Antoniy Todorov: What is needed is a wider-range policy bringing peace and reforms to Syria

The EU repeated a number of mistakes, including not knowing who allies are

The European Union cannot continue developing as an integrated community without a cohesion policy that is even more ambitious than the existing one. There is even a chance that the bloc disintegrates if the so-called “friends of cohesion” do not make an effort to convince their partners that the European funds are going where they are intended to go instead of certain people's pockets or down the drain. Undoubtedly, humanity is facing a crucial choice - either do something about the environment or accept that at the current pace of skyrocketing production and consumption we will go extinct pretty soon, political scientist Antoniy Todorov says in an interview to EUROPOST.

Mr Todorov, let us start with a pressing issue - the migrants that Turkish President Erdogan allowed to flock to the Greek border. The European leaders seem not just helpless, but even disinterested in the new crisis. They promise money and yet do not say a word about policies. What can we expect - an every-man-for-himself mentality?

This is not the first time that President Erdogan is using refugees to pressure the European Union (EU). It is baffling that the European leaders seem to have been caught unprepared, having failed to learn from the previous such situations. In this particular circumstance, it is obvious that the refugees, the ranks of which include economic migrants, are being encouraged by the Turkish government. What is also obvious is Turkey's attempt to divide EU Member States, considering that migrant pressure at the Bulgarian border is close to non-existent for now, whereas we have already seen tension at the Greek border escalating into clashes. Turkey is using this opportunity to show its discontentment with the European sanctions prompted by oil drillings in Northern Cyprus. The European leaders need to launch a truly unified policy on migrant influxes. Money may be a good instrument in general, but it has not drastically changed this specific situation. What is needed is a wider-range policy that encompasses bringing peace and reforms to Syria instead of just immediate aid for refugees. If the European countries forming the external EU borders are left to fend for themselves, it could herald the disintegration of the bloc. We need real solidarity, not just statements of such.

How much longer are countries like Greece, and their citizens, going to pay for someone else's role in conflicts in the Middle East, North Africa and other parts of the African continent?

Unfortunately, this has become the norm now - someone starts a fire, someone else puts it out, a third party pays for the damages and a fourth one has to deal with the consequences. At the beginning of the civil war in Syria and even before the caliphate was established in the Middle East in 2014, the EU was busy getting Athens to sign and adhere to the 2015 Greece debt agreement. And so our southern neighbour was feeling pressure, and even getting cheated, on two fronts - to part with some of its national wealth, which had transitioned under the control of foreign companies, and to deal with the huge migrant influx on its own. People in Greece have every reason not to trust the European solidarity mantra, and it is a miracle that anti-European parties like the far-right Golden Dawn have not won any elections yet.

In October, Member States condemned Ankara's offensive in northeastern Syria, which targeted primarily Kurd minorities there. It is as though the EU has forgotten all of this and is returning to its refrain about Assad and his backing from Russia. Is the fear from another migrant crisis the only reason for this shift?

When the civil war in Syria first broke out, the EU and the west supported the democratic camp in the conflict. But then they seemed to miss the fact (as it was the case with Iraq before that) that the worsening conflict inevitably results in the physical destruction of the democratic forces of the opposition bloc and its capture by jihadist groups. The only viable allies of the EU and the west that are left are the Kurdish militant forces, which Turkey views as a threat. In the end, both the US and Europe betrayed the Kurds, who, faced with the overwhelmingly more powerful Turkish offensive, chose to give up their positions to the forces of their political opponent Assad, which I believe was a remarkable demonstration of patriotism.

The EU repeated a number of the same mistakes that the US made in Iraq - including not knowing who allies are. Now the fight against Assad and his dictatorship is mainly led by jihadists, at least on the Syrian side. Syrian Kurds are still in the picture, but they have been forced out of key positions and have retreated east, to Iraqi areas controlled by Iraqi Kurds. So the EU is forced to make concessions to Erdogan not only because of the migrants (that is more of an excuse), but because of its lack of allies in Syria. Against this backdrop, the Russian presence in Syria is ironically welcomed because it serves as an argument in favour of the European tolerance towards Erdogan.

If we take a closer look at the Alliance's internal affairs, we will see that the demarcation lines there are not fewer. In the debates on the financial framework 2021-2027 there is a serious collision of interests. What divides the “friends of cohesion” from the “frugal four”?

