the possibility of a common economic space in Eurasia is motive enough to spark this debate among negotiators. This may be especially true for Eurasia, with its aspiration to gain trade privileges within the mature system of agreements the EU has with other countries and regions. Yet such a dialogue would not be easy. Historical factors contribute to a view of Russia in the EU that may only allow for two options: competition or cooperation. The former includes urging EAEU members to turn away from Russia and develop integration projects with the EU. The latter holds an expectation of profound change in Russia bringing it back to what the EU views as an acceptable course of development[4].

The question of how any type of cooperation between the unions could take place still remains. The most important precondition is to overcome current problems and tension, particularly that of Ukraine. Mutual understanding around the situation in Ukraine should become a turning point in restoration of trust between the EU and Russia. Additionally, the EAEU needs to have attractive political and economic premises. The restoration of a stable economic growth as well structural reforms in Russia and Kazakhstan leading to more openness and competitiveness in the EAEU might be a place to start[5].

Some would agree that it is a stretch, but given the fast-changing realities on the ground, it may be time for Europe to take the EAEU seriously and even recognize the union as a partner, to hinder Eurasia in continuing to shift towards the East and increase the divide between the two regions.

 

A New Reality And Difficult Decisions – Ukrainian Presidential Elections 5 Years on from the Euromaidan Revolution

By Norbert Rebow

On the 31st of March Ukrainians will vote in a presidential election in a month that marks five years since the Russian annexation of the Crimea and Sevastopol. As the country prepares to head to the polls, there is a great opportunity to look at the impact of the Euromaidan revolution and the Russian intervention, and to ask where Ukraine is heading now.

The European Union has featured prominently in the momentous political developments in Ukraine in recent years. The protests that led to the 2014 revolution were triggered by the decision of then President Yanukovych to not sign the Association Agreement (AA) and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) with the EU that his government had negotiated. The adoption of those treaties by the post-revolution authorities has tightened the relationship between Ukraine and the EU and its Member States. The agreements have helped develop the EU’s position as Ukraine’s biggest trading partner and have provided visa-free access to the Schengen area for short stays to Ukrainian citizens. Meanwhile, many Ukrainians have come to live and work in some Member States with Poland alone registering over 1 million people from the country as residents[1].

This has been in sharp contrast with country’s relationship with Russia in the same period. Not only has Crimea been annexed, a bloody separatist war supported in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions but more recently the Russian Navy has been attempting to restrict the access of Ukrainian naval and merchant vessels to the Sea of Azov which hosts the port of Mariupol which is key for Ukrainian industrial exports. On the other hand, Kiev has responded by supporting the breakaway of the Orthodox Church in the country from the Moscow Patriarchate and by constructing a border fence with Russia.

Where do these radical developments leave Ukrainian politics in the run up to its presidential elections? In short – fractured. Thirty-nine people are registered in the race and opinion polls suggest that whichever two candidates progress into the second round they are unlikely to have little over 20% support each. Currently, three candidates seem to be within a chance of being in that runoff – actor Volodymyr Zelensky, sitting President Petro Poroshenko and former Prime Minister Yuliya Timoshenko. One element does unite most of the candidates in the field – support for continuing the course towards integration with the EU and NATO and this includes this top three. This is a fundamental change from previous Ukrainian elections when candidates supporting a vision of integration with Russia would regularly gather a large section of the electorate. This is not surprising given the non-participation of Crimea and the separatist areas of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions – even in the Ukrainian independence referendum of 1991 these parts of the country recorded much lower rates of turnout and support for separation from the Soviet Union. Together with the outrage and damage caused by the Russian interventions, the Ukrainian electorate is coalescing around the broad pro-European direction the country should take.

However, that agreement obscures the development of other divisions and the deep dissatisfaction with the economic state of the country and continued problems with corruption among many parts of the society. Who are then the main contenders for the presidency and what are their policies. The frontrunner Volodymyr Zelenskiy is perhaps the clearest manifestation of dissatisfaction with the progress of the current political establishment. Though he supported the Euromaidan protests, his campaign for president is his first foray into formal politics. He rose to national prominence by portraying, in a TV programme, a teacher so dissatisfied with the Ukrainian political class that he decides to run for office and eventually is elected to the presidency. Zelenskiy is trying, seemingly successfully, to bring his onscreen persona into the real political arena. The political party set up to support his campaign bears the name of the programme that brought him to prominence – Servant of the People[2]. His political stances and background are not without their controversies however – his description of negotiations with Russia as ‘inevitable’ has angered some on the Ukrainian right and despite his attempts to portray himself as a man of the people his relationship with Ihor Kolomoisky, the businessman who owns the TV station that broadcast ‘Servant of the People’ has been queried.

