European Strategist

Orbán triumphant. How to understand Hungarian 2018 elections?

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The final results of the Hungarian general election are out. The governing Fidesz party scored an overwhelming victory. Viktor Orbán, the Hungary’s well-known right-wing populist leader, will have another four years to lead his illiberal regime. It is the first time after the fall of the communism in Hungary when a party will be governing for the third consecutive term. Let’s look at the country’s political landscape and try to find out what happened.

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Pantelis Sklias & Georgios Maris: Greek, European or Global Crisis?

Greece - crisis © The TelegraphIn 1991, when the Maastricht Treaty was signed an entirely new economic project was created. The Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) was unique not only because its area, magnitude and extension were unprecedented, but also because the European countries transferred important elements of their political and economic sovereignty to transnational and intergovernmental institutions. In fact, the EMU signalled a new epoch in the history of human economic cooperation and organization. However, nearly twenty years later the unique project is not as stable as its founders dreamed. The Greek crisis that started in 2009 revealed its endogenous and exogenous flaws both in political and economic areas.

In 2009, nobody in Greece could link the Greek domestic political and economic problems with the European Union (EU). Yes, in Greece there are huge and severe political and economic deficiencies and flaws. One could enumerate hundreds political and economic problems like the high inflation rates, unemployment, public deficits, public debts, bureaucracy, corruption and populism, the lack of institutional and structural reforms and so on. All the aforementioned factors are highly related to the Greek model of political, institutional and economic development, which is not only acknowledged as obsolete and unsustainable but also as unstable. This model changed everytime the Greeks had elections even if the government had remained the same. This is a very important observation because it is related to the absence of optimism in the markets.

Even though Greece is an extreme paradigm of deficiencies in political, institutional and economic development, it is not the only country in the European Union with these characteristics. In fact, there are many countries in the world that face the same problems as Greece does. Why is the crisis in Greece so severe and why the European Union’s political leaders seem unable to solve the crisis? The answer lies in the foundations of the Economic and Monetary Union. The EMU is a unique example of transnational economic and political cooperation, but it is full of flaws and problems. From its early beginnings the political leaders accepted in many countries that in fact couldn’t be competitive within the Eurozone. There are two important economic laws that affect their sustainability negatively. The first law is the transformation of comparative advantage to absolute advantage within the Eurozone. This means that within the Euroland only the most competitive enterprises can survive. Thus, the states stand unable to help the industries and the entrepreneurs. The second law argues that it is impossible to have a symmetric and balanced economic growth within the whole area of the Eurozone. In this way, we can explain the occurrence of two major different areas of economic growth within the EU, namely the core countries and the peripheral countries. Under these conditions, many countries of the European periphery that have been unable to remain competitive in the Eurozone joined the EU only because of political priorities and decisions. These actions are highly responsible for the today’s outcome.

Moreover, the system of European economic governance is not a well-rounded system that can help all its diverse countries in remaining competitive. The European Central Bank (ECB), although it is a highly credible institution, does not function as the American Federal Reserve. Thus, because the European economic integration is uneven, when the ECB takes a monetary decision, e.g. changing the interest rates or the money supply, the outcome of this decision does not have the same effect on all European countries. In this regard, the ECB cannot help Greece or countries similar to Greece. Furthermore, the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP) has also many omissions and we can’t forget that France and Germany were the first two countries that failed to comply with its targets. Furthermore, the EMU suffers from asymmetric and adverse economic shocks, inflexible labour markets, rigid wages, centralization of economic activity to specific areas, incomplete trade integration, and uncoordinated monetary and fiscal policies. Together with its major institutional weaknesses and the fact that a European political union is not regarded as feasible and the European sense of solidarity is inexistent, the result is ruinous both for the European project and for its member states. Accordingly, the European Economic Governance is also responsible for the Greek crisis. In fact, Greece and many other largely peripheral countries remain trapped within the Eurozone. They cannot use either their monetary or fiscal policies to regain their competitive advantage. This is also an important lesson that the New Member States (NMS) must learn. Living within the Eurozone is not as simple as it looks.

