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Poor but Proud

Elena Alekseenkova

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The next meeting of the European Council, set to take place on June 28, 2018, promises a certain level of intrigue. One reason for this is the expectation that the new Italian government, formed on the basis of the March 4 elections after 80 days of coalition talks and conflict between the president and parliament, will present an ultimatum to Brussels.

The ultimatum is expected to include the following points:

1) The cancellation of Italy’s €250-billion debt to the European Central Bank (ECB);

2) The abolition of the financial and budgetary restrictions established by the 1992 Treaty of Maastricht, which Italy and several other EU countries have been ignoring for years. These restrictions include setting the maximum allowable budget deficit, national debt, public bond rates, etc. Even France, which today lays claim to being the main driver of European integration, has gone beyond the allowable level of national debt by 60 per cent;

3) A revision of the Dublin Regulation, which obliges first-port-of-call countries to deal with the registration of refugees and the arrangement of the necessary infrastructure for them, which entails significant financial expenditure;

4) The lifting of sanctions against Russia, which have caused serious damage to European export industries.

The new Italian government also does not support the sanctions against Russia. Giuseppe Conte has repeatedly confirmed the desire to take more active steps towards normalizing relations with Moscow. However, Italy did not officially oppose the sanctions imposed against Crimea, which were extended just last week. This gives cause to believe that it will not oppose the rest of the sanctions package and will likely use it as a bargaining chip for other items on its agenda – items that have far greater significance for Italy than increasing trade with Russia.

At the end of the day, work according the “done with Russia” paradigm is reasonably well established and has made it possible to restore half of the trade that was lost following 2013. But the threat of default, and the risk of being left alone to cope with ships coming in from Africa, are very real.

A sovereign yet unemployed and starving Italy is unlikely to think first and foremost about sanctions against Russia.

The next meeting of the European Council, set to take place on June 28, 2018, promises a certain level of intrigue. One reason for this is the expectation that the new Italian government, formed on the basis of the March 4 elections after 80 days of coalition talks and conflict between the president and parliament, will present an ultimatum to Brussels.

The ultimatum is expected to include the following points:

1) The cancellation of Italy’s €250-billion debt to the European Central Bank (ECB);

2) The abolition of the financial and budgetary restrictions established by the 1992 Treaty of Maastricht, which Italy and several other EU countries have been ignoring for years. These restrictions include setting the maximum allowable budget deficit, national debt, public bond rates, etc. Even France, which today lays claim to being the main driver of European integration, has gone beyond the allowable level of national debt by 60 per cent;

3) A revision of the Dublin Regulation, which obliges first-port-of-call countries to deal with the registration of refugees and the arrangement of the necessary infrastructure for them, which entails significant financial expenditure;

4) The lifting of sanctions against Russia, which have caused serious damage to European export industries.

A Country of “Limited Sovereignty”

It would make no sense for Brussels to ignore this ultimatum or to attempt to isolate the new Italian government as a group of radical populists, politicians who do not want to repay their debts and who are under the thumb of their own voters for the sole purpose of strengthening their positions. Italy is not a new EU member state, one that does not yet quite understand the “rules of civilized conduct” within the European family and can thus act like an impetuous teenager. On the contrary, it is one of the original members of the European Union, having laid the foundations for European integration along with Germany and France. Furthermore, the results of the general election held on March 4 clearly demonstrated the legitimacy of the people who have come to power and the level of public support for the ideas they have offered. This is why there is every reason to discuss the issues that have “accumulated” over time, and a serious discussion is now unavoidable. Essentially, the discussion should revolve around the most deep-seated problem of European integration – namely, the problem of sovereignty – because financial and economic policy, the right to carry out independent foreign economic activity, and border security are issues that directly affect the problem of balancing the national and the supranational.

The revival of national sovereignty, understood as the right of a country to pursue its own national interests, has become the main leitmotif of the Italian populists. The most outspoken critic of the policies that have led to the loss of Italy’s sovereignty has been the Federal Secretary of Lega Nord (the “Northern League”) Matteo Salvini. When the country’s president refused to approve the cabinet proposed by Giuseppe Conte, for example, Salvini commented, “I am convinced that we are not a free country and that we have limited sovereignty… We have a principle, which for us is absolutely key, and that is that Italians should decide their own destiny, not the people of Germany, Portugal or Luxembourg. First and foremost, we are talking about the right of the Italian people to employment, security, and happiness. For several weeks we toiled, day and night, to set up a government that is capable of protecting the interests of the Italian people. But someone (under pressure from someone else, perhaps) is telling us ‘no.’

“We will no longer exist in servitude. Italy is not a colony… You must give us our voice back!”

