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Macron trying to reconcile Serbs and Albanians

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A two-day visit to Serbia by French President Emmanuel Macron, which came to a close on July 16, was designed to repair the damaged reputation of Paris and the entire European Union in the Balkan settlement, particularly, in Kosovo. A meeting of Presidents of Serbia and Kosovo, Aleksandar Vučić and Hashim Thaci, with Macron and German  Chancellor Angela Merkel, which took place in Berlin at the end of April, ended without result, mainly due to differences between Paris and Berlin on the partition of Kosovo. A similar meeting scheduled for the beginning of July in Paris, did not go ahead at all due to a widening gap in the positions of the parties involved. The Balkan capitals are talking ever louder about Europe’s inability to propose to the Balkans at least some effective scenarios and  signal the need to attract the United States in securing the Balkan settlement, which would in fact mean the EU is facing a “vote of no confidence” in the Balkans.

From this point of view, the French leader and his Serbian counterpart managed to achieve some progress. The two parties agreed to gather for the next Kosovo summit in Paris in September.

Speaking of the European political scene, it is Emmanuel Macron who advocates a strong and united European Union, which adapts to the socio-economic specifics of various regions.

Contributing to such an adaptation is the concept of “Europe of two velocities” and of “zones of strong and weak euro”, which come from the transformation of a formally unified EU into a two-tier structure consisting of the financially and economically strong “core” and the weak “periphery”, which comprises, among others, the Balkans.

It is precisely this that causes current friction between France and Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel strongly opposes any division lines in the European Union, be it political and economic ones, and is against re-considering the existing borders. The latter circumstance directly concerns the Balkans in general and Kosovo in particular, since the division of Kosovo into Serb and Albanian parts underlies a scenario that has been under discussion over the past year in Belgrade and in Pristina. It is this plan, or rather, a fierce rejection of it by Angela Merkel (Emmanuel Macron seems to be in favor of it) that, according to reports, led to the failure of the April summit on Kosovo in Berlin and became the main reason for the negotiating parties’ unwillingness to gather in Paris at the beginning of July.

“Those who listened attentively to what President Macron said, understood that they have their own debates and have their own problems to resolve, while we should concentrate on the problems of the region, achieve the best relations possible – in this case we will become stronger and more powerful”, – the Serbian President said commenting on the results of the talks in Belgrade, differences within the European Union itself, and his own vision of how to normalize relations with Kosovo. Speaking in the run-up to negotiations, Aleksandar Vucic emphasized that “Macron is one of the top two European leaders and the person of the future.” He described his French counterpart as “a hardworking and energetic person who is not always easy to deal with.”

The French president did not make it a secret from his Serbian counterpart what kind of problems he faces in the EU proper. According to the Belgrade-based Politika, during a closed meeting of the two leaders with Serbian students, Emmanuel Macron complained about the difficulties of passing any decisions in the European Union and reiterated the need to “modernize” the EU. Aleksandar Vučić, for his part, reaffirmed his commitment to a “compromise solution” on Kosovo, which, in his opinion, would lead to the normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina.

Simultaneously, the Serbian president made it clear that Belgrade is ready to reconsider its tough position regarding the decision of the Kosovo authorities adopted at the end of 2018 to impose 100% protective duties on products from Serbia (as well as from Bosnia and Herzegovina). Until now, Belgrade has cited this anti-Serb measure as the main reason for lack of progress in negotiations with Pristina. However, his rhetoric seems to be changing. “I think it’s time to talk anew about some things. I’d hate to slap the blame on the other party and talk about duties; let us give the great powers an opportunity to do their job, ” – said Aleksandar Vucic in the presence of Emmanuel Macron, hinting at the Serbian leaders’ readiness for new compromises. “We are witnessing an upsurge in tension and this tension at times feeds on assistance from external forces that are interested to see to it that a solution is not found,” – Emmanuel Macron remarked, implying that Serbia, Kosovo and France would be able to address the problem of Kosovo more successfully, if there were no obstacles from the outside. In the next few weeks, he said, he would make all the necessary efforts to organize a four-party meeting in Paris with the participation of leaders of France, Germany, Serbia and Kosovo in order to secure a “global and achievable solution” on Kosovo.

