EUROPE, GREECE & AMERICA AT A CROSSROAD: WE NEED A BROADER VISION!

EUROPE, GREECE & AMERICA AT A CROSSROAD: WE NEED A BROADER VISION!

By

Alan Berlind

It is hard to read the daily press coverage of the Greek financial crisis and the increasingly ugly public bickering between officials of the leftist regime in Athens and the conservative guardians of fiscal responsibility at the European Union without wondering how they can all keep a straight face while pretending that money is all that counts. This is not the space and this blogger not the man for a close and expert examination of the financial arguments put forward by the debtor and creditor. Leaving that to The Economist (April 25) and others, let us take a look at the political game being played on all sides and the very serious consequences of failure to reach a deal that (a) subjects neither Greece nor its current leadership to shame and poverty, that (b) saves face as well for national leaders in Germany, France and elsewhere, that (c) preserves full membership in the Eurogroup as currently constituted, that (d) enhances the position of the EU itself as a major actor on the world stage, and that (e) offers no gifts to either Russia or Turkey. The United States stands to gain from such a result and lose considerably from failure.

There is no question but that Greece has experienced a long run of domestic political turmoil responsible in large part for the economic hole in which it finds itself today, beginning a half-century ago with the military coup d’état of April 21, 1967. It must be added at once, however, that acquiescence followed by more active support in Washington back then and over the succeeding seven years was a welcome gift to those seeking to deal a death blow to democracy in its birthplace. As it had been since the end of WWII, the US was the major source of foreign influence in NATO member Greece, but President Lyndon Johnson slapped the new “government” of colonels on the wrist with a mild reduction in military aid and turned the other way, and successor Richard Nixon, advised by Henry Kissinger, was more than comfortable having a military dictatorship as an ally for another four years. In 1974, however, those colonels, with no apparent objection from their American fans, tried to incorporate independent Cyprus into the Hellenic homeland. Reacting swiftly, the Turks invaded and left more than 30,000 Turkish troops in place, still in place today as a more enlightened US administration works hard to forge agreement among Turkey and the two ethnic Cypriot communities on an independent, non-occupied bi-zonal federation.

New York Times columnist Roger Cohen makes a strong argument for a reasonable compromise between unreasonable senior financial negotiators from Greece, the stressed but combative debtor nation, and other EU and Eurozone nations seemingly bent on punishing a noisy leftist government unable to repay excessive loans. Cohen wrote on April 24: “Despite a brutal fiscal adjustment, the fact remains that Greece’s debt is not repayable …. At some point there must be debt forgiveness; the cost of stupid loans has to be recognized. Or there may be a Greek default. The worst outcome for Europe would be a Greek exit from the euro. Joining the shared currency, for all the nations in it, was an ‘irrevocable’ decision. Once one country goes, the whole edifice wobbles. Markets are not sentimental about probing weakness. The constant question will be, ‘Who’s next?’ “

It is crystal clear that the question of overriding concern in Cohen’s view is the future of Europe rather than the angry, spiteful bickering over who’s to blame mentioned at the start. As he convincingly puts it, Europe today is “a borderless market of more than half a billion people between whom war has become impossible …. a continent where entitlements including universal health care are seen not as socialist indulgence but basic humanity …. it (Europe) has delivered peace above all, prosperity however frayed, and freedom to former inmates of the Soviet imperium. It has also created an awareness of European identity that falls short of European patriotism but is nonetheless a counterweight to the primal nationalism that stained the continent with so much blood”.

Whether it is Greece, the Eurozone, the EU itself or the US that stands to benefit most from a halt in the warfare that has driven the negotiations underground, there is a new light at the end of the tunnel: the recent news from Athens that Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has reorganized his team so as to remove Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis from the negotiating table without relieving him of his policy responsibilities. It is to be hoped that tempers will no longer override diplomacy at the table and threaten all parties with a result that serves nobody. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

We welcome your comments!

Cyprus in the News – but Where?

