The Undiplomatic Diplomat

By Arbër Berisha

When describing a diplomat, the words “hack”, “shill”, “nasty” and “dishonest” should not come to one’s mind. However, those are the exact words former U.S. national security adviser Susan Rice used to describe Richard Grenell. Her words will resonate with political circles in Germany. The aforementioned adjectives partially depict a bully, an appropriate term for Grenell considering his activity in Kosovo. Whereas a ‘diplomat’ is a person who deals skilfully with difficult situations in a way that does not offend people, a ‘bully’ often forces people to do something they do not want to do. When one considers Grenell’s track record, of the two incongruent descriptions he fits that of a bully more than that of a diplomat.

As Donald Trump’s nomination for ambassador to Germany, Grenell caused a stir early on in his mandate when he threatened Germany with sanctions following German

cooperation on a Russian pipeline. He attracted responses such as that of Andrea Nahles, leader of the Social Democratic Party, who said “it’s not my task to teach people about the fine art of diplomacy… But he does appear to need some tutoring” and Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister, who labelled it “impertinence” and concluded “that’s just not how you can treat your allies”. Grenell flouted diplomatic norms when he stated that he wanted to “empower other conservatives throughout Europe” disregarding Article 41 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations which states that diplomatic missions in a foreign country “have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of that State”. Martin Schulz, former leader of the Social Democratic Party, replied to that statement of intent by saying that “what this man is doing is unheard of in international diplomacy” and Wolfgang Kubicki, deputy speaker of Germany’s parliament, likened Grenell’s behaviour to that of a “high commissioner of an occupying power”.

After his short but controversial stint in Germany, Grenell was named the Special US Envoy for Kosovo and Serbia. With the US elections approaching, it was claimed (and later validated) that Trump needed a diplomatic win abroad. With an Israel-Palestine agreement unlikely, the pressure was increased on Kosovo and Serbia to agree to a ‘normalisation’ agreement as highlighted by Trump’s letters to both countries in 2018 and 2019. Grenell became insistent that Prime Minister Albin Kurti remove a tariff that had been implemented on Serbia by the previous government. Kurti refused, instead only partially removing it; a decision the EU praised as it “could have a positive effect on restoring regional trade”. Grenell, however, labelled it a “serious mistake” as it did not fully meet his demand. Such comments were negligible to the Kurti government compared to the overt methods that Grenell oversaw to increase the pressure on the government to sign an agreement with Serbia. Firstly, the United States blocked funding from the Millennium Challenge Corporation through which Kosovo was promised tens of millions of dollars to stimulate economic development. A few days later, threats came that the US would withdraw their troops from the ever-present NATO peacekeeping force. In the end, with the Kurti government refusing to bow to the pressure and US elections nearing, Grenell orchestrated the downfall of the Kurti government by finding co-operators in the junior coalition partners (LDK), giving rise to Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti who pliantly removed the tariff and signed in Washington the Grenell inspired agreement. The comment of Sahra Wagenknecht, leader of Linke in Germany, that “U.S. Ambassador Richard Grenell (…) thinks he can lord over Europe and determine who is governing here” seems appropriate. 

As evidence of the extent of the unpopularity of the coup that Grenell orchestrated, Kurti’s party Lëvizja Vetëvendosje has become the most voted party in the history of the Republic of Kosovo in the elections of 14th February 2021. Its vote share rose from 27% to 50%, whereas LDK fell to its lowest ever share of the vote at 12%. Grenell has maintained his animosity towards Kurti even though he is no longer the Special Envoy, posting six anti-Kurti tweets in just three days. In these tweets, he has emphasised the idea that Kurti is “anti-America”, the same accusation he hurled at Der Spiegel in Germany. To conclude, Article 1 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations states that the function of a diplomatic mission is “promoting friendly relations between the sending State and the receiving State, and developing their economic, cultural and scientific relations”. Grenell’s active involvement in the domestic affairs of the receiving states highlights conflicting intentions.

Fidesz quits the EPP: A new powershift in the European Parliament?

By Robin Vandendriessche

On Wednesday the 8th of March 2021, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán delivered on his promise to quit the European People’s Party group (EPP Group) in the European Parliament after new rules were approved that would allow the center-right block to suspend or exclude members. The motion, clearly intended to deal with the block’s uncomfortable relationship for nearly a decade with Fidesz and its track of democratic backsliding, passed with 148 MEPs in favor and 28 against.

