Saturday 29 November 2014

Currently browsing 'Enlargement'

Where is Europe set to go after the 2004 and 2007 enlargement waves? Are the Western Balkans next to join? Can the other ex-Yugoslav republics be kept out once Croatia has become an EU member state? And most controversially: What future for Turkey and Europe?


Did Hahn hint a change in EU’s policy towards Bosnia?

Posted by on 30/09/14

It almost went unnoticed in today”s hearing of Johannes Hahn, Commissioner-designate for Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, in front of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs commitee. But a little sentence will surely make for further discussion.

In the fade out of one of his many statements on the challenges in Bosnia, Mr Hahn said, that the country must move “from the Dayton logic to a Brussels logic”. MEPs in the commitee did not follow up on the line and Mr Hahn did not provide any explanation. Also, being explicitly asked about it in the press conference following the hearing, Mr Hahn did not further illustrate what he meant exactly by this statement.

The fact, though, that his press team (supposedly) retweeted the following tweet during the hearing, adds to the suspicion that the new Commission might actually rethink the EU’s policy towards Bosnia.

But moving away from the “Dayton logic” would mean no less than fundamental constitutional changes.  Today’s system builds on the agreement signed in Dayton, Ohio in 1995 to secure peace in Bosnia after three years of bloodshed and a brutal and genocidal war. According to the agreement, the multi-ethnic country was seperated into two political entities: one republic – Republika Srpska, dominated by Bosnian Serbs – and one federation – of muslim Bosniaks and Croats.

On the one hand, the Dayton Agreement secured peace in Bosnia in 1995. On the other hand, it has kept the country in political stalemate ever since. Today, in the eyes of most observers, Dayton is the biggest obstacle of a positive political and economical development of Bosnia, which faces unemployment over 40 per cent and whose economy has basically not grown since 2008.

Since Bosnia to this day is supervised by the international community, a change in EU policy could in fact be the overdue game changer for the country. A change that at this point in time is more needed than ever before.

2014 saw a number of big events that even worsened the dire situation in Bosnia. Failed wage bargains in the industrial town of Tuzla in February led to violent protests all over the country. Buildings had been set on fire, people had been injured. Following the protest, people started to organize themselves in plenums in order to get in control of their own destiny and no longer depent on inactive and corrupt politicians for their prospering. But the people’s plenum only lasted for a few weeks, until large parts of the country have been severely hit by the biggest floods in a century.

Whether the Juncker Commission is really up for the change has yet to be seen. On October 12th, people in all parts of Bosnia will head to the polls to elect a new leadership for their country, including the three presidents, the House of Representative and the leaders of the entities.

Perhaps key foreign policy figures in the new Commission wait for the outcome of the elections, to go ahead with these plans, announce them and eventually start putting them in place once they will enter office on November 1st. Or, perhaps Mr Hahn’s little side remark, is nothing to be further concerned with - which, of course, would not change anything - fewest of all the troubling situation for the people in Bosnia.

If there is one cause for optimism that came from 2014, it’s the fact that the unrests and the needs caused by the floods did not trigger any ethnical conflicts. That might be yet another signal that the country, almost 20 years after the end of the war, is ready to move on. The EU, for its part, should not hesitate to assist in this endeavour.

Full disclosure: My attendance at the ongoing #EPhearings2014 has been made possible upon invitiation by Michel Reimon, Austrian MEP and member of Greens/ALE, and funding by the European Parliament.

Turkey is EU’s stronghold against the ISIS

Posted by on 28/09/14

The Islamic Caliphate (i.e. and not “State” as many refer to it, as it is neither sovereign nor recognized) has been regarded as one of the biggest threats for the Western world and for the always-fragile stability in Middle East. With incomparable organization, power, execution pace, and strong influence, and with funding from unknown sources, the Islamic Caliphate seems drawn from history books referred to the crusades of tens of thousands of Christian knights crossing Europe to fight against and conquer Jerusalem from Saladin and his Muslim fighters.

The brutality and harshness of Caliphate’s fighters is strange to the Westerners, who forget NATO’s atrocities in numerous cases in the recent past, as for instance during the invasion in Iraq in 2003. Both European and US citizens are not familiar with the decapitation of their own journalists, nor with the massive massacres of Iraqis, Syrians, Kurds, men, women and children. In our “delicate” or “human” perception of war and battle, we are more familiar with the image of NATO’s aircrafts, highly-equipped soldiers and officers that march in  Middle East, in perfect shape and condition, being escorted by the mighty Apache helicopters. Our perception of warfare ends there – and then the cameras shut down and information gets restricted. In the contrary, the jihadists are sending decapitation videos, videos of massacres, and threatening messages against the Christians, insisting that their doom’s day has finally arrived.

In this respect, and regardless of the military invasion of the US and possibly of other allies, the role of Turkey is of paramount importance as a stronghold against the march of the Islamic Caliphate towards the European Union.  Turkey possess both the military capacity to strike back the jihadists, as well as the power to balance or ignite conflicting interests within their leadership.

Without confirming nor denying any contact with Islamic Caliphate’s leaders, President Erdogan can determine developments in the region and assume an effective mediating role on behalf of the wider front against the Caliphate. He can also incite these developments that could impede or control the entry and activation of jihadists in the EU both via Turkey or through the Eastern Balkans. His renouncing to embark in the US invasion, despite the pressure exerted by President Obama – a situation that resembles a lot with that of 2003 when President George W. Bush was insisting that US troops need to pass through Turkish soil to invade Iraq, but Erdogan was turning him down –  proves that he possibly has a certain plan on how to confront with the Caliphate, without forcing Turkey to get involved militarily alongside the US. From that prism, and as long as the goals of perseverance of the Islamic Caliphate are unknown, Erdogan prefers to stand by, shaping an image of confidence and determination in the media that his decision is driven by long-term incentives in the light of safeguarding Turkey’s security.

Should his decision proves accurate, both in terms of restraining the Islamic Caliphate, as well as in terms of weakening its influence ,with or without military involvement, it is certain that he would have achieved something big in a another field of negotiation: given his decision to (re)itinerate Turkey towards the EU and thaw membership negotiations, the balance of power between Brussels, Berlin, Paris and London from one side, and Ankara form the other side, would definitely lean in favor of the latter.

The Formation of the Juncker Commission and its impact on the Western Balkans

Posted by on 21/09/14

It has been a very politically engaging end of summer this year, with a brand new institutional reshuffling in Brussels. Following the May parliamentary elections, the EU appointed its new leadership for the next 5 years. After the latest events of this summer – the spread of violence, insecurity and political turmoil in Ukraine, Gaza and Iraq/Syria – all eyes are now again on the EU and its capacity to face these geopolitical challenges. One of the biggest changes brought by the newly announced Juncker Commission is the way it has restructured the foreign policy component. Before the official announcement, when a leaked document containing a provisionary version of the Commission was circulating in the press, many were speaking about the possibility of the enlargement portfolio to be dropped completely. In reality it was not, but the message is still not very encouraging for the Western Balkans.

