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A Europe Created out of Necessity – Is Identity an Impossibility?

Attila Marjan

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In principle identity can be established, reinforced, developed based on: force or grand political deeds like state building; common values, or shared history; tangible results achieved at federal (pan-European) level, grand stories, or a common enemy.

This paper intends to investigate whether the European Union as an economic-political-technocratic construct that was established out of necessity, i.e.: to avoid war in Europe, can be at all a basis of any identity building in Europe.

The EU has several features that merit serious criticism, nevertheless at present the EU is pretty much all we have. Admittedly the Union is a rather spiritless project – it was probably meant to be different at the outset, but political reality has overridden major attempts to render it more spiritual and less politico-economic. Still I think this is the only robust and tangible locus where any development of European identity can take place at this point. I argue therefore that the immediate discarding of the EU as a faulty construct is probably not the right attitude.

The question is how to use the EU with its robust political, economic reality to unleash the societal and cultural forces that help reinforce the feeling of Europeanness in European societies. One has to be made clear from the outset: there is no European identity in European souls and minds (or hardly any). So it is to be constructed. Why? Again: out of necessity, i.e.: to avoid that the worst traits of Europeans prevail again, moreover – and this is important for the purpose of this paper – to save the EU as a project of historical reconciliation between the often belligerent peoples of Europe. In my view these two things are the two sides of the same coin in 2015.

If we consider the EU as an agent of European identity building having in mind the list of potential sources of identity construction as identified earlier, the channel of “force” fortunately, and that of a “grand story” is unfortunately out of the question. The EU is a democratic, pacifist construct and has neither the intension nor the potential to coerce people or democratically elected governments under an empire. International geopolitical reality also excludes this entirely. The democratic establishment a United States of Europe á la USA is also very unrealistic at this point – due to a great extent to lack of sense of Europeanness in Europe’s societies.

The EU has no major mythology or a grand story to tell. There never was a heroic war to be fought against a common enemy to establish the Union, rather the opposite: European nations fought suicidal civil wars against each other in the 20th century annulling Europe’s global supremacy. The EU never had the grand “constitutional moment” like the USA did, some quarter of a millenium ago. When I tell my students that historically speaking the war and not peace is the rule in Europe (the bloodiest continent of all) and a seventy year interval of peace like the one we are experiencing on the old continent seems like an anomaly, they do not seem to understand. Flawless markets and robust consumer protections rules do not qualify as a grand story either.

As far as common values as agents of European identity building are concerned, hopes are also subdued. The EU is claimed to be built and in fact it is on values that significantly overlap with the major western or European values, but these are common sense matters for contemporary Europeans – as citizens of their respective member states -, the EU has nothing to add to it to forge a pan-European identity.

Two channels seem to be in store for identity building in Europe: a common enemy and results of modern integration. The first can be forceful but it is dangerous and almost certainly counter-productive for the pan-European idea as it will definitely fall prey of nationalistic political agendas. The second (already tried by the Brussels elite several times under the label of ‘Europe of results’) is questionable when effectiveness is concerned. But it seems the only realistic and workable option at hand.

The policy of reducing mobile phone roaming fees and facilitating passport-free travel (which is under threat these days anyway) and selling it to people as ‘Europe of results’ has not been working and will never work. The policy of Europe of results needs to be seriously revamped, the EU thoroughly explained to citizens to make them understand that they have a choice other than defensive and suicidal nationalism.

Having said this getting European societies on board is a sine qua non condition for any major reform in the EU. It is also evident that major reforms are necessary to guarantee Europe’s stability and – in the long run probably – its very existence. The popular sentiment and political agendas that question the usefulness of European integration and sometimes even the basic European values are on the rise. European institutions and member states suffer to counter these rising anti-European and in some cases anti-democratic tendencies that will pose significant risks to European integration in the medium-term. One major factor of popular disenchantment is that people know very little about the Union and the role it plays in their life.

