2016 was one of the bloodiest years in the recent history of Europe. European states increased their security measures in order to prevent and protect their peoples from Islamic terrorists and Islamic extremism. Europe and West found a new phenomenon without precedent and now they are called to battle with it.
However, the real nightmare is not the constant fear of terrorists but the rising fear of our Muslim neighbor. How many times have you suspiciously watched a Muslim imam during the boarding time of your flight? How many times have you felt in sorrow or in anxiety about a Muslim woman wearing a niqab? How many times have you found yourself thinking that all women in Muslim countries get married before their teens or that all men beat their wives? Religion has started to set boundaries, bridge walls and bring hostile feelings into the surface: hostile feelings against our religious and cultural “unknown”.
Living permanently in Greece, I came face to face with the refugee crisis. Greece had to deal with thousands of Syrians coming from a different cultural, political and religious background. This was the breaking point where we understood the impact and the power of the Greek Orthodox Church in the Greek political and social life. First of all, in order to understand all these facts, I should mention the privileged position of the Church in the Greek Constitution. According to the Article 3, which governs the relations between the State and the Greek Orthodox Church, of the Greek Constitution (1986), the Greek Orthodoxy is the prevailing religion and the Greek Orthodox Church has the full autonomy to run all the operations related to the religious affairs. The Greek Orthodox dealt with the refugee and migrant crisis in really bad terms. Many bishops referred to them as a miasma for the Greek society and a crusade against them has to be started in order not to let them convert Christians into Islam. In September 2016, when the first refugee children would go the Greek primary schools, some Church’s representatives condemned this action and put the blame on the State that these children should not sit next to the Greek young generation. The ex-Minister of Education, Mr. Nikos Filis made an effort to change thecourse of religion in High Schools and introduce the course of World religions. The reaction of the Church led to replacement from another Minister who would follow the instructions of religious leaders and would maintain the course in the form of indoctrination as it is since the late ’50s. The specific form of the course puts in the margin, students from different religions, humanists or atheists and does not provide an inclusive school community.
Moreover, Greece is one of the countries that have not yet built a mosque for the Muslim communities. Muslim communities gather and pray in their own apartments or basements which serve religious purposes. The building of a mosque is one of the most problematic debates in Greece, especially after the pressure by the Turkish government in order to reopen the Theological School of Halki (closed since 1971).
As I already mentioned, both secular and less secular states of Europe such as Greece, are called to deal with problems and difficulties arising from religions and their embodiment in the field of politics and of human rights. This paper is going to discuss some of the most alarming issues in the current public debate related to religious expression. A special emphasis will be put on the relations between Islam and Christianity.
This article is divided in the following parts: The first part is going to examine the secular character of Europe and its challenges and consequences in a multireligious society. The second part is going to examine the issue of Muslim women veil and its ban from National Laws as well as women rights in both Muslim and Christian communities. Both primary sources and secondary sources have been selected in order to investigate the issues from various perspectives. A special attention has been paid on the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights on cases related to freedom of religion and freedom of expression.
A Secular Europe
According to the study of Pew Research Center which was conducted in 2010, Europe counted 550, 2 millions of Christians, 139,9million Non-religious and 43,3million Muslims. The prevailing religion in every single country in Europe was Christianity except for Estonia and Czech Republic where the majority of population was non-religious (59.6 % and 76.4 % respectively). Only in Albania, Islam is the prevailing religion counting 80.3% of the population. Following this study, in 2015, European Commission conducted a research related to values and European spirit. For Europeans, the most important things are the human rights, peace, life respect, individual rights and religion. Instead, they believe that the followings things represent most European Union and are less important for them: respect for other cultures, Law of the State (l’ état de droit) and democracy.
What is secularism and secular identity?
