Tuesday, November 22, 2016

EU defence: page 18, point 23 or the cart before the horse?

(Photo: Flickr|Defence Images, licensed by CC BY-NC 2.0)

One year after the infamous terrorist attacks in Paris, and less than four months after the presentation of the EU Global Strategy and circa two weeks after the election of Donald Trump, Federica Mogherini unveiled the Implementation Plan on Security and Defence. It sets out the new level of ambition for the EU, and follows up on the EU Global Strategy in terms of what the EU must contribute to so that it becomes a fully-fledged stakeholder security wise. So far, so good. No one will object – who is NOT for a more secure Europe, at the end of the day? Why not have more robust capacity to respond to external conflicts and crises, and be more adept at strengthening the resilience of EU partners? Such ambition was long in the making and perhaps, just perhaps, this is the moment to operationalise it. We say perhaps as we have one major problem with the presented document.

It is buried on page 18, and constitutes point 23 of the whole document:

We should continue to analyse jointly the threats, risks and challenges faced by the EU, and
regularly review our priority actions. This could lead to regular high-level meetings
(European Council or Foreign Affairs Council, including in Defence format or jointly with
other relevant Council formations) to address internal and external security and defence issues facing the Union.

This passage inspired us to pose some questions related to the development of the future EU defence.

Firstly, shouldn’t this be on page 1? If “for most European security is a top priority today” then shouldn’t we start the whole process with working out a common perception of “threats, risks and challenges?” As of now, we are supposed to energetically move forward on common security instruments but how will we use them? Isn’t it, to put it metaphorically, the cart before the horse? Shouldn’t the development of a joint Implementation Plan be preceded by a thorough discussion on the sources of insecurity, especially given the potential for a US drawdown? And if the latter is to materialise then are EU member states ready to step up their budgetary defence contributions so that a credible “defence union” materialises? In short, more co-operation on defence is welcome but a joint political front on the issue is a necessary precondition.

Secondly, how will the EU respond to external conflicts and crises? With what exactly? And if it does then to which ones? To what extent does this also cover potential missions in the East and not only in the South? Is there a political consensus for that?

Thirdly, if the EU is to work on capacity building of partners then the question is similar – where, how exactly, and how to do SSR better? Can the EU actually do it better as so many others failed in their endeavours in the past?

Finally, protection of citizens and increasing the Union’s resilience: how does this square with NATO’s attempt to achieve a similar feat for the Alliance and the Allies? Will there be competition? Does the EU really need to cover all security aspects from space to disaster response and countering arms trafficking? Next month will see the announcement of new measures on joint co-operation between the EU and NATO – let us hope these assuage the aforementioned worries related to this co-operation.

Let us be clear. Enhanced EU defence and security cooperation is not just a positive thing, it is a must. However, we should not underestimate the threats related to intra-European differences in threat perception. These must be discussed PRIOR to our development of any “defence union.” The fact that this issue is buried on page 18 of the Implementation Plan does not convince us that this has been the case. The cart is now before the horse. This bodes ill for the future.

Kacper Rekawek and Tomáš A.Nagy
GLOBSEC Policy Institute

Monday, November 14, 2016

Cooks, Presidents, and the Ghost of Lenin

(Photo: Youtube|PaulJacobK)

On 7 November, my home country (Belarus) had a public holiday to celebrate the 99th anniversary of the October revolution (yes, the one when communists took over).

A hundred years later, the talk of the (Western) town is the growing divide between the ordinary people and elites, distrust and anger towards “experts” and their “expertise”, outrage with (in)actions of governments, and hubris and complacency of the elites isolated from the daily concerns of the ordinary people.

The results of the US elections made the talk even louder.

The world of 2016 is different from the world of 1917 in many fundamental ways. But public holidays do what they are supposed to do: make one think about specific events and personalities and connect them to the present.

Lenin is not particularly in fashion today. And I definitely do not belong to the rather small league of his remaining supporters. On the 7-November day-off however, whether you want it or not, he looms over the subconsciousness. I wouldn’t want to have him as my governor. But understanding his philosophy might turn useful.

I didn’t revisit his – prolific – writings and philosophy on the day. But when I was observing yet another debate on the dethroning of knowledge and “experts” by ordinary people, one iconic quote was annoyingly stuck in my head:

Every cook can govern the state”.

In fact, this is a misquote. Lenin said something different. He said that he is not a utopian. He knows that cooks and unskilled workers are not currently capable of participating in governance. But government should not be the business only of the rich and privileged.

“Every cook should learn how to govern the state”, Lenin concludes. All workers must be trained in governance affairs to be able to understand and participate in them. For Lenin, training and education, in today’s jargon – expertise, are key for those who want to be a meaningful part of governance structures, be it the office of the President, local council, or a referendum.

What I see across the world today is that both “the rich” and “the workers” are fascinated with the governing part. But many of them forget the “should learn how to” element.

