SAIS Next Europe
August 3, 2009 4:48 PM

Europe Must Help Obama Close Guantanamo

When President Barack Obama pledged to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility last year, America's European allies cheered. The facility had become a lightning rod for international criticism and a dispiriting symbol of Western hypocrisy on human rights. But with the process of closing the facility now underway, the same allies who once cheered the decision have turned conspicuously quiet.

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July 31, 2009 2:17 PM

Republicans Need Direction? Check Out Germany

It's been a tough four years for Germany's Social Democratic Party (SPD), so much so that comparisons with the U.S. Republican party's woes aren't too far off base. Chancellor Schroeder made an unpopular move to Gazprom just weeks after leaving office; party vice president Kurt Beck stepped down over supporting coalitions with the Left party (Die Linke). Now comes "Limogate": health minister Ulla Schmidt allegedly took her chauffeured limousine on vacation to Spain, where it was stolen. Now the SPD must explain why Schmidt needed the 100,000-Euro vehicle on her vacation, when it should be campaigning for the upcoming September 27th general elections. This won't be easy, since the trip only included two official events: speaking with German retirees and meeting the mayor of the village in which she stayed.

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July 27, 2009 12:14 PM

Exposing NATO's Weaknesses in Afghanistan

Allied efforts in Afghanistan are in danger of failing. Attacks against coalition forces are increasing; the economy remains largely undeveloped, with the dubious exception of poppy production; indigenous Afghan police and military forces still require the strong support of allied forces; and government corruption is rampant. Afghanistan is by nature a difficult country to stabilize, but the reality is that the coalition waging the war is in a fractured state.

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July 27, 2009 11:47 AM

Resetting Russian Relations

Despite the murder of human rights activist Natalia Estimirova in Chechnya, the subsequent visit of Russian Federation President Dmitry Medvedev to Munich for the annual Petersburg Dialogue meeting between Russia and Germany appears to have gone off swimmingly. Medvedev spoke sharply against the killing and the meeting focused on energy and economic ties, including the purchase of automaker Opel by a consortium including Russia's largest bank.

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July 27, 2009 11:25 AM

Nabucco Pipeline Gets the Green Light

It was a cold winter, especially in several European countries. When Russia stopped pumping natural gas through Ukraine in January because of price disputes, several EU members found that their reliance on Eastern European partners made them surprisingly vulnerable. The lack of natural gas in the middle of the winter summoned the political will to find a solution and reduce the EU's dependence on Russian gas.

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July 10, 2009 4:52 PM

Bulgaria's 'Batman' Prime Minister

In 2003 California got its Governator. Last weekend, Bulgaria got a hero of its own: Batman was elected the new Prime Minister.

The 'Batman' in question is the former bodyguard Boyko Borisov, who for the past few years served as mayor of Bulgaria's capital and who received the nickname for his love of drama and action. He is known to appear promptly at the scene of any significant event, especially if it might be broadcast by any major media outlet.

It is not yet clear whether the results of the parliamentary elections, announced late on July 5th, are a cause for celebration or mourning. On the one hand, the Socialist government ruling the country for the past four years was finally sidetracked from the parliamentary landscape. On the other hand, Borisov, who emerged as the new Prime Minister with an uncontested majority, has great public appeal and popularity, but has done little to demonstrate his credentials for political leadership.

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July 10, 2009 4:35 PM

Soccer's Role in Germany's Future

Soccer championships seem to bring out the German identity debate. Who doesn't remember the sudden proliferation of black-, red- and gold-clad fans, cars, windowsills and even hairstyles during the 2006 World Cup? Commentators around the world saw it as the country's chance to get comfortable with its national identity.

During last month's European Under-21 soccer championship in Sweden, another display caused quite a stir. This time it was not the overwhelming show of the German colors, but the names of players on the German national team: Khedira, Özil, Castro, Dejagah, Aogo - all names that many Germans still have trouble considering their own.

What is German? It's a heated debate. The late 1990s brought calls for a German "Leitkultur;" a defining, leading culture serving as an anchor for all Germans and especially as a point of reference for immigrants coming to Germany. Debate still simmers about whether Germany should be an immigration nation or not. And the recent resolution by the Christian Democrats (CDU) to make German the official language of Germany has also sparked controversy.

But the success of Germany's multi-ethnic team - Germany won the tournament in a 4-0 shootout against England - might elevate this debate. Immigrant children are twice as likely to drop out of school, and some argue that they are responsible for more than their share of crime. Job applicants with German names are ten times more likely to be invited to an interview than applicants with Turkish names. So the triumph of a young and determined team, whose captain's name is Khedira, may work against those stereotypes. It might also allow immigrant adolescents to follow the paths of these role models, whether in sports or elsewhere.

Germany needs these discussions, and not only to come to terms with the troubling parts of its past. In a time when low birthrates impede the success and viability of the German society, an inclusive discussion about the role of foreign-born Germans and their children is more than necessary. Maybe soccer, in its own way, could contribute to Germany's future.

