Implications of the Silk Road initiative on Europe

by Alexandra Reinhild Berndt

Xi Jinping’s new Silk Road initiative was launched in 2013 and pursues several objectives. China’s intentions are, amongst others, to resolve the problem of industrial overcapacity, to gain access to the European market and to enhance its political influence in the EU through targeted investments in Southeast Europe and the Mediterranean (Casarini, 2016, p. 95). China’s new Silk road initiative also involves significant financial and monetary dimensions (Casarini, 2016, p. 99). But what does this imply for the European Union and for the Sino-European relations?

From the European perspective, there are positive and negative implications. The initiative increases the Sino-European trade, improves logistic connections and enhances the connectivity between Europe and China’s huge domestic market. Extended railway links between China and Europe are expected to lower transportation time and costs and to increase the general trade volume (Baark, 2019, pp. 81-82). Moreover, the Chinese initiative provides opportunities to increase „exports of food and agricultural products, health products and business services such as financial services“ (Baark, 2019, p. 93).

Despite the economic advantages the initiative promises, there are severe concerns about the political implications going along with the Chinese project. With its huge investments in European infrastructure, China increases its soft-power in Europe and thus also increases its chance to introduce alternative norms and regulations (Dave & Kobayashi, 2018, p. 277). Besides the question of compliance with international and European norms, critics also highlight the issue of cybersecurity and recommend to „develop awareness-building measures in order to sensitise potential targets of Chinese intelligence activities“ (Baark, 2019, p. 87).  Furthermore, there are growing concerns that the European competitiveness could be threatened by Chinese dumping goods as China aims at tackling its problem with industrial overcapacities. China intensively invested in European ports, amongst others in the port of Piraeus in Greece. These harbours are consequently almost completely in Chinese ownership. European countries with big container ports as the Netherlands, Belgium or Germany will thus face a tough competition in future (Casarini, 2016, p. 105).

However, the main concern is that China’s investments undermine Europe’s unity as Xi Jinping’s investments in Southeast Europe already caused disagreements among member states. Greece and Hungary, for instance, are unwilling to support Brussel’s criticism of the Human Rights records in China (Baark, 2019, p. 90).

In conclusion, the initiative promises several economic and financial opportunities. However, the political implications are a cause for concern. With its investments, China increases its soft power in Europe, so that alternative norms can be introduced more easily. The European Union is at odds with itself and unable to agree on a common strategy with regard to China. This massively weakens the position of the EU. A common response to China’s initiative is therefore absolutely necessary.

Photo by Ajmal Ali on Unsplash


Baark, E. (2019). European perspectives on the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative. China: An International Journal, 17(4), 76-95.

Casarini, N. (2016). When all roads lead to Beijing. Assessing China’s new Silk Road and its implications for Europe. The International Spectator, 51(4), 95-108.

Dave, B., & Kobayashi, Y. (2018). China’s silk road economic belt initiative in Central Asia: economic and security implications. Asia Europe Journal, 16(3), 267-281.

COVID-19: The European Inferno

By André Francischetti Moreno

Hell, the first part of the Divine Comedy, portrays Dante´s journey through its nine circles. Today, the whole world appears to be going through such reality, and the conductor has no face but a name, COVID-19. Three weeks changed the course of history, according to Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe. As of 13 March 2020, Europe was declared the new pandemic center of the disease that came about in Wuhan (China), only five days before all countries within Europe had a confirmed case of COVID-19. From the registered cases in Europe, which due to logistical reasons are massively underestimated, more than 77% are concentrated in France, Germany, Spain, and Italy. In this text, I will shortly analyze the situation in each of these countries and conclude with a reflection on what we can do to mitigate the ongoing situation.   

On the 24th of January of 2020, the first European case of the new coronavirus was registered in Bordeaux. In a few weeks, the registered number of cases reached nearly all French departments, leading to the impactful declaration of president Macron on March 16, “We are at war”. The announcement involved a national lockdown for fifteen days and the closure of land borders. As of 26 March, over 29 thousand cases and 1.696 deaths were confirmed. To relieve hospitals in the heavily affected Eastern France, the government established adapted hospitals in high-speed trains, aiming to take mild patients to less impacted hospitals in the Western. Furthermore, president Macron announced the army operation “Resilience”, designed to support the population and assist the public health system. The plan entails deploying helicopter carriers equipped with hospitals on board to French territories in the Caribbean and Indian Ocean, easing the shipping of medical supplies from one region to another, and support of law enforcement mainly in sensitive regions. 

