Tag: Foreign Policy

This Is New Africa: EU-Africa relations after Cotonou

  • September 2019
  • Hannah Bettsworth

This Is New Africa: EU-Africa relations after Cotonou

Source: Pixabay

The EU and Africa have a chance to build a rebalanced, modern partnership of equals if they tackle tough issues together.

Before we start talking about Africa, trade, and development, take a few minutes to go and take this quiz. A quick highlight, if you don’t have the time: in the last 20 years the proportion of the world population living in extreme poverty has halved.

How did you do? Most people do not do very well. They actually do worse than a computer randomly selecting the answers would (do). That is because us humans come with pre-existing biases, from charity appeals and songs and endless images of people in extreme poverty worldwide. A lot of people assume that extreme poverty is getting worse, when the opposite is happening.

The Africa that the EU is negotiating its future relationship with is not the Africa of Live Aid (which was incredibly patronising even in 1984, and bears no resemblance to the modern-day continent.) It has exceptional growth potential, as well as a young population, and seeks to enact the right policies to ensure that growth leads to jobs for those young people. That’s where the EU-Africa relationship comes in. The renewal of their partnership will provide an opportunity to build a true partnership of equals: one that should aim to consign misconceptions and stereotyping to the past.

Indeed, when the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) – EU Partnership Agreement (more commonly known as ‘Cotonou‘) was signed in 2000, the African Union (AU) was still known as the Organisation of African Unity. Just as Africa’s governance has changed, so has Europe’s, and, naturally, Cotonou has evolved to take into account changes over the last 20 years.
The rise of the AU is something that will specifically have to be considered. The ACP group was developed by its Member States for development and negotiation purposes, primarily with the EU. The pressing question today is whether continuing with centralised negotiations at the ACP-EU level would sideline Africa’s own regional and continental institutions – as well as North African countries, which are in the AU but not the ACP as they fall under the EU Neighbourhood Policy. In turn, centralised negotiations risk reducing regional engagement with and interest in African-EU affairs. The EU must make sure that both the AU and regional groups are treated as important, relevant actors (not just in Africa, but in the Caribbean and Pacific) and that their knowledge and expertise is recognised and valued in the negotiations.

Trade is just one of the areas where African regions are especially relevant. The EU, being a trade power, has used its Generalised Scheme of Preferences classifications as well as trade deals to ensure that the vast majority of African countries benefit from reduced or entirely eliminated tariffs. The Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with the EU cover different regional groups within the ACP. However, there was little additional benefit to African countries from negotiating these deals where they already had almost complete access to the Single Market. A side-effect of these regional deals has been that groups of African countries have signed up to different trade terms and commitments. As the AU recently ratified the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA), it is attempting to move towards a single African market for goods and services, which is made more complex by those divergent trade practices.


Think back to the quiz you just did. Poverty worldwide has dropped substantially over the last few decades. One of the reasons for this drop is trade liberalisation. To eradicate persistent extreme poverty, especially in Africa, the World Bank has called on the international community to reduce trade costs, improve the trade environment, tackle specific barriers facing remote, small traders and women, and mitigate the risks that the poor face


The Center for Global Development‘s recommendations to the EU identified an issue with EU rules of origin. Countries that manufacture products using components sourced from other African countries find it  difficult to prove they have sufficient domestic content to access reduced tariffs or provisions of a trade agreement, which disincentivises regional value chains. The CGD also maintains that agricultural subsidies undermine development and have little benefit for the environment. A study for the European Parliament Development Committee found that, under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), some targeted support for particular agricultural products distorted markets and there was a lack of coherence between agriculture and climate goals. The CAP goes to the heart of internal EU controversies. In a negotiation between equal partners in which one side is negatively affected by subsidies, however, the two partners will have to be bold enough to tackle it head-on.

Migration is a similarly controversial issue which the two partners will not be able to duck. Most Africans who want to move wish to do so within Africa, although 27% still wish to move to Europe. As countries get richer, migration increases, until they reach the mid-range of upper middle-income status. Out of 54 African countries, 9 currently have World Bank upper-middle income status or above and 23 have lower-middle income status. The potential for increased migration, therefore, is real. African countries have particular security concerns about the risk of youth unemployment: migration both helps mitigate the issue and allows the country of origin to benefit from remittances.

