In August, Algeria decided to cut diplomatic ties with Morocco (Aljazeera, 2021). Algeria accuses Morocco of supporting the Kabylie Independence Movement (MAK) in Northern Algeria, a movement fighting for the independence of the Berber population (Hagmann, 2021). The Kabylie Independence Movement is blamed by the Algerian government for starting the forest fires in the region (FAZ, 2021). Morocco, on the other hand, accuses Algeria of supporting the Polisario Movement, a movement fighting for the independence of the Sahrawi population in Western Sahara (a territory that the Moroccan government claims sovereignty over) (SRF, 2021). Both states are thus accusing each other of supporting separatist movements in the other country. This article focuses on the background of the Western Sahara conflict.
The Western Sahara is a former Spanish colony. The territory is very attractive as it is rich in phosphate and fishing grounds (Sadaqi, 2021). As soon as the Spanish government withdrew from Western Sahara in 1975, Moroccan troops occupied the territory (Reuters, 2021). Since then, Morocco claims sovereignty over Western Sahara (Chograni, 2021). This forced “ten thousands of Sahrawi to flee“ (Azkue, 2021).
Until today, Sahrawi refugees were not able to return and live now dispersed in four different regions of the world (Algeria, Europe, Western Sahara under control of Morocco and Western Sahara under control of the Polisario Front (Azkue, 2021). Since the Moroccan occupation of the territory, the Moroccan government incentivised a Moroccan migration to Western Sahara by “building new homes and offering jobs”, so that “social and demographic characteristics in the area“ changed and the Sahrawi became “a minority in their own country“ (Azkue, 2021). The Moroccan government has rejected all calls for independence of the Sahrawi population and offered instead autonomy (Chograni, 2021). The Polisario Front (fighting for the independence of the Sahrawi population) rejected the Moroccan plans of autonomy for the Sahrawis “doubting the level of promised autonomy“ (Chograni, 2021).
The Polisario Front is recognized by the UN General Assembly as “international representative of the Sahrawi people“ (Lovatt & Mundy, 2021). The UN labeled the Western Sahara as a “non-self-governing territory“ (Lovatt & Mundy,2021). Furthermore, most of the international community (and the UN) reject Morocco’s claims of sovereignty (Lovatt & Mundy,2021).The European Commision and the Council of European Union define the role of Morocco as “de-facto administering power“ (Lovatt & Mundy, 2021). In December 2020, the Trump administration recognized Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara in return for Morocco’s efforts to normalize relations with Israel (FAZ, 2021). However, the Sahrawi government has asked the Biden administration to reverse the decision to recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara (Reuters, 2021).
With regards to the Sahrawi refugee situation in Algeria, it is of humanitarian and Human Rights interest, to solve the conflict. Furthermore, the alarming increase in tensions between Algeria and Morocco should serve as a warning shot for the EU and the international community to take action.
On the 26th of September, the federal elections in Germany will mark the end of Angela Merkel’s almost 16 years in power. The candidates of this election are not facing an incumbent, and therefore, the outcome is not as predictable as it was for previous elections. With less than four weeks to go, the three biggest parties are all polling in a range of 24 – 17%, which means all three candidates have a chance to become chancellor (Amaro, 2021). But what is their position when it comes to the EU and European integration? In other words, what does this election mean for the rest of Europe?
What we can learn from the party manifestoes
The Christian Democratic Party (CDU) has been in government for the past 15 years. With Angela Merkel as their leader, there was always an emphasis on international cooperation. The CDU’s current programme does not state any clear ideas on further European integration, although it does include a pledge in support of the EU; the party manifesto of the Social Democrats (SPD) is similar in this regard (Ålander, Mintel & Rehbaum, 2021). Both the CDU and the SPD support a European Defence Union, but neither outline concrete plans on initiating this. Out of the three, the newly resurged Green Party has the most distinct programme when it comes to the EU. The SPD and the Greens are in favour of advancing the integration of the Western Balkans, but the Greens want to increase the EU budget, which the CDU and the SPD do not support (Ålander, Mintel & Rehbaum, 2021).
After the election – which coalition will emerge?
