The internal and much more external destruction of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s is celebrating in 2016 its 25th years of anniversary. The date of celebration is taken to be when Slovenia and Croatia formally announced its independence on June 25th, 1991. However, this historical and much more geopolitical event still needs a satisfactory research approach in regard to the true geopolitical reasons and political-military course of the destruction of this South Slavic and Balkan state.
During the last quarter of century, the (western) global mainstream media unanimously accused Serbia and the Serbs for the national chauvinism as the main cause of the bloody wars on the territory of ex-Yugoslavia in the 1990s. However, the role and direct impact of the other Yugoslav republics and nations in the process of killing the common state was not taken (purposely) into the consideration; especially of the Croats and Croatia as the biggest nation and republic after the Serbs and Serbia. This article is an attempt to contribute to the full-scale of understanding of the process of destruction of the former Yugoslavia taking into account a role of the Croats and Croatia. Thematically, the article is divided into two parts: Authoritarian militarization of Croatia, and Croatia’s territorial imperialism.
The Croat unltranationalists (i.e., the followers of the Ustashi movement) called in the 1990s for the full scale of Croatia’s militarization in order to achieve their chauvinistic and racist political goals of the Croat-based ethnically pure independent (a Greater) Croatia. In their opinion, a full or complete political independence of the ethnically pure Croatia within the borders of the Socialist Republic of (a Greater) Croatia could be reached only by the open war against Croatia’s Serbs and the Yugoslav authorities, but not negotiating with them. In this respect, a leader of the most ultranationalist political party in Croatia – the Croat Party of Rights (the HSP), Ante Djapic, was clear in his statements to abandon the political activity if a single part of the territory of Croatia is going to be lost by the negotiations with the Serbs. The WWII Ustashi movement followers openly advocated in the 1990s a full scale of the war against “the Serb aggressors” for the sake to gain Croatia’s independence. That was done at least for two crucial reasons:
1.They believe that a struggling for the Croat nation’s ethnopolitical goals was a legitimate framework of both a beating the Serb nationalism and fulfilling the Croat historical task of creation of the Greater Roman Catholic Croatia without the Orthodox infidels.
2.They sponsored the attitude that the Serbs cannot be trusted as a nation to negotiate with them about the peaceful agreement on the disputed issues with the Croatia’s Government and therefore the war was the only way to pacify the Serbs from Croatia according to the pattern of the pacification (i.e., the ethnic cleansing) of the Palestinians in Israel .
Henceforth, the “Israelization” of a Greater Croatia became the ultimate goal of the Croat ultranationalists in their policy to Croatia’s Serbs. In order to achieve their “Israelization” political goals, the Ustashi followers in the HDZ’s governed Croatia followed exactly the militarization pattern of the ethnic Croat society in the WWII Independent State of Croatia (the NDH). Therefore, the most ultranationalist Ustashi political party in the 1990s Croatia – the HSP, established its own ruthless paramilitary party’s militia in 1991 under the name of the Croat Defense Forces (the HOS) with using all kinds of the WWII Ustashi regime insignia followed by several similar militia detachments by other Croat ultranationalist organizations. The Croatian state army (the HV) was, nevertheless, during the 1990s under direct influence and control by the most extremist wing of the ruling the Croat Democratic Union (the HDZ) that successfully cooperated with the HOS and the other Croat paramilitaries in the West Herzegovina and the North and Central Bosnia in the military actions of ethnic cleansing of the Orthodox Serbs and the Muslim Bosniaks.
