EUROPEAN ARMY DISPUTE
Janusz Bugajski, November 2018
During President Donald Trump’s recent visit to Paris, several EU leaders proposed that Europe should establish its own army. Although Trump was blamed for this declaration, because of his alleged antagonism toward continental Europe, in reality the EU is again trying to punch above its weight.
The idea of a European Army has been raised by several West European governments since the end of the Cold War, either because EU leaders want to appear strong and unified or are voicing their displeasure with some aspect of US security policy. For its part, Washington has been frustrated that these propositions remove the focus from strengthening the NATO alliance.
A European corps (Eurocorps), involving ten European countries, was established in the 1990s and based on the Franco-German brigade. Other countries pledged contingents, but the Eurocorps was never actually deployed as a distinct unit. Several countries have since abandoned the joint brigade and the French and German contingents are mostly deployed on their national territories.
Paris and Berlin are now attempting another incarnation of the European Army given Trump’s criticisms of insufficient Allied defense spending and his threats to abandon NATO. French President Emmanuel Macron warned that Europeans must create a separate army to protect themselves and to demonstrate that Europe is not an American vassal.
Chancellor Angela Merkel supported Macron’s military proposal in a more assertive EU.Merkel has claimed that Europe’s traditional allies (in other words, the US) may no longer guarantee the continent’s security. In a direct criticism of Trump, she asserted that “the times in which we could unconditionally rely on others are over.”
Trump quickly denounced the new European Army initiative on Twitter, claiming that the US gained nothing of value in return for spending hundreds of billions of dollars on helping its European allies. He called Macron’s proposal insulting and demanded that “Europe should first pay its fair share of NATO, which the US subsidizes greatly!” He mocked the idea of an effective EU army and pointed out that the French had needed Americans to rescue them from the Germans in both world wars.
The Macron-Merkel declaration comes a year after EU members agreed to establish a defense union, styled as PESCO (Permanent Structured Cooperation). Some viewed this initiative as the creation of a European Army, but in reality its ambitions are more modest and could complement NATO rather than undermining it. Officials earmarked 17 joint projects for PESCO, including a pan-European military training center, the creation of a German-led European medical unit and logistics hub, faster crisis response forces, and intelligence exchanges on cyber threats.
In practical terms, the EU can contribute to its mutual security even if some states fail to fulfill the 2% of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) defense spending stipulated in NATO documents. Most importantly, the expansion of dual-use trans-national infrastructure, including roads and railways, can directly assist NATO mobility in times of emergency. At the same time, the EU can maximize its resources by pooling military equipment and avoiding unnecessary competition in arms production.
The EU also needs to focus on strengthening Union borders, intercepting refugee smuggling and other forms of trafficking, combating maritime piracy, providing humanitarian assistance, and contributing to Alliance counter-terrorism operations. Such mission would not require significant US involvement and would harden the softest part of Europe’s defenses. Europe can also do more to combat numerous growing non-military threats, including cyber attacks, organized crime, state-directed corruption, economic warfare, and energy monopolization.
Despite the ambitions of Paris and Berlin, without the UK the EU will become a weaker military player. Britain and France have been the two strongest European militaries and are not averse to engaging in combat, unlike Germany, which prefers peace-keeping to war-fighting. London has obstructed any moves that would duplicate NATO and divert scarce funds away from the Alliance. It was also determined to maintain the trans-Atlantic link with the US.
Likewise, most Central and East European (CEE) leaders have opposed any distinct EU army, contending that a separate defense structure will undermine NATO at a time when Alliance solidarity is necessary to defend against Moscow’s aggression. Resources should be focused on improving NATO capabilities instead of creating weaker substitutes without Washington. Some CEE capitals contend thatthe American presence must be expanded, as evident in recent proposals from Warsaw for a permanent US base in Poland.
The motive behind an EU army may be more reactive than rational – to demonstrate that Europe should be taken more seriously as an international player despite the UK’s exit and Trump’s persistent criticisms. However, another failed project will simply deepen the Union’s decline and enable Moscow to capitalize on trans-Atlantic rifts. Indeed, Russian officials have loudly praised the new Macron-Merkel proposal.
In order to be effective, EU initiatives need to complement NATO and not dilute transatlantic unity. In a time of crisis, a European army could not handle a major war either within or outside its borders without substantial US involvement.
Janusz Bugajski, October 2018
As the United Kingdom approaches its Brexit deadline, the country remains stuck between past and future. With a divided Conservative Party and a neo-Marxist Labor Party poised for new elections, the country has entered a period of deep uncertainty that may threaten its trans-Atlantic commitments.
Since the referendum on leaving the EU in June 2016, Britain has plunged into a Brexit debacle. Despite months of intensive domestic debate and sporadic EU negotiations, London is no nearer in reaching an exit agreement that would satisfy both sides. London has until 29 March 2019 to finalize its plans but negotiations are at a standstill.If the UK receives a bad deal or no deal at all, the Labour Party will exploit the public outrage to push for early general elections.
The British government cannot decide whether it wants a hard or soft Brexit, or what elements from both options. A hard Brexit would entail a comprehensive economic break with the EU to escape Union regulations and tariffs. This would mean leaving both the single market and the customs union. Supporters claim that they are willing to sacrifice short-term disruption and even the high initial economic costs, because Britain will evidently gain longer-term gains through better regulations and beneficial free-trade deals outside Europe.
In contrast, a soft Brexit means maintaining Britain’s close economic alignment with the EU. The goal would be to minimize any disruption to trade and business sparked by abandoning EU regulations. A soft Brexit would include remaining within both the EU’s single market (similar to Norway) and the customs union (much like Turkey). Soft Brexiteers are even willing to be bound by EU rules and tariffs even though London will lose any say in deciding them. They contend that high barriers to commerce with the EU, Britain’s most important trading partner, will substantially depress the economy.
Prime Minister Theresa May has in principle agreed to a multi-year transition during which Britain will continue to be bound by all EU rules. To guarantee that there will be no hard border between Northern Ireland, a province of the UK, and the Irish Republic, an EU member, she accepted that Britain must stay in a customs union and maintain EU regulations until another formula is found.
Unfortunately, May heads a weak and often divided Conservative government that finds it difficult to push any decisions through parliament. This uncertainty is fuelling economic stagnation, with the Bank of Englandwarning about the dire consequences of a hard Brexit to major financial institutions in the City of London. The delay is also undermining investor confidence in the country and some large multinationals may sooner or later decide to abandon the UK.
Unless the Conservatives can unite and win over the electorate, lurking in the background is the revived specter of Marxist socialism. At the recent Labour Party conference, its leader Jeremy Corbyn announced plans to reconstruct a hard socialist United Kingdom. And Labour’s opportunities will likely expand if the May government cannot negotiate a profitable Brexit deal and if there is substantial economic decline.
Labour leaders believe that the shock of Brexit will raise support for a change of government with radically different policies. Some are actually hoping for chaos and decline in the immediate aftermath of Brexit. According to Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, “the greater the mess we inherit, the more radical we have to be, the greater the need for change to shift the balance of power.” While many voters currently view Labour as too militant, an economic jolt after leaving the EU may sway an increasing number to accept radical solutions.
In the economic arena, Corbyn wants to heavily tax the rich and large businesses, to renationalize utilities and transportation, and to vastly increase government spending on social services. In the midst of Brexit, this sounds like a recipe for economic disaster, as business will be stifled, international investors will avoid the country, and workers from the EU will no longer be available to perform menial jobs.
The prospects of a Labour triumph in early elections have already set off alarm bells in Washington. Corbyn is staunchly opposed to NATO, supports Marxist regimes in Latin America, is vehemently anti-Israeli, aims to swiftly recognize a Palestinian state, and wants to abandon Britain’s nuclear weapons. Such policies would be even more damaging to the country than Brexit, as the “special” security and military relationship with the US could be jeopardized. Under a Corbyn government, the close economic relationship with the US could also unwind.
A British swing from populism to socialism could also be a warning for the future of Europe. Just as right-wing populists seek to assist their counterparts in neighboring states, Labour may want to return to a Europe that starts to swing leftward. And before the March 2019 deadline, Labour will demand a general election if parliament rejects whatever deal May negotiates with Brussels, or if no Brexit agreement is reached. Even a second referendum on the terms for leaving the EU cannot be discounted.
Janusz Bugajski, July 2018
I have been a football fanatic for almost my entire life and the World Cup is always the pinnacle of that passion. Croatia’s triumphal performance despite its defeat in the final is particularly emotional because it is a country with which I feel closely attached. As with the struggle for independence, Croatia has defeated all the doubters in its footballing achievements.
Even for many neutral supporters Croatia provided a breath of fresh air after the same teams have dominated the World Cup every four years. For much of the final match they were superior to France, controlled the midfield, and proved more creative in attack, but were ultimately defeated by two erroneous decisions by the referee.
Croatia is a small country with a big heart. Success in football is not only a question of individual skill, but of tactics, teamwork, determination, and perseverance through the pain barrier. The Croatian team demonstrated all these vital traits and each player should be rightly considered as a national hero.
Persistent claims by officials and commentators that politics and sport should not be mixed are wishful thinking and often hypocritical. One only needs to look at the history and tradition of any international competition. Sport is always political – why else do athletes compete under national flags, supporters wave national symbols, and everyone sings national anthems? As the most popular global game, football has become a primary marker of national identity.
Football clearly demonstrates that internationalism, unlike nationalism and state patriotism, does not stir genuine passion or commitment. On the contrary, it often has the reverse effect when it sparks resentment and fear of losing one’s national identity and blending into uniformity. This is clearly on display throughout the EU, where the sense of European identity remains weak despite all the benefits that the Union brings to its members.
Political hypocrisy and double standards were also on display during the World Cup, particularly by FIFA officials and Russian authorities. Two Kosova Albanian players on the Switzerland team were penalized by FIFA for making a symbol of the Albanian eagle after their victory over Serbia. FIFA then threatened to disqualify Domagoj Vida for his “Slava Ukraini!” (Glory to Ukraine!) salute after Croatia’s victory over Russia. His was a powerful reminder that in the midst of the World Cup Moscow continues to occupy parts of Ukraine and murders its civilians.
Unfortunately, Croatia’s football authorities failed to display the bravery of the Croatian team and compelled Vida to apologize for what was claimed as a “controversial video” where he spoke out for Ukraine’s independence. They also sacked assistant coach Ognjen Vukojevic instead of hailing both men as responsible sportsmen who underscored the importance of national freedom. Their acts actually highlighted the close link between politics and sport that no amount of denial can eliminate.
The top prize for hypocrisy belongs to the Russian authorities for whom sport is so important as a marker of national achievement that they regularly cheat with performance enhancing drugs in order to capture trophies.This has been evident throughout the Olympic Games and investigations are now underway regarding Russia’s currentfootball team.
The World Cup ignites national hopes for glory in all corners of the world. Football matches promote national unity and a sense of pride that often becomes compensation during harsh social and economic conditions. Unfortunately, in the earlier days of club competition, racism was a common phenomenon and an underpinning of mass hooliganism. But when football clubs acquired foreign players of different ethnicities, racism became self-defeating. Indeed, the English Premier League, which I consider as the most entertaining in Europe, has become particularly attractive because it includes so many foreign players.
Football may be an international language but it also has many dialects. Clubs are surrogate tribes during important competitions. Many cities around Europe and Latin America are deeply divided by football club loyalties where gang violence has thrived in inner city areas. Nonetheless, moves to transform football into a family spectator sport rather than a male machismo phenomenon have proved increasingly successful.
Football ignites “us against them” passions and has on occasion resulted in collective violence. Football clubs have also been recruitment centers for ultra-nationalist fanatics, as witnessed during the wars in Yugoslavia in 1990s when various militias manipulated club loyalties and national identities against rival ethnicities. In 1969, there was even a full-scale war between El Salvador and Honduras sparked by a World Cup playoff that exposed deep-rooted conflicts over borders, land ownership, and immigrants.
Croatia now stands at the pinnacle of world attention. Its current success and national pride must be translated into a full-scale cleaning of Croatia’s football federation from all corruption scandals. And at higher organizational levels, FIFA itself must continue to be monitored and investigated for pervasive corruption because unfortunately the “beautiful game” attracts both heroes and villains.
EUROPE’S COLD WAR WITH AMERICA
Janusz Bugajski, June 2018
In recent weeks, senior EU leaders have taken turns not only to criticize the Donald Trump administration but also to claim that the trans-Atlantic link is disintegrating. Such rhetoric is counter-productive and potentially self-fulfilling and also exposes the EU to charges of hypocrisy and weakness.
Several top EU official have recently attacked Trump as a major challenge totransatlantic unity. They condemn the President for abandoning several multilateral accords including the Paris Climate Agreement and the nuclear deal with Iran. European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans stated that Trump was the first US President to favor a divided Europe. European Council President Donald Tusk claimed that “with friends like that who needs enemies.”
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel went one step further in asserting that even after Trump leaves the White House relations with the US “will never be the same.” And European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker declared that “we have to replace the United States,” which has allegedly lost vigor and influence. It makes one wonder what Juncker’s home country of Luxembourg has ever contributed to Europe’s security.
In reality, it is irresponsible to declare America’s post-World War Two geostrategic relationship with Europe to be dead simply because of one person’s election. Aside from the fact that the EU project owes its existence to the sacrifice and resources of the US, America and Europe continue to share the same fundamental interests. And Trump’s national security officials are not the isolationists that some EU leaders are claiming.
Europe remains heavily dependent on the US for its security, as Washington contributes over 70% off the NATO budget and can more rapidly deploy troops than any European ally. Contrary to hyperbole from some officials, the White House has actually strengthened the NATO alliance over the past year and key US officials harbor fewer illusions about Russia than some of President Obama’s appointees.
It is worth recalling that transatlantic relations were not alwaysrosy before Trump’s presidency, as America shifted its center of gravity away from Europe to the Middle and Far East. Obama’s naive “reset” with Russia precipitated protests in Central-Eastern Europe with several leaders warning that the US President was weakening NATO.
Europeans themselves cannot avoid sharing responsibility for any decline in transatlantic relations. In recent opinion polls, it transpires that most Germans, Italians, and French favor neutrality and oppose defending a NATO ally if it is attacked by Russia. Such a position is much more damning that anything that Trump has stated either as candidate or as President.
There is also a core of hypocrisy in EU condemnations of Trump’s alleged indifference to liberal values and human rights. EU leaders issue blatantly dishonest complaints that their companies will be sanctioned by the US for doing business with Iran – a regime that murders its own people and spreads international terrorism. Does such business actually foster the “common values” of “liberal democracy” that they accuse America of backtracking on? Evidently, Europe’s corporate profits are more important than human rights.
Naturally, any trans-Atlantic rifts serve Moscow’s objectives in dividing its adversaries and there are certain domains where the Kremlin can benefit. In particular, rising tensions between the US and larger European states such as Germany will undermine the international sanctions imposed for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Absent US pressure, West Europeans will make energy deals with Moscow, such as Nord Stream 2, which the Kremlin has designed to isolate Ukraine and increase EU dependence. And without US commitments to European security, the Kremlin would have a freer hand to subvert and suborn its former satellites in Europe’s east.
European leaders need to look at themselves from a global perspective. Compared to the larger powers, Europe is a declining continent in terms of population, GDP, and military spending. The proposal that the EU form an independent “humanitarian” pole of power that could compete with a rising China, a subversive Russia, and a restless Middle East without US leadership is laughable at best and tragic at worst. And if EU leaders believe that Trump is trying to unravel the EU then they are simply closing their eyes to Putin’s intentions.
Exaggerated attacks on the Trump administration will not result in greater EU unity as too many policies divide the Union even aside from Brexit. On the contrary, disputes between Brussels and Washington will simply widen rifts between European states that value the US military presence and fickle West Europeans who have taken the American security umbrella for granted.
The values and interests uniting the US and Europe will survive one presidency unless of course European leaders decide to make any ruptures permanent. Europeans can start to unwind the transatlantic alliance, but they do so at their peril. If the US was truly to withdraw from Europe, the EU would face a stark choice – whether to vastly increase its defense budget at the cost of its social spending, or simply throw its hands in the air and surrender to Putin’s Russia.
THE ITALIAN CONNECTION
Janusz Bugajski, May 2018
After two months of intensive negotiations Italy finally has a new government. The newly forged coalition looks set to challenge EU integration and could damage the NATO Alliance. While the EU is still trying to digestBrexit, a potential loosening of the Italian connection may also encourage other dissatisfied capitals.
A government of the 5Stars anti-establishment party and the ultra-right League is unprecedented in Europe. This is the first time among the six original EU countries that parties deeply skeptical toward the Union have taken power and sidelined Italy’s traditional leftist and rightist parties. If they are successful in government than EU integration may move in reverse.
