I still remember when in the sixties and seventies the term “extra-communitarian” was banded about in the European political discourse. It designated all those who were non EU citizens.
It sounded strange to my ears. I would ask: does that mean that communitarian life, or the life characterized by solidarity, is the privilege of only those who form a community or a union, and everybody else is to be excluded? The answer to such a question I would usually get from EU citizens to whom I posed it, was more or less this: belonging to a political community does not mean that others who don’t belong to it lose their human and civil rights. Those are inalienable and belong to every human being. We would always tread humanely anybody who lands in the EU, legally, or even illegally.
I still was not completely satisfied with that answer: somehow that term “extra”, at least to my mind, still implied exclusion of some kind. Fifty or so years later I can declare with little equivocation that my hunch was right: extra-communitarian ultimately designated somebody who does not possess the human rights that those who belong to the Community (the EU) possess. It is the polity who proclaims them which grants them or withholds them. That was the Roman understanding of rights but it is not the Christian understanding. If anybody doubts this assertion, empirical evidence is now plentiful and available in the daily newspapers and TV News Broadcasts of every EU countries, as we speak.
I have written at length on this conundrum of human rights, its universalism and its pluralism, but perhaps it is now time to revisit the issue in light of the unfolding catastrophe in EU. Let’s begin with a brief historical survey. Beyond the judgment against the inhumane barbarism of Nazism, that triggered the United Nations’ Declaration on Human Rights, the great struggles facing issues of human rights and pluralism of post 1945 Europe and the West in general have had to do with racial justice, the rising parallel movements of equal rights for women, and the worldwide movements for de-colonization. The question however remains: are human rights in any sense universal, especially in view of the fact of a universally accepted, almost taken-for-granted modern pluralism?
To be sure, many people think about globalization only in economic terms. But this narrow understanding of our present situation, as if the economic challenges where not themselves largely a function of educational, technological, legal, communication, and, indeed, moral and spiritual developments, blinds us to one of the most difficult problems of universalistic principles in the face of pluralism, the conflict of values, of definitions of what is human and what is right as held by the world religions. The rights of so many people continue to be savagely violated in so many places, even in the very places who proclaim them, and the exigencies of earlier battles against domination by colonized peoples and now against threats of terrorism in many countries seem to justify the use of means that threaten the rights of groups and persons in ways that are more than “collateral damage.” For those who seek to defend civil rights and liberties and see them as a way to love their neighbors near and far, the potential erosion of the legal protections of civil rights and liberties is a matter of immediate and pressing practical concern.
This is caused by the denial that there are in fact inalienable human rights that stand beyond and above civil rights, which are granted by a state and thus can be withdrawn by civil authority. It makes human rights a function of state policy not a matter of universal principle. The world, after all, has known that murder is wrong for many centuries, and every people has laws against it. People know that murders occur, with very few “justifiable homicides.” But they also know that the empirical fact that things happen does not negate the normative principles by which we judge them. Today, the threat to human rights is deeper than their sometimes violation; it is a profound intellectual and spiritual problem, for many today doubt that we can have or defend any trans-empirical principles to judge empirical life. And that is the crux of the issue: human rights ideas were formulated historically by those branches of the biblically-based traditions, especially Jewish and Christian.
Those who doubt the validity of human rights do so on the ground that there neither is nor can there be a universalistic moral theology, master narrative, or jus naturale to support the idea. That, of course, is a universalistic claim in itself, ironically pressing toward universal moral relativism. Thus, they see “the West’s” pressure to affirm human rights as rooted in a positive jus civile of a particular civilization or (in some versions) in the philosophical or religious “values” of distinct traditions or historical periods of thought. The fact of the diversity of religions and cultures is taken as an argument for a relativism in normative morality. Thus, human rights are seen as a matter of socio-historical context. In this situation, to insist that all people be judged according to principles of human rights is seen as an act of cultural imperialism. In addition, some argue that such “values” are altogether too individualistic, and that since abstract individuals do not exist, only concrete persons-in-relationship do, we need an ethic based essentially in the particularities of specific community-embedded practices and duties.
