After the vile assault on Paris the 13th of November 2015, the second in less than ten months, we can now expect demagogues, bigots and extreme right-wing political groups, which have been multiplying in the EU in the last decade, of the ilk of Marine Le Pen, to take advantage of the event as a powerful excuse to blame not only the fascistic extremists who carried it out, but the religion which allegedly supports it.
We will hear the usual comments such as “another attack in the name of religion.” After all, this is quite popular in a Europe that, beginning with the Enlightenment and Voltaire’s “gothic” designations has downgraded religion to the status of obscurantism and barbarism. True to form, that statement has already been uttered by various journalists and pundits who while approving the condemnation of jadist ideologies by the opportunistic politicians chide their failure to condemn Islam as a nefarious religion.
The actual evidence is instructive. It shows that less than two percent of terrorist attacks from 2009 to 2013 in the E.U. were religiously motivated. In 2013, just one percent of the 152 terrorist attacks were religious in nature; in 2012, less than three percent of the 219 terrorist attacks were inspired by religion. The vast majority of terrorist attacks in these years were motivated by ethno-nationalism or separatism. In 2013, 55 percent of terrorist attacks were ethno-nationalist or separatist in nature; in 2012, more than three-quarters (76 percent) of terrorist attacks were inspired by ethno-nationalism or separatism. These facts, nonetheless, have never stopped biased pundits from insisting otherwise and holding on to their bias against religion in general.
On Friday the 13th of November, once again militants massacred at least 127 people in Paris in a series of heinous attacks. There are many layers of hypocrisy in the public reaction to the tragedy that must be sorted through in order to understand the larger context in which these horrific attacks are situated — and, ultimately, to prevent such attacks from happening in the future.
As soon as the news of the attacks broke, even though there was no evidence and practically nothing was known about the attackers yet, a plethora of right-wing pundits immediately latched on to the violence as an opportunity to demonize Muslims and refugees from Muslim-majority countries. In a disgrace to the victims, a shout chorus of reactionary demagogues exploited the horrific attacks to distract from and even deny domestic problems. They flatly told Black Lives Matter activists fighting for basic civil and human rights, fast-food workers seeking livable wages and union rights, and students challenging crippling debts that their problems are insignificant because they are not being held hostage at gunpoint.
More insidiously, when evidence began to suggest that extremists were indeed responsible for the attacks, and when ISIS eventually claimed responsibility, the demagogues implied or even downright insisted that Islam — the religion of 1.6 billion people — was to blame, and that the predominately Muslim refugees entering the West are only going to carry out more of such attacks. In fact, every time Islamic extremists carry out an attack, the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims are expected to collectively apologize; it has become a cliché at this point. The other cliché is that when an attack occurs one automatically goes to bomb Isis in Syria and pour more gasoline on the fire.
The question arises: when the Nazis, Stalinists, Khmer Rouge, the Shining Path or the Weathermen committed violence, did we lament, “Another attack in the name of ideology”? Did we hear “Ideology is the problem”? That would be about as helpful as going to a doctor with a dreadful illness and, upon asking him what the problem is, his responding “Your state of health.”
Like ideology, religion is a category, not a creed. As with states of health, which occupy a continuum from excellent to awful, they both contain the good, the bad and the ugly. But modern man, not wanting to place an onus on a faith or seem a “religious” chauvinist — which is often contrary to his relativistic ideology — is a bad physician who refuses to name the disease or the cure. So depending on how he is emotionally disposed, we may hear utterances such as “Children need some religion” or “Religion breeds violence” or “religion is the opium of the people.” Ancient Aztec children had “religion,” and they learned well how to sacrifice thousands of innocents a year to Quetzalcoatl on bloody altars. And Amish children have “religion,” and peace and charity define them.
Conservatives exhibit this problem as well. So many will say “Islam is not a religion; it’s a destructive all-encompassing ideology,” or some variation thereof. They treat “religion,” that broad category, as if it’s good by definition. Not that this isn’t understandable. Raised in a relativistic and pluralistic society, they want to get along with their neighbors; so they tacitly accept an unwritten agreement stating “I won’t say my religion is better than yours if you don’t say yours is better than mine!” The trouble is that this solves nothing — and its implications are more dangerous than jihad.
Starting out simply, note that most of the “religions” man has known were more in the nature of the Aztecs’ bloody faith than what we generally embrace today. But many will assert that this is the point: can’t we say all our mainstream faiths are “good,” practically speaking? Can’t we just omit from their category any “religion” not considered good? Well, we can say and do many things, but ideas have consequences. And a civilization with a corrupted philosophical foundation will not long stand.