In Germany, government is formed between at least two parties since no party usually receives enough votes to rule by itself. But this time, even a two-party coalition seems unlikely, as the biggest parties have lost voters to smaller ones. Germany has not had a three-party coalition in government since the early years after the war, and there is an array of possible outcomes (Karnitschnig, 2021). But no matter which combination emerges in the end – every party will likely have to compromise, and the ideological differences between them could cause problems both in the long run and in the important coalition-building phase. Such internal instability in its biggest economy would also be new territory for the EU.
Ultimately, the new German government won’t be made by the election alone – in the coming months, the formation of a coalition will decide which candidate will become chancellor and which parties will take part in governing the country. As part of a coalition, the smaller parties may also influence Germany’s future stance in the EU. The Free Democratic Party (FDP) stands in support of European integration and though the left-wing Die Linke is critical of the EU’s neoliberalism, only the right-wing party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) is advocating for Germany to leave the EU (Ålander, Mintel & Rehbaum, 2021). Therefore, it is unlikely that the new government will represent an anti-EU stance. However, should the CDU fail to remain in power, there would still be a substantial shift towards social and climate considerations in Germany’s EU policies. At present, the outcome of this election is difficult to predict – and we may have to wait for several months until we know for certain which direction Germany will take after Angela Merkel leaves office.
Discrimination against Roma is a deeply entrenched phenomenon in the Western Balkans (Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina). In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the share of Roma in the national population is 1,7%, whereas in North Macedonia the share is significantly higher with 9,6% (World Bank, 2019). For Roma, the access to education, health care, housing, and the labour market is very difficult (World Bank, 2019). Due to marginalization, Roma households are unable to accumulate sufficient “human, physical, financial and social capital (…) and to generate income over the life cycle” (World Bank, 2019). During the COVID-19 pandemic the exclusion of Roma has been exacerbated. This article examines the ways the ethnic minority has been excluded from society at multiple levels before and after the global pandemic.
Especially children suffer from discrimination: A study (Balkan Barometer) showed that “63% of Western Balkan citizens do not want their children to share the classroom with Roma children” (RCC, 2021). During the COVID-19 pandemic the shift to distance learning has worsened the situation for Roma children due to the lack of “internet, computer or electricity” (Müller et al., 2020). Home schooling may also pose a problem to Roma families as some parents are illiterate (Central Council of German Sinti & Roma, 2020). Roma children are thus more likely to “lose an entire school year or [to] drop out of education altogether” (Müller et al., 2020).
At the workplace, many citizens from the Western Balkans have a negative attitude towards Roma. The Balkan Barometer showed that “22 per cent were unhappy working together with Roma” (Müller, 2020). Moreover, the study indicated that “40% of the businesses in the Western Balkans are still reluctant to hire Roma even when they meet the criteria” (RCC, 2021). Furthermore, some respondents stated that they “would not be comfortable buying products from Roma” (Müller, 2021). This explains why the ethnic minority has difficulties to generate sufficient income. Due to COVID-19, the risk of extreme poverty rose tremendously due to “lack of income and resources” (Central Council of Sinti & Roma, 2020). Providing for their families was a serious problem and many families faced extreme poverty (Central Council of Sinti & Roma, 2020).
Before the global pandemic, access to health services was already one of the main indicators of social exclusion (Mueller, 2020). COVID-19 demonstrated the dangers of the living situation of Roma as the virus spread easily in the overcrowded Roma neighbourhoods (Central Council of Sinti & Roma, 2020). The access to water and hygienic articles was limited, so that the health status of the ethnic minortiy was very bad in comparison with the ethnic majority (Central Council of Sinti & Roma, 2020).
Women are suffering even more from discrimination. According to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE, 2021), women faced a “double discrimination: as members of the Roma minority and as women”. The opinion of women is less likely to be heard both in their own community and outside of their community (OSCE, 2021). Especially in politics, Roma women are very unlikely to take part in the decision-making process (OSCE, 2021).
In conclusion, the Human Rights situation in the Western Balkans has worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. All generations from children to elderlies are suffering from the precarious conditions. Therefore, it is ever more important to take political action to fight against the discrimination of the ethnic minority.
