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The master of the game in Ankara

ven, 06/11/2015 - 13:18

The evening of June 7, 2015 – election day – must have been one of the worst nights in Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s political life. The Justice and Development Party (AKP), which he had led until August 2014, lost its majority in Parliament, shattering his dream of introducing a Presidential system in Turkey. However, in the aftermath of the June elections, Mr. Erdoğan managed to reverse the electorate’s verdict. Fully exploiting the prerogatives of his office and his considerable influence over his former party, he blocked attempts to form a coalition government. Through a series of smart strategic moves and taking advantage of the ineptitude and disarray of the opposition parties, he succeeded in forcing a repeat election on the country.

In a carefully crafted electoral campaign that ran parallel to that of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s, Erdoğan avoided overexposure but consistently vouched for the AKP without explicitly mentioning its name. He shifted the focus away from his aim to establish a Presidential system, emphasizing instead the importance of safeguarding Turkey’s domestic stability. In fact, the AKP propaganda machine systematically pushed the message that by denying the Party enough seats to rule by itself, the electorate would open Pandora’s box.

Chaos, they claimed, would ensue and the economic and political progress achieved during the 13-year reign of the AKP would be jeopardised. The strategy was successful: the AKP’s middle class electoral base, which owes its current prosperity to the AKP’s economic policies responded to the threat of an economic slowdown by closing ranks behind the party.

Most importantly though, the warning that chaos would result from an uncertain electoral outcome proved all the more effective against the background of a wave of terrorism, military responses and suicide bombings. The government abandoned its previous overtures to the Kurds and set itself on a collision course with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). For its part, the PKK responded by escalating violence. The prospect of an impending civil war was hugely worrying to the public. The violence peaked when, on 10 October, a pro-peace and democracy rally in Ankara became the scene of the worst terrorist attack in Turkish history.

Two suicide bombers associated with the so-called Islamic State (IS) took the lives of 102 citizens, most of whom were supporters of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), a pro-Kurdish Party. The government used this atrocity to claim that the attack had been a joint PKK and IS plot, and that Turkey was besieged by terrorist organisations.

The argument that the PKK and IS collaborated in carrying out the massacre, although not based on any evidence, struck a chord with the general public. The PKK’s escalation of violence in the summer had hardened the nationalist core of Turkish conservatism. The PKK’s violence also alienated the mostly conservative middle class Kurds that defected from the AKP in the June elections and supported the HDP. The election results show that the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and HDP both lost millions of voters to AKP.

The AKP’s strategy of fomenting fear among voters was compounded by a systematic campaign of verbal and physical attacks against independent media. The building of the country’s most important newspaper Hürriyet was attacked twice in three days by AKP-affiliated thugs, led in one instance by an AKP member of parliament. The newspaper’s most popular columnist was assaulted in front of his apartment building and his ribs were broken.

The judiciary increasingly worked as an extension of the executive and acted in line with the President’s wishes. Four days prior to the elections, a conglomerate affiliated with Mr. Erdoğan’s nemesis, the Gülen movement (that also owns a media group), was taken over by the government in the context of an ongoing investigation. It is highly likely that the arrests of individuals within the police and the judiciary and the attacks against entities associated with the Gülen movement will continue unabated.

It was under these conditions that on November 1, on the 93d anniversary of the abolition of the Ottoman Sultanate, in an election that was clean but held under extremely unfair conditions that the ruling AKP won nearly 50 percent of the vote securing a comfortable majority in Parliament. However, the AKP’s 317 seats do not provide the necessary majority to change the Constitution. Nonetheless the issue of constitutional reform to establish a Presidential system is very much back on the agenda.

A lot depends on what the PKK will do and whether or not the government will allow the jailed leader of the organisation, Abdullah Öcalan, to communicate with representatives of the HDP. Mr. Öcalan may be amenable to a deal and encourage the HDP to cooperate with the AKP on constitutional reform. Alternatively, it would not be too difficult to lure some deputies from the sinking MHP to AKP and reach the 330 threshold that is necessary to change the constitution in Parliament and put reforms to a referendum.

Although nominally Mr. Davutoğlu won the elections, it is clear that the real figure behind the victory is Mr. Erdoğan. He dominates the political space and the agenda. He inspires awe and fear. So far, his policies of polarisation and intimidation have worked and rallied almost half the public behind him. He is unchallenged as a political leader. The two major opposition parties, the MHP and the Republican Peoples’ Party (CHP), are badly beaten and face a period of internal turmoil.

Based on his past performance, one can assume that Mr. Erdoğan will probably continue consolidating his rule and build an illiberal political system where the AKP is predominant, particularly if he manages to introduce a Presidential system. He is also certain that the Europeans, motivated by the pressing need to stem the flow of refugees through Turkey, will happily do business with him. However, the AKP’s victory has not eliminated any of the structural economic and political problems that Turkey must confront while at the same time facing an increasingly destabilised regional strategic context.

Soli Özel is Lecturer at Kadir Has University.




