Media Podcasts

On the Issues Episode 80: Moshe Ma’oz

I am pleased to welcome back to the podcast Moshe Ma’oz, Professor Emeritus of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and a previous Director of the university’s Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace. Professor Ma’oz is renowned for his expertise in Arab and Middle East affairs, and has published extensively on Islam and on the history and politics of the Middle East. He is a leading expert on Syria. Professor Ma’oz has been a visiting professor, scholar, and fellow at many leading universities and institutions around the world. He has served as an advisor on Arab Affairs for Israel’s Knesset, and was a member of official advisory committees that counseled the late Prime Ministers Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin.

In this episode, we discuss the new Israeli government and the prospects for any advancement of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations under this coalition, as well as what role the Biden administration can play, if any, in such a process. In addition, we discuss the concept of a confederation as a potential solution to the conflict, including the issue of settlements, Jerusalem, national security, and the role of Jordan in such a solution.

On the Issues Episode 79: Daniel Bar-Tal

Today I am happy to have back on the podcast Dr. Daniel Bar-Tal, Professor Emeritus at the School of Education, Tel Aviv University. Dr. Bar-Tal is a noted psychologist, who since the early eighties has focused on political psychology and the study of the socio-psychological foundations of intractable conflicts and peacebuilding, including reconciliation. In this episode, we discuss the concept of an Israeli-Palestinian confederation, including the current status quo, mitigating the entrenched psychological perspectives among both Israelis and Palestinians, the ongoing occupation and its effects, and what forces or political changes would need to be seen on every side in order to create an environment where peace is possible.

Full bio

Dr. Daniel Bar-Tal is Professor Emeritus at the School of Education, Tel Aviv University.

Dr. Bar-Tal received his graduate training in social psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, and completed his doctoral thesis in 1974. He previously served as a Director of the Walter Lebach Research Institute for Jewish-Arab Coexistence through Education, Tel Aviv University and as President of the International Society of Political Psychology, and was Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Palestine Israel Journal. He has won numerous awards, including the Alexander George Award of the International Society of Political Psychology, Nevitt Sanford Award of the International Society of Political Psychology, and Morton Deutsch Conflict Resolution Award of the Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict, and Violence. He was awarded the Golestan Fellowship at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Sciences in 2000-2001, and in 2013 received honorary membership in the Polish Society of Social Psychology.

Since the early eighties his interest has shifted to political psychology and the study of the socio-psychological foundations of intractable conflicts and peace building, including reconciliation. In the latter area, he studied the evolvement of the socio-psychological infrastructure in times of intractable conflict that consists of shared societal beliefs of ethos of conflict, collective memory, and emotional collective orientations. He also studied socio-psychological barriers to peacemaking and ways to overcome them, and acquisition of the conflict repertoire by children and adolescents.

Within this scope of studies he developed with his collaborators theoretical frameworks for concepts like siege mentality, intractable conflict, delegitimization, collective victimhood, socio-psychological infrastructure, culture of conflict, effects of lasting occupation, barriers to peace making, construction and struggle over conflict supporting narratives, acquisition of intergroup psychological repertoire, early development of the ethos of conflict, transitional context, collective identity, and peace education, among many others.

The work in these areas has resulted in books, Group Beliefs (1990), Shared Beliefs in a Society (2000), Stereotypes and Prejudice in Conflict: Representations of Arabs in Israeli Jewish Society (2005), Living with the conflict (2007), and Intractable conflicts: Socio-psychological foundations and dynamics (2013). He co-edited a wide variety of volumes, and in addition has published over two hundred articles and chapters in major journals, books and encyclopedias.

Of special importance in his professional life is founding and leading a “learning community” of 10-15 graduate (mostly doctoral) students, who come from different disciplines and universities, to carry their studies about conflict and their resolution. The learning community serves as a framework for learning, reflecting, debating, and developing; carrying conceptual and empirical studies; socialization for academic career and societal involvement; and for social support.

Through the years he has lectured widely on his work, and worked as Visiting Professor at Vanderbilt University, Brandeis University, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, University of Muenster, University of Maryland College Park, Polish Academy of Science, University of Palermo, and Australian National University.

He retired in 2015 and decided to devote his second career to political activism. He founded a peace movement Save Israel-Stop the Occupation with the goal to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and establish the Palestinian state. SISO’s website can be found here: www.siso.org.il/.

