Mitch Joel WARNING... LONG RANT! It takes a lot for me to both get angry and publish about it. Canada’s…
Europe & EU February 2023-
Europe & EU September 2022-January 2023
Official website of the European Union
The European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR)
About the Visegrad Group
Remix news and commentary from Central Europe
The Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA)
The Digital Services Act package
The EU as a global actor in the Indo-Pacific
Europe’s odd couple: The dysfunctional relationship at the heart of the EU
Relations between European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel have never been so bad.
In the nearly three years since their tenures began, relations between Michel and von der Leyen have undergone an extraordinary breakdown, with staff from the two institutions discouraged from communicating and the two leaders locking each other out from meetings with foreign dignitaries.
(10 November 2022)
Excellent profile – long read
Ursula von der Leyen: EU’s ‘general’ nears endgame of turbulent first term
European Commission president is praised for work ethic and response to Covid and Ukraine war, but some see her as aloof
(The Guardian) … Ursula von der Leyen, the first female president of the European Commission, [was] recently named by Forbes as the most powerful woman in the world.
In February Von der Leyen was briefly in a Kyiv air raid shelter, before heading to an EU summit with Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy. March brought a fireside chat with Joe Biden at the White House, in an attempt to smooth out tensions over green subsidies. This week she is joining the French president, Emmanuel Macron, to meet Xi Jinping in Beijing, against a backdrop of deteriorating EU-China relations.
After more than 1,200 days in charge of the commission, which forms and enforces policy for 450 million Europeans, Von der Leyen is in the final third of her term. It has been a tumultuous period: she took office in 2019 with ambitious pledges to tackle the climate emergency, but was soon confronted by a once-a-century pandemic and the biggest war on European soil since 1945. (5 April 2023)
The Western Balkans consists of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Kosovo and Serbia. All have a perspective to accede to the European Union and hence are also called ‘enlargement countries’.
EU AI regulation efforts hit a snag
Europe has spent two years trying to adopt comprehensive AI regulation. The AI Act, first introduced by the European Commission in 2021, aspires to regulate AI models based on different risk categories.
The proposed law would ban dangerous models outright, such as those that might manipulate humans, and mandate strict oversight and transparency for powerful models that carry the risk of harm. For lower-risk models, the AI Act would require simple disclosures. In May, the European Parliament approved the legislation, but the three bodies of the European legislature are still in the middle of hammering out the final text. The makers of generative AI models, like the one powering ChatGPT, would have to submit to safety checks and publish summaries of the copyrighted material they’re trained on.
Bump in the road: Last week, France, Germany, and Italy dealt the AI Act a setback by reaching an agreement that supports “mandatory self-regulation through codes of conduct” for AI developers building so-called foundation models. … The view of these countries, three of the most powerful in the EU, is that the application of AI should be regulated, not the technology itself, which is a departure from the EU’s existing plan to regulate foundation models. While the tri-country proposal would require developers to publish information about safety tests, it doesn’t demand penalties for withholding that information — though it suggests that sanctions could be introduced.
Inside Morocco’s efforts to corrupt the European Parliament
(Politico Eu) The probe that would become Qatargate began after Belgium was tipped off by “a trusted European intelligence service” that two Italian members of the European Parliament had been bribed by Moroccan spies to “promote the Kingdom’s interests” in the chamber, according to the first Belgian secret services report of the investigation.
Indeed, it wasn’t long after the first suspects were in custody that Belgian authorities issued a notification for the arrest for Abderrahim Atmoun, Morocco’s ambassador to Poland, drawing up paperwork for international notifications for his arrest. Atmoun, according to the request for a European arrest warrant seen by POLITICO, received funds from Moroccan authorities to bribe members of European Parliament “in order either to prevent the vote on resolutions which would be against Moroccan interests, or to pass resolutions which would be in favor of Morocco and would thus contribute to improving the image of this country.” …
Despite allegations by Belgian investigators that the Moroccan state masterminded a multi-year corruption operation aimed at the heart of European Union democracy, no European leader has officially condemned Rabat. Diplomatic relations between Morocco and the EU may have deteriorated — but cooperation carries on in many areas, including migration and the fight against terrorism.
When a major earthquake struck in September, the European Commission quickly pledged €1 million in aid. In October, Spain, Portugal and Morocco together agreed to host the 2030 World Cup.
That same month, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen hosted Morocco’s head of government, Aziz Akhannouch, at her Berlaymont headquarters. The two discussed ways to strengthen the EU-Morocco relationship, and the situation in the Middle East after the October 7 attacks on Israel.
Geert Wilders: effort to form Netherlands coalition not off to ‘dream start’
Blow to far-right leader as man chosen to oversee coalition talks quits over fraud claims
(The Guardian) Dutch coalition processes typically take months and it is not unusual for them to be interrupted by party politics. Wilders has said he will look for a new scout “with more distance from politics” to attend the first meetings, which will be with him, the GreenLeft/Labour leader, Frans Timmermans, the VVD leader, Dilan Yeşilgöz-Zegerius, and the head of the liberal democratic D66, Rob Jetten.
Poland’s president swears in a government expected to last no longer than 14 days
(AP) — Poland‘s president on Monday swore in a government that is expected to last no longer than 14 days, a tactical maneuver that allows the conservative Law and Justice party to hang onto power a bit longer — and make more appointments to state bodies.
Following a national election in October, President Andrzej Duda swore in Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who has held that position since late 2017. According to the constitution, Morawiecki and his Cabinet will have 14 days to face a vote of confidence in parliament.
