Europe

EU’s migration pact is pleasing nobody
Europe

EU’s migration pact is pleasing nobody

The lukewarm response to the European Union’s much-awaited migration pact has made it a non-starter that even the support of strong countries like Germany and France can’t salvage.

The European Union’s new migration pact is to be based on three courses of action – one, keep migrants in their own countries by helping create a better life for them; two, equipping the border guards and coast guards to more effectively seal off EU borders; three, to redistribute the refugees who do manage to make it between countries who can then either choose to take them in or deport them. But for the 27 member states, this is not a perfect plan. In fact, for many of them it is completely untenable.

EU’s big two – France and Germany – immediately accepted the proposals. But within their countries, it has divided opinion. For the centre-left it doesn’t go far enough to help the refugees, while for the right, it is too lenient. For the southern European countries, or the frontline countries who are at the heart of the crisis, receiving and hosting many of these refugees and migrants, the new policy is only a weak attempt.

In Italy, where arrivals have quadrupled since 2019, the policy is a good step but doesn’t achieve the right balance between solidarity and responsibility. There is no assurance of relocation, both within Europe or deportation outside, considering there are currently no safe countries that would accept the deportees. It doesn’t do enough to address concerns like the sprawling refugee camps like that in Moria, which was gutted in a fire recently.

Meanwhile, its strongest opponents are the Visegrad countries – Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia. They are staunchly against the idea of mandatory relocation and are not very keen on the idea of solidarity either. Since the migration crisis began in 2015, these governments have strengthened their borders and refused to accept the mandatory quota of refugees. Countries like Austria and Slovenia have outright rejected the pact. Even civil society actors have criticised aspects of the plan for putting too much burden on frontline countries that are charged with screening the arrivals, for not providing enough support to rescuers and trying to shift the responsibility to other countries like Libya and Turkey which are creating illegal detention centres that are rife with exploitation and violence.

Brexit deal near yet far: Brussels casts a shadow on trade deal
Europe

Brexit deal near yet far: Brussels casts a shadow on trade deal

Brussels has casted a shadow on wave of optimism of imminent Brexit deal ahead of next week’s formal round of negotiations. With less than 100 days before transition period ends, the European Union is to have final negotiations starting next week on post-Brexit trade deal with the UK. An EU diplomat said on Friday, “On technical issues we’re 90% there. That remaining 10% is political. And if that cant be solved, then the 90% is irrelevant. There will be no deal.” Mood is evident in Brussels.

Brussels has almost punctured the optimism of finally settling on a Brexit deal. EU leaders believe that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing challenges domestically with Covid-19. Also that Johnson hasn’t been able to secure a decision on deal and increasing dissatisfaction regarding his leadership even among his MPs is likely a reason that EU will look for an agreement on Brexit rather than seeking to sell no-deal scenario.

This week EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier relayed to ministers from the 27 EU member states that there was “a more open atmosphere at the negotiating table.” He also emphasized that “substantial differences of opinion remain, particularly on a level playing field.”

The key points of contention in trade deal negotiations are stubbornly exact same – fishing rights, competition regulations (popularly called ‘level playing field’) which includes state aid and eventual agreement governance, which refers to how future disputes between the two sides would be handled and resolved.

UK government is allegedly feeding the country’s journalists the briefing of almost finalized deal. EU thinks that this is because Downing Street is ready for a compromise. EU has argued that since long it has been patiently listening and respecting negotiation lines by UK but there has not been any such attempt from UK’s front.

Downing Street is keen to move into “tunnel” negotiations with Brussels for an agreement. Brussels maintains that “We’re nowhere near there.” The EU negotiators insist that entering “tunnel” is possibility when political landing zone is clearly put forth from both sides and is approachable. “We cannot trust this prime minister’s word, so the EU member states are not yet willing to go blind into a tunnel negotiation and see what happens,” a source from EU said. “It will take more than David Frost (the UK’s chief negotiator) telling us Johnson wants a deal,” he added.

