VIEW FROM ABROAD: EU’s female defence ministers kick-start bloc’s hard power

LONG known for its “soft power”, the European Union is finally getting serious about upping it’s “hard power” defence and security credentials. And while the plans are still relatively modest in scope and content — there’s not going to be a European army any time soon — the bloc is moving forward with more determination than many anticipated.

Interestingly for those who, like this correspondent, keep a watch on such developments, the latest constellation of EU defence ministers includes five trailblazing women who could finally get long-standing plans for a European defence union off the ground.

It’s a historic shift in a world long dominated by male defence chiefs. Even in Europe where women have made more inroads into political life than in many other regions, men have dominated the world of guns and tanks. But no longer.

Until 2002, Finland was the only EU country to have had a female defence minister (twice). Last week’s meeting, on the other hand, was attended by Germany’s Ursula von der Leyen, France’s Sylvie Goulard, Italy’s Roberta Pinotti, Spain’s María Dolores de Cospedal, the Netherlands’ Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert and EU’s “high representative” for foreign and security policy Federica Mogherini.

The spotlight is especially strong on Goulard, a member of the European Parliament, who like the new French President Emmanuel Macron is an ardent pro-European politician.

The appointment signals Macron’s determination to work towards greater European defence integration. A close ally of Macron who speaks four languages, Goulard is respected in Brussels as a straight talker, having acted as adviser to former European Commission president Romano Prodi.

The new EU focus on security is not surprising. European governments which are also members of Nato are under intense pressure from the US to increase defence spending to the UN target of two per cent of GDP.

Some like Germany have baulked at the US criticism but many others agree that the bloc must spend more on defence to ensure its own security and to be taken more seriously by a watching world.

Dependence on the US-led Nato alliance also makes the EU a permanent junior partner in other aspects of the transatlantic relationship, according to some EU policymakers.

Although he is scheduled to attend the upcoming Nato summit, US President Donald Trump’s on-off trades against Nato have added to Europe’s unease about excessive reliance on the organisation.

Difficult relations with Moscow have further bolstered the EU defence drive as has the need to cooperate more effectively and efficiently on counterterrorism operations. In addition, opinion polls show European public favouring more intra-European security cooperation.

Ironically, the imminent departure of Britain from the EU has also given a boost to the plans. France and Britain are the two European nations with the most military clout.

But, led by France and Germany, the EU has in fact identified defence cooperation as a key area for rebooting the crisis-hit bloc after Britain’s traumatic vote to leave.

“This is one of the fields where European Union integration is advancing the most,” Mogherini said after EU defence ministers met in Malta recently. “Now with crises all around, we hear from our partners, starting from the UN … that a rapid reaction force from the EU would be needed to be deployed in some crisis areas,” she said.

Britain, nuclear armed and with a permanent veto at the United Nations, long opposed such efforts, fearing the creation of a “European army” commanded from Brussels. But Brexit has taken Britain out of the equation.

In March, defence and foreign ministers approved Mogherini’s plans for an embryonic military headquarters to coordinate EU overseas security operations, and military training missions in countries such as Somalia and Mali.

In other decisions, the EU has agreed to strengthen security cooperation with partner countries, with the aim to adopt more strategic Common and Security Defence Policy (CSDP) partnerships with a focus on partner countries that share EU values, including the respect for international law, and are able and willing to contribute to CSDP missions and operations.

There will also be a focus on capacity building for security and development in partner nations including for the prevention and management of crises on their own and developing civilian capabilities and enhancing the responsiveness of civilian crisis management, including the possible creation of a core responsiveness capacity;

A renewed effort will be made to reinforce military rapid response, including EU battlegroups.

And in a tacit endorsement of a multi-speed Europe, EU members are working on an inclusive “permanent structured cooperation” (PESCO), composed of EU member states which are willing and able to collaborate further in the area of security and defence. More cooperation with Nato will take place, including in counterterrorism.

The agenda is undoubtedly modest by world standards. The EU defence plans certainly pale in comparison to the military swagger of the US, China and Russia.

But it would be a mistake to discount European ambitions. And if it can mix and match its soft and hard power by combining aid, trade, diplomacy with some military muscle, the EU could become a smart power which is valued at home and abroad.

—The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Brussels.

Published in Dawn, May 20th, 2017

FRANKLY SPEAKING | China’s Belt and Road blueprint augurs changed global order

Domestic quarrels and a distaste for global engagement may be the hallmarks of Donald Trump’s erratic presidency of the United States, but the world is moving on.

On 14 May Emmanuel Macron was inaugurated as French President, raising hopes of a re-energised European Union. On the same day in Beijing Chinese President Xi Jinping showcased his ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ (BRI), an ambitious vision of a refashioned, interdependent and closely connected world.

The three markedly distinct conversations in Washington, Paris and Beijing reflect different domestic imperatives. They also provide compelling insights into a rapidly transforming global order.

Trump’s presidency hurtles from crisis to crisis, many nations are questioning America’s role as indispensable global power. In France (and Europe) the talk is of reform and renewal as a young president takes power – and of the hard work still required to modernise, adapt and adjust while keeping the twin evils of populism and nationalism at bay.

But while the West takes time out, the rest of the world is in transition. The trillion-dollar BRI, Beijing’s ‘project of the century’, was spotlighted last weekend at a mega-conference attended by 28 world leaders, more than one hundred representatives of states, and an equal number of business representatives, academics and journalists.

It was quite a party – and rightly so. Not since America’s Marshall Plan pumped millions of dollars to revive war-devastated Europe has a country undertaken an endeavour of such spectacular scope, vision and financial magnitude.