On the other hand, we need to investigate the crisis from a global perspective. In this regard, we can identify many important causes that negatively affect the European economies. First, the neoliberal paradigm, the so-called Washington Consensus, is not anymore viable and sustainable. Second, the United States have lost their hegemonic power mainly because of their economic problems, which are closely related to the rise of China and other developing countries. Consequently, one could argue that a new world order is emerging as the “unipolar” world is transformed to a “multipolar world”. Thus, the United States needs to come as close as they can to the European Union in order to overcome new global challenges. Under the aforementioned conditions it is clear that the Greek crisis is only a sign of something more important. Perhaps we face the first sign of the First Global Economic War and a great transformation will soon happen to the regional global political and economic affairs. The main question then remains ‘Is the Greek crisis a domestic, European , or global phenomenon?’. The answer is yours.

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Pantelis Sklias is is an Associate Professor of International Political Economy (IPE) at the Department of Political Science and International Relations of the University of Peloponnese. He holds degrees in International Studies (Panteion University in Athens), MA in International Relations and Ph.D. in International Political Economy (University of Sussex, UK). He completed his post doctorate thesis at the Hellenic Center of Political Research of Panteion University with a fellowship from the State Fellowship Foundation. 

His research interests include: institutions, states and markets; global governance; global political and economic relations; international development; and civil society.

Georgios Maris is a PhD candidate at the Department of Political Science and International Relations of University of Peloponnese and currently writes his thesis entitled ‘The Political Economy of Global Governance: The Case of the EMU’. He holds a BSc in Public Administration (Panteion University in Athens), MSc in Political, Economic and International Relations in the Mediterranean (University of the Aegean), MA in European Studies (Kings College London, UK).

His research interests include global and European political economy, global governance, European integration, and international relations.

Ágnes Szunomár: The roots of Chinese-Central European relations – The case of Hungary

The Great Wall of ChinaThe Chinese presence in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) has intensified recently as China’s great power ambitions have grown and the CEE-region has been in dour need of this new partnership due to the economic crisis. However, this relationship is not as new-fangled as it seems. In some cases – for example the case of Hungary – it dates back several decades. Overall, Hungarian-Chinese relations are very successful. They have a six decade history, as old as the PRC itself.

Hungary formally recognized the People’s Republic of China on 4th October 1949. During the following decade the relationship began to develop with a huge number of high-level visits followed by the improvement of economic, political and cultural ties. Although the Hungarian-Chinese relationship was basically within the Soviet sphere of interest, Hungarian foreign policy did not follow, but rather differed a bit from the policy of Moscow. In international affairs Budapest cooperated closely with Beijing and has always supported the Chinese position on Tibet, the reunification of China (one china policy) and United Nations (Security Council) membership. By the end of the 50s, deep ideological differences began to appear between the two countries and, in the wake of the 60s, – during the Chinese “cultural revolution” – the relationship became increasingly colder. Much later, with the reorientation of the Chinese Communist Party in 1978 – its economic reforms and its opening-up policy – the two countries were brought closer together again. The Chinese leadership was genuinely interested in the experiences of the Hungarian economic reform process of 1968 and, in this spirit, a series of expert delegations visited Hungary. In the 80s, state and inter-party relations were normalized and high-level delegations were also reinitiated. After the democratic transition of 1989, the level of contacts between the two countries declined again, primarily as a result of the reorientation of Hungarian foreign policy, as more attention was given to Euro-Atlantic interests. For more than a decade, the degree of contact declined to a minimum.

Another fruitful period began at the beginning of the new millennium, after the visit of the Hungarian Prime Minister, Peter Medgyessy in 2003 to Beijing. The new wave of development was initiated independently by Hungary, because the government recognized that China is an unavoidable player in the global economy and international politics and because EU membership made Hungary more attractive to China as well. But for this purpose, steps had to be taken before others would take them. In this spirit, several confidence-building measures and gestures were undertaken and the results have become almost immediately apparent in the form of economic growth indicators. Over the past decade, the Hungarian government – regardless of political orientation – has committed itself to developing its relationship with China. Hungary has good results in the field of bilateral trade and investment with China. And this has led to greater expectations: infrastructure development and the financing of Hungarian public debt are just some of the areas where Chinese involvement is expected or has already been achieved.

