Tag Archives: politics

Macron’s Eurozone Reform

By Shad Joynal-Abedin, Participant in the G-20 at BEF 2016.

As the European Union experiences a robust economic recovery, with the unemployment rate at a 10-year low and job creation at a 10-year high, the election of Emmanuel Macron as President of the second largest economy of the Eurozone creates a de facto window of opportunities for a comprehensive institutional reform.

Mr. Macron delivered a speech at Sorbonne University on September 26, 2017 laying out his vision for “a sovereign, united and democratic Europe”. In his vision the Eurozone encapsulates the heart of Europe’s global economic power.

Why does the Eurozone need to be reformed?

The Eurozone is the monetary Union under which 19 out of the 28 member states of the EU agreed to adopt a common currency. The euro, nowadays used by 338 million consumers daily, is part of the European identity for many EU citizens. However, the 2009 sovereign debt crisis highlighted that the Eurozone was incomplete. The call for a strong fiscal Union to support the existing monetary Union could not be ignored any longer. Especially member states with the poorest fiscal discipline had to deal with an asymmetric economic shock. Even if steps have been taken to strengthen the governance of the Eurozone in terms of prudential regulation and banking union, the need to build stronger institutions to foster growth and to fund common investments has not disappeared.

What is currently being discussed?

To reshape a Eurozone seen as the backbone of a strong Europe, the French President advanced several proposals:

1. A common Eurozone budget.

Mr. Macron is pushing for more economic integration with the creation of a common Eurozone budget. It would have one main objective: financing investments and emergency assistance in case of economic shocks as well as responding to financial crisis. Access to this budget would be conditioned with respect to common fiscal and social standards.

2. A Eurozone Finance Minister.

The French President also called for more political integration through the creation of a Eurozone finance minister. This minister would permanently chair the Eurogroup and would oversee the common budget. This position would merge the existing jobs of president of the Eurogroup with the different EU commissioners in charge of the economy.

3. A Eurozone Parliament.

Additionally, Macron is in favour of creating a Eurozone Parliament (or a Eurozone subcommittee inside the European Parliament) to politically control the finance minister. He would also serve as vice-president in the European commission.

What are the challenges ahead?

In March 2017 the European Commission presented its White Paper on the future of Europe. It gives an overview of different scenarios to describe the possible state of the Union by 2025. Considering his manifesto, President Macron’s Eurozone proposals would undoubtedly enter into the most ambitious scenario drafted by the Commission. In this option, called “doing much more together”, member states are expected to “share more power, resources and decision-making across the board”.

However, Macron’s political willingness may be tested both at the national and European level. In France, he may enter a period of uncertainty as his government implements its reform agenda. The political cost of some of the upcoming structural changes, such as the housing or the fiscal reforms, is still unpredictable. At the same time the labour market overhaul is expected to be fruitful only on the long run. In a country that remains divided on the EU, following an election in which 33,90% of the voters supported Marine Le Pen and 25% did not cast any ballot, the question is whether the president will enjoy enough popular support on his European agenda.

In the EU, President Macron will have to convince his European partners. While France’s relationship has deteriorated with Poland on the issue of posted workers, countries such as Belgium, Luxembourg, Spain or Portugal have already welcomed the latest announcements. Moreover, by choosing as senior diplomatic advisor the former French Ambassador to Germany who also served as Ambassador to the EU, the French President expressed his eagerness to reengage with Germany on European affairs. The current political crisis in Germany is therefore closely followed by Paris as any unbalanced outcome could undermine the consequential German support that Macron is seeking for a successful Eurozone reform.

Please note that the views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Munich European Forum e.V.

Are we witnessing religious radicalization in the Balkans? The case of the Republic of Macedonia

By Shad Joynal-Abedin, Participant in the G-20 at BEF 2016.

On September 22 2016, the President of Macedonia, Gjorge Ivanov, addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations during the 71st session of the General Debate. In his address, the number one issue the President mentioned was terrorism[i]. At first sight, this concern may seem surprising for an outsider who sees the Balkans as a place of religious moderation. However approximately 875 foreign fighters from Western Balkans countries have joined terrorist organizations such as ISIL or Jabhat al-Nusra[ii] and countries such as Bosnia, Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia are the most exposed.

