My topic for today ” From southeast Europe to the world and back”, speaks clearly of the interconnectedness of our world. In addressing this topic, I will share with you some of my thoughts on the current situation in the region. Also, I would like to explore the current relationship between the European Union and the region. In addition, I am interested to look into the relationship between Europe/EU and the world- the role that EU can an, I would say, should play at the global level.
My starting point in all those explorations is my firm belief that the European Union, despite the current problems, is a unique model of productive interaction among big and small countries,among different cultures and ethnicities. It is a model to which many regions in the world look up. Equally, I believe that Europe needs to rise to its international responsibility and take its rightful place on the global scene.
Let me start with the region. The wars in the region have left many deep wounds- human, political, economic and social. They will take years to heal properly. As a result, the reform process in the new countries are interlinked, complex and difficult. Still, the difficulties cannot overshadow the fact that the region has made a historic positive turn. The turn is irreversible.
The progress has been made possible by the combination of internal democratic changes, commitment to the EU membership and the EU strategy of enlargement. For more than twenty years that EU has acted as a catalyst for a democratic reform and regional stabilization.
Obviously, the countries in the region cannot imagine their democratic and peaceful future outside the European family of nations. Likewise, Europe cannot be “whole and free” without the region on its south east periphery. Thus, the two courses- internal democratic evolution and the EU approximation- are interdependent and mutually reinforcing.
As a result: Slovenia was the first to join the Union in 2004, Croatia is expected to become 28th member next July. Macedonia,Montenegro and Serbia hve candidate status. Montenegro started the accession negotiations last year. Talks with Serbia will not open until Belgrade has done enough to normalize relations with kosovo.
Kosovo itself might expect to sign a pre-accession pact sometime in the future, although five EU countries have still not recognized it. Macedonia must also wait until spring. Hopefully,a new dialogue with Greece on the name issue results in a closure of a too long dispute. Bosnia and herzegovina has started a high level dialogue with the EU on facilitating prepaations for a membership application.
On the whole,seven newly established southeast European countries have come a long way since the end of war. However, the pace of transformation and stabilization in uneven and unfinished. There is still a lot of ground to cover.
On the economic front, a prolonged economic recession, deficits and debts have been a cause of great concern. Most of the current problems derive from botched transition, lng-standing structural problems amd lack of sound economic policies. Also, the economies in the region have suffered greatly from Europe-wide downturn. Economic recovery is goint to be a long and painful process. We are witnessing every day in Croatia.
These grave problems require a full mobilisation of internal political actors, govrenments and civil society. They also call for a continuous presence and engagement by the international community. In this context, one cannot overestimate the role of the EU, the USA and NATO. Austria, as a long standing friend somewhat of an expert on the region, is expected to play an important part in all international efforts in the region.
As I already stated, the EuropeanUnion has proved to be a decisive factor in the process of transformation of southeast Europe. Now the European Union needs to demonstrate even more nerve and courage- or to say, more carrots and a longer stick- to finish its work.
The world today
As we all know, the European Union is today at another of its historical crossroads as it struggles to adapt itpolitical and economic frameworks. The same is true of the world.
The world today is globalized, interconnected and interdepenfent to theextent without precedent in history. Yet,at the same time, it is increasingly politically fragmented and chaotic. Bipolar and unipolar worlds have given way to a growing number of world powers. Relations between the old and rising new powers, especially between America and China, are tentative, both cooperative and antagonistic.
The global institutional architecture continues in its archaic form. After the initial success of G20 joint effort to avert the financial meltdown in 2009, there has been no serious follow-up activities. There have been neither any indications of the political will to adapt mutual relations and global institutions to new international realities.
Why does the world lag behind so very much in restructuring of its architecture?
Let us remin ourselves:
The architecture of the current global system is based on the arrangements drawn by the winners of the Second World War. One such example is the United nations and its system. Those arrangements did not eliminate the open issues in relations among great powers; those open issues persisted and resulted in the Cold War and bipolar world.
By the end of 1980s, the world system was unilaterally set up on the basis of a one-sided interpretation of the outcomne of the Cold War; the collapse of communism and the dissolution of Eastern block and the Soviet Union. This subjective interpretation has led to the restoration of strategic mistrust and to renewal of the Cold War mentality within the new geopolitical setting.
George Kennan anticipated these developments when he warned:
” If the end of the Cold War is seen as a victory of all, the world will move into a new, prosperous, peaceful period. However, if the end of the Cold War is taken as a defeat of one side and victory of another, we will retreat very quickly to division and confrontation.”
The latter indeed happen.
Eventually the Charter of Paris for a New Europe did not come to life either. The new world order remained only a slogan.
The global financial crisis exposed all the current fault lines in international relations- financial, economic, and political. It also brought to the fore the issue of growing inequality. The issue is indeed one of the deining issues of our time. The figure of the unprecedented concentration and monopolization of wealth speak for themselves: the wealthiest ten percent of the global wealth; ninety-three percent of the world population is indebted; and seven percent are creditors. In such a situation not only priileges are reproduced, but monopolies too, warned Joseph Stieglitz.
