Thursday, 17 January 2019

Supporting the Kurds in Syria

All indications, facts and intelligence, and independent media reports, show that the so-called Islamic State is still a serious threat in North-Eastern Syria. It would be utterly irresponsible for any democratic leader do deny it.

Moreover, all the support that can be provided to those inside Syria that have demonstrated their determination to effectively fight the IS terrorists should be sustained. That’s the case of the Kurdish fighters under the banner of the Syrian Democratic Forces.

That support must include political negotiations with the Turkish government, even if one knows that such initiative is not easily accepted by President Erdogan. Without ignoring Erdogan’s belligerent approach towards the Syrian Kurds, my recommendation is to keep the strategic liaison with Ankara as close as possible. Turkey must be part of the Syrian stabilization process. There should be no doubt about that, as there is no doubt about the critical role played by the Syrian Kurds and their fellow allies. All this, as we make sure everyone understands that any form of terrorism, war crimes and violence are absolutely unacceptable. 

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

After the Brexit vote

After the Westminster vote on the Brexit Deal, and its most shocking result, the question that is in all minds is very clear: what’s next? Obvious interrogation, that’s true, but the answer is far from being clear. But the British political class must find an answer to it. For that, they must immediately take the initiative of stopping the Brexit time glass. It’s impossible to keep the current deadline of 29 March. It’s also completely unwise. An extension is required. And that extension is possible, at least up to the opening of the new European Parliament in July 2019.

It’s on the interest of both sides – the British and the EU – to reach an agreement. That’s now the position of many at Westminster. But there are some in that Parliament and above all in the popular media that advocate a No Deal. That is absolute madness. They can’t be serious when they defend that. They are either politically blind or foolish.

On the EU side, it is critical to avoid any kind of statement that would complicate things. Leaders need to show they are patient people and balanced as well. Silence is the best option. When silence is not possible, then the EU leaders should just state they are open to look at any meaningful proposal coming from London.

Monday, 14 January 2019

Westminster is making it impossible

At this stage, the best option for all of us in the European neighbourhood – UK and EU – would be to have the Withdrawal Agreement approved by the British parliament. That would be the most reasonable way forward, this late in the process. Both sides need a Brexit arrangement that would bring clarity and could ensure a good degree of continuity to a very close relationship.

Unfortunately, Westminster seems determined to vote down the deal. That will complicate further a political situation that is already very delicate. The UK population deserves better. And they are also tired of the discussions about the Brexit. But the politicians in Parliament are too divided. Moreover, many of them are just guided by personal reasons and by an idea of Britain that does not tally with the international affairs of today.  

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Brexit, NATO and security cooperation

To assert that the deal proposed by Prime Minister Theresa May will put at risk the UK’s place in NATO and the country’s intelligence system is not more than fallacious propaganda. The UK will keep playing a crucial role within the Atlantic Alliance, after the Brexit, as it did in the past. There is no change here. And concerning the security arrangements, the type of cooperation that will be in place if the deal with the EU is approved will be the same as we have now between the UK and the rest of Europe. Even with the UK out of Europol. Security is a critical area for both sides. That has been said several times in the last two years or so. And there is no doubt about the future relation in this field.

A couple of days ago, two gentlemen came to the front door of the British public opinion to affirm and give credibility to such fraudulent assessment: Sir Richard Dearlove and Lord Guthrie. They also said that the UK dues are “ransom money”. Or, the PM has clearly explained that the money the UK must transfer to the EU at the end of the union relates to commitments taken in the recent past and other costs related to the pensions of former EU staff of British nationality. There is no punishment to explain such payment, no liberation money is required to exit the EU.

Sir Richard is a former MI6 – British external intelligence service – director-general. He was in charge during the Iraq false declaration by Tony Blair about “weapons of mass destruction” as well as when Dr David Kelly, the scientist whistle-blower that denied such allegation, was found dead, following an apparent suicide. A very mysterious suicide, for that matter. Lord Guthrie is also an old man now. He had been the boss of the British armed forces at the end of the 90s and at the very beginning of the 2000s. He seems to have lost contact with today’s reality.

Both were powerful men in their times. But now, if they are the true authors of the piece on “risks” associated with the proposed Brexit deal, a piece they both signed as being their position, they have become very partisan and taken their distances from the truth. I can only hope they were more impartial when still in office.

Friday, 11 January 2019

Let's trust the DRC civil society organisations

The presidential electoral process in the Democratic Republic of Congo is a mess. On purpose, of course, to allow the outgoing power circle, led by President Joseph Kabila, to manipulate its outcome and guarantee a safer retirement. Chaotic, it’s true, but it could have been worse, another tragedy for the martyred population.

The process is not transparent at all. Not credible, I should add. However, the key concern at this stage is to avoid new eruptions of violence. And try to bring a minimum of acceptability to the results.

