While defending the EU’s interests and values, we should continue to retain bridges with the Russian people.
I arrived in Moscow as the EU’s Ambassador to the Russian Federation exactly four years ago. At the time, relations with Russia were strained but still functioning. Our efforts to engage Moscow had not yielded much but still allowed open channels of communication. But only a few months later, our relations with Russia plunged to their lowest point since the Cold War because of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its military intervention in eastern Ukraine.
What does Myanmar need to push through a successful democratic transition? It must build strong institutions, transform the economy, and end decades of conflict between ethnic armed groups and government forces, among numerous other challenges. Yet, these enormous tasks seem trivial when compared to what is probably the biggest obstacle to further democratic reform: the role of Myanmar’s armed forces, or Tatmadaw.
No other institution is more powerful than the Tatmadaw in Myanmar. Over five decades of military rule, the armed forces became entrenched in politics and business. Not only does it occupy 25 percent of total seats in Parliament, granting it an effective veto over constitutional change, but it also controls three key ministries: Defense, Home Affairs, and Border Affairs. The president is not the commander-in-chief, and hence, has no official control of the Tatmadaw. Moreover, the constitution grants the military power to take charge of the country in times of emergency.
The leaders of France, Italy, Spain and Germany met in Paris on 28 August for a summit hosted by President Emmanuel Macron in the latest indication of France’s efforts to assume a key leadership role in the post-Brexit EU. Yet, the event is also an occasion for the French president to smooth ruffled feathers among EU partners, particularly in Rome, after a series of diplomatic spats led to a plummeting of relations and the resurrection of old grievances between the two countries. A second, and arguably more important bilateral summit between France and Italy is also scheduled for 27 September in Lyon, another indication of the need to patch up relations and promote an outward image of cooperation between the two EU neighbours.
Tensions between France and Italy soared in July following the French government’s decision to nationalise shipbuilder Stx/Chantier de l’Atlantique rather than give Italy’s Fincantieri a majority stake, thus reneging on an agreement between Italy and France’s previous government. Diplomatic relations had already been tested earlier that week when President Macron organised a peace conference on Libya without inviting the Italian government that considers itself a key player on the Libyan dossier. The two events, which are unrelated, created a perfect storm among Italians, resulting in some public spats and a queue of French ministers flying to Rome to patch up relations. Joint declarations and photo ops have not healed the wound, however, and tensions persist.
Rebooting the Franco-German locomotive of European integration is a key condition for reviving the fading EU project. Compromises will have to be made on fiscal and defence policies, and it is unclear whether the parties have the political capital necessary.
The election of pro-European Emmanuel Macron as president of France has reignited hopes that the so-called Franco-German engine, providing political impetus to European integration in the past decades, might be revived. While Macron’s election proved a rebuke to the populist challenge, it remains to be seen whether and how it will manage to rebalance the partnership with Berlin, which is overwhelmingly premised on Germany’s growing strength and clout at the European level. While pronouncing herself supportive of the new course in Paris, Chancellor Angela Merkel, like the rest of Europe, remains in a wait-and-see position regarding the ability of President Macron to fulfil his ambitious pro-EU agenda.
What are the implications of the Trump Administration’s security and trade policies on relations between China and Europe?
For the time being, Donald Trump’s decisions on defence and trade have not been so significant as to trigger a realignment of relations between the US, China and the EU. However, his term in office throws up opportunities for the strengthening of relations between the EU and China, especially if Europe decides to intensify its Common Security and Defence Policy and Beijing decides to take its process of economic reforms further and attain a greater level of reciprocity with Europe in terms of its trade and financial regulations.