What could become such a solution is an agreement on the division of Kosovo with Belgrade retaining control over its northern, Serb-populated regions. Over the past year, Belgrade and Pristina have worked out two draft agreements on the normalization of bilateral relations regarding territorial claims. The corresponding maps were prepared on the basis of an agreement on the delineation of borders, which Hashim Thaci and Aleksandar Vucic reached in August 2018 at the European Forum in Austria. The document was supposed to be signed in Brussels in early September 2018 with the participation of the EU leadership. However, disagreements over the principles of demarcation, as well as protests by opposition forces in Belgrade and Pristina, disrupted the schedule.

The Pristina plan proceeds from the fact that the Serbian-Albanian delineation plan should be a “package”- based one, envisaging a comprehensive exchange of territories, including Kosovo’s Serb-populated areas, which constitute a fifth of the region’s territory, the mainly Albanian-populated Bujanovac and Presevo communities adjacent to Kosovo, and, if possible, the community of Medveda, where the population ratio is gradually changing in favor of the Albanians. That the Pristina authorities should transfer part of the territory of Kosovo to Serbian control was indicated by Hashim Thaci at the beginning of 2019, as he spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. In his words, the signing of the relevant agreement with Belgrade in Brussels under the patronage of the EU will allow Kosovo to receive recognition from Serbia and join the UN: “If a minor border adjustment is the price to pay for a final settlement, this should be acceptable.” The resulting document, Hashim Tachi said, must be signed “with the support of the United States.”  Russia, he said, “seems ready to accept an agreement which will be reached” between the parties concerned.

What is meant by the above mentioned is “commitment to achieve a comprehensive peace agreement between Kosovo and Serbia, which will guarantee Kosovo a place in the UN and will enable it at the appropriate time to join NATO allies and the EU,” – the Kosovo leader explained on Twitter.

According to the latest census of Serbia’s population, Presevo is home to 89% of Albanians and 9% of Serbs, Bujanovac is populated by 55% of Albanians and 34% of Serbs, and Medveda – by 26% of Albanians and 67% of Serbs.

The proposed agreement, including in terms of relevant territorial exchanges between Belgrade and Pristina, is supported by the United States. For US President Donald Trump, international conflicts should be settled within the format of bilateral business deals, while his National Security Adviser, John Bolton, has already made it clear that Washington does not “rule out the possibility of re-drawing borders” in the Balkans if “both sides are ready for a compromise between themselves and come to agreement.”

“If Serbia and Kosovo manage to come to agreement on the re-drawing of the border, Austria will definitely not be against this,” – the former (and, most likely, the next) Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said in support of this approach.

However, the agreement in question has many opponents. Among them are not only nationalist and radical forces in Serbia and Kosovo, but also influential players on the European scene. In particular, the former UN special envoy in the Balkans, Carl Bildt, is categorically against changes of borders in the Balkans: “When you do that, you know where to stop but you don’t know how it will end. Borders are borders, they are not to be touched. Many borders in Europe are drawn with blood, and if you change them, you cannot be sure what will happen next. ”

The differences between Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel, which do make it difficult for the EU to act as an active and independent player, including in the Balkans, are likely to persist in the coming months. According to the Croatian edition Advance, “ French President, Emmanuel Macron, has been skeptical of late about further enlargement of the European Union. However, some do not share his views, ”including the Federal Chancellor of Germany. “I agree with President Macron that the mechanisms of the European Union need to be improved, but I do not associate this process with a refusal to negotiate membership in the European Union,” – Advance quotes her as saying at the recent EU summit on Western Balkans in Poland.  Advance then continues to analyze the layout of forces in the France-Germany-USA triangle: “Trump will be the last to support the expansion of the European Union. Moreover, he will seek to cut down the existing EU (Brexit and possible future “exits”) during the potential second mandate even more actively than now. Besides, Macron has already made it clear that he is ready to support Trump’s position if he finds it more beneficial (attitude towards Syria, criticism of the Iranian ballistic program, and so on). And Macron will most likely go for it, because he expects Washington to approve him in the role of the “top figure” of what is and will be known as the European Union. ”

