About Brussels Gonzo

Brussels Gonzo is a Brussels insider. He lives in Brussels. Expertise: The Balkans.

Turkey and the EU: not yet a marriage of true minds

Some of us had an early start to the week in Brussels, with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip ErdoÄŸan addressing a breakfast meeting of the European Policy Centre in the swanky surroundings of the Conrad Hotel, accompanied both by his new EU chief negotiator, Egemen Bağış, and the outgoing EU negotiator, foreign minister Ali Babacan. It was a significant event, ErdoÄŸan’s first appearance in Brussels since the EU summit of December 2004; he had paved the way with a speech to Turkish immigrants in Hasselt the previous evening, appealing to them to integrate into their new homes, which got rather good coverage in the Belgian press. The audience was generally sympathetic (most Brussels insiders are in favour of Turkish membership of the EU, whatever one may hear from the French and Austrians).

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Gas row latest: forceful European diplomacy

In a joint letter, Martin Říman, the Minister of Industry and Trade of the Czech Republic, and Andris Piebalgs, European Commissioner for Energy, have warned Moscow and Kyiv that the credibility of Ukraine and Russia as reliable partners would be irrevocably damaged should gas supply to European consumers not be immediately resumed.

I am sure that Sergey Shmatko and Yuriy Prodan, the relevant ministers, are trembling in their boots at the prospect. Totally sure.

Can’t believe all you read in the media…

…I’m getting rather worried about the normally reliable B92. Doug M expertly dissected the organ-legging story a week or so ago; I’ve just come across this article from 26 March reporting on a UN document describing Kosovo as the “heart of [the] Balkan drug route”. Alarming stuff – essentially confirms the rumours and prejudices of many Balkan-watchers, sealing them with the official seal of UN approval.

Except that it is fictitious. The actual UNODC report contains precisely none of the statements reported by B92. Combing UNODC’s archives, I did find a relevant sentence in one of their reports from last year. The UN says (p. 83), “Some cases of cocaine shipments via the Black Sea to Romania and via the Adriatic Sea to Montenegro often organized by Albanian criminal groups, have already been observed.” This is ever so slightly different from B92’s report of what the UN said, which is “The Albanian mafia has recently begun taking over the control of ports in Romania, in addition to the already solid network existing in Albania and Montenegro”.

In fairness, it’s not B92’s original report, though most people will have seen it on their site; it originates from Tanjug, the Serbian state press agency, reporting from New York. But shame on B92 for not checking out Tanjug’s sources.

Ten Years On from 1 May 1997

Who can forget it?

I spent the day driving from Bosnia to Austria with an American colleague. We were on a mission to the IKEA shop in Graz, to buy furniture for our office. But we spent the evening discussing the collapse of the Conservatives and the imminent change of government; the constitutional reforms for Scotland and Wales, any possible changes in foreign policy. My colleague asked me how I thought the Lib Dems might do. Heart in mouth, I said that I hoped for a gain of five or six seats, to within striking distance of 30 MPs.

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Not as exciting as the World Cup

If anyone has the energy to think about the European Constitution at the moment, I’m afraid this entry will not encourage you to keep up the effort.

Last week, the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) put on a show for those of us in Brussels who are interested: a lunchtime meeting, discussing the way forward after the “period of reflection” on the fate of the Constitutional Treaty. The speakers were the leaders of the three main pan-European political parties – for the European People’s Party, former Belgian prime minister Wilfried Martens; for the Party of European Socialists, former Danish prime minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen; and for the Liberals, Belgian politician Annemie Neyts.

I found it a depressing meeting, depressing because of the complicit complacency of the three.
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Montenegro – the other side

Well, we are united in our diversity here at Fistful. I have to say I disagree with almost every point Doug made about Montenegro in his last post, and will respectfully dissect his arguments below. But first off, a plea for some sanity here. Too many people seem to think that the break-up of Yugoslavia in 1990-93 was in some way the EU’s “fault”; that it failed to act quickly enough, to apply diplomatic pressure, or even (in contradiction to the evidence) that the EU’s recognition of Croatia and Slovenia in December 1991 somehow caused the wars. Nonsense. The fact is that Yugoslavia was broken up by the policies of the Serbian leadership. Outsiders tried to ameliorate or decelerate the process and the consequences; they largely failed. The international community does bear some responsibility for its inaction in the face of evil. But the larger share of the responsibility belongs to the local actors – especially, though not only, the Serbian political leaders. The fact is that we can plan all we like for international do-gooding, but the forces in action on the ground will always be the crucial factor. And so it is in Montenegro.

I’m sure Doug agrees with me on most of that. Now let’s get to the points of our disagreement. It’s important to realise that Montenegro has been effectively independent since 1997, when Djukanovic, then Prime Minister, threw the pro-Milosevic elements out of the ruling party and won the Presidential election against his former patron. Montenegro has had a separate customs area since roughly then. It adopted the Deutsch Mark (now the Euro) as currency in 1999, while Serbia retains the dinar to this day. The State Union of Serbia and Montenegro, established in 2003, remains largely fictional apart from the foreign ministry. Montenegro’s referendum, if successful, will merely formalise the reality of its independence. In fairness, Doug states most of this as well. Yet he seems to think that rolling history back is both possible and desirable.
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Eurabia or Fantasyland?

Victor David Hanson, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, has written an open letter to Europe asking us to “reawake, rediscover your heritage, and join with us in defending the idea of the West from this latest illiberal scourge of Islamic fascism.” It is getting some play in the usual right-wing quarters, despite his extraordinary lack of knowledge about Europe – and that’s a kind interpretation; others might suggest (as does Gary Brecher, here, analysing his take on Iraq) that he is simply making things up.
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Balkans moving forward…

The European Commission released its annual reports on enlargement yesterday, including a recommendation that Macedonia be recognised as an EU candidate. Eagerly anticipated (including by Doug Muir a few weeks back), but also pretty stunning given the difficulties the region has had, and given the general perception of enlargement fatigue.

However in my view this piece of good news is put in the shade by this morning’s Guardian story about likely Bosnian constitutional reform. Apparently a deal brokered by the Americans, but lubricated by the prospect of EU entry, “would give Bosnia the ‘normal’ trappings of an integrated, non-ethnic parliamentary democracy: a national parliament with full legislative powers, central government and cabinet enjoying full executive power, and a titular head of state”.
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Two for the price of – what?

Hi folks,

It’s Brussels Gonzo, back again – this time as a full member of the team (thank you, David and colleagues). And since my first entry as a guest blogger dealt with Croatia’s membership application, and a later one described the unedifying scenes in the European parliament after their talks failed to start in March, it seems appropriate that my first entry as a regular FoE-er should talk about the linkage between yesterday’s two crucial decisions to start membership talks with Croatia and Turkey. (I hope this doesn’t too much repeat Tobias on the same subject yesterday.)
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Moldova – the inevitable happens

As I end my two weeks here as a guest blogger, with events turning dramatic in Kyrgyzstan, the revolution that didn’t happen is fizzling out in Moldova. (See today’s RFE/RL Newsline, which unusually has no less than five stories from the forgotten republic.)

Those few of you who have been following the story may recall that the ruling Communist Party won the recent elections with 56 seats out of 101 in the parliament. However, President Vladimir Voronin will require 61 votes to get re-elected by the parliament on 4 April. The leaders of the two opposition factions who between them won the other 45 parliamentary seats pledged that they would boycott the vote, thus ensuring that no president would be elected and triggering new parliamentary elections.
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