Tag Archives: European Politics

Should the EU offer a SAA to Serbia? (and possibly influence the elections?)

“Ministers, over lunch, will discuss the situation in the Western Balkans, notably in the run-up to the Serbian general elections on 11 May.” This is the seemingly unimportant announcement on the GAERC Council Agenda for the April 29th meeting in Luxembourg. But EU Foreign Ministers will have to decide on quite a difficult issue: Should the EU offer Serbia a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) before the Serbian elections? (which might even influence the election outcomes?)

The pessimistic perspective

The International Crisis Group thinks that the EU should not make a deal with Serbia before the upcoming elections. In a recently published research paper “Will the Real Serbia Please Stand Up?“, the think tank argues that the EU should not offer a SAA unless Serbia cooperates fully with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The EU should also “stop intervening directly in support of one or another political force” in Serbia because it would backfire at the ballot box :

“At best, the EU and U.S. will have limited influence for many months, until a new government is formed, which may not be until September or later. Meanwhile, the public anger over Western support for Kosovo’s independence is such that any attempt to pressure or even induce Belgrade into more cooperation risks strengthening the nationalist vote.”

The think tank sums it up with the statement “appeasement has already failed in the Balkans for over a decade and a half”. One should also not underestimate regional dynamics. In many Western Balkan countries, the EU is seen as having double standards and offering a deal to Serbia now would only support this kind of argumentation, especially because cooperation with the ICTY is a crucial point for the whole region. Ultimately, a SAA with a concession on ICTY cooperation would weaken the negotiation position of the EU in other SAA and accession negotiations in the region.

The optimistic perspective

As part of a “blog-round table” (more about that later!) I had the chance to talk to Milica Delevic, the Serbian Assistant Foreign Minister for European Integration. Obviously she would welcome an early offer from the EU and argues that “EU engagement is always better than isolation”. However, she also admitted that the Serbian government is a bit “schizophrenic” on the issue because the SAA is more and more linked to a recognition of Kosovo (Koštunica:”Signing SAA means signing away Kosovo“). But signing a SAA is not EU membership and it has nothing to do with Kosovo either, it would rather establish contractual relations as well as better trade relations with the EU, and it would give Serbia access to EU funding. (Delevic: “Russia has better contractual relations with the EU than Serbia!”).

The Serbian electorate is quite evenly split between “nationalists” and “moderates” which will make it probably difficult to form a new government after the elections. But a SAA could give the EU some leverage over the next government, be it moderate, nationalist or a coalition. At the same time, EU integration is supported by a comfortable 70% majority of the population, and a clear sign from the EU could motivate voters to vote for more moderate and pro-EU parties.

The EU is likely to find a compromise on the ICTY question (which is of particular interest of the Netherlands and Belgium) that would link parts of the implementation process of the SAA to the full ICTY cooperation and not the SAA offer. Deutsche Welle quotes Belgian Foreign Ministry spokesman Francois Delhaye on the position of Belgium and the Netherlands on the issue: “The two countries would agree to a proposed Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA), but Serbia should not benefit from the advantages of this accord without full cooperation with the International War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).”

What future for Serbia?
What future for Serbia?

So what should the EU do? – Here are the official Kosmopolit recommendations:

It is necessary to overcome the pure political argumentation here and to highlight the important process of reforming the country. Symbols still prevail in the Balkans. It is time for focusing on economic and social issues in order to overcome the power of symbolism, which has been present in Balkan politics for too long. By offering a SAA now, the EU can show that it has not given up on Serbia, which can be perceived as quite a powerful statement in Belgrade! Signing the SAA can bring a different perspective and a new hope, especially for the young generation/voters. The agreement would at least restart the pro-European debate and possibly turn the attention away from Kosovo. Although the SAA offer might not directly influence the election outcome, it will certainly increase the pressure on politicians to get serious about reforming the country. The persistence and attraction of radical and nationalistic ideologies can be traced back to the lack of economic and social reforms that are long overdue. The proposed SAA would not directly introduce reforms, it may nevertheless open the door for the long awaited process.