To date, governmental claims that culture justifies deviating from human rights standards have been made exclusively by states that have demonstrably bad human rights records. State invocations of “culture” and “cultural relativism” seem to be little more than cynical pretexts for rationalizing human rights abuses that particular states would in any case commit. Yet these critics have one valid point that fuels their argument. They are partially correct insofar as they know that abstract principles and abstracted autonomous conceptions of human nature do not and cannot supply a full ethic for humanity or provide the general theory to guide a just and peaceful civil society in a global era. They also know that particular kinds of ethical obligations, rooted in specific traditions of duty, are authentic aspects of morality and identity and that the most significant of these are rooted in commitments that have become joined to religious loyalties, and that something precious would be lost or betrayed if these were denied.
In fact, most ethical issues, including those of human rights, require a synthetic judgment, one in which we must join normative first principles to the concrete matrices of experience by which we know events and read the existing ethos of our lives – that concrete network of events, traditions, relationships, commitments and specific blends of connectedness and alienation which shape the “values” of daily experience and our senses of obligation. It is not a case of “either or” but one of “both and.” The classic traditions of case-study, as well as the modern strictures of court procedure, exemplify this joining: they require both a finding of law, which involves the critical reflection on juristic first principles behind the law, and a finding of “fact,” which requires reliance on the experience-gained wisdom, often having to argue before a jury of peers. Moreover, they require an anticipatory assessment of the various consequences of various courses of action implied by a judgment about the interaction of principle and fact.
Indeed, it is theologically paradigmatic that following the accounts of the Decalogue in both Exodus and Deuteronomy, surely prime example of universalistic abstract principles, the next several chapters are repositories of the casuistic results of the blending of the implications of those principles with the situations that people experienced concretely in their ethos. That joining rendered judgments that are held to contribute to the well-being of the common life and to the development of a morally righteous people. Similarly, much in the prophetic tradition makes the case against the infidelities of the people and/or the people in power by identifying the enduring principles in the covenants of old, the experience of social history in the present, and the prospects for a bleak, or a redeemed, future according to human deserts and divine mercy.
And, for Christians specifically, to deny that any absolute universal can be connected to the realities of concrete historical experience in ways that lead to a redeemed future, is in fact a denial of the deepest insight of their faith: that Christ was both fully God and fully human, and that his life both fulfilled the commands of God, was concretely lived in the midst of a specific ethos, and nevertheless pointed to an ultimate future that we could not otherwise obtain. This should be our first lesson in understanding the bases of human rights. They foster specific kinds of pluralism first of all because theologically-based moral judgments are, in principle, demanding of a universalistic reference point, but are simultaneously pluralistic in their internal structure.
It is hard not to arrive at the conclusion that the affirmation of such “universal absolutes” as those stated in the Ten Commandments and less perfectly embodied in human rights provisions of our historic constitutions and such documents as the United Nations Declaration are compatible with, and in fact seen most profoundly by, certain strands of the deeper theological heritage; and that moreover without the impetus of theological insight, human rights concepts would not have come to their current widespread recognition, and that they are likely to fade over time if they are not anchored in a universal, context-transcending metaphysical reality.
Without knowing what the race, gender, nationality, cultural background, social location, political preferences, character, or network of friends of a person are, we must say, abstractly, “some things ought never to be done to them;” and if persons, to live and sustain some shred of dignity in the midst of some one or other of such situations need help, “some things ought to be done for them,” which implies that other people and institutions must limit their powers with regard to persons, and not to define the whole of the meaning of a person by the communities, traditions, and habits in which they are embedded. This means also that, in some ways, a profound individualism, in the sense of the moral inviolability of each person, in contrast only to communitarian regard, is required.
Christians and many Jews hold this view because they believe that each person is made in the “image of God.” That is, they have some residual capacity to reason, to will, and to love that is given to us as an endowment that we did not achieve by our own efforts. And while every one of these areas of human life is at least imperfect, often distorted by sin, obscured by false desires or corrupted by exterior influences in sinful circumstances, the dignity conferred on us by the gift of the “imago” demands both a personal regard for each person, and a constant drive to form and sustain those socio-political arrangements that protect the relative capacities to reason, to chose, to love that are given with this gift.