The floods that swept across Western Europe in mid-July were the worst in 500 years according to German meteorologists (Eddy, 2021). Extremely heavy rain had rivers overflowing across Germany, Belgium as well as parts of the Netherlands, Switzerland and Luxembourg. In Germany alone, more than 150 people are dead and hundreds remain missing (Brock & Fuessel, 2021). It is a disaster that left many, including German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, “stunned“ (Eddy, 2021). After visiting one of the many affected areas, chancellor Angela Merkel said: “The German language has no words, I think, for the devastation“ (Eddy, 2021). But, as unprecedented as these floods are, was their occurrence really so sudden that nothing could be done? And have there been and will there be measures to prevent and mitigate extreme weather events?
In fact, the first warnings of a potentially catastrophic weather event reached Germany’s federal meteorological service days before the floods hit (Die Zeit, 2021). The European Flood Awareness System (EFAS) was founded after the devastating floods of the Danube and Elbe rivers in 2002, that caused the deaths of at least 110 people (German Meteorological Service, 2003). Its aim is to protect the population by giving out warnings in advance, allowing for preparations and evacuations by buying time. This time, EFAS was able to predict the tragedy several days in advance. But its warnings never reached the population.
Why the tragic loss of life was not prevented is a question asked by many and there is no straightforward answer. For one, it is unclear where the responsibility lies: Officially, disaster preparedness is the competence of state and local authorities, but some local mayors say they do not have the competence to give the order for evacuation (Morris & Davis, 2021). This led to a situation in which warnings were only given out sporadically and inefficiently. Another contributing factor is that people quite simply could not comprehend what was coming for them. Both local officials and residents did not think the risk was real – after all, they had never experienced a tragedy like this before (Morris & Davis, 2021).
But the weather is changing. The Danube and Elbe floods of 2002 were “Century Floods” – so severe that floods of their magnitude should statistically only happen once every 100 years. In the last thirty years, there have been several century floods in Germany, among them the century floods of the Rhine and Moselle in 1993 and 1995 (German Meteorological Service, 2003). Additionally, so called “flash floods“ of the type that caused destruction in Western Europe this year are typically found in warmer climates such as the Mediterranean (Morris & Davis, 2021). Global warming has caused them to spread. Additionally, the floods are only one catastrophic weather event in Europe this summer. In Greece and parts of Turkey, fires ravaged the Mediterranean region, damaging homes and forcing tourists to evacuate. Civil protection chief Nikos Hardalias noted that the number of fires in Greece in increasing every year (Gatopoulos, 2021).
Just days before the floods hit, the EU announced a plan to overhaul its economy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55% (Nugent, 2021). But stopping the planet from heating up even more is not enough – there is an urgent need to adapt to the weather changes we are already experiencing.
Our warning systems as well as our own perception of danger needs to change. Wealthy countries in mild climate zones still largely have a belief of being unaffected by extreme weather events, while droughts are pushing hundreds of thousands of people into famine in more climate-sensitive regions such as Africa. But this is a false sense of security. Scientists have found that recent extreme weather events form a consistent pattern and are likely to continue (Fountain & Schwartz, 2021). Extreme weather events can cause disasters anywhere on the planet, now more than ever. Europe’s floods should be a wake up call to wealthy nations. Not recognising the danger can lead to tragic, unnecessary loss of life.
Inequality is a prevalent issue even in the 21st century where policy-makers and central banks try to produce effective policy that will address the issue to its core. This article focuses specifically on income inequality which broadly can be defined as uneven amounts of income and properties among different individuals, or groups (Oxford Reference).
Income inequality in the EU and its causes
Over the past decade income inequality has been on the rise in the EU. Research suggests that there is an increase in the Gini coefficient from 30.5 to 31 over a 6 year period covering the years 2010-2016 (European Commission, 2017). Others refer to more practical matters as a reference for income inequality. Not being able to afford a holiday once a year is a difficulty 35 million EU citizens encounter (Associated Press, 2021). Reduced income growth among the poorer echelons of society is considered to be one of the main drivers behind such results, often accompanied with high unemployment rates (European Commission, 2017). In fact, it is crucial to point out that technological advances have also contributed to rising inequality of income as they tend to over pay highly skilled jobs, and replace or underpay employees in less skill-demanding jobs (European Commission, 2017).
What can be done by the EU to tackle the problem?