Catégories: European Union

Ukraine’s Local Elections 2015: the regionalisation of politics

mer, 28/10/2015 - 13:18

On 25 October Ukrainians elected their local, rayon (subregional) and oblast (regional) council deputies and mayors. These were the first country-wide local elections held since the Euromaidan revolution of 2013-2014, and there was an expectation that they would help bring about a democratic renewal of political elites at the local and regional level. Importantly, as a result of the ongoing decentralisation reform, the newly elected council members and mayors will have more resources and executive powers.

Sandro Weltin_Council of Europe_CC BY-ND 2.0

The elections have been competitive, with over 130 parties running. The electoral turnout was 46.6 per cent, which is lower than the 52 per cent turnout in the 2010 local elections. Although electoral standards have improved since the 2010 elections held under ex-president Viktor Yanukovych, unlawful practices, including vote buying and the use of the ‘administrative resource’ (incumbents use of public resources to harvest votes) have been reported. Many irregularities are also related to the implementation of a new electoral law: many of its provisions are vague and the electoral commissions have not been sufficiently trained to navigate the new legislative measures. Still, according to Ukrainian NGO watchdogs and international observers, overall the elections respected the democratic process.

The local elections did not take place in Crimea (occupied by Russia), the separatist-controlled territories of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions and areas in close proximity to the frontline. On election day, the vote was cancelled or ruled invalid by the local electoral commissions in three Kyiv-controlled municipalities of the Lugansk and Donetsk regions, including in Mariupol, a city with half a million residents near the frontline with separatist forces. In Mariupol, local civil society accused the Opposition Bloc and oligarch Rinat Akhmetov of attempting electoral fraud by printing duplicates of the ballot papers. Local civil society also held the Kyiv government and the Central Electoral Commission responsible for failing to guarantee fair and transparent elections in Mariupol.

Judging from exit-poll data, it seems that the elections are likely to bring important changes to Ukraine’s politics. In the 2010 local elections, the Party of Regions (PoR) led by former president Yanukovych secured absolute majorities in the eastern and southern parts of Ukraine and the pro-European opposition won mainly in the western regions. In 2015, the East-West divide of Ukraine into Russia-oriented and Europe-oriented regions has been blurred (although not entirely disappeared) – a trend already visible in the results of the 2014 parliamentary elections. The results point to greater regional diversity: there are not only two or three Ukraines, but many.

Former PoR members still won in the southern and eastern regions, running under new party denominations, such as the Opposition Bloc, the Revival Party and the Our Country party. But unlike in 2010, they have competed against each other and have not obtained absolute majorities, except in a few cases.

The parliamentary coalition parties that took part in the elections – President Petro Poroshenko’s bloc ‘Solidarity’, Yulia Tymoshenko’s ‘Motherland’ and ‘Self-Reliance’ led by Lviv mayor Andriy Sadovyi – won in the west and centre of the country. However, they faced tough competition from parties that are not currently in parliament. For example, the nationalist Svoboda, which lost the 2014 parliamentary elections, has secured representation in the west and centre of the country, including Kyiv. Candidates from the newly established Ukrainian Association of Patriots (Ukrop), sponsored by oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi, were elected in various regions of Ukraine, including in his home city Dnipropetrovsk. Local or regional parties led by popular mayors won in a number of Ukrainian cities (Kharkiv, Odesa, Chernihiv, Vinnytsia, Сherkasy to name a few).

These elections have exposed a disconnect between national and local politics, with the latter no longer simply reflecting the predominant political divide between government and opposition in parliament. In some regions and cities, the parties from the ruling parliamentary coalition may find themselves on opposite sides (for example, in Kyiv). In other regions, small parties led by popular mayors become pivots of local politics (for example, in Kharkiv or Odesa). Thus, Ukraine’s local politics will likely be increasingly embedded in the local and regional contexts rather than mirroring the national political landscape.

The majority of local and regional councils will require coalition governments. This is an important change, especially in the east and the south of the country, where the PoR has dominated local politics for over a decade. The new, more pluralistic political landscape there may also offer an opportunity for improving the quality of regional governance.

The regionalisation of politics is also evidence of the weakening power of the central government. Some of the winners of the 2014 parliamentary elections are among the losers of the 2015 local elections. The National Front led by Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk, which won 22 per cent of the votes in October 2014, did not participate in the local elections as polls indicated that its support had dropped to one per cent. Candidates and party lists from the Poroshenko Bloc came first in many regions of Ukraine, but did not repeat the electoral success of 2014. Given the population’s disappointment with their rulers, as the reform process stalls and corruption continues to flourish, such an electoral upset was predictable.

In contrast, Ukrainian oligarchs secured their grip on power over local politics in various parts of the country. Rinat Akhmetov, who controls major enterprises and media outlets in the east, preserves his influence in this part of the country through the Opposition Bloc and loyal mayors. Relying upon vast campaign resources and a TV channel, Ihor Kolomoyskyi succeeded in garnering support for Ukrop far beyond his home city of Dnipropetrovsk. He is also believed to support the Revival Party, which won in Kharkiv.

