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After ten rounds of negotiations and near failure, Serbia and Kosovo have agreed a pact that opens up the path for Serbia's languishing EU accession. The constellation of events that led to the announcement of the pact on April 19th, including discussions with Russia, has brought this historic agreement about. Yet, while the ground has been laid for Serbia, it is only the first of many steps on the path towards EU membership.
The clear political stumbling block between Serbia and the European Union is the recognition of Kosovo's sovereignty. Having accepted changes in the governing of northern Kosovo, most notably giving the “Association/Community” “full overview of the areas of economic development, education, health, urban and rural planning”, Serbia is not close to making a full recognition.
A historical agreement with limitations
The signing of a 15 point agreement between Serbia and Kosovo constitutes a major success for High Representative Catherine Ashton, both for the stability in the Balkans region and unlocking the potential for Serbia and Kosovo's entry into the EU. The two parties, torn apart in Kosovo's war of independence in 2008, have reached an accord that recognises Kosovo's right to be governed by local independent statue, whilst giving Serbs in northern Kosovo their own police force and appeals court. However, far from being the end of the story, the agreement has created the space for normalisation to emerge, rather than sealed the relations between the two states.
Behind the headline cuts in the European Union’s 2014-2020 Multi-Annual Financial Framework (MFF), lies a new EU retrenchment policy on its eastern borders. The protection of EU Structural and Cohesion funds to the European Union and the gutting of the “Global Europe” spending ceiling, within which the commitments to the Eastern Partnership initiative are housed, demonstrates the increasing disinterest the EU has to further enlargement. Whilst the actual impact on Eastern development is not yet clear, mixed success in promoting democracy and development over the last year does not bode well for continued enlargement.
Budget winners and losers
Whilst newspapers focused on David Cameron's calls for a real terms cut in the headline budget, there was a groundswell movement in favour of promoting long-term growth through investment across the European Union, particularly in the East. The subsequent agreement has initiated a scramble for funds within an overarching cut of the budget to the sum of 969 billion euros. Central Eastern Europe fared well and in particular, Poland, which led the so-called Friends of Cohesion Policy, can claim to have won this round.
Despite weathering the economic downturn better than a number of Western European states, Poland will now receive more EU investment than under the previous budget – 105.8 billion euros, of which 72.9 billion euros was from the cohesion policy. As Polish Prime Minister Tusk publicly stated before the Summit: “Good Polish-German and Polish-French relations are really helping to get a compromise… [and] not less for cohesion funds.” He was proven to be correct and the overall commitment ceiling of 325 billion euros gave Poland, along with Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Romania, increases in its national cohesion funding.
The final transitional immigration controls on Romania and Bulgaria are set to expire in January 2014, seven years after these new Eastern Europeans became citizens of the European Union. In the United Kingdom, parallels are already being drawn with the 2004 “wave” of immigration, when Poland and the other A8 countries gained the rights to travel and work throughout the EU. However, the main “pull” factors of immigration, which include employment opportunities, relative gross national interest per capita (GNI per capita) and comparative opportunities across the EU, all suggest that the immigration flow from Romania and Bulgaria will not only be significantly smaller than 2004 levels, but will also be more diffuse throughout EU member states.
A recently released study by Oxford University's Migration Observatory has drawn out the long-term impact of A8 immigration on the UK, placing the “tsunami” effect into a broader context. Estimations made in 2004 predicted 15,000 people per year would move from the new EU member states to the UK. The average annual Long-Term International Migration inflow of EU citizens was, in fact, increased to around 170,000 in the period 2004-2010, in comparison to the 67,000 over the previous six years. As a percentage of EU citizens, the A8 immigrants accounted for around 50 per cent of that movement, meaning that Eastern Europeans made up only one-third of the total migrant inflow into the UK. Nevertheless, the failure to anticipate the impact of lifting these restrictions left a deep mark in the political landscape of the UK.
The negative framing of Eastern European immigration has returned in the form of an endless stream of unskilled and unemployed “benefit tourists”. It may be narrow politicking but the image has maintained its potency. The UK Independence Party (UKIP) now displays a countdown clock on their website for when, as The Telegraph has also warned, “Twenty million Bulgarians and Romanians will gain the right to live and work unrestricted in Britain.” Research by the Open Society in Sofia actually suggests that the inflow of Bulgarian immigrants would be “far less significant in volume and it is less likely.... [to] cause labour market disruption” than the A8 access.
