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President of Malta: Hard and Soft Security Issues in the Mediterranean

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Reasons to care — In lieu of an introduction

Many European leaders look hopefully at the Republic of North Macedonia’s (RNM) endeavours to improve relations with its neighbours. But local elites have constantly ignored the fact that the country’s future and its very existence depend on diplomacy. On the contrary, both right- and left-leaning leaderships have jeopardised bilateral relations for domestic political gains. Even the bi-decennial name dispute with Greece seems not to have taught the RNM to appease rather than pretend. As of now, a breakthrough in bilateral relations would surely improve the country’s chances to join the EU quite soon. However, a stall may cause EU enlargement to halt altogether leaving the RNM’s tandem partner, Albania, out of the Union. Even if Brussels decouples Tirana, the damage to the Union’s credibility and the Western Balkans’ regional stability may be immense.

Diplomacy: A game the RNM has not played well

The great game of international relations is not only difficult to master, but expensive to play. Moreover, the experience of the Cold War shows that foreign policy is more effective when it rests on internal consensus. All these factors – expertise, resources, and unanimity – are missing the RNM for structurally and historically determined reasons. As a matter of fact, the country is deeply divided along at least two focal cleavages.

On the one hand, there is an ethnic divide between Albanian and Slav populace. This fracture has already led the country on the brink of a civil war once, in 2001. On the other, the ethnic Slav majority is polarised between the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) and the VMRO. The SDSM has been the main opposition to Nikola Gruevski, head of the VMRO, rather authoritarian government for years. In 2016, the SDSM ousted Gruevski despite losing the elections due to the popular outarge fro allegations of widespread wiretapping. Since then, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and the SDSM, has been governing owing to a slim parliamentary majority. The cabinet holds on a mere 52-to-48 majority thanks to the support of two Albanian parties.

The SDSM has promised to accelerated the RNM’s integration in the EU and NATO. But the Prime Minister’s and his party have proven inept to consolidate any diplomatic gain.

A step forward: Reaching NATO membership

During his tenure Zaev has made some steps forward in resolving the RNM’s longest rows with a neighbour. The quarrel dates to 1991, when the poorest Yugoslav republic declared independence after breaking away from Serbia’s deadly embrace. Back then, Greek authorities refused to recognise the new-born State, imposed an embargo and supported Serbia in the Yugoslav wars. Indeed, the reason is quite simple: Athens feared claims on the homonym Greek region and on Alexander the Great’s legacy.

Retorting to Greece’s hostility, the VMRO government began alleging a direct connection between the Slav majority and Ancient Macedonians. To substantiation this claim, Gruevski started a policy known as antiquisation with the aim to appropriate Alexander’s legacyin 2006. A decade later, Zaev terminated antiquisation not to anger Greece further and opened the door to new negotiations. Finally, in 2018, Zaev struck a deal with his Greek counterpart – the leftist Alexis Tsipras – normalising Greek-Macedonian relations. Albeit controversial, the Prespa Agreement gave the FYROM a proper name putting an end to the name dispute with Greece.

In March 2020, shortly after the parties ratified and implemented accord, Zaev’s government scored an important point: NATO membership.

Continuing on the right track: Towards EU membership

The first years of Zaev’s tenure yielded some positive results for those who were looking forward to Euro-Atlantic integration. However, the biggest prey was still out there, waiting for someone to chase it down: EU membership. Overall, the RNM was already quite aheadin adopting the reforms needed to join the EU under Gruevski’s rule. In fact, according to the European Commission, in 2015 the FYROM was

at a good level of preparation in developing a functioning market economy. The country benefits from a stable macroeconomic environment, supported by sound monetary policy, favourable conditions for market entry, and a sound legal system.

Moreover, “some progress was made […] on strengthening administrative capacity” and reforming bureaucracy.

As such, inducing the EU to officially designate the RNM as a candidate country was not a difficult task. True, reforms had to proceed and there was still much to do before the RNM could actually join. But candidate status – and the annexed financial benefits – were essentially at hand’s reach.

Two steps back: Antagonising Bulgaria

The only thing that Zaev’s government needed not to do was to enflame patriotic ressentiment in another EU-member neighbour. In fact, the EU opens negotiations to the countries with which it discusses serious membership prospects. However, this is not a decision that the grey technocrats sitting on the Commission can take on their own. This faculty in on member States’ representatives gathered in the so-called European Council, each of whom has veto powers.

