This week's editor

Rosemary Belcher-2.jpg

Rosemary Bechler is openDemocracy’s Editor.

Constitutional conventions: best practice

Europe’s divisions over war in Iraq have not prevented it agreeing the enlargement of ten new members and an constitutional treaty. What will a continent-wide European Union look like? Which vision of Europe do you want? Start with our interactive visions map, or dip into Europe Prophecies, a rolling diary of stories from the corners of Europe. And if you want to know what's new with the European Constitution, read what Convention members Frans Timmermans and Jens-Peter Bonde have to say - they're living it. Send your own thoughts to openEuropa@openDemocracy.net, or post on the discussion board...

Turkey's judicial-political crisis

Turkey's political and democratic troubles are deepening. The country's domestic problems are grave enough, but an additional complicating factor is that few of its putative friends and partners abroad are able or wish to exert a positive influence on the direction of events.

Europe’s Afghan test

Every mission where the European Union is involved will at some point be hailed as a "test case" for its nascent foreign and defence capabilities. From Chad to Bosnia and Kosovo, there are plenty of such tests to choose from. But of all the current missions, Afghanistan is the most important. An EU failure there would have very serious consequences for the Afghan state and people; and it would imperil the effort to develop a common EU foreign policy at the very time when the Lisbon treaty is meant to signal the arrival of a new global player.

Kosovo: the hour of Europe

In 1991, as Yugoslavia was on the point of imploding, the Luxembourg foreign minister Jacques Poos spoke for many prominent Europeans when he proclaimed that "the hour of Europe has struck". The implication was clear - the then twelve-member European Community had a moral responsibility to intervene so as to prevent an escalation of conflict.

John O' Brennan is a lecturer in European politics and society at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth (NUIM). Among his books are The Eastern Enlargement of the European Union (Routledge, 2006) and (forthcoming) The EU and the Western Balkans: Stabilization and Democratization through Enlargement (Routledge, 2008)Tragically, no substantive EU political engagement was attempted and Yugoslavia descended into an abyss of fratricidal ethnic cleansing which cost upwards of 250,000 lives. Today, as the government of Hashim Thaci formed after the November 2007 elections in Kosovo prepares to declare independence from Serbia, the future of the western Balkans looms as the most serious geopolitical issue facing the enlarged EU of twenty-seven member-states. How should the EU respond?

Europe, Africa and EPAs: opportunity or car-crash?

Europe's trade policy has the potential to be a powerful instrument for African development. To date it hasn't been. The central element of this policy since 2002 - the establishment of economic partnership agreements (EPAs) - now needs to be rethought.

The “European Union presidency”: a practical compromise

The design of the future presidency of the European Union council is likely to create confusion among European citizens. The inter-governmental conference (IGC) closing in Lisbon on 18-19 October 2007 could have done better on this issue without reopening the fundamentals of the new blueprint. If the notion of the "European Union presidency" is clarified, this could achieve a triple benefit: avoid confusion, increase legitimacy, and help safeguard the EU's founding principle of shared leadership.

Europe: politics or die

In June 2007 in Berlin, the heads of state and government of the European Union agreed on a detailed mandate to finalise the text of a new treaty to reform the institutions of the European Union. The six-month Portuguese presidency (which inherited the mantle from Germany after the Berlin summit) now hopes to close the deal in October, thus terminating the two-year stalemate that followed the rejection of the constitution in France and the Netherlands.

Turkey’s crisis and the European Union

Turkey's general election on 22 July 2007 has resulted in a decisive victory for the ruling Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi (Justice & Development Party / AKP) of prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The AKP's 46.5% of the vote, more than twice as much as the two largest opposition parties, has reaffirmed its position as Turkey's most powerful political force. But this is far from a straightforward vindication of democracy. Turkey remains a deeply divided country in the midst of a major crisis whose outcome - the clarity of the election result notwithstanding - looks likely to be distinctly uncomfortable for the country and for the European Union which it aspires to join.

European Union: after the reform treaty

The "reform treaty" on which the European Union agreed in Brussels in the early hours of 23 June 2007 is both a compromise and an improvement on the two years of uncertainty that followed the French and Dutch rejections of the projected constitution in 2005. Nevertheless, the treaty raises a number of key issues that are likely to haunt the EU in the years to come, basically because as with many compromises, serious issues are unresolved.

At British and Dutch instigation, the reform treaty stipulates that the EU is to lose its symbols, such as the flag, the anthem and "Europe day". These losses may not appear significant at first sight, because symbolic elements tend to be dismissed as marginal. In reality they are a way to promote identification, in this case to strengthen the identification of the citizens of Europe with the EU, something that (notwithstanding Michael Bruter's argument in openDemocracy) is currently weak.

European Union: from backdoor to front

In the small hours of 23 June 2007, the twenty-seven heads of states and governments of the European Union reached an agreement at their summit in Brussels on the amending treaty to replace the proposed EU constitution that French and Dutch voters rejected by referendum in 2005.

