A Bridge over Troubled Water: The Balkans and the EU

 

Agnese Olmati

Imagine how the map of the European Union could look like in 2030. A compact conglomerate of Member States, with only two small black holes – Switzerland and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. Oh, three actually: Great Britain will have become the third one by that year.
While the UK is slowly putting out to the sea, definitively leaving the well-known harbor of the European Union, there are some countries which are struggling to join those that might seem safe and still waters. Lucky for them, they do not have to cross any stormy sea, as they are in the heart of the continent. According to the captains, the first Balkan ships should enter the EU in 2025 if nothing goes wrong during the remaining voyage. But bad weather seems to be a permanent feature of the European political scene and by that time the secure Union could have become an even more troubled and tempestuous harbor unprepared to welcome the newcomers.

At the moment, the incoming fleet counts six components. While Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina still hold the position of potential candidates, Albania and the FYR Macedonia already have the candidate status; Serbia and Montenegro are progressing with accession negotiations and thus are at the forefront in the path towards the European harbor.
Apparently, Serbia and Montenegro now start to see the light at the end of the tunnel – a very long one. The integration process of Western Balkan countries has been on the European agenda since the Thessaloniki Summit in 2003. Afterwards, stabilization and association agreements have entered into force with all six partners. However, expected progress has faltered. Enlargement has been hindered by numerous hitches, including the slow pace of reforms and economic growth, the influence of external actors such as Russia and Turkey, together with problems both in the domestic and European contexts.

2018 might prove a pivotal year in this long and turbulent voyage. Enlargement in the Balkans is one of the priorities of Bulgarian Presidency at the Council of the EU and in May a summit will be organized in Sofia for Western Balkan countries – for the first time since 2003. This new wave of engagement could lead to advances in each country’s process. Continue reading “A Bridge over Troubled Water: The Balkans and the EU”

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The Soviet Union Through European Eyes?

A look at post-Soviet imagery in Europe

Yelena Kilina

I remember it well: some time ago in England, while skimming through the pages of a history magazine, between stories about the Tudors and the War of the Roses, my eyes stopped on a spread with a blood-red background and a large portrait of Stalin. It was an article on the role of the Soviet Union in the Second World War. Despite the fact that such a tragic topic would make you think more of paying tribute to all the victims, that flash red colour seemed to me, a native of the post-Soviet country of Kazakhstan, more ominous than mournful. In Kazakh media, you would rather see images of warriors who fought against fascism than a portrait of Stalin.

That was perhaps the first time I had the chance to look at the country I was born in from the other side of the Iron Curtain. This got me thinking about the drastic contrast between what I am used to accentuate in Soviet heritage and what mental images dominate in minds of those who often ground their opinions on external, non-endogenous, sources. And, more importantly, this brought me to a question: what do those sources tell us about the standpoints of those who once selected them? Continue reading “The Soviet Union Through European Eyes?”

Exposing corruption – at what cost? The EU’s failure to protect its journalists

Julia Mason

Last week’s chilling news about the murder of Slovakian journalist Ján Kuciak and his partner Martina Kušnírová at their home close to Bratislava marks the second case of an investigative journalist paying the ultimate price for their work in an EU Member State. In October 2017, Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed in a car bomb as a result of her investigations of Maltese officials regarding fraud, money laundering and links to the Panama Papers.

This time the victim was Ján Kuciak, a 27-year-old journalist working for the news website Aktuality.sk. Kuciak was investigating cases of suspected VAT fraud by two businessmen Marian Kočner and Ladislav Bašternák, who are both associated with the ruling party in Slovakia, Smer. Kuciak had also recently been investigating the Panama Papers scandal and the suspected theft of EU funds destined for Slovakian by the Italian mafia group ‘Ndrangheta. Months before his death, Kuciak had filed two complaints with the prosecutor’s office after receiving several threats. Neither had been followed up.