According to Casanova, secularization of Europe is an undeniable social fact. Religion does not play a key role in the fate of people and a new social model emerged in the recent decades of European history. According to Ferrari, secularization is the process where decisions affecting politics, law and economics must be based on reason, not on the faith of one or other citizen. The private and the public life are completely separated. In the era of secularization, religion belongs to the sphere of private life and public life has no room for religious affairs. Taking into account the flux of foreign minorities in Europe which carried with them new cultures and religions, secularism was the ideal solution to create inclusive societies without discrimination on the grounds of those cultural elements. To prevent the danger of a clash and to ensure the equal treatment of all religions, it is essential to ground the public sphere on a principle that is universal and neutral and therefore capable of being accepted by all people regardless of their religion: this principle is human reason. Consequently, Church and State are two different entities with different goals and different means which sometimes may cooperate for the social and common good.
Secularization has been a new and universal concept which according to Weber is a unique feature of European thought. But how has secularization emerged and prevailed in European societies? According to Linda Woodhead, there have been numerous social and political changes which favored the emergence of secularism after the 1970’s. First of all, individual rights gained ground and people determined their lives as they wished without letting anyone get involved in their decisions. Other changes such as late capitalism and consumer capitalism, tertiary knowledge open to large part of people, urbanization, globalization of economy in the post-colonial era, well — educated and skillful young people from all the social classes, women rights and women emancipation, sexual revolution and feminist movements, political emancipation constituted the fertile ground where secularism built its own building. Linda Woodhead offers two definitions for secularization. The first one is the social secularization which is the process whereby religion loses its power and influence over and within society while personal secularization has to do with the decline of individual allegiance and commitment to religion. State marginalized Church in Western states but still lays on its support in cases of emergency. Church still has impact on many people lives and its messages are strong enough even if many people decide not to follow strictly these guidelines and instructions.
A secular Christian identity
Someone would wonder how European and enlightened, secular societies are compatible with the rates of the study by Pew Research center where the majority identify themselves as Christian. As Casanova mentions, large numbers of Europeans even in the most secular countries still identify themselves as “Christian”, pointing to an implicit, diffused and submerged Christian cultural identity. According to Casanova, “secular” and “Christian” identities are intertwined in complex and rarely verbalized modes among most Europeans. However, scholars coming from different backgrounds, support the view that European secularism is selectively secular and is more friendly towards Christianity and less tolerant towards other religions and especially Islam. According to them, European secularism is a result of Christian cultural identity which still applies its standards and ignores other cultures and religions. Ferrari mentions related to that view that this secularism is double-standard secularism where the conditions of access to the secular public sphere, apparently the same for all religions, are actually more demanding for non-Christians religions whose doctrinal and organizational characteristics are less compatible with the secular profile that distinguishes the public sphere. The secular character of the current European societies has a lot been under doubt by the leaders of the Church and of various religions. The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I in his message towards the “Le Parti Populaire Européen” for its 21st Congress writes “ The history of Europe which contains some common features has been abandoned by modernity. We have to take into consideration the religious dimension if we want cohesion…and this is why our Church and PPE have started a fertile dialogue since 1995”.
Le Foulard Islamique and Women rights in Christianity & Islam
During summer 2016, mainstream and social media were full of images from arrests of Muslim women wearing burkini in French beaches. Burkini is officially banned by French Law and these arrests generated a wave of protests by human rights activists and Muslims all over the world. These protests had to do with the freedom of expression of Muslim women and Muslims in general and if finally the French secular state treats equally everybody without discrimination. On the other side, secularists talked about respect to the secular state of France and its laws of forbidding ostentious religious symbols.
France is the first European secular state where the State and Religion were separated and where the neutrality (Laïcité) of the State towards religion was applied. The Government passed the Law of 9 December 1905, installing in France a regime of Separation of Church and State which remains the current regime. The State must provide to everyone the possibility of attending at the ceremonies of his Church and of being instructed in the beliefs proper to his chosen religion. Equality between the various religions implies that there is no state religion, no “official” or dominant religion, no recognized Churches..No religion has a particular public status. Toleration must be extended to all religions, and even to unbelief. What is more, the church must be subject to political control.