“While the West takes time out, the rest of the world is in transition”

The Chinese leader is no amateur when it comes to undertaking bold, headline-grabbing initiatives. He made a strong stand for economic globalisation and open trade at the Davos World Economic Forum in January this year.

And the BRI is only part of the story. Significantly, China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) is already working to meet the world’s enormous infrastructure investment needs.

Also, as the US withdraws from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the pan-Asian trade pact which excluded China, Beijing and countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are moving ahead with the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) to boost trade within the region.

In a message that was in stark contrast to the inward-looking announcements being made in Washington, Xi told the BRI meeting that his aim was to build an open, connected and inclusive world.

Xi’s blueprint articulates Beijing’s self-confident repositioning in an uncertain era. Not surprisingly, the US and Japan are not pleased. Most Europeans are interested but cautious.

But others are willing to join BRI and see how they can best benefit from the plan. China may not always be the gentlest of interlocutors, but many countries are ready for a change.

After all, the world needs to get better connected. Global infrastructure needs are enormous. Better connectivity is crucial for trade, to attract investments and to achieve some of the most crucial anti-poverty goals included in the Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Clearly, BRI is not just about helping others. The search for new engines for domestic Chinese economic growth is an important driver. China wants to boost growth in its western regions, which lag behind the well-developed east coast. Steel and cement are in oversupply and will be used in the BRI projects. There will be job creation for thousands of Chinese workers, as well as foreign nationals.

“Beijing’s journey to greater global influence has truly begun”

And in a competitive world, this is also about learning by doing. China will have to ensure that BRI becomes more transparent, procurement rules become more rigorous and projects fit in with the SDGs, including environmental standards.

Significantly, as the initiative gains traction, China is beginning to conduct itself as a ‘traditional’ development partner, abandoning its ‘non-interference’ policies for a stance that is more concerned about the domestic affairs of its partner states, including on issues like governance and terrorism.

Finally, for all the Western concerns that the BRI will allow China to steamroll its partners, in most countries China is not the only show in town. Most states have access to US and European funds, not to mention aid from Japan and Saudi Arabia. It’s not a zero-sum game.

Asian, African and other representatives I met in Beijing underlined the importance of the tectonic geopolitical shift taking place. “This a historic and transformative moment. We can see the world is changing,” an African ambassador told me.

The way ahead is going to be complicated and difficult. China will need to learn how to deal with complex demands and painful facts on the ground in its myriad partner countries.

But if he was worried, President Xi certainly wasn’t showing it. Nobody should expect quick fixes, he cautioned.  “We will move forward step by step”. Beijing’s journey to greater global influence has truly begun.

FRANKLY SPEAKING | Forget the doomsayers: Trump’s 100 days have been good for Europe

US President Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office have been a breathtaking rollercoaster ride for Americans, but also for many in Europe.

He may be the least popular new president in the modern polling era (with an approval rating of just 41%) and mainstream American media (excluding Fox News and Breitbart) may talk disparagingly of ‘100 days of gibberish’, but the Trump presidency has been a wake-up call for Europeans, women, complacent liberal democrats, progressives, minorities of all kinds and for ‘citizens of the world’.

Trump and Brexit have taught us that we can no longer take values like democracy, human rights and freedom of expression for granted. No more can we believe that racism and bigotry are evils of the past. We cannot be lazy about defending minorities, refugees, the vulnerable and the marginalised.

After years of inertia and complacency about the progress we have made in living together, we now know that everything we have struggled to achieve – respect, human dignity, tolerance and building inclusive societies – can be taken away from us at any moment.

We have learned about the evil and wickedness in people – the lies they can tell and the insults they can hurl. How ‘alternative facts’ can be more powerful than the truth. We have learned about stupidity and the power of a tweet.

It’s been a steep learning curve. At times, the hateful narrative of the populists against the media, women, Jews, Muslims, African Americans and others has been cause for despair.

But it’s also been energising, galvanising and reassuring. More than ever before, it’s made many of us appreciate the values, the raisons d’être and the significance of the European Union.

In America, we’ve been impressed by the resilience of institutions and traditions of democratic constitutionalism as well as the formidable resistance put up by women, judges, officials and ordinary folk.

The media, after having helped create the Trump phenomenon by abdicating their responsibility to question lies, are now back to performing their true function of speaking truth to power and checking facts.

It’s been a steep learning curve. At times, a cause for despair. But it’s also been energising, galvanising and reassuring.

As highlighted at a panel discussion organised in Brussels by the Committee for the Protection of Journalists last week, and ahead of the World Press Freedom Day on 3 May, the press is more aware than ever of its historical duty to challenge untruths and ‘fake news’.

Here in Europe, we’ve also been learning fast. Europeans remain unsure and uncertain about what to make of President Trump and how to deal with him.

British Prime Minister Theresa May’s cringe-making kowtowing visit to the White House doesn’t appear to have made much of an impression on Trump. He recently underlined that his priority was to do a trade deal with the EU, ahead of a similar pact with Britain.

The US leader’s far-right acolytes in Europe – Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and Marine Le Pen in France – haven’t been as successful as Trump would have hoped.

Wilders did not secure the crushing victory that many anticipated in the Dutch elections held in March. And (fingers crossed) Marine Le Pen is likely to lose out to the tolerant and pro-diversity candidate Emmanuel Macron in the second round of French presidential elections on 7 May.

The British elections will probably result in a victory for the Conservatives, but Theresa May and her hopes for a “strong and stable government” is being challenged as never before.

Across Europe, the conversation on immigration, refugees and Muslims is getting ever more animated. The European Commission is finally getting tough on Hungary.