Moreover, Christians hold that each person is called into particular networks of relationships in which they may exercise these capacities and to order these networks with justice, as God guides us to be just and loving agents in the world. We believe that in Christ, we learn how God wants us to re-order the institutions of the common life – sacramentally, or as others say, covenantally – that are necessary to preserve humanity, and how to make them and ourselves more nearly approximate to the redemptive purposes God has for the world. Those Christians who know the history of the development of the social and ethical implications of their faith, believe that the historical and normative defense of human rights derives from precisely these roots and that this particular tradition has, in principle, in spite of many betrayals of it by Christians, disclosed to humanity something universally valid with regard to human nature and the necessities of just social existence.
The implication of this tradition for pluralism and human rights is signaled by the direct mention of the term “church.” The formation of the Christian church, anticipated in certain sociological ways, of course, in the older traditions of the synagogues and, to a degree, in the ancient Mediterranean mystery cults, was a decisive influence in the formation of pluralistic democracy and in the generation of civil society with legal protection of the rights of free association. One of the greatest revolutions in the history of humanity was the formation of institutions differentiated from both familial, tribal and ethnic identity on one hand and from political authority (as under the Caesars, Kaisers, and Czars of history), as happened in early Christianity by slowly making the claim stick that the church was the Body of Christ with an inviolable, divine sovereignty of its own.
Historically, no society has ever existed without a religion at its center and no complex civilization capable of including many peoples and sub-cultures within it has endured without a profound and subtle religiously oriented philosophy or theology at its core. The present world-wide rhetoric and legal agenda of human rights, with its several “generations” of rights is deeply grounded in a highly refined critical appropriation of the Biblical traditions; but many of the current activists on behalf of human rights have little place for religion or theology in their conception of what they advocate. Can it endure without attention to its origins? I for one doubt it. Jefferson would have been the first to honestly admit that he did not invent the concept of inalienable right, that it was already imbedded in the Judeo-Christian ethos, and that it condemned him or any institution or state too in as much as they tolerate the holding of slaves.
Thus our task is to identify where, in the depths of all these traditions, that residual capacity to recognize and further refine the truth and justice of human rights insights lies, for this is necessary in order to overcome what, otherwise, is likely to become a “clash of civilizations.” As I see it, the real tragedy what is currently going on in the EU regarding the refugee crisis, is that the EU has in its possession the tools for resolving it: those tools are the intellectual-spiritual ideals of its founding fathers which were and remain founded on the Judeo-Christian patrimony based on respect, even reverence for universal human rights. I dare say that even the ideals of the French Revolution ultimately are derivative from the Judeo-Christian tradition. In any case those ideals remain abstract based on a brotherhood devoid of Fatherhood. On the other hand, the Christian inalienable universal human rights are based on brotherhood and a necessary Fatherhood, with no “extra” envisioned either on the side of privilege or on the side of exclusion. There are no extras in the eyes of God. Europa, nosce te ipsum!
Author’s note: this note has also recently appeared in Ovi magazine.
EU-Japan Summit: A landmark moment for trade and cooperation
The 25th EU-Japan Summit took place on 17 July in Tokyo. At the summit, leaders signed two landmark agreements, the Strategic Partnership Agreement and the Economic Partnership Agreement, which will significantly boost bilateral relations.
Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission and Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, represented the European Union at the Summit. Japan was represented by its Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe. The European Commission Vice-President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness, Jyrki Katainen also participated. EU Leaders offered their condolences to the people of Japan following the floods and landslides in Western Japan, and offered their support to Prime Minister to help in any way.
“Today is a historic moment in our enduring partnership”, said President Jean-Claude Juncker. “Today’s signature of the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement is a landmark moment for global trade, and I am also delighted that we have signed the first ever Strategic Partnership Agreement, which takes our cooperation to the next level. The impact of the Economic Partnership Agreement goes far beyond our shores. Together, we are making a statement about the future of free and fair trade. We are showing that we are stronger and better off when we work together and we are leading by example, showing that trade is about more than tariffs and barriers. It is about values, principles and finding win-win solutions for all. As far as we are concerned, there is no protection in protectionism – and there cannot be unity where there is unilateralism.”
For open, fair and win-win trade
The Economic Partnership Agreement between the EU and Japan is the biggest ever negotiated by the European Union. It creates an open trade zone covering over 600 million people and nearly a third of global GDP. It will remove the vast majority of the €1 billion of duties paid annually by EU companies exporting to Japan, and has led to the removal of a number of long-standing regulatory barriers, for example on cars. It will also open up the Japanese market of 127 million consumers to key EU agricultural exports and will increase EU export opportunities in a range of other sectors. The Agreement follows the highest standards of labour, environmental and consumer protection and has a dedicated chapter on sustainable development. It is the first trade agreement negotiated by the European Union to include a specific commitment to the Paris climate agreement.
Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström said: “We are sending a strong signal to the world that two of its biggest economies still believe in open trade, opposing both unilateralism and protectionism. The economic benefits of this agreement are clear. By removing billions of euros of duties, simplifying customs procedures and tackling behind-the-border barriers to trade, it will offer opportunities for companies on both sides to boost their exports and expand their business.”
Concerning data protection, the EU and Japan concluded the negotiations on reciprocal adequacy on 17 July, which will complement the Economic Partnership Agreement. They agreed to recognise each other’s data protection systems as ‘equivalent’, which will allow data to flow safely between the EU and Japan, creating the world’s largest area of safe data flows.
Věra Jourová, Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality said: “Japan and EU are already strategic partners. Data is the fuel of global economy and this agreement will allow for data to travel safely between us to the benefit of both our citizens and our economies. At the same time we reaffirm our commitment to shared values concerning the protection of personal data. This is why I am fully confident that by working together, we can shape the global standards for data protection and show common leadership in this important area.”
A Strategic Partnership Agreement fit for truly Strategic Partners
The European Union and Japan are like-minded partners, working together both bilaterally as well as in multilateral fora, such as the United Nations and the G7. The Strategic Partnership Agreement, signed today by President Juncker, President Tusk and Prime Minister Abe, will deepen and strengthen EU-Japan relations by providing an overarching and binding framework for enhanced cooperation.
“In today’s world, no country can think of tackling the global challenges that we are faced with on its own”, said the High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini ahead of the Summit. “Japan is a country that we already work so closely with, on many files, from peace-building to denuclearisation, from counter-terrorism to effective multilateralism. The Strategic Partnership Agreement will allow us to strengthen this cooperation across a wide range of sectors, but also open up the possibility for cooperation in new areas, from science, technology and innovation, environment and energy, to climate change and security.”
At the Summit, the Leaders addressed regional and foreign policy issues including the situation on the Korean Peninsula, the conflict in eastern Ukraine and the illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol, the commitment to preserving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – the Iran nuclear deal, among others. As the Strategic Partnership Agreement foresees, Leaders also discussed the shared commitment to strengthen cooperation on global issues and confirmed the EU and Japan’s joint vision and support to the rules-based international order with multilateralism, democracy, non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, open markets and a global trading system with the World Trade Organisation at its core.
The Leaders also discussed other bilateral issues, including possibilities to strengthen the EU-Japan security partnership, strengthened cooperation in the fields of development policy and education, culture and sports.
EU-China Summit: Deepening the strategic global partnership
The 20th Summit between the European Union and the People’s Republic of China held today in Beijing has underlined that this partnership has reached a new level of importance for our own citizens, for our respective neighbouring regions and for the international community more broadly.
President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker and President of the European Council Donald Tusk represented the European Union at the Summit. The People’s Republic of China was represented by Premier Li Keqiang. European Commission Vice-President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness, Jyrki Katainen, Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström, and Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc also attended the Summit. President Tusk and President Juncker also met with the President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping.
“I have always been a strong believer in the potential of the EU-China partnership. And in today’s world that partnership is more important than ever before. Our cooperation simply makes sense”, said the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker. “Europe is China’s largest trading partner and China is our second largest. The trade in goods between us is worth over €1.5 billion every single day. But we also know that we can do so much more. This is why it is so important that today we have made progress on the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment through a first exchange of offers on market access, and towards an agreement on Geographical Indications. That shows that we want to create more opportunities for people in China and in Europe.”
The Joint Summit Statement agreed by the European Union and China illustrates the breadth and depth of the EU-China relationship and the positive impact that such a partnership can have, in particular when it comes to addressing global and regional challenges such as climate change, common security threats, the promotion of multilateralism, and the promotion of open and fair trade. The Summit follows the High-level Strategic Dialogue, co-chaired by the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini and Chinese State Counsellor, Wang Yi, in Brussels on 1 June, and the High-level Economic and Trade Dialogue, co-chaired by Vice-President Katainen and Chinese Vice-Premier, Liu He, in Beijing on 25 June.