On balance, the local elections bring about a more diverse and fragmented political landscape while confirming the influence of oligarchs on local politics. The regionalisation of Ukrainian politics also implies that there will be strong bottom-up support for the continuation of decentralisation reforms, as the newly elected power-holders will strive for greater autonomy from the centre.

Natalia Shapovalova is researcher at FRIDE

Catégories: European Union

Japan’s defense policy – A new ‘normal’?

mer, 09/09/2015 - 12:24

When it comes to security in the Asia-Pacific, China’s strategic rise is often the first thing that comes to mind. But Japan’s changing security role both in the region and internationally is also of great significance.

Urawa Zero_CC BY 2.0

On 16 July 2015, the lower house of the Japanese Diet approved two bills that pledge to bring about the most substantial shift in Japanese security policy since the end of the Second World War. One of the bills eases current restrictions on the Japanese Self Defense Forces (JSDF) in so-called collective self-defense contingencies; the other promises to make it easier for the JSDF to engage in international peacekeeping.

This legislative package, backed by Prime Minister Abe, will continue to be debated by Japanese lawmakers until mid-September, as it requires the approval of the Diet’s upper house. Even if the bills become law, the JSDF will continue to be constrained by important legal caveats, owing to Japan’s pacifist constitution.

When it comes to collective self-defense, the JSDF would only be able to use force in response to a third party attack against an ally (e.g. the US) if that ally is performing duties deemed to be essential to Japan’s own survival. With regard to international peacekeeping, while the new legislation expands the remit of supportive functions the JSDF can play, their engagement will remain contingent upon UN approval – and armed combat will continue to be off limits. Those caveats notwithstanding, the proposed bills are an important boost to Prime Minister Abe’s plans to turn Japan into a more “normal” country in terms of its defense policy, and increase the country’s contribution to international security.

Perhaps most importantly, the proposed security legislation is likely to invigorate the US-Japan Alliance. The timing could hardly be better, given mounting strategic tensions in the Asia-Pacific, a region where Japan and the US see pretty much eye to eye. One key concern for Tokyo and Washington is the growing nuclear and missile threat posed by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). This has led to increased US-Japan cooperation on Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) in recent years.

More broadly, the US and Japan worry about China’s military rise, and ongoing efforts to strengthen its position in the East and South China Seas. A more specific concern for the US-Japan alliance is China’s development of so-called Anti Access Area Denial (A2/AD) capabilities, by way of an expanding fleet of cruise and ballistic missiles, attack submarines and offensive cyber-weapons. These capabilities pose a risk to US naval assets in the Western Pacific, but also threaten the security of US military bases in Japan, which constitute the cornerstone of US force  and defense strategy in the Asia-Pacific region. In this regard, the recently revised US-Japan defense guidelines mention the Alliance’s need to address China’s A2/AD challenge, and call for greater US-Japan coordination in areas such as Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, BMD, undersea warfare or cyber-security.

Moreover, Tokyo and Washington have recently decided to expand the geographical scope of their military cooperation. The old US-Japan defense guidelines, dating from 1997, allowed the JSDF to provide “rear area support” to US forces in “situations in areas surrounding Japan” (SIAS-J) – generally understood as relating to the Korean peninsula. However, the 2015 guidelines have removed the SIAS-J clause, to allow greater operational flexibility, and emphasize the “global” nature of the Alliance. This, for instance, will make it easier for the JSDF to engage in patrols over the South China Sea, where China’s construction of artificial islands has led to heightened tensions with surrounding countries. This would represent a boost to Abe’s efforts to expand Japan’s diplomatic and strategic ties in South East Asia. Vietnam and the Philippines stand out in this regard, in that they have both repeatedly called for greater Japanese engagement in South East Asia.

In addition, the prospect of easing restrictions on the JSDF would clear the way for a more meaningful strategic relationship with Australia and India, both bilaterally and in the framework of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD), which also includes the United States. This, in turn, would help consolidate Japan’s position in the broader Indo-Pacific maritime corridor – a geographical space that is key to its energy security and economic prosperity.

As far as the EU is concerned, the promise of a more “normal” Japan also opens up a number of opportunities. In the context of their broader negotiations of a Free Trade Agreement and a Strategic Partnership Agreement, the EU and Japan are currently discussing a framework agreement that would allow Tokyo to participate in EU-led military (and civilian) operations. So far, existing legal restrictions on JSDF deployments overseas have constituted an obstacle to the negotiations – albeit one that might well be removed soon. In fact, the EU could prove to be an ideal partner for Japan to take its first peacekeeping steps as a more “normal” country – given its emphasis on transnational threats and low-intensity, policing operations, as well as the UN-friendly nature of its engagements.

The Indian Ocean is the most obvious target for EU-Japan security cooperation. That ocean straddles the Euro-Mediterranean Basin and the Asia-Pacific geopolitically, and is therefore of vital economic and strategic importance to both the EU and Japan. In fact, Japan is already contributing to global maritime security in the western Indian Ocean, through its participation in UN-sanctioned Combined Task Force 151, aimed at fighting piracy in the Gulf of Aden. Easing restrictions on the JSDF is likely to spur greater activity across the Indian Ocean.

