European Council on Foreign Relations ECFR conducts research and promotes informed debate across Europe on the development of a coherent and effective European foreign policy. Thu, 03 Dec 2020 10:36:56 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 European Council on Foreign Relations 32 32 How Europe should fight violent Islamist extremism Wed, 02 Dec 2020 18:36:26 +0000 For the last two months, a public furore about Islamist extremism has swept across Europe. First, French President Emmanuel Macron presented his five-point plan to fight “Islamic separatism”. Then, terrorist attacks hit Paris, Dresden, Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, Nice, and Vienna – among them a particularly brutal and horrifying one on Samuel Paty. This prompted a joint statement from EU interior ministers and officials on fighting terrorism. The public debate on terrorism is now full of risky and potentially counterproductive ideas, but shuns safe and productive ones.

Why controlling religion radicalises both people and the state

Among the proposed initiatives is the establishment of a European institute for training imams, an idea promoted by European Council President Charles Michel. The project is implicitly disrespectful of existing Islamic institutions in Europe, as Hisham Hellyer has laid out. Just as importantly, the idea is impractical because state-controlled religion breeds extremism – as can be seen in several Muslim-majority countries. For instance, the Egyptian state has cracked down on religion since the 1950s: it has rigorously trained and licensed imams, and dictated Friday sermons. The result has been an almost constant struggle between the state and extremists – which leads to greater authoritarianism and, in turn, produces a more intense extremist response as part of a vicious cycle.

Only credible local religious leaders and institutions can be the influencers the European Union seeks.

This has happened because state-controlled religion lacks credibility and authenticity – it pushes believers into what seem more genuine avenues of religious inspiration, such as those provided by celebrity televangelists. Rather than look for religious answers in official state-controlled fatwa (religious decisions) houses, many Muslims look for answers on the internet, now the world’s biggest fatwa house. That house is hardly controllable. Therefore, only credible local religious leaders and institutions can be the influencers the European Union seeks. And these institutions cannot be socially engineered through counter-terrorism funds (even if they can rely more on European state educational funding than on charity).

The impact of religion on European politics

European leaders still seem to understand little about religion, Islam in particular. Paul Tillich, a German-American philosopher and theologian, famously described religiosity as an issue of “ultimate concern”. What he meant is that religious attitudes are extremely difficult to negotiate or control, but they strongly influence decisions and politics. Shortly before leaving office as high representative for foreign and security policy, Federica Mogherini made a last-ditch attempt help the EU understand religious attitudes, including those of Islam, by creating a platform called the Global Exchange on Religion in Society – but it has not taken off. Politically, it is of consequence that Islam is “the most protestant of the great monotheisms, it is ever Reformation-prone (Islam could indeed be described as Permanent Reformation)”, as Ernest Gellner put it. It constantly morphs and escapes dogma – it is, in essence, mouldable. Its plasticity can have positive social and political implications: a European Islam has already developed, one suitable to democratic systems that have total freedom of religion and belief.

The need to avoid stigmatisation and generalisations

Nothing is as conducive to radicalisation as a sense of a hostile political environment. Yet the narrative promoted by Macron, Michel, and EU interior ministers creates just that. Picking on Islam leads to what Zygmunt Bauman called the “adiaphorization” of Muslims: treatment of them as the odd ones out, who do not understand “our values” or secularism, cannot integrate into society, and are prone to radicalisation and violence. It is enough to read Vincent Geisser’s research to see how different the reality is. For example, in France, the majority of Muslims are well integrated culturally and socially, while 70 per cent feel that they can freely practice Islam.

How to embrace local and decentralised solutions

Macron is correct in much of his diagnosis of the causes of violent radicalisation: external financial influence, ghettoisation, and weak state support in poor areas. But the primary solution lies in the kinds of initiatives that are already in motion in Europe. In Denmark, the Aarhus anti-radicalisation and deradicalisation model seems to perform well (for example, the number of outgoing foreign fighters has significantly decreased each year since the programme began). Building on local structures, it involves an extensive network of parents, social workers, teachers, youth club workers, outreach workers, and police officers – who are trained to respond upon encountering a person who may have been radicalised. The project is co-organised by the Department of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences at Aarhus University. Its goal is to redirect potentially harmful activism away from radicalisation and towards other avenues by embracing inclusion: meaningful participation in common cultural, social, and societal life. The Aarhus team is in regular contact with various Muslim communities, organisations, and mosques. The model’s deradicalisation initiatives include a special exit programme for returning foreign fighters.

Most interestingly, perhaps, the Arhus model rests on a scholarly presumption that all human beings – regardless of gender, religion, cultural background, life history, or social situation – confront the exact same fundamental tasks in life. Feelings of inclusion and equality allow them to carry out these tasks when their lives are disrupted. The least European leaders can do is not add to many Muslims’ feelings of exclusion, lest this endanger social cohesion. The most they can do is apply smart solutions such as the Aarhus one locally. Such solutions require time, effort, and research – but they are well worth it.

Patrycja Sasnal is head of research and senior fellow (Middle East) at the Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM), and an ECFR Council Member.

How to advance a European solution to Bulgaria’s and North Macedonia’s dispute Wed, 02 Dec 2020 08:30:00 +0000 On 16 November, North Macedonia’s prime minister, Zoran Zaev, received the Human Rights Award of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung from Heiko Maas, the foreign minister of Germany. Zaev was brought to tears after leaders ranging from Alexis Tsipras to Ursula von der Leyen congratulated him on his success. But the celebration was short-lived: later that evening, much to everyone’s disbelief, the Bulgarian government announced that it would veto North Macedonia’s opening talks on accession to the EU. 

Sofia has demanded several changes to the negotiating framework for North Macedonia. It wants Skopje to acknowledge the Bulgarian roots of the Macedonian language; to declare that the use of the term ‘North Macedonia’ refers to the territory of the Republic of North Macedonia; to give up any claims on the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria; and to end its anti-Bulgarian rhetoric.

The veto was an especially abrupt about-turn for Bulgaria given that, as president of the Council of the European Union in 2018, the country had worked to reboot EU enlargement.