This 20th Summit demonstrates the many ways in which the European Union and China are concretely strengthening what is already a comprehensive relationship. In addition to the Joint Statement, a number of other concrete deliverables were agreed, including:
- a Leaders’ Statement on Climate Change and Clean Energy;
- an exchange of offers on the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment;
- a Partnership Agreement on Oceans;
- a Memorandum of Understanding on Circular Economy Cooperation;
- a Memorandum of Understanding to Enhance Cooperation on Emissions Trading;
- agreement to conclude before the end of October, if possible, the negotiations on an Agreement on Geographical Indications;
- an Action Plan concerning China-EU Customs Cooperation on Intellectual Property Rights (2018-2020);
- a Memorandum of Understanding between the European Investment Fund and the Silk Road Forumconfirming the first co-investment carried out under the recently established China-EU Co-Investment Fund;
- a Strategic Administrative Cooperation Arrangement and an Action Plan (2018-2020) between the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) and the General Administration of China Customs
Working together for a more sustainable planet
In the Leaders’ statement on climate change and clean energy, the European Union and China have committed to step up their cooperation towards low greenhouse gas emission economies and the implementation of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. In doing so, the EU and China will intensify their political, technical, economic and scientific cooperation on climate change and clean energy.
Welcoming this commitment, President Juncker said: “We have underlined our joint, strong determination to fight climate change and demonstrate global leadership. It shows our commitment to multilateralism and recognises that climate change is a global challenge affecting all countries on earth. There is no time for us to sit back and watch passively. Now is the time for decisive action.”
Vice-President Katainen and the Chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission, He Lifeng,also signed the Memorandum of Understanding to Enhance Cooperation on Emissions Trading, which acknowledges the significant potential of emissions trading to contribute to a low carbon economy and further enhances the cooperation of the two largest emission trading systems of the world.
Building on the success of the 2017 EU-China Blue Year, the EU and China have also signed a Partnership Agreement on Oceans. Two of the world’s largest ocean economies will work together to improve the international governance of the oceans, including by combating illegal fishing and exploring potential business and research opportunities, based on clean technologies, in the maritime economy. The partnership contains clear commitments to protect the marine environment against pollution, including plastic litter; tackle climate change in accordance with the Paris Agreement and implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, in particular Goal 14. The signature of this ocean partnership is the first of its kind and opens the door for future partnerships between the EU and other key ocean players.
Vice-President Katainen and Minister of Ecology and Environment, Li Ganjie, also signed the Memorandum of Understanding on Circular Economy Cooperation that will provide a framework for cooperation, including a high-level policy dialogue, to support the transition to a circular economy. Cooperation will cover strategies, legislation, policies and research in areas of mutual interest. It will address management systems and policy tools such as eco-design, eco-labelling, extended producer responsibility and green supply chains as well as financing of the circular economy. Both sides will exchange best practice in key fields such as industrial parks, chemicals, plastics and waste.
In the context of the EU’s International Urban Cooperation programme, in the margins of the Summit, Commissioner Creţu witnessed the signature of a joint declaration between Chinese and European cities: Kunming and Granada (ES); Haikou and Nice (FR); Yantai and Rome (IT); Liuzhou and Barnsley (UK) and Weinan and Reggio Emilia (IT). These partnerships will facilitate exchanges to examine and develop local action plans reflecting the EU’s integrated approach to sustainable urban development while addressing social, economic, demographic and environmental challenges.
Putting the international rules-based system at the centre of open and fair trade
“I am more convinced than ever that, in the era of globalisation and of interdependence, multilateralism must be at the heart of what we do. We expect all our partners to respect international rules and commitments that they have taken, notably within the framework of the World Trade Organisation”, said President Jean-Claude Juncker in his keynote speech at the EU-China Business Roundtable in Beijing, which provided an opportunity for EU and Chinese leaders to exchange views with representatives of the business community. “At the same time, it is true that the existing WTO rules do not allow unfair practices to be dealt with in the most effective way, but instead of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, we must all preserve the multilateral system and improve it from within.” President Juncker’s full speech is available online. Commissioner Malmström also intervened at the event.
