Mario's Blog

A simple commentary about everything in the world

Kosovo’s interpretation

Posted by mariobilo on July 29, 2010

In his interview to the Times the Prime Minister of Kosovo Hashim Thaci has provided a rather strange and bizarre interpretation of the judgment of the ICJ regarding the autonomy of Kosovo. During he interview Mr Thaci appealed on the remaining 5 countries in the European Union (Spain, Cyprus, Slovakia, Greece and Romania) to recognise Kosovo as a sovereign state stating that by not doing so they are breaking international law.

To hear such an interpretation of the ICJ’s judgment is quite staggering, even more so when a Prime Minister of a country recognised by another 69 states makes it. The ICJ judgment simply stated that as there is no international law regulating the one-sided proclamation of sovereignty and because of the specific situation in the Balkan region the steps taken by Kosovo do not go against international law. The judgment was reported in the newspapers as giving credibility to the sovereignty of Kosovo and that the declaration was ‘in line with international law’.

It is easy to see that the newspaper headlines did water down the judgment quite significantly. However it is another thing entirely for Mr Thaci to interpret it in a way that anyone who doesn’t recognise Kosovo is breaking international law. Yet again one needs to point out to the absence of international law on the issue. Thus if there being no international law to govern this means that Kosovo’s declaration of independence is in line with international law then also it must mean that other states not recognising this is also in line with international law. Why? Simply because there is no law to mandatory state what should and what should not be done.

Such a misinterpretation of a judgment by a high government official can severely damage the image of the country and even make it seem as if Kosovo was making threats to the above mentioned five countries, never mind the fact that the judgment was of advisory nature only. But since we’re talking about breaking the law here, maybe Mr Thaci should also look at the domestic law of Serbia that Kosovo is breaking by its existence and then lecture other states on how to be law-abiding countries.

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Israel’s threat

Posted by mariobilo on July 5, 2010

Israel accusing EU of undermining democracy by funding NGOs campaigning human rights in Gaza is not only bizarre but also tells us a great deal about the EU-Israel links.

Quite recently an Israeli diplomat accused the  EU of funding several NGOs who campaign for better human rights in the Gaza region. Now Israel playing down that there is any need for better enforcment human rights in Gaza would be something that can be expected, but actually Israel pointing figures at the EU is certainly something quite unexpected. It can mean two things, either the reaction of the EU following the Israeli raid on the ships bringing humanitarian help to Gaza was received with anger and hate in Israel or Israel is so sure of its close links with the US that it sees now harm in laying accusation on such an important block of countries like the EU. The real reason could even be a bit of both, with the need to retaliate against the EU’s response to the flotilla raid harshly and without care, relying on the US support.  One can thus easily conclude that the EU-Israel relations have suffered a huge setback.

However, disregarding what this accusation tells us of the EU-Israel relations, it tells us a lot more about Israel itself. To be so certain of its own position that it can go around accusing such an important block of countries such as the EU is quite remarkable, especially so in the times when Washington is trying to follow a more hard-line position on Israel. Another remarkable thing about Israel that we learn is how paranoid it can be. Seeing funding to an organisation such as Amnesty International as a threat to its own democracy makes one question just how ‘democratic’ the stat really is.

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Herman van Awesome

Posted by mariobilo on June 29, 2010

In my previous post I have pointed out that on the 1st of July a perfect opportunity will present itself for the leaders of the European institutions to take up the reigns of Europe from national politicians. Are they up to the job, though? First of all let us consider the position of the European Council President.

Herman van Rompuy was appointed as the first President of the European Council under the Lisbon Treaty following weeks of speculation. The commentary of his appointment has been mixed, to put it mildly. Many saw him as ‘Mr Nobody’, some claimed he was too radical in his federalist views, while others thought he’d be toy for Merkel and Sarkozy to push their own ideals. Overall, people and commentators saw this appointment was a bad choice.

