Merkel – A German Tragedy

Thirteen years since her first chancellorship began, Angela Merkel has established herself as one of the greatest Chancellors in post-war Germany. Commanding the same respect endowed to the CDU party’s predecessors, notably Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, the symbolic post-Nazi Germany statesman, and Helmut Kohl, overseer of German reunification, Merkel has orchestrated Germany’s hegemonic rise while bearing the weathering European tumult.

A leviathan in her own right, and outliving three British premiers in her three long chancellorships, she has rightly been on the receiving end of praise and criticism for both German and European affairs. Although typified for her pragmatic centrism, Merkel is often the first European leader to stray from normative practice, as her suspension of arms sales to Saudi Arabia last month illustrates.

Merkel’s reign can be broken down into three stages, indicative of her popularity and result-bearing wield of power. We are currently witnessing the tragic fall of a politician who has marred Germany’s cohesive political landscape, dragging down those of its European neighbours in the process.

Merkel – The Mädchen

Beginning in her formative-cum-debut era, as the title suggests, Mädchen – girl – was the affectionate term given to then shadower Merkel by Chancellor Helmut Kohl, indicative of her protégé status in her pursuit for power. Kohl groomed Merkel as his successor by appointing her Minister for Women and Youth, and notably Minister for the Environment and Nuclear Safety. Merkel was destined to hold high office, attaining the latter position in 1994 – eleven years before she entered the Chancellery.

Following her 2005 election, Forbes Magazine promptly labelled her the World’s Most Powerful Woman (https://www.forbes.com/2006/08/31/most-powerful-women_cz_em_06women_0831intro.html#62e9277e68c5) based on her vocal presence on the world stage and her attractive business reforms. Indeed, the fledgling leader took flight on her home turf, promptly reducing the unemployment rate from its 2000s high of 11.7% in 2005 to 8.1% in 2009, following which she has overseen a year-on-year decline to 5.3% in 2018. Having helped workers dodge the disastrous financial crisis in 2008, her principal tenet of austerity would set the tone for other European governments in the post-crash decade.

Merkel – The Hegemon

Merkel had secured the home front by the end of her first term. Re-elected in 2009, Merkel ruled somewhat unilaterally at times, with scant consideration for the dramatic consequences.

Following the Fukushima nuclear plant in 2011, Merkel out and out refused the further building of nuclear power plants, overseeing their permanent removal by 2022 to mark a

transition to green energy. Utopian and naive, this effectively prevented an increase in alternative energy resource consumption. As of 2016, 30% of German energy consumption came from renewable energy resources, while 13% was sourced from nuclear plants. A consequent thirst for Russian gas has engendered German energy security, and there will have to be a rapid turnaround in making up for that 13% shortfall by 2022.

Elsewhere in Europe, Greece had dropped into Germany’s fiscal cross-hairs. The sick man of Europe was haemorrhaging debt following the 2008 financial crisis. ‘Living beyond its means’, Greece fell victim to Merkel’s austerity dogma. In a surreal turn of events, the German parliament voted on Greece’s effective survival when the Bundestag agreed to loan Greece $86 bn in bailout packages in 2015. Germany’s economic clout reverberated across Europe as Merkel established her country’s political and economic primacy.

This power was applied in the wake of the Maidan Revolution, the Russian annexation of Crimea, and the occupation of the Donbas region, 2013-2014. The Minsk Accords must have been Merkel’s proudest foreign policy achievements, nominally hemming in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict under the eyes of the OSCE and a host of international observers. Merkel’s humanitarianism did not stop there; she summoned Syria’s civilian victims to traverse the European continent to seek refuge in her land from 2015 onwards. However, Merkel’s good nature was to be exploited and instrumentalised in the following years, sounding the death knell for an ambitious and outward-looking Germany.

Merkel – The Fallen

In last year’s federal elections and subsequent state elections, Merkel has seen her CDU party and CSU sister party lose substantial vote shares. In last month’s Bavarian election, the CSU lost its plurality – falling below 40% for the first time since 1954. This is just the tip of the iceberg for the Germany which Merkel has left in her wake.

The polarising effect Merkel has had on Germany is due to her overall monotonous continuity within German politics, causing the electorate to seek more enthusing and diverse political parties. It is also an effect of her divisive refugee policy. Whether classed as generosity or pragmatism in the face of Germany’s working population’s decline, Germany’s over one million refugees have fuelled the fire of the far-right AfD (Alternative for Germany). The AfD, a party whose leader has described the Holocaust as ‘bird shit’ in an otherwise ‘1000 years of successful German history’, is now the third biggest party in Germany and the official opposition party to Merkel’s government.