By: Alan Berlind

The most senior and most important American visitor to Cyprus in half a century, Vice-President Joseph Biden, arrived in the country on May 21. In public statements – and surely in his meetings with Cypriot officials – Biden made absolutely clear the United States’ position concerning the matter of sovereignty and the country’s importance to the United States, both in general terms and with respect to its role as a strategic partner in the future of energy production and distribution. That Biden had by his side a senior U.S. energy official underscored the last point. Continue reading

MONEY TALKS LOUDEST IN US DIPLOMACY

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Presidents Obama and Hollande at the 70th anniversary D-Day celebrations. Obama’s recent appointment of a new ambassador to France may test the relationship between both countries.

By: Alan Berlind

Several days after delivering the strongest and most sensible foreign policy address that we’ve heard or read in a long time – and, as the gathering of allied leaders and some others in France drew to a close – President Barack Obama seemed to be at the peak of his presidency with respect to the formulation and management of U.S. foreign affairs and America’s proper role in the world. Continue reading

CYPRUS PLUS

CYPRUS PLUS

Alan D. Berlind

The recent post by this inattentive blogger (“A CYPRUS SOLUTION”) named various political and geographical entities that have substantial interests in the success of the discussions underway between the two Cypriot communities aimed at re-uniting them under a single sovereign banner:  Cyprus herself, the United States, Turkey, Israel and the European Union, with special mention of France and Italy.  One might have included Russia but did not, principally because its national interests did not seem to be obviously at play.  Wrong! Continue reading

A CYPRUS SOLUTION

A CYPRUS SOLUTION

by Alan D. Berlind

Forty years after an attempted Greek coup was met with a Turkish invasion that seized some 40% of the Republic of Cyprus and left some 40,000 Turkish troops on the island, there are signs that a reunification may be in the cards, reportedly with active backing from Washington for reasons strategic, political and commercial.  Several other countries have more than a passing interest in a resolution of this long-standing problem, from which the European Union (EU) as a body would also profit.

A brief history is in order, if only because “rethinking national security” must include acknowledging the past along with planning the future.  The Greek coup attempt of 1974 was the work of a Greek military/police regime that had seized power in 1967 with the lame excuse of pre-empting election of a leftist government in Athens.  That takeover had met with minimal disapproval – a cut in military assistance – from the government of President Lyndon Johnson and none from the latter’s successor, Richard Nixon, or his chief foreign policy guru, National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger.  Nevertheless, the regime was losing strength by 1974, which it hoped to recover by incorporating Cyprus into the Greek state.  Turkey, not about to see the Turkish-Cypriot minority swallowed up by its Aegean enemy, did not wait long to send in the troops.  The British Foreign Secretary at the time, James Callaghan, has written that he tried but could not get Kissinger, by then his counter-part, on the phone to discuss the problem.  The latter, we were to understand, was just too busy with various tasks following Nixon’s resignation in disgrace to devote time to Cyprus.

A proposed settlement, labeled the “Annan Plan” after United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Kofi Annan, was put to a vote in Cyprus in 2004 but was overwhelmingly and vengefully, defeated by Greek-Cypriots comfortable with the fact that Cyprus had already been assured entry into the EU regardless of the outcome, while Turkish-Cypriots voted in favor.  Over the succeeding decade, a determination by leaders of both communities to try again, combined with a perception of hard national interests in several other countries and persistent diplomatic efforts from various quarters, not least among them the current administration in the United States (U.S.), has led to agreement on new negotiations between the two Cypriot communities aimed at the restoration of a single universally-recognized sovereign state, with issues of domestic governance to be agreed between the two parties.

Of those “hard national interests” mentioned above, none is more important than the additional and alternative sources of energy being pursued world-wide and the discovery beneath the waters in the Cypriot exclusive economic zone of potentially massive supplies of natural gas, for either export (sale) by pipeline as is to nearby markets or by container as liquefied natural gas (LNG) further abroad.  Following exploration and findings by the American firm Noble Energy, a tri-partite Memorandum of Understanding has been executed with Total of France and Eni of Italy foreseeing joint exploitation and the establishment of a plant in Cyprus for the production of LNG.  Initial exploration has also revealed the existence of gas beneath waters shared by Cyprus and Israel, opening up the possibility of sales to energy-poor Turkey and an improvement in Israeli-Turkish relations, which have been in a parlous state for five years.

