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Explaining the European Union’s partnership with India

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What are the main objectives of the Joint Communication?

The Joint Communication will strengthen the EU-India Strategic Partnership by focusing on sustainable modernisation and on common responses to global and regional issues. It is meant to serve for the next decade as a coherent platform to advance key EU interests, improving the way the EU approaches India. The Joint Communication seeks to maximise the opportunities in terms of trade, investment, people-to-people exchanges, foreign policy and security, and global governance, particularly through synergies and coherence in actions by the EU and its Member States.

  • Seize the full potential of the EU-India strategic partnership.
  • Build a strong partnership for sustainable modernisation, to benefit both sides.
  • Join forces with India to consolidate the rules-based global order, based on multilateralism with the UN and the WTO at its core.
  • Develop a shared approach at the multilateral level to address global challenges and increase coordination.
  • Seek common responses to security threats and regional issues.

Why is this Joint Communication coming now?

The long-standing EU-India relationship is based on a 1994 Cooperation Agreement. The last Commission Communication on India dates from 2004, when the Strategic Partnership was established. The partnership has evolved and has seen enhanced commitment from both sides over the last two years. An ambitious Agenda for Action 2020 was adopted jointly at the 2016 EU-India Summit, while at the October 2017 EU-India Summit, the two sides recognised agreed a common vision of global governance, shared values and principles. There is, therefore, a positive momentum for the EU to restate its engagement towards India.

What is the EU’s ambition in developing foreign policy cooperation with India?

Among the EU’s many partners, India already plays an important role, particularly in consolidating EU’s engagement in and with Asia. India’s international reach and relevance will continue to grow, and therefore its importance to the EU, in line with the development of its economy and its diplomatic and defence capabilities. Although EU-India political consultations have broadened and deepened considerably in the last few years, more could be done together to ensure regional stability and global crisis management.

On many global, international and regional issues, there is clear convergence between the EU’s and India’s views and objectives. For example, both the EU and India remain committed to the continued full and effective implementation of the Iran nuclear deal and we collaborate closely to help bring peace and development to Afghanistan, as we have also done in addressing the recent crisis in the Maldives. The EU wants to expand this positive engagement and to strengthen cooperation on other issues in Africa and the Middle East, based on shared interests, principles and values. The EU will seek to develop more structured and regular consultations in multilateral fora and exchanges on emerging regional structures in Asia.

How will the EU enhance security cooperation with India?

EU-India cooperation in the field of security is directed at enhancing the security and wellbeing of our citizens. Terrorist attacks on EU and Indian soil should not shake our commitment to tolerance and diversity. On the contrary, in order to address this growing threat, the EU and India are currently looking at establishing effective counter radicalisation programmes, removing terrorist and extremist content available online, deepen cooperation on terrorist designations and to increase the effectiveness of sanctions, and putting an end to terrorism financing.

With the expansion of IT to all spheres of life, cybersecurity is quickly becoming one of the most important threats to national and global security, and in the short-to-medium term this threat is only expected to grow. The EU and India have a lot to learn from each other regarding protecting critical infrastructure and defining international rules that can apply to the cyberspace. In addition, our law enforcement agencies have to start collaborating more closely to confront the activities of cybercriminals that operate in the EU and India at the same time.

Both India and the EU are firm believers that non-proliferation and disarmament are necessary to maintain world security and are promoting international regimes to control missile technology and the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

Another area of mutual interest is maritime security. The scope for cooperation, especially in the Indian Ocean, is very large. The EU and India have cooperated in anti-piracy efforts in the Indian Ocean and the EU would like to see India joining on efforts to escort World Food Programme shipments off the coast of Somalia. The EU and India should join forces to promote the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, as the basis of ocean governance and work more closely in the field of maritime surveillance.

Given the important steps the EU has taken recently to improve its action capability as a security actor, the EU aims to enhance overall cooperation with Asian partners, and with India in particular. To this end, the EU will seek to establish military-to-military contacts with Indian counterparts in order to explore concrete opportunities for cooperation.