Another crucial question arises: Who benefits most from such clampdown on Muslims and refugees? Two primary groups: One, Islamic extremist groups themselves, who use the clampdown as “evidence” that there is supposedly no room for Muslims in the secular West that has declared war on Islam; and two, Europe’s growing far-right, who will use the attacks as “evidence” that there is supposedly no room for Muslims in the secular West that should declare war on Islam. President Hollande of France who is no right-winger, before all the evidence is even in, has already declared the attack an act of war.
Although enemies, both groups share a congruence of interests. The far-right wants Muslims and refugees from Muslim-majority countries (even if they are not Muslim) to leave because it sees them as innately violent terrorists. Islamic extremists want Muslim refugees to leave so they can be radicalized and join their caliphate. More specifically, to name names, ISIS and al-Qaeda will benefit from the clampdown on Muslims and refugees, and Europe’s growing far-right movement will continue to recruit new members with anti-Muslim and anti-refugee propaganda.
ISIS has explicitly stated that its goal is to make extinct what it calls the “grayzone” — that is to say, Western acceptance of Muslims. By making ISIS go viral, we are only helping them accomplish their sadistic goals. In the meantime, France’s extreme right-wing National Front party stands to gain in particular. The party — which was founded by a neo-Nazi and is now led by his estranged daughter Marine Le Pen — constantly rails against Muslims, whom it hypocritically characterizes as Nazi occupiers. In 2014, a Paris court ruled that it was fair to call the National Front “fascist.” Before the Paris attacks, Le Pen’s extreme-right movement was France’s second-largest party. Now it may well become the first.
Consider another question: what makes some ideologies better than others? It’s that they espouse different values. But what of “religions”? They also espouse different values. Thus, not all “religions” can be morally equal unless all values are so. This is important to understand. Every time we treat “religions” as if they are all morally equal, every time we spread that idea explicitly or implicitly — no matter how good our intentions — we’re transmitting the notion that all values are equal. And consider the implications: if all values are equal, how can peace be better than jihad? How could respect for life be better than disdain for it? How could Western law be better than Sharia law? Of course, this means all ideologies would have to be equal as well, from Nazism to Marxism to conservatism to liberalism to libertarianism. Upon embracing relativism, you have no sound intellectual foundation from which to critique or combat anything though you can certainly fake one without blinking, as relativism deems deception no worse than sincerity. One may ask, why does this matter? Because this kind of relativism has robbed us of an intellectual argument for defending Western civilization.
It is the philosophical fifth column that has opened the door to destructive, inassimilable foreign elements and it is done via multiculturalism understood not as cultural tolerance but as devaluation of values. But it’s as with “religion” and ideology: since different cultures espouse different values, not all cultures could be morally equal unless all values were so. The distinction between “religious” and “secular” is largely a false one. There is only one distinction that truly matters: the true and the untrue. “Secular” and “religious,” especially in the sense we use them, are relatively modern terms. There was a time when beliefs were not “secular” or “religious” — or even liberal or conservative, or right or left — but simply true or untrue. And this is the only perspective that makes sense. Think about it: if God exists, is it significant that we call recognition of this reality “religious” or that it’s true? If communism is essentially false, is it significant that we call recognition of that reality “secular” or that it’s untrue? There is only Truth and everything else — and everything else, no matter how you dress it up linguistically, is nothing at all.
In a way, pusillanimous moderns are much like pious Muslims. Muslim theology entertains the curious notion of “dual truth,” the idea that what may be true “religiously” may not be true in nature. This silliness was rejected by Aquinas and other Western thinkers in the Middle Ages; now, however, something smacking of it has been embraced by their descendants, who may say things such as “A little ‘religion’ is okay, as long as you don’t go overboard.” Or they may compartmentalize faith, thinking it must be left outside the government-building door or even relegate it to one hour a week of “worship services,” as if it’s mere recreation or an unhealthful indulgence only to be taken in moderation. But if your faith is the Truth — if it reflects the will of the Creator of the Universe — you have an obligation to govern yourself, and infuse your every institution, with it. And if it be a lie, it belongs nowhere but the bowels of Hell.
Of course, if, like most Westerners, we believe everything is relative, then none of this matters. Then tolerance and intolerance, multiculturalism and cultural chauvinism, charity and barbarity, the “religious” and the “secular” are all equal. And then those darkly clad men with AK-47s in Paris on Wednesday couldn’t really have been “wrong.” They just had a different perspective.
