“We do not need to fight for a European identity”

By Antonia Schräder

“Bringing Europe back to the People” this is what the Europeans People Party is campaigning for. This is a big promise considering the growing EU scepticism and the ever widening gap between Brussels and the Europeans. The young Europeans play an important part, they are the future. But how will the EU manage to reach out them, to make them go vote, to make them feel that there vote matters? In an interview with Dirk Gotink, Spokesperson of Manfred Weber, I tried to understand the roots of the missing European identity, which is crucial not only for the upcoming elections, but for the future of Europe.

Manfred Weber is familiar with elections on both levels, on the national and the EU level. In what way is this different for a politician ?

Interesting to see is that actually the method is the same. You want to reach your candidate and you have your ideas and your programmes how you can directly reach people. There is not a Spanish way of doing that or a German way of doing that. I mean it is basically the same. Also the concerns of people are very similar.

A major point in both, the Maastricht treaty and the treaty Amsterdam is the endeavour to create a common European identity. But we still see a cleavage between national identity and a European identity. I was wondering how to overcome this cleavage and to follow what actually binds us together as European citizen?

Well the starting point is not the European identity. The starting point is first of all to consider that people have several layers of identity, loyalty and being part of community. The first one is of course local and regional, then you have the national one and there is a European one. What the extremist try to do is that they try to oppose this to each other. This perspective is a mistake, because they belong to each other and in many places it is totally normal. Take for example someone from Castilla la Mancha in Spain, they are proud to come from the region la Mancha, they are proud to be Spanish and are a proud European. Basically we do not need to fight for a European identity, but rather we have to take into account that those different layers of identity belong together. We shouldn’t allow extremist make contractions between them. Between regional and national and European one. That is nonsense.

Even though we have these different layers of identity, which may not contradict each other, we still see that there is a lack of identity at the European level and that the national identity is still much stronger. In his campaign Manfred weber is mentioning that he will give europe back to the people. How will Mr.Weber, as the future president of the commission redeem this promise to the European citizens?

Two things are here necessary. First, in the decision making process: taking another step in the decision making process, so that the level of prioritisation, is one step closer to the people and one step further away from the the technocrats. This is not easy, because the machine is obviously very big, but the most important message for the elections is, that we have to show the people, that how they vote and what they vote has an direct impact on what happens afterwards. Basically this is the simple process of democracy. Second, in the visibility: topics such as migration, economy and climate are most import ant to europeans. These three topics you will find everywhere in Europe. People are worried about Europe not controlling the external borders. Obviously it changes from one country to another, but almost in every country it is on the top concerns. Further people are concerned about a stable economy. Priorities in our program are to give young people a perspective to a job, and give young families access to housing.We need to make sure that not an entire generation will gonna grow up indebted and that the houses the bought once, will never be sold for the same price again. We saw this in Ireland. And then the climate. Which is basically this big categorical imperative. So bringing that decision making or the topics much closer to the concerns of the people.

How is it possible to achieve this? Currently European citizens see an ineffective commission and a slow decision making process in Brussels?

I don’t agree. I think the commission has done a lot in the last 5 years. The problem is that the last 5 years were really crisis management years. Just like the 5 years before. So we’ve been already in ten years of crisis management. Which means you can not really set up a positive programme, you always have to react to the realities and the political problems of the day. Essentially, what we need to do now is have a new start.We need to present a positive agenda again. That can also lead to quick decision making. Take for example the FRONTEX decision of stocking up extra border personnel to 10.000. The council agreed to the proposal to have this full capacity by 2027. This is 12 years after the start of the migration crisis. That is not good enough, so yes: we have to deliver quicker and of course this brings some big challenges like you also have on national or local level. We analyse the problem together and then we propose a solution. Between the two steps there is some kind of a link. Important is that people have to see this link, people have to see that their concerns bout the migration crisis in 2015 and 2016 and their experiences in that period have a direct effect on the decision making of the commission in the same mandate. And exclude that we already have managed a lot, but at the moment the migration files are stuck and that will be the top priority for the next commission, which is up to Mr. Weber to solve that.

