At the turn of the new millennium I joined the on-line dialogue and debate on “The Future of the European Union.” It was inaugurated by Tony Blair and the then President of the EU Council Romano Prodi.
They invited all Europhiles to participate with their own contributions and ideas and thus further the democratic spirit of the new, still evolving, polity. I began to routinely exchange observations, comments, reflections on various aspects of modern European culture and how it was perceived across the Atlantic. One of the hottest issues was that of the emerging EU Constitution.
I began to realize that despite the disparate complex viewpoints and perception of European culture expressed usually in an essay form, there is nevertheless a fundamental guiding thread, and it is this: the awareness that an essay, besides elucidating a specific subject, is also a reflection of the self on the self, a revelation of the mind at work within, at times in contrast to the spirit of the age, as indeed is the case with any human artifact. Those artifacts in turn mirror the culture of a civilization as narrated and transmitted via language.
Man makes language and artifacts and symbols, but paradoxically, as Giambattista Vico and Carl Jung have well taught us, the opposite is also true: language and artifacts and symbols make Man. It occurred to me that part of the uniqueness of the essay form is to give the reader a glimpse as to where the self is coming from and where it is heading as it dialogues with other selves across time and space. What was unique in this transatlantic dialogue is the fact that the dialogue was occurring not only among elite intellectuals, populist or not, but also among ordinary citizens.
In other words, the dialogue went beyond systematically defined academic positions rigorously argued, underpinned by “clear and distinct ideas” leading to unassailable logical conclusion; rather, the dialogue was challenging the academic mind-set to relinquish the privileging of rationalism over the poetical, to involve his/her imagination, to interact rather than merely react to the text, to courageously attempt the exploration and the discovery of new ground across disciplinary boundaries. For, it is at the edge of boundaries that life and knowledge, experience and theory, meet most fruitfully. This was to be expected, given that rational logical arguments underpinned by “clear and distinct ideas,” are not congenial to the essay. The essay form resists both extreme rationalism and self-absorbed diary writing unconcerned with the larger issues of the times.
Etymologically, essay means “an attempt.” Both the author writing an essay and the reader reading it, need to find the courage to attempt something new keeping in mind that to pour new wine in old wineskins may mean losing the new wine. In reading and interacting with an essay, both author and readers are challenged to give up old comfortable assumptions without forgetting them and make an attempt, i.e., to carry on a brave novel exploration of the issues at hand from its origins to the present, beyond rigid disciplinary boundaries.
There are various aspects of the European cultural identity and its transatlantic dialogue that remain to be explored. That dialogue, if truth be told, begins way back in 1492. To facilitate the exploration we will need a sort of “leitkultur” or cultural guides if you wish that will allow us to navigate the stormy ocean of the transatlantic dialogue where the icebergs of nihilism and extreme rationalism float silently by in the tick of night. Giambattista Vico is undoubtedly one such guide, another is Vaclav Havel and another is Emmanuel Levinas. And there are many others, we could go back to Dante and his vision of a United Europe. Those admirable and exemplary visionaries, mostly poets and philosophers, are to be considered the original architects of a New Europe.
Vico is considered by many scholars the culmination of Italian and European Humanism. This interest led me eventually to the writing of a book on the hermeneutics of Vico’s speculation on the interface of language, history and literature. Likewise, literary theory and criticism, and their nexus to cultural anthropology, otherwise known as hermeneutics, are prominently featured in this book’s ruminations, under the stimulus of the emergence of the European Union’s Constitution in 2002. In as much as a constitution is analogous to the vital signs of a body politics and reflects its value system, its analysis is essential for determining that body’s moral and social health as well as suggesting an appropriate diagnosis and prognosis.
But to return to the above mentioned existential philosophical aspects, these reflections, more than with the being of Man, are concerned with the ongoing journey of Man. A spiritual or intellectual journey may imaginatively originate at any point on the hermeneutical circle, to eventually return full circle to its place of origin. This paradigm which believes that in the beginning there is the end and in the end there is the beginning, may at first appear cyclical and closed upon itself, merely immanent, a sort of Nietzschean eternal return, but in fact it is more like a forward, or even upward moving spiral. To be sure, on a spiral one can also move downward, as Dante’s descent into hell amply suggests, but even there it eventually leads to the other side of the earth and then upward, via the mountain of Purgatory, to the final destination in heaven, God’s vision. Indeed, for Dante the way up is the way down. This Vichian structure of the narration of Man’s journey is not always linear narration and may at times make the essays appear contradictory. But such is the story of Man, as imaginatively remembered and as narrated to oneself, beginning at any place of the hermeneutical circle.