Bulgaria’s demands were an unpleasant surprise both because they broke the taboo on involving historical disputes in enlargement negotiations and because they came after a two-year Bulgarian campaign to speed up the EU integration process in the Western Balkans. Moreover, Bulgaria’s linguistic and historical claims are illegitimate under international law, as they constitute interference in North Macedonia’s internal affairs and call into question its right to self-determination. As for the inviolability of borders, the North Macedonian government changed the constitution on 2 December 2018 to state that “the Republic respects the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of neighbouring countries.”

The veto was an especially abrupt about-turn for Bulgaria given that, as president of the Council of the European Union in 2018, the country had worked to reboot EU enlargement. To some extent, Bulgarian politicians felt comfortable in the environment of growing scepticism among EU governments and voters on the expansion of the union. Some of the persistent difficulties in the negotiation process – including the French veto in October 2019 and the Netherlands’ current objections to Albania’s potential accession – are due to that negative sentiment in Western societies. 

As the current president of the Council of the EU, Germany needs to set a date for the first intergovernmental conference between the EU, Albania, and North Macedonia before the end of December, lest the enlargement process languishes for several years. The subsequent Portuguese and Slovenian presidencies will lack the political energy and influence to invest in enlargement – and it is unclear (even to Paris) what the French one will do in 2022, an election year in France. 

The core success of the European Union has been in limiting the traditional interdependence between domestic politics and foreign policy. Of course, there have been many bilateral disputes within the enlargement process. Slovenia conditioned Croatia’s entry to the club on the resolution of a fisheries and territorial dispute. Cyprus is still a divided country. And Spain and the United Kingdom continued to dispute the status of Gibraltar while they were both EU members. But these issues never blocked the enlargement process.

As history has proven, letting small crises fester in the Balkans has never made for good foreign policy in the EU’s neighbourhood.

Yet it seems that, in 2020, the winning streak is over and every European country, small or big, will freely use foreign policy tools for short-term political benefits at home. On a larger scale loom Poland and Hungary, which are currently blocking the EU’s budget and its covid-19 recovery fund. Bulgaria has taken up the legacy of Greece, which vetoed what was then Macedonia’s accession negotiations for 28 years over the issue of the country’s name. 

Both Bulgaria and North Macedonia bear some responsibility for their spat – they never implemented the friendship agreement they signed in 2017 beyond establishing a historical commission, which has become a scapegoat in the breakdown in their relationship. All the other steps in the agreement exist only on paper: the road that runs between Sofia and Skopje still looks like a relic of the nineteenth century, and these are the only two capitals in Europe without a railway connection between them.

Bulgaria’s veto reflects the asymmetry of power between EU member states and candidate countries. The irony is that, in this case, the imbalance has helped amplify the kind of hatred between nations that European integration was designed to end. It is not hard to imagine how Hungary could use this approach to push its claims on the Serbian region of Vojvodina, or Croatia could do so in relation to its views on Bosnian and Serbian history. There are many good examples from Europe’s past and present of why historical disputes are bilateral issues and not part of the EU accession criteria.

Clearly, one should not underestimate domestic political challenges. The Bulgarian and North Macedonian governments are in similarly weak positions. The Bulgarian government may want to engage in symbolic politics as a cover for its missteps in handling an accelerating coronavirus crisis. Nevertheless, it is hard to explain the recent political crescendo in Bulgaria on the accession issue. According to a recent public opinion poll, more than 80 per cent of Bulgarians would not support EU membership for North Macedonia if the country did not meet the conditions on the historical dispute that Sofia has set out. In 2019 only 15 per cent of Bulgarians had a negative attitude towards recognising the modern history of North Macedonia. Given this volatility of public attitudes, Borisov could work to pass the 2021 budget, before leading Bulgaria into an election in spring and ending the veto. Whatever the outcome of the next election, he still has time to show the spirit of European unity that his counterparts in the European People’s Party would appreciate. 

Zaev, for his part, has tried to defuse the growing anti-Bulgarian sentiment in his country, despite the high political cost of doing so. The EU should support him in this, as his failure would damage the prospects of pro-European politicians in North Macedonia and the entire region. And it would send a powerful signal to the leaders of other accession candidate countries that constructive behaviour and compromise are not the path to EU membership. 

As history has proven, letting small crises fester in the Balkans has never made for good foreign policy in the EU’s neighbourhood. 

North Macedonia and Bulgaria can still rejuvenate their existing bilateral agreement, which would allow the former’s accession negotiations to start before the end of the year. But the sides will need to agree on clear goals and mandates and will require some support and encouragement from the German presidency and European diplomats. Even if North Macedonia and Bulgaria succeed in breaking the deadlock, they will still have much hard work to do in constructing a bilateral relationship that is resilient against unpredictable shifts in domestic politics.  

Goran Buldioski is director of the Open Society Foundations’ Berlin office and the Open Society Initiative for Europe. He is also an ECFR Council Member.

How the EU should turn the tables on Hungary and Poland Tue, 01 Dec 2020 11:33:24 +0000 The EU should counter blackmail attempts by the governments in Warsaw and Budapest with calm determination. As long as Poland and Hungary maintain their vetoes, there should not be any agreements on new EU spending programmes, from which these two countries benefit the most.

Hungary and Poland are currently blocking the adoption of the EU financial package for the next seven years because they object to the new rule-of-law mechanism. If they stick to their veto, they will cause considerable political and economic damage – for the entire European Union as well as for themselves. How should the EU deal with that?

The EU should keep its calm. It must not allow itself to be blackmailed any further. Indeed, it has enough instruments at its disposal to counter the threats by Orban and Kaczynski.

In recent months, the negotiations were marked by a determination that Europe will stick together in this pandemic. All sides made significant concessions to facilitate the historic summit agreement in July, which cleared the way for the Recovery Instrument to help the most affected countries. The European Parliament and the other member states went a long way to get Hungary and Poland on board: The original proposal on the rule of law mechanism was substantially watered down and both countries received generous allocations from the Recovery Instrument despite their relatively mild economic slump in the first half of the year.

Poland and Hungary are about to turn everyone in the EU against them.

