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By Ditmir Bushati/ Black or bright spots?

2024-02-08 07:31:00, Opinione Ditmir Bushati
By Ditmir Bushati/ Black or bright spots?
Former Foreign Minister, Ditmir Bushati

The year 2024 seems to be marked by wars and elections, which will affect the fate of a good part of the world's population. In terms of security, the starting point of 2024 could be October 7 of last year when the bloody conflict in the Middle East was rekindled or February 24 of 2022 when Russia decided to invade Ukraine.

These two great conflicts have brought a new division to the world. After the invasion of Ukraine, the West led a majority of countries at the United Nations to condemn the unprecedented Russian aggression. NATO regained its raison d'être, adapted its strategic concept and expanded its security perimeter in Europe by welcoming new members. The most surprising element of the story was the EU's response. The history of the package of sanctions against Russia, the political approach to the approach of Ukraine to the negotiating table for EU membership, the economic and military assistance to it is proof of the unity of the EU, beyond ordinary expectations. As we must not forget the fact that Russia has traditionally been one of the most divisive and polarizing elements in European foreign policy.

The rekindling of the bloody conflict in the Middle East overturned the West's supremacy vis-à-vis the rest of the world, due to catastrophic divisions within the EU and the West itself. And nowhere was this more evident than in the votes that took place at the UN, where the West was divided. This conflict, which is accompanied by the influx of refugees at the borders of the EU, has a great impact on the internal European politics. Add here the fueling of new waves of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in Europe, as well as the growing threat of terrorism.

The above two wars also brought a new alignment in terms of priorities. For the US in particular, providing further military support to Ukraine has taken a back seat due to the conflict in the Middle East. This is clearly seen from the diplomatic intensity of the five visits of the American secretary of state to the Middle East since October 7.

However, the end of the conflict, the stable solution accepted by the parties does not seem on the horizon. Whatever the outcome on the ground, a dramatic increase in radicalization remains a major threat for the period ahead. Israeli Jews feel isolated and even judged after facing the worst violence against them since the Holocaust. As the Palestinians face what they consider a crime against humanity, there is no chance for peace and no prospects. Deep political divisions over the conflict extend across the Middle East and have implications around the world.

The Israelis will realize that even if they can neutralize Hamas, they will never be safe without a regional security agreement and without a full normalization of relations with their Arab neighbors, building on the Abraham Accords. All this will not be possible without a safe path to a Palestinian state.

In this matter, the messages of the annual Davos meeting were somewhat optimistic, although it should not be forgotten that two years ago none of the participants in the Munich Security Conference could have imagined that in a few days Vladimir Putin would invade Ukraine. US Secretary of State Blinken stated that "Arab countries and Muslim countries beyond the region are prepared to have a relationship with Israel in terms of its integration, its normalization, its security, which has not been the case before, in a way for Israel not only to integrate, but to feel safe in the region". The same thing was confirmed by Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal Bin Farhan, as he declared that "his country remains committed to normalization with Israel with clear conditions and commitment to a Palestinian state".

Meanwhile, the agony brought by the war in Ukraine, which marks its second year, creates a situation of uncertainty for Ukrainians and frustration for Europeans. As a key security issue, ending the war in Ukraine is a priority for Europe in 2024. If the EU cannot ensure peace and stability in its east, conflicts and instabilities there may gradually spread to the rest of the continent. The Western Balkans is an area where, due to the ongoing conflicts since the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, Russia's disruptive role is seen as a threat to regional stability.

At this point, the EU appears anemic, due to the lack of unity in dealing with the unfinished issues of citizenship and the tolerance of Serbia as a disruptor of regional stability. Against the expectations of a strong turnaround, the bitter truth is that the Western Balkans are as far from the EU politically and economically as they were before the new geopolitical reality we live in Europe, despite the repetition of two-sided warring rhetoric about the integration of the countries of the Western Balkans into the EU, as a bilateral strategic goal.

Serbia has not joined Western sanctions against Russia, reinforcing the view that the Western Balkans is not a region, in the political sense of the word, nor aligned with the EU. Also, on the economic level, the gap between the region and the EU is not decreasing. Even if the EU fulfills its recent commitments described in the Growth Plan for the Western Balkans, discussed at the meeting of the region's leaders in Skopje, it is unlikely to significantly advance in the process of economic convergence between our region and the EU- of. With the proposed increase, the countries of the region will receive six to eight times less funding for development, compared to our EU member neighbors.

As is known, the funds are linked to the standards and implementation of the rules of the rule of law, where the countries of the region are lagging and the very trajectory of the EU accession process does not prove a fair relationship with the progress of the reforms. On the other hand, little is said and analyzed about the transfer of considerable wealth from the countries of South-Eastern Europe to Western Europe, partly because of the large trade deficit, loan repayments and supply of human capital. In other words, the current political and economic relationship between the EU and the Western Balkans is not making the latter more economically developed, nor more democratic from the point of view of implementing the values ??and principles of liberal democracy.

To end the war, the Euro-Atlantic family must show Russia its determination to take clear steps to prepare Ukraine for a peaceful future. The EU must become aware of the need for a new European security architecture, which in the conditions of this unprecedented aggression does not create opportunities for different states to stay in the intermediate zone, as is the case of Serbia. Likewise, promises for EU enlargement must be accompanied by steps and a concrete timeline.

Seen from this context, the question that naturally arises is whether the above conflicts can be turned from dark points to bright ones? 2024 will be a defining year as around fifty countries, or half the world's population, will go to the polls, culminating in the US election. The result of which will affect the fate of not only Americans who will have their say through the vote. Vladimir Putin has no reason to worry, as he is expected to receive his fifth mandate in March. In the EU, ten countries have elections and of course a lot will revolve around the European Parliament elections. The United Kingdom also goes to the polls. A political shift there could accelerate the thaw between London and Brussels. Major Asian democracies India and Indonesia will elect their leaders as well. Their fast-growing economies are gaining increasing global weight.

In one way or another, the way of addressing the two main conflicts will also depend on the election results in key points of the world. As the election will set the strategic course for the coming years, which look set to be stormy. For this very reason, we need the best crew available for the journey ahead.

21:22 Opinione Ilir Levonja

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