This illiberal trend was triggered by Merkel herself. Her ruthlessly effective management of Germany now gives no alternative in the ideological centre; Germans are polarised in their opposition to Merkel. In a recent survey, it was revealed that nearly one third of Germans are populist.

As a legacy, this has hard-hitting ramifications for the political culture of Central and Eastern Europe. Succumbing to nationalist populism, Germany’s key role within the European Union has faltered. France’s Macron is paralysed in his pro-EU agenda while Merkel is wracked by

Brexit, internal strife and politically hostile neighbours beyond the Oder. Merkel’s Germany has taken one step forward and two strides back.

[Unedited submission to The Gryphon Views]

Featured image: https://sputniknews.com/business/201504011020342961/

The EU Must Tell Poland What It Can Do for Them

Facing a two front attack, the EU is under siege from Brexit Britain and an authoritarian Poland in what is the institution’s greatest existential threat since its founding. Poland’s turn to the political ‘dark side’ has been accompanied by unrelenting swathes of diplomatic support from its Visegrad neighbours. Are we seeing the EU’s own Brest-Litovsk? How is the EU to respond?

Established in 1951 as the European Coal and Steel Community, which created a common economic area in coal and steel between the ‘Founding Six’ European states (France and Germany, but also Italy and BENELUX), the Union-to-be was foreseen by many political leaders and philosophers as the everlasting post-war political pact of France and Germany – but with the added allure of economic prosperity to its neighbours who legitimised it. Forty two years later, and with a slow but steady increase in its powers and legal oversight, the European Union was founded in 1993 with the signing of the Maastricht Treaty – the apex of the post-war peace project.

By now the euro federal agenda was well underway, counting 12 members which would have inflated to 28 just twenty years later. It was this expansionism that was to sound the potential death knell to the EU’s institutional confidence and its citizens’ trust in it, despite the enlargement’s strategic importance in post-Soviet Europe. And chief amongst those newly independent countries remains Poland, simultaneously one of the EU’s economic success stories and, yet, strong harborer of dissent and euro-scepticism.

What Poland witnessed was that of an EU-financed Marshall Plan following its ascension in 2004. Having brushed off the 2008 financial crisis it maintained an average GDP growth of 3.24% between 2008 and 2018, an indication of higher living standards and economic growth compared to its Soviet days. Though, despite now EU Council President Donald Tusk’s run as Polish prime minister, its seemingly radical transformation in its political culture arguably never shifted and since 2004 has seen a steady consolidation in its nationalist-authoritarian politics. The right-wing PIS (Law and Justice Party) successfully gained both house of parliament and won the presidency in 2015. This is the first time a party has won an outright majority in the legislative branch since the Soviet Union collapse in 1991.

The party holds a eurosceptic and Atlanticist ideological tradition, vehemently opposing EU-federalism while maintaining strong links with the USA. Like in the USA, Poland’s government is partial to flooding its courts with its own partisans, as it has done since 2015. Though more trendy in out-and-out authoritarian Turkey, Poland’s PIS government has also not held back from firing over 11,000 civil servants and charging its most widely viewed independent news channel TVN24 with a $415,000 fine for its coverage over parliamentary protests in 2016. These actions flouted Maastricht’s membership prerequisites and the European Commission triggered Article 7 in 2017 to strip Poland of its voting rights. Unfortunately for the EU, Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban’s declaration to veto such a unanimous decision in the presence of the EU’s other 27 members underlines the fundamental flaw of the Union: its disunity.

What had previously evolved into an egalitarian premise of EU membership during the European Community’s development became a tragic weak spot in an ever growing Union. Eleven central and eastern European states joined the EU between 2004 and 2007, of which all excluding Cyprus, but including ‘bridge-builder’ Austria, gave rise to a marvellous regional regime to split from the ‘fast stream’ members in the West: The 3 Seas Initiative. Besides the bellicose Visegrad 4, the eleven-strong bloc, covering one third of European territory and boasting access to the Baltic, Adriatic and Black seas optimises the structural divide between Eastern and Western EU states.

The 3 Seas Initative first convened in Dubrovnik, Croatia, in 2016 to establish a regional forum on the subject of economic convergence with the western EU countries. So compelling is the will of the economic bloc of $2 trillion that President Trump joined host Poland in Warsaw in 2017 where he received a crowd cherrypicked for his speech at the symbolic Krasinski Square by none other than the PIS government. Ideological twins of the right, Trump’s visit also vindicated Poland’s defiance to the EU’s 2015 refugee relocation initiative, which it immediately shot down along with the infamous anti-migrant ‘defect democracy’, Hungary.