Contrary to what one may think when entering the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo’s narration does not begin with the creation of Light by God but with the drunkenness of Noah. It is via narration, rather than via logical clear and distinct ideas standing behind words, that Man discovers that he is his own history and that while the cycles of the “story” may recur, they also move spiral-like toward a providential final purpose or “telos.” We may then be surprised to discover that transcendence and immanence are not mutually exclusive but complementary to each other. The mind’s restless cognitive operations reflect at least that much. The same inventor of the essay, Michel de Montaigne, some five centuries ago, jotted down this acute insight into the nature of his essays as they related to his own self: “If my soul could only find a footing I would not be essaying myself but resolving myself” (from essay “On Repentance”).
It is through the attempt to know the workings of our mind, that we may hope to arrive at self-knowledge and begin to realize that in the final analysis, the way to a recovery of transcendence and humanistic modes of thought in Western culture cannot possibly be an Hegelian-Marxian historical paradigm of inevitable progress, or its corollary, manifest destiny, allowing colonizers of various stripes to ride rough shod over native cultures, but rather a new humanistic Vichian-Joycean paradigm intimating “back to the future;” the awareness, that is, that paradoxically the emerging new Europe is neither old nor young, but novantiqua; that old stale unimaginative cultural paradigms rooted in a Machiavellian “real-politick mind-set” need to give way to a more Vichian poetic approach. For the journey into self-knowledge is integral part of our essential humanity, and not only as individual human beings, but also as people, nations and even entire civilizations and as humankind as a whole. The microcosm reflects the macrocosm but the contrary is also true. This can only be so if there exists indeed the universally human.
That question of identity is inescapable, for without self-knowledge, one will inevitably fall prey, along the way, to the seductive voices of false sirens and gods, even when they (like the mythical bull) arrive on time and promise an adventurous journey. Those voices (even when they seem to be the voice of Being itself) make it nearly impossible to focus with the mind’s eye on the final destination of one’s journey. For the question “Are you leaving and arriving on time?” hides a deeper, more crucial question: “On time for what?” Unfortunately, too many political-cultural leaders are running headlong toward the future nowadays in fast cars devoid of a rear-view mirror; and this is happening on both sides of the Atlantic.
The horizon is vast, but keep in mind however that, as mentioned, this maze of cultural issues is to be kept within the framework of self-knowledge. For, besides empirical knowledge of the sciences, mathematical knowledge, and metaphysical knowledge, there is another overarching kind of knowledge: self-knowledge. Joseph Campbell used to enjoin to his audiences: “find your bliss!” The goddess Europa surely must have expected bliss or she would not have left a secure shore to head towards the unknown on the back of a bull. This metaphor is also valid for entire cultures. It is the injunction to search and to find one’s identity, rooted in one’s origins. Vico’s philosophy can become a needed navigating chart once we opt for leaving behind the desolate shores of pure rationalism, technocracy and consumerism, to sally forth on the high sea of the poetical for an adventurous imaginative journey of self-discovery.
The German philosopher Habermas has challenged taken-for-granted assumptions in a seminal essay which envisions a post-secular Europe. He poses the above quoted challenging question to European culture’s conception of modernity as seen through the prism of secularism and its corollary aversion to religion’s role in the public agora. Habermas addresses the debate in terms of John Rawls’s concept of “public use of reason” and proposes that secular citizens in Europe learn to live, and the sooner the better, in a post-secular society; in so doing they will be following the example of religious citizens, who have already come to terms with the ethical expectations of democratic citizenship. So far secular citizens have not been expected to make a similar effort. He is not alone in that challenge. In the year 2000 an essay came out written by Shmuel Eisenstadt, an Israeli sociologist, titled “Multiple Modernities (see Daedalus 129: 1-30) which right from its outset challenged the taken for granted assumption that modernizing societies are convergent, as well as the notion that Europe is the lead society in that converging modernizing process.