Zelenskiy has sought to chart a middle course in a debate that the other two main contenders have staked out strong positions – the relationship the country has with the International Monetary Fund. The incumbent president, Petro Poroshenko, has argued for Ukraine to stick to existing agreements on its debt repayments whilst former prime minister Yuliya Timoshenko has argued strongly for renegotiation[3]. These two candidates are both well established on the Ukrainian political scene – Timoshenko was a leader of the first Maidan revolution in 2004 but her subsequent premiership was mired in controversy by conflict with the then-president Viktor Yushchenko and her role in negotiating a natural gas contract with Russian suppliers that was seen by some as disadvantageous to Ukraine – politics may have been fast-changing in recent years in the country but much of the electorate seems cognisant of this candidate’s past[4]. The incumbent president meanwhile has faced criticism linked to the pace of reforms, especially on slow progress in the fight against corruption and the perception that oligarchs continue to play a key role in the political system. Support for his handling of the conflict with Russia has also drawn criticism and through much of 2018 support for his re-election was consistently in the single digits[5]. Recent months, especially since his backing of the aforementioned split of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church from the Moscow Patriarchate have seen a revival of his fortunes as he now vies with Timoshenko for the other spot alongside Zelenskiy in the second round of the election.

This article could only be a cursory glance at the realities of Ukrainian politics five years after the Euromaidan revolution and the Russian annexation of Crimea and it could not cover the myriad of nuances. Two things are clear, however – Ukraine is a changed country with now a clear European course but that journey is difficult and the details of it will be contentious for years to come.

 

Israeli elections: what kind of Israel will we be witnessing?

By Niclolai Santianello

In April 2019 Israel will be holding general elections for its legislative body, the Knesset. There are of course different parties and coalitions standing for a range of political views, but what is not immediately obvious is how the resulting winner might have an influence on EU-Israel relations and the occupation of the West Bank.

The incumbent is prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, running for his right-wing party Likud even though he is accused of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust, and the country’s attorney general plans on charging him for these counts [1]. Regarding relations with European countries, Netanyahu has developed close relations to a number of populist, right-wing parties which have had success in legislative elections all over Europe. Some examples of this growing relation are Netanyahu’s political friendliness with Italy’s Deputy PM, the Austrian chancellor, the Hungarian PM, who are exponents of Europe’s Euro-skeptic far-right [2]. Even though Likud is currently behind the Blue & White coalition, Netanyahu’s re-election is far from ruled out, and this occurrence would mean growing support and closeness between the Israeli PM and European right-wing parties.

Even though Netanyahu is a very successful politician and statesman he now has to deal with a new force in Israeli politics, the Blue and White coalition headed by ex-army colonel Benny Gantz and the political figure Yair Lapid [3]. This center party is characterized by a liberal ideology both in social and economic terms and takes a softer stance on the occupation than their right-wing counterparts [4], but still consider the settlements in the West Bank as a part of the State of Israel. This political alliance has the potential to change the direction that Israeli politics has taken with Netanyahu’s four terms in office as PM, and could also establish closer ties with the moderate political forces in Europe which have so far been on opposing ideological sides to Netanyahu.

On the more left side of the political spectrum there are parties which currently have little chances at governing the country. Amongst these are the Labor party [5] which is a social democratic party and observer member of the Party of European Socialists and Meretz, pushing for secularism, egalitarianism, and environmental awareness. These parties are also focused on a two state solution for the Israeli Palestinian conflict and respectively control 19 and 5 seats in Knesset (out of 120). Other than these “Jewish” parties, there is also Hadash which is headed by an Arab Israeli and follows a borderline communist ideology, and currently holding 6 seats in coalition with Ta’al.

