The bonds that bind: Our adversarial sovereign bond habit

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

No one is obligated to help China fund its war machine. The decision to buy Chinese sovereign bonds should reside with informed investors, Elaine Dezenski and Joshua Birenbaum write.

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In Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent visit to Serbia, he extolled bonds “forged with blood” between the two countries from NATO’s bombing of Belgrade. 

Yet, it is concerns over future aggression, not past wars, that have the world focused on China. 

The Biden administration, the US Congress, and other governments have raised alarms about China’s military build-up, arguing that Western investors should not be sending money to Chinese companies that are helping to support the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). 

As the UK non-profit Hong Kong Watch explained in a statement before the House of Lords: “China’s strategy of military-civil fusion ensures that unchecked institutional investment could directly counter Britain’s national security interests if British pensions funds and other major players are funding firms in partnership with the Chinese military.”

Direct investment in private Chinese companies supporting the PLA is a serious risk. Yet a far larger pool of Western investments is flowing directly to the state budget of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) through the purchase of Chinese sovereign bonds, funding whatever the PRC budget may prioritise — from Chinese battleships and EV subsidies to concentration camps.

How do sovereign bonds contribute to China’s defence spending?

Chinese defence spending, which has doubled since 2015, is paid for from the state budget, which is, in turn, funded by numerous sources, including the issuance of sovereign bonds. 

Those bonds are often passively purchased by global investors based upon their default inclusion in funds that follow key benchmarks, sending vast quantities of money to China with little oversight or awareness of China’s military benefits.

Chinese sovereign bonds are bought by major institutional investors and individual mutual fund owners alike. These investors are rarely making an intentional choice to invest in China. Rather, huge swaths of the market passively base their portfolio composition on aggregated benchmarks. 

The default options on many retirement plans, for instance, are target date plans based upon predetermined mixes from established indexes — one of the risks of what The Wall Street Journal has described as “retirement funds on autopilot”. Indeed, one of the purported benefits of so-called “passive investing” — which now makes up the majority of the market — is its strict adherence to the benchmarks.

Until relatively recently, China’s sovereign bonds were excluded from the global indexes. Then, starting in 2017, a handful of index providers began adding Chinese government bonds to their bond benchmarks. In 2018, MSCI changed its equities index to include Chinese stocks. 

As The Wall Street Journal noted at the time, “In 2018, more than $13.9 trillion (€12.85tr) in investment funds had stock portfolios that mimic the composition of MSCI indexes or used them as performance yardsticks, and nearly all investments by US pension funds in global stocks are benchmarked against MSCI indexes.”

Benchmarks, which are designed to give a representative and diversified slice of the market, have become the unelected arbiters of whether given stocks or bonds are held by all funds that are pegged to the index. 

This decision to add Chinese investments to global benchmarks caused a cascade effect as passive investment funds and others who tied their portfolio to the benchmark followed suit, sending billions of dollars directly to the Chinese state. 

FTSE Russell, a global provider of benchmarks, explained the issue this way: “Fund managers seeking to match, or outperform, benchmark indexes are therefore obliged to increase the weightings in Chinese bonds.”

What is the role of index providers in all of this?

Index providers are for-profit companies, with those profits inextricably linked to the decision of what to include in the benchmarks. 

When MSCI, one of the world’s largest index providers, initially resisted adding Chinese stocks to its benchmark, Beijing threatened to cut off MSCI’s access to critical pricing data in a move described as “business blackmail.” MSCI relented and included the Chinese stocks.

Index providers aren’t motivated only by threats. Bloomberg, Citigroup, and others garnered benefits for adding Chinese bonds to their benchmarks, including receiving a bond settlement license from China. 

That pivot, made on behalf of millions of investors, fundamentally realigned capital toward authoritarian regimes. As The New York Times said at the time about Citigroup’s decision to lead the pack into the Chinese sovereign bond market, “That is a propaganda victory for Beijing, which has struggled to entice foreign investors. For Citigroup, it is a relatively low-risk diplomatic win.”

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When Bloomberg and other companies added Chinese bonds to their indexes, it was estimated that Chinese securities would account for just over 5% of Bloomberg’s $53tr (€49tr) Global Aggregates bond index, but those numbers have substantially increased since then. 

Today, the Bloomberg index allocates nearly 10% of its $65 trillion Global Aggregates benchmark to Chinese bonds.

No one is obligated to fund Beijing’s war machine

The adversarial bond issue is a market problem with market solutions. Numerous indexes already exclude Chinese bonds (called “ex-China” indexes), but those are limited products that are marketed to clients who must proactively direct their fund managers to include them. Rather, ex-China benchmarks should be the default.

Clients could be permitted, consistent with sanctions and other restrictions, to add those bonds in, but passive investment flows should not be blindly directed to adversarial regimes. Similarly, default options for retirement plans and passive investments should not be funnelled to the Chinese war machine.

Improving the hygiene of financial markets is a necessity, starting with a much deeper discussion about how key decisions — like the inclusion of adversarial bonds in benchmark indexes — impact investors, the global financial system, and the economic security of democratic governments.

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No one is obligated to help China fund its war machine. The decision to buy Chinese sovereign bonds should reside with informed investors.

Elaine Dezenski is Senior Director and Head of the Center on Economic and Financial Power at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). She was formerly an acting and deputy assistant secretary for policy at the US Department of Homeland Security. Joshua Birenbaum is Deputy Director of the Center on Economic and Financial Power at the FDD.

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Is Italy’s new Africa strategy a blueprint for Europe?

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

The Italian-made Mattei Plan signifies not just a policy initiative but a window of opportunity to redefine Europe’s role in Africa and globally, Maddalena Procopio writes.

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Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and her cabinet’s recent visits to Libya, following migration agreements between the European Union, Tunisia, and Egypt — largely championed by Meloni herself — have led to a perception that Italy’s new Africa strategy, known as the Mattei Plan, is focused solely on migration.

However, this view is misleading and overlooks the plan’s comprehensive scope and broader implications for both Italy and Europe. 

While addressing irregular migration by improving local socio-economic conditions is crucial, the Mattei Plan transcends mere migration concerns, potentially representing a pivotal shift in Europe’s approach towards Africa.

The plan embodies an attempt at a strategic recalibration of Italy’s relations with Africa, attuned to the evolving geopolitical landscape characterised by heightened competition for markets and energy resources. 

The Mattei Plan is what Europe needs for three key reasons.

Collaborative partnerships and benefits to local communities

Firstly, the plan hints at a reconceptualisation of ‘development cooperation’ linking development objectives with industry interests and should remain well focused on this without dispersing funds. 