Over the six months of his presidency so far, van Rompuy has displayed a mixed political leadership. When dealing with the eurozone debt crisis and in particular Greece, he has been overshadowed by Angela Merkel who took charge and lead the way to stabilising the euro. One can, however, easily understand this as it Germany who are going to contribute the most to healing the debt crisis and so Merkel could have been expected to be this proactive. (She also managed to outshine bigger players such as the chairman of the IMF,Dominique Strauss-Kahn, or the Secretary General of the OECD, Angel Gurría.)

Next comes the Haitian earthquake crisis. Here, van Rompuy cannot be accused of not leading the way or being direct enough (as opposed to the EU Higher Representative for Foreign Affairs Cathrine Ashton). The European Council President has led the way by stating that the EU needs to prepare a unit of emergency humanitarian corps. These would be quickly deployed into areas that are destroyed by natural disasters instead of the prolong procedure that exists today. A noble and quite brilliant idea indeed. However, since the Haitian earthquake there has not been even a sign of this being implemented or even considered. Van Rompuy’s idea has simply been ignored by the European leaders.

So far a very poor track record for someone whom we expect to guide the European Union forward. However a turning point for van Rompuy came during the recent EU-Russia summit. During this summit, which dealt mostly with economic matter, van Rompuy showed great deal of leadership as he negotiated with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev. The two looked exactly as they should, two counterparts, two presidents. However the most important aspect of this meeting was that van Rompuy was not afraid to open the agenda of human rights in Russia. This is the agenda that many try to avoid when talking to Medvedev. But there was no harsh reply from Russia, no swift remark that they would not talk about such things. Simply Medvedev agreed that there needs to be a lot of improvements done in that area.

When we look back at van Rompuy’s career as the European Council President is has steadily progressed. From ‘Mr Nobody’ we have someone who takes initiative and is regarded as a counterpart by world leaders. This is exactly the kind of person whom we can expect to lead the Union forward.

Posted in European Union, International Relations, Presiding the Union | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Time to Strike

Posted by mariobilo on June 27, 2010

On the 1st of July 2010 the European Presidency will travel from Spain to Belgium, a country which is just after elections, without a government and with some signs of a desperate desire not to be a single state anymore. This same Belgium, however, has all the potential to finally show that Europe has one phone line(paraphrasing the famous line of Henry Kissinger).

When the European Presidency was given to Spain on the 1st of January 2010, the Spanish administration was very well prepared. In fact they were over-prepared. The Spaniards were expecting to be given presidency of the EU under the Nice Treaty conditions, meaning that their Prime Minister would be the President of the European Council and their foreign affairs minister would be the High Representative of the EU for foreign affairs. Alas, quite unexpectedly quickly the Lisbon Treaty was finally fully ratified and entered into force one month before the Spanish presidency, resulting in an appointed President of the European Council and appointed High Representative. In order not to offend Spain and its preparation the EU gave Spanish presidency an ‘in-between’ status, resulting a collaborative presidency of Spain and the newly appointed European leaders.

In the case of Belgium situation is much different. As mentioned above the country is still to elect a new government and it seems it is also quite heavily involved in its own conflict of whether or not to split and cease to exist as a single country. This is the chance the the European leaders who wrote the Lisbon Treaty were waiting for. Belgium is quite simply not fit to preside over the European Union. Actually, I take that back. There is one Belgian who certainly should be fit to preside over the EU. His name is Hermon van Rompuy, the first ever appointed President of the European Council.

It is quite ironic that the former Belgian Prime Minister should fully take up the reigns of the European Union after electoral turmoil in his own country. However, irony or not it is an opportunity that cannot be missed. If van Rompuy isn’t seen pushing the EU forward by himself, as the holder of the one phone line to which any other world leader can call, then when the time comes for Hungary and its populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban, they will insist to enjoy the same privileged as Spain did and show off Orban as the European leader, making any changes that Lisbon made in this regard useless.

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Lets EUnite!

