Europe Day 2010 - Statement by EU HR Ashton

Sumario: 9 May 2010, Brussels - Statement by Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, at the occasion of Europe Day 2010 on 9th May

Exactly 60 years ago on 9 May 1950 the declaration of the great European Robert Schuman laid the ground for a united, stable and peaceful Europe, that would emerge from the ashes of two devastating world wars.

This historical declaration and its great significance continue to lead the integration project on the European continent and inspire partnerships we forge beyond the borders of Europe.

Europe Day has become the symbol of a new beginning, of a free and successful way of peaceful cooperation between sovereign nations, based on shared values and common interests such as peace, solidarity, democracy, welfare of people and the rule of law.

On the occasion of Europe Day 2010 I would like to emphasize the high importance that Europe is giving to its partners around the world. Only together will we be able to create policies and initiatives to tackle the challenges the world is facing in the 21st century.

We have to find effective answers on a wide range of risks and threats: the fragility of states, terrorism, organised crime as well as the wider issues that affect our citizens: energy, climate change and the competition for natural resources, pandemics, illegal migration and human trafficking, financial and economic issues, trade, health and demography.

Europeans are united in the way they perceive foreign policy and the external action. There is consensus for more cooperation, coherence, visibility and joint action. The European Union is reshaping its institutional capabilities to respond adequately to the new challenges.

At the heart of these institutional changes is the European External Action Service (EEAS), one of the central innovations of the Lisbon Treaty that came into force on 1st December 2009. After I presented the proposal for the setting up of the service at the end of March 2010, I would like to see it up and running by the end of this year.

The EEAS will strengthen the impact of EU values and interests around the globe. It will enable the EU to have a more ambitious, effective, coherent and visible foreign policy.

The EEAS will be our principal interface with international partners; i.e. Europe's "eyes, ears and face" in our day-to-day dealings abroad. It will promote comprehensive policies in a strategic manner.

I am aware that current institutional developments are watched closely by our partners around the world. I am convinced that the EEAS will bring new level of comprehension and cooperation in our partnerships, to the benefit of all of us.

The EEAS will be set up 60 years after the adoption of the Schuman declaration, but very much in its spirit.

Happy Europe Day!

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Twitter Diplomacy

A week before Azerbaijani youth activists and video bloggers Adnan Hajizade and Emin Milli were arrested in July in Baku, an Armenian hundreds of kilometers away in Yerevan posted a YouTube video on his Facebook page.

The video, by Hajizade, introduced subscribers of the young Azerbaijani activist’s online video channel to the now-vacant Armenian church in Azerbaijan’s capital. The message was simple. It was a virtual hand of friendship extended across a closed border and a 15-year-old cease-fire line.

For Armenian Facebook users, this was their first exposure to an image of the “enemy” at odds with that usually portrayed in local media. With a peaceful resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict seemingly as elusive as ever, Armenians and Azerbaijanis are unable to visit each other’s country or communicate through traditional means such as telephone or mail. Media in both countries frequently self-censor or fall back on government propaganda when it comes to reporting on the other nation.
The resulting stereotypes are not easily dislodged, even among those critical of their governments. In a comment on her compatriot’s Facebook page, one Armenian opposition activist expressed doubt that there are others in Azerbaijan as tolerant and progressive as Hajizade. A civil society organizer suspected Baku had simply invented a dissident youth movement to score points with the Council of Europe.

But when Hajizade and Milli were detained for their other activities, other Armenians discovered a whole network of young Azerbaijanis who leaped to the bloggers’ defense on Facebook, Twitter, and other online platforms. Their skillful use of social media attracted international press attention to the case.

And, via Facebook, Azerbaijani activists learned that many of their Armenian counterparts supported the campaign for Hajizade and Milli’s release – not because the arrests made the Baku government look bad, but out of genuine concern.

In Azerbaijan and Armenia, many journalists have effectively become combatants in an information war of attrition. Media bias in the two countries creates a “negative context” in the public mind that “hinders dialogue and mutual understanding,” the Caucasus Resource Research Center stated last year in a report for the Eurasia Partnership Foundation. “Without more accurate and unbiased information ... free of negative rhetoric and stereotypes, Armenians and Azerbaijanis will continue to see themselves as enemies without any common ground.”

In blogs and on social platforms, however, youth in both countries are tentatively reaching out and breaching the information blockade. Those who until recently contacted one another only in secret are now communicating more openly, attracting others into their ranks.

“These new tools can be used to foment violence or to foster peace,” Ivan Sigal, executive director of the blog aggregation site Global Voices Online and a former researcher on citizen media at the U.S. Institute of Peace, wrote in a 2009 paper on digital media in conflict-prone societies. “[I]t is possible to build communication systems that encourage dialogue and nonviolent political solutions.”

