How many times can we say ‘never again’ again?

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

A comparison of our responses to recent conflicts should not suggest that there is a hierarchy of victims. Quite the contrary, the history of the EU has shown repeatedly that human rights protections benefit us all — they are not a zero-sum game, Holger Loewendorf writes.

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The people of Sudan must be wondering what else needs to happen before Europe pays attention to their plight once more. 

Earlier this month, paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and affiliated Arab militias attacked the town of Ardamata in West Darfur. 

The UN Refugee Agency reported that more than 800 people were killed, while 8,000 others — likely an undercount — fled to neighbouring Chad over the course of three days. 

After seizing the local military base, the RSF and their allies targeted members of the non-Arab Masalit community inside their homes — shooting men and boys, sexually assaulting women and girls, and setting fires to shelters housing displaced people. 

These atrocities may amount to the single largest mass killing since civil war erupted in April and raise the spectre of yet another genocide, following a wave of large-scale violence in June.

Are we leaving Sudan by the wayside?

The United Nations, the European Union, and other Western governments have condemned the systematic killing and displacement of the Masalit from their land since the start of Sudan’s civil war, but their criticism has not deterred the RSF from committing more atrocities. 

Just as striking is the absence of public and media engagement on this issue, especially when compared to the intense news coverage and mass rallies (with increasingly disturbing antisemitic messages) after Hamas’ militant wing launched a terror attack on Israel on 7 October of this year, killing more than 1,200 people. 

We saw a similarly passionate response across civil society when Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, so what explains the apparent indifference towards the victims in West Darfur?

Do we care less because this is happening in Africa, where news of conflict, famine, and poverty confirm our preconceived notions of what this continent looks like? But we should recall that our biases and feelings are not facts. 

If there was nothing but a vicious cycle of despair, why are we participating in a process that some observers have paternalistically called a “new scramble for Africa”? 

European delegations are touring the continent in search of allies, influence, and economic opportunities, in large part because our electronic devices rely on raw materials that cannot be sourced domestically.

Our competitors in this race are the United States, China, Russia and others. Our motives — and theirs — are seldom pure, but if Europe wants to stand out as a reliable and trustworthy partner to African nations, it cannot engage selectively and leave Sudan by the wayside.

Our inaction makes others risk their lives several times over

Alternatively, are we paying less attention because rocket attacks in the Middle East and Ukraine are physically closer to us than the bullets being fired in Darfur? 

Do we believe that war crimes happening 4,500 km southeast of Brussels will not affect our lives? 

If so, consider that according to the International Organization for Migration, the Sudanese civil war displaced more than 4,8 million individuals since mid-April. 

An additional 1,3 million people fled into neighbouring countries, more than half a million of them to Chad alone. At least 31% of the displaced population is younger than 18 years, and close to 90% of them do not have access to education. 

An entire generation cannot take advantage of the same opportunities that most Europeans can take for granted. These young people have the potential to rebuild Sudan, but they require peace and stability to do so. 

Instead, our inaction will drive many of them to risk their lives several times over in search of a better future, which may await across the Mediterranean Sea. 

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If EU member states prefer that they stay in Africa, perhaps a more active role in the prevention of these massacres, to say nothing of genocide, is required. 

Otherwise, we have already seen that politicians throughout Europe will cynically exploit their arrival and our failure to accommodate them. They are increasingly winning elections by demonising refugees and migrants wholesale. 

Meanwhile, we have the means along with historical, moral, and legal obligations – to say nothing of the demographic need – to provide safety and a sense of hope for them.

If everything is a crisis, nothing is a crisis

Lastly, is our attention span overtaxed by the conflagration of events that is frequently summarized as “polycrisis”? 

In the last three years, we have had to cope with a global pandemic, accelerating climate change as well as an energy and cost-of-living crisis — the latter two caused by the aforementioned war in Ukraine. 

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Narrowing the scope to the last month, one can add military conflicts in Israel and Gaza, Nagorno-Karabakh, and the Sahel zone (including Sudan) to the list. 

So yes, it is difficult to keep track of every single calamity, and our selective perception of bad news may even help us remain sane. 

But it is also worth noting that the term “polycrisis”, while appealing in its descriptive function, is analytically quite limiting. It flattens discrete, though frequently connected moments into an amorphous whole that can create the impression of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If everything is a crisis, nothing is, so there is nothing I can or need to do about it. 

The consequence of this doom spiral is a retreat from public affairs and ultimately the surrender of universal values. 

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The European Union and most of its member states have so far resisted this temptation. Instead, the response to current geopolitical challenges has been a desire to “be among the keepers of international and humanitarian law,” as Josep Borrell, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, recently put it.

‘We see you, we can help, and we will’

Sudan is a test of the European commitment to human rights. We have failed the country before and revealed that our high-minded principles are worthless unless accompanied by actions. 

The gap between rhetoric and reality is widening as long as EU leaders are not taking meaningful action in good faith to address this crisis as well. 

A comparison between our responses to the invasion of Ukraine and the war between Israel and Hamas on the one hand, and the terror in Darfur on the other, should not suggest that there is a hierarchy of victims. 

Quite the contrary, the history of the European Union has shown repeatedly that human rights protections benefit us all — they are not a zero-sum game. 

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Now it is high time to issue a credible promise to the Sudanese people: we see you, we can help, and we will.  

_Holger Loewendorf serves as Senior Advisor at the European Foundation for Democracy (EFD), a Brussels-based policy centre.
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At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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Will Romania be the next EU country to vote for the far-right?

Romania’s far-right party AUR is growing in popularity and could enter a government coalition next year after the country’s parliamentary election.

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Romania, a member of the European Union, will hold local, presidential, parliamentary and European elections next year – making 2024 a crucial time for the country and for Europe, as the far-right is expected to continue gaining ground.

“These elections are important for the political situation in Romania as well as for the entire European Union, where the far-right has risen in popularity in many member states like Sweden, Slovakia and now the Netherlands,” Fernando Casal Bertoa, an associate professor in Comparative Politics at the University of Nottingham, told Euronews.

The elections next year might determine “a completely new direction for the country,” he added.

A recent survey by pollster INSCOP released in early November showed that the country’s ruling coalition government – which includes the leftist Social Democrats (PSD) and centre-right Liberals (PNL) – would fall short of an outright majority in the parliamentary election next year.

The coalition government has been struggling this year with keeping the country’s public finances in check – a situation which has paved the way for the far right to gain ground in Romania.

According to the opinion poll – which was commissioned by Romanian news website News.ro and conducted among a sample of 1,100 people between 23 October and 2 November – 29.5% of Romanians would vote for Prime Minister Marcel Ciolacu’s PSD and 18.4% for the Liberals in the parliamentary elections next year.