Trump has blown hot and cold on Europe and NATO. After having urged other EU states to follow Britain’s lead by leaving the EU, Trump now believes that Europe is a “good thing”. NATO appears to have salvaged its reputation after having been denounced as an “obsolete” organisation.

Even as they hanker for an American partner and ally that they could rely on, European leaders are learning, slowly and hesitatingly, to walk alone.

The greatest test of whether Trump’s hold on Europe is truly broken will come on Sunday, with the French presidential vote.

If, as many expect, Macron does win, Europe’s message to Trump will be clear: populism and bigotry are not universally popular. Not all Europeans want to turn back the clock. Many have the confidence and the courage to make globalisation work for them. Many believe in an open and progressive Europe. Many want hope.

True, Trump is still the most powerful man in the world who can probably count on other ‘strongmen’ like Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Abdel Fatah El-Sisi of Egypt or Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

But power in the 21st century isn’t about who shouts the loudest, has the most people in jail, the biggest missiles and the most destructive bombs. It’s about building societies based on hope, openness and inclusion.

FRANKLY SPEAKING | Macron’s breakthrough signals rising EU hopes

f elected president, Emmanuel Macron would change the narrative on Europe, say Giles Merritt and Shada Islam. The centrist candidate would not only breathe new life into the Franco-German ‘locomotive’ but offer a more hopeful and upbeat message for the future.


The European Union’s fortunes look to be on the rise. When Emmanuel Macron topped the poll in the first round of France’s presidential election – putting him on course for the Elysée Palace in the final round on 7 May – there emerged a single clear message from what political analysts had been describing as an unprecedented muddle.

The message is that this French election joins at least three others this year as more a European than a domestic election. The snap 8 June election called last week by British Prime Minister Theresa May is all about Brexit. The mid-March general election in the Netherlands marked a significant defeat for Eurosceptic Geert Wilders. September’s German elections will determine Berlin’s future positions on many key EU questions.

But the outcome of the French election is unquestionably the most vital. The country’s left-right political tussle is being eclipsed by starkly different positions on the EU’s future.

All around Europe there have been fears that if the National Front’s Marine Le Pen were to gain the presidency it would spell the end for the EU in its present form. Her battle cry has been withdrawal from the eurozone and a ‘Frexit’ referendum on quitting the EU.

These threats alone guarantee Macron the support of many voters other than rabid Eurosceptics; his platform is encouragingly Europhile. He wants eurozone reform in the shape of a common budget under a eurozone ‘finance minister’, and he also proposes ‘democratic conventions’ to identify EU reform priorities.

“Macron’s pro-European stance is important for revitalising the European Union”

Whether Macron can reconcile his pro-market reforms to boost France’s competitiveness with his stance on supportive social policies remains to be seen. The unpopularity of the current President, François Hollande, stems in large measure from attempting just that.

But if elected president, Emmanuel Macron’s most significant achievement would be to breathe new life into the Franco-German ‘locomotive’. The Paris-Berlin axis that had driven European unity forward for many years lost momentum when French support waned, and now it looks set for revival.

Macron’s pro-European stance is important for revitalising the EU. Also significant for the future of Europe is Macron’s refreshing and counter-intuitive no-holds-barred defence of liberal democratic values.

Certainly, Le Pen’s performance in the first round is proof of the continuing appeal of populist and nativist politicians who can win over disaffected anti-globalisation Europeans with simplistic (and misleading) messages. Her party is not going to go away.

And let’s not overlook the frustrations of those who voted for Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s mix of social reform, higher public spending and hostility to the EU.

But with Macron eschewing nostalgic nationalism in favour of hope and openness, France has sent an important message to those who thought populism and bigotry provided the only road to electoral success.

Not all Europeans want to turn back the clock. Many have the confidence and the courage to make globalisation work for them. Many believe in an open and progressive Europe. Many want hope. And most are fed up with traditional political parties and their time-honoured left-right divide, especially on economic issues.

“Not all Europeans want to turn back the clock – many have the confidence and the courage to make globalisation work for them”

There are other lessons to be learned by European politicians, especially ahead of British and German elections and for those preparing for the European Parliament polls in 2019.

Macron stands in stark contrast to the divisive ‘us and them’ rhetoric from US President Donald Trump and the hard-hitting anti-immigration stance taken by May and those pushing for a hard Brexit. Like Dutch GreenLeft leader Jesse Klaver and Austria’s Alexander Van der Bellen, Macron has stayed on message with his views on tolerance, inclusion and ending discrimination.

Significantly, unlike May and Dutch Premier Mark Rutte, who have embraced aspects of the tough anti–immigrant agenda espoused by populists, Macron stayed true to his agenda of an open France, even in the face of public outrage at the tragic terrorist attack just days before the elections.

Macron campaigned energetically for the votes of France’s disaffected citizens of immigrant descent, voicing anger at their marginalisation, insisting they were part of France’s future and saying he favoured “positive discrimination” to end decades of neglect.

His campaign was refreshingly free of anti-Muslim diatribes. Macron has told voters security will “not be better served by closing national borders,” and insisted even as Le Pen lashed out against Islam that “No religion is a problem in France today. We have a duty to let everybody practice their religion with dignity.”

On 7 May, France once again faces a historical choice. It can opt to look inwards, leave the EU, and embrace policies based on hate and fear. Or French voters can really move ‘forward’ with a politician whose upbeat message will, in Macron’s own words, highlight “the new face of French hope”.

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IMAGE CREDIT: BigStockPhoto / Pixinoo

FRANKLY SPEAKING | Brexit and the joys of starting over

Anniversaries are special moments. They can be sombre affairs, such as the first anniversary of the Brussels terror attacks, an occasion made even grimmer by the 22 March tragedy in London.

