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14 iulie 2020 - Special reports - Weekly review

D.S.M. WEEKLY REPORT - Main Political and Military Developments (WEEK 28 of 2020)

Sandu Valentin Mateiu

I. CROATIA. Conservative Right-wing won the parliamentary elections. II. EUROPEAN UNION / TURKEY. Josep Borrell visits Ankara.III. EUROPEAN UNION / SERBIA / KOSOVO. The EU relaunches negotiations. IV. Developments to track this Week 29 of 2020.

Sursă foto: Mediafax

English version by Mircea Mocanu

I. CROATIA. Conservative Right-wing won the parliamentary elections.

The power won the risky wage of organizing parliamentary elections after several corruption cases shook its authority. The victory is clear, but not complete, as the winning Croatian Democratic Union / HDZ must seek a governing coalition to reach the majority in the parliament (it still needs ten seats). Perhaps Prime Minister Andrej Plenković will look towards the Center rather than the nationalist extreme right, because the HDZ must fight its two original sins: strong nationalism and corruption (both generally belonging to its ‘former’ elite). The split from the past is a difficult process essential for Croatia’s future, but Zagreb enjoys an exemplary German support. Moderate pro-European Plenković, previously so unpopular, managed to impose essential reforms, and to turn HDZ into a pro-European Conservative party as well.

The July 5th parliamentary elections in Croatia showed HDZ as a clear winner, with 37.26%. Meanwhile, the runner-up Restart party (Center-Left Social-Democrats) made only 24.87%, which shows they failed to capitalize population discontent for the effects of Plenković’s pro-economy reforms (including the pension reform). The extreme right Domovinski Pokret (DPMS) ranked third, with 10.89% of the ballots; this is led by Miroslav Škoro (a singer), who managed to rally all nationalist electorate, yet short of damaging HDZ too much. More, DPMS serviced HDZ by draining many of its nationalist members. With 7.39%, the fourth place was taken by Most, a Center party, old HDZ governing partner, who left the coalition with HDZ on the backdrop of deep divergencies linked to corruption or conflict of interest accusations against high HDZ representatives. The Green (Ecologists) came next with 6.99%, followed by Pametno (Liberals) with 3.98%, HNS-LD (Social-Liberals) with only 1.3, and NS-R (Liberals) with a tiny 1.01%. The election outcome shows Croatia rather relieved of Yugoslavian war demons, with a strong Center-Right – the Conservatives, and a Center-Left opposition still unable to raise troubles for the power, although recent presidential elections had sparked hopes in that respect. However, the extreme Right is no longer ball-and-chain to HDZ, it gathered in the DPMS (the nationalist message, with anti-Serbian accents, was present in the election campaign). Notably, the turnout was low, only 46.9%, which can be explained by the Coronavirus danger.

According to this outcome, the 150 seats of Croatia’s Parliament are taken as follows: HDZ has 66 seats, Restart – 41 seats, DPMS – 16, Most – 8, Greens – 7, Pametno – 3, HNS-LD – 1, and NS-R – 1. Andrej Plenković will likely avoid entangling with the far right DPMS and will seek the necessary nine seats among the Center political formations and the minorities. However, this endeavor will not be a walk in the park, considering the nasty divorce from the Most party. On the other hand, HDZ poses as a Center-Right force balancing its Conservative nationalism with a pro-European stance, exactly what Croatia needs for speeding-up on its European integration path. Upfront, Zagreb has a good economic position, but is still held back by the ‘formers’ in its ranks, not through an anti-capitalist attitude, but through a nationalist behavior, which is not acceptable in Europe, even by Germany, Croatia’s sponsor.

A pro-capitalist and pro-European policy of HDZ has convinced the Croatian electorate that Center-Right political discourse is preferable, and Andrej Plenković managed to turn HDZ into a Conservative party leading Croatia on Europe’s roads, departing from shadows of the past. However, the way the new parliamentary majority is built will prove crucial for the future government stability. Anyway, for Romania, Croatia remains an example showing how costly is the time lost in stagnation (Croatia, and even Bulgaria already start their process of integration into the Euro Zone). Croatia is also a good post-Yugoslav partner within EU and NATO. This way, Croatia seems to replace Serbia as Romania’s the traditional partner, since, regardless our cooperation readiness, Belgrade’s options are fundamentally divergent from EU, let alone NATO.


