The CSS Blog Network

On Course with European Identity

Pieces of a European puzzle, photo: Cemre/flickr

South Wales is not renowned as a symbol of European identity. Indeed, if you were fortunate enough to watch the drama unfold at the 38th Ryder Cup last week – the biennial golfing contest between Europe and the USA – you might have missed the phenomenon occurring beyond the playing area.

Yes, what might just have passed for a raucous band of Brussels bureaucrats on tour was, in fact, a crowd of 50,000 European golf fans (many of them British) bedecked in blue and yellow – many literally wrapped in the EU flag – cheering on their team with endless chants of ‘Europe, Europe’. For this supporter, bred on a British media diet of fear and skepticism regarding the Brussels ‘takeover’, the passionate display of ‘europeanness’ was faintly startling.

Put the tournament in its proper context as the one event where Europe is represented as a single team and with a television audience of one billion people (making this the third largest sporting event in the world) and you’ll understand why President Barroso of the European Commission was positively giddy as he opened proceedings.  Remember, this is also from the perspective of a country where 71 percent want a referendum on EU membership, and of a Union to which less than half its members’ populations feel any attachment.

But what does it say about European identity when its most fervent popular expression is in a sport characterized by birdies, bogeys and bunkers? » More

Illegal Loggers, Beware

Illegal logging is a complex problem, photo courtesy of Claire L. Evans/flickr

On July 7, the European Parliament voted 644 to 25 to ban the sale of illegally logged timber and timber products from the EU market from 2012 onwards when the rule takes effect.

The passage of this ban is a tremendous achievement, the culmination of more than a decade of environmental activism and lobbying on the issue. While the ban is an important step in the right direction, the general public should not be lulled into a comforting, but false belief that the problem is getting better. The legislation affects only 20 percent of the global market for illegal timber; a significant move, but there is much more to do.

Like many environmental issues, logging is tightly bound to other problems, many endemic to developing countries (such as corruption, organized crime, poverty, environmental destruction) that are difficult to address individually, but must still be tackled with approaches that can generate multiple beneficial outcomes, such as greater transparency, better information management, the implementation and strengthening of legislative, enforcement and monitoring frameworks. As well as the creation of collaboration and information exchanges, the importance of changing consumer perspectives and demand for cheap timber and timber products cannot be overstated. » More

Swapping Land, Changing Priorities?

According to Bulgarian sources, the Serbian government is considering a land swap with Kosovo. In exchange for a territory in northern Kosovo mainly inhabited by Serbs (grey area in map below), they would offer parts of the Presevo valley in southern Serbia, where a majority of the population is Albanian (shaded red area on the right.)

Ethnic map of Kosovo and neighboring regions / © BBC

Yet, Kosovars don’t seem to like the idea. The prime minister of neighboring Albania has also rejected the idea, arguing that it is important to keep political borders in the region as they are.

Trying to carve out ethnically homogeneous polities is indeed problematic, simply because it will never work. Neither the Presovo valley, which would be added to Kosovo, nor the northern parts of Kosovo, which Serbia claims, are inhabited by the respective ethnicity exclusively. There will always remain an ethnic minority, whose rights need to be protected.

There is an interesting aspect to the Serbian “proposal”, though. By suggesting a land swap with Kosovo, does the Serbian government not somehow recognize the country’s sovereignty, which officially is still part of Serbia? The plan adds at least evidence to the argument that Serbia attaches less and less importance to the status of Kosovo. If Serbia will eventually have to choose between the EU and Kosovo, as Igor Jovanovic suggested last week, will it choose the EU?

To me it seems it will. To admit so, however, would be suicide for the current Serbian government.

UK Foreign Policy After Brown

UK Conservative Party leader David Cameron at the 2010 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland / Remy Steinegger, flickr


Their campaign slogan is “Vote for Change.” But in terms of foreign policy, if David Cameron’s Conservative Party maintain their opinion poll lead over Labour and go on to take office after the British general election on 6 May, change is likely to be conspicuous mostly by its absence. As The Economist pointed out last week, with the notable exception of Britain’s relations with the EU, “foreign policy is distinguished by the broad agreement it commands in Westminster […]. For the time being, politics, to a degree that some find heartening and others worryingly complacent, still stops at the water’s edge.”

Take Afghanistan, a war that bleeds popular support with every British fatality (281 now since 2001) but one that neither the Conservatives nor the Liberal Democrats – the UK’s third largest party (and possible kingmakers if voting ends in a stalemated ‘hung’ parliament)  – offer to end Britain’s military involvement with any time soon. Indeed, and quite apart from any security fallout, a hasty withdrawal would deal a serious blow to the UK’s longstanding ‘special relationship’ with the US, which the Conservatives are (uncontroversially) committed to upholding.

» More

ISN Weekly Theme: Euro-Mediterranean Relations

Turkey flag

Photo: Vyacheslav Argenberg/flickr

It’s the real-life version of Samunel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations: The Euro-Mediterranean region. The area is home not only to some of the most breathtaking sites in the world, it’s also the meeting place of European and North African/Arab cultures. After years of starts and stops the EU and non-EU members in the region are attempting to join together in a sustainable partnership, but hopes aren’t high.

This week, we’re examining Euro-Mediterranean Relations as our weekly theme.

  • In the latest edition of ISN Podcasts, also part of our Special Report, Dr Bichara Khader says that the issue South-to-North migration in the Mediterranean region is a sticking point due to various factors, including the tendency to group the desire to move from one place to another for a better life with illegal acts.

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