Odessa a good place to discuss Europe’s future

Odessa was – again – the place where this year International Neighborhood Symposium took place – organized by Prof. Dimitrios Triantaphyllou of the Kadir Has University Istanbul and co-sponsored by the IIP. 

Odessa is a good place to speak about a Europe which is non-nationalistic and comprehensive especially including East and West. Odessa which is as such relatively young (founded in 1794) had been planned and built up on the basis of ideas of architects and politicians from many different countries. Furthermore, it had its best times when it comprised people with very different cultural, religious and language background. These were also the times of flourishing commercial exchanges. The worst times came with nationalism, ideological narrowness, war and ethnic cleansing. Especially the Jews have been the victims of these times, but not only them.  

Therefore, Odessa of today lacks many of the characteristics of these – also economically fruitful and successful – days. But many buildings still remind the citizens and visitors of Odessa of that multicultural past.  One special construction are the Potemkin stairs which became famous due to the movie directed by Sergej Eisenstein. It was produced in Odessa and told – with all the freedom of an artist – the story of the revolt of the sailors of the battle ship „Potemkin“ at the beginning of the Russian revolution. 

The slaughter of the soldiers did not take place on the stairs but the film, produced in the Odessa film studios, showed it there, in order to create better impressions. It was produced in times – and in a political system – when and where culture was used also for clear political purposes. But also, today culture is used again, this time less for supporting revolutionary ideas but reactionary ones. Identity in a narrow interpretation as being separating one people from the others became en vogue. But Europe must underline another interpretation of identity – in addition to other identities. We need an approach which is taking all the elements of a free, democratic and inclusive society as constitutive for a European identity. Especially in times of an increased vote for right wing nationalist parties in the recent European elections it is necessary to insist on an identity concept which is in line with an open but also inclusive society.

Old and new cleavages dominated the EU elections

The EU elections made some strong splits in European society visible. In addition to the North – South and the East – West divide citizens voted differently according to them being embedded in – greater – cities and the urban agglomerations or into rural areas. Partly that coincides with different levels of education. 

Together with rural areas old and no longer functioning industrial regions were heavily inclined to vote right wing/nationalistic. These voters, respective the respective parties that were voted into the European Parliament or on national level are critical towards strengthening the European Union. In The contrary they are keen to weaken the EU in many respects. 

What are the specific issues of the increased right wing forces in the European Parliament?

The Brexit and the Brexit party of Mr. Farage are a special case. Brexit will still for some time occupy the EU but hopeful that will pass soon. After Brexit and the turmoil in British politics, exits out of the Union are no longer “fashionable” with them. But they want to build another Union: lighter, looser and more like a federation of nation states. 

But one must recognize, that this may enhance and promote the influence of the outside „EU powers“ like the US, Russia and China inside the EU. The looser the relations inside the EU the stronger the outside influences. And these influences have no the European interests on their mind – quite in the contrary. 

2) Often the right wing parties are climate deniers and reject a strong global engagement in matters of sustainability and international development.

3) In respect to civil liberties, the right wing is promoting or at least accepting a weakening of the rule of law and of legal guarantees of fundamental rights. 

4) The right wing is strongly anti-migration. They are critical of open borders in the Schengen zone. They want strong outside borders and (!) national borders. 

5) Concerning relations within wider Europe they are divided. French, Italian, Hungarian and Austria right wing parties have good relations with Russia. Polish and Baltic right wings are against Russia, especially as long as Russia is following Putin’s political strategy. 

Interestingly the Italian deputy prime minister Salvini who has very close relations with Russia has recently stated in the framework of his visit to Washington, that he wants to be the best friend and ally of the US in Europe!

In this respect the right wing has no specific idea and concept about security in Europe and beyond. Depending on its attitude towards Putin’s Russia they are interested in close cooperation with or rather isolation of Russia. And that means they are either against enlargement and an active neighborhood policy or they support at least a stronger link with the countries between the EU and Russia.

That concerns also the question of a more than technical cooperation of the EU with the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). Such a cooperation could build up trust between EU and Russia. But some are of the opinion, that we should rather strengthen the existing and potential members of that Union in relation to Russia as the dominant country of the EEU.

6) Regarding the Middle East these parties have a rather Israeli friendly position in spite of their anti-semitic background and partly presence. But the right wing government of Prime Minister Netanyahu is offering a hand to them. And anti-Muslim policies are much more political correct in Europe than anti-semitism. There many of the substituted anti-semitism with islamophobia.

Challenges for an active European Union 

The new European Parliament has a weakened center and needs a stronger cooperation of the pro-European forces in order to determine the agenda and legislation. It needs a new political dynamic and an openness towards compromises. And it needs to work on ways to persuade the citizens of the usefulness of the EU as such and of the specific legislation. 

Much depends also on the nomination and voting of the Commission President and of the different Commissioners – especially from countries with right wing governments.  