EU leaders have been struggling with life after Brexit and have declared on numerous occasions that the Union must be reformed. The problem is that each member state has a different conception of what kind of a Union the reforms should lead to – looser or tighter, federal or confederal, unified or inter-governmental. Various proposals have led nowhere, including the “Bratislava Declaration” issued by European Council President Donald Tusk and a “Future of Europe” White Paper produced by EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
The early hopes that French President Emmanuel Macron would revive the Union are also fading. Even the Franco-German tandem is not in sync. Germany’s new coalition government is not interested in such initiatives as an EU finance minister or a budgetary union that could damage German finances. At the same time, Spain is in the midst of an internal conflict over Catalonia while Poland and Hungary are embroiled in a crisis of confidence over the rule of law.
Italy has now added to the sense of danger, as the new coalition seems to favor the idea of a euro-exit. Beppe Grillo, the founder of 5Stars, is reviving the idea of a referendum on the single currency. Meanwhile, Italian President Sergio Mattarella has asserted that the European project has lost its ability to meet the expectations of large portions of the population. Restless young Italians, similarly to the Greeks, mostly blame the EU for their economic problems. But unlike the Greeks many also believe they would be richer outside the Euro and the EU. In a recent opinion poll, over half of people under 45 claimed they would vote to leave the EU.
Italy is part of a southern EU grouping that is falling behind the more dynamic northern economies. It is the eurozone’s third-largest economy, but also one of its most indebted. According to the Bank of Italy, Rome’s public debt totals €2.3 trillion and is equivalent to about 132 percent of the country’s GDP.
The 5Stars-League coalition is calling for the renegotiation of EU treaties, including the Stability and Growth Pact. Its economic proposals are alarming the rest of the EU, as they include demands for billions of euros in debt relief from the European Central Bank and a scaling down of Italy’s budgetary contributions to the Union. They are also planning a budget worth tens of billions of euros that includes a minimum universal income and a flat tax of 15% for low and middle earners.
5Stars opposes what they describe as EU-imposed austerity but have no realistic plans for boosting the Italian budget. Germany and other northern economies will be resolutely opposed to their taxpayers funding an Italian spending spree. The new coalition also wants to tighten immigration even though Italy’s population is rapidly aging and without immigrants its economy will sink further in the coming decade.
The performance of Italy’s populist-nationalist government will have a significant impact on Euroskeptic parties in the 2019 European parliamentary elections. Leading Euroskeptics such as France’s Marine Le Pen are trying to unite all anti-Europeans under one banner and the Italian connection now looks the most promising. If the new government registers any success the Euroskeptics will undermine the EU parliament’s centrist majority. Paradoxically, if parliament is deadlocked between centrist and Euroskeptics, then far-left and Green parties would become kingmakers.
Italy’s growing connections with Putin’s Russia can also lead to Atlantic disconnections. The two coalition partners, both of which have been courted by Moscow, want to drop sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. If this happens then the Kremlin will register a major success by gaining its first significant collaborator inside the European Council, the G7, and NATO. The League has a cooperation agreement with Putin’s ruling party, United Russia, with credible reports that the Kremlin has funded both 5Stars and the League.
Although Italy is not a prominent military contributor to NATO, its participation in Alliance exercises and peacekeeping missions, as well its hosting of US bases, could be jeopardized if Moscow’s influences increase over the new government. The one bright hope is that the radical coalition will not last long particularly as Italy is notorious for its short-lived governments that rapidly lose public backing amidst early elections.
EUROPE’S SEPARATIST FUTURES
Janusz Bugajski, May 2018
The European Union is heading toward a wave of sub-state separatism for which it is unprepared. Catalonia, Scotland, and Greenland are the most prominent regions seeking independence and how they are handled will help determine whether other regions push for statehood and whether separation has to be violent in order to succeed.
Spain’s political crisis continues with a standoff between Madrid and political leaders in Catalonia that could descend into violence. In a referendum in October 2017, the pro-independence vote reached 90% even though the turnout was only 43%. The regional parliament, where the separatist majority no longer recognizes the Spanish constitution, promptly declared Catalonia an independent republic.
Madrid responded by imposing emergency powers and direct rule over Catalonia. The Catalan President Carles Puigdemont and his cabinet were accused of rebellion and dismissed, while the regional parliament was dissolved. Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Santamaría was appointed to run the region temporarily. While Puigdemont asserted that he would resist the imposition of direct rule, independence activists called for mass demonstrations, strikes, and boycotts to “defend the republic.” The longer that this standoff continues the clearer it becomes that a stalemate is untenable.
The banned Catalan National Assembly has called for international mediation and urged the EU to intervene to stop the “violation of civic and political rights” by the Spanish government. Until now, the EU has viewed the crisis as Spain’s domestic affair. However, after a German court dismissed Madrid’s accusations of rebellion against Puigdemont and his cabinet members, pressure has been mounting on the Spanish government to negotiate with their Catalan counterparts.
Autonomy is not the solution, as the Spanish constitution already grants Catalonia a considerable degree of administrative devolution. Spain remains a unitary entity with the central government in full control of key levers of power. One possible solution is genuine federalization in which Spain accepts that Catalonia has a right to self-determination, while Catalonia accepts that this will require a 55% majority in a referendum. This would break the ruling principle of a unitary Spain and could satisfy the majority of Catalans.
The only other formula would be for Madrid to accept Barcelona’s right to secede in order to avoid continuous conflicts, much as the Czechs and Slovaks decided in 1992. Without negotiations and peaceful solutions there will be a growing spiral of repression and resistance leading to violent confrontation.
In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is facing growing domestic pressure to move forward with a second independence referendum. Sturgeon has a mandate for another ballot before the next Scottish assembly elections in 2021.In the last referendum in 2014, the “Yes” campaign lost by 55.3% to 44.7%. However, that was before Brexit in which the Scots voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU. After Brexit, the case for independence has been strengthened although political leaders are waiting to see what emerges from the negotiations between London and Brussels.
Westminster has been at loggerheads with the Scottish administrations since the Brexit referendum on how powers are transferred to Edinburgh when Britain leaves the EU. Leaders in Wales and Scotland have expressed concern that London will bring EU treaties into British national law without input on key policies from either nation. This would diminish the authority of the Scottish parliament. Some Scottish leaders are also convinced that a hard Brexitwill impact negatively on the economy by removing EU subsidies and diminishing business investment.
Recent opinion polls indicate that support for Scottish independence has surged among younger generations who are eager to embrace a European identity and disillusioned with Westminster’s policies. According to the results, 57% of 16 to 24 year-olds are in favor of independence and 59% back statehood among 25 to 34 year-olds. This underscores that a future referendum is very likely to swing toward the “yes” vote.
In Greenland, pro-independence parties won general elections on 24 April. Six of the seven parties taking part in the ballot are in favor of separation from Denmark, which appears to be just a question of time. Until 1953, Greenland was officially a Danishcolony and then was declared a self-governing territory. Denmark economically subsidized the enormous island, which has a tiny population of under 60,000.
However, Copenhagen’s heavy-handed approach in imposing the Danish language and Protestantism alienated the indigenous inhabitants.In 2017, the native Inuit leaders established a constitutional commission, which declared that they would follow the experience of other former Danish colonies, including Norway, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands, to determine Greenland’s independence.The Faroe Islands government has delayed a scheduled vote on independence evidently due to concerns from Denmark and the EU about the outcome and impact on other countries.
It is extremely difficult for any region to achieve independence under existing international and EU law. In practice, it is easier to win statehood through violence when international attention becomes focused on resolution for fear of spreading bloodshed. Europe is waiting to see whether Catalonia, Scotland, Greenland, the Faroe Islands, and other ambitious regions can break this violent tradition.
ANOTHER BLOW FOR THE EU
Janusz Bugajski, October 2017
The result of parliamentary elections in the Czech Republic on 20-21 October could prove a double blow to the EU project. The new government is likely to be a populist coalition that will retard the democratic process and become more vulnerable to Russia’s influences designed to further divide the EU.
The ruling pro-EU Czech Social Democratic party has been in persistent conflict with an openly pro-Russian President, Miloš Zeman, and the populist ANO (Action of Dissatisfied Citizens) movement led by a wealthy Czech oligarch, Andrej Babiš. ANO is openly Euroskeptic, resists further European integration, and opposes various EU policies, including the economic sanctions imposed on Russia for invading Ukraine.
During the past year, support for the Social Democrats has shrunk to under 15 percent despite the relatively respectable performance of the Czech economy. The ANO movement outperformed them in several key regional elections in October 2016, with its focus on national identity and anti-immigration. In recent opinion polls, it registered a double-digit lead over the Social Democrats and looks on track to lead any new coalition government.
ANO has no clear ideology but plays on populist themes to gain power. Similarly to the ruling parties in both Hungary and Poland, it is less concerned about democratic checks and balances and more focused on restoring national sovereignty that is allegedly under threat from Brussels. This can steer the country toward a more centralized and statist capitalist system that favors loyal oligarchs.
The rule of law in the Czech Republic is already failing to meet EU standards because of high-level political interference in the judicial process that often targets political opponents. This is likely to worsen under an ANO-led government.
Opponents charge that Babiš and Zeman will continue to exploit xenophobic and anti-immigrant sentiments and resist the EU’s migrant quota directive, in which member states are expected to accept a share of Muslim immigrants. This is similar to the stance of other Central European leaders who claim that Brussels should not impose mandatory quotas that will destabilize their societies.
An ANO victory will also assist the Vladimir Putin regime in driving a wedge through Central Europe to disable a common front against Russia’s expansionism. The Kremlin already views Hungary’s Prime Minister Victor Orban and Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico as pliable leaders who can be enticed to distance themselves from the EU and NATO. The Czech Republic is now the main target, where the current President is demonstrates his pro-Kremlin bias and his close advisers reportedly maintain financial connections with Moscow.
The focus will now be on the incoming Prime Minister. Links between Moscow and amenable Central European politicians are based primarily on lucrative business contracts and donations to political campaigns, together with compromising personal material that can provide extra political leverage. After winning office in March 2013, President Zeman pledged to promote closer political and economic ties with Moscow. He has connections with General Vladimir Yakunin, former Chairman of Russian Railroads, a Putin confidant, and ex-KGB officer blacklisted by Washington for involvement in Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Zeman openly favors Babiš to become the next Czech Prime Minister. Such an outcome could further estrange the country from both the EU and NATO. Babiš was dismissed from the Finance Ministry in May following allegations of tax dodging and fraudulently using EU subsidies. Czech police are pushing for Babiš’s prosecution, with some reports linking him to opaque Russian business interests. Babiš also uses his substantial media holdings to attack political opponents.
In addition to weakening the European project, an ANO-led coalition may jeopardize regional security. Until now, Czech intelligence services have been vigilant in uncovering Russian subversion. Under a Moscow-friendly government their work could be curtailed and undermine EU intelligence sharing.
The current Czech government also monitors and alerts the public to false news spread by websites supported by Moscow. The Kremlin is reportedly behind at least forty Czech-language websites peddling conspiracy theories. The goal of such operations is to sow doubts among citizens about the value of democracy and create negative images of the EU, the US, and NATO.
In addition to canvassing for the lifting of EU sanctions against Moscow, the next Czech government is likely to facilitate new energy deals with Russia that would undercut the region’s energy diversity and competition. For instance, an ANO government is likely to select Russia’s Rosatom to build a new reactor at the Dukovany nuclear power plant.
The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia lie at the epicenter of Russia’s campaign to subvert EU and NATO states from within. Putin’s policy planners calculate that governments can be influenced to serve Kremlin designs, transforming Central Europe into a neutral zone. The election of populist politicians with ties to the Kremlin will present new threats for the EU, which is already grappling with challenges to democracy and the rule of law in Poland and Hungary.
NO SUBSTITUTE FOR THE EU
Janusz Bugajski, June 2017
A campaign is under way to prevent the next important step for Europe’s development – the incorporation of the entire Balkan peninsula in the European Union. While Moscow is attempting to sink the EU integration project, Belgrade has proposed a regional free trade area and a West Balkan customs union that could be exploited by opponents of EU enlargement and delay or disqualify the membership of states seeking entry.
Twenty years ago, as the post-communist Central European countries pushed for EU accession, some voices in Western capitals were promoting a regional free trade bloc and even a separate political alliance that would in effect keep the new democracies at arms length. Governments in these states calculated that regional economic integration can foster economic growth, but it can also prove an obstacle to EU entry. As a result, the Poles, Czechs, and Hungarians studiously avoided being trapped in any substitute arrangements. Even the Visegrad alliance was seen as a stepping-stone to EU entry and not as a regional structure.
In this context, proposals by President Aleksandar Vucic for a Balkan free trade bloc have raised suspicions in several capitals that Serbia seeks to regain its regional hegemony by economically integrating the countries that once formed Yugoslavia, together with Albania. Indeed, Vucic admitted that the integrated free trade zone was a political project and not simply an economic one. Countries tied to neighbors through a common legal economic space tend to become dependent on each other’s progress in meeting EU standards and the slowest may hold back the fastest.
The creation of another common market in the region is unnecessary because most countries have been part of the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) since 2007. CEFTA was created in 1992 to help members prepare for EU membership and not to serve as a substitute. Every country that joined the EU subsequently exited CEFTA and was not involved in any alternative regional customs unions.
Any long-term economic structure in South East Europe does not benefit the EU aspirants; however, it assists Moscow in its drive to fracture and dismantle the West. Vucic’s proposal for an integrated economic area would enlarge Russia’s footprints in the region and increase its political penetration. Serbia has a free trade agreement with Russia and the creation of a new regional agreement would damage CEFTA and tie each West Balkan state into a closer Russian orbit through Serbia.
Russia’s government supports any economic or political substitute for the EU that will weaken the European project and enable the growth of its strategic influence. In fact, Moscow views the EU as a more pernicious long-term threat to its ambitions than NATO. Its standards of legality, transparency, and competition challenge Russia’s opaque and corrupt business model, while its political and human rights stipulations undermine Russia’s autocratic model of governance.
The Kremlin finds it easier to manipulate weak states and authoritarian leaders outside the EU than dealing with democracies inside the Union that hold regular elections and frequently change governments. Brexit, populism, nationalism, and other divisive problems within the EU are also welcomed in Moscow because they can fracture the Union and enable advantageous bilateral deals with Russia.
Kremlin propaganda outlets continually lambast the EU for its secularism and liberalism, for its allegedly failing multiculturalism, and its uncontrolled immigration. Through its information war Moscow can stimulate and influence a “fifth column” of parties opposed to the EU project. In particular, it exploits an assortment of nationalist, ultra-conservative, and xenophobic groups to reinforce its message of Western decadence and Russia’s alleged defense of traditional values.
In this context, the Balkan peninsula is viewed in the Kremlin as Europe’s weakest link where competition with the EU can be increased, conflicts manipulated, potential new allies found, and economic opportunities exploited to Moscow’s advantage. To compensate for its military and economic weakness vis-à-vis the West, Moscow deploys a wide assortment of political, financial, and informational tools to achieve its strategic objectives.
In seeking to disqualify the West Balkan and other states from EU entry, Moscow promotes local nationalisms, corrupts politicians and oligarchs to favor Russian business interests, and fosters energy dependence with national capitals. By sabotaging progress toward EU accession, President Vladimir Putin seeks to maintain a number of frozen or divided countries in the former Yugoslavia This also forestalls the implementation of the EU’s legal standards and makes easier the corruption of national leaders. Keeping the Western Balkans outside the EU and fanning local disputes undermines European unity and the credibility of the EU itself.
Even if it possesses constructive political and economic motives, Belgrade’s focus on a regional free trade zone and a Western Balkan Customs Union inadvertently plays into the hands of Moscow as well as Europe’s populists and nationalists. It gives extra ammunition to those who seek a substitute for EU accession by making more qualified countries such as Montenegro become dependent on weaker neighbors and thereby obstructs their progress into the European mainstream.
EUROPEAN UNION NEEDS TO EXPAND
Janusz Bugajski, June 2017
In the face of an existential crisis, the European Union needs to demonstrate its importance by reviving its core mission of including new qualified states as members. Instead of wasting time and resources on trying to develop a separate defense structure that would compete with NATO, the EU should stick to what it knows best by developing a common economic, legal, and social space that includes the entire Western Balkan region.
Moving the EU’s borders would indicate that the Union is overcoming its recent crisis with the Greek financial bailout, its shock over the Brexit decision, and its continent-wide struggles with nationalism and populism. A good point to start the new revived enlargement process is with Montenegro. Indeed, the principle of “the smaller the quicker” could easily apply to a national population equal in size to a mid-sized Western European city.
Since December 2010, Montenegro has been a candidate country for the EU and its accession process formally began in June 2012. Podgorica has opened 26 out of 35 chapters of the EU’s acquis communautaire and is making progress on several fronts. This formal process of legal and institutional harmonization can be substantially accelerated through a commitment by EU leaders to incorporate Montenegro by the end of this decade, or shortly thereafter. One could call it the EU’s 2020 vision.