How developed is the trade and investment relationship between the EU-India?

India is an important trade partner for the EU and an emerging global economic power. India is the fastest growing large economy, with growth rates of about 7%. In 2017, the EU was India’s first trading partner, while India was the EU’s ninth largest trading partner, amounting to a total of €86 billion trade in goods and €29 billion trade in services.

The EU is one of the largest investors in India, with an overall stock of more than €72 billion in investments. India too is emerging as a proactive investor in the EU, with €4.9 billion in 2016.

Close to 6,000 EU companies are present in India collectively providing direct employment to 1.2 million workers and indirect employment to 5 million.

However, the potential of the EU-India trade and investment relationship is far from being reached. From this perspective, the EU aims to achieve comprehensive and balanced agreements on trade and investment with India, as well as to support trade liberalisation and to ensure fair market access and predictable investment conditions.

Why does the EU want to increase investment in India’s sustainable modernisation?

The EU offers important opportunities in terms of technology-sharing and know-how, providing high-level synergies in sectors where EU companies are world leaders: this includes infrastructure, transport, telecoms and basic industry. This wealth of experience and knowledge means that the EU has much to offer India in its quest to grow and modernise, and it helps, in turn, create new business opportunities.

Furthermore, cooperation on climate change, the environment, green energy, and urbanisation helps the EU and India to meet internal objectives as well as international commitments. The EU also wants to work more with India to build inclusiveness and equality, for example via digitalisation.

The EU promotes a growing role of the European Investment Bank (EIB) in financing India’s sustainable modernisation initiatives. The EIB has so far invested €2.5 billion in India in infrastructure, renewable energy and climate projects.

Why is the Joint Communication calling for a partnership on connectivity with India?

The EU has launched in October 2018 its Strategy on Connecting Europea and Asia. The Strategy calls for more engagement with partners – in Europe’s neighbourhood, in Asia and beyond – on enhancing connectivity and finding complementary and common solutions. The EU approach to connectivity is clearly set: connectivity must be fiscally, environmentally, socially and economically sustainable; comprehensive across sectors and financial frameworks; and rules-based.

The EU and India have agreed at the 2017 Summit on a common view towards connectivity, acknowledging “that connectivity initiatives must be based on universally recognised international norms, good governance, rule of law, openness, transparency and equality and must follow principles of financial responsibility, accountable debt financing practices, balanced ecological and environmental protection, preservation standards and social sustainability.”

Given the commonality of views, India is a priority country for the establishment of a connectivity partnership.

Why is India an important partner on research and innovation?

Both the EU and India have similar views on the role of research and innovation: supporting economic development, creating jobs and strengthening the capacity to address global societal challenges, notably ICT, health, climate change and energy, food security or smart cities.

India has important centres of excellence and a considerable talent pool, with a high potential to jointly contribute with the EU to address global challenges. The EU cooperates with India through the Horizon 2020 Framework Programme for Research & Innovation. Indian researchers receive grants from the European Research Council or Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellowship. A co-funding mechanism was established to fund successful Indian participants in Horizon 2020 projects.

Joint initiatives aim to foster the development of concrete solutions to common societal challenges. An example of joint cooperation is a successful flagship initiative in the area of water of €30 million.

India also has impressive start-up ecosystems. The EU promotes networking between innovators, start-ups, incubators, including via joint on line and off line platforms.

How is the EU working with India on clean energy and climate change?

Both the EU and India ratified the Paris Agreement and are committed to its implementation. Against the backdrop of a changing international landscape, India and EU have the ability to lead and uphold their Paris pledges.

The EU and India have established in 2016 a Clean Energy and Climate Partnership to work on a clean energy future for India and to implement the Paris Climate Change agreement. The Partnership delivers concrete activities on the ground among others in renewable energy, energy efficiency and smart grids. For example: technical assistance is provided to the Indian Government to develop the first off-shore wind plant in India and to implement the Solar Parks Programme. The EU also finances technical assistance to implement the Energy Conservation Building Codes.

