Category Archives: Europe

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Rand Paul’s Objection was Justified

Earlier this month, Senator John McCain spoke in support of a bill to advance Montenegro’s bid to join NATO. Sen. Rand Paul objected, exited the Senate chamber, and as the door closed behind him, Sen. McCain said to his colleagues, “The only conclusion you can draw when he walks away is he has no justification for his objection to having a small nation be part of NATO that is under assault from the Russians. So I repeat again, the senator from Kentucky is now working for Vladimir Putin.”

On Tuesday, the bill came to a vote and every senator but Sen. Paul and Sen. Mike Lee voted in its favor. Even though Sen. Paul’s objection was fruitless, it was justified: allowing Montenegro into NATO is counter to American interests.  

Montenegro, a tiny Balkan nation boasting a GDP of $3.97 billion and a population of 622,388, has doggedly pursued membership in NATO since it declared its independence in 2006. Over the last year, the possibility of Montenegro’s accession to NATO has grown increasingly likely, as its bid has received ratification by one member state after another. Now that the United States has lent its support, Montenegro needs only Spain’s approval to succeed. This bodes well for Montenegro, but Americans are liable to suffer.

Montenegro is neither strategically necessary to the prevention of existential threats to American security, nor is it likely to meet the 2 percent of GDP defense spending benchmark set by NATO for member countries—it currently spends only 1.6 percent of its GDP ($63.52 million) on defense. Furthermore, Montenegrin accession to NATO could do substantial harm to U.S.-Russia relations.

If Montenegro joins NATO, the United States would be obligated under Article 5 of the NATO treaty to come to Montenegro’s aid if attacked. Since Montenegro is currently mired in an ongoing geopolitical feud with Russia — the latest antics of which include a failed coup orchestrated by Russian nationals —the Senate’s vote in favor of Montenegrin accession to NATO might have had the unintended effect of increasing the likelihood of a conflict between the U.S. and Russia.  

A spokesperson for President Vladimir Putin told the BBC in 2015 that Montenegrin accession to NATO would result in “retaliatory actions.” The spokesperson, however, left the exact nature of these prospective actions to legislators’ imaginations.

It is entirely possible that talk of retaliation is nothing but a bluff intended to preserve Russia’s sphere of influence and reduce the potential consequences of increased Russian activity in Montenegrin affairs, yet the United States has no particularly compelling reasons to call Russia out on this bluff.

If Montenegro wins Spain’s support, Montenegro stands to gain access to American aid if Russian interest in Montenegrin affairs escalates, but America would have nothing to gain besides the likelihood of an even larger financial burden and the possibility of having to, one day, deploy American forces to protect the interests of a tiny, relatively new, country.

In that vein and in response to the remarks made by Sen. McCain after his exit, Sen. Paul jibed in an interview with MSNBC that Sen. McCain “makes a really strong case for term limits,” before adding in a more somber tone, “there is a bipartisan consensus that’s incorrect that we should have the whole world be in NATO. For example, if we had Ukraine and Georgia in NATO—and this is something McCain and the other neocons have advocated for—we would be at war now.”

Sen. Paul is right; tensions between the United States and Russia are higher now than they have ever been since the height of the Cold War and the Senate should be working to reduce these tensions and lay the groundwork for a relationship based on mutual interests instead of gambling with America’s national security.

Michael Shindler is an Advocate with Young Voices. Follow him on Twitter here.

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Why Iceland Doesn’t Have an Alt-Right Problem

With the recent rise to prominence of right-wing populist parties across Europe, it’s refreshing that Iceland has remained largely immune to such nationalistic rhetoric. On the continent, figures like Marine Le Pen in France and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands are capitalizing on what political scientists are calling a third wave of European populism that began after the international financial crisis of 2008. These parties are characterized by their anti-immigrant, and specifically, anti-Muslim sentiments. They fashion themselves the “protectors” of their homelands’ traditional culture against cosmopolitan globalism.