When asking about the reasons for choosing Hungary instead of Poland or the Czech Republic, an interesting hypothesis can be found about the relation of the Chinese population in Hungary to the success of the Chinese-Hungarian relationship. The fact is that within Central-Eastern Europe the highest Chinese population can be found in Hungary. There are now around 10 000 – 15 000 (12 653 officially) native Chinese living in Hungary. And the majority of this population arrived in the early 90s. This is one of Hungary’s biggest advantages when building economic, political and cultural relations with China. Confidence and good impressions are of particular importance in dealing with China. But why Hungary? What made Hungary so popular to Chinese people 20 years ago? In 1988 a Hungarian-Chinese consular agreement – among other things – included the abolishment of visa requirements between the two countries. In 1990, 11 000 Chinese people arrived to Hungary, while in 1992 the number was 27 000. Overall, in the 90s Hungary had a Chinese minority of approximately 40 000, even though in the 80s, the number of Chinese people living in Hungary was only a few hundred. Of course, in addition to the lack of a visa requirement, there were other – economic, political and emotional – factors which pushed the Chinese towards Hungary.

Economic factors:

  • 1989 was a recession year in China and Chinese residents living abroad did not have to pay taxes.
  • There was social stability in Hungary compared to China.
  • Accessing Budapest by train was inexpensive compared to other destinations.
  • Chinese migrants found a gap in the Hungarian market, a business opportunity, as there was huge demand for cheap consumer goods.

Political factors:

  • After the massacre in Tiananmen Square and the democratic shift in Hungary, the possibility of free travel became especially important.

Emotional factors:

  • Thanks to the attention the Chinese government paid (during the 78/79 reform process) to Hungarian “reform socialism”, Hungary’s reputation among Chinese people was quite good and the impressions of the first Chinese migrants were also promising. They described Hungary as a treasure land, “Eastern Europe’s heavenly palace”, so more and more people chose this destination.
  • Finally, there were and there continue to be some Chinese who really believe that the Chinese and Hungarians are distant relatives.1 The evidence is that we have similar physical characteristics to Asians (dark hair, dark eyes, medium height), which differentiate us from other Eastern or Central European nations. And names are written and sometimes spoken in the same order (the family name followed by the first name), which is unique in Europe.2

After 1992, the Hungarian authorities re-introduced the visa requirement, so the number of Chinese immigrants has declined. Some of the original 40 000 Chinese people living in Hungary left the country, went home or moved to other countries in the following 5-10 years. But close to 30% have stayed, supplemented over time by a small number new arrivals – for the most part relatives of the Chinese already living in Hungary.

To maintain this advantage and to make Hungary a popular destination for Chinese businesses and investment in the 21st century, the Hungarian Government has undertaken several measures and gestures, including the creation of a new special envoy position within the Prime Minister’s Office for the development of Hungarian-Chinese relations and for the coordination of the China-related work of governmental institutions and the public administration. The first results of the new policy were the arrival of a branch of the Bank of China in Hungary (2003), the creation of the Bilingual Chinese / Hungarian Primary School in Budapest (2004) and the initiation of a direct flight connection between Budapest and Beijing (2004). All of these are unique in the region. There are many other results – a complete list would be too long to enumerate here – including collaboration between the Hungarian and Chinese railway companies, the establishment of a wholesale trade centre in Budapest focused on hosting quality Asian exporters and manufacturers, and the establishment of the China Investment Promotion Agency’s (CIPA’s) European Office in the Hungarian capital last year.

