Austerity and inequality undermine EU

Posted by Florian Pantazi on 17/12/14
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The numerous geopolitical tensions in 2014 in Ukraine, Syria or Iraq could not obscure the fact that the most worrying problems in the world today are economic, and not geopolitical, in nature.

The total failure of austerity policies within the EU is by now the most pressing concern of governments from the North to the South of the continent. Hailed a few years back by European conservatives as a miracle cure to the sovereign debt crisis, austerity policies have not succeeded in reducing the public debt of Spain and Greece or their 25+ percent unemployment rates. Moreover, the much-touted “golden rule” enforced by Germany via Brussels has only made matters worse, bringing the EU-wide economy to a standstill. The spectres of stagnation and deflation are haunting the chancelleries of most EU countries, as is a Japanese-style extended period of economic malaise.

Another major concern for EU policymakers is the widening inequality in incomes, favouring the rich and severely punishing the European middle classes and the poor. According to the German Office of Statistics, even a seemingly successful country like Germany has 20.5 percent of its population in danger of falling into poverty, whilst the EU-wide average figure stands even higher at 24.5 percent.  The bleak economic situation experienced by nearly all EU members has recently generated huge street protests and general strikes, from Belgium to Italy and from Greece to Spain. The reduction in the standards of living of the middle classes – whose existence is endangered by  the past few years’ myopic austerity policies – combined with the spectre of rising poverty, have motivated students, union members and pensioners to come together in record numbers in an effort to block or even reverse such misguided policies.

In countries like Greece and Spain, radical political parties of the left such as Syriza and Podemos are in the process of undermining political support for traditional parties of the right or of the left, which stand discredited by years of enforcing economic policies that had not produced the expected results. In countries like France, the UK or Hungary, voters’ preferences are also deserting traditional parties in favour of nationalist political parties such as the Front National, UKIP or Fidesz. To add insult to injury, a deal between the EU’s social democrats and conservatives has resulted in the appointment as Commission President of Jean-Claude Juncker , ex-prime  minister of Luxemburg, which is the EU’s capital of the tax-avoidance industry.

The failure of austerity policies and the growth of inequalities have not, however, made a lasting  impression on German politicians or determined them to rethink their approach to solving economic stagnation and high unemployment in the EU. Quite on the contrary, the conservative leadership of Germany keeps insisting that the bitter medicine that failed to revive the EU’s economy has to be swallowed even more rigorously in the future. This is an approach that can only lead to more economic stagnation, more poverty and more social upheavals on the continent.

Where both the US and the Hungarian governments are wrong

Posted by Florian Pantazi on 29/10/14
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In the wake of  Maidan, a new diplomatic scandal has erupted, this time in the heart of Europe, in Hungary. Like in Kiev, it again involves an old acquaintance of ours: Victoria Nuland, the diplomat responsible for European Affairs within the US State Department.

Hungary is currently in the process of converting Swiss franc- and euro-denominated home loans into forints in order to prevent a massive number of defaults on mortgages contracted by Hungarian citizens during the nineties. Unpleasant as that might be for foreign banks operating in Hungary, Fidesz cannot be faulted for taking the side of its citizens.

As the Orban government had proved less willing to endorse the Nuland-inspired hate campaign against Russia, six of its officials were recently put on an American visa blacklist.

Last Sunday, a probably ill-conceived tax on Internet usage contemplated by the Orban government has ignited a 100,000-strong street protest in Budapest and a few other Hungarian cities. The demonstration has provided yet another opportunity for a major US diplomatic gaffe, one that a seasoned professional would have easily avoided. The US chargé d’affaires in Budapest, Mr. A. Goodfriend, actively took part in the protest, thus endorsing an offensive action against the government of his host country, which is rather unprecedented in the history of diplomacy.

Whilst it is true that most neoconservatives and Victoria Nuland herself are of Jewish origin, it is wrong for the Orban government to even tacitly accept anti-Semitic parties like Jobbik’s racist hate speeches in the political arena or the Hungarian media. The race of the persons involved in anti-Hungarian attacks is irrelevant. The actions themselves is what matters.

Granted, some officials of Jewish origin are the children of World War II victims and as such are themselves personally affected by an irrational hate of Europe and especially of Russia. The fault of being put in charge of the affairs of the same continent where their ancestors have suffered continuous discrimination and unspeakable victimization, however, is not theirs but that of US Presidents and Secretaries of State who appointed them in the first place.

As a specialist in international relations myself, and as an European historian I would like to strongly condemn the policy of appointing diplomatic personnel and key decision makers who actively do more harm than good to the normal US-EU trans-Atlantic relationship.