There are six compelling arguments for Montenegro’s accelerated accession that would enhance local, regional, and international stability. First, it would help energize political and economic reforms in all states aspiring to EU entry and discourage the dangers of backtracking. Politicians would understand that membership can be secured if reforms are speeded up and the public will feel less anxious about their future economic prospects.
Second, Montenegro’s entry would undermine nationalist and populist alternatives to the EU project. Destructive domestic and international actors rely on uncertainty, fear, and anger to stir conflict and chaos in countries left outside the EU. A positive scenario for Montenegro would contribute to eroding social grievances and national disputes in the region, similarly to developments in Central Europe over a decade ago. It would help counter the negative messages of anti-globalist and Euroskeptic populists, as successful politicians espouse the benefits of international institutions.
Third, Montenegro’s EU entry would deter Russian aggression and other forms of international subversion. Russia’s uses its “soft power” tools to entrap local politicians with financial support, impregnate the local and social media with disinformation, stir inter-ethnic animosities, and threaten pro-Western governments or even plan coups, as was the case during Montenegro’s elections. The EU must demonstrate its resolve and not be intimidated by the Kremlin, which ultimately seeks to fracture the Union not to expand it.
Fourth, the incorporation of new states would revive the EU’s core mandate of a united and prosperous Europe. The fact that long-time aspirants are admitted would underscore that the EU is reinventing itself as an attractive and beneficial multi-national institution that can provide prosperity and security to each member. The inclusion of a small state like Montenegro would not be costly in terms of EU accession funds and other forms of structural assistance, but the benefits to economic development and international investment would prove significant.
Fifth, the commitment to enlargement would demonstrate the leadership of key states such as Germany and France regardless of Britain’s exit from the Union. The presidential elections in France have recommitted Paris to the EU and a similar process is likely in Germany later this year. Leaders with new popular mandates must not shirk from a historical challenge but take bold steps to build a united Europe.
And sixth, the Union’s revival would underscore that it is not only a partner for NATO and the US but also a problem solver and regional stabilizer in its own right. EU leaders should look at NATO’s rejuvenated mandate to expand as an example for its own resurgence. This would also raise the EU’s stature in Washington and help strengthen trans-Atlantic bonds.
It would be a tragic mistake for the EU to concentrate on constructing a military or security arm to try and prove its relevance. This would undermine NATO, estrange the US from defending Europe, and feed Moscow’s ambitions. It would also deeply split the Union itself between quasi-pacifist West European states and the Central-East European members who understand that they can only be properly defended from Russia’s aggression through US leadership in a strong NATO.
The 2003 Thessaloniki process that committed the EU to incorporate all Western Balkan states has lost its momentum and the region needs new impetus to make progress. Otherwise, citizens will become convinced that they are never destined to be members of the EU and politicians will calculate that self-enrichment and consolidation of power are more important goals than democratic and economic development. The time has come for the EU to demonstrate “2020 vision” about Europe’s future by pushing ahead with the inclusion of all of South East Europe.
THE IMPORTANCE OF CENTRAL EUROPE
Janusz Bugajski, January 2017
The countries of Central-Eastern Europe (CEE) are anxiously monitoring the foreign policy moves of President Donald Trump. But simply waiting for decisions from Washington is insufficient to raise the stature of CEE capitals in the strategic calculations of the new White House. They cannot afford to be passive bystanders but must be perceived as active contributors to Allied and American interests.
During the US presidential campaign, candidate Trump questioned the value of NATO, the financial commitment of allies to mutual defense, and Europe’s dependence on the US. In response, the small and medium sized states forming half of Europe need to reinvent themselves or face the danger of being ignored ahead of the ambitions of larger powers. They also need to restate their significance for America.
Historically, strategically, and economically the huge swath of territory between the Baltic, Adriatic, and Black Seas is vital for European security. Two world wars were sparked in this region, pulling America into devastating combat. More blood was shed in CEE during the 20th century than in the history of any other region.
Millions of Americans originate from CEE and remain concerned about the future of their ancestral countries. Since the collapse of communism and the dismantling of the Soviet bloc, each government has helped to defend America’s security interests and national values. This was evident in their military participation in US-led operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, in which several West European allies refused to take part. Unlike Russia, each CEE country remains a dependable ally and partner and is not in competition with the US for territory, influence, or resources.
Given Trump’s “America first” focus, CEE capitals have to demonstrate that their security is vital to US interests, and in this effort they can pursue both minimal and maximal objectives. At the minimal level, a basic priority is to assure the continuity of US policy toward the region. This includes the non-reversal of NATO’s enhanced forward presence in response to Russia’s revisionism and the completion of current US military deployments in front line states such as Poland and the Baltic countries.
At the maximal level, CEE leaders should endeavor to convince Washington to adopt a tougher diplomatic position against Russia’s “soft power” subversion of the region. The White House needs to understand that Moscow’s regional policies are designed to replace pro-American governments and undermine US interests. CEE officials also need to explain why a harder sanctions regime and a display of strength is more likely to restrain Moscow’s ambitions than an easing of pressure.
The ultimate aim throughout CEE is to preclude any grand deal between Washington and Moscow over the heads of affected countries that undermines their security and can retard their development. This will require greater activism by each government to demonstrate in both word and deed that the region remains important for the US.
Trump has placed a premium on the national independence of every state and praised Britain’s “Brexit” decision. This principle can be applied to all CEE countries, not in terms of leaving the EU but in ensuring their immunity to Russia’s provocations, subversion, and intervention. Washington needs to be attuned to the fears and aspirations of each nation to avoid a spiral of regional conflict or another potential war.
On the economic front, Europe’s East is a larger and much more developed market than Russia and has a combined population of some 170 million consumers. Trump has stressed the importance of business connections in developing bilateral relations and CEE has an opportunity to demonstrate its attraction for new American investments.
In the security arena, each CEE country needs to pursue a three-pronged demonstration of commitments to NATO and to bilateral ties with the US. First, it is imperative to earmark at least 2% of GDP for defense, as stipulated by NATO agreements. Thus far only Poland and Estonia meet this standard, although other countries, including Romania, Latvia, and Lithuania, have pledged to increase their spending in the coming years. The process needs to be speeded up so the region is not seen as a mere consumer of security.
Second, there needs to be a greater focus on building domestic deterrents against outside aggression so that the CEE region is not perceived as impotently waiting for outside assistance. This includes the development of an effective territorial defense force, military modernization, and targeted defense spending that serves joint Allied interests.
And third, enhanced regional security cooperation is essential where common deterrents need to be established to confront outside aggressors. This can include combined military units, intelligence sharing, joint air-defense, and a host of other initiatives. Regional defense will encourage greater commitments by the US to better protect the borders, airspace, and sea space of eastern flank countries.
For America an unstable Europe that is fractured internally and whose borders are challenged by a belligerent Russia would constitute a major foreign policy disaster, reversing the progress made by every President since Ronald Reagan. In a worst-case scenario, it could pull the US into another costly war in order to defend America’s allies. The CEE region is the key interface between American and European interests and underscores that a common peace only works through collective strength.
THE BATTLE FOR EUROPE
Janusz Bugajski December 2016
The result of Italy’s referendum has intensified the battle over the pan-European project. Amidst growing populism, protectionism, xenophobia, and nationalism, a series of elections in 2017 will help determine whether the EU will consolidate or contract.
In essence, Italy’s vote against constitutional reform and reducing the powers of Italy’s twenty regions was a victory for the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) and the separatist Northern League. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi immediately resigned after losing the ballot, potentially triggering new elections and ushering in a period of political instability.
The anti-government vote sent a powerful message of public dissatisfaction with Italy’s traditional parties. The referendum will boost M5S, which has scored equal to Renzi’s Democrats in recent opinion polls. Led by former comedian Beppe Grillo, M5S is an anti-establishment and Eurosceptic party. Although it is the largest opposition group, 5 Star has no conventional ideology. It gained popularity by focusing on official corruption, and its mixed bag of policies include environmental protection, ensuring public control over water and other resources, and free internet access. It has also become anti-globalist and anti-immigrant.
Luigi Di Maio, the M5S figure who is expected to become prime minister if it gains power, has pledged a referendum on Italy’s membership in the eurozone and renegotiation of the country’s massive public debt. In addition to casting doubts on Rome’s commitment to the EU, such a scenario could rekindle the euro crisis with a looming collapse of the monetary zone if Italy withdraws.
Even if Italians do not vote to leave the eurozone, the mere prospect of such a ballot will undermine markets and place pressure on the weaker eurozone economies. Italy is the eighth largest economy in the world and uncertainty over its development will have negative reverberations around the continent.
The Italian vote heralds a cascade of national elections over the coming months that threatens to hollow out Europe’s political center. The same day as the Italian referendum, Austrians elected a new President, choosing former Green party leader Alexander Van der Bellen over the far-right Norbert Hofer. Despite losing the election, Hofer’s Freedom Party will benefit from his performance, as he gained 47% of the national vote.
The French presidential elections in April and May 2017 will be a contest between conservative Francois Fillon and far-right leader Marion Le Pen. The latter’s National Front favors a referendum on leaving the EU and Le Pen styles herself as ‘Madam Frexit.’ Even if she loses the second round run-off, Le Pen’s anti-Brussels and anti-immigrant populism will resonate on the eve of France’s June parliamentary elections.
Germany, the bedrock of the EU, faces key regional ballots in Schleswig-Holstein and North-Rhine Westphalia in May 2017 followed by parliamentary elections in September 2017. In recent local ballots, the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) made significant gains at the expense of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU). AfD won 14.2% of the vote and gained its first seats in the Berlin state parliament, signifying the first such success by a populist formation since German reunification. A debt restructuring or financial bailout for Italy at the cost of German taxpayers will further increase support for the AfD.
The CDU will face an uphill struggle in national elections as the party’s popularity has drastically diminished in a swell of opposition to Berlin’s tolerant immigration policy. It is still uncertain whether Merkel herself will run for a fourth term for Chancellor. Her potential withdrawal will further raise uncertainty over Germany’s continuing commitment to a more integrated EU.
Holland is due to stage parliamentary election in March 2017. The populist and Eurosceptic Dutch Freedom Party (PVV) led by the controversial Geert Wilders, has a chance of forming the next government. Wilders has gained support for his campaign slogan to stop the “Islamization of the Netherlands.” The PVV now scores second in opinion polls behind the ruling Party for Freedom and Democracy.
Elections are also due in Central-Eastern Europe where populism and Euroscepticism have gathered momentum. The Czech Republic holds its parliamentary ballot in October 2017. The ruling Czech Social Democrats of Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka performed poorly in recent regional relations. They were beaten by ANO, a protest movement and coalition partner headed by Andrej Babis, a billionaire businessman and finance minister who has capitalized on public distrust of traditional parties. The success of populists and nationalists in the major West European states will certainly benefit ANO.
Hungary is also scheduled to hold parliamentary elections in the spring of 2018. Prime Minister Viktor Orban is one of the EU’s leading Eurosceptics and looks poised to renew his mandate in the wake of Budapest’s resistance to allowing the inflow of Syrian refugees despite EU stipulations and his demand for greater national sovereignty.
The coming year will seriously test the EU’s raison d’etre. Each EU capital will not only be monitoring the results of a series of national elections but also the impact of Brexit on the British economy. Even the absence of a major downturn in the UK is certain to encourage anti-Brussels sentiments.
THE POPULISM SPECTER
Janusz Bugajski, December 2016
Following the US elections, the Brexit vote, and the rise of non-conventional parties throughout Europe, the populist wave is sweeping both sides of the Atlantic. Populism is a revolutionary movement, but unlike its 20th century predecessors, such as communism or fascism, it eschews violent rebellion and favors a democratic replacement of incumbent governments.
Traditional and mainstream political parties need to learn lessons from the rise of populism rather than simply condemning the phenomenon and bemoaning their election losses. Ultimately, populism can contribute to democratic development by exposing the fissures, frustrations, and failures in Western societies, by involving new players in the political process, by reconnecting politicians with the populace, and by energizing the electorate to view politics as the responsibility of every citizen.
In its essence, populism has two main components: ant-elitism and nativism. The first element is manifest in an anti-establishment movement of rebellion by political formations claiming to represent the disempowered ordinary citizens. The second element places the narrowly defined interests of the nation above all international commitments.
Populism is usually protectionist economically, by seeking to strengthen the national economy and challenges the principles of globalization and free trade. It veers toward political isolation, in seeking to ensure and defend national sovereignty from the restrictions of international institutions and regional alliances. And it is commonly conservative culturally in claiming to defend national traditions from the global multi-cultural melting pot.
However, beyond these basic commonalities, populism can blend with various ideologies and its policies differ between European countries. Populism can be authoritarian or democratic. Modern rightist populists, unlike their radical right predecessors, claim they are defending popular democracy from a corrupt and elitist government. They can either campaign against liberalism by opposing state-imposed secularism and what are viewed as deviations from traditional social norms.
Conversely, populists can claim they are actually defending liberalism by opposing immigrants who are intolerant of liberalism, such as ultra-conservative Muslims. The Dutch Freedom Party and its equivalents in Austria and Denmark assert that that they are promoting human rights against an anti-democratic Islamic onslaught.
Populism can be ethno-nationalist domestically or primarily xenophobic against foreigners but not necessarily against various long-resident ethnicities. Contemporary rightist populists tend not to racially scapegoat ethnic minorities but focus on recent immigrants who are supposedly taking jobs and government benefits away from natives and subverting the nation’s identity. For instance, one of the key actors in the Brexit campaign was the UK Independence Party, which seeks comprehensive restrictions on immigration but does not have an explicitly racist platform in a multi-colored British society.
Economically, populism may have either statist-leftist or laissez faire rightist prescriptions. Both varieties tend to rally against the economic establishment, particularly big business and multi-national enterprises that are depicted as either restricting domestic competition or damaging the working class by moving industries abroad.
Leftist populism seeks a more extensive redistributive economy with high taxes for the wealthy and a more intrusive government role, while rightist populism seeks tax breaks for business and deregulation to stimulate the national economy. Such commonalities and differences were visible during the US presidential election campaign between the leftist Bernie Sanders “progressives” and the rightist Donald Trump “America firsters.”
On the international arena, populism in Europe may be anti-American and pro-Russian or the exact opposite, or it may oppose both American and Russian influence and veer toward national neutrality. Several West European populist parties, whether leftist or rightist, seek to limit US engagement, viewing this as a form of economic dominance and “cultural imperialism.” Nevertheless, several of these groups supported a Trump presidency, not only because this has made populism more electable but also because they believe Trump’s White House will curtail US involvement in European affairs and support EU dissolution.
Populists may be anti-EU and pro-NATO, or they can reject both international alliances, viewing them as expensive and unacceptable constraints on national sovereignty. In Central-Eastern Europe populist-veering parties in Poland and Hungary may seek a lessened EU role in domestic affairs but they do not support leaving NATO. In contrast, nationalist populists in Bulgaria and Serbia view Russia as their patron and oppose the NATO alliance.
During a period of widespread anti-establishment sentiments, the durability of the populist wave in Europe and the US cannot be forecast. However, any government that is elected on an openly populist platform will ultimately be judged by its economic results rather than its political rhetoric. Indeed, if it is to retain power, its vehement anti-elite positions and expansive economic promises issued during election campaigns will necessitate greater achievements than a non-populist administration.
Without significant economic successes some populists may increasingly veer toward ethno-nationalism and divisive racism. In such instances, populism can be transformed into an outright danger to democracy and to inter-ethnic coexistence. The lessons of populism for democratic development need to be heeded or they may be repeated in a more revolutionary and destabilizing form.
SPLITTING WESTERN ALLIANCES
Janusz Bugajski, October 2016
Three destabilizing forces are contributing to pulling the European Union and the North Atlantic Alliance apart – the actions of several dissatisfied members, the threat of US disengagement, and the long-term ambitions of the Russian regime.
Britain’s imminent exit has been compounded by persistent opposition to EU rulings in countries such as Poland and Hungary, threats to leave the Eurozone in Italy and other parts of southern Europe, and growing populist nationalism in several Western Europe states. Several capitals will be looking at the results of Brexit to see whether they could benefit by following London out of the Union.
The US presidential election has certainly not helped the EU cause. Indeed, the Republican candidate Donald Trump applauded Brexit and evidently favors the loosening or even disintegration of the Union. Trump has also given fresh impetus to Europe’s anti-Americanism, which is often combined with calls for national sovereignty that would eliminate the trans-Atlantic alliance.
Although no major European politician will admit it publicly, Trump presents a unique opportunity for mobilizing anti-Americanism and removing unwanted US influence. For many national and party leaders America is a convenient scapegoat for many of Europe’s shortcomings. However, it was difficult to be anti-American under the moderate Obama administration or a possible Hillary Clinton successor. Trump, by contrast, embodies all that European love to hate about America.
His astonishing arrogance and ignorance, his denigration of women and minorities, and his claims of America’s greatness all help those who seek to weaken the trans-Atlantic link. A large sector of the European public resents the notion of American “exceptionalism,” viewing it as claims to moral and political superiority. A Trump presidency would demonstrate that the US is no different from any other country and is led by a megalomaniac and demagogue.