If we don’t really believe this, then it’s time to grow up. It’s time to understand that if everything is relative, then what we say is relative, too, and thus meaningless. So let’s talk about what is meaningful. We can start by accepting that culture isn’t bad, but there are better and worse cultures. “Religion” isn’t bad, but there is bad “religion.” And tolerance, correctly defined as the abiding of perceived negatives, isn’t bad — except when those perceived negatives are objectively negative and, instead of just being tolerated, could actually be wiped out. Willful tolerance of evil is evil itself.
The Muslims have bad “religion.” We have bad philosophy. Both our civilizations believe in things that are untrue. It’s the “tolerant” meeting the intolerable, a match made in Hell — and poised to create exactly that on Earth.
There are hundreds of terrorist attacks in Europe every year. The ones that immediately fill the headlines of every news outlet, however, are the ones carried out by Muslims — not the ones carried out by ethno-nationalists or far-right extremists, which happen to be much more frequent. Yet it is not just right-wing pundits and the media that give much more attention to attacks like those in Paris; heads of state frequently do so as well. Notable was the official silence surrounding another horrific terrorist attack that took place only the day before. Two ISIS suicide bombers killed at least 43 people and wounded more than 230 in attacks on a heavily Shia Muslim community in Beirut on November 12. President Obama did not address the world and condemn the bombings, which comprised the worst attack in Beirut in years.
In fact, the opposite happened; the victims of the ISIS attacks were characterized in the U.S. media as Hezbollah human shields and blamed for their own deaths based on the unfortunate coincidence of their geographical location. Some right-wing pundits even went so far as to justify the ISIS attacks because they were assumed to be aimed at Hezbollah.
Nor did the White House interrupt every news broadcast to publicly condemn the ISIS massacre in Turkey in October that left approximately 128 people dead and 500 injured at a peaceful rally for a pro-Kurdish political party. More strikingly, where were the heads of state when the Western-backed, Saudi-led coalition bombed a Yemeni wedding on September 28, killing 131 civilians, including 80 women? That massacre didn’t go viral, and Obama and Hollande did not apologize, barely acknowledging the tragedy. Mere days before the January Paris attacks, the global community largely glossed over another horrific tragedy: the slaughter of more than 2,000 Nigerians by Boko Haram. The African victims didn’t get a march; only the Western victims of Islamic extremism did. Do French lives matter more than Lebanese, Turkish, Kurdish, Yemeni or African ones? Were these not, too, “heinous, evil, vile acts”?
A little-discussed yet crucial fact is that the vast majority of the victims of Islamic extremism are themselves Muslim, and live in Muslim-majority countries. A 2012 U.S. National Counterterrorism Center report found that between 82 and 97 percent of the victims of religiously motivated terrorist attacks over the previous five years were Muslims. The West frequently acts as though it is the principal victim, but the exact contrary is true. Never interrogated is why exactly are so many refugees fleeing the Middle East and North Africa. It is not like millions of people want to leave their homes and families; they are fleeing violence and chaos — violence and chaos that happens to almost always be the result of Western military intervention.
Western countries, particularly the U.S., are directly responsible for the violence and destruction in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Yemen, from which millions of refugees are fleeing. Syria is a bit more complicated. Many refugees in the country, which has been torn apart by almost five years of bitter war, are fleeing the brutal repression of the Assad government. Western countries and their allies, however, share some of the blame. Allies such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey have greatly inflamed the conflict by supporting extremist groups like al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra. And it should go without saying that millions of Syrian refugees are fleeing the very same terror at the hands of ISIS that the group allegedly unleashed upon Paris. By suppressing Syrian and Iraqi refugees fleeing the ruthlessly violent extremist group, France and other Western countries will only be further adding to the already shocking number of its victims.
The imperialist West always try to dislocate the blame. It’s always the foreigner’s, the non-Westerner’s, the Other’s fault; it’s never the fault of the enlightened West which considers itself modern and therefore disdainful of religion. Islam is the new scapegoat. Western imperial policies of ravaging entire nations, propping up repressive dictators, and supporting extremist groups are conveniently forgotten. The West, incapable of addressing its own imperial violence, points its blood-stained finger accusingly at the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims and tells them they are the inherently violent ones.
The horrific and unjustifiable yet rare terrorist attacks we in the West experience are the quotidian reality endured by those living in the region our governments brutalize. This does not mean we should not mourn the Paris attacks; they are abominable, and the victims should and must be mourned. But we should likewise ensure that the victims of our governments’ crimes are mourned as well. If we truly believe that all lives are equally valuable, if we truly believe that French lives matter no more than any others, we must mourn all deaths equally. The West, in its addiction to militarism, played into the hands of the extremists, and today we see the rotten fruit borne of that rotten addiction: ISIS is the Frankenstein’s monster of Western imperialism.
