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Move fast, build to last: Europe’s new generation

Ursula von der Leyen

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Before I took office 100 days ago, I was struck by the boldness of Europe’s next generation – both in spirit and in action. On Friday, I saw and heard this again loud and clear as thousands of young people took the streets of Brussels to demand urgent action for our planet.

This generation wants to move fast – and they are right. Because in front of us are the major twin ecological and digital transitions. They will affect us all, wherever we live, whatever we do. They will transform the way we travel or design, make and consume things. They will create new opportunities for Europe’s innovators, entrepreneurs and industry.

But as we embark on this transition, we do so in an increasingly agitated and complicated world. Recent experience has reminded us why they say a week is a long time in politics. In the past few days, I was in Greece and Bulgaria to see first-hand the pressures our borders are under and to offer European solidarity – in spirit and in financial and technical support. It brought home the need to find a humane, effective and comprehensive way forward on migration. A day before that I was in our crisis management centre, setting out the different ways Europe can help mitigate the impact of the Corona Virus.

This week shows us the need for Europe to be stronger, more united and more strategic in the way it thinks, acts and speaks. We also need to create new partnerships and alliances, like the one we will unveil with Africa in the next few days. And we need to strengthen our more established ones, as we are doing with the Western Balkans.

Leading the twin transition in this changing world is the driving force of this Commission. This is our generational task and opportunity. And it is why, since day one, we have been determined to move fast to build a fair and prosperous, green and digital Europe that will last for our children.

When it comes to the future our planet, the policy of being too cautious is riskiest of all. This is why one of our first actions was to launch the European Green Deal. At the heart of it is the goal to make Europe the first climate neutral continent by 2050. Just this week we proposed to turn that hard ambition into hard legislation.

This is of course about bringing nature back in our lives and cutting emissions. But the European Green Deal is more than that – it is our new growth strategy. It will give investors certainty and help our economies grow in a way that gives more back to people, to the planet and to society than it takes away.

But as we move fast, we must ensure that we leave no one behind. We know that for some the change will be more difficult than for others. This is why we proposed to set aside €100bn to ensure a just transition for all – notably for those that will have to make a bigger leap than most. Putting people and fairness first is the only way to make sure the European Green Deal stands the test of time.

It ultimately comes down to a question of trust, which is also the keyword for our approach to the digital transition. I believe in technology and what it can do to make our lives easier – from caring for family to communicating with friends. And I know what it can do to create new jobs, skills and help European companies grow, from the smallest start-up to the biggest giant.

But if Europe is to be a digital leader, we need to develop our own capacities, as well as our own laws. We need European innovation and technologies to compete across the world. This is at the heart of the new data strategy that will help us to play to our strengths, encouraging companies and governments to access and share their troves of under-used data. And it will help us make the most and the best of artificial intelligence in a way that we can all trust.

We can only fully grasp the opportunities of the twin transitions if we draw on all of our strengths and our diversity. We will always work for fairness, uphold our values and care for the things that people really care about. This is why we have already put forward a new gender equality strategy and launched the first step of Europe’s plan to beat cancer.

So yes, a week is a long time in politics. But 100 days is only enough time to set a direction and to take the first big steps on our journey. There will be bumps along the way and we will be tested just as we have in the last week – but we must always keep the spirit of Europe’s new generation along the way. This is your time and the journey starts now.

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Republic Of Cyprus: Ruling a Country Against Its Constitution

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The Green Line at Nicosia, Cyprus. Image credit: Julian Nyča / CC BY-SA, creativecommons.org

When you hear about Cyprus, one of the things that comes to mind is the word “conflict.” Then, its beautiful beaches, paradise-like nature, and warm island culture.

But you could not guess that this island nation, which is also part of the European Union, has been ruled against its constitution for more than half century. What if we also tell you that this fact is even forgotten by its own citizens? This is exactly what is going on.

Cypriots gained their independence in 1960, after living under the control of the United Kingdom for 82 years. However, this was not an end, but the beginning of the pains they will suffer, the nation that did not experience governing their own island for a very long time.

But during the period of British rule, something needed to change, for the sake of their “divide and rule” policy. Cypriots were a community that was living in great harmony in their remote and isolated island far from the mainland that can influence them easily.

But there was a community without a name. In Ottoman censuses, they were called just Muslims. In the books written by European travellers they were called Linobambaki, Cypriots who spuriously converted to Islam to save themselves from the Ottoman oppression. After World War I, with the death of Ottoman Empire and the birth of the Turkish state, Brits had already found an identity for this community of the descendants of Crypro-Christian Cypriots: Turkish Cypriots. But there was a problem and it was the fact that a big portion of this community spoke Greek. Then, the young Republic of Turkey lent a hand by sending Turkish teachers to the British-controlled Cyprus and the Turkification process began.