EU hopes that Frost will extend a compromise proposal next week on the key issue of control state to aid to businesses. The UK insists that it will stick to the provisions provided by the World Trade Organization on state aid. These provisions allow both sides to take counter measures wherever there is unfair distortion of trade. This position, according to the EU, doesn’t offer assurances of competition at fair level.

EU-Swiss free movement referendum to decide future course of their relations
Europe

EU-Swiss free movement referendum to decide future course of their relations

On Sunday, Switzerland would hold referendum, wherein its people’s vote would decide if the free movement of immigrants from European Union member states would continue or stop. On 21 June 1999, EU and Switzerland signed the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons (AFMP).

Switzerland’s largest party, Swiss People’s Party (SVP) has been the key initiator of the campaign aimed at controlling the free movement in the Alpine country. The right-wing populist party, which seems to be working on the lines of Brexit, argued that it should be in their country’s hand to set its own limit on the number of foreigners coming in to work. PVP referendum campaign website says, “Migrants change our culture. Public squares, trains and streets become less safe. In addition, practically half of all welfare recipients are foreigners.”

Migrants change our culture. Public squares, trains and streets become less safe. In addition, practically half of all welfare recipients are foreigners.

SVP strongly condemned EU influence on their country, a non-EU member. It warned that “uncontrolled and excessive immigration” would leave Swiss people jobless. The party said that inflow of young foreigners would lead to replacement of older Swiss workers, and would also lead to hike in housing costs, and schools, transport and public services.

Vincent Schaller, an SVP member of the Geneva municipal parliament, told AFP, “We must retrieve the portion of sovereignty involving controlling immigration.” He added that “SVP wants immigration of choice.”

Observers believed that though SVP’s campaign has received dwindling public support as per recent polls, but if by any luck majority vote turns into ‘yes’, it could damage Switzerland’s relations with the Union. Besides, breaking of free movement accord with EU would leave Swiss authorities with one year to negotiate the closing of its 1999 agreement with Brussels.

The Federal Council stated that termination of AFMP accord would lead to application of  “the guillotine clause” which implies automatic ending application of six other agreements in the Bilaterals I package. The government said that the initiative would also prohibit Switzerland from entering into any new international obligations that grant freedom of movement to foreign citizens.

SVP opponents fear that the turning down of the free movement accord would put in jeopardy over 120 bilateral treaties between Switzerland and the bloc. Besides, not allowing EU nationals to work in Switzerland, would directly impact Swiss businesses and treaties related free trade, data exchange, agriculture, research, police cooperation, civil aviation, road transport, tourism, education and pensions. Critics believed that it might not be a good time to go for Swiss-exit plan, especially amid the onslaught of coronavirus pandemic, as the country might need EU support to boost its economy, 

EU refuses to recognise Lukashenko
Europe

EU refuses to recognise Lukashenko

The announcement came after the Belarusian leader was sworn into office for his sixth term amidst countrywide protests demanding that he relinquish power.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief released a statement saying the bloc doesn’t recognise the “falsified results” that gave Alexander Lukashenko the mandate to become President of Belarus for the sixth time. The unannounced inauguration not only lacked “any democratic legitimacy”, according to the diplomatic chief Josep Borrell, but also contradicts the will of the Belarusian people.

Lukashenko was sworn in during a secret ceremony at the Palace of Independence with several hundred people in attendance including loyalists like army generals and MPs. Lukashenko called the day a “joint victory” that was “convincing” and “momentous”. Opposition members called it a “thieves’ meeting”. Several streets leading up to it sealed off in order to hold back protestors and no foreign dignitaries had been invited to the event.

Protests have continued relentlessly since the announcement of the results of an election that the opposition say was rigged. Lukashenko, who has been in power for 26 years, was declared the winner of the election with 80% of the votes, despite a lot of popular support for his opposition candidate, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. She and many other opposition leaders are now in exile in neighbouring countries. The opposition coalition inside the country has been organising itself into daily protests against Lukashenko in the capital city of Minsk and various other cities with huge weekend rallies flying the red and white opposition flags.