Coming back to the quote from the campaign: giving Europe back to the people. As a student who has the chance to study in another european country and who benefits from various university programmes funded by the EU, it is easier to see what impact the EU has on my personal life. The ‘Standard Eurobarometer 89 Spring 2018’ on European citizenship show that a higher level of education represents an increased level in European identity, trust in the EU and higher voting rates. The EPP campaigns for reaching out to all people. In the past we have not seen this to a great extent. How will Mr. Reach out to those young people who are not going to university? What will the Commission do for the lower middle class?

First of all we need to make EU funds and exchange programmes also accessible to lower levels of education and we have done that with Erasmus. Those funds have been increased. Further Mr. Weber has introduced an INTERAIL ticket, to give 18 year olds the chance to discover the countries around them. Also those kind of programmes need to be accessible, not only to university students, because we know that university students, they normally will take care of themselves. But surely its important. So we need to open up those funds to lower levels of education, for example when you consider the technical professions. This is what we mean by giving Europe back to the people and this is indeed not just an elite project in Brussels of high educated, super flexible cosmopolitans, speaking 6 languages. It is really something that people get picture of Europe as taking their concerns into account and moreover that Europe is actually protecting them in a globalised world. This would be my best answer to the populist and all the extremist who are attacking Europe. That we deliver, that the EU is the only mechanism we have. To built on the success we already achieved in the last 60 years.

Unfortunately, we have not seen Manfred Weber at the Maastricht debate, which was an important debate for many europeans, especially young europeans. Will we see Manfred weber in another high profile debate before elections ?

He would have loved to be there, but in this case it was just not possible. Yes of course. There will be a very big debate on the 15th of may in the European Parliament. We will be there. And there will be a debate on German television between Timmermans and Weber on the 16th of may. ARD and ZDF respectively. He would have loved to be there, but in this case it was just not possible.

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Women in EU politics: What the Elections may Bring for Gender Parity in the EU

By Emma Myhre

2019 sets the one hundred year mark since several EU countries gave women the right to vote in national elections. Yet, women are underrepresented in political decision-making at local, national and European levels (1). Achieving gender parity in representative politics is arguably needed not only to uphold social justice and women’s rights, but as an important condition of effective democracy and good governance that strengthens and enhances the democratic system. This article will take a look at women in EU politics in light of the European elections, and discuss what the upcoming elections may mean for women’s issues in EU decision-making.

Since the first directly elected legislature in 1979, the percentage of women has risen after each election up to 35.8% after the 2014 election. This is above the world average for national parliaments and above the EU average for national parliaments (2). No EU-wide data exists on political representation of different groups of women, such as women from ethnic minorities, LGBTQ women, older or younger women, or women with disabilities, but the data available suggest that these groups are underrepresented (3). In other words, women are relatively well represented in the EU compared to the rest of the world, but there is still be a way to go. Additionally, the progress already made demands subtle interpretation, as it is sometimes hard to see tangibly what the EU does for women.

That being said, gender equality and the fight against discrimination is a core part of the EU’s treaties. Furthermore, the European Parliament continues to show commitment to the cause – for example, it has recently approved several resolutions regarding gender equality. These include the prevention of and fight to counter harassment in the workplace, in the public domain and in the EU political sphere (as of 11th September 2018), and on male-female parity, calling for measures to guarantee gender equality and improvement in the institutions (as of 15th of January 2019). (4)

The institutional renewal which will follow the European elections on 23rd-26th May, the formation of the new Commission and the appointment of new presidents at the European Council and the European Central Bank represent an opportunity and a risk. While it is true that recent political decisions have resulted in modest advancements in regards to gender equality, it is no less possible that these developments can be reversed (5). Worth pointing out is that the political climate in the bloc is increasingly polarized. Euroscepticism and populism will likely hold a significant role. Furthermore, the cleavage between member states and Brussels when it comes to the future of the European project continues to put pressure on the union as a whole (6). The upcoming elections will hence put the courage of European leaders to the test. A more diverse parliament would possibly disrupt the status quo. Yet it is an opportunity to enable Europe to remain, as well as advance, its position as a globally unchallenged promoter of gender equality. The EU’s advocacy for human rights will not stand as strong if women’s rights are not guaranteed.

