Cameron Gibson, visiting expert, University of the West Scotland
On the 8th of June, Britain votes to elect a new Prime Minster. This election was the result of the Prime Minister, Theresa May, calling it in order for the British public to have a say in how a ‘Brexit’ Britain and Brexit itself ought to be governed. British governments are elected through a process called ‘first past the post’, where seats (constituencies) are allocated on a majority basis –the candidate with the highest amount of votes wins the seat, and the party will the largest amount of seat in parliament can form a government). Polling suggests that this election will be between two individuals: Theresa May from the Conservative Party and Jeremy Corbyn from the Labour Party. It is these two who wish to become British Prime Minister, to form a government and to shape Britain around their ideas. With this in mind, it is worth considering what this election will mean for Britain and its place in the world.
Foreign policy has taken central stage in this election, given the fact it has been called as Britain goes into negotiations for leaving the European Union. Such a decision will have implications for trade, immigration and Britain’s position in the world, so it is vital for a prospective Prime Minister to have a coherent foreign policy. Of note this election is NATO, trading relationships and defence.
The Conservatives desire a gradual year-on-year increase of 0.5% in defence spending; a commitment to spend 2% of GDP to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation; expanding transnational involvement with the Modern Slavery Act and the promotion of free trade. This last aspect will involve strengthening partnership and economic ties with the Commonwealth and the United States.
Labour wishes to facilitate reform of the United Nations with regards to the veto held by the permanent members of the Security Council and the likelihood of abuses; the formation of a Ministry of Peace department to work on conflict prevention, post-conflict peacebuilding and protecting civilians in conflict; a commitment to the recognition of Palestine and the two-state solution; continued investment into the armed forces; minimising tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade and finally, unrestricted trade of goods and services with the European Union.
The possible reform of the United Nations, formation of a new Ministry, pursuit of multilateral nuclear disarmament and necessity to support “meaningful negotiations” with regards to the Israel-Palestine conflict align themselves with the pacifist wing of the Labour party, but may be viewed as overburdening government departments in view of negotiations to leave the European Union.
Both parties are discussing the possibilities of trading easily both internationally and within Europe. For the Conservatives this is an ideological position to take, given their support for market forces in economic affairs; for Labour, it is a pragmatic position. Nevertheless, both parties could find it difficult to achieve their aims. The success of which depends on the conditions of negotiation (both through Brexit, with the World Trade Organisation and possible trading partners) and their other commitments vis-a-vis movement of people, goods and immigration.
The changing relationship with Europe obligates a focus upon diplomacy and reaffirming trading relationships, hence the strong inclusion of such aspects in both manifestos. However, there remains key policy bias. The Conservatives have historically favoured a strong armed forces and a strong protection of the national interest; whereas Labour have favoured the upholding of international law and promotion of international humanitarian efforts. These biases are clearly illustrated within these manifestos to maintain key party support.
The Conservative manifesto is a bid for the centre ground of British politics –witness policies such as an energy cap and a higher living wage. Despite these policies, concessions to low-taxation are multiple. There will be no Value Added Tax, a commitment to maintaining low corporation tax and increasing the personal allowance to £12,500 before taxation. It is clear that through this manifesto, the Thatcherite thinking of the Conservatives is a waning force. Pragmatism is the only show in town, and typically Thatcherite-minded Conservative politicians are backing May due to her support of Brexit. In comparison, Labour under Jeremy Corbyn aims at core Labour supporters, both in language and policy. Like the Conservatives, Labour is committed to no further VAT rises, but that is where the similarities end. Labour wish to increase corporation tax for businesses, a closing of taxation loopholes and empower the HM Customs and Revenue to clamp down on tax avoidance. There will be no income tax increase for those earning less than £80,000. The economic model of Labour has been clearly influenced by Corbyn and his Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell. Their desire for taxation and investment is marked Keynesian and it is clear that Labour have been reshaped from the highly successful election winning ‘Third Way’ thinking of Tony Blair.
