Moria – the EU’s biggest humanitarian disaster

by Lea Schiller

When the refugee camp Moria on the Greek island Lesbos was opened in 2015, it was intended to provide shelter for about 3,000 people. In January of this year, its population was estimated to be around 20,000. Overcrowding has put the people inside the camp in hazardous conditions for years – essentially, a bomb waiting to go off, with thousands of unaccompanied minors inside. During the early months of the pandemic, the fuse seemed to shorten considerably. About 5,000 people were allowed to relocate to the Greek mainland, but that still left the camp with five times as many people as it was originally supposed to have. And as COVID-19 started to spread in Europe around March, Greece imposed a lockdown for the whole country – including all refugee camps, among which was Moria. For the ordinary citizen, life slowly returned to normal in June – but the country’s thousands of asylum seekers were kept in lockdown for weeks longer, even though camps on the islands had not recorded any cases at that time. Inside Moria, social distancing and hygiene was virtually impossible to follow, with water and soap in short supply and notorious overcrowding still threatening the safety of all inhabitants. When the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed inside Moria, it was swiftly placed under a two-week quarantine while Greek authorities tried to trace the contacts of the patient. 

One week later, fires broke out and left more than ten thousand refugees and migrants without shelter. On the evening of the 8th of September, the first fire started, which would then go on to destroy large parts of the camp. The following night, a second fire burned most of what was left. The unsafe conditions in Moria have lead to fires before; that a bigger one would follow was only a question of time. Now, not only is the majority of Moria residents sleeping on the streets, but in the chaos following the blaze, authorities lost track of the more than 30 residents who had contracted COVID-19. The cause of the fire remains unknown – poor conditions in the camp provide a large enough fire hazards on their own, but rising far-right sentiments among the Greek population of Lesbos gave rise to the suspicion that it was started by one of the locals. On the other hand, protests and riots by asylum-seekers to be relocated to mainland Europe have also fuelled rumours of the fire having been started by the previous inhabitants of Moria themselves. 

Several EU member states including the Netherlands have agreed to take in unaccompanied minors, altogether resulting in several hundred children being relocated. This leaves more than ten thousand now homeless asylum-seekers on Lesbos. This week, the European Commission presented a long-awaited asylum pact. Once in action, it would require all member states to take part in managing migration. To balance the resistance against mandatory migrant quotas in the Union and the need to aid southern member states, the way member states participate is left up to them – whether that is by taking in asylum-seekers or taking care of sending back those who are refused asylum. It is a long awaited solution, but not without criticism coming from both governments in the EU and human rights groups. If and how this pact is going to be carried out remains to be seen – but for the people in Moria, help is already a long time coming.

Photo by Radek Homola on Unsplash

References

Baczynska, G. (2020, March 24). EU asks Greece to move migrants most at risk from coronavirus out of crowded camps. Reuters. Retrieved from: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-eu-greece-migratio/eu-asks-greece-to-move-migrants-most-at-risk-from-coronavirus-out-of-crowded-camps-idUSKBN21B2Y1?il=0

Bell, M. (2020, September 11). Riot police deployed to new Lesbos refugee camp after fire. CNN. Retrieved from: https://edition.cnn.com/2020/09/11/europe/lesbos-fire-migants-moria-camp-intl/index.html

Bormann, T. (2020, Jury 14). Flüchtlinge auf Lesbos: “Moria ist ein vergessener Ort”. Tagesschau. Retrieved from: https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/moria-fluechtlinge-101.html

Europe migration: EU plans mandatory pact to ‘rebuild trust’. (2020, September 23). BBC. Retrieved from: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-54249312

‘Moria is a hell’: new arrivals describe life in a Greek refugee camp. (2020, January 17). The Guardian. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/jan/17/moria-is-a-hell-new-arrivals-describe-life-in-a-greek-refugee-camp

Godin, M. (2020, September 10). Blaze that destroyed Greece’s Moria refugee camp symbolizes breakdown in E.U. over future of migrants. Time. Retrieved from: https://time.com/5887085/greece-moria-refugee-camp-blaze/

The debate about Nord Stream 2 from different perspectives

by Alexandra Reinhild Berndt

The poisoning of the Russian opposition leader Alexei Nawalny reopened the debate about the European stance towards Russia. In March 2018, the Russian double agent Sergei Skripal was poisoned with the same toxin as Nawalny was in the English city Salisbury (Ehl, 2019). The European Parliament condemned Russia’s behavior and called for immediate sanctions against the Russian government (Zeit Online, 2020). In a resolution of the European parliament, 532 MEPs voted in favor of stricter sanctions against Russia (Zeit Online, 2020). In Germany, the debate shifted the focus to “Nord Stream 2”, a gas pipeline between Russia and Germany that is 94% complete (only 160 kilometers out of 2460 kilometers are left to lay) (Prantner, 2020). A possible stop of the gas pipeline construction is not only discussed by German politicians, but also by European and US-American actors (Ballin, 2020). In the following, I will investigate the arguments of the opponents and proponents of the project and the implications of a possible stop of construction.