This natural evolution of interstate relations gives rise to uncomfortable question about the EU. Just as NATO faces a dilemma of relevance in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse, so too is the EU finding its ‘economic beneficiaries’ falling out of touch with its political elitism and I-know-best lecturing. The raison d’être of the EU, defined at the very consensual as maintaining long-standing peace on the European continent, has been maintained for 73 years. Its ostensibly covert purpose, however, the political and judicial integration of EU member states into a supranational body is not shared by all – this is not a common principle of all 28 involved.

It stands to reason that the EU must adapt before it ceases to exist. Straddling an almost impassable East-West divide, the Union must accommodate a broad church of political cultures while delivering economic prosperity and living standards convergence across the bloc. Poland, Hungary, Visegrad and the 3 Seas Initiative’s members will accept nothing less, since China rolls out its silk road for those disillusioned with those lectured on liberal democracy and human rights.

In the absence now of any consensus on collective punitive action against members, the Union must focus on the economic argument of membership. As the U.K. leaves the EU, regional structure funds – the lifeblood of many post-Soviet EU members, from which €7 billion Poland claimed last year, and of which 3.3% of Hungary’s GDP currently consists – will be strained. Poland and its ‘flawed democracy’ neighbours need to be convinced of what the EU can do for them, and not be told what they cannot.

[Unedited, original submission to The Gryphon Views, printed 1st October 2018]

Featured image: Janek Skarzynski/AFP via Getty Images

Yorkshire Devolution: The Federal Litmus Test

Following a highly disappointing vote held in North East England which saw 77.9% shut down the regional assembly initiative, also scheduled for North West England and Yorkshire and the Humber, John Prescott’s attempt at far-reaching regional devolution proved a resolute failure. Fifteen years later, however, it is once again Labour which boldly dares more democracy with Jeremy Corbyn’s backing of the Greater Yorkshire devolution deal.

In March this year, the then Minister of Housing, Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, received the One Yorkshire plan proposed by 18 of Yorkshire’s 20 councils. The letter sought ascension of the 18 councils to Combined Authority (CA) status, the most recent incarnation of local devolution with plenty of promise for a future federal structure. As a CA, a self-started legal body of two or more councils, the onus is taken from unwieldy central government to regional collectives to act immediately and decisively to economic and demographic problems. As Brookings’ Bruce Katz underscores, British cities send their revenues directly to Whitehall, which then redistributes according to its centralised blueprint. Cities such as Leeds, York and Hull, he says, ‘are forced to wait for Whitehall to recognize problems and respond with corrective measures’, while those councils which take the initiative ‘are not rewarded for their good behaviour’.

Each CA is supplied a bespoke devolution package which aims to remedy a series of local issues. This doesn’t mean that every CA enjoys a generous endowment of regional powers; foci are dependant on the CA members’ mutual areas of interest. For a Greater Yorkshire Combined Authority, this means transport budgets, franchised bus services, adult skills funding, and a £500 million Housing Investment Fund. I’m thinking about those student bus tickets…

This is a considerably progressive sign of initiative from the Yorkshire councils involved. The West Yorkshire CA, currently consisting of Leeds City Region, Leeds City Council, Bradford City Council, Wakefield Met. District Council, Kirklees Met. Borough Council, and Caledrale Met. Borough Council would be dissolved in an ambitious expansionist project of regional devolution. But does it go far enough?

Wales received the Welsh Assembly under Tony Blair in 1998, while Northern Ireland has had patchy devolved governance at Stormont since The Good Friday Agreement came into play in 1999. Both are historically significant institutions, both hold distinct regional identities, and both are considerably removed from London in every respect. And Yorkshire and the Humber? This historical region, consisting of a population of over 5 million and a UK Gross Value Added (GVA) share of 6.6% – higher than both Wales and Northern Ireland combined, and not far off Scotland’s economic might (7.6% GVA share) – is an impressive indicator of what southerners and Londoners oft derogatorily label as ‘the North’. It has been an underestimated region, with the economic growth of its three largest cities, Leeds, Sheffield and Bradford have a combined GVA of £42.060 billion (2015), greater than Glasgow and Edinburgh’s combined GVA share. The economic case is a no-brainer.

It is to be adorned that the Labour Party champions power to the people at a time at which it can profit from populist democracy platforms which Italy, Austria and Germany’s far-right parties have entered government and opposition on. Yet, this quasi-federalism will not necessitate ill thought-out referenda and jingoism, but will call upon people passionate about both local and regional issues to take up positions of influence. The Yorkshire Devolution Deal would be unprecedented in its uniting of provincial villages, towns and cities. The parallels with a greater federal experiment are uncanny, and something the people of Britain doesn’t yet realise it needs for the sake of its democracy.