Cases like these are doubly worrying. Not only do they reveal that violent and ruthless methods for stopping investigative journalism are taking a hold in the EU’s own Member States, but the lack of effective investigation into these killings by the national authorities responsible also exposes deeper problems regarding impunity and the rule of law.

How has journalism become so dangerous and what are European leaders doing about it? Continue reading “Exposing corruption – at what cost? The EU’s failure to protect its journalists”

How Brexit could pose an opportunity for the EU

By Linda Piersma

In the midst of a nasty break-up in the West and moves by Hungary and Poland towards ‘illiberal democracy’ in the East, a unique opportunity might present itself: a pan-European list of MEPs. Because let’s face it, the European elections do not rouse the spirits of most European citizens. Very often, European elections are hijacked by national quarrels that transform the European elections into an evaluation of respective national government’s performances. While we know all about Trump and American affairs, European issues do not get a seat at the dinner table. With the United Kingdom (UK) leaving the European Union in March 2019, 73 seats will become available in the European Parliament. Notwithstanding the trauma of Brexit, these free seats can be  used to create a pan-European list of MEPs to be voted upon directly by European citizens. Such an electoral college will strengthen European democracy, thereby bringing the EU ever closer to its citizens and put a halt to the nationalization of the European elections.

More than being just a fancy idea, it provides a firm response in the face of recent illiberal moves by Hungary and Poland. Over the last year, ruling Eurosceptic parties Fidesz and PiS have taken several highly controversial measures. For example, by taking government control of NGO funding. Recently, their close bond was confirmed when Mateusz Morawiecki, freshly appointed Prime Minister of Poland, decided to use his first bilateral visit to meet with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Together, their deep resentment and distrust of Brussels increasingly poses a threat to Europe’s core values of freedom, democracy and the rule of law. Continue reading “How Brexit could pose an opportunity for the EU”

Fortress Europe in Africa: EU’s silence on Ceuta and Melilla

By Rick Terpstra

While the hotspots of the so-called migration crisis in the EU can be found in the south-east of the continent, thousands of migrants are jumping the fences of Europe’s only territorial border with Africa in the Spanish cities Ceuta and Melilla in the north of Morocco. And the EU? They seem to stand back while the Spanish Guardia Civil violently govern the border territory without restrictions.

Viva España, boza, boza!” Hundreds of African migrants storm the fences of Ceuta and Melilla on the Moroccan coast shouting out their popular war cry. It gives them hope, it gives them power, and there is faith that God will help them in their first, second or even tenth attempt in reaching the Spanish territory. Hoping they will manage to climb the high fence, wishing that the Spanish border police do not literally kick them back to Moroccan territory. Continue reading “Fortress Europe in Africa: EU’s silence on Ceuta and Melilla”

A Sustainable Future for the EU: Sponsored by Shell?

By: Angela Medendorp

On the 17th of January, a housing corporation in the Dutch province of Groningen will be deciding whether to tear down or completely refurbish close to 400 houses, my own parental home included. This is just the latest in a series of decisions concerning the roughly 150,000 houses whose structure has been compromised in the wake of dozens of unnatural earthquakes that have haunted the area for years. The earthquakes are a direct result of the extraction of gas at Europe’s largest natural gas field in Slochteren by NAM (owned by Shell and Exxon Mobil), which has been putting over €265 billion in the hands of Dutch governments since the 1960s.

It is not completely surprising that the government is reluctant to give up this steady stream of money. While the newest coalition has agreed to dial down the gas extraction a bit further, it is still not at a level which is deemed ‘safe’ by experts in the field. This is, naturally, angering those who are feeling the consequences the most: home owners in Groningen.

On the international level, coverage of the issue is remarkably meagre. While some news outlets have attempted to bring the story to a wider public, the real debate has remained primarily domestic. The EU (more specifically: the DG Energy) has spent most of its time lamenting the decrease of Dutch gas in its Quarterly Reports on European Gas Markets while mentioning the very legitimate cause for it not even once. Continue reading “A Sustainable Future for the EU: Sponsored by Shell?”