On 15 July 2014 Jean-Claude Juncker was elected to become the next President of the European Commission by a strong majority of 422 votes in the European Parliament. On that occasion, Juncker noted his straight-forward goal: “The EU needs to take a break from enlargement”. He argued further that “during my Presidency of the Commission, ongoing negotiations will continue, and notably the Western Balkans will need to keep a European perspective”.  Such a stance is both strong and ambiguous. This approach leaves open the question of whether new negotiations will be started and whether the EU will undertake an effort to resolve the issues precluding countries from moving towards accession talks. After that statement, some feared that he might even completely drop the Enlargement portfolio in the Commission, which sparked a debate about what the perspectives of the Western Balkans would be in this context. This prophecy was not fulfilled, or at least not entirely. On 10 September we found out that Enlargement will not be given a stand-alone portfolio in the new European Commission. Johannes Hahn from Austria (EPP) will be in charge of the restructured portfolio called ‘European neighbourhood policy and enlargement negotiations’. So we can cool off; enlargement has not disappeared. But the second part of the title sends a handful of political messages.  For many this may be seen as a downgrading, or even as a sign that Europe considers its expansion plans and the Western Balkan region itself (where, after all, most of the candidate and potential candidates are) to be of lesser importance.

I personally believe that we should avoid the extreme opinion stating that from now on the enlargement process is completely frozen. It’s true, there is no more single portfolio focused on enlargement per se, but enlargement negotiations have remained in focus. This clearly shows that the process must go on. But the question is how. The enlargement process will in all likelihood continue, the Commission will still monitor the progress annually and the main road maps for each country will remain in place. What will definitely change, however, is the impetus given to the process, which will directly affect the cost-benefit calculations of already weakened EU-oriented Balkan reformists.  I believe that there is no need for alarmist tones, which might suggest that the enlargement process not being at the top of the EU’s foreign policy agenda will lead to an outburst of tensions and possibly a new eruption of violence and war. These fears are unrealistic and miscalculate both the EU’s and the Western Balkans’ reactions.

The possible implications of neglecting the Western Balkans

In the midst of this debate, we should be reminded that the enlargement process is conducted not just by politics, but also by EU conditionality and the adoption of EU norms; it’s fundamentally a very complex web of multi-level governance structures representing both EU and candidate and potential candidate countries. Both sides are responsible for the results and for delaying integration. I don’t agree with people who blame the EU for its enlargement fatigue and disengagement from the Balkans, but neither do I agree with the ‘Balkan sceptics’ who put the entire blame on the corrupt political class and persistent ethno-nationalist bargaining that did not consider EU accession as a priority. I would plead for a more realistic picture that highlights both the EU Member-states ‘enlargement fatigue’ and the Balkans’ ‘accession fatigue’.  And such a Gordian knot needed a change. The Stability and Association Agreements took years to be implemented and in most of the cases they were delayed and politicized by both potential and candidate countries. But some Member states contributed to this process as well by vetoing the continuation of the process (the example of Macedonia and the name issue with Greece stands as the most striking example). We must also admit that an internally divided EU has proven to be powerless to make real changes to Balkan political dynamics of polarization, zero-sum games, and toxic nationalism.

As Austria’s Johannes Hahn got the redefined neighbourhood portfolio, this field has assumed geostrategic importance in the light of the Ukraine crisis and it has evidently superseded the enlargement package. This leaves out any prospect of high-speed accession that has animated reforms in most of the former Yugoslav republics in the last 10 years. There are some serious reasons for this: first, there is Juncker’s own anti-enlargement conviction, which points to economic reasons for ‘deepening’ the 28-EU, rather than expanding it; second, there has been the harsh rhetoric of political forces within EU member states that have associated enlargement with the negative trends of greater migration and insecurity of labour markets, which struck a populist chord as we have seen during the latest European elections; third, there was also the stagnation of the integration process and the lack of progress in several countries where the reforms seemed to deteriorate.

When taking these arguments into consideration, the Juncker formula for leaving enlargement behind is not a surprise. But one should not overlook the possible negative effects. These are the main points that one should keep in mind when considering neglecting the Balkans:

(1) The EU has a symbolic meaning for the Balkans. It should not give up on its Europeanization vocation in the Western Balkans as it may lose a large amount of effort and money it has already invested. Even in the midst of its own internal crisis and the worsening global crises from Ukraine to Iraq, Europe cannot afford to neglect the one region in which the EU has assumed full leadership as a foreign and security policy actor. We should not forget that the conflicts that devastated the Balkans during the 90’s provided the catalyst for the idea of an EU with security responsibilities (as comprised in the European Security Strategy in 2003 and which contributed to the new Common Security and Defense Policy). This should not just be a symbolic and demagogic ambition merely for marketing purposes, but rather an assumed long-term project for crisis management based on EU soft power. Even though EU’s transformative power in the region has been limited, the massive EU presence in the Balkans has a geopolitical stabilizing purpose and that should not be forgotten.  We should be aware of the fact that negative developments in the Balkans could reverse all the valuable gains in the region, increase instability in other countries on the EU’s immediate borders, and further weaken Europe’s credibility and cohesion.

(2) An important lesson that we can draw from the past is not to discuss Balkan problems only when they become absolutely impossible to ignore. The profound problems that keep fragmenting societies in the Western Balkans are not going to solve themselves overnight. Keeping them out the spotlight might be very dangerous, as unresolved issues may come to the surface in the upcoming period. And as Russia continues to use its levers in the region, the crisis in Ukraine could have spill-over effects that could damage European interests where it hurts most.

(3) The situation in both Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYRoM) is deteriorating, with both countries facing challenges from dysfunctional power-sharing frameworks that elites use to block the path towards the EU. We already had some signals in February, when violent protests broke out in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and this summer in FYRoM, too. In Serbia and Kosovo, the progress made in recent years is at risk of being reversed. Last year’s EU-brokered First Agreement of Principles Governing the Normalization of Relations between Serbia and Kosovo was at the time hailed as the biggest success of EU’s foreign policy, after the creation of the EEAS. At the moment its implementation is largely frozen, with both Prishtina and Belgrade blaming each other of a lack of responsibility and engagement. As the EU is distracted by its own transition, new elections are slated for Kosovo, which is in the midst of its biggest political crisis since independence, and Serbia strengthens its relation with Russia.

To conclude, I would like to argue that the EU needs to achieve policy success in a European region that is striving for EU membership. As such, it cannot afford a failure in the Balkans, especially after its delayed and unsuccessful intervention during the dissolution of Yugoslavia. Looking at the massive drawbacks in the last years, it seems that the Balkans will unfortunately require more rather than less European diplomacy and international statecraft. This engagement will need to be taken seriously in order to tackle challenges such as real democratization and reconciliation. In this context, whether Juncker’s solution of redesigning portfolios was the best solution remains to be seen. But the impact of this decision on the Balkan region is not to be underestimated.

About the Author: Miruna Troncota is a postdoc researcher at the National University for Political Science and Public Administration in Bucharest with a focus on Postconflict Europeanization in the Western Balkans. She has recently completed her PhD in International Relations at the National School for Political Science and Public Administration in Bucharest. She held research fellowships at Berlin Graduate School for Transnational Studies, at the University of Ljubljana and was an intern at the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She is involved in promoting European integration through cultural diplomacy in the Western Balkans. Miruna joined FutureLab Europe in 2013.


