Norway may block UK return to European Free Trade Association

The Guardian reports: Norway could block any UK attempt to rejoin the European Free Trade Association, the small club of nations that has access to the European single market without being part of the EU.

Senior Norwegian government members are to hold talks with David Davis, the Brexit minister, in the next few weeks.

Some Brexit supporters have suggested that Efta would be one way of retaining access to the single market while honouring the referendum mandate to leave the EU.

Norway is not a member of the EU, but it has access to the single market from its membership of the European Economic Area (EEA), which groups all EU members and three of the four Efta members: Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, but not Switzerland.

Norway’s European affairs minister, Elisabeth Vik Aspaker, reflecting a growing debate in the country following the Brexit vote in the UK, told the Aftenposten newspaper: “It’s not certain that it would be a good idea to let a big country into this organisation. It would shift the balance, which is not necessarily in Norway’s interests.”

She also confirmed that the UK could only join if there were unanimous agreement, thereby providing Norway with a veto. Aspaker said she did not know the UK’s plans.

EEA membership requires the four EU freedoms: free movement of persons, services, goods and capital. Norway, in need of extra labour, does not oppose free movement, though the issue of asylum seekers and refugees is controversial.

An EU special summit in Bratislava in September and the Conservative party conference in October may provide greater clarity on the British government’s thinking, Aspaker said.

One concern is that Norway, through Efta, has signed trade agreements with 38 countries, including Mexico, Canada, Colombia, Morocco, Kuwait and Qatar. If the UK joined, those trade agreements might have to be renegotiated and future trade deals would become more complex. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

If Trump wins, what happens to U.S. relations with its traditional allies?

Politico reports: It was a strange day for Estonia when the tiny Baltic nation became the focus of intense debate in the U.S. presidential campaign.

At issue: Would the United States honor its NATO obligation to defend Estonia in the event of an attack by Russia? Donald Trump, who has repeatedly criticized small NATO members for “taking advantage” of the United States, hedged his answer. “Have they fulfilled their obligations to us?” he told the New York Times. “If they fulfill their obligations to us, the answer is yes.”

Hours later, Trump backer Newt Gingrich doubled down on the Republican candidate’s skepticism toward NATO duties, saying: “Estonia is in the suburbs of [the Russian city of] St. Petersburg … I’m not sure I would risk nuclear war over the suburbs of St. Petersburg.”

For Estonians, and all other NATO members in the region, that was a chilling message. “All of a sudden the issue closest to our skin — the defense of Estonia, of all things — becomes an issue in this campaign,” Jüri Luik, former Estonian ambassador to Russia, said. “It’s a totally unexpected development, and a gloomy situation for all of Eastern Europe.”

“NATO’s deterrent power depends in large part on the U.S. president’s position. If he is unsure … that weakens the deterrent immensely.”

Beyond regional security, the Estonian episode raised a bigger, more troubling question for Europeans watching the U.S. presidential campaign: If Trump wins, will he feel any obligation to uphold his country’s historical role as defender and guarantor of the West? [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

The future of European democracy

Mervyn King, former Governor of the Bank of England, writes: As things stand, the long march toward political union desired by the elite governing the EU is not likely to reach a democratic destination. Those who decry nationalism should realize that the attempt by an elite to impose political union and free movement of people on unwilling electorates is today the main driving force of the extreme nationalist sentiments that they abhor. Whatever our grandchildren and their descendants decide to do in Europe, it must be based on a democratically legitimate process if it is to avoid recreating the very divisions that the original conception of the architects of postwar Europe so rightly strove to achieve.

Americans need to wake up from their cozy assumption that the apparatus of a supranational state is the only way to ensure a peaceful and cooperative European partner. Across Europe the younger generation wants to go beyond the nation-state to break down barriers and find new ways to resolve problems that extend beyond national boundaries. They will find ways to do this that do not require the outdated trappings of a supranational entity with its own anthem, flag, parliament, and now even steps toward an army.

Our political class would do well to recall the words of Confucius:

Three things are necessary for government: weapons, food and trust. If a ruler cannot hold on to all three, he should give up weapons first and food next. Trust should be guarded to the end: without trust we cannot stand.