These values have been reflected also on the European Convention of Human Rights and especially on the Article 9, paragraph 1 which protects the freedom of religion. The second paragraph sets the limits between the public and the private sphere where religion belongs Article 9 (2) allows governments to limit “manifestations” of religion or belief, albeit “only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or the protection of the rights and freedom of others” The wearing of veil brought initially in France a clash of cultures and traditions. As Ferrari writes, “On the one hand, immigration have brought into Europe an increasing number of people who follow religions that are not traditional in the Old continent (in particular, Islam): on the other hand an increasing number of citizens claim the right to follow publicly the tenets of their religion in matter of dress codes, gender relations, family law and so forth, and this is outside the private domain to which religion had been confined.
The veil of Muslim women reflected a symbol of oppression in European secular societies and lack of human rights. In 2004, the French National Assembly passed a legislation which makes it illegal for Muslim women to wear headscarves within French public schools. To be precise the legislation refers to the banning of ostentatious religious symbols within the secular domain of the public school system. The Jewish kippa (yarmulke) as well as “oversize” crosses are prohibited with the Muslim headscarf.The ultimate objective was the complete assimilation of these religious groups to the French values and principles and the creation of a more cohesive and inclusive society. The scarf only gradually became a charged political symbol of the presence of Islam in France. The beginning was made in 1989 where a principal in secondary school in Creil (a suburb in Paris) expelled three girls because they wore the headscarf. After this, a series of social battles in favor of the scarf or against the scarf was followed for many years. Cultural differences were brought into the surface. Muslim women who wear a hijab often being represented as agents of “fundamentalism” or “terrorism” and as indicators of the inassimilable nature of Muslims in Europe. On the one hand, people defended the cultural and religious traditions and the freedom of religious expression and on the other hand, people defended the secular values, the place of religion in the private sphere, the freedom of Muslim women from oppression, violence and patriarchal structures. Each side accused the other of ignorance or xenophobia but both sides defended human rights from a different perspective.
But what Muslim women say about this? Islam as every religion is internally diverse and has many branches with different views, more or less strict, towards human rights and women rights. In the study of Sara Silvestri, 132 Muslim women living in European countries took part in order to reach some conclusions regarding how they embody their Islamic tradition in their daily lives. Young generations are eager to access Islamic knowledge, to intellectually, spiritually and critically “own” their religion. Many women seek personal empowerment through close and conscious adherence to religious performance, by studying the Quran and Arabic independently, by attending lectures, by becoming able to challenge tradition and to dispute male leadership from within. Also, many women reject the male dominant and traditional forms of Islam and stop belonging to institutions and conservative communities. Consequently, they live their own spirituality in their own unique way even when they do not follow religious practices (non organized Islam). In the study of Nadia Jeldtoft, where she interviews people who do not belong to organized Islam, she states “ The practices have been adapted to fit into everyday life. They are spiritual because they provide interviewees with a space of their own to practice Islam on their own terms.” As Jeldtoft mentions, the nature of this form of religion is private and internalized with an individual approach. Many Muslim women believe that headscarf is a symbol of universal values and modesty and they feel better wearing it and not oppressed.
It is of crucial importance to make a short comparison with the liberty that women enjoy in Christianity. Europe has its roots in Catholicism and later some countries were led by Lutheranism and Protestantism. After the Early Christianity, the position of women got deteriorated and they became objects under the ownership of their family male members or second class citizens. Lutheranism place the male in the position of everybody’s master (paterfamilias) and women were confined in the domestic sphere with no public speech or influence. A new model of civic order where women were excluded, was promoted by Lutheran theology. Apart from their marginal role as care takers of their family, women also were depicted as devils who try to bring troubles (witch hunting).