The far-right will continue to grow. Neo-fascism, the most dangerous development in the world today, will continue to gain traction. The incidence of attacks inspired by ethno-nationalism or far-right extremism, already the leading cause of European and American terror, will increase even further. The pundits will boost anti-Muslim bigotry and feed the anti-refugee fervor. In doing so, they will only make matters worse. Those who promote militarist policies and anti-Muslim and anti-refugee bigotries in response to the Paris attacks are only going to further propagate violence and hatred. Things may have to get worse before they get better. Time will eventually tell. Meanwhile, let those who have ears, let them hear.
Note: The above article has appeared in Ovi magazine on the 9th of November 2015.
The projection of Turkish power in the Eastern Mediterranean
The recent military conflict between Greece and Turkey over potential gas fields located in disputed waters is linked to a complex historical and political conflict between the two nations, so geographically close, but also culturally and politically distant. The superpowers have problems and alliances linked to the two countries, thus globalizing the conflict. Furthermore, all the countries concerned need the cooperation of Greece and Turkey in various fields such as the refugee crisis.
It is symptomatic of the changing nature of geopolitics, geoeconomics and the aftermath of Covid-19. The frictions reflect Turkey’s strategic rebalancing. The conflict in the eastern Mediterranean is mainly the result of a dispute between Turkey and Greece. Two aspects in particular of this balance of power form an explosive mixture in the Eastern Mediterranean, firstly the conflict stems from the fact that there are no agreed maritime borders between Turkey and Greece. The two countries contest their mutual claims on maritime territories and thus contest their respective rights to search for underwater energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea.
Secondly, Turkish policy in the Middle East has helped lure other powers into maritime conflict.
The rift between Turkey and its eastern Mediterranean neighbors mainly affects Cyprus. While the Republic of Cyprus is internationally recognized as a sovereign state, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus has only been recognized by Ankara since its establishment in 1974. And above all, it sees the southern part of the island as secessionist. Turkey has longstanding objections to exploration licenses Cyprus offers to international energy companies, including ENI and Total. These licenses are mainly concentrated in the south and southwest of the island. These zones are included in the exclusive economic zone claimed by Cyprus but which, according to Ankara, violates its continental shelf as well as the territorial waters belonging to.
International law currently offers few possibilities for resolving maritime complaints. The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea states that coastal nations are entitled to a 200 mile exclusive economic zone where they can claim the rights to fishing, mining and drilling. But shorter distances in the eastern Mediterranean force states to settle on a negotiated dividing line. Turkey’s position adds further complexity to these issues: Turkey is in fact not a signatory to the UN convention and defends a different interpretation of maritime rights, arguing that the waters adjacent to the Greek Cypriot administration remain an integral part of the continental shelf of Turkey.
The agreement of 27 November 2019 signed between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj defined a maritime border between the two signatories. The agreement was the most important signal of Turkey’s ambitions. The text delineates a 35-kilometer line that will form a maritime border from the southwestern coast of Turkey to the north of Libya, and crosses the areas claimed by Greece and Cyprus. It tilts the balance of power in the eastern Mediterranean in favor of Turkey. This disrupts the planned route of the 1,900-kilometer Eastern Mediterranean gas pipeline that would carry gas from Israel through Cyprus and Greece to southern Europe. Greece called on the United Nations Security Council and NATO to condemn Turkey’s maritime agreement and for this expelled the Libyan ambassador to Greece. Apparently, as a countermeasure to Turkey’s tactics, Israel, Cyprus and Greece have teamed up to carry out the Eastern Mediterranean pipeline.
It must be said that Ankara has the ambition to be an energy hub for Europe. The Turkish state wishes both to guarantee the Turkish Cypriots a share of future gas revenues and to free Turkey from its dependence on Russian gas supplies. Erdogan had sent his own drilling vessels into disputed waters north-east and west of Cyprus, as well as south of Kastellórizo.
Turkey fears it will be cut off from most of the Aegean Sea and therefore from major sea routes if Greece unilaterally expands its territorial waters and creates new areas of maritime jurisdiction. Erdogan responded by adopting a more assertive line with more aggressive rhetoric. The Turkish government says that as long as talks on maritime disputes are pending and Greece and the Republic of Cyprus continue to do research or drilling, Ankara will too. For their part i Greek officials say Turkey’s new policy is what has reignited the dispute and strained Ankara’s relations with its neighbors. Greeks are increasingly concerned about the safety of hundreds of islands that are very close to Turkey.