The Polish confusion

Partners behave better towards each other during the courtship than they do after a year or two of marriage. Poland's ruling Kaczynski twins - Lech, the president, and Jaroslaw, prime minister - are currently reminding the European Union of this self-evident truth. Candidates for EU membership tend to say and do the right things. Things begin to get tense after they get in.

Europe’s next steps

Shakespeare would surely have described the European council meeting in Brussels on 21-22 June 2007, and the new reform treaty it finally approved in outline, as Much Ado about Rather Little.

Europe at fifty: towards a new single act

The European Union may have turned fifty but it has yet to overcome its midlife crisis. At its summit in Brussels on 21-22 June 2007, the German presidency has promised to do exactly that and fulfil the promise contained in its sober Berlin declaration, "to place the European Union on a renewed common basis before the European Parliament elections in 2009". There exist many divides in Europe; between rich and poor countries, old and new members, big and smaller states.

Europe: the square root of no

With only twenty-four hours to go before the start of the crucial summit of European Union heads of state and government in Brussels on 21-22 June 2007 - intended to agree important reforms to the way the EU functions - the British government's Eurodiplomacy has assumed a truly bizarre character. Even diplomats and politicians in other EU capitals well seasoned in the arcane ways of European negotiations have rubbed their eyes in amazement at the contortions of British government emissaries as they perform u-turn and volte face manoeuvres on key features of a new EU reform treaty.

Romania: the death of reform

The vendetta of Bucharest’s political cartels against the country’s president exposes the failure of European Union policy. It could even destabilise the EU itself, says Tom Gallagher.

The European Union's troubled birthday

We need considerable distance to see the European Union as it really is, simply because it has become a standard part of the political landscape and - in the eyes of many of its citizens - a largely undesirable one. Yet the very idea that states which have spent decades, in some cases centuries, at war with each other should come together in a joint political and economic enterprise and be able to keep it going is something quite extraordinary in the history of Europe.

European unity: reality and myth

Few of today's Europeans looking at a photograph of the event will be able to recognise the twelve politicians who signed the Treaty of Rome on 25 March 1957 which established the European Economic Community (EEC).

The Festival of Europe: a London reimaginary

The cultivation of spaces to explore ideas in search of truth and beauty is a vital part of Europe’s project, says Niccoló Milanese of the Festival of Europe.

The European Union and Romania: consolidating backwardness?

Romania will join the European Union in January 2007. Good news for the millions who will flee west for work, says Tom Gallagher: but inside the country, Bucharest's road to Brussels is the fruit of an unedifying alliance between corporate businessmen and European leftists that will benefit only a tiny elite.

Bulgaria: the mafia's dance to Europe

Bulgaria is on course to become the twenty-sixth member-state of the European Union on 1 January 2007, when it is scheduled to join along with its northern neighbour Romania. But the current behaviour of its leading power-centres suggests that this southeast European state of 7.7 million people is very far from reaching the EU's institutional norms.

Four elements of Bulgaria's current reality illuminate this predicament: business, organised crime, the legal system, and the police service.

Population politics

Europe’s demographic trends are reshaping its social landscape and the life-chances of its citizens. Britain’s politicians need to pay heed and plan, say Mike Dixon & Julia Margo of the Institute of Public Policy Research.

Europe and beyond: struggles for recognition

The European parliament has finally passed its amended version of the controversial services directive while thousands protested at its gates. British prime minister Tony Blair and European Commission president José Manuel Barroso, the greens and conservatives in the parliament, trade unions and business associations had all started the year by declaring that the liberalisation of services markets would be the key European issue in 2006.

Bulgaria's red mafia on Europe's trail

The experience of the veteran dissident and lawyer Yanko Yankov shows that Bulgaria's communist inheritance is still damaging the country, writes Ilija Trojanow.

Europe and Turkey: the end of the beginning

Turkey's negotiations for entry to the European Union opened on 3 October 2005. But it’s not a done deal, says Fadi Hakura: an arduous road lies ahead before Turkish membership can be assured.

Germany's election sleepwalk

Germans are flocking to the motorways and the Hamburg docks in search of sun and distraction. Anything but politics! Michael Naumann takes the measure of “strange times in Germany”.

Tony Blair's opportunity: an Anglo-Social European model

Britain’s social model has developed a distinctive, hybrid character under Tony Blair – both less “American” and more “European” than critics claim, say Mike Dixon & Howard Reed of the Institute of Public Policy Research.

Germany's unfinished business

Germans are expecting a September election where Angela Merkel will replace Gerhard Schröder. But changing Germany itself will be harder, writes “Die Zeit” publisher Michael Naumann.

Gerhard Schröder's last stand

The German Chancellor responded to his Social Democratic Party’s defeat in North Rhine-Westphalia by calling for early national elections. Michael Naumann, publisher of “Die Zeit”, reflects on a high-stakes gamble.

Poland's nervous 'return' to Europe

Poland is the largest of the ten states joining the European Union on 1 May 2004. But economic pressures, political strains and global fears make this a moment of worry rather than celebration for its 40 million citizens, reports Krzysztof Bobinski from Warsaw.