What is in it for the EU? To start with, although limiting migration is often cast as a security measure, if conflicts are exacerbated by unemployment the EU can expect additional migration flows.  Europe suffers from demographic pressures that are the opposite to Africa’s: its population is aging. Legal migration pathways have the potential to benefit both sides, and the Commission cannot sustainably continue with business as usual. Pressure from Africa may be useful in forcing it to act. The expansion of Global Skills Partnerships (GSPs), as highlighted by the CDG report, could be useful both in Africa-to-Africa migration and Africa-to-Europe.  They can be supported by the Commission, but not instigated by it. The Flanders region has already enacted a GSP: it pays for ICT training in Morocco, and some of the workers stay in the local market while others come to Flanders to resolve local labour shortages. That allows for legal, permanent migration opportunities without depriving the local markets of talent. Both sides should find the political will to discuss new migration opportunities, rather than remaining dogmatically focused on migration control and enforcement.
Overall, if the EU truly wishes to have a sibling-like relationship with Africa,  that will involve much more sharing and compromise. A solution on legal migration is of particular interest to Africa and something the EU will have to find the political will for, and the reduction of EU trade barriers would benefit both partners in the long run as Africa continues to grow and do business with Europe. Moving away from a donor-recipient relationship means that the EU will be dealing with a much more organised, powerful and assertive African Union than that of 20 years ago. The post-Cotonou dialogue is a fork in the road. Whether the two continents take the well-travelled route or dare to try something different will determine their intertwined future for decades to come.

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After the Caliphate: Kosovar and British Policy towards Foreign Terrorist Fighters

  • August 2019
  • Hannah Bettsworth

After the Caliphate: Kosovar and British Policy towards Foreign Terrorist Fighters


Western Europe should learn from the Western Balkans on reintegration of foreign terrorist fighters


Surrendered Islamic State fighters in DarzabSource: Mirwais Bezhan (Voice Of America) [Public domain]

In June, a Brussels event by the Egmont Institute assessed the state of Daesh (ISIS) after the fall of the physical caliphate in Iraq and Syria, having lost its final territory in Baghuz Fawquani on the 23 March 2019. The discussion took place the day after a man was detained on suspicion of plotting a terrorist attack on the US Embassy Brussels. Despite the successes of the Global Coalition, several challenges remain. Daesh, for example, has active splinter groups in a number of areas: not only in the Sinai, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Libya, Turkey, Yemen, South East Asia, Russia and Central Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, but also in Europe. Particularly, it has become displaced to non-traditional areas of activity, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Another major issue relates to the returning foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs). Terrorism expert Colin P. Clarke used the aforementioned event to explain that the international community has had years to prepare for the return of those who left to join Daesh and has nonetheless put together a patchwork response.

Different states have dealt with the issue in different ways. The Kosovar Centre for Security Studies, in developing a Kosovar approach to FTFs, examined three different cases: Germany, Denmark, and Saudi Arabia. Germany has a deradicalisation program aimed at countering the jihadist narrative, helping FTFs find employment/education and housing, and alternative emotional support from their families as well as a different reference group. This was adapted from Germany’s experience in deradicalising Neo-Nazis, and so is a secular program with an emphasis on family support. Denmark’s ‘Aarhus model’ chooses not to challenge FTF beliefs, but to direct them away from criminal methods. It assists returnees to get home via their families and has a social and psychological support program. Saudi Arabia, finally, is the country with the second highest number of FTFs. It has a systematic re-education program centred around a legal, non-violent interpretation of Islam alongside psychological support.

Kosovo itself has combined several of these strands. In its Strategy on Prevention of Violent Extremism and Radicalisation Leading to Terrorism 2015-2020, its FTF response involves assistance to ‘abandon radical/extremist ideology and renounce from violence’, alongside risk assessment, psychological support, social support for families, employment programs, and awareness-raising of the potential for detained FTFs to spread radical views in prisons. Justice Minister Abelard Tahiri has also signed a deal to work with the Kosovo Islamic Community’s imams on deradicalising prisoners who have been charged with or convicted of terror-related offences.

On paper, the United Kingdom has a similar policy. The UK CONTEST strategy uses an illustrative example of how its deradicalisation policy would be applied to a British woman and baby returning from Syria. The UK authorities would use a Temporary Exclusion Order (TEO) to manage her deportation from Turkey to the UK and impose obligations on her (such as to report regularly to a police station). If there was no evidence of crimes committed abroad, the mother and child would be given specific reintegration support through the Desistance and Disengagement Programme, which can be mandated for individuals subject to TEOs. It involves mentoring, psychological support, and theological and ideological advice. UK counter-terror mentors can play a similar role to the Kosovo imams. The Home Office’s PREVENT training offers an example of referring a young woman at risk of absconding to Syria to discuss and debate UK foreign policy and Muslims’ rights worldwide with a female counsellor.

Both Kosovo and the UK have a similar political context which complicates the reintegration of returnees. In Kosovo,  53% of respondents to the Kosovo Security Barometer (February 2019) stated that they would not accept returned male FTFs in their communities, and 30% would not accept returned women and minors. Also in February 2019, 76% of respondents to a YouGov (UK) poll supported removing British citizenship from Shamima Begum,a British teenager who joined Daesh in 2015.
Both countries share a similar threat assessment. Kosovo’s Strategy on Prevention of Violent Extremism and Radicalisation Leading to Terrorism 2015-2020 states that “the main risk that Kosovo faces is the return of such fighters with radical beliefs and with an interest to harm Kosovo as a state with a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society and with a secular government.” The UK CONTEST strategy states “Many of the most dangerous individuals remain overseas. They may have received training, indoctrination, and expanded their network of terrorist contacts, and therefore pose significant challenges for the security and intelligence agencies and for law enforcement. These individuals remain a significant threat to the UK and our interests overseas.”

Where the two countries diverge is in how they respond to the challenge in reality. Kosovo Justice Minister Abelard Tahiri stated in April that “We couldn’t return all those who are in the conflict zones… but we will not stop working until each Kosovo citizen is back home[.]” In February, then UK Home Secretary (and recently appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer) Sajid Javid stated “No British citizen should be travelling to Syria. If a British citizen has ignored that advice, they will know that there is no consular support there and that we have no diplomatic relations with Syria. If the individual concerned is a foreign fighter who went to join a terrorist organisation to kill, rape and cause enormous damage, there is no way that this Government will risk the lives of British personnel […] to go and rescue such a person. No way.” This is a microcosm of a wider divergence between the Western Balkans and Western Europe. As the Western European states, with extensive resources, attempt to avoid responsibility for reintegrating their nationals, underresourced Western Balkan states have taken the challenge head on through their criminal justice and social support systems.

States that get their reintegration policies right will have the ability to monitor and rehabilitate their citizens, and a pool of deradicalised individuals who can contribute to preventing radicalisation in the same way former white supremacists have done. States that prioritise electoral calculus over strategy risk losing the war in the long run. The physical caliphate has been defeated, but as Colin P. Clarke stated in Brussels, a kind of ‘Caliphate nostalgia’ exists in the minds of people who never went. Kosovo and other involved  Western Balkan states have effectively positioned themselves to tactically use deradicalised fighters, while Western Europe reinforces the Daesh narrative that there is no ‘grey zone’.


To truly defeat the remnants of Daesh, Western Europe could stand to learn from the Western Balkan example.


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Time for a Rethink on Libya?

  • July 2019
  • Hannah Bettsworth

Time for a Rethink on Libya?

Failure to change course on Libya could undermine the EU

The Libyan flagSource: Pixabay

The clamour of officials, lobbyists, politicians and campaigners seeking to get their policy proposals on newly inaugurated European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen’s desk will soon renew in earnest. As a former defence minister, Ms von der Leyen will already be aware of the resurgence of one of, if not the, most pressing foreign policy issues for the European Union, strategically and politically.

Libya highlights a number of EU weaknesses at a time when it wants to show strength and renewal, and it must rethink its policy towards the country. Recent events have thrown this into sharp focus. To summarise the current crisis, Libya is divided into two camps: the internationally backed Government of National Accord (GNA), led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, and the House of Representatives alongside Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA). There have been multiple rounds of talks between the parties in an attempt to overcome the divide and move towards a constitution and democratic elections. Haftar’s forces have been attempting to take Tripoli since early April, and over 44 people were killed in an airstrike suspected to have been conducted by the LNA on a migrant detention centre.

Reacting to this situation challenges the EU on two fronts: reconciling its desire to be a relevant foreign policy actor with the differences in opinion among its member states, and reconciling its desire to be a normative power with the realities of its migration policy.

On the first point, one of the main challenges for Libyan reconciliation is the number of external actors involved in the conflict. At a Brussels event organised by the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), Taher El-Sonni, Senior Political Advisor to PM Sarraj, stated that every time Libyans approach a solution they get dragged back because of the proxy war. Qatar, Turkey, and Italy are aligned with the GNA, while Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates are aligned with the LNA.


France has become increasingly dependent on Haftar in its counter-terrorism policy. Italy, on the other hand, is focused on cooperating with the GNA on migration. The Franco-Italian divide is not unique in hindering the emergence of a genuine European foreign policy. Whatever the issue in question, producing a common position between 28 Member States will naturally result in extensive compromise. Individual Member States may also end up undermining the EU’s position as a whole. For example, el-Sonni also criticised France for providing material support to the LNA, in relation to the discovery of French-owned missiles located in an LNA base. France appears to take the same line as the UN Security Council and the EU in supporting the GNA, while tacitly sending supplies to the LNA.


At a time when Russia and the USA do not want to step up to the plate, there is an opportunity for the EU to take the initiative in convincing foreign actors to step back and allow Libyans to establish a democratic political future. However, to do so, it would have to start closer to home, with France and Italy. A lowest-common-denominator stance in the midst of a civil war taking place in the EU Neighbourhood will not be sufficient, and will further undermine the EU’s attempts to be recognised as a serious actor in its own backyard.

On the other hand, the EU has not usually sought to act as a serious global power in the traditional sense. It has sought to appeal to its past, its achievements, and its values to act as a ‘normative power‘. The Libyan situation, and the EU’s reaction to it, is undermining that image. It is well known and well documented that Libya is not a safe port for disembarkation: according to the Council of Europe, “migrants and refugees who are intercepted or rescued by the Libyan Coast Guard, and subsequently disembarked in Libya, are routinely subjected to unlimited and arbitrary detention, torture, extortion, forced labour, sexual violence, and other inhuman or degrading treatment. Moreover, violent conflict in different cities of Libya has put the safety of migrants and refugees, including children, many of whom remain trapped in detention centres, in grave additional risk.”

Indeed, two lawyers have submitted a Communication to the International Criminal Court that accuses the EU and its member states of ‘premediated complicity’ in crimes against humanity. It does so on two grounds: firstly, that decision-makers knew that replacing Italy’s search and rescue mission Mare Nostrum with the scaled-down Frontex Operation Triton would lead to thousands of deaths in the name of deterrence. Secondly, it maintains that forcing NGOs to stop operating and supporting the Libyan Coastguard facilitated illegal pushbacks and directly led to the human rights abuses committed in Libyan detention camps. The EEAS representative, Colin Scicluna, at the CEPS event rejected out of hand the idea that the EU could be complicit in crimes against humanity, based on its previous positive track record, and stated that there were no simple solutions in Libya.

In terms of solutions, the EU must act with urgency to maintain their positive humanitarian track record. In line with the UNHCR and IOM joint statement, returning those rescued on the Mediterranean to Libya is no longer an option. NGOs should be allowed to freely operate, and Member States must live up to their legal responsibilities.


The only way forward for Libyan cooperation is to resolve the ongoing conflict in a political settlement, and that requires taking search and rescue back into European hands until such point as the Libyan authorities have the capacity to fully meet international human rights standards. For the EU, the priority focus must not be curtailing migration flows, but healing its internal divisions to build sustainable migration and foreign policies that allow for unified, effective action and respect for international obligations.


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Easy Victor: the Kremlin and the Rule of Law in the West

  • June 2019
  • Hannah Bettsworth

Easy Victor: the Kremlin and the Rule of Law in the West


Source: kremlin.ru

“[Russian] money laundering and mafia activity went on in Angela Merkel’s constituency for years, in the hope that Russian-owned dockyards would bring local employment.”


On the 19th of June, the Martens Centre and the Free Russia Foundation held a report launch on the Kremlin’s attack on the rule of law in the West. It is a timely publication, with the recent readmission of Russia to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), as well as the Dutch Public Prosecutor’s decision to begin judicial proceedings against named individuals over MH17.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to read Misrule of Law without feeling compelled to act. The report is structured in two sections: the Kremlin’s attack on the rule of law in the West, and Russian manipulation of Western policy. Reading the first section, it is psychologically easy to forget that this is non-fiction. Humans have a tendency to believe that everything will be fine right up until the point that it is not. Even then we convince ourselves things will return to normal. It is this phenomenon – normalcy bias – that contributes to plane crash survivors sitting in their seats while fire burns around them.

The human mind wants to believe that these detailed discussions of Kremlin interference are tales of intrigue featuring money-laundering and the mafia. They are, however, all too real. The Russian state has systematically manipulated Western institutions and systems in order to protect its interests. A dedicated Spanish prosecutor spent years investigating the Russian mafia. He produced nearly 500 pages of information on suspected criminal activity by Russian officials. He also faced serious personal risk, only for the Kremlin to protect crime lords from extradition and the National Criminal Court to acquit those who were tried for suspected mafia ties. The Court’s reasoning was that there was ‘insufficient proof’ of their investments in Spain being linked to organised crime. Money laundering and mafia activity went on in Angela Merkel’s constituency for years, in the hope that Russian-owned dockyards would bring local employment. In reality, the dockyards fell into avoidable bankruptcy due to money laundering – but not before local and federal German governments had obtained loans worth €240million to support the project.

The argument for Russia’s reinstatement to PACE is that the Council of Europe can constrain Russian behaviour. This is particularly hard to square with the Yukos case. Russia cooperated with an independent international arbitral tribunal and disavowed the whole process when it did not go their way. There is no reason to believe the Kremlin would treat civil society related judgments any differently. The former shareholders of Yukos (who were awarded billions of dollars in compensation for the company’s expropriation) attempted to attach Russian non-diplomatic assets abroad, which led to Russian threats against France and Belgium. Both countries reformed their national laws to, essentially, give Putin a veto over whether creditors could seize Russian property on their territories.

What makes the report so compelling is that these are not even its most concerning cases. Russian front organisation ‘think tanks’ participate in promoting the Kremlin’s narrative abroad. It is well-known that Russia Today and Sputnik are two of the chief producers of disinformation. Misrule of Law’s contribution is to warn its audience that Russian links to populist governments in Europe have reached incredibly worrying levels. Hungary, in particular, has seen its backsliding on democracy and the rule of law accompanied by extensive rapprochement with Russia. It appears to keep the EU/NATO line, but maintains strong bilateral relations with Russia. They jointly identified which GRU officer the Hungarians could expel to be seen to act after the Skripal attack. Italy and Austria retain stronger checks and balances that have prevented them from going that far down the same path, but the seriousness of compromised security and home affairs agencies in EU and/or NATO member states cannot be overstated.

To select a final, particularly worrying trend in relation to the Skripal case: “Whitehall observed a 4,000 percent uptick in pro-Russian propaganda since the abortive assassination, most of it coming from unmanned algorithms or ‘bots’, although other prominent peddlers of disinformation were all-too-real people who’d previously rushed to [the] Kremlin’s defense on Syrian chemical weapons use or MH17 or the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s email servers.” [Misrule of Law, p100]. In other words, the extent of Russian manipulation of the Western debate is such that ordinary people are willing to spread the Kremlin’s narrative: even when it involves accusing the United Kingdom of carrying out the attack to stoke anti-Russian sentiment. Indeed, this echoes the Kremlin’s strategy in the Baltic states to attempt to generate a sense of grievance among ethnic Russians.

That is the key takeaway message from the report. The rights, freedoms and institutions the West holds dear are being used against it by the Kremlin. Not only that, but Western states repeatedly allow it to happen. To revisit the plane crash metaphor, the report’s authors are the flight crew shouting at frozen passengers to get up and act to save themselves. The PACE vote is an example of exactly what not to do. It is not impossible to counteract the Kremlin’s actions, but recognition of the issue is only the first step. It requires continual and repeated commitment to enforcing sanctions and the rule of law. Most importantly, it requires recognition that we can only protect and promote European values if we are willing to stand up for them even when it is politically and financially inconvenient.

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