Friday 25 July 2014

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With the EU growing at the speed of global population while resources melt away, the Union’s interest is increasingly defined on a global scale. Will its Diplomatic Service be able to safeguard these interests? And what future for Europe’s relations across the Atlantic and to the emerging great powers in Asia?


If we had taken measures, 180 Dutch wouldn’t have died

Posted by on 22/07/14

Germany longed to be the leader of the European Union, but its Chancellor, Angela Merkel, proves that she is not capable to measure up to such a position.

The actual crisis in Ukraine and the plane crash hijacked by the pro-Russian troops with Russian armament, would have called for a clear and united position from the European Union.

Although 200 European citizens died, Germany does not want to show solidarity and prefers to play into Russia’s hands.

A partial guilt belongs to the other European Union states because they accept a compelling politics from Berlin and choose not to put pressure on the most powerful capital of EU.

If politicians from Berlin do not represent us, then we surely need new ones. Germany without the European space loses its status as a world power. It was the main winner of the European project and the only one not affected by the economic crisis.

Given past experience I would not be surprised if at the end of Merkel’s mandate she is employed somewhere at Gazprom. This would not be the first or the last case, the example set by the German leaders being objectionable.

England, France and Italy, the other powers of the EU are handling their internal politics scandals and prefer to let everything in the hands of Angela Merkel.

But is seems like these hands are too stained with Russian gas.

Europe needs new leader and it is a shame that USA has to come and make order in our ownhousehold.

The Romanian President Traian Băsescu declared that after Ukraine, Poland and Romania could be next and he mentioned that he was disappointed by the European Union’s reaction. He asked for more sanctions against the Russian Federation.

The Romanian President asked that the life of the European Union’s citizens to be put before the economic interest, given its importance. He blames the European leaders who vetoed the application of sanctions for the death of 180 Dutch. If measure were taken a month ago when they were proposed, then we wouldn’t have assisted to this tragedy.

The Romanian President underlined that the European Union should lay stress on what it has more valuable: the people. And even if there are consistent economic losses they would be at the level of the Russian Federation for sure, and this thing will stop the past aggressive style.

He believes that the more the application of firm measures is delayed the more we pay for the Vladimir Putin’s wish to restore the USSR.

Could İhsanoğlu challenge Erdoğan?

Posted by on 21/07/14

In August 10, Turkey holds its presidential election. This is the first time in the political history of the country that the President is going to be elected directly by the electorate, and not through the internal vote of the Parliament. Meantime, this election brings something new in the political landscape of Turkey: the candidacy of Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, endorsed by five opposition parties, to compete Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Is he going to challenge Turkey’s PM with success or is İhsanoğlu candidacy the critical element of a wider project?

Erdoğan has declared as priority the constitutional amendment and the increase of executive powers of the President, which is literally interpreted as the shift from a parliamentary regime to a presidential one. In a broader perspective, this priority resembles the one Russian President Vladimir Putin put on track when he jumped from President to PM and back, wishing to keep his legacy and power intact throughout his statesmanship. Before the candidacy of İhsanoğlu, the presidential election of August seemed shallow-drifted as Erdoğan was expected to bring about another landslide.

The profile of İhsanoğlu

The 70-year old diplomat became known in the Arabic world after his tenure in the general secretariat of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Prescribed as a modest Islamist, born in Cairo, well-aware of the geopolitical balances in the Middle East, a strong lobbyist and effective technocrat so far, İhsanoğlu has preserved a low profile for himself, being almost unknown in the Turkish public – as well as among the Turkish political leadership. However, his candidacy is endorsed by five parties of the opposition, among which CHP and MHP, a fact that inevitably brings him in the center of the attention for the foreign media. His candidacy was based on some critical and qualitative elements that compose the Kemalist tradition in Turkey: İhsanoğlu strongly advocates for a secular state in Turkey, acknowledging the firm position of the army and the judicial corps in decision-making, and maintaining strong ties with the Western world, and especially with the United States.

In addition to that, he has also being networking with Saudi Arabia, being considered as a modest Islamist and a balancing figure between extreme Westernization and Islamism. In this respect, İhsanoğlu was also a founding member of the Research Centre for Islamic History, Art and Culture, established in the 1980s in Istanbul. The fundamental aim of the Centre was to build on the effective balance between the secular character of the Turkish democracy and the inner Islamic character of the Turkish culture; in other words, to create the necessary foundations for Turkey to increase its pivotal position in the Western world and at the same time in the Islamic world. All five parties have stressed out that his candidacy can pull a significant part of Erdoğan’s electorate, bidding on the fact that İhsanoğlu is intended to unveil crucial issues like religious freedom, social freedom and gender equality, while addressing the demands and unrest of a large part of the Turkish public in the urban centres that are accusing Erdoğan for being an authoritative leader (i.e. Gezi Park; Twitter shutdown, amongst other issues).