Anniversaries can also be a time for reflection and sober deliberation. The European Union’s celebration of its 60th anniversary on 25 March was just such a moment.

And then there is 29 March. History is being made today as Britain triggers Article 50 and starts negotiations on its divorce from (sorry, its ‘new relationship’ with) the EU.

Brexiteers are in celebratory mood. After all, it’s not every day that a nation takes back control of its destiny, unshackles itself from 44 years of EU domination and morphs magically into an independent and intrepid world power (also known as ‘Global Britain’).

But pro-EU demonstrations in London are proof that not everyone is dancing with joy. Many share European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s description of Britain’s departure from the EU as a “tragedy”.

Not to be forgotten amid the Brexit focus is a simple fact: it’s not just Britain that is starting over.

29 March will also be remembered as the formal birthday of the new ‘EU-27’. Having renewed their vows in Rome, EU leaders embark on a new journey together, without Britain.

It will be a difficult voyage. Far-right populism, increased polarisation of minorities and unending economic problems are not going away anytime soon. Refugees and migrants will continue to knock on Europe’s doors, creating divisions and challenging EU solidarity. Difficult elections lie ahead in France, Germany and possibly Italy.

“29 March will be remembered as the formal birthday of the new ‘EU-27’”

The American and Russian presidents, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, now joined by Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, have made no secret of their dislike of the EU and all it stands for.

But the conversation is changing. Thankfully last year’s talk of a ‘collective depression’ and ‘existential crisis’ is no longer making headlines. Instead, as Paolo Gentiloni, the Italian premier and host for the Rome celebrations underlined, “the EU is choosing to start again”.

This is good news. Starting over, as John Lennon sang to us all those years ago, can be exciting and exhilarating. EU-27 leaders would do well to take Lennon’s advice and put more poetry, emotion and imagination into their courtship of EU citizens.

The thousand-word Rome declaration is good enough, but won’t really do the trick. If Europeans are to fall in love again with the EU, leaders, ministers, politicians, even EU officials, must – as Lennon sings – “spread their wings and fly”.

Perhaps for the first time in recent history, the public in many parts of Europe wants the EU to soar.

Brexit, Trump’s election and just plain common sense about the need to work together in a difficult world have galvanised many Europeans into supporting the EU.

Importantly, there are European politicians who are passionate about countering the anti-EU message of xenophobic far-right politicians.

“We will miss Britain – but we can also make sure that the heartbreak of Brexit goes hand-in-hand with the emergence of a reinvigorated European Union”

Jesse Klaver, the charismatic young leader of the Dutch GreenLeft party, Emmanuel Macron in France, and Martin Schulz of the German Social Democrats are upfront about their support for the EU, embracing the vision of an open and diverse Europe.

Klaver, who increased his party’s seats in the Dutch parliament by a factor of four, has shown that being Dutch-Moroccan-Indonesian is not a barrier to success.  His advice to young people is to “never give up” in the face of challenges.

Others need to have a similarly positive message of inclusion and participation.  A safe and secure Europe must also be an inclusive one, not one that fears diversity.

The EU in the 21st century may be ‘multi-speed’, with less being done in Brussels and more in capitals. It may or may not be able to become a more powerful global player and may or may not have a real common defence and security policy.

But what’s important is that the conversation about Europe’s future has started.

Indian author and diplomat Shashi Tharoor pointed recently to the “shambles of that original Brexit” when the British departed from India in 1947, leaving behind chaos and violence – and the birth of independent India and Pakistan.

This time it’s different. We will miss Britain – some of us very much. But we can also make sure that the heartbreak of Brexit goes hand-in-hand with the emergence of a reinvigorated European Union.

Anniversaries are special moments. They can be sombre affairs, such as the first anniversary of the Brussels terror attacks, an occasion made even grimmer by the 22 March tragedy in London.

Anniversaries can also be a time for reflection and sober deliberation. The European Union’s celebration of its 60th anniversary on 25 March was just such a moment.

And then there is 29 March. History is being made today as Britain triggers Article 50 and starts negotiations on its divorce from (sorry, its ‘new relationship’ with) the EU.

Brexiteers are in celebratory mood. After all, it’s not every day that a nation takes back control of its destiny, unshackles itself from 44 years of EU domination and morphs magically into an independent and intrepid world power (also known as ‘Global Britain’).

But pro-EU demonstrations in London are proof that not everyone is dancing with joy. Many share European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s description of Britain’s departure from the EU as a “tragedy”.

Not to be forgotten amid the Brexit focus is a simple fact: it’s not just Britain that is starting over.

29 March will also be remembered as the formal birthday of the new ‘EU-27’. Having renewed their vows in Rome, EU leaders embark on a new journey together, without Britain.

It will be a difficult voyage. Far-right populism, increased polarisation of minorities and unending economic problems are not going away anytime soon. Refugees and migrants will continue to knock on Europe’s doors, creating divisions and challenging EU solidarity. Difficult elections lie ahead in France, Germany and possibly Italy.

“29 March will be remembered as the formal birthday of the new ‘EU-27’”

The American and Russian presidents, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, now joined by Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, have made no secret of their dislike of the EU and all it stands for.

But the conversation is changing. Thankfully last year’s talk of a ‘collective depression’ and ‘existential crisis’ is no longer making headlines. Instead, as Paolo Gentiloni, the Italian premier and host for the Rome celebrations underlined, “the EU is choosing to start again”.

This is good news. Starting over, as John Lennon sang to us all those years ago, can be exciting and exhilarating. EU-27 leaders would do well to take Lennon’s advice and put more poetry, emotion and imagination into their courtship of EU citizens.