This is what Eisenstadt writes on the very first page of the essay: “The notion of ‘multiple modernities’ denotes a certain view of the contemporary world—indeed of the history and characteristics of the modern era—that goes against the views long prevalent in scholarly ad general discourse. It goes against the view of the “classical” theories of modernization and of the convergence of industrial societies prevalent in the 1950s, and indeed against the classical sociological analysis of Marx, Durkheim, and (to a large extent) even of Weber, at least in one reading of his work. They all assumed, even if only implicitly, that the cultural program of modernity as it developed in modern Europe and the basic institutional constellations that emerge there would ultimately take over in all modernizing and modern societies; with the expansion of modernity, they would prevail throughout the world.”
In other words, Eisenstadt is saying that modernity can come in both secular and religious versions. This notion, of course, contradicts the theory that modernization necessarily implies secularization and that the United States is a mere exception to this rule made safe by the proverbial separation between State and Church. Rather, what Eisenstadt is suggesting is that the United States and Europe should be seen as two different versions of modernity. Which in turn leads to this crucial question: is secularization intrinsic or extrinsic to the modernization process? More to the point: is Europe secular because it is modern or is it secular because it is European? Depending on how one answers that question, one will assign exceptionalism to either the United States or Europe. In fact, they are two different ways of being modern. The Chinese wish to go one step further and even prove that one can be modern without being democratic. That experiment bears watching closely because it would sever the link between democracy and so called “free markets” and prove Marx right by revealing that indeed Western societies are what many outside the West believe they are: decadent materialistic societies paying lip service to democratic ideals and human rights but ultimately interested only in the selfish amassing of wealth and capital; which is to say, one can be prosperous without being democratic.
What the concept of multiple modernities implies is that Western (especially European) modernity is not the only conceivable one. It can come with indigenous differences. It would be enough to consider India, the largest democracy on earth which enshrines religion as part of its heritage and cultural patrimony. If one takes a careful look at the world outside the West one immediately notices that it is religion which defines the aspiration to an alternate modernity. That may well surprise the “enlightened” European mind, but there is such a thing as a Russian modernity inspired by Russian Orthodoxy, an Islamic modernity, a Hindu modernity, and what may surprise them even more, an integrally Catholic modernity. They are not illusions as the old classical secularization theory tended to imply.
Perhaps the greatest surprise of all might be that, as hinted above, that in many parts of the world the West is perceived in a pejorative way, as propagating a decadent. hedonistic culture of irreligious materialism. Such a perception is reinforced by both the influence of intellectuals, usually heavily secular, and the omnipresence of the Western mass media, much of whose content can indeed be defined as materialistic and irreligious. If that be true, it ought to be of great interest to the practice of diplomacy of Western democracies. At the very least, this crucial question ought to be asked and discussed: What are the consequences of taking seriously the empirical sociological fact that for the great majority of the world’s populations in the 21st century, it is not only possible, but quite normal to be both modern and religious? Might this question make a difference in the kind of paradigm that we construct in the West to understand a little better the nature of the modern world, be it European, American, Asian or African. Is it really “enlightened,” as the age of Enlightenment surely supposed in Europe, to isolate the vast field of the sociology of religion, or should it be restored to its rightful place in the overall global social agenda?
China “seems” to be moving closer to the Holy See
The two-year provisional agreement which was signed on September 22, 2018 between the holy see and China for the appointment of bishops in China, with the pope having veto power over such appointments, is likely to be renewed by mutual consensus before the accord nears its expiry later this month.
The agreement was initially seen as a clincher for both China and Vatican, especially after diplomatic ties were completely severed in 1951. However, many observers and experts have claimed that, the agreement does more harm than good to the credibility and popularity of the monolithic Catholic institute. Besides the main propaganda campaign of the Chinese to retain unabridged control over bishop nominations, their ultimate goal is to get Vatican to discredit the government in Taiwan to assert its One-China policy. Although, the Vatican has agreed to support China on its One-China policy, it should still be weary and apprehensive of the Chinese politics.
How is Taiwan central to this agreement
Taiwan, a small island in East Asia, which China claims as part of its own territory, considers Vatican as its last partner in Europe. This puts Vatican in a critical situation while China is struggling to maintain cordial relations with the West.
According to Francesco Sisci, a senior researcher at the Remnim University in Beijing, China wants to be seen as an ally of the Pope because it realizes the soft superpower that the Catholic church yields over millions of followers within China and abroad. He says, When the pope speaks, everyone listens.
A logical conclusion thus one can derive from it, is that the Vatican’s endorsement of the One-China policy by discounting Taiwan’s authority to maintain independent diplomatic ties, will generate currency in China’s favour.
Two-years of signing the provisional agreement. What it means for China’s Catholics?