Development funds would be used not only to address Africans’ social needs but also to enhance the investment climate, laying essential groundwork for sustained economic engagement. 

For instance, water system improvements should aim to benefit local communities while supporting agribusiness demands. Likewise, technical education programmes respond to local education needs while catering to industry-relevant skill development. 

This approach potentially translates into a collaborative public-private partnership that mitigates investment risks, moving away from traditional donor-centric methods and acknowledging shared interests between Italy and African nations. 

It challenges the paternalistic development aid narrative in Europe-Africa relations, which has faced criticism with the rise of more transactional international players like China and Russia.

Rome should pave the way

Secondly, the Mattei Plan hints at a crucial reality check on Europe’s actual capacity to effectively engage with Africa, emphasising pragmatic and competence-based approaches rooted in the established strengths of the Italian private sector and civil society. 

By prioritising sectors where Italy excels, such as agriculture and energy, the plan mitigates the risk of gaps between policy aspirations and on-the-ground implementation. 

This allows Italian players to compete more effectively amid growing international competition for Africa’s resources, avoiding the pitfalls of broader, less grounded strategies like the EU’s Global Gateway. 

A grand strategy largely decided upon in Brussels, which struggles to align with market realities. However, the Mattei Plan’s lack of a grand strategy makes it highly complementary to initiatives like the Global Gateway.

Thirdly, Italy’s approach could pave the way for a different European modus operandi in Africa, moving away from the dominance of a single great power like France towards a collaborative framework led by European middle powers such as Italy, Spain, Portugal, and the Nordic and Eastern European countries. 

These middle powers can pool their expertise within initiatives like the Global Gateway, recognising the potential for collective action to achieve greater impact. 

Italy’s relatively less controversial image in Africa positions it to lead this new approach, potentially acting as a bridge between Europe and other international actors, such as the Gulf monarchies, which have shown interest in supporting the Mattei Plan.

A window of opportunity is wide open

The success of the Mattei Plan for Italy and Europe hinges on robust multi-level engagement strategies. Effective communication must be prioritised across Italy, Europe, and Africa. The forthcoming progress report from the Mattei Plan steering committee, due by 30 June, should demonstrate initial results.

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Domestically, centralising the plan’s management within the prime minister’s office was a strategic move to align domestic interests with foreign policy objectives. However, inclusive governance is crucial, as is harnessing expertise from diverse stakeholders. 

Europe is where the fortunes of the Mattei Plan reside more than anywhere else. Proactive dialogue with EU institutions and member states is essential to garner support and foster cooperation. 

The Italian government should actively promote the creation of a European coalition to identify synergies among Africa strategies and with the Global Gateway. 

Without a European collective approach, the Mattei Plan may take a few steps, but it will not win the marathon. With Africa, comprehensive and clear communication about the plan’s objectives is crucial at national, sub-regional, and continental levels.

Internationally, Italy should continue to pursue cooperation with global partners, leveraging its less imposing presence in Africa to reconcile Europe with players in the Global South. Using its G7 presidency, Italy can further cooperate on mutual interests in Africa, such as infrastructure development and green energy.

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Ultimately, the Mattei Plan signifies not just a policy initiative but a window of opportunity to redefine Europe’s role in Africa and globally.

Maddalena Procopio is a Senior Policy Fellow in the Africa programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).

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North Macedonia and Greece shook hands in Prespa. Don’t give up on it

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

The agreement is a welcome reality, even among many of its opponents, because reopening the dispute would be much worse. I plead for a display of leadership in both countries, Greece and North Macedonia, to face this reality and stop playing petty politics with this issue, Nikola Dimitrov writes.

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The swearing-in ceremony of the newly elected President of North Macedonia, Gordana Davkova Siljanovska, caused an uproar in Athens, Brussels, and many other European capitals.

Not because she is the first-ever female president of the country or because she just won a landslide victory. It also wasn’t about something she said. Actually, it was about what she did not say.

While taking her oath of office, President Davkova omitted the directional adjective “North” and said just “Macedonia” despite signing a formal oath under her country’s constitutional name on the same day.

Yet, given that she campaigned on a pledge to respect but not pronounce the full constitutional name of the country she now leads, citing her personal right of self-determination and taking into account her criticism of the Prespa Agreement, her gesture alarmed neighbouring Greece.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis warned that any deviation from the agreement would have severe consequences for the relations between the two and the European integration path of us here in North Macedonia.

The now infamous name issue strained the relationship between Skopje and Athens for 27 years, ever since the independence of the then-Republic of Macedonia in 1991, until it was resolved with the signing of the Prespa Agreement in 2018.

It also blocked North Macedonia’s NATO membership and EU accession for over a decade.

‘You are my hero, may you rot in hell’

I have personally spent 15 years trying to solve the problem: initially as a diplomat and chief negotiator, then as a co-agent before the ICJ on a related case, and finally serving as foreign minister. 

Together with my Greek colleague Nikos Kotzias, we achieved what had previously seemed impossible and succeeded where Sisyphus couldn’t.

Meeting half way took time for both nations. Kotzias and I both received threats and hate mail on one side and praise on the other.

“You are my hero” and “May you rot in hell” were the starkly contrasted greetings I received in Skopje on a daily basis back in 2017 and 2018.

The agreement we signed is a good compromise, addressing the critical concerns of both sides. It calmed bilateral relations at the time and kickstarted renewed connections between our peoples, opening the door for friendship and cooperation.

You can’t please everyone

Prespa has elements that are difficult for both countries. The Macedonian language, for instance — an expression of the right of self-determination of ethnic Macedonians — is something many Greek politicians struggle to accept or pronounce.

The same goes for the country’s international codes: we can still use MK and MKD, except on vehicle license plates.

Yet, although the international traffic rules say otherwise, these codes are not found on the road signs to Skopje across Greece. You wouldn’t even see “North Macedonia” beside the signs directing you towards Bulgaria or Turkey.

On our end, using “North” remains a stumbling block for many Macedonian politicians, especially when they have to say it back home.

However, if we had not accepted the use of the compound name North Macedonia for all official purposes and at all times, there would have been no deal because this was a critically important issue for the Greek side.

For many in Greece, even the compound name is unacceptable, as they would prefer their neighbouring country not to have the word Macedonia in its name at all.

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All this shows is that no agreement could be reached that would completely satisfy both sides.

Yet, the Prespa Agreement, globally praised as a triumph of diplomacy and the most significant agreement in the Balkans — the region has an abundance of disputes but few solutions — since Bosnia’s 1995 Dayton Peace Accord, was hampered by various sides.