The Emoji React, The Post-Modern and Journalism

You are engaging in conversation against a backdrop of a constantly shifting societal landscape, in turn defining your most relevant subject of debate and your constantly shifting convictions. Epithetical headlines zoom before your eyes as they pierce your thin skin; you grimace, smile, weep, frown in frustration or laugh at what you are being coarsely reported about as the day’s cherry-picked events peak and trough in line with your concentration, fading in and out of focus. You return to a superficial, faceless conversation with a friend, loved one, or unmet acquaintance. This is no Black Mirror plot, but an insight into a profound characteristic of the zeitgeist that is social media.

Facebook remains the uncontested virtual deity of all social media platforms. At around 2 billion users, Facebook’s network share dominates over Twitter’s more than 300 million monthly users.  Facebook’s influence over human interaction, our engagement with information, and the focus on the self have defined this decade and will be the subject of debate for years to come. But it is notably the use of ‘Reactions’ and ‘Likes’ as reactive indicators to Facebook content which I’d like to focus on in this piece as we come to realise how our widespread engagement with information sources and authoritative news providers has simultaneously discredited quality journalism and rendered our encounters with it a gratifying exercise of self-expression.

It all began with the universally recognised ‘Like’ button, kick-started on Facebook on February 9th 2009. This rapidly became the common parlance of all subsequent social media platforms, with those such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram opting not to make any further physical gesture available for users to choose in response to a post. However, in May 2017 Facebook threw in the emotive reactions ‘Love’, ‘Haha’, ‘Wow’, ‘Sad’ and ‘Angry’ for good measure.

The universal ‘Like’ reaction can be seen in several lights, dependant on your role as a passive or active user. While the passive user may note and compare the amount of likes of several posts to see which is received best amongst the wider community and their immediate ‘Friend’ connections, giving a ‘Like’ to a post or comment as an active user can indicate a plethora of thought processes. You could ‘Like’ something through brand or partisan support to a company or party; you could ‘Like’ something because the content of the attached hyperlink appeals to your sensibilities; you could ‘Like’ something because it made you think and question. So as a unit of measurement, the question remains: what does a ‘Like’ represent? At the end of the day, ‘Likes’ remain unquantifiable because they are indefinable. The same applies to the new wave of facial reactions.

I don’t know about you, but I think it’s all a bit too much. Beyond capitalising upon the animated emojis in the breath-taking – in a pinch yourself-kind of way – Emoji Movie, I would go as far to class them as strikingly insidious. Chief amongst this malevolent and bewilderingly abstract paralanguage is the ‘Haha’ react – or the smug prick emoji, as I like to call it.

Ofc, the laughing face is a logical addition to the cache of reacts, since Facebook’s universe of viral funny posts demand a different outlet to express one’s state of ‘rofl’ at, say, a doge meme. Naturally subjective, if you spot a ‘fail’ video you may well lmao; if you’re tagged in a video epitomising the nature of you and the tagger’s friendship, you’re going to pmsl — but if you read the headline of a cautiously analytical and objective news bulletin treating a sensitive political theme, does it warrant you putting a laughing react?

Facebook’s entire raison d’être revolves around user experience and the regurgitation of public information into a form of the user’s own personal narrative. It has evolved to deliver this through not only the ‘reacts’, but also through the ‘Share’ button and the option to comment on said shared posts. But it is the ‘reacts’ alone which transcend personal accounts and friendship networks and leave a demonstrable impact on users across the globe.

As mentioned above, just how the ‘Like’ does not necessarily convey acknowledgement of something based on merit, equally subjective is the ‘Haha’ react, which can be seen as a symbol of derision in a journalistic context. Personally, I no longer count how often a laughing emoji ranks amongst the top three reacts on an Anglophone article dealing with Trump, Brexit, the EU or Russia. In an overwhelmingly sensitive political environment, emotions are very high, and people are prone to use the ‘react’ outlet to vocalise this. But sadly, in this echo chamber of personal thought and expression, we require more than paralanguage to nuance debate on topics of the day.

At the most benign, the use of the laughing emoji as a ‘react’ is simply a futile gesture at the messy state of a presidency, negotiations, political union or aggressive state. At the other, users could be taking a page out of Vladislav Surkov’s book and carrying out a new subversive campaign of disinformation. In any case, I believe the ‘Haha’ react, whether intentionally or not, now discredits serious debate and reporting on the most pressing of subjects. For many, for whom Facebook is the main platform of engaging with the news, their immediate impressions may well be skewed by a combination of cynicism and condescension by other users beyond their own circles.