A United Right? Prospects for a New Grouping in the European Parliament After 5 Tumultuous Years

By Norbert Rebow

With the elections to the European Parliament set to take place next week much about the future of the European Union in the coming years is shrouded in mystery. One thing that seems relatively clear, however, is that the trend of an increase in the representation of parties to the right of the European People’s Party (EPP) in the Parliament is set to continue in these elections. The past five years have seen the emergence, strengthening and consolidation of support for right wing parties opposed to the EU establishment and the current direction of the European project. Whether these groups and their views will hold sway in the formation of the new Commission and the term of the new Parliament will depend much on the extent to which they are able to coordinate their actions. As the deputy prime minister of Italy and leader of La Lega, Matteo Salvini, tours Europe in search of allies, let us take a look at the likelihood of his goal of unity on the European right.

Before we start to make predictions about the new parliament, we should take a look at the current state of play. Three blocs sat to the right of the EPP in the outgoing European Parliament – the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) with 76 seats, Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy with 41 seats (EFDD) and Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) with 37 seats[1]. The ECR was the third largest group in the parliament and taken together the total of 154 seats reached by the three groups together was still less than the second largest Socialists and Democrats grouping on 186 seats.

Why has there been this level of fracturing on the right? One thing that needs to be pointed out is that the ECR has been a distinct force, often calling themselves Eurorealists and being termed as soft Eurosceptics. For most of its existence, all the national parties that formed part of the group were committed to keeping their countries in the EU while often being critical of the direction the Union is taking and, in some cases, calling for powers to be returned to Member States. While this still remains the stated stance of the group as a whole, the largest party in it, the British Conservative Party began to support its country’s departure from the EU in 2016. While the group has been sceptical of transferring more power to Brussels it has also traditionally been a champion of the development of the single market, supporting initiatives and legislation that brings down barriers for businesses operate across the Union.

Meanwhile the EFDD and the ENF for most of this parliamentary term consisted of hard Eurosceptics with many of their constituent parties calling for referenda on the departure of their countries from the EU. With this key factor in common we may wonder why they never formed a united bloc. The EFDD formed around UKIP while the ENF was originally organised by the French Front National. Citing differences on economic policy and concerns about “prejudice and anti-Semitism” UKIP refrained from entering an alliance with Le Pen’s party in 2014[2]. With any participation of the Brexit Party and UKIP in the new parliament set to be temporary, the partnership options for other hard Eurosceptic parties are now unlikely to make a choice to go with their British counterparts.

It is not only Brexit that makes today’s situation different. Some of the parties of the ECR, most notably Poland’s Law and Justice, have found themselves at odds with the European Commission and others over issues including migration. Meanwhile, some previously hard Eurosceptic parties have changed their tune. After her defeat to Emmanuel Macron, Marine Le Pen dropped her party’s demand for a Frexit referendum, instead seeking to shape fundamental changes to the EU[3]. Similarly, in Italy Matteo Salvini has dropped his party’s proposals to take Italy out of the Euro while continuing to criticise the European institutions, especially over the migration crisis and its impact on Italy[4].

Could this seeming convergence in political orientation lead to a stable alliance of the right? It is not immediately obvious that it will. Matteo Salvini has certainly made great efforts to build a pan-European coalition, visiting leaders across the EU, most notably in Warsaw and Budapest and launching a new grouping last month. This new project has gathered the Lega with right-wing parties from Austria, Denmark, Estonia, Finland and Germany along with the National Rally in France[5]. The absence of Law and Justice and Fidesz, however, is glaring in the context of building a bloc whose weight will be felt in the new parliament.