On the Issues Episode 78: Donika Emini

Today’s guest is Donika Emini, Executive Director of the Civikos Platform, a cooperative of over 250 civil society organizations in Kosovo. In this episode, Alon and Donika discuss the relatively new administration of Albin Kurti, including his handling of the coronavirus pandemic in Kosovo and his campaign pledges of reform. In addition, they discuss the status of the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue, international support for Kosovo, and the role of civil society in resolving these many issues.

Full bio
Donika Emini serves as Executive Director of the Civikos Platform. Mrs. Emini is PhD candidate at the University of Westmisnter in London. She completed her Masters studies at the University of Erfurt – Willy Brandt School of Public Policy, with a specialization in Public and Non-Profit Management and International Relations.

Mrs. Emini has been an active member of civil society for the past ten years. From 2013 – 2019 she worked as researcher at the Kosovar Center for Security Studies (KCSS). Her previous experience includes working as research fellow at the European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) in Paris, Transparency International Secretariat in Berlin, Balkan Policy Institute (IPOL), and the General Consulate of the Republic of Kosovo in New York.

Mrs. Emini is a member of the Balkans in Europe Policy Advocacy Group (BiEPAG), and member of the SEEThinkNet platform which converse the Berlin Process of the Western Balkans.

She has actively covered the EU integration process of the Western Balkans, Regional Cooperation in the Western Balkans, the EU-facilitated Dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia, and the Berlin Process.

Today’s guest is Niloofar Rahmani. Niloofar is the first female fixed-wing pilot in the Afghani Air Force, earning her wings in 2012, and the first female pilot in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. In 2015, she was awarded the US Department of State’s International Women of Courage award for her dedication to her career and commitment to encouraging other young women to join the Air Force, all in the face of death threats against herself and her family. Her book, “Open Skies: My Life as Afghanistan’s First Female Pilot”, was just published in early July.

In this episode, we discuss her journey to become a pilot in Afghanistan, the challenges she faced as a woman fighting for her dreams in her home country, the death threats she and her family faced due to her career, and her quest for asylum in the United States. We also discuss the changes to her career since moving to the US, and what the US withdrawal from Afghanistan will mean for her family and for all Afghanis.

On the Issues Episode 76: Erwan Fouéré

Today’s guest is Erwan Fouéré, Associate Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for European Policy Studies. After having pursued a career spanning 38 years with the EU institutions, during which he assumed various responsibilities both at Headquarters and more particularly in the EU’s External Service, Erwan Fouéré joined CEPS as an Associate Senior Research Fellow.

His area of research is on the EU’s role in the Balkans, seen from various angles (security & stability, enlargement, domestic politics), with a specific focus on Macedonia. More generally, he will also assess the impact of the Lisbon Treaty on the EU’s performance, with specific reference to the role of EU Special Representatives.

Prior to joining CEPS, Erwan Fouéré’s most recent appointment was as Special Representative for the Irish 2012 Chairmanship of the OSCE, with special responsibility for the Transdniestrian settlement process. He was the first to assume joint responsibilities of EU Special Representative and Head of Delegation in the EU External Service when he was appointed in this double capacity in Macedonia (2005), where he served for five years up to his retirement from the EU Institutions. Before that, he was Head of Delegation in Slovenia leading to accession, the first Head of Delegation in South Africa (1994) and the first Head of EC Delegations in Mexico and Cuba (1989). He was also Deputy Head of the Delegation for Relations with Latin America based in Caracas (1984). At headquarters, he worked successively on the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) and relations with East European Countries, on international relations in the field of the environment, and on EU relations with the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

He was a post graduate research assistant at the Max Kohnstamm Institute for European Affairs (1970-72), and a Guest Scholar at the Brookings Institution (1983). He has lectured at several European universities on EU Foreign and Security Policy, and was a regular contributor to EU Masters Course of Human Rights (2000-2010).

In this episode, we discuss a multitude of issues surrounding the European Union and the Western Balkans region, including the enlargement of the EU, particularly in relation to the Western Balkans, and the lack of consistency within EU foreign policy regarding enlargement. In addition, we examine the impediments to progress within the EU itself: the unanimity rule and what steps can be taken to mitigate its negative impacts, and what can be done about member states such as Poland and Hungary, which are departing from democratic governance and the values of the EU itself. 