After mentioning relatively smaller parties on the left of the spectrum we should also take a look at the right-wing (or far right) parties, who could potentially shift the election results because of their coalition potential. There are for example Shas and United Torah Judaism which are both right-wing ultra-orthodox parties and currently control respectively 6 and 7 seats. There are then the New Right party and Yisrael Beitenu which are both nationalist parties, with the first opposing judicial activism and supporting a one-state solution, and the second supporting secularism and widely appealing to the Russian population. They respectively control 3 and 5 seats in Knesset possess some coalition potential with other right-wing parties [6].

Depending on the elections which are scheduled for April 9th 2019 Israel could have a very different political leadership. The main competitors for this are Likud and Blue & White coalition, neither of whom will probably be able to win a majority at these elections and might have to rely on parties which have potential to form a coalition, of which there are likely to be a few on each side of the political spectrum. If Netanyahu wins again he will in all likelihood increase his friendship with the rising European populist right. In case of a victory of the center coalition White & Blue we would probably see a shift in Israel’s international ties away from the European right, even though it is not sure who they would befriend in Europe’s political context.


Sources used in this article

  1. Yolande Knell, “Is Netanyahu in More Trouble Now Than Ever Before?,” BBC News, last modified March 1, 2019
  2. Anshel Pfeffer, “Netanyahu is Risking Israel’s Interests by Riding the European Nationalist Tiger,” Haaretz.com, last modified December 12, 2018
  3. “Gap Between Gantz and Netanyahu Narrows As Polls Show Right-wing Bloc,” The Jerusalem Post | JPost.com, last modified March 10, 2019
  4. “Neither Right nor Left, Gantz Offers ‘hope’ to a Crowd Calling for ‘change’,” The Times of Israel | News from Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish World, last modified January 30, 2019
  5. “Labor, Bound for Collapse in National Elections, Holds Primaries,” The Times of Israel, last modified February 11, 2019
  6. “These Seven Parties’ Fates Will Decide Israel’s Election,” Haaretz.com, last modified March 11, 2019

 

EUSA presents: Ukrainian Ambassador Vsevolod Chentsov

Ukraine and the EU: relationship goals?

This is the question we ask ourselves when EUSA next weeks invites to a discussion with the Ukrainian Ambassador to the Netherlands, Vsevolod Chentsov. He will share his views on the relationship between Ukraine and the EU, the role of Ukraine when looking at the future development of the European Union, as well as the fast-approaching presidential elections.

Ambassador Chentsov has previously worked in Ukrainian missions in Turkey and Poland. Furthermore, he has been the Deputy Head of Mission of Ukraine to the European Union (2007-2011) and Director of the EU Department of the MFA of Ukraine (2011-2017).

Join our interesting discussion on Thursday the 21st of March at 17.30 in room 2.58 Wijnhaven (The Hague). See you there!!

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Time: 21st of March, 17.30

Location: Room 2.58, Wijnhaven

 

EUSA presents: MEP Andrey Kovatchev

On the 26th of February, Bulgarian MEP Andrey Kovatchev will join EUSA to talk about his work at the European Parliament and to share his views on one of the most interesting issues in the current political landscape of the EU, the current situation and the future of the Western Balkans.

Andrey Kovatchev is a Bulgarian politician, Quaestor of the European Parliament and Vice-Chair of the EPP Group, responsible for Enlargement and Mediterranean Policy. Currently, Mr Kovatchev is also the Head of the Bulgarian EPP delegation in the European Parliament. Between 2011 and 2018, he was Vice Chair of the Union of European Federalists. Mr Kovatchev has a long-lasting knowledge of and experience in Foreign Affairs, EU Mediterranean and Enlargement policies. Since 2009, he has been an active member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) of the European Parliament, and between 2012 and 2014 he was its Vice-Chair. In this term, Andrey Kovatchev is also Member of the Subcommittee on Human Rights. He is a Substitute member of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI). Mr Kovatchev is one of the co-initiations of the interest group on Patient Access to Healthcare.

17-10-04 Kovatchev portrait STR-22

When: 26.02.19, 18.00

Where: Room A.144, KOG

People-powered change – an interview with party chairman of Volt Nederland Laurens Dassen

By Kirsten Overboom

The new pan-European, progressive movement Volt has established itself in Amsterdam and other cities in the Netherlands ever since june 2018. With the European parliamentary elections coming up this May it is about time to get to know this somewhat different party, so we contacted its chairman, Laurens Dassen.

