dilluns, 26 d’abril de 2010

EUROPEAN UNION – UNITED STATES: A CHRONICLE OF DISAPPOINTMENT

*Article publicat a Catalan International View

Washington has been sending signals for some time now. The European Union has lost its privileged position as a favoured partner of the United States and is being relegated to the role of faithful follower. Transatlantic relations are swimming in a sea of economic and political misunderstandings.
‘The Europeans have to forget Henry Kissinger’s telephone once and for all’ wrote Tom Spencer, executive director of the Centre for Public Affairs, at the start of the year. ‘Foreign relations no longer depend solely upon a good bilateral connection’. The European Union is not the only one to have to reinvent its foreign policy to adapt itself to the new players and new rules on the world stage. The United States is also hard at work defending its dominant position in a world that is turning towards Asia.

The Copenhagen Summit on climate change, organised by the UN in December 2009, confirmed European defeat when faced with the so-called G-2, the new transpacific axis that mutually observes, trusts and mistrusts each other. Sidelined from the final agreement between the United States and China in what was supposed to be its great role as a world leader, the EU finally woke up to the new geopolitical reality. A reality that it appeared to be the only one who was unaware of up until then.

Obama and Europe had already had several months of mutual disappointment that neither had so far dared to acknowledge. The Old Continent had unrealistic expectations on the arrival of the Democratic candidate in the White House. Meanwhile, the Obama administration had to accept that any electoral support did not imply the expected complicity or collaboration from this side of the Atlantic in tackling some of the priorities on Washington’s political agenda.

The European Union continues to be stuck in its own debates and in the temporal nature of its representation in foreign affairs that the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty has yet to fully resolve. The first time the new stable President of the Council of Europe, Herman Van Rompuy, and the new High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, appeared before the press, minutes after their nomination, a German journalist asked them, ‘which of you will Barack Obama call now when he wants to talk to Europe?’. There was a brief, pregnant pause. Van Rompuy, Ashton, the President of the Commission Durao Barroso and the rotating President of the EU, the Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt all exchanged glances. Following some malicious chuckles from the assembled journalists, Herman Van Rompuy replied, ‘I’m anxiously waiting for the first phone call’. At the time he did not know that the first call from Washington would be to confirm that Barack Obama did not plan to attend the bilateral EU-US summit that was to be held in the spring in Madrid and finally postponed. Obama fails to understand the European tendency to hold summits that are big on protocol whilst achieving little. According to him, their last joint summit of April 2009 in Prague was literally ‘a waste of time’ and the European Union did not appear to have got the message. The Spanish presidency seemed to have become so obsessed with the idea of who would be the first to shake Obama’s hand in Madrid that they completely forgot to work on the contents of a bilateral agenda that was politically poisonous. Nobody cares whether transatlantic relations run smoothly at all levels of administration, as the President of the European Commission José Manuel Durao Barroso argued. The politicians rubber stamp the work of the bureaucrats and they won’t meet so far.