I have mixed feelings about the Lenin’s statue in the main square of my home town. But I agree with Lenin on that one.

Alena Kudzko
Deputy Research Director
GLOBSEC Policy Institute

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

After Brexit what will be with the Balkans?

(Photo: Flickr|Bryan Pocius, licensed by CC BY 2.0)

Shortly after the Brexit vote, Balkan countries were reassured from top EU leaders that enlargement will continue. The looming UK exit from the EU would not stop aspirant countries from joining the fractured European bloc one day, once they are ready. 

This strong message came in unison from French President Francois Hollande, Germany‘s Chancellor Angela Merkel and the EU’s de facto Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini at the Balkan summit in Paris on 4 July. 

It was nice and timely, but hard to believe.

Two Views

If we look at the facts and trends, there are two very different outlooks on the future enlargement to the Western Balkans – positive and negative. 

On the one hand, this is the only region outside of the EU with membership perspective. Already now, the Western Balkans are completely geographically encircled by the Union. 

Collectively known as the WB6, Albania, Bosnia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and even Kosovo (still not recognized by several EU member states including Slovakia) – are at different stages in the integration process, which was designed to improve their state institutions, economies and legislation. Two of them, Montenegro and Serbia, have already advanced their ongoing accession talks with the EU, while Albania hopes to open them next year. 

Support in the EU

The Slovak EU Presidency, which is very committed to this process, has managed to achieve progress at the technical level even in the weeks and months after the Brexit referendum. Even amidst today’s turmoil in Europe, there are huge majorities in support of joining the EU in all six countries. At the same time, the economic growth has picked up, and is expected to reach over 3 percent in 2017 on the back of rising domestic consumption, foreign investment and export, mostly to the huge EU market. 

Plus there is the so-called Berlin Process in parallel, consisting of yearly summits between WB6 and a group of key EU countries. It is also moving ahead, with international financial institutions on board, by committing funding for cross-border transport and energy infrastructure. 

On the other hand, there is very negative external and internal context. Brexit negotiations, security and migration crises, growing populism and democracy backsliding add to a wide-spread European malaise. As EU institutions and national capitals will be self-absorbed with internal issues, there will be less political attention in Brussels and Berlin and leverage to promote reforms in the neighborhood, even in the inner courtyard. Without the risk of a renewed armed conflict or migration flows, the Western Balkans are likely to remain a low priority. 

Rather Slowly

The enlargement train is going to be moving but at a very slow pace, and in the shadow of Turkey, by far the largest and strategically most important EU accession country. Even the Berlin Process, in spite of all the right messages at its last summit in July, has produced few results so far. 

At the same time, most EU governments and populations do not see why they should rush with accepting the poor Balkan countries as new members. The enlargement process is alive but its timeframe is being extended: it is estimated that it will take Serbia at least 10-15 years to finish accession talks, as opposed to 8 years in the case of Croatia. The current GDP per capita of the WB6 is only about 30 – 40 percent of the EU average. This negative context plays into the hands of Balkan strongmen who pander to various geopolitical players or investors, increase their own power and patronage networks, and restrict space for democracy and media freedoms in their respective countries. 

Add to this picture a lack of competitiveness on the global markets, widespread corruption, and as Dušan Reljic reminds us, ‘it becomes utterly clear why the majority of the people in the Western Balkans and especially the young are losing hope that perspectives might brighten in their life-time.’ So faced with such a gloomy picture, what is the right strategy? 

BE Positive

In simple terms, it is to keep the positive agenda for the region alive and on track. The alternative would be far worse – deeper stagnation, instability and bilateral tensions boiling up.  Strategic complacency and neglect from Washington and the key EU capitals would also open up more space for other geopolitical rivals to increase their influence (Russia, China). 

It means a three-track approach: 

1) Working with the Balkan governments to advance reforms and integration, which is still the best policy tool for economic modernization, small advances in the rule of law and human rights. A small contribution to this goal was the high-level ministerial panel of the GLOBSEC TATRA Summit conference on 29 October 2016, featuring Foreign Ministers or State Secretaries of the WB6 countries. Prepared under the auspices of the Slovak EU Presidency, it presented a very competent, determined message in terms of what is being done in the region in terms of incremental change on the EU track. 

2) Political and financial support for domestic engines for change –  civil society and social movements, small and medium-size entrepreneurs, independent media and other democratic institutions that are under increased pressure from Balkan governments. 

3) Keep the Balkans as part of the Transatlantic agenda: Europe needs  American engagement to advanced both first and second tracks credibly and effectively. NATO's expansion to Montenegro is the latest sign that the U.S. involvement in the region has been more substantial than meets the eye. Let us hope that this active policy from the US State and Defense Departments will survive the upcoming American Presidential elections. 

Because if America decide to disengage from Europe and leave its allies and partners to take care of their own security, be sure that one of the first region that will pay the (a very high) costs will be the Balkans.  

Milan Nič  
Head of Europe Programme
GLOBSEC Policy Institute