Les grands enjeux géopolitiques d’aujourd’hui

Posted by Florian Pantazi on 12/10/14
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Pour ceux qui s’intéressent à la géopolitique globale, la version française de mon livre sur la théorie du pivot est maintenant disponible sur la plate-forme Kobo (Fnac) à l’adresse suivante :

Le nouveau pivot géographique de l'histoireLe nouveau pivot géographique de l’histoire

La fin de la thalassocratie anglo-saxonne

Depuis la défaite de Napoléon, deux pays maritimes – l’Angleterre et les Etats-Unis – se sont succédé en tant que puissances hégémoniques mondiales. Aujourd’hui la primauté des Etats-Unis est en train d’être remplacée par le pouvoir combiné de deux Etats terriens alliés, la Chine et la Russie, ce qui constitue un véritable « cauchemar géopolitique » pour les Anglo-saxons. « Le nouveau pivot géographique de l’histoire »fait le point sur l’ancienne théorie du pivot d’Halford Mackinder, géographe britannique qui fut le premier à saisir le futur changement de l’ordre international en faveur des puissances militaires terriennes de l’Euro-Asie.

What do Iraq and Ukraine have in common ?

Two states from two very different regions of the world, steeped in different cultures and religions, are these days in the throes of civil war and face disintegration.

I am referring, of course,  to Iraq in the Middle East and Ukraine in Eastern Europe.

If anyone had the curiosity to ask why two such different states find themselves in a similar predicament, the answer would not be difficult to find: because of the unwise promotion of democracy by American neoconservatives in these countries. The process is usually accompanied by a hidden geopolitical or geoeconomic agenda. One of the problems is that neocons like Paul Wolfowitz and Victoria Nuland are not political scientists. Had that been the case, they would have known from the outset that, as Francis Fukuyama explains,

“Long before you have a liberal democracy, you have to have a functioning state (something that never disappeared in Germany or Japan after they were defeated in World War II). This is something that cannot be taken for granted in countries like Iraq.” Or Ukraine

Neoconservatives were oblivious to the fact that this essential prerequisite was not in place when they started their ill-advised drive to promote democracy in Iraq in 2003 and in Ukraine in 2013. After all, getting to the Iraqi oil or tweaking the Russians’ nose in Ukraine were very important goals of the US’s involvement in the two countries.

Victoria Nuland, wife of The New American Century Project co-founder Robert Kagan (pictured), takes a dim view not only of Ukrainians, but of the whole EU, as we all know by now. In actual fact, she helped duplicate on our continent the same  mega-error committed by neocons in Iraq, and the results now speak for themselves. This calls into question the latter’s ability to learn from past experiences and “experiments” (a basic quality of truly intelligent people).

Although thoroughly discredited following the disaster in Iraq, leading neoconservatives are curiously still able to steer American foreign policy in order to advance their group’s  aims, plunging entire regions of the world into war as they go along.

Their political partners in Kiev have just inaugurated the construction of “the Great Wall of Ukraine on the Russian border, which is intended to break the unity of the Eurasian continent at a reported cost of some 3 billion dollars. This mad project, unheard of in Europe since the times of the Roman Empire, makes a mockery of neoconservatives’ emphatic claims that the United States are not about imperialism and that NATO is a purely defensive military organization.

The fact remains that as long as the Obama or any other subsequent US administration gives members of this group access to key posts in government, the peace and security of  whole geographical regions will again be put at serious risk.


Florian Pantazi's photo.

Florian Pantazi's photo.

Who’s to Blame for the Crisis in Ukraine ?

Posted by Florian Pantazi on 14/09/14
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After almost a year of sustained anti-Russian propaganda in the Western press, Foreign Policy – published by  the American Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) – has decided to print an article by John J. Mearsheimer which reads like a veritable Western  mea culpa for the crisis in Ukraine.

From the very start, the article denounces the anti-Russian narrative as flawed and makes it clear that the West has knowingly crossed a Russian “red line” in Ukraine. As the author puts it, the main culprit in the events that started to unfold in Ukraine in December 2013 is the West’s triple package of policies consisting of NATO enlargement, EU expansion and the promotion of democracy in Ukraine to the tune of some 5 billion dollars.

Anyone reading the article will agree that the current Ukrainian premier, Arseny Yahtsenyuk, behaves like nothing more than Victoria Nuland’s poodle in Kiev and that his anti-Russian jibes should therefore be discarded accordingly.