The thousand-word Rome declaration is good enough, but won’t really do the trick. If Europeans are to fall in love again with the EU, leaders, ministers, politicians, even EU officials, must – as Lennon sings – “spread their wings and fly”.

Perhaps for the first time in recent history, the public in many parts of Europe wants the EU to soar.

Brexit, Trump’s election and just plain common sense about the need to work together in a difficult world have galvanised many Europeans into supporting the EU.

Importantly, there are European politicians who are passionate about countering the anti-EU message of xenophobic far-right politicians.

“We will miss Britain – but we can also make sure that the heartbreak of Brexit goes hand-in-hand with the emergence of a reinvigorated European Union”

Jesse Klaver, the charismatic young leader of the Dutch GreenLeft party, Emmanuel Macron in France, and Martin Schulz of the German Social Democrats are upfront about their support for the EU, embracing the vision of an open and diverse Europe.

Klaver, who increased his party’s seats in the Dutch parliament by a factor of four, has shown that being Dutch-Moroccan-Indonesian is not a barrier to success.  His advice to young people is to “never give up” in the face of challenges.

Others need to have a similarly positive message of inclusion and participation.  A safe and secure Europe must also be an inclusive one, not one that fears diversity.

The EU in the 21st century may be ‘multi-speed’, with less being done in Brussels and more in capitals. It may or may not be able to become a more powerful global player and may or may not have a real common defence and security policy.

But what’s important is that the conversation about Europe’s future has started.

Indian author and diplomat Shashi Tharoor pointed recently to the “shambles of that original Brexit” when the British departed from India in 1947, leaving behind chaos and violence – and the birth of independent India and Pakistan.

This time it’s different. We will miss Britain – some of us very much. But we can also make sure that the heartbreak of Brexit goes hand-in-hand with the emergence of a reinvigorated European Union.

View from abroad: Brexit and the birth pangs of ‘EU 27’

Anniversaries are special moments when we take the time to look back and look ahead.

They can be sombre affairs as was the case for the first anniversary of the Brussels terror attacks that killed 32 people and injured many more last year on March 22.

Anniversaries can also be a time for reflection. The EU’s celebration of its 60th anniversary on March 25, marking the moment when the Treaty of Rome was signed and a war-devastated Europe decided to embark on a new era of peace and reconciliation, is a case in point.

Leaders are meeting in Rome for just such a moment of sober deliberation on the bloc’s past and future.

And then there is March 29, the birthday of a “new EU of 27”. History will be made when Britain triggers Article 50 and starts negotiations on its divorce — sorry it’s “new relationship” — with the EU.

Let’s take a closer look. The terrorist attack in London on March 22 made the commemoration of last year’s carnage in Brussels an even grimmer affair.

Brussels is coming back to life after a difficult few months when the city faced a slump in tourism, businesses languished and soldiers appeared on streets.

But with the attacks in London on our TV screens, Europeans have realised that terror can come suddenly and horribly to any country, any city, anywhere.

The EU’s 60th anniversary on March 25, on the other hand, is a bittersweet affair. True, the bloc is celebrating seven decades of peace, the embrace of former Communist nations in Eastern and Central Europe, a frontier-free single market and a single currency.

However, many countries have also seen a rise in Far Right populism, increased polarisation of minorities and unending economic problems. There is much talk of a “collective depression” across the EU. Some have warned that the EU is in the midst of an “existential crisis”.

As it turns 60, however, and Britain triggers Article 50, EU policymakers want us to mark the birth of a new Union of 27 states.

As EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told the European Parliament in Strasbourg recently, “27 of our Member States will stand shoulder to shoulder in peace, solidarity and friendship to mark the 60th Anniversary of the Treaties of Rome”.

And he added: “This will not simply be a birthday celebration. It will also be the ‘birth moment’ of the European Union at 27.”

The Commission President’s message is simple: the EU is turning a new page, commencing a new chapter in it its history. Instead of brooding about losing Britain, it’s time the EU charted out a course for the future of an EU-27.

British Prime Minister Theresa May will not be attending the Treaty of Rome celebrations but if she has any qualms about Brexit, she certainly isn’t showing it.

The news from London is that Britain’ split from the EU after 44 years of living together will be nice and painless. Britain and the EU will remain very good friends.

As British officials like to point out, Britain is exiting the EU, not Europe. Yes, Britain will no longer be in the single market, there will be no customs union, no free movement of people and the future of EU citizens in Britain and British citizens in Europe will remain uncertain.

But apart from that you will hardly notice any change at all. Global Britain will still be Europe’s friend and partner. There will be strong cooperation in areas such as security and counter-terrorism. A new free trade agreement will be just as good as membership of the single market.

It will be neat and tidy, all loose ends nicely tied. Pragmatism and common sense will prevail.

Except they may not. There is that wretched question of the Brexit bill that the EU insists that London must pay. Scotland wants a second referendum on independence.

Officials in Brussels have estimated Britain’s share of debts, pensions and unpaid bills ranges from €55bn to €60bn. Many in Britain say the bill is absurdly high but Brussels has warned that a deal on the cash is essential before.

Michel Bernard Barnier, European Chief Negotiator for Brexit, and others believe that Britain hasn’t really understood what Brexit really means in practice. They warn that talks will be complex and no detail will go “untouched”.

And if as some warn, Britain does decide that “no deal is better than a bad deal”, Barnier has made clear that a chaotic exit would lead to “total uncertainty” for citizens, a breakdown in trade links and chaos at border posts as customs controls are re-introduced.