According to the INSCOP poll, the ultra-nationalist opposition party Alliance for the Unity of Romanians, AUR – an abbreviation for “gold” in Romanian – would have 20.2% of voters’ support – putting the party ahead of the Liberals.

What is AUR, and what does it stand for?

In December 2020, the little-known AUR, which had been formed in the autumn of the previous year, rose from obscurity to take almost 9% of the overall vote in Romania’s parliamentary elections. Since then, the party has been steadily gaining more support in recent opinion surveys.

The rise of the party was due in part to the overwhelming support of the Romanian diaspora, which, according to Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, a professor of Comparative Public Policy at the LUISS Guido Carli University in Rome, “has a large percentage of low-skilled, marginal people who in fact only work seasonally in Europe.”

“I called them, much to the indignation of some people, a ‘lumpen-diaspora’, to paraphrase Karl Marx,” Mungiu-Pippidi explained, referring to a term which in Marxist contexts indicates a population uninterested in revolutionary advancement.

“They needed a radical ‘F… you’ alternative to the existing political system and they found it” in AUR, she added.

The pandemic also “tremendously helped” the rise of AUR, the same way it helped Alternative for Germany (AfD) grow its base, Mungiu-Pippidi said. “They were the anti-vaccine party, and in Romania – also with the complicity of the Orthodox church – half the population did not get a vaccine. This was the main wind in their sails,” she added.

“Same as in the Netherlands, people are really unhappy with the way the country is being governed,” Claudiu Tufis, associate professor of political science, University of Bucharest, told Euronews explaining the popularity of the far-right party.

“There isn’t a lot of representation in the Romanian political system, with pretty much the same coalition uninterruptedly leading the country for almost 10 years now. They are looking for someone who speaks their own language,” he added.

AUR declares to be standing for “family, nation, faith, and freedom,” but Mungiu-Pippidi told Euronews that it actually stands for “anti-science, Christian fundamentalism and sovereignism.”

The party has also positioned itself as an anti-corruption party at a time when the country was facing significant corruption scandals – a move that has been embraced by other populist parties in Europe, like Italy’s Five Star Movement.

AUR is also known to oppose same-sex marriage and has called for the Republic of Moldova’s unification with Romania. In 2018, AUR founder – former journalist Claudiu Tarziu – called for a referendum that attempted to ban same-sex marriage, which failed.

Could AUR be part of a new coalition government?

According to Casal Bertoa, whether AUR would one day become part of a coalition government with the PSD would depend on the results of the election. “The Liberals might want to govern with the far-right party but not under them – so they might bring them if they have a bigger backing than AUR, but not vice versa. It’s difficult to predict,” he continued.

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“But anything is possible,” he added. “We have seen a trend in Europe to normalise the far right and the far left, and the elections in the Netherlands are a clear example of that.”

“I expected AUR to win a little bit more than they did in the last round of elections,” Tufis said. “But they probably will be in a position that won’t allow it to form a coalition, the political parties are arguing that AUR should be kept at a distance,” he continued. 

“It’s probably more likely that the Social Democrats and the Liberals will continue with the same coalition they had for the past 10 years.”

With the level of support currently estimated in polls, AUR could claim between 8 and 11 MEPs after the EU elections in June 2024. The party is then likely to ally with Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy, which AUR president George Simion said is “a political model for us.”

Is the EU keeping an eye on Romania?

Casal Bertoa thinks that the EU is looking closely at what’s happening in Romania, as well as other countries like Spain and the Netherlands, “and the great thing is that the EU has mechanisms to intervene if these far-right parties threaten democracy or the rule of law.”

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The problem, he added, is that “it has no way to stop the rise of the far right.”

Tufis agrees, saying that even if AUR wins big in the European election, “they will be controlled within the European Parliament.”

Mungiu-Pippidi thinks the EU has no reason to worry about AUR. “Romania is well controlled by a left-right coalition solidly supported by its much too powerful secret services and military establishment,” she said.

“The church may flirt with AUR, but it always stands with the power establishment. AUR would get co-opted, like all radicals before them, with governmental perks, though until then they may provide some colourful moments in the European Parliament,” she added.



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Influx of migrants from Russia to Finland: ‘This will put pressure on Europe’

Since the beginning of November, more than 400 asylum seekers have arrived at Finnish border crossings from Russia, compared to the usual ten or so a month. Helsinki accuses Moscow of orchestrating this influx of migrants and has closed almost all its border crossings. As a result, more and more migrants are heading for northern Russia, despite the cold, where a crossing point is expected to remain open for the next few days.

Issued on:

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Between November 1 and 17, 415 people – hailing from Syria, Yemen, Iraq or Somalia – arrived at border crossings in southeastern Finland to request asylum. They came from Russia without Schengen visas or residence permits. This figure is much higher than usual, according to the Finnish border guards who noticed an increase in asylum seekers arriving since August.

Number of asylum seekers arriving at border crossings in southeastern Finland in 2023. Finnish Border Guard

On social media, videos show people, often on bicycles, heading for the border posts with Finland.


Video posted on Twitter on November 19, 2023 and filmed in Russia, around 40 km from the Vartius border crossing.

Finland has accused Russia of masterminding the surge of migrants, a sentiment shared by the European Commission. They say the move is meant to destabilise the country, as retaliation for Finland joining NATO in April and aligning with the United States on defence issues. The Finnish Prime Minister emphasised that “Russia is instrumentalising migrants” in what amounts to a “hybrid attack”.

Finnish border guards agree. “Previously the Russians didn’t let people cross their border crossing point to Finland without required travel documents to Finland, but now they have.The phenomenon at the eastern border involves elements of organised illegal immigration facilitated by international crime including active marketing in social media,” Commander Pentti Alapelto of the Finnish Border Guard told FRANCE 24. 

Russia has rejected these accusations.

‘We give [border guards] $500 per person to let them continue their way to Finland from the Russian-Finnish crossing’

On November 22, we spoke on WhatsApp with Ahmed (not his real name), whose number appears on videos online filmed near the border. He claims to be in Turkey, where he is organising safe passage for migrants between Russia and the Finnish border.

I help people by sending them by car to the border in agreement with the Russian police. After that, I give the Russian border police $500 [€457] per person to cross, and the police give them bicycles.

No, there was no agreement with the border police [before November]. One of my men working on the Russian-Finnish border told me. I expect this is to put pressure on Europe with immigrants. 

I charge $1,200 [€1,097] per person: $500 for the border guard, $200 per person for the driver – because I am the owner of the car – and $500 for myself.

I sent about 200 people to the border with Russia in just 10 days [since November 12]. They are mainly Syrians, Iraqis, Tunisians, Moroccans, Turks, Yemenis and Lebanese. Of the people I delivered, some of them were in Russia, the others were in Belarus, and some of them came from Georgia or Turkey.

