Merkel after Paris

Merkel after Paris

Merkel after Paris

Written by Christian Odendahl, and Sophia Besch, 20 November 2015

In spite of speculation that the German chancellor’s refugee policies may be her downfall, Merkel’s relatively open and liberal stance on refugees makes it easier for her to respond robustly to the attacks in France through security and foreign policy. 

For years, Angela Merkel’s personal popularity ratings have been stratospheric and her Christian Democratic bloc (CDU/CSU) has had a robust lead in opinion polls. But during the refugee crisis, Merkel’s relatively open stance has led to her approval ratings dropping to their lowest level since 2011. Meanwhile the increasingly far-right party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) has gained in popularity. The terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13th have predictably provoked more criticism of Merkel’s refugee policies. But it would be premature to call time on the Merkel era. The combination of her open rhetoric and harsh measures to limit illegal immigration is allowing the CDU/CSU to maintain its hold over the political centre ground. Polling indicates that support for the Christian Democrats is stabilising, as voters faced with a security crisis rally around their leader. Merkel’s position as party leader and chancellor is not in danger.

In August, 45 per cent of Germans saw more advantages than disadvantages from immigration. This number dropped to 35 per cent in September and has since stayed stable at around that level (37 per cent in November). In light of these figures and weakening poll numbers, sceptics evoke a historical analogy. They recall that former Social Democrat chancellor Gerhard Schröder fell as a result of a reform package to liberalise the labour market that incited rebellion in his party, leading to the rise of the new The Left party. Merkel is looking at a similar rebellion over her policy towards refugees, they say. They point to angry voices on the CDU/CSU’s right wing, who no longer feel represented by their party leader, and to the rise of the AfD.

Up until now, the Christian Democrats have successfully prevented the emergence of a mainstream party to their right for three reasons. First, the CDU and its Bavarian sister party CSU is a broad coalition, with the CSU’s leaders traditionally allaying the anxieties of Germany’s more conservative voters (whether Bavarian or not), while the chancellor has held the centre ground. A few rebelling members of parliament, within limits, is part of this strategy. Even today, 86 per cent of CDU/CSU members are happy with Merkel as chancellor, and 81 per cent want her to run again in 2017. 

Second, party discipline has always been strong in these parties, because they have often prioritised power over ideological purity or costly leadership quarrels. Third, right-wing populist parties have attracted xenophobes, anti-Semites, and nationalists, which quickly taints their brand in a Germany wary of its past. 

But the CDU/CSU faces new challenges. It needs to cover an even wider spectrum than in the past: the middle ground of German politics is more liberal, while far-right voters feel less constrained by the country’s past. Forty-three per cent of Germans see the country’s Willkommenskultur (welcome culture) as too politically correct, according to a poll, and feel they cannot openly express their concerns about the refugee crisis. Such sentiments are a fertile breeding ground for populist parties that claim to be giving a voice to ‘concerned citizens’. The increasingly far-right party AfD has won supporters – enough to win seats in the Bundestag if elections were held today – after transforming itself from  an anti-euro party into an increasingly far-right, nationalist and anti-refugee party. After the terrorist attacks in Paris, polling by the conservative Insa Institute put the AfD as Germany’s third-strongest party for the first time, at more than 10 per cent. 

But AfD cannot threaten Merkel without restraining the xenophobic rhetoric of some of its regional leaders, which is proving difficult. Moreover, even if the AfD entered the Bundestag, it could not seriously harm the CDU/CSU’s prospect of retaining power, nor Merkel’s chances of being re-elected chancellor in 2017. As long as Merkel keeps to the centre ground, the arithmetic of German politics favours the CDU/CSU: the AfD would reduce the relative share of the left parties (SPD, The Greens and The Left) in the Bundestag, making Merkel’s party even more indispensable for any governing coalition. 

The chancellor’s stance on refugees has been less impetuous than many have claimed. Merkel’s approach has been rooted in her usual crisis management strategy. She develops her policies cautiously over time – waiting for a public consensus to form, weighing her political options, and working towards a solution that keeps her in power. As the refugee crisis unfolded, the chancellor initially remained on the sidelines of the debate and only chose to ‘be bold’ when a Willkommenskultur materialised throughout Germany. If she had insisted on traditionally conservative and restrictive policies, she would have vacated the centre ground to the SPD and The Greens. Instead, she integrated many of the more left-wing policies on refugees into a Christian-conservative narrative. This strategy has served her well in the past, on issues such as the introduction of a minimum wage or withdrawal from nuclear power. 

Polls show that the German population’s biggest concerns about refugees are linked to the economic and fiscal impact, followed by worries over heightened competition in the housing market and the influence of Islam in Germany. Merkel knows that Germany has the economic strength to cope with the additional costs of integrating refugees, as a study by DIW, a think-tank, has recently confirmed. Germany is running a budget surplus so it can easily finance expenses such as housing for refugees, as even the fiscally-conservative Bundesbank has recently argued. Moreover, in the current European economic situation of low demand and low inflation, additional spending by Germany is a welcome stimulus. Over the medium term, if Germany manages to integrate refugees into the labour market, its demographic problems could be partially mitigated. 