The EU promotes green investments through blended financing. Projects funded under the Asia Investment Facility support sustainable urban housing and mobility. The Electrification Financing Initiative boosts private sector investments in sustainable energy through de-risking and reimbursable schemes.

How will the EU work with India at the multilateral level?

The EU and India are both strong supporters of the rules-based global order, based on multilateralism, with the UN and the WTO at its core. In the current international environment, the EU will build on this important common ground it shares with India to develop coordination at multilateral level, particularly at the UN, G20 and WTO. The main aim is to build multilateral solutions and address challenges to international security, global economic stability and growth.

What does the EU want to achieve regarding data protection cooperation?

Increased convergence between our systems could bring very significant benefits to our economies. This would, in particular, facilitate trade flows which increasingly rely on personal data transfers, while ensuring a high level of protection of the data exchanged between India and the EU.

The EU supports the progress of data protection reform in India, which will also cover foreign operators. With a new law in place, India would be joining the growing trend of global convergence in this area. As a leading world economy and the world’s largest democracy, India’s endorsement of a high level of data protection would constitute a critical example at a moment where there is an increasing demand for international standards on privacy.

Importantly, if adopted, the law would certainly contribute to facilitating data flows between the EU and India, and could open the way for a possible adequacy dialogue.

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NATO’s Cypriot Trick

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UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

When the Soviet Union collapsed and the Warsaw Pact died, there was much speculation that NATO would consider itself redundant and either disappear or at least transmogrify into a less aggressive body.

Failing that, Moscow at least felt assured that NATO would not include Germany, let alone expand eastwards. Even the NATO Review, NATO’s PR organ, wrote self-apologetically twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin wall: “Thus, the debate about the enlargement of NATO evolved solely in the context of German reunification. In these negotiations Bonn and Washington managed to allay Soviet reservations about a reunited Germany remaining in NATO. This was achieved by generous financial aid, and by the ‘2+4 Treaty’ ruling out the stationing of foreign NATO forces on the territory of the former East Germany. However, it was also achieved through countless personal conversations in which Gorbachev and other Soviet leaders were assured that the West would not take advantage of the Soviet Union’s weakness and willingness to withdraw militarily from Central and Eastern Europe.”

Whatever the polemics about Russia’s claim that NATO broke its promises, the facts of what happened following the fall of the Berlin wall and the negotiations about German re-unification strongly demonstrate that Moscow felt cheated and that the NATO business and military machine, driven by a jingoistic Cold War Britain, a selfish U.S. military-industrial-congressional complex and an atavistic Russia-hating Poland, saw an opportunity to become a world policeman.

This helps to explain why, in contrast to Berlin, NATO decided to keep Nicosia as the world’s last divided city. For Cyprus is in fact NATO’s southernmost point, de facto. And to have resolved Cyprus’ problem by heeding UN resolutions and getting rid of all foreign forces and re-unifying the country would have meant that NATO would have ‘lost’ Cyprus: hardly helpful to the idea of making NATO the world policeman. Let us look a little more closely at the history behind this.

Following the Suez debacle in 1956, Britain had already moved its Middle East Headquarters from Aden to Cyprus, while the U.S. was taking over from the UK and France in the Middle East. Although, to some extent under U.S. pressure, Britain was forced to bring Makarios out of exile and begin negotiating with Greece and Turkey to give up its colony, the U.S. opted for a NATO solution. It would not do to have a truly sovereign Cyprus, but only one which accepted the existence of the Sovereign Base Areas (SBAs) as part and parcel of any settlement; and so it has remained, whatever the sophistic semantics about a bizonal settlement and a double-headed government. The set of twisted and oft-contradictory treaties that have bedevilled the island since 1960 are still afflicting the part-occupied island which has been a de facto NATO base since 1949. Let us look at some more history.