           Three days after the first case appeared in Southeastern France, Munich registered Germany’s first case. Since then, cases outnumbered 39.000 and deaths exceeded 220. German chancellor Angela Merkel took never-before-seen measures in the country’s post war period and declared a shutdown of many establishments and addressed the nation to stay indoors. Meanwhile, many states imposed drastic lockdown measures to stem the spread of the coronavirus outbreak. The chancellor said that the expectation was that about 60-70% of the population would get infected. So far, Germany experienced a low death-rate to which contention measures such as the widespread testing to detect those infected and isolate them certainly contributed (so far more than 410.000 tests have been conducted across the country). A relevant factor, however, is that more than 77% of the infected are out of the risk-group. Moreover, Prof. Dr. Lothar H. Wieler, President of the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin, explained that this is only the beginning for Germany, as other countries are simply further in the progression curve of the pandemic. When it comes to the biggest European economy, Germany is planning to increase borrowing by as much as 150 billion euros this year, to avoid what the chief economist at ING Germany, Carsten Brzeski, characterized as an “inducive coma”.

           In the last week of March, Spain overtook China in terms of mortal victims from COVID-19 with over 4 thousand deaths and 40 thousand infected, 5.400 of whom are health workers. As a recommendation of the Ministry of Health, the government established full lockdown and is enforcing it through up-to thirty thousand-euro fines and arrests of recurrent offenders. Meanwhile, Spain has asked NATO for urgent help with personal protective equipment and announced the incorporation of fast tests to detect the coronavirus. David Noguera, president of MSF Spain, said that their focus lies on establishing temporary hospitals, reducing infections and protecting the elderly and vulnerable. On 17 March, the government announced a 200-billion-euro package to back companies and protect workers and other groups affected.

           Italy holds over 80.589 confirmed cases and 8.215 deaths, which is the highest mortality rate worldwide. In early March, prime minister Conte expanded the quarantine from Lombardy to all Italy, the first measure of its kind in Europe. Although Northern Italy has one of the best public health systems in the Western world, it is being pushed to a breaking point. Not only are beds and materials falling short, but several front-line health care professionals are continuously being contaminated. Intensive care units and field hospitals are being built, and experts from all over the world (mainly China) are helping the government. Some analysts point out the slow introduction of gradual and regional procedures instead of serious nationwide measures as a reason behind the quick spread of the novel coronavirus. As late as the 1st of March, when the epidemic clusters of Lombardy and Veneto were already well-known, only some municipalities had declared quarantine, while in the rest of the nation minor prevention measures were carried out. By now, Italy conducted over 360 thousand tests, issued a 25 billion euros aid plan, and drafted the military to enforce the lockdown.

           It remains clear that the European Union is going through one of the greatest challenges of its existence. This is not only a humanitarian and economic crisis but also a social catastrophe when it comes to public safety. Quoting Jonathan Whittall (MSF Spain), “How are you supposed to wash your hands regularly if you have no running water or soap? How can you implement ‘social distancing’ if you live in a slum or a refugee camp? How are you supposed to stop crossing borders if you are fleeing from war? How are those with pre-existing health conditions going to take extra precautions if they already can’t afford or access the treatment they need?” Recalling Dante´s Hell, one can say that inequality has an enormous impact on defining who goes to the limbo (a place where souls do not cry, but sigh) and who is condemned to the circles of hell. Vulnerable groups tend to fall in the second category. Therefore, more than ever, it is important to spread a brotherhood and solidarity spirit. Those who can, should stay at home, help the elderly and vulnerable on doing groceries, buying medicines or hygiene materials, make company to each other, be conscious not to overbuy things and assist the authorities to find optimal and efficient solutions. Above all, one must always remember that after hell and purgatory, comes heaven. 


Photo by Fran Boloni on Unsplash


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An Evaluation of the European Defence Integration Process

by Alexandra Reinhild Berndt

Since 1945 the European defence integration is a matter of dispute. Many ideas to establish a European defence system separate from NATO have been presented, but none of them have been particularly successful (Howorth, 2017, p. 14). The European Defence Community (EDC) is a perfect example: The project failed due to the absence of the United Kingdom and the failure of the French parliament to ratify the plan (Howorth, 2017, p. 18). But why were so many projects fruitless? The answer to this question is pretty complex.