Posted by mariobilo on June 10, 2010

There has been relatively little coverage of the decision of Ministers for Finance of the EU to scrutinise each other’s budgets before the national parliaments get a chance to do so. This is pretty much, word for word, accepting the proposal of the European Commission that I have written about in my blog here.
It is quite extraordinary for this sort of decision warrant so little attention, especially after the Commission proposal gave rise to so much controversy all over Europe.

The fact that the media didn’t pay much attention to it should not mislead anyone, though. This agreement is commented by some as the first step towards real European unity (read European Governance). Now we will see the politician showing the budget over to their European counterparts who will examine it, not from the point of view of the given nation, but rather asking questions whether the fiscal policy shown in the budget is of benefit of the Union. Thus we can no longer take the budgets as instruments of national fiscal policy but rather just as one piece in the European one.
The implementation of such a revolutionary step is, however, questionable. Yet again the main ‘punishment’ for anyone who would behave economically irresponsible are sanctions. We can only wait and see whether these sanctions will actually be given out. As is well known the sanctions under the Maastricht treaty were never actually used, even though most of the countries did break the criteria under the treaty. One can only be hopeful that the sanctions will be used this time around.
There is hope that this scenario will be the case as countries such as France or Germany both speak of great austerity measures in order to balance their books and it is likely that they will make sure every other country will follow. This can be seen already in the case of Hungary where the new Prime Minister Viktor Orban wanted to spend his way out of recession, doubling the deficit agreed for the year. Straight away he was called to Brussels and changed his rhetoric to one of cuts immediately.
After the agreement from the Minister for Finance Europe is even more closer to unity. The message is we rise and fall together.

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Israel changing Ashton

Posted by mariobilo on June 1, 2010

Amidst the huge international controversy that was created by the Israeli attack on the Free Gaza ships two days ago something new was born. That little something, so little indeed that it has not been picked up by the commentators, is the reactions of the European Union and its member states to the attack. The reaction that was uncommonly unilateral and without any delay.

For many years the European Union’s reaction to various incidents were usually divided up between individual member states. Thought the Single European Act did envisage a common foreign policy, the situation was that member states would meet, discuss the incident and the EU would then make a statement on the issue with each member state also commenting on the issue. Sometimes, and this was usually the case for the difficult and controversial issues, the EU would even allow its member states to make their own comments and statements with the EU not getting involved (this could be seen in the reaction to Kosovo).

The reaction to the Israeli attack has been quite different. Almost as soon as the White House made a press statement regarding it, the spokesperson for Cathrine Ashton also called in a press conference and expressed Baroness Ashton’s deep grief over the loss of lives and called for an independent investigation. Later on that day the Baroness herself repeated these words on behalf of the European Union and today during an EU-Russia summit Sergei Lavrov and Cathrine Ashton signed a joint statement condemning the attack. No Council of Ministers meeting, no lengthy negotiations.

One can read this as Baroness Ashton getting comfortable with her job half a year after her appointment.  It seems she is fueled by the success of her vision for the EU’s diplomatic service that is praised by the member states, the European Commission and the European Parliament. This fuel maybe allowed her to take the unorthodox step by simply stating the Brussels’ line as she is supposed to as the High Representative of the EU for foreign affairs (amongst other things).

This marks a change in the way the EU institutions are run, suddenly we have an official taking an EU stance without being controlled by the member states. In turn one can interpret the EU as no longer being a group of member states that with a name but rather a sovereign organisation with its own decision making.

What is striking about this, is that the member states themselves seem to be ok with this interpretation. No other nation has made its own press statement regarding the incident (maybe with the exception of Ireland, but that is acceptable as Irish citizens were directly involved). Germany, France, Italy…they all stayed silent and thus implicitly approved of the Brussels-based policy. True one can argue that Merkel has to worry about the German President resigning, that Berlusconi must rather try to concentrate on selling the austerity measures to the public or that Sarkozy is a die-hard eurofederalist, but that doesn’t excuse the lack of action all of the 27 member states.