One of the major policy initiatives pursued by anti-Americans, which Trump himself supports, is an end to the free trade initiative, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) currently under negotiation. Critics of the deal argue that it will give U.S. companies even more unwanted power and influence in Europe.
Paradoxically, Trump believes that free trade damages American workers. The termination of free trade will also provide an opportunity to curtail the allegedly pernicious influence of Wall Street banks in Europe. Both populist and establishment figures have long berated what they consider as America’s financial manipulation.
Leftists are also elated that Trump’s rhetoric is helping to undermine NATO. While some European federalists, in France and Germany in particular, will seek an alternative EU army, most nationalists will seek to eliminate all alliances and either become neutral or rely on their own independent military forces.
Another major European perception is that America acts like Big Brother by engaging in mass surveillance. Indeed, many Europeans seem convinced that the CIA is listening to their phone calls and monitoring their Emails and social media posts on the pretext of combating Islamist extremism. A potential Trump presidency would increase calls for terminating trans-Atlantic intelligence cooperation.
The third danger to Western unity is Russian policy. Attacking NATO is a useful method for getting the Europeans to disarm themselves and preventing the defense of countries attacked by Moscow, such as Ukraine. However, the EU project is perceived as a more fundamental threat than NATO to Moscow’s Eurasian ambitions.
The Union’s standards of legality, transparency, and competition challenge the Russian business model based on corruption, opaqueness, and monopolization. The EU’s political and human rights stipulations undermine the autocratic model of governance preferred by Moscow among neighbors, as it is easier to manipulate such alliances than with democracies that regularly change governments.
Brexit and other problems within the EU are welcomed in Moscow as they divide the Union and encourage bilateral deals between individual countries and Russia, limit further EU enlargement, and may curtail aspirations for EU membership among Moscow’s immediate neighbors such as Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia.
In its propaganda assaults, Moscow seeks to drive a wedge between the “Anglo-Saxon” states of the US, UK, and Canada and continental Europe. The latter is viewed as more corruptible and exploitable. The Kremlin’s objective is to divide the West and preclude any lasting trans-Atlantic solidarity against Russia and in support of Moscow’s pressurized neighbors.
Instructively, reports have recently leaked in Germany that Putin is working to topple Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is viewed as being too supportive of Washington and the economic sanctions regime against Moscow.
Germany’s domestic security agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), has revealed that the Kremlin is systematically pursuing destabilization and disinformation in the country. It supports anti-government demonstrations by nationalist and anti-immigrant groupings and wages an information war designed to stir up public anger against Berlin over the influx of refugees. In a wider context, all EU states have become increasingly vulnerable to Russia’s assaults.
WILL AN EU ARMY REPLACE NATO?
Janusz Bugajski, September 2016
EU leaders are reviving the notion of an EU army to demonstrate that the Union remains a dynamic organization after a disastrous year. A single army has been under discussion for several decades but never came into existence. The proposal continues to have vigorous opponents who view it as an unnecessary challenge to NATO.
In his State of the Union address in the European Parliament, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker claimed that the EU needs a permanent security headquarters and a common defense force. He now feels emboldened with London on the verge of exiting the Union, as Britain has always argued that an EU army would simply dilute NATO.
German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen echoed Juncker by stating that it was time to construct a European defense union. The proposal may sound impressive in theory, but in practice it could prove to be another misfiring disaster because of three major factors: weakness, opposition, and the existence of NATO.
Paradoxically, without the UK, the EU will become a much weaker security player. Britain and France are the two strongest European militaries and are not averse to engaging in combat, unlike Germany, which shuns war-fighting for peace-keeping. London obstructed any moves that would duplicate NATO and divert scarce funds. It was also determined to maintain the trans-Atlantic link with the US. But without the UK inside the EU that link may significantly soften.
Most Central and East European leaders oppose any distinct EU force, contending that a separate defense structure will undermine NATO at a time when the Alliance is most needed to defend against Moscow’s aggression. Indeed, resources should be focused on improving NATO capabilities instead of creating weaker substitutes without Washington.
Officials in the three Baltic countries and other front line states, such as Poland and Romania, are adamant that only NATO possesses the military might to deter Moscow and any proposals that divert resources to an EU outfit would undermine their precarious security. However, national armies need to be strengthened to make NATO more effective while maintaining and increasing the American presence.
European Council President Donald Tusk has warned that the EU should be mindful of its own ambitions after the Brexit vote. EU institutions need to support initiatives agreed among member states, but not impose their own projects, as this could push more capitals toward the exit door.
The idea of a “European army” is itself misleading, as it creates the impression of a permanent standing army. In reality, countries enter into military alliances because pooling resources provides greater capabilities. However, there is no NATO army but national forces are integrated within a common command structure. These only become NATO forces in the event of war or some other international emergency.
Indeed, the bigger problem for any proposed EU army is NATO itself because defense resources and military personnel are finite. Moreover, in order to be effective any common military force needs to complement NATO and not dilute transatlantic solidarity. Without US involvement Europe simply could not handle a major war within or outside its borders.
Juncker argues that the EU must improve its command and control facilities, so that military missions are coordinated out of the same headquarters. If he is suggesting a limited mandate for a small multi-national crisis-response force then that could prove valuable.
In fact, since 2003 the EU has launched more than thirty international missions, including military, peacekeeping, and police-training operations from Afghanistan to the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, critics charge that the Union lacks an overarching strategy, while missions are usually slow to be decided and deployed.
Hence, the creation of an international force with a central HQ can help strengthen the EU’s borders, intercept refugee smuggling and other forms of trafficking, combat piracy, rescue distressed ships, provide humanitarian assistance, and contribute to counter-terrorism operations in any part of Europe. Such mission would not require US involvement or massive military weight.
Another positive outcome would be to integrate the fractured EU defense industry. Analysts estimate that EU governments could save more than €25 billion annually if they coordinated their defense purchases to focus on the bloc’s overall security needs.
The motive behind an EU army may be rational – to demonstrate that Europe should be taken more seriously as an international player, particularly in Moscow. However, another failed project that is more rhetoric than reality will simply deepen the Union’s decline.
The EU has been rocked by failures in dealing with several crises, including the surge of refugees from the Middle East. Instead of trumpeting the vision of a European Army, the Union needs more modest and achievable targets, such as a crisis-response force. Failure to mobilize support for any effective multi-national unit will further damage the European project. It will also boost isolationist voices in the US who will claim that the allies are unwilling to pay for their own defense.
DANGERS FROM TURKEY
Janusz Bugajski, July 2016
The failed military coup has plunged Turkey into political crisis and will impact on the future of NATO and the security of several adjacent regions. It may also allow Russia to extend its influences along Europe’s most vulnerable southeastern flank.
Turkey is a key member of the Alliance, possessing the second largest military in NATO after the US, with an estimated force of 411,000 soldiers, and is the seventh largest defense spender. Ankara has made significant contributions to NATO operations, including NATO’s maritime presence in the Mediterranean and the Aegean to prevent human smuggling and in NATO’s Operation Active Endeavor patrol mission.
Turkey forms a geo-political bridge between Europe, the Middle East, and Asia and hosts several US bases, including the Incirlik Air Base located in the south of the country, from where US aircraft operate against ISIS. The looming danger is that the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan veers away from Washington and becomes a less reliable NATO ally, thus exacerbating volatility in several already unstable regions.
Erdogan has imposed a three-month state of emergency and is purging the military with the arrest of about one third of all senior officers. This will affect Ankara’s ability to defend itself and contribute to common NATO security. The purpose of the crackdown in various state institutions, including the army, is to eliminate the network of supporters of Fethullah Gulen, Erdogan’s exiled arch-rival who the President accuses of inspiring the coup and wants extradited from the US.
Turkey’s army, which was once a bastion of secular Kemalist ideology and pro-Western democracy, has largely become a battleground between two essentially Islamist factions, in which nationalist anti-Westernism is growing. As a consequence, the integrity and performance of the military will be severely affected and its role in NATO undermined. Erdogan’s purge will rid the army of Gulenist influence but it can also inflict major damage on the upper command while lowering morale and capabilities.
A weaker Turkey would become more vulnerable to terrorist attacks, increasingly prone to Kurdish separatism, less effective in the Middle East, and more exposed to Russia’s expansive influences. At the same time, Ankara’s relations with the US will experience severe strain. Without the extradition of Gulen, presumably based on credible evidence that he was involved in the coup attempt, Washington will be increasingly seen as seeking to overthrow the Erdogan administration.
President Putin’s Kremlin wants to welcome Erdogan as a fellow autocrat jointly resisting American meddling, including the alleged export of color revolutions under the cover of democracy building and coup attempts to effect regime change. Rationally speaking, Turkey needs NATO as a sword and a shield given the conflicts in the Middle East, escalating Russian assertiveness, and Ankara’s competitive relationship with Iran. However, Moscow is hoping to benefit from Turkish disarray and any weakening of its military potential and calculates that it will gain advantages in several nearby regions.
In the Black Sea, Ankara will be less likely to support Romania’s initiative for strengthening the NATO naval presence as protection against Russia’s expansionism and militarization. In the Middle East, Russia’s role will rise if Turkey curtails support for US missions against ISIS and focuses on combating the Kurdish threat. In the South Caucasus, Azerbaijan may find itself more isolated from the West if Turkey, its key regional partner, swings in a more pro-Moscow direction. The resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the return of Azerbaijan’s territory occupied by Armenia will become even more problematic.
In the Balkans, Turkish influence is likely to wane if the country consolidates its authoritarianism and Islamism, thus alienating the secular democracies in the Balkans that aspire to EU membership. This can leave more terrain open to Russian influence, whether through economic or political penetration. Moreover, Moscow will be able to exploit Ankara’s economic needs for its own ambitions. For instance, one can expect the revival of the Turkish Stream natural gas pipeline designed to make the Balkans more dependent on Russia.
Turkey’s volatility will also impact on the EU, where Ankara’s support is crucial in stemming mass migration and the flow of terrorist recruits. An agreement signed between Brussels and Ankara in March 2016 has greatly contributed to reducing refugee inflows this summer. This flow could again be unplugged if the Turkish government feels it is unjustifiably under attack by its EU partners.
The results of Erdogan’s visit to Moscow in early August need to be closely monitored, as the West risks losing Turkey as a NATO ally if Ankara decides on a closer security link with Russia. During the Cold War, NATO dealt with much more serious setbacks to democratic rule than we are currently witnessing in Turkey, such as successful military coups in Greece and Turkey and a dictatorship in Portugal. But the stakes were too high to abandon a vital alliance. In an increasingly conflictive and unstable mega-region that Turkey straddles the stakes may be even higher than during the Cold War.
Janusz Bugajski, July 2016
Britain’s decision to exit the European Union has sparked unprecedented political and social divisions in the country. One of the gravest dangers is ideological and political polarization that will undermine economic development and national stability.
The “Brexit” vote surprised even those leaders who campaigned to leave the EU while propelling both of the major political parties toward fracture. The public mood is also turning volatile through a mixture of fear and rising anger at the political elites for misrepresenting Britain’s role in the EU.
The next few months will be critical for the future of a country that once prided itself on its pragmatism and rationality. While some politicians are calling for slowing down invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the trigger for leaving the EU, others believe the process should be speeded up. The dispute is emblematic of much broader conflicts.
“Brexit” has unearthed deep ideological fissures and destructive polarization between centrist and radical wings in both the Labor and Conservative parties. David Cameron, the lame duck Conservative Prime Minister has resigned pending a new struggle for the Tory leadership this summer. Meanwhile, the opposition Labor party is on the verge of splitting into rival factions, with no other credible political formation waiting in the wings.
For the Conservatives a new party leader and Prime Minister has to be nominated. Boris Johnson, the former Mayor of London and champion of ‘Brexit,’ will not be running as his support dropped dramatically after the referendum. Senior Tories blamed him for Cameron’s downfall and for the result of the vote.
Increased European integration and higher rates of immigration have provoked a nationalist backlash among Conservatives and fueled the rise of the hard-right UK Independence Party (UKIP). The Brexit victory is a clear mandate for Tory anti-Europeans who will seek to prevent UKIP from benefiting from the referendum. This will drive the party toward the hard right.
The pro-Europe Conservative establishment that has led the party has been discredited and the next leader will need to prove his or her Euroskeptic credentials. Home Secretary Theresa May and Justice Minister Michael Gove are the favorite candidates and both have vowed to cut immigration by blocking the free movement of people from the EU. Candidates will take part in a series of ballots among the party’s 330 parliamentary members. The two most popular will then face a vote from the wider party membership, with the result due early September.
On the other side of the political divide, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is facing all-out rebellion from his shadow cabinet. He sacked his popular foreign affairs spokesperson Hillary Benn for attempting to engineer a coup and most of his shadow ministers promptly resigned. Labour is fracturing and “Brexit” has exposed Labour’s historical factions between a hard socialist left and a soft social democrat center.
Instead of seeing the EU as a neoliberal plot, New Labour leaders saw it as a vehicle for building a more prosperous Europe. Corbyn’s victory in September 2015 for the party leadership was a throwback to Old Labour, involving policies such as re-nationalizing British industry. Corbyn won the election despite being opposed by most of the Labour establishment. While Corbyn eventually came out in favor of remaining in the EU, his campaign was weak and ineffective and he refused to appear with Cameron to send a message of bipartisan solidarity.
The “Brexit” option scored large victories among traditional Labour voters, which a serious Corbyn campaign could have prevented. As a result, many in the Labor Party accuse Corbyn of responsibility for “Brexit” and 172 out of 212 MPs have backed a no confidence vote. Labour is holding a party conference in September where a major struggle for power could split the party between pro and anti-Corbyn factions.
With a vacuum at the top levels of government, there is uncertainty as to when the UK will officially start the process of leaving the EU. Whoever is elected Conservative leader in September will succeed Cameron as Prime Minister and be responsible for negotiating the UK’s exit.
Some view the next premier’s mandate as a suicide mission. He or she will need to enact “Brexit” and live with the consequences, including a looming economic recession. They will also be unable to deliver on promises made by the “Leave” campaign, including an injection of £350 million for the health care system and a clampdown on immigration. Key “Brexit” supporters have admitted that neither of these promises can be fulfilled.
The next Prime minister will face a backlash not only from the general public, because of growing economic uncertainty, but also from the Euroskeptics, for failing to accomplish the things “Brexiters” pledged to voters. The possibility of an early general election can also not be discounted with the emergence of two harder line left and right political formations. Whatever the result, the UK faces a major shake-up of its entire political order and the radicalization of politics outside the EU.
EU-RUSSIA RELATIONS AT CROSSROADS
Janusz Bugajski, June 2016
Decision time is approaching for the EU on whether to lift financial and economic sanctions on Russia for its occupation and partition of Ukrainian territory. Moscow has calculated that the Union loses focus and interest when Russia’s aggression is frozen. It seeks to return to “business as usual,” while the US is preoccupied with other priorities.
At their June 28-29 summit, EU leaders will discuss whether to renew sanctions on Russia’s banking, defense, and energy sectors for Kremlin aggression in Ukraine. The sanctions have proved relatively effective in denying Russian companies access to Western loans and capital and have contributed to Russia’s precipitous economic decline during the past two years..
Although some officials believe that sanctions are likely to be extended, EU fractures are widening. And Moscow is adept at weakening any emabargoes to undermine EU cohesion. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has revealed that resistance is growing within the EU, which requires a unanimous vote. Greece, Italy, and Hungary have been among the most obstructive, while Poland and the Baltic states want to maintain pressure on Moscow.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s plans to meet President Putin during an economic forum in St Petersburg on June 16. And diplomats in Brussels believe that he is laying the ground for a softening policy toward Russia in the second half of the year.
Steinmeier floated the possibility of a “step by step” reduction of sanctions even if the Minsk agreements for resolving the Ukraine conflict are not fulfilled. Despite it pledges, Russia has not withdrawn troops and weapons from occupied parts of the Donbas or allowed Ukraine to control its easternmost borders.
Although EU Council President Donald Tusk has asserted that sanctions will be renewed in June, demands to drop the sanctions are escalating. For instance, French parliamentarian recently adopted a resolution calling for lifting sanctions and other EU legislatures are expected to follow suit.
Bankrupt Greece is one of Putin’s staunchest supporters within the EU and has obstructed the issuing of a joint EU statement on extending sanctions. During Putin’s recent visit to Athens, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras criticized the embargo on Russia and asserted that Greece had an independent foreign policy. He failed to mention that Greece is also fully dependent economically and would not even have a budget without bailouts from EU tax payers.
Tsipras urged Europe to cooperate with Russia, and to abandon what he branded a futile cycle of sanctions and militarization. In other words, according to the Greek government, NATO protection of its easternmost members is a form of militarism and Russia’s partition of Ukraine should be tolerated.