Whether it is Turkey or Greece, the two countries are using the migration issue to exert pressure. The situation on the Greek-Turkish borders in fact remains tense and very unstable; the current status quo in the region has all the hallmarks of a hybrid battle. Turkish officials and security forces push migrants to the neighboring country, often even helping them with illegitimate means. Meanwhile, the press and social media are fully used to shape public opinion in favor of interested parties. Propaganda in this context plays a vital role in this conflict. In addition, Ankara also uses its strategic position with the Bosphorus Strait and threatens to close the US Incirlik base to serve its interests.
Turkey has pursued an aggressive and expansive policy in its region for the past decade. This Turkish government approach is steeped in neo-Ottomanism and pan-Islamism. We find in this approach the ramifications of a much older school of Ottoman imperialist thought. The wave of bellicose maneuvers by the Turkish government can be attributed to the 2016 coup attempt, which gave the Erdogan government carte blanche to implement its long-sought power projection policy.
The government’s strategy to create a sense of successful foreign policy in the country, and thereby destroy most of the opposition parties, involves a discourse that emphasizes national interest. This vague but extremely useful term has had a paralyzing effect on the various opposition factions in the country, as they are unable to formulate a counter-narrative without risking being accused of lack of patrioticism. Very often the analysis of modern Turkey’s foreign policy as neo-Ottoman politics ends with the assertion that Erdogan and his party are nostalgic for the restoration of Ankara’s influence in the ancient regions of the Ottoman Empire.
If we take the example of Libya, one of Turkey’s goals in Libya is to completely control the country’s market and establish economic dependence on Turkey. It should be added that Turkey has signed two memoranda with LNG, one on military support and the other on demarcation at sea. Under the maritime border demarcation agreement, LNG has supported Turkey’s demands on part of the waters of Greece and Cyprus. Furthermore, Ankara intends to exploit any gas reserves on the Libyan coast. Indeed, in exchange for military support, Ankara imposed a treaty on Tripoli to take control of a significant portion of the country’s oil and gas wealth and forced LNG chief Fayez Sarraj to support its territorial claims in neighboring countries. This is a classic example of Turkish imperialist politics.
As a result, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Turkey has engaged in the past two years in a remarkable series of geopolitical foreign interventions from Syria to Libya via Cyprus and more recently alongside Azerbaijan. Some have called it Erdogan’s “New Ottoman Empire” strategy. Yet a collapsing lira and a collapsing national economy threaten to unexpectedly put an end to its great geopolitical ambitions. To date, in 2020, the lira has fallen 34% against the US dollar and 70% over the past five years. While some believe it would increase Turkey’s exports of goods, what it does is expose the entire Turkish banking system and economy to a colossal debt explosion. It can also be noted that at this point Erdogan’s interventions met with unserious sanctions or opposition from the EU. One obvious reason is the high exposure of EU banks to Turkish lending. Spanish, French, British and German banks have invested more than $ 100 billion in Turkey. Spain is the most exposed with 62 billion, followed by France with 29 billion. This means that the EU is walking on eggshells, unwilling to pour more money into Turkey but hesitant to precipitate a collapse on economic sanctions.
The eastern Mediterranean has become a hot spot for the natural gas industry. The discoveries have generated growing interest among several international oil companies and countries. It all started with Noble Energy (based in Texas) which announced the discovery of the Tamar field off the coast of Israel in 2009, with an estimated capacity of 280 billion cubic meters. In the space of two years, Noble Energy announced two further discoveries: the Leviathan field, also off the coast of Israel, in 2010 and the Aphrodite field, in Cypriot waters, in 2011. This has reinforced regional ambitions to make the Eastern Mediterranean a gas exporting region. . These ambitions were also based on two assessments made by the US Geological Survey (USGS) in 2010, which estimated the presence of nearly 9.8 trillion cubic meters of undiscovered technically recoverable gas and over 3.4 billion barrels of petroleum resources in the area. However, the real turning point (for regional energy ambitions) came in 2015 when the Italian Eni announced the discovery of the gigantic Zohr gas field off the coast of Egypt. With its 850 billion cubic meters of estimated average gross resources, the Egyptian offshore field is the largest ever discovered in the Mediterranean Sea. It should be added that these fields have another feature: geographical proximity. Thus was born a regional alliance with a pipeline project that excludes Turkey from the energy dynamic. The presence of natural gas has become an axis of cooperation and rivalry in the region. It can be said that gas is the main motivation behind Erdogan’s maneuvers. Indeed, Turkey’s unique geopolitical situation stems from the fact that it is poor in hydrocarbon reserves while its neighborhood has abundant resources. It is therefore imperative for Ankara to maintain stable energy ties with neighboring energy-rich countries or regions. In line with Turkey’s growing domestic demand, efforts to focus on energy security have become an integral part of the country’s foreign policy over the past two decades. The search for hydrocarbons, in particular natural gas, has become a fundamental geopolitical and geo-economic objective for the country.
