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A LOOK BEHIND THE NEWS
THE DAY IN POLITICS
A LOOK BEHIND THE NEWS
A Look Behind The News, by Ferdinando Riccardi: EU-USA: A few differences require frank discussion but let's not forget overall situation
Three controversial aspects. The first meeting between the EU authorities and Barack Obama will take place next Sunday (if all goes according to plan). It should have been a celebration but it's not going to be at all. The largely positive and sometimes enthusiastic European welcome for the new US president will certainly be borne out and transatlantic friendship and cooperation will be highlighted. But at the same time, there are still a few twilight zones. Orientations are not the same on all subjects and uncertainties persist with regard to what the US intends to do in certain areas. Last week, Mr Topolánek, the president of the European Council, expressed a few sharp words with regard to certain aspects of American policy. Notwithstanding some of the ambiguities of the simultaneous interpreting, the French version of the Czech text (translator's note: and translated here from French into English) provided the following with regard to economic and financial questions: “the US is repeating the errors committed in the 1930s which are the road to hell”. Mr Topolánek also warned listeners “not to expect too much from the summit,” and that “that the US president is not a Messiah”. Further developments are still possible by Sunday. At this moment in time, the areas of controversy can be broken down into three points:
1. Partially divergent orientations on policies to follow and measures to take for tackling the economic and financial crisis. This section looked at this issue in EUROPE 9867. We will have to wait for the results of the G20 summit this Tuesday to see things more clearly.
2. Uncertainties regarding developments in US policy in the Near and Middle East and Iran, in particular.
3. US pressure on a number of domestic European issues such as Turkish accession, on which the EU should reach its decision in a totally autonomous manner.
Indirect US influence on the ratification of the LisbonTreaty? This column has absolutely no intention of pontificating about anti-crisis policy or the model of certain US Nobel prize-winners (which in fact contradict each other) but does seek to illustrate some of the factors in the dossiers mentioned above. Mr Topolanek's criticism of Mr Obama's policy was very probably influenced by aspects that he chose to leave out, such as the likely abandonment of the US anti-missile shield whose partial installation in the Czech Republic and Poland had previously been planned. Prague and Warsaw had agreed to this without European level coordination and according to several commentators this project became a domestic strategic component in the Czech Republic whereby a compromise between the Liberals and Socialists would have approved the anti-missile shield at the same time as the Lisbon Treaty. This strategy becomes pointless if Mr Obama abandons the shield and the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty (which the president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus opposes) becomes more complicated.
Three factors in support of dialogue with Iran. The US has always asserted that the anti-missile shield was targeting Iran rather than Russia. This project, however, becomes meaningless if US offers of dialogue proposed to the authorities in Tehran are acted upon. Mr Obama's message on this subject, which represents his most significant and spectacular initiative, could produce two results if successful: it would provide reassurances to Israel and help solve the EU's energy supply problems. Three factors come into play: evolution of civil society in Iran (especially with regard to women); the scale of Iranian oil and gas reserves (indispensable if the Nabucco project is to be profitable); the direct or indirect role that Iran could play in the whole region (including Afghanistan and Iraqi Kurdistan). Banking on Iran means banking on the future, Mr Ahmadinejad is not eternal.
There have always been differences. Some of the Euro-US divergences should be located within the comprehensive framework the European Parliament discussed at length last week (EUROPE 9869 and 9870). There have always been a few differences and these arose well before the arrival of Mr Obama (Airbus/Boeing affair, hormones in meat, visas etc) but are insignificant compared to the level of ties. The goal of a united transatlantic market by 2015, taken up by and supported by the EP, does create some concern because it brings to mind the free-trade zone it had envisaged at the time of Mr Brittan. The EU and US represent by far the most important bilateral relationship in the world at both a political and economic level. It is inevitable that the two parties do not always agree on everything. Disagreements have to be discussed seriously but let's not forget the overall situation.
