In the framework of the studies of IsAG (Institute of Advanced Studies in Geopolitics and Auxiliary Science) on current security issues in Europe and abroad, Giuliano Luongo – Director of the “Africa” Research Programme at IsAG – interviewed Dr. Walter Schwimmer, Former Secretary-General of the Council of Europe (1999-2004) and current Co-Chairman of the World Public Forum “Dialogue of Civilizations” (WPFDC).
Giuliano Luongo – In your opinion, the terrorist operations of the IS and other similar organizations, to which extent could be dangerous in worsening the public opinion towards immigrants coming to Europe? How strong is the risk of (new) waves of xenophobia?
Walter Schwimmer - First of all I would like to emphasize that IS and similar barbaric groups are mainly the concern of the people of the region, Syria, Iraq, Libya, who are suffering under their terror. The number of so-called jihadists from Europe, and in particular those are returning, are considered as a potential threat to security in their home countries – but so far law enforcement agencies are tackling this issue with competence and sense of proportion. The real danger comes from extreme right and populist movements who try to use IS and others for their short-sighted political goals and do not distinguish between radical Islamists and peaceful European Muslims. Indeed they try to create a new wave of xenophobia. In my view IS and extreme right are helping each other by demonizing the society on the other side, the one using the islamophobic propaganda of the extreme right as evidence of hostility against Muslims in Europe and the “West” for gaining support among European Muslims, the other by demonstrating the alleged danger of “Islamization” of Europe. Both are working into each other’s hand.
GL – To which extent the extremist movements and parties active in Europe can take advantage of this phenomenon to reinforce their position? Is this a developing process or an already mature process?
W. Schwimmer - As already pointed out, they try to take advantage of the activities of radicals. But I don’t think that they are more successful as they have already been. These parties take more advantage of mistakes and failures of the traditional political parties, but a majority of the population does not support extremist positions. In my view the last regional elections in France proved that analysis. While a majority voted against the ruling party a majority also voted against Front National, in particular in the second round.
GL – Thinking about the experience of far-right parties in Italy and France, do you see a trend of general convergence and cooperation between such political parties with xenophobe traits?
W. Schwimmer - They obviously try to support each other and to create some kind of “International” of the far right from UK to Russia. But so far they failed to form a political group in the European Parliament and the political every day’s life would show the differences between them.
GL – Do you think that, under the “institutional point of view”, how could European institutions act to limit or avoid similar phenomena?
W. Schwimmer - At European as well as at national level a policy closer to the needs of the citizens is desperately needed. The 300 billion investment plan of Jean-Claude Juncker is an important step in this direction. Fighting youth unemployment must be a priority at all levels. It may sound like squaring the circle, but politics have to reconcile austerity programs with fostering economic growth. Governments will have to combat waste of money in a bureaucratic administration and through privileges for certain groups and thereby reducing debts and on the other hand facilitating new economic opportunities and investment in education and research.
What is most important, governments have to tell people the truth. E.g. that Europe needs for many reasons immigration and that migrants contribute to the wealth of the host country more than they cost. Of course, that will need a policy of integration on the one hand and a policy of mutual understanding and inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue on the other. A special problem, caused by the violence in the Middle East and by extreme poverty in Southern Sahara Africa is the growing number of asylum seekers. For the time being there are outdated and unfair rules like the Dublin Regulation which puts the main burden on the Mediterranean EU countries. It has to be replaced by a fair burden-sharing of all EU member states.
GL – The expansion of the international terrorism could have further repercussions on consolidated freedoms and rights in Europe, as the free circulation of citizens?
W. Schwimmer - The free movement of people is one of the cornerstones of European integration. We should not sacrifice our values and principles on the ground of defending them. Neither human rights, rule of law and democracy nor founding principles of European unification need to be limited in the fight against terrorism.
GL – The current security and defense system against terrorism at the European and global level, how could it be improved? A stronger cooperation between EU and non-EU countries is possible, while thinking about the degeneration of political clashes as the one in Eastern Ukraine?
W. Schwimmer - At the global level a reform of the system of the UN Security Council is overdue. New powerful nations with a specific role for the stability and security of their region such as Brazil, India and South Africa are not permanently represented in the Council while France and UK have their permanent seat for historic reasons. It would make sense that the European Union (although not UN member) will play a role in the UN security system. Innovation and creativity are at stake.
The Eastern Ukrainian crisis needs dialogue at several levels, steered by the Minsk group; i.e. Ukraine as the country concerned, Russia as a big neighbor and France and Germany on behalf of the EU as the other big neighbor. They should “distribute” the tasks of dialogue, , between Ukraine and Russia, within Ukraine between Kiev and the Donbass and between EU and Russia. Regarding EU and Russia that should go beyond the Ukrainian crisis. There is a very interesting sentence in the Minsk declaration of 12 February 2015: “Leaders remain committed to the vision of a joint humanitarian and economic space from the Atlantic to the Pacific based upon full respect for international law and the OSCE principles.” That could be the starting point of new strategic goals, the humanitarian space represented by the Council of Europe which covers already this area and the economic space by cooperation and harmonization of the European Union and the new Eurasian Union.