They’re almost certain to lose the vote because Morawiecki has no coalition partners after his nationalist and conservative Law and Justice party lost its parliamentary majority and no other parties want to join its government.
Poland’s new parliament choses a speaker, but the transition of power is delayed by president
Geert Wilders: the anti-Islam, anti-EU populist who could be next Dutch PM
(Reuters) – Geert Wilders, the Dutch populist whose anti-Islam comments have led to death threats…was set to lead coalition government talks and has a good chance of becoming prime minister.
Wilders’ inflammatory views on Islam have prompted death threats and he has lived under heavy police protection for years. He has called the prophet Mohammad a “paedophile”, Islam a “fascist ideology” and “backward religion”, and wants to ban mosques and Quorans, the Muslim holy book, in the Netherlands
Dutch elections: Key issues, candidates and how it works
(Reuters) – The Dutch will elect a new parliament on Nov. 22 in an election that will bring the Netherlands its first new prime minister in over a decade, and determine how conservative the country’s new cabinet may be.
Bloomberg: The Dutch Question Centuries of Openness as They Go to the Polls
On the slate in Wednesday’s elections is a recalibration of the Netherlands’ open-to-all image
(The World) Dutch political leaders sought support from undecided voters Tuesday, on the eve of a general election that will change the face of the country’s politics after 13 years of leadership by Prime Minister Mark Rutte. Rutte’s fourth and final coalition resigned in July after it disagreed on measures regarding handling migration.
EU-US Defense & Future Forum
The third annual EU-US Defense & Future Forum gathers policymakers from both sides of the Atlantic to discuss how the EU-US relationship can further strengthen collective prosperity and security. This Forum will take place from Nov 14 – 15, 2023.
(New Atlanticist) Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the European Union, its Member States, and the United States have put the strength of the transatlantic relationship on full display. But the work is not complete. The need to bolster transatlantic cooperation in tackling a multitude of global challenges and making the most of the opportunities available is ever present and pressing.
Against this backdrop, the Delegation of the European Union to the United States and the Atlantic Council will host the flagship EU-US Defense & Future Forum to advance a forward-looking agenda for EU-US relations. In addition to discussing the defense, security, and global dimensions of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Forum will convene a series of high-level dialogues on the economy; global infrastructure and investment for sustainable growth; the intersection between trade, security, democracy and technology; the green and digital transitions; countering foreign interference and disinformation; and how to best cooperate with global partners on all these fronts.
European Council summit 26-27 October
The EU seeks to revive peace talks since no military answer seen in the Israel-Palestinian conflict
(AP) — As distant as the prospect of peace might seem, European Union leaders believe it is time to start laying the foundations for a future relationship between Israel and the Palestinians where the militant group Hamas doesn’t control Gaza.
Mindful that resentment and even conflict in the wider Middle East and Gulf regions have been fueled by decades of tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, the 27-nation bloc has begun exploring ways to realize a long-held EU ideal — two states living peacefully side by side.
As the Palestinian death toll climbed beyond 7,000 and Israel carried out airstrikes on Friday in response to the Hamas incursion into southern Israel, EU leaders meeting in Brussels for a second day encouraged broader diplomatic and security initiatives to stop the conflict from spreading, and ultimately from ever starting again. A peace conference and political settlement would be part of that
EU summit turns its eyes away from Ukraine despite a commitment to stay the course with Zelenskyy
Not only have the geopolitics in general shifted, some of the EU politics in particular are no longer as kind to Zelenskyy.
EU leaders meet amid Israel-Hamas, Ukraine wars
(Politico Eu) With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine grinding on after more than a year and a half, the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza took center stage. … As Israel prepares a ground invasion of Gaza, EU leaders have struggled to find a common line on its combat with Hamas.
Two wars threaten to overload Europe’s leaders
EU leaders are insisting they can tackle two disasters at once — but that rings hollow.
Robert Fico to become Slovakia’s new prime minister
In his fourth tour of duty as PM, the leftist-populist Smer party boss is expected to travel to this week’s meeting of EU leaders in Brussels.
Internal EU discontent grows at von der Leyen’s neglect of Palestinian statehood
Some 800 staffers have written her a letter accusing her of being too partisan toward Israel.
(Politico Eu) European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is infuriating the EU’s own foreign policy team by neglecting to mention the bloc’s support for Palestinian statehood in her public remarks on the Israel-Hamas war.
Adding to the pressure on her, some 800 EU staff have also taken the unusual step of writing to protest she is showing unjustifiable bias toward Israel in the conflict.
The latest flashpoint was a speech on Thursday at the Hudson Institute, a conservative think-tank in Washington, when she prioritized Israel’s right to defend itself after Hamas’ brutal assault on October 7 and neglected to mention the two-state solution that is a core part of the position of European countries.
EU Parliament calls for ‘humanitarian pause’ in Israel-Hamas war
MEPs demand international investigation into explosion at Gaza hospital.
MEPs on Thursday called for a “humanitarian pause” to provide food, water and medical aid to Palestinians in the besieged enclave of Gaza.
The Parliament called for a de-escalation of the conflict, a “humanitarian pause” and demanded Israel comply with international humanitarian law in its war against Hamas alongside the country’s right to self-defense. A humanitarian pause would allow for aid to enter Gaza through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.