Yet, tiny Iceland has resisted this dirty brand of politics because of the rise of social movements that challenged the power structure of the Icelandic political establishment after the financial crisis of 2008. Unlike in other European countries, these social movements transformed themselves into a political movements, filling the vacuum of traditional center-right and center-left political parties, while also preventing far-right political projects from succeeding.

For starters, Iceland is a relatively young country that only became independent in 1944. It is a parliamentary democracy, based on coalitions because the Althing (parliament) has 63 members but a single party rarely has a clear majority. Unlike other Nordic countries, Iceland has been governed by the right for most of its history, either from the liberal conservative Independence Party or the center-right agrarian Progressive Party.

Continue reading at FEE.

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Rutte courted Wilders’ voters, now he must deliver

On 15 March, the Dutch voted in their parliamentary elections in favour of the ruling Liberal party and against their own version of the alt-right. Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) won 33 seats compared to insurgent candidate Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party’s (PVV) 20 seats. Although this triumph will act as a speed-bump for ethnic and economic nationalism, it is a temporary effect. The election was mostly about immigration, particularly of Muslims, and how to integrate them into Dutch society.

Now that they have won, centrist parties must learn that without incorporating some of the more legitimate and palatable concerns of voters concerned with immigration, they will be unable to maintain power. During the lead up to the election, Rutte warned of the need to integrate ethnic non-Dutch people to ensure every citizen shared the same basic secular and liberal values.

Rutte said everyone needed to know that the Netherlands wasn’t for people who “litter,” “spit,” “attack gay people”, or “shout at women in short skirts.” All of this was declared in a full-page advertisement which said people should “act normal or go away.”

By doing this, the VVD was able to steal some of the PVV’s rhetoric and, in turn, some of their voters. While such language from an establishment leader rattled the liberal and centrist press, it worked well and was copied by other parties. Finally, Rutte benefited from taking a firm stance on a visceral row with the Muslim-majority country, Turkey. The problem facing centrists is how to stop nativist parties that thrive on marginalising others without alienating increasing numbers of nativist voters.

Continue reading at EUobserver.

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“Europe of Multiple Speeds” is already here

Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, recently presented a White Paper on the Future of Europe outlining five possible scenarios for the Union’s future. In a joint statement, the French and German foreign ministers have already endorsed one of these, the so-called “Europe of multiple speeds”.

The concept is not new, and bears some risks, but is the only conceivable option given the current political circumstances. Europe of multiple speeds, or as the White Paper frames it “Those Who Want More Do More,” means that countries willing to integrate further in certain policy fields can do so without an obligation for others to follow their lead.

In fact, this is already a reality. The EU currently has 28 member states, 22 of which form the Schengen area that also includes non-members such as Switzerland or Liechtenstein. 19 states have accepted the Euro as their common currency, and Denmark has an opt-out clause in the field of foreign security. However, until now these differences have been exceptions. This could change now. Europe’s leaders realise they need to find a way forward in a Union that is under threat from many sides. “Carrying On” is not an option anymore.

Continue reading at Freedom Today.

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Libya & the EU’s Migration Dilemma

Migration issues will dominate a meeting of Europe’s leaders this weekend in Malta. With spring around the corner, and refugee numbers in the Mediterranean bound to rise once more, they are looking for a way to prevent the drama of 2015 and 2016 — for a way to keep numbers low.

The current Maltese EU Presidency brought forward the latest proposal, which sees the solution in a deal with Libya — or rather what is left of it — oriented on the previous agreement with Turkey. This idea is not only dangerous in itself, however, it is also a symptom of the EU’s general incapability to solve its overarching migration dilemma.

Since Gaddafi’s fall in 2011, Libya has failed to recover, and is still de facto at civil war. Proposing the employment of its conflicting militias as migration controllers, hence takes a special kind of chutzpah — something apparently possessed by Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. Whereas critics immediately pointed out the humanitarian price for such a deal, the final verdict came with a report from the German foreign ministry this week. The report stated that conditions in Libyan refugee camps were worse than concentration camps, with execution, rape and torture being common occurrences.

Continue reading at FreedomToday.