As shown above, there are more and more opportunities in relations between Hungary and China, but also a lot of things still to do to strengthen ties between them. As Barna Tálas, one of the more well-known Hungarian sinologists put it, with a well-coordinated, open and development-oriented foreign economic policy, Hungary has very good prospects to become “Europe’s Hong Kong”,3 namely the international trade and financial centre between the two regions, managing the exchange of goods and information and the transfer of technology and capital, as Hong Kong did earlier in East Asia.

Ágnes Szunomár is a China-expert and Research Fellow at the Insitute of World Economics, Budapest

Show 3 footnotes

  1. Another reason for the supposed kinship is Hungary’s name in Chinese, “Xiong ya li”. The pronunciation is similar to that of Hungary’s English name, “Hungary”. Though this Chinese expression has no further meaning, the first part “xiong” is similar to the Chinese word “Xiongnu”, which was the name of a nomadic tribe in Central Asia and thus a very close neighbour to China. Relations between early Chinese dynasties and the Xiongnu tribe were complex, with repeated periods of military conflict and intrigue alternating with exchanges of tribute, trade, and marriage treaties. There is no precise evidence however for this kinship.
  2. In fact, the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Vietnamese and Hungarians are the only nationalities in the world who use this order.
  3. Tálas, Barna (2008): Adalékok Kína-stratégiánk megalapozásához. In: Kína: realitás és esély. Stratégiai kutatások : Tudomány – Kormányzás – Társadalom (ed.: Inotai A. – Juhász O.) MTA VKI – Miniszterelnöki Hivatal, 2008, pp. 197-218.

Rethinking the European Union’s Economic Relations with the Mediterranean

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Starting with the Jasmine Revolution of Tunisia and spreading onto Egypt, Libya and most recently Syria, the sudden wave of upheavals in the Mediterranean have created a whole new reality across the Arab world. By showing the limits of their tolerance for the corrupt and autocratic regimes that have governed their countries for decades, the Arab peoples have made it clear that a new era of governance is due in their region. This historical moment is as crucial for the European Union as it is for the Arabs of the Mediterranean. In some aspects, it may be regarded as a wakeup call for the EU after long years of neglect for its southern neighborhood.

Rethinking the European Union’s Economic Relations with the Mediterranean: A Historical Opportunity*

The “short-sightedness, self-satisfaction and feeling of safety with the status quo” have been, in the words of Polish MEP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, EU’s the dominant attitude towards the Mediterranean, where the “status quo” was in fact mistaken for “stability” for long years.[1] It is perhaps a result of this realization that a new and ambitious European Neighborhood Policy was recently launched by the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton. Unable to ignore the urgent need for reconstruction in the region, EU provided €140 million of humanitarian assistance to those most in need[2], and an extra €1.24 billion (totalling nearly €7 billion) was made available for the ENP following the political developments in EU’s southern neighborhood.[3] Indeed, given the failure of the Barcelona process and the inefficiency of the later the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM), the current political climate in southern Mediterranean gives the EU a historical opportunity to rethink its economic relations with the wider region, take advantage of a great potential to ensure sustainable security, prosperity and stability within the wider region, and to fix its past mistakes in the inefficient conduction of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership.

Brief history: Barcelona Process and Union for the Mediterranean

The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EMP) was initiated by the Barcelona Process in 1995 by 15 Foreign Affairs Ministers from EU member states and 14 Mediterranean counterparts. The main goal of the partnership was to gradually establish a free trade area between the EU and Mediterranean countries. Its political aims were equally sophisticated and ambitious as they sought to create “a common area of peace and stability underpinned by sustainable development, rule of law, democracy and human rights”.[4] The EMP specifically aimed at strengthening the economic relations among the Mediterranean non-EU member countries while providing them the necessary financial and technical support to promote a balanced socio-economic development besides equipping them with the tools to build capacity for further development. With the Eastern enlargement phase of the early 2000s and the introduction of the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) in 2004, the ambitious EMP entered a period of stagnation to gradually transform into an invisible component of the ENP.