When Cyprus obtained its qualified independence in 1960, Greece and Turkey had already signed, on 11 February 1959, a so called ‘Gentlemen’s Agreement’, agreeing that they would support Cyprus’ entry into NATO.1 This was, however, mere posture diplomacy, since Britain—and the U.S. for that matter—did not trust Cyprus, given the strength of the Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL) and the latter’s links to Moscow. The Ministry of Defence (MOD) wrote: ‘Membership of NATO might make it easier for the Republic of Cyprus and possibly for the Greeks and Turks to cause political embarrassment should the United Kingdom wish to use the bases […] for national ends outside Cyprus […] The access of the Cypriot Government to NATO plans and documents would present a serious security risk, particularly in view of the strength of the Cypriot Communist Party. […] The Chiefs of Staff, therefore, feel most strongly that, from the military point of view, it would be a grave disadvantage to admit Cyprus to NATO.’2 In short, Cyprus was considered unreliable.

As is well known, the unworkable constitution (described as such by the Foreign Office and even by David Hannay, the Annan reunification plan’s PR man), resulted in chaos and civil strife: in January 1964, during the chaos caused by the Foreign Office’s help and encouragement to President Makarios to introduce a ‘thirteen point plan’ to solve Cyprus’ problems, British Prime Minister Douglas-Home told the Cabinet: ‘If the Turks invade or if we are seriously prevented from fulfilling our political role, we have made it quite clear that we will retire into base.’3 Put more simply, Britain had never had any intention of upholding the Treaty of Guarantee.

In July of the same year, the Foreign Office wrote: ‘The Americans have made it quite clear that there would be no question of using the 6th Fleet to prevent any possible Turkish invasion […] We have all along made it clear to the United Nations that we could not agree to UNFICYP’s being used for the purpose of repelling external intervention, and the standing orders to our troops outside UNFYCYP are to withdraw to the sovereign base areas immediately any such intervention takes place.’4

It was mainly thanks to Moscow and President Makarios that in 1964 a Turkish invasion and/or the island being divided between Greece and Turkey was prevented. Such a solution would have strengthened NATO, since Cyprus would no longer exist other than as a part of NATO members Greece and Turkey. Moscow had issued the following statement: ‘The Soviet Government hereby states that if there is an armed foreign invasion of Cypriot territory, the Soviet Union will help the Republic of Cyprus to defend its freedom and independence against foreign intervention.’5

Privately, Britain, realising the unworkability of the 1960 treaties, was embarrassed, and wished to relieve itself of the whole problem. The following gives us the backstage truth: ‘The bases and retained sites, and their usefulness to us, depend in large measure on Greek Cypriot co-operation and at least acquiescence. A ‘Guantanamo’6 position is out of the question. Their future therefore must depend on the extent to which we can retain Greek and/or Cypriot goodwill and counter USSR and UAR pressures. There seems little doubt, however, that in the long term, our sovereign rights in the SBA’s will be considered increasingly irksome by the Greek Cypriots and will be regarded as increasingly anachronistic by world public opinion.7

Following the Turkish invasion ten years later, Britain tried to give up its bases: ‘British strategic interests in Cyprus are now minimal. Cyprus has never figured in NATO strategy and our bases there have no direct NATO role. The strategic value of Cyprus to us has declined sharply since our virtual withdrawal from east of Suez. This will remain the case when the Suez Canal has reopened.8

A Cabinet paper concluded: ‘Our policy should continue to be one of complete withdrawal of our military presence on Cyprus as soon as feasible. […] In the circumstances I think that we should make the Americans aware of our growing difficulty in continuing to provide a military presence in Cyprus while sustaining our main contribution to NATO. […]9

Britain kept trying to give up the bases, but the enabler of the Turkish invasion, Henry Kissinger, did not allow Britain to give up its bases and listening posts, since that would have weakened NATO, and since Kissinger needed the bases because of the Arab-Israel dispute.10