Written by: Tanchi & Kosmo

Update 29/04/08: The EU decided to sign a SAA with Serbia. However, the implementation and the ratification of the agreement will depend on Serbia’s full cooperation with the ICTY:

The European Dream

Thanks to analyzingEU (somehow the post disappeared in the meantime…) I found this speech by Jeremy Rifkin, the founder of the Foundation of Economic Trends. If you know the stuff by Jeremy Rifkin you know what you get, if you don’t just give it a try! He is a quite influential advisor, a best-selling author and he is certainly a good speaker. However, he is also known to have started many controversial debates. Times magazine once called him “the most hated man in science”. This lecture (wasn’t it the same he delivered at the European Youth Summit in Rome?) is based on Rifkin’s book ‘The European Dream‘ which was published a few years ago.

Unfortunately the quality of the video could be a bit better given that the European Journalism Centre was involved in the production…(But I accept this excuse ;-) )

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Welcome back!

The summer break is over. Slowly, the Brussels xpat crowd is coming back from holiday.

I just started deleting blog spam….it is incredible what kind of spam you get these days! It used to be only the obvious things about different medications and various operations, as well as dating opportunities…but now they started making compliments:

  • informative post, keep it up.
  • dude cool site i like it very much.
  • revolutionary. breathtaking. awesome post dude.
  • Excellent forum with fantastic references and reading…. well done indeed…
  • great site, nice design.
  • nice choice of colors.

and my favorite:

  • your blog is so important. you are the new media

That should give me indeed enough motivation to go on with my blogging ;-)

In case you just returned from your holidays in a remote area without newspapers and Internet connection, you might be interested in what happened during the summer. Here is the ultimate (but incomplete) list of important things you missed:

1. Early elections in Poland! What does this mean for the new EU treaty?

2. European Parliament elections in Romania!

3. Still no government in Belgium! Even summer was cancelled in Brussels this year.

4. The IGC is on the way, Gordon Brown needs strong nerves; and just to make sure: Britain has not lost control of its foreign policy: part 1 and part 2

5. George W. Bush lost Karl Rove and Tony Snow.

6. President Sarkozy is back!! Sarkozy in the US!! A new Iraq strategy?? A deal with Gaddafi!! Cecilia Sarkozy saves Bulgarian hostages (on her own!!)!! Hyperactive president!!

7. Georgia and the mysterious missile; Russia proposes own IMF candidate

8. Germany: Two years of Angie and Italian Mafia in Germany.

9. EU news: EU wants to break up energy giants; The EU and Kosovo

10. Media news: BBC dropped from Russia’s FM waveband; wordpress.com is blocked in Turkey! wordpress.com is still blocked…

11. George Tabori and Ingmar Bergman

In the euroblogosphere two (among many others I have not yet discovered) very interesting new blogs appeared: Brussels Comment and The European Parliament (that wants to find out what Europe has ever done for us).

Bad news for the German speaking blogosphere: The best political blog has decided to call it a day! Good bye Kosmoblog! We will miss you!

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EU summit conclusions

In case you have nothing better to do this weekend, here is a wonderful exercise to make sense out of the EU summit conclusions: Empty your desk, put all former EC/EU treaties on the table, also the constitutional treaty! Now, have a look at the draft IGC mandate (the presidency proposal before the summit) and compare it with the official summit conclusions. I can ensure you that you will need all other treaties to get a basic understanding of the new “reform treaty”. You will also get an idea what was discussed in Brussels in the last days (and nights).

It seems the EU summit produced one of these typical compromises. Most of the innovations of the constitutional treaty (which already was a suboptimal compromise) were saved. However, it is a big step forward for the EU!

But especially Polish and British demands have been included in the new compromise. The striking thing is that both countries already signed up to the constitutional treaty and watered down the provisions in the negotiations leading to the treaty. Both governments managed to flood the IGC mandate with additional footnotes, declarations and unilateral declarations….On the other side, France and The Netherlands (that actually had more reasons to demand changes…) were rather quiet.

