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News and Views on Europe – 4 Jan 2019

posted by eucentresg


Future of Europe: a look ahead
As Europe enters a new year, many political commentators have reflected on Europe’s 2018 and voiced their thoughts on key issues that will confront the region in 2019.

Alexandra Brzozowski summed up the five key issues in security and defence that Europe will have to pay attention to in 2019. First on the list is the potential arms race between US and Russia. In late 2018, the US withdrew from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, claiming that Russia was violating the terms of the treaty by building up nuclear missiles. Russia appeared undaunted and ready to negotiate a new treaty. This is a key security issue in which the EU could get embroiled in, especially with European officials attempting to mediate between the two powers.

The second issue to look out for is NATO. During the NATO Brussels summit in 2018, Trump raised criticisms over burden-sharing, but NATO managed to withstand his rhetoric. In the near future, NATO hopes to expand to more Balkan countries after accepting Montenegro as a member.

The EU’s security policies post-Brexit are also uncertain as mainland Europe and Britain have yet to discuss their security partnership. However, after the UK decided to leave the EU, the EU has been able to take defence matters up a notch. In 2019, the EU will likely revisit the “European army” proposal suggested by Macron and Merkel. Member states might also seek to improve their military capabilities.

Tensions within the region are also likely to remain, and in particular between Russia and Ukraine, as tensions in the Asov Sea escalate. At the same time, apart from the stalling the name deal between Greece and Macedonia, Kosovo’s attempt to transform its lightly-armed security force into a defacto army was met with restraint by Brussels.

Lastly, Brzozowski discussed battlefields of the future, including the Arctic region, outer space, and most notably, cyber defence. After a series of cyber attacks such as WannaCry and NotPetya in 2017, the EU has invested in its cyber defence capabilities. The Commission also passed the EU’s first set of cybersecurity laws in 2018.

Beyond the defence and security realm, Robert Steenland argues that the EU will have to step up its responsibility in the face of a tumultuous international environment where the US is no longer a dependable ally. Steenland calls Trump’s leadership unreliable. With US’ withdrawal from several international agreements, transatlantic ties have been deteriorating.

For Steenland, the main challenges facing the EU currently are internal problems within the region, the vulnerability of the eurozone to global economic shocks, a rising China, an aggressive Russia, and a retreating US. He believes that the next crucial step for the EU is to overcome internal divisions regarding migration and eurozone reform, and set up a broad coalition of parties who support a strong, united EU.

Another commentator, Jorge Valero, warns that the stakes are high in 2019. According to Valero, there are two levels of division within the EU – among those who wish to leave and those who want to remain in the union, as well as a deeper division between the ruling elite and a citizenry that feels neglected.

He points out that pro-European parties should be gearing up to go all out in the May European elections, but they seem exhausted. On the other hand, Eurosceptics are close to seeing a substantial shift within the EU machinery. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban says that populism simply illustrates the division between the desires of the working class and the elite-driven European project. The position of Eurosceptic parties in the next European parliament is likely to become strong enough to hamper legislative activity, leading to more difficulties in governance of the Union.

While Valero is negative in his assessment of 2018, he hopes that 2019 will bring renewed energy and ambition from the bottom. He cited the words of Volt movement founder Cahen Salvador that “this election should be a fight between old ways of doing politics and a new way of doing politics, a new way that is inclusive, in which people participate, in which people have their voice heard.”

Similar to Valero, commentator Georgi Gotev also posited that the recent yellow vest movements in France and Belgium are a sign of the growing divide between the people and the politicians. According to Gotev, those protesting their deteriorating living standards no longer want to be represented by the existing political forces. He reiterates Polish analyst Piotr Kaczyński’s opinion that much of the working class has been “left behind” by globalisation and that they have been threatened by the influx of migrants from the Global South, and competition from the Global East.


Germany to recruit other EU nationals for military
Germany has suggested that its military might undergo a key structural change this year. Last Thursday, the chief of the German army, Eberhard Zorn, announced the possibility of recruiting other EU nationals into the country’s military. Since Germany did away with conscription in 2011, the Bundeswehr has had to compete for recruits in a robust economy with low unemployment. The Bundeswehr is looking at recruiting doctors and information technology specialists from other EU countries, particularly eastern European ones. This proposal was first suggested in 2016 and if the Bundeswehr decides to follow through with it, Germany will have to amend a 1956 law dictating the nationality of military service personnel.


UK Prime Minister delivers positive message to the public to move forward with Brexit; reflections and viewpoints on Brexit
In her New Year’s Day message to the country, Prime Minister Theresa May urged the UK to put aside differences and start a new chapter in 2019. The positive message also pushes the agenda of getting Members of Parliament to approve her Brexit deal, which she claims “delivers on the vote of the British people”. May also emphasised that the UK should form strong new relationships as a global trading nation. She echoed the sentiments of Woody Johnson, US ambassador to the UK, as they both encouraged the nation to look on the bright side with record high employment, falling debts and absolute poverty at a record low.

Johnson, while sending a positive message to the British for the future of their country, said that a bilateral trade deal with the US does not look possible under the current Brexit deal even if it gets pushed through by Parliament. He also clarified that President Trump wants “a quick, very massive bilateral trade deal” that will set the precedent for all future trade deals for the UK. He believes that the Prime Minister’s Cabinet realises the risk of the current withdrawal agreement for future bilateral trade but also understands that they have other trade-offs to balance as well. Johnson’s comments may give Parliament more reasons to not approve May’s deal.

The vote on the Brexit deal will take place on 14 January. Within the UK, preparations for no-deal have been ramped up with government officials and civil servants working over Christmas to prepare contingency plans.To avoid this scenario, British MPs discussed pushing back the withdrawal date by several months from March 29th if May’s deal is defeated in the House of Commons. International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox predicts not much more than a 50-50 chance for Brexit to go on as scheduled if parliament rejects the deal. The UK police have said that a hard Brexit means they will no longer have access to European law enforcement database, including information related to crime and terrorism, which could put the public at risk. Having to replace access would be slower and more costly but with so much unknown, top police official said “nothing could be put in place and it would be improper to do so”.

Former Conservative MP, and longest serving member, Ken Clarke, gave his perspective on Brexit to Politico. As part of the 1990s establishment, he said that his generation paved the way for populism by being complacent. Clarke believes that populism is fueled by those left behind by the establishment of his times and who were forced to pay for the 2008 crash. He identifies himself as a supporter of capitalism and free markets but also sees the need to “regulate it to prevent excess”. On Brexit, he referred to the 2016 referendum as “the most disastrous series of events in domestic politics in my political lifetime”. Theresa May has done the job with fortitude, according to Clarke, but he thinks cross-party majorities are more important than party unity to turn things around. As a Remainer and an opponent of populism, he is not for a second referendum (which in his opinion makes Parliament irrelevant) and thinks the solution for the Brexit conundrum lies in revoking article 50 to buy more time.

A Euractiv report sees migration as a central issue in Brexit divisions. Like Clarke, the author believes the “liberal elite” was too complacent but their fatal mistake was not imposing any restrictions on freedom of movement and not giving extra financial support to the communities that were adversely affected by migration. His view is that while Brexiteers’ project was to take back national sovereignty, the public’s desire to curb migration was what led to the referendum results.

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