Saturday 11 August 2012

The Good Neighbour

Erik Edman

The European Union is aiming at creating regional stability through promoting human rights, cooperation, political dialogue, and trade with its neighbours. But its plan could be backfiring. Source.
Collective European foreign policy has for the past twenty years revolved around the theory of “soft power” where strength originates from exporting culture, economic ties, and generally liberal tendencies. A policy which fits neatly within these guidelines is the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP).
The ENP is a project which seeks to promote a better understanding between the EU and its neighbours in the south and east. This end is met through bilateral policies which ensure the commitment of both parties to common values such as democracy and human rights, the rule of law, good governance, market economy principles and sustainable development. It would be safe to compare the ENP with a EU membership prep-course. Countries agree on three to five-year agendas aimed at political and/or economic reforms, in the hope of strengthening their times with the Union.
In effect in 16 countries, the ENP aims at strengthening cooperation and trade agreements, in order to offer political association and deeper economic integration, increased mobility and increased contact between people, a bit like an EU outside the EU.
In theory, this project seems flawless, a true maverick of a policy which at once secures the continent’s borders and increases capital flow between its neighbours and its members.
As noble as the policy might appear and as mutually beneficial as the goals might seem, it is interesting to note certain side effects it has on the regions around Europe.
Chief among these issues is the division caused among certain nations in Europe’s periphery. An example can be found in the countries of the Maghreb (Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Mauritania and Libya) who for the past thirty years or so have been discussing the possibility of a closer political and economic integration between their countries, similar to that seen in the EU. So far only small, shy steps have been taken towards that direction and it’s not just regional politics that is to blame for the plan’s failure. With four of the five Maghreb countries being part of the ENP and thus receiving the numerous economic benefits that come with tapping into Europe’s market, the Maghreb countries have few reasons to seek closer ties with their neighbours since the benefits of European “friendship” outweigh the advantages of regional unity (at least in the short term).
But these ties forged with Europe have returned to haunt the countries of Northern Africa who now see their main trading partner fumbling for a way out of the economic mess it has gotten itself in. Since 2009, all Maghreb countries, to different extents, have experienced an economic slowdown. Algeria, as an oil exporter has seen its exports drop dramatically with European businesses being unable to continue importing at the same levels as before, while less oil-based economies like Morocco and Tunisia who were nevertheless reliant on economic cycles, have to face a less prominent but still important economic hurdle.
So as Europe tends to its wounds, the Maghreb countries turn their gazes inwards to their politically underdeveloped region. The nations of the region have come together twice this year to discuss the old dreams of regional unity and possible ways of realising them. New regional laws are being discussed, cross-boundary development projects have been suggested, and closer political ties are being formed.
Europe, by using itself as the focal point of its European Neighbourhood Policy, managed to construct a situation where security existed, but only while Europe was part of the equation. As soon as that variable was extracted, the neighbourhood realised that it had been living an illusion. It is not enough to promote stability in relation to one’s own country (or collection of countries, as the case may be) but close political ties need to be promoted between the country where stability is being promoted, and its own neighbours (European or otherwise). A European economic dependency might have worked in the short term but it has failed in creating a stable environment around Europe, as recent events like the Arab Spring has proved.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. While promoting human rights, dialogue, political understanding, cooperation, and trade, Europe had forsaken, perhaps intentionally, forging environments where peace could prosper without Europe. While facing an economic crisis, the EU does not want to be surrounded with neighbours fighting with each other. The EU needs to reconsider its approach towards its neighbours and formulate a policy which maintains the same goals but adjusts the means used to achieve them.
The UK is a country with a very keen sense of international duty. Some of the main concerns of the government are immigration, and political extremism, of which a large part of both is originating just beyond the EU’s borders. Seeking to strengthen the EU’s policy towards its neighbours, making it more flexible by contextualising it in accordance to different regions, would be in the UK’s best interests. Neighbours should be encouraged to seek closer integration with non-EU countries, since in the case of even partial European withdrawal from the local economy, nations that had focused solely on their relations with Europe, will find themselves isolated and vulnerable, creating insecurity just beyond the Union’s borders. Europe needs to stop dividing regions through creating unions with them, and should rather risk to suffer completion with our unions by promoting them. Then policies can be made between the EU and its neighbouring unions. It is long-term solutions that we should be aiming for.