In a bid to renew the agreement, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson stated last week that the interim accord has been implemented successfully. However, the ground scenario provides a different factual story. Even after the deal was signed in 2018, there were several reports of harassment and detention of the underground Catholics and Clergy in China. Many Churches have been shut down, crosses and other religious symbols have disappeared from public spaces. These events have taken place even after the Vatican tabled such concerns during negotiation with China.
This is the direct result of the “Sinicization” policy of the Xi administration, that calls for showcasing loyalty to the state and the Communist Party during religious processions and practice. As per this restrictive policy, people below 18 years of age are strictly barred from entering places of worship and publication of any religious material is only allowed following a close scrutiny.
Cardinal Joseph Zen, retired cardinal of Honk Kong had expressed wide concerns for this accord. He had described the Vatican’s overtures with China as selling out of the Catholic Church in China. Zen knows that the agreement is largely going to benefit the Chinese authorities and the Communist Party in asserting its policies and international agendas.
It is also essential to highlight that the exact details and terms of the agreement are kept secret between the two parties. This may mean that if any violations of the agreement that may have taken place in the two years it was in place, it would become difficult to prove it in a court of law, owing to the confidentiality. This almost gives China full immunity over its inability to fulfill its obligation under the agreement. Vatican must therefore be cautious about China’s commitment towards the agreement and must device alternate ways to shelter and safeguard its priests and followers in China.
The EU-China angle
2020 was supposed to be the year for refinement of EU-China relations. The pandemic has however forced cancellations of governmental meetings, bilateral programs, and other scheduled events. And on the contrary, it has deepen the cracks between certain EU countries and China because of China’s propaganda campaign and geopolitical policies.
Last year saw a hard stance being adopted by EU legislators and policymakers, which was reflected in the policy paper released by the Federation of German Industries. The paper had described China as a “systemic competitor” and highlighted grave concerns over its international economic practices. The same line of charge was showcased in European Commission’s strategic reflection paper, where it referred to China as a negotiating partner with a need for finding a balance of interests and a systemic rival promoting alternative model of governance.
This position is attributed to China’s unfair and biased foreign policy that limited European companies from major EU countries to venture into the Chinese market. At the same time, China was employing economic tactics to woo smaller European countries to promote investments and improve trade relations with itself. The effect of this has been that many economically weaker countries have started looking towards China for monetary aid and trade related matters rather than cooperating with their fellow EU members. This has led to some kind of frustration and discordance amongst the EU nations.
The tensions might have heightened due to China’s diplomatic missteps, from its infamous wolf warrior diplomacy to its amoralistic mask diplomacy during the Covid outbreak. This will however not completely change the course in the relation between EU-China because there is too much at stake for both sides to risk everything. These instances must however caution Vatican about its handshake with China because, although it may have soft superpower but there’s nothing stopping China from pulling off an economical stunt.
A closer perspective
Taking the EU-China experience and the Sinicization policy collectively into consideration, it will be safe to assume for the Pope and his council of minister to rethink and weigh the merits and demerits of its diplomatic ties with China with utmost seriousness. Even if China promises more stability and monetary benefits in the short run, the Vatican must not forget that the deal indeed puts at risk, the values and principles that it has preached over the decades, to its people and followers globally, the repercussions of which may be beyond repair.
It needs to consider the plight of its brothers and sisters who have unlawfully been punished and detained in China and must push for more humane laws and remedies for them.This can be done by carefully executing a three-level approach. Firstly, the Vatican must put in place a strict mechanism to scrutinize and verify the inflow of investments so as to limit the interference of Chinese money in its decision making. This is similar to the foreign policy introduced by EU last year. Secondly, the Vatican must try to accommodate and align its interests with its European allies so as to strengthen the unity and solidarity in the region. It will also help them to collectively stand up against China if China tries to play hard ball against them, in terms of trade policy or indulges in any human rights violations for that matter. Lastly, the Vatican must push for transparency and openness with respect to the terms of the agreement that it has signed with China. This will allow the Holy See to rightfully claim any damage or remedy if any wrongful act or omission is committed by the Chinese side.