In a resolution backed by 500 MEPs, EU lawmakers called for Hamas, which governs Gaza — and is listed as a terrorist group by the EU — to be “eliminated,” demanding also the unconditional release of the hostages taken to Gaza, who the Israeli army believes number 203, according to the BBC. MEPs overwhelmingly condemned the October 7 attacks which killed 1,400 people, as they did last week at a gathering in front of the Parliament in Brussels.
Kosovo and Serbia to restart talks
… The talks will aim to revive an EU-brokered peace framework that envisions de facto recognition of Kosovo in exchange for Kosovo giving broad autonomy to Serbs in the north.
There is a strong incentive to make progress: The EU will soon begin meetings on enlarging the union. Serbia and Kosovo both want in, but Brussels has been clear that it can’t happen until they make peace.
Poland Shows That Autocracy Is Not Inevitable
By Anne Applebaum
(The Atlantic) …the opposition offered Poles a return to the center of European politics, which is where the majority of them want to be. … If Tusk does lead a coalition government, Poland will cease to be in constant conflict with Brussels, Berlin, and Paris. …Poland might even once again start helping create European policies, not just oppose them.
European Union reverses earlier announcement that it was suspending development aid to Palestinians
(AP) — The European Union late Monday reversed an earlier announcement by an EU commissioner that the bloc was “immediately” suspending development aid for Palestinian authorities and instead said it would urgently review such assistance in the wake of the attacks on Israel by Hamas to make sure no money was misused. “There will be no suspension of payments” at the moment, a terse European Commission statement said late Monday.
Paul Wells: All the things that could happen next
Warsaw [Security Forum] between hope and experience
This is the season for hoping things won’t get worse. Everyone who gathered at the Warsaw Security Forum this week knows things are bad. Nobody needed help imagining how they could get worse. But it will be better if they don’t. So the two-day gathering of defence ministers, admirals, academics and think-tankers was devoted, in large measure, to thinking about all the ways things could get worse, and explaining how, really, it was entirely possible that none of these new, supplementary catastrophes will come to pass.
Warsaw Security Forum
European Political Community: a forum to promote dialogue and cooperation
Shambles in Granada: Mega-gathering of European leaders ends with a whimper
49 leaders, 700 journalists, dozens of bilateral meetings … and no decisions.
(Politico Eu) The third edition of Emmanuel Macron’s pet project, the European Political Community, was billed by advisers as an opportunity to broker peace between warring Armenia and Azerbaijan, de-escalate tensions in the Balkans and hold a strategic conversation about the Continent’s security.
While leaders did rally around Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who was in Granada to shore up Europe’s support amid U.S. jitters on Ukraine aid, they failed to make headway on the other conflicts in the absence of key players.
Hope among attendees in taking steps to resolve the humanitarian crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh were dashed when both Azerbaijan’s Ilham Aliyev and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan decided to skip the gathering.
Moldova’s EU accession talks should start this year, MEPs say
Show of support comes as Parliament chief Roberta Metsola meets Moldovan President Maia Sandu in Spain.
(Politico Eu) The EU should start membership talks with Moldova this year, members of the European Parliament said in an overwhelming but nonbinding vote today.
A majority of 448 EU lawmakers supported a resolution that reiterates the Parliament’s position accession talks should begin in 2023 and condemned attempts by Russia to influence Moldova’s pro-EU government. The European Commission is preparing a progress report on the enlargement of the EU, scheduled for November. In the vote today, 45 MEPs voted against and 43 abstained.
EU accession: List of countries to join the bloc
(Reuters) – European Union leaders will discuss how to reform the 27-nation bloc to take in new members at a summit in Granada on Oct. 5-6, launching a long process to prepare the EU for enlargement by a tentative deadline of 2030.
Below is a list of countries that want to join the EU.
AWAITING CANDIDATE COUNTRY STATUS
GEORGIA (applied for EU membership in 2022). EU governments said they would grant Georgia candidate status once Tbilisi addresses certain concerns, especially on the rule of law, the independence of courts and media freedom. Since 2016, the EU and Georgia have had an association deal that covers trade.
KOSOVO (applied for EU membership in 2022). Brussels has held out the prospect of an EU perspective for Kosovo since 2005, even before the country’s declaration of independence from Serbia in 2008. But not all EU countries recognise Kosovo as an independent state. Since 2016, the EU has had a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Kosovo that serves as a basis for its accession path.
Robert Fico doubles down on pro-Russia stance after Slovakia election win
Populist Smer leader, who has pledged to end military aid to Ukraine, says he is ready to open talks on forming a coalition government
(The Guardian) The 59-year-old, whose pro-Moscow stance has sparked fears Slovakia will join Hungary and its authoritarian leader Viktor Orbán in challenging the EU’s consensus on support for Kyiv, added: “People in Slovakia have bigger problems than Ukraine.”
Fico has leaned close to Orbán, who congratulated him on his victory on Sunday. “Guess who’s back!” the Hungarian prime minister said on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Always good to work together with a patriot. Looking forward to it.”
Pro-Russian ex-PM Fico wins Slovak election, needs allies for government
(Reuters) – With 98% of voting districts reporting in the Saturday election, Fico’s SMER-SSD party led with 23.37% of the vote. The liberal Progressive Slovakia (PS) followed with 16.86% and the HLAS (Voice) party, which could become the kingmaker for forming the next government, was third with 15.03%.