As well as being perceived as ‘Brexit election’, this election carries a significant Scottish Independence dynamic. This issue will be viewed through the prism of the two parties discussed throughout. The Conservatives have benefitted in Scotland from defining themselves as the bulwark against the Scottish National Party and the possibility of another referendum. However, there is a co-dependency between the SNP and Conservative parties –each brings one another joint gains in support. This is the paradoxical nature of politics in Scotland currently. If Theresa May wins this election, it may extinguish the possibility of another Scottish independence altogether, or inflame a greater push for it. However, this seems unlikely, given the drop in s0upport for another referendum, overall disaffection for the SNP’s governance record (especially in education) and the precedent which allows the Prime Minster to grant or deny requests for referendums. The Union looks to be safe, for now.
Regardless of the outcome, Jeremy Corbyn has stated his intention of staying as leader. This is despite a majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party not supporting him. Whatever the result, they may be an opportunity to form an additional party in British Politics for either side. However, this is unlikely to happen. Labour have form when it comes to internal disputes, but can overcome them if they are to govern. Corbyn has strong ‘grassroots’ appeal with activists but has always maintained the position of outsider when it came to party politics. This appeal with activists and groups outwith the parliamentary framework may be enough to bolster him in the short term, but he will have to gain a foothold when it comes to support from the parliamentary party if he is to maintain his position soon after. Conversely, the Conservatives have rallied around Theresa May, given that the only likely area of conflict for the party –Europe- is being pursued on the terms of the referendum result. However, despite the personal narrative of this election, if the Conservatives do not win, as a party they will not think twice about replacing May, especially as during this election support for the party polled its highest since 1983. However, it is expected that the Conservatives will win this election. Thus, several Tory MPs, it has been said, are looking to be in power for the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, given the outcome of Brexit, trusting polling results has become a suspect practice and with voting underway, it could all change.
In conclusion, there is a defined choice for Britain to make, despite the Conservative shift to the ‘middle’ ground. A government under Theresa May will be a continuation of the last five years, but with a distinctly pragmatic flavour: low taxation, a strong foreign policy but attempts to answer concerns of living costs and wages. A Britain under a May government will pursue Brexit, yet attempt to foster a new relationship with Europe and trade deals outwith the single market, whilst maintaining a strong commitment to NATO, transatlanticism and the armed forces generally. Conversely, a government under Jeremy Corbyn will be a marked change from the previous government. An increase in taxation and government expenditure and a foreign policy which is predicated upon involvement in trans-national frameworks such as the United Nations with transatlantic relations conditional. A Labour Brexit, much like a Conservative one, will be reliant upon negotiations in the shape it will take. That said, internal politics (be it Eurosceptic Tory MPs or Labour MPs who supported Remain) will govern the likelihood of concessions made by either government.
Ukraine-EU Summit: the beginning of uncertainty
On July 12-13, 2017 Ukraine-EU Summit was held in Kyiv with participation of the President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk. The parties discussed implementation of the Association Agreement, visa regime, reforms and combating corruption in Ukraine, the Russian aggression and the like. At the same time, this summit did not produce a joint statement via contradiction around phrases about "European aspirations" of Ukraine. However, the friendly rhetoric of the summit overshadows the beginning of the crisis in relations between Kyiv and Brussels. Absence of the joint declaration shows that the EU is not yet ready for further rapprochement to Ukraine. On the one hand, the slow pace of reforms and fight against corruption reduces the interest of Brussels to deepening of cooperation with our state. On the other hand, Ukraine has established a foothold among the secondary issues of the EU policy due to Brexit, migration, terrorism, financial problems and other priorities. In addition, euroskeptic and populist forces, despite the recent defeat at the polls in the Netherlands and France, will continue to play a prominent role in the political life of many countries. As a consequence, European aspirations of Ukraine and other countries neighboring the EU will give rise to ultra-right politicians harshly criticizing their governments and institutions in Brussels. Without further rapprochement with the EU, Ukraine will not have sufficient incentives to continue reforms and fight corruption. The main engine of political and economic transformation in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe was the prospect of EU membership. In the case of Ukraine, these "gingerbread" was the Association Agreement, deep and comprehensive free trade area (DCFTA) and visa-free regime, which many citizens and politicians mistakenly considered to be an intermediate step to EU membership. From now on "soft power" of the EU towards Ukraine is limited to financial support in conducting reforms and sanctions against Russia. It is obvious that the potential of such tools is not enough to ensure the irreversibility of the course of reforms and fight against corruption. Thus, this Ukraine – EU summit will be the beginning of uncertainty about the future of bilateral relations. The ability of Brussels to offer attractive initiative for Ukraine will depend on the continuation of reforms in Ukraine, progress in the fight against corruption, the preservation of democratic achievements and loyalty of Ukrainian citizens to the European idea and values.