During the inauguration, protestors in Minsk clashed with riot police who repelled them with water cannon and batons. Several thousand protestors carrying the opposition flag took to the streets. Many were beaten and arrested and footage has surfaced of the police destroying cars in order to scare away protestors. According to a rights group, more than 200 people have been arrested. In addition to the EU, the United States has also refused to recognise Lukashenko, who only has the support of Russia. Earlier this month he secured a $1.5 billion loan from them. The EU, meanwhile, has asked the Belarusian government to release detainees and refrain from repression, saying it was reviewing its relations with Belarus. 

Far-right Brothers of Italy party is set to break the 25 year old jinx, ready to snatch Marche region from the leftist rule
Europe

Far-right Brothers of Italy party is set to break the 25 year old jinx, ready to snatch Marche region from the leftist rule

The far-right Brothers of Italy party is close to putting an end to 25 years of leftist rule in the eastern region of Marche. According to the yet incomplete results, this gives the party its second regional presidency. The centre-left however still managed to retain its hold on Tuscany. Tuscany’s centre-left candidate Eugenio Giani called it an “extraordinary victory.” The results started coming in on Monday night in the important regional elections of Italy.

Polling had given an indication that Tuscany would be a difficult race. The region has been a strong leftwing fortress for more than 50 years. Matteo Salvini, the far-right former interior minister said “We knew it would be an extremely difficult fight.”

Brothers of Italy was led by Giorgia Meloni who has been rising in popularity charts recently. The party was also in part headed by the coalition of Salvini’s league. Francesco Acquaroli was the candidate for regional presidency of Marche for Brothers of Italy. He was predicted to capture 51.2% of votes, compared to 35.7% votes for the centre-left candidate. Win in Marche for Brothers of Italy has given the post-fascist descendent party a second regional seat.  

Mattia Diletti, politics professor at Sapienza University in Rome said, “Marche is an important win for Meloni. Her goal is to lead the coalition and she has understood that it’s more of a marathon than a sprint.”

Across the seven regions in which elections took place on Sunday and Monday there was a huge voter turnout. A referendum also observed big turnout of voters that led to 69% of Italians voting to reduce the Parliament size. This referendum will reduce number of parliamentarians in both the houses. The referendum was supported by the Five Star Movement, the national ruling party with the Democratic party.

UN Meeting Interrupted Over Emotional Outburst By Belarusian Representative
Europe

UN Meeting Interrupted Over Emotional Outburst By Belarusian Representative

The recent United Nation’s meeting saw some unpleasant exchange of words via video conferencing when the future of Belarus was on the table of discussions. Belarus and its allies were seen repeatedly trying to muzzle speakers amid warnings of a new iron curtain falling across Europe.

The sense of decorum was put to test.  But then also, the Human Rights Council comprising of 47 members voted for a resolution of which 23 voted in favour, with 22 abstentions. A resolution is finally being adopted on the deteriorating human rights situation in Belarus. There is now clear guideline to the Belarusian authorities to enter into a dialogue with political opposition.

Those interrupting included the Belarus representative himself, backed by delegates from Russia, China and Venezuela, who tried to limit presentations – including from Alexander Lukashenko’s main challenger, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, on procedural grounds.

There was animosity against Tikhanovskaya and this was evident as her small video message was repeatedly interrupted. The Belarusian representative, Yuri Ambrazevich said it had no relevance to the day’s proceedings and he raised procedural objections against its telecast.