Saturday 28 July 2012

Schengen: the price of forgetting Europe’s foundation

Henry Norman

Under discussion is the possibility of a return to internal border checks for up to two years. EUObserver.
You can certainly count on the European Union to give one a lesson on sovereignty and the limits of liberal institutionalism. The justice and home affairs council recently announced that it wished to amend the Schengen agreement in order to allow member states greater control of their borders. Add to this a seriously disgruntled European parliament and you know you are in trouble. On learning of the proposed amendments, Martin Schulz, President of the European parliament, argued that the councils actions were, ‘unilateral and counter-productive.’ Therefore, not only does the reestablishment of border-checks threaten to rock the very foundations of the European project, but the way in which the discussions have been played out expose the vulnerability of a parliament currently sensitive to wide-scale disenfranchisement. As a result, two recurrent and profoundly controversial issues collide dangerously within this one debate. 

On the one hand we had what appeared to be the sidelining of an international parliament. Martin Schulz had this in mind when he commented that ‘any reform process must be carried out on the basis of the existing Community institutions and in keeping with the principles of parliamentary democracy.’ Furthermore, the Danish presidency, in moving ahead with such proposals, exhibited a decidedly state-centric agenda.  To many the reintroduction of border controls during a swell of immigration levels represents the disintegration of many of the core principles of the EU; namely the free movement of its people. These are sentiments one would wholeheartedly concur with. The success of the current arrangements can be measured by its wide-ranging and taken fore granted benefits it grants to the citizen. A borderless continent for the European citizen is now taken as a given, not something we ponder whilst we move country to country.  

The existing state of the Schengen Agreement. BBC.
So lets look closely at what exactly the Schengen agreement actually states as this will perhaps clear up some of the arguments made against it. The agreement clearly states that the ‘Schengen area represents a territory where the free movement of people is guaranteed.’  In other words, it does not deal with migration outside of the European Union and to assert otherwise would be a gross conflation of different issues. 

Such conflation stems from the recent Arab spring and the growth in illegal immigration into Italy and other Southern European countries that has resulted. As anger has grown in the Northern member states of France, Germany and Denmark, it is not surprising that populism has so flauntingly influenced policy. Schengen, however, is the wrong policy to tamper with in order to rectify such a situation. Any security threat that may result from illegal immigration post-Arab spring is external and not due to weak policy in the form of Schengen.  I would suggest that work should be done to fortify the Mediterranean borders so that such a situation can be mitigated. This would avoid an image of member states battening down their hatches against other more vulnerable states such as Greece to the pressures of protecting their borders. 

Of course, it would be naïve to ignore the great swathes of illegal immigration that have already occurred during the past year and the effect it will have on the more prosperous European states. However, Cecilia Malmström, the EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, has commented that such a move "undermines the achievements of the European integration."  The Schengen Agreement already allows for reintroduction of border controls in exceptional circumstances and so if it is national security that is cited as a reason for an evaluation mechanism then surely Schengen is already adept? For example, France was able to restore border controls temporarily after the July 7th bombings in London.  

Therefore, the question that can be raised from this whole affair is what is the point of the EU at all if its branches of governance are so obviously sidelined? I would argue that the reintroduction of border controls comes at a very opportune moment and exhibits the growing fear amongst European leaders that financial armageddon is heading towards Europe. This is a point picked up by Phoenix Capital Research who argue that the real motives behind the evaluation mechanism is to halt ‘people from fleeing with their money when the collapse comes.’ Although rather sensationalized in the article, it helps somewhat answer the question I began this paragraph with. It would send an image of a divided Europe and not one of a union coming together multilaterally to solve some complex issues. It would fracture a union created after a fractured post-Cold War continent. 

In terms of the British position, then in the words of French President Francois Hollande, "they have refused the logic of Schengen for the past 25 years." The UK have wished to maintain their own border controls (however unsuccessfully) although they are party, as is Ireland, to the Schengen Information System which is basically a Europe-wide crime database. 

All in all, talks of Schengen’s revision are not something the UK should take as vindication of their position.  The UK has consistently argued that its stance is based on the increased, unchecked asylum that would result.  However, illegal immigration is not the only reason for Schengen’s reevaluation; the potential default of Greece and others pose a far greater threat. As a result, if there is indeed a fleeing of capital country to country, no border controls, however reinforced, can stop the contagion that will follow. Whilst Europe can and will get over the financial crisis, what message would it send that in some of Europe’s direst days , member states resorted to acting unilaterally and forwent the very principles upon which it was founded. That is a something I fear Europe could never come back from.   

