EU-LISTCO newsletter with insightful analysis, latest news, and events.


This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation programme under grant agreement no. 769886

September, 2019 | NEWSLETTER 3

Greetings! Welcome to EU-LISTCO’s Third Newsletter

In this issue


This is EU-LISTCO’s third newsletter, and it couldn’t be timelier. Europe is facing major geostrategic shifts along its eastern and southern borders. It has to deal with a U.S. administration that, on the one hand, seems determined to isolate Iran in the belief that Tehran will buckle and give up its nuclear program. Some form of conflict cannot be ruled out. On the other hand, the EU and U.S. President Donald Trump are at odds over so many crucial issues, not least the future of the post-1945 multilateral order.

Yet, closer to home in Europe’s east, there is some hope on the horizon. The recently elected president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, seems determined to end the conflict in the Donbas region. His preferred goal, at the moment, is establishing a set of confidence-building measures between Kyiv and Moscow. An exchange of prisoners was a first step, and Zelenskiy wants to maintain the momentum with more prisoner swaps and other measures.

The big unknowns are to what extent his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, will withdraw his support for the rebels in eastern Ukraine, deal with the illegal status of Crimea, and accept Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

The other big unknown is the role of France in resolving the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. French President Emmanuel Macron wants to reengage Moscow and discuss a new security architecture for Europe in which Russia will have some kind of role. The details are still vague, but Macron believes that Europe and Russia must work together to deal with Europe’s Eastern and, especially, Southern neighbourhoods. That clearly included the wish to end the war in Syria and salvage the nuclear accord with Iran. Macron is unlikely to win support for such overtures from the Baltic States, Georgia, and Poland.

The Middle East and North Africa, in contrast, has become even more complex since EU-LISTCO was launched in March 2018. Human rights violations in Egypt have increased. The war in Yemen is a shocking playground for archenemies Iran and Saudi Arabia, which are perpetuating the destruction. Had the multilateral institutions, led by the United States, been effective (and neutral), perhaps negotiations to end the war would have taken hold. As it stands, Washington now toes the line with the Saudis. This bodes ill for bringing peace to Yemen.

As for the Palestinians, they no longer believe in a two-state solution and may even prefer violence, according to the latest opinion polls. The stalemate in Israel’s recent parliamentary election is not hopeful, especially since the Trump administration has not presented its much-touted peace plan. It’s hard to predict the future political constellations in Algeria, and in Sudan, further south, outside players continue to have the ability to destabilize the country and wreck the extremely fragile coalition of forces that managed to oust president Omar al-Bashir from power in April 2019.

There’s a common thread to these conflicts: they can precipitate the collapse of state institutions that are so fragile in some cases and almost non-existent in others. Such weaknesses often lead to contested borders. Both breed instability. Both are exploited not only by neighbouring states but by jihadist organizations. The so-called Islamic State and al-Qaeda are on the rise again in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. These conflicts, combined with the effects of climate change in the Sahel, increase migration and refugee flows.

Just read the answers to the question I posed to several members of EU-LISTCO—they make for sober reading.

—Judy Dempsey, Carnegie Europe Foundation

Working paper

Predicting Future Challenges: Quantitative Risk Assessment Tools for the EU’s Eastern and Southern Neighbourhoods

Håvard Mokleiv Nygård, Siri Aas Rustad, Eric Stollenwerk, and Andreas Forø Tollefsen

Innovative quantitative approaches can help the EU know about, prepare for, and possibly help prevent governance breakdown and violent conflict in its neighbourhood.

Working paper

Forecasting and Foresight: Methods for Anticipating Governance Breakdown and Violent Conflict

Sarah Bressan, Håvard Mokleiv Nygård, and Dominic Seefeldt

Quantitative forecasting and scenario-based foresight methods can be applied to help prevent governance breakdown and violent conflict in Europe’s neighbourhood.

Policy Paper

Looking Ahead: Foresight for Crisis Prevention

Sarah Bressan and Philipp Rotmann

Europe’s neighbourhood is full of recent events that foreign policy experts and practitioners did not expect until they happened. As part of their efforts to anticipate crisis and prevent conflict, policymakers are investing more in foresight, early warning, and prediction.

Blog Post

Can the EU Prevent Deepfakes From Threatening Peace?

Sarah Bressan

Highly realistic fake videos could take online disinformation to the next level. The EU must take action to prevent deepfakes from becoming the next propaganda tool.

Blog Post

The Limits of European Influence in Palestine and Israel

Khalil Shikaki

The EU’s twin policy of peacemaking and state building in the Middle East is unachievable. Now, the union must choose between preventing the status quo from deteriorating and embracing a one-state reality.

Blog Post

Zelenskiy’s Presidency Is a Chance for Europe

Maksym Bugriy

Europe should use the election victory of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to reaffirm its values of peace, democracy, and human rights by continuing to support Ukraine’s emergence into a European state.

