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ЕurAsian Economic Union: New horizons

Colin Stevens

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fwqYYPnabjsBy Colin Stevens.  

The EurАsian Economic Union (EАU) is a new integration association – a phenomenon to be celebrated that reflects global trends. But recent political developments in the post-Soviet space are used by EАU opponents as an argument to undermine the Union’s image at home and internationally. Unwilling to admit the influences of the economic competition factor in international relations or relying on biased sources of information - in either case, the critics of EurАsian integration conclude with a picture of the EurAsian Union as a renewed version of the Soviet Union.

The perception leading to the rise of fears of loss of sovereignty of nation states to the Kremlin, results in the complete rejection of the EurАsian integration project by regular citizens. The idea of the resurrection of the USSR is exploited to take advantage of geopolitical competitors, using a spectrum of strategies for distortion as protest movements within the populations of the EАU.

"Today, regarding the EАU, some experts and politicians are scaring public opinion with a myth of the ‘reincarnation’ of the Soviet Union," said the EAU's major architect Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev. "I believe that the arguments in this debate are far from being reality and are groundless. Today, the reintegration of the Soviet model simply has no institutional framework. All of that has definitely become history."

President Nazarbayev's statement is clearly denying the perspective of the revival of the USSR centralized model, underlining that the success of the Union in modern times is possible only between sovereign states. Driven by the profound need to unite efforts, many humanitarian, political and economic integration platforms have been launched: the Eurasian Development Bank and Eurasian Business Council, the Eurasian Media Forum and the Eurasian Association of Universities are among the most prominent.

A milestone of this process would be the signature of a treaty establishing the EurАsian Economic Union. A number of bilateral and trilateral meetings between the heads of state, held in the spring and regular meetings of the Supreme EurАsian Economic Council in Minsk suggest the determination of the leadership towards this goal.

The EurАsian integration proved to be beneficial as it increased trade between member states, lifted customs barriers, opened possibilities for the creation of joint ventures and co-operation in various fields of endeavour, which visibly contributed to employment and education. Also noteworthy is its beneficial influence on the integration process for the security situation.

Focusing on the economy, the EАU will assemble the resources of the total volume of the core member states, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia, reaching $2.2 trillion US dollars with industrial production amounting to $1.5trl to obtain the integration effect of total GDP growth of $900 billion by 2030.

However, a great deal of work has to be done by all participants "to create the most advanced integration alliance in the post-Soviet space", said Russian President Vladimir Putin, addressing the EАU issues. "The Customs Union we have created works and brings real benefits," Putin continued. "We achieved the results in our economies. It is an obvious fact. But we can take another step, we agreed on this step to deepen our co-operation, to promote our co-operation to a higher level."

As the EАU is a modern Union, divergences of positions are inevitable, this is an undisputable sign of respect for variable national interests. "We face a range of issues on which opinions differ," said Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko. "It was proposed to leave them unresolved and move on, but these issues needed to be resolved at a previous stage."

Energy remains an ‘apple of discord’ with Belarus, as Russia and Kazakhstan have offered to move on towards a common energy market by 2025. This attitude is similar to the practices of the other unions to integrate along multiple tracks, such as the European Union, which is also experiencing the creation of an integrated energy market as one of its major challenges. These divergences confirm that the EАU is a completely new type of association, taking into account the interests of all partners, without Russian dominance as was the case previously.

Today, an official treaty on the creation of the EАU will allow a substantial improvement in the competitiveness and efficiency of the economies in a global world, attracting much-needed domestic and foreign investment. The parties expect that they will be able to reach a compromise agreement on the disputed aspects of the EurАsian Economic Union in the near future.

 

Colin Stevens

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Mohsen Rezaee emerges as the West's man on the ground

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As nuclear talks in Vienna stall, negotiators are keeping a close eye on Iran’s upcoming presidential elections, the outcome of which could be key to breaking the current deadlock, writes Yanis Radulović.

With a fourth round of talks set to resume in Vienna this week, pressure is mounting on high-ranking European negotiators to reach an accord that bridges the geopolitical chasm between Washington and Tehran and brings Iran back into compliance with the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

A historic non-proliferation agreement and widely regarded as one of the Obama administration’s premier foreign policy achievements, the JCPOA set out a framework to curtail Iran’s nuclear breakout time and established formal steps for capping the enrichment of fissile material, scheduling transparent atomic facility inspections, and dismantling excess centrifuge installations. In return for sustained compliance with this framework, the U.S. and other major world powers agreed to a gradual lifting of nuclear-related sanctions on Iran.

When the US withdrew from this landmark agreement in 2018, the European co-signatories of Germany, France, and the UK stepped up to keep the deal alive. However, European relations in the region quickly became strained by the revival of Washington’s “maximum pressure campaign” on Iran, a campaign which aimed to strangle the Iranian economy via unilateral sanctions and escalatory retaliatory actions.