The end of the affair

Reality has once more demonstrated that perhaps the US still does not know which number to ring, but the transatlantic telephone continues to work. The mutual disenchantment has festered for months on three radically different fronts: Afghanistan, the fight against terrorism and global economic governance. The European Union and the United States have clashed on the new financial regulation measures that need to be imposed on the markets. When the economic recovery began to appear, discussions within the G-20 for a change in the financial model and better government began to weaken. Both sides now appear to see the conclusions reached by the meeting in a very different light. The United States’ Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner, had no qualms in letting his misgivings be known in a letter to the EU regarding their intention to regulate high risk funds (hedge funds and private equity) which had been questioned since the financial crisis began. In case the message was not sufficiently clear and the accusations of protectionism against the Europeans did not have the desired effect, Washington called its allies in London. Premier Gordon Brown asked the Spanish presidency of the European Union for more time. Bilateral phone calls continue to work after all.
The American administration has found it more difficult to find the necessary partners to strengthen its military strategy in Afghanistan. Robert Gates, the United States Secretary of Defence, summed it up nicely for a group of NATO officers at the end of February, ‘the demilitarisation of Europe, where large sectors of the general population and the political class are against military force and the risk it brings with it, was a blessing during the twentieth century, but in the twenty-first century it has turned into a serious handicap to achieving security and lasting peace’. The United States observes with frustration as a Europe with a shrinking military budget reneges on support in terms of personnel and material for a war which is a priority for the Obama administration. This Europe that is proud of its soft power, the exporter of economic development and democratising reforms, sends soldiers to Afghanistan while refusing to accept the cost in terms of possible military and civilian casualties of a war that has go on for over 8 years. Nederland has paid the price with the fall of its government and Germany has reopened the debate as to its participation in military missions.
As a guardian and defender of European civil liberties, Europe has also become the voice of disagreement in the application of some controversial measures in the fight against terrorism. The most recent debate was held in the European parliament, leading to a renegotiation of the signed agreement between the EU and the US relating to the passing on of personal bank details of EU citizens. According to the Euro-parliament it is a measure that may infringe European citizens’ right to privacy.

Nonetheless, Europe reveals its own contradictions. The EU applauded when Obama announced the closure of the Guantánamo prison, but then it fell into an internal debate, which has still not been resolved, as to the possibility of transferring some prisoners to European prisons. The same territory in which the CIA organised rendition flights and illegal arrests of suspected terrorists, today hesitates before collaborating in dismantling of the shameful spectacle that is Guantánamo. Only a dozen or so EU states have agreed to the transfer of a small number of detainees. Barak Obama will have to wait until 2013 to be able to carry out the election promise he ratified just 48 hours after arriving in the White House.
Barack Obama has still not set foot in Brussels. When the American president looks to the Old Continent he thinks of its capitals and prioritises security and defence. NATO is considering a new defence strategy adapted to the new global threats (cyber-terrorism and the destructive effects of climate change). The United States speaks to Russia about disarmament. The president of the United States has already confirmed his attendance at the NATO summit to be held in Portugal next autumn. Meanwhile he deals with success the intense domestic political agenda that, in theory, spoiled the photo with Rodríguez Zapatero.

Transatlantic relations are weakening. Nevertheless, perhaps being stood up by Obama has done us a favour, forcing the Europeans to be more decisive, clarifying their representation with the exterior and adapting their expectations to the new situation and new global challenges. They should realise that the United States, China and India want a strong European Union with its own voice on a global level that will allow balance to be restored in this new game of power. The EU runs the risk of becoming irrelevant. The president for whom everyone had such high hopes was the one to show them. This has been a genuine wake up call. Now all we need to do is to answer it.

dijous, 22 d’abril de 2010

Geòrgia i el somni europeu

Fins on arriben les fronteres de la Unió Europea? A Geòrgia, al Càucas sud, ho tenen claríssim: ells són un país europeu que ambiciona l'adhesió a l'OTAN i la UE. Una ambició que, avui, és gairebé utopia i no només per la fatiga de l'ampliació que arrosseguen els 27. 
El president georgià, Mikhail Shakasvili, s'ha convertit en un personatge incòmode i imprevisible. Geòrgia s'ha abocat a un procés de liberalització salvatge que ha aixecat molts recels a Brussel·les. La Unió Europea li retreu la poca capacitat de diàleg i consens. Cal millorar els estàndards democràtics i crear un sistema de partits que afavoreixi el diàleg polític entre govern i oposició.
Sense una resolució del conflicte que enfronta Geòrgia i Rússia a Abkhàsia i Ossètia del Sud no hi hauria adhesió. Rússia ha reconegut l'autoproclamada independència d'Abkhàsia i Ossètia del Sud, uns territoris que el govern de Tbilisi continua anomenant "entitats de facto" o "territoris ocupats.