Greece is desperate for investment and is fully exposing itself to Russian influence in the Balkans. In addition to energy deals, Russia is interested in Greek rail assets and the port of Thessaloniki, a major gateway into the region, in competition with China. In return, Moscow has indicated that it will exempt Greece, Hungary, and other “friendly” states from the counter-sanctions it has imposed on EU agricultural produce.
Moscow has also been courting populist, leftist, and rightist parties throughout the EU to push for lifting sanctions, accept Moscow’s dominant role in Ukraine, and oppose NATO’s plans to more effectively defend its eastern flank from a potential Russian assault.
In Italy, the regional council of Veneto (which includes Venice), a stronghold of the rightist Northern League, has voted to lift sanctions and to recognize Moscow’s annexation of Crimea. Russia’s foreign ministry claimed that the vote was the start of a wider popular backlash against the sanctions.
The leader of France’s far-right National Front party, Marine Le Pen, claims that she is prepared to recognize the “reunification” of Crimea with Russia as legitimate if she is elected to the French presidency in April 2017. The National Front has spoken out against anti-Kremlin policies from the moment sanctions were imposed. In mid-February 2016, the National Front asked Russia for a 27 million euro loan to fund Le Pen’s 2017 presidential campaign.
In a further attempt to divide the EU and to create splits between Europe and the US, Putin has warned Romania and Poland that they could find themselves in the sights of Russian rockets because they are hosting elements of a U.S. missile shield that Moscow considers a threat to its security. In reality, the missile shield being constructed in Romania and Poland is part of a global Americah network that is purely defensive in scope and not targeted against Russia’s missiles.
By depicting the US and some eastern NATO states as warmongers and by temporarily freezing the conflict in Ukraine, Moscow can pose as a peacekeeper that is simply defending its national interests. With populists, rightists, and leftists gaining strength in different parts of the EU, with EU business lobbies seeking new deals with Moscow, and with the US turning more inward during the presidential elections, the Kremlin is calculating that geopolitics will swing in its favor during the coming year.
GERMANY’S RISING ALTERNATIVE
Janusz Bugajski, March 2016
Germany is being swept by an anti-immigrant and anti-European Union movement that could significantly change the country’s politics. The Federal Republic of Germany has spawned various marginal populist and nationalist groupings in the past, but the recent election success of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) could prove far more menacing.
The AfD held its founding convention in Berlin in April 2013, established mostly by rightist academics and business people. They quickly tapped into public disaffection with the political establishment of all the major parties and focused on restoring German sovereignty, which they claimed had been lost to bureaucrats in Brussels.
In the mid-March regional elections in three German states, the AfD won representation for the first time. In Baden-Wuerttemberg it captured 15% of the vote, in Rhineland-Palatinate 12.6%, and in Saxony-Anhalt it finished second with 24% and became the second largest party in the legislature. The three states have a combined population of some 17 million people, around a fifth of Germany’s total. The AfD is now represented in eight of Germany’s 16 regional parliaments.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union suffered losses across the board. According to AfD leader Frauke Petry, large numbers of voters are turning away from the large established parties, which they feel no longer represent their interests.
AfD is a nationalist populist movement and focuses on the alleged negative impact of Germany’s EU membership. It appeals to the economically insecure as well as other politically alienated social sectors. In Saxony-Anhalt unemployment stands at more than 10 percent, but economic conditions are only one reason behind the AfD surge. Its main plank now focuses on Germany’s exposure to unwelcome immigration.
AfD has links with the “Pegida” movement (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West), a far-rightist group founded in October 2014, which is even more vehemently anti-Islamic. Pegida campaigns for an end to Muslim immigration and resists multiculturalism. It has also opposed EU and NATO membership and supports closer relations with Russia.
According to the AfD platform, Germany finds itself in the deepest crisis in its modern history. The party initially focused attention on the Greek financial crisis and vigorously opposed the Berlin-led bailout of Athens. It claimed that German citizens were paying for lazy and incompetent Greeks and undermining the country’s development.
Moreover, AfD leaders asserted that the introduction of the euro currency was a fatal mistake that threatened Germany’s prosperity. The Movement has demanded Berlin’s withdrawal from the euro and a return to the Deutsch-Mark, or the creation of a separate currency with Holland, Austria, and other financially stable economies. They propose either the dissolution of the EU altogether or the emergence of a core Europe without the south European countries that are viewed as corrupt and mismanaged.
During the past year, the AfD has shifted its focus toward a tough anti-immigration and anti-establishment stance. Its election rhetoric fired up voters who are vigorously dissatisfied with Merkel’s “open-door” immigration policy. Over one million migrants and refugees entered Germany during 2015, more than all other EU states, with Merkel facing increasing political and public pressure to reduce the number of new arrivals.
AfD leaders sharpened their anti-immigrant tone at numerous campaign rallies, especially in the east of the country where anti-immigrant sentiments are especially virulent, aiming to capitalize on a growing sense of anger and fear. It has played on perceptions of rising crime and disorder allegedly fuelled by North African and Middle Eastern migrants. It also benefits from any terrorist attacks in Europe, including the recent atrocities in Brussels, which it can blame on Muslim immigrants.
Party leader Petry asserted that the German police should have the right to shoot at illegal migrants at the border because “Germany has a responsibility – the survival of its own people.” She also urged Germans to produce an average of three children to counter the rising numbers of foreigners and immigrants.
In a challenge to the rise of the AfD, Chancellor Merkel claimed that the movement was based on prejudice and was polarizing and radicalizing German society. But her statements have had limited appeal, as growing sectors of society have lost trust in the political elites, particularly in the two major parties. Some analysts are even claiming that Germany’s post-war party-political culture is coming to an end. German Vice Chancellor and Social Democrat leader Sigmar Gabriel declared that the election results posed an existential challenge to “Germany’s democratic center.”
The German government will lose even more support this year if the recent EU agreement with Turkey fails to stem the flow of hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Middle East. All eyes will then be on the German federal elections scheduled for October 2017. If Europe’s migrant crisis continues and radicalizes broader sectors of the population, AfD could enter the national parliament and present an even more direct threat to Germany’s political status quo.
CENTRAL EUROPE’S FASCIST REVIVAL
Janusz Bugajski, March 2016
Slovakia’s March 6 general elections have catapulted a neo-fascist party into parliament and strengthened the position of another ultra-nationalist formation. The results highlight a broader European trend of public disillusionment with the major parties and anger with stagnant economic conditions. They also indicate that a sizeable portion of the Slovak electiorate remains susceptible to xenophobia, ethnic exclusivity and authoritarianism.
While Prime Minister Robert Fico lost his parliamentary majority and must now forge a broader governing coalition, two ultra-right organizations have gained significant support. The nationalist Slovak National Party, returned to parliament after a four-year absence by capturing 8.6 percent of the vote and 15 seats in the 150-member assembly. Much more troubling, the People’s Party-Our Slovakia (PP-OS) — a movement that openly praises the Nazi-sponsored clerico-fascist Slovak government during World War II— won 8 percent of the vote. It entered parliament for the first time with 14 members.
PP-OS leader Marian Kotleba, the regional governor of Banská Bystrica in central Slovakia, is a self-professed neo-fascist. His party staunchly opposes both the European Union and NATO, and has attracted many young people living in depressed areas by stoking Islamophobia and inflaming fears over the EU migrant crisis.
Until now, the starkest example of radical rightist popularity has been evident in Hungary. Jobbik, the Movement for a Better Hungary, is the third-largest party in parliament, having won 20.5 percent of the vote in Hungary’s April 2014 elections. The party is ethno-exclusivist, anti-Roma, anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant. Similarly to other militant leftist or rightist movements, it rejects “global capitalism” and European integration. Jobbik also openly interferes in the politics of Hungary’s neighbors by claiming territorial autonomy for Hungarians in Romania, Slovakia and Ukraine.
Ultra-right groups are also present in Poland and the Czech Republic. In Poland, the National Movement — which resembles Hungary’s Jobbik — claims five of the 40 seats held by the “Kukiz ’15” movement in the 460-seat parliament. An even more extremist but extra-parliamentary formation formation, the Polish Defense League, wants to create a register of Muslims to protect Poland against the threat they allegedly pose. The PDL has close links to the anti-Muslim English Defense League and other Islamophobic organizations across the EU.
As in Western Europe, the new ultra-right formations in Central Europe prey on social discontent and fear of foreigners. Although Slovakia’s democratic institutions appear to be strong enough to withstand any fascist impulses, the relative triumph of militants spotlight four main negatives that need to be monitored throughout the region.
First, any ultra-right successes generate a negative image of Central Europe in the EU and the United States. While observers largely dismiss French xenophobes such as Le Pen’s National Front — or their radical Italian, Dutch, Scandinavian, Greek and British equivalents — as irritants to otherwise healthy democracies, Slovakia’s elections reinforce the perception of the Central Europeans as tenuous democrats. Pundits and politicians can claim that Central Europe is turning toward fascism, thus bolstering the notion that they are political infants needing outside supervision, and ignoring the fact that the revival of radical movements across the political spectrum— from nihilist and leftist to nationalist and fascist — has become a pan-European trend.
The neo-fascist revival is producing a second, more disturbing phenomenon: the rising popularity of racism and xenophobia among the younger generation, and the increasing nostalgia for a “golden era” of fascism among some disoriented youths. It demonstrates the inadequacies of the public education system and the yearning for simplistic solutions, phenomena we are also witnessing in the U.S. presidential elections
A third danger is when ultra-rightists convince ruling parties — which are fearful of losing votes — to adopt some of their positions, which then become mainstream. Conversely, if a major party adopts xenophobic policies then it gives credence to even more radical programs. For example, SMER — Fico’s center-left party — campaigned intensely about Europe’s refugee crisis, warning about an “invasion” of Muslim migrants in Slovakia, thus legitimizing PP-OS’s more militant anti-immigrant platform.
Fourth, but certainly not least, a radical rightist revival leaves countries more exposed to Russia’s anti-Western influences. Extremist parties anywhere in Europe receive an inordinate degree of attention in the Russian media, and Slovakia’s election results have figured prominently in the Kremlin’s international broadcasts.
Moscow seeks to benefit from popular dissatisfaction with Brussels across the EU. It has focused in particular on radical groups espousing anti-liberalism, anti-globalism, anti-Americanism, ethnic intolerance, Islamophobia and combative Christianity. Militant parties and personalities are invited to Moscow for international conferences at which Russia is lauded as the bastion of traditional values and monoculturalism, while the West is lambasted for its “moral bankruptcy.”
Perversely, while organizations tied to the Kremlin fund and publicize ultra-nationalist formations in several European states, Russian officials simultaneously seek to discredit targeted governments by claiming they tolerate the rise of fascism. Moscow deliberately espouses contradictory positions to contrasting audiences in order to undermine European unity and to dismantle the West.
Janusz Bugajski, March 2016
A British exit (Brexit) from the European Union is now a distinct possibility. This will not only generate widespread economic uncertainty throughout the continent, it can also encourage other states to follow London out of the Union.
According to the EU Treaty, withdrawal from the Union is a basic right of every member, although no state has ever done so. The United Kingdom held a national referendum in 1975 when over 67% of the electorate decided to stay in the EU’s predecessor, the European Economic Community. On June 23, British voters go back to the polling stations to decide whether the UK will remain in the EU.
There are two schools of thought on a potential Brexit: those that believe that it will weaken and unravel the EU and those who argue that it will actually strengthen the European core. There is also a heated dispute whether a Brexit will damage or benefit Britain itself.
Opinion polls indicate that British voters are evenly split on whether to stay in the EU and accept the limited “opt-out” concessions that Prime Minister David Cameron obtained at the recent EU summit. Several cabinet ministers are now campaigning for a Brexit and the highly popular Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has also come out in favor of a UK withdrawal.
Critics argue that a vote to leave would damage the economy and London would no longer have any say in decision-making that affects everything from trade to security policy. Even the reclaimed sovereign right to stop immigration from the EU would mean losing full access to the single market, while reducing the number of immigrants is likely to hurt Britain’s businesses and public services.
Brexit could also fracture the UK itself, especially as Scotland is more pro-EU than the rest of the country and may decide to have another referendum on independence that could gain majority support.
British Eurosceptics contend that the country needs to reclaim its sovereignty from unelected Brussels bureaucrats. They believe that the UK is held back by Europe and could boom as a more open economy that will continued to trade with the EU but will also increase its global reach. They point to Norway and Switzerland as models for Britain; both countries have open access to the Union market.
In stark contrast, the pessimists assert that a Brexit would damage the rest of Europe. It would disengage the world’s fifth-largest economy from its biggest market and weaken EU security by removing a significant defense spender and foreign policy actor. Instructively, while President Vladimir Putin is keen on a Brexit to weaken the EU and help split the Alliance, President Barack Obama is strongly against it.
A disunited and less secure EU will also seek to discourage other countries from following the UK. Paradoxically, any opposition by Brussels for other capitals to negotiate “opt-out” clauses may actually encourage them to head for the exit door in defense of their sovereignty. UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has warned that a Brexit could lead to a domino effect by creating a template for other Euroskeptic parties elsewhere in the EU to become more mainstream.
Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka has warned that a Brexit would encourage debate in several countries on whether to follow suit. It would make it politically acceptable for others to propose exits, even though only small fringe parties currently propose a full withdrawal. As an example, Hungary’s planned referendum on EU migrant relocation could stimulate other moves to weaken its links with the EU.
A contrary stream of opinion in Europe argues that a Brexit would actually be a valuable stimulant for the rest of the EU. They argue that other waverers should follow the UK so that the remaining core could develop into a more integrated bloc through a fiscal union and a political federation.
In this equation, countries that have resisted more intense integration, such as Denmark and Sweden, could also evacuate. Proponents of a “core Europe” argue that the policy of “opting out” from some EU provisions, which London has pursued, should be eliminated because it simply contributes to division and confusion. By attempting to accommodate the disparate positions of its many members, the EU has become timid and ineffective and unable to pursue deeper integration.
Indeed, keeping Britain inside the EU would make it more difficult for other members to implement the necessary reforms to repair the Union’s structural shortcomings. Once the UK and other obstructionist countries are allowed to leave, the original founding members, particularly Germany and France, will pursue more vigorous multi-national integration. In such a scenario, some believe the EU will become “leaner but meaner.”
Despite such projections, a smaller EU with a more restricted market will become a second rate player on the global scene and its alliance with the US would significantly weaken. One also wonders how this would impact on the NATO alliance, whether it too would splinter or whether on the contrary it would become stronger as the only organization holding the continent together.
VISEGRAD AT A CROSSROADS
Janusz Bugajski, February 2016
The Visegrad Four (V4) initiative, combining Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic, celebrates its 25th anniversary this February. This presents a timely opportunity to either position V4 for a more significant strategic role in the heart of Central Europe or to declare it defunct in the wake of a resurgent Russia and an increasingly fractured European Union.
The original purpose of the V4 was for the four re-emerging Central and East European democracies to coordinate their pursuit of NATO and EU membership. However, since achieving its primary targets the V4 has proved unable to coordinate the disparate foreign policies of its members and it lacks a clear geopolitical identity or a strategic objective.
Competitive geopolitics has returned to Central Europe with a vengeance through Russia’s pursuit of a new Moscow-centered “pole of power” that seeks to subordinate its neighbors. But the V4 response has been tepid and rudderless. Worse still, the region has exposed itself to Kremlin inroads through economic, political, and intelligence penetration. In sum, Visegrad has become a microcosm of EU disunity.
Warsaw remains more assertive in focusing EU and NATO attention on Russia’s aggression against neighboring states and has viewed transatlantic relations as paramount. In contrast, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic remain circumspect. After Russia’s attack on Ukraine in 2014 all three governments were hesitant in supporting sanctions against Moscow partly for economic reasons, especially where there is high dependence on Russian energy. In some cases, political leaders display sympathy toward a more authoritarian or nationalist political model or view Moscow as a potential counterbalance to Brussels.
By focusing on short-term national interests rather than more significant strategic imperatives, Visegrad governments play into Moscow’s hands and encourage Putin’s ambitions in restoring Russia’s regional hegemony. The partition of Ukraine did not convince Budapest to terminate the contract with Rosatom for the modernization of the nuclear power plant in Paks, as Prime Minister Viktor Orban avoided confrontation with Moscow. Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka opposed strengthening NATO forces in Europe, while Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico protested against increasing America’s military presence in Central Europe.
Russia’s officials focus on influencing political decisions in each Visegrad capital through a combination of diplomatic pressure, personal and professional contacts, economic enticements, and energy dependence. Old comrade networks from Soviet times enable the Kremlin to exert political influence over certain officials and governments, challenge common EU and NATO positions, and assist Moscow’s international aspirations. Lucrative business contracts, donations to political campaigns, and various forms of financial corruption allow Moscow to exert political leverage and convince politicians to favor Russian investments.