At the time, Hungary and Poland agreed to the overall package and thus also expressly agreed to a “conditionality regime to protect the budget”. It was clear that the details would have to be negotiated further. But not only Poland and Hungary had strong opinions on this matter. The European Parliament and a number of member states had a very clear, opposing position. The result of these negotiations was a classic EU compromise that made no one truly happy. Yet one thing is certain now: there is a broad political consensus in the EU that EU funds should only be made available to countries in which an independent judiciary and functioning anti-corruption authorities guarantee that they are used properly. It was not only western European countries that insisted on this – others like Slovakia and Romania did as well.

If Hungary and Poland – now supported by the Slovenian prime minister who a few weeks ago congratulated Trump on election night – wish to put the whole package into question, in spite of the compromise that 24 other countries and the Parliament are willing to make, they are playing with fire. The governments in Warsaw and Budapest want to make their citizens believe that a long-term blockade of the package would cost them nothing, or even could bring financial benefits. They argue that they can easily live with the old multiannual financial framework (MFF). But this is a dangerous fallacy in the middle of the second wave of the pandemic.

Practically all regular EU spending programmes will end in December. Poland and Hungary have received net pay-outs from these pots of €63.1bn and €27.3bn respectively over the last six years – more than any other EU country. The programmes for the next seven years are currently being renegotiated. It is true that as long as the vetoes are maintained, the old MFF ceilings would formally continue to apply. However, without new spending programmes not a single new cent could be budgeted.

Here the German Council presidency and the European Parliament should be very clear: The EU budget deal is an overall package. As long as two countries hold the entire package hostage, there can be no agreements or final votes on individual spending programmes. Poland and Hungary are abusing the package logic for their blackmail attempt – and it is precisely this logic that should now be turned against them.

The decision to freeze negotiations on spending programmes would not be a retaliatory measure against Poland and Hungary, but rather the result of a fundamental negotiation rule: Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. It would be also show that the EU is handling the impasse in a measured way. Although it may be tempting, now is not the moment for cobbled-together solutions or half-baked alternative measures. This is the time for calm determination in order to get a solid agreement across the finish line – exactly as it stands now. At the same time, such a step would send an important signal to the electorates in both countries that the actions of their governments will have palpable economic costs.

Budapest and Warsaw should not be under the illusion that only the large recipient countries of corona aid are particularly affected by their veto. The opulent rebates for Germany, the Netherlands or Sweden are also victims of their intransigence. Poland and Hungary are about to turn everyone in the EU against them. A short look in EU history books should be enough to understand how unpromising such strategies have been in the past.

Orban and the Polish Law and Justice government have climbed a very high tree. In order to come down and to save face, they may need a little assistance. However, in substance there can be no further concessions from the other member states and the European Parliament. The rule-of-law mechanism will be adopted, and both governments know that.

However, if both want to remain sitting on the tree for good, there is no choice but to cut the tree down. The rest of Europe cannot wait forever. The economic situation is simply too dire for that. It would take great efforts to make the Recovery Instrument a reality, even against the will of Hungary and Poland. But past events show us that where there is political will, there is usually a way. In this case, the regular EU spending programmes could also be approved by a majority of the member states and changed in such a way that Poland and Hungary would be left behind. Hungary and Poland surely know that the majority for this would be certain if they continued to antagonise the rest of the EU.

Despite this, the political and economic damage of failing to reach an agreement would be immense. Europe has benefited enormously from its unity over the summer, not least in the form of very low financing costs for many member states, reflecting increased confidence in the resilience of the European project. This unity would be gone. The rest of the EU would recover from this in the medium term. But the experience that in a moment of deep crisis, Poland and Hungary were more interested in domestic political chestbeating than in European cohesion would leave a permanent mark in the collective memory. And in the EU, we always see each other twice.

This commentary was originally published in German by Zeit Online and in Polish by Gazeta Wyborcza.

Lucas Guttenberg is deputy director of Jacques Delors Centre at the Hertie School.

A fundamental fight: The frugal four and the rule of law Mon, 30 Nov 2020 14:38:07 +0000 On the day Hungary and Poland vetoed the European Union’s multiannual budget and coronavirus recovery fund, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte had a session in parliament in The Hague. Rutte refused to water down the new rule of law conditions that prompted the veto. The compromise deal was already the “lower limit”, he said.

When a far-right Dutch MP said Rutte didn’t have half the guts of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Rutte replied: “Should I limit gay rights, limit freedom of the press in the Netherlands, and limit the rights of smaller parties to participate in elections? I am glad I am not like him. Terrible.”

Rutte is not the only northern European leader losing patience with Poland and Hungary. Sources report that Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen clashed with Orbán during the October European Council meeting, at which he opposed the words “gender equality” in a text because of its ‘ideological’ implications. Austria’s Europe minister, too, has taken issue with the two countries’ veto.

The Europe of rules, principles, and procedures is clashing head-on with the political Europe of strongmen who use raw power and codes of honour.

It is good that the EU member states widely known as the ‘frugal four’ are committed to defending the rule of law in Europe. It shouldn’t be forgotten, however, that they also bear some responsibility for the fact that the EU has done little to halt the continuous deterioration of the rule of law in Hungary and Poland in recent years.

For many reasons, member states have long turned a blind eye to the situation. They are always reluctant to sanction one another on any given issue – the Stability and Growth Pact comes to mind. Moreover, the erosion of independent institutions in Poland and Hungary was a slow process. At every stage, party-political sensitivity and tactical disagreements about the timing and the ‘right’ way to address the problem in Warsaw and Budapest played a role. Finally, member states have had to stamp out some big fires in recent years – the euro crisis, the refugee crisis, and Brexit. Many thought this was not the time to start internal battles over European values.

But now the chickens have come home to roost. Ten years of accumulated irritation are erupting. The Europe of rules, principles, and procedures is clashing head-on with the political Europe of strongmen who use raw power and codes of honour. It is a dirty but fundamental fight.

In the Polish parliament last week, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki compared the EU to the old communist regime. The “European oligarchy”, he said, violated the rule of law itself by attacking his country. He said that Poland, a major recipient of EU funding, would be “better off” without the bloc’s multiannual budget. This was the most anti-European speech by a Polish Prime Minister ever.

On the other side of the debate, there are European leaders who have become outspoken about the rule of law – such as Rutte. Until recently, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Austria, and Finland mainly took issue with southern countries, and mostly about money. Now, they have a new common theme: the rule of law.

