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.
Cities call for new EU pact for just and sustainable recovery
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.
- 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.
- The full conclusions from the Eurocities Cities Social Summit can be accessed here
- 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.
- 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.
EU Space Programme 2021-2027 ready for take off
|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.”
Could a Green Party chancellor lead Germany?
Annalena Baerbock (pictured) will run in the coming election, and polls suggest there is rising support for the Greens as climate concerns mount, writes Ruairi Casey.
The German Green Party has announced that Annalena Baerbock, its co-leader, will be its candidate to replace Angela Merkel as chancellor ahead of elections in September.
“Now begins a new chapter for our party, and if we do it well, for our country,” she told reporters today (19 April).
Baerbock has called for a political renewal that will meet the challenges posed by a warming planet and deliver prosperity to all Germans, from poor single-parent families to industrial workers.
“Climate protection is the task of our time. The task of our generation,” she added.
Her candidacy comes at a moment when worries about climate change, frustration with the government’s pandemic response, and fatigue at 15 years of conservative rule have propelled the Greens to likely king-makers once votes are counted later this year.
But the Party’s ambitions lay higher still.
As it nips at the heels of Merkel’s panicked Christian Democratic Union in opinion polls, many are asking: Could a Green chancellor lead the world’s fourth-largest economy?
Baerbock’s green activism began at a young age, when she joined her parents in protesting against the dumping of nuclear waste in her home state, Lower Saxony.
A former trampolinist, she studied law before working in the office of an MEP in Brussels and then moving to the east German coal state of Brandenburg.
There, she quickly ascended the ranks, establishing a reputation as a sharp mind on climate policy and a confident media performer.
She became state chairperson at 28 and an MP at 33.
In 2018, she was elected party co-leader alongside Robert Habeck, the former deputy prime minister of Schleswig-Holstein, one of Germany’s smallest states, and an author of several children’s books.
Opponents have criticised Baerbock’s lack of experience, asking whether anyone without governing experience could be suited to Germany’s top job.
“Three years as party leader, MP and [being] the mother of small children toughens you up pretty well,” she has said, in response.
In contrast to the civil war engulfing Merkel’s CDU – and its Bavarian sister party the CSU – over who will succeed Merkel, Baerbock and Habeck seem to have enjoyed a comradely relationship.
They came to an amicable private agreement to continue to work together, as a duo.
Under their joint stewardship, the party has appeared a model of calm professionalism; common flare-ups between the party’s “realist” and “fundamentalist” factions have been subdued.
“Since the two chairpersons were elected, there is no fight at all inside the Green Party. They are unified, demonstrating harmony. They want to get in power: that’s the most important thing and therefore it’s stopped battling between the wings,” said Ansgar Graw, author of The Greens in Power: A Critical Assessment.
Founded by environmental activists in the 80s, the Greens have grown steadily away from their radical, hippy-ish origins.
The party’s only stint in federal government was as junior partner to Gerhard Schröder’s SPD in the late 90s and early 2000s. In that period, despite divisions, it ultimately supported the chancellor’s backing of NATO’s intervention in Kosovo, as well as his liberalising welfare reforms.
The party won its first state in 2011, after the Fukushima meltdown drove public dissatisfaction with nuclear power to fever-pitch. The Greens stormed the polls in the former CDU heartland of Baden Württemberg, which has been ruled since by the Greens’ centrist leader Winfried Kretschmann.
“As a whole, the party has become part of the fabric of German society. They appeal not just to their traditional left-libertarian base, but also to centrist voters who care about the environment and have tired of the Christian Democrats,” said Kai Arzhaimer, a political scientist at the University of Mainz.
The party’s draft election manifesto paints a picture of bold transformation, centred around meeting the Paris Climate Agreement goal of limiting global heating to 1.5 degrees celsius.
It pledges to make all cars emission-free by 2030, advance Germany’s phase-out of coal burning, increase carbon taxes and boost investment into green technologies.
The party also proposes to lift the “debt brake”, a constitutional amendment introduced by the CDU and SPD which severely limits the government’s ability to borrow to finance spending, and which has been temporarily set aside to address the coronavirus pandemic.
“If these rules are too tight, make no economic sense, and prevent what is politically required, they have to be changed,” Habeck argued in conservative newspaper FAZ earlier this year.
“The debt brake should be supplemented by a rule in favour of public investment.”
On foreign policy, the party has said it will balance economic and human rights commitments, and proposes a more interventionist approach than Merkel’s leadership, which prioritised continued access to export markets.
It has been more critical of China and Russia than the CDU, and opposes the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.
Though it has abandoned former objections to NATO membership, it wants to end its “nuclear sharing agreement”, under which a number of US nuclear weapons are still stored on German soil.
Under Germany’s system of proportional representation, parties generally do not win outright but govern through coalition-building and consensus.
The most recent Forsa poll, published on Wednesday, puts the CDU/CSU at 27% and the Greens at 23%.
The CDU/CSU’s popularity has weakened due to the behind-schedule vaccination campaign and a string of resignations relating to a corruption scandal over PPE procurement.
But the conservatives still remain in front, with the Greens as potential junior coalition partners.
That prospect is far from appealing to much of the Greens’ base, who would prefer a so-called traffic light coalition with the centre-left SDP and neoliberal FDP, which are on 15 and nine percent respectively.
A socialist alliance with the SDP and Left Party, on eight percent, remains another, yet more distant possibility.
The news this month that Kretschmann would renew his business-friendly coalition with the CDU in Baden Württemberg, home to Mercedes Benz and Porsche, drew consternation among younger and left-wing members.
Sarah Heim, a spokesperson for the Green Youth in the south-western state, is proud of achievements in advancing solar energy and expanding public transport, but laments the influence of the conservatives, who she said have reneged on agreements and impeded its climate agenda.
“If we do end up in a government with the conservatives [in a national government], then that could become frustrating as there is always the possibility for conservative-held ministries to block the progress Green ministries would be working on,” she told Al Jazeera.
The ‘ban’ party
Green politicians acknowledge that the party has a history of over-performing in polls, and questions remain over whether they can overcome the skepticism of the comfortable middle classes at the ballot box in September.
In some quarters, particularly the conservative press, the party has earned the moniker of the “ban party”, a jab at its perceived nanny-state inclinations towards regulating cars, travel and eating habits.
“The Greens are still a party of regulations, of forbidding, rules and permissions, and they have not overcome this image,” said Graw. “It’s in their genes to regulate a lot of things in Germany.”
There is also the issue of managerial competence.
Armin Laschet and Markus Söder, the rivals vying for the candidacy of the CDU and CSU, have years of experience leading Germany’s two most populous states.
“If you compared them with the Prime Ministers of Bavaria or North Rhine Westphalia, people in the end would ask: ‘Are Annalena Baerbock or Robert Habeck experienced enough to sit on the negotiation table in the future years together with President XI, President Biden, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, with Mr. Erdogan, and will deal with them successfully?’” Graw told Al Jazeera.
But long-term trends have been bending in the Greens’ favour.
Social surveys have shown that Germans are increasingly better educated, tolerant and concerned about climate disaster.
“The Greens are the biggest beneficiaries of these developments,” said Arzheimer.
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