Administrative division of the Socialist Federal Republic of Croatia, 1945-1991
The eminent militarization of the ethnic Croat society in the 1990s was in direct coordination with the fundamental task of all Croatia’s Croat ultranationalists that all other rights and duties of the society have to be put in the service of the state interests. As all ultranationalist segments of the ethnic Croat society in Croatia fought for the independent pure ethnic Croat Croatia, the ultimate ethnopolitical goal of them was to mobilize all ethnic Croats for the execution of the “Final Solution” in regard to the “Serb Question” in a Greater Tito-Tudjman’s Croatia. Therefore, the authoritarian political system and government based on the absolute HDZ’s majority in the Parliament were necessary in order to achieve this goal. As an example, the experience of the Latin American dictatorships in the 1970s and the 1980s of a centralized political system, strong military-police forces, oppressed freedom of the mass-media, and above all a silent opposition were activated. A parliamentary multi-party democracy became just a façade of a classical Latin American dictatorship as a western parliamentary democracy was understood as a harmful experiment for the realization of the Croat ethnopolitical goals primarily against the Serbs.
The alternative to the parliamentary democracy was only a one-party’s dictatorship that could save Croat national interests from the destructive nature of the parliamentarianism. Subsequently, in the 1990s it was established in Croatia a HDZ’s one-party political system with strong cult of leadership of the President Dr. Franjo Tudjman, who was seen in the eyes of the right-wing political structures as a political reincarnation of the WWII NDH’s führer, Ante Pavelic. Tudjman, as an inviolable dictator of Croatia, was even proclaimed by some of the HDZ’s members and other right-wing followers as a “Father of the Homeland” like by Hrvoje Shoshic who was a leader of the Croat Party (the HS) and a MP. In essence, the Croat extremists only declaratively supported liberal democratic institutions while in the practice rejected them as the political framework within which the national goals are going to be reached. However, a formal support for the liberal democracy and its political institutions were of the very practical nature to present a newly independent Croatia as a western-type democratic political system in contrast to Miloshevic’s Serbia as an expression of the Balkan/Oriental autocracy. Hence, the HDZ’s Croatia pretended to present herself as a last bulwark of the European civilization and values in the South-East Europe. Nevertheless, in the practice, the HDZ functioned in all ways that undermined a real democracy even to a greater extent than Miloshevic’s regime in Serbia at the same time. The extremist wing within the HDZ, including and Tudjman himself, openly used all kind of mechanisms of political opression against the opossition that was proclaimed as the enemy of the Croat nation and Croatia and collaborators with the „Serbo-Chetnik aggressors“. As in many cases of personal dictatorship, Tudjman as well saw himself as a personalization of the state and state institutions. In the other words, he attempted to equating his own personality with the survival of Croatia. As the oposition leaders and party’s members have been constantly under the physical intimidation as the „betrayers“ of Croatia it was created very inhospitable political atmosphere for any sincere democratic talks and exchange of the views. Surely, Tudjman’s regime in Croatia was much more effective in silencing its own opossition than Miloshevic’s regime in Serbia. It is visible at least from the fact that in Tudjman’s Croatia there was no single mass-meeting of the oposition against the regime differently to Serbia under Miloshevic’s strong hands. The latter finally and lost power exactly after the mass-protests in Belgrade on October 5th, 2000 (the first „Colored Revolution“ in Europe).
Tudjman’s authoritarian dictatorship was especially hostile towards the opposition press that was considered as a fifth column in Croatia. The opposition journalists were accused for irresponsible (miss)usage of their freedom of expression. As a metter of fighting against the opposision press, it was introduced a special (illlegal) taxation of independent weekles but primarily of the most anti-regime’s newspaper – the Feral Tribune from Split. During the election campaignes, the opposition parties were denied equal and full access to the state-controlled press and TV, likewise in Serbia, and therefore violating one of the fundamental elements and conditions of the parliamentary democracy. Hence, the electoral results theoretically were not fair what does not mean that a majority of the ethnic Croats from Croatia would not vote for the HDZ in the case of fair electoral campaign. Similarly to all totalitarian regimes, the HDZ’s controlled Parliament (Sabor) passed a special law (in the spring 1996) for „defamation“ against the state officials. However, such or similar law did not exist in Miloshevic’s Serbia. Tudjman’s personal efforts to make stronger his own political (authoritarian) position in Croatia at any cost of liberal democratic institutions are obvious and very similar to his counterpart in Serbia in the 1990s with one difference: Tudjman was more successful in destroying liberal democracy in Croatia in comparison to Miloshevic’s efforts to do the same in Serbia.