Thursday 5 July 2012

European Scapegoats

Erik Edman

Members of the Greek neo-Nazi party ‘Golden Dawn’ at a rally, an event with faint echoes of the Nuremberg Rallies. Photo: DEMOTIX.
Excuse the history student in me for beginning this article with two short historical references.
Historical reference number one:  on 26 August 1789, the last article of the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen” was adopted by the National Constituent Assembly of Revolutionary France. Inspired by the overarching ideas of human nature, equality and “natural right” of the Enlightenment, this document held the rights of man to be universal, valid at all times and inherent to human nature itself. This can be argued as being the foundation on which the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” of the UN was based on some 150 years later.
Historical reference number two: following the fatigue of the Second World War and growing socio-political changes in the world, European empires disintegrated, giving birth to many smaller nations the world over. The paradox, however, was that great numbers of the people who had only just achieved independence for their countries, decided to immigrate to the homeland of the empires they had broken free from.
With that historical context in mind, let us look into Europe’s recent xenophobic tendencies.
A historical tendency which seems obvious enough is the fact that hardships and xenophobia go hand-in-hand. Europe’s historical past has a special tinge to it which puts it aside from its American cousins and that is the continent’s imperial past. Accepting immigrants from other countries, especially following the decolonisation, was an act of post-imperial magnanimity with immigrants being endured. Europe accepted the waves of immigrants coming in from their former colonial possessions as a show of friendship; an act of atonement with their colonial past. And so the people of the colonies flocked to the imperial homeland which had ruled them for centuries.
But history is not easily forgotten and a feeling of cultural, technological, societal, and –albeit in extreme cases– civilizational superiority survives deep in the subconscious of European societies. And experience tells us that it feeds off hardships. Xenophobia becomes productive; it becomes useful; a fuel that drives the worried, anxious population onwards by giving it hope and a solution. As the reality of the economic crisis settles in European perceptions of everyday life, far-right political groups gain supporters and with them power. And it shouldn’t surprise us: their selling points are excellent.
-Our Country for our Countrymen
-Return to a glorious past (which came to an end because of immigrants)
-Clean our society of foreigners who downgrade it
-Jobs for our countrymen, not foreigners
It might not have a lot of moral substance to it (or any, for that matter) but it sells.
In France, Le Pen’s National Front got 20% of the French vote, in Greece 18 seats have gone to the fascist (nay, Neo-Nazi) party of Golden Dawn. Sweden, a country renowned for its liberal ways, was one of the first to experience this shift in political balance with its far-right party gaining 5.7% of the votes in 2010. Similar trends can be seen throughout Europe from the political to the social theatre (ie. German neo-Nazi murders). And this in a continent where the words Nazi and Germany in the same sentence still manage to send a chill down our collective social spine.
A typical example of endo-European racism can be found in the case of the Roma who have been shunned for centuries. Their children are having difficulties entering schools and parents are struggling to find jobs. Communities of Roma are deported from different European countries and forbidden to work, although their European citizenship ensures them the right to work in any EU country. The Roma, for one reason or another, have developed a collective persona through which they are viewed and which stigmatises them socially, making their lives difficult, regardless of their European citizenship. 
Muslims, especially in the post 9/11 era, have been targeted by European xenophobic sentiments. In France and Switzerland laws which alienate Muslims have been passed, laws which could provoke and aggravate the Muslim population.
One has to wonder if human societies can keep up with the pace technology has set for global integration.
And as the world’s football gaze is turned to the East of the continent, xenophobia did not fail to raise its ugly head as was feared it would. Racist jibes against black players and historical rivalries between Poles and Russians resolved through street fighting. That is not to say that other European states have a much better reputation when it comes to football hooliganism and racism in particular. Black Italian footballer Mario Balotelli has been the victim of racism in his country and Chelsea captain John Terry faces a trial for racism upon his return from the Euro tournament.
The UK suffers of a most peculiar type of xenophobia. Although British society is not openly xenophobic, its government definitely is. There is a political perception prevalent in the UK that all foreign political influence is a breaching of the country’s sovereignty, a dogma most obvious in the UK’s dealing with the European Union and other matters requesting joint action. Britain remained aloof in condemning Ukraine as its European partners did (surely to avoid politicising the Euro tournament only a month before its own Olympic Games as Adam Lenton suggests in his article).
I believe that although this is an issue that needs to be dealt with and European political elites should refrain from using xenophobic rhetoric, we can allow ourselves to take heart at the knowledge of one fact. If extremist and xenophobic parties fail to gather enough support to gain political power now, at this time of European crisis, then it is safe to assume that they never will. Beating them at a time of economic hardship is beating them at their own game. Perhaps Europe has grown-up after all.