Until 1960, there were small gang fights between these two communities with the provocations of Turkey and Greece, but nothing serious happened. When the independence day came for Cyprus, the representatives of these two Cypriot communities were at the table. The Orthodox Archbishop Makarios representing Greek Cypriots and the extreme secular DoctorFazıl Küçük representing Turkish Cypriots. And they agreed on the constitution that is “still in force” today in the Republic of Cyprus. Let’s point out the main articles of the official Constitution of the Republic of Cyprus.

    • “Greek Cypriot President and Turkish Cypriot Vice President with veto right”

    • “Greek and Turkish as official languages”

    • “70 percent of the parliament, cabinet, government and law enforcement officers made from Greek Cypriots, and 30 percent from Turkish Cypriots”

    • “60 percent of its army made from Greek Cypriots and 40 percent of it Turkish Cypriots”

    • “Adoption of new national flag and anthem”

    • “The authorities and any public corporation or utility body of the republic are not allowed to fly any other flag than Republic of Cyprus flag, except holidays”

Now, have a wild guess about how many of these articles of the constitution are being violated by the Greek Cypriot community who seized the republic since 1963. The answer is all of them except for the “national flag” that they use, which was drawn by a Turkish Cypriot.

I know what you are thinking. How can a country that is part of the European Union, a symbol of democracy, get away with such activity? We must get into more history to see how.

Three years after the independence, the Greek Cypriot President of the republic, Archbishop Makarios unconstitutionally proposed his infamous thirteen points, which took away many rights from the Turkish Cypriots. This attempt made Turkish Cypriots leave the government.

Then, the rest of the unconstitutional activities of the Greek Cypriot administration followed, which includes establishment of Greek Cypriot-only army and adopting the national anthem of Greece as the anthem of the Republic of Cyprus.

The main aim for all these activities was achieving “enosis,” which is the idea of a union with Greece. But the Republic of Cyprus and its constitution were the biggest obstacle, since it was clearly based on the idea of an independent republic with equal ownership by Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

While all these events were happening, we cannot say that the Turkish Cypriot administration was innocent either. Like the Greek Cypriot administration, the Turkish Cypriot administration silenced people and groups who believed in the existence of Republic of Cyprus and who demanded more struggle to save the republic, instead of leaving it to the hands of the Greek Cypriots. The reason behind the decision of the Turkish Cypriot administration to not struggle for their rights effectively was their beliefs that the greed of Greek Cypriots would be a shortcut to achieve “taksim,” which is the idea of partition.

When we come to 1974, after painful events and internal struggles within each Cypriot community, a group of enosis-dreamer Greek Cypriots tried to overthrow the Greek Cypriot administration, which was not sharing the same enosis dream anymore, with a coup d’état backed by the Greek junta. With this event, Greek Cypriots gave Turkey a chance to intervene in the situation in Cyprus according to international agreements. And, as we all know, this intervention turned into an occupation, which has continued since then.

Today, what is on the table is a United Nations backed “federal solution” for the Cyprus problem. Despite the current status quo, the unconstitutionally Greek Cypriot-governed Republic of Cyprus continues its life with the constitution which was written in 1960. The main reason behind keeping the constitution is the Greek Cypriots’ desperate tactic of showing the world they are not the ones who broke the deal. But even the Greek Cypriot population is not aware or educated about their own constitution, since legislation continues like the country does not have one. Greek Cypriot people do not even have an idea of simple facts, such as that Turkish is an official language of the country or that their flag was designed by a Turkish Cypriot artist, İsmet Güney.

But all these seem to be changing. While crypto-Enosis desire and impossible federal solution talks continue, there are organisations like the Union of Cypriots (Ένωσις Κυπρίων / Kıbrıslılar Birliği) that advocate and promote that the only way to end this madness and occupation is restoring the constitutional order—the deal that was already made and a lot of pain and suffering that hit all Cypriots after it was broken. Failing to ease the pain with different dreams, maybe it is indeed the right choice for Cypriots to hold on what they have to delegitimize Turkey’s existence on the island. Because the speed of Turkish colonization of Cyprus tells us that Cypriots do not have much time left to save their homeland for good.

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A New Twist in the Spanish Approach to Politics in Venezuela: Podemos in the Spanish Government

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During the last pseudo-legislature in Spain, the position that had been maintained by the Spanish government towards Venezuela and its government was not too far from the quasi-common position that was established at the European level. After the entry of Podemos, a far-left party, into the Spanish government, the Spanish narrative towards the Latin American country and its leaders has taken a turn that calls into question the position of the Spanish government towards Venezuela.

