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What Europe Can Do for the Western Balkans

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This article was originally published by European Council on Foreign Relations on 13 October 2017.

It is high time for the EU to move beyond ‘stabilocracy’ and stand up to ethnic nationalist kleptocrat political leaders.

The Balkans are not as exciting as they once were. The large-scale violence that made the region a central concern of European policy in the 1990s is no longer a feature of Balkan politics.

That’s progress, of course. But the absence of violence does not mean an absence of problems. Persistent economic weakness, growing public frustration with leaders, and renewed ethnic tensions have created a volatile mix beneath the surface calm. As Europe’s attention to these issues wavered, outside actors – most notably Russia, but also Turkey and China, began to assert themselves. If the European Union wants to maintain stability and influence in its own troubled backyard, it will need to re-engage with the Balkans.

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Perceptions of EU foreign policy in the MENA region

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This article was originally published by openDemocracy on 12 August 2017.

In Arab countries, the EU is not seen as providing stability or promoting democracy. Asked what policies the EU should prioritise, survey respondents wanted ‘economic support’ and ‘economic development’.

Findings from the 2014 ArabTrans research in six MENA countries – Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia – shed light on what citizens think of the EU and whether its policies address their concerns. The EU recognised at the time of the Arab Uprisings that its policies had failed the people of the region and in 2011 it declared an intent to focus on promoting deep and sustainable democracy and inclusive economic development.

However, in practice the EU did not adapt its policy to address popular demands for social justice and economic rights but continued to promote a narrow procedural definition of democracy, to support authoritarian rulers and to implement liberal economic policies that have proved not to support economic development. This inability to address the structural causes of economic and political polarisation pose a serious risk to the Union’s long-term goals in the region.

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Macron’s Foreign Policy: Not a Zero Sum Game

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This article was originally published by the Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI) in July 2017.

La France est de retour”. This is how French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe commented on the results of the June elections when La République en Marche!, the new party founded by Emmanuel Macron, swept into power. There are two things to note about this concept of “France is back”.

The first is internal. The new president and his majority represent a disruption compared to the previous two presidencies, which were generally perceived as suffering from paralysis. There is therefore a window of opportunity to launch a renewed and reformist season comparable only to the ones experienced by France following moments of deep crisis, as was the case in the aftermath of World War I or the Algerian crisis. It translates into the concept of an “eclipse moment”, a time in French history when the nation is re-established in its prerogatives. Paradoxically, this positive reading of the Macron Presidency reverses the so-called “declinist” theory, which fuelled the rise of populism in France and argued that modernity was endangering the nation and that nationalist policies were needed in order to restore and revive the “real” France.

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Rouhani’s Second Mandate: What to Expect?

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This article was originally published by E-International Relations on 25 May 2017.

The twentieth presidential election since the 1979 Iranian revolution has been characterized by an impressive voter turnout. Approximately 73% of the Iranian electorate went to the polls, re-confirming Hassan Rouhani as president of the Islamic Republic of Iran with 23,549,616 votes (57%) against the 15,786,449 votes (38%) for the principlist presidential candidate Ebraim Raisi. A pragmatist, Rouhani’s main achievement during his first four year in power was the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a landmark nuclear deal concluded in July 2015 between the Islamic Republic, the P5+1 (France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, China and Russia) and the European Union . The re-election of Rouhani will safeguard the agreement and deliver a temporary setback to the powerful ultra-conservative factions, namely the bastions of the 1979 Islamic revolution: the Revolutionary Guards, the Basij and the judiciary.

Rouhani’s pragmatic agenda during his first mandate focused on the nuclear deal as a tool to boost economic recovery through the lifting of international sanctions. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Country Report published in February 2017,  the ‘historic’ deal was successful as the economy was  “boosted by the swift recovery in oil production and exports, real GDP grew by 7.4 percent in the first half 2016/17, recovering from recession in 2015/16”.

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Russian Society and the Conflict in Ukraine: Masses, Elites and Identity

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This article was originally published by E-International Relations (E-IR) on 26 April 2017.

This is an excerpt from Migration and the Ukraine Crisis: A Two-Country Perspective – an E-IR Edited Collection.

This chapter looks at how Russian society reacted to the conflict in and with Ukraine. The active phase of the conflict began in March 2014 with the annexation of Crimea and continued with Moscow’s support for the separatist movements in the Donbas region of Eastern Ukraine. The main object of interest here is popular views of the conflict and its context, and in particular the way these views are conditioned by nationalism and the national identity discourse. At the same time, as I show in the first section, it is hardly possible to consider ‘public opinion’ as ontologically separate from the public debate waged mainly by the elites, as well as from the state’s policies and the way they are legitimated. The issue is not just that public opinion is influenced by the state propaganda, but that both are part of the same broader discursive domain where meaning is constructed and reproduced.

Accordingly, this chapter starts with an analysis of Russian public opinion on the conflict and its relationship to the official propaganda. I then go on to discuss how the attitudes to Ukraine and the wider assessment of Russian foreign policy in recent years are related to the complex ways in which the Russian nation is defined and how the concept of the ‘Russian world’ plays into the picture. The final section focuses on the broader context of what Russians see as Western expansionism and how they justify Russia’s conduct in terms of the need to defend the country’s sovereignty and moral integrity against Western subversion. It is not my ambition in this chapter to present any original analysis of primary sources; rather, I see my task as summing up the findings of the existing studies (including my own) and highlighting the key issues that have come up in the scholarly debate so far.

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