Since the EU is not a federation, a large part of its effort to reduce income inequality within the EU depends on the effort of individual member-states (European Commission, 2017). To address the matter, states often turn to policies that directly deal with the key drivers of the problem, such as reducing unemployment rates. Likewise, diversifying the economy and establishing a beneficial tax and welfare system are often opted for as well (European Commission, 2017). In other words, research shows that by having a utilitarian fiscal system states lessen income inequalities as a result of pensions, better education and improved health care systems (Bubbico & Freytag, 2018).
Covid-19 and income inequality
Economic crises are temporary drivers of income inequality, however, they have severe implications. One such economic crisis was triggered by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic (Statista, 2020). Researchers argue that the pandemic has led to larger economic-slowdown, among rich states compared to poorer states (Ferreira, 2021). Additionally, while income inequality among all european states may be declining, the opposite holds for income inequality within states. In other words, the pandemic has accelerated rising income inequality within individual member states (Ferreira, 2021).
It is evident that income inequality is a complex issue that likewise requires a multifaceted approach that will address all the different drivers of the issue. More importantly, in times of economic crises governments and central banks ought to be additionally prepared to help out sectors of the economy and regions of the states that suffer most from the crisis, as those are the areas where income inequality tends to rise the fastest.
After two decades, NATO members withdrew their troops from Afghanistan. Now, it is time for a critical evaluation. The intervention in Afghanistan started in the context of George W. Bush’s War on Terror after 9/11. The mandate of the mission expanded over time including (1) democratization, (2) state building, and (3) promotion of women’s rights. In this article, I evaluate the extent to which these defined goals have been achieved and what consequences the troop withdrawal has.
The mission in Afghanistan was not only costly, but also bloody: Between 2009 and 2020 almost 111.000 civilians died (Petersmann, 2021). At first, the mission was assumed to be realized within a few years (Petersmann & Werkhäuser, 2020). The states involved in the intervention thus severely underestimated the complexity of the situation and the long-term consequences of the military intervention.
The core goal of the US was to avoid a safe haven for terrorists (Petersmann, 2021). Despite the fact that the US troops successfully pushed back the Taliban, the Taliban still control some parts of the country today (Knipp, 2021). With the help of Pakistan, the Taliban were able to regain militarily strength and to expand their influence (Von Hein, 2021; Petersmann, 2021). There is thus a risk that the Taliban take back control destroying all the efforts of US to push them back (Knipp, 2021). Hillary Clinton also expressed the concern that the troop withdrawal might enhance the risk of a “potential collapse of the Afghan government and a possible takeover by the Taliban” (BBC, 2021).
Over the course of time, the goals of the mission have expanded. The US administration searched for further reasons to justify the intervention at home. In this context, the idea of liberating Afghan women and enhancing their rights served as justification for the mission (Steans, 2008, p. 160). Overall, the women’s rights situation has indeed improved (BPB, 2021). Furthermore, schools have been created and the infrastructure has been expanded (Tagesschau, 2021). However, critics points to the immense destruction of infrastructure and to the numbers of civilian casualties provoked by the war. Furthermore, some critics also stress that Bush’s call for liberating Afghan women from Afghan men with the help of “liberated” (female) US soldiers was a form of gendered orientalism promoting gendered and racial stereotypes (Khaild, 2011, p. 20).
Democratization was another goal defined during the process of the mission. On paper, the situation in Afghanistan looks good: The constitution adopted in 2004 is liberal and progressive (Knipp, 2021). The actual situation, however, differs significantly (Knipp, 2021). The idea to copy the Western democratic model in Afghanistan failed completely (Hasselbach, 2021). The peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban also do not show any signs of progress (Der Spiegel , 2021). The goal of durable peacekeeping was thus unsuccessful.
Moreover, the country is not only politically unstable, but also economically fragile as half of the population suffers from extreme poverty. The US, however, assured that they will provide humanitarian and financial aid in the future (Knipp, 2021). Additionally, NATO confirmed the provision of “training and advice to civilian institutions” organized by the civilian office of NATO in Kabul. (Seligmann, 2021). The effects of this measures remain to be seen.
There are some lessons that may be learned from this intervention: First of all, one cannot simply create a democratic system in another country, secondly, war has its costs (financially, and in terms of human lives), thirdly, increasing the amount of money, troops and personnel might not necessarily have the intended effect, fourthly, peacekeeping and peacebuilding are long-term projects that cannot be realized within a few years, fifthly, it is important to draw lessons from these mistakes for other missions (for example in Mali).