Cyprus: the price of rejection

If Greek Cypriots reject the Annan plan for the island’s reunification, they will enter the European Union on 1 May without their northern Turkish neighbours. For a former senior Greek diplomat, the result would be baleful: the collapse of thirty years of diplomacy, entrenched division in the eastern Mediterranean island, and risks to democratic progress in Turkey and south-east Europe.

"We the peoples of Europe..."

Why did the Brussels summit on the European Constitution collapse? Perhaps because it deserved to. The EU must move from government by elites who seek to manage, to one grounded on citizens’ support.

Who did it? Who is responsible for the failure of European heads of states and governments to agree to a proposed new Constitution at their inter-governmental conference (IGC) in Brussels on 12-13 December?

There is a temptingly easy answer.

Referenda: Europe's democracy finds its voice

Ten national referenda around Europe between March and September 2003 reflect the engagement of citizens with European politics yet underline the sceptical attitude of many to further integration. As a constitution for an enlarged European Union grows nearer, the need for Europe’s people to have a voice in shaping their own future is clear.

Remember Anna Lindh

Inside the Ankara restaurant, more and more Kurdish dishes piled up on the table as Anna Lindh talked with political leaders. Outside, security tried to hold back the press. The Turkish newspapers were already full of headlines about this strange, tough Swedish foreign minister and her "human rights".

That was in February 2000. Earlier, at the European council in Cologne in June 1999, Anna Lindh had vetoed a decision to make Turkey a candidate country for European Union membership without clear conditions. I remember that after the foreign ministers’ dinner where the issue was discussed, she was still angry in the car on the way to the press conference.

Tough negotiations followed, and strict human-rights conditions were imposed. Turkey was given candidate status at the European council in Helsinki in December 1999. Anna Lindh continued to criticise Turkey, but she was also crystal clear that it should be admitted to the EU once the political criteria were fulfilled.

That strong, fair, principled commitment to human rights was typical of Anna Lindh the politician. She was motivated by values, by a strong feeling for what she considered right or wrong. She had the courage to take on political fights when she had to, even if she could doubt her own ability when the TV cameras were turned off. At the same time, she could find constructive ways forward, with the considerable help of her social talents and a lively sense of humour.

On hearing of her death, her German counterpart Joschka Fischer said: “We have lost a great European”.

The air was shivering

As minister for the environment (1994-98), Anna Lindh gave Swedish policy in this field a true European dimension. When she stepped into the elevator at her first European council meeting, in March 1995, the air was shivering with anger, with EU diplomats looking at her like something a cat had dragged into the Charlemagne building.

Anna Lindh had supported an initiative by Svend Auken, then Danish environment minister, to ban the export of dangerous waste to developing countries. The council had not been able to agree the issue, so Denmark and Sweden forwarded their proposal for a ban directly to the Basel convention secretariat. This was seen by other member-states as a breach of EU solidarity.

But in the end, Auken and Lindh won; the EU united around a similar proposal, and the convention was changed. This was one of many results in the environmental field. Others include a strategy to combat acidification and a tighter policy on chemicals. At home, too, she made radical overhauls of environmental law. Anna Lindh gradually won the respect of her colleagues in the council.

Improving the environment was also a way of showing those more EU-sceptical Swedes that European co-operation could mean something positive in everyday life. Later, the successful Swedish presidency in 2001 brought the EU closer to citizens. Anna Lindh became very popular in Sweden, and played a prominent role in the domestic debate on European affairs, including in the euro referendum campaign this year.

Remember, and go on

“Politics is wanting to achieve something”, said former Swedish prime minister Olof Palme. It is a good description of Anna Lindh’s work. She did not shy away from wielding power or from compromise when it was needed, but she never lost sight of what she wanted to achieve. Her ethics, together with her ability to see ways forward in difficult situations, made that possible.

Anna Lindh often spoke of Olof Palme. “After his murder, we talked too little about Olof’s political work”. she said. The sorrow after the assassination of Palme in 1986 was so painful that Lindh and other leading politicians did not want to use him in the political debate. Afterwards, she regretted that new generations had lost sight of Olof Palme, and began frequently to quote him in her speeches.

That reflection is guidance to us who are mourning Anna’s death. Now is the time of sorrow. But democracy and politics must move on, in both Sweden and the European Union. Anna Lindh’s openness, optimism and firm values should inspire us in that work.

 

Saying 'wait and see' to the world

Even a wave of sympathy following Anna Lindh’s murder did not prevent a majority of Swedes voting ‘no’ to the euro. This ‘yes-voter’ ponders the particular timbre of Swedish parochialism.

On the aftermath of the Swedish no vote

If all the European Union offers is more centralisation, then saying ‘no’ makes a lot of sense says the British Conservative party’s Foreign Affairs spokesman.

Europe and the global south: towards a circle of equality

In May 2003, leading European philosophers challenged Europe to formulate a coherent foreign policy in its own and the world’s interest. Jacques Derrida, Jurgen Habermas and colleagues are well-intentioned but trapped in Eurocentrism, argues this American political philosopher. Europe needs not globalism but a provincialism that will enable a dialogue of equals with the rest of the world.
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