How many blows can you take before collapsing?

The first blow came from VMRO-DPMNE, the landslide winner of the recent elections. In 2018, the party, in essence, boycotted the referendum on the compromise.

While the Macedonian citizens (or the citizens of North Macedonia, if you prefer) voted “yes” in huge numbers, the “no” votes — expected to come from VMRO-DPMNE’s supporters — were too few, and the required turnout was not reached. 

The boycott kept the national wound half-open. The people did not decide.

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The second blow — and this may come as a surprise to many readers not familiar with our pains in the Balkans — came from the EU itself.

Before the referendum on the Prespa Agreement, many European leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel (France’s President Emmanuel Macron sent a video message), came to Skopje and made a public promise to the people: support the agreement and we will open accession talks with your country.

Well, that promise was broken. France first walked it back in 2019, with another neighbour, Bulgaria, proudly taking over the veto torch ever since.

Politics of humiliation prove costly

Worse still, Bulgaria adopted a formal hostile stance against one of the two fundamental pillars of the Prespa Agreement — the Macedonian language and identity.

As Bulgaria got away with its indecent and counterproductive policy on its smaller neighbour and managed to pave the European path for North Macedonia with Bulgarian demands, the EU as a whole became complicit in undermining the agreement it loudly praised, as well as its own enlargement policy.

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Not surprisingly, only about one-third of the Macedonian public today believes that the EU is serious about enlargement — an embarrassing defeat for Brussels, considering that an overwhelming majority of Macedonians trusted the EU just a few years earlier.

Finally, the outgoing government in Skopje’s gross incompetence in organising the replacement of the citizens’ ID cards, passports and driver’s licenses under the constitutional name — forcing citizens into a situation where they can’t travel, drive, or even go to the bank to get their paychecks or pensions — caused humiliation and aggravated the problem to the extreme.

On the other side of the border, the New Democracy government did not invest much political energy in implementing the Prespa Agreement. It simply tolerated it. I recently wrote that the incoming government of North Macedonia should do the same. It looks like I was wrong.

A plea for reason to prevail has to be made

What we need instead of tolerance is leadership. The agreement is a welcome reality, even among many of its opponents, because reopening the dispute would be much worse.

And I plead for a display of leadership in both countries, Greece and North Macedonia, to face this reality and stop playing petty politics with this issue.

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Face those within your respective constituencies who would only accept maximalist solutions for their side and who are nostalgic for disputes and antagonisms.

Remind them that they have lost. And push forward with the full implementation of the Prespa Agreement, including the challenging and sometimes painful steps.

Leadership is also desperately needed on the EU side. Deliver on your promise, limit the ridiculous number of veto opportunities in the accession process, and do not fall prey to the domestically driven past-century whims of any single member state on things that truly matter.

Be a force for good, and do not undermine but rather amplify the efforts of those who have invested political capital in solving intractable disputes.

Nikola Dimitrov is a diplomat, think-tanker and political activist from North Macedonia. As Foreign Minister, he negotiated and signed the Prespa Agreement in 2018.

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It’s time to take a step back from the brink of a divided world

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

We think that our vision of connectivity is essential for Europe’s ability to become strong again — and that cooler heads will soon have a chance to prevail. During our presidency, we intend to show how, Balázs Orbán writes.

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Chinese President Xi Jinping’s trip to Europe this week is his first visit to the continent since the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic disrupted exchanges between Europe and China, making President Xi’s visit crucial in restoring links with European countries.

The first visit of a Chinese president in 20 years to Hungary also marks the 75th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between Hungary and China. 

One might find it curious why Budapest has emerged as the only EU capital President Xi is visiting other than Paris. 

The simple answer is that Hungary has transformed into a pivotal state for all concerned — a promoter of peace and national sovereignty, a leader of new industries, a crucial player in bridging East and West, and a gateway to the European Union. The Chinese president’s choice reflects this fact.

This is what we mean by ‘Hussar Cut’

Hungary’s foreign policy strategy, centred on connectivity, is attracting global attention.

While many nations across the world are closing in on themselves, Hungary stands out by actively cultivating ties with a wide array of countries and market players across various sectors, from trade to infrastructure, as well as cultural and scientific exchange.

We believe that this strategy is essential for escaping the middle-income trap and positioning ourselves to thrive in an increasingly complex geopolitical landscape.

This bold masterstroke, a “Hussar Cut” as we call it in Hungarian, appears to be paying off. Since 2010, the Hungarian government has transformed the economy into an open, export-oriented model capable of robust growth.

This has resulted in a remarkable 38% increase in GDP per capita over the past 13 years. 

Our efforts have propelled Hungary from the 23rd to the 11th most complex economy according to the Harvard Economic Complexity Index, boasting a highly diversified export portfolio. 

Additionally, we’ve fostered a work-based society with record-low unemployment, complemented by a flat-rate income tax of 15% and a corporate tax rate of just 9%.

It’s all about best technology, globally

Hungary has been focused on bolstering domestic companies such as MOL, Richter, OTP Bank, and 4iG to help them emerge as dominant regional players. 

Our efforts to expand energy connections, repurchase the Budapest Airport, renovate the Budapest-Belgrade railway and establish a port in Trieste capable of handling 2.5 million tonnes of goods a year further our commitment to enhanced connectivity across all fronts. 

Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Hungary has nearly doubled since 2010, with a more geographically diverse investor base. Last year, compared to 2010, the share of Asian investors surged from 19% to 34%. Meanwhile, European investments accounted for 56%.

We actively encourage foreign companies to establish headquarters here, as we aim to make Hungary a regional hub and a global meeting point. Alongside this, we invest significantly in culture and sport relative to GDP, outstripping European averages.

On the industrial front, Hungary seeks to strengthen its military, information technology, energy, and banking sectors while also emphasising the development of industries such as food, pharmaceuticals, and automotive — all pivotal for global connectivity.

As part of our strategy, we seek to partner with countries and companies that offer the best technology globally, which is why China is a natural partner for us. Hungary’s strength is growing, particularly in the electric vehicle sector. 

BYD, China’s top electric vehicle manufacturer, has announced plans to build its first European passenger car facility in Hungary, which is a direct result of building strategic partnerships over the years. In doing so, we’re betting against the current trends toward decoupling and de-risking.

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Europe’s place in this increased global competition is under threat. In recent years, European GDP growth has lagged in both the Us and China. Europe’s import dependency is five times higher than that of the North American continent, according to the Hungarian Institute of International Affairs, and decoupling would come at a very high cost. 