That may sound grim. But the EU should take heart. Britain’s withdrawal from the EU won’t be quite as bad as what Indian diplomat and author Shashi Tharoor has called the “shambles of that original Brexit” when the British departed from India in 1947, leaving behind a trail of blood, murder and violence — and the birth of independent India and Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, March 25th, 2017

The Empire Strikes Back – really?

You may have noticed: as Britain prepares to leave the European Union, dreams of the Raj are back. Actually, it’s not just the Raj which is on the minds of Britain’s Brexiteers but the even more glorious memory of “Empire”. You know the one where the sun never sets?

I can just see it. Freed of “EU shackles”, Britain becomes a stand-alone, autonomous super power. Swishing his blonde locks, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson wafts in and out of the “colonies”, signing off on aid agreements for the poor while Trade Minister Liam Fox does amazingly lucrative free trade deals.

It’s the way it should be. No more listening to instructions from Brussels, no more following EU rules and regulations. Just London and the Commonwealth. Ah, the Commonwealth. That wonderful albeit peculiar, toothless institution of 52 nations, some big and small, some white, black and brown, some democracies and dictatorships and some a bit of both.

A diverse group of 2.4 billion people who all look back with great nostalgia at a time when Britain ruled the waves, the rivers, the mountains and the lands and despite all odds brought “civilisation” to unwashed millions. Only it didn’t quite happen that way. And the dreams are often nightmares. While Brexit Britain may be basking in the mellow golden glow of “nostalgic nationalism”, for many of the Empire’s former citizens, the past was pretty awful.

Just ask Shashi Tharoor, Indian member of parliament, author of Inglorious Empire and former UN under-secretary general who said recently: “There’s no real awareness of the atrocities, of the fact that Britain financed its Industrial Revolution and its prosperity from the depredations of empire, the fact that Britain came to one of the richest countries in the world in the 18th century and reduced it, after two centuries of plunder, to one of the poorest.”

Oh dear. But the new post-Brexit “Global Britain” is going to be different, right? Once Article 50 is triggered and the Brexit divorce procedures start in earnest, Britain will be dealing with its former colonies aka Commonwealth partners as equals.

Yes, of course. But then why are some already branding new British plans for stronger ties — including free trade agreements — with the Commonwealth as “Empire 2.0”? Let’s turn again to the articulate Mr Tharoor. Asked how the British offer to sign a free trade agreement with India would go down in Delhi, the Indian diplomat responded: “Like a lead balloon.”

That said, Commonwealth ministers responsible for trade, industry and investment did meet in London last week to kick-start an ambitious ‘Agenda for Growth’ across the Commonwealth. The first meeting of its kind was convened by the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council (CWEIC) and the Commonwealth Secretariat.

Over two days, ministers from over 30 Commonwealth countries consulted with business leaders and trade experts on “how to boost intra-Commonwealth trade from 17 per cent to 25 per cent over the next three years.” The meeting follows on from the Commonwealth Business Forum in Malta in November 2015.

This is good news of course. As US President Donald Trump thumbs his nose at free trade and fears of protectionism stalk the world, it is important that nations across the globe reiterate their belief in global trade liberalisation.

But let’s lay to rest another Empire 2.0 myth: that Britain will find it easier, simpler to negotiate free trade agreements with its Commonwealth friends than the EU does. It just won’t be that simple. Trade negotiations are complicated affairs. And while Britain may hope it can get quick deals with key Commonwealth members — Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India — it is unlikely to be so.

Canada already has a free trade deal with the EU, but the other countries are interested, first, in clinching their ongoing free trade talks with the EU before they start talking to Britain. After all, the European market is still the largest in the world. Also, many of the obstacles that have arisen in the EU trade talks with, say, India are going to emerge also in Britain’s trade negotiations with Commonwealth countries.

And while some African countries may be tempted to opt for trade agreements with Britain rather than negotiate the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA) that the EU is struggling to clinch with them, there is no guarantee these will be any easier to negotiate than trade accords with Europe.

It is understandable that Britain should seek new trade partners following its withdrawal from the EU. But British Prime Minister Theresa May is wrong to talk about the “desperate” desire by Commonwealth countries to form new trade deals with Britain. Most of these countries are eager and determined to secure good trade and investment treaties with the EU — and this is unlikely to change after Brexit.

And in any case, clinging to the past is an exercise in futility. Europe and Britain, once it exits the world’s largest and most dynamic border-free European single market, should be looking to China, Brazil and Mexico, the markets of the future, not wallowing in the past. Reviving the Commonwealth is not an alternative to Brexit.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Brussels

Published in Dawn, March 11th, 2017

VIEW FROM ABROAD: Some in Europe question US focus on military spending

THE world is divided in two camps: those who believe that “hard security”, armies, guns, aircraft carriers and boots-on-the-ground are primordial in defining national power. And those who take a broader view of security, believing in the significance of so-called “soft” issues, which link security to development, health, resources, environmental degradation and governance — as well as gender and values.

New US President Donald Trump is clearly a hard security man. He talks and tweets tough. The men surrounding him are hardened ex-military officers and even those who are not clearly think wearing a uniform is the best thing in the world.

In Pakistan and in many other parts of Asia, hard security is also the name of the game. In many South Asian nations, defence spending takes priority over health and education. Military men loom large on the political landscape. Countries — Pakistan and India for instance — appear to be only a heartbeat away from war.

But other Asian countries, including in Southeast Asia are also focusing on what many call “non-traditional security” — which Singaporean expert Mely Caballero-Anthony defines as “challenges to the survival and well-being of peoples and states that arise primarily out of non-military sources, such as climate change, cross-border environmental degradation and resource depletion, infectious diseases, natural disasters, irregular migration, food shortages, people smuggling, drug trafficking, and other forms of transnational crime”.