Contrary to the trendy perception of our time on the Union, modern Europe has achieved an awful lot over the course of the last two decades: the single market, the single currency, the reunification of Europe, the accession of twelve new poor member states and above all peace, stability and wealth. One source of the problem is that the European project has always been characterized by a top-down approach and has never managed to entice much interest from the media. Even though the Brussels press corps number several thousands, most correspondents report European affairs through a national prism. Election campaigns for the European Parliament focus almost exclusively on domestic issues. The political elites of member states concentrated on domestic issues even when communicating European policies, and just because the same questions interest the public in most countries does not mean that there is a European approach or even as much as a European public opinion. Euroscepticism flourishes all over Europe; chauvinism, efforts to protect prosperity, the democratic deficit, the incomprehensible nature of the European project and the lack of a true European identity have all contributed. Nevertheless, the majority — though only just — of Europeans approve of integration; mainstream political forces are to some degree or other pro-European in all member states. The EU therefore should overhaul its communication and open up to a much wider public debate and participation. In this respect Europe’s new “Erasmus generation” can be a decisive factor.

European identity is a concept broader than European Union identity. This was vividly demonstrated by the statement of eurosceptic Czech President Vaclav Klaus in May 2009, when he claimed that the EU defeated Europe when the Czech Senate ratified the Lisbon Treaty. Undoubtedly, European identity is the privilege of national elites that have been pressing ahead with European integration for half a century. European identity has not become part of the thoughts, feelings and lives of average Europeans. Values that we hold to be European — such as liberty, equality before the law or the rule of law — are in fact the result of centuries of social development and do not undermine national identities. There are no truly pan-European values or pan-European reflexes perceptible in daily life. The feeling of belonging to a nation remains much more important than that of being European. The European Union is a community of nations and not a nation comprised of federal territorial units (states, with some exaggeration) like the United States of America. In a situation like this, European identity can benefit immensely from negative self-definition: defining what we Europeans are not. But it has its limits and also its dangers.

Europe has been in search of a self-identity for a long time. The first natural self-definition was on the common basis of Christianity. European values, which set this continent and culture apart from others, began to take shape with the Enlightenment. In “The Spirit of the Laws”, Montesquieu analyses Europe as a unified community in detail, comparing it with Asia. He comes to the conclusion that the preconditions for liberty exist only in Europe but not in Asia. Bronislaw Geremek, an outstanding European humanist of the 20th century, believed that Europe was built on a dual identity. European identity is partly rooted in medieval Christianity as a unifying force. In the 13th century, a united European community formed around religion as the central organizing principle. It was created by Rome as the center of power. Universities mushroomed continent-wide, teaching the common culture in a common language (Latin) and thereby creating the first European elite. The Europe-wide network of churches and cathedrals shared a common architectural style, a uniform liturgy and a uniform calendar. Christianity was the first supranational, pan-European cross-border culture. Geremek suggests that the second European community — lasting from Erasmus of Rotterdam to the Enlightenment — was the Republic of Letters (Respublica literaria) bonded together by knowledge rather than by faith. This was clearly an elitist and loose identity bond, just like today (replace scholars with EU-enthusiasts in Brussels). As modern languages gained ground and Latin lost its importance, the religious nature of culture was weakened. Observation, analysis and a belief in reason and science pushed religious faith to the background. European academics maintained extensive and lively relations with each other. Montesquieu famously said that Europe is a nation composed of many nations. The evolution of the European identity, or should we call it a supranational culture, has its roots partly in Christianity and partly in science.

As said earlier, modern, post-war European integration is a political undertaking which in its origins was motivated chiefly by a desire to secure a stable and pacific Germany and developed as an elite project. As a result, the “mental unification” of European citizens has never materialized; a spontaneous common identity has never formed. Europe as a concept has never found its place in people’s daily lives, or their choices of values. Modern Europe was created to put an end to the eternal enmity between France and Germany. It was clear that the only way to prevent war between these two powers was to make it economically unprofitable. But guaranteeing peace on the continent will not make people feel European. European identity will not evolve by itself; every tradition must start somewhere but traditions only survive if the common experiences, principles and myths originate from the people. And for traditions to turn into an identity, a bottom-up approach is needed. Naturally, political leaders still have a huge role to play in paving the way for the evolution of a European identity. But Europe is an immensely heterogeneous continent and is growing ever more diverse with successive enlargements. Europe’s history is one of bloody wars and hostilities. Europe does not have a common language; the modern lingua franca is English. (But this is perceived now globally the language of the global culture and of its steamroller empire, the USA rather than of the United Kingdom.)