Russia has repeatedly pointed out that it will support the agreements between Belgrade and Pristina, if they meet the interests of the Serbian side. In addition to reducing tensions in the Balkan region, normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo would ensure their greater participation in Russian infrastructure and energy projects, including in terms of connection to Russian gas transportation routes. In particular, this could mean stretching an export line of the Turkish Stream gas pipeline through the territory of Southern Serbia and a possible branch from it through Kosovo and further to the Adriatic Sea, with a view to plug in Italy.

 From our partner International Affairs

Peter Iskenderov, senior research assistant at RAS Slavic Studies Institute, candidate of historical sciences

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What Europe Can Do to Avoid WW III?: Say ‘No!’ Now, to Its Start

Eric Zuesse

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The U.S. Government, which had lied its way into invading and destroying Iraq in 2003 (with a little help from UK and Europeans), wants Europeans to pitch-in for more U.S.-run invasions. Europeans find this disturbing, but not repulsive enough to say, flat-out, “No!” to it. However, only that “No!” can stop the onrush toward a massive U.S. war against both Iran and Iraq, which would spread ultimately into a global nuclear war between U.S. and Russia.

On January 6th, Barbara Wessel, a columnist for Germany’s Deutsche Welle (DW), headlined a common European sentiment: “Trump has Europeans caught in a trap: Europe is suffering under the way Donald Trump makes political decisions on the fly. The only option left is to appeal to Iran’s interest in self-preservation”. But Iranians can’t stop the sanctions against itself, and can’t stop Trump’s other outrageous aggressions. Wessel’s false underlying assumption was that Europe must lecture Iranians. That’s like lecturing to Jews during WW II: “The only option left is to appeal to Jews’ interest in self-preservation.” Victims already do everything they can to stop their being victimized; they cannot stop the victimizer from victimizing them. They don’t cause it. Europe must, at last, say “No!” to U.S., the tyrant over the entire world — Bolivia, Venezuela, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and more. Wessel, however, understood, at least, that the dangerousness actually comes far more from the U.S., than it does from Iran. So, she recognized that her thinking on this whole matter was confused. She stated:

Any illusions about the possibility of an even partially rational cooperation on foreign policy with the government in Washington have long been shattered. Cynical remarks by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who accuses the Europeans of not giving enough support in the Middle East, underline their helplessness. … Even experienced observers of US Middle East policy have been unable to explain how this [Trump’s “bring American soldiers home”] fits in with the strike against Soleimani. … Europeans find themselves in the trap of a kind of US foreign policy that is marked by the emotional eruptions of an unpredictable president and his power-drunk neocon supporters. … Basically, their [the U.S. Government’s] only explanation for killing Soleimani is: “Because we can.” … Granted, Europe looks weak and helpless when, in joint statements, Europeans call for de-escalation after their presumed partner, the US, has just done everything it can to escalate the situation. … The new year will quickly show how strong the current tendency to suicide is among all those involved. …

The presumption on which such sentiments are based is that things must go on as before, and EU must continue to be allied with U.S., instead of with the rest of the EurAsian Continent — but this presumption (EU with U.S. instead of with all the rest of EurAsia) has been false ever since the U.S. Government went wild in its response to the mainly Saudi Arabian 9/11 assault against the U.S. and Israel cheered that event, and Iran got blamed by the U.S. government for 9/11 as being “The top state sponsor of terrorism” (which was yet another lie), and Obama perpetrated a coup replacing Ukraine’s democratically elected Government with a U.S.-imposed fascist and rabidly anti-Russian government such as Obama wanted to be next-door to Russia. He even was intending to replace Russia’s largest naval base, which is in Crimea, by yet another U.S. naval base, to be installed there. None of this is in Europe’s interest. Nor is it even discussed in Europe or in any other vassal-region of the U.S. empire. It’s censored-out there.