Environmental damage is one of the biggest challenges humanity faces at present. Consequences thereof include climate change which results in increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, rising sea levels, droughts, and heatwaves among many others (NASA). Likewise, environmental damage can be seen in problems such as global warming, loss of biodiversity, and water scarcity. To address all of the above, governments and businesses around the world are in constant quest to make their economies greener and environmentally friendly. One such key player is the EU whose efforts to reach climate goals are outlined in the following:
EU invests €121 million in environmental projects
To deliver its climate goals, the EU has invested €121 million towards climate projects in 11 member states as part of its LIFE programme (European Commission, 2021). The projects are mainly focused at improving the environment in a long-term and sustainable way. Thus, these include alleviation of and adaptation to climate change, preservation of nature, protected areas, and biodiversity, and the management of waste among others (European Commission, 2021).
Recovery of biodiversity by 2030
The issue of loss of biodiversity is another component that affects the climate problem, just as the general well being of society due to increased spread of infectious diseases, food shortages and fires (European Commission, 2021). As such, the EU has set up a plan to start biodiversity recovery by 2030 (European Commission, 2021). The plan includes several actions: (1) increasing the amount of protected land and sea areas with valuable biodiversity; (2) establishing plans for restoration of ecosystems by addressing the key factors causing biodiversity loss; (3) increased investments towards tackling the issue and improving the governance and implementation of respective policies; (4) establishing a framework of biodiversity goals (European Commission, 2021).
Tackling climate change for societal welfare
The impact of environmental problems is not only felt by our planet, but by society as well. This can be seen in that climate change contributes to increasing levels of poverty and food shortages, just as air and water pollution which directly affects the health of society (European Commission, 2020). Even the current COVID-19 pandemic is by some researchers assumed to be a consequence of environmental damage (European Commission, 2020). Hence, the EU aims to deliver better policy implementation and ensure a healthy environment by increasing the amount of green and blue spaces, especially in urban areas (European Commission, 2020). For instance, green aids air pollution, but also lessens the severity ofe heatwaves and serves as an outdoor space where people can engage in physical activity (European Commission, 2020).
In essence, the environment is a multiplex problem which has consequences for several aspects, such as economical, societal, or ecological ones. This implies that the issue can only be fully addressed by improvements in all of these sectors. Besides the aforementioned climate actions, the EU aims to direct travel, by promoting more sustainable travel options such as trains (Papadakis, 2021). Similarly, it accelerates its transition from conventional towards greener and renewable sources of energy (O’Neill, 2021), and invests in the creation of green homes (Sanchez, 2021). Yet, the achievement of all policies require significant degrees of dedication and cooperation between states, which often can be impeded by national interests and pressures from domestic stakeholders, such as oil companies. It thus remains a challenge for the EU to bring about long-term cooperation from national governments if significant progress on the climate issue is to be made.
When the UEFA declined a request to light up Munich’s Allianz Arena in rainbow colours, it was a decision that was supposed to keep the politics out of football. Instead, it brought on a wave of protest that made a spotlight shine on underlying political tensions in Europe. Munich’s mayor Dieter Reiter requested the stadium to be lit up in rainbow colours during Germany’s match against Hungary for their UEFA European Football Championship game on June 23. It was meant as a protest against a newly enacted law in Hungary which prohibits any content seen as promoting LGBTQ+ issues to under 18-year-olds (BBC, 2021). UEFA’s rejection didn’t keep the politics out of football. If anything, it brought football into politics. The wave of protest that swept across Germany as a response to UEFA’s denial drew attention not only to the discrimination of LGBTQ+ people in football but prompted prominent political figures to comment on what had caused it in the first place: Hungary’s LGBTQ+ laws.