Keep cool, calm and connected

In this situation, Europe must also recognise that the evolving geopolitical environment requires a strategy of prudent connectivity. When global tensions between China and the US arise, Europe’s open economic framework will pay the price.

The increasing logic of bloc formation we witness today poses a number of clear dangers. 

From our perspective in Budapest, these dangers include the worsening of existing dependences, the loss of our sovereignty, economic decline, consignment to the geopolitical periphery, and exposure to conflicts affecting all bloc members.

Our proposed solution is for Hungary to become a keystone state — a pivotal hub in the interconnected global landscape. By doing so, we can mitigate one-way dependencies, safeguard our sovereignty, ensure economic prosperity, and maintain internal and external security.  

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Doing so is crucial not only for our sovereignty but also for the success of the region and of Europe as a whole.

In the second half of this year, Hungary will exercise the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU. 

We think that our vision of connectivity is essential for Europe’s ability to become strong again — and that cooler heads will soon have a chance to prevail. During our presidency, we intend to show how. 

It’s time to take a step back from the brink of a divided world. In Hungary, we are already reaping the benefits.

Balázs Orbán is a member of the Hungarian parliament and political director for Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

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A weak, Kremlin-influenced Libya is a threat to NATO and EU security

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

Russia’s pursuit of a naval presence in Libya’s eastern region, likely to culminate into a base for its nuclear submarines, provides Moscow with more than just a strategic outpost looking towards the entire EU, Hafed Al-Ghwell writes.

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With the gaze of much of the world fixed on the wars unfolding in Gaza and Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to expand his country’s reach in Africa.

He is now using Libya as a stepping stone to position Russian submarines in the central Mediterranean and place nuclear weapons on Europe’s southern flank.

Enrico Borghi, a centrist MP and member of the Italian parliament’s intelligence committee, recently warned that Russia’s interest in Tobruk in Libya is no mystery, which could be a preamble for sending its nuclear submarines there, much like the Soviet Union sent its missiles to Cuba in 1962.

It is clear that having submarines a few hundred kilometres from NATO states would not be good for security. 

In light of this, Washington’s move to reopen an embassy in Libya a decade after suspending its operations in the country is significant. 

Not only is a strong Russian presence in Libya, a security threat to NATO and Europe — Libya’s geographic location, linking Niger, Chad and Sudan to North Africa and Europe, makes it of vital strategic importance.

Russian footprints all over

The Russian footprint in Libya has grown substantially, alongside an evolving military presence evidenced by a recent delivery of military supplies to the port of Tobruk. 

This strategic eastern city saw the arrival of armoured vehicles, weapons, and equipment — the fifth such shipment within a brief span, indicative of a systematic build-up. 

The supplies, presumed to have been dispatched from Russia’s naval facility in Tartus, Syria were transported by vessels of its Northern Fleet, reflecting an unyielding commitment to Moscow’s Mediterranean gambit that has survived the impacts of the war in Ukraine.

The shipment and what it entails are not an isolated development but part of a broader Russian pattern to establish a perpetual military presence akin to its nearly decade-long posture in Syria. 

Such an expansion is a direct challenge to NATO’s southern flank. 

The introduction of advanced air defence systems by Russian operators in Libya that threaten Western “over-the-horizon” counter-threat operations across North Africa and the Sahel shifts the regional balance of control in the air, while also threatening freedom of navigation since the delivery of anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities will negate NATO’s operational reach in its own backyard.

How prepared is the West for Lybia’s further decline?

The entrenchment in Libya also serves as a gateway for deeper inroads into Africa where Moscow is astutely exploiting a partnership void, offering African regimes military and economic collaboration devoid of the conditionalised engagements favoured by Western patrons. 

Furthermore, Russia’s pursuit of a naval presence in Libya’s eastern region, likely to culminate into a base for its nuclear submarines, provides Moscow with more than just a strategic outpost looking towards the entire EU. 

It adds a frustrating layer of complexity to NATO’s security calculus now weighing steady Russian gains in Ukraine, and the long-term impacts of the US pullout from Niger and potentially Chad.

Simply put, Moscow’s playbook in Libya is changing from the usual fusion of military engagement with political influence in Libya, partly facilitated by the alignment with regional strongman Khalifa Haftar. 

By supplanting Western influence, Russia’s opportunism and leveraging of geopolitical fault lines have helped enhance its stature even at the height of a needless war in Ukraine. 

The cascading impact of Moscow’s manoeuvring raises serious questions about the West’s preparedness for the declining prospects of a stable, secure and sovereign Libya.

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This is why Washington’s decision to reestablish a diplomatic presence in Libya is a strategic bid aimed at countering Russia’s growing presence, while simultaneously bolstering the United Nations Support Mission. 

The US is back in town, however

The move comes after a palpable hiatus pointing to recalibrated approaches in Washington’s Libya file to embody a strategic calculus that transcends traditional diplomacy, for a re-engagement that can effectively counteract Russia’s growing inroads into Africa.

It is the clearest reflection yet of the interplay between geopolitical rivalry and the urgency of stabilising a paralysed country on Europe’s southern periphery. 

By re-establishing a physical diplomatic footprint in Libya, the US is taking a rare proactive stance that carries profound implications for Russia’s ascent. The planned facility in Tripoli will facilitate closer monitoring and the ability to challenge Russian narratives and influence on the ground.

Re-introducing US diplomats to Libya is not merely a symbolic act. It will allow for persistent engagement with Libyan actors to maintain key relationships and develop a firm grasp on local dynamics that often elude remote diplomacy. 

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It also represents a tangible commitment to supporting UN-led mediation efforts and laying the groundwork for pivotal elections. A secure and stable Libya is deeply intertwined with broader interests that, when carefully managed, will help immunise the country from a rising tide of instability that could undermine its transition to a post-paralysis era.

The September 2012 attack on the US diplomatic mission in Benghazi cast a shadow over a US return to Libya, stifling any optimism for re-establishing a diplomatic presence.

The memory of the Benghazi attacks also galvanised an evolution in US diplomacy regarding Libya that is predicated on security and sustainability. 

This includes cultivating ongoing on-the-ground engagement with Libyan actors and establishing robust channels for dialogue to address issues before escalations. 

It is a welcome pivot towards pre-empting potential risks, intervening diplomatically to avert crises, and ensuring the Libyan polity is insulated from worsening regional vulnerabilities.