After many centuries, women started playing a more crucial role in the Church and its operations. In a money based economy, men were absolutely interested in the profit making and women took care of charity affairs. In the last decades, modernity paved the way for Christianity. Its traditional and conservative methods were not tolerant by young people and radical measures should be taken in order to find an effective balance. Female autonomy led to the first steps for the change in the traditional typology of gender models in Christianity. In November 2016, Pope Francis extended power to priests to forgive abortion. This is the next big step of Roman Catholicism to the female reproductive autonomy which was unconceivable some years ago. Female reproductive autonomy was established as a human right in international law by the Convention of the Elimination all Forms of Discrimination against women, in force since 1981 ratified by 168 states. The Holy See, along with eight Muslim States has not signed this Convention, nor the 1952 Convention on the Political Rights of Women.
EU-Japan Summit: A landmark moment for trade and cooperation
The 25th EU-Japan Summit took place on 17 July in Tokyo. At the summit, leaders signed two landmark agreements, the Strategic Partnership Agreement and the Economic Partnership Agreement, which will significantly boost bilateral relations.
Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission and Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, represented the European Union at the Summit. Japan was represented by its Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe. The European Commission Vice-President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness, Jyrki Katainen also participated. EU Leaders offered their condolences to the people of Japan following the floods and landslides in Western Japan, and offered their support to Prime Minister to help in any way.
“Today is a historic moment in our enduring partnership”, said President Jean-Claude Juncker. “Today’s signature of the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement is a landmark moment for global trade, and I am also delighted that we have signed the first ever Strategic Partnership Agreement, which takes our cooperation to the next level. The impact of the Economic Partnership Agreement goes far beyond our shores. Together, we are making a statement about the future of free and fair trade. We are showing that we are stronger and better off when we work together and we are leading by example, showing that trade is about more than tariffs and barriers. It is about values, principles and finding win-win solutions for all. As far as we are concerned, there is no protection in protectionism – and there cannot be unity where there is unilateralism.”
For open, fair and win-win trade
The Economic Partnership Agreement between the EU and Japan is the biggest ever negotiated by the European Union. It creates an open trade zone covering over 600 million people and nearly a third of global GDP. It will remove the vast majority of the €1 billion of duties paid annually by EU companies exporting to Japan, and has led to the removal of a number of long-standing regulatory barriers, for example on cars. It will also open up the Japanese market of 127 million consumers to key EU agricultural exports and will increase EU export opportunities in a range of other sectors. The Agreement follows the highest standards of labour, environmental and consumer protection and has a dedicated chapter on sustainable development. It is the first trade agreement negotiated by the European Union to include a specific commitment to the Paris climate agreement.
Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström said: “We are sending a strong signal to the world that two of its biggest economies still believe in open trade, opposing both unilateralism and protectionism. The economic benefits of this agreement are clear. By removing billions of euros of duties, simplifying customs procedures and tackling behind-the-border barriers to trade, it will offer opportunities for companies on both sides to boost their exports and expand their business.”
Concerning data protection, the EU and Japan concluded the negotiations on reciprocal adequacy on 17 July, which will complement the Economic Partnership Agreement. They agreed to recognise each other’s data protection systems as ‘equivalent’, which will allow data to flow safely between the EU and Japan, creating the world’s largest area of safe data flows.
Věra Jourová, Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality said: “Japan and EU are already strategic partners. Data is the fuel of global economy and this agreement will allow for data to travel safely between us to the benefit of both our citizens and our economies. At the same time we reaffirm our commitment to shared values concerning the protection of personal data. This is why I am fully confident that by working together, we can shape the global standards for data protection and show common leadership in this important area.”
A Strategic Partnership Agreement fit for truly Strategic Partners
The European Union and Japan are like-minded partners, working together both bilaterally as well as in multilateral fora, such as the United Nations and the G7. The Strategic Partnership Agreement, signed today by President Juncker, President Tusk and Prime Minister Abe, will deepen and strengthen EU-Japan relations by providing an overarching and binding framework for enhanced cooperation.