Macedonia rams into yet another ‘historic’ controversy with Bulgaria

Posted by on 15/09/14

“On the occasion of the 1150th anniversary of the mission of Saints Cyril and Methodius to Great Moravia, the Czech Television and Barrandov Studios Prague, along with co-producers from Slovakia and Slovenia, have shot a film entitled “Cyril and Methodius – The Apostles of the Slavs“. This historical saga, under the directorship of Petr Nikolaev, is advertised as the first Czech movie in the “docudrama” style (similar to analogous historical productions of BBC).

The film publicity, however, has angered the spirits on the Balkan Peninsula, who have been focused on the following claims:

“This Czech-Slovak project is conceived as Pan-European and takes into account also the historical facts and events that have relevance for other nations, including the Poles, Russians, Macedonians, Serbs, Greeks, etc. The project was also presented to “His All Holiness” Bartholomew (Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome, and Ecumenical Patriarch, the presiding Archbishop of the World Orthodox Church) and received a positive response.”

Firstly, a number of reactions have come from Bulgaria. As is known, the First Bulgarian Empire saved the work of the two holy brothers Cyril and Methodius by hospitably accepting a group of their disciples and appointing them as prelates, bishops and teaching priests in the medieval Literary Schools of Preslav and Ohrid to pioneer the translation of religious books to Slavic (Old Bulgarian) language, thereby spreading throughout Europe both the Glagolian Slavic script and the in situ created Cyrillic Slavic alphabet (which is today used by many nations around the globe). Hence, the Bulgarian public opinion and media have been revolted by the omission of Bulgarians among the nations which the film addresses.

Simultaneously, the Greek observers and media have been extremely irritated by the explicit mention of “Macedonians” as a nation whose ethnicity is currently questioned by both Greece and Bulgaria, due to numerous historical reasons. Greek media have also been astonished that a film with such claims has allegedly been endorsed by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, given his firm previous position not to recognise either a Macedonian state name, nation and language (as per the steady policy of Greece), or a Macedonian Orthodox Church (as a result of its uncanonical schism with the Serbian Orthodox Church).

In turn, the media in the Republic of Macedonia have indeed been excited by the alleged “recognition” of a Macedonian nation by the Czech movie makers and the Ecumenical Patriarch. Thus, the Macedonian media did not miss the opportunity to bombard their EU neighbours with a new massive cannonade of hatred speech by using plenty of rather colourful epithets and expressions (often of racist nature) which make every untrained ear to blush from shame.

As a result of all this media noise, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has issued an official statement on behalf of His All Holiness Bartholomew to declare the following:

“In connection with mass media publications in Greece, FYROM, Bulgaria and elsewhere regarding the production of a Czech film about the life of the holy Thessaloniki Apostles Cyril and Methodius, which concern a presumed position allegedly expressed by His Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, we state hereby that the Patriarch has nothing to do with the case of this film, whence we categorically deny everything published on that occasion.”

In the light of this unambiguous declaration, the most logical question is what might be the motivation which urged the cinema makers to advertise their film by misusing the Ecumenical Patriarch’s name in such a deceptive way? Is it only due to the understandable wish for adding prestige and intriguing moviegoers in order to increase public interest and resulting sales?
Observers, who are familiar with the political life in the Republic of Macedonia, suspect however some hidden reasons driven by much stronger material and political interests.

Pro-opposition Macedonian media published lists of dozens of companies and properties in the Czech Republic, claimed to be owned or controlled by Sasho Mijalkov – a cousin of the Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and key member of his nepotistic governmental clan. Mr. Mijalkov is a graduate of the Prague University and director of the country’s secret services (Administration for Security and Counterintelligence). Macedonian authorities are extremely sensitive towards any release of information regarding this “Czech trace”. For instance, one of the opposition leaders, Mr. Ljube Boškoski, who attempted to unveil these mysterious estates in 2011, has been eavesdropped during the whole electoral campaign which ended with his immediate arrest, accusation, conviction and jailing. Then, under unclear circumstances in the prison, he signed letters of excuse to Mijalkov, Gruevski himself and his mother, whose names have been involved in the scandal. Thus, the case of Ljube Boškoski has been mentioned in the 2012 Human Rights Report of the US Department of State as an example for political imprisonment.

On this background, evil tongues on the Balkans repeatedly blamed the Czech Commissioner Stefan Füle for not applying all stringent EU accession criteria to the Macedonian EU candidacy and for alleged attempts to accept the country through the “back door”.

The above suspects have also been enhanced by the previous involvement of the Czech Barrandov Studios in co-producing of the highly controversial Macedonian film “The Third Half” which embittered the bilateral relations between Bulgaria and the Republic of Macedonia.

In conclusion, the unfortunate promotion of the recent Czech production “Cyril and Methodius – The Apostles of the Slavs”, by exploiting misleadingly the Ecumenical Patriarch’s name, demonstrated clearly how circumstances beyond the cinematography and historical truth can spoil a noble initiative. Instead of uniting people and nations to enjoy a piece of art and to celebrate together the two holy brothers and illustrious Patrons of Europe, a counterproductive effect of creating controversies and confrontation might be achieved. It seems that the human nature did not change so much between the 9th and the 21st Centuries.”

Miroslav Rizinski
Civil society activist, political observer and
former political prisoner in the Republic of Macedonia (2007-2011).

Do we need a Commissioner for #Enlargement?

Posted by on 08/09/14
By Dimitris Rapidis Sweden’s Foreign Affairs Minister Mr Carl Bildt and other diplomats have expressed concerns over the decision of President-elect of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Junker, to abolish the position of EU enlargement commissioner. Are they right to be upset?

Russian Muslims Under Prejudice and Turkey Keep Silent?