Germany, France, Italy, Spain and all the rest of Europe, actually belong with all the rest of the EurAsian Continent, rather than with the formerly democratic but now fascist United States across the Atlantic Ocean. A federal EurAsia, composed of free and independent states within a wider United States of EurAsia, would have 4.618 billion population, almost half of the entire world, and wealth to match that, and economic growth which far exceeds that of what will then be left of the U.S.-and-its-allied-countries: UK, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. All other nations would ally either with EurAsia or with that U.S. group — American and those three core allies (Saudi Arabia, Israel, and UK). NATO is America’s aggressive alliance, which routinely invades countries that pose no threat to either U.S. or Europe (such as Iraq). America’s plan for NATO is to expand it worldwide, so that the U.S. will automatically have European allies for invasions in places such as Latin America. NATO needs to be replaced by a united EurAsian defense force, which will be able to counterbalance, within its sphere, the world’s largest military. The U.S. has around 1,000 military bases, of which around 300 are inside U.S. Though officially the U.S. spends 37% of the global military budget, it actually spends around half of all global military expenditures, but hides around one-third of its annual military spending by listing those costs in other federal Departments, such as the U.S. Treasury Department, so as not to seem as militaristic as the U.S. Government actually is. It’s actually a global empire — the largest that the world has ever known. Europe is, and can only be, vassals in that empire. The alternative requires new thinking, and is not to spend more money on the military, but to recognize that when Russia ended the Cold War in 1991, the war secretly continued, and still does continue, on the U.S. side — and Russia and China recognize that this is America’s intention. Europe must stop the Cold War, because only Europe can do that.  

Barbara Wessel’s commentary presumes, instead, that Europe’s leaders have no ability to say no to the U.S. That presumed passivity is only bad habit, inherited from a Europe which was wrecked by WW II. That’s no longer the reality today. Instead, Europe, joined with Asia, will be the global superpower that can finally end America’s endless wars —simply by not joining them. EurAsia will be the world’s dominant power, if Europeans want a future that is better than the past, instead of catastrophic. Either way, the future won’t be much like the past. Europe needs to wake up now, from its vassalage since WW II ended. Simply continuing that would produce a horrible future.

Another DW columnist on January 6th, Konstantin Eggert, headlined “Opinion: Putin’s power games may get out of hand”, and he was even more supportive of Germany’s vassalage to the U.S. regime. He presented a strong case that by murdering Soleimani, Trump had pulled the trump card in the U.S.-v.-Russia game by eliminating the key person upon whom Putin had been relying in order to transfer dominance in the Middle East away from U.S. and toward, instead, Russia. Soleimani was that key individual for Putin’s success in this. “According to sources in Moscow, Putin knew Soleimani very well: He played a key role in creating the Russian-Iranian alliance that saved Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria from what seemed in 2015 an imminent demise.” With Soleimani now gone, Eggert predicted that regardless of what Iraq’s Government might want, the U.S. would refuse to terminate its occupation of that country, and Iran would be in a much weaker position than before. He said that “Putin has every reason to wish the Iranians backed off from confrontation with the United States,” so as for Russia to avoid being drawn into World War III. “Putin’s best chance to avoid this drama is to play peacemaker — not alone but in the company of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Turkey’s Erdogan, who are rushing to meet him in the coming two days. Berlin and Ankara do not want to see the Middle East explode and will be asking Putin to use his close ties in Tehran to hatch a deal and fend off confrontation.” In this sense, the missile that hit Soleimani on January 3rd hit not only Iraq and Iran but EU and Turkey. Eggert therefore advises America’s vassals to remain America’s vassals because Russia now is trapped and Putin might not fold his hand and might not simply let Iran become ultimately swallowed-up — Merkel etc. should urge Putin to fold his hand, is the implication here. Eggert’s implication is that, in the final analysis, might makes right, and that therefore any resistance against it (for example, if Putin continues to resist) would only be harmful. Or, as he puts it: “With the Iranian regime massively undermined or destroyed, Moscow’s position in the Middle East and Vladimir Putin’s personal prestige as the world’s topmost authority on stopping ‘regime change’ and someone who never leaves allies in the lurch, will be badly hit and revealed as much weaker than it seems.” Eggert sees Trump’s assassination of Soleimani as, in effect, a master-stroke, which has severely weakened Putin. Of course, if Europe’s leaders will act this way, then Eggert’s might-makes-right view will be vindicated, by them.