First of all, I will examine which actors are involved in the discussion and shed a light on their motivation and interest. I will start with the opponents of Nord-Stream 2 and then continue with its proponents.  In the case of the US, economic interests are the motivation for the imposition of sanctions on Nord Stream 2 (Ballin, 2020). As the United States aim at selling their own gas to Europe, they exhaust all possibilities to stop the construction of Nord Stream 2 (Ballin, 2020). In contrast to the United States, Eastern European countries as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland fight for a construction stop not because of economic reasons, but because of political concerns (Ballin, 2020). The Prime Minister of Latvia, Krisjanis Karins, urged Germany to be aware of the fact that Russia uses the “gas-dependency of Europe as political weapon” – according to Karins, the pipeline contradicts European values (Matthaei, 2020). The Prime Minister of Poland, Mateusz Morawiecki, reacted similarly. He also warned against a German dependence on Russian gas and against a higher degree of Russian influence on German policy (Handelsblatt, 2020).

In Germany, the opinion on Nord Stream 2 varies among parties and politicians. The Green party pleads for sanctions against Nord Stream 2 and aims at classifying it as “security risk for Europe” (Ballin, 2020). Similarly, the liberal party FDP precludes economic cooperation with Russia in the light of Nawalny’s poisoning (Ballin, 2020). The German government, however, is divided on the issue. German chancellor Angela Merkel pleads for a “European solution” (Von Marschall, 2020). The vice chancellor Olaf Scholz, however, is against a stop of Nord Stream 2 (Schmitz, 2020). He argues that Nord Stream 2 is not a governmental project, but a “private sector energy project” that would, in case of a stop, harm a lot of companies (Schmitz, 2020). Not only German companies are involved in the project; European and international companies participated in the construction of the pipeline as well (Lenz, 2020). There are five European companies that invested in the project: Uniper, Wintershall DEA, Royal Dutch Shell, OMV and Engie (Becker, 2020). Each of them pays ten percent of the costs for the pipeline. In case of a politically initiated construction stop, it is probable that they would demand back their invested money (Becker, 2020). The German government is thus, in contrast to the other European countries, very divided on this issue. 

After having examined the point of views of all the actors involved in the discussion about which sanctions against Russia are most appropriate, I would like to carry out a final review on positive as well as negative aspects. An important aspect speaking against the stop of the pipeline construction is that the pipeline would guarantee a “low-cost supply of gas” and help Germany to “move away from nuclear and coal” (Shiryaevskaya & Khrennikova, 2020). However, the German “security of supply” is not dependent on the gas of Nord Stream 2 (Becker, 2020). Furthermore, Gasprom’s profits are Russia’s profits as Gasprom is a state-owned company (Schuller, 2020). There is thus the possibility that the financial profits of Nord Stream 2 also flow into Russia’s military actions in Libya, Syria and Ukraine (Schuller, 2020). It thus also raises the question whether the German government would like to accept a huge economic cooperation with a government responsible for attempted murder by poisoning and questionable military actions in Libya, Syria and Ukraine.

Photo by Quinten de Graaf on Unsplash

References

Ballin, A. (2020, September 17). Pipelineprojekt: Russland treibt den Bau von Nord Stream 2 wegen drohender Sanktionen voran. Retrieved September 23, 2020, from https://www.handelsblatt.com/politik/international/pipelineprojekt-russland-treibt-den-bau-von-nord-stream-2-wegen-drohender-sanktionen-voran/26195034.html

Becker, A. (2020, September 8). Wer braucht eigentlich Nord Stream 2?: DW: 08.09.2020. Retrieved September 23, 2020, from https://www.dw.com/de/wer-braucht-eigentlich-nord-stream-2/a-54854677

Ehl, D. (2019, March 04). Salisbury: What we know a year after the Skripal poison attack: DW: 04.03.2019. Retrieved September 24, 2020, from https://www.dw.com/en/salisbury-what-we-know-a-year-after-the-skripal-poison-attack/a-47757214

Handelsblatt. (2020, September 13). Gas-Streit : Polens Regierungschef fordert von EU und Deutschland Stopp von Nord Stream 2. Retrieved September 24, 2020, from https://www.handelsblatt.com/politik/international/gas-streit-polens-regierungschef-fordert-von-eu-und-deutschland-stopp-von-nord-stream-2/26184222.html