Posted by on 04/09/14

In April 2014, the District Court of Kaliningrad (Russia) decided to ban the construction of a mosque in the southern city park. The judge granted the prosecutor’s claim, thereby recognizing the illegal administration of Kaliningrad permission to build the mosque. This decision caused outrage in the Muslim community of the city that was not surprising, because the Muslim community that numbers 100 thousand people is seeking permission for construction of a mosque in Kaliningrad for 21 years, and all in vain. There were donated more than $2 million for the mosque construction, but all the time building faced with restrictions, so as it is already 9th place where Muslim community tries to create the first mosque in the city. Such a situation is a fight against those of other religions, and nothing other, and the country’s leadership controls it. Muslims of Kaliningrad have already appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin asking him to reconsider the decision taken by politically engaged individuals in the government, but still there was no answer … Well it is unlikely to appear, because the policy pursued by Moscow “Russian world” is incompatible with a multi-faith religious communities. In recent years, there were built more than 150 temples, 30 chapels and three monasteries in Kaliningrad, there are Catholic and Lutheran congregations and even the splendid building of the Mormon church, although frankly miserly amount of Mormons in the region, but still, all these religious buildings are Christian. Muslims from originally German city of Königsberg (official name of Kaliningrad until 1946) should apply not to Putin but to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who could affect to the President of Russia. Indeed, there is a huge ten-million Muslim community in Germany, which knows no abuses and restrictions on religion, and Merkel’s influence on Putin is essential. German Turks have almost any problems with construction of mosques and in society at all. At the same time, Russia has a huge number of right-wing movements which preach religious intolerance and racism towards other religions and skin colors. Usually these movements accompanied by slogan “For the Russian world” and “Russia for the Russian”. In this context could we should remember last year fights in Muslim localities near Moscow, where Russians killed Muslims from the Asian regions of Russia. The Russian leadership has probably forgotten the consequences of the struggle against Islam, even hidden. Islam and modern Russia – are indivisible and what is Islamic fundamentalism is well known to the Russian people, who suffered thousands of casualties, including civilians, as a result of the confrontation with the Muslim population. A question arises: why leaders of Muslim communities, which have a weight in the president’s entourage, are silent, why a man like Kadyrov defends the religious beliefs of his fellow citizens of the Russian Federation, who leaves in another region? The answer is simple – they are bought up at the grassroots by Putin and will not conflict with him because of someone’s religious beliefs that are contrary to the criteria of the “Russian World” created in the corridors of the Kremlin. If this is an attitude of Russians to “their” Muslims, it’s frightening to imagine how they will relate to the Muslim population of the Crimea, which is originally an Islamic region with a long history. Indeed, many respected people have been denied entry to the Crimea, including Mustafa Dzhemilev, former head of the Crimean Majlis, in April awarded the Order of the Republic of Turkey. So why Turkey keep silence, why Erdogan keep silence? After all, Turkey sees itself as a regional leader of the Black Sea region and do not pay attention to the increasing pressure on the Muslim population of Russia. Or their ambitions do not match with the real potential? Time will show, but now we will observe how the Muslims of Russia continue to pray in the streets of Russian cities, as long as Putin allows them …

Kosovo et Union Européenne : des progrès, mais tout n’est pas réglé

Posted by on 29/07/14

La Commission européenne a salué le 24 juillet dernier les progrès du Kosovo dans la mise en œuvre des exigences de la feuille de route sur la libéralisation des visas. Pour elle le Kossovo a bien progressé, même si de nouveaux efforts s’imposent pour permettre aux ressortissants de ce pays de se déplacer sans visa.

Dans son second rapport, la Commission relève que le Kosovo a pris des mesures importantes pour mettre en œuvre sa législation dans tous les domaines couverts par la feuille de route pour la libéralisation du régime des visas : « la réadmission semble à présent fonctionnelle ; le système de réintégration est opérationnel ; la gestion des frontières, les migrations, l’asile et le système de justice pénale kosovar ont bénéficié de réformes importants » constate la Commission. Toutefois de nouvelles mesures restent nécessaires pour satisfaire pleinement aux exigences de la feuille de route sur les visas. Le rapport invite le Kosovo à favoriser la réintégration durable des personnes rapatriées, à améliorer la précision de son état civil, à déployer son système d’information sur les visas ; à renforcer l’indépendance du pouvoir judiciaire et à obtenir des résultats crédibles en matière de décisions de justice dans les affaires de criminalité organisée et de corruption.

Un tel programme n’est pas une mince affaire.

La Commission a également évalué les effets potentiels de la libéralisation du régime des visas sur la sécurité et les flux migratoires et a conclu que la suppression des visas obligatoires pour les citoyens du Kosovo comportait certains risques pour l’UE en matière de sécurité et de migration. La Commission constate en effet depuis 2012 une augmentation sensible de la traite des êtres humains en provenance du Kosovo et le rapport annuel de l’EASO pour 2014 indique également une augmentation considérable du nombre du nombre de demandes d’asiles déposées dans les Etats membres de l’UE par des citoyens Kosovars. La Commission recommande au Kosovo de prendre des mesures supplémentaires afin d’atténuer les risques de la libéralisation du régime des visas en matière de sécurité et de migration. La Commission se veut optimiste et ne veut décourager personne, mais constatons qu’il y a encore beaucoup de pain sur la planche ! Remarquons cependant que cela ne fait que seulement deux ans que les uns et les autres se sont engagés dans ces travaux dignes des travaux de Hercule : nettoyer les écuries d’Augias.

Pour en savoir plus

     – . Deuxième rapport de la Commission européenne (EN) (FR) new/news/news/docs/second_commission_assessment_fr.pdf

     -. Document de travail des services de la Commission accompagnant le rapport (EN)


Classé dans:Actualités, BREVES

EU enlargement freeze: Romania unites with Republic of Moldova

Posted by on 17/07/14

Long before the actual elections that lead to a new European Parliament, the leaders of the most powerful states had asserted that the European Union would stop its enlargement.

This direct restriction is interesting given the fact that we have all presumed that enlargement is about standards and not necessarily about economic interests.

Should we imply that until now European Union enlargement has occurred without adherence to standards but because this was the wish, and now it’s not? This type of restriction, just for the sake of not disturbing the Russian Federation seems more like an act of cowardliness rather than of supporting a democracy.

Public declarations in this sense represent a heavy blow for the pro-European parties in Balkans and East Europe where Russia is working hard.

The most eloquent example is the situation in Republic of Moldova where the actual political class, helped by the Romanian brethren over Prut, has managed to implement almost everything it had set out.

The fact that the European Union will stop its expansion fell like lightning in Chișinău, the capital of the second Romanian state. Elections will take place this autumn and the entire electoral programmed focused on the accession to European Union. As the alternative to the actual political class is represented by the communist pro-Russian left that does not want to hear about the European Union but of a New Berlin Wall- this time on the Prut River- the existence of a backup plan is compulsory.

This plan was anticipated by the Romanian president Traian Băsescu, one of the most influential and experimented leaders of the European Union. In the moment Russia had already intervened in Ukraine, when the Association Agreement to EU was being ratified, the Romanian president said: if the Republic of Moldova is banned from joining EU, than the reunification of these two Romanian states is the new national project of Romanian.

We recall that Romania and the Republic of Moldova formed one state until the end of the Second World War when, as was the case of Germany, the disintegration of the country was decided by Stalin.

An aspect that should not be neglected is that more than 50% of Moldova’s citizens support the unification with Romania, while the interest for EU is lower. Over 80% of Moldova’s citizens are Romanian ethnics, a great part of them claiming this right through the restoration of their citizenship. Therefore the elimination of visa for the Romanian in Republic of Moldova had no effect as  the majority of them already had the right to free circulation.

The first European state that ratified the Association Agreement of Republic of Moldova with EU was Romania. When this thing happened, politicians in Parliament of Chișinău and Bucharest delivered rousing discourses affirming that this was a step towards the restoration of the historical truth which is, as in the case of Germany, the unification of Romania with the Republic of Moldova.

EU’s decision of freezing the enlargement opens a new polemic on the Chișinău-Bucharest axe, the alternative of unification prevailing over the European Integration.

As a strong Romania is a threat to Russia’s domination in East Europe it is expected that its agents will also activate within the European parliament or through various political voices.

In the meantime the public declaration of freezing EU enlargement was a great strategic mistake because it opened the way for the Russian Federation to impose regimes favorable to it in East Europe as well as the Balkans.


Open letter to Juncker: Why EU enlargement matters

Posted by on 13/07/14
Guest blogpost by Shenoll Muharremi, Executive Director at the Development Group LLC, Prishtina. He is an expert on EU membership processes and economic development. * * * Open letter to EC President Designate Jean Claude Juncker Why EU Enlargement matters There have been discussions if the next European Commission should keep position of the Enlargement [...]