Not just in Britain, but around the industrialized world, the divide between the political class and a large number of disillusioned and disaffected voters threatens trust. At times it seems that the governing class has lost faith in the people and that the people have lost faith in the government. And the two sides seem incapable of understanding each other, as we see today in the United States. But the continent on which the challenge is greatest is Europe. If any good comes out of the British referendum, it will be a renewed determination, not just in Britain but around Europe, to eliminate that divide. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Britain fails to understand the nature of globalisation at its peril

By Jennifer Johns, University of Liverpool

There remains great uncertainty in the aftermath of the UK vote to leave the European Union. Few seem to have a plan for what Brexit will look like and how the UK’s relationship with the outside world will take shape.

But while the desire for sovereignty and to “take back control” were top of many voters’ list of reasons to vote to leave, the fact that we live in a globalised world where economies and trade supersede national boundaries cannot be ignored.

Much of the confusion about how Brexit will affect the British economy has resulted from the inability of those for and against it to acknowledge the realities of the position of the UK in the contemporary global economy. This failure to understand the realities of globalisation is partly why there is such confusion about how to deliver the kind of post-Brexit UK demanded by those who voted leave. But regaining national sovereignty is extremely difficult, if not impossible, in today’s global economy.

The interconnected world

The recent global financial crisis should have sent a powerful message. The degree of interconnection between places in the global economy has reached unprecedented levels and attempts to “unpick” these interconnections are highly problematic.

Globalisation is complex. It is no longer a case of “us” and “them”. Capital, goods and services flow within, between and across national borders – and the flow is uneven. It is often directed through key cities. So when we talk about flows of foreign direct investment between the UK and Germany, we are actually discussing flows of people and money between cities such as London and Berlin.

In fact, cities are the key drivers in trade. It is no surprise therefore that there were significantly higher votes to remain in the EU in cities such as London and Manchester. This is because these cities are points in the global economy through which trade, services and people flow. It is in these locations that we can most easily see the benefits of interconnection with cities in the EU and beyond.

[Read more…]

Facebooktwittermail

France’s emergency powers — the new normal

Letta Tayler writes: France’s latest renewal of its emergency law has made few headlines abroad—except perhaps in Turkey, where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, fresh from passing his own sweeping state of emergency, may have relished watching the champion of liberté, égalité, and fraternité once again suspend rights in the name of security.

But European countries, rattled by a new spate of deadly attacks in France and Germany, may yet be tempted to turn to the new French law as a model. This would be a serious misstep on both legal and strategic grounds.

France’s parliament on July 22 did not simply extend the state of emergency that President Francois Hollande declared in the wake of the horrific Paris attacks last November. Propelled by the despicable Bastille Day attack a week earlier in Nice, lawmakers significantly expanded emergency powers of police search, seizure and detention. They also used the emergency powers act to slip more than a dozen new draconian counterterrorism provisions into French criminal law. In contrast to the emergency measures, which lapse in six months, these changes to France’s criminal codes are permanent.

There is no justification, ever, for attacks such as those in Nice and Paris, which together killed 214 people and wounded hundreds, or for tragic, smaller attacks that followed in Normandy and southern Germany. Whether the attackers are members of organizations like the Islamic State, lone wolves who heed such groups’ murderous calls, armed neo-fascists, or violent extremists of any other ilk, the authorities have a duty to protect people from such atrocities.

But governments must also take care not to overreact. Taken together, France’s rolling state of emergency and the amendments to criminal codes mark a perilous shift away from judicial safeguards against security force abuses. While every new attack increases the allure of tough responses, the new measures represent a serious step backward for human rights and the rule of law, playing directly to armed Islamist groups’ desires to divide the world along the stark lines of Western oppressors vs. Muslim oppressed. They also set a dangerous precedent for other governments, whether closer to home in the United Kingdom, Belgium, and Turkey, or farther afield in Brazil, Malaysia, Australia and elsewhere. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

British diplomat set to take on EU security portfolio

The Associated Press reports: Britain’s ambassador to France is set to take up a newly created European Union security portfolio, the EU’s executive arm announced Tuesday.

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker wants Julian King to lead the institution’s fight against terrorism, organized crime and radicalization.

