Tag: United Nations

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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Nothing About Us Without Us: Disability Rights in the European Union

  • December 2019
  • Hannah Bettsworth

Nothing About Us Without Us: Disability Rights in the European Union


A disability rights protest in IrelandSource: Flickr (Sinn Fein)

If someone cannot get upstairs, that may be the result of a ‘disabling’ condition. A more modern approach suggests that disability is not an individual issue, but a social one. The inability to get upstairs is a result of society’s failure to provide another way of accessing higher floors.

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities takes place every year on the 3rd of December. In 2019, it was themed around disabled people’s leadership in sustainable development action. That is relevant everywhere, regardless of the national level of economic development. The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals highlight disability. All countries have to include disabled people in their development plans.


The EU is no exception. The European Disability Strategy is one of the many policies which needs renewing. First, a brief note on terminology. The EU and UN refer to ‘persons/people with disabilities’. Many activists refer to themselves as ‘disabled people’. Different people prefer different terminologies. The author of this piece has dyspraxia, a condition which affects movement and coordination. In line with the author’s personal preference for the term ‘disabled person,’ this piece will also use that term when discussing public policy.


Secondly, a brief theoretical introduction. There are two prevailing ‘models’ of disability: the medical model, and the social model. The former sees the cause of disability as an individual’s impairment. The latter sees the cause of disability as society’s failure to include people. To take an example, under the social model, a wheelchair user is not disabled because of their inability to climb stairs. They are disabled because nobody has provided a ramp or a lift. In short: under the medical model, the impairment is the problem. Under the social model, society’s barriers are the problem.


Some inclusive reforms have taken place in the EU. The European Disability Strategy (EDS) 2010-2020 focused on eight main action areas. These are accessibility, participation, equality, employment, education and training. Many of these achievements are in the EDS 2017 Progress Report. Only some will be highlighted here. The European Accessibility Act was designed to harmonise accessibility requirements for particular products and services. It also defined how pre-existing accessibility obligations should be met.) New EU funding rules about accessibility and inclusion ensure respect for disability rights in EU aid projects.


Disability has also been mainstreamed in Erasmus+. Specific funding is available to help disabled students and staff take part. Calls for proposals now include accessibility criteria. Disabled young people are a target group for the Youth Guarantee education and training scheme. One of the main barriers to mobility is the lack of mutual recognition of disability status between the Member States. The EU disability card, piloted in 8 Member States, is a potential step towards EU-wide recognition.


However, there is still much work to do. The United Nations’ assessment of the EU’s compliance with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) revealed some important shortcomings. The EU has not ratified the Optional Protocol to the CRPD. Doing so would create a powerful tool for disability rights activism. Individuals or groups under EU jurisdiction could complain of CRPD violations to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It could then launch an investigation and request the EU act to avoid harming the victim(s). The Committee could also launch a full inquiry if the EU chose to accept its competence to do so. It may seem unlikely that the EU would mistreat disabled people. In reality, the first-ever country to be investigated in this way was the United Kingdom.


Indeed, institutionalisation persists in many Member States. The UN highlighted the issue of children living in institutions within the EU territory. They often lack access to quality, inclusive education within the mainstream state system. It was also concerned that the European Structural and Investment Funds were being used to support institutions rather than to support disabled people in the local community. Even worse, some Member States still engage in forced sterilisation and abortion: a human rights violation under the CRPD.


Some disabled people were also denied the right to vote in the 2019 European Parliamentary elections. This is due to inaccessible voting procedures or reduced legal capacity/guardianship. The European Economic and Social Committee estimates that the latter deprived around 800,000 EU citizens of their right to vote. It also highlights that blind voters in 18 Member States cannot cast a secret ballot. They are expected to receive help from another person. 8 Member States have no form of distance voting, disenfranchising anyone who cannot attend a polling station in person.


Looking to the next 10 years, the European Disability Forum passed a Resolution at the 2017 European Parliament of Persons with Disabilities. They call on the EU to ratify the Optional Protocol as mentioned above. The Structured Dialogue is an ongoing cycle of communication between young people and the EU institutions, and the EDF seeks to duplicate this process for disabled people. Adequate funding for disability-related projects is an overarching concern throughout the Resolution. The EU must be aware of this in planning its next budget.


The EDF also raised concerns about discrimination against disabled people who also belong to other marginalised groups. An integral part of the strategy for the next 10 years must be inclusion, respect for decision-making power, and de-institutionalisation. The UN asked the EU to act on the detention of disabled refugees and migrants. It did not do so, and this must now be a priority for upcoming migration reforms.


It would be all too easy to focus on things like the budget and migration at the expense of issues like the EDS. For the EU to drag its heels over the production of a 2030 European Disability Strategy would be an unacceptable dereliction of duty. Disabled over 16s form 24.1% of the European population. Disability issues are not only those linked to disability rights. All EU decisions affect us, and nothing should be done about us without us.