Anti-union & pro-union in Scotland: total confusion

Posted by on 06/07/14
By Kathleen Garnett With the Scottish vote for independence just a few short months away EU Perspectives examines the role-reversal effect this is having on some Conservative and UKIP politicians. A phenomena resembling a pantomime farce but which to all intents and purposes is masquerading as serious politics.

EU must prepare for membership Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia

Posted by on 03/07/14

After very long, extensive and complicated negotiations the EU has finally signed the association and free trade agreements with three countries south of Russia on June 27th 2014. All the three consider this signature only as a step toward their final goal of joining the European Union.

This desire is perfectly logical. Experience tells them that only EU and even better NATO membership might give them enough protection against potential pressure from powerful Russia.

Even if many in the EU understand these fears, the EU as such is presently more preoccupied with internal consolidation and the challenge of integrating six potential candidate countries from the Western Balkans to which it had offered an accession perspective years ago. It is therefore not prepared to do the same to the newly associated three countries in the East which do not need it anyhow, as article 49 of the EUT clearly specifies their right to join the EU.

Even a political membership perspective would not guarantee their rapid accession, as Turkey demonstrates, which continues to be far from membership despite the perspective inserted into the 1964 Association Agreement.

The EU is anything but prepared for a major enlargement in the coming 10-20 years. Citizens do not want it as clearly reflected in opinion polls.

The EU governance has also reached its limits with 28 member states. Operating an EU with close to 40 member states effectively and democratically with the present constitutional rules seems very difficult to imagine.

But in a long-term perspective, a bigger Union is clearly in European interest. By the middle of the century Europe will account for less than five per cent of global population. Even jointly, it will be a dwarf lacking the leverage to weigh in world affairs, unless it will organise much more effectively.

There can therefore be no question for the EU to simply reject the desire of the newly associated countries to join the EU as soon as possible. As European countries they are entitled to membership provided they respect basic values like human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality and rule of law.

The EU should, above all , assist them in their efforts for internal reforms. That is what it has started to do. The faster the newly associated countries succeed in implementing EU standards the faster their desire for membership will become credible. As the EU has learned from the “premature membership” of Bulgaria and Romania which had not been sufficiently prepared in 2007 nothing would be worse for the EU than co-habitation with member countries that are not fully respecting EU values.

In parallel, the parties must work hard to reduce the huge prosperity and welfare gap. Prosperity differentials of 10 to 1 between the average and the poorest members are hardly compatible in a “Union of Equals”.

All being said, the likelihood of another Eastern enlargement has risen since June 27th 2014. The EU and the three associated countries should discreetly start preparing for it. For the EU, this implies elaborating functioning governance structures for almost 40 member states. Without major constitutional revisions prepared beforehand another big enlargement is hardly conceivable.

Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 30/6/2014

Accord d’association : la Géorgie, la Moldavie et l’Ukraine

Posted by on 30/06/14

Dans la matinée du vendredi 27 juin 2014, l’Union européenne a signé l’accord d’association avec l’Ukraine, la Géorgie et la Moldavie. C’est trois anciennes républiques soviétiques ont leur ticket pour se rapprocher de l’Europe occidentale, comme elles le souhaitaient et ce, malgré les pressions exercées par la Russie à ce sujet.

M. Porochenko a signé vers 09H00 (07H00 GMT) dans le bâtiment du Conseil européen le second volet de l’accord d’association, celui-ci a d’ailleurs précisé qu’il s’agissait du

« jour le plus important [pour l'Ukraine] depuis l’indépendance». C’est le fruit d’un travail de sept ans qui vient d’être signer pour l’Ukraine qui compte bien « utiliser cette opportunité pour moderniser le pays ». Le président ukrainien a également félicité la « solidarité » de l’Union européenne face à la crise ukrainienne.

Ce sommet européen est également relatif à la question de la nomination du nouveau président de la Commission européenne, sujet également important dans la sphère politique européenne et, les dirigeants européens vont aborder la crise ukrainienne et les relations avec la Russie, notamment quant à d’éventuelles nouvelles sanctions à son encontre.

Quel est l’intérêt des accords d’association ?

Ils visent à approfondir l’association politique et l’intégration économique des pays signataires avec l’Union européenne. D’un point de vue économique, l’accord d’association instaure une zone de libre-échange approfondi et complet.

Pour la Géorgie, cet accord d’association va surtout lui permettre de faciliter le commerce et les investissements, c’est un pays qui a connu et connait encore des conflits régionaux, il est nécessaire pour cela de développer sa croissance économique.

La signature de cet accord d’association offrira non seulement de nouvelles perspectives d’intégration économiques mais également une assistance de l’Union européenne dans les réformes relatives au commerce avec pour objectif d’intégrer l’économie géorgienne dans le marché mondial. Grâce à cet accord d’association, la Géorgie va également bénéficier de nouvelles opportunités commerciales et un accès plus facile au marché européen entre autre.

Concernant  la Moldavie, l’objectif est le même que celui de la Géorgie, permettre une assistance dans les réformes commerciales afin de contribuer à sa croissance économique et à une meilleure intégration de l’économie Moldave dans le marché mondial. Les dispositions commerciales de l’accord d’association permettront à d’avoir de nouvelles opportunités commerciales et un accès facilité au marché européen.

L’Ukraine quant à elle il s’agissait par cette signature de clôturer son accord d’association, puis qu’un chapitre politique a déjà été signé le 21 mars dernier, aujourd’hui elle signe donc le volet commercial de cet accord d’association. L’Ukraine bénéficiera de nouvelles opportunités commerciales et d’un accès facilité au marché européen également. Elle va progressivement supprimer les droits de douanes et les quotas, harmoniser ses lois, normes et régulations dans les différents secteurs commerciaux et devra créer des conditions pour harmoniser les secteurs clés de son économie sur les standards européens. La Commission européenne estime que l’accord UE-Ukraine pourrait stimuler le revenu de l’Ukraine d’environ 1,2 milliards d’euros par an. Egalement, les exportations de l’Ukraine vers l’Union européenne pourraient augmenter d’un milliard d’euros par an avec la signature de l’accord.

Cet accord d’association vise à arrimer l’Ukraine à l’Union européenne sans pour autant conclure à une négociation d’adhésion.

Pour souligner le fait que la signature de ces accords d’association n’était pas anodine, le mercredi 28 mai dernier, la chancelière allemande avait rencontré les premiers ministres de l’Ukraine, la Moldavie et la Géorgie lors d’une rencontre informelle. Angela Merkel a assuré que les relations entre ces trois pays voisins et l’Union européenne ne sont pas une alternative aux relations entre ces derniers et la Russie. Une affirmation importante en cette période de crise ukrainienne.

Ces trois pays signent un accord d’association avec l’Union européenne le 27 juin 2014 lors du Conseil européen à Bruxelles. C’est ce projet d’accord d’association qui à mis le feu aux relations entre l’Ukraine et la Russie. D’ailleurs, la Géorgie a connu cette situation en 2008, la Russie ne souhaitant pas perdre son champ d’influence sur ces territoires, elle a alors décidé de procéder à une intervention militaire et faisant perdre à la Géorgie une partie de son territoire : Abkhazie et l’Ossétie du Sud. Ce conflit a d’ailleurs donné lieu à une intervention civile non armée de l’Union européenne sous les auspices de la mission EUMM (European Union Monitoring Mission).