In front of a tough reality

Despite rumors for the support by Fethullah Gülen, one of the biggest burdens that İhsanoğlu has to deal with is the fact that he is completely unknown in the Turkish public. Even the President of CHP, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, told in the media a couple of weeks ago that he did not know him before his being selected as a joint candidate. Media networks inclined to the opposition are making a great effort to shape his profile and make him known to the public, but time is pressing. However, the selection of İhsanoğlu may have a broader reference to the forthcoming general elections in 2015, turning his candidacy for the Presidency a crash-test so that both himself and the opposition can count their leverage and power.

Another issue we need to point out with reference to the presidential election is the shift of politics in Turkey towards conservatism, having  this applied into the wider political spectrum. This conclusion stems from the fact that the ideological platform of CHP has been considerably affected with respect to İhsanoğlu. Someone could wonder why the opposition did not choose a political figure that is more recognizable, and being more attached to the secular ideology that CHP represents. Another question would be why the opposition did not manage these 12 years of Erdoğan’s rule to prepare a solid sting of counter-policy proposals, especially in the field of media, youth, or the Kurds for instance. At the end of the day, for the Europeans it has always been hard to interpret Turkish politics and society, as it is truly an amalgam of conflicting yet extremely interested mixture of religious and power balance, social and economic development, regional assertiveness, multicultural growth, and way too prolific and inspiring comparing to what we experience in our western standardized frameworks.

Bridging Europe and JEF Turkey

Regardless of the political developments in August, Bridging Europe and JEF Turkey launched a couple of days ago a common project called “EU-Turkey Dialogue Initiative“, destined to enrich the exchange of different perceptions with respect to the Turkish society. Beginning from September 2014, these organizations are going to unveil a series of issues, ranging from cultural development, human rights, youth mobilization, and gender equality, topics that are not well-developed and often elaborated at the sidelines of the current political debate. However difficult is to predict whether Turkey is going to become or not a full member-state of the European Union, we both consider that knowing better what are the developments in our common topics of reference could definitely bring us closer, building on mutual understanding, especially for the younger generation.

You are all invited to read the PRESS RELEASE, available in English, Turkish, and Greek,  and bring your ideas and proposals into surface.

Versagen der Europäischen Union

Posted by on 21/07/14

Spätestens mit dem Flugzeugabschuss über der Ukraine sind die Handlungsunfähigkeit und das Versagen der Europäischen Union deutlich geworden. Während sich Europas Staatschefs über Posten und die künftige Ausrichtung streiten, herrscht in der direkten Nachbarschaft das Chaos. Für das Zögern und Zaudern in der europäischen Außen- und Sicherheitspolitik zahlen wir einen hohen Preis. Es sind unbeteiligte Zivilisten aus vielen Ländern, die am europäischen Himmel sterben, weil dem Krieg in der Ukraine tatenlos zugeschaut wird. Was kommt als nächstes? Syrien, der Irak, Libyen, Afghanistan, der Nahe Osten? Was passiert, wenn sich eine Rakete aus Israel oder dem Gazastreifen nach Zypern verirrt und dann der Bündnisfall ausgerufen wird? Europa kann es sich nicht länger leisten, zuzuschauen. Es muss handeln und gewappnet sein.

MH17 should be a wake up call for Europe

Posted by on 20/07/14
By AEGEE-Europe The shooting down of a Boeing 777 is a shocking reminder of the fact that, while the international community divides its attention between the bombing in Gaza and the holiday destination of the German world champions, the situation in Eastern Ukraine has degenerated into a civil war whose consequences are unpredictable.

The Ukraine Strategy Fiasco

Posted by on 20/07/14

The tragic accident of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 has shocked the European public – and with good reason. Less justified, however, is the attitude of some EU national leaders who are trying to use this tragedy in order to slap more sanctions on Russia.

Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Endowment for Peace in Moscow, gives a more balanced view of events in Ukraine and the way they should be interpreted:

“The west fully supports a Ukrainian government which originated from a revolution that toppled an elected – if obviously corrupt – president. True, the new president, Petro Poroshenko, has a solid popular mandate. Yet the referendums held in Donetsk and Luhansk two weeks prior to the presidential poll – and no less illegal than the Maidan revolution in Kiev – reflected a very high degree of dissatisfaction in eastern Ukraine with the deal they were getting from central government.