In the past year, civil society groups that regularly convene third-country meetings between Armenians and Azerbaijanis have started taking note of what is happening online. (This author, for example, was approached by two such organizations for Azerbaijani contacts in online activist circles.) The open nature of the Internet makes it an increasingly vital tool for identifying new participants in civil society activities.

But two high-level diplomatic sources told me such groups have not done enough to expand their networks in Armenia and Azerbaijan. And critics in the social-media sphere say traditional civil society groups remain as closed as ever, focused on maintaining a “monopoly on problems,” as Slovene attorney and activist Primoz Sporar put it in a 2008 essay for the Trust for Civil Society in Central and Eastern Europe.

In the South Caucasus, “a significant amount of civil society work ... reinforces status quo policies where governments profit from war and exacerbate cultural differences to their advantage,” says Micael Bogar, a former Peace Corps volunteer in the region, now a projects manager at American University’s Center for Social Media. “New media tools, with their powerful and cheap ability to communicate across borders, threaten [their] wasteful practices,” she adds, and thus go largely unexplored by more traditional groups.

Bogar cites the cross-border Hajizade/Mills campaign and a U.S. project to bring Armenian and Azerbaijani teenagers together online as success stories. But access to the new tools remains an issue. Internet penetration and connection speeds are still low in the region, particularly in Armenia.

“While there is an elite element within civil society with access, but no interest, there is an even larger pool of citizens within the South Caucasus who may have the desire to work towards peace but lack any real long-term ability to use these tools towards that end,” Bogar says.

The International Research and Exchanges Board, a U.S. nonprofit, has identified the inability of local journalists to easily check facts as a major obstacle to media development in Armenia and Azerbaijan. A Caucasus Resource Research Center study recommends that the Millennium Challenges Account – a U.S. aid agency active in Armenia and Georgia, among other countries – consider funding development of high-speed Internet and the spread of Web 2.0 and mobile Internet technologies to open opportunities for civil society initiatives.

But even existing tools and information infrastructure offer willing journalists and activists accessible, low-cost ways to pierce the information wall – using Skype or other online chat programs to communicate directly with one another, for example, rather than relying on government or media boilerplate.

Interaction on Facebook, Twitter, and other social sites sets examples of Armenians and Azerbaijanis making and maintaining normal, open contact, and allows participants in conferences and other initiatives to get in touch before physically meeting and stay connected long after their brief real-world encounters, something that rarely happens now. Established blogs such as Armenian-American journalist Liana Aghajanyan’s Ianyan and Baku-based regional analyst Arzu Geybullayeva’s Flying Carpets and Broken Pipelines foster further cross-cultural communication.

True, such small-scale outreach represents a drop in the ocean of Azerbaijani-Armenian hostility now. But as Internet penetration increases, bringing costs down and connection speeds up, alternative routes for delivering information will grow – offering more chances for alternative voices to find purchase, narrowing the space for partisan disinformation in the mainstream media, and creating fertile ground for genuine dialogue and an exchange of reliable, factual information.

Onnik Krikorian is a freelance photojournalist and writer in Yerevan. He is also the Caucasus region editor for Global Voices Online and writes from Armenia for the Frontline Club. Funding for this project, “Overcoming Negative Stereotypes in the South Caucasus,” was provided by the Czech Foreign Ministry as part of the Czech Republic's Transition Promotion Program and by the British Embassy in Yerevan.

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Europe in Crisis

by Peter Schwarz

At the start of the last decade, in March 2000, the European Union heads of state announced the Lisbon Strategy. Its aim, by 2010, was to make Europe “the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion.” This would create “the conditions for full employment and the strengthening of regional cohesion in the European Union.”

As the second decade of the 21st century begins, the aspirations set forth in the Portuguese capital have evaporated. Instead of full employment, Europe is gripped by mass unemployment; instead of economic growth, there is stagnation; in place of cohesion, there is discord. Even the common currency, the foundation of the lofty plans of Lisbon, is in acute danger.

The Lisbon Strategy was the expression of widespread illusions that Europe, by means of EU enlargement and deeper integration, could catch up with or even overtake the US as a major power. This would happen entirely as a result of a united Europe’s economic power, without the social tensions and political and military conflicts of an earlier period.

These illusions found their clearest expression in a speech by then-German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer (Green Party) in May 2000 at Berlin’s Humboldt University. Fischer called for the transformation of the European Union from a loose alliance of states into a federation.

Through the “close integration of their vital interests and the transfer of national sovereignty rights to supranational European institutions,” said Fischer, the European states would signal their rejection of the national conflicts that had torn apart the continent prior to 1945. Only in this way would Europe be able to “play its due role in the global economic and political competition.”

Since then, Fischer’s idea that Europe could be harmoniously organized on a capitalist basis has proven to be a pipe dream. In Paris, and especially in London, his proposal was interpreted as an attempt to subjugate Europe to the dictates of Berlin. The EU’s enlargement into Eastern Europe has turned out to be a double-edged sword. It has brought not only the expansion of the internal market, but also political strife and instability.