How UEFA’s actions worsened the situation
Munich’s stadium lights were not the first controversial decision of the tournament. Just days before, UEFA had launched an investigation into the captain of Germany’s national team for wearing a rainbow armband during the team’s matches against France and Portugal. Germany’s Football Association (DFB) stated the rainbow armband was part of their campaigns for pride month and was meant to promote diversity (France24, 2021). In professional men’s football, there is to date no openly gay player. And the current climate in Germany’s national football league has been described as not accepting enough for players to come out without backlash (Deutsche Welle, 2021). UEFA ultimately decided the rainbow armband to be for a good cause and consequently dropped the investigation. But disapproval of the action remained among German fans and officials. When mayor Reiter’s request for rainbow lights in Munich’s arena was denied, this sentiment quickly turned into the desire for action: all over the country, other football stadiums were lit up in rainbow colours and rainbow flags were given out to fans in front of Allianz Arena on the day of the match (Schnitzler & Stroh, 2021). On the other side, Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orbán cancelled his planned attendance of the game (Erlanger, 2021). Orbán stated that “whether the Munich football stadium or another European stadium lights up in rainbow colours is not a state decision” (BBC News, 2021). When asked about the new bill, Hungarian government officials have claimed that it does not infringe upon LGBTQ+ rights and was meant to protect children against paedophiles (BBC News, 2021).
UEFA tried to keep its tournament free of political controversies – but the underlying tension during the match between Germany and Hungary proved their efforts to be futile. The incident prompted widespread protests not only from activists. Bavaria’s state premier Markus Söder commented that UEFA’s decision is a “shame” (Gehrke & Walker, 2021) and Germany’s Minister for Europe Michael Roth called on fans in the arena to show rainbow flags in solidarity with LGBTQ+ people in Hungary (Gehrke & Walker, 2021). This shows that UEFA’s goal of keeping the politics out of the European Championships was fruitless to begin with: choosing to forbid rainbow lights in a stadium is as much of a political statement as accepting the request would have been.
Hungary’s extensive history of conflicts with the EU’s values
Hungary’s new LGBTQ+ content law is not the first time the country has come into conflict with the EU’s values and principles. In 2019, the Central European University (CEU) was forced to relocate from Budapest to Vienna as part of a sustained campaign against its founder by Viktor Orbán (Walker, 2019). In 2020, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that forcing the CEU to relocate was against EU law – but this decision came too late for the university, which had already moved most of its activities to Vienna (Thorpe, 2020). In 2018, the European Commission brought Hungary to the ECJ for violating the EU’s asylum policies. Two years later, the Court ruled in favour of the Commission – Hungary’s non-compliance with EU asylum policies was not justifiable according to the ECJ (Deutsche Welle, 2020). In March of 2020, Orbán ensured he would be able to rule indefinitely by decree (Stevis-Gridneff & Novak, 2020). In May of the same year, the Hungarian parliament voted in favour of ending the legal recognition of transgender and intersex people (Haynes, 2020). Since the EU’s legal options to control member states’ behaviour are limited, the Commission has mainly responded with naming-and-shaming as well as political pressure (Stevis-Gridneff & Novak, 2020). But now, the European public eye is on the LGBTQ+ community in Hungary – the protests are a chance for the EU to use the heightened public attention to exert more pressure on Hungary.
Why UEFA’s decision is a chance for LGBTQ+ rights activists
UEFA’s refusal to light up Munich’s stadium was initiated the wave of solidarity with the Hungarian LGBTQ+ community, former German national player Thomas Hitzlsperger commented on the day of the match. It shed a light on the situation of LGBTQ+ people in Hungary and sparked a public discussion about how a country that lacks protections for minorities can be a member of the European Union, which prides itself in shared values, one of which being Human Rights (European Commission). And the reaction to Hungary’s new ban on LGBTQ+ content left no doubt about the institutions’ displeasure. The Commission has launched a legal procedure against Hungary and its president Ursula von der Leyen called the bill a “shame“ (Bayer, 2021). But whether the Commission can keep the momentum going towards real change remains to be seen.
The political, economic and humanitarian situation in Mali is very complex. After a second military coup in less than a year, Mali’s political instability has further increased. In reaction, France first threatened to withdraw troops if “political instability leads to greater Islamist radicalism” and then implemented the threat by temporally suspending French troops from Malian territory (BBC, 2021; Vincent & le Cam, 2021). The military coup further isolated the landlocked state as international organisations like the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) announced to suspend the country (Berry, 2021). In this article, I will analyse the political, economic and humanitarian situation and elucidate the role of the international community in the conflict resolution.