At the start of this year, Mark Zuckerberg announced an overhaul of the Facebook algorithms for user News Feeds in favour of more ‘personal’ posts appearing from your ‘Friend’ list.  How we interact with information needs to change. Turning away from information sources towards a more inward-looking, friendship-oriented user experience may not necessarily be the solution to the digital echo chamber. Yet the social media truism will remain: it’s all about you.

[Uneditied, original submission to Gryphon Views. Printed (abridged) in Gryphon 26th January]

Mali and The European Project

Germany bears the burden of responsibility for contemporary Europe. We need to be reminded of this. This isn’t a dogma founded in the post-World War pacification of Germany, but the belief of renowned German sociologist Ulrich Beck. He believes that Germany has taken on the role of the European vanguard because of its twice waging war in Europe during the first half of the 20th century. It is therefore now second nature for German politicians to carry out their political engagements within a greater European context. And whether intentional or not, Germany’s multi-faceted foreign policy preoccupations with the Eurozone crisis, the brokering of the Turkey-EU migrant deal, plus the containment of a revanchist Russia through the Minsk accords indicate that the ‘reluctant hegemon’ has long since established itself as a legitimate leader on the European continent. However, we have underestimated the scope of Germany’s foreign policy objectives, and the extent to which it will act in the interest of its European neighbours with greater ambition in mind. This brief explainer therefore occupies itself with the relationship between the German military foothold in Mali and its aims and repercussions for Mali, Germany, and the EU. But context is needed; we’re not talking about a naval deployment similar to the likes of operations off the coast of Libya – considered one of the most troublesome African neighbours as far as European cohesion’s now concerned – but rather feet on the ground in Mali, a former French colony formally regarded as fitting comfortably in the French sphere of influence.

 

Mali, a sub-Saharan French-speaking republic, has recently experienced a political upheaval. It underwent a Tuareg insurgency in 2012 when militia members returned from Libya after Gadaffi’s removal, establishing strongholds in the country’s northern Sahel region. The country consequently appears to be the latest westwards falling domino across the Maghreb national security pact, the Sahara G5. Consisting of these Salafist Tuareg militiamen, the militant Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in northern Mali and its destabilisation on the state subsequently triggered UN Security Council Resolution 2085 in April 2013, granting the use of force under the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). It has been renewed annually ever since, setting the stage for an international response reminiscent of the American-led coalition in Afghanistan. But while the USA, the UK, Russia and Iran play a long, tedious proxy war in Syria, they appear to be absent in Mali. And consequently, there exists no bolder, more dominant international actors than France and Germany to fill the posts.

 

What formally began as an international coalition of 50 states alongside UN blue helmets has become a showcase for the extraordinary growing competency of the Franco-German alliance. There’s a somewhat good cop, bad cop dynamic playing out there. While the French head gun-ho to the battle grounds of Timbuktu, Kidal and Gao in the Azawad region, Germany’s seemingly pacifist role has been anything but clear. So ambiguous is the role of the German Bundeswehr (national army) in Mali, that one journalist for the Frankfuter Allgemeine compared a 2015 statement from the German defence ministry as painting a bleak image more associated with Afghanistan than a Francophonie member. The news this July of a German helicopter crash in Mali, and two German fatalities along with it, finally brought the dangers and the consistency of the German role to the foreground of public debate.

 

So, what are the Germans up to? According to the Bundeswehr’s own website, it is serving as a member of the MINUSMA coalition. Germany’s presence does not extend to military confrontations, but instead serves to educate local forces and institutions as they continue to tackle the Islamic insurgencies. This is in line with the UN Security Council Resolution.

But why is Germany involved in a region it has historically overlooked? There are three main reasons which I believe are most telling as to why Germany is again a part of an international military coalition.

 

The first reason regards geopolitics. Mali is bisected by the highly navigable River Senegal and River Niger, the former of which leads to the Atlantic coast, and the latter of which’s upper course carves out the populous spine of the country. Hence, there appear to be several international concerns regarding its waterways. With the Islamic occupations of Timbuktu and Gaol, the possibility of impacting the river traffic and water supply in the Niger river basin raises the stakes of regional economies’ dependence on the river. Such precedent as the Egyptian dispute with Ethiopia over building its Millennium Dam, potentially leading to Ethiopian leverage over the River Nile’s water scarcity downstream in Sudan and Egypt – in this instance Nigeria, and Africa’s most prosperous economy – suggests this to be a possible factor in the French and German military involvement. Furthermore, with France holding key influence in Mali, one of its West African former colonies, notably, but not exclusively through the use of the CFA Franc currency, Germany has been able to exert its soft, diplomatic power to the benefit of its strong relationship with France. Beyond Mali, however, it is in fact Germany’s foot in the door that is invaluable as it seeks to secure its greater EU ambitions.