For the HDZ’s political leadership, „without Franjo Tudjman there would be no HDZ and without the HDZ there would be no Croatia“. It is clear that Tudjman’s party attempted to equating itself with the creation and survival of the post-Yugoslav Croatia while Tudjman himself attempted to personalize the institution of the presidency. Any opposition to himself or his political party were seen as the opposition to Croatia as the stare and the Croats as the nation that is probably mostly visible from the fact that Tudjman as a President of Croatia refused to ratify electoral results for the Zagreb municipality’s mayor in 1995 as the opposition leader won under the excuse that Croatia’s capital cannot be in the hands of the enemies of Croatia.
As a part of anti-liberal policy, the liberal-democratic notion of the citizenship was crucially challanged by the HDZ’s rulling authority as the voting rights for the state and the other public officials became based on the ethnic (Croat) background rather than on the residence criteria. Therefore, it was practically reserved twelve seats in Croatia’s Parliament for the ethic Croat diaspora for the very reason that the HDZ was and is traditionally supported by the Croat diaspora especially from Bosnia-Herzegovina. The citizenship law was also changed in the favor of the ethnic Croat diaspora as Croatia was proclaimed as the motherland of all ethnic Croats. However, a similar ethnocitizenship/voting law in Miloshevic’s Serbia was never introduced at least for the very political reason that the Serb diaspora in the West opposed his policy as anti-Serbian. In the other words, Miloshevic’s Serbia was seen, by the Constitution, as a homeland of all her inhabitants, rather than only of all ethic Serbs wherever they live.
Probably, the HDZ’s deny of any kind of the regional autonomy in Croatia was the expression of the policy of anti-liberal democracy concept of minority rights. Therefore, the regional parties of Istria, the Serbian Krayina and Dalmatia suffered mostly from such policy of a brutal centralization of Croatia. However, in Miloshevic’s Serbia, two regions of Vojvodina and Kosovo-Metochia enjoyed at least ethnocultural regional autonomy if not political one as it was fixed in the time of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia according to the 1974 Constitution (up to 1989).
The fact was that all ultranationalist parties and organizations in the 1990s struggled for creation of a Greater Croatia according to the principle of the ethnographic, historical and even natural rights. In all of those concepts, Bosnia-Herzegovina was seen as an integral part of the united Croatia. There were, in principle, two concepts of the united Croatia:
1.A minimal concept of Croatia within the borders of the Banovina Hrvatska as it was in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1939−1941 (when a Greater Croatia as a separate and autonomous administrative territory became a state within a state).
2.A maximal concept of Croatia within the borders of the WWII NDH in 1941−1945 that included all Bosnia-Herzegovina and parts of Serbia inhabited by 6, 663, 157 citizens of whom 1/3 were the Orthodox Serbs.
The cardinal point of the question of Croatia’s state borders involves Bosnia-Herzegovina as an indivisible part of any kind of the “natural Croatia”. All existed differences between the Croats and Bosnian-Herzegovinian Muslims were considered as artificial and created by the Yugoslav authorities. The Muslims in Bosnia-Herzegovina were considered in essence as the “purest Croats” according to the WWII Ustashi ideological pattern. In general, for the Croat politicians, academicians and public workers, the Drina River was a demarcation line between the civilization and the barbarianism, or between Europe and the Orient. The Serbs were considered as the proponents of the Byzantine-Ottoman Oriental anti-European culture, while the Croats and Slovenes were saw as the last bulwarks of the European civilization in front of the Oriental primitivism. For all Croat nationalists, the Drina River was and is the border that the Serbs must not be allowed to cross as well the border of the “natural Croatia”. In some conceptions of the ultra-territorial enlargement of Croatia, the territory of Serbia had to be restricted to the area around Belgrade only. Nevertheless, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia were considered as the same land and the people from both of them as of the same blood which consist the same nation. Therefore, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina have to be united into a single national state of the ethnic Croats. Croatia’s unification with Bosnia-Herzegovina was explained by ethnic, historical economic and even civilizational reasons as the historic mission of the Croat nation was seen to defend Europe from the Oriental despotism, i.e. from Serbia and the Serbs.