British General Election Results
Cameron Gibson, visiting expert, University of the West Scotland Following the election of yesterday, the British political landscape has been thrown into short-term turmoil. The Prime Minister, Theresa May called this election in order to gain a mandate for Brexit and to consolidate her parliamentary majority. This morning, she has lost that majority, having now been left with a slim minority and the loss of eight former cabinet ministers. The Conservative’s loss has been Labour’s gain with the party being voted in 31 more seats than previous election. The Scottish Conservatives also gained support north of the border, with the Scottish National Party losing 19 seats than before. However, given the need for 326 seats to form a majority government, a hung parliament has been declared (with the Conservatives carrying 316 and Labour at 261). It is this status that informs the immediate aftermath of this election. Attempt to govern The Conservatives could attempt to govern as the minority party, and this seems the most likely of options. The Conservatives could draw upon the support of the DUP and other interested parties to push their agenda through the House of Commons. Whilst the first past the post system used to elect representatives is designed to elect a workable majority, there have been examples of minority rule, from Harold Wilson’s 1974 Labour government; James Callaghan’s 1976 Labour government; John Major’s 1992 government and David Cameron’s 2012 Conservative-Liberal government. However, a slim minority is susceptible to being short term, such as Wilson’s 1974 government which lasted for seven months, and ever reducing workability, such as Callaghan’s 1976 government. It would also that the party in power cannot fully implement their manifesto or policy ideas without sizable opposition. However, minority governments are additionally open to equal claims of stewardship, with both the Conservatives and Labour. A situation may arise where May cannot form a minority government, so it is then up to the Head of State to assist in the forming of a government. A coalition of some form A coalition of some form may pursued, either a Conservative-Democratic Unionist Party one which would allow the Conservatives to govern sufficiently, or an uneasy Conservative-Labour coalition. Whilst these parties are viewed as opposites in terms of social and economic ideology, it would not be the first time there has been a Conservative-Labour coalition. The National Government, which composed of members of the Liberal, Conservative and Labour party, ruled in some capacity from 1931 to 1940. As this election was called in order to give a mandate for the Brexit negotiations, it could be said that a coalition of any form would be more appealing than a short term minority government or the prospect of another election, given what faces the country in the coming months. This is one theory (in addition to the day-to-day practicalities of running a government effectively) that may gain traction in the coming hours as party leaders jostle for position. May’s position untenable? Another possible consequence of this election is that Theresa May reconsiders her position of leader of the Conservative party. The Parliamentary Party, it has been said, aren’t pleased with losing a majority and whilst MPs are being cautious in this immediate period, it is worth remembering that the party traditionally are quick to reward success and even quicker to punish failure. Nevertheless, there is no clear view on the future of May in the Cabinet and a leadership contest will inevitably lead to another general election, which may bring further damage. May will wish to bring stability to the situation throughout the day, but criticism over her actions is mounting. Postponing of Brexit talks? The overarching concern of this election result is where it leaves Brexit. Whilst the need to leave the European Union has been accepted by the main political parties, this result throws up ambiguity over negotiations. This morning there are two schools of thought on this matter: one, which argues that the election changes nothing and negotiations can still occur in the agreed timeframe and secondly, that there could be the postponing of talks until a clear direction in leadership is found. This would be a practical suggestion, which is also based upon the idea that no serious discussion will occur until after the German elections. Given the nature of elections and the result, the situation in Downing Street this morning is highly fluid. What has been discussed are only possible outcomes of this election and Britain will gain a clear idea of what type of governance it will receive over the course of the day and the weekend. The only concrete conclusions that can be drawn is that the Conservatives have lost their previous majority, a rise in support for Jeremy Corbyn and Labour, a revival of the Scottish Conservatives with a fall in support for the SNP and that any government will be a minority and by that nature, highly dependent upon compromise to deliver day-to-day governance.
