Sunday, 19 February 2017

EU and Defence: additional considerations

Taking into account the ongoing discussions on military budgets, I went back to the text approved at the NATO Summit of 2014, in Wales. The paragraph 5 of "The Wales Declaration on the Transatlantic Bond" is quoted below. It´s worth a careful reading of its words.

"We recognise that these steps will take the necessary effort and funding. In light of this, we agree to reverse the trend of declining defence budgets and aim to increase defence expenditure in real terms as GDP grows; we will direct our defence budgets as efficiently and effectively as possible; we will aim to move towards the existing NATO guideline of spending 2% of GDP on defence within a decade, with a view to fulfilling NATO capability priorities. We will display the political will to provide required capabilities and deploy forces when they are needed."

This commitment follows the recognition stated in the last sentence of the previous paragraph. I quote it as well.

"We will continue to invest in modern and deployable armed forces that can operate effectively together and at a high level of readiness to fulfil NATO's tasks, in full accordance with the principles of the UN Charter and the Helsinki Final Act." 

And I would underline the following points:

-             Interoperability and readiness are key dimensions in terms of greater joint effectiveness;
-            Additional defence expenditure is linked to economic growth;
-             Budget allocations should be reviewed to respond to new priorities and up-to-date military approaches and to ensure a more appropriate funding of the new roles of the armed forces as required by a new type of threats;
-            The 2% goal is a guideline and it should be gradually build up to 2014; it cannot happen in the short term;
-           The States must be willing to participate in joint operations and be perceived as able to rapidly respond to needs as they arise, taking into account the capabilities of each nation.

I also find the references to the UN Charter and to the Helsinki Final Act essential. They should be continuously recalled.  

Friday, 17 February 2017

The defence challenge

On defence matters, the EU countries have no other option but to pool resources together. That´s the future and that´s the only way to realise our own share of responsibilities. It´s time to see things from a joint perspective. We are talking about the defence of Europe, not just about the protection of country A or B within the EU. If country A is attacked tomorrow, other countries will be destabilised soon after. What is at stake is our common EU future as democracies and countries that respect the rule of law and the distinct role of the key political institutions.  

There are many inefficiencies and a good deal of overlapping expenditures in between countries. All that needs to be streamlined and approached from a complementary perspective that goes beyond the national borders and the old concept of individual sovereignty in matters of defence.

Unfortunately that´s not easy to achieve. In many parts of the European space, the armed forces are still seen from a national angle only. The challenge is to convince the citizens that that´s no longer the way forward. 

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Romania´s street lessons

The people of Romania have been demonstrating on the streets for the least 15 days or so. The rallying cry is against official corruption, the abuse of power the elected authorities exert for their own advantage and enrichment. And there are plenty of cases: thousands of accusations have been made by the special prosecutor and her office since 2013. People want the current government, led by the Social Democrats to leave office. This government has tried to save from the justice quite a number of past politicians who have been accused of corruption.

As I see the masses on the streets, braving the extreme weather conditions, I come to the conclusion that a number of points should be underlined. They must make us think.

The prosecution is headed by a very brave woman, Laura Codruta Kovesi. She is in charge of the anti-corruption agency, which comprises a good number of young lawyers and prosecutors. Kovesi has shown that leadership, honesty and modesty can change a country.

The political parties have no role in the popular mobilization. They have been side-lined, overtaken. This is civil society in action. There are no stars, no street leaders. It´s citizen’s power at its best.

The traditional media has also been overtaken. The information is shared through social networks. It´s faster, free of charge, and much more creative and closer to the people´s concerns. The established press comes later, just to pick the information and report about the events. But plays no role in the heat of the action.

Many of those on the streets are young people with a good level of education and a higher level of social frustration. Their participation creates some hope that change might happen. 

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Juncker´s faux pas

Jean-Claude Juncker has announced he will not seek re-election at the end of his current term as President of the European Commission. I doubt the wisdom of such a disclosure. He still has almost three years to go before the end of his mandate. An early announcement weakens his position at a time the EU needs strong leadership. Furthermore, this decision can be read as a statement of despair when we need to revive the sentiment of hope in the future of the Union.

Juncker might be very bitter about the present state of affairs. He can say so. Actually, he should say it but with elegance. At the same time, he must be seen as a fighter and not as a quitter. In his position, criticism has to be tempered with room for a change of course. By making public his state of mind about his own future he has further contributed to the climate of gloom that is permeating many European circles. He must correct that. 