The rationale for Turkish natural gas policies can be described by three aspects:
1. Being a country dependent on imports, Turkey’s main objective is to guarantee its access to natural gas supplies to satisfy its internal demand.
2. aims to diversify its current supply structure and counterbalance Russia’s dominant role in its energy portfolio.
3. Turkey aims to strengthen / increase its integration into the regional energy security architecture by promoting its role as an energy transit country and a potential hub for supplying Europe.
At the moment, the Eastern Mediterranean region does not supply gas to Turkey, with the exception of market agreements with Egypt. However, it emerges as a critical point on the Turkish foreign policy agenda, as the region is viewed by Ankara not only through the prism of energy security, but also through the prism of its protracted conflict with Cyprus and in the broader context of competition for regional power in the eastern Mediterranean.
In line with the above, it is possible to identify at least five key factors that explain Turkey’s greater involvement in the Eastern Mediterranean:
1. Turkey looks for potential gas reserves in its waters that could bring economic benefits to the country.
2. Turkey does not want to be excluded from developing a new regional energy agenda and is ready to protect its interests.
3. Turkey intends to be an energy transit country that could strengthen its role as an energy hub and undermine rival projects such as the EastMed pipeline.
4. Turkey intends to involve other countries in the region to support its objectives, as seen in the case of the maritime border agreement with the government of national agreement based in Tripoli in Libya, to promote its position by preventing it from doing so. way for others to gain influence;
5. Turkey intends to demonstrate its capabilities as a military power in the eastern Mediterranean.
The Greek-Turkish crisis is likely to influence the shift in the balance of power in the Eastern Mediterranean region. It is possible that over time the United States will relocate its military base from Incirlik to one of the military installations in Greece. Athens wishes to modernize and strengthen the army and navy to contain Ankara. Greece, Cyprus, France but also regional actors such as Egypt and Israel do not agree with the Libyan-Turkish synergy. Analyzing the differences in this balance of power, it is clear that Erdogan appears to be in a position of strength. But from this analysis it also emerges that Ankara does not have sufficient capacity to realize its imperialist ambitions .
Recovery action plan of the Union: On Next Generation EU & a New Independent authority?
The first address of the European Commission since the pandemic was one highly anticipated by all the citizens of the EU block. On September 16, President Ursula van der Leyden took it upon herself to reveal the EU’s roadmap for a post-Covid world following the approval of the recovery funds last July which constituted a breakthrough and sent a welcome signal in terms of cohesion and solidarity on the part of the 27 members.
Aside from paying tribute to our frontline workforce and praise the courage and human spirit showed by all in the face of virus spread, van der Leyen set out what she called NexGenerationEU; a movement to breathe new life into the EU but also and most importantly to adapt and lead the way into shaping tomorrow’s world. Through her speech, the president highlighted roughly 8 key themes which will be at the centre of this new European era’s agenda for the next 12 months, in accordance with the cardinal principles of trust, tolerance and agility. In other words, the 750 billion recovery funds raised extra-ordinarily will be directed towards the following areas:
1° Economy: the Union members must all breed economies that offer protection, stability and opportunities in the face of the continuous health crisis with a specific wish expressed for a stronger Health union – and thereby an extension of the Union’s competencies on the matter – but also the advent of European minimum wages.
2° Green Revolution: the Union will adopt more radical attitudes towards mitigating climate-change and safeguarding our planet, starting with the ambitious aim of becoming the first climate-neutral continent by 2050 through the EU’s Green Deal. So called ‘lighthouse’ high-impact and hydrogen-based projects will become an additional focus.
3° Technology: Europe has to step up its game and become a digital leader through securing industrial data and using it to support innovation. Delineating the use of AI by regulating the field, creating a secure EU e-identity and ensuring connectivity deployment so as to fully cover rural areas are also high on the list.
4° Vaccine management: The Union praises the open approach followed up until now in facing the virus whilst many others have opted for withdrawal and undercutting of cooperation. Having served as an example regarding vaccines research and funding, the EU must uphold its policy all the way to the finish line and ensure its accessibility for every citizen around the world.
5° Multilateralism: the current international order system needs some rethinking and international institutions need reform in order to de-paralyze crucial decision-making in urgent situations. This starts with the EU taking faster univocal positions on global issues (Honk-Kong, Moscow, Minsk, and Ankara) and systematically and unconditionally calling out any HR abuses whilst building on existing partnerships with EU’s like-minded allies.
6° Trade: Europe will be made out as a figure of fair-trade by pushing for broker agreements on protected areas and putting digital and environmental ethics at the forefront of its negotiations. Global trade will develop in a manner that is just, sustainable, and digitized.