Polls published by ECFR on Wednesday show that the main problem citizens in those five countries have with the new EU budget and the coronavirus fund is not that the bloc is spending too much money. No, their greatest concerns are waste and corruption. Twenty per cent of Austrians worry about the amount of money spent on the fund, and 48 percent about waste and corruption. In the Netherlands, these figures are 24 per cent and 38 per cent respectively. It is interesting to note that respondents in Germany, France, and even Poland itself have the same priorities. No one should be surprised if, in the coming months, European debates increasingly focus on the rule of law. With a Dutch parliamentary election scheduled for March 2021, Rutte plays this well.

Yet it wasn’t the frugals who linked the disbursement of European funds to rule of law requirements. Credit for that goes to the European Parliament. In July, the frugal countries managed to limit European spending, but failed to condition it on the rule of law. In autumn, member states reworked the July deal into a European draft bill. When this draft arrived in the European Parliament, it contained the usual corruption and fraud clauses – but nothing about the rule of law. MEPs then inserted provisions on an independent judiciary, for example. Intense negotiations followed. Member states eventually watered down this version. Finally, they reached a compromise with the European Parliament. Poland and Hungary objected to the rule of law mechanism, but were outvoted. They then decided to veto the entire budget and the coronavirus recovery fund, which require unanimity.

There is a second reason why the strong stance on the rule of law in some northern European capitals sounds a bit hollow. Member states could have brought cases against Poland and Hungary before the European Court of Justice. They could also have provided stronger backing for the cases eventually filed by the European Parliament and the European Commission. They did not. As a result, there is now a risk that those cases will peter out. Furthermore, member states could have used EU funds to give the new European Public Prosecutor more teeth in the fight against corruption. Instead, they gave her a small budget and very little power: she is totally dependent on the goodwill of national courts. Sweden and Denmark are not even engaging with the EU prosecutor. Finally, plans to strengthen Europol’s powers in the fight against corruption have also met with opposition from many member states.

Some have observed that the embrace of the ‘frugal’ banner is becoming a trap for countries such as Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands. They think it is good if these countries also become positively engaged in Europe by taking a strong stand on rule of law issues.

But there are risks, too. It could even reignite disputes between north and south. Southern European countries are becoming nervous about the standoff over the rule of law: so long as it lasts, there will be no coronavirus recovery fund – of which they will be the largest recipients. They have not forgotten that, initially, the frugal countries were against this fund. And they felt hurt by some frank remarks from the Dutch minister of finance. In this context, some in Italy and Spain now suspect that, by refusing a compromise with Hungary and Poland on the rule of law, northern European countries are killing off the fund, too.

No one knows who will blink first. The issue is now completely politicised, and the linkage to other problems makes this nut all the harder to crack.

In a long letter to European Council President Charles Michel, Orbán wrote that he would only revoke his veto if every link between European subsidies and the rule of law disappeared. He signed off quoting Luther: “Hier stehe ich. Ich kann nicht anders.”

Caroline de Gruyter is a Council Member of ECFR, and a European Affairs columnist and correspondent of the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad. This article was adapted from a recent column in NRC.

A call for Europe to bolster transatlantic diplomacy on Iran Mon, 30 Nov 2020 08:55:05 +0000 The election of Joe Biden presents an opening to strengthen transatlantic relations on critical security issues, including on Iran. Having worked so hard to preserve the Iran nuclear deal over the last four years, European governments and the EU must now unequivocally call on the incoming Biden administration and Iran to swiftly come back into full compliance with the deal. European actors should pro-actively, and in a coordinated fashion lay out a viable roadmap to support this effort. 

The Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign against Iran has failed, with the unprecedented sanctions negatively impacting ordinary Iranians. In response to reimposed US sanction since 2018, Iran has increased its nuclear activities and continues to step away from its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Tehran has also flexed its military muscle across the Middle East. The Trump administration’s remaining term in office is likely to be turbulent with new measures being invoked specifically to complicate Biden’s return to the JCPOA.  Recent reports also suggest there is a risk of further military tensions between the United Stated and Iran. An incoming Biden administration could come into office facing renewed escalation.

It is critical for the stability of the Middle East that the United States and Iran urgently cool tensions and restore diplomatic engagement on a range of issues. This should start with rehabilitating the nuclear deal, which is a critical global non-proliferation agreement, and move towards the wider set of issues fuelling regional instability that is so detrimental to European interests.

With European support, a Biden administration can take advantage of the positive signalling from the Rouhani government – in its final eight months left in office – welcoming Biden’s stated aim of returning to the JCPOA and readiness to ‘walk the path of diplomacy’ with Iran.

Towards this end, European governments and the EU should now prioritise the following steps:

  1. In the coming weeks, France, Germany and the United Kingdom, (E3) should coordinate a joint public statement calling on the incoming Biden administration, once inaugurated, to formally announce its intent to re-join the JCPOA, urging the United States and Iran to agree on steps for mutual re-compliance and then to build on the agreement. European governments and the EU should simultaneously intensify Congressional outreach in Washington  in support for Biden’s return to the agreement. 
  2. The E3 countries should press for a Joint Commission meeting of the JCPOA parties to be held prior to 20 January. The European Union’s High Representative Josep Borrell, should, as chair of the Joint Commission, encourage the current members of the agreement to call for the return of the United States to the JCPOA and for the US to reaffirm support for UN Security Council resolution 2231. The Joint Commission should also call on the United States to reissue waivers for civil nuclear cooperation (revoked under Trump) as soon as possible to facilitate Iran’s roll-back of nuclear activities and the modernisation of Iran’s Arak heavy water reactor.
  3. Between now and 20 January, the E3 and the EU should convene a political director level meeting with Iran, to scope out a clear pathway for Iran to reverse its nuclear activities. Europeans should stress to Iran that such steps will be a necessary component for the United States to fully return to the JCPOA under a Biden administration. This process should involve an extensive discussion with Iran on technical steps to roll back its nuclear programme, the realistic contours of sanctions relief under a Biden administration, and European measures to support Iran’s economy. The E3 and the EU should also use existing diplomatic channels with Iran to caution against escalation with the United States, particularly in Iraq where there is a high risk of tensions. Any escalation in advance of Biden’s inauguration would greatly complicate diplomatic efforts.
  4. In parallel to the nuclear track, European countries and the EU should articulate a diplomatic roadmap for transatlantic cooperation on regional de-escalation to the incoming Biden administration and wider American policy community. Ahead of Biden’s inauguration, European governments should also intensify communication with other regional actors, notably Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, aimed at both preventing dangerous escalation and laying the groundwork for a wider subsequent process in line with the efforts of the United Nation Secretary-General to advance regional security. This will be needed to reassure and offset opposition to renewed engagement with Iran from some of Europe’s regional partners. As part of this approach, Europeans should now start to intensify efforts in support of inclusive stabilisation efforts in Iraq and Yemen.

