Seminars within the framework of the project “European Integration - Eastern European Aspect”
In 2021 the Bulgarian Club of the National Research University Higher School of Economics and the International Laboratory on World Order Studies and the New Regionalism under the auspices of the Department of International Relations of the National Research University Higher School of Economics have launched regular seminars devoted to the discussion of contemporary international politics with the largest Bulgarian political experts.
Seminars are held within the framework of the project “European Integration: East European Aspect” under the guidance of Professor A. Lukin. The goal of the project is to acquaint the audience with the Eastern European vision of the problems of the European Union and the prospects for the development of relations with Russia as well as to create a platform for scientific discussion and analysis of these issues. A recording of the seminars can be viewed below.
Professor Christov touched on essential topics linked to the current situation and the future perspective of the European Union. He also elaborated on the European integration as part of the enlargement of the Union, pointing out the integration process of new candidates and detailing the tasks and problems before them. Another point the professor made was the rise of Euroscepticism and Eurosceptic political parties, which aim for a looser EU, end to the eurozone or altogether the disbandment of the Union.
Professor Christov continued with the challenges the Union faces related to the event of Brexit, the emerging signs of divisions among members and the crisis of migration and refugee flows into the EU. The lecturer expanded on an important subject of the seminar - the relations between the EU and Russia, building on the deliberation of Russia as a strategic partner or a potential threat to the security of the EU. According to professor Christov, the future of the European Union, despite many challenges, foresees a strong transparent union with the intensification of the engagement of its citizens and remaining the strongest and deepest form of integration in the world.
The first part of the report was dedicated to NATO. Mr. Bozhilov highlighted the main tasks of the Organization. More precisely, he pointed out three basic functions of NATO - collective defense, crisis management and cooperation security. What is more, our guest stressed that the issue of military capabilities is a crucial one for NATO. “The Organization is increasing investments in order to create new military capabilities in order to protect countries and address new military threats”, said the chairman.
The next subtopic in the Mr. Bozhilov’s report tackled the NATO’s risks nowadays. Concerning this topic Yordan Bozhilov emphasized the importance of NATO’s threats coordination and the importance of understanding and predicting all the risks nowadays, which is reflected in NATO’s 360-degree program. The main risks mentioned by Mr. Bozhilov are conventional threats, or territories that are a matter of defense because of the possible military aggression by Russia. What is more - terrorism, Covid-19, space exploration, climate change and some future risks such as artificial intelligence.
The second main topic that Mr. Yordan Bozhilov tackled was concerning the EU. He highlighted the crucial role of the Union to become an independent security provider. The chairman shared his thoughts about the future possibility of the EU to take more security issues on its own. What is important, Mr. Bozhilov described the EU as a transatlantic link and for now, it still relies on the USA activities for its security protection. “The EU is a pillar within NATO when it comes to defense”, said Mr. Bozhilov.
To conclude, the main idea of Yordan Bozhilov was that countries within both organizations, particularly , are not in favor of competitive relationship between NATO and EU, they rather advocate a complementarity between them.
Ruslan Trad expressed the opinion that relations between the Arab world and the EU are not in a good state. According to him, the EU's influence in the Middle East and North Africa has never been as weak as it is now. As a reason for this, he pointed out the fact that Europeans are not united about which policy to choose when deciding on supporting one or another political groups in the region. Drawing attention to other problems, he talked upon the development of criminal and extremist groups, civil wars in the region and illegal migration. As he mentioned, the Middle East region and the North Africa region need reforms and new solutions for their actual social, economic, political and military problems. However, he also pointed out that USA is not interested in solving these problems at this stage, and the European Union is unable to participate due to its internal disagreements. He also dwelt in detail on Russia's participation in the Middle East. According to him, the Russian Federation plays the role of a peacemaker and in this role, it shows that it perfectly understands the local orders of the Arab world. Additionally, Ruslan Trad focused on the Turkish-European Agreement, pointing out that because of it, the EU "fell into an unpleasant trap". Another point that Ruslan drew attention to, was the issue in relation to the Iranian nuclear deal. He pointed to the negative development of the negotiations on the Iranian deal and stressed the insolvability of this problem in the future.
The host of the meeting, Stefan Stoyanov, also joined the discussion. He shared his thoughts on the fact that historically, European countries have always been connected with the Middle East and North Africa. Now, as he noted, the situation has changed. His main idea was that the EU countries should cooperate with each other, and it would be even better if they find some common interests with Russia. Common interests, in his opinion, can be found in the field of national security in connection with the constant threat of terrorist attacks or with the large flows of illegal immigrants. However, he pointed out that the foundation for ensuring solid national security could be laid primarily by activities in the field of increasing investments, improving education and maintaining political stability in all Arab States. At the same time, he spoke about the way China continues to invest in the economies of the Arab countries in order to achieve future strategic influence in the Middle East and North Africa region.