Five years after the beginning of the financial and economic crisis, there is no solution on the horizon. Obviously, this crisis is not only global. It isalso multi-dimensional and long-term. It is structural,not cyclic. It raises many questions and we should s answers to them:
In which direction are we heading? Where does the continuous rise of unemployment lead? What does the future hold for the younger generations? Will they carry the heaviest burden of crisis? What kind of world will they inherit?
Given all that, can the present global system function at all? And, finally, how did we findourselves amidst the crisis in the first place?
Evidently, the revolution in science and technology, internet and social media, combined with the globalisation, accelerated the emergence of new powerful economies and new centers of power. The overall lack of political willo galvanize global cooperation and adjust divergent interests, has led to new financial, economic and geopolitical imbalances. Altogether, the current global system is unstable and generates uncertainty and insecurity.
The deep gap between the rich and the poor is especially disturbing. It is present only among the nations, but also within the most developed countries. The fact is that capital-labor relations are sevrely misbalanced in the favor of the capital, and that the economic and social role of the middle class is rapidla weakening. The social discontent manifest itself, on the one hand, in the growth of nationalism. On the other hand, we are faced with mass unrests, be it in the Arab world, America or Greece. All over, people are disaffected and restless.
At the same time, there is no agreement on key issues at the highest political levels, either inside many individual countries or among major world actors. More often than not long-term political interests and goals are subordinated to short-term politics. regional and global risks persist and grow. Inequality, poverty, climate change,economic imbalances, competition for resources, nuclear proliferation violent conflicts, extremism and terrorism.
What is the solution?
The solution is to be found in the realistic assessments of the present situation and the evolution of politics, which lags behind global economic and social developments. It is becoming clear that the reconstruction of the world system is the imperative of our times.
Contemporary political pilosophy ( the lack of ethics) is a clear obstacle to regional and global peace and progress. Different perceptions and global peace and progress. Different perceptions of the world in transition, neo-conservative rigidity and greed, and retreat to national exclusivity aggravate global risks.
Together, they are threatening the world’s most important systems of environment, economy and stability, and fuelling massive social discontent. Finally, the lack of mutual trust among world powers holds us back in making the political leap forward that is so needed.
Some valuable ideas to start changing trends were put on the table during the crisis stricken years. Thus, Chancellor Mekel put forward the idea of a new, UN Economic Security Council which would be based on a new economic charter. The charter was supposed to introduce clear rules of global economic governance and control of financial markets while perserving environment and reducing poverty. The Un panel headed by the Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stieglitz also proposed a similar idea to address problems of protectionism, global imbalances and unrestrained capitalism.
Recently, I have appreciated President of the European Council Van Rompuy’s references to a decisive contribution that the European Union and Russia ” can make by working together to global economic governance ( in the G8 and G20 )” I recall that he also argued for ” the global management of our planet” in his earliest statements.
I would also like to recall the inspiring ideas of the former German president Koehler. He highlighted ” freedom without responsibility” as the main problem at the core of the philosophy of neo-liberal capitalism as opposed to the social market model pracsticed in germany and Europe.
President Koehler argued for the global economy in which Capital would serve instead of govern the people and where humankind would put global solidarity, empathy and care of others, especially the most vulnerable into the forefront of all its activities. In a word. like some other prominent figures at the time, he pleades for an ethical, human, morally and socially responsible capitalism.
It is precisely because of daunting global problems and risks that the world attaches umost importance and reelection of president Obama. It is expected that it will bring a new and positive dynamic to international relations and create space for restoring multilateralism and international cooperation, and lead old and rising world powers toward an accommodation of interests and the reform of global financial, economic and security structures. We all remebmer, in particular, how much hope was awakened by President Obama’s vision of the world free from nuclear weapons. Now the President Obama enters his secon mandate is the time and chance for America to rise to the monumental challenge of leading the world toward transformaion of the global system, on the basis of cooperation in tackling the daunting global risks. President Obama’s inspirational, progressive inaugural speech and commitment to engagement and peace have been encourageing in th respect.
In conclusion, let me return to the beginning of my remarks- to southeast Europe. As I said, regardless of different integration and association levels of individual countries, the whole of the region is embeded, one way or another, into the Euro-Atlantic integration process. In regard to the Atlantic Alliance, I believe that the democratic progress and stability in the region would be substantially enhanced should NATO embrace all the countries under its umbrella sooner rather than later. This could be a test- but also a proof- of the Alliance’s pacifying capacity and power.
Let me, once again,share with you my own experience which leads me to belief I have just expressed. Perhaps the Yugoslav crisis might have had a less tragic ending had a European Community’s association offer come earlier. When arguing for the European Community to step in at that time, I offered the looming crisis in the Federation as the reason for a closer EC’s involvement. The offer came 17 months too late. The conflict already had given way to a brutal war and the offe fell through.
We should also bear in mind that the countries of southeast Europe have reached a significant level of economic intergration with the EU. This has made them very vulnerable to economic turbulences within the Union. It is important that the EU institutions be aware of this particular aspect of their relationship with the southeast European countries. Development of some new mechanism and instruments to help the region to deal with severe economic crisis merits serious consideration.
As with Europe’s global role, her- too- the key question remains open:
Does Europe have a political, moral and economical capacity to intensify its efforts in the region ( as well as in the world ) despite its internal integration challenges?
Is Europe ready and willing to rise to this/ these challange/es?
To paraphrase and old saying: If not Europen Union, then who? If not now, then when?