Episode Transcript

Alon Ben-Meir: Well, thank you. First of all, I really want to thank you so much for taking the time. And I can’t think of anyone else who has more knowledge and expertise and has the insight into what’s going on at the EU, specifically in connection with the integration of some of the Balkan states. I would like to begin with, to hear your views on the internal combustion within the EU in terms of, for example, the differences between President Macron, Merkel and others in connection with the enlargement of the EU and how that specifically is affecting the Balkan states. So what is the internal discussion that’s taking place now that is preventing the EU from moving forward in the process of integration of some of the Balkan states?

Erwan Fouéré: Yes, thank you. Well, it’s a very complex situation and there’s a big difference between the theory and the reality. The theory has always been in the last years, that the European perspective for the Western Balkans is very clear, that once they have fulfilled all the conditions and criteria for accession, they will become members of the European Union. The reality, unfortunately, is that there has been one delay after another, one commitment after another, which has not been respected by the European Union side. And what you see is a gradual, I would say, increased nationalization of the enlargement process, meaning that the commission’s prerogative, the European Commission’s prerogative in this process of enlargement to include other member countries, has been undermined more and more over the last years. And probably the most recent and the worst illustration of that is the current standoff between Bulgaria and Macedonia.

ABM: North Macedonia, yeah. Yeah. That is, like exactly what you said, the promises made in the past to the various countries in the Balkans. And obviously that is instigating nationalism within these states for sure. And also they are becoming extremely more disappointed. But in the interim, needless to say, Russia, China, and Turkey are taking full advantage of the fact that the EU has not moved swiftly enough, and they are trying to entrench themselves in the Balkan states. And needless to say, of course, there is a concern among the EU that there’s got to be an effort, a greater effort made in order not to allow these three countries to further entrench themselves so much so. And also giving the disappointment of this country is the slowness of the process, we could possibly get to a point where it might be, I don’t [want to] say too late, but it’s going to be much more difficult for these states to change gears specifically when they are under such a pressure, sometimes the assistance that these countries are providing precisely because they want to distance them from the EU.

EF: That is very true. The problem is that for quite a number of years now, the European Union has taken the Western Balkans for granted. In other words, the accession process is there, is under way, and negotiations with Montenegro and Serbia are going along, however slowly. But really deep down, the European Union is more interested in security issues, making sure that border management is properly controlled in order to offset any danger of another repeat of the migrant crisis of 2015-2016. And so they really underestimated the increasing problems within the Western Balkan region itself. And this lack of visibility and lack of attention on the part of the European Union has left a huge vacuum, which, of course, has been taken advantage of by the actors you mentioned—by Russia, China, and Turkey. But if you look at the reality of the economic ties, over 70 percent of trade of the Western Balkans is with the European Union. So from the economic point of view, the role of Russia and China is fairly limited, except possibly in the latter case, China, where the investment of China under the so-called Road and Belt Initiative has increased considerably over the past years with a huge number of projects in some 16 East European countries, including the Western Balkans. But these are all loans, so this is tying the economies of the Western Balkan region in a matter which is not healthy in the long run, because it will mean the economies, these countries will have to service this debt over many, many years. So there are many fault lines that are increasing so long as the European Union’s commitment to the Western Balkans is not maintained, is not kept. And the longer the delays, the more uncertainty there is in the enlargement perspective. In the European perspective for the Western Balkans, the greater the danger that you mention of this vacuum being taken advantage of by these other actors who have other interests at stake, which have nothing to do with the real interests of the Western Balkan region.

ABM: So I guess part of the delay is also connected with the EU’s requirement to some extent that the conflict within the Balkan states, that is territorial and otherwise, needs to also be somewhat mitigated. That is, the EU, albeit they are not making this a precondition, but the conflicting issues within the various Balkans states obviously has an impact in terms of the integration process. To what extent [do] you see the effect of that as far as the future is concerned, in terms of the integration that is taking, that’s supposed to have taken place, but it’s not happening?

EF: You are right in highlighting the fact that in the Western Balkan region, there are many, many bilateral issues, bilateral disputes, border, minority issues that have yet to be dealt with. And the EU’s position has been fairly consistent all along. It’s probably one of the few consistent aspects of the EU’s enlargement policy, and that is that bilateral issues must be resolved prior to accession. Basically, the EU doesn’t want to [have] a repeat of the Cyprus scenario. So, I mean, to a certain extent it has worked. As we have seen, North Macedonia and Greece were able to resolve the issue of the name dispute. It was very difficult, a long-standing dispute. And, of course, it required very heavy sacrifices and compromises, particularly on the part of North Macedonia. But they did this on the understanding that this will open the door for EU accession to move forward.