Europe is the U.S. regime’s indispensable ally. If EU breaks away from U.S. and joins with the rest of the EurAsian continent instead, at least the possibility will exist for avoiding a hellish future of continued and accelerating vassalage to the U.S. regime for the entire world. Passivity and might-makes-right slants such as “Putin’s power games may get out of hand” (instead of “America’s assassination of Soleimani places entire world in danger”) are choicesnot inevitable — and Europeans will ultimately be the individuals who will be making the choices here. Europeans will decide whether the U.S. is the world’s enemy; or, instead, whether Russia, China, Iran, and, really, all the rest of Asia, will be treated as if they were that (like the U.S. regime wants). Ganging-up against the victims — if that is to be the European response — would be a choice, not an inevitability (such as DW implies). It will be up to Europeans whether to order all U.S. troops to leave, and to tariff all imports from America, and to sanction and boycott U.S. brands and increasingly replace them with EurAsian ones instead. Trump can be trumped, but only Europe has the clout to do it. The future will be decided by Europeans. The voices of passivity, such as DW, are doing the bidding of Europeans’ enemy — not of the entire world’s future: a EurAsian-led world.

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The right to affordable housing: Europe’s neglected duty

Dunja Mijatovic

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Increasingly making the headlines, the scarcity of affordable housing in Europe is a serious and growing problem that pushes an ever-larger number of people into housing insecurity and homelessness. Unless governments in Europe step in to take decisive measures to turn back the tide, this crisis will continue to intensify and increase existing inequalities, exclusion, and segregation.

Housing is in short supply in Europe today, in spite of increasing demand. In many countries, the overall level of housing construction is lower now than in previous decades, contributing to structural shortages which are especially acute in large cities. This scarcity of housing is pushing up rents as well as prices, which in most European countries surpass the increase in wages. These trends cause many people to gradually be “priced out” of certain neighbourhoods and force them to accept homes of substandard quality or to move to areas where they face poorer prospects of finding work within a reasonable distance, decent education, quality healthcare, and other basic social needs.

Affordable housing: whose problem?

According to the European Committee of Social Rights, housing is affordable if the household can afford to pay initial costs, rent and other related costs, like utility bills and charges, on a long-term basis, while still being able to maintain a minimum standard of living. Meeting this challenge is an uphill struggle for many Europeans today as the cost of housing consumes the lion’s share of their household budgets. Frequently, this results in the so-called housing cost overburden, which arises when more than 40% of one’s disposable income is spent on housing. For instance, this affects around two out of five people in Greece, one in five in Bulgaria, and one in six in Denmark and Germany.

Although the problem concerns many people across Europe, high housing costs have a disproportionate impact on people living in poverty and those at risk of poverty, including the “working poor”. The numbers are telling. A report on housing inequality, published by the Council of Europe Development Bank in 2017, showed that the housing cost was an excessive burden for nearly a third of the lowest earners in the EU/EEA area.

Between 2007 and 2017, the average housing cost overburden rate among poor households increased in the majority of European Union countries. The highest figures in 2017 stood at 90% in Greece, 75% in Denmark and 50% in Bulgaria. Among the EU’s youngest citizens living below the poverty line in 2017, 42% on average were overburdened by the cost of housing; this ratio reached 63% in the Netherlands, 84% in Denmark and 91% in Greece. A similarly discouraging picture appears outside the EU: a 2017 UN study found the cost of housing in Armenia to be unaffordable for most citizens. In the same year, Ukraine’s capital Kyiv was ranked second least affordable in Bloomberg’s Global City Housing Cost Index.