In 2003, the US attacked Iraq, dividing Europe. While the British and Polish governments fully supported the war, the German and French were opposed. The American administration used the conflict to drive a wedge between “old” and “new” Europe.

The European Constitution, what remained of Fischer’s concept, failed in 2005 at the hands of French and Dutch voters, who interpreted it correctly as an attempt to subordinate the people of Europe to the dictates of the most powerful financial and economic interests. After a diplomatic and political tug of war that lasted several years, the basic framework of the European Constitution came into being in the form of the Lisbon Treaty. But by then, Berlin and Paris had largely lost interest. This was demonstrated in the appointment to the two new key positions—the council president and the European foreign minister—of secondary figures without any authority.

With the coming to power of Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel, France and Germany had turned again to a more independent foreign policy, with a stronger focus towards the US. In 2005, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder (Social Democratic Party) had left office prematurely, amongst other things because his foreign policy orientation towards Russia had led to his increasing isolation. But the hope that Washington would respond with increasing concern for European interests has remained unfulfilled, even after the change from President George W. Bush to Barack Obama.

The international financial and economic crisis has now brought all the unresolved contradictions of European domestic and foreign policy to the surface. In the conflict between the US and China, which increasingly dominates the world stage, Europe is being pushed to the edge and torn apart.

The German and French governments are bitter that Washington decided on a massive expansion of the Afghan war without prior consultation with its NATO allies. On the one hand, they do not want to leave the strategically important region to the sole influence of the United States; on the other, they fear that in an ever escalating war they could become mere agents of the USA. The failure of the Copenhagen climate change summit, which Europe lays at the door of the American and Chinese governments, has caused further anger.

The economic crisis has laid bare the inherent weakness of the European economy. The huge budget deficits in Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain threaten to break the euro’s back. So far, the common currency has prevented a massive devaluation and accompanying surge in inflation, but the high value of the euro, coupled with rising interest rates, makes it impossible for the Eurozone countries to overcome the crisis on the basis of the free market. Brussels has responded by calling for draconian cuts in government spending, particularly in the social sector.

Britain, which is not a member of the Eurozone, is becoming the sick man of Europe. Its economy is heavily dependent on the financial sector. In the last ten years, the number of manufacturing jobs in the UK has declined by 30 percent. Over the same period in Germany and France, the decline was far less, 5 and 10 percent respectively. To rescue the financial sector from collapse, the British government has taken on debt on a vast scale. The value of the pound has fallen correspondingly. Another banking crisis would quickly raise the specter of a British default on its sovereign debt.

For Germany, and, to a lesser extent, France, their relative economic strength has proven to be their Achilles’ heel. Industrial production in Germany, as a percentage of gross domestic product, is more than twice the figure for the US. The relative strength of German industrial production is bound up with a massive increase in German exports. Over the past 20 years, Germany’s production for export has risen from about 20 percent to 47 percent of GDP. Even China’s exports account for only 36 percent of its GDP.

This large dependence on industrial exports has made Germany especially vulnerable to the impact of the international economic crisis. Last year, economic output declined by 5.3 percent. Engineering production is currently running at only 70 percent of capacity, and according to experts, the prospects for improvement are slim.

The German export industry is under massive pressure from both the US and China. The United States has exploited the low dollar and its low wage levels, established with brute force as part of the reorganization of the US auto industry, to gain a competitive advantage against its European competitors. Symbolic in this respect was the partial shift of production of the Mercedes S-Class from Germany to the United States. For its part, China is now pushing into market segments that were once the preserve of the Germans, due to their high quality standards.

The European and German elite are reacting to the growing problems and contradictions as they did at the start of the last century: with social and political attacks on the working class and with increasing militarism.

Many governments seem paralysed, given the growing foreign policy problems and internal conflicts. The Christian Democratic-Free Democratic government in Berlin has succumbed to internal squabbles since taking office in November. Chancellor Merkel has been accused on all sides of a lack of determination and weak leadership. But behind the scenes, there is an intensive search for new mechanisms of rule to facilitate the shifting of the consequences of the economic crisis onto the working class, the methods of social compromise having been largely exhausted.

It is in this context that the ongoing assault on democratic rights is being intensified, in part through the fomenting of terrorist scares and the stoking up of resentment against Muslims. Among those at the forefront of these reactionary efforts are the German Social Democrat Thilo Sarrazin and the former Socialist Party politician and current French Immigration Minister Eric Besson. The Swiss referendum against the construction of minarets has been followed attentively and sympathetically by these circles. Such measures represent an attempt to divert attention from class issues and mobilize right-wing layers of the middle class to be thrown at some point against the working class.

Working people must draw their own conclusions from the failure of the bourgeoisie’s European plans. European workers must unite in order to defend their own social and political interests. They must fight for a socialist Europe, under the banner of the United Socialist States of Europe.

Peter Schwarz is a frequent contributor to Global Research.

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