Victor Orbán immediately expressed his disappointment to see the EPP Group “paralyzed by inner administrative issues” and stated “that the EPP has finally become an extension of the European left”. Many EPP members and above all members of the other party groups welcomed this move with the latter criticizing that it had taken long enough when EU values had been clearly disregarded. And although the departure of Fidesz from mainstream European politics was long overdue there is little reason to be optimistic. As long as several member states refuse to stand up to Orbán in the Council, it will be difficult to stop Hungary’s authoritarian turn. At least now the line between the political groups committed to the rule of law and those with a different concept of the European values has become more visible. 

It remains to be seen if this departure has set the scene for a potential power-shift in the European Parliament. Firstly, the EPP Group, which is the largest group in the European Parliament, will see its seats reduced from 187 MEPs to 176. Secondly, there is still the question of what Fidesz will do. Will he attempt to create a new political movement or join another party group?

Orbán clearly stated that all types of proposals to renew European politics were being considered. Being outlawed by the mainstream right, he could be looking to create a new political movement that could secure Hungary’s turn to illiberalism, wrapped in a conservative and populist project. After all, EPP membership has been crucial in the past decade to shield Hungary’s process of democratic backsliding from a decisive European response. Talks with Poland’s PiS party and Italy’s Lega Nord and Fratelli d’Italia are already being conducted. But such initiatives are not new. In 2020 Orbán stated his intention to initiate a new political movement if the EPP was not able to change itself. In 2019, before the European elections, the Italian party Lega Nord tried to form a new right-wing alliance but failed to gather all right-wing parties. At that time, Orbán explicitly chose to remain in the EPP Group. And thus, it is highly questionable if such a new political movement would make any difference since it has already been tried a few times before. On top of that, the right-wing parties in the European Parliament are lacking coherence, making it unlikely for them to agree on a common agenda. There is for example considerable disagreement on foreign policy, Baltic parties see Russia as the real danger whereas the Italian or French parties have close ties with Moscow.

The European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR Group), which also consists of Poland’s ruling PiS party, would be a natural choice for Fidesz to join because it has shared a similar opinion in many of the decisions made in the European Parliament. Such a move would of course be enthusiastically welcomed by the ECR Group.  As Lega Nord wants to reposition itself as less eurosceptic, since it entered the Draghi government, it could consider a move to the ECR Group too. If Orbán  decides to follow this move, it would make ECR the third biggest group in Parliament thereby overtaking Renew Europe. The European liberals are very much aware of the impact of this scenario as one of their MEPs Sophie In’t Veld calls upon the Group to quickly adopt a strategy as this could trigger a reshuffle of the political landscape in the European Parliament. 

At the end of the day, a new and coherent alliance gathering all right-wing parties in the European Parliament which could have Orbán’s back seems unlikely for now. Fidesz could also join another party group but such a group can only exert power when united and bound by common goals and values. The former has not always been the case and even the latter are not always shared by all national members of the ECR Group or another group for that matter. However, this clear reinforcement of the eurosceptic right does not mean that the formation of significant majorities in the future will become any more likely.  

Geopolitics’ turn again: Covid-19 edition

By Mary Karnachoritou

Henry Kissinger the well awarded American diplomat spoke of the “Post corona-virus world order” However prejudicial Covid-19 has been, not all countries came through as losers. In fact, the pandemic constituted a unique chance for international players and coalitions to re-negotiate their status. Crises- from the Greek word “Krisis” meaning “the decisive moment”- like this have the potential to change geopolitical trends and priorities exposing the international system to rearrangement. In this article I aim to explore the impact that the pandemic had in the geopolitical puzzle and especially in the European Union. What are Brussels’ next steps in these shifting times? Are we heading towards a reversed status quo in international relations with the East dominating the West?

China appears to be the big winner of this pandemic. Although China was the first country affected by the virus when it emerged, China was also the first to overcome it by applying strict lockdown measures. In this way, China had the chance to manage the crisis and even work as a role model and assistant to other nations. The choice of the Chinese government was not a coincidence as it adopted the well tested “superpower” attitude that superpowers have used in previous crises. To be more specific, China was also favored because of its widely developed and cheap technological production chains which experienced extreme demand during this period. The world and especially emerging economies are highly dependent on Chinese value chains for their economy to function and to prosper. This realization is indicative of China’s growing power over the last decades. Europe’s own characterization of China as “cooperation partner” and “systemic rival” proves its importance in the international system. Moreover, the pandemic placed China in a disadvantageous position of global criticism, hate speech and prejudice. Nevertheless, Xi Jinping used the international stance in his favor by changing China’s usual diplomatic behavior abroad into a more aggressive one that now was legitimately based. In other words, the pandemic could be considered as the start of the Sino-American rivalry in practice as China reveals its true capabilities in this international chess game.