Aquesta és la conversa que vaig mantenir amb la Rita Marzoa al programa SOLIDARIS de Catalunya Ràdio des de Tbilisi. 

dimecres, 14 d’abril de 2010

Herman Van Rompuy o la "determinació tranquil·la"

Herman Van Rompuy ha superat els seus primers 100 dies com a president del Consell de la Unió Europea. A les portades d'alguns diaris europeus avui Van Rompuy somriu mentre encaixa la mà de Barak Obama als Estats Units. En pocs mesos, el nou president ha transformat la seva discreció en determinació i ha teixit un estil, un mètode de treball i un terreny de joc per aquest càrrec de nova creació.
Cent dies després, Van Rompuy continua tenint un cognom difícil de pronunciar però ja no és el polític desconegut que els caps d'Estat i de govern van escollir el mes de novembre passat en una cimera garrepa d'interessos partidistes i poca ambició política.

Aquí podeu llegir la nota internacional sobre Van Rompuy que he escrit pel CIDOB.

dissabte, 10 d’abril de 2010

Lech Kaczynski


Lech Kaczynski ha marcat la política polonesa i europea dels últims anys. Els Kaczynski -Lech i el seu germà bessó Jaroslav com a primer ministre- es van fer amb el poder amb el suport de la Polònia rural i el catolicisme més conservador. La seva política va imposar relectures del passat i del present, traslladant també a la Unió Europea debats que qüestionaven valors fonamentals i sacsejaven les relacions dels europeus amb Rússia i els Estats Units.
Els Kaczynski van obrir una autèntica cacera de bruixes per destapar el passat comunista de mig país. Van desafiar valors que la Unió Europea creia completament consolidats dins les seves fronteres: defensant la pena de mort, mantenint posicions radicalment anti-abortistes, incitant a l’homofòbia o qüestionant fins i tot Darwin i la teoria de l’evolució. L’esperpent es va magnificar perquè oferia titulars molt llaminers per la premsa.
De fronteres europees enllà, Lech Kaczynski va ser una de les bèsties negres de les relacions de la Unió Europea amb Rússia. Polònia era un dels grans aliats de l’administració Bush per a la instal•lació de l’escut anti-missils que el Kremlin interpretava com un autèntic desafiament.
Els últims minuts de glòria de Kaczynski a la Unió Europea van ser la dura negociació del Tractat de Lisboa on, de la mà del Regne Unit, van acabar de passar el ribot a aquesta versió ja descafeinada de la Constitució Europea. I després, allargant també fins al final la ratificació del text perquè pogués entrar en vigor.
Precisament, la mort de Lech Kaczynski ha arribat en un moment d’acostament entre Polònia i Rússia que, per primer cop en moltes dècades, encaraven el seu passat comú.
El fenomen Kaczynski va sorgir en un moment d’agitació política intensa en un estat en transformació però només representava a una part petita de la societat polonesa. La pròpia incertesa interna que vivia la Unió Europea li va proporcionar un bon altaveu.
Hi ha una dita popular en aquest país que diu que “mentre el Vístula flueixi, Polònia viurà”. I Polònia ha aconseguit consolidar-se com un dels grans estats d’Europa malgrat els germans Kaczynski. Ara, a més, és un soci respectat que se’n va sortint econòmicament.

*  Comentari per a Catalunya Informació

dimarts, 6 d’abril de 2010

Collateral murder

5th April 2010 10:44 EST WikiLeaks has released a classified US military video depicting the indiscriminate slaying of over a dozen people in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad -- including two Reuters news staff.

Reuters has been trying to obtain the video through the Freedom of Information Act, without success since the time of the attack. The video, shot from an Apache helicopter gun-site, clearly shows the unprovoked slaying of a wounded Reuters employee and his rescuers. Two young children involved in the rescue were also seriously wounded.



According to The Guardian
"...The newly released video of the Baghdad attacks was recorded on one of two Apache helicopters hunting for insurgents on 12 July 2007. Among the dead were a 22-year-old Reuters photographer, Namir Noor-Eldeen, and his driver, Saeed Chmagh, 40. The Pentagon blocked an attempt by Reuters to obtain the video through a freedom of information request. Wikileaks director Julian Assange said his organisation had to break through encryption by the military to view it.