The summit was also a diplomatic battle and a big theatrical show with late night veto threats and early morning compromises. The Kaczynski twins were in the centre of attention and managed to postpone the double majority system until 2017. However, there is the danger that the Polish strategy (non diplomatic language + lack of allies + constant veto threats) might backfire in the long run. At least the image of the Polish government is now totally ruined across Europe. Everyone already seems to wait for the next elections….

In sharp contrast to the Polish strategy, Tony Blair managed to get everything he wanted in a very diplomatic way, even though some of the ‘red lines’ were obviously designed to please the press and, of course, to enable Gordon Brown to get around a referendum!

Once again, Angela Merkel managed to achieve a diplomatic victory but for the first time she showed signs of annoyance (with Poland) and isolated Poland during the summit with the threat of calling for an IGC without Poland (this possibility was also mentioned on this blog). Ultimately, this seemed to have an impact on the twins…

To sum it up: business as usual in Brussels. Only that the result is not simple but complicated. Compared with the constitutional treaty, the reform treaty will be even harder to understand for non -lawyers. And last but not least, the debate about the constitution and the reform of the EU is finally over (at least for the next 5 years or so…).

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Romania’s political mess – A mini roundup

Last week the political crisis in Romania truly escalated. A few weeks ago I posted a general introduction on the nature of politics in Romania and the fight between President Basescu and PM Tariceanu.

Now, President Basescu is suspended from office and there will be a referendum on May 19 (unusual for elections: a Saturday AND the day of Saint Patriciu …), the political elite is deeply split, demonstrations in favour of Basescu took place, a parliamentary coalition without any mandate is in power and politicians already want to change the Romanian constitution to prevent Basescu from becoming president again, leaving the country with a interim president and interim MEPs (due to the indefinetly postponed EP elections) …. So what happened in Romanian politics? Everything is quite messy (as usual), so let’s make some sense out of it. Here is a little blog/commentary roundup:

Vladimir Tismaneu and Paul Dragos Aligica call it a Parliamentary Putsch:

The frivolous impeachment procedure is payback for Mr. Basescu’s unremitting fight against corruption and his support for transparency in dealing with the secret police archives from Romania’s dark, totalitarian times. When the president last year called the former communist regime “illegitimate and criminal,” he made himself many enemies among the old nomenklatura.

Andrei Plesu, a former Romanian foreign minister and well known writer and former Basescu advisor also lashes out at the parliament:

One can say without exaggeration that in all the years of its fragile democracy our country has been led by faceless voting robots who wave their hands between naps while the demagogues keep talking.

Valentina Pop comments on Romania’s backlash to kleptocracy:

The new political configuration around liberal prime minister Calin Tariceanu is using and abusing every possible democratic tool for its undemocratic goals: delaying the European elections for fear of facing the voters, an impeachment procedure against president Traian Basescu based on no constitutional grounds and a cabinet reshuffle to get rid of performing ministers thought to be “too close to the President”.

(…)

For the newly installed “Black Coalition” – the one Romanian voters never approved – the stakes are great. The four “Black Coalition” parties – Liberals, Socialists, the ethnic Hungarian UDMR party and the small Conservative Party of former communist secret police agent and media owner Dan Voiculescu – are trying to defend the very privileges and impunity they have been used to so far.

The European Commission seems to have predicted something like this when it constantly called for “continued reforms that are irreversible.”Four months after Romanian accession, it is clear that not even the post-accession monitoring mechanisms imposed by Brussels and the threat of safeguard clauses are real means of pressure for the Romanian politicians.

And she comes to a rather worrying conclusion:

Romania’s return to kleptocracy will be devastating for its citizens and business environment. But ultimately, Romania’s backlash will prove that EU’s “soft powers” are sometimes too soft. This is particularly so when facing old guard communists with decades of experience in cooking the books, corruption and promises that are never fulfilled.

