On the evening of November 2, on a day dedicated to the commemoration of the dead all over the world, the centre of Vienna was shocked by a terrorist attack that left 4 dead and 17 wounded. Near the synagogue of the Austrian capital city two men armed with rifles and pistols fired on the people crowding the streets, bars and pubs on the last “free” evening before the lockdown and the curfew imposed by the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.
One of the attackers was killed by the police, while a large police force is still actively searching for the other, together with possible accomplices. The action has not been claimed, but the authorities are certain that this is yet another Islamist attack, in the wake of the tensions that broke out in France after the beheading of Professor Samuel Paty and the subsequent massacre in Nice.
On October 16 last, the 47-year-old French professor was attacked in the street of a small village 35 kilometres north of Paris by a young Chechen-born, naturalised Frenchman, Abdoullah Anzorov, who, armed with a sharp knife, beheaded him as a professional killer.
The professor was “guilty” of having shown in class the cartoons on Muhammad published by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo at the end of 2014. For that reason, it had seen many of his journalists fall under the gunfire of the jihadists on January 7, 2015. Professor Paty wanted to show the cartoons to his pupils to explain that “Freedom” in France also means freedom of satire.
The initiative provoked the reaction of Muslim students and their parents, with protests on Facebook that drew the attention of the French-Chechen Anzorov, also thanks to a young “Judas” (perhaps a pupil of Professor Paty) who for 300 euros (the new “thirty coins” Judas asked to betray Jesus) agreed to point at the professor while walking home after class.
The episode rightly outraged and shocked the whole of France. Although distracted by the pandemic, President Macron did not hesitate to condemn not only the brutal murder but also those who, in the shadow of Muhammad, are blowing on the fire of radical Islamism in France in order to stir the emotions of young Muslims who think they can turn their anger at social and economic marginalisation into religious struggle. Words were followed by deeds: the French security forces started investigations and searches in all the Salafist circles in France, in which three hundred Imams from Turkey dictate the law.
Macron’s words and the reactions of the French security forces unleashed the anger of Turkish President Tayyp Recep Erdogan, who had no hesitation in calling his French colleague “insane” and accusing him of treating Muslims in France the same way Jews were treated in Hitler’s Germany.
If that had been confined to words – though well outside the limits of institutional correctness – the Macron-Erdogan quarrel could have been resolved with diplomatic means, but Erdogan’s words did more than irritate the French President. They sparked and legitimised extremist and jihadist reactions throughout Europe, with further very serious repercussions.
On October 29, in Notre Dame Cathedral, Nice, a young Tunisian from Italy, who had landed as an illegal immigrant on the Sicilian coast a few weeks before, killed three people to the cry of “Allah akhbar”.
It is evident that the Nice massacre, as well as Vienna’s, is due to a form of “induced terrorism” – a phenomenon that, in the past, always saw individuals or micro-groups turn into terrorists “by induction”, i.e. on the push of economic tensions or calls for mobilization, interpreted as calls for action.
How can we not see in Erdogan the moral instigator of the massacres in Nice and Vienna?
After France had recalled its ambassador to Turkey as a reaction to Erdogan’s insults and threats, the spokesman of the Turkish President issued an official note in which he defended the “Muslims in Europe” with these words: “We Muslims will not go away because you do not want us. We will not turn the other cheek when you insult us. We will defend ourselves and our own brothers at all costs”. Words that did not appear on Islamist social media, but were spread in an official communiqué of the Turkish Republic’s Presidency.
After the Nice massacre, the Turkish Foreign Ministry issued a communiqué condemning the attack and expressing solidarity with France.
Not a word from Erdogan.
Yet the Turkish President knows the value of words very well. At the beginning of his dazzling political career, as the first Islamist mayor of Istanbul, he immediately distinguished himself with the prohibition of alcohol sales in all public places in the city.
To emphasize the concept – in what was, at the time, still the secular Parliamentary Republic of Turkey – the then mayor of Istanbul published a poem which read as follows: “The minarets are our bayonets, the mosques are our barracks, the believers are our soldiers”.