It is known and proved that Tudjman had a set of secret negotiations with Miloshevic to divide Bosnia-Herzegovina between Serbia and Croatia. Hence, the Dayton Accords on November 21st, 1995 on the final division of Bosnia-Herzegovina according to the mathematical formula of 51/49 percent can be seen as a practical implementation of their secret agreement sponsored by the U.S. administration of Bill Clinton. A creation of an ethnically pure Croat portion of Bosnia-Herzegovina was a part of this Tudjman-Miloshevic’s deal and in order to achieve this goal the Croats practiced in 1993−1994 the policy of ethnic cleansing of the West Herzegovina and a part of the Central Bosnia within the territory of the Croat-proclaimed Herzeg-Bosnia with the capital in Mostar on the Neretva River. The Croat-Muslim civil war in Bosnia-Herzegovina was halted in the spring of 1994 just due to the U.S. ultimatum to Zagreb: in order to liquidate the Republic of Serbian Krayina and to reintegrate it into Croatia the Croats had to unite their military forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina against the Serbs. Therefore, it was agreed in March 1994 a creation of the Croat-Muslim federation in Bosnia-Herzegovina that was advocated by Washington (the Washington Framework Agreement). In practice, even today, the Croat controlled part of Bosnia-Herzegovina is not under a virtual administration by the central authorities of Bosnia-Herzegovina in Sarajevo similar to the case of the Republic of Srpska. Nevertheless, Tudjman’s policy of the division of Bosnia-Herzegovina with the Serbs was opposed by all kinds of the Ustashi groups either in Croatia or Bosnia-Herzegovina as for them a whole territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina was indivisible part of a Greater Croatia as a national state of all ethnic Croats including and the Bosnian-Herzegovinian Muslims who were ideologically considered as the ethnohistorical Croats as well. The Ustashi organizations and parties advocated a common Croat-Muslim combat against the Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina but only after the creation of ethnically pure Croat Herzeg-Bosnia. In principle, they opposed the Dayton Accords as, in their opinion, they gave to Serbia a real possibility to cross the Drina River.
In conclusion, Tudjman’s authoritarian regime in Croatia and the territorial expansionist policy of the HDZ’s ruling party during the bloody destruction of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s were not noticed at all by the western politicians and journalists of the global mass-media who, in contrast, accused “dictator”-President of Serbia Slobodan Miloshevic (a “Balkan butcher”) for the policy of creation of a Greater Serbia, Serbia’s aggression on Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina and for the practice of ethnic cleansing. However, Franjo Tudjman in Croatia introduced tougher dictatorship than Miloshevic with intention to establish ethnically pure a Greater Croatia within the ethno-historical borders of the Croat nation as proclaimed by the ultranationalist Croat ideologists in the 19th and the 20th century.
From Davos to Munich
An overview of the views and attitudes of European officials during the Davos and Munich Conference and their comparison with each other suggests that the security, economic, and political concerns of European countries have not only not diminished but are increasing.
During the World Economic Summit in Davos, the Chancellor of Germany and the President of France both gave a significant warning about the return of nationalism and populism to Europe. This warning has been sent in a time when Far-Right movements in Europe have been able to gain unbelievable power and even seek to conquer a majority of parliaments and form governments.
In her speech, Angela Merkel emphasized that the twentieth century’s mistake shouldn’t be repeated. By this, the German Chancellor meant the tendency of European countries to nationalism. Although the German Chancellor warning was serious and necessary, the warning seems to be a little late. Perhaps it would have been better if the warning was forwarded after the European Parliamentary elections in 2014, and subsequently, more practical and deterrent measures were designed. However, Merkel and other European leaders ignored the representation of over a hundred right-wing extremist in the European Parliament in 2014 and merely saw it as a kind of social excitement.