Angela Merkel a rassuré les premiers ministres des trois pays en affirmant que les relations tant politique, qu’économiques et culturelles avec l’Union européenne seront plus étroites après la signature de ces accords d’association, même si le rapprochement avec l’Union européenne ne sera pas sans difficulté. Afin de parvenir à ce résultat, l’Union européenne devra maintenir le dialogue avec la Russie et ainsi favoriser la paix. Ce dialogue avait d’ailleurs été évoqué lors du G7 à Bruxelles, où les Chefs d’Etats et de gouvernements demandaient à la Russie d’entrer dans une phase de désescalade à moins de voir de nouvelles sanctions être mises en oeuvre mais également, assuraient qu’il était nécessaire de maintenir un dialogue avec le Président Poutine pour stabiliser la situation et s’engager dans un processus de paix.

Les trois premiers ministres ont quant à eux exprimés également des inquiétudes quant à l’avenir mais d’une manière générale, ils affirment que leurs pays sont des pays européens et qu’ «il n’y aura plus jamais de nouveau mur de Berlin en Europe » !

Audrey Lenne

Pour en savoir plus :

- The EU’s Association Agreements with Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine", MEMO, Brussels, 23 June 2014 (EN) / (FR)

L’accord économique entre l’Ukraine et l’UE sera signé le 27 juin , Le Monde, le 19 Juin 2014 (FR)

- Ukraine : l’accord d’association avec l’Union européenne signé , Le Monde, le 27 Juin 2014 (FR)

Classé dans:Actualités, BREVES

Is enlargement still credible?

Posted by on 29/06/14
By Mose Apelblat In a recent interview with EurActiv, enlargement commissioner Štefan Füle caused a minor row with Bulgaria and Romania when discussing the credibility of the enlargement process. The two countries were singled out because of the so-called cooperation and verification mechanism which was put into place when they became EU members in 2007. The enlargement process has been a success, but there are caveats in several member states, too.

Moldova’s East and West: A Briefing

Posted by on 26/06/14

Moldova is signing the Free Trade Association agreement on June 27. While this is regarded by many as a definitive step towards the West and the European Union path, the signing of the agreement is mostly symbolic and doesn’t stop Moldovans from questioning their future, balancing the East and the West as equal options. Admitting that the Ukrainian crisis has helped Chisinau’s dialogue with Brussels, Moldova is yet fragmented in defining what is right and wrong, following its historical pattern of the ultimate mosaic-like borderline. This is how I discovered the country in early June 2014.

Crossing the Borderline – the Prut River

Originating in the north-eastern coast of the Carpathian mountains in Ukraine and an affluent of the Danube, the Prut river has served as a borderline throughout modern history: between Romania and the Russian Empire before the World War I and between Romania and the USSR after the World War II. The only exception occurred in between 1918 – 1939 when it became an internal river, crossing Poland and Romania before flowing into the Danube. After the German invasion of Poland in 1939, it became almost entirely Romanian, only to return to being a borderline once more, after the war ended. Starting its journey in Western Ukraine, it goes through Chernivsti (Cernauti) – one of the cosmopolitan cities where Ukrainian, Romanian, Polish and Jewish cultures and traditions meet before marking the border between Romania and the Republic of Moldova. Symbolically, the edges of the East and West have always met on its banks, defining the fate of Central Europe, always dependent on how strongly the two cultures have been shaping up the waves of influence in Europe.

As we were going from Romania into the Republic of Moldova, we crossed the Prut at Ungheni, the Moldovan town on the frontier, where the river starts its downstream flow towards the Danube. During our drive last fall in Romania, on the strategic military road from Albita to Iasi, going along the Prut up north, I didn’t realize how narrow its riverbed really is. Back then, the forests spreading on our right as we were rolling up, with their trees not yet completely leafless, weren’t allowing us to see much of what Prut really was – from time to time we could only spot, in between the reeds, the swamps or lakes-like formations along the river. It’s been only now that I realized Prut is actually not a large river, considering its length (aprox. 380km).

Crossing the border was relatively easy – only 3 cars were waiting in line. It was a Sunday afternoon and this was not the main entry point into Moldova from Romania. On the other side of the border, the small city of Ungheni is not much different than a town of its size in Romania in the 90s. There was a band playing in the main square downtown – Romanian folk and pop music reminding me of the 80s and early 90s in Bucharest. As I was discovering the architecture of the square, I kept going back in time – the soviet-like building at one end of the square was facing a renovated Russian baroque-style small building: the 90s were facing the 40s. However, the surprise of the day got us back to present: the free wifi available in the square as well as around it, in the downtown area. Later I will find out that this is the case to most cities in Moldova.

The traffic is clearly high for the narrow streets. The cars – mostly second-hand cars imported from the EU countries – were parked everywhere and the shades under the old, leafy trees of the squared labyrinth made driving somewhat uncomfortable, especially since the roads hadn’t seen much renovation during the last few years. As we went away out of the city center, a much more rural landscape took shape.

Passing through the villages along the way, the one thing you notice immediately is the thin yellow gas pipes connecting each household to the gas distribution network. The next thing you observe is the prevalence of fountains both right and left sides of the road. Our guide explained that while the natural gas distribution network was widespread throughout the country, water supply remained problematic for most of the country, even for smaller cities. The natural gas comes from Russia – if Russia cuts the gas, the impact would be felt at the heart of society, considering that the cut would be made in the very standard of life of these households. And when the entire country – from the very rural community to the most urban one – is used to have gas for heating during winter, you have a very different situation than that of a country where most of rural communities are not being part of the national distribution system. To lower dependence on Russia, Moldova is working with Romania to ensure that there is an alternative for gas imports, through Iasi-Ungheni pipeline. While progress has been made in Romania in 2013, the Moldovan side has yet to build its part of the project… officials on both sides acknowledge that investments need to continue and the pipe needs to go at least to Chisinau, not forgetting to add a line or two about the strategic importance attached to the success of the project. They do forget to say that the gas needs to ultimately go to the Moldovan households and for that, Moldovans need to deal directly with Gazprom since the company controls the national distribution network. Seeing the level of investments into the local networks, in the very rural – and most likely some of the poorer villages of the country, it is quite clear to me that Gazprom regards supplies to Moldova strategically as well, well understanding their social implications.

I asked our guide if Romania or the West had tried to do anything about the water supply network – this country is after all, dependent on agriculture and water supply not only translates into a higher living standard for the rural population, but it also translates into irrigation systems that increase agricultural efficiency. His answer was negative – he explained investment figures would be high for the sector, considering essentials must be addressed first, with currently very low quality of drinking water in some of these rural communities. I remembered the short stories I used to read when I was a child about the Tatar and Turkish short invasions into medieval Moldova: there was a common feature to them all – the water fountains being poisoned as the easy way to make Moldovans capitulate fast.