Unfortunately, the reality is that barely had the ink dried on this agreement between Greece and North Macedonia that Bulgaria raised its own issues and has basically imposed its veto. So for me, this underlies two things. One is that the European Union has really underestimated the weight of history in the Western Balkan region and has shown a lack of appreciation of the complexities of Western Balkan politics. And instead of trying to deploy its various instruments of diplomacy that it has at its disposal to help in resolving some of these disputes, for example, you have the special envoy of the European Union that [is] mediating the dispute between Kosovo and Serbia for normalization of those relations. But it hasn’t done this in the other context. And what we are faced with now is that you have one member state, Bulgaria, introducing notions of history and identity, which are rather undermining the criteria and conditionality principles of the enlargement process—

ABM: Process, yes.

EF: —of the European Union. So this creates a very, very serious precedent. And I don’t know if you recall that at last December’s European Council, where there should have been a green light for the opening of accession negotiations with both Albania and North Macedonia, it was Bulgaria which refused the green light. And then they attempted to introduce into the draft conclusions of the of the meeting of the heads of state in December, the notion of misinterpretation of history. And it was thanks to the Czech and Slovak governments that at the end this was prevented. And they issued a statement, and I quote, because I think it’s very revealing, “we will not allow that the European Union be the judge of our shared history, how we identify ourselves or the language we use. These issues belong to the parties concerned, and we are here to support them with the experience of our own healing process.” And it’s a shame, really, that no other member state joined in that statement publicly. So you have a situation where the Bulgarian position on history and identity and its own version of that history and identity is on the table. And apart from the Czech and Slovak governments, none of the others are doing anything to try to help move the process forward. And as I have said before, if we were to follow the Bulgarian logic regarding history, shared history, neither Ireland nor Britain would ever have joined the European Union and Community, as it then was in 1973. Fifty years on, we are still debating our shared history, but we are doing it in a nonconfrontational manner in a shared institutional setting. And this is what Bulgaria needs to understand. It’s not by vetoes that it will resolve the bilateral disputes.

ABM: Yes, but I think from our experience, that is reconciling the historical narrative, it’s critical. That is, for example, Germany would have not been able at all to become an EU member had it not very early on recognized the atrocities it committed during World War II. So it has had to face the historical record, admit to what has taken place. And that meant today Germany is one of the, the, probably the leaders within the EU member states. If we take, for example, the conflict between Serbia and Kosovo, here again, you have Serbia, who still to this day refuses to admit the atrocities that it committed against the Kosovars in the war between the two sides. That is, as long as some of these countries might say, well, this is our problem. We have to deal with it ourselves, and you have no business getting involved in this. We can straighten out our conflicts and our dispute. Nevertheless, given the fact that they still want to become a member of the EU, and given the fact that the EU is making this its precondition, you need to settle your differences before we can begin in serious, in earnest the integration process. So here, that’s where the EU is standing. And they are also taking a different position. How do you then reconcile between the two, from your perspective?

EF: Yes, it’s a very difficult dilemma, unfortunately. The Franco-German example is probably one of the best. But there are also other examples of joint history projects, and it emphasizes the critical importance of promoting projects on history teaching in the Western Balkan region. And the European Union has a lot of experience in that. If one just looks at the Northern Ireland case, where President Delors, Jacques Delors, instituted the Peace Fund in 1995 precisely to help in the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. And with financial support, it has organized many joint projects between both sides of the divide in Northern Ireland in helping to overcome the prejudices of the past. And I think this perhaps is one area where the EU needs to do more in the Western Balkans to help in dealing with these prejudices, which are very deeply entrenched. And I think it highlights the fact that the weight of history is so strong in a region which, as has often been said, produces more history than it can absorb, and it has yet to find what our Irish President Michael D. Higgins has defined as an ethics of narrative hospitality. In other words, finding a mechanism which can help to address the entrenchments and the prejudices of the past.

ABM: That’s right, and I certainly agree with you, that probably the EU needs to play a greater role in this kind of process of reconciliation, without necessarily appearing to be interfering in it. That is, mitigating, with good will, obviously is different than interfering and imposing a certain requirement. And I think the Balkans would be right to suggest you can’t impose on us how we go about to reconcile our differences. But certainly they could use the support of the EU in terms in mitigating those kinds of differences. Having said that though, given the fact that we are talking to some extent about the time element here—I mentioned Russia, Turkey, Turkey in particular in this case, and China are moving ahead, trying to do everything they can to influence the internal affairs, Turkey in particular, within these Balkan states, specifically the countries that have a Muslim majority.

