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Montenegro Calling

  • May 2019
  • Daniela Floris

Montenegro Calling

The Balkan country’s ambitious road towards the EU

 

Ana Đurnić

 

Montenegro is a country of  wild beauty:  crystalline shores, majestic mountains and flourishing valleys. It is no surprise that tourism is Montenegro’s leading industry, directly accounting for more than 23% of its GDP. After a referendum declaring independence from Serbia in 2006, the Western Balkan country, home of roughly 700.000 people,  joined the WTO in 2012 and NATO in 2017.  Montenegro’s ambition to join the European Union, however, faces serious hurdles.  Since the launch of the accession process in 2012, 32 negotiating chapters out of 33 have remained open, questioning the feasibility of a full integration by 2025, as the European Commission initially indicated.

 

Montenegro has been shaken by corruption  scandals, cases of bribery in public procurement and (alleged) electoral frauds. Ongoing protests highlight the country’s political gridlock, centered around the figure of  President Milo Đukanović , who has de facto ruled for over 27 years, leading Montenegro’s transition from a  former Yugoslav republic  to independence. Đukanović’s party, the DPS (Democratic Party of Socialists) is omnipresent in society. Party members have better chances for securing a job in the public sector, which is by far the largest employer in the country. Despite the establishment of agencies against corruption and organized crime, NGO activists, civil society organizations , grassroots movements and opposition parties denounce the ‘captured state’ of Montenegro, in which the rule of law is subjugated to major political interference.

 

The Centre for European Progression has met with Ana Đurnić, Public Policy researcher at the Institut Alternativa, an independent think-tank based in the capital Podgorica, to discuss about the state of play of Montenegro’s prospected membership to the EU. The setting was the panel discussion “Frontrunner in a slow race? Montenegro’s EU integration path” organized by the European Policy Centre (EPC) and the Center for monitoring and research (CeMI) in Brussels. Along with Đurnić, the speakers’ list included Thomas Hagleitner, the European Commission’s Head of Montenegro Unit, Nikoleta Đukanović, CeMI’s Executive Director, Bojan Šarkić, Ambassador of the Republic of Montenegro to the EU and Corina Stratulat, Senior Policy Analyst at EPC.

 

CfEP: What is your take on Montenegro’s position as frontrunner for EU membership in the Western-Balkans? Can Montenegro still be considered as such, taking into account the 32 open chapters?

Ana Đurnić: To use a metaphor, Montenegro is the best in a classroom of bad students. The government has partially fulfilled some of the EU conditions but the implementation of the Action Plans concerning the several remaining chapters require constant monitoring. Montenegro’s government has a longstanding record of concealing data and information from the public, keeping citizens uniformed about the current status of the integration process. Chapters 23 (Judiciary and Fundamental Rights) and 24 (Justice, Freedom and Security) are definitely the most difficult to ‘close’. These chapters are crucial as they oversee the work of the anti-corruption agency, the special prosecutor’s office, public procurement and civil rights. Right now, we can only see a backslide in all of these areas, particularly in public procurement, media freedom and access to information.

 

CfEP: Montenegro ranks 104th in the RSF- 2019 World Press Freedom Index. In 2018, Olivera Lakić, an investigative journalist  was shot and wounded outside her apartment. This and several other accounts depict a grim picture of intimidation and indirect censorship of independent media outlets. What’s the current climate for journalists and reporters in the country?

D: Although the government does not own any news organization, political pressure on independent media  is tangible. Public procurement tenders are advertised only on pro-government media, while critical reporters are systematically smeared, name-called and publicly discredited. Investigations of physical threats and attacks against journalists are often obstructed. In Montenegro the space for dissent is shrinking: in theory, the Freedom of Information (FOI) law  allows every citizen to access public information; in practice,  greater political interference  is very often exercised towards newsrooms’ editorial choices, preventing the publication of a broad range of “sensitive information”. There is, in fact, an attempt to censor and silence non-aligned voices.

 

CfEP: Public protests are ongoing since the last general elections in 2016. What is your outlook on the opposition movement’s media coverage ?

D: Independent media are keeping an  eye on the protests, whereas the public media, funded with taxpayers’ money, is reluctant to report on dissident movements in order not to lose governmental support. Several movements took the streets over the past three years: the most recent is the “resist” movement, supported by several NGOs and grassroots groups. Protests are also endorsed by the  opposition parties that have been boycotting the parliamentary activities since the 2016 elections.