European countries must move fast to contain Iran’s expanding nuclear programme, and to urge the incoming Biden administration to take advantage of the political momentum following his inauguration to actively engage Iran and reverse the current dangerous escalatory trajectory.


  • Carl Bildt, former Swedish prime minister and foreign minister, and chair of the ECFR board
  • Alistair Burt, former UK minister of state for the Middle East at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and former MP
  • Wolfgang Ischinger, chairman of the Munich Security Conference, former German ambassador to the US, and former deputy foreign minister
  • Jean-David Levitte, former ambassador of France to the United States, the United Nations, and diplomatic adviser to presidents Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy
  • Andrzej Olechowski, former Polish minister of foreign affairs
  • Javier Solana, former EU high representative for the common foreign and security policy, former secretary-general of NATO, member of the ECFR board, and a distinguished fellow at the Brookings Institution
Responding to the China challenge: The state of play on investment screening in Europe Fri, 27 Nov 2020 10:42:32 +0000 The European Union is one of the most attractive destinations for foreign direct investment (FDI). As a driver of economic growth and job creation, investment from outside the EU brings great benefit to the European economy. But, under certain conditions, foreign investment can also become a threat to European sovereignty and economic prosperity.

Following growing concerns about the acquisition of strategically important companies across Europe especially by Chinese companies and investors, the EU and member states have been looking hard at how to protect critical infrastructure, industrial innovation, and defence and dual-use technology. While individual member states have been deploying investment screening mechanisms through national legislation for many years, a coordinated pan-European approach to the issue was long lacking. To fill this gap, the EU introduced legislation in March 2019 to establish a framework for screening foreign direct investment at the EU level. The new regulation came into force last month. At the same time, member states are also implementing national legislation in accordance with the framework.

To protect EU strategic interests related to foreign investment, Brussels aims to enhance cooperation and coordination between member states and the European Commission as well as among member states. Member states will now have to notify the commission of cases going through their national screening procedures. They will also have to provide information about the investment upon request. The new framework allows the European Commission and other member states to then issue opinions on proposed investments or takeovers, and raise their concerns, which must then be considered by the member state in which the investment is taking place. While these opinions are not legally binding, the European Commission openly raising concerns in this way could have a strong signalling effect. For a member state to then deliberately go against the EU’s recommendation could have negative consequences for future investment from within the EU.

The new EU regulation is a boost for greater European sovereignty

Although the new regulation is not a centralised EU investment screening tool, it is, nevertheless, a milestone in forging a more comprehensive EU approach towards detecting targeted investments in sensitive sectors and responding to them in a coherent manner. Member states that did not have national investment screening mechanisms in place before are now required by the new legislation to set up a point of contact for FDI in their country. They will have to submit annual reports summarising inward FDI activity. Politically fortified by the effects of the covid-19 crisis, the new EU regulation is, therefore, a boost for greater European sovereignty and one of the few concrete and credible deliverables on the China agenda that the EU has come up with so far.

In order to provide an overview of where individual member states stand, the following chart maps the different national approaches to FDI screening. Currently, 15 member states have national screening mechanisms in place, while five are currently in the process of adopting new mechanisms. Almost all member states are in the process of reviewing or updating their FDI screening mechanisms. ECFR will continue to monitor the developments in each member state and incorporate any changes accordingly.  

Rafael Loss contributed to the research by creating the toolbox and its visualisation.

The data was updated last on 12 November 2020.

Why the rule of law matters so much to Austria Fri, 27 Nov 2020 09:04:19 +0000 In this year’s negotiations on the European Union’s 2021-2027 multiannual financial framework and the architecture of the covid-19 recovery fund, Austria confidently stepped into the spotlight and framed the discussion together with the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, and occasionally Finland – the so-called ‘frugal states’. What differentiated Austria from the other frugals is its recurring – but to a certain extent guilt-driven – demand for rule of law criteria to be closely linked to the EU’s budget. For Vienna, it is not only a question of where the money goes, but also what the overall situation in the respective member states is. If member states are failing to uphold the rule of law and other democratic principles, it reasons, funds should be withheld from them. But what really lies beneath the Austrian government’s strong determination for the EU to use rule of law mechanisms in case of breaches by member states?

Austria’s focus is not just driven by ideological considerations; it is equally motivated by practical reasons, where geographical location and economic factors play a prominent role. Austria’s overall financial situation is good compared to other EU countries and, according to ECFR’s public opinion research into what role the frugal states could play after the EU recovery deal, 30 per cent of Austrians believe that the EU contributes significantly to their country’s economic prosperity – a figure slightly higher than with the rest of the frugals.

However, its central location and considerable economic dependence on central and eastern Europe mean that Austria’s economy is more vulnerable to cases of corruption and rule of law violations in its neighbourhood. Forty-eight per cent of the general public already doubt the effectiveness of the recovery fund; they are concerned about corruption and how recipient countries would spend the money. This is by far the highest share among the frugal states. For Austria, the rule of law and the vitality of the European single market go hand in hand. However, as ECFR’s Coalition Explorer shows, when it comes to consultations on various European policy matters, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Slovakia, and Croatia often turn to Austria. Hence, open dialogue and good neighbourly relations are of utmost importance to Austria, as it does not want to imperil its status in the region. This naturally puts Vienna in a difficult position, as it can be a difficult balancing act to address concerns about neighbours’ democratic principles while maintaining friendly relations with them.