Upon the suggestion of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the EMP was eventually re-launched in 2008 as the Union for the Medierranean (UfM). The revised UfM was this time launched by 43 EU member and Mediterranean states. The establishment of this extended partnership received substantial criticism for serving as a political tool for Sarkozy’s presidential election campaign in France, and was moreover regarded as a sign of increased competition between France and Spain over their influence in the Mediterranean region. The new goals set forth by the extended partnership seemed promising in the beginning – the establishment of the Mediterranean Business Development Initiative providing assistance for small and medium sized enterprises, a Mediterranean University for high quality research on the region, extended focus on the environment and transportation, and finally a permanent general secretariat in Barcelona initially raised hopes for a serious improvement in the cooperation between the northern and southern ends of the region. The inadequacy of the bilateral partnerships within the countries of the region and the outbreak of the global credit crisis, however, acted as catalysts for the fast demise of the ambitious goals of the UfM and made way to its perceived failure.

The reasons for the failure of the EMP and UfM could loosely be identified under two main headings – political and economic. The lack of an EU membership prospect and the absence of any clear, concrete and short-term gains for the partner countries served as the most obvious political shortcoming of the EMP. Moreover, the politicization of certain sectors within the bilateral trade agreements (namely agirculture due to the protectionist contraints posed by the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy) further watered down the potential incentives for partner countries. Lastly, the shift of EU focus to its Eastern neighborhood during the enlargement process moreover marginalized the Mediterranean from the core of EU’s priorities. The most important economic reasons, on the other hand, have been a serious lack of business interest in southern Mediterranean, and consequently, very low levels of foreign direct investment in the wider region.

Reviving Euro-Mediterranean relations: Motivations

Although the Barcelona process has so far shown to be a failure, there are enough legitimate and pragmatic reasons why the original objectives of the EMP should be revived and given more emphasis by the EU. The strategic significance of the geographical location of the Mediterranean region, rising concerns on uncontrolled migration into the EU from its southern neighborhood and escalating fears of Islamic fundamentalism in the Arab countries could be named as the main (if not the only) reasons why the future of Europe lies in a secure, prosperous and stable Mediterranean region.

Perhaps the most visible reason why the original goals of the Barcelona declaration and UfM should be revived is the EU’s growing concern for uncontrolled immigration. The issue of immigration has been continuously ranking high in priority in the European agenda within the recent years. Catalyzed by the financial crisis, tighter border controls and stricter policies against immigration have become commonplace in member states. The efficiency of such measures, however, is yet to be proven, and therefore remain under scrutiny. This perceived threat of an “immigration wave from the South” has noticeably increased following the revolutionary upheavals in Europe’s southern neighborhood – hundreds of thousands have filled up refugee camps in North Africa, and over 20,000 are estimated to have reached Italian shores. What is certain is that Europe needs to rethink its “cure” for the problem of uncontrolled immigration. Addressing the symptoms of this problem so far has not produced any smooth answers to the issue – targeting the causes, however, have the potential to generate more sustainable solutions. Creating positive incentives and practical means to ensure that potential migrants stay home could therefore be an optimal recipe for controlling immigration. Taking into account the large volume of immigrants coming into the EU from the southern Mediterranean, working towards achieving the original goals of the Barcelona declaration would prove to be useful. Europe should address this problem by shifting its focus on creating jobs in the south of the Mediterranean, and seriously liberalizing its trade regimes to foster growth through trade with the region’s countries. [5]

The geo-strategic signifiance of the southern Mediterranean and Europe’s trade security together constitute another reason why the EU should rethink and reprioritize its Mediterranean policy. As the former EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana has justly observed in a recent article with Angel Saz, the container traffic between East Asia and Europe is crucially dependent on the EU’s southern Neighborhood.[6] Solana and Saz have drawn attention to two important issues related to this container traffic. Firstly, although the container flow from East Asia uses the Mediterranean route (i.e. passing through the Suez Canal), only 28% of the transported goods enter Europe via southern European ports such as Barcelona, Genoa or Marseille. The remaining 72% of the goods are unloaded at northern European ports such as Antwerp, Rotterdam and Hamburg, following a longer route through the English Channel. Even though this option involves extra financial and environmental costs, it is nevertheless preferred over unloading at southern European ports due to the superior efficiency of the northern European ports and their more advanced transport infrastructure.  Secondly, Solana and Saz emphasize that the Suez Canal must always stay as a “safe and reliable shipping route” in order to avoid the shifting of the route to the southern end of Africa, hence generating even higher costs for trade and the environment, and excluding the Mediterranean region altogether. In brief, the security of the opeations of the Suez Canal is of great strategic importance to Europe and therefore stable political regimes in and around the Mediterranean are of paramount importance for the secure and efficient operation of the economic activity between East Asia and Europe.