The United States of America on the other hand faced for the first time a palpable shock of their rules-based system. As the adviser of Joseph Borell, Nathalie Tocci highlighted, the coronavirus crisis has been a “Suez moment for the US” meaning that this pandemic encroached the deep foundations of US dominance in the modern world. The biggest geopolitical loss it had to suffer is the shift to the East. Trump’s administration and its ineffective response towards coronavirus has made the country fold back on the interior matters while foreign policy remained antagonistic, or even in the margins of enigmatic. The US democratic model seemed incompetent to confront the spread of the virus something that did not prove difficult for more authoritarian governance models. Although this phenomenally effective response may stem from the transparency deficiency that exists in those countries providing distorted reality facts.The current  Biden administration is expected to turn towards the Atlantic alliance and to fortify its allies in the West implying the EU.

 The European Union, on its part, has proven to be on the losing side of this health crisis. In particular, European states once again showed their incapacity to work together and create a united front against the invisible enemy that this time knew no borders or North-South, East-West axes. National interests provoked an unprecedented isolation since the Single European Act, instead of a Union solidarity. The goals that have been set by the new Geopolitical Commission under Ursula Von der Leyen were one by one fading in front of the current health situation. Even Union’s core values such as democracy, freedom and rule of law were severely restricted causing social turbulences and introduced some degree of contestation in the European Strategic Compass. Health does not fall within EU’s competences, but as previous crises have indicated, further integration in the affected spheres becomes unavoidable. The introduction of the Recovery Fund is the collective response that Europeans choose to support. Furthermore, the enhancement of the Banking Union is attached to the general European efforts for a strategic autonomy in the financial and technological area. Although strategic autonomy does not apply in the foreign policy, it constitutes a step forward for more coherent and concrete European policies. With the covid-19 crisis the EU entered an era of redefinition and as happens in these periods of time, re-evaluation of pre established authorities takes place. In European Union’s case it seems that the pandemic highlighted the role of the European Parliament which is expected to strengthen in power in the following years if the context of a more integrationist agenda, prevails.All in all, it is an indisputable fact that the times we are facing are highly transitional in terms of high politics. New game rules have been introduced this time stemming from the East. While emerging eastern states seem to shape the world of alliances coloring it with more authoritarian traits, the west is moving towards strengthening its preexisting structures. NATO and more specifically EU-US relations are drawn closer so as a counterbalance to what it appears to be a Sino-Russian “confluence” of interests and values. Although Europe’s perception of China is that of the “Icy Friend”, the continent’s future points toward the Western alliances. The EU’s ambition to play an active role in the Sino-American antagonism, underlines the need for a strong democratic institutional set up, and what is better than the European Parliament whose role has been signified steadily over the past years. States ‘geopolitics remain at a crossover and only the unfreezing of  time  of the Covid-19 era will point to the next direction.

The EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investments: What’s in it for China?

By Veronica Burgstaller

On 30 December 2020, the Comprehensive Agreement on Investments (CAI) was concluded in principle between the EU and China, marking the most ambitious agreement China has ever concluded with a third country and replacing the bilateral treaties it had previously with 26 EU member states (except Ireland). The agreement, after 7 years of negotiations, is a milestone in the bilateral relationship between the EU and China but clearly is unbalanced in the sense that it brings more benefits for the EU than for China. In essence, the CAI is an investment market access agreement that will expand market access and ensure competitiveness. It will provide a level-playing field for EU entities in China in addition to easing such restrictions as the condition of joint ventures activities with Chinese partners or the compulsory transfer of sensitive technology. On the other hand, the EU’s investment environment has long been relatively open. Although under CAI China will gain access to additional markets, that will help promote technological development, the main reasons for Beijing to push forward with the agreement are generally understood as being of geopolitical nature. For instance, the agreement will serve to legitimize the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and  pre-empt policy coordination between the EU and the U.S