One problem facing efforts like Salvini’s is the question of Russia. Along with Marine Le Pen, he has argued against EU sanctions on Russia, seeking a better relationship with Moscow for Italy and the EU[6]. This runs completely against the committed position of Law and Justice to a hard and united European position against aggression from Vladimir Putin’s government. Given Poland’s geopolitical position, Law and Justice is sceptical of movements toward a change of course which could make it difficult to make common cause with parties that downplay the threat from the Kremlin.

Another issue is the perspective with which the potential member parties approach the EU and the categories of success for a joint movement. Both La Lega and Law and Justice have come to describe their agendas in European terms – the goal of their proposed reforms of the Union are presented as improving the relationship of EU citizens with the institutions and ultimately ensuring the sustainability of the European project. Meanwhile, listening to a recent Euronews interview with Marine Le Pen in which she repeatedly bemoans the fact that the French state pays more into the EU budget than it gets out of it, it is difficult to escape the impression that behind the statement that she would now fight to reform the Union there is little willingness to make the compromises that would make such a movement for change work[7].

There is little doubt that the realities of European politics have changed massively over the past five years. Parties of the anti-establishment right will be stronger in the coming parliament than the last and that they are being pushed closer together as they seek a way forward without Britain in the EU and with support for Union membership rising among voters across Europe. These processes are still in flux, however, and continued disagreements may very well preclude a joint bloc forming when the new MEPs take their seats in July. These developments will not suddenly stop though and Matteo Salvini’s efforts may come to fruition in years to come.


Sources used in this article:

1] Pollofpolls.eu

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/apr/18/nigel-farage-rejects-ukip-tie-french-front-national

[3] https://www.trtworld.com/europe/le-pen-drops-frexit-in-favour-of-an-eu-of-the-far-right-25868

[4] https://www.ft.com/content/1920a116-fd3b-11e8-ac00-57a2a826423e

[5] https://www.dw.com/en/frances-far-right-national-rally-joins-salvinis-european-alliance/a-48411442

[6] https://www.france24.com/en/20190505-le-pen-hungary-poland-far-right-european-parliament-alliance-salvini-populists[7] https://www.euronews.com/video/2019/04/04/le-pen-dreams-of-nationalist-supergroup-exclusive-interview

Alternatives to EU membership: The Norway model in light of Brexit

By Emma Myhre

Out of all non-EU countries, Norway is the one that is the most involved with the EU. Norway’s membership in the EEA means that it has full access to the single market, and very limited barriers to trade with the EU. Furthermore, people from across the EU are free to live and work in Norway, and vice versa. Norway is exempt from EU rules on justice and home affairs, and also on policies on agriculture and fisheries, as it is not part of the Common Agricultural Policy or the Common Fisheries Policy. Most other policies, however, are adapted. These include the four freedoms – free movement of goods, services, capital and people [1]. The idea of a “Norway model” for the UK has been brought up as a possible plan B for Brexit because of the harsh resistance in the UK parliament to the draft agreement signed off by the EU and UK [2]. The model is relevant because it is as close as a country can get to the EU without membership. Hence, some would consider it a valid option to keep trading relations as tight as they currently are.

However, the Norway model is not perfect. Perhaps the biggest problem with Norway-EU relations is that Norway has no formal say in EU policy-making, because it has no representation in any of the main European institutions [3]. This point has been a cause of discontent among Norwegians towards the current deal. Although the EEA is the most important way for Norway to access the EU single market, Norway finds itself in a suboptimal situation in which it has no vote in the electoral processes that determine EU policies that Norway ultimately has to adopt.

Many Norwegians recognize that the current model is not ideal, but the political parties are at stark disagreement on how to improve it. While some parties wish for Norway to join the EU as a full member, others think it is a better idea not just to reject EU membership but to withdraw from the EEA entirely and form a new set of agreements with the EU. Those that want to join the EU argue that Norway should have a say in EU decision-making and secure Norwegian economic interests by being a member of the union. Another important point the advocates for membership bring up, is the fact that the world needs more cooperation to tackle global challenges that exceed country borders [4]. However, those opposing membership point to democratic problems within the EU and the importance of having politics at a close distance, as well as a clash of values when it comes to international and domestic solidarity and questions of climate [5].  