The dramatic image of poisoned medieval fountains disappears as the scenery became greener and we found ourselves in the middle of the calm hills of the country. The birch trees the Russians planted after the World War II along with flourished acacia trees are giving the landscape a whiter, more solemn appearance. As we got closer to Chisinau, the road’s quality improved and traffic increased. We started seeing, among the crowd of second-hand cars, some last models of BMW, Mercedes and even some Jaguars. Clearly the people here are better off – or they just care more about appearance.

Perceptions and Realities in Chisinau

Going into Chisinau from North West, you feel the capital is being hidden by the forests surrounding it. Yet, minutes after getting out of the greenish outskirts, the Soviet style blocks of flats are coming to sight. And few minutes later we found ourselves downtown. The government and the parliament are still bearing the signs of renovation started as a result of the civil unrest in 2009.

Time is passing in a slower motion here – if you don’t visit Chisinau in a few years, you will still know where to eat the best pies in town or the location of the biggest shopping mall. There is a certain relaxation in the busy city life that reminds me of the basic philosophical question of existence: “who am I?” – just because no matter where you are in the city, you’ll find yourself wondering about its essence, its roots. At every corner, the city seems to struggle to find its reasoning. The mosaic of architectural differences of every building are seemingly fighting, through the slowness of the restoration works, to be accepted as a unitary piece defining the soul of the city, along with the glassy windows of the new, Western like buildings.

And yet, within the apparent calm of the city, the anxiety brought by the Ukraine crisis is also felt here. In conversations with academics, historians, policymakers, military and ordinary people, you will feel a mix of worry and resignation in their words. The crisis in Ukraine has put the spotlight on Moldova – in many ways, what has happened since November 2013 till spring 2014 in Ukraine has given the opportunity to Moldova to make its own worries heard in Brussels. As a result of the events in the neighboring country, the EU has been more receptive to dialogue – the FTA is the first step to the EU accession and there is money to come with it as well: assistance funds, grants and credit lines given by the EU and other international organizations after the signing of the document. The most advertised success of the current government in Chisinau is the visa liberalization with the EU Schengen area. While the achievement has been largely trumpeted both in local and European media, Moldovans are not as impressed as you’d first think – they see this pragmatically, as a good measure mostly meant for tourism. Moldovans can go visit the EU countries if they have a biometrical passport (not very cheap passport considering the living standard in the country). Free visas are less appealing for those searching for a job. I found out that there are less people wanting to go find a job in the EU than those working in Russia. The explanation is simple: the EU economic crisis made the EU countries less attractive and many Moldovans speak Russian.

There are other serious topics concerning Moldovans these days – and they mainly refer to risks of instability coming from Transnistria or even from Gagauzia, whose leader seems to be dreaming about founding “the Great Gagauzia”, in uniting Moldovan regions of Gagauzia with Ukrainian provinces. Rumors about him discussing such plans in Moscow were worrying my discussion partners.

Economic stability has been another topic of discussion – almost everyone whom I met explained me how the Russians are in control, as they have the largest employment pools in the country: the state bank and the airport. Not to mention energy supplies or wine exports market. Therefore, to avoid socio-economic problems, Moldova needs to keep Russia friendly. In the same time, however, the fact that Russians own more or less Moldovan economy seemed to equal, in discussions, with a guarantee for stability. Someone explained to me that as the EU has little visibility in practice, throughout the country, and as the Russians understand that the FTA relates mostly to symbolism, Moscow understands that Moldova needs to be kept going for the business’ sake. It may be just wishful thinking, but that tells a lot about the way the EU is perceived on the ground – at the level of symbols.

In Search of Essence – the Dniester

A white cement statue embodying a young man standing, with his arms wide opened, placed in a similarly whitish semi-circle of columns is guarding the other bank of the Dniester. A Soviet style city that seems to have lost all shades of green is watching with its empty gray eyes of stones-like architecture towards West. As I noticed the dark smoke arising from the highest hill of the town of Ribnita, I realized that the metallurgical plant here was still working at high capacity – it was afternoon already but the production process was still ongoing.

The road to Rezina, the town on the border with Transnistria is one of the best roads in the country, half of it being the same with the road to Balti – the region known to be the most pro-Russian of all Moldovan regions. This is why it’s almost ironical to see, while driving, on the right and left side of the road signs saying that the American people funded the rehabilitation of the road – through the Millenium program. About an hour after we got away from the main road to Balti, to follow our way to Rezina, we got into a road construction site – this time funded by the EU (I think). While clouds of dust were making driving difficult, loaded trucks passing by from the opposite direction were adding to the dramatic scene, as I was always wondering if the truck driver was actually seeing our car considering the dust clouds surrounding us. Luckily we were soon out of the troublesome sector and entering Rezina, we found a frontier town of the East…again the same blocks of flats of sun-dashed blue and gray cement and the green shades of the small but well maintained gardens. The center of the town was calm…almost too peaceful for my ears. Some men were chatting on the benches in front of the city hall in a language that I couldn’t understand, probably Russian.

The reason we were there was not to see the very borderline town and neither to see the bridge on the Dniester to Ribnita, even if both could have well justified the trip. We were instead interested in seeing the places where Stephen the Great, the 15th century Moldovan prince, has once visited – Saharna and Tipova monasteries, the latter being said to be the place where he first got married. This is how I saw the statue guarding the other bank of the Dniester: on the way to Saharna, from the tight road right by the river.

The Dniester was way more imposing than the Prut, a real border, drawing natural differences between the two shores: while on the right side, the one that we were driving on, we had a hilly landscape, guarded by tall, dark trees and, at their bottom by the natural swamps filled with lilies that were not yet flourished, on the other side the shore was sandy, almost flat, with smooth hills rising only hundreds of meters away from the shore. As we climbed up, I realized that the imposing whitish statue was a Liberation statue, erected there in the late 50s after the Soviets came in… In Saharna I will understand that the celebrated liberation was that of Moldovans from Romanian occupation of Antonescu regime. I will start finding out that the Moldovans still bear scars of Antonescu regime – and it is that regime that they sometimes reference Romania to, as they also bear the scars of Brezhnev’s rule in the early 50s. The monastery in Saharna had been closed down, as all monasteries had been in this part of the world in the 50s, being then transformed into a mental health institution for children. Everything – from documents, books, to the paintings on the walls had been burnt on the occasion of its closing and therefore the monastery looks now newly done, even if this was a place of prayer since the late 15th century. When you visit, the monks will tell you that they didn’t even knew where the old cemetery had been placed when they came back – and they have only discovered it when they were digging to build the new church. They will also tell you stories about the icons that were kept by the villagers and given back when the monastery was reopened. Stories of sad pride and hope for the better life of what has been rebuilt.

To go to Tipova, we took another way, a road of stones through villages and empty fields, bordered by poplars and acacia trees. While the church of the monastery is, as the one in Saharna, newly renovated, going down by the Dniester to the old caves that are said to have once served as hermitages for one of the oldest monasteries in Europe is very much a trip in time. The steep, abrupt way toward the Dniester resembles the troubled history of this borderline place – always in the shade of powers’ will, always seemingly shaped by forces humans can’t control…like the very river and the wind shaping up the walls of the hill. And, in the same time, the sun and the geography of place being enough for it all to survive, physically and in importance as a region of wonder, of permanent questions and permanent struggles.