First of all, the Europeans disagree with the extent of the European defence integration. How much sovereignty and autonomy should nation states give up in favour of a supranational project? In 2014 Jean-Claude Juncker, the former president of the EU Commission, announced his vision of a “European army” (Kucera, 2019, p. 2). His idea initiated a polarizing debate about the future of the European defence policy (Kucera, 2019, p. 2). The overarching idea that underlies this project is a “transfer of national sovereignty onto a supranational institution” (Kucera, 2019, p. 3). This caused scepticism as many politicians feared the loss of autonomy and some Eurosceptics even perceived national security policy as “raison d’être of a state” (Kucera, 2019, p. 5). Ever since, European defence integration projects are difficult to implement. 

The majority of projects that have been presented thus far suffered from the problem that the extent of commitment and implementation depends on the individual members of the EU. I would like to provide two examples: Firstly, the Global Strategy introduced by the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, and secondly the PESCO (Permanent Structured Cooperation) project.

Global challenges and threats do not stop at national borders and therefore require a common respond. The Global Strategy recognizes these security threats (e.g. terrorism and climate change). However, the Global Strategy is rather “aspirational” than “transformative” (Arteaga, 2017, p. 4) as the commitment to the strategy remains voluntary. The non-binding nature of the Global Strategy increases the risk of non-compliance and thus raises questions about the effectiveness of the project (Arteaga, 2017, p. 4). Members of PESCO also have the right to decide to which extend they would like to implement the measurement proposed by the project (Jopp & Schubert, 2019, p. 135).  PESCO states are currently engaged in 34 projects “in the areas of training, land-based formations, naval and airborne systems, cyber defence (…), capacity building projects or space systems” (Jopp & Schubert, 2019, p. 130). Nevertheless, it remains uncertain to what the degree its member states will commit to the project in future as nothing is obligatory (Jopp & Schubert, 2019, p. 135).

However, the Brexit initiated again an intensive debate about the future of the European security. The retreat of the UK implies that the EU loses a member state with important military capacities as the UK is not only a nuclear power, but also member of the UN Security Council (Svendsen, 2019, p. 994).  Nonetheless, some scholars see the Brexit as “window of opportunity” (Jopp & Schubert, 2019, p. 122) as Europe is forced to think about alternatives in terms of their defence policy.

Since 1945, the Europeans actually rely on the United States in terms of their security. Over the course of time the EU basically lost the motivation to think about own defence possibilities as bandwagoning became part of the political habit (Howorth, 2017, p. 19). Due to current political developments as Brexit and Trump’s unreliable commitment to Europe’s security, demands on “greater European strategic autonomy” (Schreer, 2019, p. 10) have received more attention.

Additionally, the increased scope of the global challenges (e.g. climate change) forces Europe to take action. The security threats afore mentioned are not manageable for a single state. Therefore, a supranational military organization coping with all the potential security gaps is certainly a desirable vision in order to maintain the peace in Europe (Kucera, 2019, p. 19). 

Photo by Joshua Fuller on Unsplash



Arteaga, F. (2017). European defence between the Global Strategy and its implementation. Real Institut Elcano. 2-18.

Howorth, J. (2017). European defence policy between dependence and autonomy: A challenge of Sisyphean dimensions. The British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 19(1), 13-28.

Jopp, M., & Schubert, J. (2019). PESCO and new methods of intergovernmental integration. L’Europe en Formation, 389(2), 121-139.

Kucera, T. (2019). What European army? Alliance, security community or postnational federation. International Politics, 1-18.

Schreer, B. (2019). Trump, NATO and the future of Europe’s defence. The RUSI Journal, 164(1), 10-17.

Svendsen, Ø. (2019). Brexit and the future of EU defence: a practice approach to differentiated defence integration. Journal of European Integration, 41(8), 993-1007.

A Comparison Between Right-Wing Populist Parties in Eastern and Western Europe

By Alexandra Reinhild Berndt

In Western Europe right-wing populist parties are less influential than in Eastern Europe, but their popularity is continuously rising. During the last French presidential elections in 2017, for example, Marine le Pen from the right-wing populist party FN (Front National) progressed to the second-round run-off against president Emanuel Macron (Eiermann, Mounk & Gultchin, 2017, p. 9). Why are right-wing populist parties so successful in Eastern and Western Europe?