Montenegro officially became a NATO member
Montenegro became the 29th NATO member. It was the first expansion of the Alliance over the past 8 years. Russia is naturally very nervous about any extension of the North Atlantic Alliance, as NATO is the personification of the American "imperialism" and other "evils" in the consciousness of the political elite and the ordinary Russian citizens. So Russia perceives the accidence of any country to NATO as an attack on its vital interests, even if that country poses no immediate threat to Russian national interests. But why is Russia so concerned? Earlier Russian big business was interested in the Montenegrin independence. And when Russians supported in 2006 the independence of Montenegro, they certainly did not expect Montenegro to become a member of the Alliance. The Kremlin hoped that the new Balkan state would be a "twin brother" of Serbia – a country with a pro-European policy, but with a significant Russian influence. Montenegro is a very small state (like a half of Kyiv region) for its accidence to NATO to be a threat to Russia or impact the balance of power in Europe. In addition, Montenegro does not have significant military strategic importance, since all the Adriatic coast except of 9 km of Bosnian land, has long been under the jurisdiction of the Alliance. Russia in the past two years has been trying to prevent Montenegro’s accidence to the Alliance. It made the following attempts. At the end of 2016 there was an attempted coup to remove the Montenegrin government from power. That government actively approached NATO and signed a Protocol on accession to the Alliance. However, due to successful special operations the coup was neutralized. The requirement of Russia to bring the matter of the accession of Montenegro to NATO to a national referendum was another attempt to intrude. It was said that joining NATO required such a referendum. In the Montenegrin society, the division between supporters and opponents of membership is about 50/50, with a slight superiority of the supporters of joining the Alliance. However, Montenegro did not hold such a referendum, since NATO membership does not require such a step. Information war became the third attempt. Russian media, which had mastered many of the Balkan languages, actively discredited the Euro-Atlantic course of the country and assured of the importance of close cooperation with Russia.
The Netherlands ratified EU-Ukraine Association Agreement
The point of view inside the Netherlands - Michelle de Clercq: Yesterday the Dutch senate voted in favor of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. Now that the upper house backs the decision of the lower house, all EU members agree and the ratification of the agreement is almost becoming a reality. Does the approval of both houses of parliament mean that the Dutch reluctance towards the EU-Ukraine association agreement has disappeared? In April 2016 a substantial majority (60 percent) of Dutch voters rejected the Association Agreement in an advisory referendum. The electoral outcome however can be nuanced, as people might have intentionally abstained from voting. Until the last moment it was unclear if the turn-up threshold of 30 percent would be reached which was needed to give the outcome of the referendum any importance at all. In then end the minimum was just met with 32 percent. The average person in the Netherlands has little knowledge of Ukraine and the struggle people went through to make the Association Agreement possible. Nevertheless it cannot be denied that lack of information is not the only reason causing skepticism towards the Ukraine and the Association Agreement. The Dutch referendum was campaigned for and initiated by a popular Internet media site unique in its sort. It is called Geenstijl, which literally means "no class” and characterizes itself through ruthlessness, Dutch directness and provoking questioning methods. The platform mostly appeals to right-winged voters who are more likely to sympathize with Eurosceptic feelings. As the initiators of the referendum might have had a minor effect on the electoral outcome, there are three main reasons why the referendum was initiated and the agreement was later rejected. The first is that the referendum was seen as a means to express Eurosceptic feelings that are seen in many EU member states at the moment. It is important to remember that the Dutch referendum was held before the Brexit referendum and therefore had a more symbolic function to reveal the discomfort people feel over the decision making process of the EU. The second reason that was mentioned by the referendum campaigners was corruption. The question was raised whether EU cooperation was favorable due to the high level of corruption in Ukraine (131 on the corruption perception index in 2016, after Mali and Sierra Leone). The final reason was that the Association Agreement was seen as a harbinger towards Ukrainian EU membership. In December 2016 the Dutch Prime Minister Rutte decided to set the outcome of the referendum aside and ratify the EU-Ukrainian Agreement on one condition. An annex was included that the agreement cannot be seen as a steppingstone to EU membership and cannot be used as one in the future. The Annex of course is symbolic and doesn’t make a significant difference to the agreement. Ratification was not without risk as it was done three months before the national elections were held and according to polls Geert Wilders’s party was lurking not far behind from the Prime Minister Rutte. The elections in March this year showed however that Rutte’s decision could be forgiven as he convincingly won the elections again. So whether the Dutch reluctance towards the EU-Ukrainian association has disappeared remains unclear. Apart from the new multilateral agreement the future of Dutch-Ukrainian relations is uncertain. But the two nations might have more in common than they realize as the Dutch too have had a difficult relationship with Russia the last few years. 193 Dutch people have lost their lives in Eastern Ukraine during the MH-17 flight and many are still hopeful to find those responsible for bringing down the airplane. Perhaps in the future the two nations might find some common ground in their grief and tightening the belts between the two nations might not be so bad idea after all.