This social excitement has now become a “political demand” in the West. The dissatisfaction of European citizens with their governments has caused them to explicitly demand the return to the twentieth century and the time before the formation of the United Europe. The recent victories of right wing extremists in Austria, Germany and…, isn’t merely the result of the nationalist movement success in introducing its principles and manifestos. But it is also a result of the failure of the “European moderation” policy to resolve social, security and economic problems in the Eurozone and the European Union. In such a situation, European citizens find that the solutions offered by the moderate left parties didn’t work in removing the existing crises in Europe. Obviously, in this situation “crossing the traditional parties” would become a general demand in the West. Under such circumstances, Merkel’s and other European leaders’ warnings about the return to the twentieth century and the time before the formation of the United Europe simply means the inability of the Eurozone authorities in preventing the Right-extremism in the West.
These concerns remain at the Munich Security Conference. As Reuters reported, The defense ministers of Germany and France pledged to redouble their military and foreign policy cooperation efforts on Friday, inviting other European countries to participate if they felt ready to do so.
In a speech to the Munich Security Conference, German defense minister Ursula von der Leyen said Europe’s countries would not be able to respond nimbly enough to global challenges if they were stymied by the need to decide joint foreign policy approaches unanimously.
“Europe has to up its pace in the face of global challenges from terrorism, poverty and climate change,” she said. “Those who want to must be able to advance without being blocked by individual countries.”
Her French counterpart Florence Parly said any such deepened cooperation would be complementary to the NATO alliance, which itself was based on the principle that members contributed differently depending on their capacities.
“The reality has always been that some countries are by choice more integrated and more able to act than others,” she said.
The push comes as Germany’s political class reluctantly concedes it must play a larger security role to match its economic pre-eminence in Europe, amid concerns that the European Union is unable to respond effectively to security concerns beyond its eastern and southern borders.
But in their deal for another four years of a “grand coalition” government, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and the Social Democrats have agreed to boost spending on the armed forces after years of post-Cold War decline.
The deal, which must still be ratified by the Social Democrat membership, comes as Germany reluctantly takes on the role of the continent’s pre-eminent political power-broker, a role generations of post-war politicians have shied away from.
Days after U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis reiterated President Donald Trump’s demand that European countries spend more on their militaries, Von der Leyen pledged to spend more on its military and the United Nations, but called in return for other countries not to turn away from mulitlateralism.
The pledges come as the EU seeks a new basis on which to cooperate with Britain, traditionally one of the continent’s leading security players, after its vote to leave the EU.
Earlier on Friday, the leaders of the three countries’ security services said close security cooperation in areas like terrorism, illegal migration, proliferation and cyber attacks, must continue after Britain’s departure.
“Cooperation between European intelligence agencies combined with the values of liberal democracy is indispensable, especially against a background of diverse foreign and security challenges,” they said.
First published in our partner Tehran Times
Election Monitoring in 2018: What Not to Expect
This year’s election calendar released by OSCE showcases a broad display of future presidential, parliamentary and general elections with hefty political subjecthoods which have the potential of transforming in their entirety particularly the European Union, the African Union and the Latin American sub-continent. A wide sample of these countries welcoming elections are currently facing a breadth of challenges in terms of the level of transparency in their election processes. To this end, election observation campaigns conducted by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the Council of Europe, the Organisation for American States (OAS), the United Nations Electoral Assistance Division, the National Democratic Institute, Carter Center and even youth organisations such as AEGEE and Silba are of paramount importance in safeguarding the incorruptibility of election proceedings in fraudulent and what cannot be seen with the naked eye type of fraudulent political systems, making sure elections unfold abiding national legislation and international standards.
What exactly does an election observation mission supposed to accomplish?