In 2015 the European Union has a remarkably charged political agenda in a turbulent world. Russia is more and more assertive, there is a probably prolonged military crisis in Ukraine, political and military situation is escalating in Europe’s southern and south-eastern neighbourhood with imminent impact on Europe’s societies. Europe is under the shock of a refugee crises which is unprecedented in scope and very difficult to manage. The spectre of Grexit reflects the fact that there are fundamental flaws in the Euro project as far as its long-term sustainability is concerned which necessitates further political and economic policy reforms at EU level. Brexit on the other-hand (although the UK’s case is admittedly extreme) is a clear indication of popular disenchantment from the idea European integration. The above factors indeed hinder coordinated action to counter the ever-stronger popular sentiment and well-articulated political agendas that question the usefulness of European integration and sometimes even the basic European values. European institutions and member states suffer to focus and face these challenges including the rising anti-European and in some cases anti-democratic tendencies that will pose significant risks to European integration in the medium-term.

Endless complaining about the remoteness of the EU has led us nowhere and clearly no ineffective and underfinanced communication campaigns are the solution either. Instead the following actions need to be considered to create more user-friendly profile for the European Union:

•Create post of European (Eurozone) speaker position in national parliaments (who preferably does not bear the host country’s nationality) with the right of intervention if European issues debated (T) (C);

•Introduce the instrument of European referendum – one single pan-EU referendum on the same day counted as a whole on key EU issues;

•Replace low-profile bureaucrats at the top of EU Representations, create high profile EU presence in capitals;

•If a project is financed by 51% EU it should be inaugurated by EU representative;

•Increase Erasmus spending by at least five times;

•Introduce preferably mandatory European values curriculum at elementary and secondary schools;

•Finish with national party lists at EP elections, vote on pan-European platform same day all across EU;

•Create a special channel of national parliaments at EP – as MEPs are less and less national, MPs should have a vehicle which is visible and effective to intervene at EP debate. This must be much stronger an instrument than ad-hoc invitations; an institutionalised and permanent solution is preferable;

•Elect President of the European Commission or the European Council directly by citizens;

•Promote EU values abroad (joint EU cultural and political institutes – having in mind Alliance Francaise, Goethe Institut, etc);

•Facilitate national public and political debates on new European reform initiatives such as the recent one (June 2015) by the German and French economy ministers.

•Run EU joint teams (or individual Olympians) in up to 10 percent of Olympic sports by the 2024 Olympic Games;

•Support language teaching and learning;

•Set up national offices of the Court of Justice to deal local legal matters with EU relevance more promptly and transparently;

•Support Europe-related news broadcasting by national broadcasters. Euronews (in a significantly enhanced quality) minutes in local channels.

The agenda proposed above is a “Europe of results turbocharged” i.e.: a much more comprehensive in scope and bolder in approach than previous attempts proposed and managed by European technocrats and which were marred by timidity, inefficient communication and member state disinterest. As a result the earlier attempts could never reach the hearts and souls (not even the minds) of Europeans. One thing has to be made clear: it is not only the EU that needs its citizens but also the other way around in a more and more unpredictable and instable world. Unfortunately this has never been properly explained to European people. European leaders will have to understand and accept to things: the first is that bold steps will have to be taken to present Europe as a locus and community of results, rather than of crisis in order to reinforce the sense of Europeanness – which is inevitable for the alliance of European peoples to survive in the long run. The second is that to base pan-European identity building on fear of others, by choosing a common enemy will not work. These things normally get out of control easily and will certainly reinforce nationalistic and anti-European member state agendas – which is the last thing the EU needs.

Hungarian economist, PhD in international relations. Based in Brussels for fourteen years as diplomat and member of EU commissioners’ cabinets. Two times visiting fellow of Wilson Center in Washington DC. University professor and author of books on EU affairs and geopolitics. Head of department, National University of Public Administration, Budapest.

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EU-Japan Summit: A landmark moment for trade and cooperation

MD Staff

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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.

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EU-China Summit: Deepening the strategic global partnership

MD Staff

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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:

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.

The joint agreed minutes of the Chairs’ meeting are available online, along with the list of European transport projectspresented under the EU-China Connectivity Platform.

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.

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Libya is in no state to rescue migrants in the Mediterranean

Samantha Maloof

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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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