The availability and quality of housing is a closely related problem. In Armenia, according to UNECE, the 2011 census reported 16,000 people (2% of all households) to live in structures unfit for housing, like metal shipping containers. Also according to UNECE, in Ukraine in 2011 more than one million households were in need of housing while the average waiting time for social housing was estimated to exceed 100 years, and 20 years in Russia. Eighty thousand households have been reported to lack long-term housing solutions in North Macedonia.

Social housing: outsourced and underfinanced

As a result of the shortage of affordable housing, the social housing sector in Europe is coming under pressure. While there is no single formula for getting social housing policies right, state responses to rising demand have so far been to withdraw and to shift the burden to the local government, private sector, housing associations and non-profit organisations. In 2017, overall spending by governments on social housing represented only 0.66% of the European GDP and continued to fall. In many countries, the emphasis has been placed on increasing housing allowances. We need fresh ideas in this area. A new toolkit published by the European Housing Solutions Platform outlines 50 out-of-the-box solutions making use of social housing, the private rental sector, and integrated approaches to overcome financial and political barriers within European housing systems.

Rising homelessness and forced evictions

As observed by my predecessor in the 2013 Issue Paper on safeguarding human rights in times of economic crisis, the 2008 crisis and growing unemployment led to a sharp increase in evictions and rising homelessness in many European countries. While tenant protection laws often serve as a safety net, overall they do not seem to effectively tackle the problem. The 2017 and 2018 annual overviews, published by the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless (FEANTSA) and Fondation Abbé Pierre, found evidence of rising homelessnessin all the EU/EEA countries surveyed except Finland and Norway. The decline in homelessness experienced in these two countries was attributed to the implementation of long-term strategies of successful cooperation between the state, local authorities and local stakeholders, and approaching homelessness from the perspective of a human rights violation.

Increasing homelessness has been observed to particularly affect migrants, young people, women, families, and children.The 2018 FEANTSA report noted that children are becoming the largest group of people in emergency shelters. In 2015, children accounted for one-third of Ireland’s entire homeless population; from 2014 to 2017, their number rose by 276%. In the UK, the number of homeless children in temporary accommodation reportedly rose by 40% in the same period. In Russia, although the available figures appear to vary greatly, one rough estimate put the number of homeless children in 2010 at hundreds of thousands, while other reports hint that this number might be even higher. During her 2015 visit to Serbia, the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing touched upon the risk of homelessness and exclusion that weak protections for renters and no access to social housing meant for certain vulnerable groups, including young people.

State responses to rising homelessness have often been characterised by a short-sighted, punitive approach, in a misguided attempt to move the problem out of public sight. My predecessor’s visit to Hungary in 2014 shed light on the national and local government bans on “sleeping rough” on pain of fines, which were imposed on more than a thousand people, and in some cases led to the imprisonment of those unable to pay. Similar bans were observed during his 2015 visit to Norway. More recently, in the UK, press reports found that as overall numbers of rough sleepers continued to rise, in some localities homeless people were banned from town centres and fined.

European institutions have intervened in some cases related to forced evictions. The European Court of Human Rights has notably balanced interests of landlords against the need to secure accommodation for the less well-off, and on some occasions has acted as a last resort for families threatened with imminent eviction. The European Committee of Social Rights has in several decisions identified the safeguards that must apply when evictions do take place: respecting the dignity of persons; no evictions at night or during the winter; taking measures to re-house or financially assist the persons concerned. The case-law of the Court of Justice of the European Union, for its part, has empowered domestic judges to suspend or annul evictions if the rights of occupants have not been respected, for instance in the context of abusive mortgages. While these interventions offer helpful guarantees, states should prevent such emergencies affecting families and children, among others, from occurring in the first place.

The way forward

In a poignant introduction to her January 2018 report, the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, Leilani Farha, noted that “[w]e are at a critical moment. Globally, housing conditions are fraught. Homelessness is on the rise, including in affluent countries; forced evictions continue unabated; (…) and housing in many cities is simply unaffordable even for the middle class”.