Blog Post

The New Normal? Terrorist Governors and Transnational Civil Wars

Amichai Magen

New actors are contesting the basic norms of statehood, borders and non-intervention at the local, state, regional, and global levels. But is Europe prepared?

Judy Dempsey asked EU-LISTCO researchers: Given the geostrategic shifts in Europe’s eastern and southern borders, what has changed in your own region or area of analysis? Here are their answers.

Judy Dempsey asked EU-LISTCO researchers: Given the geostrategic shifts in Europe’s eastern and southern borders, what has changed in your own region or area of analysis? Here are their answers.

Maksym Bugriy, Ukrainian Institute for Public Policy (UIPP)

Technology is a tool that potentially has both enabling and disintegrating impacts on governance. Ukraine is a special example of a democracy in transition that has employed disruptive technology to swipe away post-Soviet political elites from the “front offices” of political power institutions.

Strategists used AI algorithms with visual messages aimed at mobilising the electorate that voted for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. The new government promotes a “state in a smartphone,” building on a number of existing, successful transparency, deregulation, and participation initiatives, such as the ProZorro public procurement system or e-registers.

At the same time, Ukraine faces more complexity in dealing with both interstate and domestic elements of the war in Donbas and Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea. Having achieved remarkable public diplomacy success with the return of Ukrainian prisoners from Russia, Zelenskiy is facing diplomatic pressure from both Putin and some Western European powers that would not mind sacrificing Kyiv’s European aspirations for their own nations’ perceived security and geostrategic gains.

Thus, Kyiv continues to bear the burden of investing in its military resilience—from unmanned weapons systems to advanced air defence missiles and cyber warfare. Meanwhile, there is a feeling that the EU still lacks understanding of Russia. Developments in Russian foreign and domestic policy might take us all by surprise at some point. As for the EU’s Eastern neighbourhood, it is becoming increasingly complex. It is necessary that researchers don’t miss tipping points that may lead to governance breakdown and violent conflict in this changing environment.

Jędrzej Czerep, Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM)

In the EU’s Southern neighbourhood, we have been witnessing a significant change in Sudan, where political and diplomatic struggles continued for five months after the longtime dictator, Omar al-Bashir, lost power in April 2019. Finally, a potentially tricky civilian-military cohabitation began and a way forward now seems to be taking shape. Over the past few months, if anyone wanted to “call Sudan,” one chose Lieutenant General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as Hemeti, leader of the feared Janjaweed militias whose fighters dominate Khartoum, Sudan’s capital.

Hemeti’s people work as mercenaries in Yemen (approximately 18,000 of them) and Libya (4,000 are being dispatched), enjoy Emirati and Saudi support, and are instrumental in expanding Gulf patronage over the gold-mining areas of the Sahara and Sahel.

But by September, diplomats lined up at another door: Abdalla Hamdok’s. The Sudanese prime minister, a respected economist and long-time United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) official, was nominated by the opposition coalition. Hamdok is determined to silence the guns in Sudan’s peripheries, restore the economy, and conduct a balanced foreign policy. However, it is uncertain who of the two men will have the final say in Sudan.

The Sudanese experience brought novelties. Contrary to the post-Arab Spring history and today’s Algeria, the Sudanese opted for more than three years of technocratic rule to deal with the country’s fundamental problems instead of holding hasty elections. Furthermore, it was Ethiopia and the African Union (AU) that saved the civilian-led political process that would eventually sideline the generals. This came contrary to the intentions of Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who holds the AU presidency this year, but is neither fond of multilateralism nor democracy.

Daniela Huber, Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI)

The U.S.-led war on terror has contributed to the ushering of a new era of insecurity and instability in the Middle East. Terror attacks have skyrocketed by 6,500 percent. With the near collapse of Iraq, which historically has stemmed Iran’s influence, power competition in the region has greatly intensified.

Being the dominant power in the Middle East since 1979, the United States never built a comprehensive security architecture in the region. It perceived itself as a gravitational power acting through bilateral webs of relationships. Currently, there are no mechanisms to mediate this power competition. Former U.S. president Barack Obama tried to establish a precondition for such an architecture through the Iran nuclear deal, but the belligerence and aggressive rhetoric of the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump towards Iran has contributed to a regional environment fraught with tensions. Violations of human rights and rules of engagement have apparently become the norm. Saudi Arabia has launched a devastating war on Yemen, and Israel has announced its intention to annex most of Area C of the occupied Palestinian territory, just as the Palestine case is currently pending at the International Criminal Court. The Syrian regime has been perpetrating war crimes against its own population, while in Egypt, an elected president ousted by a military coup died in prison and hundreds of citizens have disappeared.

It is time for all regional and global actors to begin thinking about a security architecture that will not only mediate power competition but also protect the human security of all people living in the Middle East.