No less important than the resource question, the sine qua non of Turkish EU membership, still being pursued by Ankara, is the end of Turkish occupation of EU-member state Cyprus.  That the Turks understand this was best stated in an interview by Turkish Ambassador to Athens Kerim Uras: “The key to solving the Cyprus problem is natural resources and the key to the candidacy of Turkey to the EU is the solution of the Cyprus problem.”  Of course one cannot rule out Turkish tactical tinkering with the process to the very end as Ankara assesses the benefits of EU accession and weighs the importance of opposition thereto on clearly ethnic grounds within France, Germany, The Netherlands and Scandinavia.  EU membership aside, Greek-Turkish relations in general and disputes over longstanding Aegean issues in particular cannot but be eased by success in the Cyprus negotiations.  Nevertheless, those Aegean issues raise the matter of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), signed by all EU members and the EU itself (the only non-state party), but  rejected most prominently by Turkey and Israel, the former owing to UNCLOS’ full support of the Greek positions in the Aegean.  (The Israeli position is unrelated.)

On the diplomatic front, the U.S. Department of State has apparently been leading the way, with a recent visit to Nicosia by Assistant Secretary Victoria Nuland and another by Secretary John Kerry rumored for this Spring.  Clearly, President Barack Obama has been convinced that a Cyprus settlement would serve the interests of the U.S. and its friends and allies in the Eastern Mediterranean and beyond.  Most important, however, has been the apparent determination on both sides of the Cypriot divide and in the capitals of their Greek and Turkish champions to find a mutually acceptable formula for unity.  Leading the way have been Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and his Turkish-Cypriot opposite number, Dervis Eroglu.  Leaving aside the unhelpful but normal partisan griping on both sides, the level of mutual understanding can be seen in the recent announcement that the chief negotiators will be visiting and conferring with the most interested outside governments this month: the Greek-Cypriot negotiator in Ankara, and his Turkish-Cypriot opposite number in Athens.

An agreement will take time but is in the works, and all interested parties stand to benefit substantially if Cypriots and Turks and Greeks, having learned from the past, succeed in launching a new era of cooperation and progress.

END

TURKEY’S DANGEROUS TURN

“The protests come at an awkward time for the US, which is trying to convince the international community that governments in Syria and Iran do not respect the rights of their citizens while the Turkish-backed rebels in Syria represent a more democratic alternative.” This comment, appearing in a distressing report (The Guardian, June 4, 2013) on Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan’s totally undemocratic and ferocious reaction to public protests in Istanbul and elsewhere in his country, is on the mark but addresses just one of the possible consequences of that reaction.  That fact was surely on the mind of both Secretary of State John Kerry and White House spokesman Jay Carney when they publicly and rightly expressed concern.

The past several months have seen multiple developments opening hope for solutions to an array of extremely difficult problems all of which both require Turkish cooperation and are of more than marginal importance to U.S. national security.  For starters, the resolution of the long and bloody conflict in Syria in favor of the emergence of a democratic regime cannot but help strengthen and advance the “Arab Spring”, and the role of a democratic Turkey in such an outcome cannot be exaggerated, given its actions thus far in helping and protecting Assad’s opponents and victims and its vast superiority, both economic and military, in the region.

Without suggesting any order of priority or predicting final outcomes, one cannot under-estimate the importance of the seeming end of the sharp deterioration of relations between Turkey and Israel that began with their 2009 confrontation at sea. Any chance for a meaningful resolution of differences between these two key allies of the U.S. depends on democratic policies on the part of both, particularly with respect to treatment of minorities, be they religious, ethnic or cultural.  The reigning governments in both countries have far to go, with Erdogan posing the greatest threat with his latest words and actions.

Likewise, hopes for an end to the decades-old Turkish armed occupation of a large part of Cyprus will surely fade should the dictatorial methods employed by Erdogan place one more weapon – in addition to religious and cultural prejudice – in the hands of those Europeans opposed to Turkish membership in the European Union.  In any case, peaceful settlement of the Cyprus issue of course remains the sine qua non with respect to Turkish entry, with EU member Cyprus having a full vote.  And settlement of  the  Cyprus issue surely must precede exploitation of apparently very rich off-shore oil resources in the Cypriot exclusive economic zone, in which both Israel, Lebanon and the U.S. are heavily involved, notwithstanding the start of exploratory drilling  by the American firm Noble Energy.