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There’s no time to waste

Libya’s protracted state of fragmentation poses challenges in Brussels’ push to confront migrant surges, as any turmoil between Sub-Saharan Africa and the Maghreb acts as a catalyst for the mass movement of people towards Europe, with implications for security, political cohesion, and safety net systems within the EU. 

Furthermore, the power vacuum in Libya could become a breeding ground for extremism that would be difficult to counteract given the enduring presence of mercenaries and foreign fighters, alongside deeply entrenched local militias across a very complicated security landscape.

To achieve sustainable peace, the US and Europe will have to leverage diplomatic pressure and develop effective strategies to uproot the political economies of Libya’s hybrid actors that are key to their longevity. 

In addition, Western involvement is critical for supporting the UN-brokered political settlement among Libyan actors, by providing an environment conducive to transparent electoral processes and equitable resource distribution. 

Strategic engagement includes recognising Libyan sovereignty and facilitating national reconciliation through initiatives that reflect the “Libyan-owned and Libyan-led” principles, foundational to the UN’s approach and stressed by Libyans themselves.

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Moreover, efforts to establish inclusive national mechanisms for the transparent and equitable management of Libya’s wealth and resources must run parallel with political mediation. 

Failure to do so risks undermining reconciliation efforts and the building of a stable, secure future by addressing long-term economic and political marginalisation, particularly in Libya’s south. 

Therefore, focused efforts on economic integration, accountability, and the rehabilitation of Libya’s tattered social fabric, backed by Western support, will be crucial in restoring stability in Libya.

Hafed Al-Ghwell is the Executive Director of the North Africa Initiative (NAI) and Senior Fellow at the SAIS Foreign Policy Institute (FPI), Johns Hopkins University.

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Will going digital really simplify applying for a Schengen visa?

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

Digitalisation, although well-intentioned, may well lead to more complexity for the applicant and more of a workload for consular staff, Michel Dejaegher writes.

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The European Parliament is developing plans to reform visa application procedures in the Schengen area by moving from a system where travellers are required to apply in person to get physical visa stickers to a digital system instead.

The idea is that no longer will travellers apply for individual visas; instead, they’ll apply for an EU visa through one EU visa platform, which will allow them to download an e-visa directly to their smartphone.

All applicants will be required to do is to upload electronic copies of their travel documents along with other supporting materials, followed by the payment of the visa fees.

This has the potential to streamline the visa application process immensely for travellers and it is to European governments’ credit that they have reached an agreement on this in principle.

And, in theory, it sounds like a seamless visa application process. But in practice, I can foresee a number of difficulties.

Different countries, different rules

When you have one country on its own introducing a digitalisation process, you apply one set of rules and regulations and there is a single national authority harmonising and checking the practice of consulates. 

It is not an easy task, but it does not reach the level of complexity encountered when such a digitalisation process must be implemented across nearly 30 different countries.

In theory, the Schengen visa system is based on identical rules and regulations. It is mainly true, and it is quite an achievement, as national policies can be very different. However, there are still many exceptions, which a digitalisation platform will have to integrate.

First, the platform will have to inform applicants whether they need a visa or not. Most visa waivers are common. 

However, there are national exceptions such as employment (some Schengen member states do not apply the visa waiver if the third-country national is due to take employment), for airline and ship crews, holders of diplomatic or service passports and school children.

Second, a harmonised list of supporting documents needs to be displayed. To date, common consular lists have been established, but when you examine them, you realise that these lists are generic and rather vague — whereas if those supporting documents must be uploaded by applicants, they have to be very precise and limited.

Varying requirements might lead to confusion

Supporting documents are not always the same, either. For example, French consulates require a formal and secured invitation by a family member or a friend whereas other member states accept different types of invitations. 

It’s the same for the financial resources: the daily minimum amount is not the same for every Schengen member state. 

And as a traveller may visit several countries during his short stay, the platform will have to check not only which Schengen country is competent to examine the visa application (considering the rather vague concept of “main destination” where there is room for appreciation), but also record the number of days spent in each country so that the amount of financial resources may be calculated.

A related issue is because the platform intends to require the applicant to pay the Schengen visa fees online, national exceptions to the common fees will have to be integrated.

In short, the online application process will mean lots of questions being asked of the applicant which makes it very confusing for them.

Some countries already ask (or intend to ask) external service providers — such as outsourcers — to scan all pages of the travel documents of visa applicants in three different colours as a security precaution. 

The EU regulation, as it is now, provides for only a copy of just the identity page in one colour. However, I don’t believe Schengen governments will want to reduce this level of security.

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The road to Schengen is paved with good intentions

My sense is that digitalisation, although well-intentioned, may well lead to more complexity for the applicant, meaning consulates could be inundated with queries, which will create more of a workload for consular staff.

So, either Schengen governments could allow unregulated commercial intermediaries to assist applicants at a high price without any control — or, as I foresee, continue to regulate external service providers to provide controlled visa processing and support services, reducing the burden on the applicant and the consulate.

Indeed, many countries already use outsourcing services for providing logistic non-judgmental assistance to issuing visas, passports, and consular services. 

The introduction of external service providers was aimed at solving the problem of the time pressures on consulates and embassies from a growing number of applicants and the need to record their biometric data, together with increasing security measures in consulates. 

The time-consuming task of receiving applicants, accepting, and managing visa applications, checking applicants’ documentation is correct and collecting their biometric data is transferred to external service providers. 

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This has allowed consular services to focus on the essential task — granting or refusing the application — rather than getting bogged down in the administration or queries in processing the application.

In the era of smartphones and technological progress, digitalisation can certainly be an advance. But it will almost certainly require external service providers to make the process work smoothly.

Michel Dejaegher is a former head of the French Central Visa Department and former French consul general in Algeria, Canada and Japan. He represented France in the Schengen visa working group and is a co-writer of the European Union Visa Code.

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How many more years will Afghan girls lose to Taliban oppression?

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

Afghanistan has dropped off the news agenda, but the violence and oppression continue — and for too many of us Afghan women, no matter how loud we shout, it feels like the world has stopped listening, Meetra Qutb writes.

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Earlier in March, Afghan teenage girls should have been going back to school, marking the beginning of a new academic year. 

In most other countries, girls of 11 or 12 years of age would be preparing to begin their secondary education.

In Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, female education ends at grade six.

I know full well how it feels to live in fear and uncertainty. My first encounter with the Taliban was back in 1996 when I saw two women whipped on their feet for not covering their faces.

I was five years old and had become one of the millions of girls deprived of their education during the first Taliban regime from 1996 to 2001.

I was one of the “lucky” ones, however — I was home-schooled and attended a secret school for girls in Kabul. 