Joining the discussion, the debater Amal Vildanov opened the topic of terrorism and immigration from the Middle East. He expressed the position that terrorist’s organizations as such are moving from their "native" territories in the Middle East to the Sahel region. As a result, as he pointed out, today there is a specific process of establishing new militaristic bases in Africa by the largest world powers. In the second part of his speech, he highlighted the issue of immigration. As he said, this problem will continue to exist and cause threats to European countries, because at this stage there is no solution found that could solve this problem once and for all. He expressed the opinion that this whole process will continue to proceed intensively, as long as the so-called “East-West” division remains in the relations between the states of the Arab world and the European Union.
At the end of the seminar Ruslan Trad added: "For the political elites of the Arab states, strong historical ties with many of the European countries are very inherent ..., but there is one small detail – the peoples of these Arab states themselves are distrustful of the Europeans."
At the begging of her talk, Tsvetelina Penkova made an overview of the main European Institutions, their structure and function. Moreover Ms. Penkova highlighted the main important EU legal acts and explained their functions and matter for the EU member states. The second part of her speech was dedicated to specific issues on the agenda within the EU and ways to tackle them. In particular, Tsvetelina Penkova mentioned the green deal, the process of digitalisation and the Covid-19.
Speaking about the current political context of the contemporary EU agenda, the speaker said that in order to cope with the challenges towards the EU, a new innovative and progressive approach is needed. By this Ms.Penkova meant new technologies, investment in growth jobs, especially for young people and small and medium businesses, especially under the influence of the Covid-19. According to her, “The young are the backbone to the European Economy.”
One more topic Ms. Penkova shared with the audience was Eurozone. The speaker paid attention that “the fact that the EU has its common currency creates a strong interdependency between the EU member states and makes it impossible to break or leave the Union”. According to Ms. Penkova, the common Eurozone boosts the principle of solidarity between the member states. As an example she provides the case of Greece in 2013 and how Germany helped out the Greek economy. Speaking about the fears, related to the Eurozone, Ms. Penkova mentioned the case of her homeland country Bulgaria. She pointed out the fear of the loss of monetary sovereignty, rising prices, inflation after the adoption of the euro etc. However, she said the “despite the costs of adoption the euro, benefit analysis show we are more co-dependent on each other, and therefore the unity is the key that brings stability within the EU”.
The speaker also shared information about some fiscal policies of EU - such as the “Common EU dept, or the so called Next Generation EU”, as well as some information about the conditions of distribution the funding in the forms of loans and grants.
Regarding to the European Green Deal, the EU member of EP presented a chronology of adoption of agreements on the green deal within the EU for 2019-2020 by the states. She mentioned the so called “Climate Law” of the EU and that within the European Institutions there is “…a lot of trouble: we are losing our economic competitiveness, everything that is produced within the EU will become more expensive on the global market.”
In conclusion, Ms. Penkova stated that “If we don’t change our way of life, of production and manufacturing, we are going to have a problem in the coming decade”. “The European issues are global ones as well”, and “a common European strategy and Unity are a necessity”, - argued the speaker.
Mr. Lieven’s talk was dedicated to the recent political crisis between Russia and Ukraine. At the begging of his speech, he pointed out that nothing “is entirely clear for now in this situation and I won’t speculate”. Therefore, he provided several implications of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.
Anatol Lieven made it clear that in security terms, the crisis on Ukraine’s border confirmed that Europe would gain no autonomy from the USA. Moreover, he shared his opinion that Russia’s actions are not fully justified, and it would have been more beneficial if Russia waited. First, this might have happened, if France elects a pro-Russian President during the coming French presidential elections, or for instance wait until the 2024 American elections, because that might have a better outcome for Russia. Now Moscow is going to become more dependent on Beijing.
What is more, answering the questions from the audience, Mr. Lieven mentioned the increasing global inflation that undoubtfully will aggravate in terms of food prices, especially if Europe is about to isolate economically Russia, responsible for a great amount of the wheat exports worldwide.
Adding to this, Mr. Lieven expressed his fears about an undesirable ¨ethnic conflict¨ between Russia and Ukraine, that has not been seen before. This might happen if Russia invades Ukraine further and the US continues to support a partisan ¨guerrilla war¨ in Ukraine.
In conclusion, the expert repeated his statement that Russia should have waited with such a decision and that now the country itself should live with its burden and be prepared for a loss of its international prestige.
Mr. Vladimirov talked about the most pressing issues in the current days, which concern not only the European Union, but whole Europe itself – the energy crisis and the future of the Green Deal. He mentioned vulnerabilities that are present across the Union such as its dependence on imports, low energy efficiency, limited market liberalization and the usage of coal which results in carbon emissions, foreign energy influence, etc.
He also argued about the need for achieving independency from Russian gas and oil and diversifying the energy market for the European states, moreover he added that this is not impossible in the nearest future. Mr. Vladimirov emphasized on Europe’s aim for sustainability and long-term development. The spiker noted several ways in which the EU could reduce its dependence: “by increasing gas storage capacity, implementing liquefied natural gas from the USA and Qatar and increasing domestic natural gas production, creating incentives towards limiting consumption.”
The approaches he brought up were utilizing renewable energy sources, investing in a better power grid, in modernization and digitalization; also the increase of the output from nuclear power plants. However, the energy crisis has put the Green Deal in a struggle as more coal power plants are increasing their recent output.