“In today’s world, no country can think of tackling the global challenges that we are faced with on its own”, said the High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini ahead of the Summit. “Japan is a country that we already work so closely with, on many files, from peace-building to denuclearisation, from counter-terrorism to effective multilateralism. The Strategic Partnership Agreement will allow us to strengthen this cooperation across a wide range of sectors, but also open up the possibility for cooperation in new areas, from science, technology and innovation, environment and energy, to climate change and security.”
At the Summit, the Leaders addressed regional and foreign policy issues including the situation on the Korean Peninsula, the conflict in eastern Ukraine and the illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol, the commitment to preserving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – the Iran nuclear deal, among others. As the Strategic Partnership Agreement foresees, Leaders also discussed the shared commitment to strengthen cooperation on global issues and confirmed the EU and Japan’s joint vision and support to the rules-based international order with multilateralism, democracy, non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, open markets and a global trading system with the World Trade Organisation at its core.
The Leaders also discussed other bilateral issues, including possibilities to strengthen the EU-Japan security partnership, strengthened cooperation in the fields of development policy and education, culture and sports.
EU-China Summit: Deepening the strategic global partnership
The 20th Summit between the European Union and the People’s Republic of China held today in Beijing has underlined that this partnership has reached a new level of importance for our own citizens, for our respective neighbouring regions and for the international community more broadly.
President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker and President of the European Council Donald Tusk represented the European Union at the Summit. The People’s Republic of China was represented by Premier Li Keqiang. European Commission Vice-President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness, Jyrki Katainen, Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström, and Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc also attended the Summit. President Tusk and President Juncker also met with the President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping.
“I have always been a strong believer in the potential of the EU-China partnership. And in today’s world that partnership is more important than ever before. Our cooperation simply makes sense”, said the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker. “Europe is China’s largest trading partner and China is our second largest. The trade in goods between us is worth over €1.5 billion every single day. But we also know that we can do so much more. This is why it is so important that today we have made progress on the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment through a first exchange of offers on market access, and towards an agreement on Geographical Indications. That shows that we want to create more opportunities for people in China and in Europe.”
The Joint Summit Statement agreed by the European Union and China illustrates the breadth and depth of the EU-China relationship and the positive impact that such a partnership can have, in particular when it comes to addressing global and regional challenges such as climate change, common security threats, the promotion of multilateralism, and the promotion of open and fair trade. The Summit follows the High-level Strategic Dialogue, co-chaired by the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini and Chinese State Counsellor, Wang Yi, in Brussels on 1 June, and the High-level Economic and Trade Dialogue, co-chaired by Vice-President Katainen and Chinese Vice-Premier, Liu He, in Beijing on 25 June.
This 20th Summit demonstrates the many ways in which the European Union and China are concretely strengthening what is already a comprehensive relationship. In addition to the Joint Statement, a number of other concrete deliverables were agreed, including:
- a Leaders’ Statement on Climate Change and Clean Energy;
- an exchange of offers on the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment;
- a Partnership Agreement on Oceans;
- a Memorandum of Understanding on Circular Economy Cooperation;
- a Memorandum of Understanding to Enhance Cooperation on Emissions Trading;
- agreement to conclude before the end of October, if possible, the negotiations on an Agreement on Geographical Indications;
- an Action Plan concerning China-EU Customs Cooperation on Intellectual Property Rights (2018-2020);
- a Memorandum of Understanding between the European Investment Fund and the Silk Road Forumconfirming the first co-investment carried out under the recently established China-EU Co-Investment Fund;
- a Strategic Administrative Cooperation Arrangement and an Action Plan (2018-2020) between the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) and the General Administration of China Customs
Working together for a more sustainable planet
In the Leaders’ statement on climate change and clean energy, the European Union and China have committed to step up their cooperation towards low greenhouse gas emission economies and the implementation of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. In doing so, the EU and China will intensify their political, technical, economic and scientific cooperation on climate change and clean energy.