Lastly, there have recently been mentions of a possible Marshall Plan for the Arab World following the rapid regime changes and political reconstruction in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The transformation across the region will surely have serious consequences for Europe, as regional peace, prosperity and stability is indeed vital for Europe’s stability in the long term. It is with this motivation that Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs Franco Frattini has recently suggested that the revolutionary countries of the Arab world share the same needs with the post-war countries of Western Europe. Although a financial aid package by the EU for the democratizing MENA countries (similar to that of the post-war Marshall Plan) may indeed seem unrealistic given the current financial burden on the EU due to the alarming condition of southern European economies, additional measures could be taken to build on the existing financial and institutional structures.[7] Indeed, what is important in this stage is not how much of its financial resources the EU can allocate to support the democratic transition in the MENA, but how it can work to prioritize the Mediterranean within the existing financial and institutional resources. The ongoing financial crisis, therefore, should not any longer be an excuse for turning a blind eye on the developments in the southern Mediterranean.

Reviving the Euro-Mediterranean relations: Immediate remedies

Having reviewed why the EU should prioritize strenghthening its economic relations with the Mediterranean, it is also necessary to acknowledge the main limiting factors that are currently acting against a stronger Euro-Mediterranean economic dialogue, and outline the most immediate remedies for recovery. The first and most debated of these is undoubtedly the issue of the persisting protectionist measures in European trade, and most notably those in the agricultural sector. As discussed earlier, perhaps the most obvious technical obstacle that has played a role in the failure of the EMP has been the current state of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy and the resultant illiberal tendency in Euro-Mediterranean trade. Europe seriously needs to liberalize its trade regime if it is to induce any form of economic development and promote democracy in its southern neighborhood. At this critical time when the political character of the entire MENA region is going through a historical change, the EU cannot afford to continue ignoring the need to liberalize the barriers in its trade activity with the newly democratizing Mediterranean.

Secondly, the weakness of the institutional setup of the former EMP has been a very important though less visible limiting factor for the advancement of Euro-Mediterranean relations. The Barcelona process originally promoted the creation of a free trade zone in the wider Mediterranean region, which would provide the basis for enhanced cultural dialogue, promotion of stability and security in the South, and flow of financial and technical aid. When compared with other successful regional free trade agreements, the EMP stands out for not having an advanced institutional framework. The North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the United States, Mexico and Canada, for instance, could be taken as a good institutional example for the future of the Euro-Mediterranean trade relations. In comparison with the relatively looser Association Agreements between the EU and non-EU Mediterranean states, NAFTA provied a good institutional example with its side agreements and subsidiary organizations, most notably in the areas of labor rights and environmental protection. There is little doubt that the future of the UfM and Mediterranean trade could benefit substantially from such a move towards institutional development and capacity building.

Conclusion

The history of the world shows that the Mediterranean region has been the global center of trade and economic activity for many prominent civilizations like the Romans, Egyptians, Greeks, the Spanish, and Ottomans. The current lack of a healthy and sustainable economic dialogue between the northern and southern ends of the Mediterranean Sea may continue only for a given period of time as the security and prosperity of the wider region is possible only with economic cooperation and extended social and political relations among the region’s countries. The Arab Spring has provided a historical moment for the realization of this regional cooperation, though to achieve this long term goal, EU needs to shoulder the lion’s share of responsibilities. Removing non-tariff barriers to further liberalize its trade regime, and enhancing the backbone of the EMP with a serious instiutional reform are of vital importance for the EU to fulfill this immediate duty. Bearing in mind that the security of the Mediterranean is the security of Europe, EU can no longer afford not to invest in its economic relations with the Mediterranean if it is to pursure a healthy and stable presence.

