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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on May 11th, 2007
by Pincas Jawetz (pj@sustainabilitank.info)

Russia and China resist EU play for Central Asia.

By Andrew Rettman EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS , May 8, 2007.

Russia and China are trying to counter EU efforts to secure fresh energy supplies in Central Asia, the EU’s top regional envoy, Pierre Morel, has warned, with analysts worried Turkey could also start competing with European interests if its EU accession hopes fade.

“There’s a level of competition – you’ve got Russia, China and the US. There’s Turkey as well, and India is developing a strategy,” Mr Morel told MEPs at a European Parliament debate in Brussels on Tuesday (8 May), as Europe gears up to launch its first ever Central Asia policy at the June EU summit.

Focusing on Russia and China, the diplomat explained that despite traditional “rivalry” between Moscow and Beijing, the pair are increasingly using the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation – a dormant anti-terrorist club formed in 2001 – to discuss the energy map in Central Asia.

He described the duo’s strategy on Central Asia as a “head of state approach” that differs from the EU’s €750 million Central Asia aid package for 2007 to 2013, which is based on wider social, trade and environmental projects designed to nurture long-term stability.

“I don’t think there’s an equivalent from Russia or China in terms of water or environmental management,” Mr Morel said, adding that EU “institutional strengthening” – it wants to remodel Central Asian judiciaries and parliaments – is the only way to bring in major, international energy investors.

“Just having a head of state approach will not help,” he explained. “The Russians have not struck the right level yet. These countries fear the return of Russia or at least of energy being used as a leverage against them.”

Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan broke away from the Soviet Union in the 1990s and are believed to hold up to 5 percent of the world’s energy resources.

But almost all their oil and gas exports to Europe are currently shipped via Russian-owned pipelines, with Brussels feeling increasingly uncomfortable about its energy dependency on the Kremlin.

Russia’s post-colonial game
In terms of Russia’s “head of state approach,” Moscow’s tactics seem to consist of a mix of intimidation and encouragement for the authoritarian regimes that run the three energy-rich Central Asian states.

“Turkmenistan is very important in terms of gas deliveries to Russia. Russia is going to use Turkmenistan to meet its [natural gas export] commitments,” Mr Morel explained, six months after the sudden death of Turkmen president, Saparmurat Niyazov, which handed control of the country back to the Soviet-era administrative elite.

Estonian socialist MEP Katrin Saks also told Mr Morel on Tuesday that “It was clear during our talks that Kazakhstan was being put under great pressure from Russia on the energy issue,” after visiting Astana as part of a European Parliament delegation last week.

In the case of Uzbekistan, Russia and China’s willingness to tolerate gross human rights violations have seen Uzbek government-backed Russian and Chinese investors drive out US and German companies at a “spectacular” rate, Ms Saks said.

The Turkey question
Meanwhile, EU candidate Turkey sees itself as a natural partner for EU energy interests in Central Asia, due to its geographic position and historic links with the ethnically-Turkic population scattered in neighbouring states. But some analysts wonder how Ankara will react if its bid to join the EU fails.

“Turkish policy towards Central Asia…has a tendency to ebb and flow as Turkey is rejected or not by the west, and the result is that now we see Turkey embracing Central Asia once again with a renewed emphasis on pan-Turkism,” Raffaello Pantucci of the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies told EUobserver.

“If it plays its cards right, it could become a critical nub for Central Asian energy supplies…[which] seems to be one of Turkey’s major alternatives in the face of European rejection,” he added.

“We have special ties and vested interests in the Eurasia region, but we have never viewed our relations with the region as an alternative to our EU course,” a Turkish diplomat said. “I don’t think Mr Sarkozy’s presidency will change our position on that,” the contact added, on the new French president’s anti-Turkey accession policy.

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[Comment] The EU and Central Asia: from great gaming to gradual playing.

By Raffaello Pantucci, EUOBSERVER / COMMENT (an oppinion piece) May 9, 2007.