Though these points are not wrong, the CAI should be seen as a brick-stone of a broader and long-term Chinese policy strategy to achieve middle income status by 2035 and resolve the country’s internal domestic problems. Since its accession to WTO in 2001, China’s high growth has been driven predominantly by high levels of investment, mainly through domestic financing. Due to high export rates, followed by high domestic savings levels, China faced a problem of twin surpluses on both capital and current account. With an underdeveloped financial market, it cannot channel domestic savings into areas of investment. Also, its large foreign exchange reserves have led to protectionism and trade frictions with the EU and US. In order to overcome ‘a middle-income trap’, China has to implement reforms in the demand and supply side of the economy, meaning it has to encourage consumption, while at the same time increasing outward investment. The Belt-and-Road Initiative (BRI) for example enables China to redirect investment into infrastructure development projects. But inward investment is equally important because China can benefit from the expertise and know-how of foreign firms. Innovation would increase labor productivity and ultimately China wants to encourage the creation of its own original domestic products that are consumed by its citizens. 

In addition, high-level agreements may enable China to lock in domestic economic reforms. A recent study showed that trade agreements with strong political and economic partners put more pressure on domestic firms to comply with international standards and provide incentives for regulatory reform. The EU is currently the biggest global investor. Although the CAI may not be a trade agreement it is binding and ratcheting and also goes beyond investment-related provisions like clauses on sustainability and labor protection. 

Finally, the COVID-19 crisis, since the beginning of last year, had some unexpected and profound effects on global trade and investment flows. In the first quarter of 2020, China’s economy contracted with a growth rate of -6,8% and fixed-asset investment sank by 16%. Although most major firms in China returned to 90% of their working capacity within a period of two months, small firms are still lagging behind and consumption remains low. Inward foreign direct investment from the US and the EU continues to decline. More than ever, it is crucial for China to provide a more liberal and transparent investment environment. In line with such developments, China has issued a revision of its negative lists for foreign investors on June 23, 2020, that reduced the number of sectors in which domestic firms have preferential treatment from 151 in 2018 to now 123. Equally, the Foreign Investment Law promulgated in March 2019 had come into effect on January 1, 2020, unifying investment regulations and indicating further opening up of market access. The EU should understand that China’s foreign policy is mainly motivated by domestic concerns. From the 5th to 11th March, during the holding of the 4th session of the 13th National People’s Congress, Premier Li Keqiang outlined the 14th Five Year Plan that emphasises high-quality development with a focus on innovation, high-tech technology and the promotion of foreign trade and investments. Market liberalisation in China may have taken place incrementally, first in special economic zones that function as testing grounds, as seen in the case of  negative lists for foreign investors before being finally adopted nation-wide. In short, China has to balance policies that maintain the legitimacy of the party and has to retain its centralised grip, while also acting to liberalise its trade and investment environment. The CAI is an opportunity for China to achieve the objectives it set itself to become an innovative, middle-income country.

Ukraine’s never-ending fight against corruption

By Jelle Baartmans

February 22 marked a major breakthrough in one of Ukraine’s most high-profile anti-corruption cases. Volodymyr Yatsenko, former Deputy Chairman of PrivatBank, was spectacularly arrested at Boryspil Airport in Kyiv. Yatsenko, who is suspected of abusing his position at PrivatBank and embezzling large sums of money, was already on his way out of Ukraine in a private jet when the National Anti-Corruption Bureau forced air traffic control to make the plane land in Kyiv. Although Yatsenko’s arrest is a hopeful sign for progress in the PrivatBank case, one should be cautious not to attach too much significance to it in terms of the wider fight against corruption in Ukraine.

Many in Europe still vividly remember Euromaidan, but by now it has been over seven years since President Viktor Yanukovych fled his own country and found refuge in Russia. Euromaidan started as a protest against Yanukovych’s refusal to sign the Association Agreement with the European Union, but as Sakwa notes, soon the “focus broadened out from European issues to become an insurrection against the corruption, nepotism and general malfeasance of the Yanukovych regime.” In the West, Euromaidan raised optimism. It was the second revolution against corrupt and anti-democratic practices in Ukraine in ten years’ time. Was this the final blow to a system of large-scale corruption, and the first step towards good governance in Ukraine?

Petro Poroshenko was elected the country’s new president in June 2014. One of his first acts was to sign the Association Agreement that Yanukovych had refused to sign. Poroshenko’s outspoken, pro-Western position was enough for the West to embrace him. In late 2015, Leiden University invited Poroshenko to give a Europe Lecture, in which he urged his Dutch audience to vote in favor of the EU–Ukraine Association Agreement in an upcoming referendum. “By working together with the EU, Ukraine will introduce important reforms and will become a better nation”, said the president.