II. EUROPEAN UNION / TURKEY. Josep Borrell visits Ankara.

This visit offered Turkey and European Union the opportunity for presenting their positions before the EU reunion where Turkey-linked decisions will be made, and the problems will be discussed “without taboos”, as France wants it, but also keeping an eye to remaining bridges (as Italy visibly acts, and Germany attempts to solve the situation). Josep Borrell should probably send a message to Recep Erdoğan that the EU is a political entity that Ankara should stop disparaging or blackmailing. A middle way will be difficult to find, because Turkey announced it would respond if Brussels imposed sanctions. However, the EU knows that, although there is one and only one leader who decides in Turkey for the moment, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan does not equal Turkey, which is entitled to a place by the West side, and not alienated from the West.

During his two-day visit to Turkey, Josep Borrell met the Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, and the Defense Minister Hulusi Akar. The purpose of these meetings was to understand the Turkish government points of view on disputed issues. The visit preceded this week’s reunion of EU foreign ministers (Foreign Affairs Council) and discussions in the European Parliament regarding Turkey. The two parties talked bilateral issues “openly, frankly, in a constructive approach”. At the July 6th common press conference, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu warned that Turkey would respond, if EU decides to impose sanctions regarding the Eastern Mediterranean Sea dispute.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu declared: “We observe that Turkey will be on the agenda of the EU in the coming days. Taking decisions against Turkey will not resolve the existing problems; on the contrary, it will deepen them. If the EU takes additional measures against Turkey, we’ll have to respond… If you further sanction Turkey, we also have steps to take in the field, in the eastern Mediterranean” (this is an explicit threat). Çavuşoğlu singled out Cyprus and Greece for blocking reconciliation efforts in the EU – Turkey relations: “Turkey will not allow itself to be held hostage by Greece and Cyprus”, and called on the EU to be an ‘honest broker’. This seems to be an attempt to divide the EU, considering that the problem is about principles, and it impacts upon interests and security of more European nations. Çavuşoğlu announced that Turkey was not to blame for the mess that appeared in eastern Mediterranean and with Cyprus (however, the unilateral measures were taken by Ankara). He also noticed that Turkey’s expectations were not met: custom union agreements were not updated, visa regime was not loosened, and the political dialogue was not revitalized (how, when even Ankara likes to pose as an authoritarian personal regime with Islamist basis? Politically speaking, what has Europe in common with such regime?).

Josep Borrell admitted that Brussels – Ankara relations are “far from ideal”, and current accumulated problems, which are immediate and serious, must be solved. However, he offered a constructive approach: “We have to change the dynamic of our relationship. We have to follow a more positive track so that we can avoid additional problems”. He added that “the eastern Mediterranean is a key issue for the security and stability of the EU and there is a need for dialogue with Ankara to resolve problems”. Such solution cannot be achieved through unilateral actions, but through cooperation and dialogue. Borrell mentioned that discussions included the “deterioration of the situation in the Aegean Sea, in the eastern Mediterranean and what it means for EU-Turkey relations”, as well as “the role of Turkey in Libya and the Libyan conflict, and the commitments undertaken by all participants in the Berlin Conference and in the Berlin Process”. Josep Borrell has insisted Çavuşoğlu stated that the Turkish side there is no intention of an escalation and provoking new situations of tension, and neither it is on the side of the European Union. One of the issues in discussion was the migration agreement reached by EU and Turkey in 2016 (where Ankara got over the latest blackmail, when it sent a new wave of migrants toward Greece), and Borrell pointed out that previous agreement on migration must be reviewed in the new context.

The upcoming EU foreign minister reunion, which is being organized upon France’s request, the problems caused by Turkey will be discussed, and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves le Drian suggested that certain measures might be taken against Ankara, in the context of current disputes in eastern Mediterranean Sea, and Libya. Should the Europeans fail to identify the middle way (moderation, but firmness at the same time), Recep Erdoğan will likely continue his aggressive approach both in Libya, and especially in eastern Mediterranean, and this means armed conflict, no matter how much we wanted to avoid such conclusion. Therefore, reaching a compromise is preferable, a negotiated solution now, and the one who should come to such conclusion is Recep Erdoğan, with a gentle yet firm EU support.


III. EUROPEAN UNION / SERBIA / KOSOVO. The EU relaunches negotiations.

As expected, the relaunch of Belgrade – Pristina negotiations under European Union mediation started with a failure: the solution proposed by the Europeans (namely by Germany, whom France agreed to) was rejected by Serbia. Now, Aleksandar Vučić has the necessary power to say no: domestic support confirmed by recent elections; foreign support by Russia and China; the fundamental split regarding the two opposite solutions, either with or without exchange of territories, the former supported by Washington, and the latter supported by Berlin; the legal basis – the UNSC Resolution 1244. However, it is good that dialogue started, regardless this immediate setback.