Lenz, L. (2020, September 10). Nord Stream 2 beenden – geht das? Retrieved September 23, 2020, from https://www.tagesschau.de/wirtschaft/nordstream-debatte-ende-101.html

Matthaei, K. (2020, September 14). Nawalny-Vergiftung: Lettischer Premier fordert Pipeline-Stopp. Retrieved September 23, 2020, from https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/nawalny-nord-stream-101.html

Prantner, C. (2020, August 07). Nord Stream 2: US-Senatoren drohen dem Sassnitzer Hafen. Retrieved September 24, 2020, from https://www.nzz.ch/international/wirtschaftliche-kriegserklaerung-gegen-sassnitz-und-nord-stream-2-ld.1570257?reduced=true

Schuller, K. (2020, September 15). Grüne planen Sanktionen gegen Nord Stream 2. Retrieved September 23, 2020, from https://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/ausland/gruene-planen-eu-sanktionen-gegen-nord-stream-2-16953071.html

Shiryaevskaya, A., & Khrennikova, D. (2020, September 04). Why the World Worries About Russia’s Natural Gas Pipeline. Retrieved September 24, 2020, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/energy/why-the-world-worries-about-russias-natural-gas-pipeline/2020/09/04/05537504-eeb7-11ea-bd08-1b10132b458f_story.html

Schmitz, G. P. (2020, September 22). Scholz lehnt Stopp für Nord Stream 2 wegen Kampfgiftanschlag auf Nawalny ab. Retrieved September 24, 2020, from https://www.augsburger-allgemeine.de/politik/Scholz-lehnt-Stopp-fuer-Nord-Stream-2-wegen-Kampfgiftanschlag-auf-Nawalny-ab-id58181691.html

Von Marschall, C. (2020, September 07). Drei Wege zum Aus für Nord Stream 2. Retrieved September 24, 2020, from https://www.tagesspiegel.de/berlin/scheitert-die-deutsch-russische-gaspipeline-drei-wege-zum-aus-fuer-nord-stream-2/26164612.html

Zeit Online. (2020, September 18). Ostdeutsche Regierungschefs gegen Baustopp von Nord Stream. Retrieved September 23, 2020, from https://www.zeit.de/politik/ausland/2020-09/nord-stream-2-ostsee-pipeline-ostdeutsche-bundeslaender-alexej-nawalny

The roar of a tiger: EU-Vietnamese Trade Deal

by André Francischetti Moreno

The commercial war between China and the United States led Americans to shift part of their supply chain to Vietnam, thus heating once more the vibrant economy of the Asian tiger. The most benefited industries were the textile and electronic ones, of which Vietnam is a leader in Southeast Asia. The European Union took the opportunity to firm the most “ambitious agreement between Europe and a developing country”, in what the Swedish MEP Karin Karlsbro further described as a “historical opportunity”. Nevertheless, many human rights activists and chiefly the Greens criticized how the agreement was done, claiming that Vietnam does not respect a series of freedoms and labor standards.

As for the agreement, it will gradually scrap taxes on 99% of all goods traded bilaterally and will facilitate European companies to invest in Vietnam, as they will pitch for government contracts on equal terms with their local counterparts. The two parties further committed to ratify and effectively implement eight fundamental Conventions of the International Labor Organization (ILO), ILO’s principles of fundamental rights at work, the Paris Agreement and act in favor of environmental conservation while being monitored by agents of the civil society. The agreement also sets high standards of consumer protection, ensures that there is no “race to the bottom” to attract investment, and gives Vietnam 10 years to eradicate its duties on EU imports. Notably Vietnam signed six ILO conventions since the negotiations with the EU started, two of them to be ratified by 2023. Under the agreement, appropriate retaliation is also predicted in the case of serious human rights breaches. The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, stated that trade agreements as such are important to recovering the European economy as they create jobs and give Europeans access to new emerging markets. By 2035, the agreement is predicted to result in €15 billion/year in additional imports from Vietnam and €8.3 billion/year in EU exports, from which every €1 billion results in around 14,000 new jobs in the EU.

The new agreement is seen as strategic for the EU as a global player. With an economy that grows 6- 7% every year, Vietnam is the EU`s second-largest trading partner in the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) only behind Singapore. In geopolitical terms, this agreement is substantial to expand European interests in the region in face of an ever-growing Chinese and American influence. Moreover, it represents a strategic opportunity for the EU to broaden its rules-based approach to international trade, human rights, and democratic principles, and action for the conservation and sustainable management of wildlife, biodiversity, forestry, and fisheries.