The legitimacy of the “people’s republics” is questionable, of course, but the Ukrainian government’s “anti-terrorist operation”, resulting in an ever-rising toll of civilian lives, does not do much to endear Kiev to the easterners. The west’s tendency to treat one’s allies more leniently than one’s adversaries – while sticking to the same high principles throughout – can and does backfire.

In Ukraine, a lot is at stake today. First, for the Ukrainians themselves, wherever they may live. The fate of their country remains in the balance – not just because of the armed conflict in the east, but as a result of the dire economic situation and an uncertain political future. Russia, too, is profoundly affected. Having clashed with the United States over Ukraine, it is now facing increasingly serious consequences in a number of areas – above all, in economy and finance.

For Europe, Ukraine represents a security risk far higher than the one it faced in the Balkans in the 1990s. In the US, Russia may have come to be seen as a nasty nuisance rather than a worthy competitor or a real threat. Yet there is an impression that the punishment already administered is not supported by a realistic strategy leading to a credible goal. If so, it could lead to a very different outcome from the one that the US might desire.”


Let us face it, what we are dealing with in Ukraine is yet another American-inspired policy quagmire. No clear exit strategy from the worrisome situation is available, even if the West has ample financial leverage on the Kiev government that could be used in order to put a stop to the military operations in the East and bring all parties involved in the conflict to the negotiating table instead.

A lingering question about the tragic MH17 accident remains. Why is it, that no EU or Ukrainian air safety official had taken timely measures to prevent commercial flights above a war zone ? In hindsight, these officials are at least as responsible for what happened to the unsuspecting passengers of the plane as the actual people who shot it down.


Getting rid of ECHR: Good for Cameron, bad for the rest of Europe

Posted by on 20/07/14

As it is well known, David Cameron is ready to do everything in order to stay in Downing Street after next year’s general election. With his latest proposition, however, he sets new standards in terms of unreason and is directly threating Europe as value-based community at its very core.

Mr Cameron and his party intend to sideline the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) by enabling the House of Commons to veto its verdicts. In this way the United Kingdom is basically riding itself from the judical surpremacy of the Strasbourg court, since such a mechanism is barly compatible with the European Convention of Human Rights.

Inducing the Tories to such an unprecented move are the general backlashes of the court’s verdict onto British legislation. More immediately, however, the British government seeks to be able to expel convicted foreigners from its country.

Mr Cameron’s plan is widely criticised – even within his own party. Last week, two major opponents in his ranks, the liberal-minded Attorney General Dominic Grieve and fromer Justice Secretary Ken Clarke, lost their jobs in the Cabinet due to a comprehensive reshuffle by the Prime Minister. Although Downing Street is neglecting any link between their replacements and its ECHR plans, it can hardly be sold as an unhappy coincidence that his strongest and vocal opponents ,of all people, suddenly find themselves out of their jobs. According to reports, the party’s convention in October should clear the tracks for the endeavor.

It is the latest display of unreason that Mr Cameron hopes would help secure his re-election. And it, again, comes at a very high price.

The European Court of Human Rights has been established in the early 1950s as a supranational court, that monitors the compliance of the European Convention of Human Rights and imposes sanctions in case of violations. It was founded on the idea that the reading of human rights should not be subjected to the political arbitrariness in every single European country, but should follow common standards and subjected to the jurisdiction of an independent supranational body.

And that is exactly what the court has done ever since. In this month alone, the ECHR has passed its judgement on the controversial imprisonment of reporters in Turkey, on keeping defendants in cages during court proceedings in Russia and on the marriage ban for transsexuals in Finland.

47 European states have ratified the respective convention and thus subjected themselves to the jurisdiction of the ECHR. If the United Kingdom were to leave, as the Prime Minister obviously intends, it would join an exquisit club with Belarus, Europe’s last dictatorship. Furthermore, observers on both sides of the Channel consider the recognition of the ECHR a requirement for EU membership. Britain’s sidelining could thus lead to its exit from the European Union which notoriously is not a frightening scenario among the Conservatives.

If Europe today is legitimatised to present itself as a champion of human rights, it is solely due to the European Convention of Human Rights and the Strasbourg court that guarantees for its compliance.

The European Union, on the other hand, is almost powerless with regard to the adherence of human rights. Yes, there is the Charter for Fundamental Rights that proclaims the values and freedoms of the Union and its citizens. But neither is the Charter legally binding for national legislation nor has each member state sign up to it. Poland and the UK have opted out. For countries like Hungary or Romania, it is does not make for a proper instrument to curb undemocratic developments.