The Israeli attack is tragic and condemnation worthy, but while the eyes of all the commentators are focused on Israel they are missing the great change in the way the European institutions are ran. A change that we can only hope will continue.

Posted in European Union, International Relations | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Death of the Dinosaurs

Posted by mariobilo on May 30, 2010

Yesterday the results of the general elections in the Czech Republic have been announced. These elections have led to some bizarre results to anyone who is familiar to the political landscape. However the message from the elections is one that every nation should carefully study.

The run-up to the elections has been unorthodoxly too long. The campaign started last summer, with the vision of having early elections in October. This was due to the fall of the previous center-right government (during the presidency of the EU, you might remember). Thus a technocratic government of experts was put together to last till the early elections in October. However, since holding the elections this late after the fall of the government were unconstitutional the Constitutional Court has held that the elections need to be held at their proper date. And so the campaigning continued…

The election results that were announced are as follows: Social Democracts 22.1%, Citizens Democratic Party (a  center-right party) 20.2%, TOP 09 (center-right, conservative) 16.7%, Communists 11.4%, ‘Public Things'(centrist) 10.9%. Don’t let all the strange names fool you. The percentages and the parties as such are not important. What is important is that following the announcement of the results four party leaders resigned their positions. First of these was the leader of the oldest party in the Czech republic, the Christian Democrats-People’s Party, which did not cross the 5% threshold for entering the parliament for the first time since the fall of communism. Second was the former Prime Minister from 1998-2002 Milos Zeman, whose new party also did not cross the 5% threshold. Last of the leaders of the parties who did get into the parliament was the leader of the Green Party.

However the resignation did not end there. The leader of the Social Democrats, the winning party in the elections, has resigned his position due to the fact that his style of politics has ruled out the Social Democrats from any coalition by the other parties apart from the Communist Party. This would be possible were the Social Democrats to get 30% or 35%, which they looked likely to get in the polls prior to the elections. The heads were also rolling in the the Citizens Democratic Party which lost the constituency of Prague for the first time ever since the fall of communism to TOP 09, with the head of the Prague branch resigning.

So to recap, we have 5 prominent politicians resigning after one election. One also has to take into consideration the resignation of the leader of Citizens Democrats two months prior to the elections and only 85 MPs out total of 200 retaining their seats. Some high ranking politicians were rejected by the people who put preferential votes behind new candidates and thus completely redid the lists that the parties submitted for elections. And of course it has to be pointed out that both TOP 09 and ‘Public Things’ are brand new parties, formed only about a year ago. Thus out of the 5 parties in in the parliament only the Communist have retained their leader.

It is fascinating to think how the will of the people has managed to transform the landscape of Czech politics during one elections. The people sent a clear message to let the parties and politicians. For the first time in quite a while the voice of the people has clearly been voiced and listened to by the politicians. What begins now is a new age in the Czech politics. The people now know when they feel frustration and anger at the political establishment they can actually go and do something about it. This goes against the age-old frustration of the people who feel that they have no one to vote for, or that they cannot change anything.

The new list system that is being used in Czech republic and Slovakia, where the people can put preferential votes behind their candidate who can then skip ahead of the ‘queue’, thus not letting some prominent politicians who the people do not trust has allowed for a new age to begin. An age after the death of the political dinosaurs.

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The Chinese Korea

Posted by mariobilo on May 26, 2010

Over the past few days the world has seen a distraction from economic crisis, fiscal instability or the huge oil spill near the USA. This distraction is to be accredited to the very strong statement made by the President of South Korea a few days ago.

The situation is quite well known to the world at large. A South Korean ship has been sunk by a torpedo resulting in 46 casualties. An independent inquiry into this incident has shown that the torpedo was of the type that the North Korea’s navy uses. As expected the communist regime in the North has denied any allegations and demanded that it could carry out its own inquiry (with the result that the torpedo had nothing to do with North Korea, as you can easily expect).