 

CfEP: Russia has traditionally retained major influence in the Balkans, but now China is the “new kid on the block” . The most ambitious project since Montenegro’s independence, the Bar-Bojare highway, is the result of a controversial partnership between Chinese investors and Montenegro’s government. The project costs 890 million Euros and, according to various sources, tax-free construction materials and two thirds of the workers come from China. Is the infrastructure a debt trap or a real chance for development? 

 D: Analyzing the statements of Montenegro’s high officials, our key allies change from time to time. For a while, Brussels has been our privileged partner for economic development.  But whenever the EU assumes a slightly critical position towards Montenegro’s executive, the tone shifts in favor of alternative partners, namely Russia and China. It is true that a part of the population still holds an emotional connection with Russia, although Beijing has been investing heavily in our economy. However, Chinese investments do not come as a present but as a loan that we will have to pay back. The new highway could be an opportunity, but the key issue is the project’s overall lack of transparency: most of the documents and reports concerning the infrastructure are kept away from the public eye.

 

CfEP: Thank you,  we would like to get a closing statement from you. In a few words, what’s the greatest contribution Montenegro could give to the EU in the future? 

 D: Montenegro is naturally a part of Europe. Thereby, it can definitely be part of the EU too. The biggest contribution would be our human capital: lots of young and creative people that could help not only Montenegro, but the whole Union to improve.

 

 

Create, Connect, Engage: Digital Campaigning & Cybersecurity

  • May 2019
  • Daniela Floris

Create, Connect, Engage: Digital Campaigning & Cybersecurity

More than ever before, social media and digital tools will impact the 2019 EP elections.

David Timis, on the left, and William Echikson, on the right, with a participant. Photo: Joseph Cochran

 

As the European Parliamentary Elections are approaching, candidates and political strategists have less than a month left to engage with citizens, mobilize their base and appeal to swing voters.Internet hacks and disinformation represent concrete threats to electoral runs-up, with “fake news” seen as a problem for democracy by 83% of Europeans.

In fact, according to the Parliament’s latest Eurobarometer survey, one third of Europeans of voting age are are reported not planning to vote, believing that their vote “won’t change anything”. Much of Institutional and political communication tend to be run on social media, but turning online interaction into active participation remains challenging. Initiatives to mobilize voters, such as #ThisTimeImVoting and #EUandMe, launched by the European Parliament to present information on the election process and to promote the achievements of the EU, have been received positively by internet users and the media. However, we will have to wait until ballots are cast for an impact assessment on the voter turnout, which was only 42,6% in 2014.

How to run a successful digital election campaign was the subject of a training session organized by the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), a Brussels-based think tank for EU affairs. The main speaker was David Timis, Google’s EU civic outreach fellow, and co-founder of European Heroes, a platform for the civic engagement of young Europeans. and the event was moderated by William Echikson, CEPS’ Head of Digital Forum, Europe’s correspondent for the Wall Street Journal for decades, and former Senior Manager at Google. Timis shared a few but precious tips on how to establish a digital audience and counter cyberattacks.

According to Timis, effective digital media campaigns are able to build a strong brand with clear-cut messages, an attractive storytelling of the actors involved and a straightforward mission statement. The goal is not only to attract views, but to connect with potential voters or activists and, ultimately, call for action.

 

Mobile Friendliness

Surfing the internet while on the move is a consolidated habit for the many of us. An Eurostat poll show that 65% of Europeans aged 16-75 use mobile devices to access the internet, and TV is no longer the main medium for audiovisual materials. YouTube, the video streaming platform acquired by Google in 2006 for USD 1.65 billion, has over 1.8 billion monthly users . Streaming and sharing videos have become increasingly popular, with extensions like “live” and “stories” incorporated in various social networking platforms. Establishing a YouTube channel is now recommended for businesses and organizations, especially if they wish to attract a young viewership.

Contrary to popular belief, Timis pointed out, producing viral videos does not necessarily require a big budget: filming with a smartphone gives the public a glimpse of spontaneity and casualness. Accordingly, fast paced storylines and visual close-ups mimic real time human interaction, instilling audiences with the perception of being participants rather than just viewers. Successful campaigns, such as the one of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, now a Member of the House of Representatives in the US, prove that a multimillion-dollar funding is not indispensable: support from a tech-savvy team with a sharp social media strategy can lead to outstanding results. Charisma, creativity and a deep understanding of your target of reference all pay back in terms of popularity.

Other formats, including “behind the scenes” content, videos featuring supporters or volunteers and being endorsed by influencers are also important in the communication strategy.