We should pay close attention to her call. We need to fully grasp the extent and urgency of the problem in Europe with regard to housing, one of the most basic human needs. As demonstrated above, this is an issue which affects the population at large and contributes to a growing sense of uncertainty and precariousness. Leaving it unaddressed leaves our societies vulnerable to increased social tensions.

States’ obligations towards the full realisation of the right to housing must go beyond providing emergency and individual solutions. There is an urgent need for genuine political commitment to adopting sustainable, long-term and inclusive solutions, in line with the UN 2030 Agenda’s Sustainable Development Goal of providing adequate, secure and affordable housing to all by 2030. Housing is not simply a commodity, but a human right. It should move to the top of the political agenda in Europe.

First, member States which have not yet done so should promptly accept to be bound by Article 31 of the revised European Social Charter (RESC) dealing withthe right to housing. Of the 34 member States which ratified the Charter, so far only 10 have accepted its Article 31 while 4 more have accepted to be bound only by some parts of that provision.

Second, States should adopt and implement sustainable national housing strategies with clear targets to end homelessness, harnessing to the maximum extent the available resources, establishing credible and independent mechanisms for monitoring progress, and paying close attention to their impact.

Third, States should step up investing in social and affordable housing in view of eradicating the housing cost overburden, particularly among disadvantaged and vulnerable groups.

Fourth, States should urgently adopt long-term measures to prevent and eradicate homelessness, in particular among children and other disadvantaged and vulnerable groups. In adopting and implementing such measures, states should involve all stakeholders and be guided by respect for the human dignity of homeless persons and the realisation that homelessness is a violation of human rights.

Council of Europe

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UK-US relations: Challenges ahead

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The past few days have been witness, to some important statements made in the context of the Joint Comprehensive Program for Action (JCPOA) — also referred to as the Iran Nuclear deal. US allies, including the UK and some EU member states do not seem to be in agreement with the US President’s Iran policy in general, and his inclination towards scrapping JCPOA altogether.

Boris Johnson’s interviews and his comments on the JCPOA

In an interview to the BBC on January 14, 2020, British PM, Boris Johnson stated, that the JCPOA, could be renegotiated, and seemed to be accommodative towards Trump. Said Johnson:

‘Let’s work together to replace the JCPOA and get the Trump deal instead’.

Johnson’s remarks came a day after UK, Germany and France had issued a joint statement, stating that all three countries were totally in favor of keeping the JCPOA alive.UK Germany and France had also said, that they were keen to ensure, that the nuclear non -proliferation regime is kept intact, and Iran is prevented from developing nuclear weapons.

Earlier, in a telephonic conversation, last week, with the UK PM, US President Donald Trump, had told Johnson, that the deal was ‘foolish’, and other signatories should also walk out of it.

During the course of his interview with the BBC, which happened to be the first interview with the media, after the victory of the Conservative Party in the recent general elections. Johnson, while having a dig at Trump, said that the US President thought himself of as a good negotiator, as did many others.

Johnson also made the point, that the current deal, had been negotiated by Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, and alluded to the point, that this was one of the key reasons, why Trump wanted to renegotiate the JCPOA.

Members of Johnson’s cabinet and their comments on the Iran deal

UK Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, while criticizing Iran for failing to meet with the compliances related to the JCPOA, also stated, that the UK is keen to keep the deal intact.

Before Raab, another member of Johnson’s cabinet, the British Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace had also indulged in some straight talk, lambasting the Trump administration for its increasingly isolationist approach towards global issues, and Trump’s tendency of taking Washington’s allies for granted. Wallace had also stated, that US support for UK’s coalition should not be taken for granted.

Responses of Trump and Rouhani to Johnson’s remarks

US President, Donald Trump’s response, to Johnson’s suggestion, regarding a fresh JCPOA was predictable, and welcomed the British PM’s proposal.

In the meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in an aggressive address, on January 15, 2020,  where he lashed out at the EU and UK, said, that all Trump knew, was violation of contracts, so there was no question of a new Iran deal.