Those words cost Erdogan dearly: accused of infringing the laws on secular State and inciting religious violence, he was forced to resign as mayor of the capital city and was sentenced to a ban from public office and four months in prison (without parole).
As can be seen, the authorities of the secular and enlightened Turkey built by Kemal Ataturk, after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, were able to react harshly to the Islamist impulses of a public figure.
A figure who has always managed to rise again and to obtain a resounding victory in 2002 in the general election with the AKP, the “Justice and Development Party”, he had founded in 2001, with the aim of bringing Turkey back on the right path of an Islamic Republic, thus abandoning Kemalist secularism which, inter alia, had seen Turkey as the first (and, for many years, the only) State with a Muslim majority to recognize the State of Israel as early as 1949.
Prime Minister for three consecutive terms, Erdogan distinguished himself for his increasingly authoritarian attitude and unscrupulous activism in foreign policy:
At the beginning of the uprising in Syria and the subsequent civil war in 2011, Erdogan played unscrupulously on the misfortunes of the Syrian government, by financing and supplying weapons to both the Syrian Liberation Army groups and the Caliphate militia. Only the intervention by Putin’s Russia in 2013 did prevent the victory of Isis and the Islamist militias against Assad’s forces and thwart Erdogan’s dream of becoming the kingmaker in the region.
The dream still lasts.
Having escaped a clumsy and disorganised coup in 2016, he immediately took advantage of it to throw hundreds of political opponents and journalists into prison and to promote a constitutional reform that turned the Turkish Parliamentary Republic into a Presidential Republic with a strong authoritarian imprint and governed by tailor-made rules that ensure him the possibility of remaining in power for the next fifteen years.
Since he decided to intervene in Syria, under the pretext of containing the Kurdish militias that alone courageously fought against the Islamic State, Erdogan’s international activism has had no longer limits.
Although the Syrian adventure did not end well – Turkey had to be satisfied with keeping control of a buffer zone on the border – Erdogan launched a series of unscrupulous and potentially dangerous initiatives for international stability.
He attempted to ship weapons to Hamas Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. He has maintained contacts with the Islamists of the Syrian Liberation Army and the ISIS survivors who, with Turkish help, still occupy the Syrian enclave of Idlib, by recruiting hundreds of them as mercenaries to be sent to the hot areas of his geopolitical and strategic interest. He intervened heavily in Libya in support of Tripoli’s weak government and the openly Islamist Misratamilitias, in opposition to General Haftar and the Tobruk government supported by France, Egypt and Russia. He has revived – for no apparent reason – the conflict in Nagorno Karabakh, by convincing the Azerbaijani Muslims to attack – last September – the Armenian Christians in the region, supported by Russia and the West. He is sending military ships off Cyprus, claiming its possession thanks to the local Turkish micro-republic, and claims control of the continental shelf occupied also by Greek islands, which are potentially rich in gas.
It should be noted that all these are initiatives of a Member State of the Atlantic Alliance.
Although NATO has visibly lost its vigour and importance in recent years, the “Special NATO Committee” is active within it. It is a silent and efficient body to which the Intelligence Services of all NATO Member States adhere, which operates as a centre for the exchange and dissemination of sensitive information in the field of counter-espionage and counter-terrorism.
MIT, the Turkish intelligence service, is a traditional and efficient member of the “Special Committee” and automatically receives all information shared by the Member States’ Intelligence Services. This despite the fact that the Turkish government has proven and well-known links with jihadists from Isis and Jabhat Al Nusra, the most dangerous unit of the “Syrian Liberation Army”.
How much NATO intelligence currently ends up to jihadists, through MIT?
Are we currently sure of the wisdom to maintain such sensitive relations with the Intelligence Service of a country which, pushed by its leader, seems to be prey to an unstoppable Islamist drift?
Does the outdated value of the Incirlik air base justify the surrender of the West in the face of Erdogan’s increasingly unscrupulous and aggressive moves?