Blaming the Russians for the West’s wrongdoings is a time-honored tradition in Washington. Unfortunately, American decision-makers are not known for recognizing the error of their ways or for making amends. What boggles the mind in the Ukrainian crisis is the fact that the problems and the legitimate security interests of a huge country like Russia are being “handled” within the State Department by a low-ranking official like Nuland.

It remains to be seen whether Western officialdom is still capable of taking into account the assessments of its own specialized think tanks, such as the American CFR or the European Council on Foreign Relations, and of getting Europe out of the geostrategic mess it is currently in.


The SCO expands

The EU’s expansion into Ukraine obeys the law of unintended consequences. Alliances that were probably decades into the making are starting to take shape in months, if not weeks.

Thus, after ten years of protracted negotiation, Russia agreed to sign the huge gas-supply contract with China last June. The two countries have reinforced their diplomatic and military cooperation within the SCO and are now poised to enlarge this organization to ten members.

Russia and China have recently announced that India, Iran, Pakistan and Mongolia will be accepted as new members at the forthcoming SCO summit in Dushanbe to be held on the 11th-12th September 2014. This is how the enlargement process is perceived in New Delhi:

With Beijing having had a profound rethink on India’s admission as a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the tectonic plates of the geopolitics of a massive swathe of the planet stretching from the Asia-Pacific to West Asia are dramatically shifting. That grating noise in the Central Asian steppes will be heard far and wide — as far as North America, says Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar.

In a not-too-distant future we could expect Turkey to respond positively to President Nazarbayev’s invitation to join the Eurasian Union. There is also a very strong possibility that Turkey’s observer status within the SCO will morph into full membership of the organization.

In hindsight, the EU’s and NATO’s ill-inspired eastward drive and subsequent sanctions against Russia have greatly accelerated the latent integration plans in Asia and have increased the bonds of solidarity and economic cooperation within the BRICS group of countries. 


Ukraine: it’s High Time for Plan B

Posted by Florian Pantazi on 29/07/14
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One hundred years to the day, the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural state model received its first major blow. A few years later in the wake the first world war, the multi-ethnic Austro-Hungarian monarchy collapsed and was replaced by a plethora of new national states.

Not all of these states, however, were built as purely ethnic entities. Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, for example, tried to uphold the model for another 70 years, with the help of the Soviet Union.

We all know the ending by now. Both countries, including the Soviet Union, imploded and new national states emerged from their ashes: Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Kosovo, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Russia, Belarus and, last but not least, Ukraine.

Alas, from its inception, the brand new Ukrainian state contained the seeds of its own destruction. As Samuel Huntington rightly predicted in “The Clash”, the faultline which separates western Ukraine from eastern Ukraine, the Ukrainians proper from the Russophones, has become the theatre of a bloody civil war.

For reasons unknown to international relations and diplomacy, current western leaders prefer to ignore the fact that Ukraine is about to disintegrate along ethnic lines and that keping it within its current borders is not only unfeasible but downright dangerous for the peace of Europe. The stupidity of singling out Vladimir Putin’s administration for the situation there and of slapping sanctions after sanctions on Russia could only make matters worse.

It is high time therefore to search for a diplomatic way out of the Ukrainian quagmire. One such solution has been offered by two American historians and geopoliticians, James D. Hardy and Leonard J. Hochberg. In a series of articles from the 6th of May, 2014 (“The Ukrainian Crisis, Part III – the Deal”), the two American specialists outlined the so-called Plan B to the current sanctions campaign against Russia:


It is ‘Plan B’.  But a least worst position is not by definition either unreasonable nor undesirable.  In this case, a divided Ukraine – provided the border is along the civilizational fault line – between Russia and the west makes sense on every level.  It reduces tensions, encourages economic growth, takes account of real, not artificial, cultural and ethnic borders, increases the chances for Russian-European cooperation, prevents Ukrainian disintegration, and rescues America from another foreign policy blunder.  A partial win, all around.”

In truth, western and Russian politicians are well-advised to arrive at a diplomatic solution for Ukraine sooner rather than later, as the performance of the global economy has started to be seriously affected by this geopolitical tug-of-war between the US and Russia. Furthermore, no politician worth his name could these days advocate the pumping of money and military assistance into a multi-ethnic state in turmoil that has no real chance of surviving as such within its current borders.

As a Romanian historian and geopolitician, I endorse such a diplomatic solution, with the amendment that the territories of south-western Ukraine inhabited by a Romanian-speaking majority, which had been taken away as a result of Stalin’s Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, are allowed to reunite with Romania.