7° Migration: A New Pact on Migration will be put forward imminently as to act on and move forward on this critical issue that has dragged for long enough; in that regard every member state is expecting to share responsibility and involvement including making the necessary compromises to implement adequate and dignifying management. Europe is taking a stand: legal and moral duties arising from Migrants’ precarious situations are not optional.
8° Against hate-inspired behaviours and discriminations: A zero-tolerance policy is reaffirmed by the Union by extending its crime list to all forms of hate crime or speech based on any of the sensitive criteria and dedicating budget to address de facto discriminations in sensitive areas of society. It is high time to reach equal, universal and mutual recognition of family relations within the EU zone.
Granted, the European ‘priorities forecast’ feels on point and leaves us nearly sighing in relief for it had been somewhat longed for. The themes are spot on, catch words are present and the phrasing of each section is nothing short of motivational with the most likely intended effect that the troops will be boosted and spirits lifted subsequently. When looking closer to the tools enunciated for every topical objective, there seems however to be nearly only abstract and remote strategies to get there.
This is because a great number of the decisive steps that the Union wishes to see be taken depend on the participation of various instruments and actors. Not only does it rely for most on the converging interests, capabilities and willingness of nation States (inside and outside the euro zone), but it is also contingent on the many complex layers and bodies of the Union itself. And when a tremendous amount of the proposed initiatives for European reconstruction is reliant on such a far-reaching chain of events, it simply calls into question the likelihood for the said measures and objectives to be attained – or at the very least in which timeframe.
One might then rightfully wonder whether good and strong willpower coupled with comprehensive projections can be enough. And perhaps in the same vein, whether we can afford to wait and let it play out in order to find out? In his recent writing Giles Merritt, founder of the platform ‘friends of Europe’ tends to suggest we most certainly do not have the luxury of waiting it out and not pushing the forward thinking even further. Indeed, according to him, Europe could and should do more. More than a call for action and change that might end up echoing and fading in the depths of the EU’s bureaucracy, the Union would be expected to back up its ambitious intentions with the setting up of an independent planning agency to ‘ensure revolutionary ideas and projects are speedily implemented’, to borrow Merritt’s words.
Whilst van der Leyen’s announcement was promising and efficient in that it sent an important message – the EU is wanting to get in the driver’s seat – only the follow-up with radical motions such as the creation of a readily available tool to implement fast and impactful changes can lend support to a claim that Europe is in a position to resolve current internal and external EU challenges, and more generally to bounce back from conceded decline suffered in the most recent decades.
As a matter of fact, Diplomat Ali Goutali and Professor Anis Bajrektarevic were the firsts to make an analysis in that sense as they articulated their proposal for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) earlier this year. Faced with similar challenges and need for sharper thinking and tools in order to be at the forefront of the economic and technologic challenges ahead, the OIC had relied heavily on its Committee on Scientific and Technological Cooperation and agenda reform to reinforce its cooperation and innovation capabilities as a global player.
Nevertheless, Goutali and Bajrektarevic already felt months ago that additional steps ought to be taken for the OIC to be able to respond swiftly and reaffirm further its mandate of facilitating common political actions. To that end, it was suggested that a mechanism for policy coordination in critical times – the Rapid Reaction Capacitation – in charge of, primarily, vaccines management and AI applications should be introduced. Furthermore, the stakes behind the urgent need of strengthening our international order through cohesive endeavours are evidently the same for both the EU and the Arab World. That is to permanently leave behind a pseudo-competitive nation-based attitude that is nothing but a relic from the past and has achieved little in the context of the Covid outbreak.
Hence, if such an independent body was to be established, all three authors agree that it could gather the indispensable political power and resources to carry out the desired reforms on multilateralism, cyber and digital infrastructures, Covid recovery measures or geopolitical partnerships. Necessarily streamlined in order to avoid undue blockades, these new regional bodies could be composed of energetic forward thinkers across the private and public sectors empowered to map out and act on adequate strategies for a post-Covid world. This is because we all share the same goal: achieving solidarity not only on paper or as a conceptual motto but in real life and in real time. And after all, didn’t von der Leyen herself concur with that line of thinking as she enjoined Member states to move towards qualified majority voting to avert slow and cumbersome decision-making processes?
It seems pretty clear to me that such discussions in relation to the aggressiveness in actions and potential bureaucratic barriers might raise an old-as-the-world yet still very important questions: Should we, Europe, be ready to risk losing some of the legitimacy or democratic aspects of our political bodies in order to gain in speed and efficiency in times of crisis? And if not, considering the embracement of some of our supra-national entity’s actions is already on shaky grounds, how can we ensure that such bold measures may still be reconciled with maximal legitimacy given our equally urging need for unity?