The latest Corruption Perceptions index by Transparency International (TI) brings into question the description of the European Union's role, often told in dialectic terms, of the transformation of Eastern Europe from a web of Soviet satellites to European states. Whilst levels of perceived corruption in Eastern Europe have remained steady compared with three years ago, and admittedly in some cases improved for those states belonging to the EU, they have also plummeted in those “Western” countries most affected by the euro crisis. The public narrative of corruption would do well then, to shift from a primary reliance on historical cultural explanations embedded in the European Union, and focus more on the particular socio-economic conditions at hand.
The comparative view
The headlines on this year's World Anti-Corruption Day (December 9th 2012) focused almost exclusively on the plight of Italy and Greece. The TI's report, based on averaging a range of independent institutional assessments of transparency and accountability, and therefore a “perception” of corruption, rather than a quantitative assessment of this opaque area found Greece to be languishing globally in 92nd place. Greece was not only at the bottom of Western and Central Europe's rankings but well below a number of post-Soviet states, including Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Poland, for levels of its political and economic corruption.
In sharp contrast, a number of post-Soviet states in Europe are slowly, steadily progressing in terms of holding their institutions accountable. Whilst notably behind traditional Western and Nordic countries, Hungary and Poland both improved their rankings, receiving over 50 out of 100 points from across 10 institutional surveys each. Slovenia and Estonia also featured in the top 20 of European countries too. This analysis does not forget that there are notable criticisms to be levelled at Hungary in particular, most notably Victor Orban's assault on the independence of the Hungarian media, the central bank and judiciary independence, but suggests that a comparative view leads to the conclusion that behind the headlines there are moderate improvements to be noted in the conduct of the Eastern European public sphere.
There is a slow evolution in Central and Eastern European energy supply and Poland is pushing hardest to ensure that shale gas is at its centre. Rather than pursuing a policy solely of energy independence from Russia though, the pursuit of shale is also part of a broader move to cope with European Union environmental policy.
The extraction of shale gas, still a relatively controversial process that involves injecting pressurised liquid deep into ground rock is a new method in Europe. It is rapidly becoming the next capital investment for countries in the East though, who are desperately seeking to reform outdated, coal based and import reliant energy sectors. By exerting pressure within the European Union, Poland is slowly establishing the necessary conditions to use shale gas to promote growth within the constraints of the EU's climate targets.
Loosening Russia's noose
Russia's influence over much of Europe's energy is hardly disputed. In 2009, during a 22-day dispute between Ukraine and Russia, Gazprom, the Russian owned gas supplier, managed to cut supply to 18 European states. As well as wiping out Ukraine's supply, supply to Bulgaria and Moldova dropped by 100 per cent; Poland by a third, and Germany by 10 per cent, with Slovakia declaring a state of emergency as supply through the Ukrainian pipeline faltered.
The establishment of the Nord Stream pipeline, a gas link that runs directly from Russia to Germany, may have quelled fears in Berlin of any future shortages, but has heightened pressure on those transit countries cut out of the loop. Gazprom's ability to squeeze or halt supplies to Ukraine and Poland in particular, without angering its western customers, has given Russia the strongest economic leverage to use on Eastern Europe since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
In Warsaw in mid-September, the German led “Future of Europe Group” announced its plans for the next political development of the European Union. Both in that moment and subsequent speeches, the driving force behind this development has not been the traditional “engine” of European integration, a now increasingly fraught Franco-German partnership, but a new coalition led most prominently by Germany and Poland. Whilst eurozone states remain embroiled in financial crisis management, it is Poland, a leading EU member without the euro, that increasingly takes the lead. Germany may hold the immediate financial future of Europe in its hands, but it is Poland that has both the interest and the opportunity to shape a new Europe.
Radosław Sikorski, Poland's foreign minister, made waves in a Berlin speech in late 2011 when he announced that “I fear German power less than I am beginning to fear German inactivity.” What is less reported is the systematic programme of European reforms that formed the core of his speech. At the end of the Polish Presidency of the European Council, he advocated a smaller, stronger European Commission, with economic oversight for national debt in agreement with parliament; a central role for the European Central Bank underpinning the eurozone; and a pan-European list of candidates for the European Parliament. Sikorksi spelled out more specifically what the German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, has broadly spoken of when he describes the solution as “more Europe”.