THE DAY IN POLITICS
(EU) EU/EASTERN PARTNERSHIP: Towards presence of Belarus, but not of President Loukashenko, at Summit
Hluboka nad Vltavou, 30/03/2009 (Agence Europe) - The EU27 are moving towards consensus to ensure that Belarus is invited to take part in the summit to launch the Eastern Partnership on 7 May. Whereas the foreign affairs ministers were in favour of the country's involvement, no official decision was taken on Friday 27 March about the attendance of Alexander Loukashenko himself. Whether or not he is invited, the Europeans hope that the president will not come to Prague (where the summit is still scheduled to take place for the time being). The diplomats present at the Gymnich said that they are counting on the "political sense" of the leader, who is believed to be inclined to be represented (by his foreign affairs minister or another minister).
There are "still differences of opinion", acknowledged Commissioner for the External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner after the meeting (the Netherlands notably voiced their opposition to Mr Lukashenko's attendance). "We would like everybody to be present at the summit", said Javier Solana for his part. "We will do all in our power to ensure that everybody who is covered by the Eastern Partnership will be represented", added the high representative of the EU for CFSP. (A.B./transl.fl)
(EU) EU/MIDDLE EAST: EU reiterates its call for two-State solution
Hluboka nad Vltavou, 30/03/2009 (Agence Europe) - The foreign affairs ministers of the EU reminded the forthcoming Israeli and Palestinian governments of the commitment of the EU27 to a two-state solution. "We support a two-state solution", Karel Schwarzenberg told the press on Friday 27 March. "The two parties will be obliged to honour the commitments taken in the past", repeated the head of Czech diplomacy, adding that if they do not, "our relations will become a very tricky issue for us". The ministers are expected to "discuss the conclusions to be drawn" at a forthcoming meeting, he confirmed in response to questions from journalists after the Gymnich.
The Czech minister welcomed the commitment of the new American administration regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the goodwill expressed by Syria. "Syria has taken a number of positive measures" (such as sending an ambassador to Lebanon), said Mr Schwarzenberg, who expects "other progress". This progress could lead to a thawing of relations between the EU and Damascus, according to diplomats. The entry into force of the EU-Syria association agreement would be a "step forward", said the Czech minister, referring to a text concluded in 2004 (and since updated), which has not yet been signed. According to the Italian minister Franco Frattini, "there is a broad majority of countries supporting making progress towards Syria". "I think it would be really good if we came in a few months to a decision of the (EU) Council to adopt this association agreement", said Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner. (A.B./transl.fl)
(EU) EU/ENLARGEMENT: Process of enlargement should not slow down but there should be conditions, say EU27
Hluboka nad Vltavou, 30/03/2009 (Agence Europe) - The foreign affairs ministers have confirmed the European perspective of the western Balkans, whilst reiterating the importance of conditions vital for enlargement. These, not surprisingly, are respect for the Copenhagen criteria and the implementation of economic and political reforms, but others feel that the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty should also be included. Without the treaty, things will certainly become increasingly complicated, several ministers stressed (some also believe that crisis will not help matters). In particular, a great many reforms are still required in all of the Balkan countries, they stressed, of the second day of the Gymnich.
“We managed to agree that despite the economic and financial crisis, we will not slow down the integration of the western Balkans (…) but there is strict conditionality to be satisfied by those countries”, said Karel Schwarzenberg on Saturday 28 March. "Most of the work has to be done by the governments and parliaments of those countries” he added, speaking before the press. In a press release issued after the meeting, the Czech Presidency stated that the process of stabilisation and association remains the general structure for the potential accession of the countries of the region. Regional cooperation (in terms of energy, transport, trade, the fight against corruption and organised crime, the return of refugees and border controls) and the reinforcement of contact between citizens (by means of a visa-free regime) remain key elements of the process, the document states.