Deciphering EU’s new investment deal with China
The perceived economic gains of the Comprehensive Agreement on Investments (CAI), which the 27-nation European Union recently struck with the People’s Republic of China, come at the cost of disregarding human rights, which the Western bloc is known for, amid clear and irreconcilable systemic differences.
The closing days of 2020 saw the European Union and China striking a deal known as the Comprehensive Agreement on Investments (CAI), thereby concluding seven long years of negotiations, as per the year-end deadline. China is also the EU’s biggest trading partner after the United States, but a strategic and systemic rival too.
The European Commission, Brussels-based executive arm of the EU, primarily led the negotiations on behalf of the bloc. Germany, being the holder the EU Council Presidency and led by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s continued push, combined with Beijing’s last-minute concessions, proved instrumental in expediting the process of finalising the CAI before the end of 2020.
However, the deal will still have to wait for a formal ratification by both sides and an approval by the Strasbourg-based EU Parliament, a tougher task, before finally setting it on course to be effective in a couple of years’ time, if not by early 2022.
Better rules, level-playing field for European businesses
The EU, by this deal, aims to widen the access for European companies to lucrative Chinese markets, with billion-plus consumers, on a wide range of sectors, particularly in services such as healthcare, finance, cloud-computing and air travel, among others, that has always been restrictive to foreign players in the past.
The deal could bring in a level playing field in the conduct of European businesses in China wherein Chinese state-owned enterprises will no longer be given preferential treatment through subsidies, thereby promoting fair competition and ensuring transparency in technology transfers. Newer possibilities for the expansion European businesses in China will be opened.
The CAI also promise better rules, investment protection, and an investment dispute settlement mechanism within two years of signing, which will replace all the separate bilateral investment treaties currently signed between China and EU member states. The EU maintains that the main purpose of this new deal is to address the economic imbalance in its relations with China.
However, the most striking aspect of the CAI is that, for the first time, China commits to follow accepted standards on climate and labour aspects, even though in a vague form. And for the EU, the timing of this deal with China is significant as a way of signalling its reengagement with the world in the aftermath of a post-Brexit scenario.
At the same time, the CAI reaffirmed reciprocal access for Chinese companies into European markets, which they always had. So, the deal matters to Europe, more than it matters to China. So, the real question is the extent of compromises which European negotiators had to make to strike the deal with the Asian superpower.
The issue of forced labour in China
Many EU member countries and the US had been apprehensive about the human rights situation in the northern Xinjiang province of China where there have been evidences and investigations on the use of forced labour from the media and elsewhere, which has not been duly factored in while concluding the investment deal.
It has been alleged that in the past several years, the Chinese government has forced over a million Uighur minorities in Xinjiang to perform seasonal labour against their will and are often underpaid. But, the Chinese government has repeatedly denied such allegations.
Many European lawmakers believe that China is not interested in fully complying with international agreements after signing it and is not a responsible and trustable partner. The presence of mass detention camps in this province, as verified by satellite imagery and other documents, is also a human rights concern which the EU was not supposed to ignore, considering its historical commitments to human rights.
US concerns and strategic rivalry
The incoming Biden administration has also raised concerns about the CAI, stating that it would “welcome early consultations” with its European partners on shared concerns surrounding China’s unfair economic practices, hinting at the issue of forced labour and the deal’s lacking on the question of enforcement of human rights.
Being a security and strategic partner of the US and part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), any such deal which EU and its member countries sign with its strategic rival, China, could effectively undermine American-led efforts to counter the strategic and geopolitical threat posed by Beijing’s aggressive and expansionist policies around the world.
It also flies in the face of an incoming Biden administration which is openly committed to mend relations with allies in Europe that had been worsened under Donald Trump. Many experts in the US have felt the EU should’ve waited for a few more weeks until the Biden administration takes charge to form a co-ordinated approach, as it related to their common systemic and strategic rival, China.
Moreover, the deal comes at a time when individual EU members such as Germany and the Netherlands have recently released their own outlook on the Indo-Pacific strategy, which is perceivably aimed at containing China’s rise and to ensure balance of power in the region. Meanwhile, France’s outlook is in existence for two years now.
Way ahead for implementation
The deal has now been reached at the technical level, paving way for a final ratification. But, getting the deal through the European Parliament, which attaches far more significance to human rights concerns than the Commission and the Council, is going to be a tough task, as many European legislators are increasingly sceptical of Chinese intentions and commitments to any deal.
The coming months are going to be crucial with regard to how the European legislators will debate and take forward the deal to the next level.
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