Jon Worth also thinks about the role of the EU:

In the meantime the EU looks on quite helplessly. Barroso and others have stated that Romania needs to get the crisis sorted out using its own methods, but the European Parliament elections in Romania have been postponed in order to achieve a national solution. Plus with pressure being increasingly applied to Basescu, and government ministers talking a much more anti-EU rhetoric, the situation for Brussels is not easy. If the EU was to trigger the safeguard clauses that accompanied Romanian accession, would that actually help? On the other hand, with equally shaky politics in Poland, Slovakia and Hungary, would a tough message to Romania from the EU not just look like hypocrisy?

The nEUrosis has an excellent overview focusing on the legitimacy of the whole suspension procedure:

A democracy is based on a clear separation of powers, all of whom bear the same degree of independence. When any of these over-rules the decision taken by another, the premises of democracy are severely affected. When a Parliament dominated by anti-presidential forces decides to over-rule a constitutional advice provided by the highest constitutional authority in the country and assumes constitutional powers the most immediate question is: in which sort of democracy are we living?

Gérard Delaloye, a historian and journalist, thinks that the Romanian constitution should be changed:

The Romanian political class … cannot be spared a drastic revision of the Constitution without plunging the country into anarchy or dictatorship. Furthermore, the current crisis also rests on the exorbitant power of members of parliament, deputies and senators. The electoral system, directly inspired by the communist regime is based on a list ballot of proportional representation where the elected representatives are chosen by the parties, not the voters. Thus, over fifteen years, a parliamentary autocracy has been created which serves its own interests when it is not obsequiously pandering to those of the oligarchs, its backers.

Cristina Viehmann looks at the underlying reasons of the crisis that do not only stem from the personal fight between Tariceanu and Basescu:

But there may be other reasons as well. The president’s reforms were undeniably aimed against the interests of many politicians, many of them belonging to the Social Democrat Party (PSD), which ruled Romania from 1990 until 1996 and again from 2000 to 2004. (…) For many, the PSD symbolizes what Romania was unable to deal with after 1989 – its communist past.

Regarding the anticipated outcome of the referendum she is rather sceptical:

According to opinion polls, Basescu is backed by 50 percent of the electorate and is therefore very likely to win and return to office. But once in power, he will find himself immobilized by the parliament.

However, EurActiv speculates about new parliamentary elections later this year while The nEUrosis sees a light at the end of the tunnel:

The entire political scene might not settle after the referendum in May, but at least one issue could become clearer: president Basescu and the strong reforms advocated by him and his supporters show the right way for Romania, not the economic interests or behind-the-scene political games of those for whom the reform of the Romanian institutions and society exists in theory, but not in practice.

But even new presidential elections would be difficult to win for Basescu according to Catalin Dimofte who sees a certain mood of apathy among voters:

In the end, the assumption of many political analysts that Basescu will easily win early presidential elections may turn out to be false. It relies on a single risky belief, which is that his opponents will not be able to come up with a credible candidate of their own.

….. to be continued…..

Berlin declaration online

Thanks to Jan’s EU Blog the German version of the Berlin declaration is online! As expected, it is a rather non-binding document which also sounds a bit pathetic. References to more controversial issues such as the “Euro”, “open frontiers” and the “European social model” have also been included. References to “further enlargement” and “Christian heritage” do not appear in the text. The short document is supposed to kick-start a discussion on the future of Europe and the development of “renewed common foundation of the EU” (instead of the word ‘constitution’) . It also contains a commitment to agree on a institutional reform until the European Parliament election in 2009. However, the success of this whole initiative depends a lot on the follow-up discussions during the next months and, of course the outcome of the French presidential elections (and we should not forget Gordon Brown).

The drafting process was heavily criticised because of its rather closed and diplomatic character. The declaration will be signed during the informal EU summit in Berlin this weekend. In order to emphasise the importance of the EU institutions only the three EU presidents (Commission, Council, Parliament) are going to sign the document. One could also argue that not every member state supports wholeheartedly the declaration… But according to Spiegel online Angela Merkel managed, during a last minute telephone call, to convince the Czech government to support the document.