Moscow also endeavors to benefit from political, ethnic, religious, and social turbulence in the region in order to keep governments off balance. Putin’s Kremlin appeals to both the leftist old guard and the ultra-nationalist conservative Euroskeptics. Any democratic regression combined with the growth of nationalism and populism can favor Russia’s regional objectives by weakening democratic institutions, engendering EU divisions, and undermining NATO’s effectiveness.
As a result of the Russia-Ukraine war, the Visegrad Group has been weakened, as has the Weimar Triangle, established in 1991 as a consulting mechanism between Germany, France, and Poland. Warsaw has been largely sidelined over the past year, while Berlin and Paris pursue their own attempts with Moscow to resolve the conflict over Ukraine by in effect freezing the proxy occupation of Donbas.
In addition, the emergence of a new Central European regional grouping, the Slavkov Triangle, involving Austria, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia, will further undermine the V4. In January 2015, Czech Prime Minister Sobotka, Slovak Prime Minister Fico, and Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann met at Slavkov near Brno in the Czech Republic. They adopted a joint position against tightening sanctions on Moscow, claiming that all sanctions are ineffective and should be lifted. The Slavkov initiative constitutes a tactical victory for the Kremlin, because a new crack has appeared in EU policy toward Russia that cuts across Central Europe.
The Slavkov Triangle is designed to coordinate infrastructure, transport, and energy projects between the three countries. In contrast with the V4, the initiative is to become institutionalized, with a permanent tripartite working group on the level of deputy foreign ministers. This model of cooperation may become an incentive to include other countries, such as Slovenia and Croatia, in regional economic endeavors that could provide new inroads for Moscow.
Unless it can adopt a more assertive Atlanticist and Europeanist position to help defend the eastern part of the continent against Moscow’s subversion, the V4 will remain divided and ineffective. Without a new impetus in coordinating resistance to Kremlin pressures and enticements, the V4 will be unable to play a constructive role in the geopolitical struggle for the long-term security and independence of Central and Eastern Europe.
Janusz Bugajski, January 2016
A crime wave involving violent sex attacks on women in Germany and other EU states has intensified anti-immigrant sentiments throughout Europe. Public reaction will contribute to constructing a “fortress Europe” to prevent any more waves of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa.
A Europe-wide populist backlash against refugees has been boosted by the crime reportage in Germany that involved recent immigrants. The assaults have heightened public concerns about safety and security and migrants have been depicted as the “enemy within.”
Outrage over the attacks by a small minority of refugees on EU citizens is boosting Islamophobia and xenophobic nationalism. It will also deepen the already existing splits between EU capitals on how to deal with mass refugee inflows, undermine the Schengen system of free movement, and even contribute to fracturing Europe.
After admitting over a million refugees during 2015, German Chancellor Angela Merkel now faces an increasingly pessimistic public that is skeptical that she has a long-term plan for assimilating the immigrants. She is under growing domestic pressure to place clear limits on German tolerance and is under international pressure to forestall any future waves of refugees from the Middle East.
In Germany itself, anti-immigration campaigners have focused on the sex assaults in Cologne, Hamburg, and several other cities as an example of the failure of the country’s asylum policy. Subsequent allegations that the German police and the media were instructed to engage in an institutional cover-up over the attacks in order to lessen anti-immigrant sentiments, pilled further pressure on Merkel.
Germany’s radical right and anti-immigrant Pegida movement (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West) has received a new impetus as a result of public reaction to the sex attacks. It is now using the incidents as a valuable propaganda tool to gain supporters and hound the new migrants. Meanwhile, established Islamic groups have voiced fears that the crimes of a few recent migrants may jeopardies the future of tens of thousands of peaceful people.
Outside Germany, political leaders in several states are benefiting from the criminal incidents to call for a ban on future migration and the sealing of Europe’s borders. In particular, governments in Central and Eastern Europe have asserted that the idea of a “multicultural Europe” is now dead and that all borders should be better protected against any new influx of refugees.
Among the most outspoken are Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico, who claimed that it was impossible to integrate migrants from the Middle East and North Africa in European states. He also called for an extraordinary summit of EU leaders to discuss the consequences of the migrant attacks in Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Austria and Finland. Bohuslav Sobotka, the Czech Prime Minister, backed Fico’s demands.
Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has been most outspoken in the region, called for a complete halt to all migration into Europe and the establishment of a new “European defense line” on Greece’s northern borders with Macedonia and Bulgaria. Orban also warned that the Schengen system of visa-free travel that was established to stimulate Europe’s single market would collapse if outside borders were not comprehensively controlled.
Countries in Central and Eastern Europe that have refused to accept any refugee quotas outlined last year by the European Commission are now in a stronger position to resist. They will increasingly appeal to anti-immigrant sentiments in Germany and in other Western European countries where anti-refugee activism is on the rise.
Even the most liberal and tolerant states are now taking precautions against the free movement of people that would potentially flood them with new refugees. In the most glaring example, Sweden and Denmark tightened their border controls on the Oresund Bridge linking the two states in response to escalating political, economic, and social pressures.
Sweden, formerly one of the most welcoming countries for refugees, has introduced new identity checks for travelers arriving from Denmark. Meanwhile, the Danish government acted swiftly to impose its own controls on people coming from Germany. Copenhagen is anxious that migrants who would normally transit Denmark on the way to Sweden would now be unable to leave.
Checkpoints, fences, and border patrols are springing up in other parts of Europe along the migrant trail. Austria is reinforcing its border with Germany, Italy is planning to introduce controls on its border with Slovenia, and Hungary is helping Macedonia to build a ten-foot high razor-wire fence.
The chain reaction of border closures and tighter migrant controls will undermine the Schengen system of borderless travel across most of the EU. In addition to the fear of escalating economic costs in accommodating migrants, there is growing concern about public order, social safety, and the threat that terrorists may enter Europe masquerading as refugees. 2016 promises to be landmark year for the European project and whether it will now be closed to new migrants.
Janusz Bugajski, December 2015
Sensationalist reports in the Western press contend that Poland has fallen to a right wing dictatorship and will cut itself adrift from Europe and the US. However, rushed judgments should be avoided and the post-election conflict offers lessons for other states where conservative populists come to power.
Three key questions must be addressed about the Law and Justice (PiS) party government. First, is PiS overturning the democratic system that was painstakingly constructed over the past quarter century and imposing a new dictatorship? Second, is traditionalist populism an enduring phenomenon throughout Central Europe or a passing wave that will nonetheless test the resilience of multi-party democracies? And third, what will be the impact of PiS policy on Poland’s trans-Atlanticism?
The stated ambitions of PIS are twofold: to emplace loyalists in key positions in national institutions and to pursue an ultra-conservative agenda. The first objective is precisely what happens in all Western democracies when one political party wins parliamentary elections. The turnover of officials promptly begins in ministries and other key national institutions, including the intelligence services. We have witnessed the same process in every election in the region since the collapse of communism.
The pertinent question is whether all such appointments are constitutional. In Poland’s case, the main dispute is over the appointment of five judges to the Constitutional Tribunal. Despite a negative court ruling, President Andrzej Duda, the PiS choice for head of state, has sworn in five judges nominated by the new parliament. He claimed that judges selected by the previous parliament breached democratic practice.
It is worth remembering that even if the contested appointees are included PiS nominees in the Tribunal will remain in a minority and judges appointed by the previous government will continue to dominate. Nonetheless, if constitutional stipulations are violated then the administration will be moving outside the rule of law. In which case, protests are likely to increase against PiS, which does not hold a commanding parliamentary majority, and could precipitate new elections.
On the values front, PiS has close ties to elements of the Catholic Church seeking to impose their convictions on the public, whether it is legislation against all abortions, homosexuality, or other matters of individual liberty. Any attempted legislative enforcement of such views would provoke a strong reaction not only from the opposition and a majority of voters but also from the European Union. Rationally speaking, PiS would be risking its own position if it tries to reverse the liberalization of Polish society. This would promote further polarization between a globalist vision of Poland and a more isolationist current and potentially trigger radicalism on both sides.
The broader question for Europe is whether traditionalist populism is a lasting phenomenon and how it will transform pluralist democracies. Poland has already experienced a PiS government that sought to implement an ultra-conservative agenda but ended up alienating the majority of voters and was subsequently replaced through elections in 2007.
Given the history of resistance by Poles to any government that threatens their liberties, PiS is simply not strong enough to establish a “partytocracy” even if its leaders so desire. The real test for PiS will revolve around its economic achievements. It promised significant improvements before the elections to sectors of society that have barely benefited from the capitalist revival, but there are serious doubts whether PiS can deliver if it adopts a protectionist economic program.
A traditionalist revival in any EU state is a reaction by some sectors of society to a Europeanized and globalized world and it taps into fears of competition, modernism, and secularism. Most West European societies are experiencing a similar phenomenon as the election successes of anti-immigrant and Euroskeptic parties amply testify. The onus is on centrist, internationalist, and liberal formations to convince citizens that they offer a more fulfilling and prosperous future.
The most important question for Washington revolves around PiS’s foreign and security policy and how this will impact on Polish trans-Atlanticism. Poland is America’s most important ally in Central Europe. If the Victor Orban government in Hungary is in conflict with Brussels and accommodating to Putin’s regional imperialism this is markedly less significant than if Poland becomes an uncertain ally that is estranged from Brussels and Berlin.
Evidence indicates that Warsaw may actually seek closer ties with the US, as it perceives Russia as the main threat to regional security. The first foreign visit of newly installed President Duda to Ukraine also indicates that Poland will become more active in its neighborhood in support of states resisting Moscow’s pressures. However, this also raises the danger that if PiS fails to coordinate its policies with the EU it may find itself isolated and ineffective. This would also sour American perceptions about the capabilities of the new government, while Moscow will endeavor to incite Polish nationalism in order to further divide the West. The main tests for PiS are yet to come.
Janusz Bugajski, November 2015
The success of MOST in the Croatian elections highlights a persistent phenomenon in European politics. New ambitious movements initially challenge the political establishment, gain enthusiastic public support, and then disappear without trace by the next election cycle. They can be viewed as shooting stars across the political constellation.
The shooting star phenomenon is evident throughout the continent and not all such movements can be labeled as populist – or promising everything to everyone simply to get elected. The most successful ones usually focus on key single issues, such as economic development or national security and convince voters that they have novel solutions.
The broad center in many EU countries has been fracturing. For the past two decades the pendulum between left and right has swung within relatively narrow confines. The center-left and the center-right largely overlapped and no longer represented strong ideological positions. The electorate either voted for personalities or on specific issues, or simply voted against the incumbents.
This structure was stable when economic conditions for the majority of citizens were favorable. But in recent years it has been unbalanced through growing economic uncertainty and grievances against mismanagement by the entire governing elite.
Lurking in the political wings and seeking to benefit from public fear, confusion, and anger are numerous tendencies, and some are more radical than others. They can be classified by political coloration: brown, red, black, and blue. A growing amorphous mass of citizens disillusioned with the political establishment can veer toward these formations.
In the “brown stream” radical nationalist and neo-fascist groupings have always existed on the political margins. Whenever the EU faces fiscal, economic, or refugee problems they herald the dawn of a “Europe of nations,” free from the shackles of the Brussels bureaucracy. Attempts have even made to form a “nationalist international” although this is difficult to realize between neighbors whose nationalisms are mutually conflictive.
Militant browns dismiss centrist politicians as traitors to the nation, whether because they bow to Brussels or open doors to immigrants who allegedly steal jobs and welfare from local inhabitants. Anti-immigrant passions are combined with Islamophobia, racism, and anti-Semitism and the brown patriots are depicted as protecting the nation from assimilation or extinction. Golden Dawn in Greece is the most successful example of this phenomenon but others are waiting for their opportunity in Italy, Spain, France, Britain, and elsewhere.
Just when we thought that militant communism was dead, economic hardship has again raised the specter of the “red stream.” This is less coherent than in the 20th century and often led by idealists or intellectuals who condemn “neo-liberalism,” or what used to be called “global capitalism.” They share with the browns a disdain for globalization, which is often a shorthand for anti-Americanism. Elements of the Syriza movement in Greece and the Podemos grouping in Spain have such tendencies.
The “black stream” are nihilists devoid of any political or economic solutions, as their primary aim is to destroy the existing system. They tap into the frustrations of unemployed youths or middle class offspring who visualize themselves as romantic revolutionaries. Their street protests, vandalism, and attacks on law enforcement contribute to radicalizing and polarizing the political atmosphere.
An additional “blue stream” has emerged in recent years to challenge the major parties during national and local elections. It consists of pro-business formations opposing big government and state bureaucracy, and are more libertarian than conservative in their programs. They condemn nationalist, protectionist, and socialist solutions and believe that economic growth has been stifled by incompetent governments.
MOST is not the only example of this “blue revolution.” A similar party in Poland called “Modern” was founded this year by economist Ryszard Jerzy Petru and received 7.6% of votes in the October general elections and gained 28 seats in parliament. Petru himself received the third largest number of votes in the country for his parliamentary seat. However, unlike in Croatia, the Polish vote saw a decisive win for the center-right Law and Justice party, dispensing with any need for a kingmaker such as MOST.
Despite its relative successes, the blue stream has not crystalized into solid political formations with a national structure and specific constituencies. It usually disappears by the next election cycle, either because of political immaturity, absorption by larger parties, or a changing public mood that sees small movements as a hindrance to stable government. Maybe the time has come for at least one new “blue stream” movement to morph into a durable party. After all, the environmentalist “green stream” managed to accomplish such a breakthrough in several EU states.
Janusz Bugajski, October 2015
The October EU-Balkan agreement on refugees may look good in theory but its implementation will prove problematic. In particular, trust and confidence between neighbors throughout Central and South East Europe has been seriously damaged this summer and will take time and effort to restore.
More than a quarter of a million refugees have passed through the Balkans since August, most fleeing conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. This flow has sparked acrimonious debates about open borders and the EU’s asylum policy. The response of many capitals toward the refugees has been largely negative because of public fears of insecurity, Islamist radicalism, and economic burdens.
The German government has been criticized for provoking the refugee crisis by offering safe haven without consultations with the transit states who have to accommodate the migrants on their journey northward. Even Merkel’s Bavarian allies, the Christian Social Union, called Berlin’s approach to migration “an unparalleled political error.” Germany’s stance could precipitate an even bigger wave of refugees in future. The EU also remains deeply divided over how to share the burden of relocating the refugees.
In South East Europe, the refugee emergency exposed the brittle nature of regional cooperation. Greece proved unable to control its Schengen border and simply pushed the migrants toward Central Europe. Governments throughout the region projected blame on to their neighbors, in a chain stretching through Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, and Croatia to Slovenia. Budapest constructed fences to divert refugees into Croatia and Zagreb miscalculated that Ljubljana would simply allow everyone to pass.
Mismanagement, miscommunication, lax border controls, an absence of refugee registration, and non-existent inter-state coordination created a regional crisis that destroyed trust between several governments. Serbia has even threatened Croatia and Hungary with international legal action over the blocking of truck traffic that effected trade with the EU.
At the EU level, the relocation of migrants has exacerbated disagreements between member states. Central European governments firmly oppose Union plans for compulsory quotas to distribute refugees. They were outraged by EU approval of a resettlement plan passed by majority vote rather than unanimous approval. They consider it a direct attack on national sovereignty: Slovakia is even launching a legal challenge to mandatory EU quotas.
The refugee crisis demonstrates how brittle inter-state relations remain and how easily it is to spark disputes and conflicts. An even more dangerous wave on the horizon is that of growing xenophobia, nationalism, and anti-Unionism in response to the refugee crisis and other inter-state disputes that could renationalize Europe and unearth unsettled grievances in the western Balkans.
EU and non-EU leaders have agreed a 17-point plan to cooperate on managing flows of refugees through Turkey, Greece, and the western Balkans on route to Germany before winter sets in. Among the measures are a planned 100,000 places in reception centers along the refugee route. The EU is supposed to secure funding from the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to accommodate the refugees.
The EU border agency Frontex is to step up activities along the Greek-Macedonian border by registering all migrants. The policy of simply waving people through will supposedly be stopped. The EU plan is intended to slow down the passage of migrants by increasing border surveillance, registering transients, stopping bus and train transfers to the next border without the neighbor’s consent, and repatriating migrants not needing protection. The agreements are meant to preclude unilateral national measures that have contributed to regional chaos. But time is short.
Slovenia’s prime minister, Miro Cerar has warned that the EU will begin to disintegrate if it fails to resolve the refugee crisis within the next few weeks, as several countries will seal their borders. Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boyko Borisov has asserted that the Balkan states will not allow themselves to become a “buffer zone” for the EU. Most are likely to close their borders to refugees when Germany, Austria, and other countries in western Europe close theirs. The stage is being set for the next act of the crisis.
It remains unclear how quickly the EU plan can be implemented and it has already come under criticism in proposing that transit states must first gain agreements from neighbors before allowing refugees to pass northward. Croatia’s premier Zoran Milanović declared that such consultations were impossible.