Germany on its part, has called for urgent all-day talks on behalf of the EU. The talks has tabled a draft resolution to demand the high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, monitor the crisis at hand and report back by the end of 2020, post which the bloc has called “fraudulent elections” officially won by Lukashenko. Most human rights activists and international fraternity are calling the dictatorial re-election of Lukashenko as dubious and rigged.  A month long protest continues to rock Belarus which has been badly handled by authorities and led to severe ill intentioned violent actions against peaceful protestors. Tikhanovskaya was standing up against Lukashenko’s candidacy after her husband was jailed. She had to flee for her safety after she was dubiously declared second and was demanding recounting of votes.

Ursula von der Leyen outlines her vision for the EU in her first State of the Union speech
Europe

Ursula von der Leyen outlines her vision for the EU in her first State of the Union speech

The European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivered her first State of the Union speech in which she outlined her vision for the future of the European Union. The commission is responsible for drafting laws and regulations for the EU, enforcing the rules and also has power to impose fines on European Union members if necessary. In her wide-ranged speech von der Leyen stressed on five key sectors that are included in her plans for the Union.

Coronavirus pandemic

The address by EU chief included predominantly the coronavirus pandemic response. Mrs. von der Leyen said, “A virus a thousand times smaller than a grain of sand exposed how delicate life can be.” She praised EU’s multi-million euro recovery package as a “chance to make change happen by design, and not by disaster.”

“We turned fear and division between member states into confidence in our union. We showed what is possible when we trust each other,” Mrs. von der Leyen added.

The former German defence minister said that a global health summit would be held next year in Italy. Furthermore, EU would establish a new agency dedicated to biomedical research and development.

“A virus a thousand times smaller than a grain of sand exposed how delicate life can be.”

von der Leyen

Climate change crisis

The first woman EU chief went in detail about the environment and current climate crisis being faced globally. She announced her ambitious goal of cutting down greenhouse gas emissions from the bloc. The target Mrs. von der Leyen notified was to decrease emissions by at least 55% by 2030 as compared to 1990 levels. This is an upgrade in goal from initial 40%. She said, “There is no more urgent need for acceleration than when it comes to the future of our fragile planet.” She continued, “While much of the world’s activity froze during lockdowns and shutdowns, the planet continued to get dangerously hotter. The 2030 target is ambitious, achievable and beneficial.”

A meeting next month of EU leaders will decide on the agreement of target. It is expected that some eastern countries of bloc who rely majorly on coal for energy will provide some resistance.

She also relayed that 30% of the post-coronavirus recovery package which is €750bn will be assigned to climate friendly projects to which all EU leaders have agreed to.

Brexit

The brief mention of UK’s exit from the EU received the loudest applause from European Parliament members. She said, “The withdrawal agreement cannot be unilaterally changed, disregarded or dis-applied. This a matter of law, trust and good faith.” The reference was to the contentious bill by UK government that seeks to bypass parts of Brexit deal with European Union.

Technology Investment

Mrs. Ursula called for increased technology investment so as to stay in pace with China and US. She said, “We want to lead the way, the European way, to the Digital Age: based on our values, our strength, our global ambitions.” Out of €750bn coronavirus recovery package 20% will be dedicated for investment in digital projects and additional €8bn to be utilized for next generation of supercomputers. The EU chief called for a “twin green and digital transition at a time when the global competitive landscape is fundamentally changing.”

Migrant crisis

Ursula von der Leyen said that five years since 2015 migrant crisis there have been many divisions within the EU and “some of those scars are still healing today.” She addressed the audience saying, “If we ae all ready to make compromises we can find a solution. Migration is a European challenge and all of Europe must do its part.” She said that leaving thousands of migrants and refugees stranded and homeless after fire broke out in Moria migrant camp in Lesbos island of Greece has brought up the issue back to forefront.

She relayed that next week the Commission will present a New Pact on Migration. She said, “We will take a human and humane approach. Saving lives at sea is not optional.”

Community refugee camp and pact for migrants: will the EU start from here to find unity on refugees?
Europe

Community refugee camp and pact for migrants: will the EU start from here to find unity on refugees?