Declaration on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the signature of the Treaties of Rome (offical version)

For centuries Europe has been an idea, holding out hope of peace and understanding. That hope has been fulfilled. European unification has made peace and prosperity possible. It has brought about a sense of community and overcome differences. Each Member State has helped to unite Europe and to strengthen democracy and the rule of law. Thanks to the yearning for freedom of the peoples of Central and Eastern Europe the unnatural division of Europe is now consigned to the past. European integration shows that we have learnt the painful lessons of a history marked by bloody conflict. Today we live together as was never possible before. We, the citizens of the European Union, have united for the better.

I.

In the European Union, we are turning our common ideals into reality: for us, the individual is paramount. His dignity is inviolable. His rights are inalienable. Women and men enjoy equal rights. We are striving for peace and freedom, for democracy and the rule of law, for mutual respect and shared responsibility, for prosperity and security, for tolerance and participation, for justice and solidarity.

We have a unique way of living and working together in the European Union. This is expressed through the democratic interaction of the Member States and the European institutions. The European Union is founded on equal rights and mutually supportive cooperation. This enables us to strike a fair balance between Member States’ interests. We preserve in the European Union the identities and diverse traditions of its Member States. We are enriched by open borders and a lively variety of languages, cultures and regions. There are many goals which we cannot achieve on our own, but only in concert. Tasks are shared between the European Union, the Member States and their regions and local authorities.

II.

We are facing major challenges which do not stop at national borders. The European Union is our response to these challenges. Only together can we continue to preserve our ideal of European society in future for the good of all European Union citizens. This European model combines economic success and social responsibility. The common market and the euro make us strong. We can thus shape the increasing interdependence of the global economy and evergrowing competition on international markets according to our values. Europe’s wealth lies in the knowledge and ability of its people; that is the key to growth, employment and social cohesion.

We will fight terrorism, organised crime and illegal immigration together. We stand up for liberties and civil rights also in the struggle against those who oppose them. Racism and xenophobia must never again be given any rein.

We are committed to the peaceful resolution of conflicts in the world and to ensuring that people do not become victims of war, terrorism and violence. The European Union wants to promote freedom and development in the world. We want to drive back poverty, hunger and disease. We want to continue to take a leading role in that fight. We intend jointly to lead the way in energy policy and climate protection and make our contribution to averting the global threat of climate change.

III.

The European Union will continue to thrive both on openness and on the will of its Member States to consolidate the Union’s internal development. The European Union will continue to promote democracy, stability and prosperity beyond its borders. With European unification a dream of earlier generations has become a reality. Our history reminds us that we must protect this for the good of future generations. For that reason we must always renew the political shape of Europe in keeping with the times. That is why today, 50 years after the signing of the Treaties of Rome, we are united in our aim of placing the European Union on a renewed common basis before the European Parliament elections in 2009.

For we know, Europe is our common future.

EU achievements

As the weekend comes closer, the media is getting more and more enthusiastic about the achievements of the EU (for a change). The BBC came up with Ten things the EU has done for you (somehow inspired by the popular What has Europe ever done for us? -video) and a guide to the best euromyths.

Unsurprisingly, the EU institutions also want to communicate the success stories. 50 ways forward – Europe’s best successes is the official website of the EU. And the German EU Presidency also celebrates the ‘unprecedented success story‘.

The Independent has a rather entertaining list of 50 reasons to love the EU and a nice comment by Denis MacShane. And because “Lists like this drive the Eurosceptics mad”(Reason Nr. 50!) here is the front page:

50 reasons to love the EU

A view from the outside

Sometimes it is quite revealing to change perspective. Andrew Moravcsik comments in Newsweek on the upcoming 50th birthday of the EU and comes to this conclusion:

… it’s significant that 50 years after the EU’s march to unity began, it is now Europe, not the United States, that’s held up as a new lamp unto nations.