Merkel’s main objective at the moment is to demonstrate that she is in control. Her relatively open and liberal stance on refugees makes it easier for her to respond robustly to the attacks in France through security and foreign policy. Germany had already implemented tougher rules on refugees, including faster deportation, in October. After Paris, Merkel is aiming for resettlements of refugees currently living in or passing through Turkey according to a specific allocation key. In exchange, Ankara would promise to block refugees outside of that quota from coming to Europe. This policy allows Merkel to limit immigration without imposing an absolute cap that would be difficult to uphold.
In foreign policy, her first step was to offer financial and political incentives to Ankara to help reduce the flow of Syrian refugees. At the G20 summit in Antalya, two days after the attacks in Paris, the chancellor stressed the importance of securing Europe’s external borders and Turkey’s crucial role in the process. Her policy has contributed to the EU turning a blind eye to Turkey’s human rights record – in particular recent attacks on the freedom of the press – and to re-energising Turkey’s accession process. Tougher security policies in Germany, or even German involvement in the war against Daesh, could follow – while the chancellor maintains her open and liberal rhetoric on refugees.

Merkel retains the support of a large part of Germany’s political spectrum. A recent poll found that 60 per cent of Germans believe that no other politician in Germany could do a better job of steering the country through the refugee crisis and responding to the threat of terrorism. She still has room to further tighten policies on refugees, while being more assertive on security and foreign policy. Merkel looks like remaining the EU’s dominant political figure for some time to come.

Christian Odendahl is chief economist and Sophia Besch is the Clara Marina O'Donnell fellow at the Centre for European Reform.

Terrorism in Paris: Aux armes, citoyens?

Terrorism in Paris: Aux armes, citoyens?

Written by Camino Mortera-Martinez, and Rem Korteweg, 17 November 2015

Western indecision in Syria has allowed Daesh to grow strong, and enabled it to attack Europe. The Western response must be resolute abroad, and subtle at home, if it is to defeat Islamist extremism.

Sometimes an event occurs that should create clarity of purpose and lucidity of priorities. The Paris attacks are such an event. The tragedy must galvanise European and international support for a co-ordinated offensive against Daesh. Yet questions remain about how best to deal with terrorism at home.

France has seen terrorism’s face before: most recently in January, when Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket were the targets. But never, in modern times, has the soul of France been so thoroughly penetrated. French president Francois Hollande called the terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13th “an act of war” by Daesh, the so-called ‘Islamic State’ terrorist organisation. And France’s first reaction has been war-like: the French air force launched heavy bombing raids on Raqqa, the headquarters of Daesh in Syria, on November 15th. That may bring some satisfaction, though it will not solve the problem of Islamist terrorism in Europe.

Since the start of the campaign against Daesh in September 2014, European governments have believed they could dislodge the ‘Islamic State’ from its sanctuary in Iraq and Syria through airstrikes. Yet Daesh has remained able to plot attacks abroad, attract recruits and gain millions of dollars selling oil. In the past month alone, Daesh has claimed, or is believed to have been behind, successful attacks in Ankara, the Sinai, Beirut and now Paris. This should now focus the attention of governments in the West and elsewhere.

Hollande’s rhetoric is reminiscent of George W Bush’s declaration of a ‘global war on terror’ against Al Qaeda after the 9/11 attacks in 2001. Daesh, in contrast to Al Qaeda in 2001, resembles a state in that it holds territory, which can be conquered. The priority should be to destroy the safe haven Daesh has in Iraq and Syria.

In his speech before the joint session of parliament on November 16th, Hollande told his defence minister to invoke article 42.7 of the Treaty on European Union. This ‘solidarity clause’ obliges other member-states to offer aid “by all the means in their power” in response to an armed attack. The clause has never been invoked before, and so its impact remains to be seen, though an EU military intervention is not likely. At the least, the clause forces traditionally neutral EU member-states, like Austria and Finland, to assist. Additionally, its invocation acknowledges that the EU has an important role to play in the battle against Daesh, especially within Europe’s borders. France would also have every right to invoke NATO’s article 5  which would declare that it has been the subject of an armed attack, calling on its allies to help it. However, Hollande appears to prefer working through a coalition of the willing, rather than bringing NATO in. NATO’s presence in Syria might complicate any co-operation with Russia. Hollande is also seeking a UN Security Council resolution. If it explicitly mandates the use of force, it would be an additional rallying cry for a broad coalition.

Airstrikes, particularly limited to Iraqi territory as many European airstrikes are, have been practically useless. Air power by itself rarely wins wars. If the West can find reliable allies who can fight on the ground (including Kurdish forces, despite Turkish concerns), it should help them to do so. Yet the fight may require Western ‘boots on the ground’. The United States has already decided to send up to 50 Special Forces to fight Daesh. European governments should follow suit.