In the recording, the helicopter crews can be heard discussing the scene on the street below. One American claims to have spotted six people with AK-47s and one with a rocket-propelled grenade. It is unclear if some of the men are armed but Noor-Eldeen can be seen with a camera. Chmagh is talking on his mobile phone.
One of the helicopter crew is then heard saying that one of the group is shooting. But the video shows there is no shooting or even pointing of weapons. The men are standing around, apparently unperturbed.
The lead helicopter, using the moniker Crazyhorse, opens fire. "Hahaha. I hit 'em," shouts one of the American crew. Another responds a little later: "Oh yeah, look at those dead bastards."
One of the men on the ground, believed to be Chmagh, is seen wounded and trying to crawl to safety. One of the helicopter crew is heard wishing for the man to reach for a gun, even though there is none visible nearby, so he has the pretext for opening fire: "All you gotta do is pick up a weapon." A van draws up next to the wounded man and Iraqis climb out. They are unarmed and start to carry the victim to the vehicle in what would appear to be an attempt to get him to hospital. One of the helicopters opens fire with armour-piercing shells. "Look at that. Right through the windshield," says one of the crew. Another responds with a laugh.
Sitting behind the windscreen were two children who were wounded.
After ground forces arrive and the children are discovered, the American air crew blame the Iraqis. "Well it's their fault for bringing kids in to a battle," says one. "That's right," says another.
Initially the US military said that all the dead were insurgents. Then it claimed the helicopters reacted to an active firefight. Assange said that the video demonstrated that neither claim was true..."

dijous, 1 d’abril de 2010

ESPECULACIONS

Fa pocs dies, en una sessió sobre la nova estratègia econòmica d’Europa pels pròxims anys, em vaig haver d’empassar el discurs d’un d’aquests taurons financers encorbatat i engominat que partia de la base que no hi ha res dolent en l’especulació. Tots especulem en les nostres vides, deia. Els especuladors únicament aprofiten oportunitats. Com si es tractés d’un tràgic determinisme, resulta que hi ha algú –el mercat- amb tot el dret de decidir quin és el teu nivell de credibilitat. L’endeutament dels Estats Units és en proporció tant alt com el de Grècia. El nivell de risc de l’estat espanyol és tan alt com el de Gran Bretanya. Però algú ha decidit que Washington i Londres són més creíbles. I quina credibilitat tenen les agències que avaluen als estats, aquelles que van falsejar la realitat de moltes entitats bancàries i les seves pràctiques fins que la crisi els va explotar a les mans? Això no és important. El que compta és que el model, els valors i l’ambició prèvies al crack de Lehman Brothers semblen intactes. El gurú de la gomina il•lustrava la seva anàlisi dels mals resultats econòmics dels països de l’Europa mediterrània amb un gràfic titulat “when PIGS fly” (quan els porcs volen). Els PIGS són, per les inicials dels noms en anglès, Portugal, Irlanda, Grècia i Espanya, els estats que durant molts anys es van beneficiar dels fons de cohesió europeus.
D’entrada em vaig indignar. Des d’aleshores, però, no paro de sentir la paraula especulació arreu. Especulem amb el significat de les imatges. Especulem sobre les intencions polítiques del govern. Aprofitem les oportunitats que ens brinda una enquesta d’intenció de vot que, sense ànims de falsejar la realitat –suposo-, interroga als ciutadans en ple caos per les nevades. Dubtem constantment de la credibilitat dels qui ens representen. Per no parlar dels anys que hem especulat, cadascú al seu nivell, amb el mercat immobiliari. Em nego a creure, però, que els porcs acabaran volant i que uns mercats regenerats i desregulats tornaran a dictar el nostre futur més immediat.

* article publicat al Diari de Sant Cugat