For years, European politicians and jurists have been discussing legislation to create a legally binding instrument out of the Charte. Until now, they have not been able to come up with a tangible and feasible way to do so. Jean-Claude Juncker, President-elect of the European Commission, announced in his speech before the European Parliament that he intends to appoint a Commissioner of Fundamental Rights in his Commission. How such a Commissioner could do anything to improve the situation, has yet to be seen.

Today, the ECHR remains the sole guarantor for human rights in Europe. If the European Union by itself is not able to contribute to that task, it should at least support the ECHR at the very utmost. Consequently, there must be an unambiguous response to David Cameron’s intentions – if not for the sake of Britian’s future in Europe, then at least in order to avoid such intentions from catching on in other member states. Otherwise there is serious concern for human rights in Europe get subjected to political arbitrariness of single countries and for the idea of Europe as a community based on humanitarian values to remain nothing but a rhetoricial figure.

This peace first appeared on on July 19th (in German). Follow me on Twitter @brnshnwd

Israel’s ‘Protective Edge’: Why now?

Posted by on 20/07/14

An air strike in Rafah in the southern of Gaza strip Another Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip; it’s not the first and won’t be the last if the political equation in the region does not change. With the previous offensives launched by Israel on Gaza, several military goals were declared. This time, “Operation Protective Edge” comes within a different context, with new domestic, regional and international factors at play. These conditions, by and large, are more prosaic and complex and have been key elements in determining Israel’s goals for this operation, as part of a larger strategy that goes beyond the war itself. A clear change in the map of world politics has underlined a rising Russian role. With Moscow’s fundamental stance on the Syrian crisis and clear US and EU bewilderment towards the Ukraine and Crimea, Russia’s political weight cannot be overlooked anymore; fading US influence has become a fact. China has revised its position and role in the Middle East and opted to stay away from the limelight, maintaining its interests but with a lower voice. This was seen as the best option in order to halt its sliding popularity in the region due to its obvious support for the Syrian regime. Regionally, this Israeli war comes when the events of the Arab Spring continue to surprise all observers. The fall of the Muslim Brotherhood, by force in Egypt and voluntarily in Tunisia; the escalated crisis in Syria; and the unprecedented chaos in Iraq, Yemen and Libya are cases in point. On the other hand, Iran managed to defuse international pressure and has been successful in reviving and preserving the diplomatic track of its nuclear file. In Israel, a volatile ruling coalition has been facing mounting domestic criticism. Several domestic travails and economic difficulties have pushed many Israeli intellectuals and politicians to call repeatedly for the dissolution of the current government. In Palestine, the aggression on the Gaza Strip comes shortly after the long awaited national reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah; a new deadlock in the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations (Israel has been widely blamed for this stalemate); and a wave of violence in the West Bank, started by the killing of three Israeli settlers and followed by the murder of a Palestinian teen in cold blood. Israel had constantly asked the Palestinian Authority to choose between reconciliation with Hamas and peace. For this reason, Israel could not hide its irritation at Palestinian reconciliation and the resultant unity government, and threatened the moderate PA with serious consequences. In response, its closest allies called upon Israel to put the Palestinian new government to the test and to give it a chance. In light of the noticeable decline in Israel’s international popularity, its frustration was expressed in condemnation of the US administration’s willingness to work with the new Palestinian government. It is bizarre to see Israeli leaders accusing the Palestinian Authority of isolating Israel globally. In this vein, one should concede that the Palestinian leadership has succeeded in building bridges with people and governments around the world. The international community has become closer to the Palestinian narrative on peace and international campaigns to boycott Israeli institutions and products have grown to include civil societies, universities and official positions. Considering the above, it has become unimpeachable that the Israeli government had to find a way out of its domestic crisis and international dilemma. Domestic cohesion often requires governments to find an external bogey; the US has played this card at least since the start of the Cold War and it is not a novel strategy by any means. Concocting an external crisis, therefore seems to have been a foregone conclusion, but what, who and where, especially at this critical juncture for the Middle East? Israeli decision-makers had a number of options. Iran: There is a broad swathe of anti-Iran sentiment in Israel, for example, and considerable popular support for a military strike on Tehran’s nuclear sites, although polls showed that Israelis are lukewarm about the Sisyphean task of attacking Iran unilaterally. So