The lessons of past interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya are not that the West should never intervene militarily, but that it should not start a war without a plan for the day after. In Syria and Iraq, the day after has to include a political process to end the conflicts that have created the governance vacuum, which Daesh has filled. The difficulty of doing so, of course, should not be under-estimated.
Russia’s president Vladimir Putin may argue that Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad is the answer in Syria. He is not. Indeed, Assad has done his best to ensure that Daesh is the only opponent left on the battlefield: Syrian and Russian forces have struck against other groups fighting Assad much more often than against Daesh. Though perhaps not immediately, Assad will have to make way to allow Syria to move towards a more peaceful future. In its response, the West will have to work with many countries that have ulterior motives in Syria, including Russia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Europe must not be taken in by Putin’s suggestion that the West, Russia and Assad are now all on the same side in fighting against terrorism. Putin’s game in Syria is cynical. However, the presence of Russian forces in Syria means that the West has no choice but to co-ordinate with Russia, at least to ensure that Western and Russian aircraft stay out of each other’s way.

Europe must work with Turkey’s president Recep Erdogan: despite European concerns about increased authoritarianism in Turkey, the recent attack in Ankara suggests a convergence of interests to fight Daesh. Western governments have to convince Turkey not to undermine the relatively successful Kurdish fight against Daesh for fear of strengthening Kurdish separatists in Turkey. Aside from the military campaign against Daesh, Europe’s external borders must be better secured, for which Turkey’s co-operation is crucial.

The West also has to reconsider its relationship with Saudi Arabia: many of the most disturbing aspects of Daesh’s behaviour in Iraq and Syria reflect Riyadh’s regional propagation of its intolerant, fundamentalist Wahhabist ideology, including through Saudi-funded mosques and Islamic schools in Western countries. Saudi efforts to stop Daesh and its ideology have so far been half-hearted, as it chooses to prioritise fighting against Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen instead.

Despite the semblance of statehood, Daesh is also a network, and its offshoots have already emerged elsewhere across the Middle East. Assuming it can be defeated in Iraq and Syria, Daesh could well metastasise in Libya, Nigeria, Sinai, Afghanistan or elsewhere in the Levant. Still, it is better to disrupt Daesh and keep it on the run, than allow the benefits of a profitable sanctuary to accrue. This means Europe should prepare for a prolonged fight against the group.
European governments must balance the use of force abroad and the need to keep working within the framework of the rule of law at home. Daesh wants Western governments to over-react, thereby polarising communities and mobilising new recruits. Instead, Europe must avoid clamping down hard on Muslim communities. Though politicians like Marine Le Pen, Nigel Farage and Geert Wilders will call for de facto anti-Muslim measures, Europe must stay true to its liberal and tolerant values. Police and security services should respond strongly to populist vigilantes and extremists who may step up violent attacks against Muslim targets.

One of the terrorists that attacked Paris on Friday left a fake Syrian passport behind. He had allegedly used it to enter the EU through Greece. This could well have been a planned move to reignite the already heated debate on Europe’s asylum policies — why would a terrorist leave a passport behind? European governments should not fall into Daesh’s trap by responding with knee-jerk reactions such as closing borders (though border controls may be necessary temporarily, to pursue and apprehend the suspects of the attacks). A ‘fortress Europe’ aimed at keeping out predominantly Muslim refugees would fuel the narrative of European Christians oppressing and fighting against Muslims.

More to the point, closing borders would give a false sense of security. There has always been a risk that jihadists may enter the EU posing as refugees. Identifying and stopping them demands adequate registering and fingerprinting on their arrival in the EU, and intelligence sharing among the 28 member-states, not a closing of the borders. In fact, many European plots have involved terrorists from Western countries. Some members of Daesh are jihadists with French, Belgian or British passports, returning from conflict zones (such as Syria) to strike in their home countries. To close the borders would do nothing to stop them: international law prohibits a country from denying entry to its own nationals — and if they are not spotted and put under surveillance by intelligence services, they can continue their activities unhindered from within their home countries. Others have not even left the country: Daesh propaganda ‘instructs’ its acolytes around the world to carry out attacks in its name.

Like many criminal organisations, Daesh mainly relies on difficult-to-trace internet communications which defy national borders. Instead of seeking false security in national isolation, more — and better — European intelligence and law enforcement co-operation is needed. To that end, the European Parliament should speed up an agreement on the use of passenger data for terrorist investigations (a directive that it has blocked for over four years, over privacy concerns). The EU should also overcome its problems with the US in the field of data sharing and co-ordinate with Washington to get access to US intelligence, including its no-fly lists, which includes known terrorists.