 

This military involvement is an indication of larger pan-European ambitions of independent EU battle groups and the notion of a European army. Following awe-inspiring rapprochement between western Europe’s former Erzfeinde (arch enemies), France and Germany, and the development from the ECSC to EEC, to EU, a major indicator of the modern Franco-German alliance manifested itself through the creation of the French German Brigade in 1989. Now counting 5000 troops, and symbolically based in Müllheim, Germany, a town straddling the Franco-German border alongside the Corps’ Headquarters in Strasbourg, France, the Französisch-Deutsche Brigade is a testament to the neighbouring allies’ commitment to one another’s national interests.
Although a certified NATO Response Force, the Franco-German brigade was later appropriated by the EU in 2014 and rehashed as the EU Battle Group Force HQ. So promising is the potential for the Franco-German Brigade to function as a potential military arm of the EU, that Belgium, Spain and Luxembourg had already been integrated into the Corps by 1996. With the exception of Spain, this counts four of the Inner Six of the EEC, who contestably remain just as loyal to the European project to this day. In the Trump Era, it’s worth reiterating the necessity of all European allies to explore alternative military arrangements – this is equally applicable to the alliance between the ‘pacifist’ German state and nuclear power France.

 

Lastly, especially in light of the refugee crisis Germany exacerbated through its virtually open door refugee policy, Germany now aims to balance its own national interests (an increase in its labour supply) with the EU’s longevity. This means European stability.
It is awfully difficult to strike the right balance, what the crumbling of the eastern Schengen Zone starkly illustrates. Germany’s concerted role against people smugglers in the Mediterranean off the coast of Libya, and its brokering of the Turkey-EU refugee deal, are just two examples of its concerted efforts to stem the flow of refugees. But Mali is a case where Germany intends to prevent the mass movement of African peoples at source through soft power, FDI, and assistance in establishing sound institutional groundwork for the volatile, weakly anchored democracy.

 

Germany is operating in line with its modern day military deployments in Kosovo and Afghanistan, but with the notable exception of acting outside the remit of NATO. While Kosovo was a European-based conflict with ramifications for stability in the Balkans, and Afghanistan was an arguably fruitless effort to prevent the spread of radical Islamic terrorism in Europe, Germany’s growing confidence to act within its self-defined limits, and outside of traditionally NATO-dictated operations, while pursuing the same causes, demonstrates its growing strategic independence. This marks a shift from its modern military pacifism and limited, US-defined participation, towards its establishment as a legitimate international actor. Considering the USA’s isolationism and growing disregard towards Europe under President Trump, Germany is picking up the reins as Europe’s shining star. Herein lies one of German Defence Minister, Ursula von der Leyen’s grounds for the EU’s Permenant Structured Cooperation (PESCO) joint Franco-German initiative, announced on the 13th November. With Germany, supported by the European Commission, spearheading the case for an Armee der Europäer (army of Europeans), there lie exciting times ahead for the ‘Koalition der Willigen’ (the willing coalition).

 

It is equally Germany’s intention for the EU and its member states to benefit from the stabilisation of the Maghreb. The refugee crisis was the event which tested the very fundamentals of the European project. There was no political will for its member states to redistribute refugees equally, and Brexit, the first member state departure from the European Union, was contestably secured through the misrepresentation of the refugee crisis. But while Brexit is now being negotiated, the prevention of further Africans fleeing to Europe serves to allay growing Euroscepticism from the Visegrád states, notably Poland and Hungary, the harshest critiques of the crisis, and whose populist Eurosceptic governments are now stirring discord in the EU’s east.

 

What remains to be seen is, however, plentiful. Will Germany have contributed to the stemming of the flow of refugees from central Africa? Will Germany have been able to avert a further blow to fragile internal EU social cohesion? And will the EU extend what it describes as a ‘European Training Mission in Mali’ beyond May 2018 in line with the Bundestag’s extension and expansion of the Bundeswehr’s missions’ scope? It remains to be seen. With Uncle Sam and NATO’s relevance dwindling, it’s time Germany and the EU put its money where its mouth is and give PESCO its unconditional backing.