Your primer on the Slovak elections
All eyes in Europe are focused on Poland’s divisive election fight. But it’s not a pretty sight
The bitter struggle to unseat Warsaw’s hard-right government foreshadows a wider struggle throughout the EU
(The Guardian) … After finally breaking free of Soviet communism in 1989, Poland joined the Nato alliance in 1999 and the EU in 2004. But new friendships did not dispel old habits and enmities.
Poland remains at daggers drawn with Vladimir Putin’s Russia and the dictatorship in Belarus. Anti-German jibes remain commonplace. And the ruling hard-right nationalist Law and Justice party (PiS) has been fighting the EU over judicial, media and human rights standards ever since taking power in 2015.
More surprisingly, given its generous post-invasion support, Warsaw is now at odds with Ukraine, too, over refugees, weapons supplies and a Polish ban on low-priced grain imports. …
Slovaks choose between pro-Russian ex-PM Fico and pro-Western liberals
(Reuters) – Slovaks were voting on Saturday in a parliamentary election closely fought between former leftist Prime Minister Robert Fico, who wants to end military aid for neighbouring Ukraine, and pro-Western liberals.
A government led by Fico would mean Slovakia joining Hungary in challenging the European Union’s consensus on support for Ukraine, just as the bloc looks to keep unity in opposing Russia’s invasion.
Western Balkans ‘nearshoring’ can turn the region into a strategic asset for the EU
By Valbona Zeneli
(Atlantic Council) Russia’s war has highlighted the need to fast-track the accession process for Ukraine and Moldova, and to revitalize it for the Western Balkans countries not yet in the EU: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia. Earlier this month, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell even welcomed a 2030 deadline for the next enlargement, hoping that this will mobilize energies both in the EU and in candidate states. The question now is how to get candidate countries ready to join the bloc.
Russia’s war has highlighted the need to fast-track the accession process for Ukraine and Moldova, and to revitalize it for the Western Balkans countries not yet in the EU. Earlier this month, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell even welcomed a 2030 deadline for the next enlargement, hoping that this will mobilize energies both in the EU and in candidate states. The question now is how to get candidate countries ready to join the bloc.
What would help the Western Balkans most is an EU-driven economic growth plan. A small market of six countries with fewer than eighteen million consumers and a total gross domestic product (GDP) of $144 billion, or less than 1 percent of the EU’s GDP, the Western Balkans could easily be embraced in the EU single market. At the same time, the region still lags behind the rest of Europe, with an average per capita income of just $7,650, only 14 percent of the EU average ($54,100), according to International Monetary Fund data. Convergence with the EU has been slow over the last twenty years.
Pantomime Politics in Eastern Europe
By Gwynne Dyer
The Polish hate the Russians
The Slovaks hate the Czechs,
The Bulgars hate Ukrainians
And everybody hates the Jews.
With thanks and apologies to Tom Lehrer
Tom Lehrer’s original song, ‘National Brotherhood Week’, was about how different kinds of Americans hated each other, but it translates so easily to other venues that I couldn’t resist plugging Eastern European names into it. Especially since there are truly hate-filled elections coming up in Slovakia this weekend, and in Poland on 15 October.
… So why are the Western media burbling on about a new “threat to NATO solidarity” and “support for Ukraine fading” and the rest, when they must really know better? Because they need some ‘content’ to hold the ads apart, and the story will only get your attention if it implies dangerous change.
Eastern Europe really would be a howling wilderness of beggar-my-neighbour conflicts if all these countries had been left to make their own way in the world after the Soviet empire collapsed thirty years ago.
NATO and the European Union, which they all clamoured to join, gave them a framework for cooperation that spared them from all that. For all the Russian complaints about the ‘expansion of NATO’, it spared Russia from that, too. Otherwise, Moscow would be worrying about Polish nuclear weapons by now.
Oh, by the way. The Bulgars don’t really hate the Ukrainians. They hate the Serbs, but that didn’t scan.
Zelenskyy seeks to rebuild bridges with Poles amid dispute over grain and weapons
Eschewing political confrontation, Ukrainian president gives awards to two volunteers, thanking ‘all of Poland’ for its support for Kyiv.
(Politico Eu) In order to protect Polish farmers — crucial to the ruling party’s electoral prospects next month — Warsaw has blocked agricultural imports from Ukraine, in a protectionist move that Kyiv says is illegal and has referred to the World Trade Organization.
EU Expansion Plans May Test Whether the Union Still Works
(Bloomberg) …last month’s signal that the EU is ready to expand again as soon as 2030 was met by cheers in Ukraine and Moldova, where Russia looms as an immediate existential threat. But in Balkan states that have for years been sitting in the EU’s waiting room, the vibe is more skeptical.
How the negotiations unfold with these aspirants may help determine whether the EU can live up to the postwar vision of its founders, or whether its internal shortcomings have gotten the better of it.
The EU’s last big enlargement push came almost two decades ago, when it took in 10 mostly former communist states. And it proved transformative. Joining didn’t just mark a moment of satisfaction for newly earned democratic freedoms. For most citizens, it meant proudly calling oneself European, and being able to travel and work freely across borders.
Above all, membership meant big flows of EU funding that lifted living standards across Eastern Europe.
Ever since the last country joined the EU a decade ago, member states have differed on just how important it is to take in new members. Germany, Italy and many eastern European nations have been in favor of expansion, while France and others say they prefer a go-slow approach. Smaller nations have sometimes single-handedly blocked an aspirant nation, over domestic political issues.
Biden Should Press Poland and the EU to Make Up
Warsaw’s strategic role in Europe is too important for Washington to ignore.
