Archive for May, 2009

The foreign-policy solidarity gap

Complaints about an imbalance in the levels of EU engagement in the Southern neighbourhood compared to the Eastern neighbourhood are wide-spread. The new EU member states like to point to the  fact that EU funding for the Mediterranean neighbours is much bigger than for the Eastern neighbours; and EU diplomatic engagement in the Middle Eastern conflicts (be it the Israeli-Palestine conflict or Lebanon) has been much less shy than in the post-Soviet space.

But Southern EU member states also have their grudges. The Portuguese EU presidency in 2007 gave a sense of it. Many in Portugal think (and here) that the EU has spent almost twenty years cajoling and baby-sitting the Eastern neighbours of the day (beginning with Central Europe which is already in the EU, and then the Balkans), and now it is time to turn to the South where a “new” generation of threats such as terrorism, migration and conflicts are threatening Europe.

Two recent EU summits with their neighbours provide a good snapshot of the balance of priorities and the foreign policy solidarity gap: the July 2008 summit of the Union of Mediteranean in Paris and the May 2009 summit of the Eastern Partnership in Prague. Read the rest of this entry »

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The quiet EU-Russia summit

For years all observers of EU-Russia relations got used to waiting with angst the next EU-Russia summit (which happens twice a year under each presidency). All recent EU-Russia summits had some spice to them. In May 2007, under the German presidency, Angela Merkel took a principled stance on democracy and played tough with Putin. A few days after that summit, Jose Socrates, the Portuguese PM (and the next EU presidency) was offered the best diplomatic treatment in Moscow – the Kremlin was closed to visitors so that Jose Socrates could jog in the inner sanctum of the Russian state. After that, many expected the EU-Russia summit under the Portuguese presidency to step back from Merkel’s principled stance on Russia. Then there was the first EU-Russia summit with president Medvedev in June 2008 when many hoped it would be the beginning of a post-Putin era; and then the first summit after the Georgia war under the French presidency in November 2008.

But there is little spice in the EU-Russia summit taking place in Khabarovsk on 21/22 May. It seems like a very quiet event. There is not angst, no media hype, no nerves and little hope around it. Why? Read the rest of this entry »

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New priorities in Georgia and Moldova

As Moldova and Georgia are plunging into political crisis, increasing polarisation, and growing tensions between the government and opposition EU’s priorities in these countries suddenly look different than a few months ago. This is clearly captured by what the EU special representatives (EUSR) to these countries are doing. If EU special representatives for South Caucasus and Moldova were appointed (in 2003 and 2005 respectively) to deal primarily with secessionist conflicts, now they have to deal primarily with domestic political crises.

When Georgia plunged into crisis in November 2007, Peter Semneby, EUSR for South Caucasus, flew immediately to Tbilisi and sought to diffuse the crisis by mediating between government and opposition. As the opposition launched again a series to rallies to unseat president Saakashvili less than two months ago, Peter Semneby is trying again to diffuse the crisis through mediation. Read the rest of this entry »

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EU’s Borders and Neighbours

Jan Zielonka argued in his book “Europe as Empire” that Europe is becoming a neo-medieval empire with ‘overlapping authorities, divided sovereignty, diversified institutional arrangements, and multiple identities’ with ‘fuzzy cultural, economic and political borders between the enlarged Union and its new neighbours further east and south east’. Indeed, the medieval parallel is useful in thinking about Europe’s borders, but a more accurate comparison is probably to think about medieval fortresses, not borders.

Exporting border controls

A fortress has multiple lines of defence – a dungeon as the hard nucleus and defensive walls, but also external fortifications such as ditches or earthworks (see a formidable fortress, left). The EU has been developing a similarly multilayered system of border management and protection with elements of outside fortifications. With the Schengen area as the dungeon, non-Schengen EU member states such as Romania and Bulgaria (and the other new EU states until December 2007) already separated from the outside world by a strong visa wall, the EU has started to build outside fortifications. Read the rest of this entry »

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