While visiting France, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić met French President Emmanuel Macron in private. Then, on July 10th, he joined a video conference with Kosovar Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti, also attended by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the head of EU diplomacy Josep Borrell, and EU representative for Kosovo, Miroslav Lajčak. Vučić will later meet Hoti again in Brussels, on July 12th, but then, highly likely, only details will be discussed, as the basics were to be established July 10th, with attendance by the main European actors - Germany and France. On these negotiations, EU level of ambition was conveyed by European Commission spokesman Peter Stano: the meeting in Brussels will resume "the work on reaching a comprehensive and legally binding agreement on the normalization" of bilateral relations. Before the reunion, President Vučić had warned: the discussions are "not going to be easy... No one is going to cuddle us or give us a present. On the contrary, we will be pressured to give in".

After the meeting, Aleksandar Vučić communicated the basics, although concealed under a veil of diplomatic inuendoes: the conclusion is that “we had a difficult conversation”. He warned that “We have a difficult road ahead of us, so those who think they can easily take everything from Serbia, while Serbia gets nothing will also not have it easy”. Regarding Macron and Merkel, he stated that the two were ‘fair’, and they know what is realistically possible, and what is not: "I cannot say that we were exposed to pressure from their side in any way, unlike from the Albanian [sic] (side). We will have to talk, and it's not easy to talk to someone who lives outside of reality, and when they tells you that the goal is to repeal (UN Security Council) Resolution 1244, they can't say why," President Vučić stated he had a difficult discussion, considering that the Kosovars brought to the table a list of request including the preservation of Kosovo territorial integrity, respect of Kosovar Constitution, and mutual recognition.

Aleksandar Vučić’s declaration clears up the situation enough to conclude the meeting was a failure, which was predictable. Practically, Vučić was requested to recognize Kosovo (not necessarily by Hoti, although Hoti was the one to forward the request list!) without getting anything in exchange for Belgrade, except the promise that Serbia would be integrated into the European Union. That is still an illusion though, considering that a process is going on now, and cutting off Kosovo is just the necessary prerequisite, but not enough for achieving EU integration, since Belgrade went farther away, not closer to implement pro-European reforms. The Serbian leader believes he is strong enough to say no, at least now. The Europeans, especially Germany, obtained just the cancellation of Washington’s initiative so far, but no secure basis for resume negotiations instead. Brussels sole argument is that EU provides money for Kosovo and partly for Serbia, but this seems to be not enough.


VI. Developments to track this Week 29 of 2020.

► REUBLIC OF MOLDOVA.  The opposition had boycotted the Parliament sessions, and the disappeared then recovered Socialist deputy Ştefan Gȃţcan returned to the power folds. After these events, the Chicu government succeeded to assume governmental responsibility (at fourth attempt), for several social-economic initiatives. Igor Dodon’s government is the upper dog now, as it received the last installment of financial aid from the European Commission. The opposition has 72 hours to file a non-confidence motion, but it is too divided to take a unitary decision. Igor Dodon does not thrive either, as the Constitutional Court ruled that having parliamentary and presidential elections in the same day cannot happen.

► FRANCE. The new government is a necessary change, but not a crucial event. The main actor, President Emmanuel Macron decided to refresh the government, with a new prime minister proven to be effective by his conduct during the Coronavirus crisis. In the process, Macron also shed a rather too popular prime minister. The new head of the cabinet must implement a Center-Left policy, necessary in current circumstances (the Greens  marked an important progress in the local elections), after the previous Center-Right government showed good results (however diminished by the economic crisis caused by the pandemic). Anyway, it is worth watching the way Paris changes focus on European issues and on its wider foreign policy.

► RUSSIA. Murders in Europe continue. A Chechen was killed in Austria, and two Russian citizens were arrested in this case. This is another step in the series of Russian / Chechen murders committed in Europe. Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, where accusations converge (but not proven, in Russia’s Putinist judicial system) regarding murders ordered in Russia, is now suspicioned of extending his criminal practice across Europe. Slowly but surely, in several European countries evidence is starting to mount regarding murders committed on their territory, following orders issued by Russian authorities. This will likely add to a deeper isolation of the Kremlin and its criminal instruments.

► LIBYA. The warrying parties regroup. Air attacks began (some of them not claimed) against the two main air bases of the warrying parties in Libya. However, the offensive in Sirte, which would harbinger an all-out war, did not happen. Therefore, the hope for a negotiated peace solution is still alive. The two interventionists, Russia and Turkey negotiate a solution; a possible outcome will take shape on the ground and maybe will last too, not at all whatever the Europeans propose, since they did not put boots on the ground (unfortunately, this is what really matters).