For the UK to adopt something like the “Norway model” would be difficult. Adopting the four freedoms – free movement of goods, services, capital and people, would be a tough sacrifice. The British government’s desire to retain control over its own borders and a say in who it lets into the country is an important factor in its relations with the EU [6]. Moreover, being only on the receiving end of policy-making, and following EU rules without voting on them, will raise skepticism among many Brexiteers because it takes significant control from London over its own economic policies. Another important point is the issue with Ireland. To avoid a hard border, the UK would need to have a customs agreement with the EU, pointing towards a so-called “Norway-plus” option. Such a model could further limit the UK’s ability to settle its own trade deals [7].

There are also aspects of the model that are attractive to Brexiteers. Apart from it being a way for the UK to keep its close ties to the EU and the single market, it would give London the ability to set its own policies on important sectors, the way Norway does on its large fishing and agricultural industries [8]. Additionally, it would allow the UK to negotiate its own trade deals with other countries [9].

The very fact that the Norway model has been discussed by politicians and scholars to such an extent proves that it holds significant relevance. However, there is much more to the solution than just picking some kind of a premade package with a guarantee of success. The UK adopting the Norway model would come with significant costs, something the parliament has also recognized. It is also undeniable that the UK and Norway are different countries with different (although overlapping) interests in the international system. Hence, it is not perfectly realistic for the UK to follow suit of Norway. A more pertinent approach would be to look at Norway as an example of an alternative, although perhaps suboptimal solution to EU membership, and make whatever adjustments necessary to produce the best case scenario in the UK context.

Unique Britain – Brexit and the Distinct Characteristics of the British Political System

By Norbert Rebow

If you have been following Brexit developments recently, you may have been struck by some of the distinct ways the British political class and the country’s institutions have handled this process. In this article I will try to dispel some of the confusion and mystery surrounding the British political system to help you make sense of the drama emanating from London.

One distinct area of the Brexit process have been the passions in the debate about the  possibility of a second referendum. The opponents of a second vote argue with intense conviction that asking the public again would be overturning ‘the will of the people’ and be dangerous to democracy. How does the British political system influence this debate? Two related points are of particular importance – historically referenda in the UK have been rare and there is a different theoretical approach to the source of power. There have been only three national referenda – the 1975 European Communities membership referendum, the 2011 referendum on changing the electoral system to alternative vote and the 2016 EU membership vote. Prominent politicians including the prime ministers from both the Conservatives and Labour including Margaret Thatcher and Clement Attlee have criticised the use of referendums as being tools of dictators.

Unlike in most European democracies, where written constitutions explicitly state that the people are the source of sovereignty, in the UK where the constitutional set-up consists of ordinary laws and conventions, sovereignty originates from the Queen and is exercised by Parliament. This is why you may have heard parliamentary sovereignty being mentioned in Brexit debates over the last few years and especially in recent weeks as MPs have sought to take control of the agenda.

Taken together these two elements mean that the British political class is inexperienced and uncomfortable in dealing with the outcomes of referenda. The sheer rarity of these votes gives them a prominence that make their results difficult to ignore – indeed many British politicians who campaigned on both sides of the 2016 referendum have expressed deep concern about the consequences for faith in democracy if Brexit is not implemented. Recent polls do show an increased support in the British electorate for solutions to the current constitutional crisis with some stark methods – more than half are in favour of the country being led by ‘a strong leader willing to break the rules’ [1]. The importance of parliamentary sovereignty also helps explain why the party manifestos are mentioned so frequently in the Brexit debates – historically votes for a party in a general election have been interpreted as endorsements of the full policy platform. This is strained in a situation where the electorates of both major parties are divided on the issue of EU membership.