On a Telegram channel, this person is offering two seats in his car for the journey from Saint Petersburg to Salla in 14 hours, for the price of $400.
On a Telegram channel, this person is offering two seats in his car for the journey from Saint Petersburg to Salla in 14 hours, for the price of $400. © Telegram

We have not been able to independently verify this smuggler’s claims. However, the “agreement” he describes with the Russians is consistent with the accusations made by the Finns. In addition, in a conversation on a Telegram channel, a man claimed to be in contact with someone who had managed to cross the border after paying $100 to a Russian border guard. 

In addition, videos filmed near the border and posted on social networks show people on bicycles. The Reuters news agency has also published photos of rows of bikes at various border posts (for example at Salla on November 23). 

Crossing the border on foot is prohibited, so many have chosen to take bikes to bypass this restriction. Last week, however, Finland barred entry by bicycle.


The video on the left, posted on Twitter on November 17, 2023, was taken in Russia, just 3 km from the Nuijamaa border crossing. It also shows people on bicycles.

Almost all border crossings closed

To counter the influx of undocumented migrants, Finland closed four border crossings on the night of November 17, and three more on the night of November 23. Only one crossing point in the north remains open for asylum seekers.

Border crossings closed in Finland since November 17.
Border crossings closed in Finland since November 17. © Observers

On Friday November 24, “Ahmed” told us that he would continue to send people to the Finnish border as long as there was an open crossing point. 

On November 22, our team spoke to a Syrian whose two relatives recently tried to reach the Finnish border: “One of my friends was able to enter Finland five days ago. He paid $350 for a 12-hour journey from Moscow to a crossing point, then had to pay $300 [€274] for the bike.” His brother, on the other hand, was unable to cross the border.

We also spoke to two men who have not been able to enter Finland either, due to the phased closure of border crossings. One of them, who did not want to give his nationality, said that he had paid $700 (€640) to travel from Saint Petersburg to the border a few days ago, to no avail. 

Another, a Syrian, says he paid $100 to travel from Moscow to Saint Petersburg with four people from Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Somalia. Once there, he paid a further $300 to travel north by taxi. At the time of writing, he had still not managed to cross the border. He told us that it was -25°C where he was.

‘There is a substantial chance of people freezing to death’

The Civic Assistance Committee, a Russian NGO that helps migrants and refugees, told us about Finland’s decision to close its border crossings.

This decision will impact a wide variety of people. First of all, it will severe connections between families that live in both countries. Secondly, it will trap refugees from Syria, Yemen, Somalia, etc. that have close to zero chances of obtaining asylum in Russia inside the country. Finland doing this bypasses the problem of dealing with asylum seekers and processing their application. If you have zero asylum seekers because they can’t enter your country, then you don’t have to provide asylum to anyone.

People are living in tents near the northern crossing points. There is a substantial chance of people freezing to death as this November is very cold and we’ve seen such incidents during the situation on the Belarus-EU border. These asylum seekers need to be treated with respect and put out of the danger of freezing to death.

We know that dozens of refugees were detained by the police, tried and sentenced to deportation because they are now illegally in Russia with expired visas and no asylum.

One of the Syrians we spoke to also expressed this fear: “At the moment, I can’t tell you which village I’m in, because if the Russians find out there are migrants here, they’ll come and get us and send us back to Syria.”

Read moreMigrants turned away at Belarus-Poland border: ‘We see families and people with disabilities’



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The far left (still) doesn’t understand the Middle East conflict

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

It’s time to wake up to the systemic oppression characterising so much of the Palestinian leadership, especially including Hamas-ruled Gaza, and to the hatred and hypocrisy rife in our own societies, fanning flames of falsehood and frenzy, MEP David Lega writes.

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It has come to this: 50 years after the Yom Kippur trauma, hundreds of Israelis ended up butchered or kidnapped; antisemitism spiked; and thousands worldwide are calling for a Palestine “from the river to the sea”. 

The recent hostage deal is a welcome step. Every life counts. And with Israeli forces going house by house now in the north of Gaza, it may be we are at last at the end of the beginning of this latest dark chapter of the Middle East conflict. But whatever else happens, we have at least now seen the far left for who they are.

For decades, far-left activists, armed with Marxist theories, have tried to delegitimise Israel’s very existence. 

This was the spirit underlying University of California professor Judith Butler’s complaint in October that “unless people condemn Hamas, they are not considered acceptable.” 

The same spirit led progressive US Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib to threaten President Joe Biden politically for standing with Israel — and then led Bernie Sanders, progressive leader in the US Senate, to hedge in condemning Tlaib’s endorsement of the “river to the sea” mantra.

Some on the left, foremost President Biden, have remained strongly steadfast on Israel’s right to self-defence. But too many others, when asked what that means, have admitted they have no idea. 

All they have allowed is that Israel, on moral grounds, should only neutralise armed terrorists if the risk — to non-Israeli, not Israeli, civilians — is zero. Being ignorant of the security threats facing Israel, perhaps they should be more humble in imposing their military advice on the country.

We can’t continue to be blind to the facts

For many on the far left, anti-Israel bias leads to myopia — and to suggestions that Israel has never been unjustly attacked or faced extinction, or that Palestinian representatives have never forfeited the moral high ground (by, for instance, tormenting Palestinian Christians, sexual minorities or political dissidents). 

To suggestions, ultimately, that were Israel simply to lay down arms, stop guarding the gates, and relinquish the land it has controlled since its 1967 war of survival — then terrorism against Israelis, and against Jews writ large, would magically melt away. 

In Europe, the left as a whole has urged for — and I have agreed — significant EU funding to meet Palestinians’ humanitarian needs.

But many of these same voices continue to pretend that any and all such EU funding is a harmless, risk-free investment for peace.

I and many others have long understood this is just false. A European Commission report this week concludes that no EU money has gone for “unintended” consequences to the Palestinian authorities. 

But we know EU money paid for school content fostering an ecosystem of hate; has contributed to pensions and pay-outs incentivising martyrdom; and has bought materials which Hamas and their cronies have not just hoarded but have weaponised against Israeli civilians. 

Even after his recent trip to the region, the EU’s high representative and vice-president for foreign affairs and security policy, the socialist Josep Borrell, simply can’t or won’t understand these connections.

A case of pathological naïveté

Perhaps nowhere is pathological naïveté towards Israel more evident than among my Swedish compatriots. 

In July, for instance, in her Foreign Affairs Committee report for the European Parliament on EU relations with the Palestinian Authority, the socialist MEP Evin Incir made no mention of Hamas. 

Or terrorism. Or antisemitism. Or the persecution, by Palestinians, of Palestinian Christians. These stories play no part in her Middle East narrative. 