Wednesday 13 June 2012

War by other means: The emerging economic and political divergence at the centre of Europe

Christopher Wood

Two leaders, two agendas: Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande were keen to talk of continuing their commitment to European cooperation after the French Presidential Inauguration, yet it is unclear if national concerns can be overcome. AFP, Odd Andersen.

THE BRANDENBURG GATE– an iconic monument in the heart of Berlin, a five-minute walk away from the Reichstag that sits directly on the intersection of the Tiergarten and the historic core of the German capital. Crowning its neo-classical architecture is a reminder of one of Europe’s most bitter rivalries amidst its long and war-torn annals of history – cast in a resplendent and vast bronze statue, the goddess Victory stands astride a four-horsed chariot, her gaze fixed permanently across Pariser Platz square upon the building that contains the French Embassy. 

The relationship between the two most powerful economic entities in Europe, despite being beset by prolonged periods of mutual animosity and outright warfare, has been central to European politics. Today’s ‘special relationship’ is a product of over 70 years of Franco-German cooperation that has evolved from Cold-War realpolitik to the shared European vision that we see today. 

After ten years of monetary union under the Euro single currency, dark clouds are gathering over Europe. Greece has been toiling under the burden of drastic austerity imposed by the European Central Bank and its German financiers for over a year with little success. The financial health of vast swathes of Southern Europe is increasingly being questioned by credit rating agencies and creditor nations. Barely a month into office, the newly-elected French President has issued a rallying call for a fresh approach to the European fiscal malaise in the form of growth-inducing stimulus – in doing so, Francois Hollande has compromised the stoic German commitment to enforcing structural reform and debt servicing. Are we witnessing the end of the Franco-German consensus that has been so central to the European project?
Revolutionary France? Not quite.

Gone are the days of ‘Merkozy’ – the seemingly symbiotic relationship between the previous French President and Chancellor Merkel of Germany was often derided in the face of German economic vitality and largesse in comparison to that of France, and Mr. Hollande appears keen to dispel any aspersions of ‘junior partner’ in his relationship with the German Chancellor. In a move that has seemingly undercut a year of European unanimity in support of the German insistence for austerity, Hollande has been swift in establishing a uniquely French vision for solving the current financial crisis. 

Growth, he believes, is key, and he has made it clear that he is willing for France to use government spending to stimulate its economy. France’s already-burgeoning public sector looks set to be the biggest beneficiary of his pro-growth election pledges. The creation of some 60,000 new teaching positions and new investment in schools alongside a four-figure annual increase in the number of newly-recruited police officers took centre stage in his Presidential campaign, and it is hard to see any movement to renege on these commitments. Government spending also seems to be Hollande’s answer to one of the pervasive ills of the Mediterranean economies – in a bid to deal with widespread youth unemployment, Hollande has promised the creation of some 150,000 public sector jobs targeted at graduates and school-leavers. 

These are vast commitments for any deficit-laden nation to be undertaking at this time, and Hollande’s proposed increases in French national expenditure are not solely limited to direct public sector employment. Tax breaks for small and medium enterprises, coupled with the creation of a ‘public investment bank’ for the provision of cheap government loans to small successful companies and start-ups looking to expand, hints at protectionist measures designed to nurture home-grown talent. The fact that manufacturing businesses choosing to locate their businesses to France have also been promised favourable public financing and tax incentives suggests that Hollande is willing to sanction competitive measures against other European economies to foster French economic growth. 

Such policies are moderate, if not conservative, in nature and extent. Had they been suggested as little as three or four years ago, they probably would have failed to lift a single eyebrow. What is more, Hollande has also committed himself to matching or bettering his predecessors record on public sector efficiency savings, as well as balancing government expenditure and revenue by 2017. What must be considered, however, is the timing and context of such commitments. By making it clear that government intervention through direct spending and tax incentives can rejuvenate the French economy, he is setting a dangerous precedent for economic competition between countries within the Eurozone, many of whom can ill afford to engage in fiscal stimulus and the subsidisation of industry.