However, in spite of Poroshenko’s big promises, his presidency was a disappointment in terms of the fight against corruption. For instance, as The New Republic notes“his campaign promise of an anti-corruption court lay unfulfilled for years.” In the 2019 presidential elections, Poroshenko suffered a humiliating defeat against comedian Volodymyr Zelensky, who made the fight against corruption one of his main campaigning messages and received almost 75 percent of votes.

But so far, Zelensky’s anti-corruption achievements have not been any more impressive than Poroshenko’s. In September 2020, the International Monetary Fund withheld the second tranche of a 5 billion dollar stand-by agreementbecause it was unsatisfied with Ukraine’s reform progress. In July 2020, Yakiv Smolii, chairman of the National Bank of Ukraine —an institution that is supposed to be independent— resigned under political pressure. Important anti-corruption institutions, such as the National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption (NAPC) and the Special Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAPO),  fall under the control of the presidency and are therefore not independent. In fact, the latter refused to bring a high-profile corruption case around government-set coal prices to court, even though the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) said it had found “clear evidence” against six suspects, some of which were government officials.

NABU is Ukraine’s only anti-corruption institution that can be considered genuinely independent. Apart from its efforts in the coal price case, the Bureau also leads the investigation into the earlier-mentioned PrivatBank case. Without going into details on this complex case, it suffices to mention that the bank belonged to Ihor Kolomoyskyi, one of Ukraine’s most notorious oligarchs, before it was nationalized in 2016 after a 5.6 billion dollar bailout. Ever since, Kolomoyskyi and the state have fought over the question of who owes what to whom. It has brought President Zelensky in an uneasy position, since Kolomoyskyi’s TV channel 1+1 was one of the promoters of his presidential campaign, and previously Zelensky’s comedy show ‘Servant of the People’ aired on the same channel. So far, the President has failed to demonstrate that his previous ties with the oligarch do not hamper his fight against corruption. For instance, in March 2020 he forced Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk, a young and ambitious reformer, to resign, just days after Honcharuk had tried to reduce Kolomoyskyi’s influence over state-owned power generating company Centrenergo.

Between 2013 and 2020, Ukraine has slowly climbed from rank 144 to rank 117 in the Corruption Perception Index of Transparency International. Undeniably, some some reforms have been implemented, but the overall situation has improved only slightly. VoxUkraine, an independent analytical platform founded after Euromaidan, has kept track of reforms since January 2015 in its ‘iMoRe Index’. On a scale from -5 to +5, the overall reform score over the past six years is a mere +0.4. However, apart from Russia, Ukraine is still Europe’s lowest-ranking country in the Index. Meanwhile, a new draft law initiated by the Cabinet of Ministers threatens to jeopardize the independence of NABU by giving the government and the presidency more control over the Bureau. In other words, the driving force behind Ukraine’s fight against large-scale corruption risks being undermined by the government. And for what the arrest of Yatsenko at Boryspil Airport is worth, it is important to question why the suspect was already on his way to Vienna in a private jet less than two hours after Ukraine’s Prosecutor-General signed a notice of suspicion. It appears that not everyone inside the state apparatus wants NABU to succeed in its mission—which should be the country’s main mission, three decades after gaining its independence.

What France’s reaction to the CJEU ruling on data retention could mean for the EU’s future

By Valentina Alexandru

10 months after the German Federal Constitutional Court declared the CJEU ruling on the legality of the European Central Bank’s Public Sector Purchase Programme not binding in Germany, the European Union is faced with yet another threat to democracy and the rule of law, as the French Government requested the Council of State to disregard the EU ruling on national data retention rules. 

Data retention has been disputed for a few years now, having created a fracture between Governments regarding it as a prerequisite instrument in safeguarding national security on the one hand, and privacy activists who fear it is only a means to attain mass surveillance, on the other. In 2018, this dispute determined a coalition of associations to file a complaint against 17 Member States, France included, on the grounds that the latter contravened Union law. In line with its priority of fighting terrorism and organized crime, the Portuguese Presidency invited Member States to express their opinion on how the jurisprudence of the highest EU Court impacts data retention rules. 

On 6 October 2020, the CJEU issued two rulings, one addressed to the UK (Privacy International v Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and Others) and a joint one for France and Belgium (La Quadrature du Net and Others v Premier ministre and Others). The Court determined that the security laws through which the three States demand electronic communications services (ECS) providers to retain traffic and location data on a general and indiscriminate basis infringe EU law. 