EU acting a “civilian power”: Where & How
Authors: Yang Haoyuan, ZengXixi & Hu Yongheng*
In 1946 when Winston Churchill addressed in Zurich, Switzerland, he called on urgent union of Europe, but not many people took his remarks seriously if not suspicious at all.This was because that economic recovery and social stability of the day were more urgent to the people across Europe. Since then in one decade, Europe has not only witnessed a rapid and robust social-economic reconstruction, but also an increasing integration of sovereign states coming of the age. It is true that throughout this process of the European integration, the United States has played a sort of patron role—at first as a passionate advocate publicly and then a powerful supporter through the Marshal Plan and finally a lead ally of the NATO.
In1963, the United States endorsed a fully cohesive Europe which, whether it functions as a grouping of nation-states or as the European Union, has shared America’s burden in terms of the Atlantic collective security. Yet, this strategic tie is not unconditional, for example, the EU support to the Washington’s policy decision depends upon only if its objectives parallel with America’s own and if it deems that without its contribution the common purposes will not be achieved. The diversions in policy between the two sides of the Atlantic are essentially more philosophical than technical. As a result, American unilateralism which usually comes out of Washington has been challenged by the EU involving three key structural issues: the EU’s self-image; the impact of the EU policy; and the U.S. attitudes toward the different options for European integration. As Henry Kissinger argued, in defining the role of Europe in the future world, the EU depends upon more their historical experiences than abstract concept of universal goodwill as a facilitator of diplomacy, or put it simply that “persuasiveness in negotiations relies primarily on the options the negotiator has available or is perceived to have at his or her disposal.”
Since the beginning of the new century, the EU has become close to an equal to the United States economically, technologically and socially. In terms of soft power, European cultures have long had a wide appeal in the rest of the world, and the sense of a Europe uniting around Brussels has had a strong attraction to East Europe and Turkey as well. Samuel Huntington put it in the 1990s that a cohesive Europe would have the human resources, economic strength, technology, and actual and potential military forces to be the preeminent power of the 21st century. Although the EU has effectively constrained American unilateralism, it is out of the question that the U.S. and the EU would move on the road towards political conflict. Due to this, the EU has vowed to play a new role in the world affairs that might be termed as the “civilian power”.
According to scholar Helene Sjursen, civilian power is defined as playing a primary role in the international system but differing from the traditional great power which has pursued power politics by military means. The EU prefers acting a civilian power since it has committed to economic cooperation and social justice in the age of globalization. Accordingly, the acquisition of military means, or the EU’s ambition to acquire such means, might weaken at least the argument that the EU is a civilian power and could provoke a shift towards a policy more akin to traditional great powers. Despite this, this article opines that the EU has acted a civilian power in the world affairs. For sure, this is not an easy mission to achieve in view of the complexities of the world affairs.
On September 16 of 2020, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen addressed her first annual State of the Union, painting a sober picture of Europe grappling with a pandemic and its deepest recession in its history and calling for EU members to build a stronger health union amid COVID-19. She laid out ambitious goals to make the 27-nation bloc more resilient and united to confront future crises. In order to demonstrate the EU’s resolve and sincerity, she doubled down on the flagship goals sheset out on taking office in 2019: urgent action to tackle climate change and a digital revolution. In addition, von der Leyen unveiled a plan to cut the EU greenhouse gas emissions substantially and vowed to use green bonds to finance its climate goals. She also called for greater investment in technology for Europe to compete more keenly with China and the United States and said the EU would invest 20 percent of a 750 billion euro economic recovery fund in digital projects. Meanwhile, she said that the coronavirus pandemic had underlined the need for closer cooperation since “the people of Europe are still suffering.” It is noted that the competition mentioned involves only the unconventional rather than conventional security issues.
As a matter of fact, solidarity among the 27 member states performed badly at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, as they refused to share the protective medical kits with the worst-affected and closed borders without consultation to prevent the spread of the virus. Also the EU leaders jousted for months over a joint plan to rescue their coronavirus-throttled economies. Yet, since last July,27 member states agreed on a stimulus plan that paved the way for the European Commission to raise billions of euros on capital markets on behalf of them all, an unprecedented act of solidarity in almost seven decades of European integration. Addressing the EU Parliament, von der Leyen pledged her commission would try to reinforce the European Medicines Agency and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, promising a biomedical research agency and a global summit. In effect, the EU has all the means and resources at its capacity.