What surprised the world at large was the way in which the President of South Korea reacted. In a very strong statement against North Korea he pretty much told them that the South will no longer accept the carry on that the North had. He stressed that the South has endured a lot of hardship while trying to co-operate with the North and ensure a peaceful atmosphere. However, this will no longer be the case as a sinking of a South Korean ship can easily be read as act of war.

The reaction from the North? Simple: South is trying to be an aggressor and start a war, thus all the ties were cut, all of the South workers deported and army was told to be on alert (just a note, this is 1 million men ready to strike).

The reaction from the world has been somewhat cautious. Vladimir Medvedev has said that he supports the South but that he does not want to see any war and prefers a diplomatic approach. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, has quite strongly said that the aggression of the North cannot be tolerated and so the US are fully behind the South. Same can be said of Japan, who always had a massive fear of the North Korea attacking Japan.

All eyes are on China at the moment. Chinese government sees North Korea as a partner that separates him from the US bases in the South Korea. However, China also holds a lot of power over the North as it is the North’s almost exclusive source of export and money. Thus whatever China says, goes.  This can be a great moment for Chinese democracy that is being pressured into agreeing on tougher sanctions on Iran, which it is very reluctant to do. A simple ‘trade-off’ can be made with China telling North Korea to behave, while allowing sanctions on Iran to be postponed for another few years.

Either way, China holds the power to decide whether there will be war in Korea or not. This can prove very dangerous as it is clear that the North has tried to create nuclear weapons. Though many commentators agree that this was not successful, one can never know when it comes to North Korea, a country from which it is extremely difficult to get any  unbiased information.

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Good Neighbors

Posted by mariobilo on May 24, 2010

The world nowadays, under international law, should strive to be one of good connections and friendships between states. Especially in Europe the idea of co-operation and friendship has lead to a great many organisations being set up to ensure these goals are achieved (the EU, the Council of Europe and OSCE to name a few). That is why it is particularly worrying to see two member states of these various European institutions treating each other with hostility. And this has certainly been the case with regards to Hungary and Slovakia.

There’s no need to go into the history of the relations between the two countries. It is sufficient to say that since Slovakia’s independence in 1993 the relations were tense. A turnaround came after 1998, when a party representing the Hungarian minority in Slovakia was one of the parties in the new coalition government. However since 2006 the relations have dropped steadily, eversince the nationalist party and the populist social democrats got into power in Slovakia. To add the the already bad situation in Hungary the opposition party FIDESZ saw this as a way to gaining mass support against the weak socialist government in Hungary and so began to spread nationalist populism, just like the two governing  in Slovakia. Over the four years of this carry on many incidents occurred, such as not allowing the Hungarian President to enter Slovakia to celebrate with the Hungarian minority because of the alleged failure of the Hungarian diplomatic service to give sufficient prior notification (2 weeks, apparently was not sufficient).

The history only shows how bad the situation is. However, it seems to be getting worse again. The newly elected FIDESZ government plans to pass a bill allowing a dual-citizenship for anyone who had Hungarian ancestors at any point in their family tree. Thus, all of the Hungarian ethnic minority in Slovakia could ask for this dual-citizenship. However this is not through anything like naturalization or marriage but simply because of ancestry. The bill provides for a few more perks with regard to the dual-citizenship, but there is no need to get into them.

The Slovak government opposes this, quite vehemently. In fact it plans to call the parliament to meet to discuss counter-measures. One of the proposed ones on the table is even to make any Slovak citizen who applies for citizenship of another country lose his/hers Slovak citizenship, another proposal is to limit this to just applying for the Hungarian citizenship. Either of the two proposals is, however, fundamentally flawed. If the former is adopted it effectively means an end to dual citizenships for Slovak citizens (and I wonder what knock-on effect it would have on the EU citizenship, which all EU country citizens hold as well as their country’s citizenship). If, on the other hand, the latter is adopted this would be an unjust discrimination and a court case should, hopefully, follow.