In another example, a member of the Swedish parliament’s foreign affairs committee, another socialist Jamal El-Haj, spoke at a conference affiliated with Hamas — earning him a rebuke, but not expulsion, from his party. 

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When a failed rocket from Palestinian terrorists blew up a Gaza hospital on 17 October, Swedish socialist party leader Magdalena Andersson (who’s angling to be Sweden’s next prime minister), in a knee-jerk reaction, and based on Hamas-sourced reporting, blamed Israel. 

And two weeks ago, in the European Parliament’s plenary session, a Swedish member of the Left Party, Malin Björk, passionately urged not just a humanitarian pause in Gaza — to ensure basic supplies to civilians or facilitate hostage talks — but a permanent ceasefire. 

Doesn’t she know that Hamas will use whatever time they can to carry out their campaign to wipe Israel from the map all over again?

Hatred and hypocrisy fanning flames of falsehood and frenzy

The far left doesn’t understand the Middle East conflict. For whoever delegitimises Israel’s right to exist, whoever denies Israel’s right to self-defence, and whoever fails to see the links between the Holocaust and hate is actually carrying water for the terrorists bent on Israel’s annihilation.

It’s time to wake up. To the systemic oppression characterising so much of the Palestinian leadership, including especially Hamas-ruled Gaza. 

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To the naive, feckless policies which have demanded of these groups such little accountability. 

And to the hatred and hypocrisy rife in our own societies, fanning flames of falsehood and frenzy. It is to our lasting shame — a shame that alarms — that we, in my home of Sweden, of Europe, of the West, find we have not after all left behind our dark past of identitarian ideologies, including even bald antisemitism. 

Tragically, it is the far left, most of all, which has not left this legacy behind. If 7 October doesn’t prompt an awakening, I fear it may only come too late.

David Lega (Kristdemokraterna, EPP Group) is a Swedish Member of the European Parliament, where he serves on the Foreign Affairs and Human Rights committees.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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The EU and Taiwan must partner up in the fight against disinformation

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

If the two could join forces in their endeavours, it is possible that they could fuel regional development in Southeast Asia and elsewhere within the Global South where China has developed influence and a rooted footprint via its Belt and Road Initiative, Zsuzsa Anna Ferenczy writes.

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In May, G7 leaders, meeting at the 2023 Hiroshima Summit, agreed that a “growing China that plays by international rules would be of global interest”. 

Their call, for continuing multilateral engagement with Beijing did, though, request that China not conduct interference activities aimed at undermining the integrity of democratic institutions, and that the country should do more to press Russia on its military aggression in Ukraine.

Conversely, at this month’s Belt and Road Forum of International Cooperation in Beijing, Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin celebrated the deepening of their mutual political trust, praising the close strategic coordination of the two countries. 

This followed Xi’s March visit to Moscow when the two leaders reinforced their ambition to remake the liberal international order, with the Chinese leader reassuring his “dear friend” that they are driving changes “that have not happened for one hundred years”.

This deepening of relations captures a new geopolitical reality, which many in Europe are still struggling to comprehend.

Sino-Russian cooperation a growing concern?

Looking eastwards, Europeans now see two former foes, China and Russia, bound together by their shared fear of liberal democracy. 

These regimes want to upend the world order so that it marries with their authoritarian agendas. 

The bilateral meeting between Xi and Putin on the sidelines of the Belt and Road Forum this month left no question about Beijing’s desire to curate and present an alternative worldview to the Global South, while strengthening its strategic alignment with Russia.

The meeting also consolidated Putin’s support towards China’s positioning on international affairs, in line with the Global Security Initiative, which Xi designed to help China achieve global primacy against a perceived backdrop of Western inhibitors.

The scale of Sino-Russian cooperation is vast, multi-faceted, and developing at speed. For, not only are their militaries and economies now in a state of synergy, their diplomats and state-controlled media are also collaborating closely. 

Chinese state-media and official social media channels routinely amplify selected pro-Kremlin narratives and are also platforming Russian media sanctioned by the West.

This growing strategic partnership is forcing the EU to finally get serious about its claims to rethink ties with China – and, by association, with Russia – in what European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called the de-risking of trade and political relations. 

China is changing, and “moving into a new era of security and control”; it is time for Europe to change, too.

Brussels needs a defensive toolbox — Taiwan can help

How this can be effected, though, is still at a fragmented stage of development, and was a key point of discussion at this year’s Budapest Forum. The EU High Representative Josep Borrell has urged the bloc and its member states to work with democratic partners around the world to fight information manipulation by authoritarian regimes.

This is an important step, which marries with wider efforts to position the EU as an independent voice and force on the world stage.

By focusing on Russia and China as key foreign actors in information manipulation and interference, the EU continues to invest in strategic communication, vital to defend democracy.

But it is essential that closer coordination at home is supported by a defensive toolbox for economic security and stronger cooperation with like-minded international partners, including Taiwan, if the bloc is to effectively push back at China and Russia’s developing orbit. 

What is needed most to boost the immune system of democracies is a whole-of-society approach and an inclusive global conversation with the developing world.

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The learning pools from Taiwan, and its response to Chinese aggression, are particularly important. For, here, over decades, democracy has withstood a barrage of disinformation and hostility from China. 

And, as a testament to the island nation’s strength, it has developed an approach that reflects the collective will of society and encourages a civic spirit that empowers citizens to feel that they hold the reigns of their democracy. 

This has extended to emerging and digital technologies, which are now seen through the lens of individual citizen interest, rather than benefiting those of the country’s political class.

Can the EU lead into action?

This has established a two-way trust, which, today, not only sees Taiwan hold the status as a pivotal node in the global semiconductor supply chain but also boasts a radically transparent democratic system of government. 

The lessons for Europe are numerous, and it is in the EU’s interest to explore Taiwan’s open and technologically driven governance and its expertise in media literacy. 

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For the past decades, the government has invested in education to empower its citizens to make informed decisions about what they see and read. Together, the EU and Taiwan and other democratically-minded countries could develop a networked system that would undercut the space for authoritarian regimes to corrupt information streams with falsehoods.

The two, and others committed to this cause, should partner up and help anchor developing countries in democracy and limit China’s negative clout, mindful that significant infrastructure investment needs will remain across the Global South. 

Europe’s Global Gateway forum, for one, seeks to boost secure links in digital, energy, transport and education along with democratic values, while Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy has committed to integrating its capacity in digital technology to promote a digital New Southbound initiative. 

If the two could join forces in their endeavours, it is possible that they could fuel regional development in South East Asia and elsewhere within the Global South where China has developed influence and a rooted footprint via its Belt and Road Initiative.

All of this points to the necessity for Europe to be more global-minded in its policy, and to take on the role of upholding not just its own, but other, developing democratic ecosystems. 