Yet, externally the EU has to deal with the troubled talks with the United Kingdom on the future links after the Brexit divorce is done. All the deals and pacts between the two sides could not be unilaterally changed, disregarded or dis-applied. Von der Leyen reiterated that “This is a matter of law, trust and good faith… Trust is the foundation of any strong partnership.”The EU leaders also have the same attitude towards the United States and Russia since Europe is located between the two giants in all terms. Yet, the U.S. under the Trump’s administration has provided the EU with diplomatic rows. In a long run, the EU remains hopeful of improving relations and believes common ground can still be found, despite their current differences. As she reiterated “We must revitalize our most important relationships – we may not agree with the White House, but we must cooperate and build a new transatlantic agenda on trade and other matters.” Regarding the great challenge from Russia, she reiterated her condemnation of Russia over Navalny – though the Russian government has strongly denied any involvement – and said that the EU is on the side of the people of Belarus. They must be free to decide their own future and they are not pieces on someone else’s chessboard. However, the EU leaders seem to forget that the “color revolutions” have caused the disasters across Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.
Under such circumstances, the EU has to deal with China strategically and smartly, which during the first seven months of 2020becomes the top trading partner of the EU, a position previously held by the United States, followed by Britain, Switzerland, and Russia on EU’s main trading partner list in the first seven months. As France has suggested that the EU and China, as the defenders of multilateralism in international order, should set the tone for multilateralism and lead the international society to cement cooperation in areas such as vaccine research and climate change. Yet, it was arguable that von derLeyen defined China a “competitor and a rival” although she previously admitted that the latest video summit between China and the EU was “frank and open”. In fact, she said that progress had been made on a host of key areas and hailed the potential of a fruitful future trading partnership with China although there was still much work to be done. Understandably, as one of the key leading figures of the EU, von der Leyen used her speech to again address the challenges both sides face in working together in the years ahead in spite of their conflicting political ideologies. But this is what she said, “The latest EU-China summit highlights one of the hardest challenges. China is a competitor and rival. We promote very different systems.”
In sum, the EU has several challenges ahead to deal with. First, it must update its long-term climate change goals to meet the targets laid out in the Paris Climate Agreement signed before. Second, the EU must manage the numbers of migrants and refugees crossing into Europe from Asia and Africa. As von der Leyen said that it is of vital importance that the EU’s member states work together to share the burden of taking in migrants and refugees and providing them with the tools for a brighter future. Third, since EU member states have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, it has much to be done and in its response to the pandemic and continued efforts to cooperate with other nations to find a vaccine. As she called,the EU stepp ed up to lead the global response. With civil society, G20 and the World Health Organization and others the EUhas brought more than 40 countries together to raise $19 billion to finance research on vaccines, tests and treatments for the whole world. This is the EU’s unmatched convening power in action.
Meanwhile, the EU leaders have openly called on China to do more to aid the world’s collective fight against all the challenges mentioned above. As von de Leyen said recently, China has shown willingness to dialogue on climate change and fight against pandemic. She also warned of the dangers of countries not working together on vaccine research, with the U.S. recently announcing its plans to withdraw from the WHO. Both China and the EU share the common ground that vaccine nationalism puts lives at risk, only vaccine cooperation saves lives. We endorse a strong WHO and a strong WTO – but reform of the multilateral system has never been more urgent.
In view of this, it is fair to say that the EU wants to lead reforms of the WHO and WTO. But it is possible only if it works together with other responsible powers including China.
*Yang Hao Yuan from the School of Governance, Technical University of Munich; Zeng Xixi & Hu Yong Heng from SIPA, Jilin University
An occasion for the EU to reaffirm its standing on Security policies and Human Rights
Vice-President of the EU Commission Margaritis Shinas was a keynote speaker at this summer’s Diplomatic Conference in Vienna organised by the International Institute IFIMES, Media Platform Modern Diplomacy and their partners. High dignitary of the Commission seized the occasion to express the EU’s take on the 75th anniversary of victory over fascism, unfolding health crisis and to it related pressure on human and labour rights, as well as on the Union’s continued efforts towards remaining a ‘rock’ amid the volatile climate.
It is known by now – and acknowledged by the EU Commission VP – that the COVID-19 crisis has had some severe implications for Human Rights and, to a lesser extent, for cooperation outlooks. In the face of the first wave, countries in Europe and elsewhere have adopted different courses of actions in order to manage the health crisis and attempt at containing its threats. Placed in an unprecedented situation, governments have undoubtedly each reacted in ways they deemed most appropriate at the time.
However, the pandemic itself topped with the varied policies have caused notable restrictions on Human Rights. Most notoriously, the right to life and that to health have been challenged in extreme circumstances where, at the peak of the crisis, health institutions were so overflowed that the provision of maximal care to every single individual was compromised. The effective and equal access to healthcare has therefore quickly become a central preoccupation of many governments, drawing on some dramatic first-hand experiences.