But the fear of getting caught followed us everywhere, especially as we travelled to and from our classes. My classmates and I would hide our schoolbooks in cloths used to cover the Qur’an.

Two years ago, I watched in horror in March 2022 as the Taliban U-turned on their promise to reopen girls’ secondary schools — a ban that is estimated to affect over 1 million girls. I saw girls break down in tears in front of news cameras. 

It was a pain that felt personal to me.

A vortex women are stuck in

Since the Taliban’s takeover in August 2021, girls have been banned from secondary school for over 900 days — a shocking figure when we consider the effects of school closures on children globally during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Just think of how Afghan girls have been impacted — not only have they lost the opportunity to progress academically, but they’re missing vital opportunities to socialise, develop friendships, and grow as individuals during the formative years of their lives.

Health experts have expressed concerns over the impacts on girls’ mental health, with surging cases of depression and anxiety, and near-daily reports of female suicides.

Here at Afghan Witness, a project run by the Centre for Information Resilience, we’ve been speaking to women and girls since the Taliban’s takeover. Their sobering accounts reveal how it feels to be deprived of the most basic of human rights.

Sofia*, a university student, described the current situation as a vortex: “the women and girls of Afghanistan are stuck in it. No one can even shake their foot from it. All their dreams and goals are outside”, she said.

Gawhar*, a high school student before the ban, told us: “I wanted to become a journalist in a local media agency. A fellow female classmate wanted to become a doctor — unfortunately, all of us became hopeless.”

Edicts as a means of oppression

Since their takeover, the Taliban have issued 80 edicts in total — 54 of which specifically target women and girls, according to the Feminist Majority Foundation. Among them are requirements for women to be accompanied by a male guardian when travelling over 72 kilometres and to cover their faces in public.

These edicts have strengthened male family members’ control over women’s behaviour and clothing and could potentially pave the way for more inter-familial violence, thanks to a culture of impunity that thrives under the group’s rule.

There are also very real economic consequences to restrictions on women’s work and education. The talent and opportunity lost will impact not only individuals but Afghanistan as a country. 

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There’s already been an exodus of professionals, and, with half of the population deprived of higher education, sectors such as health, justice and education are destined to suffer.

But make no mistake: the women who have studied and become lawyers, journalists, teachers or doctors over the last twenty years refuse to give up their livelihoods so easily.

Some have taken to the streets in protest, and when their protests were met with suppression and violence, they took their campaigns online. They have shared videos of indoor demonstrations, coined hashtags, campaigned for the release of those in detention, and used theatre, music and dance to tell stories of Taliban brutality.

Do not underestimate Afghan women — but do protect them

The ability of Afghan women to adapt should not be understated. 

Many have poured their time into advocacy, while others have set up secret schools or online classes. Those who managed to leave Afghanistan have worked tirelessly to tell the stories of those who remain, establishing women-led newsrooms that operate in exile to ensure Afghanistan is not forgotten.

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And while the resilience, strength and creativity of these women offer a glimmer of hope in the darkness — the reality is that being a woman in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan means living in fear and uncertainty.

In January, reports emerged that a number of girls and women had been arrested for non-compliance with the Taliban’s hijab rules. 

Suicide cases among women in Afghanistan appear to rise year on year and are possibly linked to domestic violence, forced marriage, and the group’s restrictions. Reports of femicide are also frequently recorded by our investigators at Afghan Witness, with family members, Taliban, and unknown individuals often cited as perpetrators.

Afghanistan has dropped off the news agenda, but the violence and oppression continues — and for too many of us Afghan women, no matter how loud we shout, it feels like the world has stopped listening.

Meetra Qutb is the Relationship Manager and Communications Specialist at the Centre for Information Resilience’s Afghan Witness project. She previously worked as an associate lecturer at Kabul University’s law and political science faculty and is an independent researcher and commentator on human rights and politics in Afghanistan.

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*Names have been changed by Afghan Witness to protect the women who chose to speak out from repercussions by the Taliban.

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This Ramadan, Muslim world can end gender apartheid in Afghanistan

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

The Taliban’s authority hinges on their purported adherence to Islamic law. However, that is based on a fundamentally flawed, selective and extreme interpretation of Islamic texts, meaning their policies are against their own stated principles, Dr Mohammad bin Abdulkarim Al Issa writes.

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Since the Taliban re-took power in Afghanistan in 2021, “women (have been) banned from gyms, public spaces, schools, university, and from most jobs.” They have marginalized Afghan women, hurting Afghan society in the process.

But now, a groundbreaking gathering last week reveals another uncomfortable truth for an already embattled government: the Taliban had little hope of engaging with the non-Islamic world. But they’re also fast losing confidence in the Muslim world, too.

Last week, during our most sacred month of Ramadan, and in our most sacred city of Mecca, we at the Muslim World League convened hundreds of the world’s leading Muslim scholars from all sects and denominations.

This historic gathering was a return to a venerable Muslim practice called ijma’ (consensus), and over two days, leaders representing the rich diversity of Islam took a defiant stand against sectarianism and condemned all practices that fail to represent true Islam.

This includes the Taliban’s ongoing mistreatment of women.

The Taliban’s estrangement keeps growing

The Taliban have long defended their gender restrictions like preventing women from accessing education, through Islam. 

However, hundreds of leading Islamic leaders forcefully rebutting such claims radically undermines their justifications, including the Taliban’s “inclusive Islamic Emirate”.

Our feelings towards the Taliban were clearly indicated in one of the articles of the Charter on Building Bridges Between the Islamic Schools of Thought and Sects, which underlined the importance of the family unit, access to education, and the protection of women’s rights.

In fact, all Islamic nations follow principles that the Taliban’s ideologies starkly deviate from. Contrary to the Taliban’s claims of facing opposition only from political figures, the reality is drastically different. 

The fact that senior Afghan scholars attended the conference in Mecca and opposed the Taliban’s stance highlights the group’s growing estrangement from mainstream Islamic teachings.

This is why the Taliban must realign with the broader principles of Islam to avoid further isolation as extremists within the Islamic community.

This acute gender apartheid is still apartheid. What they dismiss as malign Western constructs is actually deeply rooted in Islamic teachings, values, and history.

No one has the right to take away women’s right to learn

The Qur’an and hadith, the sayings and practices of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, make this clear. In the Qur’an, God describes human beings as rational, and nowhere in the Islamic tradition is the capacity for reason gendered. 

The Qur’an not only describes women as the religious equals of men, but men and women as partners and protectors for one another. Not only that, but the Qur’an condemns discrimination against women once rampant in Arabia.