1) The European union and especially the Eurozone need in several areas a stronger and more efficient management. The EU is the main competitor to the US, Russia and China. In addition, the EU has a „southern“ neighborhood (especially Africa) which is in critical phase of development. It faces huge problems concerning the growth of labour force and climate change. But it is also characterized by an enormous growth and dynamics. Only a more common strategy can safeguard the interests of European citizens. 

A stronger and more efficient EU is also a basis for creating an identity in addition to other – local, regional, national etc. identities. Identity is nothing fixed and especially not by birth, and we all have different, multiple identities. Only such an understanding and interpretation of identity lead into the future.

2) Concerning the environment, the reduction of pollution and the saving of scare resources is an outspoken part of the younger generation which demands stronger and quicker measures. This will be an important issue of EU policies. In this connection of course also a restructuring of the development cooperation will have to take place. 

3) In respect to civil liberties and support for democracy and the rule of law a weakening of scrutiny of the implementation of European law by Parliament and Commission is possible. This weakens also the EU influence in countries of European neighborhoods and in – partly still potential – candidate countries. Europe must not compromise on these principles fought for by many generations of European citizens. 

4) Concerning migration, a comprehensive and common migration policy will be even more difficult to achieve. And also, the integration of refugees into European society will be weakened. In case of a new „migration wave“ for example following new armed conflict in the Middle East a wide spread suspension of open Schengen borders is likely. So progressive forces must work for an effective migration and integration policy which is supporting European interests in having a – limited – number of new people coming to Europe and of integrating those who want and are allowed to stay.

5) The EU is in a phase of discussing their future approach to the European neighborhood. It became already in the past years more flexible and looked for tailor made solutions. Inside the EU but also amidst the countries of the neighborhood the relations towards Russia are seen very differently. 

For some the Neighborhood Policy is an instrument against Russia, for others it is a policy in order to balance their good relations with – for some even dependence from – Russia. Recently the voices demanding an ending of sanctions against Russia became stronger, including inside Germany. But for the moment no drastic change has to be expected. 

The Moldovan agreement between pro-European and pro-Russian forces to build a government may open a new channel of cooperation as is also the case with the conclusion of an association agreement of the EU with Armenia, which is a close ally of Russia in many respects. So, some countries may build a bridge between the EU policy of Eastern Partnership and the Russian „interest“ of strong economic and political ties with their „Near abroad“. Less clear dividing lines between the EU and Russia in their common neighborhood are possible. This may be even true for NATO and Russia, when we think about Turkey buying Russian defense equipment. We will have to accept that in some countries, “hybrid” solutions – showing pro-Russian and pro-European attitudes and governments at the same time – will be better than asking for clear decisions between these two sides. 

Accession talks with Balkan countries will continue – but on a low level and without leading to membership in the coming years. With Turkey talks will be even more formal and Parliament may ask suspension of the talks even more strongly than with the recent Turkey report.

This enlargement as the most important security policy and instrument of the EU is weakened because of losing priority and being at least postponed. Some doubt it will ever take place. Therefore, new instruments of closer cooperation of the EU with the countries in the Western Balkans and the neighborhood should be developed. 

An EU-Western Balkans or even an EU-Western Balkans-Neighborhood Security Community could be formed which could deal with all – soft – security issues with exception of the purely military ones. The same could be envisaged for the migration question and the environment/sustainable development issue. These cooperations should be institutionalized to create stronger links between the EU and the countries in our neighborhood.

6) Concerning the Middle East the EU is already divided. The nuclear agreement with Iran was a big success but has been destroyed by President Trump. With a strengthened anti-Muslim right wing a mediation role concerning the Palestine issue is even less possible and likely.

The strong opposition to Turkey- not because of democratic conviction – but rather of racial/religious reasons limits also the possibility to cooperate with Turkey in the Middle East. But one has to confess, that the interrupted dialogue of the Turkish authorities with the Kurdish representatives is also in the way of a closer cooperation.


The overall development of the EU due to the last parliamentary elections – in addition to different national elections – is going in the direction of more fragmentation and contradictions. But that must not mean a standstill or even a step back. The still existing pro-European majorities must concentrate on vital issues. They must choose those issues which are presenting clear benefits to the citizens. 

From climate policies to extending the European infrastructure, from a fair trade policy to offering a convincing and realistic immigration policy there is room and space for new policies. Another issue is the protection of privacy in the field of social media. Generally, the reliance on outside digital companies, may they come from the US or from China must be reduced. In this connection Europe should insist on a European model of Artificial Intelligence which is compatible with a humanistic approach. The development of a European form of Artificial Intelligence must be embedded into a stronger overall European industrial policy. Competition policy also is not enough to strengthen the European industry.