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Understanding the long-term consequences of information manipulation by authoritarian regimes to the rules-based order will be key to the future of global democracy. 

The question is: is the EU prepared to fundamentally change its position, and lead in this action?

Dr Zsuzsa Anna Ferenczy is Assistant Professor at National Dong Hwa University in Hualien, Taiwan and the author of “Europe, China, and the Limits of Normative Power”.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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The EU should make facial recognition history for the right reasons

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Whilst civil rights activists have long called for an outright ban, certain EU lawmakers may see the AI Act as an opportunity to claim that they are doing the (human) right(s) thing — and actually doing the opposite, Ella Jakubowska writes.

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In June 2023, the European Parliament made history when it voted in favour of a total ban on live facial recognition in public spaces. 

Through the new artificial intelligence bill, the EU could stop companies and authorities from treating us all as walking barcodes. But pressure from EU governments threatens to transform this possibility into the stuff of George Orwell’s nightmares.

Since late summer 2023, EU governments and parliamentarians have strived to reach an agreement on the Artificial Intelligence (AI) Act. This landmark law has promised that the EU will become a world leader in balancing AI innovation with protection — but the reality is less optimistic.

EU lawmakers are debating throughout November about how much leeway to give police to use public facial recognition. 

Despite these systems having been tied to human rights violations around the world, and recently condemned by Amnesty International for facilitating Israel’s system of oppression against Palestinians, the European Parliament’s commitment to a strong ban is at risk.

The commodification and abuse of our most sensitive data

In the last decade, information about every facet of our physical being — the faces, fingerprints, and eyes of practically every person worldwide — has become common currency.

This information — known as biometric data — is a mathematical representation of the most minute and intimate details and characteristics that make up who we are. From the vibrancy of human difference, we are collectively boiled down to a string of 1s and 0s.

Biometric data have been used in recent years to surveil and monitor people, from trying to suppress and scare pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong and Russia to persecuting Black communities in the US. 

Even seemingly mundane uses, like in national identity documents, have in fact turned out to be great enablers for systems which scan people’s faces and bodies without due cause — a move that amounts to biometric mass surveillance.

Whilst the EU presents itself as a beacon of democracy and human rights, it has of course not been immune to practices which amount to biometric mass surveillance.

Transport hubs in Germany and Belgium, protesters in Austria, people going about their day in the Czech Republic, people sleeping rough in Italy and many, many more have all been subjected to public facial recognition surveillance. 

Most recently, France made its aspirations for biometric mass surveillance clear, passing a law to roll out automated surveillance systems for use at the upcoming Olympic and Paralympic games.

A wolf in sheep’s clothing

Human rights advocates have long argued that using people’s faces and bodies to identify and track them at scale already runs contrary to EU human rights and data protection law. 

Whether in live mode or used retrospectively, notoriously unreliable and discriminatory public facial recognition infringes massively on our human rights and essential dignity.

But the use of such systems — often under vague claims of “public safety” — is widespread, and legal protections against them are patchy and applied inconsistently.

The AI surveillance industry has all but told lawmakers: “For national security reasons, we cannot disclose evidence that these systems work, but we can assure you that they do”. What’s worse is that lawmakers seem to be taking their word for it.

Whilst civil rights activists have long called for an outright ban, certain EU lawmakers may see the AI Act as an opportunity to claim that they are doing the (human) right(s) thing — and actually doing the opposite.

According to media reports from Brussels, despite previous commitments to outlaw biometric mass surveillance practices, the European Parliament is now considering “narrow” exceptions to a ban on the live recognition of faces and other human features.

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Nothing but a full ban in the AI Act will do

But the crux of this issue is that you cannot allow just a little bit of biometric mass surveillance without opening the floodgates.

This is not hypothetical: using the purportedly “narrow” exceptions written into the draft AI Act by the EU’s executive arm, the government of Serbia has twice tried to legalise the roll-out of thousands of Huawei facial recognition-equipped cameras. 

If the EU AI Act permits exceptions that would allow EU countries to make use of untargeted public facial recognition, it will not be long until we are fighting off biometric mass surveillance laws in all twenty-seven EU countries.

One of the grounds for use that is reportedly being considered as an exception to the ban is the search for people suspected or convicted of serious crimes. But there is simply no way to do this without scanning the features of everyone in a public space, which research has proven has a severe chilling effect on democracies.

There are also major questions about necessity. If there really is an urgent situation, is a risky and unreliable technology like facial recognition actually going to help?

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Whilst the press in Brussels notes that the European Parliament would want safeguards to be added, there is little that these safeguards can do to stop people having to look over their shoulder everywhere they go. You cannot safeguard the violation of a fundamental human right.

Freedom or mass surveillance?

The EU is on the precipice of a huge achievement — an AI Act which truly puts people at its centre. 

But if done poorly, we will instead find ourselves on the precipice of a law which tells the whole world that the EU prioritises the surveillance industry over people and communities.

Authorities will be able to use the exceptions to public facial recognition to justify the near-permanent use of these systems. 

And the mass surveillance infrastructure — vast networks of public cameras and sensors propped up by powerful processors — will be ready and waiting for us at the press of a button. 

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There’s no need to smile for the camera any more — you’ll be captured whether you like it or not.

Ella Jakubowska is a Senior Policy Advisor at European Digital Rights (EDRi), a network collective of non-profit organisations, experts, advocates and academics working to defend and advance digital rights across the continent.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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How to increase Europe’s competitiveness in the new global economy

By Mirek Dušek, Managing Director, and Marushia Gislén, Community Lead, World Economic Forum

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

How Europe now deals with this period of structural change in the global economy will determine whether future generations of Europeans can enjoy prosperous, productive and creative lives, Mirek Dušek and Marushia Gislén write.

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The achievements and benefits of the European Union are too easily forgotten in the public debate. 

It is here that you find the highest incomes per capita, lowest levels of poverty and corruption, and the countries where trust in government is the highest. 

It’s the world’s second-largest single market, but this does not come at the expense of cultural or linguistic autonomy at the national level. 

The union’s joint budget also allows money to flow from richer to poorer regions and freedom of movement means Europeans can study, work, do business or retire wherever it suits them.

Yet on several important indicators, the lights in Brussels have been flashing red for some time. 

Europe’s economic growth has been trailing the US for decades, productivity growth has fallen behind its peers, and the EU today accounts for 18% of global GDP compared to 27% in 1995. Its share of global industrial value has also fallen from 27% to 16% over the same period.

There are two areas that should stand out for policymakers as potential leverage points to increase Europe’s competitiveness: investing in technology and skills, and advancing the energy transition.

Investing in technology and skills

European investment in AI lags other regions, even when it comes to dedicated spending by governments. 