The European Commission is not prone to dramatic or sudden shifts, which is the product of a long tradition of rational contemplation that Europeans are so proud of, but more literally, it is due to the simple reality of juggling a decision-making process that has 27 members involved in it. One product of this are ruminative foreign policies, like the new EU policy on Central Asia, that may seem paralysingly slow to outsiders, but in reality have a distinct forward momentum.

It is instrumental to examine early drafts that have been circulating of the EU’s new strategy on Central Asia through this prism and therefore view them with some tentative optimism. We have not seen any grand offerings of immense wealth or exaggerated security benefits; we instead view a branch being offered that attempts to marry the hard economic realities of European energy needs with a desire to help nurture European democratic norms in another part of the globe.

It is not surprising that we have seen this renewed interest in Central Asia under a German Presidency. Germany remains the only European member state with a full complement of embassies in all five Central Asian states, and chancellor Merkel and foreign minister Steimeier have both repeatedly spoken of their desire to reach out and stabilize European relations with their Eurasian partners.

Furthermore, chancellor Merkel has also presented herself as a European leader who is willing to take a more robust stance in regards to Russia. This has not resulted, as some feared, in an apocalyptic schism with Russia, but rather it has produced the beginnings of a balancing in relations between Russia and the EU. While there are undeniable tensions coming to the surface once again – it is worth noting that so far no-one has suggested that Russia turn off the gas taps.

In this regard it is particularly interesting to note that Russia as a topic in early drafts fails to merit much mention at all. A very early draft referred constantly to a strong Russian presence in the region, while in later ones Russia is only noticeable where it would appear to be missing. There is an emphasis on the importance of gas deliveries from the region, the “construction of new oil and gas pipelines to Europe,” and the word “diversification” is used regularly in an energy context. No mention of the EU’s current key energy supplier and former big brother to Central Asia.

Instead, the EU strategy seems to be a seven-pronged approach with a heavy emphasis on the softer side of relations: youth and education; human rights, rule of law, good governance and democratization; economic development, trade and investment; energy and transport links; environment and regional water security; combating terrorism, transnational crime, and drugs; and finally a typically nebulous European desire to “promote dialogue within civil society and respect for freedom of religion.”

At every level, the emphasis is made to work towards “common aspects as well as specific nation contexts,” showing an EU awareness that each nation in the group has varying needs, and there are clear incentives – the doubling of “financial means to assist Central Asia” and the offer to “support…the WTO accession process and eventual membership” of all five members of the Central Asian cluster (currently only the Kyrgyz Republic is a member of the WTO, while Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan remain observers and Turkmenistan is completely outside).

On the other hand, however, there is an unavoidable emphasis on “democracy” and “human rights,” something that sparked the anthropological rebuke to “take into consideration [our] countries’ national traditions, history, and…mentality” from Uzbek foreign minister Vladimir Norov at a joint press conference on March 28th in Astana.

This is a not entirely surprising comment given the EU’s ongoing retention of an arms and travel embargo on Uzbekistan. Initially a reaction to the May 2005 incident at Andijan (where an unknown number of protestors were killed by government forces) the sanctions and the subsequent Uzbek decision to ask the United States to abandon bases on its territory have left EU-Uzbek and US-Uzbek relations on hold. The main result of this has been for Uzbekistan to wander into the warm embrace of its Russian and Chinese neighbours, who offer a less emphatically “democratic” and more pragmatic relationship.

What is particularly interesting about the new EU strategy, however, is its awareness of the new “great game” that it is trying to play a part of in the region. “Human rights” may play a prominent role, but they are matched by a bevy of realpolitik economic and energy related carrots. While they are not quite the no-strings-attached offers put on the table by the Chinese, they do instead offer “sustainable development” and “capacity building” in contrast to the Chinese tendency to prefer to rely on their own firms to construct local capacity.