An election monitoring mission consists of operational experts and analysts who are all part of a core team and are conducting their assignments for a period of time varying between 8 and 12 weeks. Aside from the core team experts and analysts, there can be short-term or long-term observers and seconded observers or funded observers. Joining them, there is usually a massive local support staff acting as interpreters and intermediaries. Generally, an election observer does not interfere with the process, but merely takes informative notes. With this in mind, it is imperative of the observer to make sure there isn’t any meddling with votes at polling stations by parties and individual candidates; that the people facilitating the election process are picked according to fair and rigorous benchmarks; that these same people can be held accountable for the final results and that, at the end of the day, the election system put in place by the national and local authorities is solid from both a physical and logical standpoint. Oftentimes, particularly in emerging democracies, the election monitoring process goes beyond the actual process of voting by extending to campaign monitoring.
In practical terms, the average election observer needs to abide by certain guidelines for a smooth and standardised monitoring process. Of course, these rules can vary slightly, depending on the sending institution. Typically, once the election observer has landed in the country awaiting elections, their first two days are normally filled with seminars on the electoral system of the country and on the electoral law. Meetings with candidates from the opposition are sometimes organised by the electoral commission. Talking to ordinary voters from builders to cleaners, from artists to businesspeople is another way through which an election observer can get a sense of what social classes pledged their allegiances to what candidates. After two days in training and the one day testing political preferences on the ground, election day begins. Since the early bird gets the worm, polling stations open at least two hours earlier than the work day starts, at around 7am. Throughout the day, observers ask voters whether they feel they need to complain about anything and whether they were asked to identify themselves when voting. Other details such as the polling stations opening on time are very much within the scope of investigation for election monitors. Observers visit both urban voting centres and rural ones. In the afternoon, counting begins with observers carefully watching the volunteers from at least 3 metres away. At the end of the day, observers go back to their hotels and begin filling in their initial questionnaires with their immediate reactions on the whole voting process. In a few weeks time, a detailed report would be issued in cooperation with all the other election observers deployed in various regions of the country and under the supervision of the mission coordinators.
Why are these upcoming elections particularly challenging to monitor?
Talks of potential Russian interference into the U.S. elections have led to full-on FBI investigations. Moreover, the idea of Russian interference in the Brexit vote is slowly creeping into the British political discourse. Therefore, it does not take a quantum physicist to see a pattern here. Hacking the voting mechanism is yet another not-so-classic conundrum election observers are facing. We’re in the midst of election hacking at the cognitive level in the form of influence operations, doxing and propaganda. But, even more disturbingly, we’re helpless witnesses to interference at the technical level as well. Removing opposition’s website from the Internet through DDOS attacks to downright political web-hacking in Ukraine’s Central Election Commission to show as winner a far-right candidate are only some of the ways which present an unprecedented political savviness and sophistication directed at the tampering of the election machinery. Even in a country such as the U.S. (or Sweden – their elections being held September of this year) where there is a great deal of control over the physical vote, there is not much election monitoring can do to enhance the transparency of it all when interference occurs by way of the cyber domain affecting palpable election-related infrastructure.
Sketching ideational terrains seems like a fruitful exercise in imagining worst-case scenarios which call for the design of a comprehensive pre-emptive approach for election fraud. But how do you prevent election fraud? Sometimes, the election observer needs to come to terms with the fact that they are merely a reporter, a pawn which notwithstanding the action of finding oneself in the middle of it all, can generally use only its hindsight perspective. Sometimes, that perspective is good enough when employed to draft comprehensive electoral reports, making a difference between the blurry lines of legitimate and illegitimate political and electoral systems.
Can Europe successfully rein in Big Tobacco?
In what looks set to become the ‘dieselgate’ of the tobacco industry, a French anti-smoking organization has filed a lawsuit against four major tobacco brands for knowingly selling cigarettes with tar and nicotine levels that were between 2 and 10 times higher than what was indicated on the packs. Because the firms had manipulated the testing process, smokers who thought they were smoking a pack a day were in fact lighting up the equivalent of up to 10, significantly raising their risk for lung cancer and other diseases.
According to the National Committee Against Smoking (CNCT), cigarettes sold by the four companies have small holes in the filter that ventilate smoke inhaled under test conditions. But when smoked by a person, the holes compress due to pressure from the lips and fingers, causing the smoker to inhale higher levels of tar and nicotine. According to the lawsuit, the irregularity “tricks smokers because they are unaware of the degree of risk they are taking.”