The attacks in Paris show that the Schengen agreements, and particularly the Schengen Information System (SIS) ‒ a database used by European governments to track persons of interest – are still not functioning properly. The SIS could be used in combination with other databases (such as Eurodac, which contains fingerprints of asylum seekers) to verify the identity of those arriving in Europe. The European Parliament has been reluctant to allow the interconnection of several databases for fears of privacy intrusion. It is now time for the Parliament to drop some of these claims and realise that such intelligence may benefit the EU as a whole: should a Schengen crisis emerge, it would challenge the EU project in its entirety. Europe should not dismantle Schengen, but improve it, by processing refugees more effectively, deploying many more border guards at Europe’s outer borders and improving information sharing among the member-states. These measures will be costly and take time to implement. But the EU can no longer accept an external border where massive inflows of third country nationals are dealt with in places which barely have electricity — such as the ‘processing centre’ on the Greek island Leros, where the allegedly fake refugee (on his way to carry-out the suicide attack in Paris) was fingerprinted.

But even if the EU had taken all these steps, the attacks might still not have been prevented. 14 years after 9/11, European governments remain unable to control the drivers of radicalisation in second- and third-generation Western Muslims. That leaves one, burning question: why have European citizens become so attracted to Daesh’s ideology that they are willing to kill, kill themselves and be killed, in its name? That is the clarity we still desperately seek.

Camino Mortera-Martinez is a research fellow and Brussels representative and Rem Korteweg is a senior research fellow at the Centre for European Reform.

Judy Asks: Can Merkel survive the refugee crisis?


Judy Asks: Can Merkel survive the refugee crisis?

Written by Christian Odendahl, Sophia Besch, 21 October 2015
From Carnegie Europe

EU foreign policy co-operation: A millstone or a multiplier for the UK?

EU foreign policy co-operation: A millstone or a multiplier for the UK?

EU foreign policy co-operation: A millstone or a multiplier for the UK?

Written by Ian Bond, 12 October 2015

The insoluble Syrian problem: Only wrong answers?

The insoluble Syrian problem: Only wrong answers?

Written by Ian Bond, 29 September 2015

Syria is the origin of many of Europe’s current security problems. Four years after the war there started, the West has no strategy for ending it; but neither does anyone else, including Russia.

It is understandable that Western leaders who have failed to end the war in Syria over the last four years should now be clutching at straws. They still need to clutch at the right straws, however. There are more ways to make things worse in Syria (and neighbouring countries) than to make them better. The EU needs to re-examine what it is doing, and have achievable objectives rather than lofty aspirations; and it should understand that all the other players in the conflict have their own objectives, most of which are incompatible with the West's.

As world heads of government meet in New York for the UN General Assembly’s annual session, Europe's refugee crisis has given the EU a new incentive to search for peace in Syria. Though British prime minister David Cameron was wrong to imply recently that the EU should stop taking in Syrian refugees and instead wait for a peace deal, he is right to think that the flood of refugees from the region cannot be stemmed unless the conflict in Syria ends. The problem is that neither he nor anyone else has a plan for that.

In March 2015 the EU's Foreign Affairs Council endorsed 'Elements for an EU regional Strategy for Syria and Iraq as well as the Daesh  threat'. (Daesh is the Arabic abbreviation for the so-called ‘Islamic State’ (IS) terror group). The overall objectives of the strategy were "to counter the threat posed by Daesh and other terrorist groups to regional and international stability, and simultaneously to create the conditions for an inclusive political transition in Syria and Iraq as well as in refugee-hosting countries in the region, while alleviating the human suffering caused by the ongoing violence and displacement".

Taking these three points in turn, the West and its regional allies have been conducting an air campaign against Daesh for more than a year now. While there have been some successes (Kurdish groups drove them out of Kobane, near the Turkish border, with the help of coalition airstrikes), Daesh has also advanced in some areas, taking the Iraqi city of Ramadi and the Syrian city of Palmyra. Local forces cannot defeat them decisively without help.

The chaos that followed Western interventions in Iraq and Libya has made the British and American governments cautious about stepping up their involvement in the Syrian conflict. But without those two countries, it is inconceivable that any Western-led coalition would send big enough forces for long enough to destroy Daesh militarily and then to create a stable framework for political progress. The EU therefore needs to set itself more realistic goals for combating Daesh.

One area to focus on is limiting the flow of foreign fighters to Daesh and al Qaeda affiliates such as Jabhat al-Nusra. A UN expert panel suggested in March 2015 that in total there were more than 20,000 foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq. Apart from stepping up intelligence and border co-operation in Europe to prevent Europeans joining jihadist fighters, the EU should do more with source and transit countries. The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence at King's College London assessed in January 2015 that between 3,800 and 7,000 of the foreign fighters came from three countries: Russia, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia. In addition, the British government says that thousands of foreign fighters have used Turkey as a transit route for joining jihadist groups.

The question is whether the EU can help or persuade any of these countries to stop the flow. Research by the Russian investigative newspaper Novaya Gazeta strongly suggests that the FSB (Russian security service) created a 'green channel' to enable jihadists to leave areas in Russia where they were fighting the Russian state and to travel instead to Syria, presumably on the basis that they were less of a threat to Russia as long as they were fighting (and dying) in Syria.