Who’s leading who?

Chancellor Merkel and the German paymasters behind Eurozone bailout at the German Bundesbanke stand stoically by the view that only through restructuring and liberalising can failing national economies have any hope of increasing their national competitiveness and addressing their balance of payments deficits. The fact is, the German programme for recovery along the lines of deep public sector cuts and pro-market liberalisation has uniquely failed in inspiring growth, or even engendering support in the nations that are at the centre of the Eurozone crisis. The problem remains that further austerity lacks appeal for voters within these nations who have grown accustomed to generous social security, and wealthy corporations and individuals who revel in lax tax practices. Implementing an adapted German model of manufactures-led growth through internationally competitive private enterprise has little chance of success in nations without a strong manufacturing base, or the finances to develop one.

Hollande has upset the balance of political power within the Eurozone through this pro-stimulus rhetoric simply by presenting a course of action that the likes of Greece, Spain and Portugal can realistically pursue. The status quo that existed previously was a unanimous, but implausible, commitment to austerity that essentially has failed to yield results. Hollande has established himself as the preeminent spokesperson for fiscal stimulus, and the voters and incumbent governments of the wavering and vulnerable Southern and Mediterranean nations - Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy – are inevitably asking themselves whether austerity can deliver.

The painful truth is that none of these nations, save perhaps Italy, are in any position to start throwing money around in an attempt to encourage economic growth. In all of these countries, a wasteful and inefficient government expenditure is a major cause of their financial woes, and pumping more money into the economy without sweeping reform and widespread belt-tightening would only serve to further bloat lagging economies. Not only that, interest rates for further government borrowing in these nations are creeping ever-higher – a state of affairs that makes government spending prohibitively expensive, if not severely damaging. Austerity needs to be enforced, and any prospective stimulus package needs to yield quick results to end the prolonged and damaging speculation over Europe’s growth outlook.
Government Bonds, 10 year yields: Y-axis figures are the levels of interest paid by the respective governments to bond holders. General trends: German downward momentum, French currently double that of Germany, Spain levelling at about 5 times that of Germany and Greek interest on government bonds at an unsustainable 30%. (Source: Trading Economics).
Holding out for a hero

It is clear that whilst government spending may be capable of vitalising the French and perhaps Italian economies from lacklustre and sluggish performance, it is hardly a viable solution to the European debt crisis. There may, however, be a way for the flagging economies of Europe to realise their newfound hopes of spending their way back into prosperity, should they continue to cut the fat in their own economies and invest wisely. The issuance of ‘Eurobonds’ and the creation of a Europe-wide debt pool would allow the stronger economic performance of the Northern nations to effectively subsidise the borrowing rates for those economies wilting under the burden of hostile lending markets – lower interest on government lending for these nations would allow them to pursue stimulus packages, at the cost of exposing the Northern economies to increased risk, and thus upping the price they pay to borrow.

The prospect of Eurobonds raises the prickly question of further European federalisation, and has only served to further divide the French and German leadership, with Hollande in favour of the programme that could see Europe take a large step towards the realisation of a European super-state. A growing and vocal German public resentment at paying for other nations to spend ineffectively, plus the prospect of losing Germany’s incredibly strong borrowing position, pits Chancellor Merkel in opposition to further economic integration. It may be a bitter tonic that the Germans have to swallow in order to save the Eurozone – should the Euro fail upon a Greek exit due to a lack of any cohesive plan for recovery and growth, Germany will pay a very high price indeed along with the rest of Europe for their current economic hubris.

Monday 11 June 2012

Because an Economic Crisis is not Enough

Erik Edman

A Frontex policing unit on patrol. Frontex, the EU border control agency, is assisting Greek authorities by providing manpower and special equipment for policing the problematic border. Aegean Times.