By Sophia Besch, a fellow in the Europe Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and Tara Varma, a visiting fellow at Brookings.
(Foreign Policy) … Poland is nowhere near fulfilling its potential as a strategic actor. …
This is a problem for Washington, which needs strong partners that can constructively shape the European agenda, especially as it turns its attention and resources to the Indo-Pacific. Therefore, it is in Washington’s vital strategic interest that Warsaw, Berlin, Paris, and Brussels reconcile and work together in shaping Europe’s future security order.
Poland, Ukraine ready to hold talks over grain dispute
Talks are the first move to break a cycle of escalation since Poland, Hungary and Slovakia banned grain imports from Ukraine.
(Politico Eu) Poland and Ukraine said they are ready to start negotiations “in the coming days” to resolve their dispute over imports of Ukrainian grain.
Poland will stop providing weapons to Ukraine as dispute over grain imports deepens
(CNN) Poland said Wednesday it will stop providing weapons to Ukraine amid a growing dispute between the two countries over a temporary ban on Ukrainian grain imports.
The ban on Ukrainian grain was initially put in place earlier this year by several European Union nations, to protect the livelihood of local farmers worried about being undercut by low prices of Ukrainian grain.
Last week, the EU announced plans to suspend the ban. But three nations – Poland, Hungary and Slovakia – said they intended to defy the change and keep the restrictions in place.
Feud Between Friends Spells Danger for Ukraine
(Bloomberg) It’s never easy to see friends fight. Especially when there’s a war on.
That’s what makes the dispute between Ukraine and Poland so worrying: The latter is a crucial ally to Kyiv and the key gateway for economic and military aid aimed at stopping Russia’s invasion.
What started as an argument over Poland’s ban on the sale of Ukrainian grain on its territory rapidly spiraled into a full-blown crisis. …
While Poland appeared to be seeking to calm the situation today, the dispute cast doubt over Europe’s commitment to Ukraine over the long haul. And the once-strong friendship between allies may never be the same.
Don’t let Putin keep us out of the EU, Moldova implores
The former Soviet republic says it deserves good news in upcoming enlargement plans — despite hundreds of Russian troops on its soil.
Moldova wants to become the EU’s newest member, pushing to be offered a clear path to accession when Brussels unveils its latest expansion plans next month despite fears that joining could drag the bloc into a decades-old frozen conflict with Russia.
Patrick Wintour: Poland gripped by febrile pre-election atmosphere as mud-slinging intensifies
Polarised politics is nothing new in the eastern European country but October’s poll may have wide-ranging consequences
(The Guardian) In just the first week of campaigning for Poland’s parliamentary elections, which will take place on 15 October, there have been allegations of politically manipulated interest rate cuts, the firing of a deputy foreign minister after visas were allegedly sold to people outside the EU and the publication of a Senate commission report claiming that intelligence services illegally used spyware to monitor opposition politicians around the time of the 2015 polls.
The outcome of the Polish elections is seen as pivotal to the future of the EU and the outcome of the war in Ukraine.
New Democracy party wins landslide victory in Greek elections
Voters have given reformist Kyriakos Mitsotakis a second term as prime minister.
(Al Jazeera) Greece’s conservative New Democracy party has won the country’s parliamentary elections, with voters giving reformist Kyriakos Mitsotakis another four-year term as prime minister.
Official results from nearly 90 percent of voting centres nationwide on Sunday showed Mitsotakis’s party with just over 40 percent of the vote, with his main rival, the left-wing Syriza party, suffering a crushing defeat with just under 18 percent, even worse than its 20 percent in the last elections in May.
Authoritarian investment in southeastern Europe is a security threat. Here’s what NATO can do.
By Jeffrey Lightfoot and John Kay
(Atlantic Council) When Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Moscow also turned Europe’s dependency on its energy into an economic weapon against NATO allies across the continent. The lesson was clear: In the event of an actual war—or even a major geopolitical conflict falling short of war—trade sanctions, coercive economic tactics, and other punitive economic measures are potent weapons that authoritarian regimes can deploy against the West. As Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg urged in his keynote speech at the Munich Security Conference in February of this year, NATO allies need to take bolder action to ensure the resiliency of their economies against authoritarian pressure. Europe’s dependencies go beyond Russian energy and include significant reliance on China for trade and investment. While not as concentrated as Europe’s recent dependence on Russian oil and gas, many of China’s investments in Europe raise concerns that nonetheless require urgent action by the Alliance.
The NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, in July is an opportunity for leaders to mitigate geoeconomic risk within the Alliance and in southeastern Europe in particular. Specifically, all allies should commit in the communiqué to the prompt adoption of investment screening legislation—particularly the Balkan nations of Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Montenegro, and North Macedonia, where legislation is largely absent. While the European Union (EU) is Europe’s lead institution on investment and trade issues, its technocratic approach has up to now failed to generate the necessary political will with all members of the Alliance to take investment security issues seriously.
Silvio Berlusconi may be gone, but Trump’s still here. The rotten populist legacy is everywhere
The former Italian PM, who combined celebrity antics with rightwing populism, laid the groundwork for Trumpism
Berlusconi embodied what Antonio Gramsci described as the Italian people’s “taste for the operatic”, with his rallies and TV interventions featuring moments that would have befitted a variety show. In terms of political content, though, he was simply a neoliberal: his revolution was one of cutting taxes and red tape and deregulating labour. In fact, he is best seen, historically, as the link between neoliberalism and populism.