As the guide talked, we understood that in essence, this is a place of mystery in all senses. As I looked around, I had mixed feelings: I realized that if this had been in any other part of Europe, it would have been transformed into a touristic attraction… the guide told me that to her and many others this was the Mount Athos for Romanians – it clearly has the essence of it, but lacks the marketing for it to become something similar. And, as I was sad that the place clearly didn’t get the attention it deserved in tourist books, I was also feeling grateful for the peace it gave us as it is now…empty and original, filled only with the energy of the rock bearing the touch of human hands, their souls and their prayers sent from an ancient, unknown time.

The place embodies the core of Moldova, defined through the word “imagination” in all its meanings. As the country discovers itself in matryoshka dolls of questions and answers, as one visits one region after another and tries to understand it, Tipova monastery, by the Dniester river, is the ultimate metaphor of wonder, the basic and yet unanswerable question of what it is and what it was. And yet, everyone discovers an answer as it visits it – the meaning of the trip and not the destination. Something that, in many ways, Moldovan history and realities relate to.

Legitimizing EU Democracy and Advocating for a Federal Europe

Posted by on 21/05/14

— This is the first of two parts of my exclusive interview with Greens/EFA Vice President and MEP Ulrike Lunacek. —

This year’s European parliamentary election will commence in less than 24 hours with the Netherlands and the United Kingdom among the first nations out of 28 to vote first. Most of the member states will be voting at the weekend. This election is the 8th parliamentary election since the first polls in 1979 and the first election after the Lisbon Treaty entered into force.

Below is a lengthy exclusive interview with MEP Ulrike Lunacek, the Spitzenkandidatin for the Austrian Greens and the Vice President of the Greens/EFA group.

The whole interview goes in-depth into one of the Greens’ advocacies for Europe, such as on legitimizing EU democracy, further continental integration resulting to a federal EU, reforming Europe’s institutional structure, combating climate change and saving the planet, surviving economic crises and debunking Eurosceptics.


It’s a fact that the EU is suffering from a democratic deficit; the lack of transparency, the massive bureaucracy and corruption within the institutions undermine the EU’s credibility as a true leader of the world.

So what measures would the party undertake in legitimizing democracy within the EU?

Would it be abolishing some of the institutions or establishing a European constitution or something else?

“The “massive bureaucracy” is not a fact but a common stereotype. The EU, a Union of more than 500 million people, has around 45.000 officials working in the different institutions. In comparison the Austrian federal state employs 133.000 people.

Notwithstanding the above, you are right stating that the EU is suffering from a democratic deficit: The EP does not have full legislative rights and the Council is still executive at national level and legislative at EU level. I support a federal Europe – the United States of Europe, which have to have a different, more democratic structure but also different policies, aiming at social justice and ecological sustainability, among other things. Therefore a major revision of the EU treaties can no longer be avoided. As Greens/EFA group we demand that the Parliament starts (this is foreseen and possible under the Lisbon Treaty) the process for a new Convention, with broad involvement of parliamentarians and civil society.

As far as the institutions are concerned, the establishment of a bi-cameral system at European level is needed, under which the federal, regional principle co-exists with that of the nation states, and within which the Council is re-modelled into a form of second chamber of representatives of national governments and which, together with the European Parliament, comprises the legislature.”

Conservatives often argue that having a strict control on immigration is what’s needed right now. They argue that having liberal immigration and asylum policies and keeping the door open have been proven to be an irresponsible approach and that it is contrary to the citizens’ interests. What’s your response to this?

Why is further EU expansion vital and what’s the true vision of the Greens regarding a genuinely integrated Europe?

“The asylum policy of the European Union as a whole is in need of reform. First and foremost the Dublin-II-Regulation has to be repealed and asylum seekers must be fairly distributed among all EU Member States. Furthermore a Europe-wide regulation should give asylum seekers the opportunity for self-preservation with legal work. The result would be a win-win-situation: potentials and capabilities would be used and asylum seekers would be self-sufficient.

Apart from the question of asylum I am strongly in favor of further EU expansion. In late 2013 the Commission featured EU enlargement reports, which show that despite the rampant enlargement fatigue we constantly achieve concrete progress especially as far as the countries of the Western Balkans are concerned. For me, the EU enlargement is not a one-way street, but stability in the Western Balkans is in the mutual interest of the European Union and the candidate countries. Without the involvement of the entire Western Balkans, the European peace project is not completed. At the same time, EU governments are in need of strong arguments towards their citizens regarding further enlargement. Any progress in the accession process depends on the fulfillment of the criteria by the candidate countries. In this context the decisive factors are of course the implementation of the rule of law, judicial reform and the fight against corruption.”

As a staunch advocate of further European integration, your party’s vision of a “United States of Europe” is admirable, but the question remains: how achievable is a federal Europe in 10-15 years and how can the EU make it doable?

And what would a federal EU look like and what would it accomplish compared to the EU we have now?

“The United States of Europe might be a remote vision, but you have to have a concrete goal to take the first step. It is not that important whether we achieve this goal within the next 10 or 15 years, but it is important that we go in this direction. The principles that underpin my vision of Europe are to oppose the current tendency of increasingly resorting to intergovernmentalism in European decision making which amounts to nothing more than bargaining between narrowly defined national interests. I strongly believe that the only real way forward is by making decisions based on the common interests of the European Union and its citizens. The steps that have to be taken in order to make this vision come true, are:

  • Establishment of a bi-cameral system at European level under which the federal, regional principle co-exists with that of the nation states, and within which the Council is re-modelled into a form of second chamber of representatives of national governments and which, together with the European Parliament, comprises the legislature.
  • Introduction of the full right of initiative for the European Parliament to enable it to propose legislation.
  • Introduction of European electoral lists for elections to a proportion of the seats in the European Parliament, with the leading candidates on the list running concurrently for election to the top positions within in the European Commission, thus campaigning for European voters’ support.
  • Election to the Commission through the European Parliament: The Commission should be elected directly by the European Parliament. The practice of governments nominating national politicians or granting them politically-motivated ‘promotions’ to the Commission must cease.
  • Shoring up of direct democracy through accessible European Citizens’ Initiatives, and introduction of Europe-wide referenda on European issues. European citizens should be able to determine their future in a united Europe themselves. However, this should not be achieved via national referenda where domestic party-politics and power games reign, but rather through Europe-wide ones: far-reaching steps towards integration should be determined via a double-majority mechanism, with proposals requiring a majority of both EU citizens and EU Member States to be in favour.
  • A Green New Deal and social rights that really deserve that name. I am convinced that the European Union must take a decisive step towards a federal structure, starting with a community method in social justice and in economic governance, with common fiscal policies and a larger budget that makes the desperately needed investment in education, in an ecological paradigm change towards an ecologically sustainable economy with renewables and energy efficiency possible.

Therefore a major revision of the EU treaties can no longer be avoided. As Greens/EFA group we demand that the Parliament starts (this is foreseen and possible under the Lisbon Treaty) the process for a new Convention, with broad involvement of parliamentarians and civil society.”

#ReclaimEurope and #VoteGreen this #EP2014! ;-)