In states like Poland and Hungary right-wing populist parties are increasingly expanding their power and seem to be more anti-democratic at least in comparison with Western European populist parties (Allen, 2017, p. 277). They violate basic democratic principles as judicial independence and freedom of the press. However, the continuous destruction of the media is not only on the agenda of Eastern European populists, but also part of the policy of Western European populist parties (Eiermann, Mounk & Gultchin, 2017, p. 7). The effectiveness of Eastern European populist parties is particularly visible as populist parties were able to promote an anti-Muslim propaganda even if these countries were almost unaffected by Muslim immigration (Kende & Krekó, 2020, p. 31). Why were populist right-wing parties as PIS (Poland) and Fidesz (Hungary) so successful with their anti-Muslim rhetoric? Throughout history post-communist countries experienced not only threats to their territorial integrity, but also threats to their national integrity. These insecurities concerning their sovereignty contributed to an increased fear of the loss of national identity. Since that time, populist right-wing parties were able to easily manipulate people psychologically with the help of these consolidated fears. This also explains why these parties were able to easily mobilise against minorities as the Roma or the Jews (Kende & Krekó, 2020, p. 30). The refugee crisis in 2015 was thus an ideal tool to promote an anti-Muslim propaganda even though these countries were almost unaffected by Muslim immigration. Particularly in this case the influence and power of the right-wing parties is very extreme as even in the absence of terrorism and immigrants, fears were easily fuelled by the populists. With the help of the anti-Muslim rhetoric populist right-wing parties as PIS (Poland) and Fidesz (Hungary) successfully secured their power in government. They effectively capitalised from the people’s historically consolidated fears (Kende & Krekó, 2020, p. 31).

In Western European countries right-wing populist parties are also on the rise. In Western Europe, their success lies amongst others in the voter’s political frustration. In the view of the electorate that turned to populist parties, traditional parties were unable to deal with current political challenges as for example immigration and European integration. The disenchanted electorate is therefore more prone to accept the radical solutions proposed by populist right-wing parties (Albertazzi & McDonnell, 2007, p.1).

Interestingly, the most successful populist parties are those which effectively employ the rhetoric of democracy. Therefore, populist parties try to justify discriminatory policies with the claim to defend Western values. This rhetoric adaption plays an important role in their attempt to appear as a mainstream party (Halikiopoulou, 2018, p. 2). Part of this strategy is also the promotion of direct democracy, including the idea of a referendum, for example. In this manner, right-wing populist parties claim to promote the will of the people. The longevity of a party generally depends on the party’s success to recruit potential voters. For this reason, the talent of the party leader to persuade and socialise sympathisers represents a crucial factor. Socially disadvantaged groups generally represent an important target group (Pauwels, 2014, p. 7). However, different populist parties attract different social classes. Some right-wing parties mainly focus on the lower-class whereas others focus on the middle-class (Betz, 1993, p. 676).

Overall, right-wing populist parties differ significantly with regard to their rhetoric, target group, ideology and agenda (Halikiopoulou, 2018, p. 3). Due to their disrespect for minorities, pluralism and the rule of law, populism is essentially illiberal (Mudde, 2016, p. 28). A very important shared trait is their exclusionary agenda and their claim to fight for the will of the people (Immerzeel & Muis , 2017, p. 910). The reasons for the popularity of right-wing populist parties are slightly different in Eastern and Western European countries. In Western Europe, the popularity of right-wing populist parties lies in the voter’s political frustration whereas in Eastern Europe, right-wing populist parties are particularly successful due to their anti-Muslim rhetoric which effectively fuels historically consolidated fears.