Welcoming this commitment, President Juncker said: “We have underlined our joint, strong determination to fight climate change and demonstrate global leadership. It shows our commitment to multilateralism and recognises that climate change is a global challenge affecting all countries on earth. There is no time for us to sit back and watch passively. Now is the time for decisive action.”
Vice-President Katainen and the Chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission, He Lifeng,also signed the Memorandum of Understanding to Enhance Cooperation on Emissions Trading, which acknowledges the significant potential of emissions trading to contribute to a low carbon economy and further enhances the cooperation of the two largest emission trading systems of the world.
Building on the success of the 2017 EU-China Blue Year, the EU and China have also signed a Partnership Agreement on Oceans. Two of the world’s largest ocean economies will work together to improve the international governance of the oceans, including by combating illegal fishing and exploring potential business and research opportunities, based on clean technologies, in the maritime economy. The partnership contains clear commitments to protect the marine environment against pollution, including plastic litter; tackle climate change in accordance with the Paris Agreement and implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, in particular Goal 14. The signature of this ocean partnership is the first of its kind and opens the door for future partnerships between the EU and other key ocean players.
Vice-President Katainen and Minister of Ecology and Environment, Li Ganjie, also signed the Memorandum of Understanding on Circular Economy Cooperation that will provide a framework for cooperation, including a high-level policy dialogue, to support the transition to a circular economy. Cooperation will cover strategies, legislation, policies and research in areas of mutual interest. It will address management systems and policy tools such as eco-design, eco-labelling, extended producer responsibility and green supply chains as well as financing of the circular economy. Both sides will exchange best practice in key fields such as industrial parks, chemicals, plastics and waste.
In the context of the EU’s International Urban Cooperation programme, in the margins of the Summit, Commissioner Creţu witnessed the signature of a joint declaration between Chinese and European cities: Kunming and Granada (ES); Haikou and Nice (FR); Yantai and Rome (IT); Liuzhou and Barnsley (UK) and Weinan and Reggio Emilia (IT). These partnerships will facilitate exchanges to examine and develop local action plans reflecting the EU’s integrated approach to sustainable urban development while addressing social, economic, demographic and environmental challenges.
Putting the international rules-based system at the centre of open and fair trade
“I am more convinced than ever that, in the era of globalisation and of interdependence, multilateralism must be at the heart of what we do. We expect all our partners to respect international rules and commitments that they have taken, notably within the framework of the World Trade Organisation”, said President Jean-Claude Juncker in his keynote speech at the EU-China Business Roundtable in Beijing, which provided an opportunity for EU and Chinese leaders to exchange views with representatives of the business community. “At the same time, it is true that the existing WTO rules do not allow unfair practices to be dealt with in the most effective way, but instead of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, we must all preserve the multilateral system and improve it from within.” President Juncker’s full speech is available online. Commissioner Malmström also intervened at the event.
At the Summit, the EU and China confirmed their firm support to the rules-based, transparent, non-discriminatory, open and inclusive multilateral trading system with the WTO as its core and committed to complying with existing WTO rules. They also committed to co-operating on the reform of the WTO to help it meet new challenges, and established a joint working group on WTO reform, chaired at Vice-Ministerial level, to this end.
Good progress was made on the ongoing Investment Agreement negotiations, which is a top priority and a key project towards establishing and maintaining an open, predictable, fair and transparent business environment for European and Chinese investors. The EU and China exchanged market access offers, moving the negotiations into a new phase, in which work can be accelerated on the offers and other key aspects of the negotiations. The European Investment Fund (EIF), part of the European Investment Bank Group, and China’s Silk Road Fund (SRF) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the aim of confirming the first co-investment carried out under the recently established China-EU Co-Investment Fund (“CECIF”) that promotes investment cooperation between the European Union and China and the development of synergies between China’s Belt and Road Initiative and the Investment Plan for Europe.