 

Cybersecurity

As the distribution of media has become more and more related to the internet, the likelihood of sabotage through cyberattacks has increased. Political Campaigns are particularly exposed to such threats, with the Brexit referendum and the 2016 U.S Presidential Election being the most notorious cases. Attempts of hacking and “phishing” (the fraudulent attempt to steal information posing as a trustworthy entity) have become the most common attacks, but, according to Timis, they can be prevented.. The Cybersecurity Campaign Playbook , published by the Harvard Kennedy School, and quoted by Timis, suggests that raising awareness is paramount to counter malicious attacks. Simple measures, such as using long and different passwords for different accounts, storing sensitive information in web clouds and communicating through encrypted apps could make the difference. Other risk management tools include using a password manager and two-factor authentication (2FA), in which the second step of log-in relies on dedicated apps, safer than text messaging, or on security keys. Several of these tools are free or low-cost, making media literacy a fundamental asset for campaigners and social media managers to disallow data leaks and privacy breaching.

 

A digital future

When asked what the next big thing for the digitalization of Europe was going to be, Timis had no doubt: “They are already here: mobile and video have taken over the way we communicate and connect to each other, bringing parties, organizations and movements closer to the people they interact with.”, William Echikson, on the other hand, in virtue of his decades-long experience in reporting on EU affairs and policy research was more cautious: “for 30 years the Internet has had a sort of free pass. Recent scandals have shown that a more organic approach to regulations and policymaking needs to be implemented. It is a long way to go and it won’t be easy, but we are getting there”.

 

 

Finland ahead of the Council presidency

  • April 2019
  • Otto Ilveskero

Finland ahead of the Council presidency

 

Increased political fragmentation at the core of recent election results

 

Credit: Otto Ilveskero

 

Disappointment. Injustice. The bittersweet taste of joy that lingers in your tears as the victory you thought was yours gets snatched from your hands at the last possible moment. The proud nation of Finland was violently shaken on Sunday (14 April) when the country’s ice hockey team lost the IIHF Women’s World Championships final to the United States after having had their overtime goal disallowed by the referees. So momentous was the occasion, that the national broadcasting service YLE decided to set up a split screen during its election coverage to also show the last moments of the match. In Finland, we take hockey seriously.

 

In many ways, the hollowness left behind by the events on ice reflected the results of the Finnish parliamentary elections, leaving most parties in a situation where they can be satisfied with their overall performance but not really happy. The Social Democrats (SDP), for example, ended the night as the largest party in the Finnish parliament for the first time since 1999, but became the first party ever to win the elections with under 20% of the vote. The centre-right National Coalition party can be content with their one seat gain considering that their governing partner, the Centre Party, lost 18 seats and obtained the party’s worst election result since 1917 (and that the Blue Reform, a 2017 offshoot from the Finns Party, with 5 ministerial positions and 17 seats managed to lose everything in their first contested elections). Yet, the National Coalition party was also left in the third place just one seat and 0.5% behind the Finns Party, which in turn would have needed only 6,000 votes more to overtake the SDP and win the elections.

 

Fragmented, young, and equal – the new Eduskunta

 

The glass is both half full and half empty – except for the Greens and the aforementioned Centre Party. The former have now doubled their support since 2011 and become only the third European Green party to obtain over 10% of the vote share in national parliamentary elections. As a whole, the left of the party spectrum, consisting of the SDP, Greens and Left Alliance, secured 76 seats (up by 15 from 2015) to the 200-member Eduskunta in Helsinki.

 

Although on paper the Finns Party improved their result by only one seat compared to 2015 (from 38 to 39), in practice their gains were a serious improvement for the increasingly nativist populist party, which was left with 18 MPs in parliament after a dramatic split in 2017. From early on, it was clear that voters were not going to follow the 20 representatives who split off from the Finns to form the Blue Reform as a protest to the election of Jussi Halla-aho as the new party leader. In fact, Halla-aho was the 2019 election’s biggest individual winner with over 30,000 personal votes under the Finnish open-list electoral system.

 

Nonetheless, the most impressive development of the evening was provided by women and young candidates. Almost half (47.0%) of all the candidates elected on Sunday are women – a record number in Finnish parliamentary elections and second only to Sweden within the EU member states. In addition, almost one fifth (19%) of the elected candidates are under 35 years old, while two thirds (62.5%) of the representatives are aged 50 or under. Only 4% of representatives in the next parliament will be over the age of 65. Ultimately, the most important story that emerged on 14 April is how youthful and equal the next Finnish Eduskunta will be. We should also be very happy with the turnout at 72% – the highest in Finnish parliamentary elections since 1991.