Soldiers can defend borders against invading armies but they can’t fight climate change or pandemics — although they can be useful in delivering disaster-related aid and getting food to people in need.

Clearly, security and development are inextricably linked: there can be no sustainable development without peace and security while development and poverty eradication are crucial to a viable peace.

Which is why the recent transatlantic row over US demands that the EU spend more on defence is so interesting.

The message from the US over the last few days has been very clear. Europe is not spending enough on defence, with many countries still not meeting the target of two per cent of GDP expenditure earmarked for building up the military. The target is being met only by Britain, Greece, Poland, and Estonia, say experts.

“America cannot care more for your children’s future security than you do,” US Defence Secretary James Mattis told Nato defence ministers in Brussels, warning: “If your nations do not want to see America moderate its commitment to this alliance, each of your capitals needs to show support for our common defence.”

Europe’s response has been two-fold. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has said he wants the EU to set up its own army.

Significantly, he has also insisted that Europe must not cave in to US demands to raise military spending, arguing that development and humanitarian aid should also count as security.

“I don’t like our American friends narrowing down this concept of security to the military,” Juncker underlined, arguing it would be sensible to look at a “modern stability policy” made up of several components.

“If you look at what Europe is doing in defence, plus development aid, plus humanitarian aid, the comparison with the United States looks rather different. Modern politics cannot just be about raising defence spending,” he said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also resisted the US ultimatum, claiming Germany will not speed up on any existing plans to ramp up the country’s military budget by 2024.

said Germany had already increased defence spending by 8pc in this year’s budget, adding: “We must do more here, no question, but the matters of development aid and crisis prevention are also important.”

Development aid was crucial to ensure security, said Merkel. “When we help people in their home countries to live a better life and thereby prevent crises, this is also a contribution to security,” she said at the Munich Security Conference. She added: “So I will not be drawn into a debate about who is more military-minded and who is less.”

The debate is, in fact, even more complicated. European non-governmental organisations have criticised EU governments over the growing use of foreign aid budgets to meet refugee costs at home and say that the EU is backsliding on its aid spending commitments, having again failed to meet its pledge to spend 0.7pc of gross national income on development aid last year.

Only five countries were found to have met their 2015 targets: Denmark, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Sweden and UK.

British ministers are reportedly eager to divert aid from “wasteful” projects in Africa and Asia to allies in eastern Europe in a bid to get a better deal on Brexit.

In any case, the definition of development aid is becoming wider and more fluid than many like.

The OECD’s development assistance committee has expanded the definition of overseas aid to include limited forms of counterterrorism and military activities or training.

Funding towards activities that prevent violent extremism will now be ODA-eligible, as long as the activities “are led by donor countries and their primary purpose is developmental” and they respect the “peaceful exercise of political, social and economic rights”.

Interestingly the debate ignores the fact that while ODA is still important, it is being dwarfed by private sector investments, remittances and the mobilisation of domestic resources in developing countries.

Like other tough guys, Donald Trump clearly does not like soft power. But at least some Europeans think it is time to rethink the notion of global security.

—The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Brussels

Published in Dawn, February 25th, 2017

FRANKLY SPEAKING | Europe-Asia relations become a priority in the age of Trump

Asian governments are still trying to make sense of Donald Trump’s unpredictable approach to their region.

After lambasting both Tokyo and Beijing over their trade and currency policies, the new President of the United States has made constructive contact with the leaders of both Japan and China.

But conflicting statements by American policymakers indicate that Washington will take time to craft a lucid, well-thought-out policy towards Asia.

As America reassesses its Asia policy, Europe must redefine its own relationship with the region. Asia’s economic growth continues to be strong, but political antagonisms and rivalries are on the rise.

North Korea’s recent firing of an intermediate-range ballistic missile into the sea off its east coast, the first such test since the US election, is one important indication of Asia’s significance for global security.

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini’s recent visit to the US, where she discussed the future of the Iran nuclear deal with the new administration, is a welcome sign of Europe’s proactive stance on global challenges.

The EU should show similar determination to craft a standalone policy towards Asia which, despite America’s dominant presence and China’s growing clout, still looks to Europe for trade, investment, technology and security support.

“It’s time for the European Union to further enhance its own distinct trade, political and security profile in the region”

America has been both a rival and a vital ally as Europe has expanded its ties with Asian countries. It’s time now for the EU to further enhance its own distinct trade, political and security profile in the region.

Brexit and the EU’s many other crisis and economic woes have tarnished some of Europe’s lustre. But here are three ways in which Europe and Asia can work together to ease some of the anxieties of the Trump era.

First, Europeans and Asians have a common interest in working together on issues such as climate change, preserving the Iran deal and safeguarding multilateral institutions, including the United Nations.

In addition to its soft power credentials in areas such as peace-building, preventive diplomacy and conflict management, the EU is also a valuable partner for Asia in areas such as maritime security (including anti-piracy operations), counter-terrorism and fighting cybercrime.

A more visible European security profile in Asia will have the added benefit of helping the EU’S long-standing desire to join the East Asia Summit, an annual forum of Asian countries that since 2011 has included the US and Russia.

Second, given America’s decision to pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement and its disinterest in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the EU should work harder to finally clinch pending free trade agreements with Japan, India and individual South-East Asian countries.

As EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström underlined recently, trade is essential for employment – with some 31 million European jobs dependent on exports – and a way to spread good values and standards.

Brussels should therefore get serious about negotiating a free trade pact with the ten-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and speed up trade talks with Australia and New Zealand.