what about the northern front? Hezbollah: Hezbollah may cause Israeli leaders to have sleepless nights but they are fully aware of the strategic, logistic and military capabilities that the Lebanese militia possesses. Moreover, the Israeli government is also aware that Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria and its losses there have not exhausted the movement enough to make military surprises on Israel’s northern border unlikely. That leaves the Palestinians. Palestine: Whether it is true or not that Israel “fabricated” the killing of the three settlers by hiding the “fact” that they were actually killed in a car crash which was covered-up to provide the government with the “kidnap and murder” story, is irrelevant. The real fact is that Israel has been itching to pick a fight with the Palestinians. The military and political planners knew that no amount of bloodletting on the Palestinian front would bring down international condemnation or major losses; nor even garner much media attention given the current regional and international chaos Hence, Israel blamed Hamas for killing the settlers, which the Islamic movement still denies. Before the government could benefit in this respect from the deaths, however, a number of Jewish settlers abducted and burned alive a Palestinian teenager. As a result, Israel decided to transfer the battle wholesale to the Gaza Strip, intending to get Hamas embroiled in a confrontation and bring the movement to its knees. There was a specific sequence to Israeli attacks on the besieged territory; unpopulated open areas were targeted first and there was a gradual shift until Israel is now hitting anywhere and everywhere. This was done with the aim of pushing Hamas and other resistance groups into retaliating by firing rockets across into Israel. Fully aware of the limited effectiveness of, and thus threat from, the Palestinian rockets, the Israeli government succeeded, despite some criticism, to unite its citizens against the perceived threat coming from the Gaza Strip and so distract attention away from domestic problems and international crises. Images of Israelis in bomb shelters were shown worldwide; the Palestinians, of course, have no such places to seek refuge from Israeli bombs and missiles. Israel’s gains have not stopped at the domestic level. With every rocket fired from Gaza, the government gets closer to other goals. Whereas many in the international community had started to accept the Palestinian position and condemn Israel’s disproportionate violence, the rockets fired from Gaza brought them back to the Israeli side. Led by the usual suspects in Washington, London and Paris, we were told that Israel has the right to “defend itself”, regardless of its excessive use of force and the horrifying death toll among the Palestinians. Not limited to these gains, Operation Protective Edge dealt a heavy blow to the Palestinian unity government. Any plans for it to implement the reconciliation agreement and prepare for national elections have been side-lined, with priorities changed by Israel’s fait accompli. In addition, Israel depended, as it has always done, upon the contradictory positions taken by the Palestinians on how to deal with such aggression, creating another setback for reconciliation. The only military goals that Israel’s offensive can hope to achieve are to damage the capabilities of the Palestinian resistance groups, who are presumed to have a limited stock of weapons, destroy the tunnels between Gaza and Egypt and continue the siege. It was always on the cards, therefore, that the Israelis would accept an unconditional ceasefire. Hamas’s rejection of the Egyptian ceasefire initiative was unexpected, placing the Israeli government in the position of having to consider an unplanned ground operation. The longer the operation lasts and the more losses that Israel suffers, the more likely that it will seek new terms with amendments to the 2012 truce in an agreement acceptable to its citizens. Hamas and the Palestinian resistance groups, meanwhile, will not accept languishing in the besieged Gaza Strip any longer; they are unlikely to agree to the terms of the 2012 truce again. Finding an outlet to the world beyond its borders has become sine qua non; this could be the Rafah border crossing, a sea port or even an airport. It is obvious that neither Hamas nor the disgruntled and weary Palestinians in Gaza would accept a return to the detested status quo. Appeared in: Arabian Gazette, Political Science Academy, Iran Review, Arab Media Network, the Daily Journalist, Middle East Monitor, Today’s Zaman, Daily News Egypt, News 24,

EU as a Global Actor

Posted by on 17/07/14
By Mose Apelblat Jean-Claude Juncker's enlargement strategy reads as an anti-climax after his other ambitious guidelines. The Luxembourger's approach on enlargement sends a negative message to all candidate countries telling them that, whatever their efforts, they won’t manage to join EU within next five year period.

Post-Haiyan Postcard from Tacloban

Posted by on 15/07/14
The Risk-Monger recently went to Tacloban and was shocked to see how a new industry of aid risks undermining the long-term resilience of the local inhabitants. While there is still much to do, the first thing that must be done is remove the international directors and project managers of the aid NGOs. They are creating a master-slave culture of recipientism and, as they are first and foremost concerned with their donor PR, they do not seem to be capable of listening to the needs of the local population.