One further complication: Russia, while continuing to flirt with Syria’s President Assad, has seemingly freed herself from dependence upon a Syrian port, until now her only Mediterranean haven for warships, with the recent announcement that three such vessels will lay over in the Cypriot port of Limassol in the near future.  This public display of support for the Cypriot Republic, already recognized by Moscow and every nation on earth other than Turkey, gives the Turks one more thing to think about.

There was a ray of hope in the public apology for the heavy crack-down on protesters in Istanbul and elsewhere offered by Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister on June 4 as his boss took a quick leave of absence elsewhere, and President Gul has made clear his own unhappiness over Erdogan’s actions.  Erdogan, however, has shown no sign of backing down.   Nevertheless, given the multiple issues raised by the events in Turkey briefly summarized above, the U.S. must continue to play an active diplomatic role in the interests of protecting its own national security.

W(H)ITHER THE WEST?

     The aptly labeled “euro crisis” has led to a good deal of speculation about the future of the common currency, the European Union and, as if to put to rest any doubt that U.S. national security interests are also at play, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.  Debate on all of these issues is building on the back of great changes that have occurred all over the world since the end of the Cold War, most particularly the redistribution of economic, political and strategic might and influence.  The very meaning and identity of “the west” can no longer be clearly defined, as serious differences between its various components threaten to undermine the solidarity forged over the decades, particularly since the end of World War II.

     The euro crisis itself has clearly demonstrated  substantial differences between the economies of the northern tier, led by Germany, and those of their Mediterranean partners, i.e., Greece, Cyprus, Italy, Spain,  Portugal and, not far behind, France.  Those differences and the solutions proposed or, more accurately, imposed by the austerity-mad forces of the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have led to loose talk not only about the future of the Euro Zone but, as stated above and in more hushed tones, of the European Union itself.  (The IMF’s Christine Lagarde is now reported as working to soften Merkel’s hard line.)  The consequences of dissolution may well force face-saving remedies, but the crisis has exposed not only wide gaps in monetary theory but obvious political and cultural prejudices that will survive whatever technical solutions are hammered out.

     A danger of quite a different kind exists in political developments in the British Isles, where Scots will decide next year whether to remain in the United Kingdom or go their own way, and where a new political party, the “Independents”, is gaining strength while pushing loudly for British departure from the EU.  The Tory government of David Cameron is feeling the pressure.  Add to that the recent ill-concealed animosity between the conservative Merkel forces and the French Government of socialist François Hollande, both wary of loss of support from their own domestic constituencies.  (Merkel is up for re-election this coming September, and Hollande predecessor Nicholas Sarkozy seems to be rethinking his retirement as criticism at home and abroad of Hollande’s performance emerges on a daily basis.)   If the UK goes its own way, the world will not end, but if France and Germany cannot work out their differences, the European experiment is dead.  The betting here, based as much on hope as anything else, is that common sense will rule.

     What does all this have to do with American national security?  Everything!  Whether or not there must occur some shift in focus, with the United States paying increasing attention to its interests in both the Near and Far East, the importance of Europe, Western Europe above all, will never diminish.  Washington surely understands this simple truth and, we must assume, is acting on that understanding.  This may well explain the recent announcement that President Obama will make an official visit to Berlin on June 18-19, which the German Deputy Spokesman has specified will take place at the invitation of  Chancellor Merkel and will cover “a broad range of bilateral and global issues including the further deepening of the transatlantic relationship”.  We can be sure that the dangers facing European and transatlantic unity will be high on the agenda.

     “Europe is enduring its deepest post-war economic crisis and the European Union’s very existence can no longer be taken as a given.” This quote from an incisive article by European Parliament President Martin Schulz in the British daily The Independent of  May 12

says it all, no matter what hopeful optimism has been expressed above.  Schulz’s views, under the headline “Europe needs to change, let the debate begin.  For some the idea of an ‘ever closer union’ is in freefall,”   must be repeated in full:

“For some, the idea is in freefall. Europe is living through rising eurosceptism, unacceptably high unemployment, especially among the young, and weak economic prospects.  This is worrying, for the moment people withdraw their support from an idea, the idea is finished. The more populist protest parties may see the European elections this time next year as an opportunity to score electoral successes. 

“As a convinced European I welcome the debate, but I recognise first that Europe needs to change course, something many in Brussels seem not to acknowledge. We are living beyond our means. Budgetary consolidation is essential, if only because we cannot bequeath a mountain of debt to our children. 