We can thus see two extremes on both sides. But how is one to remedy this situation? The answer to that question is very hard to figure out. At this point the conflict is not only between the populist parties on both sides of the border. In Hungary the opposition is also backing the controversial bill, while in Slovakia the opposition tried to make themselves look better by offering to enter negotiations with FIDESZ under the guidance of the the European People’s Party.

The reason behind this are the elections. While in Hungary the elections took place not even a month ago in Slovakia the elections are set to take place in two weeks time. Thus the parties on both sides, knowing that drastic public finance cuts will need to be made soon to make the the public finances stable yet again, try to simply overshadow this forcing out a problem like this and the voters, full of anger from the job losses and pay cuts believe every bit of hatred the parties spread.

So yet again we can ask ourselves how to solve this situation? It’s simple really, once people stop believing, politician’s will stop playing.

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The EU help

Posted by mariobilo on May 23, 2010

Over the past few weeks we have heard about the EU trying its best to stabilize the situation caused by unsustainable borrowing and debt of its member states. However when one thinks back to February the EU was desperately trying to figure out a way to help Greece and make sure its situation is never again repeated in the EU. Even after 3 months of negotiations all we managed to get is the European Stabilization Pact and a mechanism for the ECB to be printing money out of thin air.

However this Pact cannot mean the end of all the problems. Even the markets saw this as their early optimism has faded and now the euro continues to fall again. Thus the minister meet again in Brussels, with Germany leading the agenda,  to discuss other proposals to address the reasons for the situation we find ourselves in. According to the commentators we have a few different proposals on the table.

The most controversial one comes from the European Commission and it deals with the European ministers scrutising the budget of eurozone member states before the national parliaments. In effect this is giving over of the sovereign budgetary powers to Brussels. It sounds very populist to sum it up like this, but it’s the easiest way. However, this populist undertone has already been used by many opposition parties in the eurozone countries to gain a few percentage points in the polls. When one is to examine the proposal, however, it makes a lot of sense. It effectively finally gives the Commission and the Council a way to make sure the Maastricht criteria are enforceable and that no country will ever step over those.

The second proposal is to cut the European Funding to any country that crosses over the the limit of the Maastricht Treaty. This proposal is quite nice in the way that it creates an effective way to punish the ‘wrongdoers’, so to say, without infringing the national sovereignty. But, as always, there is a catch. the EU funds are usually used by the smaller and lesser developed countries, whereas the net contributors to the EU such as Germany or France(i.e. the bigger and more developed countries) do not benefit a lot from these funds. Thus if a country from the latter category breaks the Maastricth criteria, yet again the EU is left toothless.

The third proposal, one backed by Angela Merkel, is to reach a consensus from all the countries to put an amendment to the constitution of each eurozone member that would ensure a 3% deficit to be the maximum. In effect, putting the Maastricht criteria on constitutional status. This yet again enforces the criteria without infringing the national sovereignty. However this enforcement is done through the highest courts in the respective country and they may have a differing tradition in ruling against the state. For example the German Constitutional Court is very active in enforcing the constitution even if it means judicial policy making for the state. On the other hand we have courts that are very reluctant to give an order regarding the public spending (for example the Irish Supreme Court). Even if this barrier was overcome, though, one might question such a proposal. In the hierarchy of law, the EU law is at the highest level, with the Treaties being the highest level of EU law. As such it can be argued that the Maastricht criteria can be enforced by the courts. So far, however, this has not been even considered or tried. If we were to make such a constitutional amendment, it would seriously undermined the status of EU law.

Thus we have 3 differing proposals to try and remedy the reasons behind the current situation. Each of them has its own drawbacks and pluses. This author would prefer the first, if only because of closer European integration, as well as the flaws of the other two proposals being simple too great to prevent this situation from reoccurring again. However, it does not matter which one is picked as one thing is certain: the EU help that comes with these 3 proposals creates a definite two tier Europe of the EU and the closer integrated eurozone- something that might go against the Lisbon strategy of unifying all of Europe.

Posted in European Union, International Relations | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »