Monday, 23 April 2018

Syria: looking ahead

Regarding the Syrian complex crisis, it´s obvious that Assad and Putin believe in the military solution. And they are now close to achieve the military control of a good deal of the territory.
That option might result for a while, but it cannot resolve the deep divisions existing in the country. It does not address the overwhelming call for inclusiveness and democracy coming from so many segments of the population. It only suspends and postpones the crisis.

I am not sure Bashar al-Assad realises he must open up and engage in political dialogue, after winning on the military front. This should be the key message the EU leaders should put across to him. For that, they have no alternative but to re-engage the contacts with the strongman in Damascus. The channels of communication between the EU and Syria ought to be re-established.

That´s my advice as the EU prepares to chair another conference on Syria.

Such conference must not be just about humanitarian assistance coupled with a mere statement reiterating past options. Options that time has shown to be as good as dead ends.

Moreover, it is not a great idea to link in the same conference two different matters: humanitarian needs should be discussed in a different forum. Not good to mix them with politics.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Friendly journalism

It can take months for a well-known, credible journalist to get a visa to enter Syria. Most of the times, the answer is no, no visa. Therefore, be on guard if one news person not only manages to get in but is also given a free hand to roam around as he pleases. Including to walk without a chaperon the streets of Douma, a township that remains out of reach for the UN chemical inspectors.

What do you expect from such a journalist? He is certainly a friend of the Assad circle of power. He will write stories that will go along with the regime´s narrative.

That will be highly appreciated by Assad and his supporters. And even more, if the said journalist comes from the UK or another major Western nation.

We should always keep in mind that the war is also about the way the stories are told and by whom. Propaganda is key in any war effort.  

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Democracy based on strong institutions

Why are the EU nations more peaceful and easier to live in than many others? The answer is clear. They are built on democratic values and practices. The competing interests between different segments of society and the differences of opinion are dealt with by well established institutions, such as the parliaments, the justice system, and the trade unions and the business associations. There is also a vibrant mixture of civil society organisations, representing various concerns and strong enough to be free from the grip of the State.

In line with this, it´s obvious that the strengthening of our democracies requires that the role of these institutions be reinforced, and their independence further consolidated.

Institutional democracy is our model. It is not perfect and calls for constant vigilance and protection. But, in general terms, we can say it works, it keeps our conflicts within accepted boundaries.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Bringing the bullies together

When I scrutinise the foreign policies of permanent members of the UN Security Council I find no real differences, when it comes to the pursuit of their national interests. Each one of the five States is ready and willing to make use of force and go beyond the diplomatic conventions, tread into illegality, when its leaders think that the country´s national interests are at play. That´s particularly true for each country´s area of influence and strategic importance. It´s the case with China in the South China Sea, with Russia in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea, the US in Syria and Iran, the UK in West Africa and the Gulf Cooperation countries in the Persian shores, and with France in the Sahel Region of Africa.

The strategic options of these powerful countries take the primacy over the workings of the UN or other international organisations. It´s a fact, as well, that some of them do it more often than others. But when necessary, they will go for it. Norms and international law are to be respected as long as they do not collide with the views, ambitions and vital interests of the big five.

The primary role of the UN Secretary-General and other international voices, as well as the leaders of some key States such as India or Japan or South Africa, is to constantly recall the international norms and obligations. But it is also to look for points of equilibrium among the interests of the permanent members. Their critical geopolitical interests are known. The challenge is to negotiate taking them into account.

Friday, 16 March 2018

On Russia and the unity of the West

The Kremlin has been surprisingly slow in responding to the measures taken by Theresa May against Russia´s hostile actions. It´s difficult to come up with a good interpretation of the reasons for the delay.

But two things are clear.

First, I have no doubt they will retaliate. Heavily. And, most likely, before the Sunday presidential elections. The leadership, and Vladimir Putin above all, must show to the Russian voters that they do hesitate when it comes to defending Russia´s international honour and strength, as perceived by the official narrative.

Second, the Kremlin was clearly taken by surprise when they noted the unity shown in the West, particularly in Washington, Paris and Berlin. They wanted to respond to the UK and keep the West divided. Now, they have two big tasks. To deal with the British and look for ways of breaking the common position taken by key Western players.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

There is fog in the land

I accept the accusation made by the British government against the Russian leadership. Those leaders are most likely behind the chemical attack against the Skiprals, father and daughter. But there is a fundamental question that has not be attended to. What is the reason for the attempted murder? And I could add two more interrogations. Why now? Was the father still active in matters of intelligence?

If these questions get no answer - and probably they will remain unanswered – then we will be just trading in fog and obscurity.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Putin´s words

Vladimir Putin´s speech on weapons and new missile systems, including the repeated reference to nuclear means, cannot be taken lightly. The Russian President is very strategic when it comes to his public presentations. And yesterday he was clear. He sees the West as deeply hostile to Russia and engaged in a campaign against Putin himself. He believes in what he says, I would add. And he wants us to know he is ready to respond.

We might disagree with his assessment of the West´s intentions. But we must be prepared for all kinds of confrontations. Particularly against cyber-attacks, the most immediate threat coming from his side. He is investing heavily on those attacks. And he is targeting the countries that matter. The big ones. That´s why we witnessed a major cyberattack against Germany in the last two days.

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Poor May

As we get closer to a decisive moment regarding Brexit - it will be major agenda item in the March Council meeting – I notice that UK Prime Minister Teresa May´s political credibility among the key EU leaders has now reached a low point. They have serious doubts about May´s ascendancy over her Cabinet. The EU leaders believe she understands what is possible – an exit that is not a really exit but in name. But they are also very much aware at present that May´s Cabinet has some very wild cats that are only waiting for the right time to show their claws and try to grab the top position. 

Monday, 26 February 2018

Criteria to select Juncker´s successor

The discussion about the selection and approval of the next European Commission President has now openly started. Juncker is still on up to the end of next year, that´s true, but it´s also a fact that the issue of his succession will continue to occupy the minds during the next few months.

I am convinced that the tradition of selecting a former head of government or State to chair the Commission should be kept. Such an approach is fundamental to give a solid foundation of authority to the holder of that most critical job. 

In addition to that type of political experience, the candidates most be consensual enough, including in terms of enticing the support of the European Parliament. Nobody can get the job if not supported by the EP. Such requirement does not mean the successful candidate most come from the political family that gets the greater number of seats in the next parliament. It means that such candidate must be able to gain the advantage within the EP. 

Besides these two criteria - former government leadership experience and majority vote in parliament – the new President should come from a region of the EU that has been underrepresented when it comes to this type of responsibilities. That makes me think of the Nordic and the Baltic States. And, last point, the preference should go for a woman. 

Saturday, 24 February 2018

On matters of War

War without a concomitant, serious, persistent search for a political solution to the conflict is not morally justified. It´s unacceptable state terror. It´s a crime against the people.