* Originally published on Turkish Policy Quarterly Vol. 10, No. 2, pp. 65-71


[1] Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, “EU must fundamentally redesign its Mediterranean policy”, EurActiv, 10 March 2011 (http://www.euractiv.com/en/print/global-europe/eu-fundamentally-redesign-mediterranean-policy-analysis-502981)

[2] Catherine Ashton, “Speech on North Africa and the Arab world in the European Parliament”, 6 July 2011, (http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/EN/foraff/123479.pdf)

[3] “Barroso announces extra €1.2 billion for Europe’s neighbours”, ENPI Info Centre, 25 May 2011, (http://www.enpi-info.eu/main.php?id=25296&id_type=1)

[4] “Barcelona Declaration, adopted at the Euro-Mediterranean Conference”, Summaries of EU Legislation, 27-28 November 1995, (http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/docs/2005/july/tradoc_124236.pdf)

[5] Peter Sutherland, “Europe’s Test in North Africa”, Project Syndicate, 27 April 2011 (http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/sutherland1/English)

[6] Javier Solana and Angel Paz, “The Mediterranean Reborn”, Project Syndicate, 11 July 2011 (http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/solana8/English)

[7] Franco Frattini, “A Marshall Plan for the Arab World”, Project Syndicate, 26 May 2011 (http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/frattini3/English)

Europe and Asia together against non-traditional security challenges

The results of the Tenth ASEM Foreign Ministers’ Meeting

Ágnes Szunomár

The relationship between Europe and Asia – alThe logo of Asia-Europe Meetingthough more and more common interests and challenges connect them – for a long time has consisted of bilateral relations without a formal supporting structure or framework such as for transatlantic relations in the case of Europe and North America, or the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in the case of North and South American states and Asia. In 1996, recognizing the need for strengthening this relationship, France and Singapore initiated regular meetings between Asia and Europe. In this way, thus the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) was born.

ASEM is an open forum for dialogue and discussion consisting of 46 countries – the twenty-seven members of the European Union (EU), the thirteen members of the ASEAN, the Plus Three regional grouping with India, Mongolia, Pakistan, Australia, Russia and New Zealand – and two international organizations, the European Commission and the ASEAN Secretariat. Since it is a consultative forum, specific decisions are not taken during the meetings. But a so-called “presidential statement”, a final communication, is adopted detailing the results of the dialogue. In the ASEM framework, members engage in discussions as equal partners ignoring differences in economic development, country size and population. Dialogue is based on mutual benefits and mutual respect. The ASEM process is loosely organized. There are three dimensions or pillars of the cooperation, including dialogues on politics, economics, and also other areas such as social politics, education and culture. Heads of governments meet every two years (alternately in Europe and Asia) to set the ASEM agenda, while ASEM Foreign Ministers’ Meetings are organised in the interim between Summits. The Foreign Ministers Meeting is responsible for pursuing the ASEM dialogue under the first and third pillars (political dialogue and co-operation in other areas). Apart from the Summit meetings, the ASEM process is carried forward through a series of ministerial and working-level meetings.

The 10th ASEM Foreign Ministers’ Meeting held in Gödöllő, Hungary had an over-arching theme: “Working Together on Non-Traditional Security Challenges”. This title – due to the Chairs’ Statement – provided an opportunity to address relevant issues of common interest having substantial implications for the prosperity, security and stability of both Europe and Asia. Non-traditional or new types of security challenges include almost every security problem that is not a traditional military conflict. These challenges can be natural disasters, terrorism, the spread of weapons of mass destruction, illegal arms trafficking, organised crime, and also migration or food shortages. János Martonyi, Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs, highlighted that several of these challenges are present in Asia simultaneously. Indeed, Japan has recently been hit by both a nuclear and a natural disaster at the same time, which made the meeting and its theme more topical than ever.