Nevertheless, the EU-Vietnam trade agreement met substantial opposition over matters regarding human rights. Twenty-eight human rights non-governmental organizations, both within and outside Vietnam, signed a letter addressed to the European Parliament to postpone the Parliament’s approval of the deal until the Vietnamese government implemented concrete and verifiable measures to protect labor and human rights. This proposal, in turn, was solidly defended by the Greens who supported the deal but wanted the Vietnamese government to reach some benchmarks before concluding the trade agreement. The European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs noted that the European Commission did not carry out a satisfactory human rights impact assessment of the deal, moreover there is criticism about the deal only focusing on a limited range of rights. Additionally, some detractors hold that is not responsible to sign a deal with a one-party state that has a poor record concerning workers’ rights and still have political prisoners. Geert Bourgeois, the EU’s rapporteur for the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) said that although democracy and human rights were not fully established in Vietnam, the trade pact serves as a “lever to improve the situation.”

In brief, the EVFTA entered into force on August 1 and will gradually eliminate taxes on 99% of all goods traded between the European Union and Vietnam. Although the agreement encompasses bilateral commitments to human rights, labor conventions, and promotion of environmental protection policies, some NGO’s and political actors believe that the EU Parliament should have postponed the voting until the Vietnamese government had implemented concrete and checkable measures. On the other hand, those who support the agreement defend that it is an opportunity to expand European soft power through commerce, set a platform to control human rights abuses in Vietnam, and follow a promising path to the economic recovery of Europe after the coronavirus crisis.

Photo by Thijs Degenkamp on Unsplash

References

Nicholson, C. (2020, February 24). Talking Europe – Free trade, fair play? New EU-Vietnam deal stokes controversy. Retrieved August 07, 2020, from https://www.france24.com/en/europe/20200224-talking-europe-free-trade-fair-play-new-eu-vietnam-deal-stokes-controversy

Press corner. (n.d.). Retrieved August 07, 2020, from https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_20_1412

Vietnam trade deal: What are the benefits?: News: European Parliament. (2020, June 10). Retrieved August 07, 2020, from https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/headlines/economy/20200131STO71518/eu-vietnam-trade-deal-what-are-the-benefits

Vietnam: EU-Vietnam trade agreement meets opposition over human rights issues: Business & Human Rights Resource Centre. (2020, February 22). Retrieved August 07, 2020, from https://www.business-humanrights.org/en/vietnam-eu-vietnam-trade-agreement-meets-opposition-over-human-rights-issues

Is there life after Brexit? Future of EU-UK relations and beyond

During this panel discussion, we talked about Brexit, its implications for the EU, relations to the UK, and other regions of the world. Our speakers on the panel were: 

– Dr. Joris Larik, Assistant Professor of Comparative, EU and International Law in Leiden University College. 
– Dr. Densua Mumford, Assistant Professor of International Relations in Leiden University College.

The event took place on Thursday, 27th of February, 2020, 18:00 in Kamerlingh Onnes Building, room A.008, of Leiden University. The event was free of charge and open to everyone.

EUSA Films: Christmas Edition

EUSA organised a cosy Sinterklaas evening for the December edition of our European film screenings! EUSA combined a European Christmas movie (Love Actually, 2003, romantic comedy) with a tasting of European drinks to keep us warm on this December evening. How did it work? We will provide Glühwein and some snacks and kindly invite you all to bring a drink from your home country.

This event was held on Thursday 5 December at 6pm in the Klok Room, The Hague.

EUSA Films: the Gilded Cage

EUSA is proud to present their new project – EUSA films. We will be showing one European film a month! Join us in the Hague for this year’s second screening. This month, we will be showing The Golded Cage (La Cage Dorée, 2013), a Portuguese-French comedy. Watch the trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LKHw9PsAceI

We will be providing snacks and drinks. Non-members are welcome to join, by giving a small contribution of 2 euro.Want to become a member of EUSA? you can do so in our website (www.eusaleiden.com/membership) or you can come up to us before the screening and join the association. 

Event held on November 4th, 2019.

New European Commission: Expectations and Impacts

European Union Student Association is excited to announce its first panel discussion in the academic year 2019-2020! This event will look into the appointment of the new European Commission, the discourse around the Spitzenkandidaten system and the criticism around the appointment of Ursula von der Leyen as the Commission president. Additionally, we will discuss the expectations from the new commissioners and the challenges that lay ahead of them. The speakers of this event are:


Mr. Adriaan Nunes from Clingendael, Netherlands Institute of International Relations;
Mr. Alexander Schilin, from the Institute of Political Sciences, Leiden University;
Mr. Lukas Spielberger, from the Institute of Political Sciences, Leiden University.

The discussion took place on Friday, the 18th of October 2019, at 18:00 in the Lipsius Building of Leiden University (Cleveringaplaats 1, 2311 BD Leiden), Room 19.