EF: Yes.

ABM: Wouldn’t it be wiser on the part of the EU in this case to begin a process— That is, there are so many chapters that each of these countries will have to go through to be qualified to become a member of the EU. So on the one hand, we have countries within the EU who are objecting, like you mentioned, Hungary versus Macedonia, for example. So wouldn’t it be wiser on the part of the EU to start a process, while in the meantime, asking that these countries continue to undertake the kind of reform necessary, including reconciliation with other countries, so that the process begins and gives them hope that the EU is not going to wait until everything is now is in order and proper so that they are totally qualified to become a member. But they begin to see we’re moving ahead while now we’re correcting, while we’re also dealing with our internal issues, including socio-economic and political reforms.

EF: Absolutely. The logic would underline that approach is the correct approach. The problem is that the European Union’s enlargement policy is very much weighed and undermined by the internal procedural rules of the European Union, whereby any decision relating to enlargement must be taken by unanimity. And so you had a situation last year, in March of 2020, when there was a decision by the European Council to formally open accession negotiations. Then the next process was the European Commission submitting the framework of the negotiating strategy, which was presented to the member states. And unfortunately, instead of allowing the commission to carry on with the job, there the member states are able to again impose a veto. And this is what happened with Bulgaria. And so you have, again, the unanimity rule interfering. And this heavy weight of procedure has been a huge problem for the enlargement agenda and has prevented the negotiation to actually start. At the same time, the countries in the region are proceeding with their reform agenda. I mean, North Macedonia has demonstrated in the various assessments made by the European Commission over the last years, particularly the last year itself, have shown that they have really fulfilled all the criteria and all the reforms that have been asked of them. So there is no reason to delay the opening of negotiations. But unfortunately, we have now the situation of the Bulgarian veto preventing that to move forward. And the logic would be, as you say, that we should allow the negotiations to proceed and in parallel, try to resolve these bilateral disputes. And Bulgaria seems not to understand that you cannot resolve issues of history in a year, in two years or three years. I mean, as I said, the Northern Ireland case. Ireland and Britain are still debating our shared history 100 years down the road, and we will carry on, but we’re doing it in a nonconfrontational way, whereas the Bulgarian approach is extremely nationalistic and is not resolving the problem at all.

ABM: Yes, and that’s exactly what I wanted to go back to, and that is the internal problems within the EU, that is, unanimity that you mentioned. In a way, it has some positive elements. That is, all EU members need to have a certain, say, foreign policy, which is necessary to have some kind of unanimity to some extent. But on the other hand, that impedes and slow the decision-making process within the EU community. And that is, when you allow any country for that matter to have a veto on any major issue, then to some extent it paralyzed the EU from acting swiftly on matters that need to be taken care of without waiting for every single country to agree to whatever necessary steps to be taken. That is something that has been impeding the EU effort, not just in connection with the Balkans from my perspective, but in dealing with other countries as well.

EF: Absolutely.

ABM: For example, Brexit. My understanding from speaking to many people in Britain is that one of the reasons, one of many, but one of the main reasons is, for example, for Cyprus to have the right to veto something that may concern say Britain, and for the British government to be subjected to this kind of scrutiny, this kind of consensus made it very difficult for Britain to stay within the EU. I mean, again, there were many, many other reasons. But this is one of the reasons, that is the unanimity required that has made it very difficult for especially major countries like France, like Britain, like Germany, albeit Germany is much more co-operative, to be able to continue to support the EU’s overall agenda. But the fact remains that the decision-making process, which is slow and can be stopped, vetoed by even the smallest member state, has been a problem and probably will continue to be a problem. How do you see this from your perspective? How can the EU actually deal with this, which has been affecting its performance for years?

EF: Yes, I am afraid the only solution will be to reduce the areas where decisions have to be taken by unanimity, because if the European Union really wants to be a global player – and it should be based on its economic weight and the development assistance, etc. that it provides – it will have to have a less burdensome decision-making process. You mentioned Brexit, but just last week we had another example where the EU foreign ministers were debating a statement to criticize the Chinese treatment of the Uyghurs and also the situation in Hong Kong. But because Hungary claims it has a close relationship with China, it blocked that statement just for the purely personal political agenda of Prime Minister Orbán. And you can see, unfortunately, a growing tendency of some member states like Hungary, like Poland, also now Slovenia, to undermine the broad principle of consensus which served the EU well in the past. I mean, the EU’s role has been very, very important on human rights issues, etc. But increasingly, the EU is becoming more and more burdened because of these conflicting debates inside the EU and the failure of the institutions to function properly.

