Tag Archives: USA

Is the European Union Losing Leadership on Human Rights?

For a long time the European Union has been considered a beacon of human rights protection, democracy and rule of law in the world. Now there are worrying signals that this leadership is weakening.

Susi Dennison and Anthony Dworkin from the European Council on Foreign Relations have written a policy brief proposing an EU human rights strategy for a post-western world. I had a very informative and interesting discussion with Anthony Dworkin on this policy brief. Below is a brief account of the main findings and policy recommendations.

The Problem

The European Union and the US are losing their influence in the world. The military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan have to some extent delegitimised the idea of democracy promotion for many, and led people to associate the concept with that of regime change. The success and growing assertiveness of authoritarian capitalist countries, and China in particular, have broken the link between liberal democracy and economic and social development. According to Mr. Dworkin as a result the West has less influence and less ability to try and affect what’s happening. For example China is now much more successful than Europe in winning support for its position on human rights resolutions in the United Nations.

I asked Mr. Dworkin if he believes that the China model is sustainable in the long term given the rising economic inequalities there. He said that China is changing rapidly and that it’s too soon to say if it’s sustainable.

The European Difficulties

In the European Union there are a number of reasons for this relative loss of leadership on the promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. First, there is some loss of confidence in the ability of the European Union to make a difference in the world in terms of human rights protection. Certain instruments, such as sanctions, simply don’t work very well. EU Member States have sometimes sacrificed their long-time commitment to human rights and democracy in their pursuit of geopolitical interests. For example Member States in the Mediterranean states have been most keen to engage with regimes in North Africa, while forgetting about the human rights perspective. Certain immigration policy measures may have a serious impact on the legitimacy of the European Union in the developing countries. The expulsion of Roma from France has most likely exacerbated that trend.

The Road Ahead

The authors of the policy brief outline a number of very practical policy recommendations that certainly deserve further consideration and discussion. The European Union needs a new, strategic approach for the promotion of human rights and democratic values. This approach must be realistic in the first place. It needs to take into account the shifting world balance of power. In a nutshell the EU must break down the abstract package of democracy and human rights to emphasise those issues that are most relevant to particular societies. The EU must set clear enough priorities – key issues on which to make progress with separate countries. The authors call these “pressure points”, relating to fundamental values on which the EU can reasonably expect to have an impact. In doing that the EU should rely primarily on a policy of graduated engagement using concerted pressure on key concerns and, wherever possible, offering specific incentives for carefully chosen objectives.

The tools for this new policy approach are already available. There are also some new opportunities – such as the use of trade relations to advance human rights, where some Internet restrictions for example may be considered contrary to WTO rules. There are also important partnerships with developing countries that must be explored, such as Brazil, India, Indonesia and South Africa. Turkey in particular may be a valuable partner because of its closeness to the EU and its growing role as an influential regional power in the Middle East.

The Institutional Dimension

For the new approach to work there must be high level alignment of different EU policies with the priorities of the promotion of human rights and democracy. Mr. Dworkin sees here a role both for the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and the President of the European Council. There must be a clear statement on these priorities and very senior level policymakers must be engaged in the process. A structure in the European External Action Service can also provide coordination.

This post is written specially for the Day of Multilingual Blogging. The Bulgarian version of this blog post is here. This blog has been published in both Bulgarian and English since February 2009.

The Political Salience of the Burqa Ban

Henning Meyer from the Social Europe Journal turned my attention to this report of the Pew Global Attitudes Project measuring the public approval of the ban of face-covering veils (burqas). What I did was to compare the data for the approval rate with the percentage of the Muslim population in the respective countries (data was obtained from the 2009 report of the Pew Research Center). Not surprisingly, there is a strong positive correlation between the percentage of Muslim population and the support for the burqa ban (correlation= 0,84, R2=0,71).

The US citizens are somewhat more tolerant than the average and Britons somewhat less, but the overall correlation is quite strong.

This post is cross-posted on Think 3: Developing World.

SWIFT Agreement Signed

The agreement on the transfer of bank data between the EU and the US was signed at last, after a protracted period of negotiations. But the really interesting part has been the decisive role of the European Parliament that refused in February to approve an interim agreement. Later the EP demanded a reopening of negotiations in order to guarantee that an EU official would be present in the location where US counter-terrorism officials extract the SWIFT data transmitted to them.

Rating Foreign Policy in Public Opinion

A BBC poll among more than 29,000 adults, asked respondents to say whether they considered the influence of different countries in the world to be mostly positive or mostly negative.

The poll focuses a lot of its attention on the performance of the United States. However, I am much more interested in the relative performance of the European Union and separate Member States.

The most positive ratings in the whole survey went for Germany (an average of 59% positive). The United Kingdom (52% positive) and France (49% positive) were also high on the list. The European Union as a whole was viewed positively by 53% of the respondents worldwide.

Here’s the thing. Respondents from only one country rated quite negatively the EU (45% negative, 29% positive). That country was Turkey. Go figure.

EU, US Take China to WTO over Raw Materials

Both the European Union and the US have requested consultations with China in WTO over export restrictions for raw materials.

According to Catherine Ashton, EU Trade Commissioner: “the Chinese restrictions on raw materials distort competition and increase global prices, making things even more difficult for our companies in this economic downturn. I hope that we can find an amicable solution to this issue through the consultation process.”

Raw materials in question include yellow phosphorous, bauxite, coke, fluorspar, magnesium, manganese, silicon metal, silicon carbide and zinc.

China says that the restrictions are meant to protect the environment and comply with Chinese trade commitments.

To put this in perspective, read the excellent article by Martin Stürmer: “The International Raw Materials Boom. A Challenge for Multilateral Trade Policy”. The author pays specific attention to the implications of raw materials competition, which caused many wars in the last two centuries, and prompted the beginning of the European integration process. Stürmer thinks that the multilateral world trade system is barely adequate to meet the new challenges arising from increasing raw materials consumption. The author advocates for a recognition of the development policy interests of many producer states.

Should EU Member States’ Embassies Help Iranian Protestors?

EUobserver reports that Italy had instructed its embassy in Tehran to provide humanitarian aid to wounded protesters, pending a coordinated response from all EU countries. Austria has also instructed its embassy to provide first aid to protestors. But Sweden – which is about to take over the EU presidency – said it cannot grant asylum to refugees. Belgium also thinks that it should not allow refugees on the territory of its embassy.

France and Finland have also called for a common EU approach on how to deal with refugees and asylum seekers.

In the same time the Iranian government has accused the UK and France in meddling with the crisis.

What should EU governments do? From a diplomatic and consular law perspective – nothing. They should not use embassies in such a way that can infringe article 41, of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations – containing a duty a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of the receiving state.

However, the EU can do a lot by working with the US, China, Russia, and other stakeholders to contain Iran, as claims François Godement from the European Council on Foreign Relations. A team of experts from RAND Corporation also believes that a concerted, multilateral approach is needed to manage the Iranian threat. This also implies a common European approach to Iran for a change.