UK-US relations

Interestingly, Johnson in his interview to the BBC, had also said, that there was no real need for the UK to have been informed in advance by the US, with regard to the killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. It would be pertinent to point out, that not just members of the Labor Party, but even a senior Tory MP Tom Tugendhat, also a former chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, criticized the US for not consulting the UK.

This brings us, to another important point. While Johnson’s main challenge is perceived to be the withdrawal of UK, from the EU by January 31, 2020. There are likely to be important differences between Washington and London over dealing with Iran. A close advisor of US President Donald Trump, has already stated, that if Johnson wants a UK-US Free Trade deal, UK should immediately pull out of the Iran deal. Richard Goldberg, who until recently was a member of the White House national security council (NSC) expressed these views while speaking to BBC.

US-UK FTA and Trump’s support for the same

Trump has been in favor of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with UK (which happens to be the 5th largest trading partner of the US) for some time. In fact, in his congratulatory tweet to Boris Johnson after his victory in December 2019, Trump had said that Britain and the U.S. will now be able to forge a significant new Trade Deal after Brexit.

At the G7 Summit in 2019, Trump had spoken about how the US would sign a path breaking trade deal with the UK, post Brexit. It has been argued, that while the Conservative lobby, in the US-UK, which has been in favor of  bilateral FTA, there are lobbies in both countries, which are fervently opposed to such an idea.

It also remains to be seen, whether the Trump Administration is serious, about imposing conditionalities on UK regarding the FTA — such as, supporting the US stance vis-à-vis Iran. Given the reactions by some members of Boris Johnson’s cabinet (to Trump’s handling of the Iran issue), it is tough to really predict the UK’s reaction.

Not just Iran, US-UK also differ over Huawei

Apart from the Iran issue, one issue which could act as an impediment to further consolidating economic and strategic relations between US and UK could be use of equipment of Chinese tech giant, Huawei, by UK for the development of next-generation 5G wireless networks. 

Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May had stated, that non-core technology of 5G were acceptable, while core parts would be banned. At a meeting of the National Security council (NSC) in 2019, some of May’s colleagues including — Jeremy Hunt, then Foreign secretary, Sajid Javid, then Home Secretary (now treasury secretary), Gavin Williamson, then Defense Secretary, and Penny Mordaunt, then international development secretary — had opposed May’s decision. Interestingly, Williamson had been sacked for allegedly leaking the proceedings of the meeting.

Johnson’s approach towards Huawei

In the interview to BBC, Johnson stated, that he did not want to jeopardize cooperation with any of the other “5 Eyes Intelligence alliance partners” (Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US are the other members of this network, apart from the US). While hinting at the US stand on Huawei, Johnson said, that those criticizing one technology also needed to provide an alternative.

Differences between US and other allies over other crucial economic and strategic issues

It is not just UK, but other allies like India which would be closely watching Trumps approach on crucial geo-political issues. For instance, while earlier US had stated, that it would get a waiver from CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act), even if it went ahead with the purchase of S400 Missiles from Russia (India and Russia had signed an agreement in October 2018 during Russian President, Vladimir Putin’s . Only recently, a State Department Spokesman while commenting on the waiver to India stated that there was no blanket waiver from the side of the US Administration. Of course later, the State Department Spokesperson did clarify, that US views these issues on a case by case basis.

Conclusion

If one were to look at the scenario for bilateral relations between UK and US (defined as a ‘special relationship’ first by Winston Churchill in 1946) there are numerous challenges.

There is a tendency, to oversimplify bilateral relationships to personal chemistry of leaders, and ideological inclinations as in the case of Johnson and Trump. There are likely, to be a number of obstacles which may come in the way of the bilateral relationship (differences over crucial geo-political and economic issues as discussed above). In addition to this, there is a note of caution for other allies like EU member states (especially Germany and France), Canada, Japan which have already born the brunt of Trump’s insular economic policies, and his myopic and transaction approach towards complex geo-political issues.

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