Nikolas Foster is a graduate student in Energy and Environmental Policy and International Economics at the Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, DC.

July 10, 2009 4:02 PM

Albania's Outlook Unclear After Elections

The apparent outcome of the recent national elections in Albania in favor of the incumbent Prime Minister Sali Berisha and his Democratic Party will prove to have mixed results for that country's citizens. Politics in Albania is a very personal issue for most Albanians:political affiliations are strong, and elections can have a major impact on their day-to-day lives.

On the positive side, the continuation of Prime Minister Sali Bersisha's mandate will provide a great deal of much-needed internal stability to regional and local state institutions. The power structures in Albania are designed so that at least the director of virtually every public institution in the country is politically appointed, all the way down to the directors of schools and hospitals. Any changes in the ruling party at any level cause a great deal of disruption to these institutions as new, politically-appropriate, people are chosen to fill these positions. Unfortunately, many times these positions are left vacant for months until the decision is made, and the position is usually given as a form of patronage to a loyal supporter instead of to someone who knows how to run a school or a hospital. It takes time for these new appointees to learn how the institutions function and what their roles should be in them. And often, once the new director is chosen, he or she then replaces everyone working in that institution with friends and relatives, whether those people are viable candidates for the jobs they receive or not. Thus the victory of the Democratic Party in the national elections should help keep to a minimum the disruption to important services as a result of the political process.

On the other hand, Albania's most serious internal problem is perhaps that of corruption. There is virtually no interaction that takes place between citizen and state that does not involve some form of corruption. Students from elementary schools to universities often must pay teachers for grades, doctors in state hospital emergency rooms must be bribed before they will provide treatment, and drivers often must pay their way through roadside police checks. Stability in the administration of state institutions comes with the price that the state employees who perhaps took some time to find the best way to use their positions for personal gain will be able to continue those practices for the foreseeable future.

Albania is a country that is still learning what it means to be democratic and open. While the impact of the elections of late June on the lives of ordinary Albanians will be mixed, the elections are another small step toward political maturity and the dream of eventually joining Europe.

Brandon Dorman served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Gramsh, Albania from March 2006 to August 2008 and is currently studying as a masters candidate with Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies in Bologna, Italy.

June 22, 2009 10:26 AM

Education, Our Non-Priority

"The future belongs to the nation that best educates its citizens," President Obama noted this spring. Politicians claim education as a priority on both sides of the Atlantic. German Chancellor Merkel declared education the "central task for the next century."

Big words -- yet the Great Recession is testing politicians' promises. In spite of increased fiscal spending, U.S. students in primary and secondary schools from coast to coast are watching their teachers being laid off en masse, while some districts are installing four-day school weeks to cope with the budget crises. At the same time, students across Europe are demonstrating for better education.

It is almost surreal: As Californians shrug at the 25,000 teachers to be laid off, students in Europe are calling for more teachers, greater spending, and educational reform. Do we not care enough, or are they making too much of a fuss?

The situation in the U.S. was already quite bad; now it is becoming worse. Whereas the student-teacher ration in European public secondary education is about 12:1, in the US it is closer to 17:1. And in the 2006 science evaluation of the OECD's Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), the U.S. scored significantly lower than the OECD average -- lower than Finland, the Netherlands, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, Germany, the UK, the Czech Republic, France and 11 other European countries. (The PISA survey is conducted every three years, so it will be interesting to see how these trends have continued, or changed, when 2009 data is released.)

European students might also reconsider asking for more money. With over $10,000 spent on secondary education per student, the U.S. exceeds the OECD average by over $2500 and the EU 19 average by $2,800. More money won't solve the problem, as top-ranked Finland illustrates: with only $7,325 spent on higher education, it continuously scores top places in the reading, writing and science categories of PISA.

Not all is running smoothly in Europe, of course. Integrating immigrants is still a huge problem in many countries, where second-generation immigrants sometimes do worse in school than their parents did. But so far, there have not been massive teacher layoffs -- even though budgets are tight.

The question is how we will remember these times. Will we look back and ask about the educational bailout that should have followed AIG and GM? If, following Obama's logic, the future belongs to the nation that best educates its citizens, it will be a tough road ahead for the recession generation currently in school. Apart from burdening U.S. students with paying off the fiscal expansion, laying off teachers further diminishes their ability to compete in a world demanding highly trained professionals. Perhaps they should be the ones protesting in the streets.

Nikolas Foster is a graduate student in Energy and Environmental Policy and International Economics at the Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, DC.

June 19, 2009 11:54 AM

Europe Sleeps As Power Passes It By

The European Parliament elections turned out to be a democratic disaster. Massive abstention underscored the strong disinterest - if not mistrust - many European citizens have toward the election of their European representatives. This is not good news, now that the European Parliament has begun to wield more authority. In addition, the anti-institutional vote was important. Political parties supporting more European integration actually represent only a small percentage of European citizens. The protest vote is likely to trigger -- or more precisely reopen -- a debate over the legitimacy and popularity of European institutions.

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