"It is important that the foreign ministers reiterated the European perspective", said Olli Rehn, who feels that it is vital to "pursue a policy of stabilisation" in the region. This must be done by "tangible results" on visa liberalisation, for which the Commission will make more detailed proposals "in the course of the spring", added the commissioner with responsibility for enlargement. He went on to say that we must "not make enlargement into a scapegoat for some ills that it is not responsible for". Enlargement was not under discussion when Ireland held its referendum and "I cannot imagine enlargement could be blamed for the economic crisis. Let's not blame Croatian workers for failures of financial capitalism which originated in Wall Street". (A.B./transl.fl)
(EU) EU/NATO: Strategic concept for 21st century
Brussels, 30/03/2009 (Agence Europe) - A debate, chaired by Giles Merritt, Director of the Security and Defence Agenda (SDA), jointly organised with the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies (HCSS) on Thursday 26 March 2009 in Brussels, sought to answer the question raised by the New Horizons' study on whether NATO's solidarity crisis can be patched up. Speakers included Rob de Wijk, HCSS Director; Sven Biscop, Director of the global governance and security programme at the Egmont Royal Institute for International Relations; Cristina Gallach, spokesperson for the EU high representative for common foreign and security policy (CFSP); Zoltan Martinusz, Hungarian Ambassador with NATO; and Jamie Shea, Policy and Planning Director within the NATO secretary general's cabinet.
To the question “What is the purpose of NATO?”, Giles Merrit answered that, in the past, it was to offer protection from Russia, to keep Germany under control and to keep the United States on board. Today, things have changed and there are several currents of opinion which raise the questions of NATO's size and purpose as well as how Europeans and Americans see its future.
The results of the New Horizons study published this month demonstrate that it is “absolutely necessary” to have a new strategic consensus for NATO, Rob de Wijk said. The HCSS study took the form of “active online consultation”. According to the results of the study, “over two thirds of NATO participants, 70% of think tank specialists, and three out of four national planners take the view that the Alliance needs to reassess its objectives and its strategic base”, Mr de Wijk states. However, he goes on to say “the debate is of a politically sensitive kind and will present a major challenge”. The HCSS director concludes from this that it is necessary to strengthen the Alliance core with partnerships in order to be able to face up to the various current and future challenges throughout the world. “NATO's raison d'être is clear, but there are problems”, which are of a political rather than military kind, Mr de Wijk said, concluding that “it is necessary to strike a balance between these two dimensions”.
Rem Korteweg (HCSS) set out the eight challenges contained in the 1,800 comments received on the internet: (1) the financial crisis and the displacement of power at the global level; (2) the shortage of energy resources; (3) key security trends; (4) proliferation, especially nuclear; (5) the mission in Afghanistan; (6) unstable regions; (7) enlargement, which is “inevitable but undesirable”, according to Mr Korteweg; and (8) Russia.
Jamie Shea took the view that it is necessary to support “solidarity because of the larger number of challenges that have to be faced at the present time. The sense of urgency is not the same for all Allies, with varying degrees of political determination and unequal capabilities”. At present, consensus is easier to obtain when launching military campaigns but such campaigns are becoming longer and longer and increasingly difficult. “The Alliance has left the 20th century but has not yet managed to connect with the 21st century”, Shea said, adding that NATO must “single out military policy by developing a transatlantic awareness, reassuring Allies that are afraid for their own security as, being afraid, they would not wish to undertake new challenges, and undertake a more persistent policy towards Russia, in addition to being more active in the transformation of its members' defence”. NATO is no longer an institution but a network. It is therefore necessary to strengthen the links between the institutions rather than enhance the value of each institution individually.
Zoltan Martinusz does not share the view that NATO is going through a solidarity crisis. He stresses it is being forgotten that “NATO's political agenda has extended. Twenty years ago, defence was defined by European security whereas, today, it is defined by security outside the Alliance states”. The political centre of gravity is changing as “it is at European Union level that the member states are developing their capabilities”, Biscop said. The European Union does not use the same tools as NATO, said Cristina Gallach, stressing that military instruments are only used in very specific cases, “as a last resort”. She considers, also, that Europe's relations with Russia are a fundamental problem for security. These relations must be maintained through a “partnership between NATO, the United States and the European Union and cannot be simply settled at Alliance level”, she said.
Consensus is needed between the 27 before discussion with NATO. A strengthened partnership between the United States and the European Union is necessary. Review of NATO's strategic concept, which dates back to 1999, must be launched on the basis of the Alliance security declaration that is to be adopted by the Allies during the Strasbourg-Kehl summit at the end of the week. (E.M.)
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