In the ruling addressed to France, the Court held that when it comes to general and indiscriminate data retention from users for the purpose of preventing crimes and preserving national security, Union law prevails over domestic law. Nonetheless, the Court added that derogations to the judgement are possible in case of a serious menace to national security. If the threat is genuine and present or foreseeable, then strictly necessary data may be retained, but only for a limited period of time. 

This matter was previously brought before the Court in cases where the legality behind Governments imposing on ECS providers to pass on users’ data to public authorities was contested. Leading cases such as Tele2 Sverige or Watson and Others highlight the Court’s position on the disputed issue, pursuant to which Member States are prohibited from requiring providers to retain data generally and with no discrimination. The retention should instead be realised in a targeted and limited manner backed by safeguards. 

In the 6 October 2020 ruling, the Court sheds light on the content of the Directive on privacy and electronic communications, explaining that the EU legal instrument prevents Member States from enacting legislation that limits the rights and obligations laid down in said Directive, with emphasis on the obligation to shield confidentiality of communications and traffic data, except when the acts are in conformity with the general principles, as well as the fundamental rights enshrined in the Charter. 

Recently, the Council of State was asked by the French Government to disregard the EU ruling, the main argument being that the judgment is not in line with France’s constitutional identity. Moreover, France emphasizes that security is a domestic competence, which means that by ruling on the issue at hand the Court acts ultra vires. The same argument was used by the German Federal Constitutional Court when it held that the CJEU ruling is not binding within Germany. At that moment, a prompt response was issued by the European Commission, reaffirming the supremacy of EU law and the binding nature of CJEU rulings

Such positions of Member States could turn into a serious threat not only to the supremacy of Union law, but also to paramount values such as democracy and the rule of law. Coming from two of the founding members, this reaction has the potential to decrease the general confidence in the EU. While it is true that the European Union has evolved into a far greater project than what the founders have initially signed up for, France’s position might set a precedent that will empower those who have already been threatening democracy and the rule of law. Nevertheless, the EU is determined to counteract threats to the rule of law and has set in place a conditionality mechanism, according to which the EU funds will be conditioned by the respect for democracy and the rule of law. Moreover, in order to further solidify the rule of law, the EU has established a new supervisory mechanism through ‘the rule of law review cycle’ that results in a yearly report on the state of the rule of law in the Member States. 

On top of the increasing obstructive attitude of the MEPs, and of the decreasing general confidence in the European Union, the dispute on this matter might further the division within the EU. In a future filled with uncertainty, the only remaining certainty is that the EU will preserve the rule of law at all costs.

EU Green Deal: Facts, Possibilities & Limitations

By George Kyrkos

Going into the 3rd decade of the 21st century, and experiencing the warning climate change, the rapid implementation of the European Union “Green Deal” is becoming increasingly necessary. As presented by the European Commission at the end of 2019, the Green Deal was proposed as a sustainable development strategy with the main goal of neutralizing pollutant emissions, while ensuring the full utilization of renewable energy sources. Examining with a more detailed perspective, the Green Deal provides an action plan aimed at activating the circular economy using the appropriate financial tools to enable this transition. Of course, such a large undertaking can more or less affect the policy structure of the EU Member States, as there are some that will have to make a large effort which will require the corresponding resources in order to achieve the desired result.

First of all, the structure of its organization aims to strengthen those countries or regions which rely mainly on fossil fuels as the main source of energy. In particular, the action plan is based on three pillars according to the EU. The first of these is based on the provision of sustainable investments worth 1 trillion euro over a decade, with most of the investments focusing on strengthening the private sector, an action that will be carried out mainly by the European Investment Bank. The second pillar is the creation and provision of incentives for the redirection of public and private investments with the aim of introducing sustainable financing into the financial system in order to strengthen the transition regions and economies. Finally, the European Commission itself will provide support to public authorities to implement sustainability plans effectively. 

The individual plans that make up the Green Deal cover most sectors of an economy. In particular, with regard to retail and industrial products, it is planned to introduce a well-functioning framework which will require a minimum amount of recyclable goods in the manufacturing of final products. In addition to the above, specific environmental tax reforms are planned to be implemented as well as better waste management actions aimed at the compliance of large-scale enterprises. With regard to the energy sector, the Deal includes the phasing out of lignite plants and coal mines, in addition to the increasing use of natural gas as a transitional fuel in an effort to reduce emissions. Therefore, this will lead to an increase in gas imports from Russia, the EU’s main gas supplier, as well as more dependence on neighboring countries in the Middle East and Africa in the event that solar panels are installed to exploit solar energy. 