For Austria, the rule of law and the vitality of the European single market go hand in hand

Hungary is a particular case in point: in March this year, during the outbreak of covid-19, the prime minister, Viktor Orban, introduced an emergency law that gave him extensive powers, leading several EU member states to promptly issue a joint statement on the matter. Austria, however, did not add its signature, stating that it preferred to seek a constructive dialogue instead. Its refusal stems partly from its special historical relationship with Hungary, as well as Vienna’s own image as a bridge-builder between east and west. The most decisive factor, however, might have been economic: Austria is the third-largest investor in neighbouring Hungary, which in 2019 was the most important market for Austrian exports across central and eastern Europe, and the fourth most important for Austria in the whole EU. By way of comparison, no central or eastern European country features in Finland’s and Sweden’s top ten export partners; for Denmark and the Netherlands, only Poland makes the top ten. Although current developments with regards to the rule of law are closely monitored by the EU, there remains a residual (political) risk for Austrian investors.

Therefore, while ensuring that Austria remains surrounded by stable democratic countries, Vienna is convinced that a stronger supranational mechanism reinforcing the protection of the rule of law would also benefit the European project as a whole. This is not least because of Austria being confronted with charges of illiberalism not long ago. In 2018, during the previous government, the People’s Party formed a coalition with the far-right Freedom Party, which resulted in political chaos and damaged Austria’s international reputation; a set of circumstances that will not be forgotten easily. Thus, if clear and effective coercive measures regarding the protection of the rule of law were in place on an EU level, Austria would better protect itself and at the same time not be at so much at risk of jeopardising its own relationship for the sake of instructing its neighbours on democratic principles.

Austria has stepped up its engagement on EU matters of late and it would, according to its chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, even be willing to push for a new European treaty in order to strengthen the EU. Kurz has argued that much has changed since the 2007 Lisbon Treaty, and that the EU needs greater subsidiarity and a more proactive stance on issues like migration and the rule of law.

Austria should continue building on its lengthy experience as a bridge-builder, putting more effort into finding common ground with other member states. But it could also take a firmer stance on its neighbours when necessary. This way, Vienna could actively help transform the EU in the aftermath of the pandemic.

Sofia Maria Satanakis has been a research fellow at the AIES since 2013. Her research covers the topic of European Integration, with a special focus on the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP).

How Europe can make climate neutrality a reality Thu, 26 Nov 2020 13:15:44 +0000 We stand at a pivotal moment in our history. We are feeling the weight and the sadness of the human tragedy of 2020, but we have not yet felt the full force of the economic fallout from the global health crisis. How we try to bounce back from this crisis will dictate our future on this planet. But there is reason for hope, in spite of the economic pressures.

The pandemic has shown how vulnerable we are to nature’s forces. And, while climate change may act more slowly than a virus, it will prove equally deadly, as we know already from the victims of increasingly severe whether events and from the economic disruption climate change creates. We know that we must stop the growth of greenhouse gases now, achieve a balance between emissions and removals shortly after mid-century, and accelerate their removal them from the atmosphere thereafter. In Europe, we have called this “climate neutrality”. We want to achieve it by 2050 at the latest. We know that Europe alone can only make a dent in this global threat, but we believe we can offer everyone else on our planet a working model of a modern, competitive, prosperous, and climate-neutral economy and society by 2050, in which no one is left behind.

This goal is a huge undertaking, but it does not have to mean economic sacrifice. Europe has a proven record of achieving economic growth while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Between 1990 and 2019, EU economies reduced their net greenhouse gas emissions by one-quarter while still increasing their combined GDP by over 60 per cent. The European Union and its member states today have in place all the laws and the measures needed to achieve our current target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 per cent by 2030, and in fact overshoot it. Yet, this is not enough. At the rate of change that these laws would bring, Europe would have to further accelerate its efforts after 2030, potentially curbing economic growth.

Europe’s climate goals can help overcome the economic crisis brought about by the pandemic

This is why the European Green Deal makes our 2050 commitment legally binding in the EU Climate Law, and why the European Commission has proposed an ambitious climate target plan for 2030 to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 per cent. The commission’s impact assessment shows that this is achievable and beneficial for Europe. It gives industry adequate time to adapt, to benefit from first-mover advantage, and to avoid carbon lock-in, while stemming the continued damage to the climate that further delay would bring.

At the same time, the huge investment that these goals require are just what Europe needs right now to overcome the economic crisis brought about by the covid-19 pandemic. Just as, in the longer term, frontloading this investment is what Europe needs for our longer-term project.

Much of this investment will come from the private sector, but public funds are needed to support the necessary innovation towards clean technologies; to ensure solidarity towards all those who are less able to manage the transition on their own; and to help citizens and administrations adapt to the disruption that climate change will continue to bring before we can win this fight. The EU is already taking the steps to secure the financial means. The European Parliament and member states reached agreement on an improved EU budget for 2021-2027 and on an extraordinary recovery instrument, NextGenerationEU. This package of more than €1.8 trillion would enable the EU to tackle both today’s crisis and tomorrow’s challenges. Thirty per cent of all EU funds, and 37 per cent of the €672.5 billion of new grants and loans from NextGenerationEU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility, will be dedicated to fighting climate change. The “twin transitions” (green and digital) will also be at the heart of NextGenerationEU. Member states will invest in green jobs and sustainable economic growth. These funds will finance clean technologies such as hydrogen, boost the share of renewables in the energy mix, improve the energy efficiency of buildings supporting the Renovation Wave, and accelerate the rollout of sustainable green transport and infrastructure. The Just Transition Mechanism will mobilise over €100 billion of public and private investment to support those regions most vulnerable to potential negative socio-economic impacts of the transition.

The EU will also revise its entire climate and energy framework, to have in place the laws and measures we require to match our ambitions. Public consultations on revising the EU Emissions Trading System Directive, the Effort Sharing Regulation, the Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry Regulation, and the Regulation governing carbon dioxide standards for light-duty vehicles were launched in November 2020, with a view to proposing a full legislative package by June 2021. Carbon pricing, under the Emissions Trading System, currently covering power and industry, could extend to other parts of the economy. The capacity of Europe’s land and forests to sequester carbon from the atmosphere must be strengthened: planting trees, better (and more efficient) farming practices, rewetting wetlands, and promoting greater use of wood products in construction and other sectors. Higher CO2 emissions standards are to be set for the cars and vans on European roads.

Yet, we know our good intentions for a green recovery in Europe will not be enough if we fail to convince others to join us. Not only must we in Europe press ahead with our own ambitious plans for a green transition, but we must bring international partners on board too. Already, the ranks of the “net-zero club” are growing. Japan has followed the EU and has adopted the 2050 climate neutrality goal, and others aim to achieve at least net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050 (South Africa and South Korea) or 2060 (China). Canada announced a new law on climate neutrality and Joe Biden has indicated that the United States will move in the same direction. Five years on, there is finally a sense of a global momentum emerging, towards keeping the promise of the Paris Agreement and securing our future on this planet.

Mauro Petriccione is director general for Climate Action at the European Commission.

While the references to legislative acts and policy documents are accurate, the views expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Commission.

Military lessons from Nagorno-Karabakh: Reason for Europe to worry Tue, 24 Nov 2020 09:05:46 +0000 In the last decade, it was no secret that Azerbaijan was steadily building up its armed forces. But, despite this, few experts predicted this month’s clear-cut military victory by Azerbaijan over Armenia. Much of this victory is credited to the technical and financial side of the war: Azerbaijan was able to afford more and it had Turkish and Israeli technology that was simply better than what Armenia had to draw on. But the lessons of the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war go deeper and are more complex than just questions of technology. And they hold distinct lessons for how well Europe can defend itself.

Lesson 1: Strategy and politics matter

The course of every war is influenced by the specific political circumstances that trigger it – and this war was no exception. Azerbaijan and Turkey were confident in the success of their offensive action, as Russia had from the onset of the war indicated that it had no intention of assisting the Armenians outside of their recognised borders. Russia also saw Azeri military pressure as a tool to weaken the Armenian prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan, who headed the 2018 revolution that removed the old regime. Azeri action would, moreover, be likely to lead Armenia accept previously negotiated “peace plans” that would strengthen Moscow’s geopolitical position. This adverse political situation directly translated into military disadvantages on the battlefield for the Armenians.

Knowing Moscow’s tacit acceptance of a military intervention, Turkey based several F-16 fighters in Azerbaijan in October 2020 as a general deterrent. These were later used to sweep the sky of any Armenian ground-attack aircraft that tried to engage in combat. For its part, Armenia had just received eight Su-30 interceptors from Russia this summer, but did not even try to use them to contest the Azeri drones and F-16. The main reason for this was that Russia wanted Armenia not to enter into a direct confrontation with Turkey proper, and so it kept its aircraft on the ground. Russia effectively served air superiority on a diplomatic silver platter to Azerbaijan and Turkey. This proved decisive.

Lesson 2: Computers and networks matter

Like in Syria and Libya, Russian air-defence systems proved to be ineffective against small and slow drones. This has inspired a debate in the West about whether Russian air-defence systems are generally overrated. But this verdict would be premature.

Russia effectively served victory on a diplomatic silver platter to Azerbaijan and Turkey.

Armenia’s most ‘modern’ air-defence systems, the S-300PT and PS series and the 9K37M Buk-M1, were both developed in the 1980s. While the missiles are still potent, their sensors are designed to detect, identifiy and track fast-moving fighters, and their moving-target indicators disregard small, slow drones. Like many 1980s systems, a lot of computing is predetermined by hardware layout, and reprogramming requires an extensive refit of the entire system, which the Armenians had not done. These systems are also incapable of plot-fusion: accumulating and combining raw radar echoes from different radars into one aggregated situation report. Plot-fusion is essential to detecting small and low-observable targets such as advanced drones or stealth aircraft. None of the export versions of Russia’s air-defence systems that it has sold to Syria, Turkey, North Korea, and Iran are capable of plot-fusion. (In the latter two cases, these are disguised as ‘indigenous’ systems like the Raad or Bavar 373.) There is therefore a huge difference in performance between Russian air-defence systems protecting Russian bases in Armenia and Syria and those Russian air-defence systems exported to Armenia and Syria.

Azerbaijan’s drones roamed free because Armenia had no jammer able to interrupt the signals linking the drones to their guidance stations. Only in the last days of the war did Russia use the Krasukha electronic warfare system based at the Armenian city of Gyumri to interdict Azeri deep reconnaissance in Armenia proper. Still, the Azeris also used the Israeli Harop loitering munition, which was able to work under adverse conditions (although at reduced effectiveness) as it does not, unlike drones, require a guidance link. Hence among armies that are likely to prepare to fight wars in the future – not only the US, China, Russia but regional powers such as Turkey, Israel, and South Africa – this experience will certainly prompt further research into artificial intelligence and autonomous lethal weapons systems. Rather than banning this class of ammunition by a prohibitive arms control treaty, as envisioned by Europe, they will experiment with how to make use of the new technologies and best integrate autonomous lethal weapons systems into their combined-arms manoeuvre forces, thereby increasing their operational tempo and effectiveness.

Lesson 3: Fight ‘around’ the enemy’s strength

Before the war, on a tactical level the Armenian army was superior: it had better officers, more motivated soldiers, and a more agile leadership. In all previous wars with Azerbaijan, this proved to be decisive. But Azerbaijan found a way to work around it. This is where the drones came in: they allowed the Azeris to reconnoitre first the Armenian position and then the placement of reserves. Armenian positions then could be extensively shelled with conventional artillery, weakening their defences. Drones then guided the onslaught towards the Armenian reserves, bringing in artillery, multiple-rocket systems with cluster munitions, their own missiles, or using Israeli-made LORA ballistic missiles to destroy bridges or roads linking the reserves with the front. Once the Armenian side was incapable of sending reserves into battle, the Azeri army could move in any number it wished to overwhelm the isolated Armenian positions. This procedure was repeated day after day, chipping one Armenian position away each day and resupplying artillery during the night.

This tactic also worked well in mountainous territory the Armenians thought would be easy to defend. In the mountains, there is only one road connecting the front to the rear, which made it even easier for drones to spot targets. When the battle over Shusha demonstrated that the Armenians would not stand a chance even in this territory, the Armenian army started to disintegrate and Yerevan had no choice than to agree a ceasefire on adverse terms.