Saudi Arabia has cracked down on the Daesh threat within the kingdom, but its own religious ideology and the economic and social pressures caused by low oil prices (including youth unemployment of almost 30 per cent) suggest that it will remain a source of willing ‘martyrs’ in Syria. Saudi individuals also continue to finance various jihadi groups in Syria and Iraq, including Daesh. The West has long been reluctant to criticise Saudi Arabia’s export of wahhabist fundamentalism, but it needs to make clear that Western support for Riyadh cannot be unconditional: the Saudis have to do a better job of cutting off the human and financial jihadi pipeline to Syria and Iraq.

Tunisia's democratic government may be a more promising partner. The EU has started a dialogue with Tunisia on security and counter-terrorism, and has agreed to help the government develop an anti-radicalisation strategy which would prevent the recruitment and manage the return of foreign fighters. Work on this strategy should be pushed forward urgently, and the EU should then commit funds and personnel to support implementation: reducing radicalisation in Tunisia would address both the terrorist threat to European interests in the country, and the role of Tunisian jihadists elsewhere.

After initially waving anyone willing to fight against Assad through the Turkish border, Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has recently been doing more to control the border. Turkey and the EU should have a shared interest in ensuring that Daesh cannot use Turkish territory to smuggle in weapons and fighters, or to smuggle out oil from Iraq and Syria to fund its 'caliphate'. Turkey has long lobbied for a ‘safe zone’ and a no-fly area on the Syrian side of the border, to be maintained by Western forces. Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu repeated the message in a letter to EU leaders before the EU's emergency summit on the refugee crisis, on September 23rd. A safe zone is an unrealistic goal as long as Europeans – and Americans – are unwilling to fly air defence missions in Syrian airspace or put forces on the ground to defend one; but the EU could offer Turkey other forms of assistance with border control.

Clearly, Europe has failed to create "the conditions for an inclusive political transition in Syria and Iraq as well as in refugee-hosting countries in the region". The EU has to decide how President Bashar al Assad fits into any transition. His regime has been responsible for far more deaths and displacement than any of its opponents, including Daesh. In October 2011 the EU Foreign Affairs Council stated that Assad "must step aside to allow a political transition to take place". But Europe is now wavering: German chancellor Angela Merkel thinks Assad should be included in peace talks; David Cameron thinks Assad could have a role in a transitional government, but should then step down. As long as the West lacks the will to force Assad from power, however, he will have a seat at any negotiating table, just as war criminals like Slobodan Milosevic were at the Dayton peace conference which ended the Bosnian war; and his fate will depend on the outcome of the negotiations.

With or without Assad, political progress (as the March 2015 EU strategy recognised) is "heavily dependent...on the willingness of national and regional players to act in accordance with the stated objectives". Unfortunately, none of the influential players share the EU's objectives. The Syrian government is not interested in political transition, and nor are its backers in Tehran and Moscow. Iran and Saudi Arabia seem happy to carry on fighting a proxy war in Syria and Iraq whatever the cost to the local populations. Neither Daesh nor Jabhat al-Nusra are interested in inclusivity – both are Sunni sectarian organisations. For the Turkish government, weakening Kurdish forces for internal Turkish reasons is more important than helping them to defeat Daesh in northern Iraq and Syria.

Russian president Vladimir Putin is not an honest broker in the conflict. Assad and Putin are spinning a seductive tale in which they and the West share an interest in defeating terrorism in Syria, so all well-intentioned countries should now be on the same side: this was the message of Putin’s speech to the UN General Assembly on September 28th. In reality, Assad played an important role in strengthening Islamist radicals at the expense of the moderate opposition, and IHS Janes showed in December 2014 that the Syrian armed forces and Daesh fought other rebel groups more often than they fought each other. The Syrian government and Daesh have even worked together on oil sales, according to the EU.

Putin himself has two aims: first, he wants to keep Assad in power, regardless of how many more Syrians die in the process, thereby keeping Russia’s bridgehead in the Middle East and frustrating (as he sees it) an American plot against his ally. German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier could not have been more wrong, therefore, when he "strongly welcomed...the growing military engagement of Russia in the region": the most likely result of Russia's intervention will be more fighting and an even greater flow of refugees to Europe. The Russian military will solve neither Syria's problems nor the West's.
Second, Putin wants to use Russia’s supposed help in the fight against terrorism to persuade the West to drop its Ukraine-related sanctions against Moscow. The West should not fall for this ploy: if Putin wants sanctions lifted, he needs to get out of Crimea and stop interfering in eastern Ukraine. Ukraine should not be sacrificed for the promise of Russian support in Syria.

If progress towards a political solution remains out of reach, that leaves the EU's final objective, "alleviating the human suffering caused by the ongoing violence and displacement". This is the objective most directly relevant to tackling the refugee crisis; it is the area in which regional players are least likely to try to obstruct European action; and it is the problem which a big injection of EU (and other countries’) assistance would do most to address.