Despite understanding that there were outstanding unresolved issues with Bulgaria, Zaev decided to call a snap election before the Council. Zaev seemed persuaded he could have won a larger majority only if he siphoned some of the VMRO’s nationalist voters. Thus, the SDSM decided to adopt reckless electoral tactics whichhave sored anti-Bulgarian sentiments. Predictably, the Bulgarian government seized the opportunity to score points in upcoming elections by vetoing the RNM’s accession.

Rearrangements at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Building a national foreign-policy consensus

In a word, the RNM does not find itself in the European region with the friendliest neighbourhood relations. Surely, Greece and Bulgaria are not be as tolerant as Austria Czechia and Slovakia were in the 1990s. Yet, Skopje has arguably invoked his neighbour’s ire this time — and needlessly so.

At the moment, no political force in Bulgaria argues for a softening of positions vis-à-vis the RNM. Hence, the two bordering countries are heading off for a diplomatic clash fought with soft power, cohesion, and sheer stubbornness. In view of this inevitable runoff, the RNM’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) is undergoing a deep renewal. The hope is to retain the expertise developed in the thirty years since independence and building a national consensus. According to Minister Bujar Osmani his decennial foreign-policy strategy has three founding. First, extensive consultations with civil society actors and stakeholders. Second, a series specialised thematic conferences to elaborate new tactics. Third, the Minister a ‘Strategic Council on Foreign Policy’ (SCVP).

The SCVP is probably the most interesting of the three elements Osmani mentioned. In fact, it may offer a solution, together with the thematic conferences, to the lack of expertise. At the same time, it may enhance the effectiveness of wide consultation in building a national foreign-policy consensus.

The SCVP will include some high-profile figures associated to Gruevski and the VMRO. Amongst them:

  • Valentina Bozinovska and Srdjan Kerim, former VMRO deputies;
  • Marian Gyurovski, former UN General Assembly President;
  • Nano Ruzin, former Ambassador to NATO;
  • Denko Malevski, former Foreign Minister;
  • Marko Trosanovski, head of a think tank;
  • Ivana Tufegdzic and Gordan Gorgiev, SDSM deputies;
  • Lazar Elenovski and Zhivko Mukaetov, businessmen;
  • Viktor Gaber, former diplomat;
  • Aydovan Ademovski, President of the Macedonian-Turkish Chamber of Commerce.

In effect, according to former Ambassador to NATO Nano Ruzin, the Osmani’s choice was deliberate. In addition to cumulating expertise, Osmani is attempting to coalesce the “different thoughts, which constantly creates excitement in foreign policy.”

Conclusion: The RNM is finally taking diplomacy seriously

The composition of the CSVP shows that Zaev’s government is now ready to take foreign policy seriously. The decision to include former Gruevski associates whom the public has no love lost for is a sign of maturity. In the RNM diplomacy seems to be moving closer to the centre stage and becoming more consensual. The inclusion of a few businessmen and the President of the Macedonian-Turkish Chamber of Commerce is also telling. There seems to be acknowledgment of the fact that diplomacy is not just a fine form of political communication.

It is legitimate to expect that there will not be grand diplomatic pushes due to the lack of sufficient funds. Nonetheless, the RNM’s diplomacy is becoming more active and multifaceted. One should expect Skopje to begin engaging the EU and Turkey more intensely. And not just on political topics, but also in the economic, cultural, and social spheres. In a wat, diplomacy may also become a tool to ‘attract foreign investments with other means’. People close to the circles of power point at promoting tourism and lobbying as profitable diplomatic activities for the country.

The jury is still out on the Bulgarian-Macedonian dispute, but the former’s political instability already hints at a winner. Perhaps, the EU will have 29 members sooner than many expect.

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Israel set to swear in government, end Netanyahu’s long rule | International

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JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel is set to swear in a new government on Sunday that will send Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into the opposition after a record 12 years in office and a political crisis that sparked four elections in two years.

Naftali Bennett, the head of a small ultranationalist party, will take over as prime minister. But if he wants to keep the job, he will have to maintain an unwieldy coalition of parties from the political right, left and center.

The eight parties, including a small Arab faction that is making history by sitting in the ruling coalition, are united in their opposition to Netanyahu and new elections but agree on little else. They are likely to pursue a modest agenda that seeks to reduce tensions with the Palestinians and maintain good relations with the U.S. without launching any major initiatives.

Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, remains the head of the largest party in parliament and is expected to vigorously oppose the new government. If just one faction bolts, it could lose its majority and would be at risk of collapse, giving him an opening to return to power.

The country’s deep divisions were on vivid display as Bennett addressed parliament ahead of the vote. He was repeatedly interrupted and loudly heckled by supporters of Netanyahu, several of whom were escorted out of the chamber.

Bennett’s speech mostly dwelled on domestic issues, but he expressed opposition to U.S. efforts to revive Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers.