Many Europeans have also been shocked that it is only in the last weeks, as the Article 50 period has been extended, that the two major parties have started talking about a common approach to Brexit. This lack of coordination arose partly out of the particular style of democracy and electoral that the UK employs – it is an adversarial system where coalitions are extremely rare. In the British conception democracy is maintained by the electorate choosing from a range of manifesto proposals, then judging the party that won at the next election on whether it has fulfilled its promises. The first-past-the-post system that Britain uses to elect its Members of Parliament usually returns the overall parliamentary majorities that allows this understanding of democracy to function. The country is divided into 650 constituencies which each elect one MP who takes up a seat in the House of Commons – to be elected a candidate needs to get the most votes in the constituency but not a majority. On the national scale this means that large parties and parties that have their supporters concentrated in specific parts of the country, have a higher share of seats in parliament than their share of all votes cast. In almost every election since the Second World War this has resulted in one party having an overall majority – the exceptions were February 1974, 2010 and in 2017, when the current House of Commons was elected.

The 2010 election led to Britain’s first coalition government since 1945 and the Conservative-Liberal Democrat government passed a constitutional change that influences events in the British Parliament today. Before the Fixed-term Parliaments Act became law in 2011, while each parliament could last a maximum of 5 years, the prime minister could unilaterally call an election earlier. In order to avoid David Cameron, the Conservative prime minister of that coalition, arranging a snap election when the polling was good for his party, the Liberal Democrats insisted on changes that brought in the requirement for a supermajority of 2/3 or for 2 weeks to pass after a vote of no confidence in the government for a new election [2].

The 2017 election also did not deliver a majority for any party. Theresa May formed her current government with the support of the Democratic Unionist Party. She thus leads a minority government, something that is also almost alien to the British political system The DUP is a party from Northern Ireland that is the main representative of unionists – supporters of Northern Ireland remaining part of the UK. It backed Brexit in the referendum while 55% of people in that part of the UK voted to remain. The DUP is concerned about anything that might undermine the link between Northern Ireland and Great Britain over the course of the Brexit process [3]

In short, therefore, as Britain makes decisions on the largest reorientation of the country since the Second World War, it does so in a political situation that is not suited to its constitutional traditions. It is also showing how distinct its political culture is on the European scene.


Sources used in this article

  1. https://edition.cnn.com/2019/04/08/uk/hansard-strong-leader-brexit-poll-gbr-intl/index.html
  2. https://www.ft.com/content/17eda04e-ea24-359a-8c7e-d0caed79cb5e
  3. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/brexit-news-latest-dup-article-50-theresa-may-a8847041.html

After a spiky past of EU-UK military cooperation, what could Brexit change?

By Nicolai Santaniello

As far as the EU and UK go back there have been controversies in various fields of policy. The UK was primarily understood to have originally wanted to join the EU for economic reasons, and it was facts such as these that pushed France to vetoing Britain’s accession to twice. The UK and the EU had their disagreements on a number of issues after their entry such as budget allocation and certain aspects of monetary policy [1], and there was a general feeling that the UK was not as conceding as other European nations to the loosening of their sovereignty [2]. This could be especially noticeable when they didn’t sign the Schengen Treaty, or adopt the Euro currency gaining an exemption, together with Denmark, at the Maastricht treaty. However one thing which had divided the UK and Europe since even before they joined the EU was defense policy – something which could also be a key issue post Brexit.

The European Defense Community was one of the first projects for European common defense coordination projected after the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty in 1949. The plan was sponsored strongly by the French, even though in the end it was rejected in their National Assembly in 1954. The British however had not been supportive of the project until intimidated by the US, and even then they were far from aligned with the ideas of the EDC [3].

The UK had been supportive of the creation of the Western European Union in 1948, which created a defense pact amongst UK, France, and the Benelux countries. However the organization was mostly dormant and mostly coordinated with NATO, with the UK never really openly supporting EU autonomous military capabilities. Things however did seem to change in 1998 when the UK signed the Saint-Malo declaration with France, promoting EU defense coordination and autonomous military forces.