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No Planet B

  • November 2018
  • Otto Ilveskero

No Planet B

The Commission launches its climate vision ahead of COP24


Source: Garry Knight | Flickr


There is nothing we can do to avoid the costs of climate change, but there is a lot we can do alleviate its impact. Setting a vision for the next 32 years, this Wednesday (28 November) saw the European Commission publish its A Clean Planet for all strategic long-term vision for a ‘climate neutral economy by 2050’.


Required by the 2016 Paris Agreement, the Commission’s mid-century plan lays down eight potential pathways for the EU to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 80% or even 100% (net-zero) compared to 2010 levels using the already agreed 2030 energy and climate policies as the baseline. While claiming that its purpose is ‘not to set targets, but to create a vision and sense of direction’, it places decarbonisation of power generation at the core of each scenario and calls for 80% of all electricity to be generated from renewable sources by 2050. A majority of the remaining 20% would be covered by nuclear energy according to the plan. Alongside cleaner energy production, building insulation and energy efficiency are also of particular importance, as buildings currently represent the largest share (40%) of the EU’s total energy consumption.


The Commission estimates that a successful transition to a net-zero emissions system by 2050 would provide the EU with economic benefits up to 2% of the GDP (€400 billion under current estimates), while also reducing environment-related public health costs by €200 billion. On top of this, limiting the warming of global average temperatures would reduce climate damage such as droughts and flooding, which according to the European Environmental Agency (EEA) cost over €400 billion between 1980 and 2016 without taking the costs associated with the loss of human life, cultural heritage and ecosystem services into account. From a security perspective, the reduced dependency on fossil fuels would also make the EU less vulnerable to energy crises. As an added bonus, tackling climate change would also leave the future generations with an inhabitable planet to live in.


The ambitious plan was released just days before the opening of COP24 – the 24th annual Conference of Parties (COP) of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNCCC) – taking place in the Polish coal mining city of Katowice this December. The conference is particularly significant because of its aim to adopt a programme on implementation of commitments between the 184 parties of the Paris Agreement. It may also result in new UN recommendations on fighting climate change, although binding states to their commitments and enforcing sanctions on states failing to meet their targets will in all likelihood remain a challenge for the future.


During the conference, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will present its landmark report to the world leaders in attendance. The 700-page report, which was released in early October, covers data from over 6,000 publications as well as 133 expert contributions and was reviewed by more than 1,000 scientists. It was commissioned by the UN in part to map out the differences in consequences between the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to 2C and its less-binding ambition of limiting warming to 1.5C. As it turns out, this 0.5C extra would, for example, put around 10 million more people at risk due to rising sea-levels, bring an estimated €13 trillion euros of additional economic costs, increase water scarcity in the world’s poorest regions by 50%, and double the decline of marine fisheries. The report also states that we have just 12 years to sort ourselves out before the momentum of our current inaction sets us on a course of no return.


Yet, as Jim Skea, an IPCC working group co-chair, said about the report: “One thing the report did not aspire to do is answer the question of feasibility.” In other words, the laws of physics and chemistry may still be on our side for a narrow period of time, but the laws of politics are often less forgiving. Although the solutions proposed in the report are largely based on already existing technologies, what remains to be accomplished is convincing decision-makers to spend billions on a long-term plan in a global system run on short-term gains and limited trust. This has also been recognised by the UN, which has previously singled out the importance of agreeing on worldwide financing of climate action commitments during COP24. To this end, as is often the case with rules-based multilateral action, the EU has the potential to set an example for others to follow, which it must now boldly embrace.


Indeed, as sustainability will not last without affordability, significant public investments on climate action are required over the next 12 years. According to the Commission, the EU is already spending over €206 billion (about 20% of the overall budget) on climate change-related action from its 2014-2020 multiannual financial framework (MFF), while the Commission’s proposal for the 2021-2027 MFF would raise the share of these activities to 25% of the budget. Crucially, the EU needs to focus on emissions from sources which are currently not covered by the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS, the world’s largest carbon market covering 45% of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions). Although the EU has already managed reduce its emissions by one-fifths since 1990, a ceiling for further reductions is fast approaching if it does not place a significant emphasis on practicing the integrated approaches envisioned in the long-term strategic plan to achieve deep emission cuts on buildings and transport in particular.


Nonetheless, the Commission’s long-term vision is not in the clear yet. It will face its first test the week following COP24, when the member states’ energy and environment ministers convene separately in the Council on 19 and 20 December. The discussions will most likely emphasise the costs involved in the plan and the division of labour between member states. Furthermore, given the all-encompassing scope of climate action, we can also expect the agriculture, economy, and transport ministers to scrutinise the plan in the near future. Further along the line, the European Council’s upcoming “Future of Europe” summit in Sibiu, Romania on 9 May will also indicate climate action’s ranking in the EU leaders’ political pecking order just weeks before the 2019 European Elections. And without the support of national leaders, of course, the next Commission cannot set the agenda for an actual long-term EU policy on climate change.


But acting coherently and according to a common strategic vision, the EU and its member states can provide much needed leadership in global action to tackle climate change before it is too late.

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