We should trust the Congolese civil society organisations. In particular, those linked to the Catholic Church and to the popular electoral observation. They are strong enough and very courageous. They should be able to force the electoral commission – independent only on name – to recount the votes and be true to the voters. Not easy, but that’s the way forward. Everything else would be a return to the undemocratic practises the country has experienced for so long.

It’s also clear this is not the time for external actors to be dictating possible courses of action. No time either for undiplomatic pressure. It would not work. And it would not respect the determination of the Congolese people to find their own path to a more stable and democratic nation. Outside partners of the DRC can only express moral support for the domestic organisations that are genuinely committed to addressing the electoral manipulation.

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

British out of the EU diplomatic service

As their country leaves, the UK nationals that are head of EU delegations in different parts of the world will be replaced soon. The selection of the new ambassadors that will take over is now ready to be approved by Federica Mogherini, the EU diplomatic boss. Names should be known soon, and accreditation processes initiated. EU diplomacy can’t wait, it must keep moving on.

This another dimension of the Brexit process. It’s not very well known, but it will happen, and it will lead to the departure from the European External Action Service of some very competent staff. They are British passport holders and therefore cannot represent the EU.

The fact of the matter is that Britain is already seen as out of the EU, when it comes to many of these procedural matters. Life goes on, as they say. Unfortunately, without the UK. But it will go on.

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Brexit means confusion and lies

The British people are today more divided and confused than any time in the past 75 years. The Brexit process, as conducted by the British, is a total mess. It has brought out a very high degree of intellectual intolerance and social arrogance. But, above all, it has shown that many within the political class are just concerned with their personal career and well-being. They do not care about the broader issues that we used to call the common good. The ideals are dead. We grew up believing that politics were about public service and patriotism. Now, many of these fools teach us that current political fights are about positions, media exposure and crushing the other side. They are also about promoting delusion and outright lies.

Monday, 7 January 2019

Immigration and integration

In the EU context, immigration cannot be seen just from the number of people that keep entering the European territory. Very often the debate is about new arrivals and how the numbers compare with past figures. That’s not the most current concern, I would say. Particularly now, that the arrival numbers are down. Immigration is above all about the integration of those already in.

Integration has many facets and the discussion should as much as possible focus on this issue.

In some countries, the immigrants have become very visible. They are now part of our daily public experience, as we walk the streets or enter the shopping malls and other open spaces. Visibility brings attention, also some degree of concern, and the political parties in those countries know that. That’s why the issue has become a central theme in the political arena. And it will be very present during the forthcoming EU parliamentary elections.

My take is that we should try to focus the political discussions on the issue of social integration. And be clear that such an issue calls for efforts from both sides, the one receiving the new populations and the one we call the immigrants.

Friday, 4 January 2019

Brexit time

We should remind ourselves that Brexit is not just a British issue. But, at this stage, the ball is in their court. And the most appropriate way forward would be to have the draft deal approved by the UK Parliament.

It seems difficult to achieve that. The No-deal camp is getting additional traction. Many see it as a possibility. It’s hard to understand such a position, but the fact of the matter is that the contingency planning for a No-deal is creating the impression, among some popular segments, that there will be a way out in case of no agreement. Also, that the related difficulties will be just temporary.
It’s strange as a reaction, certainly irrational, for many of us, but it’s also linked to the fact that a good number of British still believe in their superior approach to international relations. And the place of the UK in the world.

On the other hand, I think it’s too late for a second referendum. It takes time to go through the constitutional process that is required in the case of a referendum. Furthermore, I do not see enough political and media support for holding it. In the minds of many, such a consultation would open many wounds. The debate and the campaign would be deeply divisive. And nobody can be sure of its outcome. It could end up by giving more arguments and space to the populist politicians. These extremists have no bounds and would take advantage of this new referendum to challenge the established principles of representative democracy. They would try to confuse the voters as much as possible.

As such, this is no time to promote a new referendum. It’s Westminster and the May Cabinet that must take up their responsibilities and decide how they want to see the Brexit settled. And they will have to assume the political consequences as well.

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Fragmentation and the balance of interests

Recently, I have seen a bit of alarm about our “divided societies”. Some analysts would even say that we are more divided than ever, and they would point in the direction of the social platforms as the vehicles used to promote splits – and conflicts – among the people.

It’s true that Facebook, Twitter and other instruments of communication are being used to propagate all sorts of views. And to create a group mentality that aims at opposing – and fighting, as well – another set of opinions.

But I think the reference to fragmentation is exaggerated. Our societies have for a long time been composed of different social categories. Politics and democracy have been the translation of different interests and distinct views about societal organisation and our common destiny as a nation. Diversity is the norm. And we should not be afraid of it. The point is to be able to find the equilibrium between the interests of diverse categories of people. That’s what leadership must be about.