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Choppy waters and calm leaders

Notwithstanding the recent political developments in the US, the European leaders should keep a cool approach and fight every manifestation of anti-Americanism.

The EU and the US have been, for many decades, key allies and it´s in their mutual interest to keep it that way.

In terms of social progress, prosperity and peace, alliances between countries are the only way forward. Each side should bring to the fore the best it can offer. That does not mean, of course, that there will be agreement every time. Relations between countries touch a complex and varied number of dimensions, from security to trade and investment, in addition to more political matters, including the promotion of human values, liberties and rights. There will be times when the interpretations of the interests at play might diverge.

The challenge, for the leaders, is to find common ground. And if one of the sides keeps going in a direction that deviates from the traditional path, the duty of the other side is to be firm and clear. And remind everyone that what keeps us together can be seriously undermined by a narrow view of international politics. It can also be tremendously damaged by political amateurism, retrograde beliefs, personal arrogance and a short term view of one´s national interests.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

France´s complexities

I lost my bet. I told a couple of friends that François Fillon, the French conservative leader, would resign from the presidential race before the weekend. But he is still struggling on, apparently convinced that his best option lays in remaining in the contest. So I was wrong, the man is still kicking.

After all the revelations about his extraordinary and unjustified use of public monies to pay his wife and two children, for work that seemingly never happened, Fillon has lost a very good deal of credibility. He was, up to the disclosures, the candidate everybody thought would win the French presidency in May. Now, his chances have simply evaporated.

Fillon´s fall from grace can have a major negative impact on the conservative camp and also on the outcome of the elections. Some of his voters will move further right and might end up by supporting Marine Le Pen, the extreme-right flag bearer.

For the democratic camp, the challenge is to prevent such move. There is a real danger here. Le Pen can benefit from the deep discontent that was already present in the French society and that Fillon´s scandal has seriously contributed to exacerbate. In addition, it will be essential to attract many of those supporters to the centre field. That´s not very easy to achieve but it is possible. That´s where all the efforts should be focused.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

On leadership again

We do not need an illuminated mind that promises to re-write every rule in the book. We need leaders that follow the rules in the book, that´s what we are looking for. People who know that we have spent the last seventy or so years putting together the rules of today and, in addition, are ready to wisely implement them. That´s about predictability and also about building confidence between nations. No nation is big enough to go for it alone. And no leader should be foolish enough not to understand that the international relations of today are based on cooperation and the harmonization of common interests and values. 

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Let´s be positive

The good news is about the EU economy. The employment rates are up and again there is economic growth. Science-based innovation and renewable sources of energy, among other sectors, are particularly contributing to the expansion. And the euro has kept its value when compared with the currencies of our main trading partners. It does not show any sign of imminent collapse. 

Friday, 27 January 2017

EU leaders walking through a minefield

Donald Trump´s presidency remains the main subject of conversation among the EU politicians. They are still figuring out how to deal with the new American leader.

At this stage the prevailing approach is basically about keeping a courteous distance from the man. Beyond the surprise, they don´t like what they see, that´s obvious. But the Europeans know that it is important not to antagonize Trump. However, more importantly yet, the EU leaders are very much aware that large segments of the European public opinion do not appreciate the new White House man at all. Actually, to be clear, those citizens consider that Trump´s values do not match the democratic practice the West has put in place during the last decades. They see Trump both as an extremely negative, destructive political actor and as a serious menace to the international order.

The EU leaders cannot ignore the views of their citizens. They are therefore walking a minefield. They know they have to be very careful. 

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Our fascists are very happy

The fascist leaders of extreme right parties, in a small number of EU countries, spent the weekend in Koblenz, Germany, celebrating the victory of Donald Trump and strategizing. Trump´s election is seen with great delight by the most reactionary segments of our societies. And the fascist are convinced this time they can make it to power, as we go for elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany.

In view of this, we have to be even more convinced they will not get there. And be clear in our political combat against them. Europe has experienced fascism in the past and we should remind ourselves of the terrible pain we got then. It happened in Germany, of course, in Italy as well, but also in Portugal and Spain and some other places, when local extremist parties aligned themselves with the Nazis and their fellow collaborationists.

It´s time to be politically tough. Any mild approach to the fascist leaders will end up by encouraging them further. They might look good on TV. They might be more civil in their manners and speech than their brutal American friend. But they are just dangerous wolves in sheep´s clothing.