Regarding steel, both sides agreed to strengthen their cooperation in the Global Forum on Steel Excess Capacity and committed, in accordance with the decisions of the 2016 Hangzhou and 2017 Hamburg Summits, as well as with the 2017 Ministerial decisions, to the goal of implementing the agreed political recommendations.
The EU and China also agreed to conclude the negotiations on an Agreement on cooperation on, and protection from imitation for distinctive food and drink products, so-called Geographical Indications before the end of October – if possible. An agreement in this area would result in a high level of protection of our respective Geographical Indications, which represent important traditions and rich resources for both the EU and China.
In the area of food safety, the EU and China agreed to promote the highest food safety standards, and are ready to take the regionalisation principle into account, and committed to expanding market access for food products.
The EU and China have also signed the Action Plan Concerning China-EU Customs Cooperation on Intellectual Property Rights (2018-2020), with the aim of strengthening customs enforcement to combat counterfeiting and piracy in the trade between the two. The Action Plan will also promote cooperation between customs and other law enforcement agencies and authorities in order to stop production and wind up distribution networks.
The European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) and the General Administration of China Customs signed a Strategic Administrative Cooperation Arrangement and an Action Plan (2018-2020) on strengthening the cooperation in combatting customs fraud in particular in the field of transhipment fraud, illicit traffic of waste and undervaluation fraud.
At the third meeting of the EU-China Connectivity Platform, held in the margins of the Summit and chaired for the EU by Commissioner Violeta Bulc, the two parties reaffirmed their commitment to transport connectivity on the basis of respective policy priorities, sustainability, market rules and international coordination.
The exchanges focused on:
- the policy cooperation based on the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) framework and the Belt and Road initiative, involving relevant third countries between EU and China;
- cooperation on Transport decarbonisation and digitalisation, including in international fora such as the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organisation (IMO)
- cooperation on investment projects based on sustainability criteria, transparency and level-playing field to foster investment in transport between EU and China.
A people’s partnership
The European Union and China are putting their respective citizens at the heart of the strategic partnership. There were good discussions on foreign and security cooperation and the situation in their respective neighbourhoods. At the Summit, EU and Chinese Leaders discussed ways to support a peaceful solution on the Korean Peninsula; their commitment to the continued, full and effective implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – the Iran nuclear deal; joint, coordinated work on the peace process in Afghanistan; and the situation in eastern Ukraine and the illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol. They also discussed other foreign and security challenges, such as in the Middle East, Libya, and Africa, as well as their joint commitment to multilateralism and the rules-based international order with the United Nations at its core.
Many successful activities have already been held within the framework of the 2018 China-EU Tourism Year, designed to promote lesser-known destinations, improve travel and tourism experiences, and provide opportunities to increase economic cooperation. At the Summit, Leaders committed to further advancing relevant activities, facilitating tourism cooperation and contacts between people.
With the protection and improvement of human rights at the very core of the European Union and its global partnerships, Leaders also addressed issues relating to human rights, a week after the EU and China held their latest Human Rights Dialogue.
Both parties confirmed that they will press ahead with the parallel negotiations on the second phase of the EU-China Mobility and Migration Dialogue roadmap, namely on an agreement on visa facilitation and an agreement on cooperation in addressing irregular migration.
The EU and China also agreed to launch new dialogues covering drug-related issues and on humanitarian assistance.
Libya is in no state to rescue migrants in the Mediterranean
Italy’s new government—an unholy alliance of the populist M5S and far-right League parties—careened into office on an uncompromising anti-migrant platform, soliciting the warnings of politicians and financial institutions around the world. With its recent decision to hand naval control of a large swath of the Mediterranean—extending almost to Malta and Crete— to failed-state Libya, the coalition government may yet set a new low more rapidly than expected.