Change is what they strive for, but it is also what created the party. Big changes such as the ever decreasing amount of youngsters that are politically active and the ever growing support for anti-European movements, resulting in phenomenons such as the Brexit, sparked the creation of Volt. Laurens explains that the party wants to improve the political system from within. With the global challenges we face politics needs to change, especially at the European level according to Laurens. One big obstacle however, is the still defining role of national politics in the European system. To overcome this, Volt reaches out to citizens unbound by national boundaries.

So how does it work? Uniquely the party is active in all member states of Europe with a singular programme, the declaration of Amsterdam. To prevent the party from being unable to react to change, they use a ‘grassroots’ approach, meaning that the debate at a local level is taken into account at the European level. One monthly event, hosted in about 70 cities at once, ensures meaningful discussion at all levels and in all member states. By doing so Volt aims to produce rational solutions to European problems. According to Laurens, citizens are nowadays focused on specific cross-national problems such as climate or migration.These kind of problems have nothing to do with whether politics should be left or right, but with finding the best solution.

Taking on the political system as a whole might come off as an ambitious plan. Despite that, their support is growing, not only amongst youngsters, making it a full-fledged opponent of traditional parties. In a few months we will know whether Europe’s chooses change or tradition. Let’s vote!

 

 

Alternative visions of Europe – the debate we must now have

By Norbert Rebow

This year brings a series of momentous events for the European Union. Scheduled first to arrive is Brexit which at the time of writing is still undetermined. Then, we will have a chance to cast our ballots in an election that will be conducted in a political reality unlike any other since direct elections to the European Parliament were introduced in 1979. These developments and others were described by my colleague Nicolai in the last edition of this newsletter. One area he covered was the rise of parties and movements on the right that reject the European Union in its current form but do not argue that their countries should leave the organisation, indeed they are building networks across the continent advocating for a different, more conservative, Union. Nicolai was concerned about what this would mean for the EU –  here I want to assuage some of those worries and argue that these developments provide an opportunity to strengthen the European project in the long run.

Let me clear, the point of this article is not to argue for the vision of Europe that draws on opposition to immigration and the Christian heritage these movements espouse. Rather, I will underline that this change on the anti-establishment right creates space for a debate that Europe badly needs. Discussions on democratic deficit in the EU have always focused on the distribution of power between the institutions of the Union, I contend that the most significant problem for democracy has been a lack of diversity in visions for the future of the European project. Until now we had a choice between the neoliberal consensus of the European People’s Party and the Socialists and Democrats on the one hand and the utter negation of the benefits of the EU coming from people like Nigel Farage and Marine Le Pen. The emergence of movements that offer an alternative redirects the energy of those who are frustrated by the direction of politics in their countries and in Europe from a general opposition to a championing for a vision of Europe.

EU politics has seemed distant, confusing and unresponsive to many, translating into consistently low rates of turnout at European elections. The key, I think is not to ask why European politics appears boring but why national-level developments have the capacity to inspire real passions. Sure, the EU regulates plenty of areas that do not inspire the imagination. Similarly, however, national governments deal with questions that most of the population shows no interest in. The difference lies in the sense that the vision for the future of the country is contested at the ballot box in national elections. The important change the new movements bring is that they replicate this level of passion at the European level. The movements on the right make a claim to a European identity, one drawing on the continent’s heritage and seek to rally supporters. On the other hand, as we see in this issue with the example of Volt Europa, the tumultuous European politics of recent years has also inspired to action those who want to build a liberal Europe.

Early European federalists believed that they would achieve the aim of a united Europe by replicating some of the processes that led to the creation of European nation states in the nineteenth century – as European institutions take over responsibility for the economic wellbeing of citizens, like the central governments did before them, the people will switch their allegiance up to the European level as their nineteenth century counterparts did from the local to the national. All this was to be underpinned by European values mirroring how the previous process was driven by nationalism. At least so far, however, that shift of allegiance has not happened but I would claim that the emergence of alternative visions of Europe inserts the missing part of the puzzle from this modern mirror of nation building. Over the course of the nineteenth century, nationalism diversified and evolved. Starting off revolutionary and liberal as exhibited by the revolution in Germany in 1848, it came to be adopted as a principle in conservative circles, most notably in the case of Bismarck and the crafting of Imperial Germany. Indeed, it is this diversification of nationalism that made the creation of nation states possible.