Importantly, the EU and Asians should join forces to inject new life into the World Trade Organization.

“Europe needs to use its influence to prevent the rise of unwise nationalisms, destructive conflicts and confrontation”

Third, the EU should make a serious effort to upgrade its bilateral relations with Asia’s key players and regional organisations.

Brussels has worked hard over the years to engage in a sustained manner with China, Japan, Korea, India and ASEAN. These links are significant and impressive but often get muddied by small irritants. They must be given more resilience, strategic substance and direction.

Europe should take a closer look at other regional initiatives in Asia such as trilateral cooperation efforts by Japan, China and Korea (whose relationships with the Trump administration will be the subject of a Friends of Europe debate on 22 February).

While disagreements over historical issues and North Korea have long strained relations between the three countries, Japanese, Chinese and Korean leaders have held several trilateral summits since 2008 and are currently reassessing ties to take account of the new US administration.

Another summit is being mooted while the Trilateral Cooperation Secretariat in Seoul continues to work on its mandate to promote peace and common prosperity between the three countries.

In addition, in today’s uncertain and volatile world, ASEM (the Asia-Europe Meeting), which brings together more than 50 European and Asian countries, is needed more than ever to deepen connections and networks.

The EU’s Global Strategy calls for a deepening of economic diplomacy and an increased security role for the EU in Asia. That commitment should be translated urgently into action.

Europe’s history and experience make it imperative that it uses its influence to prevent the rise – both at home and abroad – of unwise nationalisms, destructive conflicts and confrontation.

Friends of Europe’s regular ‘Frankly Speaking’ column takes a critical look at key European and global issues.

FRANKLY SPEAKING | As Trump disengages from the world, Europe and others can take the lead

The new President of the United States, Donald Trump, is upending liberal democracy, spreading ‘alternative facts’ and smashing civilised values.

The loss of US leadership in championing democracy and human rights is worrying. But America’s retreat from the global stage is also an opportunity for others to craft a different vision for living together in the 21st century.

As Trump puts ‘America first’ and disengages from the world, other nations must take the lead in fashioning more inclusive societies, rethinking global governance, reforming and galvanising multilateral institutions and creating new networks and coalitions.

Europe can and should be at the forefront. It can do so by rebuilding its fractured unity but also by revamping and reinforcing its still-fragile global profile. Given the rapidity with which Trump is enacting his campaign promises there is little time to lose.

The European Union’s response should be in three steps.

First, EU leaders should use their forthcoming summit in Valetta to take a hard look at just how Europe is going to conduct itself in the Trump era.

Second, the EU must rethink its stance on refugees and immigration, its trade and aid policies, and its relations with key emerging powers – including Russia and China, which have markedly divergent views on Trump.

And third, ahead of the Treaty of Rome anniversary on 25 March and elections in the Netherlands, France, Germany and possibly Italy, Europe’s mainstream democratic parties must work harder to forge a new and inspirational narrative to counter populist rhetoric and reconnect with citizens.

“America’s retreat from the global stage is an opportunity for others to craft a different vision for living together in the 21stcentury”

The EU must act quickly. The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has already told Trump that the war on terrorism is not an adequate reason to renege on the 1951 Geneva Convention, which requires signatories to help people fleeing from conflict.

The Valetta summit should go further. It should send an even stronger message to the new American administration on the ‘Muslim ban’ and other controversial edicts of the last few weeks.

If it is to be taken seriously, however, the EU must practice what it preaches and stop EU leaders who are also spreading anti-Muslim and anti-migrant hate and fear.

Individual EU governments and leaders who think they can forge bilateral bonds with Washington should learn from the British Prime Minister, Theresa May. Even holding the President’s hand and showering him with compliments is no guarantee he will spare you major embarrassment just hours later.

EU policymakers are also well advised to bury the illusion that Trump’s appointments will be more Euro-friendly than their boss.

For further proof, European leaders should listen carefully to Trump’s likely pick for ambassador to the EU, Ted Malloch. He told the BBC that he was looking forward to being in Brussels because he had previously “helped bring down the Soviet Union. So maybe there’s another union that needs a little taming.”

Time must not be lost in rethinking Europe’s refugee, migration, trade, aid and foreign and security policies.

Certainly, all European nations should meet the NATO commitment to spend two percent of gross domestic product on defence. But the EU’s global security strategy, adopted last summer, needs to be revised to take account of new geopolitical realities triggered by Trump’s isolationism.

“EU leaders should now grab the opportunity to grow up, and morph Europe into a global actor in its own right”

The EU is certainly on the right track. The last few years have seen Europe stepping up its engagement in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East, even though discord remains on key issues, such as relations with Russia.

Significantly, as President Trump moves to make the his country more insular, transactional, and narrowly interest-driven – saying the US will buy American and hire American – China has set up stall as the defender of economic globalisation and free world trade. As Chinese President Xi Jinping warned at the Davos World Economic Forum last month, “No one will emerge as a winner in a trade war”.

And as Trump pulled the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull made clear he was ready to press on with the TPP with China, rather than US, at the centre.

Others are also stepping into the space being vacated by America. When Trump signed an executive order known as the ‘global gag rule’, withholding US government funding from aid groups that perform or promote abortions, the Dutch and Belgian governments said they would help set up an international abortion fund.

The EU has so far been more than happy to play second fiddle to the US, shadowing Washington on most international issues, and waiting for the US to make up its mind before taking a stance.

But all has changed. EU leaders should now grab the opportunity to grow up, and morph Europe into a global actor in its own right.

Friends of Europe’s regular ‘Frankly Speaking’ column takes a critical look at key European and global issues.