Italy’s hope is that the Libyan forces it has ceded responsibility to will prevent shipwrecked migrants from reaching European shores, instead returning them to the very country they are trying to flee. While this plan might sound attractive to a government which has lamented it can’t deport its own citizens from minority backgrounds, NGOs working in the area have stressed the grave threat the new policy poses to migrants. Those rescued now face a return to prolonged detention and harsh treatment in a country which has been desperately torn apart for seven years. From the spate of warring militias which control Tripoli to General Khalifa Haftar’s lengthy campaign against Islamist forces in the country’s east, Libya is plagued with conflicts which make it no safe haven for migrants.
In this context, Italy’s decision to hand over responsibility of such a large portion of the Mediterranean to Libya is likely not only against international law, but an affront to basic human rights. The Italian government is set to donate 12 boats to enhance the capabilities of the Libyan coast guard—such as it is— given its new responsibilities. Libya will need these twelve vessels and more before they can carry out even the most basic search and rescue operations. At present, the country only has three operational patrol boats; barely seaworthy, they are often forced to stay at port due to lack of fuel. “It’s very clear that the priority is not saving lives”, one spokesman from the German charity Sea Watch remarked about the sorry state of Libya’s fleet; “I have not seen a single life jacket.”
Unsurprisingly, Libya’s track record on saving migrants at sea is hardly exceptional. More than 100 migrants, including young children, recently drowned off Libyan shores after the coast guard picked up just 16 survivors when their overloaded vessel capsized. In a separate incident, a shipwreck east of Libya’s capital Tripoli saw 63 people go missing after their inflatable boat sank. The Libyan coast guard was unable to even locate their bodies.
The number of migrants dying during the dangerous crossing has significantly increased since the European Union began to back away from rescue missions and close crucial ports. At the same time human traffickers are exploiting the desperation of those attempting to flee violence on the African continent, the European bloc seems ever more reluctant to extend a well-trained, well-resourced helping hand.
That reluctance has had deadly consequences. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), one out of seven migrants attempting the journey across the Mediterranean died at sea last month, compared to last year’s average of one in 38 migrants.
Though it is becoming increasingly obvious the EU cannot accept further significant inflows of migrants without exacerbating tensions that risk breaking the bloc apart, plans to send migrants back to be detained in war-torn Libya under horrific conditions are simply inhumane.
If Italy is determined to turn over control of migrant rescue operations to the Libyan government, it first needs to make sure that that government is stable and just. So far, the West has done little to support Libya, privileging short-term solutions to the country’s deeply-rooted problems. Many Western countries have also stubbornly continued to push for the unelected, UN-backed-government in Tripoli, long after it has proven to be weak and ineffective. Upon the violent end of Muammar Gaddafi’s four decades of dictatorial rule, the US abdicated responsibility for “picking up the pieces” of Libya. At the same time, the UN worked to reconcile adversarial political blocs under the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA). This top-down approach has proven profoundly flawed, not least because it has sidelined actors outside the UN government, such as General Haftar, who already commands significant respect and power in the country.
Thankfully, Western attempts to stabilize Libya are slowly becoming more effective. Major international powers now finally recognize that all principal Libyan stakeholders must necessarily be involved in crafting a sustainable solution. France in particular is taking the lead on pushing for a workable way out of the crisis. Paris believes Haftar, whose four-year-long military campaign has been successful at rooting out the Islamic State and its affiliates from Derna and other fundamentalist strongholds, must inherently be a part of that process. In an encouraging breakthrough, Haftar and the three other key Libyan leaders have met and even tentatively agreed to hold elections in December.
This new approach to diplomacy within Libya’s chaotic borders is promising, and may point to a more stable future in years to come. In the meantime, Libya cannot be trusted with patrolling a huge section of the Mediterranean until a steadfast Libyan government can prove its mettle in ensuring the rule of law domestically.
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