In the West, much of the drone discussion has focused on the technical side of drone warfare. But this aspect was less spectacular in this war. The numbers of vehicles claimed to be destroyed are most likely exaggerated – for example, this Azeri-language Sputnik report claims that more tanks were destroyed than the number of tanks Armenia has in active duty. The Azeri tactical use of drones was impressive, as was the way they embedded them in conventional armoured operations to work around the strength of the opponent’s armed forces. This intellectual creativity should probably be assigned to Turkish military advisers, who, by refining Azerbaijan’s way of fighting, contributed as much to Baku’s victory as the delivery of hardware.

Europe should look carefully at the military lessons of this conflict, and not dismiss it as a minor war between poor countries. Since the cold war, most European armies have phased out gun-based self-propelled air-defence systems. Man-portable air-defence systems (MANPADS) like the Stinger and Igla – the primary short-range air-defence systems in Europe – have little chance of acquiring such small targets like loitering munitions or small drones invisible to the operator. In the recent Nagorno-Karabakh war more MANPADS were destroyed by drones than they could shoot down drones themselves. No European army has a high-resolution sensor-fusion- or plot-fusion-capable armoured air-defence system to protect its own armour. Only France and Germany have (short range) anti-drone jammers and base-protection assets. Most of the EU’s armies – especially those of small and medium-sized member states – would do as miserably as the Armenian army in a modern kinetic war. That should make them think – and worry.

What are we actually fighting about? Germany, France, and the spectre of European autonomy Mon, 23 Nov 2020 11:12:16 +0000 Once again, we are witnessing Franco-German quarrels over “European autonomy”. French President Emmanuel Macron and German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (AKK) have gone on the offensive, supported by the media which seemed more than happy to facilitate the apparent confrontation.

In the span of a few days, AKK published an opinion piece and gave a keynote speech, while Macron gave a widely read, 10,000-word interview. Their statements were broad in scope, but addressed the issue of European defence capabilities and of European dependences on the United States. Neither side minced their words: in her op-ed, AKK called Europe’s strategic autonomy an “illusion” – which was commonly understood as an attack on Macron, the idea’s most prominent advocate. Macron stated that he “profoundly disagree[d] … with the opinion piece signed by the German Minister of Defence”, and that he considered it to be a “historical misinterpretation”. A day later, AKK appeared somewhat more conciliatory when she emphasised in her speech areas in which she and Macron agreed. But the lines seem to have been drawn.

Of course, arguments and disagreements have always been part of the Franco-German relationship. This is nothing to worry about among allies and can even help to coordinate positions. What is strange about the current discussion, however, is that, despite all the ink that has been spilled on the topic, the actual matter in dispute remains strangely unclear. If one takes a closer look, it becomes clear that AKK is forcefully rejecting something that Macron has not actually proposed. And both sides see the same need for action. So, what are we actually arguing about?

AKK says that the illusionary idea of Europe’s strategic autonomy must come to an end as Europe cannot replace America as a security guarantor. In her opinion, the idea of European autonomy goes too far “if it feeds the illusion that we could guarantee security, stability, and prosperity in Europe without NATO and the US”. The “if” in this sentence is fundamental. Because this is not how Macron defines autonomy. It is true that France, as an independent nuclear power, does not depend on the US and NATO’s nuclear umbrella quite so much. But Macron has always stressed that European defence is complementary to NATO. It is a bold interpretation to say that European autonomy aims to replace the US, or NATO, or suggests that this may be easy or desirable any time soon. Rather, Macron wants to prepare for a situation in which NATO might be unable to act, and the US unable or unwilling to help. This does not mean that he longs for such a situation, let alone wants to create it. This extreme interpretation of European autonomy as a rejection of the US is a strawman.

In the German Ministry of Defence, there seems to be concern that some elements of the German political opposition are a bit too enthusiastic about the idea of European autonomy.

The dispute over the United States’ influence is particularly annoying because the two countries are actually on the same page about what needs to be done: both Germany and France want to bolster European defence. Yes, the reasoning that leads them to this conclusion may be different: whereas France wants to be prepared for the day when the US is no longer able or willing to guarantee European security, Germany wants to strengthen the European pillar of NATO to convince the US to maintain its presence in Europe. But both partners come to the same conclusion: Europe must do more.

The countries are, therefore, not as far from each other as the current discussion makes it seem. Is this conflict based on a simple misunderstanding? That is possible, but seems unlikely given the regular exchanges between Berlin and Paris. Macron and AKK do not have to write op-eds – their staff can simply pick up the phone to clear up misunderstandings.
Is this a deliberate misconstruction, then? It may be that some particularly transatlantic-minded figures in Berlin suspect that Macron does indeed want to weaken NATO. Such suspicion is dangerous and should be addressed openly. It is also possible that AKK – especially with her opinion piece clearly directed at Washington – just wanted to show the Americans that Germany needs them and values their help.

However, AKK’s statements might also have been influenced by a different consideration. Namely, they make more sense if one takes into account German public opinion.

In the German Ministry of Defence, there seems to be concern that some elements of the German political opposition are a bit too enthusiastic about the idea of European autonomy – and not because they want to bolster European defence efforts. Rather, it is precisely the extreme (mis-)interpretation of European autonomy without the US that is attractive to them, as this is a vision that can be sold to parts of the German population. AKK warns that “anti-American sentiment, which has always existed in our country alongside feelings of gratitude and closeness toward our ally, is on the rise and has become a notable force.” And many Germans have always strongly rejected nuclear weapons. Thus, a European autonomy that leads to the withdrawal of American nuclear weapons from Germany may well find public support in Germany. Which means that Germany and Europe could end up with the worst of both worlds: a Europe without an American (nuclear) umbrella – and without the necessary European capabilities to replace it.

This would also explain why AKK emphasised in her speech that “the costs of strategic autonomy in the sense of complete detachment from the US would be disproportionately higher than the two percent of GDP to which we have committed ourselves in the transatlantic alliance.” France does not care much about the percentage of GPD that German defence spending amounts to – but that number certainly matters to the German taxpayer.

I admit that this might be a favourable analysis of the situation. But I cannot believe that there are such fundamental misunderstandings given regular Franco-German exchanges. Nor do I want to believe that we are seeing a wilful misunderstanding based on fundamental mistrust. We should cut down on these sham debates and focus on what both countries agree on: the need to build greater European capacities.

This article appeared first in German in Der Grand Continent.