The Who’s Who of Europe: The Powerful Personalities in the EU

Eleanor Brooks

The American Foreign Secretary Henry Kissinger famously once asked “Who do I call when I want to call Europe?” The modern day version coming from Rex Tillerson might be, “Who do I call, email, text, tweet…”, but the premise remains the same – who does one call to get the lowdown on Europe? With certain leadership figures rising above the crowd, the current U.S. Secretary has some pretty good options available.

Emmanuel Macron – The ambitious new kid on the bloc

The poster boy of French politics, Mr Emmanuel Macron has recently joined the ranks of rosy-cheeked nation state leaders on the world stage. After founding his own party En Marche! in early 2016 (a keen observer will note it shares the same initials as his own name), he led his party to victory less than a year later in the French parliamentary elections. His triumph was unprecedented and audacious; the presidential election was his first time running for public office and he won it with apparent ease. Such a rapid rise power is rarely achieved in politics by democratic means, although comparison could be made to a certain head of state across the Atlantic Ocean who also circumvented the typical route in his bid for Presidential office. Continue reading “The Who’s Who of Europe: The Powerful Personalities in the EU”

“On the profound laziness of standing on escalators”

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Come on, guys, it’s not that hard.

Alexander Pitts 

I have now lived in Europe for over a year, and previously spent a month here followed by another two weeks. People often ask me what qualities of Europe I’ve found strange or different, what’s shocked me the most. I always have trouble answering – I’m still in developed countries, usually Western, so I’ve just adjusted to the small cultural and infrastructural differences as they’ve arisen. Truthfully, there is only one thing that never ceases to shock me:

Europeans stand still on escalators. Continue reading ““On the profound laziness of standing on escalators””

BLOG: One month on the job – what it’s like to intern for an NGO

Noémi Kalocsay

As the second semester approaches in the Euroculture master programme, there is another important decision to be made; namely, which track to choose for the third semester: professional or research?

Blessed with fairly good research skills, I would have been ready, willing and able to take a semester in Mexico City and improve my Spanish skills, or discover a whole new world in Pune, India while diving into one of the countless possible research topics the Euroculture programme offers. But for me the real challenge was to see how I would perform in a non-academic environment and solve problems not only in theory, but in practice as well. After all, this is what the Euroculture programme is about: stepping out of our comfort zones over and over again. Hence, I eventually had to let go of the more convenient research track. Half a year and a lot of paperwork later, I found myself working for a Hungarian NGO: Foundation for Africa. Continue reading “BLOG: One month on the job – what it’s like to intern for an NGO”

German Elections Explained – Inside the politics of the 2017 campaign

Wong Tsz 

Germany has just experienced one of the most turbulent general elections in recent history. Merkel has gained another 4-year term; for the first time since WWII, a far-right party, the AfD, has made its way into the German parliament; and a three-party coalition seems inevitable. But what else can we tell from this election?

Winners and losers:

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Official election figures. (Source)

Coalition

A record six parties have entered the Bundestag. They are: The centre-right CDU/CSU (Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union), SPD (Social Democratic Party), The Left (Die Linke), The Greens (Die Grünen), the FDP (Free Democratic Party), and the AfD (Alternative for Germany).

As it stands, no party wishes to cooperate with the AfD, and die Linke is a traditionally difficult ally due to its uneasy past regarding the East German Stasi (Staatssicherheitsdienst, SSD). Since the SPD vows to withdraw from the grand coalition that it has formed with the CDU since 2013, the only feasible possibility is the CDU-Greens-FDP coalition – also known as the ‘Jamaica’ coalition, named after the three colours. Although coalition government is not something new for the German politics, a three-party coalition is still not commonly seen in the German parliament. Continue reading “German Elections Explained – Inside the politics of the 2017 campaign”