There is further no mention of the United States or NATO, both subjects with historical baggage: it seems the EU is eager to re-write its history from scratch in Central Asia. China and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization only merit a strategically brief mention in the fight against drugs and transboundary crime in the region.

Internally within the EU, there are many reasons for optimism within this renewed strategy. Germany has made a point of aligning its policies as presidency of the EU with the next two presidencies (Portugal and Slovenia), providing some unusual continuity in European policy. Currently, the EU is broadly shut out of Central Asia, and shares no contiguous borders with the region: the positive side to this is that the EU is able to steer the rudder towards an internal consensus on the region without having too many onerous member state caveats attached to potential policy. And the member state with the most to worry about, Germany, is the one currently at the rudder anyway.

At a time when European credibility in the world is slipping, a successful policy towards Central Asia would provide the EU’s Common Security and Foreign Policy with a much needed shot in the arm. Hopefully a nurturing incrementalist policy, that will not devolve into an all-too-common Euro-stagnation.

Raffaello Pantucci is a research associate at the London-based think-tank, the International Institute for Strategic Studies

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France wants to save major part of EU constitution, Sarkozy aide says.

By Lucia Kubosova, EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS, May 8, 2007.

France’s Nicolas Sarkozy will seek to maintain as much of the rejected EU constitution as possible in the upcoming talks on a new treaty for the bloc, a top aide to the president-elect has told EUobserver.

Alain Lamassoure, a prominent centre-right MEP and tipped to be the new Europe minister in the Sarkozy government, said Paris will agree to stick “as much as possible to the original text.”

His comments indicate that Mr Sarkozy is in favour of a re-packaged text containing essentially the same elements.

Referring to removing the EU symbols proposed in the original text as part of a general approach to take away the constitutional feel to the new treaty, Mr Lamassoure said “we will play the European hymn or fly the flag whether it is mentioned in the new treaty or not.”

He added that the same applies to the exact title of the future EU’s foreign affairs minister. “As long as his status and powers are preserved we’re fine with [a title change].”

He expects the new “ordinary treaty” – adopted by national parliaments where possible – will have a maximum of 130 instead of the 448 articles originally proposed.

The institutional changes should remain untouched while the Charter of Fundamental Rights, currently appearing as a whole within the text and raising several legal question for member states – being referred to by a single article.

“That way, the charter can be interpreted as legally binding in some countries, such as France and Germany, and non-binding in others, such as the UK.”

Referring to the third part of the constitution which lists EU policies, Mr Lamassoure, who is part of Mr Sarkozy’s inner political circle, says “we must distinguish between provisions that are already present in previous treaties and can be dropped as we do not need to replicate them and the new provisions which need to remain.”

He indicated France is not prepared to compromise on the list of new areas to be decided by qualified majority rather than unanimity, while admitting that this could become one of the most contentious issues, particularly for the UK.

“This is non-negotiable as it is one of the provisions with the most important added value of the new treaty which seeks to help the enlarged EU to work more efficiently.”

The MEP’s statements are the first clear public indication of what Paris will be calling for at the EU table when leaders meet to discuss a new institutional settlement next month – a clear French position on the issue has been lacking since French voters rejected the constitution in a referendum almost two years ago.

Defining Europe’s borders
Touching on another highly controversial issue, Mr Lamassoure said Paris is going to push for a definition of the bloc’s borders in the coming months and a “reorientation” of talks with Turkey.

“EU leaders have been lying to Turks for the past few years and the new French leadership believes we must stop doing so,” he said, referring to the bloc’s membership negotiations with Ankara kicked off last October.

He argues that citizens in most EU member states are against Turkey joining the union and that it was a main factor in the French rejection of the EU constitution.

“The sooner we will have the courage to say this openly to Turkey the better,” said Mr Lamassoure, pointing out that Paris will seek a “re-orientation” of the whole accession talks in which “at the very least, we clearly open other options for the final outcome -other than membership.”