Within the present-day European Union, with its remaining 27 members, for a long time there has been a division between the “net donor” states and the “recipient” states supported by the European funds. This difference exists at least from 1981, after the “enlargement to the south” and the accession of Spain, Portugal and Greece which are ranked among the recipients of the EU support funds. At that time, the correlation between 'givers' and 'takers' was 9:3, i.e. the donor states constituted the majority. Today the ratio is different, the number of donors has dwindled considerably after Brexit, and now we may designate as donors 10 countries at the most, while the recipients are 17. No doubt that it generates tensions, including within the donor communities, whose governments depend on public opinion. Among today's recipients there are states with low administrative capacity and high corruption rates, which makes the donors increasingly critical when it comes to the implementation and allocation of the EU budget. To say nothing of the bureaucratisation of the European Union and unwarranted administrative expenses. That said, the “frugal four” - Austria, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands - contribute to a more cool-headed approach although their stand seems too egoistic at times. The European Union will not be able to further develop as an integrated community without even a larger-scale policy than cohesion. But it can even fall apart if the “friends of cohesion” do not make an effort to convince their partners that the EU funds are spent as intended, and do not line the pockets of some private individuals, or that they are not simply wasted.

The disputes over budgets in Brussels are nothing new. Is the financial gap of €60-75bn, which Brexit opened, the only challenge?

- The financial gap is not to be underestimated. The EU budget is in the red after the exit of the United Kingdom. Apparently, the gap cannot be bridged in any other way except through increase of budget contributions and reduction of spending. As regards the first option, we face the resistance of the donor states because they themselves meet with difficulties when it comes to their national budgets. As for the reduction of spending, the interests of the Member States differ. Some would like to do it but not at the expense of the agricultural policy, others refuse to do it at the expense of the cohesion policy. There is no magical solution, a compromise will be needed in any event, if the EU wants to adopt a budget.

Where is Bulgaria? It appears that we opt for both variants, but it is not clear which side the Bulgarian government will take, given this division. I presume it will prefer to play for time and see what position the “big ones” take. Actually, Bulgaria does not pursue active European policy, maybe the only exception was the period of its presidency of the Council of the EU when the Western Balkans were added to the European agenda.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who is positioning himself as the new leader of Europe after Angela Merkel announced her withdrawal, insists on the creation of an autonomous European pillar in NATO, but at the same time he does not give up on the generous subsidies for French farmers. Will he manage to get the upper hand?

Having in mind the current way of decision making in the EU, where there is a certain balance between the right to a unilateral veto and taking decisions by qualified majority, France may not succeed in imposing its will in every issue. Nevertheless, we shouldn't forget that this state, along with Germany, is historically a pillar of the EU, and we cannot imagine the Union's future without it.

Creation of an autonomous European pillar in NATO originally was the idea of Charles de Gaulle. His idea was foiled and De Gaulle withdrew France from NATO's integrated military command structure. In 2008 the decision was reversed, and under President Sarkozy, France rejoined the integrated military structure but this time in a different situation, i.e. when NATO already numbered 29 members (twice as many as during De Gaulle's times). Emmanuel Macron even warned about NATO's “brain death”, especially after the administration of US President Donald Trump has repeatedly declared its stand and said that the Europeans have to pay more if they want the US to provide military guarantees. In fact, the EU doesn't have any “action plan” in case the US decides to drastically reduce its commitments to Europe.

However, the EU Common Agricultural Policy is one of the supporting pillars of United Europe. Frequently criticised, most often from libertarian positions, as state backing for production sectors in an otherwise market economy, this policy ensures, along with food production, also social peace in many European states. It is not implemented only to serve the interests of the French farmers. Nevertheless, it is evident that its parameters must be changed. For the reason that the consequences of this policy in post-communist Europe are not always positive: it stimulates the biggest producers and brings to ruin the small and medium-sized farmers.

The present Commission announced a super ambitious project - the Green Deal. President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen insists on allocating at least 25% of the multiannual EU financial framework for fighting climate change. Is this project realistic?

The Green Deal is the only new agenda item proposed by the newly elected Commission. No doubt, it is super ambitious because it can become also a source of numerous and serious economic difficulties. However, there's no doubt either that humanity is facing a fateful choice - to do something to cope with the protection of the environment or to agree that given the current pace of rampant growth in production and consumption rates, we will very soon vanish along with nature around us. If nothing is done, the situation will deteriorate and the generation of Greta Thunberg will have even more rights to hold us accountable for their future. If Europe doesn't start doing something now, I don't see who else in the world can do it. Well, this may create difficulties for the competiveness of the European Union, but in all probability this fierce competition between national economies will soon be curbed somehow. Otherwise, the stronger will take over the weaker, and eventually we all will disappear together.

Close-up

Antoniy Todorov is a professor at New Bulgarian University. He studied international relations at the University for National and World Economy and has two PhDs - in modern history and in political science. Todorov has authored four monographies and over 130 scientific papers. He has lectured and specialised in France, Belgium and Romania.

Similar articles