The post shares some tasks held by the commissioner for home affairs and migration issues but avoids any major activities that could be linked to Britain’s negotiations on leaving the EU in coming years.

King is a career diplomat who has spent several years working at EU headquarters in Brussels. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

The forces besieging Aleppo are counting on our indifference

Natalie Nougayrède writes: As Europe reels from terrorist attacks, Aleppo, once Syria’s second city, is suffering its own nightmare. The connection between these two developments is more than coincidence. As bombs, guns and knives were being wielded in France and Germany, a massive military operation was under way to besiege, and perhaps empty or starve, the eastern districts of Aleppo that since 2012 have been controlled by the anti-Assad rebellion.

When responding to the latest terror in Europe, few if any western officials draw parallels with the plight of Aleppo. That is understandable. Public opinion is naturally more focused on the domestic fallout from traumatic events. When security fears take over and political passions are aroused, it is hard to look beyond what lies in your immediate vicinity. Yet Aleppo will have consequences for Europe and for its citizens, and there is little cause to think they will be positive.

This is why: Islamic State cannot be defeated just through military action in Iraq and Syria, or police operations in Europe. It can be defeated only if the attraction that the militant group exerts on young, confused Sunni Muslims, in the Middle East and elsewhere, is somehow neutralised. The massacres carried out by the Assad regime in Syria over the past five years, and the failure of the international community to put an end to them – or even to hold his power accountable – have provided no small reason for the radicalisation now making Europe bleed.

The summer of 2015 went down in history as a time when the chaos of the Middle East suddenly became a vivid reality for Europeans because of the refugee crisis. The summer of 2016 may go down as the tipping point when all hope of a negotiated settlement in Syria’s civil war, one that would deprive Isis of much of its ability to recruit and sow terror, entirely faded. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

$1.3 billion of weapons flowing from Europe to Middle East

The Guardian reports: Eastern European countries have approved the discreet sale of more than €1bn of weapons in the past four years to Middle Eastern countries that are known to ship arms to Syria, an investigation has found.

Thousands of assault rifles such as AK-47s, mortar shells, rocket launchers, anti-tank weapons and heavy machine guns are being routed through a new arms pipeline from the Balkans to the Arabian peninsula and countries bordering Syria.

The suspicion is that much of the weaponry is being sent into Syria, fuelling the five-year civil war, according to a team of reporters from the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) and the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).

Arms export data, UN reports, plane tracking, and weapons contracts examined during a year-long investigation reveal how the munitions were sent east from Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Montenegro, Slovakia, Serbia and Romania.

Since the escalation of the Syrian conflict in 2012, the eight countries have approved €1.2bn (£1bn) of weapons and ammunition exports to Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey – key arms markets for Syria and Yemen. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Sturgeon preparing for Scottish independence to keep post-Brexit options open

Reuters reports: Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon said on Monday she would start preparatory work on splitting Scotland from the rest of Britain in order to keep the option of independence available following the June 23 vote to leave the European Union.

Although Britain voted to end its EU membership at the referendum, Scottish voters overwhelmingly backed remaining inside the bloc, reigniting the debate over Scotland’s future as a constituent nation of the United Kingdom.

Sturgeon renewed her position that a fresh independence bid, only two years after the country voted against it, should remain an option, depending on the shape of Britain’s future ties with the bloc and how well they worked for Scotland. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Austria: The lesson of the far right

Jan-Werner Müller writes: Could Austria become the first Western European country since World War II to have a far-right president? Amid the shock over the Brexit vote, few have noted the extraordinary sequence of events that have played out in this wealthy social democracy. On May 22, Norbert Hofer of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party lost the race for the Austrian presidency by around 31,000 votes to Alexander Van der Bellen of the Green Party. On June 8, the Freedom Party contested that result, alleging several irregularities, among them the premature opening of mail ballots and the release of election data to the media too early. In fact, there was no evidence of manipulations having changed the outcome. But on July 1 Austria’s Constitutional Court nevertheless ruled that the election would have to be repeated. Thus the Freedom Party — a party that was once described as a “party of former Nazis for former Nazis” — will have a second chance at the presidency in early October.