Recently however growing Euro-skepticism, and in 2016 the vote to exit the EU on behalf of the UK, have led to two important developments. First the UK is again distancing itself quite decisively from ideas of more integrated EU military cooperation, speaking against ideas such as the French sponsored EU army proposal – which would be the second biggest army in the world. Secondly the UK will want to participate in some kind of European military cooperation, probably promoting ever more cooperation with NATO [4].

With the exit of the UK the EU could really take another more federalist approach to their military cooperation, even though this can be increasingly hard in the current context. On the one hand with Trump as US President and his controversial statements on NATO collective defense the EU member states should be looking for a concrete solution to their defense problems which could be found in some kind of federalist military cooperation. However the nationalist wave which is spreading across Europe is seeing popularity amongst beliefs of less federalist powers and more sovereignty with nation states. With Brexit the EU could find a way to get past many of its past obstacles to closer military integration, but there could be new problems right when the old one end.


Sources used in this article:

  1. William Wilson, “Love ’em or Hate ’em – Britain’s Rocky Relationship with the EU,” BBC News, last modified April 1, 2014
  2. Robert Skidelsky, “The UK Was Never Truly Part of the European Union,” Financial News – Setting the Agenda for the City, last modified July 17, 2018
  3. Ari Turker, “The European Defence Community,” SAM | Center for Strategic Research, accessed April 11, 2019, http://sam.gov.tr/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/6.-TurkerAri.pdf
  4. Jacopo Barigazzi, “Britain Digs in Against ‘EU Army’,” POLITICO, last modified September 28, 2016

The Netherlands: Will the Port of Europe endure a hard Brexit?

By Antonia Schräder

Brexit is on its way, and a no deal scenario is becoming more realistic. The Netherlands is one of the countries that will be most affected – the reason being its strong bilateral relations with the UK as the UK is the third largest destination for Dutch goods [1]. Illustratively, approximately 200,000 jobs in the Netherlands are bound to trade with the UK.

The Netherlands also plays a bigger role in Brexit than most European countries as it is home to Europe’s largest port, the Port of Rotterdam. Officials of the port complain that they need more clarity in order to prepare in the best possible way for any Brexit outcome. Each year 40 million tons of goods arrive from the UK at the Port of Rotterdam [2]. In close cooperation with the Brexit Taskforce of the Foreign Affairs Ministry of The Netherlands, the port is preparing for a no deal outcome, which in the worst case would mean a WTO scenario. A WTO scenario implies control on every single item coming from the UK and entering the EU [3]. In this case, the port will firstly have to limit the number of transit issues to an absolute minimum. And secondly, what Mark Dijk (Manager of External Affairs of the Port of Rotterdam) presents, is a new community system for the port, called PORTBASE. This system has developed a program to automate all custom formalities.

Dijk explains that they expect some businesses to be insufficiently prepared and organized in the first six to eight weeks. In that case, they will be refused at the gate of the ferry terminal until they have their paperwork properly arranged. After this cumbersome phase, Dijk expects all businesses to have registered with the Dutch port community system Portbase, connecting all parties in the logistics chains of Dutch ports [4]. This would hopefully allow for continued smooth trading with the UK in the future. “Brexit is coming and we cannot change that. The only thing we can do is join forces to ensure that trade continues as well as possible. We’ve done this by creating Portbase. All that we ask of the businesses is that they register with Portbase, so that the system operates smoothly and our port is properly prepared for Brexit.”

Despite the aforementioned inconveniences, Brexit could give the Netherlands some benefits. Because of the recent strong economic performance of The Netherlands, firms that used to have their headquarters in the UK are moving to The Netherlands such as Unilever, Mitsubishi Financial Group, Tradeweb and MarketAxess. Yet, the voices from domestic economists are concerned. Though the Netherlands is prepared and may become more attractive to some firms, the benefits Brexit may bring will not be able to weigh up for the costs of the changes and preparations The Netherlands have to take on in order to minimise the disorder that WTO regulations on British products would create [5].

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.

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.