Western Balkan Foreign Fighters in Syria and Iraq

Country Official estimate Last update Unofficial estimate
Albania 90 May 2015 200
BiH 217 October 2015 330
Montenegro September 2014 30
Kosovo 232 October 2015 300
Macedonia 146 August 2015 100
Serbia 50 July 2015 70

Source: The Soufan Group, December 2015

Religious radicalization in Macedonia

Macedonia is a small multiethnic and multi-religious state of two million inhabitants located in the heart of the Balkan Peninsula. 64% of the population is Orthodox Christian, whereas 35% of the population is Muslim, mostly Sunni, following the Hanafi school of jurisprudence. Ethnic Albanians represent 70% of Muslims in Macedonia but almost all the radicalized fighters. Behind the radicalization of a minority of this minority, what is the bigger picture?

Religious affiliation in Macedonia[iii]

Ethnic affiliation Official estimate Percentage of the total population Predominant religion
Macedonian 1 297 981 64% Orthodoxy
Albanian 509 083 25% Islam
Turks 77 959 4% Islam
Rhomas 53 879 3% Islam
Torbeši (ethnic Macedonian Muslims) 40 000 2% Islam
Bosnians 17 018 0,9% Islam

Source: National census of 2002 . This census has not been updated since 2002 due to political disagreements regarding the organization of a new census.

Beyond the symptoms, what are the causes of religious radicalization?

The radicalization of individuals is often linked to a lack of social inclusion, explained by discrimination and injustice. The situation of Macedonia offers great illustrations:

  • Interethnic divisions: Macedonia is a divided nation where ethnic stereotyping is rampant. Ethnic Albanians tend to blame ethnic Macedonians for being treated as second class citizens while ethnic Macedonians all too often tend to judge ethnic Albanians by their worst examples.
  • The political crisis: Macedonia is undergoing a political crisis which has been weakening its institutions since 2015. This crisis started in the midst of a wiretapping scandal orchestrated by the incumbent government and a police brutality case against a student. The incidents trigged the “Colorful Revolution” – a movement of protest against corruption and the impunity of the political elite.
  • The economic situation: Despite a 3% growth rate since 2013, Macedonia has one of the highest unemployment rate of the Balkans (25% unemployment rate, 50% youth unemployment rate). This situation creates exclusion and undermines the integration of all ethnic groups.
  • The organization of Islam: In Macedonia there is a national body called the “Islamic Community” (IVZ) who is currently in charge of organizing Islam by running mosques and training imams. This body is however losing its influence, and radical actors are tempted to occupy the empty space by playing the religious card to redefine Islam in the country.
Copyright: TheFAIR1 (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Copyright: TheFAIR1 (CC BY-SA 3.0)

What are the consequences?

The birth of ISIL in the Levant in June 2014 has been luring radicalized fighters across the Balkans who do not fit in their respective societies. This has far reaching effects, as these fighters believe that it is the duty of every Balkan Muslim to liberate Syria from the Assad regime. This war in Syria is seen as a war of liberation and has been compared to the wars of the “liberation of Bosnia” (1992-1995) and “liberation of Kosovo” (1998-1999). It is for this reason that a propaganda video in Albanian language was released by ISIL in June 2015, which was designed to specifically target Muslims from Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia.

As yet the UN has not been able to implement a ceasefire in Syria as was planned in 2015 in Resolution 2254. In turn, the longer the war lasts, the more likely it is that the influx of radicalized fighters will continue to increase. At the same time, the weaker ISIL becomes, the more foreign fighters will return to Macedonia using the Balkan route.

In order to counter these worrying developments, policy makers will need to cooperate with religious leaders, parents and teachers to define a reintegration system and spread awareness. Knowing that in the case of Macedonia, home-grown religious radicalization has more to do with politics than religion, possible solutions will need to focus on fixing interethnic relations rather than promoting a clash of religions.

Please note that the views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Munich European Forum e.V.

[i] President Ivanov’s full speech during the 71st Session of the General Assembly of the UN http://webtv.un.org/search/the-former-yugoslav-republic-of-macedonia-president-addresses-general-debate-71st-session/5137328970001?term=MACEDONIA

[ii] The Soufan Group, December 2015 quoted in The new lure of the Syrian war – The foreign fighters’ Bosnian contingent by Vlado Azinović and Muhamed Jusić, Sarajevo, 2016, p.18

[iii] Census of Population, Households and Dwellings 2002, p.34 http://www.stat.gov.mk/Publikacii/knigaXIII.pdf