These seem to be rhetorical questions, the answer to which should be a peremptory series of “No”.
Yet NATO and Europe (not to mention Italy, which is silent and absent), probably distracted by the pandemic, do not seem willing to oppose a man that the then Turkish President Demirel defined “capable of anything”.
President Macron recalled the Ambassador from Turkey after Erdogan’s ill-considered words about the “persecution” of Muslims in France.
Not a whisper from Europe, NATO and Italy.
Surely the times of Fanfani, Mattei, Andreotti and other giants of European politics and business are far away, when with an efficient “back bench diplomacy” Italy played with intelligence on all the Mediterranean areas.
Currently there seem to be the times of embarrassed silence.
While Erdogan is taking advantage of our weaknesses.
Recovery action plan of the Union: On Next Generation EU & a New Independent authority?
The first address of the European Commission since the pandemic was one highly anticipated by all the citizens of the EU block. On September 16, President Ursula van der Leyden took it upon herself to reveal the EU’s roadmap for a post-Covid world following the approval of the recovery funds last July which constituted a breakthrough and sent a welcome signal in terms of cohesion and solidarity on the part of the 27 members.
Aside from paying tribute to our frontline workforce and praise the courage and human spirit showed by all in the face of virus spread, van der Leyen set out what she called NexGenerationEU; a movement to breathe new life into the EU but also and most importantly to adapt and lead the way into shaping tomorrow’s world. Through her speech, the president highlighted roughly 8 key themes which will be at the centre of this new European era’s agenda for the next 12 months, in accordance with the cardinal principles of trust, tolerance and agility. In other words, the 750 billion recovery funds raised extra-ordinarily will be directed towards the following areas:
1° Economy: the Union members must all breed economies that offer protection, stability and opportunities in the face of the continuous health crisis with a specific wish expressed for a stronger Health union – and thereby an extension of the Union’s competencies on the matter – but also the advent of European minimum wages.
2° Green Revolution: the Union will adopt more radical attitudes towards mitigating climate-change and safeguarding our planet, starting with the ambitious aim of becoming the first climate-neutral continent by 2050 through the EU’s Green Deal. So called ‘lighthouse’ high-impact and hydrogen-based projects will become an additional focus.
3° Technology: Europe has to step up its game and become a digital leader through securing industrial data and using it to support innovation. Delineating the use of AI by regulating the field, creating a secure EU e-identity and ensuring connectivity deployment so as to fully cover rural areas are also high on the list.
4° Vaccine management: The Union praises the open approach followed up until now in facing the virus whilst many others have opted for withdrawal and undercutting of cooperation. Having served as an example regarding vaccines research and funding, the EU must uphold its policy all the way to the finish line and ensure its accessibility for every citizen around the world.
5° Multilateralism: the current international order system needs some rethinking and international institutions need reform in order to de-paralyze crucial decision-making in urgent situations. This starts with the EU taking faster univocal positions on global issues (Honk-Kong, Moscow, Minsk, and Ankara) and systematically and unconditionally calling out any HR abuses whilst building on existing partnerships with EU’s like-minded allies.
6° Trade: Europe will be made out as a figure of fair-trade by pushing for broker agreements on protected areas and putting digital and environmental ethics at the forefront of its negotiations. Global trade will develop in a manner that is just, sustainable, and digitized.
7° Migration: A New Pact on Migration will be put forward imminently as to act on and move forward on this critical issue that has dragged for long enough; in that regard every member state is expecting to share responsibility and involvement including making the necessary compromises to implement adequate and dignifying management. Europe is taking a stand: legal and moral duties arising from Migrants’ precarious situations are not optional.
8° Against hate-inspired behaviours and discriminations: A zero-tolerance policy is reaffirmed by the Union by extending its crime list to all forms of hate crime or speech based on any of the sensitive criteria and dedicating budget to address de facto discriminations in sensitive areas of society. It is high time to reach equal, universal and mutual recognition of family relations within the EU zone.