In the primary sector, a new strategy under the Green Deal will be implemented under the name “Farm to Fork Strategy”. The aim of this strategy will initially be to ensure the integrity of the agricultural sector, fisheries and the protection of biodiversity. Emphasis will also be placed on ensuring safe food, through the reduction of food waste and increased access to proper nutritional sources for financially disadvantaged families in Europe.

However, the implementation of reforms of this magnitude does not lack the problems that may hinder their smooth operation. A fundamental issue regards the Covid-19 pandemic’s impact on EU Member States, as the diversity of each country implicates different problems for its economy. Another obstacle to the full implementation of the zero-emission plan is that, as mentioned above, some countries are much more dependent on non-renewable energy sources either due to geomorphologic profile or lack of suitable facilities for exploitation of non-renewable energy sources. This may increase the cost of the transition, thus it may take longer than expected for the full implementation of the plan. 

Taking all facts into consideration, the speed with which the Green Deal of the European Union will be enforced seems to depend not only on the capabilities of the Member States, nor solely on the effectiveness of the design, but also on external factors and challenges that may affect its implementation transversely. However, if and when its goals are achieved on a gradual basis then the desired results may appear relatively soon.

AstraZeneca reluctance: consequence of faltering EU vaccination strategy?

By Gregory Lens

Imagine a scene in a medical thriller in which safe and thoroughly checked vaccines against a highly contagious and deadly disease are available, at last providing a way out of a global pandemic that has been holding the world hostage for over a year. In that movie, the protagonists refuse the vaccine that has been proven to be effective in the hopes of receiving another vaccine, thereby postponing the long-awaited herd immunity solely through personal vaccine preference. Most movie-watchers would be appalled and describe the script as unrealistic. However, this scenario is not fiction but the bitter reality in the European Union. When vaccination against Covid-19 is the primary concern all over the world, various European states report stockpiles of unused Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines in their vaccination centers. 

Vaccine rollout in the European Union is the second-lowest in the developed world. So why are its people so reluctant to get inoculated with one of the already sparsely available vaccines? The main cause for the stocked fridges is the bad reputation the joint British-Swedish produced vaccine has received. This reputation has been tarnished by a plethora of negative criticism, ranging from ineffectiveness in older age groups and limited protection against new strains of the virus to a rushed authorization process. The psychological issue related to AstraZeneca hesitancy can be traced back to early claims made by high-ranking EU figures, including French President Emmanuel Macron. 

After the pharmaceutical giant failed to deliver its promised doses to the EU in early February, EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides condemned the company. They demanded increased production to fulfil contractual obligations. In his subsequent responses to mounting criticism, AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot announced that the drugmaker would not be able to increase capacity to live up to its promised deliveries. The adverse publicity related to this battle between the company and the European Commission planted the seeds for the negative reputation that would soon adhere to the Anglo-Swedish vaccine. Shortly after the public rift between AstraZeneca and the Commission, doubts about the vaccine’s effectiveness were proclaimed. Various states consequently limited the jab to people under the age of 65, while some even lowered the limit to 55. Why were these doubts cast only on this particular vaccine? 

The EU has been trailing the United Kingdom in vaccine deliveries and approval of vaccines by different manufacturers, ultimately leading to a comparatively extremely low vaccination rate. This has led to the EU facing criticism from its citizens and even from EU parliament members. The UK is moving towards a vaccination rate of 30%, while most EU member states are still stuck in the single digits.* Since Brexit, the UK has the power to roll out vaccines without having to wait for approval by the Amsterdam-based European Medicines Agency (EMA). At a time during which the UK is touting its newly found freedom from the Union as a cause for its successful vaccination campaign, could undermining the primary vaccine developed and deployed in the UK be a strategy of the EU to save its face?

By casting doubts over the vaccine’s effectiveness, the number of inoculated people would not matter anymore. If the jab were deemed ineffective, the percentages of vaccinated people would be rendered meaningless if they were believed not to be protected after all. 