Italians for an Independent Italy and an Independent World

The ideology of this “revival of sovereignty” is underpinned by a relatively solid set of public fears and expectations – fears and expectations that are reflected in the results of opinion polls and which, if ignored by the authorities, would be tantamount to political suicide. According to research, the share of Italians who see the key national interest as ensuring the security of the country’s borders and establishing control over migrant flows grew from 30 per cent in 2013 to 66 per cent in 2017. The majority of Italians do not approve of the immigration policy pursued by the previous government. They see a direct link between illegal migration and terrorism and demand more decisive action on the part of the authorities to stem the flow of migrants.

There is a lack of understanding in Brussels of the fact that, against the background of Italy’s record national debt and youth unemployment levels that are higher than anywhere else in the European Union, the endless stream of refugees flowing into the country is actually a matter of existential significance.

A meeting of the EU Heads of State was scheduled for June 24 at the European Commission, where the issue of migration will surely be at the top of the agenda. The meeting will be attended by the heads of France and Germany (as the two countries most involved in “putting out the fires” related to European integration), Austria and Bulgaria (the co-Presidents of the European Commission for 2018), the four Mediterranean countries that took the “first blow” of the migrant wave (Italy, Spain, Greece and Malta), and the two most popular “secondary destination” countries (countries where migrants eventually head after arriving in the European Union) – Belgium and the Netherlands. The purpose of the meeting is clearly to snuff out the flame before it turns into a fire in the run-up the summit, which is to be held on June 28–29. This will consist of convincing the Mediterranean states to adopt a new plan to reduce the flow of refugees in return for them dropping the idea of repealing the Dublin Regulation. According to the Italian media, the plan involves stepping up control over the external contour of the European Union and “refining” the procedures for arranging the necessary infrastructure in territories outside the European Union (such as Libya, among other countries). The Italian side will have to guarantee greater control over the movement of refugees outside the country – that is, prevent them from moving into other EU countries. We do not know the details of the plan right now, but we can assume that the Italian side is sceptical of the capacity of the European Union to control the external contour and establish order in Libya. The Prime Minister of Italy is determined to present his own plan in Brussels.

The Italian people feel that decisions are being made for them, without their direct participation. According to polls, 82 per cent of Italians believe that the country has no influence on international relations or European policy. This is despite the fact that in the late 1990s, Minister of Foreign Affairs Gianni De Michelis declared that Italy had to become a “global protagonist” and conduct a more independent foreign policy. The growing partnership of France and Germany is calling for deeper European integration and for countries to welcome refugees (although France is in no hurry to accept the refugees it promised to take from Italy). This, along with growing uncertainty in U.S. foreign policy and Washington’s ostentatious disregard for the views of European states in resolving global problems that have appeared during the Trump administration, pours water on the idea of “limited sovereignty” that is firmly entrenched in the minds of the Italian people.

The number of people who believe that Italy and the European Union member states need to develop more independent foreign and security policies while remaining within NATO has grown from 35 per cent in 2012 to 62 per cent in 2017. Italy is becoming increasingly irked by the desire of the Germany–France partnership to speak on behalf of the entire European Union, whether it be on issues of migration, financial discipline within the association, or U.S.–Russia relations.

The new Italian government also does not support the sanctions against Russia. Giuseppe Conte has repeatedly confirmed the desire to take more active steps towards normalizing relations with Moscow. However, Italy did not officially oppose the sanctions imposed against Crimea, which were extended just last week. This gives cause to believe that it will not oppose the rest of the sanctions package and will likely use it as a bargaining chip for other items on its agenda – items that have far greater significance for Italy than increasing trade with Russia.

At the end of the day, work according the “done with Russia” paradigm is reasonably well established and has made it possible to restore half of the trade that was lost following 2013. But the threat of default, and the risk of being left alone to cope with ships coming in from Africa, are very real.

A sovereign yet unemployed and starving Italy is unlikely to think first and foremost about sanctions against Russia.

What Does This Mean for Russia?

For Russia, this means that there is no need to shout about the conflict that is brewing between Italy and the European Union any louder than the Italians are themselves. The temptation to support a friendly country in its rush to fight for its sovereign national interests is more than understandable, especially if we take into account the role of the concept of sovereignty in Russian political discourse. The desire to tell the whole world that one of the founding members of the European Union is actively promoting the idea of lifting the sanctions against Russia is similarly understandable. However, if Russia’s goal is still to patch up relations with the European Union, particularly with Germany and France, then it is worth taking into account just how important European solidarity is for Paris and Berlin and stop counting on a split forming within the Union. It is worth remembering, too, that Italy has something to offer in return for its vote against the Russian sanctions, while Paris and Berlin, in an effort to save European solidarity, could attempt to make Rome an offer it cannot refuse.