My point here is not that we are now inevitably going to see a United States of Europe built along the lines of those right wing movements – stressing the continent’s Christian heritage and limiting immigration. Rather I would argue that we have reached a point where without a discussion on what Europe is and its values are, we cannot continue to integrate – EU citizens must feel that they shape the European project and not that they are simply being moulded into a predetermined model of what a European is. That debate is beginning – it will no doubt be contentious and at times may appear to strain cooperation. However, whatever concoction of liberal and conservative, socialist and populist ideas emerges to serve as the guiding principle for the future of the EU, it will leave us with a Union that is better equipped to face the economic and political shocks that, as the last decade has shown, have not left our continent. The nation states of Europe survived the hardships of the twentieth century because their populations at large believed they were represented by them, we need to find a similar solution for the EU to survive the twenty-first.

The role of human rights in the accession of the Western Balkans

by Emma Myhre

In 2018, the European Commission adopted a strategy for enhanced EU engagement with the Western Balkans(1). It presents that the EU holds its doors open for more member states, with the condition that the state satisfies EU accession criteria. In the Western Balkans this remains a struggle, and human rights concerns have become subject to compromise. There are several important dynamics that come into play, some of which will be discussed in this article.

In order for a country to become a member of the EU, it must fulfill the Copenhagen criteria(2). These are based on common European values, including democracy, human rights, rule of law, and a market economy. In past EU negotiations, such as those with Montenegro and Croatia, human rights concerns have been of central importance. Several institutional advancements were made to strengthen the role of human rights in the EU’s enlargement policy(3). However, several scholars point out that the EU’s attempt to spread its democratic values in the Western Balkans has had an underwhelming effect. This becomes particularly evident when compared to the Central Eastern European states that joined the EU in 2004(4).  

There are many ways of looking at the limited impact that EU conditionality has had in the region. Evidence shows that the EU has prioritized concerns related to security rather than those related to human rights and democracy(5). However, the lack of pressure on human rights concerns in the Western Balkans – such as the rule of law and media freedom – is astounding considering recent experiences with Poland and Hungary. Worth pointing out is that the EU has significantly more leverage over accession candidates compared to member states, raising the question even further of why the EU has not aimed for more strict accession policies regarding human rights in the Western Balkans.

Some argue that accession candidates are more likely to adopt EU rules when there are credible incentives and low adoption costs(6), especially when it comes to questions of national identity. However, some cases might display a different image. Serbia, for example, has shown a strong commitment to accession and has been willing to compromise on highly sensitive cases, such as cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal and Kosovo(7). Perhaps it is more relevant to look at media reforms and independent institutions. To continue with the example with Serbia, it is evident that the Serbian government has been more reluctant with these reforms(8). Such institutional changes would challenge the country’s power concentration, seemingly running more strongly counter to the government’s incentives. This perspective suggests that questions of national identity matter less than questions of government authority.  

The EU has shown willingness to accept the slow progress in terms of media freedom and democratic institutions. It has strong incentives to keep Serbia and other countries in the region on the path to accession and keep its political leverage. Concerns such as the refugee crisis and a more aggressive Russia urge the EU to make compromises(9). It may want to prioritize security concerns over more consistent conditions for accession in regards to human rights.

In the coming year, the EU will be faced with tough dilemmas. The union is in a position where it struggles to find a balance between enforcing human rights concerns without losing its political leverage over the Western Balkans that are on the path to accession. Crucial will be to take human rights seriously to avoid painful repetitions of the problems posed by Hungary and Poland, and aligning EU incentives with those of the Western Balkan governments and peoples.  

 

EUSA and LDU presents: EU debate

EUSA is pleased to announce that we are cooperating with the Leiden Debating Union (LDU) for our next event, which will take place the 19th of February in Leiden. LDU is hosting a special debating event particularly focused on the EU and European politics, and EUSA will join them for a night of proper debating. This is therefore not only a great chance to work on your debating skills in a welcoming setting, but also to get to know members of another student association of Leiden University.

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After the debate we will join the members of LDU at Cafe de Keyzer for drinks, so that we can get to know each other better! Who knows, maybe the debate will continue there…

EUSA will meet outside KOG at 18.45 and to together to the events, which starts at 19.00. We hope to see you there!

Location: Law faculty (KOG) in Leiden

Time: 19th of February, 19.00