“Israel will not allow Iran to arm itself with nuclear weapons,” Bennett said, vowing to maintain Netanyahu’s confrontational policy. “Israel will not be a party to the agreement and will continue to preserve full freedom of action.”

Bennett nevertheless thanked President Joe Biden and the U.S. for its decades of support for Israel.

Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, said the new government will likely be more stable than it appears.

“Even though it has a very narrow majority, it will be very difficult to topple and replace because the opposition is not cohesive,” he said. Each party in the coalition will want to prove that it can deliver, and for that they need “time and achievements.”

Still, Netanyahu “will continue to cast a shadow,” Plesner said. He expects the incoming opposition leader to exploit events and propose legislation that right-wing coalition members would like to support but can’t — all in order to embarrass and undermine them.

The new government is meanwhile promising a return to normalcy after a tumultuous two years that saw four elections, an 11-day Gaza war last month and a coronavirus outbreak that devastated the economy before it was largely brought under control by a successful vaccination campaign.

The driving force behind the coalition is Yair Lapid, a political centrist who will become prime minister in two years, if the government lasts that long.

Israel’s parliament, known as the Knesset, will convene to vote on the new government at 4 p.m. (1300 GMT). It is expected to win a narrow majority in the 120-member assembly, after which it will be sworn in. The government plans to hold its first official meeting later this evening.

It’s unclear if Netanyahu will attend the ceremony or when he will move out of the official residence. He has lashed out at the new government in apocalyptic terms and accused Bennett of defrauding voters by running as a right-wing stalwart and then partnering with the left.

Netanyahu’s supporters have held angry protests outside the homes of rival lawmakers, who say they have received death threats naming their family members. Israel’s Shin Bet internal security service issued a rare public warning about the incitement earlier this month, saying it could lead to violence.

Netanyahu has condemned the incitement while noting that he has also been a target.

His place in Israeli history is secure, having served as prime minister for a total of 15 years — more than any other, including the country’s founder, David Ben-Gurion.

Netanyahu began his long rule by defying the Obama administration, refusing to freeze settlement construction as it tried unsuccessfully to revive the peace process. Relations with Israel’s closest ally grew even rockier when Netanyahu vigorously campaigned against President Barack Obama’s emerging nuclear deal with Iran, even denouncing it in an address to the U.S. Congress.

But he suffered few if any consequences from those clashes and was richly rewarded by the Trump administration, which recognized contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, helped broker normalization agreements with four Arab states and withdrew the U.S. from the Iran deal.

Netanyahu has portrayed himself as a world-class statesman, boasting of his close ties with Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. He has also cultivated ties with Arab and African countries that long shunned Israel over its policies toward the Palestinians.

But he has gotten a far chillier reception from the Biden administration and is widely seen as having undermined the long tradition of bipartisan support for Israel in the United States.

His reputation as a political magician has also faded at home, where he has become a deeply polarizing figure. Critics say he has long pursued a divide-and-conquer strategy that aggravated rifts in Israeli society between Jews and Arabs and between his close ultra-Orthodox allies and secular Jews.

In November 2019, he was indicted for fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes. He refused calls to step down, instead lashing out at the media, judiciary and law enforcement, going so far as to accuse his political opponents of orchestrating an attempted coup. Last year, protesters began holding weekly rallies across the country calling on him to resign.

Netanyahu remains popular among the hard-line nationalists who dominate Israeli politics, but he could soon face a leadership challenge from within his own party. A less polarizing Likud leader would stand a good chance of assembling a coalition that is both farther to the right and more stable than the government that is set to be sworn in.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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Britain will be America’s pet. But it’s Europe’s future that’s at stake | Simon Tisdall

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Beneath the strained bonhomie of the G7 summit lurks a visceral fear: that Joe Biden’s bid to build a democratic alliance to stem the authoritarian tide led by China and Russia will split the world in two, leaving Europe, betrayed by Boris Johnson’s turncoat Britain, to play piggy-in-the-middle.

Despite public applause for Biden’s key message – that the US is “back” after the xenophobic hyper-nationalism of Donald Trump – European leaders seem far from convinced. They worry the EU may be sucked into a second, limitless cold war, and that Biden, who will be 82 in 2024, could be unseated by a hawkish Trump or Trump clone.

The message to Europe in Johnson’s fawning weekend embrace of Biden and America, symbolised by a reworked Atlantic Charter and much Cornish corniness, was clear. Like a whipped bulldog craving favour, Brexit Britain will be Washington’s obedient, needy pet. Johnson is no Winston Churchill. But like Churchill in 1941, he’s desperate for US backing.