Just why has the far right done so well in Austria in particular? The country enjoys one of the highest per capita income levels in the EU, has an extensive welfare system, and has benefited enormously from the opening to Eastern Europe since 1989 (Vienna used to be shabby compared to Berlin; now it’s the other way around). Nor has Austria, until now, suffered from the devastating terror attacks that have afflicted France and Belgium. Picking up on Pope Paul VI’s praise of Austria as an isola felice, the country’s most important post-war political figure, long-time Chancellor Bruno Kreisky (in office 1970-1983), called it an “island of the blessed.” Nonetheless, the Freedom Party has been growing in Austria for more than two decades. If there were Austrian parliamentary elections today, the far right would win. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Europeans ask if violence is becoming fact of life

The Wall Street Journal reports: In less than two weeks, Western Europe has witnessed the calm of everyday life repeatedly shattered by high-profile, indiscriminate acts of savagery, raising the sense that violence is becoming a new normal.

After the Bastille Day massacre in Nice, then an ax attack on a German train and a shooting spree in Munich, the list of violent acts grew again on Sunday not once, but twice. One Syrian asylum-seeker allegedly hacked a woman to death with a machete in southern Germany; police said it didn’t appear connected to terrorism. Then another Syrian asylum-seeker detonated a bomb outside a concert in Ansbach, killing himself and injuring others.

The motives and circumstances of each attack were different, but the string of violence has thrown Germany — until last week, mostly untouched by the terror that has struck its neighbors — into high alert, assured France will remain in a state of emergency through year’s end and poured fuel on an already contentious debate about Europe’s migration crisis and its security.

Friday’s attack in Munich was committed by Ali David Sonboly, an 18-year-old believed to have been in psychiatric care. He had taken an interest in mass killers such as Anders Behring Breivik, the right-wing terrorist who killed 77 people in Norway exactly five years before.

The Munich attack would be an exception in a year when Islamic State has either directed or inspired most of the terror attacks in Europe. The extremist group — which investigators say orchestrated the massacres in Paris and Brussels and inspired the truck attack in Nice — has promoted a particularly brutal form of terrorism: indiscriminate targets in civilian life, with the goal of killing as many people as possible.

That separates today’s violence from terror attacks in the 1970s and 1980s, when militant groups such as The Red Brigades in Italy, the Irish Republican Army, the Baader-Meinhof Gang in Germany and the Basque separatist group ETA in Spain killed hundreds of people to advance their political goals.

Now the violence is an end in itself, said Raffaello Pantucci, a security expert at the Royal United Services Institute, a think tank in London.

“When they used to hijack a plane, the idea was to swap passengers for some of their imprisoned comrades,” said Mr. Pantucci. “Now, you make a statement through the number of people you kill.”

Experts note that there is a difference between terrorism and mass killings carried out by unstable individuals but say images of one high-profile attack can foment others.

Pathological would-be killers absorb the violence and aggression of these events, potentially driving them to attempt larger acts of violence, says Brice De Ruyver, a professor of criminology at University of Ghent in Belgium. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Theresa May to rule out return of border checks between UK and Ireland

The Guardian reports: Theresa May will reassure the first minister of Northern Ireland that there will be no return to border checks for people entering the UK from the Republic of Ireland despite Britain’s vote to leave the EU.

The prime minister will make the pledge to Arlene Foster during a visit to Belfast on Monday, during which she will also promise to engage with the region’s devolved administration in preparation for Brexit negotiations.

Speaking ahead of the trip that completes a tour of all four parts of the UK within the first two weeks of her premiership, May said: “I made clear when I became prime minister that I place particular value on the precious bonds between the nations of the United Kingdom.

“I want to assure the people of Northern Ireland that I will lead a government [that] works for everyone across all parts of the United Kingdom, and that Northern Ireland is a special and valued part of that union.”

May said she wanted to underline her commitment to the Belfast agreement, arguing that “peace and stability in Northern Ireland will always be of the highest priority for my government”.

She added: “I have been clear that we will make a success of the UK’s departure from the European Union. That means it must work for Northern Ireland too, including in relation to the border with the Republic. We will engage with all of Northern Ireland’s political parties as we prepare for that negotiation.”

It is understood that May will support the position of the Irish prime minister, Enda Kenny, that there will be no “hard border” between the two countries, which have a common travel area. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail