Turbulence in the Eastern Mediterranean

  • October 2020
  • Ioanna Karagianni

Turbulence in the Eastern Mediterranean: Can sanctions work?

Source: Independent

The turbulence in the Eastern Mediterranean and the strained relationship between Greece and Turkey have captured the headlines recently. The tension built up in February, when Turkey warned  that they would open the country’s borders with Greece so that millions of  asylum seekers can head to Europe. And they did it. This was followed by rivalry at sea:  Turkey started gas explorations near Cyprus and expressed plans to extend its maritime territory to drill for gas also near Crete, not respecting international law. The Turkish explorations stopped for a while, opening a window of opportunity for discussions between the countries involved, but Turkey recently resumed their actions. Greece is said to be currently planning various diplomatic initiatives such as, among others, filing complaints with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) over “Turkey’s unauthorized decision to extend its search-and-rescue area in zones that overlap Greece’s area of responsibility”.


The European Union has expressed its support to Greece and Cyprus in their quest for respect to international law and peace. President of the EU Council Charles Michel has reiterated the European solidarity with the two countries. German Chancellor Merkel and French President Macron also said that they would not accept attacks on EU member states’ sovereignty. Both Greece and Turkey consulted with the EU institutions and Germany, but -still- not with each other.


At the recent EU Council Meetings (1-2 and 15-16 October 2020), the topic was high on the agenda. With its two Council Conclusions, the EU strongly condemned Turkey’s actions in the Eastern Mediterranean, reiterated its full solidarity with Greece and Cyprus calling for respect to their sovereign rights, and, provided that there are efforts to stop illegal activities vis-à-vis the Member States concerned, agreed to launch a positive EU-Turkey agenda. As for the recent opening of the Varosha beach in Cyprus, the Council Conclusions urged Turkey to respect the UN Security Council Resolutions 550 and 789, and called on Turkey to “reverse these actions and work for the easing of tensions in a consistent and sustained manner”.


But maybe most importantly, the Conclusions read that ‘in case of renewed unilateral actions or provocations in breach of international law, the EU will use all the instruments and the options at its disposal, including in accordance with Article 29 TFEU and Article 215 TFEU, in order to defend its interests and those of its Member States’. These ‘instruments’ and ‘options’ are nothing else that restrictive measures and sanctions in an effort to restore respect to international law. But can these actually work? And how?


Sanctioning, as the EU sees it, is an essential tool for the promotion of peace, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Until the 1980s, the European Communities (the predecessor of today’s European Union) did not adopt its own sanctions — such decisions were made on the national level to implement United Nations Security Council (UNSC) sanctions. Recently, however,  economic sanctions have become a key element of the EU Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), as it has been reflected in the gradual increase in the number of countries under EU sanctions. On the UN level, sanctions are defined as ‘measures not involving the use of arm force.. employed to give effect to [UNSC] decisions’. The European law does not explicitly define EU sanctions other than that their purpose is to implement the decisions of the Council of the EU.


What types of sanctions exist?


Asset freezes are the most widely used types of sanctions, and they are usually combined with visa bans. Another type is the arms embargoes, and banning flight and shipping access to European airspace and ports. Financial measures such as bans on bank transfers and investments are also commonly used. Trade measures limit export and import between the EU and the sanctioned state.


The EU can impose other sanctions-like measures, which play a similar role. Bilateral negotiations can be put on hold or be suspended, and development aid and loans can be cut off. In case there is no human rights compliance by a developing country and the dialogue is not sufficient to restore basic principles, the EU can also withdraw trade privileges that a country enjoyed. Last but not least, the EU can also ban fisheries imports from countries with serious problems with illegal fishing (as seen with the cases of Cambodia, Grenadines, St Vincent and the Comoros).


Can sanctions work?


According to the Council of the EU, the EU sanctions do not aim to cause economic hardness but rather ‘to bring about a change in policy or activity by the target country’. Sanctions have many times failed; for instance, the long-lasting EU and UN sanctions against Sudan and South Sudan have not stopped human rights abuses,  and EU and US sanctions against Syria have not stopped the Assad regime’s brutality either. Studies have shown that fewer than one quarter of UN sanctions achieve their aims- financial measures such as the suspension of development aid are seen as more effective.


Whether sanctions are a useful foreign and security policy tool is highly debated. The ones who consider sanctions useful cite various success stories, and the ones who are against them highlight failures. It is generally agreed that sanctions are a highly political issue.


The sanctions database of the Peterson Institute for International Economics maintains that sanctions fail to achieve their policy goals in about two out of three cases. However, these failures do not necessarily mean that sanctions policies are ineffective. According to a study by the EU Institute for Security Studies ‘the effectiveness of sanctions depends on the alternative policy instruments available to policy practitioners.’ Some basic conditions for success (such as economic and diplomatic exchanges and some measures agreed before the sanctions’ enactment) need to be also met. Adding to that, sanctions should belong to an integrated approach to international peace and security and, as they have most of the times an economic dimension, their damage needs to be carefully examined and well understood ex ante.


As sanctions are employed to bring change, there are also some other preconditions for them to succeed. For instance, the level of trade between the imposer and the target country needs to be high, otherwise the sanctions will not have an impact. The target will be more affected on the basis of their political system: if democratic, sanctions are more likely to succeed as opposed to an authoritarian regime as this might ‘have the capacity to distribute the losses (and gains) from sanctions in ways that penalize their opponents and reward their supporters, thus often strengthening authoritarian rule in the process, as observed in Iraq during the 1990s.’ Moreover, sanctions may strengthen popular support for the receiver’s regime, especially if the regime of the receiver is characterized by a strong commitment to political, economic or religious ideologies.


Imposing a single type of sanctions can prove unsuccessful in reaching the goals set- rather, it is the simultaneous application of at least three different types of sanctions that will have a real impact (be it coercion, constraint or signaling). Strong multilateral political commitment is also needed, as ‘the more multilateral the sanctions are, the fewer the options for sanctions evasion or trade diversion by the target’, a report by the European Union Institute for Security Studies shows. In any case, sanctions multilaterally supported have more legitimacy.


Last but not least, for sanctions to succeed, the texts need to be unambiguous: the goals have to be well articulated and defined so that there is no room for manoeuvres, and the situation post the sanctions application needs to be actively monitored. Moreover, the conditions under which sanctions are lifted need to be clear from the beginning of their application, and a broad consultation with third party stakeholders can also add value, along with a close coordination between EU institutions and EU Member States.


Regarding the particular case, the European Union has shown its support to Greece and Cyprus, as the rights and sovereignty of two EU Member States need to be effectively protected. For now, it was satisfactory to see that the EU showed its solidarity to EU Member States at risk of possible conflicts and of violation of sovereign rights- upholding the rule of law and democracy as its beacons. Sanctions are still being avoided, but in case we face another dead-end soon, they will inevitably be introduced.

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Migration post-Covid

  • September 2020
  • Ioanna Karagianni

Migration Post-Covid

Aiming for a successful EU Pact on Migration and Asylum

Source: WikiMedia

Migration has been a hot potato for the EU Member States’ politicians and for the EU itself. Since 2008, the numbers of asylum seekers in Europe have been massive, but the EU has been unable to manage the situation successfully due to old policies and due to discrepancies between the EU Member States’ responses to the highly politicized migration topic. With the rise of the corona virus epidemic, migration has been somehow put aside; however, it is still a phenomenon and will continue being one that the EU will have to deal with eventually.


In January, the European Commission’s (EC) new work program was published. Under the fifth priority – ‘Promoting our European Way of Life‘, the EC announced its plans to launch a New Pact on Asylum and Migration. President Von der Leyen in her State of the Union (SOTEU) speech announced that the delayed pact will be presented next week. As it has already been described, “the pact will acknowledge that internal and external aspects of migration are interconnected and will strive for more resilient, more humane and more effective migration and asylum system, which will also underpin confidence in the Schengen area of free movement”.


A range of leaked papers have showed that the EC’s plans  are but a renewed guide of responsibility sharing among the EU Member States. This is something that is indeed missing, but there is a wide agreement that the EU needs to be more ambitious. Especially after the latest incidents at the Moria camp in Greece, the EU Member States need to better share their responsibility, as Von der Leyen pledged today in her SOTEU speech.


The big migration flows have taught us a lesson about solidarity among the EU Member States, the EC President called upon in her speech. The EC, together with the German EU Presidency and its ability to influence Member States in this critical moment, need to urgently push for a harmonization in the responses of the Member States, especially the most reluctant ones’. Member States need to be persuaded that they should contribute to  the refugees’ and migrants’ relocations, prioritizing women and unaccompanied minors.


Furthermore, it is  important that the right to asylum is reinforced. The EC needs to put more pressure on EU Member States to fulfill their obligations under EU and International Law. All applicants for asylum need to be allowed and be assisted to have appropriate interviews with the relevant authorities, while also their right to appeal needs to be protected.  Coordination between the Member States’ national authorities needs to be enhanced, along with more transparency in the spending of the resources allocated to them.


The new policies need not simply be a reformulation of the European border externalization policy. The past years,  most EU policies have focused on migration control and returns to third countries instead of safe and legal pathways. As the European Policy Centre has suggested, the new agreement should “consolidate the interests the EU shares with its neighbors and live up to its rhetoric of building ‘a true partnership of equals’ with developing regions”. In addition, human rights risk assessments and developing risk mitigation strategies can be another way to protect the ones fleeing back to dangerous and conflict affected areas. As the Council of Europe has recommended, ‘this should be complemented by monitoring mechanisms and an effective system of redress. The possibility of public scrutiny of (planned) co-operation activities and their results is also a crucial element for improving human rights safeguards’.


The European Commission needs to live up to its promise to effectively protect the vulnerable and to act according to international law, especially in the context of the current pandemic which has both revealed and created more vulnerabilities and has added to the already  complex migration situation. Because, as the political guidelines of Ursula Von der Leyen read, ‘Europe will always honour our values and extend a helping hand to refugees fleeing persecution or conflict – it is our moral duty.’

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Online wars

  • August 2020
  • Ioanna Karagianni

Online wars

Disinformation and the need for unity

Source: The conversation

The widespread use of the Internet and of the online platforms has unavoidably created a whole new reality and has facilitated the free exchange of ideas and widespread information sharing, helping democracies to flourish. However, in the same time, this exact free and uncontrollable flow of information has created adverse phenomena like online disinformation and fake news, and, especially due to the current Covid-19 pandemic, these phenomena have exacerbated.


We see now that the new trend of massive disinformation is happening in a global context between authoritarianism and liberal democracy. For authoritarians, sharing information equals control and manipulation, whereas for democrats, free and open exchange of information is cherished and is critical for a fully functional democracy.


An online war has started; with the Internet as the battlefield and the information as the weapon. As this is a war, it is not only about the end goal (i.e. the content transmitted), but about the winner- who takes it all (i.e. the one who will have more control over the one who transmits the information). And then, it is also about who will lead (i.e. who will govern information), and this is the biggest fight between either allowing having trustworthy information which can save our democracies, or allowing authoritarians to set the rules and obscure democracies.


This reflects the agony of the states to prove who the best is. As the EU’s High Representative has described, we are currently experiencing ‘a global battle of narratives’. The pandemic has not only made the global powers contest about who has the best political and best healthcare system, but has also made them vie for winning the leader’s title using tactics such as news’ manipulation and online disinformation spreading (e.g. Russia and China have been torchbearers of this, seeking to aggressively manifest their superiority in handling Covid).


A prominent example of this strategy has been China’s response to Serbia’s appraisal for the former’s medical assistance to respond to Covid-19. The Serbian President called his Chinese counterpart a true friend of his people and even kissed the Chinese flag, accusing the EU of hypocrisy in matters of assistance. Targeting Western audiences, the Chinese state media immediately widely disseminated this, without any reference to the EU’s investment in the Serbian health sector. EU officials characterized this as ‘politics of generosity’ and have warned against Beijing’s propaganda campaigning multiple times.


Global phenomena call for multilateral action


In this fragile and contesting geopolitical stage, democratic allies need to stand together to protect their citizens and uphold democracy. The prime focus needs to be maintaining truth and transparency in messaging, thus it is vital to detect and analyze the lurking framework and the business models that enable this surge of disinformation. Even though online platforms tend to avoid explicit content moderation on the basis that they are not publishers, some moderation of extreme and polarizing content, such as white supremacist or fake news stories, is needed – consumers themselves have actually showed their desire for that.


A strong information strategy needs to be urgently adopted. This should encourage the dissemination of quality information from trusted sources to prevent the creation of information voids and be able to tackle adverse strategies take the lead. As privatizing content moderation without a meaningful transparency mechanism can lead to censorship, an active engagement of a broad range of stakeholders (e.g. journalists, civil society, academia, and politics) should regulate content distribution. Furthermore, science and reliable media sources need to be more strongly promoted to re-build trust both on a national and on EU level.


On the EU level solely, the Union needs to avoid being technocratic in its handlings and become more political, understanding in full its power and potential as a global actor. The new European Commission needs to stick to its plan regarding the Digital Services Act, while the EU Member States and the EU could, for instance, provide more funds for maintaining and verifying online trustworthy material (following the examples of the online encyclopedias in Norway and Latvia). The Centre for International Governance Innovation has proposed an additional interesting approach to the issue; instead of trying to build people’s online ‘immunity’ with broad-based educational initiatives, “inoculating key points (people) within a network is likely more effective and cheaper. Targeted engagement with individuals at the centre of networks (high network centrality scores, in social network analysis terms) could help promote immunity of the herd and reduce receptivity to fake content”. A lot can be done, but we need unity, strong support, and trust to the experts and to the EU.


This battle of narratives is, in essence, a battle for power: disinformation is nothing new, but the way information is weaponized today to create divisions and uncertainty is new and needs novel ways of handling. In the same time, unity of democratic states and their multilateral action are urgently needed to combat the abovementioned phenomena and to protect citizens while they are reaping the benefits of the online world. It’s high time we enjoyed the perks of the digital technologies safely, while we revitalize our democracies.

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Law and Order

  • August 2020
  • Ioanna Karagianni

Law and Order

The case of Poland and the EU’s need to show leadership

Source: Flickr

Particular concern has been caused in the wake of Poland’s decision to withdraw from the Council of Europe’s (CoE) Istanbul Convention, the first binding instrument in the world on combating violence against women, which the country signed in 2012 and ratified in 2015.


The Polish Justice minister, Zbigniew Ziobro, said that he would start the procedures to withdraw from the Convention. He  claimed the text  is “harmful” because it requires that schools teach children about gender from a “zoological point of view,” and continued that “this ideological element is linked to the imperative to change education in schools and outside of school programs, in terms of learning, attitudes, convictions of the young Polish generation of students to make, in our opinion, the false assumption that biological sex is archaic, and in fact everything comes down to the socio-cultural gender.”


Ziobro also expressed the Polish government’s dissatisfaction with the articles of the Convention which deal with  family relationships in the LGBT context, noting that it is “a view propagated by activists from left-wing or homosexual circles who want to translate their beliefs into binding law.” These statements have caused rage in Poland, with people protesting in the streets, and with the Council of Europe (CoE) and the European Union (EU) reacting too – but, for the moment, only with words.


CoE Secretary General Marija Pejčinović Burić  said Poland’s intention was alarming and reiterated that the sole objective of this instrument is to combat violence against women and domestic violence She encouraged a dialogue with Poland in case they  misunderstand  the Convention’s scope. She also noted that leaving the Convention “would be highly regrettable and a major step backwards in the protection of women against violence in Europe”.


European Commission (EC) First Vice President Frans Timmerman reacted saying “Let it sink in: one out of every three women is victim of domestic violence. Thousands die, many more are marked for life. If combating that atrocity is an ‘ideology’, sign me up!” European Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli also said that such decisions would be deeply regrettable and urged the EU Member States to protect women.


The European Parliament (EP) has already expressed multiple times dissatisfaction and concern with Poland’s wrongdoings in the fields of the rule of law, human rights and democracy.  A Polish Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Sylwia Spurek (S&D) described that over 60 percent of Polish women are against withdrawing from the Convention. She demanded to know on whose behalf the government actied  when they denounced the Convention. Irish MEP Frances Fitzgerald (EPP) stressed that the sole role of the Convention is to fight violence against women and said that ratifying it was “essential”. Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt (Renew Europe) called Poland’s decision “scandalous”. German MEP Terry Reintke (Greens) expressed solidarity with all those who fight back regression, and Spanish MEP Eugenia Rodríguez Palop (GUE/NGL) said that Poland’s actions do not come as a surprise, as it is known that  many women   become victims of domestic violence in that country.


The EC in its Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025 has reiterated its intention to do all it can ‘to prevent and combat gender-based violence, support and protect victims of such crimes, and hold perpetrators accountable for their abusive behaviour’. Furthermore, the new EC has been aiming to create an additional comprehensive Rule of Law Mechanism, and has as one of its priorities to have close dialogues with European Member States on the basis of law. The situation with Poland gives the opportunity to the EC to actually put this in practice, resolve the issue and strongly encourage the country to remain a member of the Convention.


In case the European Union’s (EU) accession to the Istanbul Convention continues remaining blocked in the Council, the EC itself needs to keep intact its intentions to propose measures against violence to achieve the same objectives as the CoE Convention, and it needs to re-examine the issue of conditionality and compliance to the rule of law when it comes to EU funding. It is also urgent that the MEPs have a greater role and say in the decisions of the EC itself as the institution reflecting the national parliaments’ theses, and as this would anyway coincide with the plans of the EC to ensure the EP’s greater role in the rule of law mechanism.


It is urgent to deal with this now, because Poland’s situation is not unique: similar attitudes can be found in Hungary as well as in Slovakia, where the parliament has rejected the Convention claiming that it is not aligned with the country’s constitutional definition of marriage as a heterosexual union.


As the political guidelines of Ursula von de Leyen read, ‘threats to the rule of law challenge the legal, political and economic basis of how our Union works. [..] We have a common interest in resolving problems. Strengthening the rule of law is a shared responsibility for all EU institutions and all Member States’. The situation with Poland constitutes an opportunity for the EC to show real leadership and to confirm it sticks to its promises, does not make compromises, and always defends the EU’s core values.

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