Biden will strive to hold the transatlantic alliance together, which for him means all the European democracies, including the UK. But the Johnson government’s anti-EU trajectory, seen in the latest row with Brussels over Northern Ireland, threatens his vision.

Last week’s forceful pre-emptive intervention by senior US officials suggests that London will eventually be forced to compromise, if only because Johnson dare not jeopardise the wider US relationship. Yet UK-EU antagonism looks set to deepen. Biden will have to tighten the leash again in future.

Europe’s concerns about strategic isolation as a newly divisive, bipolar world order takes shape are well founded. To its east lies China, Russia and like-minded regimes in India, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia – autocratic, aggressive and contemptuous of western-defined international norms.

To its west lies the US, a damaged power, divided against itself, whose political stability and consistency can no longer be depended upon. Biden’s efforts to restore normalcy to international relations are assured of European support for as long as he lasts, as this week’s EU-US and Nato “reunion” summits will demonstrate.

But if Trump or his followers regain power, a permanent US rupture with Europe and its liberal, multilateralist principles may become unavoidable. This in turn could wreck the EU if, say, copycat populists in Poland or Hungary were to definitively break with Brussels. For his part, Johnson would be happy to see Trump return and the EU split asunder.

Fears about Europe’s future in a hostile world are reflected in a comprehensive new survey of EU states by the European Council on Foreign Relations. It reveals what its authors call “a widespread lack of confidence in the US ability to come back as leader of the west”. Most Europeans believe America’s political system is broken.

This disillusionment is not wholly due to Trump. “More than a year after the start of the pandemic, the feeling has taken root among Europeans that they cannot rely on the US, Russia or China, and that they must move towards greater self-reliance,” the survey concludes.

In short, they don’t trust anyone any more. Instead, majorities believe Europe should develop unified responses to global threats. They prefer pragmatic partnerships to permanent alliances. Many want the EU to be a “beacon of democracy and human rights” and a great power capable of defending itself.

At a time when the EU faces an extraordinary 21st-century agenda – the climate crisis, the pandemic, economic recovery, migration, digitisation, cyber-threats and rightwing populism – such ambition should, in theory, be welcome.

And yet Europe’s politicians and bureaucrats seem unprepared. While the public wants the EU to do more, confidence is low that it will – not least due to its Covid-19 missteps. “Disappointment with EU institutions has now come out of the periphery and gone mainstream,” the ECFR says.

This reflects a broader problem: a dearth of effective national leaders. Few are committed to building the independent, self-sufficient Europe voters want. Solidarity is lacking when it comes to standing up to China over Xinjiang and Hong Kong, to Russia over Ukraine, Belarus and Alexei Navalny, or to the US over Israel-Palestine and trade.

In Germany, to which many Europeans look for leadership that never quite arrives, Angela Merkel’s imminent departure as chancellor has created a sort of funk. Despite talk of a Green revolution, voters seem likely to opt (as usual) for the safe, inward-looking, centre-right choice – namely Armin Laschet, Merkel’s CDU successor.

In France, Emmanuel Macron, who has no illusions about Johnson or US altruism, regularly calls for a fiscally, economically and militarily integrated Europe. Yet the president’s eloquence has not helped him at home, where he was quite literally slapped down last week. In any event, he is increasingly distracted by a tough 2022 re-election battle.

In Italy, the rise and rise of far-right parties such as the Brothers of Italy, feeding off immigration fears, inspires ultra-nationalists, xenophobes and bigots everywhere. Brothers leader Giorgia Meloni’s ideas about identity and globalist conspiracies make her a natural ally of Trump, not of Biden or Brussels.

Those who look, meanwhile, for strong EU leadership look in vain. If the union were a true democracy, Ursula von der Leyen, commission president, would have been voted out over her vaccine fiasco. But the EU does not work that way, which is part of the problem.

For EU leaders, the G7 perpetuated a fantasy of power and purpose. Unless they urgently take ownership of its destiny, Europe will be squeezed like an unripe lemon between rival global forces that share neither its values nor its interests.

Europe’s choice: be a standup player on the world stage – or risk becoming a quirky cultural museum for Chinese tourists and the butt of Trump’s and Johnson’s jokes.

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Foreign diplomats face expulsion | Citypress

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 International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pando addressing the media at Luthuli house. Photo: Christopher Moagi


International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pando addressing the media at Luthuli house. Photo: Christopher Moagi

POLITICS

The department of international relations and cooperation on Thursday confirmed that Lesotho diplomats and their family members had been given 72 hours to leave the country after they were found to have been involved in the illicit peddling of duty-free alcohol.


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