“If everything goes well and we agree on the revised EU treaty by the end of this year we envisage that we could also at the same time present to citizens a common political declaration on the ultimate borders of Europe,” Mr Lamassoure said.

He said that Paris recognizes the bloc’s commitments to the Balkan countries but that “the [EU] borders must be that of the continent.”

His comments come on the back of a presidential campaign by Mr Sarkozy in which he repeatedly said he was opposed to Turkish membership.

Mr Lamassoure said that while Mr Sarkozy will be careful not to hijack next month’s summit on drawing up an EU treaty with the Turkey question, “we definitely don’t want to postpone this issue for too long.”

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Call for veto powers for MPs in new EU treaty.

By Honor Mahony, May 9, 2007.
Prague, Warsaw and the Hague are lobbying to get more power for national parliaments written into a new-look constitution for the European bloc.

According to a report in the German daily Handelsblatt, the three countries want MPs to have the right to refuse legislation coming from Brussels.

At the moment the constitution – rejected by Dutch and French voters two years ago – gives parliaments the right to complain about proposed EU legislation, but the European Commission is not obliged to withdraw it despite any complaints.

Under the trio’s veto scheme, if a third of national parliaments objected to a proposed EU law then it would automatically fail.

This idea also came up during the year and a half long convention to draw up the EU constitution in 2001-2002, but was rejected after opponents argued it would upset the balance of power between the EU institutions – it was particularly opposed by representatives from the European Parliament.

German centre-right MEP Elmar Brok, who was in Berlin along with his colleagues from the parliament’s constitutional affairs committee, told Handelsblatt that the “right of veto for national parliaments would mean the introduction of a virtual third chamber.”

According to the MEP, the the Polish, Czech and Dutch plan also faces some opposition from within the German chancellor’s office.

Treaty talks gather pace
The idea is part of overall negotiations on the EU treaty, which are gathering pace as a June deadline approaches for agreeing the skeleton of a new-look constitution and a timetable for its implementation.

While 18 countries have mainly ratified the original constitution, several of the remaining nine are making demands for change so that they can better sell it to a sceptical domestic public.

Among the most controversial areas are proposals for a new voting system in the treaty – Poland has asked for changes to be made – and the extension of qualified majority to several new areas, which is problematic for Britain.

The Dutch government meanwhile has been making it clear it cannot go back to The Hague without having secured substantial changes to show it has taken on board the rejection of the constitution by Dutch voters in June 2005.

According to sources, a new treaty is also set to have some additional features – including a mention of fighting climate change and an energy solidarity clause, the last as a sop to Warsaw.

It is also expected that enlargement criteria will be written into the new treaty.

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[Comment] Turkey may be France’s price for the new EU treaty

May 11, 2007, Opinion Piece by Peter Sain ley Berry EUOBSERVER / COMMENT.

Two weeks ago I suggested in these pages that from a European perspective the French Presidential contender Ségolène Royal might be a better choice than Nicolas Sarkozy.

I argued that it would be necessary to put any revised constitutional treaty to a second referendum in France (the alternative would be to enlarge the EU’s democratic deficit to dangerous proportions). As the opposition to the first treaty had come, at least in part, from a perception that it would undermine the French system of social welfare, a left-wing president could more easily reassure voters, I argued, and so carry such a referendum early in her first term.

It was perhaps a forlorn piece of analysis, for within a point or two the outcome of the second round, which elected Nicolas Sarkozy, was clear from the results of the first. All the evidence showed that supporters of the centrist, François Bayrou, would divide equally between both camps. And this they did. It would have needed three-quarters of them to have backed Ségolène Royal for her to have scraped a win and all of them for her to have won convincingly. This was never going to happen.

The policies of M. Sarkozy are widely held to be what France needs. I wouldn’t dissent from that view. His ideas on economic reform also chime with the greater part of the Commission’s free market Lisbon agenda, now beginning to show results in terms of rising levels of GDP growth. Though before the free market contingent get too carried away we must remember that the new French President-elect is still at heart an economic nationalist, like his predecessor.