Elections in France: Europe's crucial day
On April 23, 2017 in France the first round of presidential elections will take place. Among the 11 presidential candidates there are five favourites who have a real chance to fight for access to the second round of elections. According to recent opinion polls, 24% of French citizens are ready to vote for the centre-left candidate Emmanuel Macron, 23% - for the leader of the extreme-right "National Front" Marine Le Pen, 19% - for the centre-right candidate Francois Fillon, 19% - for the ultra-leftist candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon and 8,5% - for the socialist Benoit Amon. While the choice of French citizens will be largely determined by the candidates` approaches to solving social and economic problems, migration, fight against terrorism, the global players are more interested in what will be the French foreign policy under the new president. Depending on the victory of one or another candidate the substantial changes in France's relations with key global players may occur. EU Macron, Fillon and Amon belong to the “euro-optimists”, although each of the three candidates sees the future of the EU in their own way. Emmanuel Macron stands for the deepening integration in financial, security and defence sector as well as the democratization of the EU. Francois Fillon proposes to deepen security cooperation in the EU, but to return more powers in other areas to national governments. Benoit Amon differs in the resistance to the austerity policy and intentions to democratize the EU. Thus, the victory of any of these candidates cannot resolve contradictions between different groups of EU countries. Yes, Macron`s victory will increase the contradictions between the Franco-German tandem and Central Europe countries, Fillon`s accession to power will bring France and Central and Northern Europe countries together but it may undermine the Franco-German relations, and Amon`s presidency will deepen the split between South and North Europe. Instead, the victory of extreme-right or ultra-leftist candidate in France will hurt the economy and prestige of the EU. If Marine Le Pen or Jean-Luc Melenchon will become the president, so France may withdraw from the Euro zone and the Schengen area and also submit Frexit to the national referendum. However Melenchon occupies a softer stance on the possible France withdrawal from the EU than the leader of the "National Front". USA French-American relations are likely to remain unchanged in case of victory of Emmanuel Macron or Francois Fillon. In this scenario, France will remain a part of the NATO military structure and continue to be one of the most important US allies in Europe. Despite the “awakening of the Anglo-Saxon world” (Brexit and Trump`s victory), Marine Le Pen`s accession to power will complicate relations between Paris and Washington because it will be harder for charismatic leaders of the two countries to achieve political or economic agreements. Bilateral relations will deteriorate further in case of victory of Jean-Luc Melenchon who considers NATO an instrument of “American imperialism”. Anti-Tramp statements of Benoit Amon will also complicate the Franco-American relations in the case of the socialist victory however a substantial revision of the strategic areas of bilateral cooperation won`t take place. Russia The most profitable scenario for Russia is the accession to power of Marine Le Pen or Jean-Luc Melenchon. The common goal unites the Kremlin and European extreme-right and ultra-leftist politicians: fragmentation of the EU and NATO. In addition, Le Pen or Melenchon can recognize the annexation of Crimea and help to build a new world order more acceptable to Russia. In case of Francois Fillon`s victory the French-Russian rapprochement will be limited by lifting the sanctions in connection with the “Ukrainian crisis” and the fight against terrorism in the Middle East. By Emmanuel Macron`s presidency France will try to simultaneously support sanctions against Russia and carry on dialogue with the Kremlin in solving of other international problems. Benoit Amon currently shows the most critical position towards Russia's actions in Ukraine and Syria, but the socialist has a very little chance to get into the second round of presidential elections. Expectations of Ukraine Ukrainian-French relations have never been close since the independence of Ukraine. Our country