As a proportion of GDP, Saudi Arabia is in the global lead. In the EU, it is countries such as Luxembourg and Slovenia that dedicate significant proportions of public investment to AI, followed closely by Germany, France and Italy.

The private investment gap is even wider, with European investors generally more risk-averse. 

This can be at least partly attributed to slow progress on completing the capital markets union. Stepping up efforts here would bring the full depth and breadth of the European single market to the pool of investments flowing into emerging technologies.

While Europe is home to some of the most powerful computers in the world, including LUMI in Finland and Leonardo in Italy, Europe still accounts for the smallest share of the world’s top 500 computers. 

Things can change quickly in the computing race and targeted investments pay off.

The EU has fewer STEM graduates, including computer science, engineers and AI-specific professionals, compared to countries like the US and India, which lead the pack in absolute numbers. 

When it comes to education, Germany’s Bosch Centre for AI, the Max Planck Institute for Informatics and Finland’s European Laboratory for Learning and Intelligent Systems are examples of centres of excellence, but on a global scale, the best-ranked research departments in AI and computer science are in the US or China.

The impact of these lower investment levels, lower availability of skilled professionals as well as fewer top research institutions is reflected in lower numbers of AI start-ups and unicorns, patents and academic citations.

Capitalising on the AI rush will be key

There are some positive signs that EU capitals are hearing the alarm. In France, for example, €7 billion has been announced for tech investments, funds to be redirected via institutional investors to innovation and tech start-ups. 

It is examples like this, scaled across Europe, that could help close the investment gap with the US.

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At the same time, the EU is spearheading AI regulation based on a risk-based approach aimed at limiting harm to citizens and aiming to foster international alignment on AI regulation, which would help create a more even global playing field for AI development. 

The effort to minimise risks is important but not at the expense of high rates of innovation — otherwise, Europe will be left with the gold standard in regulation but none of the capital that might come from the AI rush.

Regulatory sandboxes have already proven to facilitate firm financing and market entry and increase speed-to-market by reducing administrative and transaction costs. 

This approach could be further applied to AI technology development across the EU. In addition, the narrative on AI in Europe could be refocused on the potential benefits in areas such as health care or manufacturing, together with clearer guidance on targeted support for impacted groups and reskilling and upskilling programmes.

Advancing the energy transition

Last year’s energy price crisis made it clear to all — from households in Germany to glass factories in Italy and steelworks in Sweden — how vulnerable Europe’s energy market is. It also became clear that without a stable and cost-competitive supply of energy, European competitiveness becomes elusive.

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While prices have fallen since, electricity prices in Germany are up to three times higher than in the US and double the prices in France and Poland. 

The REPowerEU plan aims to accelerate decarbonisation, improve electrification and increase storage capacity, but progress on net-zero technologies will be crucial to securing long-term competitiveness.

European offshore wind kick-started the global industry, but today the IEA shows that current and planned manufacturing of wind, solar and battery technologies in Europe lags significantly behind China. 

According to the Energy Transition Index, China leads the way in both physical infrastructure and investments in renewables as a percentage of GDP.

For electrolysers and heat pumps, Europe remains in the lead and European electrolyser manufacturers have committed to a tenfold increase in production by 2025 to help boost clean hydrogen supply. 

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However, value chain issues linked to new regulations on traceability make access to input materials more difficult and questions about the extent of available public financing in Europe put progress at risk.

Eye-catching initiatives a silver lining

A few eye-catching European initiatives offer a silver lining, including green steel production at a circular plant in northern Sweden that could improve energy efficiency and decarbonise the industry. 

This is made possible by stable access to electricity and hydropower and includes a hydrogen storage facility, the first of its kind, which will be key for value chain decarbonisation. 

The latest edition of the European Innovation Scoreboard also finds that the gap in innovation between the EU and top performers such as South Korea, Canada and the US is closing.

Through strategic partnerships, the EU aims to secure needed critical raw materials, help to develop critical infrastructure in developing countries and collaborate on research and innovation. 

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However, progress on securing new partnerships has been slow and discussions sometimes complex, including with resource-rich countries in Africa. Additional efforts to provide mutually beneficial agreements should be prioritised to build lasting partnerships.

Europe has shown it can react to crises

Financing for decarbonisation has reached unprecedented levels through mechanisms such as the European Green Deal but finding ways to de-risk private investments flowing into emerging climate tech is another important puzzle to solve. 

The Net-Zero Industry Act targets several technologies for stepped-up development based on their contribution to decarbonisation and competitiveness.

Levers at the EU’s disposal include accelerating permitting procedures, the use of subsidies, coordinated private funding, and setting targets for public procurement. 

The question is how fast national governments can pick up the reins on implementation. As industrial policy resurfaces in Brussels and member states, let’s also recall that short-term remedies, in the form of subsidies and other protectionist measures, cannot reverse weak productivity.

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Europe has shown a surprising capacity to react to urgent crises and come out stronger. 

How Europe now deals with this period of structural change in the global economy will determine whether future generations of Europeans can enjoy prosperous, productive and creative lives.

Mirek Dušek serves as Managing Director, and Marushia Gislén is Community Lead at the World Economic Forum.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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Recent escalations remind us of the need to combat disinformation

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

There is no doubt that with disinformation becoming more widespread, we are in a war against weaponised information, Oliver Rolofs writes.

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Today’s information society offers a lecture on the relativity of truth. 

Across the world, there are masters at work in the art of bending the facts. And where the truth no longer matters, it becomes easier to wage war.

But disinformation is not a new concern. As early as 1710, the Irish satirist Jonathan Swift wrote in The Examiner: “Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it.” 

Two centuries later, Britain’s legendary Prime Minister Winston Churchill noted: “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”

The wisdom of Churchill’s words was tragically demonstrated again just two weeks ago, when we witnessed Hamas and other malign actors apparently pursue this approach to instrumentalise their supporters. 

Upon investigation, some of the widely shared images of the alleged Israeli rocket attack on a hospital in Gaza appear to be a tragic, yet effective example of disinformation. 

Yet for many observers, clear Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) analysis counted for little, as it did not fit into their preconceived narrative. 

This kind of disinformation — whether practised by extremists, state actors like China, Russia, Iran, or other fake news-producing powers, all further enabled by social media platforms, messenger services and AI-based solutions such as ChatGPT — is increasingly a threat to global peace and stability.

Truthfully portraying facts-based reality

For centuries, nation-states have promulgated laws addressing the propagation of falsehoods, and on issues such as defamation, fraud, false advertising and perjury. 

However, current discussions on disinformation reflect a new and rapidly evolving communications landscape, in part due to innovative technologies that enable the dissemination of unparalleled volumes of content at unprecedented speeds.

In his 2022 report on countering disinformation, UN Secretary-General António Guterres explored the challenges of navigating this qualitatively different media landscape and ensuring it advances, rather than undermines, human rights and international peace and security. 

