Category Archives: Foreign and Security Policy

Two Important Strategies for the Sustainable Development of the European Union

The European Commission has published in the recent days two communications that touch on important aspects of the sustainable economic development of the EU.

The first is a communication on renewable energy and the progress towards the 2020 targets. The communication presents an overview of the renewable energy industry in Europe, its prospects to 2020 and addresses the outstanding challenges for the development of the sector. The Commission points out that renewable energy constituting 62% of 2009 energy generation investments in the EU. Member States projections show that renewable energy will grow at a faster pace in the years up to 2020 than in the past. Combined Member States expect to more than double their total renewable energy consumption from 103 Mtoe in 2005 to 217 Mtoe in 2020. If all the production forecasts are fulfilled, the overall share of renewable energy in the EU will exceed the 20% target in 2020. The Commission suggests that whilst annual capital investment in renewable energy today averages €35bn, this would need to rapidly double to €70bn to ensure the EU achieves its goals.

The second is a communication on the commodity markets and raw materials. This communication was delayed due to the French request to include measures to improve the transparency of financial and commodity markets. The document makes an overview of developments on physical markets of oil, gas, electricity, agricultural commodities and raw materials. The Commission outlines the growing interdependency of financial and commodity markets and then outlines policy measures for the separate physical markets. The communication then outlines the Raw Materials Initiative and describes the 14 critical raw materials – those who have a particularly high risk of supply shortage and are particularly important for the value chain.

 

 

Is Jerzy Buzek the True Voice of EU’s Foreign Policy?

Fellow bloggers Kosmopolit and John Worth have already weighed in on the (lack of) reaction by the European Union on the events unfolding in Egypt. Their analysis of the relative inactivity of the EU’s institutions is worth reading.

What I would like to point out is that the President of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, was much more specific in addressing the situation in Egypt. He made a statement on Friday, 28 January, saying:

“The entire world is watching what is happening in Egypt tonight and will hold the authorities accountable for any inappropriate use of force or any innocent death. (…) I call on Egypt, as a partner country of the EU, to fully respect the fundamental rights and freedoms of their citizens.”

Now, this isn’t the first time Mr. Buzek has responded quickly with an unequivocal statement. He also addressed the violence against protesters in Belarus, specifically calling on Lukashenko to stop the violence. The High Representative remained silent on Belarus for a few days, too.

It should be clear that the High Representative cannot act before aligning positions of all Member States. It takes only one Member State – for example, Italy, to block a common position (art. 31 TEU). That is why Ashton is significantly restrained in her field of action.

It appears that Mr. Buzek’s statements are, in such situations, the only legitimate and decisive voice coming from the institutions of the European Union.

 

 

What is Going on in Bulgaria, Really?

Taped conversations, published by a Bulgarian newspaper, allegedly expose a cover-up of smuggling schemes by the Bulgarian Minister of the Interior, Tzvetan Tzvetanov. The full transcripts of the tapes reveal pressure on part of Tsvetanov on Customs Agency Director Vanyo Tanov, who complains that Tsvetanov and the Ministry of the Interior are pressing him and his staff not to check on potential abuses by certain large companies, and to focus instead on others. The only company mentioned by name which has allegedly benefited from this protection is Lukoil Bulgaria (a daughter company of the Russian Lukoil conglomerate). The CEO of Lukoil Bulgaria is allegedly a close friend of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov. According to the leaked US embassy cable on organized crime in Bulgaria, Lukoil’s Bulgarian operations are suspected of strong ties to Russian intelligence and organized crime.

A caveat must be made: nobody has confirmed the authenticity of the tapes. The content is not conclusive and is subject to interpretation.

In any case this is worrying. Until now the Customs Agency Director has not denied the contents of the conversations.

In the light of these revelations the reservations of France and Germany over Bulgaria’s accession to the Schengen area appear more justified. The Prime Minister must take really decisive steps to dispel any suspicion of wrongdoing.

 

 

Belarus: the White Elephant in the Room

Brussels, we’ve got a white elephant in the room. It’s Belarus, of course. The place where they beat up presidential candidates (watch the video of the beating of presidential candidate Neklyaev). The place where one man is clinging to power for 16 long years.

There were presidential elections yesterday in Belarus. They ended in protest and police violence, just as you might expect from a country which is at the bottom of the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index 2010. All the mise en scène was there – flags, songs, and police beating up and arresting protestors. This is a place where they kill journalists, after all.

I witnessed both the protest and ensuing police violence in Minsk, the capital of Belarus and the reaction of relevant EU officials yesterday. Three politicians spoke out in this order: Carl Bildt, Wilfred Martens and Jerzy Buzek (Mr. Buzek’s statement specifically called on Lukashenko to stop the violence). Not a single word was heard from the High Representative Catherine Ashton or any representative of the Commission.

Now there is a slight annoyance. It turns out that Belarus lies on the EU doorstep. Technically speaking, EU is committed to the values of democracy and rule of law. Democracy and rule of law are obviously not abundant in Belarus. So what do we do about it?