EU energy policy: It must be done right

Posted by on 14/07/14
Guest blogpost by Hans Martens Energy policy will be in the EU focus for the next five years – at least. However energy policy can take many shapes – from very green to very brown depending on the political choices. EU-leaders, it is now time to make the right choices and get on with the job.

Passport Rank 2014: The Balkans

Posted by on 13/07/14

Free movement is one fundamental human rights not only in one’s own country but also abroad. Visa restrictions play an important role in controlling the movement of foreign nationals across borders. They reflect also the relationships between individual nations as well the status of a country within the international community of nations. The main travel document is passport. Citizenship documented in passport regulates the level of free movement over borders; holder of one passport can travel relatively free around the globe while the choices of the holder of other passport are very limited. So passports can be ranked according to the visa-free access their holders.

Visa restrictions change according to the political situation at any given time. For example some 20 years ago citizens of Yugoslavia could travel relatively free, but the breakup wars changed situation completely. The “European perspective” is key concept for integrating western Balkans into EU. For ordinary people freedom of movement might be the main carrot after nearly 20 years of isolation.

My Passport Rank table below ranks passports according to how many countries it gives visa-free access. To table I have collected the Balkan countries and for comparison the best and the worst positions. I have also indicated the change during last two years describing to how many countries more the passport gives visa-free access compared to situation on 2012. As source I have used the data published in “The Henley Visa Restrictions Index”. (Source and more about H&P please visit in their homepage )

And here is my ”Passport Rank 2014: Balkans”:


Passport Rank 2014 – Balkans by Ari Rusila

Rank Passport of country Visa free access to





1 Finland, Sweden, UK 173 +3-4
4 Denmark, Germany, USA, Luxemburg 172 +3-6
8 Belgium, Italy, Netherlands 171 +3-4
21 Greece 167 +3
31 Slovenia 155 +4
46 Bulgaria, Romania 141 +3-4
59 Croatia 129 +10
71 Serbia 104 +5
72 Macedonia (FYR) 103 +6
74 Montenegro 98 +4
80 Bosnia-Herzegovina 91 +4
81 Albania 88 +4
189 Kosovo 38 +1
197 Pakistan, Somalia 32 +1-4
199 Iraq 31 +1
200 Afghanistan 28 +2

To travel from one country to other is a fundamental freedom restricted however more or less depending about which passport the traveler holds. Generally speaking the freedom of movement has increased a lot globally as well in Balkans. Apart that I would like to point out some trivia. The new Kosovo passport, first issued by the Kosovo Government in July 2008, is still one of the least useful travel documents ever designed. Passports for example from North Korea, Myanmar, Yemen and Syria are more valid than Kosovo passport as well one from the newest countries – South Sudan.

Some half of UN member states was fooled or pressured on for recognize Kosovo’s second declaration of independence, but Kosovo passport gives visa-free access only to less than 40 countries. On the other hand Taiwan ( also UN outsider) has diplomatic relations with 23 countries but its passport holders can travel visa free to 130 countries. In Europe only Pridnestrovie – aka Transdniestria aka Pridnestrovskaia Moldavskaia Respublica (PMR) – may be a country which passport has less use abroad than Kosovo passport as no country has recognised its independence. From the bright side now the majority of former Kosovo Serbs can have visa-free travel abroad as they are residing in Serbia because they could not return to their homes in Kosovo after ethnic cleansing made by Kosovo Albanians on 1999 and 2004. (My view about Kosovo in my article Captured Pseudo-State Kosovo )

Passport is not only travel document – it has also its wider political and business aspects. For example romania distributes its passports to its Moldovan neighbours (rank 138) so that they can travel easier e.g in EU. Russia (rank 75) gives easily passports to Ukrainians (rank 96) to make stronger ties with Russian-speaking population abroad. During Balkan wars it was also quite popular to give Bosnian passports to foreign Muslim-fighters or Jihadists (and later leading al Qaeda figures) for their support in civil war.

It is estimated that that every year, several thousand people spend a collective $2bn ( €1.5bn) to add a second, or even third, passport to their collection. Those with money can select from half a dozen countries offering a direct citizenship-by-investment route with no residency requirements. The cheapest deal for citizenship is on the tiny Caribbean island of Dominica (rank 83) where for an investment of $100,000 plus various fees, as well as an in-person interview on the island, citizenship can be bought. In better ranking Cyprus (rank 38) the costs are between €2-5 million depending program. Last year the government of Malta announced proposals to start selling citizenship of its nation to foreigners for €650,000, however after EU pressure applicants will now be required to spend at least a year in Malta in order to qualify. Several European Union countries – e.g UK, Spain, Belgium – or USA do not offer citizenship for purchase outright, but do offer residence permits to wealthy individuals; that include free movement within the Schengen area, in exchange for high fees and the requirement to invest in the country.