Increasing Japanese involvement in the EU’s own anti-piracy operation off the coast of Somalia could represent a stepping-stone for EU-Japan cooperation at the operational level. Eventually, however, such cooperation should expand beyond the Gulf of Aden to cover other areas of the Indian Ocean. The strait of Malacca and the broader South East Asian maritime space stand out in this regard, given their vulnerability to piracy, their strategic importance to Japan – and the EU’s increasing interest in the area.

Luis Simón is associate fellow at FRIDE

Catégories: European Union

European integration starts abroad

jeu, 02/07/2015 - 14:52

Following last week’s European Council and the expiration of Greece’s bailout, all eyes are now set on the outcome of the Greek referendum and the future of European integration. The summit has shown the extent of strain in Europe’s political fabric.

Sharp exchanges among European Union (EU) leaders on the pressing refugee issue and the breakdown of negotiations on Greece point to the risk of a much-diminished Europe at home and abroad. Faced with the risk of collective failure, a strong collective reaction to restore political cohesion is urgent. But Europeans should beware of spinning into another spiral of introspection. The world is watching and taking notes.

Foreign policy begins at home, American diplomat Richard Haass reminded us a few years back. In short, domestic political, economic and social conditions can provide a sound basis for, or debase, ambitions and initiatives on the international stage. The economic and political crisis that has shaken Europe since 2009 has provided ample evidence of that. However, it has also shown that this is not a one-way street.

Domestic politics often starts abroad. This trend is particularly consequential for Europe because, in this case, internal politics unfold at two levels – national and EU. And those often appear out of sync. Europe struggles to weather the impact of external turmoil on national politics with national publics growing sceptical of the EU, often for opposite reasons.

The financial crisis was the mother of all external shocks to Europe’s cohesion. It originated in the US before hitting the rest of the world and the EU, where it exposed the fragility of the Economic and Monetary Union and economic divergences among Eurozone countries. The crisis shockwave required rescuing countries in financial disarray and strengthening the coordination and monitoring of national public finances. The consequent fiscal austerity alongside growing unemployment and difficult reforms at national level generated much controversy among and within member states. The rise of parties at the extreme wings of the political spectrum has considerably shrunk support for both traditional mainstream parties and for the EU.

The sustained flow of migrants and refugees towards Europe is also exposing cracks in Europe’s politics. Already absorbed by the impact of the economic crisis, Europeans took a hesitant approach to the Arab uprisings of 2011. Europe did not truly engage North Africa and the Middle East at a time of critical change. Four years on, this destabilised region is very much engaging Europe. Countries like Italy and Greece called for joining forces and sharing burdens at European level to deal with the massive human flows pushing on their borders. After much quarrelling and many casualties at sea, member states have made available some ships and planes for missions directed to both rescue migrants and disrupt their brutal traffic. But the bitter and divisive debate within and among member states on the Commission’s proposal to distribute among them up to 60,000 asylum-seekers (in a Union of 500,000,000) shows how deeply external pressures are affecting the bonds between EU countries.

The standoff between the EU and Russia over Ukraine seems to tell a different story. EU members agreed to adopt sanctions towards Russia following the latter’s annexation of Crimea and involvement in the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. This show of common resolve (including the renewal of the sanctions in June 2015), however, masks significant differences among member states on how to deal with a more assertive Russia beyond punitive measures. Besides, Moscow is nurturing links with those political forces across Europe that favour closer ties with Russia, and bash the EU, such as the National Front in France, the Northern League in Italy and Syriza in Greece. Moscow’s soft power towards governments such as those of Hungary and Greece introduces another corrosive external variable in European politics.

These three very different cases reveal two broadly common patterns. First, paradoxically, the more decisions are taken at EU level, the more fragmented European politics become. The measures adopted to respond to the Eurozone crisis have been far-reaching and unprecedented. The agreement on sanctions towards Russia was a foreign policy achievement and Europeans are at long last taking timid steps to deal with refugee flows. In some of these cases, however, decisions have amounted to too little, too late. In others, punctual deals do not necessarily reflect shared assessments of the underlying problems and of required solutions.

Second, in recent years external trends and events have shaped EU politics more than the EU has been willing or able to shape them. Foreign policy is inherently reactive, the EU has not stood still and all actors meet limits to their power in a polycentric world. However, the overarching pattern has been one where the EU and its member states have been consumers of challenges more than providers of opportunities.

The importance of external factors for domestic politics is not new. After all, the start of the European integration process owed much to the security guarantees of the US during the Cold War. Besides, interdependence has always been a two-way street – from the inside-out and from the outside-in. The problem for Europe is that the external context is the least benign since the early 1990s and the dark side of interdependence is amplifying. Whether through financial interconnections, new media channelling propaganda or radicalisation, or flows of desperate masses escaping conflict and famine, interdependence reaches deep.