Kornely Kakachia, Georgian Institute of Politics

The disintegration of a joint Western approach between the EU and the United States, who are now engaged in so many conflicts with each other, means that the EU’s eastern neighbours, including Georgia and Ukraine, are in a vulnerable position.

Take U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent initiatives to have Russia return to the G8 and to have its voting rights restored in the Council of Europe—a move that was supported by many EU member states. And then there was French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent statements about reaching out to Russia. The upshot is that they send mixed signals to the Eastern Partnership (EaP) countries while also undermining the credibility of the West in the region. It suggests that the narrative long promoted by the Kremlin that the West would continue business as usual with Russia, regardless of Russia’s actions in Ukraine and in other countries, is prevailing.

This sort of Western discourse undermines the EaP countries’ pro-Western reform coalitions and in turn strengthens their pro-Russian forces, populist movements, and anti-reformist politicians. What is needed is the improvement of strategic messaging from the West. Western actors should stick to a common approach—something which, admittedly, is never easy—and in a much more systematic way try to align their Russia policy with their policies towards the other post-Soviet states.

Amichai Magen, IDC Herzliya

Over the past several months, we have been reminded that multiple areas in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region continue to be in a state of deep fragility. The risk that such areas of limited statehood tip (back) into violent conflict and governance breakdown is serious and, in some cases, immediate.

In Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, the so-called Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda are showing new signs of resurgence. The two jihadi movements compete with each other for influence, and areas previously lost by the IS, Taliban, and Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham—an active jihadist militant group involved in the Syrian Civil War—have failed to be regained by state governments.

Elsewhere in the MENA region, Sudan is in the midst of an evolving political crisis that has the real potential of degenerating into an all-out civil war. Since the ousting of long-time dictator Omar al-Bashir in April 2019, the fragile country’s self-appointed Transitional Military Council has repeatedly clashed with pro-democracy protestors, killing more than hundred mostly young demonstrators in Khartoum on June 3. Despite a power-sharing deal being signed between the military and civilian authorities in August, mass protests resumed in September. Sudan is clearly struggling to maintain coherent statehood. The country’s military is divided and various militias are vying for influence within the national armed forces. Sudan also risks external influence and transborder order contestation—factors that have exacerbated tensions in prolonged conflicts in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen.

Most African and Western countries have backed the Sudanese protesters. The African Union suspended Sudan’s membership in the regional organization after the June 3 killings. However, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia are seen to be allies of the military junta. Bordering the already troubled Central African Republic, Chad, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Libya, and South Sudan, the possible tipping of Sudan into serious violent conflict or governance breakdown is likely to have a further destabilizing effect on East Africa, the Eastern Mediterranean, and the Sahel.

Pol Morillas, CIDOB (Barcelona Centre for International Affairs)

In Spain, the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi reached the regional elections in Andalusia. Relations with Saudi Arabia were a big issue. They focused on whether Navantia, the biggest shipyard company in Cádiz, should continue building the five corvettes that the Saudis had commissioned.

In Germany, the effects of the refugee crisis linked internal and foreign policy debates during the campaign in several regional elections and the federal elections. And, of course, in the UK, the pro-Brexit campaign linked the position of Remainers to the advent of an EU army as a direct attack on British sovereignty.

These and other policy developments show the growing politicisation of foreign policy issues. Historically, foreign policy in public discussions has been low. At the EU level, foreign policy has been circumscribed to the Foreign Affairs Council and the European External Action Service, but only occasionally did it percolate down to the public opinion. Instead, EU foreign policy was perceived as one of those elements of integration.

With the advent of multiple crises inside the EU and its neighbourhood, the internal and external dimension of security has become hardly distinguishable. Growing public concern on foreign policy issues has raised public awareness at the domestic and European levels. And, as has been the case in areas such as trade, migration, or the euro, foreign policy can become increasingly contested.

Contestation poses a tremendous challenge to the idea that the EU can be a “force for good” in the international system once citizens start deviating from traditional attitudes and politicise particular foreign policy options. While public support for a strong EU at the global stage still exists, it will cease to be unconditional as long as crises prevail, and the politicisation of European integration widens.

Saime Ozcurumez, Bilkent University

Over the past decade, the Middle East and North Africa region has struggled with the challenges of mass human mobility caused by conflict and poverty. One of the most contentious issues is how to respond to the mass influxes of forced migration that are a consequence of the Syrian conflict.

The EU-Turkey deal of 2016 reduced irregular migration toward Greece and provided financial resources for humanitarian assistance to displaced Syrians in Turkey. However, as the conflict escalated in Idlib and the risk of another huge influx at the Turkish border became more apparent in the summer of 2019, debates around mass displacement have refocused on the creation of a “safe zone” in northern Syria.