Granted, the European ‘priorities forecast’ feels on point and leaves us nearly sighing in relief for it had been somewhat longed for. The themes are spot on, catch words are present and the phrasing of each section is nothing short of motivational with the most likely intended effect that the troops will be boosted and spirits lifted subsequently. When looking closer to the tools enunciated for every topical objective, there seems however to be nearly only abstract and remote strategies to get there.
This is because a great number of the decisive steps that the Union wishes to see be taken depend on the participation of various instruments and actors. Not only does it rely for most on the converging interests, capabilities and willingness of nation States (inside and outside the euro zone), but it is also contingent on the many complex layers and bodies of the Union itself. And when a tremendous amount of the proposed initiatives for European reconstruction is reliant on such a far-reaching chain of events, it simply calls into question the likelihood for the said measures and objectives to be attained – or at the very least in which timeframe.
One might then rightfully wonder whether good and strong willpower coupled with comprehensive projections can be enough. And perhaps in the same vein, whether we can afford to wait and let it play out in order to find out? In his recent writing Giles Merritt, founder of the platform ‘friends of Europe’ tends to suggest we most certainly do not have the luxury of waiting it out and not pushing the forward thinking even further. Indeed, according to him, Europe could and should do more. More than a call for action and change that might end up echoing and fading in the depths of the EU’s bureaucracy, the Union would be expected to back up its ambitious intentions with the setting up of an independent planning agency to ‘ensure revolutionary ideas and projects are speedily implemented’, to borrow Merritt’s words.
Whilst van der Leyen’s announcement was promising and efficient in that it sent an important message – the EU is wanting to get in the driver’s seat – only the follow-up with radical motions such as the creation of a readily available tool to implement fast and impactful changes can lend support to a claim that Europe is in a position to resolve current internal and external EU challenges, and more generally to bounce back from conceded decline suffered in the most recent decades.
As a matter of fact, Diplomat Ali Goutali and Professor Anis Bajrektarevic were the firsts to make an analysis in that sense as they articulated their proposal for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) earlier this year. Faced with similar challenges and need for sharper thinking and tools in order to be at the forefront of the economic and technologic challenges ahead, the OIC had relied heavily on its Committee on Scientific and Technological Cooperation and agenda reform to reinforce its cooperation and innovation capabilities as a global player.
Nevertheless, Goutali and Bajrektarevic already felt months ago that additional steps ought to be taken for the OIC to be able to respond swiftly and reaffirm further its mandate of facilitating common political actions. To that end, it was suggested that a mechanism for policy coordination in critical times – the Rapid Reaction Capacitation – in charge of, primarily, vaccines management and AI applications should be introduced. Furthermore, the stakes behind the urgent need of strengthening our international order through cohesive endeavours are evidently the same for both the EU and the Arab World. That is to permanently leave behind a pseudo-competitive nation-based attitude that is nothing but a relic from the past and has achieved little in the context of the Covid outbreak.
Hence, if such an independent body was to be established, all three authors agree that it could gather the indispensable political power and resources to carry out the desired reforms on multilateralism, cyber and digital infrastructures, Covid recovery measures or geopolitical partnerships. Necessarily streamlined in order to avoid undue blockades, these new regional bodies could be composed of energetic forward thinkers across the private and public sectors empowered to map out and act on adequate strategies for a post-Covid world. This is because we all share the same goal: achieving solidarity not only on paper or as a conceptual motto but in real life and in real time. And after all, didn’t von der Leyen herself concur with that line of thinking as she enjoined Member states to move towards qualified majority voting to avert slow and cumbersome decision-making processes?
It seems pretty clear to me that such discussions in relation to the aggressiveness in actions and potential bureaucratic barriers might raise an old-as-the-world yet still very important questions: Should we, Europe, be ready to risk losing some of the legitimacy or democratic aspects of our political bodies in order to gain in speed and efficiency in times of crisis? And if not, considering the embracement of some of our supra-national entity’s actions is already on shaky grounds, how can we ensure that such bold measures may still be reconciled with maximal legitimacy given our equally urging need for unity?