The Special Relationship of Spain with Venezuela

Since 1845, the year the Treaty of Peace and Friendship was signed after the independence of the South American country, Spain and Venezuela have maintained bilateral ties and diplomatic relations. In fact, history has only one instance of no diplomatic relations existing between the two countries, specifically from 1945 to 1949. Despite suffering many serious crises during the Chavista period in face of a number of political disagreements that seriously endangered mutual understanding, the special relationship between the two countries has been maintained constantly.

After the Spanish Civil War and between 1969 and 1990, Venezuela, along with Argentina and Mexico, was the main destination for Spanish exiles and emigrants. Beyond migration, the Hispano-Venezuelan ties are transcendental in nature, both historically and socio-economically. Venezuela is home to more than 150,000 Spaniards; the Venezuelan community, in turn, is the fourth largest ethnic group in Spain. In 2017, exports from Spain to Venezuela amounted to 111 million euros and imports from Venezuela to Spain were worth 318 million euros; however, these figures are quite low compared to those of previous years, for example, in 2014, Spanish exports equaled 550 million euros and Venezuelan imports – 1,325 million euros.

Podemos in the Spanish Government

As a well-known Spanish journalist said, “Venezuela has been a thrown weapon since Podemos appeared on the Spanish political scene in 2014”. The relationship with the Latin American country for the political party led by Pablo Iglesias is not only a political issue, but also an ideological link. The core of the party has maintained close ties with the government of Hugo Chavez, including becoming advisers to the then Venezuelan president, and later to Nicolas Maduro; the party also has links with the rest of Bolivarian leaders, such as Evo Morales or Rafael Correa.

After the November 10 general elections in Spain, a coalition government consisting of the historic socialist party PSOE and the far-left party Podemos was created. This coalition marks a period of the greatest political instability in the history of Spanish democracy. The two parties and their leaders devised this joint government to break away from the ungovernability that the country has been facing for almost three years due to the lack of a stable and consolidated government. This is how Pablo Iglesias became the second Vice President of the Spanish government and his current partner Irene Montero – the Minister of Equality.

From “Delcygate” to Guaido

Two recent controversial diplomatic episodes have once again made Venezuela an urgent subject of the Spanish politics. On the one hand, the stopover of the Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez at the Madrid Airport of Barajas, where she held a meeting with the Spanish Head of the Ministry of Transport. The Spanish authorities first denied the meeting and then clarified it with different versions, giving rise to a speculation about the case, cosnidering that the EU imposed individual sanctions that restricted Rodriguez from entering the Schengen Zone.

The second mistake of the Spanish Government, according to its critics, was not to receive Juan Guaido, who is recognized as an interim president by more than fifty countries, including Spain and Germany, at the highest official level on his European tour. Throughout his European tour, Guaido met with several heads of state, including Merkel, Macron, and Johnson. Many people deemed Sanchez’s gesture upon the Venezuelan leader’s arrival in the Spanish capital as a legitimt cause of outrage. In addition, when explaining, the Spanish president called Guaido an “opposition leader.” More and more voices have since accused the current Executive of having changed his position with respect to Venezuela by the influence of Podemos.

Spain Flies Alone

A turn at the helm in Madrid would be more than a national decision. The consequences for Venezuela of such a turn cannot be understated, because historically Europe has seen Latin America through the eyes of Spain, and Madrid has been in charge of relations with Latin America. Undoubtedly, Spain will lose a lot if its relationship with Venezuela continues to deteriorate. The human and socio-cultural ties between the two countries are obviously close, but just as relevant are the Spanish economic interests in this South American state, particularly in its oil companies.

Some European countries, such as Italy, did not recognize Guaido as the president-in-charge at the time – Rome still does not. A more neutral, less pro-Guaido Spain would mean aligning with the Italian position, which does not imply neglect, as the Italian diplomacy continues to work on finding solutions to the Venezuelan question through the Contact Group of European and Latin American countries.

What does this mean for the European approach to the crisis in Venezuela? From the point of view of capabilities, it can be said that Spain does not have as much weight as to change the Community’s foreign policy; however, because Spain is a traditional filter of relations between the European and the Latin American blocks and the Head of European Diplomacy Josep Borrell is Spanish, a possibility that the positions will be killed exists -“cooling,” therefore, cannot be ruled out.

Conclusions

As a victim of its own contradictions, the Spanish government has projected an image of chaos and confusion. It is evident that PSOE and Podemos have disparate positions regarding Venezuela, but it is necessary that the executive government adopt a coherent line of thinking, the continued absence of which deteriorates cohesion within the EU and complicates relationships with its international partners like the USA.

Sanchez defying Guaido is not so much a concession to the former’s Podemos partners in the government, but rather a symbol of the latter’s waning influence. Guaido has become an awkward figure, who failed to achieve his main objective of free elections. This is why Maduro is stronger today than a year ago.