Thus, by the end of 1980, in a private about-turn, Britain had completely succumbed to American pressure: ‘The benefits which we derive from the SBAs are of major significance and virtually irreplaceable. They are an essential contribution to the Anglo-American relationship. The Department have regularly considered with those concerned which circumstances in Cyprus are most conducive to our retaining unfettered use of our SBA facilities. On balance, the conclusion is that an early ‘solution’ might not help (since pressures against the SBAs might then build up), just as breakdown and return to strife would not, and that our interests are best served by continuing movement towards a solution – without the early prospect of arrival [author’s italics]11.

And so it is today: Cyprus is a de facto NATO territory. A truly independent, sovereign and united Cyprus is an anathema to the U.S. and Britain, since such a scenario would afford Russia the hypothetical opportunity to increase its influence in the Eastern Mediterranean.

From our partner RIAC

[1] Ministry of Defence paper JP (59) 163, I January 1960, BNA DEFE 13/99/MO/5/1/5, in Mallinson, William, Cyprus, a Modern History, I.B. Tauris (now Bloomsbury), London and New York, 2005, 2009, 2012, p.49.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Memorandum by Prime Minister, 2 January 1964, BNA CAB/129/116, in ibid, Mallinson, William, p.37.

[4] British Embassy, Washington, to Foreign Office, 7 July 1964, telegram 8541, BNA FO 371/174766, file C1205/2/G, in ibid.’, Mallinson, William, p. 37.

[5] Joseph, Joseph S., Cyprus, Ethnic Conflict and International Politics, St Martin’s Press, London and New York, 1997, p. 66.

[6] In 1964, Cuba cut off supplies to the American base at Guantanamo Bay, since the US refused to return it to Cuba, as a result of which the US took measures to make it self-sufficient.

[7] Briefing paper, 18 June 1964, BNA-DO/220/170, file MED 193/105/2, part A. Mallinson,William, Kissinger and the Invasion of Cyprus, p. 127.

[8] ‘British Interests in the Eastern Mediterranean’, draft paper, 11 April 1975, BNA-FCO 46/1248, file DPI/515/1.

[9] Cabinet paper, 29 September 1976, in op. cit. Mallinson, William, Kissinger and the Invasion of Cyprus, p.134.

[10] Mallinson, William, Britain and Cyprus: Key Themes and Documents, I.B. Tauris, London and New York, 2011, and Bloomsbury, London and New York, 2020, pp. 87-121.

[11] Fergusson to Foreign Minister’s Private Secretary, minute, 8 December 1980, BNA-FCO 9/2949, file WSC/023/1, part C.

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Belarus divorces from the Eastern Partnership: A new challenge for the EU Neighborhood Policy

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The Eastern Partnership (EaP) is the Eastern dimension of the EU Neighborhood Policy adopted back in 2009 aimed at deepening relations between Brussels and six Eastern European partners – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. The EaP has been regarded as a strategic initiative based on mutual interests and common values with a goal of strengthening political and economic relations with those countries, helping them enhance their institutional capacity through sustainable reforms. While increasing stability and paving the way for the sustainable development of those societies, the EU’s overall goal has been to secure its Eastern borders.

Since the very beginning the EaP has been suspiciously viewed by Russia as an attempt of expansion of the sphere of influence and as a first step of EU membership of these countries. Russians point to the EU and NATO ambitious expansion eastward as the main reason for complicated relations and in this context the EaP has been regarded with traditional fears and paranoic perceptions. The Russian hard power approach causes serious problems for the EaP which fails to mitigate security concerns of partner countries and to come up with serious initiatives for conflict settlement. Being a laggard in terms of soft power, the Russian ruling elite has continuously used all hard power foreign policy instruments at its disposal trying to undermine the coherence of the initiative. And the very recent démarche of Belarus to withdraw from the EaP should be seen in this context of confrontation.