Croatia has been caught in the middle of the crisis after Hungary imposed severe border controls, diverting refugees through another unprepared country. Zagreb in turn tightened its frontier with Serbia and Slovenia blocked Croatia. Given the deterioration of relations between these neighbors, it is highly doubtful whether the sharing of information, as called for by the EU agreement, will be successful in regulating refugee flows.
The EU plan also calls for increased police action against migrant smugglers and human traffickers with support from Europol, Frontex, and Interpol. This would need to entail close cooperation between law enforcement bodies in states that have become increasingly suspicious of each other’s intentions. The incoming Croatian government can repair some of the damage by undertaking a regional initiative on the EU plan and forestalling another refugee crisis. As an EU member, it can certainly assume a more prominent and responsible role.
Janusz Bugajski, June 2015
The parliamentary elections in Croatia and Poland later this year demonstrate the necessity of developing a responsible political spectrum throughout Central and Eastern Europe. In an ideal system, the left and right have clear and distinct programs and contest elections on concrete principles. The clearest indication that parties are devoid of ideas is when they spend most of their time attacking opponents on spurious historical or personal grounds.
Croatia is one example where political battles over mythicized histories overshadow the country’s economic needs and distract attention from current government shortcomings. The public is left bewildered and disenchanted rather than engaged in the process of modernization. Croatia cannot afford to be stuck in the Yugoslav past or in the traditional divisions between a simplistic left and right. Both the HDZ and the SDP must adjust to the new realities.
Historical grievances have been abused in a polarized political environment in several other countries, most noticeably in Hungary, Bulgaria, and Albania. This was also the case in Poland and the Czech Republic early on in their transitions to democracy when some politicians used the excuse of uncovering communist collaborators to discredit their opponents. Eventually a legal process of lustration was devised to deny office to those most complicit in communist crimes but without a destabilizing witch hunt.
A focus on history retards political and economic progress and serves as an excuse for the absence of new policies. The battles between communists and fascists are long over unless you live in the Kremlin and seek to reenact them in order to rebuild an empire.
In much of Central Europe social democrats often seem more glued to the past than the rightist formations. Many leftist organizations that emerged from the communist parties remained stuck in traditional redistributive policies rather than stimulating new business and attracting investment. This has been a prescription for economic stagnation, as witnessed in Croatia in recent years, similarly to Slovakia after it gained independence.
A World Bank global survey currently lists Croatia among ten countries with the slowest projected annual growth rate between 2014 and 2017. It remains plagued by high unemployment, uneven regional development, and reduced foreign investment. If any government cannot attract business and stimulate the economy then it should step aside.
Among the majority of recent EU members, center-right parties proved instrumental in driving the reform process, especially in the economic domain. Rightists who discarded exclusivist nationalism proved to be the most successful economic transformers.
In the clearest example, Mikulas Dzurinda’s center-right government in Slovakia, elected in 1998, finally broke the post-communist stranglehold of Vladimir Meciar over the economy and created the conditions for attracting substantial foreign investment. Slovakia became the entrepreneurial leader in Central Europe. A similar process was visible in Hungary and the Czech Republic a few years earlier, while most of the social democrats eventually matured into business liberals.
Poland’s center-right emerged from the Solidarity movement and has proved so successful in ensuring economic development and weathering the storms of the EU’s financial crises that two center-right parties are the primary contestants in the upcoming parliamentary elections. The two parties differ primarily on their view of EU integration and the role of religion and traditional values in society. Unfortunately, Poland’s social democrats have been unable to modernize and adapt to dynamic global conditions and are currently a marginal political player.
A modern and effective center-left is urgently needed in all the new democracies. It helps to balance the political structure and prevent abuses of power that we have witnessed where a single party has remained in government beyond two terms. However, the profile of the most successful leftist parties in Europe has changed from traditional working class and union-linked formations to pro-business parties, best exemplified by Tony Blair’s transformation of the British Labor Party. Many of the Central European countries are lagging behind in transforming socialists into liberals.
In the security domain, differences between center-right and center-left are less evident. In countries bordering Russia, domestic policy differences rarely translate into contrasting national defense priorities. Most major parties believe in upholding a strong defense with the presence of American troops. Conversely, in states that do not border Russia or have no ambition to expand Europe, a spectrum of parties are less committed to fulfilling their NATO contributions or in maintaining a strong trans-Atlantic link.
Unlike Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, or the three Baltic states, countries in Central Europe, including Croatia, no longer face direct threats to their territorial integrity. However, each capital must take stock of maintaining a sound national defense structure. This may not figure as a priority in the upcoming elections but the most responsible parties must explain to voters why security remains important.
Croatia still borders an unstable neighborhood and could be pulled into armed conflict if Bosnia-Herzegovina again descends into open warfare. If conditions seriously deteriorate a clash with Serbia over Bosnia’s future cannot be excluded. Furthermore, spending on defense is not simply for short-term protection but also for long-term security. It demonstrates to NATO allies that the country is a serious international player, that it can make genuine contributions to common defense requirements, and that it deserves protection when conflict strikes home.
Rather than pointlessly fighting the unwinnable battles of the past, the major Croatian parties should be seriously debating the wars of the future, and how Zagreb can contribute to regional security and deterring the next conflagration in Europe or combating other trans-national threats. And the foundation of national defense is a strong and growing economy in which citizens trust their government and the government delivers on its pledges.
Janusz Bugajski, June 2015
Europe is bracing itself for the summer “boat season” when the inflow of migrants and asylum seekers increases by tens of thousands. The majority of migrants enter the EU to escape violent conflicts in the Middle East and grinding poverty in sub-Saharan Africa, but their impact is to escalate anti-foreigner sentiments throughout the EU.
Most refugees and asylum seekers end up in northern and western Europe. According to Eurostat, applications for asylum were up by 44 percent during the last year. The number of cases from Syria alone grew from 50,000 in 2013 to 123,000 in 2014. In sum, 660,000 asylum applicants were made in the EU during 2014 and the number will be surpassed this year, with about one third coming across the Mediterranean.
The main focus of xenophobia throughout the EU is the Islamic population, whether recent migrants or more established minorities. Many people see refugee inflows as the invasion of non-Christians who threaten Europe’s survival. Muslims are fast becoming Europe’s new Jews. Anti-Semitism, a major form of European racism in previous decades, is being replaced or supplemented by Islamophobia.
European exclusionism always thrives when economic conditions deteriorate and where immigrants are seen as taking jobs away from locals and overburdening the housing and health care systems. In addition, the growth of the Islamic State (ISIS) insurgency and periodic terrorist incidents in the EU serve to conflate Islam with violence and chaos that threatens the lives of all Europeans.
Some analysts fear that anti-Islamic extremism may in the longer term become a graver danger to European security than jihadist terrorism. Reports by the London based International Center for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence conclude that the growing anti-Islamic movement is focused on the alleged threat to European culture posed by Islamic religion and Muslim immigration.
In a mirror image of the anti-Semitic diatribe that Jews are conspiring to rule the world, Islamophobes believe in a global conspiracy to “Islamize” Europe. Jihadist terrorism is apparently the most recent example of a centuries-long effort by Muslims to dominate the West through the imposition of Sharia law and the outlawing of Christianity and secularism.
The new pan-European nationalism may outwardly defend liberal values but it contains a core racist component. By portraying all Muslims as a collective threat, it prepares the ground for social discrimination, exclusion, expulsion, and even physical violence. Such conspiracy theories can also inspire a new breed of terrorism, such as the atrocity against unarmed civilians perpetrated by the anti-Islamic militant Anders Breivik in Norway in July 2011. The murder of several Turkish immigrants by neo-Nazis have also taken place in Germany in recent years.
Xenophobes claim that Islam is a monolithic system that lacks any common democratic values. Instead, it is fundamentally prone to terrorism. As a result, Muslims cannot be assimilated in European societies and need to be combated, segregated, denationalized, and expelled. If appropriate measures are not urgently taken to stop the “Islamization” process, Europe will supposedly face a civil war.
Several anti-Islamic “defense leagues” are active in EU states and some have established umbrella organizations, such as “Stop the Islamization of Nations” (SION). These international alliances are seeking a broad structure to mobilize frustrated citizens. They have staged gatherings in various European cities that often attract sizeable crowds.
The growing success of radical nationalist and populist parties in elections to the European Parliament indicates the breadth of public alienation from the political process and a turn toward nationalism and racism that undermines the liberal and multi-cultural EU project.
The new xenophobes are plugging into Europe’s economic and political stagnation. Extensive youth unemployment and public alienation from the political establishment and against mainstream parties heighten the popularity of racism by focusing attention on a common pan-continental enemy. In a vicious self-perpetuating cycle, prejudice, discrimination, and hostility against Muslim populations is exploited by a minority of Islamic radicals claiming that the only defense against Islamophobia is violent jihadism.
The entire EU program is based on the premise of growing prosperity for the majority of citizens. Economic uncertainty calls into question the viability of the EU’s generous welfare state models. It has also deepened disillusionment with the main center-left and center-right parties, which are viewed by many voters as two sides of the same coin and too tolerant toward immigrants.
In recent years, a host of new parties have emerged that challenge the established formations and the fundamental policy assumptions of national governments. Some populist parties are even calling for the dissolution of the EU and a return to national exclusivity. The recent Conservative Party victory in the UK was largely the result of pledges to hold a referendum on curtailing EU membership especially as many voters are opposed to the EU’s liberal immigration laws.
Most of the new protest parties reject the loss of national sovereignty, oppose multiculturalism, and resent the role of Brussels in enforcing unpopular policies. For instance, because of widespread economic insecurity, the free movement of workers even from other EU countries has exacerbated anti-immigrant sentiments. France’s National Front, the UK Independence Party, and the Dutch Party of Freedom have been at the forefront of the anti-EU wave. And several governments are under pressure from growing anti-immigrant sentiments among a majority of voters.
Europe’s reviving nationalism will also further divide and weaken the EU’s enlargement and neighborhood policies in the Balkans and Europe’s east. Nationalists, populists, and xenophobes will oppose further EU expansion in an attempt to turn Europe inward as a besieged fortress against the invading foreigner.
Janusz Bugajski, May 2015
The Baltic Sea occupies a pivotal position in Moscow’s plans to consolidate the western flank of its expansionist Eurasian project. It provides a vital trade route to Russia’s second largest city, St. Petersburg, hosts the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline to Germany, and is the location of the Baltic fleet headquartered in Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave. But above all, in the event that Moscow decides to attack Estonia, Latvia, or Lithuania it will seek full military maneuverability in the Baltic and to restrict NATO’s presence.
Despite Kremlin opposition, over the past two decades the Baltic Sea has become a largely NATO lake, with six member states now having coastlines: the traditional members, Denmark and Germany, and new members Poland and the three Baltic countries. And since Russia’s assault on Ukraine, the remaining two neutral states, Sweden and Finland, are moving closer to NATO to better protect their security in an increasingly unpredictable region.
In flexing its military muscles through large-scale maneuvers, the construction of new bases, and frequent violations of the air space and coastal waters of littoral states, Moscow seeks several objectives. First, the military buildup is supposed to demonstrate that Russia is again a great power and can create an environment of uncertainty. Second, Moscow is testing NATO’s political and military responses and adjusting its own tactics and operations in the event of outright conflict.
And third, in the case of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, the Kremlin’s military pressures are part of a broader multi-pronged offensive to weaken their governments, stir social and ethnic conflicts, and demonstrate that NATO will not be able to defend them in the event of war. No German or French soldier, or even an American will purportedly be willing to die for Tallinn, Riga, or Vilnius.
At the same time, Russia’s propaganda offensive claims that Western forces are acting aggressively. Throughout the Baltic region, NATO’s rapid reaction units are allegedly expanding, military infrastructure is developing, and the U.S. military presence is growing. In reality, the Alliance has been criticized for not providing sufficient military assistance to countries that fear Moscow’s subversion or outright attack.
The Kremlin wants to keep both Sweden and Finland as neutrals and preclude them from assisting any NATO operations to defend the Baltic states. A variety of pressure points are exploited: military threats, territorial violations, diplomatic pressures, propaganda attacks, and disinformation campaigns to cower Finnish and Swedish societies. Further measures are threatened if Helsinki or Stockholm move toward NATO accession, including the confiscation of investments, banning flights across Russia, and enabling illegal immigrants to cross the long Russian-Finnish border.
However, Kremlin actions may have the reverse effect to the ones intended and could push the two neutrals into the Alliance. Public opinion is beginning to change. Disarmed neutrality is no longer seen as feasible even in Sweden, which has no experience of war in the modern era. The numbers supporting NATO accession is growing and includes over a third of the population, while opposition to NATO entry is not as extensive as before. Regardless of attitudes toward NATO entry, all major parties support raising defense spending. Sweden’s Social Democratic-Green Party government has been shocked out of its post-modernist stupor by Russia’s attack on Ukraine and its violation of international legal norms that Swedes hold so dear.
Over the past twenty years, Stockholm has dramatically scaled back its defensive capabilities. It has finally decided to raise its military expenditures, although its program of rearmament will not happen overnight and the country remains vulnerable to further Russian provocations. These include the potential capture of Sweden’s island of Gotland in the middle of the Baltic to deny NATO a valuable platform for anti-aircraft defense and to disrupt supply routes.
Although many in Sweden believe that NATO would defend their territory, no one can be certain whether it would risk a war with Russia over a non-NATO member. Even the NATO Host Nation Status obtained by Sweden and Finland at the Wales Summit in September 2014, which allows for the deployment of NATO rapid reaction forces on their territory, does not guarantee their defense if attacked by a third party.
In the case of Finland, there is more immediate Russian concern that Finns would come to the aid of nearby Estonia. For instance, it could offer NATO its land, air, and sea facilities to defend an Alliance member, and supply weapons and other equipment to assist Tallinn. Unlike Sweden, Finland has maintained a respectable defense sector with a sizable conscript base army. Helsinki also has direct experience of Russia’s aggression, having stymied two attempts by Moscow to occupy the country during and after World War Two. An attack on Estonia would be too close to home for Finns to simply sit on the sidelines.
To protect themselves against possible attack or becoming sucked into a wider war, both Finland and Sweden are expanding their military cooperation. They are also strengthening security ties with NATO members Norway and Denmark through consultations and exercises. In April, the five Nordic capitals signed a joint defense pact designed to boost defense sector cooperation, intelligence sharing, and joint military exercises. The initiative was attacked by Moscow as a “confrontational approach” to regional security.
Nonetheless, all such measures will not be enough to shield either Finland or Sweden from Russian pressure or to prevent their embroilment in a future Baltic-wide war if Putin decides to strike. Washington itself should not push for NATO enlargement in two countries that still treasure their non-alignment. Instead, it should allow Moscow’s provocations to convince Helsinki and Stockholm that their security is best assured inside the North Atlantic Alliance.
DECISIVE FOR EU FUTURE
Janusz Bugajski, March 2015
The upcoming general elections in the United Kingdom are not only important for determining the country’s international direction and administrative integrity, but they may prove decisive for the future of the EU project.
The ballot is forecast to be the tightest in decades, with neither of the two major parties, Conservative and Labor, projected to win a clear majority. Support for both parties stands at under 35 percent, despite the strenuous efforts of new Labor leader Ed Miliband to defeat the incumbent Conservatives.
The influence of smaller parties beyond the Liberal Democrats, the current junior partner in government, is likely to grow. Despite the majoritarian election rules without proportional representation, the Scottish National Party (SNP) and the U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) look set to gain more parliamentary seats and could prove instrumental in the formation of the next government coalition.
Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged that in the event of a Conservative victory a nationwide plebiscite will be held by the end of 2017 to decide on Britain’s continuing EU membership. All other parties except the UKIP oppose such a move. In fact, the UKIP has offered to support another Conservative government if the EU referendum is brought forward to this year.
The UK only entered the EU in 1974, it has not adopted the single currency, and did not join the Schengen open border agreement. Brussels is widely seen as an intrusive super-government threatening Britain’s independence. Cameron is now offering to renegotiate the terms of UK membership before he holds a public referendum.
Britain’s Europhobes argue that Britain should develop stronger economic links with rapidly developing parts of the world, such as south and east Asia, and reduce its links with the EU. Anti-EU activists have also spread fear about plans for closer European integration, spearheaded by Germany and France, which would further undermine British sovereignty.
Conservatives claim Brussels is preparing a new treaty to centralize the Union and Britain should therefore withdraw altogether. Many parliamentarians want the UK to emulate Norway and Switzerland with regard to their limited obligations to the EU.
London is seeking to regain control of three main arenas where the influence of Brussels is resented: immigration, employment laws, and legal affairs. Many citizens blame the EU for what they view as excessive immigration combined with over tolerant legal norms that insufficiently punish criminals. According to recent polls, nearly half of the electorate favor leaving the EU, compared with 36 percent who want the UK to stay.