One of the reasons the Qur’an calls on “believing men and believing women” is to make clear that men and women have the same fundamental moral standing, the same essential moral rights, and the same basic moral responsibilities. 

In fact, there is a well-known hadith in which the blessed Prophet Muhammad describes “seeking knowledge” as an obligation “for every Muslim,” which has always been taken to mean Muslim men and Muslim women.

Most intriguingly, the expression in Arabic, “talab al-‘ilm,” or “seeking knowledge,” is the root of the word Taliban. The origins of the movement’s name belie their own claims. 

Learning is a responsibility we owe to God, which means it is a right no government can abrogate. 

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And it is an argument no Muslim can easily overlook, which is why we sought this ijma’, or consensus, in Mecca, following a long Muslim practice of seeking unanimity on core questions.

The Taliban can’t dismiss our call

Throughout Islamic history, in fact, whenever we have faced new threats or the recurrence of religious distortions, Muslim scholars have come together to reaffirm our core commitments, even across our sectarian differences.

In Mecca, we followed that tradition once more. And the Taliban are no doubt paying attention.

While the West issues critiques of the Taliban’s excesses in a language unfamiliar to them, the Taliban cannot so easily dismiss our call. 

The sheer number and diversity of Muslim scholars, from different parts of the world and different perspectives within Islam, undermines the Taliban’s claim to authority. 

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For these Muslim scholars are declaring their unanimous commitment to the place of women in religious life, including the right to education, work, worship, and movement.

The Taliban’s authority hinges on their purported adherence to Islamic law. But in this instance, their adherence is based on a fundamentally flawed, selective and extreme interpretation of Islamic texts, meaning their policies are against their own stated principles. 

The collective declaration by scholars in Mecca underscores a commitment to reclaiming the essence of Islamic teachings — promoting a vision of Islam that champions the rights and dignity of all individuals, especially women, who have been disproportionately affected by the Taliban’s rule.

Aligning with Islamic principles would be true to our shared faith

This is as substantive a rebuke as possible. The Islamic Emirate is already isolated on the international stage, confronts neighbours like Pakistan, and now faces a lack of confidence from the Muslim world.

But it is not only a rebuke. For the interests of Afghanistan, and especially Afghan women, the Taliban should know we — the Muslim scholars from various global schools of thought and sects — are keen to work with them to align their policies with Islamic principles. 

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That would of course be in their interest. It would also be true to our shared faith.

The virtues we call for are not the property of the West nor restricted to any one part of the world. 

The values we are calling the Taliban to follow are not imitations of Western culture but come from our sacred texts and traditions. 

This is why we close with the first verse of the fourth chapter of the Qur’an, named simply, “Women,” which commands believers “to remember God, who created you from one soul, and from that soul a partner, and spread forth from those two many men and many women.”

Dr Mohammad bin Abdulkarim Al Issa is the Secretary General of the Muslim World League (MWL), the world’s largest Islamic NGO.

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View from Israel: ‘Gutteres wants Israel to lose, but he will fail’

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

Hamas understands that it can not win on the battlefield, so it tries to win in the court of global public opinion. Gutteres, unfortunately, appears to be the poster boy for these efforts, Middle East Forum Israel’s Nave Dromi writes.

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In 2017, shortly after becoming Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres said: “Israel needs to be treated like any other UN member state”.

It was a solid start for someone who promised equality for the one Jewish State. Even in his personal manifesto, released as part of the election process, 

Guterres specifically related to the need to eliminate antisemitism in one of the issues of his five-point plan toward the UN’s engagement in a culture of preventing crises.

Unfortunately, Gutteres’ real colours were demonstrated in the days after the massacre that took place on 7 October, when Hamas mass murder and rape squads infiltrated Israel to murder over 1,200 people, injure thousands and kidnap 250 Israelis and people of other nationalities, in the worst single day of bloodshed for the Jewish people since the end of the Holocaust.

Before the blood of Israelis was even dry, and weeks before a single boot of the Israel Defense Forces was in Gaza, Guterres could find little to no sympathy for the beleaguered Jewish State.

Loosened lips and real views on display

The UN Secretary-General said the mass murder “did not happen in a vacuum,” because Palestinians have been subjected to 56 years of “suffocating occupation”. He also said that he is “deeply concerned about clear violations of international humanitarian law that we are witnessing in Gaza.”

These are the types of expressions or reactions that Gutteres has not used on any other conflict on Earth. Even more startlingly, he was shocked when there was pushback from many Europeans and Americans over his remarks.

However, it appears these comments are not unique, they just received more attention than equally scurrilous remarks, seemingly justifying terrorism, he made in the past.

In June 2022, Guterres spoke at a conference of countries that donate to UNRWA. He said then: “Imagine yourself in this situation, imagine what you would feel and imagine what would happen when someone from ISIS came to you and said, ‘What are you doing, persevering in hope, why don’t you join us and try to do whatever you want’, you know, the things that happen more and more with terrorist organizations around the world.”

It is clear that now Gutteres is in his second and final term, and at the age of 74 with few political pretensions, his lips have been loosened and his real views are on display.

Why adopt Hamas’ lies?

Worse than his initial heartless comments, Gutteres appears to be on a mission to ensure that the State of Israel loses in its war against Hamas, a terrorist organization whose charter aspires to the genocide of Jews all over the world, and other Islamic Republic of Iran proxies.

Chapter VII, Article 51 of the United Nations Charter reads: “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations.”

Gutteres, in word and deed — ever since Israel started its war of self-defence against terrorists who say openly they would commit the 7 October massacre “again and again” — has tried to bar Israel from prosecuting the war successfully and defeating its enemies, in direct opposition to his own charter.

In the over six months since the attack, Israel has made impressive gains against Hamas and Islamic Jihad. It has already killed around 15,000 terrorists and is moving quickly towards their full defeat.

Even if we take the notoriously faked and unreliable numbers of the Hamas-run Health Ministry as fact, the ratio of combatant to civilian is around one-to-one. The international average is one combatant to nine civilians, so Israel is acting nine times better than any other nation at war in recent years.

These are the facts, but one would not know it from Gutteres and many of the bodies under his control, who systematically ignore Israel’s unprecedented warning system to civilians to leave arenas of conflict, and accept and adopt the Hamas lies that only civilians are targeted by the IDF.

Our collective better future is at stake

Gutteres has been quick to accept these lies even when they have been proven untrue, like the now infamous Al-Ahli hospital explosion which was initially blamed on Israel but was in fact caused by an errant Islamic Jihad missile aimed at Israeli civilians, the unfortunate deaths due to a stampede attacking humanitarian aid trucks and the accusations of mass rape of Palestinian women at Shifa Hospital. 