Nonetheless, too much importance is being attached to the role Podemos really plays in the new Spanish government. Though its power is magnified, it has a minimum effect on foreign matters. When Sanchez came to power in alliance with another party that had more votes, that is PSOE, he assumed that he has no choice but to respect their decisions, whether he likes them or not. He has yet to distance himself from such conformism.

Meanwhile, the shadow of the Venezuelan crisis keeps flying over internal politics in Spain, especially over its progressive government, without facing any of the harshest opposition forces in the country’s democratic history. The truth is that a year after half the world placed its hopes in Guaido to find a way out of the humanitarian crisis and the political impasse in Venezuela, the opposition leader is making substantual efforts to prevent the passage of time from opening cracks in his political legitimacy. At this juncture, the whole international community needs to act as a mediator of negotiations between the Venezuelan Government and its opposition to get out of the ongoing stagnation.

From our partner RIAC

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Italy’s Last Unexpected Eurosceptic Friend: Edi Rama and his “Lesson to Europe”

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On March 29, Italian and Albanian media reported the news of the arrival in Italy of a team of 10 physicians and 20 nurses from Tirana to fight the Coronavirus epidemic that has hit the country since the end of February. The medical professionals will work in Italy for one month with their expenses being covered by the Albanian government. Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama accompanied the team of experts at the Airport “Nënë Tereza” where he read a speech in Italian that was warmly received by the media and public opinion in the neighbouring country. To many Italians, the words of the Albanian premier sounded as a sincere act of friendship given in return of the assistance provided by Italy to Albania in the last decades and especially in the aftermath of the recent earthquake of last November. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, leader of the opposition Matteo Salvini and chief of the Protezione Civile (Civil defence Corps)Angelo Borrelli expressed their gratitude to Albania through their Social Media and public declarations. The parts of the speech that gained more media attention are those in which he underscores the selfish attitude of the other countries in the Covid-19 crisis:

“(…) It is true that all are closed within their borders and also very rich countries have turned their backs from the others. And maybe it is because we are not rich and [we are not] without memory that we cannot afford not to show Italy that Albanians and Albania will never abandon their friend in a moment of difficulty.”

In the course of last week, the Italian public opinion was strained by Germany’s and Holland’s refusal to share the economic weight of the Coronavirus crisis among EU countries through the emission of the Eurobonds. Some Italian newspapers have defined Edi Rama’s speech as a “lesson” of solidarity that a small country like Albania is giving to rich and big EU countries that cannot put aside individual interests for their collective good. The leading opposition organ Il Giornale which usually promotes anti-immigrant (including anti-Albanian) content, published on March 30th an article by the title “The great lesson of the Albanian premier to the bureaucrats of the UE” in which the author criticizes the attitude of the president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen for refusing to back Italy’s demands. The author declared that “the words of Edi Rama are above all a lesson of style to a class of eurocrats that (…) have shown their cynicism and their inadequacy. Italy will certainly not forget the solidarity of Tirana and the egoism of the European Union.” On March 29, the Left-oriented newspaper Open commented the news witha similar heading: “The lesson to the rich Europe from small Albania (…)”. The journalist remarked that the “Albanian premier Edi Rama, with his little big gesture has taught European leaders what it means to be part of Europe”. The same day Il Tempo presented Edi Rama’s speech as a “Lesson from Albania to Europe” stressing that while the EU is trying to find an agreement, Italy applauds Albania. The Italian edition of the Huffington Post in the article “The Albanian Lesson” emphasised the symbolic character of the Albanian assistance to Italy.

Beside the undisputable value that the Albanian medical staff will bring to Italy’s ability to curb the epidemic, the speech pronounced by Edi Rama has above all contributed to bring his and Albania’s popularity to a level that has never been so high in Italy. Edi Rama’s speech momentarily recalibrated the set of ideas through which the majority of Italians are accustomed to look at Albanians. It is hard to imagine that Edi Rama did not foresee the possibility that his words were going to be used in the Italian “internal” debate concerning the attitude of the EU toward their country. Edi Rama’s relation with Brussels has not been so keen after EU’s refusal to open membership negotiations with Albania last October. Put in front of the fact that Albania was not going to access the EU anytime soon, in the last months of 2019 Rama pushed for the constitution of a so-called mini-Schengen with Serbia and Northern Macedonia. On March 24, EU retrieved its decision to keep Albania (and Northern Macedonia) out of membership talks. However, Edi Rama probably did not want to miss the occasion for a little reprisal against the attitude of some EU member states that had damaged his internal and external credibility after turning down Albania from accession talks in October. His words certainly improved his own and Albania’s image in the neighbouring country, but at the same time he endorsed and alimented the endemic anti-EU Italian trends.

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