States, but especially tech companies, have a duty to take appropriate steps to address these harmful impacts. This is not an easy task, as they need to simultaneously limit any infringement on rights, including the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

The 1978 UNESCO Media Declaration could be a useful guiding light in this, however. Even in today’s technological age, it could serve as a moral compass for states, tech and media companies providing any sort of communication service. 

The tasks for the media formulated in the UNESCO declaration — to contribute to the strengthening of peace and international understanding, to promote human rights and to fight racism, antisemitism, apartheid and warmongering — are more relevant than ever.

Media, journalists, as well as social media platforms and messenger services are challenged to truthfully portray reality based on facts, especially in this digital age where every person can be a publisher with unprecedented reach. 

By taking this principle to heart, the antagonism of conflict and the polarisation of societies around the globe can be overcome.

The European approach, a solid blueprint

There is no doubt that we are facing greater challenges on this front than ever before. 

Platforms for dialogue and cooperation are crucial. International forums, especially those that bring together the Global North and Global South, such as the Global Media Congress in Abu Dhabi or the Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum in Bonn, in addition to UN formats, can give this issue the space it needs to drive a strong approach at the global level.

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There is much to discuss. Combating disinformation is a complex challenge. While it is a global issue, the European approach can provide solid guidance for a multilayered approach. 

It includes, via the EU Digital Services Act (DSA), new regulations on online platforms and improving EU citizens’ information environment by building transparency and security safeguards and holding tech companies accountable. 

The DSA is strengthened through the EU Code of Practice on Disinformation, a strong albeit voluntary set of commitments from tech and media firms.

Further Europe-led approaches include the EU vs Disinfo website and database to highlight Russia’s influence campaigns against the EU, its member states, and allies. 

More projects that actively engage society, like in the case of Finland, which has elevated the way citizens separate fact from fiction through effective media literacy toolkits, are also needed.

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Across the Atlantic, new collaborative human-technological solutions — like the Public Editor project, a collective intelligence system that labels specific reasoning mistakes in the daily news, so we can all learn to avoid biased thinking now also implemented in Europe — could usefully further efforts in the fight against disinformation. 

War against weaponised information

There is no doubt that with disinformation becoming more widespread, we are in a war against weaponised information. 

Communicators, politicians, media and opinion leaders need to work together across borders, and they need a whole set of instruments to combat it effectively. 

Investing in quality journalism, fact-based education and regulation, and using technologies such as social listening tools are the arsenal we need to help identify and defuse emerging threats before the world is thrown into outright turmoil.

Oliver Rolofs is a strategic security and communication expert and Director of the Vienna-based Austrian Institute for Strategic Studies and International Cooperation (AISSIC). Previously the Head of Communications at the Munich Security Conference, he also runs the Munich-based strategy consultancy, CommVisory.

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The EU can’t hope for unity until it solves its Schengen conundrum

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

A chain is as strong as its weakest link, as the saying goes, and Brussels can’t afford a lack of unity or coherence regarding free movement. If a country deserves to be part of Schengen, it should be allowed in, Cristian Gherasim writes.

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It’s 2023, and the world seems to be sitting on a powder keg about to explode, and it’s hardly the time for ambiguity and loose ends. 

Still, the European Union has been dragging its feet in sorting out one of the more contentious yet fundamental principles that stand behind its existence – the free movement of its citizens. 

The Schengen Agreement sits at the core of this principle, with the area abolishing all types of checks at mutual borders for as many as 23 of its member states.

However, over the years, the agreement which came into existence in 1985 and kept expanding as the bloc grew has become a bone of contention among some due to two main issues: a clause in the treaty which allows member states to temporarily reintroduce border controls, and the enlargement process of the Schengen Area that demands a unanimous vote by all member states.

The broad conditions stipulated in the Schengen Agreement sometimes do end up being misused, with politics playing a big part, and the question of open borders can quickly become a major talking point on the campaign trail. 

Who is suspending Schengen and why?

In the wake of state elections in Germany, the ruling “traffic light” coalition has decided to try and appear tough on immigration by reinstating border controls with Poland and the Czech Republic, stating it was part of a push to stop human trafficking. 

Slovenia had also intensified surveillance at the border with Croatia citing illegal immigration concerns. Notably, one year into the job, the ruling liberal party in Ljubljana has taken a nosedive in the polls — and it’s becoming clear that the idea behind the move is that playing the immigration card could help reverse it.

The populist party Smer which won the recent general election in Slovakia is now calling for border checks with Hungary invoking immigration.

Poland’s populist PiS party also hoped to cling to power by instating border controls with Slovakia over the issue of immigration. Although they lost out on forming the new government, PiS is still expected to be a strong anti-immigration voice in the domestic parliament and the EU alike.

On top of that, there are also concerns voiced by Denmark and Sweden, the two northern countries that also decided to reinstate border checks after recent Quran burnings.

The recent terrorist attack in Brussels — said to have been triggered by the Quran burnings in Sweden — and the Hamas’ violent incursion into Israel on 7 October has also spurred Italy’s PM Giorgia Meloni to take full responsibility for reinstating border controls with Slovenia, citing concerns of further violent extremism.

What does this mean for aspiring members and what does the EU stand to lose?

Why are Bulgaria and Romania being left out in the cold?

One of the most contentious issues of recent years linked to Schengen is the blocking of both Romania and Bulgaria by Austria and the Netherlands, respectively, in joining the border-free area.

The Dutch argument for keeping Bulgaria out revolved around the presence of organised crime and corruption in the Balkan nation, an EU member since 2007. 

However, Bulgaria and Romania have both successfully completed the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism, and according to the European Commission, both countries have made progress in the fight against corruption and in judicial reform. For Bulgaria, this also meant renewed hopes towards Schengen accession.

Over the past years, both the European Commission and the European Parliament have repeatedly said that the two have met the requirements to become Schengen members and urged all member states to vote them in.

Yet, Austria — which has no border with Romania — justified its veto by saying that the country is an entry point for migrants into Austria and the EU. All this, despite the fact that according to Frontex, Romania, just like the rest of the bloc’s eastern border, does not represent a major migratory risk.

This summer, the European Parliament issued a press release highlighting the economic burden that keeping both countries outside Schengen has on business and populations, contributing to the increased price of goods and travel. 

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Interestingly enough, the European Parliament also believes that obstructing the free flow of goods between European member states adds to pollution and acts as an additional burden to the EU’s climate neutrality goals.

There’s always room for improvement

All is not rosy though. While both Bucharest and Sofia have indeed fulfilled all requirements to be a part of the Schengen Area, despite improvements, Bulgaria is still regarded as the most corrupt country in the EU, with Romania following suit. 