Unsurprisingly, Washington’s pivot to maximum pressure has placed major European powers in a foreign policy double bind. While the recent uptick in U.S.-Iran tensions has trended downwards since the election of President Joe Biden, his predecessor’s approach in the region has had a lasting effect upon Iranian goodwill towards multilateral agreements like the JCPOA.

For the European co-signatories, the nuclear talks in Vienna are embedded within a broader strategy of strategic détente and diplomatic reintegration between Europe and Iran. Beyond the obvious advantages of nuclear non-proliferation, Europe is also eyeing a future where Iran can step up as a fully-fledged, sanction-free actor on the international stage. Despite having an estimated 9 percent share of the world’s oil reserves, the sanction-sapped Iranian economy is woefully underdeveloped. Throw in the simulative potential of Iran’s frozen assets — estimated to be worth between $100 and $120 billion — and it’s easy to see why Europe views Iran as such a promising partner for foreign direct investment.

On a condition of anonymity, a senior official from the US State Department spoke with Reuters and shed some light on the likelihood of a deal being inked during the fourth round of talks, saying: "Is it possible that we'll see a mutual return to compliance in the next few weeks, or an understanding of a mutual compliance? It's possible yes.”

Abbas Araqchi, Iran’s top negotiator, is slightly more pessimistic at the chances of a deal in the immediate future. Speaking on state TV, Araqchi emphasized that Iran would not rush into a new deal without a stable framework of safeguards.

"When it will happen is unpredictable and a timeframe cannot be set. Iran is trying (for) it to happen as soon as possible, but we will not do anything in a rush," Araqchi said.

As formal talks stall, European negotiators are looking at Mohsen Rezaee, one of three front-runners in the upcoming Iranian presidential elections, to cut through the diplomatic red tape and promote mutually beneficial collaboration with the US and EU.

Unlike his fellow presidential candidates, Rezaee is not a lifelong politician. Nevertheless, with a career spanning the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to the Expediency Discernment Council, Rezaee is a seasoned diplomat and pragmatic negotiator. Perhaps Rezaee’s most impressive achievement is the fact that in all his years of civil, military, and political service, he has never once been subject to a corruption scandal or criminal probe.

While established politicians like Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif may be a more conventionally attractive partner with the West, there is growing conviction in Europe that Rezaee, a well-rounded, well-respected, and reliable candidate, is the man best suited to represent Iran and its position on international nuclear negotiations.

A proven leader who is unafraid to express his opinions, Rezaee has repeatedly shown that he is capable of adjusting his opinions and uniting coalitions. Despite his role as a representative of the “Revolution Generation”, Rezaee has made it clear that he is no radical. After years of civil service, Rezaee has broken ranks with many of the hardline views that are commonplace in the IRGC. In fact, in an interview with the Tehran Times, he went as far as to dismiss a nuclear arms race as unwise, remarking: “Political wisdom requires not to chase weapons that can destroy the entire humanity.”

With impediments to progress rearing at every turn in Vienna, it has become abundantly clear that the West needs a man on the ground in Iran. Mohsen Rezaee, and the emerging movement he represents, may be the key to breaking the deadlock in negotiations and bringing Iran back as a major player in the global economy.

The opinions expressed in the above article are thoseof the author alone, and do not reflect any opinion on the part of EU Reporter.

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Cities call for new EU pact for just and sustainable recovery

EU Reporter Correspondent

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Social inequalities are deepening. Homelessness and unemployment rates are shooting upwards, and new groups of people have emerged as at risk of poverty and social exclusion. City leaders from around 70 cities, meeting today, one day ahead of the EU Social Summit, have called for a new pact between all levels of government to reverse these dangerous trends and foster a just, sustainable and inclusive recovery.

“As city leaders, we have stepped up our responsibilities to implement social policy and guarantee public social investment over the past 12 months,” said Dario Nardella, president of Eurocities and Mayor of Florence. “But the recovery we now face will take bold actions and imagination to build back better and fairer. Despite repeated calls, many cities are still not consulted in the national recovery plans. That’s a lost opportunity that the EU cannot afford at this time, which will dampen Europe’s ability to bounce back. Without cities, the prospects for a sustainable and inclusive recovery look grim.”

In their conclusions, the city leaders say that the EU social targets for 2030 should be matched by ambitious reforms and investments. Specifically:

  • An annual social summit on the European Pillar of Social Rights action plan, with a meaningful participation from cities.
  • A strong social dimension in the European Green Deal.
  • Strengthen social investment and investment in social infrastructure, including social and affordable housing, as the way to deliver a just recovery, leaving no one behind.

“A new pact must commit the different levels of government to design a recovery response that works for people and planet. When so many people have been so badly affected this year, especially in our cities, now is the time to lend a helping hand, not to turn our backs,” added Nardella.