Political parties of the centre must find a way of cooperation and working on their own profile. And they must enter into an intensive dialogue with European citizens. These must get an impression for what kind of policies the different parties fight. But they must also get an understanding for compromises necessary to achieve results. In the present political environment, there are even more political debate and political skills necessary. But they should deal with those issues which are vital for creating a more sustainable, democratic and socially just Europe. A Europe which could be a global model.


(Presentation at a conference organized by the new founded Forum for Strategic Studies in the Institute of Social Science in Belgrade)

No favorable climate

The recent EU elections were not very favorable for the EU enlargement. Even if the Council would agree in the coming days to open negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania – which seems very unlikely – this would not guarantee a quick accession process for these countries or countries like Serbia and Montenegro.

The major concern of the EU for the moment is to manage Brexit and to manage it soon. Secondly, we have a new balance of power inside the European Parliament and probably also inside the EU Commission – along to the new shifts in the Council. In all institutions a turn to more nationalism is visible and that affects the construction and the enlargement of the EU. Nationalism is directed against foreigners and integration of foreigners into one’s own community.

If the EU would be transformed into a loose federation – according to the nationalists – than accession could be easier. But what purpose does a loose federation of states, which we already have in the Council of Europe have? This is not the Europe which the founding fathers had in mind and it is not the Europe we need to counterbalance the US, Russia, China etc. At least we should have the chance to talk with them eye to eye.

And for many of us the EU is also a watchdog concerning democratic developments or deviation from it. Even if the EU had limited success in influencing developments in Hungary, Poland and Romania, these countries had to refrain from the most extreme interventions in the judicial system and into the media freedom. Also, the principles of parliamentary democracy are something countries have to respect. The Macedonian case should be a warning and the recent Commission report on Serbia spoke also – finally – clear words.

For many years the Commission reports have been very weak and timid in its criticism of the obvious deviation from the respect for media freedoms etc. Maybe it was because of the hope of the EU, Serbia and especially President Vucic would „deliver“ on Kosovo. As he did not – only because of the resistance in Kosovo itself – the Commission reports are more franker and clearer. Maybe the Commission only now became green light from moment countries like Germany.

Open issue for the Western Balkan countries

Things would be easier if the countries of the region themselves would offer a clear determination to follow the European path of democratization and modernization. It is true that several countries inside the EU are deviating from that path, but the non-application of fundamental rights and values by countries of the Balkans or major forces inside these countries would not help anyway.

In addition the regional conflicts have to be approached with a more constructive approach. After the Macedonian issue has been solved, with the Prespa agreement the main conflict is the one between Serbia and Kosovo. Both acted not very helpful in their attitudes towards each other.

In addition, one must recognize, that the concentration on the national/nationalistic issues prevents a clear economic and social strategy of reforms. Compared with the Baltic countries the Balkan countries had no clear strategy of modernization and of inclusiveness in order to manage the necessary transformation.

A new – at  least – additional approach.

The coming years should be used to bridge the substantial gaps between the existing EU and the Western Balkans. There are so many mutual interests from – hard and soft – security issues to creating jobs. The transformation of our economies to a more sustainable way of producing and consuming is another issue. We need also a common approach to the digital challenges. Creating a more socially just and equal society is another one.

Besides the formal accession process these issues should be much more in the focus of the cooperation between the EU and the Western Balkans countries. Even if the Regional Council with its secretariat in Sarajevo does a great work, we need more common (!) processes between the EU and the Western Balkans together. The Energy Union is one of the existing examples, but we need more such institutionalized unions – following this example.

People in the region need a vision of enlargement, especially in view of the strong tendency of the younger generations leave the countries of the Western Balkans. Just to wait for the day X when all changes will take place, is not helpful. Especially if the day X is not coming soon. More money from the EU or individual member countries can help to enhance investments, but we need institutional connections. The region has to slide into the EU step by step.

Russia – the elephant in the room?

A special issue is the relationship of EU to Russia. We find a pragmatic relationship in some countries, a fierce anti Russian, anti Putin policy in the Baltic countries – insofar they are not part of the Russian speaking population- and in Poland and Romania. One can find a pro-Russia policy in Hungary and with the present Italian government.

Overall, in the majority of countries there is no eagerness to strengthen the Russian influence at least as long as Putin is in power. Some events in the Balkans like in Montenegro and North Macedonia but also in Greece have not raised the sympathy for Russia at least. The ambivalence towards Russia or outright playing Russia off against the EU is of growing concern in some EU capitals.

It would be interesting to know what the nationalists including President Vucic from Serbia are discussing with President Putin about the future of the EU, when it is clear that the Russian president has no interest in a success of the EU, including enlargement. There is a clear contradiction to have strong personal relations with President Putin and having a clear willingness to join the EU. 

It is true, that also other global leaders, especially President Trump are not interested in an European success. And Mr. Steve Bannon is also active in the Western Balkans, especially Serbia. But that could be changed at the next election and there are many positive links between official and private institutions on both sides. This is less and less the fact between Russia and the EU.