In Italy, Berlusconi was instrumental in allowing the far right to enter mainstream politics, forging alliances with the separatist party Northern League and with the post-fascist Alleanza Nazionale party, from which the party of the current prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, is descended.
Berlusconi’s death poses challenge for his party and for Meloni
Italian PM needs a stable Forza Italia but without its longtime leader there are questions over its survival
Watch out Ukraine, here comes the Hungaro-Austrian Empire
European officials warn that wins by pro-Russian forces in Slovakia and Austria would hand Russian President Vladimir Putin a powerful tool against Ukraine, making it easier for him to undermine sanctions and EU efforts to assist Ukraine.
(Politico Eu) Austrian politician Herbert Kickl is a pro-Russian, anti-American conspiracy theorist who champions horse dewormer as a remedy for COVID-19 and wants to turn the Alpine country into a “fortress” against migration.
Kickl’s far-right Freedom Party has been leading the country’s national polls by several points since November as soaring inflation and a sharp increase in asylum applications fuel discontent with the current government, a coalition between the center-right Austrian People’s Party and the Greens. With the other main opposition party, the Social Democrats, plagued by infighting, Kickl’s party has the best chance in years to seize power.
That would spell major trouble for the European Union, which is already struggling to cope with Hungary, where nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has systematically taken control of all major levers of power and undermined independent media, transforming the country into what critics see as a semi-authoritarian state in the middle of the EU.
How Austria became Putin’s Alpine Fortress
For Vienna, neutrality is simply good business.
Vienna doesn’t want to be seen openly supporting Moscow, but it’s also wary of doing permanent damage to a relationship that has been quite lucrative for the country for decades.
While Austria was hardly the only country to have eagerly embraced Russia in the run-up to Putin’s full-scale assault last year, no member of the EU has had more difficulty in letting go (Hungary doesn’t seem to be even trying).
‘Complete denial’: Europe largely blind to Chinese influence, says EU adviser
Amid preparations to unveil a law targeting non-EU funding, European Commission expert says China’s approach to influence operations is ‘hardening.’
(Politico Eu) Beijing has long aimed propaganda at the European Union, seeking to undermine transatlantic unity and promote Beijing’s outlook on world affairs, said Ivana Karásková, a Czech academic and foreign influence specialist who’s advising European Commission Vice President Věra Jourová.
But since 2019, China’s approach to the EU has been “hardening” as it ramps up direct propaganda via so-called wolf warrior diplomats; as well as covert funding of think tanks, academic institutions and nonprofit organizations, she said. And EU countries, particularly outside of eastern Europe, are oblivious to or unwilling to see the extent of these operations, Karásková added.
EU discusses earmarking €1bn for Ukraine
Josep Borrell says 1,300 missiles given to Ukraine as EU discuss raising Europe’s military budget
EU countries have provided 220,000 artillery shells and 1,300 missiles to Ukraine since March, its foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, has said, as member states discuss raising Europe’s military budget by another €3.5bn.
Following a meeting of defence ministers in Brussels, Borrell said “the overwhelming majority of member states” had said they were in favour of increasing the European Peace Facility budget, €1bn of which would be earmarked for Ukraine. The fund is used to reimburse EU member states that supply military aid to Kyiv.
Poland and Ukraine: The emerging alliance that could reshape Europe
By Taras Kuzio
(Atlantic Council) Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s recent high-profile visit to Poland underlined the deepening cooperation between these two neighboring countries and the increasingly prominent role their partnership is playing in European politics. … This is now sparking debate over a possible eastward shift in Europe’s geopolitical center of gravity.
Sanna Marin defeated by Finland’s conservatives in tight race
Finnish conservative leader Petteri Orpo has won a nail-biting three-way election race, defeating Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s centre left.
It is a bitter defeat for Ms Marin, who increased her party’s seats and secured 19.9% of the vote.
She continues to enjoy high poll ratings and has been widely praised for steering Finland towards imminent entry into Nato and navigating her country through the Covid-19 pandemic.
Finland, having cleared last NATO hurdle, heads to elections
Is Sanna Marin still popular and do most Finns support NATO? Here are five key things to know.
Montenegro goes to the polls as president seeks re-election
Voters in Montenegro are casting ballots in a presidential election marked by political turmoil and uncertainty over whether the small NATO member state in the Balkans will unblock its bid to join the European Union or instead seek to improve ties with Serbia and Russia.
21 October 2021
The Western Balkans leaving the EU dream behind
Despite the positive noises made at the EU-Western Balkans summit in Slovenia, the EU enlargement process is still in crisis.
Is there a need for the European Union to publicly recommit to the “enlargement” process, or would it be enough for it to merely voice its support for the “European perspective” of the Western Balkans? That was the question many EU leaders were likely battling with in the run-up to the October 6 EU-Western Balkans summit in Slovenia.
The Western Balkans states – Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, the Republic of North Macedonia and Kosovo – are all eager to carry their ties with the EU to the next level. These days, however, the idea of enlargement elicits little enthusiasm in old Europe. Supporting the “European perspective” of “the Western Balkans partners”, vague though it sounds – or rather, precisely because it sounds vague – comes a lot easier to most EU leaders than uttering the word “enlargement”.
Serbia, Kosovo talks on EU-backed deal to normalise ties run into the night
(Reuters) – A fresh round of talks between Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and EU officials on Saturday on implementing a deal to normalise ties between Belgrade and Pristina ran into the night without any apparent progress.