There is a major shift away from supporting humanitarian assistance in Turkey to devising policy solutions that will keep displaced Syrians outside of Turkey. These are the policy preferences of international actors such as the United States.

Recent developments point to three recurring problems at Europe’s southern borders: First, the question of how to address the economic, social, and political consequences of mass displacement for receiving countries remains unanswered. Second, the challenges of resolving the complex, protracted conflict in Syria continue. Third, the difficulties for achieving geostrategic collaboration in the MENA region on the governing of forced migration with human-centered policy options are more intense than ever.

Philipp Rotmann, Global Public Policy Institute (GPPi)

Since GPPi’s work package is using foresight methods, the interesting thing for me to observe after a year and a half of working on the project is how relevant the dynamics of our scenarios are in light of real events.

Just one example: in May 2018, our Middle East expert group built a scenario in which domestic setbacks in Iraq’s recovery from the so-called Islamic State onslaught sparked the escalation of Iran-Saudi rivalry into open warfare. Back then, this was considered an underrated possibility that risked being overlooked by experts. Now, the core dynamics identified in the scenario are, unfortunately, becoming more and more dangerous every month: Iran and the U.S. administration are engaging in mutual provocations; IS terrorists are becoming bolder again in Iraq; and the Popular Mobilization Forces, an Iraqi militia raised with heavy Iranian support to defend the country against IS in 2015, are entrenching themselves as a parallel state.

While on a political, strategical, and human level this is a very worrisome development, it’s a great example for how our foresight approach works: experts with different perspectives come together to build plausible “histories of the future.” These “stories” are never meant to be predictions, and so their value lies in helping us consider a wider range of possibilities than each of us would have thought of on our own. This is how our foresight approach helps “nudge” us against the cognitive and social decision-making biases that make it so difficult to properly use all the information we have access to.

Khalil Shikaki, Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research

For those observers who thought the Arab Spring was over and that stability won over revolution, April 2019 was a wake-up call.

In that month, after two decades in power, Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika was forced to resign. A few days later, after three decades in power, Sudan’s president Omar Al-Bashir was also forced out of office. In both cases, the abrupt change came after weeks of mass demonstrations demanding regime change.

One area of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research’s EU-LISTCO work focuses on how popular demands for democracy and rule of law in the post-Arab Spring Arab world increases the prospects for governance breakdown.

Comparing data for nine Arab countries from the various waves of the Arab Barometer and the Arab Democracy Index across seven risk indicators has shown that the greatest threat potential lies with Sudan, Algeria, Lebanon, Jordan, Tunisia, and Morocco, in the order listed.

These seven indicators include the rejection of gradual reforms, the demands for emigration, the levels of actual emigration, the youth unemployment, the evaluation of economic conditions, the belief that freedom of expression is not available, and the belief that corruption exists in public institutions.

It should be emphasized, however, that in both cases of Algeria and Sudan, the role of the military has so far been instrumental in providing the resilience that has allowed the two societies to successfully contain the risks and manage the chang

Public Event

Foreign Policy in Europe’s Borderlands

Carnegie Europe Foundation

The Carnegie Europe Foundation hosted a public discussion to take stock of the current political dynamics in Europe’s neighbourhoods and consider what foreign policy challenges the EU faces over the next five years.

Private Event

Anticipating Governance Breakdown and Violent Conflict

EU-LISTCO Risk Scanning Workshops

How can practitioners identify the risks and tipping points that they were not expecting? EU-LISTCO’s scenario-based foresight methodology brings together regional experts and policy makers in collaborative workshops to address this challenge.

“A first attempt at a set of guideposts for policy makers on how to use #foresight & #forecasting for #earlywarning & #conflictprevention—@bressansar & myself are very much looking for feedback from real-world diplomats, development & security practitioners! @AA_stabilisiert"

Philipp Rotman (GPPi) on Twitter

Washington Post

The Unfulfilled Promise of the Revolutions of 1989

Judy Dempsey

Thirty years after the 1989 reunification, Europe remains a political pygmy. The EU needs a serious foreign and defence policy if it wants to become a credible global player.

Journal of European Integration

Autonomy in Intergovernmentalism: The Role of De Novo Bodies in External Action During the Making of the EU Global Strategy

Pol Morillas

Despite the divisive and crisis-ridden dynamics in European integration and external action, institutions such as the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and the European External Action Service have increased their autonomy in the traditionally intergovernmental EU foreign and security policies.

European Council on Foreign Relations

Give the People What They Want: Popular Demand for a Strong European Foreign Policy

Susi Dennison

European voters believe that there is a growing case for a more coherent and effective EU foreign policy in a dangerous, competitive world.

European Union Institute for Security Studies

Stress Tests: An Insight Into Crisis Scenarios, Simulations, and Exercises

Daniel Fiott

It is an error to conduct simulations or exercises in isolation from broader efforts to enhance institutional coherence and crisis response capacities.

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