The management of migrants has been a European emergency for too long. That is why the EU Commission announced that the pact on migration will be presented even before the end of September. According to Ursula von der Leyen, the theme cannot be postponed again. In fact, during the epidemic crisis, it emerged how the weakness, or even the absence, of a community strategy on the treatment of refugees, can translate into a social, humanitarian, and health bomb for the entire continent.

The tragic fire in the Greek camp of Moria also gave a further boost to the issue: the pact on migrants at the EU level is urgent. What does the project for Europe announced by von der Leyen foresee? The European Union will try to give impetus to one of the most discussed and controversial reforms at the EU level: that of the management of migrants in a collaborative way among the 27 member countries. So far, finding a truly shared strategy between all EU states has seemed almost impossible. In fact, from the peak of the migrant crisis that erupted in 2015 until today, the much-invoked reform of the EU migration and asylum policy has not borne fruit.

Too many national reticence on the change of the Dublin Convention and on the issue of the redistribution of migrants arriving on the shores of the Mediterranean, for example. A weak agreement in Malta on the issue of relocation was reached a year ago, but nothing has been done to reform the management of migrants and asylum applications at the European legislative level.

For this, von der Leyen, on Monday, September 14, said: “We have decided to bring the migration pact forward to next week, on September 23, and to speed up the discussion.” But what are the major themes of the plan for migrants? Based on an evaluation of what has happened so far, the key issues will be the procedure for asylum seekers, the role of EU agencies for handling border applications, responsibility for asylum applications, and the redistribution of migrants across the EU.

Italy is at the forefront of this political struggle for the responsibility for refugees that is shared in Europe. However, the obstacles to reaching the pact are not few. Only the issue of the distribution of migrants, for example, has generated several conflicting positions: Eastern countries, such as Hungary, claim that this mechanism is optional. The Mediterranean nations, such as Italy, which require compulsory hospitality, are quite different.

One of the first pieces of evidence of community collaboration on the migrants’ front could be the tragedy of Moria. That von der Leyen and Merkel support. Greece’s proposal to build a new refugee reception and identification center in Moria, in collaboration with the EU, has so far pleased the European leaders.The camp on the island of Lesbos has long been a cause of shame, right in the heart of Europe, due to conditions of overcrowding, lack of hygiene, and violation of human rights. Destruction, therefore, could be the right opportunity to start a new path in the EU on the issue of immigration. Merkel said Greece would have primary responsibility, but the project could be a model for future cooperation at the European level. The president of the EU Commission shares the same opinion: the idea of co-management between Greece and European institutions could be successful, with a memorandum of understanding to establish all rules and management responsibilities.

Belarus Burning: Amid continued protests Belarus’s embattled President Lukashenko to meet Putin
Europe

Belarus Burning: Amid continued protests Belarus’s embattled President Lukashenko to meet Putin

Belarus has been under utter stress and chaos for over a month now after controversial presidential election results were announced and President Alexander Lukashenko was declared winner with a large majority. What ensued was demonstrations and protests that engulfed Belarus right from capital city of Minsk to every small street and town in the nation. The opposition leaders, interestingly all women, have either been captured in broad daylight or have left country due to security reasons. But the fight is continuing to force the Europe’s longest serving dictator step down from the leadership. Amid the chaos and confusion, President Lukashenko is set to fly to Russia to meet Vladimir Putin, who considers the former as the legitimate leader for Belarus.

Putin has publicly said that if need be he is ready to intervene using his forces to control the growing protests. There are speculations that Putin may want stronger and closer ties with Belarus in exchange of his support to Lukashenko. The talks will be held in Russian Black Sea Resort of Sochi.

Sunday marked a day of massive protests in Belarus after police brutally beat and arrest women protesters. Thousands of women and others came on streets to show support. Over 400 people were arrested. Belarusians are protesting against president Lukashenko who has been accused of rigging recent elections. He has been in power for 26 years now. He however has denied any wrong-doing in election results and claims to have won by over 80% votes. He is painting a picture of protests as entirely a West driven act and anti-Russian.