Faced with growing frustration, EU leaders might have been convinced that the only solution to deflect criticism from the EU vaccination strategy was to create mistrust over its former member state’s successful campaign. The Commission has repeatedly emphasized the importance of vaccine quality and approval by the EMA over fast-tracking to speed up the campaign. Through maintaining the quality-over-quantity narrative, the EU continues to portray the UK campaign as rushed. 

Whether the intent to deliberately discredit the AstraZeneca vaccine did indeed exist will remain a question mark. As opposed to the reason behind the doubts, the consequences are crystal clear. Vast amounts of doses remain unused in European medical stock facilities, even after staunch critics of the Anglo-Swedish vaccine have backtracked their past statements after they were disproved by extensive research. It remains uncertain whether an already vaccine-wary general public will be as eager to revise its opinion on the vaccine as its leaders have done.

*at the time of writing on 4 March 2021

CETA Explained: A Triumph of Free Trade or a Setback for Europe

By Shane Goodman

On 30th October 2016, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau travelled to Brussels to sign the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) on behalf of his government. CETA is a free-trade deal between the European Union and Canada which its proponents claim will lead to job creation, economic growth and a reduction in red tape. However, critics of the agreement claim that it will lead to a weakening of European sovereignty and that it will have an extremely detrimental environmental impact. 

Bilateral negotiations between the EU and Canada began in October 2009 and were concluded after almost five years in August 2014. One aspect of CETA which has led to much confusion is its provisional application as of September 2017, following which 98% of the trade tariffs between Canada and the EU have already been removed. However, as CETA is a mixed agreement, the ‘trade’ aspects are dealt with separately to the ‘investment protection’ elements. Consequently, all EU Member States must first ratify the agreement for it to take full effect. Whilst all Member States have approved the text of the agreement for signature, only 16 Union members have ratified the trade deal. Among them are Spain, Portugal and the three Baltic. On the other hand, major European powers such as Germany and France have yet to ratify the agreement, although it has passed the French National Assembly in 2019 and is waiting on approval from the Senate. While most Member States are expected to pass the necessary legislation to enact CETA, the Cypriot government rejected the deal on 31st July 2020, which has presented a new hurdle for the deal to overcome. Citing the lack of a geographic indication for halloumi cheese as the most significant problem with the agreement, the concern in Cyprus over a possible weakening of European intellectual property rights has also been echoed by opposition parties in the Netherlands and Italy. Still, experts do not expect this to be fatal to the trade agreement and believe that this will at most lead to minor renegotiations around the issue of geographic indications of food products. 

Despite these problems, CETA can still count on the support of the Canadian and various European governments. For Canada and the EU, the trade agreement marks a substantial loosening of trade barriers and increased cooperation.The EU is the second-largest market for Canadian exports after the United States, with 21.4% of Canadian foreign direct investment (FDI) going to the European market. Conversely, Canada, while still a significant market for European exports accounted for only 2% of all European external trade in 2018.

However, the deal is not without its critics. Legal standing is de facto granted only to those with large amounts of capital, such as multinational corporations. Under the new corporate-focused multilateral investment tribunal, a European government, for example, would be likely to lose a case where they may attempt to put cigarettes in plain packaging if a Canadian corporation could prove that it caused them a competitive disadvantage. Indeed, the Canadian government themselves has lost cases concerning food safety and the banning of carcinogenic chemicals in petrol under similar provisions in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Perhaps the area of most concern to critics of CETA is the potential of the deal having an extremely detrimental impact on the environment. Tar sands oil, such as that which would have been extracted through the Keystone pipeline had it been constructed, is one of the most damaging fossil fuels available for burning. Much of this oil is extracted in Alberta, Canada and while tar sands oil is rarely found in Europe, proposed legislation to ban its import into Europe was blocked by the Canadian government using CETA as a political bargaining chip. More than half of the cases brought before special tribunals similar to CETA’s multilateral investment tribunal have been concerning environmental regulations. Additionally, there is concern that the European Green Deal goals could be severely undermined by non-European corporations through CETA mechanisms. In fact, non-Canadian corporations such as those based in the US would also have standing in this system of legal redress so long as they have a Canadian subsidiary, something that is quite commonly held by large companies in the United States. This would be highly concerning to Member States with high levels of FDI from the US such as Ireland and Germany.

To conclude, CETA remains a divisive topic over ten years after negotiations commenced. While it cannot be denied that the free trade agreement will make exporting easier, one must consider if the impact to the integrity of the rule of law and the environment would truly make this agreement a wise investment into Europe’s future.