Deciphering EU’s new investment deal with China
The perceived economic gains of the Comprehensive Agreement on Investments (CAI), which the 27-nation European Union recently struck with the People’s Republic of China, come at the cost of disregarding human rights, which the Western bloc is known for, amid clear and irreconcilable systemic differences.
The closing days of 2020 saw the European Union and China striking a deal known as the Comprehensive Agreement on Investments (CAI), thereby concluding seven long years of negotiations, as per the year-end deadline. China is also the EU’s biggest trading partner after the United States, but a strategic and systemic rival too.
The European Commission, Brussels-based executive arm of the EU, primarily led the negotiations on behalf of the bloc. Germany, being the holder the EU Council Presidency and led by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s continued push, combined with Beijing’s last-minute concessions, proved instrumental in expediting the process of finalising the CAI before the end of 2020.
However, the deal will still have to wait for a formal ratification by both sides and an approval by the Strasbourg-based EU Parliament, a tougher task, before finally setting it on course to be effective in a couple of years’ time, if not by early 2022.
Better rules, level-playing field for European businesses
The EU, by this deal, aims to widen the access for European companies to lucrative Chinese markets, with billion-plus consumers, on a wide range of sectors, particularly in services such as healthcare, finance, cloud-computing and air travel, among others, that has always been restrictive to foreign players in the past.
The deal could bring in a level playing field in the conduct of European businesses in China wherein Chinese state-owned enterprises will no longer be given preferential treatment through subsidies, thereby promoting fair competition and ensuring transparency in technology transfers. Newer possibilities for the expansion European businesses in China will be opened.
The CAI also promise better rules, investment protection, and an investment dispute settlement mechanism within two years of signing, which will replace all the separate bilateral investment treaties currently signed between China and EU member states. The EU maintains that the main purpose of this new deal is to address the economic imbalance in its relations with China.
However, the most striking aspect of the CAI is that, for the first time, China commits to follow accepted standards on climate and labour aspects, even though in a vague form. And for the EU, the timing of this deal with China is significant as a way of signalling its reengagement with the world in the aftermath of a post-Brexit scenario.
At the same time, the CAI reaffirmed reciprocal access for Chinese companies into European markets, which they always had. So, the deal matters to Europe, more than it matters to China. So, the real question is the extent of compromises which European negotiators had to make to strike the deal with the Asian superpower.
The issue of forced labour in China
Many EU member countries and the US had been apprehensive about the human rights situation in the northern Xinjiang province of China where there have been evidences and investigations on the use of forced labour from the media and elsewhere, which has not been duly factored in while concluding the investment deal.
It has been alleged that in the past several years, the Chinese government has forced over a million Uighur minorities in Xinjiang to perform seasonal labour against their will and are often underpaid. But, the Chinese government has repeatedly denied such allegations.
Many European lawmakers believe that China is not interested in fully complying with international agreements after signing it and is not a responsible and trustable partner. The presence of mass detention camps in this province, as verified by satellite imagery and other documents, is also a human rights concern which the EU was not supposed to ignore, considering its historical commitments to human rights.
US concerns and strategic rivalry
The incoming Biden administration has also raised concerns about the CAI, stating that it would “welcome early consultations” with its European partners on shared concerns surrounding China’s unfair economic practices, hinting at the issue of forced labour and the deal’s lacking on the question of enforcement of human rights.
Being a security and strategic partner of the US and part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), any such deal which EU and its member countries sign with its strategic rival, China, could effectively undermine American-led efforts to counter the strategic and geopolitical threat posed by Beijing’s aggressive and expansionist policies around the world.
It also flies in the face of an incoming Biden administration which is openly committed to mend relations with allies in Europe that had been worsened under Donald Trump. Many experts in the US have felt the EU should’ve waited for a few more weeks until the Biden administration takes charge to form a co-ordinated approach, as it related to their common systemic and strategic rival, China.
Moreover, the deal comes at a time when individual EU members such as Germany and the Netherlands have recently released their own outlook on the Indo-Pacific strategy, which is perceivably aimed at containing China’s rise and to ensure balance of power in the region. Meanwhile, France’s outlook is in existence for two years now.