[Originally posted in Politik:Perspektive, Autumn 2017. Available from: https://issuu.com/politikperspektive/docs/autumn_2017]

The Single Market and the UK: A Little Bit of Heaven, A Little Bit of Hell

At the 11th hour of Brexit talks between Theresa May and EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Monday 4th December, a veto mightier than the likes of what Johnson, Gove or Rees-Mogg could ever have dreamt of wielding was cast by ten Northern Irish MPs. The Democratic Unionist leader, Arlene Foster, had rung Theresa May to sabotage her underhand play diverging Northern Ireland from Britain, throwing phase one of the negotiations into disarray.

Indeed, the DUP’s scuppering of May’s promise to the EU of Northern Ireland’s forced ‘regulatory alignment’ averted a political, constitutional and potentially existential crisis in the UK. Not only did this majorly embarrassing event again highlight Theresa May’s incompetency to ‘Strengthen the Union’ — which I’d remind the Right Honourable member was one of the points made in the Lancaster House Speech! — but, taking place before the EU Commissioner President in the EU’s de facto capital, it reopened fresh Brexit-inflicted wounds in the UK’s devolved assemblies.

The heads of the Scottish Parliament, Welsh and London Assembly stood in solidarity calling for a nationwide ‘regulatory alignment’. But what does this stupefying jargon mean? And what would the implications be of such ‘regulatory alignment’?

The implications are a Brexit ideologue’s nightmare. As a precursor and fundamental precondition to European Single Market access, ‘regulatory alignment’ euphemistically alludes to the upholding of certain EU quality, procedural and regulatory standards to set a level playing field for economic activity in the EU Single Market. Regulation serves both a functional and bureaucratic purpose; the correction of inefficient markets, and the expansion of technocratic bureaucracy – neither of which a staunch Brexiteer would accept in this battle for British sovereignty. But these are the principles they should accept, for the UK’s unity as we know it depends on regulatory alignment across the board.

The Single Market’s function in the UK has evolved considerably from that of the European Economic Community outlined in the Treaty of Rome. No longer will the emphasis be on the ‘lifting of living standards’, but I suggest, on the continuation of internal unity within the UK by avoiding anomalous regional divergence to the European Single Market, as earlier proposed by May. In fact, I believe Single Market membership to be safer than the decision made on Friday 8th to dish out EU citizenship to people born in Northern Ireland, since this preferential treatment will only add fuel to the fire of Scottish independence and London-based financiers.

 

We are currently at a noteworthy juncture in UK political history. The challenge now arises: the UK government must deliver a Brexit which abides by Theresa May’s Lancaster House Speech, where she promised to ‘restore…our parliamentary democracy, [and] national self-determination’. However, the realisation of such a restoration of sanctified parliamentary sovereignty conflicts with seven of May’s objectives; certainty, control of our laws, strengthening of the Union, maintaining the common travel area with Ireland, control of immigration, a Free Trade Agreement with Europe, and a smooth, orderly Brexit.

Certainty for businesses and the Belfast Agreement will be assured by Single Market access which would prevent a financial sector exodus to the continent and promise to maintain the common travel area with Ireland, avoiding a hard border. This in turn would strengthen the Union by underpinning territorial integrity of Northern Ireland – an action that would also guarantee that of Gibraltar, when that rears its head in the near future. All of this, in turn, would guarantee a smooth, orderly Brexit while ensuring economic certainty.

You may note that ‘control of our laws’ and ‘control of immigration’ were omitted. Since these objectives can be realised through various political interpretations, let’s just say that Brexiteers will be shrugged off through the illusory Brexit taking place before our very eyes. Compromise comes before dogma in the negotiations – consequently redefining the ‘consistency’ of our Brexit; something which is well illustrated by the decision for the European Court of Justice to remain the final appellate court over EU citizens’ rights in the UK for the immediate eight years following Brexit. The managing class is handling Brexit very differently than the self-appointed people’s spokesperson, Nigel Farage.

We may be leaving the EU on paper, but the reality is anything but that. We must continue to participate in EU institutions which serve us not just on a functional basis, where for example the Single Market provides the UK service industry with a £14 billion net surplus in trade over the EU, but limits EU member states’ leverage over UK territorial integrity. The logical incoherence of both protectionist and ultra-deregulation Tories must be bypassed by the Keynesian majority which can find support across the rest of the House.

Our consensus-building, representative democracy is taking back control from a fruitless stint of popular referenda. Now is the time for certainty to be restored, along with our economic and political dignity.