First published in our partner RIAC

PhD in Political Science, RIAC Program Manager, Research Fellow at Centre for Global Problems Studies, MGIMO-University

Europe

Time to Tackle the Stigma Behind Wartime Rape

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Images: UN Women Kosovo

The youngest capital city in Europe, Pristina, is the ultimate hybrid of old and new: Ottoman-era architecture stands amongst communist paraphernalia, while Kosovars who lived through the bloodshed of the 20th century share family dinners with a generation of young people with their sights set on EU accession.

This month, the capital’s Kosovo Museum welcomed a new force for change; Colours of Our Soul, an exhibition of artwork from women who survived the sexual violence of the Yugoslav Wars, showcases the world as these women “wished it to be.”

Colours of Our Soul isn’t the first art installation to shine a light on the brutal sexual violence thousands of Kosovar victims suffered throughout the turmoil of the conflict which raged from 1988 to 1999. In 2015, Kosovo-born conceptual artist Alketa Xhafa-Mripa transformed a local football pitch into a giant installation, draping 5,000 dresses over washing lines to commemorate survivors of sexual violence whose voices otherwise tend to go unheard. “I started questioning the silence, how we could not hear their voices during and after the war and thought about how to portray the women in contemporary art,” said Xhafa-Mripa at the time.

Victims, and their children, pressed into silence

The silence Xhafa-Mripa speaks of is the very real social stigma faced by survivors of sexual violence in the wake of brutal conflict. “I would go to communities, but everyone would say, ‘Nobody was raped here – why are you talking about it?’”, remarked Feride Rushiti, founder of the Kosovo Rehabilitation Centre for Torture Victims (KRCT).

Today, KRCT has more than 400 clients— barely a scratch on the surface given that rape was used in Kosovo as an “instrument of war” as recently as two decades ago. Some 20,000 women and girls are thought to have been assaulted during the bloody conflict; the fact that the artists whose work is featured in the Colours of our Soul exhibition did not sign their work or openly attend the installation’s grand opening is a sign of how pervasive the stigma is which haunts Kosovar society to this day.

As acute as this stigma is for the women who were assaulted, it is far worse for the children born from rape, who have thus far been excluded from reparation measures and instead dismissed as “the enemy’s children.” In 2014, the Kosovar parliament passed a law recognising the victim status of survivors, entitling them to a pension of up to 220 euros per month. Their children, however, many of whom were murdered or abandoned in the face of community pressure, are barely acknowledged in Kosovar society and have become a generation of young adults who have inherited the bulk of their country’s dark burden.

A global problem

It’s a brutal stigma which affects children born of wartime rape all over the world. The Lai Dai Han, born to Vietnamese mothers raped by South Korean soldiers, have struggled for years to find acceptance in the face of a society that views them as dirty reminders of a war it would rather forget. The South Korean government has yet to heed any calls for formal recognition of sexual violence at the hands of Korean troops, let alone issue a public— and long-awaited— apology to the Lai Dai Han or their mothers.

In many cases, as in the case of Bangladesh’s struggle for independence, the very existence of children born from rape has often been used as a brutal weapon by government forces and militants alike. Official estimates indicate that a mammoth 200,000 to 400,000 women were raped by the Pakistani military and the supporting Bihari, Bengali Razakar and al-Badr militias in the early 1970s. The children fathered, at gunpoint, by Pakistani men were intended to help eliminate Bengali nationhood.

Their surviving mothers are now known as “Birangana”, or “brave female soldier,” though the accolade means little in the face of a lifetime of ostracization and alienation. “I was married when the soldiers took me to their tents to rape me for several days and would drop me back home. This happened several times,” one so-called Birangana explained, “So, my husband left me with my son and we just managed to exist.”

No end in sight

Unfortunately, this barbaric tactic of rape and forced impregnation is one that is still being used in genocides to this day. The subjugation of the Rohingya people, for example, which culminated in a murderous crackdown last year by Myanmar’s military, means an estimated 48,000 women will give birth in refugee camps this year alone. Barring a major societal shift, the children they bear will suffer ostracization similar to that seen in Kosovo, Vietnam and Bangladesh.

Initiatives like the Colours of Our Soul installation in Pristina are not only central in helping wartime rape survivors to heal, but also play a vital role in cutting through the destructive stigma for violated women and their children. Even so, if the number of women who submitted their paintings anonymously is anything to go by, true rehabilitation is a long way ahead.

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EU–South Africa Summit: Strengthening the strategic partnership

MD Staff

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At the 7th European Union–South Africa Summit held in Brussels Leaders agreed on a number of steps to reinforce bilateral and regional relations, focusing on the implementation of the EU-South Africa Strategic Partnership. This includes economic and trade cooperation and pursuing the improvement of business climate and opportunities for investment and job creation which are of mutual interest.

Leaders also discussed common global challenges, such as climate change, migration, human rights, committing to pursue close cooperation both at bilateral level and on the global stage. A number of foreign and security policy issues, including building and consolidating peace, security and democracy in the African continent and at multilateral level were also raised. Leaders finally committed to work towards a prompt resolution of trade impediments affecting smooth trade flows.

Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission and Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, represented the European Union at the Summit. South Africa was represented by its President, Cyril Ramaphosa. EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini, Vice-President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness Jyrki Katainen and Commissioner for trade Cecilia Malmström also participated, alongside several Ministers from South Africa.

President Juncker said: “The European Union, for the South African nation, is a very important trade partner. We are convinced that as a result of today’s meeting we will find a common understanding on the open trade issues. South Africa and Africa are very important partners for the European Union when it comes to climate change, when it comes to multilateralism. It is in the interest of the two parties – South Africa and the European Union – to invest more. It will be done.” A Joint Summit Statement issued by the Leaders outlines amongst others commitment to:

Advance multilateralism and rules based governance

Leaders recommitted to work together to support multilateralism, democracy and the rules-based global order, in particular at the United Nations and global trade fora. South Africa’s upcoming term as an elected member of the United Nations Security Council in 2019-2020 was recognised as an opportunity to enhance cooperation on peace and security. As part of their commitment to stronger global governance, Leaders stressed their support to the process of UN reform, including efforts on the comprehensive reform of the UN Security Council and the revitalisation of the work of the General Assembly. Leaders reiterated their determination to promote free, fair and inclusive trade and the rules-based multilateral trading system with the World Trade Organisation at its core and serving the interest of all its Members.

Bilateral cooperation

Leaders agreed to step up collaboration in key areas such as climate change, natural resources, science and technology, research and innovation, employment, education and training including digital skills, health, energy, macro-economic policies, human rights and peace and security. The EU and South Africa will, amongst others, explore the opportunities provided by the External Investment Plan. Linked to this, Leaders committed to exploring opportunities for investment, technical assistance including project preparation, and the improvement of business and investment climates to promote sustainable development. Leaders welcomed the conclusion and provisional implementation in 2016 of the EU-Southern African Development Community (SADC) – Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).

Leaders also committed to find mutually acceptable solutions to impediments to trade in agriculture, agri-food and manufactured goods. They agreed to work towards a prompt resolution of these impediments.

Regional cooperation

Leaders welcomed the new Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs put forward by the European Commission. They exchanged views on foreign and security policy issues, addressed a number of pressing situations in the neighbourhoods of both the EU and South Africa, and welcomed each other’s contribution to fostering peace and security in their respective regions. Leaders agreed to explore opportunities to enhance cooperation on peace and security, conflict prevention and mediation.

Leaders confirmed common resolve to reform the future relationship between the EU and the countries of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States. To this end they are looking forward to the successful conclusion of negotiations for a post-Cotonou Partnership Agreement, that will contribute to attaining the goals of both the United Nations 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development and the long-term vision for African continent – Agenda 2063.

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Macron so far has augmented French isolation

Mohammad Ghaderi

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French President Emmanuel Macron has recently criticized the unilateral pullout of the US from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) but at the same time expressed pleasure that Washington has allowed France and the other JCPOA signatories to stay in the Iran nuclear deal.

In an exclusive interview with the CNN, Macron said that he has “a very direct relationship” with Trump. “Trump is a person who has tried to fulfill his electoral promises, as I also try to fulfill my promises, and I respect the action that Trump made in this regard. But I think we can follow things better, due to our personal relationship and talks. For instance, Trump has decided to withdraw from the Iran pact, but at the end, he showed respect for the signatories’ decision to remain in the JCPOA.”

There are some key points in Macron’s remarks:

First, in 2017, the French were the first of the European signatories to try to change the JCPOA. They tried to force Iran to accept the following conditions: Inspection of military sites, application of the overtime limitation on nuclear activities, limiting regional activities, including missile capabilities within the framework of the JCPOA.

Macron had already made commitments to President Trump and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to push Iran to accept the additional protocols to the deal, and he pushed to make it happen before Trump left the JCPOA.

Second, after the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, although France expressed regret, they had secret negotiations with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over the JCPOA.

The result of the undisclosed talks was deliberate delay on the part of the European authorities in providing a final package to keep the Iran deal alive. In other words, after the US unilaterally left the JCPOA, the French have been sloppy and maybe somewhat insincere about making the practical moves to ensure it would be saved.

Third, France has emphasized the need to strengthen their multilateralism in the international system and has become one of the pieces of the puzzle that completes the strategic posture of the Trump Administration in the West Asia region.

Obviously, French double standards have irritated European politicians, many of whom have disagreed with the contradictory games of French authorities towards the US and issues of multilateralism in the international community. Also, France’s isolation and its strategic leverage in the political arena has grown since the days of Sarkozy and Hollande. Some analysts thought that Macron and fresh policies would stop this trend, but it has not occurred.

First published in our partner MNA

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