Whether he will be able to implement the reforms he wishes to see is of course another matter. Sarkozy has been likened to Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of Britain from 1979 to 1990, who carried through far reaching economic reforms and broke what was perceived as the trade union stranglehold on enterprise. But Thatcher, at least in her early days, embodied a good deal of popular will, importantly from across the working population. Whether Sarkozy has that same support is doubtful.

An interesting analysis by Eric Dupin writing in Le Figaro shows that apart from business owners and the Poujadist rump of the self-employed, those in paid employment voted more often for Royal than for her rival. Sarkozy’s real support came from the older generation, the over 50s, people in the main who were either retired or otherwise inactive economically. Royal had far more support among the young and the employed.

Sarkozy may pose the question, ‘who governs France?’ But the unions may answer ‘we do’ and, moreover, have the forces on the ground to prove it. The President’s irresistible force may meet an immovable object – the resulting stalemate doing neither France nor the rest of Europe much good.

The resistance is likely to be heightened if Sarkozy tries to ratify a new constitutional treaty, in effect the old treaty with a new name, through Parliament alone. We assume that he will be able to command a majority in the Assembly, at least on this issue, though even that cannot be taken for granted.

The idea of a truly mini-treaty, limited to updating voting weights in the European Council and giving that body a semi-permanent Chair, seems to have disappeared. Except in capitals such as London and Warsaw, it always seemed an impractical suggestion.

The European Commission is also viewing Sarkozy with apprehension over his attitude to Turkey. During the election he made it plain that while he accepts the Balkan states should eventually be admitted to the Union, this does not extend to Asia Minor. The talk is all about other types of relationships that might be invented for Turkey (and presumably other non-Balkan aspirants such as the Ukraine).

He is, of course, not alone in voicing such doubts; other leaders, indeed the German Chancellor herself, have never been convinced of Turkey’s future place in Europe, however far in the future that place may lie.

This has led to a ruffling of feathers in the Berlaymont hencoop, with no one quite sure whether to ignore the French President-elect or to remind him of Europe’s obligations. As he is only President-elect – and on holiday to boot – he is something of a will o’ the wisp. He cannot easily be criticised. Nevertheless, guarded statements about the necessity of respecting European commitments are cropping up with regularity. Even Margot Wallström had a pop at him on her blog this week.

It is not impossible that Turkey might commit some act of folly – such as a military coup – that would disbar the country, at least for a while – and let Europe of the hook. Recent rumblings from the Turkish military about the need to safeguard Kemal Attaturk’s secular legacy were serious enough and led Olli Rehn, the Enlargement Commissioner, to issue a veiled reminder about the need to respect state institutions.

Not impossible perhaps, but unlikely. Which will leave us in a tricky position come June when Mrs Merkel hopes and expects to have the roadmap to the EU’s constitutional reform agreed.

I have to say the prospects for this were looking uncertain before Sarkozy’s election; after it they look even bleaker. Sarkozy appears likely to insist that the new treaty does not compromise on the issues to be settled by majority voting that were written into the old treaty. This may prove contentious, especially, in London, where Gordon Brown is expected to have taken over from Tony Blair by mid-July.

But it is Sarkozy’s position on Turkey and his insistence that a new treaty say something about the EU’s boundaries that is likely to prove more difficult – at least in the short time that remains. I happen to agree with this position and have argued the point several times in this column. But to attempt an agreement on this in the few weeks that remain before the June European Council may well prove impossible.

Nevertheless, some statement along these lines may be Sarkozy’s price for delivering a French ratification. He may even have the majority of the French electorate behind him also. He is something of a Napoleonic figure, after all; not averse to using a whiff of grapeshot to get his way. I foresee trouble ahead.

The author is editor of EuropaWorld

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