Separate decisions have not produced a strategic vision to renew the pact among Europeans, which remains essential. They have also not adequately coped with broader regional and global trends that are in turn affecting European politics. The outcome of the Greek referendum this weekend will be a defining moment for Europe. But Europeans cannot afford further fragmentation and introversion. They must take responsibility together to provide security, prosperity and rights beyond their borders, as a condition for preserving them at home. Europeans badly need a shared assessment of their interests and priorities on the international stage. Amidst political turbulence, the European Council has tasked EU High Representative Federica Mogherini to work with member states on an EU global strategy on foreign and security policy. The deeper the crisis at home, the more there is a need for a more effective common foreign policy and joint action abroad.

Giovanni Grevi is director of FRIDE.

Photo Credits: European Commission


Catégories: European Union

Yemen: who stands to gain?

lun, 18/05/2015 - 16:49

Yemen has become the testing ground for Saudi Arabia’s new assertive foreign policy and its bid for regional leadership. A Saudi-led coalition launched an aerial bombing campaign at the end of March to contain and reverse Houthi rebels’ expansion and reinstate exiled President Hadi.

The Saudi Kingdom was able to leverage shared concerns over the threat represented by Iran’s growing influence and backing of the Houthis to gain the support of other Sunni regimes in the region. However, Yemen represents little more than a backwater for many of the external actors involved. This is why Saudi Arabia, the country that has most invested in the crisis, may end up paying the highest political price for it.

The Yemen intervention epitomises the hawkish posture of the new generation of leaders who acceded to power following Saudi King Abdullah’s death in January 2015, in particular Crown Prince and Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef and Deputy Crown Prince and Defence Minister Mohammed bin Salman. Alongside a more muscular foreign policy, they are also keen to portray Saudi Arabia as a modern technocratic state that ensures order and stability. Therefore, the Saudis have justified their intervention as a response to an appeal for help by the legitimate government of Yemen.

But Saudi Arabia has over-reached. The coalition it has crafted is at best tenuous, presenting a common front against Iran but papering over major areas of disagreement. Turkey and Pakistan backtracked after initially signaling their willingness to participate. Egypt, despite significant financial inducements, has limited its contribution to a small naval presence as opposed to the ground troops coveted by Riyadh. Oman bowed out, Iraq is openly critical and Jordan is dissatisfied with the diversion of resources away from the fight against Daesh (or Islamic State).

There is no viable military strategy in place. While the coalition air force has destroyed the aerial and ballistic capabilities of the Houthis and their allies, the Saudis have been unable to force their retreat. There is no united front on the ground but rather a mix of Islamists, tribesmen, and southern separatists spurred on by financial inducements. Many of them are not even supportive of Hadi’s return. By mobilising local forces (popular committees), the Saudis are further contributing to the dismantling of formal state structures. Riyadh has also resorted to retraining Yemeni forces, while rumblings of a ground intervention continue.

There is no viable political strategy in place either. In fact, former United Nations (UN) chief envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar, has stated that the Saudi-led coalition airstrikes have derailed efforts towards a power-sharing deal. Saudi Arabia has insisted that peace talks be held in Riyadh, rather than at a neutral venue. Consequently, the dialogue conference that started on May 17th in Riyadh does not include representatives from the Houthis or supporters of former President Saleh.

The intervention is turning into an image problem for Saudi Arabia. Cognisant of growing international concern, Riyadh paid 100 percent of a UN ‘flash appeal’ emergency fund, amounting to $274 million, and then doubled its contribution to $540 million. But the limited military objectives achieved have come at the expense of an acute humanitarian crisis. According to OCHA, as of May 6th 1,527 had died as a result of the conflict, at least 646 of them civilians. An embargo by the coalition is blocking deliveries of fuel, food, water and medicine, while humanitarian groups estimate the number of displaced people at almost 550,000. According to Human Rights Watch, the Saudi-led coalition has used cluster munitions supplied by the United States. Disorder has flamed sectarianism and opened up space for the expansion of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

The humanitarian crisis has increased pressure on Washington to push Riyadh towards a ceasefire. The United States (US) supported Saudi Arabia’s intervention because it would have been unable to stop it. It also wanted to prove to its Gulf allies that nuclear negotiations with Iran would not come at their expense; an effort which it reiterated at the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit at Camp David on March 14th, where it lent support to the Riyadh Conference under GCC auspices and committed to help GCC member states defend themselves against external threats emanating from Yemen. The US contributed intelligence, surveillance and re-supply of equipment and munitions, deployed aircraft carriers to the Arabian Sea and issued warnings to Iran not to get involved, all in an effort to reassure the Saudis. But the conflagration has exposed the US’ declining leverage in the region. The most Washington has been able to achieve has been Saudi acquiescence to a five-day humanitarian ceasefire, which broadly held between May 12th and 17th.

Paradoxically, Iran might end up being the one to gain the most. For Tehran, Yemen represents a low-risk, high-return proposition. Its interests in Yemen are not vital and any eventual political solution will have to incorporate the Houthis. Its support for the Houthis is an opportunistic attempt to expand its political influence rather than a strategic long-term investment (as opposed to its long-standing interests in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq). Foreign Minister Zarif has proposed a four-point plan to address the conflict, including a ceasefire, humanitarian assistance, a resumption of broad national dialogue and the establishment of an inclusive national unity government, which has not received much traction. However, Kerry has asked Iran to use its influence to get the Houthis to negotiate and the US has signalled its openness to potentially agree to Iran participating in negotiations.