The latter was the result of one woman’s claims that she herself has now admitted were lies to gain international sympathy.

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Hamas understands that it can not win on the battlefield, so it tries to win in the media, in the court of global public opinion, and in international institutions where it can weaken Israel’s ability to win in its war against genocidal terrorism.

Gutteres, unfortunately, appears to be the poster boy for these efforts. He accepts every Hamas statistic, every Jihadi lie and clears the way for any attack against the Jewish State in the international forums under his control.

It is now clear that Gutteres used sympathy for Israel’s uniquely isolated position at the UN to gain his position and win over friends in Europe and the US, who pay a disproportionate amount of his organization’s budget. However, now he has no need for it; he has shown his only goal appears to be a defeated and weakened Israel.

Thankfully, this doesn’t appear to be working and Israel is on course for victory over terrorism, which can then be turned into peace, security and stability for the people of the region.

If Israel wins, the Palestinian people will be free of their authoritarian Islamist leaders, pragmatic Sunni states in the Middle East and beyond who have common cause with Israel against Iran will sign normalization agreements, and there will be historic peace in the region.

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This is the better future that is at stake in this war. It is one that Israel desperately seeks, and one the UN Secretary-General tries desperately to prevent.

Nave Dromi is the director of the Middle East Forum Israel office.

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Europe needs to embrace pragmatism to not lose the Global South

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

The EU and other like-minded allies must fully wake up from our previous unipolar dream — and stable world — and step forward as a credible key partner for the Global South in this turbulent decade, Radu Magdin writes.

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It’s an open secret that Western diplomacy is not having its best days in the Global South. 

When it came to the UN to condemn Russia in 2022, most countries that abstained were in the Global South — and very much in line with public opinion: polling at the time suggested only 45% of the public would have supported any overly bullish condemnation of Russia. 

Meanwhile, while only 5% of US citizens surveyed suggested that they see Russia as an ally, over 80% of Indians, 79% of Chinese and 69% of Turkish respondents described Russia either as an ally or partner.

If the unipolar moment is taken as point of reference, then some of this might very well be surprising. But the reality on the ground for most of the Global South (despite some contesting the term, will use it as the most general and inclusive for this article’s arguments) was always ambivalent. 

If this prompts a diplomatic awakening for Western diplomacy, the global commons might be better for it. Still, several aspects need to be understood first: promoting liberal democratic values is increasingly harder, money is not a dirty word and alliances based on temporary interest are to be accepted.

I want to buy the world a Coca-Cola

Since the 1970s and the midst of the Cold War, the US relied on building a public image based on a mix of social liberalism and a showcase of material prosperity: you get to have your cake and eat it too was the subtext of American diplomacy. 

To an extent, it was a master-stroke — of luck as well, as the Soviets were relying too much on ideology and having a non-competitive economic model. 

The Nixon administration positioned the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency and the US fully took up the mantle of the world’s trading empire from the UK. 

As trade networks spread across the world and incomes increased, that ideology became the first port of call to every person from the factory worker to the local intelligence officer everywhere, including the Soviet Union. 

As Jackson J Spielvogel said in Western Civilisation: “most Soviet citizens didn’t want democratic freedom, they wanted the freedom to shop till you drop”. 

In fact, that ideology became almost universal, to the extent that Francis Fukuyama’s proposition in the 1990s that it doesn’t have any rivals left was actually true. 

The advantage this gave Washington in foreign policy would be hard to quantify but when your product becomes the default, it’s a sign that your market position is rather strong: think Xerox or Kleenex in the 1990s.

That age is over. It didn’t end with the Twin Towers or other events when pundits felt obliged to grandiloquently declare that history is back — but with a whimper: a lot of Western citizens can’t shop till they drop, and everyone can duly see that. 

The West/North is no longer alone in global prosperity. There is a need for economic reinvention and renewed competitiveness, while other countries’ citizens exhibit global prosperity. 

In turn, that means that Western diplomats in general can no longer rely on entering each negotiating room as the default winners and need to engage with their foreign counterparts while truly accounting for their wants and needs, factional loyalties, and personal interests.

Time to change focus

The West should acknowledge what works (and what does not) in this new reality. 

Promises of golden futures in exchange for the golden strait-jackets of SWIFT, international FDI (aid to trade is more desired in the Global South, the question is how to get there faster) and IMF loans have been ringing hollow for over a decade. 

So, it should not be surprising that many abstaining countries are also those over which the US and the EU — as well as other Global North allies — have little real leverage. 

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In no small part that is because they never became as integrated in the global economy as assumed, and the world remains imbalanced while global competition increases, with Asia a bigger player at the global table, including for African and Latam futures.

As long as the promise of a nightcap was on the table, many countries in the Global South were willing to forgo other alternatives. 

Still, the reality is that Western policymakers will have to put forward genuine economic and financial goods that can either help foreign counterparts or represent something that could be sold to the general populace as worthy of re-election.

We’ll always have self-interests

Due to its cultural supremacy, the US has been able to rely on a grand strategy of soft power, beyond obvious hard power advantages. Europeans also counted on their soft power, while joining the Americans in virtue-signalling. 

But the plain reality is that we all also follow our own interests as well. And sometimes our interests include not only permanent alliances but also temporary ones. 

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In fact, short-term alliances based on matching interests should no longer be dismissed, especially at a time of great power competition.

It is time to accept that issues such as fentanyl trafficking or helping Ukraine will ultimately involve working with entities one is not comfortable with. In other words, the normalcy of pragmatism is needed to succeed. 

That is valid, including for global charm offensives, and here the Europeans have the advantage, in the EU framework, by exploring in the Global South the idea of lead countries, who due to their history have more soft power and affection on the ground than the average. 

For example, in recent months, Eastern European states such as Romania have adopted Africa strategies, and they can work closely with partners to help raise Western credibility on the continent.

Taking such core considerations on board can enable the US, the EU and other like-minded allies such as Japan and Australia to fully wake up from our previous unipolar dream — and stable world — and step forward as a credible key partner for the Global South in a turbulent decade. 

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Otherwise, we risk losing ground to global and regional challenges; losing face and competitiveness on a global stage; and losing, importantly, the trust of the youthful Global South whose next generation of leaders is looking actively at fast development options.  

Radu Magdin is CEO of Smartlink and former advisor to prime ministers of Romania (2014-2015) and Moldova (2016-2017).

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