Romania’s eastern border with Ukraine is amongst the most lucrative borders in terms of cigarette smuggling and illicit trade in the EU. 

Some progress has been made as Stop Contrabanda, a website monitoring cigarette busts, reported that authorities seized millions of contraband cigarettes last year. Yet the problem persists, and can indeed prove to be a liability for the EU and NATO in a time of conflict.

Still, a Schengen accession of both countries would make more sense for the EU. It would help manage external borders better by pooling resources and securing crucial routes for getting grain out of Ukraine. 

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With the Black Sea Grain Deal in tatters and Ukrainian ports shelled almost every day, Romania is playing a pivotal role in getting grain out of Ukraine. 

Delaying transport across EU borders could impact food supplies, possibly leading to shortages and even price hikes.

What can be done?

A chain is as strong as its weakest link, as the saying goes, and Brussels can’t afford a lack of unity and coherence when it comes to free movement. 

If a country deserves to be part of Schengen, it should be allowed to do so. With the rise of populism, the EU surely doesn’t need member states thinking that they have been unfairly treated, or seeking other partners outside of the bloc.

This finally brings the conversation to the unanimity vote which might need to be reconsidered. 

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It might not be in the EU’s best interest that in a time of war and great need for more unity a country’s whims should prevail against the decisions of all the other member states. 

After all, the EU’s future is at stake, and together with it, that of its 27 member states.

Cristian Gherasim is an analyst, consultant and journalist with over 15 years of experience focusing on Eastern and Central European affairs.

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Can the EU become an effective geopolitical power in the Middle East?

By Assem Dandashly, Associate Professor, Maastricht University, and Christos Kourtelis, Assistant Professor, Panteion University

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Considering the increasing tensions and international competition in a very volatile region, if the EU seeks to become a strong actor in the MENA, it must uphold its values with tangible actions and not with contradictory statements, Assem Dandashly and Christos Kourtelis write.

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In the last three decades, there has been a steady increase in the European Union’s efforts to shape the setting of its southern neighbourhood. 

From the launch of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership in 1995, and the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) in 2004, to the 2008 Union for the Mediterranean, the dominant belief among policymakers in Brussels was that providing both financial and technical support would enable the EU to use its normative power to persuade its neighbours to accept its values.

Progress in the area of free trade helped the EU to further integrate the South Mediterranean economies into the EU market and to advance some of its standards and rules. 

Yet, the events of the Arab Spring in the early 2010s exposed the limits of the EU to promote its democratic norms and values in the region. 

The revisions of the ENP and the emphasis on deep democracy and inclusive growth indicated that the EU had taken heed of its earlier foreign policy errors.

It also had the potential to be the benchmark that people in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) looked to for positive change in the region. 

However, the re-emergence of the EU’s stability-oriented security policy led to compromises in the promotion of democracy and human rights, best seen in the treatment of the migrants and asylum seekers from the MENA region in the last decade and the weak response of the European External Action Service against the democratic reversals in Tunisia and Egypt.

Demands to be seen are not enough

Yet, Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year has propelled the EU to display more assertiveness and cohesion in the neighbourhood. 

The war has seemingly jumpstarted more advancement in the bloc’s foreign and security policy in a matter of months than had occurred in the past several decades.

The latest conflict between Hamas and Israel has appeared as another opportunity for Brussels to demonstrate what EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has boldly declared “the awakening of geopolitical Europe”.

However, the emergence of an effective geopolitical Europe cannot take place with mere demands to be acknowledged as a real power or by jumping on the US bandwagon. 

Without a common defence identity, the EU cannot act as a power in traditional terms and its response to the Hamas attack of 7 October has so far eroded its own values. 

On top of that, it jeopardised diplomatic initiatives to expand its influence in the wider MENA region. As a result, the EU’s existing strategy (or the lack thereof) has had several consequences.

Mere words won’t force a rethink

First, it undermined the potential of the EU to act as a linchpin of a mediation process for resolving the conflict. 

Although the EU policymakers did well to denounce the attack of Hamas, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen only issued a short statement during her visit to Israel, which backed “Israel’s right to defend itself against the Hamas terrorists, in full respect of international humanitarian law.”. 

Such statements are clearly not enough to prevent or stop the deaths of innocent Israeli and Palestinian people, as more firm action is needed. 

When Washington negotiated the Sinai Interim Agreement between Israel and Egypt in 1975, US President Gerald Ford refused to sign new arms deals with Israel until the latter made meaningful concessions. 

That sent a clear signal to the then-Israeli government that it did not have a carte blanche from important international actors to conduct its Middle Eastern policy. Similarly, the EU (with the US) today could use its trade power to achieve geopolitical results and to force all stakeholders to reassess their policies.

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A singular foreign policy is needed

Second, the EU has exhibited a fundamental deficit of both vertical and horizontal coherence, as in nearly every recent MENA crisis. 

The issue at hand right now is that the lack of coordination does not allow the EU to forge collective involvement in international diplomacy. 

If the EU wishes to strengthen its geopolitical influence and advance international efforts for long-term peace in the region, policy uniformity is crucial. 

The recent history of Euro-Mediterranean relations offers important lessons for today. 

After the Yum Kippur War, which was sparked by a surprise attack by a coalition of Arab states on the Day of Atonement on 6 October 1973, European politicians demonstrated their capacity to comprehend the security threats that the region’s escalating violence posed for Europe. 

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Effective coordination between Paris, London and Bonn led to a distinct foreign policy from the US. This strategy expanded the EEC’s presence in the MENA through the Euro-Arab states dialogue, even if Europe’s diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict diminished in the following years.

Upholding EU values with tangible actions

Third, the EU’s approach to the current crisis can seriously damage its image among the Arab Mediterranean civil societies. 

Surveys demonstrated that citizens of Arab countries in the Mediterranean continued to show trust in Brussels, although the handling of the migration crisis, and the EU’s reactions to the military coup in Egypt and to the Libyan and Syrian crises have attracted more and harsher criticism in the last years. 

The view of Western institutions being unable to offer solutions to this crisis will undermine the much-needed cooperation in the implementation of many EU development programmes with local actors, who will be more keen to seek support from other donors antagonistic to the EU values and geopolitical objectives.

Considering the increasing tensions and international competition in a very volatile region, if the EU seeks to become an effective actor group in the MENA, then it must do this by upholding its values with tangible actions and not with contradictory statements. 

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So far, pleas for self-containment and humanitarian support appear as the lowest common denominator and do not signal that the EU has the capacity or willingness to act as a real geopolitical power.

Assem Dandashly is Associate Professor in Political Science at the Department of Political Science at Maastricht University, and Christos Kourtelis is Assistant Professor in European Public Policy at the Department of International, European and Area Studies at Panteion University in Athens.

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