The actions of the main external players involved in Yemen are tangential to the political struggle being waged within the country. For Saudi Arabia, it is about confronting Iran and stepping up to a coveted regional leadership role. For the US, it is about addressing its terrorism concerns and trying to balance its geopolitical game. For Iran, it is an opportunity to expand its political influence. Yemen is not a priority issue for any of these players, but some stand to lose more than others in this conflict.

Ana Echagüe is senior researcher at FRIDE.

Photo credits: Ibrahem_Qasim_CC_BY-S_4.0  


Catégories: European Union

Addressing fragility

mer, 08/04/2015 - 14:57

In this video-interview, Clare Castillejo, senior researcher at FRIDE, analyses the roots of state fragility around the world and explains why this is a particularly urgent challenge for EU foreign policy.

Catégories: European Union

Political tensions mount in Southern Algeria

mer, 25/03/2015 - 16:10

The Algerian government is under increasing pressure, stemming from political and social turmoil in the south of the country. This comes amidst mounting terrorist threats and economic concerns due to low oil prices. The south holds the majority of the country’s oil and gas reserves and is key for Algeria’s security. The area’s wealth and size (it accounts for more than 80 per cent of the national territory) have contributed enormously to Algeria’s economic standing and geostrategic clout.  According to International Monetary Fund 2011 data, hydrocarbons account for over 69 per cent of public revenues and 36 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product.

The vast south was politically and administratively attached to the rest of the country after Algerian independence in 1962. Then the priority was not to foster economic and social integration with the north, but to control and exploit the south’s extensive natural resources. For nearly 50 years, the area worked as a strategic redoubt and a hydrocarbon lifeline underpinning the regime. But after the 2011 Arab uprisings, a host of social imbalances and unresolved ethnic tensions began to affect stability there, alongside an outburst of terrorist attacks.

Three major attacks in less than one year brought Algeria’s south into the eye of the storm: a suicide attack in Tamanrasset in March 2012; an attack against the Algerian National Gendarmerie regional command centre in the town of Ouargla in June 2012; and the dramatic January 2013 terrorist attack at the In Amenas natural gas plant in the southeast Algeria, which was a serious blow to the country’s seemingly invulnerable energy installations.

The Arab uprisings were one of the catalysts of the south’s political ‘awakening’. Protests against social exclusion and high unemployment broke out as early as 2011, and grew in intensity in 2013. Social frustration and tension, caused by the widening gap between citizens’ expectations and the state’s incapacity or unwillingness to deliver, exacerbated feelings of perceived injustice and inequality with regard to the north. The south’s sparse population and its geographical distance from the capital Algiers very much limited the movement of people and social interaction between the Arab and Berber north and the Tuareg and black south, also reducing the latter’s political influence in the halls of power.

Many see protests, sit-ins and riots as the only means to seek and get redress from the state, which exploited Southern resources but invested very little in the region. The formation of various movements and pressure groups unconnected to traditional parties and tribal leaders elevated the plight of the unemployed and low-wage workers in the south into the limelight. Several civic associations began to mobilise, demanding their constituencies’ share from the oil bonanza. The National Committee for the Rights of the Unemployed created in February 2011, for example, garnered much media attention when it mobilised thousands of protesters in Ouargla in 2013. Similar demonstrations also took place in other southern cities like Laghouat and El-Oued, whereby protesters accused the state and national and multinational companies of discriminating against locals when hiring – while thousands of jobs are created in the hydrocarbon industry each year, they are scooped up by migrants from the north, particularly from Algiers, Oran and Constantine.

Social inequality and bad governance are the central themes of the protests. Demonstrations against corruption, perceived manipulation of social housing and public services, and unequal treatment have become a common fixture in much of the south. In early 2015, new demonstrations broke out over environmental concerns about shale gas extraction. In one occasion, as many as 30,000 protesters reportedly took to the streets in the impoverished town of In-Salah, located in the heart of the Sahara Desert.

This fragile social context can become an incubator of security risks. Some, especially the disaffected youth, are already gravitating towards criminal and smuggling networks long established in Algeria’s south and its periphery. The growing spread and interconnectedness of these networks, increasingly enmeshed into drugs trade, stolen cars, illicit cigarette trafficking, weapons smuggling and counterfeit money and goods, are a source of major concern for Algeria, which also fears cross-pollination with extremist actors roaming the Algerian and Sahelian deserts.