It was only the most recent example of what appears to be a deeply entrenched propensity for malfeasance in the tobacco industry. And unfortunately, regulatory authorities across Europe still appear unprepared to just say no to big tobacco.
Earlier this month, for instance, Public Health England published a report which shines a positive light on “tobacco heating products” and indicates that electronic cigarettes pose minimal health risks. Unsurprisingly, the UK report has been welcomed by big tobacco, with British American Tobacco praising the clear-sightedness of Public Health England.
Meanwhile, on an EU-wide level, lawmakers are cooperating too closely for comfort with tobacco industry executives in their efforts to craft new cigarette tracking rules for the bloc.
The new rules are part of a campaign to clamp down on tobacco smuggling, a problem that is particularly insidious in Europe and is often attributed to the tobacco industry’s own efforts to stiff the taxman. According to the WHO, the illicit cigarette market makes up between 6-10% of the total market, and Europe ranks first worldwide in terms of the number of seized cigarettes. According to studies, tobacco smuggling is also estimated to cost national and EU budgets more than €10 billion each year in lost public revenue and is a significant source of cash for organized crime. Not surprisingly, cheap availability of illegally traded cigarettes is also a major cause of persistently high smoking rates in the bloc.
To help curtail cigarette smuggling and set best practices in the fight against the tobacco epidemic, the WHO established the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2005. The first protocol to the FCTC, the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products, was adopted in 2012 and later ratified by the EU. Among other criteria, the Protocol requires all cigarette packs to be marked with unique identifiers to ensure they can be tracked and traced, thereby making smuggling more difficult.
Unsurprisingly, the tobacco industry has come up with its own candidates to meet track and trace requirements, notably Codentify, a system developed by PMI. From 2005 through 2016, PMI used Codentify as part of an anti-smuggling agreement with the EU. But the agreement was subject to withering criticism from the WHO and other stakeholders for going against the Protocol, which requires the EU and other parties to exclude the tobacco industry from participating in anti-smuggling efforts.
The EU-PMI agreement expired in 2016 and any hopes of reviving it collapsed after the European Parliament, at loggerheads with the Commission, overwhelmingly voted against a new deal and decided to ratify the WHO’s Protocol instead. Codentify has since been sold to the French firm Impala and was rebranded as Inexto – which critics say is nothing but a front company for PMI since its leadership is made out of former PMI executives. Nonetheless, due to lack of stringency in the EU’s draft track and trace proposal, there is still a chance that Inexto may play a role in any new track and trace system, sidelining efforts to set up a system that is completely independent of the tobacco industry.
This could end up by seriously derailing the EU’s efforts to curb tobacco smuggling, given the industry’s history of active involvement in covertly propping up the black market for cigarettes. In 2004, PMI paid $1.25 billion to the EU to settle claims that it was complicit in tobacco smuggling. As part of the settlement, PMI agreed to issue an annual report about tobacco smuggling in the EU, a report that independent researchers found “served the interests of PMI over those of the EU and its member states.”
Given the industry’s sordid history of efforts to prop up the illicit tobacco trade, it’s little surprise that critics are still dissatisfied with the current version of the EU’s track and trace proposal.
Now, the CNCT’s lawsuit against four major tobacco firms gives all the more reason to take a harder line against the industry. After all, if big tobacco can’t even be honest with authorities about the real levels of chemicals in their own products, what makes lawmakers think that they can play a viable role in any effort to quell the illegal cigarette trade – one that directly benefits the industry?
Later this month, the European Parliament will have a new chance to show they’re ready to get tough on tobacco, when they vote on the pending proposal for an EU-wide track and trace system. French MEP Younous Omarjee has already filed a motion against the system due to its incompatibility with the letter of the WHO. Perhaps a ‘dieselgate’ for the tobacco industry might be just the catalyst they need to finally say no to PMI and its co-conspirators.
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