In the seminar also participated Mr. Ilya Stepanov, a research fellow at HSE and the Deputy Head of the Laboratory for Economics of Climate Change and Programme Academic Supervisor of the Environmental Economics and Sustainable Development program. He agreed with the measures taken by the EU in the field of energy security. Regarding the current situation, he acknowledged the vulnerabilities in the sector, analyzed the short-term and long-term consequences of the EU policy, in particular the emission reduction policy and the incentives to lower coal consumption.
To summarize, the European Union faces a crisis which would delay the Green Deal, but, nevertheless, it looks forward for energy independency, sustainability and overcoming the obstacles of the crisis.
At the beginning of his talk Professor Babic emphasised the historical formation of the Balkans as a notion and as a geostrategic point, the so-called “European powder keg”. Speaking of the latter, Mr. Babic also pointed out that he considers “the geography as the biggest enemy of the Balkans”. Nowadays, he mentioned, the Balkans’s problem is that states’ economies are not strong enough and competitive, due to their similar structure and due to the market that cuts down their prices and competitive capacities. As far as the EU Policy towards Western Balkan is concerned, Mr. Babic mentioned that the EU enriched the "Balkanization" by new division. Also he referred to EU political elites’ point of view that without Western Balkans the EU is incomplete, but still regularly finds some reasons to retain them in the "waiting room".
In her speech, Professor Entina elaborated on a number of topics. First, she highlighted how does the Russian special operation in Ukraine affect the EU integration. Second, she spoke about the results of the recent general election in Serbia. And lastly, she explained Serbian intentions towards new sanctions on Russia. Professor Entina’s major point considering the first bloc was that tactically the Russian special operation led to homogenisation of the foreign policy of EU. She also pointed out that the EU integration on Balkans is not integration of societies, but it is rather a unification of norms, markets and strategic security of Europe. According to Professor Entina, the EU-Russia normative coopetition in the Balkans is not relevant anymore, as long as sanctions stopped the trade and the cooperation.
As for the Serbian elections, Professor Entina mentioned that pro-Russian and anti-European sentiment was higher than it was expected. However, she added that in terms of “values” Serbia is a part of the Euro-Atlantic society. Considering the anti-Russian sanctions on behalf of Serbia and other Western Balkans countries, Professor Entina mentioned these countries are just formally participating in the sanctions. Moreover, the balance policy of the Serbian President has been Serbia’s political success for years.
The lecturer Marian Karagiozov spoke about the economic and political axes around which Turkey revolves. He explained that, economically and not only, Turkey is closely linked to the European Union and the West, often receiving help from them. Last but not least, the country maintains export relations with China and Russia. Referring to the political axes around which Turkey is moving, he mentioned the potential and great success if the country gains EU membership, increasing its attractiveness and prestige, and putting it on an equal footing with Greece. However, he notes that these achievements are problematic for the state, given the cooperation and competition they contain.
Continuing his lecture, Karagiozov also spoke about Turkey historically. He raises the question of what Turkey could be in the eyes of the EU - a partner or a competitor, stressing the differences between their citizens, as Turkey has citizens of mainly Turkish origin and Islamic religion asalways have had.
The lecturer also mentions some contemporary cases related to the situation in the country. For example, he mentioned the political dialogue - Lisbon Treat, between EU representatives and the Turkish Foreign Minister. Marian talks about the deterioration of the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean after 2019, as a result of which Turkey was sanctioned for illegal drilling. These sanctions are extended until November 2022.
At the end, the host of the lecture - Stefan Stoyanov joined the discussion. Stefan gave his opinion about Turkey's disagreement over Sweden's and Finland's entry into NATO. He mentioned, that despite Erdogan's statement, this accession of the Scandinavian countries to the organization was working in a positive direction for his country. Last but not least, he notes that both Turkey and Ankara, which has been high in the hierarchy of world leaders, have great authority. Stefan mentions Ankara's demand - the recognition of the Helsinki and Stockholm as Kurdish groups and as Kurdish Workers' Party in the quality of terrorist organizations, as they are one of the main threats to Turkey's security policy.
In conclusion, the main challenges facing Turkey were mentioned. Could the geographical and cultural borders between it and Europe be crossed? What is the future of the EU and is Turkey involved in it, and does it have the institutional capacity for its presence? The island nation has some concerns about the arrival and stay of foreigners and its budgetary burden.
Elena Poptodorova served twice as the Ambassador of the Republic of Bulgaria to the USA. She is currently the Vice President of the Atlantic Treaty Association (ATA) in Bulgaria. H.E. Poptodorova held the position of Spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria and Director of the Human Rights and International Humanitarian Organizations Directorate, as well as also Director of the Security Policy Directorate in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Elena Poptodorova was twice elected as a Member of the Bulgarian Parliament. She is also a member of the Washington-based Executive Council on Diplomacy and the Women's Foreign Policy Group.
Marlene Laruelle, Ph.D., a research-professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs, The George Washington University. Fyodor Lukyanov is Editor-in-chief of the journal “Russia in Global Affairs”, Chairman of the Presidium of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy of Russia, research professor at the National Research University Higher School of Economics
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