Way ahead for implementation
The deal has now been reached at the technical level, paving way for a final ratification. But, getting the deal through the European Parliament, which attaches far more significance to human rights concerns than the Commission and the Council, is going to be a tough task, as many European legislators are increasingly sceptical of Chinese intentions and commitments to any deal.
The coming months are going to be crucial with regard to how the European legislators will debate and take forward the deal to the next level.
Hungry for change: An open letter to European governments
In 2020, the entire world knew what it was to be hungry. Millions of people went without enough to eat, with the most desperate now facing famine. At the same time, isolation took on a new meaning, in which the lonely and most remote were deprived of human contact when they most needed it, while the many victims of Covid-19 were starved of air. For all of us, the human experience fell far short of satisfying even the most basic needs.
The pandemic has provided a taste of a future at the limits of existence, where people are bereft, governments are stymied and economies wither. But it has also fuelled an unprecedented global appetite for change to prevent this from becoming our long-term reality.
For all the obstacles and challenges we face in the weeks and months ahead, I start 2021 with a tremendous sense of optimism and hope that the growling in our stomachs and the yearning in our hearts can become the collective roar of defiance, of determination and of revolution to make this year better than last, and the future brighter than the past.
It starts with food, the most primal form of sustenance. It is food that determines the health and prospects of almost 750 million Europeans and counting. It is food that employs some 10 million in European agriculture alone and offers the promise of economic growth and development. And it is food that we have learned impacts our very ecosystems, down to the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the climate we enjoy, come rain or shine.
Even before the pandemic, 2021 was destined to be a “super-year” for food, a year in which food production, consumption and disposal finally received the requisite global attention as the UN convenes the world’s first Food Systems Summit. But with two years’ worth of progress now compressed into the next 12 months, 2021 takes on a renewed significance.
After a year of global paralysis, caused by the shock of Covid-19, we must channel our anxieties, our fear, our hunger,and most of all our energies into action, and wake up to the fact that by transforming food systems to be healthier, more sustainable and inclusive, we can recover from the pandemic and limit the impact of future crises.
The change we need will require all of us to think and act differently because every one of us has a stake and a role in functioning food systems. But now, more than ever, we must look to our national leaders to chart the path forward by uniting farmers, producers, scientists, hauliers, grocers, and consumers, listening to their difficulties and insights, and pledging to improve each aspect of the food system for the betterment of all.
Policymakers must listen to Europe’s 10 million farmers as custodians of the resources that produce our food, and align their needs and challenges with the perspectives of environmentalists and entrepreneurs, chefs and restaurant owners, doctors and nutritionists to develop national commitments.
We enter 2021 with wind in our sails. More than 50 countries have joined the European Union in engaging with the Food Systems Summit and its five priority pillars, or Action Tracks, which cut across nutrition, poverty, climate change, resilience and sustainability. And more than two dozen countries have appointed a national convenor to host a series of country-level dialogues in the months ahead, a process that will underpin the Summit and set the agenda for the Decade of Action to 2030.
But this is just the beginning. With utmost urgency, I call on all UN Member States to join this global movement for a better, more fulfilling future, starting with the transformation of food systems. I urge governments to provide the platform that opens a conversation and guides countries towards tangible, concrete change. And I encourage everyone with fire in their bellies to get involved with the Food Systems Summit process this year and start the journey of transitioning to more inclusive and sustainable food systems.
The Summit is a “People’s Summit” for everyone, and its success relies on everyone everywhere getting involved through participating in Action Track surveys, joining the online Summit Community, and signing up to become Food Systems Heroes who are committed to improving food systems in their own communities and constituencies.
Too often, we say it is time to act and make a difference, then continue as before. But it would be unforgivable if the world was allowed to forget the lessons of the pandemic in our desperation to return to normal life. All the writing on the wall suggests that our food systems need reform now. Humanity is hungry for this change. It is time to sate our appetite.
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