The EU, the Commission should have come out much more rapidly when it saw the rule of law issues being undermined in Poland with the attack on the independence of the judiciary, also in Hungary. It belayed that, trying to find consensus, but as we can see, if there is no firm implementation of the treaties of the European Union, and if a member state is seen not to be fully respecting the basic fundamental values of the European Union, it should be sanctioned. But unfortunately there, the institutions of the European Union have been quite weak. And more and more we will see, I’m afraid, instances where instead of taking strong decisions, the EU will have very weak decisions and in foreign policy. And I think that is undermining the whole prospect of the European integration in that area. So reducing the issues to be decided by unanimity and increasing the possibility for decisions to be taken by majority voting, I think this would help considerably.

ABM: Yeah. You know, this reminds me, of course, for example, countries where they have a coalition government, Israel is a good example of that, where you have so many parties in a single government, to some extent similar say to the EU, to some extent. What you have there, when they discuss major significant issues, they end up with the lowest denominator. That is, the issue is watered down so much so that the effectiveness has basically evaporated to some extent. So this brings me to Macron. Wouldn’t you say then Macron is correct to say that we do not want, we should not be now enlarged, but focus on our internal—that is the EU itself has issues within itself in terms of, and needs some reform. And do you think Macron is correct to say, let’s just focus on ourselves first. Let’s do the kind of reform necessary before we go out and further enlarge the EU, when in fact we have significant internal problems that need to be addressed, which has many of these issues do relate to further integration, to further expansion of the EU.

EF: Yes. Well, this has been a recurring debate over the years, a deepening versus enlarging. And I recall in 2004 when you had the so-called Big Bang, when ten new countries joined the European Union, it was an extraordinary development when you consider where we had come from, you know, and helping to eliminate the dividing lines in Europe and bringing in all these new emerging democracies. There was, after 2004, a debate about how complicated this is going to make decision-making and that we need now to pause the enlargement process. But at the same time, you had the continuing of the enlargement in that same period in 2003, you had the formal decision to confirm the European perspective for the Western Balkans, saying that the Western Balkans are part of Europe. We must bring them into the European Union as full members. And so there did not appear to be at that time this contradiction between deepening versus enlarging. You could do both at the same time. And as you recall, as the enlargement process continued, Romania, Bulgaria joined in 2007 and then negotiations were opened with Croatia. Croatia became the next member, and so on. And we also had the Lisbon Treaty, which was negotiated and giving new powers to the EU institutions—a new method of foreign policy with the External Action Service, a new high representative like EU Foreign Minister, et cetera, et cetera.

But it’s true that now it seems that the situation has become much more complicated and complex because of this growing nationalism, populist narrative within the EU itself which is in a way hijacking this debate and is criticizing the enlargement process. The president, Macron, has not been that consistent himself, because I remember in 2018 when North Macedonia and Greece were negotiating their agreement, he was pushing North Macedonia to say, really, you must compromise, you must find an agreement because your future lies with us in the European Union. And then the following year, he blocked the start of accession negotiations because he said that the methodology for negotiation needed to be overhauled. OK, but why in that sense, in the same breath block the start of negotiations? So it’s demonstrated that there has been a lack of consistency within the European Union on its foreign policy agenda relating to enlargement, despite the fact that it is arguably the most successful foreign policy that the EU has ever had. And I think President Macron is, in a sense, a symbol of that lack of consistency. One day is good, yes, we must carry on negotiating, and then the next day, no, it’s not right. And the problem is that public opinion is also a factor. And there are several countries where the public opinion on enlargement is lukewarm, whether it is France, Netherlands, and you have populist voices who tend to equate further enlargement with further immigration, free movement, et cetera. So this populist narrative is not helping the overall debate at the moment. And we may see again this coming up next year when you have the presidential elections in France, with probably the same scenario of the right-wing Le Pen facing Macron in the final debate, a final round up.

ABM: Yeah, well, I’m not sure. I’m sure you know a lot, much more about this, but I mean, the prospect of Le Pen actually defeating Macron. That to me, doesn’t seem, she has a very good prospect. I mean, do you share that view? I know this is not related to the Balkans.