On 28th of June, the ministry of foreign affairs of Belarus announced a decision to halt its membership in the EaP as a response to the EU sanctions imposed on Minsk accompanied by the recalling ambassadors from both sides. Actually, this isn’t the first case of the EaP walkout blackmailed by Lukashenko. The first escape was attempted in September-October 2011, but the difficulties were soon resolved and Lukashenko revised his decision. This time situation seems very complicated and these far-reaching tensions may have tough consequences for Lukashenko’s regime. This new group of sectoral sanctions which target banking, oil, telecommunication spheres and also ban the export of potash, is a harsh response from the EU against Lukashneko’s scandalous hijacking activity in May to detain a Belarusian opposition journalist and blogger Roman Protasevich.

Lukashenko’s administration not only challenges the EU Neighborhood Policy and shows no retreat, but also goes forward escalating the situation. Minsk takes high risks freezing the Readmission Agreement signed by the EU. This document is a legal basis for bilateral cooperation aimed at struggling against irregular migration flows. It’s not a secret that the territory of Belarus has been used for illegal migration for the groups from the Middle East to penetrate into neighboring EU member states such as Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. Moreover, Belarus territory has served as a transit route for smuggling circles going from East to West and vice versa.  And now closing eyes on all these channels, Minsk hopes to increase the bargaining power vis-à-vis Brussels. However, given the Western reactions, it seems that this time the EU is resolute.

Despite the fact that Charles Michel, the President of the EU Council, described this withdrawal as “another step backwards” and even threatened that “this will escalate tensions having clear negative impacts”, the EU wants to continue working with the Belarusian society  as Josep Borrel stated. The EU’s determination to keep the bridges alive with the Belarusian people, in spite of Lukashneko’s radical stance, is aimed at preventing further isolationism of Minsk which would benefit only Russia.

In contrast to the increasing level of tensions with the EU, the Russian authorities continue to support Lukasheno’s administration, thus trying to deepen the gap and to bring Belarus under their total influence. Russia uses Belarus in its chessboard with the EU and the USA in Eastern Europe. Last year’s fraud elections and brutal crackdown by Lukashenko left him alone with the only source of power stemming from the Kremlin. Thus the withdrawal from the EaP should be understood not only as a convulsion of the Belarusian authorities in response to the sanctions, but also Russia’s employment of the Belarus card to respond to the recent joint statement of the EU-US summit in Brussels, when both parties declared their intention to stand with the people of Belarus, supporting their demands for human rights and democracy simultaneously criticising Lukashenko’s regime and his reckless political behavior and also criticising Russian’s unacceptable behavior.

So, Lukashenko’s step to quit the EaP can be seen as a well-calculated adulatory sign towards Moscow sacrificing the last remnants of sovereignty in order to receive financial and political lifebuoy amid the increasing crisis in the result of sanctions.  And the recent visit of N. Patrushev, the Secretary of the Security Council of Russia, to Minsk right after the withdrawal decision shows Russian inclination to strike while the iron is hot and to abuse the vulnerable situation of Belarus. Patrushev stated that the ultimate goal of foreign powers is to change the power in Belarus and he suggested instead of focusing on internal issues, to bring their forces together against external threats as their influence affects internal developments. For this reason, deeper integration of security and military services of both countries are on the table.

The reaction of opposition leader S. Tikhanovskaya was very rough, stating that this suspension will cut the opportunities of ordinary citizens who benefit from the political and economic outcomes of the EaP. Moreover, she claims that Lukashenko doesn’t have a right to represent Belarus since August 2020 and his decisions don’t have legal consequences for Belarus. This kind of approach is shared by the leadership of Lithuania too, whose president and minister of foreign affairs not only refuse to recognize Lukashenko as a legitimate president, but also highlight the role of the Kremlin in supporting the dictatorial power of Lukashenko in exchange for decreasing sovereignty.