Well, not much, to be honest. There is something called high-level EU–Belarus political dialogue. There is some action by OSCE observers who say that probably the election process got somewhat better in the 2010 elections. Sort of.

This is worrying. Belarus is a European country and a potential EU Member State (no matter how far-fetched that sounds). The European Union has already experienced relative loss of leadership on the promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. The case of Belarus is disturbing and quite obviously Lukashenko has no intention to lose grip on power. All geopolitical considerations notwithstanding, EU can only profit from a free and democratic Belarus, and vice versa. That is why the EU must really step up its pressure on the political regime, or at least condemn it properly.

UPDATE: There’s a statement now by the spokesperson of the High Representative Catherine Ashton.

EU Military Capability Development, NATO and Obesity

The Council adopted its conclusions on the European military capability development. The conclusions point out to measures such as exchange of information on defence budget cuts, capability pooling and sharing options (such as the recent UK-France Defence Cooperation Treaty), developing civil-military synergies in capability development, and developing cooperation with NATO regarding the development of military capabilities.

Now NATO is somewhat wary of EU’s military capability development, since it can divert important military infrastructure from the Alliance. The EU is not convinced of the success of most important NATO operation in the moment in Afghanistan. On the other hand experts say that the two organizations can align force development and mission-planning processes, and ensure closer communication and discourage any rivalry.

There is however a not-so-obvious threat both to EU and NATO military capabilities that  at first looks somewhat anecdotal. OECD reports that over half of adults in the European are overweight. As Letters from Europe notes, this is a military problem, since too many European men and women, just like in the US, are too fat to fight.

Hence the idea – couldn’t EU and NATO work on a obesity mitigation program as a first step in improving overall military capability?

 

 

The Wikileaks Cablegate – a Legal Backgrounder

Apart from the understandable hype surrounding the Wikileaks Cablegate, there are many legal questions that need clarification. I have tried here to summarize available sources and comments on the different aspects of the Cablegate.

1. Wikileaks Cablegate as a violation of espionage laws

Australian and US law enforcement agencies are reportedly studying the possibility of criminal charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, including charges under the Espionage Act, for publishing classified US diplomatic cables. The US Espionage Act was adopted in 1917. There are some opinions that the Espionage Act is generally viewed as outdated in light of more modern case law on the First Amendment, also shown in the federal government loss in the Pentagon Papers case. Others say that if the US really believes that the Espionage Act is a constitutional law that ought to be enforced then they’d better be prepared to go after the New York Times, Le Monde, Der Spiegel, and El Pais, all of which published the classified cables after being granted early access and were part of a clear conspiracy with Wikileaks to break the Espionage Act.

U.S. Congressman Peter King has also vowed for the US to declare Wikileaks a terrorist organization, which would presumably allow the US to use anti-terrorist legislation, possibly Title VIII of the Patriot Act. There, however, provisions allow prosecuting the person who gained unauthorized access and caused subsequent damage to a protected computer, which could only be applied to the person who stole the cables in the first place.

In conclusion, it is possible for the US government to use the Espionage Act, but it will face many hurdles due to its potential unconstitutionality.

2. Julian Assange’s Rape Conviction

INTERPOL has made public the Red Notice, or international wanted persons alert, for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at the request of Swedish authorities who want to question him in connection with a number of sexual offences. However, INTERPOL cannot demand that any member country arrests the subject of a Red Notice.

Assange’s lawyer, Mark Stephens has previously said that the allegations were made after Assange had consensual sex with two women who turned on him after becoming aware of each other’s relationships. Sweden’s Supreme Court was reviewing Assange’s appeal of the order to detain him. Court official Kerstin Norman, who is handling the case, said a decision is expected late Wednesday or Thursday.

There is reportedly also a European arrest warrant for Assange by the Swedish authorities, but it was incorrectly filled out.

3. Amazon Hosting for Wikileaks

Amazon Web Services has stopped hosting Wikileaks. This was done for unspecified reasons, but as Larry Dignan points out, Amazon states clearly in its terms of service that it can host you as well as terminate an agreement at will.

4. Death Threats to Julian Assange

Certain individuals in the US have publicly called for the murder of Julian Assange. In US case law advocacy of violence can only be prohibited when there is clear incitement of an imminent violent act. I am not an expert in US law, but it appears to me that these threats constitute a violation. However, it is not clear whether someone in the US or Australia would want to prosecute those threats. In Bulgaria or in the European Union in general these threats would be prosecuted.

5. Conclusion

Three developments should be observed:

  • if and how the US decides to prosecute Wikileaks and/or the newspapers that leaked the cables, and
  • how the criminal case against Julian Assange is processed by the Swedish prosecution and courts, and
  • whether some legal action is taken against individuals that incite the killing of Mr. Assange.

 

 

No Comment: Basescu, Sarkozy and Berlusconi

Below is a video shot during the recent NATO and EU summit in Lisbon. The supporting text is in French. Hat tip: J. S. Lefebvre.