The Ukraine Strategy Fiasco

Posted by Florian Pantazi on 20/07/14
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The tragic accident of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 has shocked the European public – and with good reason. Less justified, however, is the attitude of some EU national leaders who are trying to use this tragedy in order to slap more sanctions on Russia.

Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Endowment for Peace in Moscow, gives a more balanced view of events in Ukraine and the way they should be interpreted:

“The west fully supports a Ukrainian government which originated from a revolution that toppled an elected – if obviously corrupt – president. True, the new president, Petro Poroshenko, has a solid popular mandate. Yet the referendums held in Donetsk and Luhansk two weeks prior to the presidential poll – and no less illegal than the Maidan revolution in Kiev – reflected a very high degree of dissatisfaction in eastern Ukraine with the deal they were getting from central government.

The legitimacy of the “people’s republics” is questionable, of course, but the Ukrainian government’s “anti-terrorist operation”, resulting in an ever-rising toll of civilian lives, does not do much to endear Kiev to the easterners. The west’s tendency to treat one’s allies more leniently than one’s adversaries – while sticking to the same high principles throughout – can and does backfire.

In Ukraine, a lot is at stake today. First, for the Ukrainians themselves, wherever they may live. The fate of their country remains in the balance – not just because of the armed conflict in the east, but as a result of the dire economic situation and an uncertain political future. Russia, too, is profoundly affected. Having clashed with the United States over Ukraine, it is now facing increasingly serious consequences in a number of areas – above all, in economy and finance.

For Europe, Ukraine represents a security risk far higher than the one it faced in the Balkans in the 1990s. In the US, Russia may have come to be seen as a nasty nuisance rather than a worthy competitor or a real threat. Yet there is an impression that the punishment already administered is not supported by a realistic strategy leading to a credible goal. If so, it could lead to a very different outcome from the one that the US might desire.”


Let us face it, what we are dealing with in Ukraine is yet another American-inspired policy quagmire. No clear exit strategy from the worrisome situation is available, even if the West has ample financial leverage on the Kiev government that could be used in order to put a stop to the military operations in the East and bring all parties involved in the conflict to the negotiating table instead.

A lingering question about the tragic MH17 accident remains. Why is it, that no EU or Ukrainian air safety official had taken timely measures to prevent commercial flights above a war zone ? In hindsight, these officials are at least as responsible for what happened to the unsuspecting passengers of the plane as the actual people who shot it down.


Turkey invited to join Eurasian Union

Posted by Florian Pantazi on 12/06/14
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President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan has officially invited Turkey to become a member of the new Eurasian Union during a 2-day conference on the 4th and 5th of June 2014 which took place in the Turkish seaside resort of Bodrum. ( I have alluded to this opportunity in my previous post.)

In extending the invitation, President Nazarbayev has told his Turkish hosts that membership of the Eurasian Union would be beneficial for Turkey and would not be very much different from the country’s membership – together with Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgizstan – of the Turkic Council.

I take this opportunity to let my readers know that on the 6th of June I have published my most important ebook on the geopolitics of Eurasia so far, The New Pivot of History. I welcome your comments and feedback.


Does the Eurasian Union have enlargement potential ?

Posted by Florian Pantazi on 31/05/14
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The recently-signed Eurasian Union agreement between Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan in Astana has brought into being the world’s newest trade bloc, as envisaged by President Putin since 2010.

The current size of the bloc is rather small, as it includes only about 170 million consumers. If, however, the Eurasian Union is destined to be the nucleus to which other Eurasian and even Asian countries would be interested to adhere in future, the bloc will eventually grow in terms of size and international clout.

One such potential candidate for membership is naturally Turkey, which would make a much more valued member of the Eurasian Union than of the European Union. If compared to Ukraine – a country that shunned the opportunity to join, which in turn might prove to be a blessing in disguise for Vladimir Putin – Turkey has a much stronger economy, almost double the population, its industries are complementary to Russia’s and it could host a much safer transport corridor to the EU for Russian oil and gas than Ukraine has ever done.

Instead of courting rebellious ASEAN partners – one thinks of those already fallen under the influence of the US or Japan – China, on the other hand, might also ultimately find the Eurasian Union a more attractive alternative. Again, the Chinese and Russian economies are complementary, there are existing military and security arrangements binding the two countries, and no border disputes between them to speak of.

Such a possible outcome would lead to the creation of the largest and economically most powerful trade bloc in history. It would also benefit from the advantage of having all the energy and mineral resources it would ever need within its own borders and not outside them. The only other economic bloc offering similar advantages is Mercosur. By comparison, the EU and even NAFTA are heavily dependent on imports of energy and raw materials from the Middle East, Africa or elsewhere.

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