Blame the Greeks
Europe appears to be a continent at war with itself. Krugman famously referred to the population as “Those Revolting Europeans”, and for a good reason. In France, Italy, Spain and Greece, people are rising up in protest to the rules laid out by others to regulate their countries’ affairs. But surely the European Union is an organisation of cooperation? Are the regulations set up by the EU really foreign intervention? Are we not in this together? 
Since economic crises and political anarchy are becoming clichés, let us take a new case study into consideration: the European Immigration policy. In order not to stray too far from the mainstream of political discussions however, let us apply our argument to debt-ridden Greece.
 The small country is the entry-point of 80% of Europe’s illegal immigrants. Greece receives, on average, 250 illegal immigrants every day, and in 2011 local authorities registered a total of 55,000 people who had crossed the border illegally. Why can’t the Greeks pull themselves together?
The E(x)ternal Rivals
The majority of immigrants enter Greece by crossing the river Evros, which acts as a natural border between Greece and Turkey. Turkey itself faces huge immigration problems, with people flocking in from Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and, as of late, Syria. As Turkey’s political gaze turns ever eastwards, and with its decreasing interest in impressing its European neighbours for a possible EU membership, the Turkish military (which according to the country’s laws is in charge of border control) is becoming more and more willing to turn a blind eye to the dark shadows struggling against the river at night. They are even less willing to cooperate with the Greeks for possible extraditions of illegal immigrants back to Turkey. Out of the 55,000 immigrants arrested crossing the Greco-Turkish border, Turkey agreed to receive 770 back, even though there is a relevant treaty in place between the two countries. “Turkey is not complying” says the Greek police commissioner for Orestiada, a northern region of the country.
Greece has been receiving strong criticism from its European partners for not doing enough to contain the issue. In 2011, the Greek government proposed the construction of a fence spanning the 206 kilometre border with Turkey. The plan was internationally condemned and replaced by a far smaller 12.5 kilometre fence, built near Nea Vyssa, where the river turns into the Turkish mainland. Although the EU has approved of the project, it has refused to fund it, and so Greece has resolved to pay the 3 million euros needed for the construction from its own government budget. What government budget, you ask. I am not sure.
Illegal immigrants tell stories of how they paid people smugglers from as far off as Pakistan and Somalia, to lead them to Europe where they hope to make an honest living. “We are not thieves or robbers”, said Islam, a young immigrant from Algeria, “life is too hard back home. We work too long for too little.” Once their odyssey leads them to the border, they are ushered onto plastic dinghies and are instructed to rip them using knifes once they reach the opposite side of the river. That way, they are told, the Greek authorities cannot send them back. In many cases, the small boats capsize and people are drowned, either by being pinned to the riverbed by the strong current, or simply because they cannot swim.
Is the EU working as hard as Greece?
As a response to the upsurge of illegal immigration, the EU has deployed ‘Frontex’ in Greece; Europe’s border control unit. Armed with state-of-the-art equipment, Frontex officers assist their Greek colleagues in finding and transporting illegal immigrants to detention centres from where they are usually released, with a 30-day deadline to leave the country. These detention centres have been condemned by the European Court of Human Rights for keeping people in “vile and inhumane” conditions. Ironically, however, Frontex (an EU organisation) brings thousands of immigrants to the detention centres every year. Once again we are faced with European hypocrisy.
Greece is a country facing disintegration. This, of course, should not be used as an excuse for mistreating human beings. Given its weak condition and geographical positioning, it makes for a natural target for people smugglers and hopeful immigrants looking for a brighter future in the promised land of Europe. If Greece is to stay within the EU and therefore act as a border defender for the Union, then the Union should recognise the problematic situation the country finds itself in. Money is non-existent, neighbours are uncooperative, and Europe is complaining. The number of immigrants Greece has to face would be staggering for any of its stable European counterparts, let alone a nation in serious financial and political trouble.
Let’s Face It
European demography is aging. New pairs of hands are needed to take on jobs Europeans shun, and support the continent’s societies, let alone enriching them. Europe is in definite need of workers. The EU appears to have recognised this, as is evident from the EU Immigration portal, the Single Permit Directive and the Long-Term Residence Directive, all of which are aimed at making immigration into Europe easier and more organised. These moves hope to limit the need for people to cross European borders illegally. Although admirable, the EU must recognise that illegal immigration will not simply end because legal immigration is made easier. European outposts such as Greece still need strengthening.

Wednesday 6 June 2012

Bienvenue Hollande…Bienvenue Turkey?

Henry Norman

Could Turkish membership of the EU now be on the horizon given the arrival of Hollande? Mustafa, Ozer/AFP/Getty Images.
Following the election of Francǫis Hollande to the French presidency, Europe will not only see a change to its growth strategy but possibly a fundamental addition to its current membership. Turkey, Europe's would be gateway to the Middle East, can now rest assured of a possible return to talks amongst the power brokers of the EU. If we momentarily cast aside the Armenian question when it comes to Franco-Turkish relations and instead focus upon the pressing issues of the day, it is clear that Hollande believes the issue of Turkey’s membership deserves serious consideration. This in contrast to Sarkozy's point blanked refusal to debate the issue.