 

The overarching message from the elections was one of increased fragmentation, which is bound to make the upcoming coalition negotiations increasingly unstable. The elections were the closest in 60 years with the three largest parties separated by just 0.7% of the votes and both the right and left flanks making gains at the centre’s expense. The people have spoken, now we just have to figure out what they said.

 

A pro-European coalition expected ahead of the Finnish Council presidency

 

From the European perspective, these elections carry particular importance as Finland prepares to assume the Council’s next six-month presidency on 1 July. If the SDP and National Coalition can form the basis of a new government with perhaps the Greens and the Swedish People’s Party of Finland (SFP), then Finland would have a fragile (108 out of 200 -majority) but pro-European government in place for the crucial presidency overseeing the elections for the new European Council and Commission presidents as well as the ongoing negotiations of the 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF). The next government will of course also be responsible for the nomination of the Finnish commissioner to the EU’s agenda-setting institution.

 

The aforementioned parties have indicated willingness in their election manifestos to support deeper EU integration in the form of swiftly completing the European banking union for stronger supervision of EU banks, for example. The Greens would also like to see the elevation of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) into a European monetary fund (EMF) to provide better financial assistance to member states in need, as well as to increase the EU’s own funding through increased member state contributions and climate-friendly taxes. On climate action, the parties share a common vision of increased and more ambitious EU cooperation. The National Coalition, for instance, specifically mentions lifting the EU’s 2030 emission reduction target to 55% from the current 40% to keep the bloc on course to climate neutrality by 2050.

 

Furthermore, the likely prime minister party SDP has become more openly pro-EU since their previous manifesto four years ago. From a previously more ambiguous position, the party’s current election programme wants to place Finland ‘in the frontline of deepening European cooperation’ and raise the Pillar of Social Rights as an equal to the economic principles of the EU. The centre-left group is also promising to support the creation of common EU migration policy and enforcement of a migrant quota system, as well as to strengthen the EU’s external border controls. The goals are shared by the EPP-affiliated National Coalition party in their election manifesto. The prospective governing partners also agree on deepening European defence and security cooperation.

 

The coalition could potentially be strengthened with the ALDE-affiliated Centre Party, despite the election beating. Much of this depends now on the replacement to the outgoing prime minister Juha Sipilä, who announced his resignation as the party’s leader two days after the elections. This would give the new government a healthy 132-seat majority, but most likely also slow down the decision-making of politically already thinly spread coalition.

 

Certain uncertainties: will the populist right take over after all?

 

In a scenario where the future coalition government would feature the Finns Party, Finland’s contributions in the Council would obviously stem from a much less integrationist source. Despite the nativist party’s expressed willingness to govern, however, it seems at the moment highly unlikely that the SDP in particular would be open to the idea of sharing governmental duties with the populists.

 

Yet, as political opportunism raises its ugly head and the realities of coalition negotiations emerge to the fore, it becomes increasingly more difficult to predict what will happen. Earlier this month, for instance, a right-wing populist coalition blocked the Reform Party leader Kaja Kallas from becoming Estonia’s first female prime minister, despite her party winning the elections. But what will almost certainly prove to be a damaging, short-termist move to the career of Prime Minister Jüri Ratas across the Gulf of Finland could be even worse for the centre-right in Helsinki given the size of the Finns Party. Nonetheless, this has not stopped the National Coalition leader Petteri Orpo from declaring that his party would be open to negotiating governing arrangements also with the right-wing populists.

 

Ultimately, the uncertain coalition talks are likely to consume much-needed media attention from the European Elections in five weeks’ time. The last time the two elections coincided in Finland was in 1999, resulting in the worst Finnish turnout on the European level (31.4%). In the worst-case scenario, Finland does not even have a government in place before its Council presidency term begins in July.

 

What is certain, however, is that the new Finnish government should under any configuration oppose the ratification of any future trade deal with the United States that does not include handing the Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship gold medals to their rightful owners.

What goes around

  • April 2019
  • Otto Ilveskero

What goes around

 

Circular economy takes the centre stage in European climate action

 

Source: Pixabay

 

Two weeks ago, a washed-up carcass of a whale was found on the coast Sardinia, Italy with 22 kilograms of plastic waste in its stomach. The gruesome discovery was yet another indicator for why tackling plastic waste has taken the centre stage of the EU’s environmental action, with the new single-use plastic legislation coming into force soon. The plastic plan is one of the central elements of the Commission’s wider circular economy strategy, which can – if successfully completed – decrease the EU’s carbon emissions by more than a half.