Photo by Samantha Sophia on Unsplash


Albertazzi, D., & McDonnell, D. (Eds.) (2007). Twenty-first century populism: The specter of Western European democracy. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan
Allen, T. J. (2017). All in the party family? Comparing far right voters in Western and Post-Communist Europe. Party Politics, 23(3), 274-285.
Betz, H. G. (1993). The two faces of radical right-wing populism in Western Europe. The Review of Politics, 55(4), 663-686.
Eiermann, M., Mounk, Y., & Gultchin, L. (2017). European populism: Trends, threats and future prospects. Tony Blair Institute for Global Change
Halikiopoulou, D. (2018). A right-wing populist momentum? A review of 2017 elections across Europe. Journal of Common Market Studies
Kende, A., & Krekó, P. (2020). Xenophobia, prejudice, and right-wing populism in East-Central Europe. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 29-33.
Mudde, C. (2016). Europe’s populist surge. A long time in the making. Foreign affairs, 95(6), 25-30.
Muis, J., & Immerzeel, T. (2017). Causes and consequences of the rise of populist radical right parties and movements in Europe. Current Sociology, 65(6), 909-930
Pauwels, T. (2014). Populism in Western Europe: Comparing Belgium, Germany and the Netherland, New York: Routledge

Terrorism on the Front Cover

Is Media the Oxygen of Terrorism or a Societal Resource of Defense?

By André Francischetti Moreno

Vulnerability, despair, and not knowing from whom to run, where to go or what to do. On the 9th of November 2019, these feelings were felt once again in Europe, when 2 people died and 3 were wounded after a stabbing in the heart of London, described by the Scotland Yard as terrorism. The attacker was Usman Khan, 28, who was released from jail in December 2018, five years after he had been convicted for planning an attack on the London Stock Exchange and pubs in Stoke and setting up a jihadist training camp in Pakistan (“London Bridge,” 2019). Emphatically, this new and complex form of terrorism enacted by individual cells is being broadly recurrent in the past decade, and its motivations go much beyond George W. Bush´s explanation that terrorists are driven by their jealousy of the Western freedom. In this reflection, we are not going to cover the transnational networks and new technologies that facilitate the recruiting of individual cells by the so-called terrorist groups. Instead, we will go through the very motivations that guide these groups in order to better understand why the media coverage of terrorist attacks may paradoxically both underpin them and contribute to protecting society.

Above all, the perpetuators of terrorism are generally political actors who promote their own political agenda and are confronted with blocked institutions in their home states (e.g. censorship), which prevent them of performing changes. Following the ideas of Keck and Sikkink (1998), this phenomenon lead to the “Boomerang Effect”, in which these actors can bypass blocked institutions, and directly connect with transnational networks. Local political entrepreneurs frame their cause, build up organizational structures that command political loyalties and mobilize resources. Particularly, the attacks we have been talking about are located as one type of the possible resources of political contention (Adamson, 2005), and do not have as their main objective the killing of a great amount of people, but media coverage. The media coverage of an issue provides a space for moderate organizations to argue a distinction between the legitimacy of the cause and the tactics used to shed a light on them, thus increasing the public pressure on national governments to solve the respective problems claimed by the groups.

On the 22nd of July 2011, a home-grown right-wing extremist with an anti-Islamic and anti-immigration agenda killed 69 people, mostly teenagers on the island of Utøya, in Norway. Two hours earlier, the main governmental office complex in Oslo was attacked with an aftermath of eight deaths (Bivand & Strømsø, 2018). The Norwegian media coverage featured a constant flow of detailed interviews with survivors and family members of the victims. According to Schultz et al. (2014), “During the weekend after the terrorist attacks, respondents reported spending an extensive amount of time watching the news: a mean total of 17 hours in Oslo, and 16 elsewhere in Norway.” The news media coverage gave the perpetrator and his political messages publicity and hindered the victims by exposing them.

On the other hand, the media coverage of terrorist attacks is not only a matter of transparency, a fundamental tenet of democracy, but also a forum in which the civil society can gather information on the current level of alert in their communities, safety procedures and security norms. Furthermore, by dramatizing the event and deepening the understanding of the tactics used by the political actor in question, civil society is able and motivated to pursue policies against recruitment, dismantle transnational networks of terror, increase solidarity and avoid similarly dimensioned attacks in the future. 

Briefly, one can see that the actions of terrorist entities, pivots of a recurring theme of European security, do not end at the act of attempting against life or sovereignty of a country. Nevertheless, it goes on and uses the freedom of speech, a basis of modern democratic states, in order to further its effects and achieve its political objectives. In conclusion, an important meta-analysis remains for the media agencies and another for the public. First, to what extent should communication means echo terrorist attacks and what is their responsibility towards society? The latter, is some sort of regulation on coverage content necessary, or would it undermine the structures of a healthy democracy?


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