Cities have already demonstrated their commitment to implementing the European pillar of Social Rights through the 66 city pledges to the Eurocities ‘Inclusive Cities 4 All’ initiative, which have so far mobilised a total of €15bn in municipal investments for social causes.

“We are ready to do even more and work shoulder-to-shoulder with the EU and member states,” concluded Nardella. “In turn, we expect European leaders to engage us as key partners in the EU agenda for recovery.”

“We must use the recovery to prioritise the needs of people through our investments in green and digital reforms!  At the local level we see that social and environmental policies are interrelated,” said Maarten van Ooijen, Chair of Eurocities Social Affairs Forum and Deputy Mayor of Utrecht. “Cities can ensure that people are skilled to match green job opportunities, and we can develop local pacts by bringing together local businesses and training providers. We also need to avoid further deepening of the housing crisis in our cities. With urgent support from the national and EU institutions we can ensure a just recovery through targeted long term social investments in affordable housing” he concluded.

Dario Nardella, President of Eurocities and Mayor of Florence, will deliver the conclusions from the Cities Social Summit directly to European leaders at the EU Social Summit on Friday 7 May 2021.

  1. The following city leaders took part directly in the Eurocities Cities Social Summit, held on 6 May: Dario Nardella, President of Eurocities and Mayor of Florence; Ada Colau, Mayor of Barcelona; Ricardo Rio, Mayor of Braga; Susan Aitken, Leader of Glasgow City Council; Katrin Habenschaden, Mayor of Munich; Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris; Rui Moreira, Mayor of Porto; Ahmed Aboutaleb, Mayor of Rotterdam; Maarten van Ooijen, Chair of Social Affairs Forum and Deputy Mayor of Utrecht; Sonia Fuertes, Commissioner for Social Action, Barcelona; Matteo Lepore, Deputy Mayor of Bologna; Elke Decruynaere, Vice-mayor of Ghent, responsible for education and youth; David McDonald, Deputy Leader of Glasgow; Thomas Fabian, Deputy Mayor of Leipzig; Renaud Payre, Vice President on habitat, social housing and urban policy of Lyon Metropole; André Sobczak, Deputy Mayor of Nantes; Alexandra Sußmann, Vice Mayor, Stuttgart; Betina Beśkina, Deputy Mayor of Tallinn; Marina Hanke, Vice-chair of Committee on European affairs, Vienna; Nina Abrahamzik, Councillor and Chair of the Committee on climate, environmental policy, public services and democracy of Vienna.
  2. The full conclusions from the Eurocities Cities Social Summit can be accessed here  
  3. Eurocities is running a campaign ‘Inclusive Cities 4 All’ engaging mayors and deputy mayors to commit to improve access to social rights, including childcare services and support for children. So far, 66 city commitments have been signed, representing 51 million citizens and totalling a municipal investment of €15bn. All city pledges are available here.
  4. Eurocities wants to make cities places where everyone can enjoy a good quality of life, is able to move around safely, access quality and inclusive public services and benefit from a healthy environment. We do this by networking almost 200 larger European cities, which together represent some 130 million people across 39 countries, and by gathering evidence of how policy making impacts on people to inspire other cities and EU decision makers.

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EU Space Programme 2021-2027 ready for take off

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The Socialists and Democrats gave their full support to the European Union Space Programme 2021-2027, as it was adopted late 27 April evening in plenary. The programme will provide €14.88 billion in funding to modules such as Galileo, Copernicus, SSA (Space and Situational Awareness) and GOVSATCOM (Governmental Satellite Communication Initiative), and will also ensure that these are continued after 2027.

During negotiations, the S&Ds managed to add targets on climate spending and biodiversity, and also to achieve a clear framework for the participation of third countries.
 
Carlos Zorrinho MEP, S&D negotiator on the file, said: “The European Space Programme 2021-2027, adopted by the European Parliament, will provide the European Union in particular, and humanity in general, with fundamental tools to better understand and more effectively protect the planet on which we live. It will help guarantee biodiversity, combat climate change and participate in global networks for the exploration and management of space, all for the common good.

“For this seven-year period, a budget of €14.88 billion was agreed. Unfortunately this represents a cut from the Parliament’s original position, but luckily some flexibility will remain in order to allow the European Commission to finance new projects. Furthermore, the continuity of services under this programme is assured and safeguarded even after 2027 and the European Parliament will be kept fully informed in all matters pertaining to governance.”
 
Dan Nica MEP, S&D spokesman on research and innovation, said: “It is our duty to always keep an eye on the future when creating policies and endorsing programmes in the European Parliament. The European Space Programme is the embodiment of this guiding principle: we are, today, building for the future. There will be a time when the pandemic will have passed, and with investment in research and innovation Europe will be a truly competitive player on the global stage.

“The Socialists and Democrats fully support the Space Programme and the investments in space technology, data and services. Technology plays an important role in preserving European strategic interests and enhancing Europe’s resilience.”

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