EF: Yeah, yes. Absolutely I do. I believe that in the end in the last analysis, President Macron will win over. But the fact of the matter is that you have just those two competing forces at play demonstrates, you know, the level of discussion at the moment in in the EU. And so the populist narrative, unfortunately, is still there. And so long as it is there, it will be used to delay, to offset any possibilities for continuing the enlargement negotiations with the Western Balkans. And then in addition to that, then you have the Bulgarian situation, which in a sense is also a symptom or a reflection of a very nationalist narrative on issues separating these neighboring countries.

ABM: Right. So when we look today [at] the EU, when we talk in terms, you know, Macron talking about reform, you indicated, and rightfully so, for example, the question of consistency: there is no consistency, which is impeding some of the efforts of the EU in terms of foreign policy, certainly in connection with enlargement. We have the question of the shortcomings of unanimity, which is very difficult. And again, it waters down any kind of resolution that the EU might want to undertake. Then you have the question of small countries, like you mentioned Bulgaria, [which] does not want to condemn China because it has its own interests. And that is impacting, of course, on the overall interest of the EU itself. Macron also mentioned, methodology, albeit I don’t know if he elaborated on that, what kind of change we need to reach out or to engage into the integration process.

And then you have the issue of the growing rising nationalism within various countries that want to become a member of the EU, and within the EU itself, for example, what’s happening in Poland, what’s happening in Hungary, you know. That is, we also see democracy itself, even within the EU, to some extent, it’s in retreat by allowing certain member states to actually become almost dictatorial and they are still members of the EU. So all of these issues are there. And would you say then Macron would be correct to say, well, let’s have an overhaul of EU, albeit he’s not elaborating. But the EU itself ought to be looking at internally and say, well, now all these plethora of problems, we’re going to have to address them. From your perspective, if the EU were to ask, and I’m sure they ask you, what sort of reforms need to be done immediately to streamline the operation of the EU in terms of external policy, domestic economics, integration, all of that. What sort of, if you can mention three, four specific reforms that you think it might be necessary to undertake as soon as possible?

EF: Within the EU?

ABM: Within the EU.

EF: Yes. Well, as you know, the conference on the future of Europe has just been launched. This is a one-year process which is supposed to give an opportunity to all the countries, citizens throughout the European Union to come forward with ideas on how to improve the decision-making process, the structure of the European Union. This is fine, you know, but I’m not very optimistic that they will come up with some major reforms. I mean, the best reform that I can think of that should be done immediately is to reduce the areas where unanimity is required and to bring in a rule of majority voting. And in my view, I think this would strengthen the EU’s decision-making process, strengthen also its voice on international issues, and would allow it to be much more functional and operational than it is now. So this would be my first priority. And I do believe that also the enlargement agenda, the enlargement policy should also come as a majority decision-making rather than unanimity rule in order to offset another precedent of Bulgaria or other countries wanting to impose its own domestic agenda on the enlargement policy. Because there are many other problems, bilateral problems, where, for example, Croatia might also voice its concern down the road. So this for me is some key reforms which will be extremely beneficial. And we mustn’t forget that the Western Balkans to come back to them. We’re not talking about billions of people. It’s a community of just 18 million people. It’s about [unclear] of the European Union.

ABM: That’s right, compared to the nearly 450 million, I suppose. Am I right?

EF: Yes.

ABM: Because the combined population of the EU. You know, what you mentioned obviously is very important. That is, I think a majority rule makes sense, that even if you can say super majority, would still make it much more functional as far as the EU is concerned, if it’s not 50/50, for example, they can say 60/40, you need 60 percent of the EU members to vote in favor of some resolution. But nevertheless, this will make it entirely possible for the EU to a) accelerate any kind of decision-making process in connection with any issues. There’s another thing I want to ask if you have a few more minutes.

EF: Yes.

ABM: And that is, those countries that eventually go astray and basically are no longer adhering fully to the rules, norms of the EU. Is there any effort, for example, [being] made by the EU to rein in, say, Poland, where the human rights violations are rampant? I haven’t seen any significant effort made by EU leadership to say to Poland, this is not the culture, this is not the purpose, these are not the policies that, you know, departing from democratic form of government is not acceptable to us. What effort is being made to impede this movement of nationalism within the EU to begin with, such as, say, Poland and Hungary, not to speak, of course, outside the EU?