The latest development of Lukashenko’s travel to meet Putin in Russia, first time since protests began, is a demonstration of power and to showcase the people that Russia has his back. This is likely a reminder to protestors and his opponents that Putin is watchfully monitoring the Belarus protests and can send in his security forces to curb the dissidents rise. Furthermore, Lukashenko has been signaling Moscow of his importance to keep Belarus in tight approach by calling the protesters as anti-Russia and opposing the West. Experts believe that in return of his support Putin can ask for stronger economic and political ties with Belarus. Now with Lukashenko visiting Russia to have talks with Putin, it would be interesting to see whether Moscow will publicly acknowledge its support to Lukashenko. And how will it play out among the protesters who are not ready to back down anytime soon.

Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project: How likely it is that Germany will withdraw from the Russian pipeline
Europe

Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project: How likely it is that Germany will withdraw from the Russian pipeline

After Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was poisoned and reached Berlin for treatment after much halting and barricading by Moscow, Germany has stood firm by the Putin opponent and questioned Russia of its alleged role in Navalny’s poisoning. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said, “I hope the Russians don’t force us to change our position on Nord Stream 2.” The statement was as shocking as an earthquake for the Russian pipeline project, and a major showcase of the intensifying row between Moscow and Berlin over Navalny’s poisoning.

Nord Stream 2 pipeline has always been a controversial project. The pipeline runs under Baltic Sea and brings Russian gas to Germany directly. The project is aimed to provide cheap energy to Germany as it phases out coal and nuclear resources. Critics have always maintained that this makes Germany too reliant on Russia for energy, a country that is politically too unreliable.

“I hope the Russians don’t force us to change our position on Nord Stream 2.”

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas

The German foreign minister has called on Russia to investigate the nerve agent poisoning of Navalny or the implications can be as dire as axing the Nord Stream 2 project. Navalny is currently being treated at a hospital in Berlin after he was brought in comatose from poisoning. He has come out of coma but is still in critical condition.

Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel has hardened her view on the pipeline and is considering the support for Nord Stream 2. Just before the announcement of Navalny’s coming out of coma by German doctors, Angela Merkel released a statemen on Monday through her spokesman. “The German chancellor agrees with the foreign minister’s comments from the weekend.” This was indicative towards withdrawing support from pipeline.

Until last week Germany had maintained the stance of keeping pipeline support and poisoning of Navalny, Russia’s most significant opponent leader who is known to be highly critical of Putin, separate entities. But the latest remarks indicate Berlin’s hardened attitude towards Nord Stream 2.

Nord Stream 1, the first pipeline was completed in 2011. Nord Stream 2, the second pipeline is almost finished and is scheduled to go operational in 2021. The total stretch of pipeline id 2,460 km, out of which2,300 km has already been laid.

Merkel and her conservative party were not the initial bearers of this pipeline idea and weren’t particularly too enthusiastic about it either. Merkel inherited the project from center-left ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schroder, her predecessor. Schroder is famous to have a “brotherly” relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Even after leaving the chancellor post, Schroder sparked lot of criticism and outrage as he took office in many Russian energy companies. It included being in supervisory board in Nord Stream project.

The project is being opposed by European partners of Germany and US, who argue that it makes Berlin too dependent on Moscow for energy. Merkel’s government has been consistently facing criticism over the same. Now with Navalny poisoning the debate has freshened up in Germany regarding future of Nord Stream 2. Many Green Party leaders and conservatives are calling for scrapping off the project. But that already bulk of project has been completed and around €8bn invested, the pulling plug on project will hamper Europe’s image as a safe investment place. Also axing the pipeline will not solve Germany’s energy supply problem.

The fact that US and European leaders oppose the project, it can come quite handy for Merkel. The best way out for Merkel from project is to quietly withdraw, and let American and EU critics kill the pipeline project. This will save Berlin’s image and maybe even save it from the bill.

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