The passport rank shows also one peculiarity related to international aid and development. In Balkans besides Kosovo also Bosnia-Herzegovina together with Albania have the worst scores despite the fact that EU and international community have guided and supervised these regions towards “European standards” nearly twenty years with huge state- and capasity building measures and billions of bucks. So has EU failed with this task as those countries without outside supervision are getting visa-freedom earlier?

One could also conclude or claim that the EU is isolating three mainly Muslim European states/regions – Albania, BiH and Kosovo – and Turkey (rank 76, visa-free access to 94 countries) as some in the EU fear the presence of such a large, Muslim community inside traditionally Christian Europe. Of course EU denies political aspects and highlights only the technical ones but from Balkan perspective the impression can differ.

Report shows development money going to the rich in Western countries

Posted by on 10/07/14
by Claudia Ciobanu, Bankwatch A new report shows how private western-based companies are benefiting from multilateral development banks’ support while governments and citizens in recipient countries are delegated to the sidelines.

Germany’s Dangerous Game (?)

Posted by on 09/07/14

The German paper Süddeutsche Zeitung reported July 9 that the German criminal police have searched the Berlin apartment of a second man thought to be spying for the CIA. The first such case under investigation was reported in local German media on July 2 and got to the international (English) media on July 4. On Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, referring to the first reported case, that IF this is true, then it is serious.

This is a hot topic for German media, of course. But, while the World Cup is still going on, this is not a topic for the German public necessarily. It relates more to those following the news related to the international balance of power.

Germany allowed this information to be known – the German government could have decided to keep this secret and deal privately with the US. This can be seen as a message that Berlin sends to Washington – but what message? We may certainly interpret that this says that not everything is rosy in the bilateral relationship between the US and Germany. But this is true for all bilateral relationships – especially the strategic ones.

In the context of the Snowden leak last year and the Ukraine crisis – where Germany had a much more nuanced position than the US’s, the spies’ story adds more detail to Germany’s balancing act.  It looks like it is telling the world – and the US in particular – that Berlin can pursue an independent foreign policy. In the current context, that could be translated into Germany having its own approach towards Russia, regardless of what the US says about it. Moreover, the never ending stories of America spying on its allies give Germany political arguments to selectively challenge or contradict the US on certain issues, thus giving Berlin room to pursue its delicate balance between its interests in the West and in the East.

This approach could well backfire. The US may react to what Germany is currently doing – while the US doesn’t discuss this kind of issues in public, it may well decide to do so this time. However, the ultimate – and most important question is not related to how will the US react but how bad does Germany intend to handle the US-German relations.  The “IF” in Merkel’s response to the matter indicates that Berlin will not go beyond limits…or maybe not.

Egypt starts putting its house in order

Posted by on 09/07/14

The new Egyptian President, Fattah el-Sissi, has inherited a country in political, social and economic disarray.

Starting with demographic growth of 1.7%, all major data indicate unsustainable trends: a budget deficit of 10% of the GDP, a public debt close to 100% of GDP, a 9% inflation rate and an explosive balance of payment gap.

Courageously, he has launched his reforms by cutting the exorbitant state subsidies on electricity and fuel, something the IMF and the International Energy Agency had urged the country to do for years.

As of 6 July prices for gasoline and diesel went up by 78% to 3 US cents, less than one tenth of European prices. This can only be the beginning of a long process. A poor country like Egypt cannot afford to subsidise individual transport, which benefits wealthy car owners and helps creating unbearable congestion and air pollution in Cairo and other cities.

What Egypt needs is a modern mass transport system, starting with a more extensive subway network in Cairo, for which its public finance needs improvement.

In parallel, taxes on property and cigarettes were raised and export subsidies reduced.

The decade-old subsidies on wheat had already undergone an overdue reform in April. In order to prevent large numbers of well-to-do citizens from buying subsidised loaves of bread and abusing a system meant for those living on less than $2 daily, the government has distributed smart electronic cards to the poor that allow them to buy their subsidised bread. Through this measure the government hopes to save about half of the $3 billion it used to pay for wheat subsidies.

In conclusion, the government deserves praise for having begun to tackle overdue reforms in Egypt. And the President has done well to explain to his people the rationale for his action in a 30 minute TV declaration.

But these measures cannot be more than the beginning of thorough reform process which must encompass all areas of economic, social and political life, above all the restoration of basic freedoms of expression.

Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 9/7/2014

The shortcomings of the EU’s external action service

Posted by on 07/07/14

The recent special audit report by the European Court of Auditors (ECA) on the establishment of the European External Action Service (EEAS) is revealing reading. The report lists several shortcomings in the preparation, planning, organization and staffing of the EEAS. It’s worth reading for two reasons.
First, it’s a good example of an external performance audit by ECA in view of the fact that ECA itself is a relatively new EU institution. It was established in 1977, when it replaced a so-called Audit Board with had limited staff and independence and which didn’t even publish its reports.
Since then of course much has changed. ECA plays an important role in the institutional balance of the European Union, in particular as providing assurance to the European Parliament in giving discharge to the Commission for the annual implementation of the EU budget.
But the report is above all a good example of the shift in recent years from regularity auditing to performance auditing. The traditional types of auditing, financial and compliance auditing, are simply not enough to ensure accountability and transparence in the public sector and to improve its performance.
We need information whether public agencies achieve their objectives and whether public funding is being used not only legally but also effectively. That’s why public auditing against audit criteria such as economy, efficiency, and effectiveness (the 3 E’s) is a must by every modern supreme audit institution.
The court has in recent years increased the number of performance audits in response to a changing environment and demand for performance data. In 2006 ECA published a performance audit manual.
The audit of EEAS demonstrates clearly that performance measurement and performance auditing are two different activities. The existence of performance data at the audited body is no condition for an audit. It’s up to ECA and other external audit institutions to audit public agencies by collecting new performance information.
The audit of the EEAS is therefore also a good example from a methodological point of view since it applied a variety of data collection means.
In this audit ECA collected information by documentation reviews and interviews, which of course is standard, but it also examined a sample of 30 briefing requests and another sample of 30 recruitments. In addition ECA collected information through surveys to 35 EU delegations and 15 Member States.
The audit took place in parallel with a mid-term review which was carried out by the EEAS and published in July 2013. A more innovative approach could have been to carry out the audit in real time, right after the establishment of EEAS in 2011, so that the teething troubles of EEAS could have been discovered in time and avoided.
The auditors admit that their conclusions and recommendations converge in many points with those in the mid-term review. The added value of the audit if course that it’s much more credible since it has been carried out by an independent institution. This should facilitate the acceptance of the report.
The majority of the recommendations of the recommendations have indeed been accepted by EEAS, judging by its reply attached to the report. Where there are disagreements, one would assume that the stakeholders, above all the Council, will have an extra look at the issues.
This brings us to the second reason why this report is worth reading. From the very beginning, the EEAS and its head, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (HR), have been criticized for inadequate or late responses to the challenges in EUs external affairs.
Think e.g. about the Arab Spring and the Ukraine crisis. Some of the criticism might have been unjust considering that, as the audit report states, the Member States did little preparatory work prior to setting up the EEAS and it took some time for EEAS to recruit its staff, in particular the third one coming from the Member States.
EEAS was also required to respect a so-called budgetary-neutral condition and didn’t receive resources for support functions. Still it’s not certain that the budget condition was fully respected.
The report mentions duplication of functions in EEAS and other EU institutions, and cumbersome procedures at the EU delegations. EEAS added an extra management layer and has twice the number of senior management staff as its predecessors. It also kept the EU special representatives without integrating them sufficiently in its work.
It’s possible that the total costs of the EEAS compared with the previous structures, incl. those in the Member States, have been reduced somewhat. But if the intention was to exploit synergies with the Member States by co-location of embassies or consular representation in third countries, the report states that much still remains to be done.
Some of the shortcomings in the EEAS are of its own making. A top-down approach was put into place. The report mentions the cumbersome validation process for briefing requests and possibly also press releases which results in unnecessary delays. Despite her busy schedule, the HR interviewed all short-listed candidates for head of delegation posts.
Compared with the e.g. the Commission, the EEAS neither established a competency framework for managers nor used assessment centers for managing positions. Significant gender and geographical imbalances remained or might have increased in EEAS.
Political reporting isn’t shared within EEAS because not all staff has security clearance, not even among heads of delegations.
To sum up: The scope of the audit was limited to the establishment of the EEAS and related internal EEAS issues where it identified insufficient preparatory work and a number of shortcomings or weaknesses (not all mentioned in this article). While it didn’t examine the decision-making process in any specific crisis situation, not to speak about EEAS capability to foresee what happened in EU’s neighborhood, one can assume that there is a relation between the audit findings and EEAS overall performance until now.