“Second, some structural reforms – to the labour market and on retirement ages – are essential. But the austerity policies currently being implemented in Europe are lopsided. It is taking too long for the structural measures and the necessary budgetary consolidation to take effect and, at long last, increase competitiveness. In the meantime, some EU Member States are sliding ever deeper into a recession. Austerity, supposedly the cure, is threatening to undermine the European project.

 “Third (and this is surely a cause to warm a British Eurosceptic’s heart), the EU must tackle the vexed question of tax. Every year in the EU, €1 trillion is lost through tax evasion and tax avoidance – an enormous loss to the Union. This sum could be used to pay off debt, to set up youth guarantee schemes and to invest further in growth initiatives. European heads of state and government have a duty to agree on effective counter-measures at the EU summit in ten days’ time.

 “And yet, and yet. Just six months ago, the European Union was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. It was one of my proudest moments. Indeed, many of Europe’s greatest successes are being taken for granted: Europe is the most prosperous continent on earth, Europeans can travel, work and live where they please. We enjoy a standard of living and a degree of protection of our fundamental rights which people in other parts of the world can only dream of.

“Perhaps paradoxically, a new European awareness is emerging from the crisis. Europeans are recognising how interdependent they are. One country’s failures can threaten the entire European economy, and can call into question the fruits of 60 years of integration. Peace, solidarity, and prosperity are not irreversible; only 27 countries, (28 when Croatia accedes to the EU on 1 July this year), working together can guarantee them. The peoples of Europe are taking a greater interest in what is happening on the other side of their countries’ borders. People want to know what the retirement age is in other countries, what the top tax rate is, why young people are demonstrating in the streets of European capitals. 

“However, some governments still refuse to accept that they are already working in a European context. They prefer to cling to national sovereignty, to the familiar trappings of carefully orchestrated Brussels Summits at which they mount a last-ditch defence of their national interests and then present the outcome at home as a victory. In so doing, they disregard the fact that it is in their countries’ very best interests that Europe should function properly. This, surely, is little more than posturing. 

“The European Parliament and the Council is currently discussing the EU’s long-term budget 2014-2020. It’s an important issue, but sadly it best illustrates the short-termist lack of commitment of some Member States to the wider European interest.  It is clearly misguided of EU governments, including the UK government, not to shift investment towards research and development, education, training, foreign relations and development aid, areas where European added value are at their greatest.

“The EU is about much more than its budget (capped at a meagre one percent of EU GDP since its inception).  The single market benefits the British economy hugely, and the EU remains by far the biggest destination for UK trade, accounting for almost 50 per cent of total exports The UK has played a leading role in forming many key EU policies (on the single market, overseas development, trade and climate change).  UK leadership in these areas has been highly appreciated and would be sorely missed should the British decide to exit.

“The UK has also played a major role in shaping policy on Justice and Home Affairs. In little over a year from now, these policies, including most importantly the European Arrest Warrant, cross-border criminal justice and policing become fully-fledged EU policies, meaning that any Member State failing to apply them properly can be brought to court. Yet the UK is moving ever closer to opting out of scores of those measures – in essence re-erecting national borders in the fight against cross-border crime. The UK’s own House of Lords EU Committee has concluded damningly that “…the Government have not made a convincing case for exercising the opt-out and that opting out would have significant adverse negative repercussions for the internal security of the UK and the administration of criminal justice in the UK, as well as reducing its influence over this area of EU policy.” Does the UK really want to puts its internal security at risk by exercising this opt-out?

“Next year’s European elections are of paramount of importance. For the first time there will be candidates from the European political parties for the post of European Commission President, this should engender a greater interest in Europe’s future. Those who say they want more democratic control can hardly complain at that. 

“Europe is enduring its deepest post-war economic crisis and the European Union’s very existence can no longer be taken as a given. A thorough, factually-based conversation on the virtues of deepening European integration needs to take place, starting in the UK. Britain would be sorely missed should it decide to leave. The stakes are high, so let the decision be taken with full access to the facts, rather than to narrow, outdated thinking. Let the debate begin!”

     W(h)ither the West?  However one wants to take that question, of this there can be no debate: the matter is of crucial importance to U.S. national security.