On that, I will say that if the global health crisis has been a synonym for many negative impacts, it has also been a precious opportunity to rethink carefully the existing narrative of programmatic and progressive rights – such as the right to health – needing no immediate attention, nor realisation. This narrative held predominantly by some Western democracies ever since the adoption of the UN International Covenants, has been unduly weakening the universal and indivisible stance of Human Rights. Needless to say, in adhering to that dangerous narrative, planning for and prioritizing health access, resources and system capabilities is undermined. This, in turn, contributes to the difficult and insufficient responses of some governments that have been witnessed. May the victims of inadequate infrastructures due to an obsolete distinction between rights serve as a poignant reminder: social, cultural and economic rights need be readily available to all.
Equally interesting is the toll taken on a whole other range of Human Rights – an international system built up in last 75 years on the legacy of victory of antifascist forces in Europe and elsewhere. Numerous individual freedoms have also suffered limitations, often as a direct result of actions taken to promote and ensure the right to life and the right to health for the most vulnerable. Indeed, people’s freedom of movement, that of religion (external dimension), that of assembly and association, as well as their procedural rights – only to name a few – have all been greatly affected during the crisis.
Of course voices have raised their discontent at those restrictions put in place to mitigate the crisis, considered by many to be too incisive and too manifold when cumulated. But despite an apparent clash between two groups of interests protected by different rights, the resolution which has emerged from the approaches followed by most countries is very telling. In fact, a balancing exercise revealed that protecting the right to health and to life of the minority of people ought simply to be considered predominant in comparison to the other individual freedoms and rights of the majority. This reasoning, grounded in solidarity and the protection of minorities and vulnerable persons, is in fact very encouraging in an era of growing individualism combined with overwhelming challenges which will certainly require peoples to unite against them.
Nevertheless, this does not take away from the fact that the full and optimal enjoyment of Human Rights has generally been seriously affected as many interests have been caught in the crossfire of the fight against Coronavirus’ harmful effects. Moreover, the crisis has also created some divides amongst European countries. This is because the sanitary emergency has caused for precarious contexts of resources shortages and sometimes unfruitful cooperation, even shift in alliances.
This has naturally brought about separate criticisms and questioning of the EU cooperation strategy and security arrangements. In that sense, growing expectations are felt for the EU to uphold and promote its fundamental values including the rule of law, solidarity, non-discrimination and antifascist line.
Vice-PresidentSchinas is well aware of that reality and reiterates the EU’s unalterable commitment to peaceful cooperation, human dignity, liberty, equality and solidarity in these troubled times. He further ensures that the most recent security strategies led by the Union do not – and never will – eat away at the protection of fundamental rights. What is more, whilst the EU’s arrangements can be seen as slightly ‘under attack’ currently, the VP feels that rather than seeing this period as a high-stakes test on EU democracies it should be seen as an opportunity to take a bigger stand than ever for the European common values and call for strengthened multilateralism. This necessities constructive reciprocal and respectful active engagement with the EU Mediterranean and eastern European neighbourhood.
All that is because it is not too difficult to imagine that the aftermath of the C-19 crisis can open several paths of new dynamics in international relations. Yet, as it cannot be stressed enough, an upcoming change in the conception of relations between nations could be decisive for numerous other contemporary challenges – namely: migration crisis, armed conflicts, climate change. While one of the paths could consist in an increase in protectionism and nationalist attitudes, another one would involve, on the contrary, a shift towards reinforced cooperation and enhanced solidarity. The latter outward approach, advocated by the EU Vice-President and believed to be the best hope for the future, is one deeply enshrined in the antifascist legacy and the very raison d’être of the Union.
Above all, at the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Victory Day, Excellency Schinas reminds us with much humbleness that the journey for safeguarding Human Rights is one that is perpetually underway.
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China “seems” to be moving closer to the Holy See
The two-year provisional agreement which was signed on September 22, 2018 between the holy see and China for the appointment...
Why the “Coronavirus Ceasefire” Never Happened
Six months ago, when COVID-19 had just moved beyond the borders of China and embarked upon its triumphant march across...
Pandemic Recovery: Whitehouse – Check-In or Check-Out Times
Some 200 nations of the world are in serious economic pains of varying degrees; the images and narratives on social...
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