So far, protests have been kept under control through cooptation and/ or repression strategies. If social turmoil is not contained, however, there is also a risk that ethnic and sectarian tensions grow more violent. In August 2013, inter-communal clashes erupted in the town of Bordj Badji Mokhtar, on the border with northern Mali, leaving 15 dead. The incident exposed the deep rifts between Tuareg Idnan and Arab Berabiche, raising concerns among tribal leaders and the government alike. In December 2013, the city of Ghardaïa was also enveloped in sectarian violence. Since then, bloody clashes between the Chaamba Arabs (present in most of Algeria’s south) and the Mozabite Berbers of the Muslim Ibadi sect (an insular group with its own system of values, codes of conduct and rules), have occurred intermittently.

Ethnic and social tensions are particularly dangerous for Algeria because they erode loyalty to the central state. In February 2014, Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal spoke of a plot to destabilise Algeria’s social cohesion and territorial integrity, articulating deep-rooted fears that social tensions and external threats might exacerbate latent ethnic divisions and even activate separatist tendencies. He blamed small nefarious groups for instigating violence and sowing divisions between communities.

The south of Algeria is no longer a buffer periphery whose principal value lies in its massive natural resources. Maintaining stability in the region is vital for national security and regime survival. It is both a security and a political challenge. The traditional mix of cooptation and repression to manage dissent in the south is showing signs of strain. Plus, the dramatic slide in oil prices will make it difficult for Algeria to stem political grievances through financial largesse. Addressing political and social problems in the south should be a high priority. Failure to do so would undermine an effective response to the growing threat posed by terrorist and criminal networks.

Anouar Boukhars is associate fellow at FRIDE and a non-resident scholar in the Middle East Programme of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace 

Photo credit: Gwenael Piaser_CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Catégories: European Union

Crisis in Yemen

mar, 03/03/2015 - 16:17

Yemen is on the brink of collapse, with Houthi rebels having taken over large parts of the country, including the capital, Sanaa.

After months of tightening control and the resignation of former President Hadi in January, the Houthis have dissolved parliament and announced plans for a new interim assembly and five-member presidential council, which will rule for up to two years.

This, combined with internal tensions between north and south, upheavals fueled by the Arab spring and the presence of Al Qaeda, has made the situation unsustainable.

In this video-interview, FRIDE senior researcher Barah Mikaïl analyses the country’s future prospects.

 Photo Credit: Richard_Messenger


Catégories: European Union

The disorder management strategies of others

mar, 03/02/2015 - 12:02

“The question we ask in this annual publication is not how Europe is dealing with disorder but how others are coping with growing instability”.

In this video, FRIDE Director Giovanni Grevi explains the main findings of this year’s annual publication on European foreign policy challenges. Grevi talks about the disorder management strategies of nine different countries facing instability – ranging from major powers with the ability or aspiration for global influence (i.e. China, the United States) to others with a regional focus (i.e. Iran, Turkey) – and the implications of those strategies for Europe. In addition, Grevi gives some key recommendations for the EU on how to make a relevant contribution to security, for itself, its partners, and the region.

Catégories: European Union

New donors and the development agenda

ven, 16/01/2015 - 14:00

2015 is the European Year of international development, during which a new framework for development should be adopted. The development agenda has changed and although the EU remains the world’s largest donor of official development assistance (ODA), countries such as China, India, Brazil, South Africa and Korea are playing an increasingly important role in development.


The EU’s relations with its strategic partners varies depending on each country and although emerging powers have similar interests, their strategies in relation to both development cooperation and the multilateral development agenda differ. In this context and in light of a book published by FRIDE, New donors, new partners? EU strategic partnerships and development, senior researcher Clare Castillejo analyses the opportunities for engagement between the EU and its strategic partners and the approaches followed by the five emerging powers mentioned above.

Click here to watch the video-interview with Clare Castillejo.










Catégories: European Union

Pakistan: under the Taliban threat

jeu, 18/12/2014 - 12:23

The school attack in Peshawar has set all eyes on Pakistan. The war between the military forces and the Talibans has evolved into a spiral of violence that is difficult to resolve. Clare Castillejo, senior researcher at FRIDE, analyses the factors behind the attack and the state of the Pakistani talibans.

What are the implications for the country and for the troubled region?

Catégories: European Union

Libya: a divided country?

lun, 15/12/2014 - 16:51


Three years after the fall of Gaddafi, the political situation in Libya has evolved in a chaotic way. Fragmented and with two governments, the country is unable to maintain the security across its territory and deal with several domestic and external challenges.  Barah Mikaïl, senior researcher at FRIDE, analyses the failed political process in Libya, the risk of spillover into neighbouring countries and the role of the international community.

Catégories: European Union

Tunisia’s path to democracy?

jeu, 27/11/2014 - 16:33

In what ways is Tunisia different from its neighbours? What are the factors behind its positive path to democracy? What would an electoral victory of Essebsi mean for the democratic transition? What are the challenges ahead?

Flickr-Stephan de Vries

The first round of elections has showed how positively Tunisia has advanced towards democracy in comparison with other Arab spring states. However, Tunisia still faces several socio-economic and security challenges. According to Kristina Kausch, Head of FRIDE’s Middle East Programme, implementation of the necessary reforms will only be achieved if a strong unity government is in place.