UN agencies are running out of money to support refugees in camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. And the camps themselves are not a long-term solution to a long-term problem. Given the bleak prospects for a political settlement, both the West and the countries of the Middle East need to do more than simply accommodate and feed these millions of people; they need to provide them with sustainable livelihoods, education and other tools to ensure that they do not become permanently marginalised minorities. Resettling larger numbers of Syrian refugees in the prosperous West rather than in fragile states like Jordan and Lebanon will have to be part of the solution.
It is depressing to admit that after four and a half years of war and 250,000 deaths, there is no path to peace in sight. Whatever Putin said in New York, peace will not come to Syria because Russia has joined the fight, or because the rest of the world has given up trying to remove Assad; it will come when all the combatants are dead or tired of war. Meanwhile, if Europe is unwilling to bribe or coerce the parties to the negotiating table, its best course is to concentrate on helping their victims.

Ian Bond is director of foreign policy at the Centre for European Reform.

Judy Asks: Should the West work with Russia on Syria?

Russia and Syria

Judy Asks: Should the West work with Russia on Syria?

Written by Ian Bond, 16 September 2015
From Carnegie Europe

The Undiplomats: Right-wing populists and their foreign policies

The Undiplomats: Right-wing populists and their foreign policies

The Undiplomats: Right-wing populists and their foreign policies

Written by Yehuda Ben-Hur Levy, 21 August 2015

Issue 103 - 2015

Bulletin issue 103 August/September 2015

Issue 103 August/September, 2015

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Greek foreign policy: The next ruin?

Greek foreign policy: The next ruin?

Greek foreign policy: The next ruin?

Written by Ian Bond, Rem Korteweg, 27 July 2015

The economic consequences of Greece leaving the eurozone would be serious for the Greek people and the rest of the EU. The foreign policy implications could be equally bad. Russia policy aside, the Syriza-led coalition has been part of the European mainstream. If a post-Grexit Greece lurched from left-wing populist to right-wing nationalist government, its foreign policy could be an even bigger problem for Europe.

The EU and Greece have finally agreed on a bail-out deal. But, as Christian Odendahl and John Springford have written recently (‘The Greek bailout deal resolves nothing’, July 13th), its flaws are so serious that it is likely to fail eventually. Before EU leaders steel themselves to expel Greece from the eurozone, they should think about Greece’s geopolitical importance (and not just its flirtation with Russia).

According to Thanos Dokos, of the ELIAMEP think-tank, the last few Greek governments ignored foreign policy because they were overwhelmed by the economic crisis; the current government, by contrast, has re-engaged in a number of important areas. As long as Greece stays in the eurozone, Dokos sees Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras as the politician most likely to lead Greece, in a continued coalition with the right-wing populist Independent Greeks.

Opinion polls show that support for Independent Greeks and the extreme right ‘Golden Dawn’ combined is currently around 10 per cent. But if Greece leaves the eurozone, people might conclude that having tried mainstream parties and left-wing populists, their last hope lay with a coalition involving the extreme right ‘Golden Dawn’. Foreign as well as domestic policy would be affected. Here are seven issues to watch.

The first is migration. In the first six months of 2015, more than 70,000 refugees arrived in Greece. The country is struggling to cope. The Greek defence minister (and founder of the Independent Greeks), Panos Kammenos, threatened in March that Greece would "flood Europe with migrants" if its EU partners forced it out of the euro. If his position were strengthened post-Grexit, he would be better placed to carry out his threat.

The second issue is Turkey. Syriza has cautiously tried to improve relations with Ankara. While Kammenos’ rhetoric has been strongly anti-Turkish, he has not interfered with overall policy towards Turkey. But a successor government could involve both Independent Greeks and other extreme rightists. They might see confrontation with Turkey as a way to consolidate their popular support.

The third issue, and closely related to the second, is Cyprus. Syriza is ideologically remote from the current centre-right Cypriot government, but supports a Cyprus settlement including the withdrawal of Turkish forces. As a guarantor power, Greek support is essential for any agreement. Should relations with Turkey deteriorate, the prospects for a deal would recede.

The fourth is energy security. Greece could become an important transit country for gas reaching Europe via Turkey. The trans-Anatolian pipeline (TANAP) from Azerbaijan to the Greek-Turkish border and the trans-Adriatic pipeline (TAP) from there to Italy are already under construction. Syriza also supports the planned ‘Turk Stream’ pipeline from Russia via Turkey to Greece and the Balkans. ‘Turk Stream’ could challenge the viability of TAP, and would increase Gazprom’s already large share of South-Eastern European markets. After Grexit, a cash-strapped Greek government could be torn between the economic attraction of transit fees from Gazprom and the political fear of increasing its dependence on gas imports via Turkey.

The fifth concerns the Western Balkans. Greek banks are active in places like Albania and Serbia, and although their status as separate legal entities there should shield them from the worst impact of Greece’s financial woes, their fragility could still cause economic problems. Politically, if Syriza fell from power, the slow normalisation of relations between Greece and Kosovo could be derailed by a more nationalist, pro-Orthodox government. Such a government would be even less likely than the present one to make progress on the issue of Macedonia’s name, which is the main obstacle to that country joining the EU and NATO.