The blackmail of Lukashenko to challenge the EU Eastern Neighborhood Policy  in order to have the sanctions lifted may bring about such kind of precedents with other partnering countries as well. First of all, this concerns Azerbaijan which continues to face serious problems related with human rights, freedom of expression, the problem of Prisoners of War and other traits of authoritarian power. It’s well-known that  human rights issues have been the underwater stones in the EU and Azerbaijan relations and they continue to pose new challenges for Aliyev’s non-democratice regime. Another weak ring of the EaP chain is Armenia. Even though reelected N. Pashinyan is eager to pursue a balanced foreign policy, post-war Armenia still faces serious limitations given its vulnerable dependence on Russia. Besides, Pashinyan’s main rival and the former President R. Kocharyan, whose alliance will be the second largest faction in the newly elected Parliament has recently stated that this new parliament can last up to one and half years and nobody can exclude the possibility of new snap elections. His pro-Russian attitude and anti-Western stance are well-known and in case he becomes a prime-minister, there is no guarantee that he will follow the path of Lukashenko. 

Therefore  the statement of the Austrian MFA, that ”we cannot leave South Caucasus to others” during the  recent official visit of the Austrian, Romanian and Latvian MFA under the mandate of the EU High Representative to the South Caucasus, reminds  about the EU presence in the region and also the fact that the ‘normative power’ can be a source of balance and a status quo changer.

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Anti-Macron protests underline classism, as corona protesters and gilets jaune join forces

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photo: Alaattin Doğru - Anadolu Agency

I get it. People in France are fed up with the Covid lockdowns and that’s why they are protesting against the new tightening of the Covid rules. But there is much more to the story.

The new anti-Covid rules by French President Macron came in the middle of the Cannes Film Festival where the rich and famous come out to play for 10 days at the French Reviera. I was there, too, in fact when the new set of rules angered so many ordinary French people. But guess what — the rules didn’t apply to us, those gathered for the Cannes red carpets and parties. Celebrities did not have to wear masks on the red carpet. I did not have to put on a mask at the red carpets. I was not checked even once on the mandatory Covid tests which we took every 2 days anyways. No one at the Cannes red carpets, parties or fashion shows was looking at Covid tests at the entrance, and I attended not one or two things. That’s at the time when the rest of France was boiling. Yes, we were treated differently as the Cannes crowd. That was obvious.

Don’t get me wrong — spending tens of thousands of euros to drink champaigne, walk red carpets and hang out with actors, models, designers and influencers is great. But I couldn’t help but notice that the Cannes elite was being held to a very different standard in comparisson to the ordinary French public. Macron exempted the Cannes crowd from the new rules and that smells of classism and elitism. I can see why the gillets gaune, which I wrote about in my book Trump, European security and Turkey (2020), are angry and want to resume their protests which were put an end to with the Covid lockdowns.

In fact, as soon as you move one or two streets away from the craze and snobbery of the Cannes Festival, you see a very different French picture. Actually, the most pleasant conversations I had in Cannes were with the guy that made my pizza at 2am, a couple of gillets jaune on the street, and the taxi driver who lives in Cannes. These were the pleasant, hard-working French people that represent France so much better than the snotty Cannes Film Festival organizers, the French police or the so-overrated snobbery at the Chopard events. 

From the pizza guy in Mozarella Street I learned that he works two jobs and sleeps 3 hours per night. That’s the reality for many normal French people. Yet, he was the nicest and coolest person I met in Cannes. Somehow I wished that he could trade places with some of the rest I met in Cannes who probably don’t deserve to have an easy life and should be taught a lesson. So I get it. I get the struggle of the gillets gaune and all those that are opposed to Macron’s policies. He is increasingly playing with the far right and that might as well mean that he is looking at his sunset. 

I also get the classism that persists in French society — it’s important to be aware of it even if you’re on the receiving end of a lot of glamor, bemefits and good things. All I can tell you is that next time I am in France, I am joining the gillet jaune protests. Now I really get it. 

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