EF: Yes, well, the treaties provide for mechanisms precisely to deal with these sorts of situations where a member country would be seen to contravene the fundamental principles or the rule of law on which the European Union is based, and the rule of law has been one of its greatest strengths. The trouble is that the European Commission, which is the one which has the authority to launch proceedings against such a member state, has been very slow. It started, they have done it with regard to Poland on the judicial reforms which the current Polish government introduced, which have undermined the independence of the judiciary to such an extent that even the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has issued judgments and as well as the European Court of the European Union, which highlights the undermining of the independence of the judiciary. And similarly, proceedings have been brought against Hungary. But what is the finality of these proceedings? Well, it gives an opportunity to the accused member country to put forward its opinions, et cetera, etc. But at the end of the day, the sanction, which is the lifting of voting rights, has to be taken by unanimity of the EU. So there again, you have a situation where a procedure launched by the European Union to ensure full respect of the basic principles of the European Union in its finality, it cannot be undertaken because the unanimity rule means that all the member states minus, of course, the accused one, must conform with that sanction. And Hungary and Poland have made very clear that they will support each other against any such sanction.

So again, we are faced with unanimity and where a qualified majority would be a much more effective system. So we have an institutional arrangement, but the implementation remains very weak. And contrary to that, the interesting is that the EU has a much stronger authority to impose the full respect of the basic principles for future member countries, and saying if you don’t adopt this reform, we will stop the negotiations basically. But for the internal, it’s a much weaker procedure.

ABM: Yeah, I mean, you can obviously make it a precondition that new members will have to meet all the requirements, all the reforms necessary, et cetera, et cetera, but an existing member who is violating the rules and regulations and the values of the EU. And there is still no mechanism because exactly what you are mentioning, unanimity is required to punish a country that is moving away from these principles that the EU upholds so high. And there’s also, unless, please correct me if I’m wrong, obviously, there is no provision where the EU can decide to expel a member state for having deviated so much so from the culture and the rules and regulations and the purpose of the EU itself. So we don’t have that as well, so just like NATO, there’s no mechanism to kick a country out of NATO.

EF: Yes.

ABM: You have the same similar situation within the EU. So how do you overcome that when basically the EU gets stuck with member states who are not adhering to the culture of the EU, and then they are protected by the fact that there is unanimity and nobody can do much about it? So the long term impact on the EU is going to be, in my view, significant because it is losing its thrust, it is losing the cohesiveness necessary for the EU to project the kind of power they need to project, especially now that there’s a significant effort on the part of Russia to weaken the EU as much as possible. And they’re doing everything they can in that respect.

EF: Yes, I am afraid I share your concern, because even though, as I said, you have the institutional mechanisms that are there to deal with errant member states or member states who go totally off track and you have what’s called the nuclear option, whereby the voting rights of a given country can be suspended. And you’ve had this big debate during the negotiations for what’s called a financial perspective over the coming seven years, whereby there was a push to try to make sure that all the financial support that the EU provides to member states, particularly countries like Poland and Hungary, would be conditioned on full respect of rule of law. But this was a huge debate. And there’s some very general wording in the financial arrangements, but they have yet to be tested. And I think the only solution is for the institutions to be tougher when it comes to those wayward countries and to make sure that they will conform. Otherwise, you are opening the floodgates to other countries that will just follow the example of, in this case, Poland and Hungary. And if there’s no really strong sanction, it can just escalate and get worse. And I think this would be a terrible denial of the EU integration process itself.

ABM: No question, I mean, as long as they can do so with impunity, I mean, that’s where the danger lies. That is, among the efforts to reform, I think this also should be one of the main issues. That is, there is some mechanism, but there’s lack of implementation, which is happening. You know, I would love to continue this with you for another hour. Thank you so much. I wanted to ask you about Turkey’s prospects, which in my view, is practically zero, of becoming a member of the EU, especially [with] what Erdogan’s been doing for the last nearly eight, nine years now. So perhaps we’ll have a discussion on that some other time.

EF: Yes, yes. With pleasure.

ABM: But thank you so much. Thank you. And I hope you allow me hopefully next, [in the] future to have another conversation with you, specifically in relation with the EU, the United States, Turkey, and all of that, which would be something that I would love to hear your views on.

EF: With great pleasure.

ABM: Thank you. I thank you so much.

EF: Thank you very much. Thank you. All the best, bye.