The sixth issue involves security and defence. Greece has traditionally spent a higher percentage of its GDP on defence than any other European ally, primarily to protect itself from Turkey rather than to join EU or NATO missions. Whether it stays in the eurozone or not, it will have to cut defence spending. But a more nationalist government may care less about NATO’s defence priorities, and more about standing up to Turkey – and prioritise accordingly.

The seventh issue is Greece’s relationship with Russia. Both Syriza and Independent Greeks have unhealthily close relations with Putin’s Russia – contributing to Athens’ poor relations with Central Europeans who feel threatened by Moscow. So far, despite public objections to EU sanctions, Greece has approved their renewal; but that might change if Greece were pushed out of the eurozone and offered a financial lifeline by Russia. The problem for the Central Europeans is that the most likely alternative to Syriza is no better: both Independent Greeks and Golden Dawn are Russophile.

The EU may not be able to prevent Greece from falling out of the euro. But its leaders should think hard about the foreign policy consequences of a weak and alienated Greece. The Syriza government may be an annoying negotiating partner, but its foreign policy may be the best on offer.

Ian Bond is director of foreign policy and Rem Korteweg is a senior research fellow at the Centre for European Reform.

The four horsemen circling the European Council summit

EU Council summit

The four horsemen circling the European Council summit

Written by Rem Korteweg, 24 June 2015

Simultaneous crises are the new normal. Europe’s leaders must confront a quartet of challenges if they want to prevent the European Union falling apart.

Four horsemen will be circling around this week’s European Council. They represent four crises that threaten the EU: ‘Grexit’; the Mediterranean migration crisis; Russian aggression; and Britain’s threat to leave if the club is not reformed. Any of these issues could dominate the European Council’s agenda: each could alter the fundamental character of the Union. While none of them is particularly new – Greece's economic and financial woes have troubled the EU for six years – they are circling together and affecting each other.

‘Grexit’ looms first. The risk of a Greek default and possible exit from the eurozone is the most acute of the four crises.  Over the past several months, Greece’s creditors and the government of Alexis Tsipras have played a dangerous game of chicken. As a deadline approaches for Greece to repay the IMF €1.6 billion, it seems Greece may give in. An emergency summit on Monday brought renewed hope for a deal, as Greece offered more cuts to pensions and higher taxes. Tsipras now faces an uphill battle in the European Council to convince sceptical creditors like Germany and Finland, or fellow debtors like Spain and Portugal. For a deal to stick, the Greek leader must persuade sceptical members of his own party that he is not caving in to demands from Brussels. But even if a deal is clinched, as CER’s Christian Odendahl recently pointed out, a lasting solution to Greece’s economic problems will remain elusive. And so, despite the brinkmanship of the past weeks, even if Europe’s leaders hammer out an accord with Greece they may simply buy more time rather than remove the risk of Grexit.

Russia hovers over the ‘Grexit’ talks too. Should Greece leave the eurozone, it will need to attract credit, loans and investment from elsewhere, and Russia has shown an interest. This has strengthened Tsipras’ hand in the negotiations with Brussels. On Friday June 19th, the day after the Eurogroup failed to reach a Greek bailout agreement, Tsipras flew to Saint Petersburg for a meeting with Russia’s president Vladimir Putin and Alexei Miller, the head of Gazprom. The Greek leader signed a preliminary agreement to build a $2 billion pipeline across Greece, as part of Gazprom’s ‘Turkish stream’ project. The agreement is non-binding, but pokes a finger at the Commission’s plans to reduce the EU’s dependence on Russian gas imports. Tsipras’ flirtation with Moscow, at a time of high stakes negotiations with Brussels, has raised eyebrows. An increasingly Russia-friendly Greece would make it more difficult for the EU to maintain a unified position against Russian assertive behaviour in Ukraine and Eastern Europe.

Meanwhile, people continue to die on a daily basis in Ukraine’s ongoing conflict, though at less alarming rates than before. The ‘Minsk-II’ ceasefire is flawed, but most European governments are unwilling to give up on it. They think Russian help is needed elsewhere, such as the Iran nuclear talks and the Syrian civil war. As long as the fighting does not escalate dramatically, European leaders will not step up pressure on Russia to change its behaviour. Some leaders worry about the impact of sanctions on business (though statistics show the effect is limited), and argue that the current lull warrants a thaw in relations with Moscow. While France has cancelled the controversial sale of the Mistral amphibious ships, three European oil and gas companies have recently struck new commercial deals in Russia.

For now, however, the EU remains politically unified: most of the sanctions have been extended until January 2016, while those specific sanctions linked to the annexation of Crimea have been rolled over for a year. That unity may not endure, however. Regardless of what happens in the Donbass, by the end of the year, investigators will have published their official findings into the shooting down of flight MH17, which killed 298 people. One potential finding of the report could point to Russian complicity, either in delivering the missile system, or in the chain of command that led to the missile’s firing. European leaders will then need to decide whether to punish this crime or do nothing. A push for new sanctions could strain today’s delicate unity on Russia, while inaction would be a sign of weakness and an insult to the victims. The creation of an international tribunal to persecute the culprits may offer a sensible, but unsatisfying, middle road.