All 48 members of ASEM represented themselves at the meeting. 36 of the 46 countries even had ministers attending the meetings, reflecting very high level participation. The Meeting was opened by Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán. In his opening remarks, the Prime Minister emphasized that the effectiveness of cooperation between Asia and the European Union will be crucial in the future. Due to global financial and economic competition a new world has emerged where “lone fighters can no longer be successful”. He added that the years ahead will be characterized by searching for effective forms of cooperation and alliance. Europe should look for the most effective forms of economic and political cooperation with Asia, because that cooperation will certainly form a starting point for renewing the post-economic crisis world.

A wide range of non-traditional security challenges facing Europe and Asia can seriously impact the stability, security and prosperity of both regions, posing challenges at both the regional and global levels. On behalf of the Hungarian Presidency, János Martonyi stressed the importance of establishing nuclear energy safety where the best way to resolve such problems, both in the field of nuclear safety and environmental protection, is to seek common solutions. Japanese Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto also emphasized that combating terrorism, disaster management, nuclear safety, climate change and nuclear non-proliferation, are all challenges demanding cooperation. This is in the joint interest of the countries of both Asia and Europe.  The Chairs’ Statement highlights that environmental degradation, climate change, the loss of biological diversity, the over-exploitation of natural resources and other human pressures on the natural environment are underlying causes for many emerging security threats. Ministers have reaffirmed their commitment to pursue sustainable development in tandem with economic growth and social progress.

The issue of food shortages was highlighted by several countries during the plenary discussion. According to some countries of Southeast Asia, a holistic approach is needed in this field and the members of ASEM should improve their technological and scientific cooperation. Others emphasised the necessity of promoting cooperation, not only on recovery from natural disasters, but also on their forecasting and early warning.

On the second day of the Meeting, the participants dealt with the recovery from economic crisis and the fight against poverty. The Chairs’ Statement, unanimously adopted at the meeting, points out that the ASEM partners acknowledge that the world is recovering from the economic crisis, but in an uneven and unbalanced way across and within countries. They expressed deep concern that the recovery has not yet translated into sufficient employment and adequate growth rates for all economies. In some advanced economies unemployment is still high, and fiscal and financial vulnerabilities remain such as slow progress in fiscal consolidation, sovereign debt crises and slow progress on financial sector consolidation and reform. Some emerging economies face the risk of overheating and excessive short-term capital flows, and many confront the threat of food and fuel price volatility, with high levels last seen in 2008. ASEM therefore supports the goals set by the G20 to address and provide collective solutions for ongoing global economic challenges taking into account the interest of all nations. The Hungarian Foreign Minister added that the crisis is not only a challenge, but also an opportunity, as the markets expect jointly-developed solutions from the countries of the world. János Martonyi offered the European Union’s growth strategy for Asian countries as an example. This strategy covers several areas ranging from education to employment, as well as boosting innovation. He believes that the Europe 2020 Strategy has formulated objectives that can define an appropriate course of growth for the countries of Asia as well.

Overall, we can be assured that the results of the meeting won’t shake the world because no historic, compromising or tough decisions were made. But the consultations within the framework of ASEM do have a raison d’être in the future. Informal political meetings are becoming increasingly important in the world as both regional and global problems can be discussed more openly. In the future these meetings may become even more important, since Asia is rapidly becoming a dominant region in the world economy, global security and politics and has started to consciously influence the international order. As the Statement points out, Asia and Europe are becoming more and more unified, but there are still plenty of thing to do till then. Deeper and wider inter-regional relations would offer many opportunities for working together. The ASEM initiative involves partners that constitute over half of the global population, comprise more than 60% of world trade and account greater than half of global GDP. These facts alone make ASEM a significant forum that has successfully provided an important opportunity for interregional co-operation on an equal and reciprocal basis for over one and a half decades.

Ágnes Szunomár is a China-expert and Junior Research Fellow at the Insitute of World Economics, Budapest

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