The two leaders held separate meetings with European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell before a three-way session in North Macedonia. …
Kosovo and Serbia agreed in Brussels last month to a Western-backed deal to normalise relations, following nearly 10 years of EU-mediated dialogue during which little progress was made. However, agreement is still needed on an annex on implementing the plan, which will be the focus of Saturday’s discussions.
Despite verbal consent to the agreement, Kurti and Vucic remained firm in their positions without any hint they were willing to compromise on key issues.
Vucic has said Serbia would never accept independence of Kosovo, while Kurti has said he would not agree to a proposed association of Serb municipalities in Kosovo, which would give greater autonomy to Serb majority municipalities.
Thousands protested in Belgrade on Friday against the EU plan which they see as de facto recognition of Kosovo independence.
Serbia’s far right seizes on Putin’s war to push retaking Kosovo
Belgrade’s ultra-nationalists use Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to boost bid to disrupt talks on recognizing Pristina
(Politico Eu) Politicians on Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić’s right flank have sniffed out an opportunity to tie Russia’s war on Ukraine to their desire to swallow up Kosovo, even as Vučić engages in EU-brokered negotiations to partially normalize relations with Kosovo, the independence of which neither Belgrade nor Moscow recognize.
A victory for Russian President Vladimir Putin in Ukraine is a stepping stone to Serbia regaining Kosovo, according to Miša Vacić, the leader of the highly nationalistic, pro-Kremlin Serbian Right political party.
Turkey, Hungary to approve Finland’s NATO membership
Sweden, however, has yet to receive support from Ankara and Budapest.
Turkey and Hungary announced Friday that they will sign off on Finland’s NATO membership — removing the biggest barrier to Finland’s joining the alliance but leaving Sweden’s bid languishing.
“We have decided to initiate the ratification process in our parliament,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in a press conference in Istanbul alongside his Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinistö.
As war rages in Ukraine, is Moldova on the brink of conflict?
Russia says the West wants to turn Moldova against Moscow as Ukraine claims the Kremlin wants to control the small landlocked nation
EU ‘can move mountains’ to supply ammunition to Kyiv, says von der Leyen
(Reuters) – European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said on Saturday she was confident the EU’s joint interest in getting more ammunition to Ukraine will trump individual national interests when it comes to common European defence procurement programmes.
The bloc is urgently exploring ways for its member countries to team up to buy munitions to help Ukraine, following warnings from Kyiv that its forces – which are firing up to 10,000 artillery shells daily – need more supplies quickly.
If the EU commands defence procurement, Russia will cheer (paywall)
(Telegraph UK) Just as Ukraine faces its most perilous moment since the Russian invasion a year ago, the EU risks ruining Western unity by shutting others out of its centralised arms procurement policy
The EU plan would involve large loans from the European Central Bank (ECB). The hope is to incentivise arms manufacturers to step up production and replenish equipment sent to Ukraine. With a bonanza in the offing, the most protectionist member states, such as France, Italy and Spain, are pressing for an armaments programme that benefits their industries. Brussels hopes to capitalise on the Ukrainian war to centralise its control of arms procurement, just as the Covid pandemic enabled it to centralise that of vaccines.
The British fear that it would also sabotage Nato’s long-standing attempt to standardise its equipment. Any rationalisation of procurement should be based on the quality of the kit, not whether it was a product of the EU.
Underlying the dispute is a strong suspicion that the top priority of officials in Brussels is not to improve Nato’s military capabilities, still less to save Ukraine from the impending Russian onslaught. Rather, the EU is exploiting the war to do what it does best: extend its own power.
When the Russians marched on Kyiv a year ago, the Ukrainian nation state covered itself with glory, while the “post-national” EU gestured from the sidelines.
The international organisation that has made a decisive contribution to the resurgence of Ukraine is not the EU but Nato, an alliance of nation states.
It is hard to see how giving the EU a dominant role in defence procurement can do anything other than delay the delivery of tanks, artillery, planes, missiles, ammunition and other war materiel to the battle front.
What is happening in Moldova, Ukraine’s tiny European neighbor with a pro-Russian movement?
President Maia Sandu on Monday accused Russia of plotting a coup to overthrow her pro-European Union government using “foreign saboteurs.”
Sandu said authorities had confirmed allegations first voiced by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy last week, who warned his intelligence agencies have uncovered “a detailed Russian plan to undermine the political situation in Moldova.”
(CNBC) The landlocked country, one of Europe’s poorest, has suffered months of political and economic upheaval amid the war, including within its separatist, pro-Russian breakaway state of Transnistria.
Moldovan MPs approve pro-western PM amid tensions over Russia
Dorin Recean takes office facing inflation at 30% and warnings of Russian plan for country’s ‘destruction’
Why we should be paying attention to Moldova (audio)
(The World) The country of Moldova is small, poor and landlocked. But there’s a lot of international attention on the country right now. Moldova borders Ukraine. It used to be firmly in the Soviet bloc, but now leans toward the European Union and the West. Russia wants the country back in its orbit, partly to help conduct its war in Ukraine. Host Marco Werman speaks with Cristian Gherasim, a journalist based in Romania who is also an analyst of Eastern and Central Europe about the tussle Moldova finds itself in and what countries it can rely on to defend it from Russia.
Ukraine’s Zelenskyy makes emotional appeal for EU membership
(AP) — President Volodymyr Zelenskyy asked his Western allies Thursday for more weapons and said “a Ukraine that is winning” its war with Russia should become a member of the European Union, arguing the bloc won’t be complete without it.