However, London will find it difficult to convince other EU states to negotiate any deal that would loosen Union bonds at a time when the currency union is already under threat. EU partners criticize the planned referendum and claim it would weaken both the Union and marginalize Britain. Some are worried that it would set a precedent for other countries and hasten the EU’s demise. Prominent business leaders and the Labor Party have warned that Cameron’s position can diminish foreign investment and reduce London’s position as a major financial center.
Britain’s departure could also damage the trans-Atlantic alliance by fracturing an already shaky Europe. The Obama administration is urging London to stay inside the EU arguing that Britain’s departure would undermine its global standing, erode the “special relationship” with Washington, and weaken NATO.
Paradoxically, a vote against Britain’s EU membership could also reinvigorate calls for Scottish independence. SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has asserted that any attempt to pull Scotland out of the EU would trigger another independence referendum, this time with a majority supporting separation from the UK.
The SNP is forecast to make large gains in the upcoming elections, especially from the Labor Party, and may overtake the Liberal Democrats for third place in parliament with over 40 seats. It could well become the king maker in any future governing coalition.
Although Scottish nationalists failed to win the September 2014 independence referendum, they have proved to be successful advocates for Scottish rights and social justice. SNP membership has grown from 25,000 to more than 104,000 in recent months and the party has become the third largest in Britain even though Scotland accounts for just 8.3 percent of the total population.
Both Britain’s potential departure from the EU and Scotland’s potential independence from the UK can establish precedents for the entire European project, as other EU members or aspiring states may seek to emulate their examples. Britain and Scotland have reawakened the democratic yearnings of Europeans who consider both Brussels and their national capitals as detached from ordinary citizens. Other regions around Europe will be encouraged to pursue a more extensive devolution of powers.
Scotland’s next move will be watched closely in separatist regions in Spain, Belgium, Italy, and France. Even parts of Central and Eastern Europe could be emboldened, although resistance to local autonomy is often stronger here because of fears of territorial fracture, nationalist exclusivism, ethnic conflict, and the interference of neighboring states.
The challenge for the EU over the next decade is to forge a workable compromise between local autonomy and Europe-wide integration. Over-centralization, paralyzing federalization, or dysfunctional fragmentation need to be avoided, while citizens must be enabled to select the most effective political units to ensure their political and economic liberties. Clearly, the debate over the shape and structure of the European project will enter a dynamic phase after the UK elections.
Janusz Bugajski, March 2015
The double crisis over Greece and Ukraine provides Germany with an opportunity to boost its leadership role in Europe. However, serious doubts remain whether Berlin has the capacity to achieve the dual objectives of continental security and institutional development.
All governments in Berlin have been weighed down by a fear of reviving German nationalism. But with European integrity and stability now under threat in the midst of the intensified financial crisis in Greece and Moscow’s attack on Ukraine, Germany has reached a defining moment in its post-World War Two history.
Germany has been afforded Europe’s leadership role partly by default, as the U.S. under President Barack Obama is largely disengaged and preoccupied elsewhere, France is too weak, and the United Kingdom is focused on its own uncertain future inside the EU.
With Europe’s strongest economy, Germany largely determines the EU’s economic policy. But as the continent now faces the most serious questions since the end of the Cold War, expectations have grown that Berlin needs to be the vanguard in both internal and external EU policy. The fact that Croatia’s new President visited Berlin before she traveled to Brussels underscores that Germany is viewed as Europe’s leader and that each EU member seeks good bilateral relations with Berlin for its own national interests.
Chancellor Angela Merkel played the pivotal role five years ago in bailing out Greece, preventing the country from exiting the Eurozone, and precluding a potential implosion of the monetary union. But the resistance of the ultra-leftist government in Athens to repaying its debts will provide another austere test for Merkel, particularly as calls for excluding Greece from the Eurozone will intensify in several EU capitals.
The questions for Berlin are stark: can Greece survive in the Eurozone or can the Eurozone survive a Greek exit? A Greek departure will set a precedent for the Union and other countries will face even greater scrutiny over their public finances. This is sure to raise anti-German sentiments throughout the poorer southern part of Europe. If Merkel can ride that storm and the Eurozone survives, then Germany’s role in the EU will strengthen.
However, an even more menacing challenge faces Berlin — the rise of Russia as a threat to European security. The intra-German debate on Russia has been focused on crisis management and economic costs rather than the deeper security implications for Europe. A true leader places the economy in perspective when dealing with a more fundamental challenge and Germany has yet to pass that test.
When Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, stated that Putin’s occupation of Crimea resembled Hitler’s 1938 annexation of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia, he was rebuked by Merkel. If the EU is to have a decisive voice in the struggle over Europe’s East, then Berlin must speak with a unified voice. But working against a more realistic approach toward Putin is Merkel’s Social Democrat coalition partner.
The SDP joined the Christian Democrat government with a mission to improve relations with Russia. Officials convinced themselves that President Putin was a pragmatist and the West simply needed to find compromises for Moscow to become a valued partner. In reality, the supposed partnership with Moscow went up in flames with the attack and dismemberment of Ukraine and the recreation of a police dictatorship inside Russia.
But despite the obvious evidence that Putin does not respect treaties, borders, or the national interests of any European state, some members of the German government continue to operate with illusions about making lasting deals with the Kremlin.
For their part, Russian officials cunningly cultivate the German guilt complex over Nazi atrocities during World War Two to undermine Berlin’s self-confidence. Any signs of German assertiveness are condemned as a revival of expansionist nationalism. Indeed, the main enemy in Russia’s state propaganda disseminated in Crimea before its annexation was the imminent return of German fascists.
To undermine Berlin’s political assertiveness, Moscow has entrapped large German companies in lucrative business deals and increased German dependence on natural gas supplies through the Nord Stream pipeline. As a result, Germany’s business lobby has opposed tougher EU economic sanctions against Moscow.
Germany’s pacifist aversion to any kind of force, even including arming the Ukrainians to defend themselves against Russia’s military, sends a chilling signal of weakness throughout the region. It reinforces Putin’s confidence that he can carve up Ukraine as long as this is gradual and disguised as a civil war.
The Kremlin calculates that given German political and business interests, sanctions will eventually be lifted and Moscow can focus attention on another targeted state. And it remains unclear how far Germany is willing to support the Western aspirations of Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia for fear of antagonizing the Kremlin.
Even more worrisome, despite Putin’s persistent threats against Poland and the Baltic states, Merkel has opposed the full protection of Germany’s neighbors by moving NATO bases eastwards. Persistent anti-American streams in German politics and Berlin’s appeasement of Moscow’s imperialism remain grave areas of concern for the newest NATO members. Germany may be respected as an economic power among NATO countries bordering Russia, but it is not trusted as a reliable security provider, especially if these states were to be directly attacked by Moscow.
The Russia-Ukraine war should have provided ample opportunity for Berlin to take the lead in promoting its often-professed values of democracy, sovereignty, and security throughout Europe. Instead, it still panders to an authoritarian Moscow, which threatens the national interests of numerous nearby states.
Berlin’s political and military muscles certainly do not match its economic strength. A failure to keep the Eurozone together will undermine the principles of European integration on which the new Germany has been built. And a failure to maintain Ukraine’s integrity or to stymie Russia’s continuing offensives throughout the region will not only expose Germany as a political lightweight but it will jeopardize the European project itself.
Janusz Bugajski, February 2015
The election triumph of the radical left in Greece has sent shivers throughout Europe in anticipation of further populist victories. Southern Europe in particular is vulnerable to radical appeals given the failures of the political establishment and the poor state of national economies.
The EU’s ultra-left avoids the traditional communist labels in appealing to a wider audience. The old battles between Stalinists and Trotskyists have been shelved and references to previous failed communist experiments in Europe’s East are avoided.
Nonetheless, there is little new in their ideological dogmas: capitalism and neo-liberalism are the main enemies, owners continue to exploit workers, America is still an imperialist power, and Russia must be supported because it opposes U.S. global dominance. Much of this could be dismissed as the immature repetition of outdated slogans, if it wasn’t actually believed by party leaders.
There is also little innovation in the radical left’s policy prescriptions. At its core is the conviction that the state should own all strategic industries and manage all major national services. Despite all historic evidence to the contrary, leftists still believe that governments are more productive than markets and that collective ownership controlled by state managers is more efficient than private property.
The sole reason the ultra-left has gained significant public support is the prolonged economic recession that has hit Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Italy the hardest. Voters believe that all major parties have contributed to economic failure and are riddled with corruption. The radicals offer simple solutions, but their programs are based on one fundamental fallacy – that the government has unlimited sources of money.
Austerity measures were implemented by several south European states in order to obtain desperately needed loans from the IMF, the European Council, and the European Central Bank. As part of debt deals, governments were required to cut public costs by billions of euros. Syriza’s victory in Greece will now encourage the populist left in other states to believe they can terminate austerity and increase spending.
Spain and Italy will hold elections over the next two years. In Spain, the Podemos movement is gaining in strength. It won five seats to the European parliament in May and general elections are scheduled for December. With unemployment standing at 24% and poverty growing, Podemos leads opinion polls with about a quarter of the vote. Its populist support will increase following Syriza’s victory in Greece and Podemos has asserted that it will write off part of Spain’s debt if it wins the elections.
Italy is another far-left target where financial problems are combined with a sagging economy, massive unemployment, and widespread poverty. Italian leftist parties such as Rifondazione Comunista and the Left Ecology Freedom will try to ride on Syriza’s coattails and apply their own Greek myths.
It is not only the EU’s ultra-left that will benefit from the Greek elections. Other radical formations with simple populist messages will seek to be one of the falling dominos, including the ultra-right French Front National and Italy’s super-populist Five Star Movement. Paradoxically, Syriza’s expected economic failures will encourage alternatives from the other extreme of the political spectrum.
Janusz Bugajski, January 2015
The future of the EU project will again come under question, as the Greek tragedy is resurfacing. Greece’s early general elections on January 25 are stoking fears that Syriza, the neo-Marxist opposition, will triumph in the ballot, renege on the country’s international bailout deal, and undermine Europe’s currency union.
Following the failure to elect a new President by the Greek parliament, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras dissolved parliament and declared early elections. The Syriza ultra-leftists are riding on a wave of public resentment against six years of enforced austerity that was necessary for Greece to receive over 240 billion Euros of aid to rescue its failed economy.
Syriza may decide to reverse Athens’ commitments to the terms of the international bailout or even default on its repayments. It has pledged to unwind many of the reforms imposed by Greece’s creditors — the “troika” of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the EU, and the European Central Bank — by cutting taxes and increasing state aid and public services.
Any plans to freeze debt repayments would lead to a financial default and state bankruptcy. Such moves would precipitate financial chaos in Greece itself, freeze any additional bailout funds, curtail international business investment, damage the finances of other Eurozone members, and threaten Greece’s membership of the Eurozone currency union.
Within hours of the elections being called, the IMF suspended further bailout payments to Greece until a new government was formed. International markets and creditors will be closely watching the balloting and the composition of the next government. Greece recently secured an extension from its EU-IMF creditors to conclude a fiscal audit that will determine the release of seven billion euros in new loans. A new extension will be required if Syriza comes to power.
A Syriza default and formal bankruptcy could encourage other countries in southern Europe to backtrack on their financial loans and budgetary commitments. This could further undermine the wider EU economy whose performance remains sluggish.
In order to sober up voters, Samaras warned that the elections will determine whether Greece stays in Europe. Samaras’ best hope would be to cobble together a new coalition around the New Democracy party that would exclude radical leftists and rightists. But although EU leaders called on Greeks to stick by the painful reforms tied to the international bailout, such appeals may have the reverse effect because EU representatives are deeply unpopular among Greek voters.
An ultra-leftist government in Greece would have two further negative consequences for European security. First, it would pose a direct political challenge to the principles of liberalism by increasing the role of the state and undermining the market economy, while promoting statist leftism throughout the EU.
And second, Syriza will contribute to undermining any coherence in EU foreign policy. It is staunchly anti-American and anti-NATO and has displayed an avidly pro-Moscow line during the past year by supporting Russia’s attack on Ukraine. An ultra-leftist victory in Greece will enable Putin to make further inroads into European politics with the aim of dismantling the West.
Janusz Bugajski, November 2014
A quarter century after the collapse of Communism, public memories of the system are fading and and breeding the illusions of nostalgia. For the inhabitants of Bosnia and Croatia the end of communism also signaled the beginning of a devastating war, while difficult post-war adjustments have made the Yugoslav period look comparatively attractive.
During key anniversaries it is worth remembering the core features of communism, to dispel any lingering delusions. Communism was a system of minority rule, where the mass of the public was disenfranchised. A self-appointed clique declared its vanguard role while stifling political competition. Communism trapped society in a straitjacket of conformity and the entire structure was based on deception and the constant threat of repression.
Communism created an illusion of economic and national development with a millenarian message about the coming Promised Land. But decades of social engineering failed to produce a modern society with an internationally competitive economy. State-sponsored social mobilization created a facade of economic progress. In reality, communism could not compete with dynamic international capitalism.
For most Central-East European states, Communism was a method for national subjugation, in which the governments were not only subservient to the Kremlin’s dictat, but also dependent on Moscow for their positions in power. In the Yugoslav case, the Russian threat was used to reinforce the legitimacy and patriotism of the ruling party in protecting the country from Soviet invasion and occupation.
As with all nostalgia there is a mix of fact and fiction in remembering the past. Some of the older generation may recall cradle to grave state protection even though living standards were low and often stagnant. Some members of the younger generations may also have a “nostalgia of ignorance” learned from parents and finding the current economy too competitive where they cannot rely on the state for subsistence. Others yearn for predictability and order and mythologize about the past.
There is also a segment of any population that could be described as “political masochists” in that they would back an authoritarian state to control their lives. One can add to this the incompleteness of decommunization, inadequate historical education, the confusion of the war and post-war periods, and widespread views of communism as part of the modern political spectrum unlike its blood brother, fascism.
In addition, democracy is often perceived as chaotic, especially where there is dissatisfaction with all current political parties. Some politicians in parts of Europe’s East exploit these sentiments to promote authoritarian tendencies, including paternalism and nationalism as ingredients of alleged social protection and economic stability.
At a national level, some nostalgics distort the communist era as a period of national achievement and glory, especially for Yugoslavia. They forget to mention that this was largely a domestic propaganda exercise and carried little international weight, except among aspiring Communist elites in Third World countries. Even more importantly, Yugoslav communism failed to tackle the country’s ethnic complexities. When the system collapsed there were no democratic structures to handle the ensuing deadly conflicts, and we continue to live with the consequences.
Janusz Bugajski, November 2014
The eastern part of Europe is celebrating a quarter century since the collapse of communism. Looking back on November 1989, many overlook that the fall of the Berlin Wall not only symbolized the collapse of communism, it also heralded the national liberation of Central and East Europe from Moscow’s domination.
But while communism is but a fading nightmare, the struggle to maintain independence from an increasingly assertive Kremlin continues, especially among countries bordering Russia. Indeed, officials in Moscow have sought to revise the significance of 1989 by denying that Soviet policy imposed repressive systems in half of Europe and stifled political and economic progress for almost half a century.
Moscow was directly responsible for the regression and demoralization of Europe’s eastern half, but no post-Cold War reparations have been paid to the victim nations. Even the regime in Yugoslavia that was not under Soviet occupation, maintained its power because genuine democratization and an alliance with the West would have raised the danger of direct Soviet intervention.
Russia’s spokesmen also claim that the Kremlin benevolently dismantled the Soviet bloc and that the Cold War ended in a draw, rather than admitting that the Soviet system failed and disintegrated from within.
The notion of benign or even progressive Sovietism is now used as one justification for the Kremlin’s historical and territorial revisionism. To uphold truth and freedom, both Europeans and Americans must remain vigilant in defending the real historical legacy of November 1989, particularly the regaining of national independence.
After recovering from its Cold War defeat, Russia is mounting a pervasive security challenge to the West. President Putin’s neo-imperial goal is to restore a Moscow-centered bloc and his subversive strategies undermine the stability of several regions from the Baltic to the Caspian, challenge NATO as a security provider, and undercut EU enlargement.
American and European officials claim there is no zero-sum competition with Russia over the allegiance of any European country. In reality, the contradiction between a country’s freedom to select its international alliances, which the West espouses, and state subordination to Russia, on which Moscow insists, lies at the core of the escalating geopolitical struggle.
Europe faces a combination of economic uncertainties, populist pressures, nationalist aspirations, unstable borders, and a shadow war with Moscow that can spark new inter-state conflicts. This can also challenge the survival of democracy and liberalism in parts of Europe’s east. The last 25 years may turn out to be a unique episode between two eras of strife.
In terms of Russia itself, we should discard any delusional approaches that bring only temporary pauses in the struggle for dominance. Several EU capitals are trying to pacify Moscow by involving it in discussions about the future of Ukraine and other post-Soviet states. But as one prominent U.S. analyst at Rutgers University, Alexander Motyl, has pointed out: West European leaders claim that war in Europe is “unthinkable,” but this only means that they do not want to think about it. Ukraine’s neighbors are not so foolish and some are preparing for the worst.