The desire to avoid ruffling Russian feathers means that Ukraine will not figure prominently at the European Council meeting either. But that is a mistake. Ukraine needs money: earlier this year Kyiv said that it required some $40 billion over the next five years, to avoid economic collapse, but with the economy continuing to deteriorate that sum now looks inadequate. As Charles Grant and Ian Bond have highlighted, some of that money is coming from the IMF, and some may eventually come via debt restructuring, but most of the money will need to come from the EU and the US. If Ukraine’s economy collapses, the ensuing political chaos would threaten the pro-Western leadership in Kyiv, handing Vladimir Putin the victory he has not been able to achieve through military force.

The third horseman circling is the migration crisis in the Mediterranean. In the first six months of 2015, 1,868 migrants have died trying to cross from North Africa. According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), some 114,000 migrants have reached Europe, mostly landing in Greece and Italy. In summer the weather is calmest and crossings increase, so both numbers are likely to rise. In response, the EU is trying to look tough. On June 22nd, it launched an Italian-led mission to monitor the maritime movements of smugglers. A subsequent stage of the operation would see European navies board and seize migrant ships, including in Libyan waters. Diplomats in New York are currently drafting the necessary United Nations mandate. The EU also wants the permission to destroy ships used by traffickers, although this is not likely to get international or Libyan support.

None of these measures will solve the migration crisis. The EU should take a broad approach, in terms of geography and reach. It will not be enough to track smugglers’ movements at sea, although it is a start. Gathering accurate intelligence on smuggling networks requires a presence on land or a credible Libyan counterpart with which to co-operate. And a focus on Libya makes sense at first, but smugglers could soon exploit the route of least resistance by shifting their activities to other parts of the North African coast. Many migrants are Syrian refugees, but a solution to Syria’s civil war remains out of reach. The EU must also review its development and humanitarian policies in transit countries like Libya, and in source countries across the African continent. A humanitarian tragedy cannot be reduced to a mere security challenge.

The tough debate in the European Council will, however, be less about the military mission or the EU’s foreign policy response, and more about migration’s ramifications within the EU. In May, the European Commission proposed a quota system, which would alleviate the burden on countries such as Italy and Greece, and redistribute 40,000 asylum seekers across the EU. Many, including the Central and Eastern European countries, object to this mandatory system. Under quotas, they would receive many more migrants than would otherwise be expected to make their way to them. Northern member-states also object because they ultimately feel these asylum seekers should be processed in southern Europe. Italy feels abandoned by the rest of the EU and has threatened to give migrants temporary visas so they can travel to other member-states. France has retorted that this might trigger the re-imposition of French border controls. The Schengen border code allows temporary border controls in exceptional circumstances, such as in the event of a serious threat to the internal security of a member-state. But in this case its invocation would not be the result of an acute threat to internal security, but of the breakdown of European solidarity. All this could cause a serious Schengen crisis, and draw into question one of the foundations of the EU – the free movement of people.

That leads to the fourth issue, which although not a crisis (yet) will preoccupy European leaders for the coming year. Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron, will outline his EU reform agenda at the summit meeting. He hopes to get results before an in-out referendum on EU membership, which may well take place in autumn 2016.

Among other things, Cameron wants to cut EU migrants’ access to benefits (particularly those going to people in work), in the hope that this would deter people from coming to the UK. This puts him on a collision course with several member-states, including Germany and Poland, which point out that this would violate EU treaty articles banning discrimination on grounds of nationality. The other member-states are very reluctant to open up the treaties to accommodate British reforms. They fear that one or other member-state would grab the opportunity to make special demands themselves. In some countries, like France, Ireland and the Netherlands, treaty change would trigger risky referendums. Cameron’s dilemma, however, is that a lot of Conservative backbenchers will not support his effort to keep Britain in the EU unless he achieves radical change.

Other British ideas may go down better in Europe, such as strengthening the EU’s ‘competitiveness’ by trimming cumbersome regulation, negotiating free-trade agreements and deepening the single market. The forthcoming European Council gives Cameron a platform to launch his renegotiation campaign, though for now he will avoid going into the details of what he wants. The secretariat of the Council of Ministers will be tasked with taking forward the detailed work, together with British officials. Cameron will find it hard to convince his European colleagues that they need to change EU policies and institutions in order to help him. As Charles Grant wrote recently, member-states fear that Eurosceptic backbenchers will push Cameron into demanding reforms that are unobtainable. The fewer allies Cameron has in the Europe, the tougher the negotiations will be, and the more the ‘British question’ will become an irritant in European politics.

The EU’s leaders will find it hard to tame these four horsemen. No country can afford to pick and choose which of these issues to take seriously and which not. All four are dangerous, and they all require a coherent European response. The four horsemen threaten the EU precisely because they raise issues that can only be solved if governments prioritise a European solution over narrow national agendas. If a European answer cannot be found, the horsemen will continue to promote chaos, instability and mutual recrimination within the EU.

Rem Korteweg is a senior research fellow at the Centre for European Reform.

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