 

‘The Council urges that the main policy foundations for a sustainable future include a decisive transition towards a circular economy.’ Conclusions of the General Affairs Council meeting on 9 April push for the EU to become a “trailblazer” for sustainable development by striving for climate neutrality and promoting safe low carbon energy. The Council recognises sustainability of innovation and health of citizens as the enablers of globally competitive economy and calls for the European Commission to use the relevant funding tools to support the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In addition, the conclusions highlight the need for a strong involvement of civil society organisations and the private sector stakeholders in achieving climate action goals.

 

Circular economy proposals have featured particularly heavily in the current legislative cycle with of many of the measures still needing to be implemented under the supervision of the next Commission configuration. Launch with an action plan in 2015, the EU’s circular economy strategy plays a crucial role in the bloc’s efforts to achieve the UN sustainable development goals and has so far resulted in 54 actions being either completed or under implementation in the member states. Over the 2016-2020 period the EU has pledged over €10 billion to support managed transition to a circular economy with a priority status given to the transition within the EU development and cohesion funds in the new 2021-2027 multiannual financial framework proposal. In March, negotiators between EU institutions reached an agreement to ringfence 35% of the proposed €100 billion research budget in 2021-2027 for climate-friendly technologies.

 

The most visible of these measures has been the highly popular proposal to ban and phase out single-use plastic within the EU. With the Council expected to grant its final approval to the legislation soon, the member states will have two years to fully implement the new targets of 90% collection target for bottles and new labels to help consumers to correctly dispose products. The measures also include the banning of certain plastic cutlery and cotton buds with plastic. Supported by the “Blue Planet effect”, the single-plastic use legislation has moved from the drafting stage to being in force within a year – a miracle in the EU, where the decision-making process is often measured in dog years.

 

The EU has set a 50% plastic recycling target by 2025, while some member states, such as the Netherlands and France, have more ambitious national plans in place. The Dutch plan, for example, aims to ensure that 70% of all single-use plastic packaging is recycled by 2025. Currently around 30% of the 26 million tonnes of annual plastic waste in the EU is collected for recycling, of which only about a third is actually converted into reusable material. As a result, producers converting plastics do not at the moment have a stable enough supply of suitable waste. One reason for this is the low local collection rates of plastic. Another is the lack of investment to technology that is capable of converting composites into consistent quality secondary materials. Improving these rates to the target level will require enhanced cooperation between public and private sector stakeholders in the member states supported by the EU.

 

Alongside plastic, a 2018 study by Material Economics, showed that by strengthening the sustainable circulation of also steel, aluminium, and cement, the EU could reduce its carbon footprint by a whopping 56% – or around 300 megatons of CO2 per annum. Globally, the UN has called for greater reuse of materials and recently published a study showing that extraction and primary processing of metals account for 26% of all carbon emissions.

 

Curbing the negative environmental impact of extraction with recycled content would significantly help the common European effort to reach the net-zero emissions target by 2050. Thankfully, significant progress has been made in many sectors. For example, around 83% of the almost 3 million tonnes of stainless steel produced annually by Outokumpu, Europe’s largest steel manufacturer, is made from recycled materials (the current European average stands at around 60%). Ovako, a Swedish engineered steel manufacturer specialising in effective scrap management, currently recycles around 800,000 metric tons of scrap metal each year. Both are signatories to Worldsteel’s Sustainable Development Charter, committing the industry to meet the UN 2030 sustainable development goals.

 

Cement, on the other hand, is in need of concrete alternatives. Since 1970, the global extraction of sand and gravel for concrete production has increased from 9 billion tonnes to 44 billion tonnes – a number that has only continued to soar as concrete has grown to become the second most consumed product in the world after water. Currently the second most polluting European industry after steelmaking, cement manufacturing contains high process emissions, is highly localised, and lacks obvious replacement materials. Nonetheless, alternative fuels and improved energy efficiency of manufacturing plants are readily available options for the industry to improve its environmental impact.

 

As things currently stand, available solutions can help Europe reach 75% of the cuts required to become climate neutral, according to the European Climate Foundation’s ‘Net Zero by 2050: From Whether to How’ report. Innovative technologies and approaches are needed, however, in order to reach the remaining 25%, which will require improved cooperation and increased investment from both the public and private sectors. It is essential for the next European legislative cycle to both encourage the widespread implementation of the 75% and support the research into the remaining 25%.

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