To watch the video, click on the image

Catégories: European Union

Rethinking relationships in Europe’s East

mar, 04/11/2014 - 10:42

A thorough review of the European Union’s (EU) approach towards its neighbourhood should be a top priority of the new EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, and European Commissioner for the neighbourhood, Johannes Hahn. EU neighbourhood policies have produced few results in the tumultuous South (See FRIDE commentary no. 17 – Rethinking relationships to Europe’s South), and have been derailed both by Russia’s assertiveness and very uneven local commitment in the East.

Andreas Marazis

A new EU approach to the East (perhaps via a renewed Eastern Partnership – EaP) should be more flexible, potentially broader in the number of countries it includes, but especially customise bilateral ties. It will also need to focus on curtailing Russian influence; supporting societies seeking increased ties with Europe; pursuing relations with less interested neighbours (quickly scaling engagement up or down in response to their reform performance); and substantially upgrading EU member-state involvement in shaping and supporting Brussels-formulated policies.

The EU has sought to avoid geo-political competition with Russia over their shared neighbours, but has been naïve in thinking that Russia would accept a democratic turnaround in Ukraine including a pro-EU orientation. After Russian actions, such as annexing Crimea, establishing and supporting a separatist movement in Eastern Ukraine, and embarking on a propaganda war of disinformation (including about the downing of flight MH17), the EU needs to recognise that it is facing geo-political competition to the East.

In this sense not only is the EU’s relationship with Eastern neighbours at stake, but also the Union’s security is threatened by Russian actions. Any EU policy with neighbours in Eastern Europe, the South Caucasus and even Central Asia should be ready for an action-reaction cycle. Russia will seek to lock neighbours into its perceived sphere of influence – via Moscow-led initiatives such as the Eurasian Economic Union – using political means by offering an authoritarian model as an alternative to democracy; by economic means through embargoes and boycotts; and by military means.

The major success of the EaP has been concluding Association Agreements (AA) with Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. But the challenges remain enormous. In the short term Ukraine is on the verge of economic collapse while the fight over the Donbass region continues. The future of Ukraine will be decisive for Europe’s partnership ambitions with eastern neighbours. Moldova’s elections at the end of November could result in a new Communist government that might drag its feet on AA implementation. The relatively inexperienced Georgian government will need to process indictments against former government officials transparently and democratically, while further improving judicial reform. All three countries will need substantial EU support on economic and democratic reforms.

Next to stronger engagement with Georgian, Moldovan and Ukrainian societies, the EU should also open up the possibility of eventual membership to these countries to encourage them on their reform path. In the meantime all three will remain affected by protracted conflicts (Transnistria in Moldova, Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia, and Crimea and Donbass in Ukraine). Russia plays a direct role in each of these conflicts and will not give up these areas of influence. The EU can do little besides helping to develop the three states so that they become more attractive to the lost territories, while also continuing security assistance through its ongoing Common Security and Defence Policy missions in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

The EU should not give up on the other three Eastern European countries that have chosen not to associate with the EU – though for different reasons. Belarus remains highly authoritarian, but will look for EU cooperation as leverage against Moscow’s domination. The EU should involve Belarussian civil society where possible and keep hammering on human rights and democracy until better times arrive. Armenia is heavily dependent on Russia for its security (especially due to the conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh) and for its economic survival. Still Yerevan remains interested in implementing some political and economic reforms, and aligning with the EU in agreements that are less comprehensive than Association Agreements.

Meanwhile, Azerbaijan has become highly problematic. Baku thinks that the combination of energy deliveries to Europe (that account for a very small percentage of overall EU consumption) and Europe’s cautious response to Russian aggression in Ukraine can let it get away with almost anything. Having gotten rid of opposition parties and silenced free media, the regime is now targeting non-governmental organisations and think tanks that receive funding from abroad. The EU will need to increasingly see Azerbaijan for what it is: an authoritarian regime that requires a tougher approach from Brussels and EU member states.

Most essentially, EU efforts in the East will need to be strongly backed by its 28 member-states, especially when it comes to confronting Russia, or supporting EU security policies in the Eastern neighbourhood. The EU’s clout in this region is minimal without firm backing from the larger member states especially, with robust support from smaller member states on particular aspects. For example, Poland and Sweden have led the way on developing the EaP. Now others, including Germany, the UK and France, will also have to coordinate and step up their efforts to give political weight to any future EU approach to the East.

The EU will need a more flexible approach to the East that is bilaterally customised. Such an approach could be placed under a broader umbrella for the EU’s relationship with the six current EaP countries, Russia and Turkey on some aspects, and even the Central Asian countries (for which the EU currently has a separate strategy that will also be reviewed early next year). Such an approach should not seek to foster regional cooperation – with Russia countering it – but should address crucial political, economic, democratisation and security issues on a bilateral basis and, where useful, through other ad hoc issue-focused multinational formats. The EU should be prepared for ongoing problematic relations with Russia (including an uncertain future for Russia itself mid- to long-term) and be ready to assist countries that genuinely want to implement democratic reform and build closer ties with the Union.

Jos Boonstra is Head of  the Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia programme

Catégories: European Union