Indeed, it is not the case that Turkey's membership rests solely in the hands of the French; Germany too has some way to move on the issue. Angela Merkel, although an opponent of Turkish membership, appointed Guido Westerwelle as foreign minister and who publicly stated that there is a need to 'overcome this frozen situation.' A far cry from just sweeping the issue under the carpet.

Of course, we are currently witnessing incredibly volatile times in the EU. One could be forgiven for thinking that the last thing European leaders want to consider now is expansion of the union. Flippantly one could argue that Europe can not even manage its already existing members! Indeed, it would be erroneous to assert that Turkey's path to European membership would be an entirely smooth affair. Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament, commented that Turkey's EU membership would 'take a very long time and would be a difficult one.' 

We are not just talking about the need to overcome Turkey’s obvious human rights violations or its failure to recognise Cyprian sovereignty. These are issues that stand a better chance of being overcome by demonstrating to Turkey that their membership is indeed possible. As is with the case with Serbia, let the normative power of Europe just do its work. Europe however, is suffering a disenfranchisement amongst its peoples; a road ahead that no one is sure where it will exactly take them. One can foresee how Turkey's 99.8 per cent Muslim population will cause problems, not to mention that it does not exclusively lie on the European continent. 

Although nothing to do with Turkey, one need only look to the recent murmurings that the UK Labour party will promise a referendum on EU membership at the 2015 general election to see the uncertainty of the union. Party politics it may just be, but astonishing it remains that the Labour party, of all parties, would even consider such a move. Europe as fodder for the political parties of Britain may result in short-term gains but such moves lack the foresight of a possible lucrative future for the EU and Britain- especially if Turkey is allowed to join the mix. 

Admittedly David Cameron has publicly endorsed Turkey's candidature realising the benefits of Turkey's membership. Whilst it will result in marginal economic gains for the EU, in terms of regional security, Europe stands to gain most. Turkey's location next to Iran would allow the union geographically strategic borders. One could argue that this is exactly what Europe currently needs. In other words, the EU would come to really be depended upon. No longer would Herman Van Rompuy and Cathy Ashton just look like mere token symbols of a demi-power at the bargaining tables. 

I would hasten to add that it is all too easy to get carried away with the optimism created by the Hollande campaign; Turkey is not exactly at the top of the agenda. But as Egemen Bağış, the Turkish minister for EU affairs, astutely commented, ’Turkey is changing, the EU is changing and the new Europe cannot be without Turkey.' Whilst the latter part of that statement can be fiercely debated, no one can or should doubt that Turkey and the EU are both in states of metamorphosis. The Turkish economy may currently be experiencing a slow down (in part due to the faltering EU being its largest export market) but this should not prevent any movement on the issue. It is important to remember that Turkey’s membership should be seen as a long-term not short-term solution to the unions’ ills. 

This is exactly what British policy makers, present and future, should keep in mind. Hollande has realised that when it comes to the EU economy, growth is just as important, as are the current processes of budgetary consolidation. Moreover, our cousins on the continent are beginning to realise the potential that can result from Turkish membership. Whilst it is the case that the major UK political parties remain in favour of Turkish candidature, their current pandering to anti-European rhetoric risks overlooking the 'new' Europe that may result after the current calamity passes over. Surely it cannot be the case that Britain's future lies outside of a union strategically strengthened by the presence of Turkey and a union whose role can only gain in significance in the years to come. It is like leaving a bad party early, only to find out that it got a whole lot better later. 