 

[Originally posted 10/12/2017 in The Gryphon Views online: http://www.thegryphon.co.uk/2017/12/10/the-single-market-and-the-uk-a-little-bit-of-heaven-a-little-bit-of-hell/]

The President’s Big Day Out: Trump Goes to The General Assembly

The stage for this year’s UN General Assembly was still being set up as late as two and a half minutes to midnight on the Doomsday Clock! And against a backdrop of a major earthquake – of a political nature – in the Anglo-Saxon lands of the Northern hemisphere, the hefty exchanges of nuclear-tinged vitriol, and global migration crises, the precariousness of the global system, upheld by the UN since its post-war conception, hangs delicately in the balance.
But instead of a pair of caring hands of an experienced diplomate to confront the problems of today, international delegates got a Trump rally.

The week-long UN General Assembly is an annual plenum where every internationally recognised sovereign state – key word for this year being sovereign – reiterates its commitment and appraisal to UN-brokered agreements, shared values and goals and the importance of international cooperation in the maintenance of peace and prevention of conflict.

Some nations recount their history and raison d’être in global affairs. And from these often self-indulgent speeches we can analyse the use of national leaders’ rhetoric as they seek to justify their aims and means as national and international actors. That is something we received from President Trump this week.

I’ll start with patriotism. Because it seems as though what Trump’s America is faced with right this moment is the risk of occupation from foreign fascist forces. This was illustrated as Donald juxtaposed the war time resistance efforts of Britain and France with the need for a unilateralist approach. It’s immediately apparent that Trump sees his country as a stand-alone target, and hence plays on patriotic fervour to defend his shifting foreign policy.

What’s to be gleamed from that? Trump personally seems to have both abandoned and denounced institutional opportunism and international organisations and regimes. This will serve to, whether intentionally or inadvertently, cow its Western allies into a rethink of their reliance on henceforth outdated military pacts with the United States. Following US Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis’ statement that they have not attempted to shoot down either of the two ballistic missiles recently fired over Japan, as they did not pose a threat to the United States, Japan’s premier, Shinzo Abe, has since found a premise to rush to rewrite Japan’s pacifist constitution, while South Korea began to flirt with possession of its own nuclear arsenal. Hardly in-line with the cheerful notion of peace, cooperation, and altruistic world governance, is it?

But it also underlined Trump’s underlying commitment to his own electoral promises: the restauration and normalisation of patriotism in the United States. Such a rhetorical question employed at the UN in this light sounds like “Are we still patriots enough to protect our sovereignty?”

When you see Trump finally peel himself away from the podium, trot a couple of steps, extend his waiving hand towards a fictitious crowd of fans, (repeat two more times), and shuffle towards the stage exit, you come to realise the importance of this address to his American Trumpistas. His speech was brimming with predictable rhetorical devices and vivid, quotable language that his Twitter followers are already familiar with. Indeed, the use of ‘Rocket Man’ and ‘loser terrorists’ had already proliferated in the Twittersphere before this speech – easy to hashtag and subtly drop into any 140-character-long logic on the nuances of the North Korean problem and domestic terrorism.

And what’s more, such language facilitates an oversimplification of the endless intricacies that international coalitions at the UN aim to overcome. While Trump acknowledges that “Authority and authoritarian powers seek to collapse the values, the systems and alliances that prevented conflict and tilted the world toward freedom since World War Two,” what he doesn’t realise is: first, the irony; but second, his failure to interact within the international community to uphold these values enshrined in the UN.

Contrary to what a Wall Street Journal commentator claimed, Trump is not an adherent of realpolitik. Trump entered an environment in which he personally rejects the constructivist values, and expects to be adorned and respected. The Donald wasn’t at the Security Council on Tuesday. His rejection of institutional structures and processes as instruments, through which one achieves strategic (national) interests, places him outside of the typically observed model of the rational-realist actor of today.

Fiery statements of his such as “Major portions of the world are in conflict, and some, in fact, are going to hell,” and his threat to “totally destroy” North Korea, further allude to the USA’s reassuring might in a world where the good must counter acts of evil.

 

However, this doesn’t simplify the real negotiations and processes being carried out by international actors and mediators in the Western Pacific, or on the UN Security Council. Real consensus is being built between veto-wielders over North Korean containment, facilitated by the USA’s own Nikki Haley, is a terrific sign of how the establishment upholds continuity and commitment to the UN, while a head of state is completely averse to it.

 

So this is the inherently contradictory nature of Trump’s America. The alienation effect felt by US allies is forcing them to face their new realities, adapt their realpolitik and continue multilateral processes, while Trump’s America becomes increasingly isolated under its self-obsessed exceptionalism and withdrawal from The Paris Climate Accord and potentially the Iran Nuclear Deal. The tragic irony of it all: his boast to the Assembly “As the president of the United States, I will always put America first.”

 

[Originally posted 25/09/2017 in The Gryphon Views online: http://www.thegryphon.co.uk/2017/09/25/america-first-at-the-united-nations/]