Poland has the raw economic interest to further embed itself within a European political framework. The common market has been a major driver in Poland's economic success. At a first glance, its astonishing that the eurozone crisis has not stifled Poland's growth, as around 60 per cent of Poland's imports and 80 per cent of her exports come from within the EU. Yet over a quarter of its trade is formed of bilateral agreements with Germany, a value of between 60 to 70 billion euros. As such, Poland has been largely insulated from the ongoing instability in the eurozone. Poland also benefits from receiving the highest net value of distribution of EU funds; 11.8 billion euros, from a 3.3-billion-euro investment. When the Commission votes on the 2013 budget, it will expect to lose some of its 7.8 billion in cohesion for growth and employment funds, but will nevertheless have enough influence within the Council to ensure it remains significantly better off through its European membership.
The Eurozone crisis is being heralded as the downfall of the European Union. But the far more dangerous influences lie on the fringes of mainstream politics. The far right are back from oblivion, they've got a new mainstream face, and it's European.
A TRAGEDY IN NORWAY, A WIDER THREAT
On the 22nd July 2011 Anders Breivik walked into a summer youth camp in Utøya, Norway and killed 69 young left-wing activists. It was a politically motivated killing spree that shook Europe and refocused attention to the extreme right of the political spectrum. Yet it is the far right political movements, often seen as the acceptable face of fascism, rather than the spontaneous outbursts of violence that hold the real threat to Europe.
|Photo: Moony (BY-NC)|
|Same ideas in a new and different form?|
Having given up on extreme violence and donned the suit of a politician, a wide range of far right politicians issued condemnations of Breivik's act. These included prominent Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who described Breivik as 'violent and sick'. Yet those same politicians who publicly denounced his violent means would also find a lot in common with the central ideas of Breivik's 1,467 page manifesto 'A European declaration of Independence'.
Acting as the call to a European civil war, Breivik's manifesto displays a familiar brand of anti-immigration, anti-Islamic populism that has taken root in many rightist movements across Europe. Based upon the claim that Islamic culture is not compatible with Western European civilisation, it argues for a long term campaign to remove it from European countries. Whilst Breivik's invocation of defensive war may be more violently extreme than anything the far right would suggest, it is the essence of what Wilders argued for when he called for the expulsion of Muslims who 'cause problems, and their whole family' and an immediate halt to immigration into the Netherlands from Muslim countries.
THE NEW FAR RIGHT
A broad consensus exists among far right parties that emphasises Islam as a dangerous and alien culture that is fundamentally incompatible with the West. In particular they emphasise that the implementation of sharia law is a natural consequence of Islam's presence in Europe - Islam often being conflated with a radical Islamist variation. Futhermore, they argue that the state policy of multiculturalism is, instead of promoting cultures living together, leading to 'the ongoing Islamic colonisation of Europe', in which western culture is being placed under threat.
Key tropes of cultural annihilation are being harnessed by the far right to provoke people's fear of the relatively new complexity in their societies brought on by a rapidly globalising world. In response, parties such as the British National Party and Front Nationale posit a wave of direct, seemingly simple measures to reverse the consequences of immigration into European countries. These include policies against the building of mosques, bans on importing halal meat, and the promise to end a perceived tide of foreign immigration.
Whilst you read this, there will be British and French planes flying over and bombing Libya. Last night alone 112 Tomahawk missiles were fired into Tripoli and surrounding targets. The UN has endorsed "all necessary measures short of an occupation force" to prevent Gaddafi's forces attacking civilian and rebel groups and this was officially supported by the EU's foreign affairs representative. Germany's abstention in the UN security council therefore represents a division in Europe's response and raises serious questions about how each of the three main states understand the Libyan case and what underlying domestic interests they have brought to their respective decisions.
The tyranny of definition
There is a small but significant distinction between Germany's understanding of Libya at the moment and that of France and Britain. The German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, said in a telephone interview with a radio station on Thursday, "I do not want Germany to be part of a war in Libya, a permanent civil war in Libya." This civil war is a very different image to the one invoked by UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who has described the conflict in terms of "the people" versus the regime and argued that the "people's will" resides in the rebels and by implication that there is no "legitimate" Gaddafi supporter, aside from regime "apparatchiks." This can be seen in Britain and France's highly symbolic and questionable recognition of the Libyan national council (the major opposition) as legitimate leaders in Libya.
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