Wednesday 16 May 2012

Eleventh Hour Reform - Qatada and the Issue Of Human Rights

Henry Norman

Wrangling between the UK government and the ECHR leaves the fate of Abu Qatada in a state of limbo.  Matt Dunham.
Back in February 2009, the then Law Lords judged that Abu Qatada, the radical Islamic cleric, could be deported back to Jordan under the agreement that Qatada evidence obtained by torture would not be used in any trial against him. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) then stepped in and in January of this year ruled that returning Qatada to Jordan, in spite of the potential of such evidence, would be a ‘flagrant denial of justice.’ Such a move would contravene Qatada’s protection under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights which dictates one’s right to a free and fair trial. This is an unalienable right that extends even to a man widely seen as a security threat and Bin Laden’s ‘ambassador in Europe.’
The Home Secretary, however grudgingly, has played to the letter of the law. Diplomatic missions have been despatched to Jordan to gain further assurances that evidence obtained by torture will not play any role in a trial against Qatada. This is perhaps in light of recent events that have seen the former Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, threatened with litigation surrounding his alleged collusion with the CIA and the illegal rendition of Abdel Hakim Belhadj to Gadhafi’s Libya.
The Eleventh Hour  
Just as it seemed that Qatada’s one way return to Jordan had  all but been booked, an eleventh hour appeal was submitted to the Grand Chamber of the ECHR by Qatada’s legal team. Confusion between what the Home Office thought was the appeal deadline and what the ECHR thought has resulted in utter disarray. 
What is really troubling about this affair is that it will fuel the resentment of many within the Conservative half of the coalition towards the ECHR. This may result in further eleventh hour reforms driven by populist sentiment. This threatens to have dire consequences for our role in upholding human rights within the international community.
To combat the perceived erosion of state sovereignty by foreign judges, reform of the ECHR has been made a key priority for the UK chairmanship of the Council of Europe. At the opening of the Brighton Conference, Justice Secretary Ken Clarke announced, ‘Our shared priority is to show that it is possible to bring sensible and meaningful reform to the Court without weakening human rights, giving up on the Convention, or undermining decent standards across Europe.’
The much maligned European Court of Human Rights dispensing justice since 1959. Vincent Kessler.
These proposed reforms will really be in the eleventh hour as UK chairmanship of the Council expires on the 14th May 2012. However, what seems to be most worrying is the wish to allow ‘greater margins of appreciation’ in interpreting the ECHR rulings. In other words, member countries can decide how far (if at all) they wish to implement the judgments of the court. For a liberal democracy such as the UK, this worry is far less profound. Amnesty International, on the other hand, has concerns for the countries such as Russia from which the ECHR ‘provides the only means of redress for millions of people.’ 
Comparative versus Absolute
As such, these reforms, spearheaded by the UK government, threaten to treat human rights as an issue of comparative advantage rather than of absolute gain. In other words, the UK government gain comparatively in their ability to keep many popular policies such as deporting hate clerics and stripping prisoners of the right to vote. In absolute terms however, as members of an international community, they neglect their universal obligations to uphold human rights. Such disregard of universal human rights also threatens to put too much power in the hands of governments that don’t always act in the interests of its citizens. As a policy advisor for Amnesty International reminds us, ‘UK courts don’t always get it right. It was this self-same European Court of Human Rights that reprimanded the UK government when it wanted to indefinitely retain the DNA of innocent people.’ As such, the ECHR is pivotal in providing a system of checks and balances for what could be unruly governments. 
Road Ahead
This is not to say that the ECHR is not in need of reform; there are obvious problems surrounding the enormous bottleneck of over 150,000 cases currently clogged up in the backchannels of the ECHR. However, such reform cannot be achieved by what appears to be eleventh hour dealings at the end of the UK chairmanship. As the President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Jean Claude Mignon reminds us, ‘for every indigestible adverse ruling, there are dozens that are quietly progressive and have come to be regarded as profoundly sensible.’ As such, we should not allow cases such as that of Qatada to cloud our obligations towards international institutions such as the ECHR. 
Furthermore, if we want more quantitative data on the matter, then look to the ECHR’s Annual Report of 2011. Going by headlines in the popular press, anyone would think that the ECHR had ruled against the UK on countless and far too many occasions, but the actual figure is only 8. Compare this with France and the number is 23, and compared with Russia the total number of violations comes to 123. 
Obviously there is no question that the UK will leave the ECHR (despite the wishes of a few backbenchers). To do so would cause a cataclysmic dent in the soft power apparatus of the UK. However, the UK must remain vigilant in not appearing at all isolationistic when it comes to issues such as human rights. The government’s proposed reforms still have a hint of self-interest more than a concerted effort to actually effectuate substantial change within the ECHR. The outgoing President of the ECHR, Sir Nicholas Bratza has commented that, ‘reducing or even eliminating the backlog [of 150,000 cases] will require additional resources.’ Such a view will not go down well with law makers across Europe, but perhaps it is the tangible evidence needed in order to demonstrate member states’ deep commitment to human rights across Europe- at least that is the populist, easy to say, hard to deliver rhetoric we have all grown so used to.