has never occupied an important place in the foreign policy of France. No matter who wins the election, Ukraine should not expect to deepen relations with France or Paris support of Kyiv rapprochement with the EU and NATO. The national interests of Ukraine may be considerably affected only by the change in the position of France in Normandy Quartet under the new president. In the case of a hypothetical victory of Benoit Amon France may take more loyal position to Ukraine on the conflict settlement in Donbas. If Emmanuel Macron will become the president, France is likely to continue the balanced and equidistance policy towards Ukraine and Russia, followed by Hollande. Instead, the victory of any of the three candidates - Marine Le Pen, Francois Fillon or Jean-Luc Melenchona - will lead to a rapprochement between France and Russia and worsen the international position of Ukraine. However, Ukraine must avoid the sole support of any of the presidential candidates in France and not to repeat the mistakes made by Ukrainian politicians and diplomats during the presidential elections in Poland in 2015, the United States and Moldova in 2016. In contrast, Ukraine should establish contacts with all the favourites of the election race and prepare for different scenarios of French foreign policy.
Europe will open borders to the Ukrainians: The European Parliament voted to grant visa-free regime
The European Parliament voted to grant visa-free regime with the EU for citizens of Ukraine. For the approval of the draft legislative resolution on bringing Ukraine to the list of third countries for which citizens visa requirements are abolished, 521 Members of the European Parliament voted. How further events with visa-free can develop, senior analyst of ICPS Iryna Ivashko explained on the radio station Holos Stolytsi. Do you think that Ukraine has really deserved, conquered a positive vote in the European Parliament, whether it is the first political decision from the Europeans, because even pull nowhere to? In fact, I can tell you that the European Parliament was the least problematic point in this whole procedure. We always had support there, I mean, visa-free support for Ukraine, always. Just one thing that this vote couldn`t procedurally get to European Parliament, that they gave the green light. The problem was associated with the internal migration situation in the EU. That's why this decision couldn`t possibly get to European Parliament, and now it finally reached, and today we got this vote. But I want to emphasize that this is not something unusual, that it was impossible to get. The European Parliament ... we always had support there. And then of course on the procedure it should be understood that not tomorrow we will be able to travel without visas to the Schengen area, no matter we have to go through several formalities, but they should be completed. And approximately, if there will be no procedural adjournment in the EU, bureaucracy, in late June, I think, visa-free will work for our citizens. Onward we have approval at ambassadorial level of the EU and EU Council of Ministers. May some pitfalls appear? No, actually I don`t think we should expect. We have to understand that Ukraine fulfilled all the criteria. And it has already been indecorous from the EU, European bureaucrats to postpone the decision, because it really was not fair towards us, because technically we fulfilled all the criteria which were outlined for us. And it was told and confirmed repeatedly by Europeans. And we didn`t understand why the decision is being deferred. I want to note that there shouldn`t be problems during the EU Council of Ministers meeting because the decision is taken by a qualified majority there, that allows to pass it, even if someone of ministers will be against of it. If we consider those 75 deputies who voted against granting visa-free to Ukraine, the representatives of these specific countries are present in the EU Council of Ministers? It is necessary to see the list, who exactly of these 75 people represent the country, but I say if there will be some countries, it won`t give us the obstacle. Qualified majority - it does not mean unanimity, it really won`t have, even if some countries, ministers will speak against it, but now I don`t see obstacles. According to your forecasts, this June is the end point, the borders will be opened? It won`t be June, I think it will be the end of June.