GL – Do you think the current situation in Ukraine shares specific characteristics with other similar situations happened in Europe in the past? Could the way how Italy and Austria handled South Tirol question, be used as a modus operandi for Donbas?
W. Schwimmer - What is common for Ukraine and other European regions is the fact that national borders are very often not identical with linguistic and ethnic border lines. Diversity is not only a characteristic for the continent but for many of its national states. Ethnic as well as religious minorities should not be seen as a threat to the territorial integrity of a nation but as an asset which very often helps to build bridges to the neighboring country. When you mention South Tirol Italy and Austria can be proud to have found a solution in true European spirit. What could be used as modus operandi for the Donbass are this European spirit and a solution which takes into account the needs of all groups of the population. A very special agreement between Italy and Austria which is today obsolete because of the single market of the European Union was the “Accordino” with a kind of free trade regime for the Italian provinces Trento and Bolzano and the Austrian provinces Tirol and Vorarlberg. A similar agreement between Russia and Ukraine could help to maintain economic relations between Eastern Ukraine and South-Western Russia.
GL – Actually, does Europe effectively have the instruments and the capacity (be it political, diplomatic or institutional) to “defuse” similar situations?
W. Schwimmer - Yes and no. Yes, because the main instruments as well as the capacity would be there, no, because they are not really used. You may not be surprised when I as a former secretary general of the Council of Europe regret very much that the Council of Europe as the most coherent political platform for the whole of Europe is not used more to solve the Ukrainian crisis. And this situation was there before Maidan. EU proclaimed a “neighborhood policy” with its Eastern neighbors and forgot the Council of Europe where this neighbors are already in (with the exception of Belarus). Furthermore, due to the fact that Russia is for several reasons not part of that neighborhood policy and that the Union does not use the “hub” of the Council of Europe for the relations with Russia, there has never been a coherent strategy for EU-Russia relations (and the same applies to Russia regarding the EU). “Minsk Zero” should have happened one year earlier, perhaps under the auspices of the Council of Europe. I hope Europe, that means the entire Europe, EU, Russia, and other Council of Europe member states, learned the lesson from Ukraine. Dialogue to reach a peaceful solution have to start in due time.
GL – In general, how do you evaluate the EU’s further expansion efforts?
W. Schwimmer - I would not like to speak about “expansion”. Even enlargement is not the right word. EU is neither an empire nor a state although it acts like a state in many respects. It is still a community of sovereign states. And the first step to new membership has to come from the applicant country, not from the Union. The next step, the association agreement, is a joint one. Only the third step, granting the candidate status, has to be taken by the Union. The next new members will come from the Balkan, but both sides, the candidate countries, Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia, as well as the applicant Bosnia and Herzegovina, still have a lot to do for the preparation of those countries for membership. Also looking to the financial capacity of the Union, I do not expect the next accession before 2020. Beside the Balkan there is the special case of Turkey. Unfortunately the current policy of the Turkish government does not make a rapprochement of Turkey to the Union easier. Aspirations of other countries are also there, ie. Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, but there is no real chance for the next future.
GL – Widening the discussion about security, do you think that facing the establishment (or the return) or “different” economic and political actors as the BRICS countries, how the international defense and security system will evolve? Is the discourse about the obsolescence of the NATO system still actual? New regional defense systems, developing themselves out of the Euro-Atlantic defense mechanism, could integrate with it? With which perspectives?
W. Schwimmer - Let me stress again that a “refreshment” of the global system of the United Nations is overdue. This applies also to the Bretton Woods system. I would like to see decisions for global development taken in the United Nations and not dictated by a shadow global governance of G7, G8 and G20. Therefore the role of those countries that could not be among the founders of UN has to be recognized. Whether NATO is obsolete or not has to be decided by its members. But in anyway a large military alliance such as NATO has to serve global peace, security and stability. I doubt that NATO has served this goal in the Ukrainian crisis. There is a NATO-Russia Council with several channels of cooperation and mutual information. But contrary to repeated statements that the NATO countries “intend to engage with Russia in the NATO-Russia Council (NCR)” in April 2014 the Alliance suspended all practical cooperation between NATO and Russia including in the NRC. So the channels were blocked just when they would have been urgently needed. In my view NRC cooperation should be resumed in the turn of the implementation of Minsk 2. The Ukrainian crisis has demonstrated that there is a need for a European defense system including Russia. It could emerge out of NATO or it could be set up by EU and Russia together. To achieve such a system a lot of confidence building will be necessary. That starts with the full implementation of the Minsk agreements by all sides concerned. If that will happen it will be another proof of the well-known saying that every crisis is also a chance.