At the Summit, the EU and China confirmed their firm support to the rules-based, transparent, non-discriminatory, open and inclusive multilateral trading system with the WTO as its core and committed to complying with existing WTO rules. They also committed to co-operating on the reform of the WTO to help it meet new challenges, and established a joint working group on WTO reform, chaired at Vice-Ministerial level, to this end.
Good progress was made on the ongoing Investment Agreement negotiations, which is a top priority and a key project towards establishing and maintaining an open, predictable, fair and transparent business environment for European and Chinese investors. The EU and China exchanged market access offers, moving the negotiations into a new phase, in which work can be accelerated on the offers and other key aspects of the negotiations. The European Investment Fund (EIF), part of the European Investment Bank Group, and China’s Silk Road Fund (SRF) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the aim of confirming the first co-investment carried out under the recently established China-EU Co-Investment Fund (“CECIF”) that promotes investment cooperation between the European Union and China and the development of synergies between China’s Belt and Road Initiative and the Investment Plan for Europe.
Regarding steel, both sides agreed to strengthen their cooperation in the Global Forum on Steel Excess Capacity and committed, in accordance with the decisions of the 2016 Hangzhou and 2017 Hamburg Summits, as well as with the 2017 Ministerial decisions, to the goal of implementing the agreed political recommendations.
The EU and China also agreed to conclude the negotiations on an Agreement on cooperation on, and protection from imitation for distinctive food and drink products, so-called Geographical Indications before the end of October – if possible. An agreement in this area would result in a high level of protection of our respective Geographical Indications, which represent important traditions and rich resources for both the EU and China.
In the area of food safety, the EU and China agreed to promote the highest food safety standards, and are ready to take the regionalisation principle into account, and committed to expanding market access for food products.
The EU and China have also signed the Action Plan Concerning China-EU Customs Cooperation on Intellectual Property Rights (2018-2020), with the aim of strengthening customs enforcement to combat counterfeiting and piracy in the trade between the two. The Action Plan will also promote cooperation between customs and other law enforcement agencies and authorities in order to stop production and wind up distribution networks.
The European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) and the General Administration of China Customs signed a Strategic Administrative Cooperation Arrangement and an Action Plan (2018-2020) on strengthening the cooperation in combatting customs fraud in particular in the field of transhipment fraud, illicit traffic of waste and undervaluation fraud.
At the third meeting of the EU-China Connectivity Platform, held in the margins of the Summit and chaired for the EU by Commissioner Violeta Bulc, the two parties reaffirmed their commitment to transport connectivity on the basis of respective policy priorities, sustainability, market rules and international coordination.
The exchanges focused on:
- the policy cooperation based on the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) framework and the Belt and Road initiative, involving relevant third countries between EU and China;
- cooperation on Transport decarbonisation and digitalisation, including in international fora such as the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organisation (IMO)
- cooperation on investment projects based on sustainability criteria, transparency and level-playing field to foster investment in transport between EU and China.
A people’s partnership
The European Union and China are putting their respective citizens at the heart of the strategic partnership. There were good discussions on foreign and security cooperation and the situation in their respective neighbourhoods. At the Summit, EU and Chinese Leaders discussed ways to support a peaceful solution on the Korean Peninsula; their commitment to the continued, full and effective implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – the Iran nuclear deal; joint, coordinated work on the peace process in Afghanistan; and the situation in eastern Ukraine and the illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol. They also discussed other foreign and security challenges, such as in the Middle East, Libya, and Africa, as well as their joint commitment to multilateralism and the rules-based international order with the United Nations at its core.
Many successful activities have already been held within the framework of the 2018 China-EU Tourism Year, designed to promote lesser-known destinations, improve travel and tourism experiences, and provide opportunities to increase economic cooperation. At the Summit, Leaders committed to further advancing relevant activities, facilitating tourism cooperation and contacts between people.
With the protection and improvement of human rights at the very core of the European Union and its global partnerships, Leaders also addressed issues relating to human rights, a week after the EU and China held their latest Human Rights Dialogue.
Both parties confirmed that they will press ahead with the parallel negotiations on the second phase of the EU-China Mobility and Migration Dialogue roadmap, namely on an agreement on visa facilitation and an agreement on cooperation in addressing irregular migration.
The EU and China also agreed to launch new dialogues covering drug-related issues and on humanitarian assistance.
