Archive for January, 2011

On Revolutions

In 2003 -2005 revolutions in the neighbourhood were all the rage. Georgia, Ukraine and Lebanon have all inspired high-hopes among their own populations, as well as the EU and US. Then, many of those hopes collapsed, the revolutions lost their glitz, and the EU and US settled for a revolution-sceptic mood. Having gone through enthusiasm and then fatigue for revolutions, the EU now has to have views on revolutions again. It would rather not. But in less than two months the EU neighbourhood has been agitated by revolutionary situations in Belarus, Albania, Tunisia and now Egypt.

Coming up with coherent EU responses to today’s ‘revolutions’ is more difficult. The problem for the EU is not so much the lack of visibility, but the lack of a clear-cut position with which to be visible. Back in 2003-2005, EU’s sympathies were clear (though not always as explicitly articulated at revolutionaries wanted it), but now the EU is struck by the scale of events and is mainly stuck on the fence. As Daniel Korski asks: “Should the EU back the protests, support what has been a friendly regime or sit uncomfortably on the fence?”

The fence-sitting moment (for many it is a ‘fence-sitting eternity’) is something which comes up at every single revolutionary situation the EU is supposed to have a view on. It is always uncomfortable, but sometimes it is easier to choose sides than other. Responding to Belarus’ suppression of post-election protests last December was relatively ‘easy’. It might not be effective, but there was no room for fence-sitting, and the EU was practically pre-determined to reimpose sanctions on Lukashenko and his cronies. Of course this was tried before and hasn’t worked. But what else can the EU do? After years of sanctions since the late 90s, the EU tried to engage with Lukashenko for the last few years, but engagement was pushed aside by the repression of post-electoral protests. To a certain extent, the new set of sanctions are not introduced to change Lukashenko, but for EU’s peace of mind and modicum of self-respect. So the EU policy on Belarus came full circle – sanctions, then engagement and now sanctions again. Nothing worked in the end. (Though engagement seemed to bring some moderate progress, which proved unsustainable however.)

But Albania, Tunisia and Egypt are much more complicated when it comes to having coherent reactions and choosing on which side of the fence to put the EU. The reasons are many-fold. To begin with, the EU is relatively disappointed  with the value and sustainability of coloured revolutions. Read the rest of this entry »

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Is soft power freeriding?

The EU is proud that it is a ‘soft power’ (when you make others what you want through attraction, rather than coercion). It also thinks this is the most sophisticated and benefic way to exercise power (‘post-modern’ in other words). It might be true, but seen from the outside the logic of soft power might not be that appealing for others. In fact if you sit in Dushanbe, Caracas or Karachi why would you care for someone’s soft power?

Basically the logic of soft power is the following: ‘I am attractive, prosperous, nice, friendly, make good movies, have good schools etc and that is others you should do and want what I want’. This is a bit of a free-ride. Firts of all, soft power is not even designed as a foreign policy tool or an instrument of power. It is simply a useful potential side-effect of (EU and US, mainly) politicians responding to their voters’ needs. And one can be both attractive, and irrelevant in international politics. Read the rest of this entry »

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Democracy and reformism in EU’s neighbourhood

Throughout the 90s in Central and Eastern Europe, and later in the Balkans reformism and democracy tended to go hand in hand. Governments which were more respectful of democratic norms, also tended to be more reformist. (By ‘democracy’ I mean respect for human rights, media freedoms and opposition parties. And by ‘reformism’ I mean the implementation of reforms such as fighting corruption, cutting red tape, improving the business climate, modernising state institutions like police, customs, tax inspectorates  or the border guards.)

In a sense, the 90s was a simpler world in which Meciar, Tudjman or Milosevic were undemocratic and non-reformist; whereas Dzurinda, Mesic, and Djindjic were both reformist and democratic. The good and the bad guys were obvious; the black was clearly distinguishable from the white. And the EU’s approach to these governments was shaped by this unbreakable link between reformism and democracy.

But it seems that the Eastern neighbourhood is different. There is much more grey than black and white. Categorising the likes of Yuschenko, Timoshenko, Saakashvili, Putin and Medvedev is more difficult. The link between being reformist and being democratic is much more blurred. Some are reformist, but less democratic; some are more democratic, but less reformist; and some are neither reformist, nor democratic.

Think of the following examples. ‘Orange Ukraine’ in 2005-2010 was the most democratic post-Soviet state with a vibrant media, lively parliament and vociferous opposition. But it was hardly reformist. Few deep reforms were even tried, let alone successfully implemented. Read the rest of this entry »

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Back to blogging

After a year-long break, I am back to blogging at EU Observer. Before I start blogging properly – here is a quick update on my whereabouts in 2010. The last year from January to December I worked as advisor to the Moldovan prime-minister on foreign policy and European integration. I dealt with pretty much everything that is foreign policy (speeches, articles, visits, lines to take, and, routine crisis-management) and a lot of domestic policy stuff which is relevant for European integration (and this can be pretty much anything since European integration, as we all know, is done at home). Among these have been: some of the necessary reforms anticipating the launch of a dialogue on visa-free with the EU (biometric passports, integrated border management, monitoring migration flows along the Nistru river and security of documents), liberalisation of air transport between the EU and Moldova (and accession to the European Common Aviation Area), some reforms in the migration and asylum system, keeping an eye on the EU High-Level Advisory Group to Moldova, and many other things.

It was an exciting year. Moldova had no president (failed to be elected in late 2009 by the parliament), a parliament waiting to be dissolved, a four-party coalition government, a constitutional crisis, a failed referendum in September, early elections in late-November, an economic crisis on its hands and lots of other challenges. An East-European mess at its best. But the country still has somehow emerged as the main (if not only) success story of the European neighbourhood policy in the east. In 2010 it was the only Eastern neighbour where political pluralism and democracy strengthened and EU-inspired reforms were the driving force of many of the government’s efforts. Later this week a new government of the same coalition and the same prime-minister, Vlad Filat, should be announced.

In the meantime I also managed to finally publish my book on EU foreign policy and the post-Soviet conflicts in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transnistria and Nagorno-Karabakh. It basically seeks to explain why, when and how the EU intervenes or fails to intervene in conflict-settlement efforts. The failure to intervene is an important part of the story. Martti Ahtisaari generously agreed to write the foreword of the book and here are some other endorsements and the synopsis… Read the rest of this entry »

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