At the close of a 16-hour summit that ended Friday when Zelenskyy was already gone, the EU leaders pledged they would do all it takes to back Ukraine but offered no firm timetable for EU membership talks to begin as Zelenskyy had hoped.
The commitments came after an emotional day at EU headquarters where Zelenskyy wrapped up a rare, two-day trip outside Ukraine to seek new weaponry from the West to repel the invasion that Moscow has been waging for nearly a year. As he spoke, a new offensive by Russia in eastern Ukraine was under way.
Zelenskyy, who also visited the U.K. and France, received rapturous applause and cheers from the European Parliament and a summit of the 27 EU leaders, insisting in his speech that the fight with Russia was one for the freedom of all of Europe.
Greece and other EU countries rush to help Turkey after quake
Carl Bildt, former prime minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on European politics.
(GZERO) What’s been the European reaction to the catastrophe in Turkey?
Well, it has been overwhelming, you see in all of the European countries mobilizing whatever resources they have in order to rush to the disaster area and try to help. Most notably, of course, Greece was very early, also with military resources in view of the tension between the two countries. Armenia is also there. Everyone is there. And I think the European Union Swedish presidency will organize a donor conference in order to get additional money within the next few weeks. It’s a catastrophe for all of Europe. Everyone wants to help.
Europe at Debt’s Door
The European Commission’s ongoing borrowing spree is economically irresponsible and clearly inflationary. By continuing to issue common bonds to finance its expenditures, the Commission is harming European savers and undermining the creditworthiness of national governments.
(Project Syndicate) Hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, the European Union needs money. And given that Paolo Gentiloni, the bloc’s economy commissioner, cannot get it directly from the EU’s member states, he wants to borrow it. The purpose does not seem to matter. What matters is that the Commission receives money – lots of it – even if that means amassing a mountain of debt.
In 2020, Gentiloni played a key role in creating NextGenerationEU (NGEU), the emergency program that enabled the EU to borrow over €800 billion ($858 billion) to deal with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last May, he wanted to raise funds to aid Ukraine, and in October he suggested issuing joint debt to help European citizens with their gas bills. Now, amid a wave of common debt issuances, the European Commission plans to compete with US President Joe Biden’s $369 billion Inflation Reduction Act, which includes subsidies for clean-energy projects.
Called a danger, now Italy’s Giorgia Meloni is EU’s most popular leader (Paywall)
Italy’s first female prime minister has toned down the ferocious rhetoric and is keeping Brussels on side, while letting her charm come to the fore
(The Sunday Times) When Giorgia Meloni became Italy’s first female prime minister last October her harshest opponents presented her as a danger to her country and to Europe. There were warnings that politicians within her Brothers of Italy party were too openly nostalgic for the days of Benito Mussolini, the fascist dictator. Battles with the European Union and the financial markets were anticipated over her economic plans. Critics speculated about how long a leader with little government experience could hold together a three-party coalition that includes two of her biggest rivals on the right. Instead Meloni, 46, has emerged from her unexpectedly smooth first 100 days in office, completed last week, as the most popular leader in the EU.
“You have to forget about Meloni, the opposition leader, who was very aggressive, very populist and very basic,” said Teresa Coratella of the European Council on Foreign Relations in Rome. “If you look at her as prime minister she is very pragmatic, very stable politically and not aggressive. At least in public.”
EU prepares more Russia sanctions; Kremlin readies offensive
(AP) — The European Union will unveil its 10th package of sanctions against Russia on Feb. 24 to mark the anniversary of Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, a senior official from the bloc said in Kyiv on Friday, as Ukrainian forces gird for an expected Russian offensive in the coming weeks.
The sanctions will target technology used by Russia’s war machine, among other things, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told a news conference.
The sanctions will take aim in particular at components used in the manufacturing of drones, she said, naming Iran as a key supplier of Russia.
Closing loopholes that the Kremlin uses to circumvent sanctions will also be a priority, according to Von der Leyen, who was on her fourth visit to the Ukrainian capital since the war began.
In 2022, the war in Ukraine awakened Europe. Here’s how it must adapt in 2023.
(New Atlanticist) The landscape before the European Union (EU) at the beginning of 2023 is unrecognizable from that of just one year ago. Europe has been faced with a new geopolitical reality in the aftermath of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, and the EU has been compelled to reconsider everything from its military posture and relations with Ukraine to tech and trade challenges and its own institutions. How will the EU continue to bolster its security with conflict raging in its backyard and a changing world order? Can Brussels forge a new path toward better relations with partners in the United Kingdom, Ukraine, and the Western Balkans? Our experts spell out the areas where the EU needs to adapt in 2023.
Czech Voters Deal a Blow to Populism
The election of Petr Pavel is important to Czechs—and to Americans.
By Tom Nichols
(The Atlantic Daily) Pavel is a newcomer to politics, but he clobbered [populist former prime minister Andrej] Babiš—who by sheer virtue of name recognition and money should have been the favorite—garnering 58 percent of the vote in an election with a record 70 percent turnout. That’s not a squeaker; that’s a repudiation. Babiš, especially when faced with the coronavirus pandemic, was lousy at governing, as populists almost always are. But the Russian onslaught against Ukraine also seemed to break the spell for many Czechs, and this election is likely one more example of Vladimir Putin’s brutality in Ukraine undoing years of the careful propaganda that once bolstered Russia’s position in the world.