Libya is in no state to rescue migrants in the Mediterranean
Italy’s new government—an unholy alliance of the populist M5S and far-right League parties—careened into office on an uncompromising anti-migrant platform, soliciting the warnings of politicians and financial institutions around the world. With its recent decision to hand naval control of a large swath of the Mediterranean—extending almost to Malta and Crete— to failed-state Libya, the coalition government may yet set a new low more rapidly than expected.
Italy’s hope is that the Libyan forces it has ceded responsibility to will prevent shipwrecked migrants from reaching European shores, instead returning them to the very country they are trying to flee. While this plan might sound attractive to a government which has lamented it can’t deport its own citizens from minority backgrounds, NGOs working in the area have stressed the grave threat the new policy poses to migrants. Those rescued now face a return to prolonged detention and harsh treatment in a country which has been desperately torn apart for seven years. From the spate of warring militias which control Tripoli to General Khalifa Haftar’s lengthy campaign against Islamist forces in the country’s east, Libya is plagued with conflicts which make it no safe haven for migrants.
In this context, Italy’s decision to hand over responsibility of such a large portion of the Mediterranean to Libya is likely not only against international law, but an affront to basic human rights. The Italian government is set to donate 12 boats to enhance the capabilities of the Libyan coast guard—such as it is— given its new responsibilities. Libya will need these twelve vessels and more before they can carry out even the most basic search and rescue operations. At present, the country only has three operational patrol boats; barely seaworthy, they are often forced to stay at port due to lack of fuel. “It’s very clear that the priority is not saving lives”, one spokesman from the German charity Sea Watch remarked about the sorry state of Libya’s fleet; “I have not seen a single life jacket.”
Unsurprisingly, Libya’s track record on saving migrants at sea is hardly exceptional. More than 100 migrants, including young children, recently drowned off Libyan shores after the coast guard picked up just 16 survivors when their overloaded vessel capsized. In a separate incident, a shipwreck east of Libya’s capital Tripoli saw 63 people go missing after their inflatable boat sank. The Libyan coast guard was unable to even locate their bodies.
The number of migrants dying during the dangerous crossing has significantly increased since the European Union began to back away from rescue missions and close crucial ports. At the same time human traffickers are exploiting the desperation of those attempting to flee violence on the African continent, the European bloc seems ever more reluctant to extend a well-trained, well-resourced helping hand.
That reluctance has had deadly consequences. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), one out of seven migrants attempting the journey across the Mediterranean died at sea last month, compared to last year’s average of one in 38 migrants.
Though it is becoming increasingly obvious the EU cannot accept further significant inflows of migrants without exacerbating tensions that risk breaking the bloc apart, plans to send migrants back to be detained in war-torn Libya under horrific conditions are simply inhumane.
If Italy is determined to turn over control of migrant rescue operations to the Libyan government, it first needs to make sure that that government is stable and just. So far, the West has done little to support Libya, privileging short-term solutions to the country’s deeply-rooted problems. Many Western countries have also stubbornly continued to push for the unelected, UN-backed-government in Tripoli, long after it has proven to be weak and ineffective. Upon the violent end of Muammar Gaddafi’s four decades of dictatorial rule, the US abdicated responsibility for “picking up the pieces” of Libya. At the same time, the UN worked to reconcile adversarial political blocs under the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA). This top-down approach has proven profoundly flawed, not least because it has sidelined actors outside the UN government, such as General Haftar, who already commands significant respect and power in the country.
Thankfully, Western attempts to stabilize Libya are slowly becoming more effective. Major international powers now finally recognize that all principal Libyan stakeholders must necessarily be involved in crafting a sustainable solution. France in particular is taking the lead on pushing for a workable way out of the crisis. Paris believes Haftar, whose four-year-long military campaign has been successful at rooting out the Islamic State and its affiliates from Derna and other fundamentalist strongholds, must inherently be a part of that process. In an encouraging breakthrough, Haftar and the three other key Libyan leaders have met and even tentatively agreed to hold elections in December.
This new approach to diplomacy within Libya’s chaotic borders is promising, and may point to a more stable future in years to come. In the meantime, Libya cannot be trusted with patrolling a huge section of the Mediterranean until a steadfast Libyan government can prove its mettle in ensuring the rule of law domestically.
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