In 1960, Mali became independent from France. The new socialist one-party state had a rough start suffering from “droughts, rebellions, a coup and 23 years of military dictatorship until democratic elections in 1992” (BBC, 2021). The military coup in 2012 significantly worsened the situation as Islamist militias started occupying Northern Malian towns (BBC, 2021). After the military coup Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta won presidential elections in 2013 and 2018 (Burke, 2020). According to BBC (2021), President Keïta “proved unable to unify the country”. People increasingly protested against “government incompetence, endemic corruption and a deteriorating economy” (Burke, 2020). In August 2020, Keïta was overthrown in the context of a military coup (BBC, 2021). ECOWAS then helped to introduce a transition government appointing a new civilian President, Bah Ndaw, and a new Prime minister, Moctar Ouane (World Bank, 2021).
Recent political development
Assimi Goita, leader of Mali’s most recent military coup, fired and detained President Bah Ndaw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane causing a storm of protest from the international community (Deutsche Welle, 2021). Last week, Mali’s constitutional court approved Goita’s position as new interim president (Deutsche Welle, 2021). Goita justified the coup by saying that the former government has shown a “demonstrable intent to sabotage the transition” (Deutsche Welle, 2021). Furthermore, he promised to hold elections next year, which, however, remains to be seen (Al Jazeera, 2021).
Factors increasing political instability
An important factor increasing the political instability in Mali is the lack of territorial control and the spread of Islamist militias in the North and Centre of the country. The state has difficulties to ensure access to basic services as health care, education, water and electricity in many parts of the country (Klatt, 2020). The impoverished population is getting more and more vulnerable to the influence of Islamist militias. Islamist rebels successfully recruit people for their purpose promising an income with drug and arms trafficking (Klatt, 2020).
Climate change further aggravates the situation (Klatt, 2020; Römer, 2021). Droughts increasingly pose an important threat to food security. They impede the population’s food supply, take away people’s income and thus increase the country’s conflict potential (Römer, 2021). A large part of the population still depends on agriculture and livestock farming making climate change a serious threat (Römer, 2021). The fight for resources increases success chances of Islamist militias as people suffering from consequences of droughts are more vulnerable to recruitment (Römer, 2021). The violence of Islamist militias not only threatens Mali, but also Mali’s neighbours. After an attack on Nigerien villages in January 2021, the Nigerien government sent troops to the Malian border region (Der Spiegel, 2021).
Economic and humanitarian situation
The economic and humanitarian situation suffers from the political instability. According to World Bank (2021), the pandemic and the socio-political crisis have led to an economic recession. Unemployment and increasing prices for food lead to frustration amongst the population further increasing political instability (Klatt, 2020). Mali is a landlocked country (a country without access to the sea) which is economically “undiversified and vulnerable to commodity price fluctuations“ (World Bank, 2021). This, in turn makes the country more vulnerable for political conflict creating a vicious circle which is difficult to escape.
Role of France
One year after the military coup in 2012, France started to intervene militarily in Mali to assist Malian troops in the fight against Islamist militias (BBC, 2021). The French intervention was initiated “at the request of the government in Bamako [capital city of Mali] and with the UN’s blessing” (Baig, 2013). Francois Hollande, French President at the time, justified the choice to militarily intervene in the name of the fight against Islamist terror. The intervention was thus framed as counter-terrorist measure (Ganley, 2020). Since then, the French were massively involved in the fight against Islamist rebels in Mali. Until recently, there have been 5000 French soldiers in the Northern region of Mali.
The perception of French troops shifted over the course of time. As already mentioned, French troops started the intervention on request of the Malian government. At first, they were successful at helping Mali to regain the territory occupied by Islamist rebels (BBC, 2021). However, over time, their ability to stop Islamist militias decreased (Wiegel, 2021). In the long run, the situation did not improve, on the contrary, political instability increased and Islamist militias got more and more influential (Schaap, 2020; Wiegel, 2021). In the last months, the French have increasingly been perceived as “occupiers with a hidden imperialist agenda” (Ganley, 2020). People even protested on the streets against French troops. According to Ganley (2020), they “carried signs decrying the former colonizer”.
The role of international organizations
As response to the military coup, the African Union and ECOWAS suspended Mali (Berry, 2021). Furthermore, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres increased pressure on Goita calling for the release of (former) President, Bah Ndaw, and (former) Prime minister, Moctar Ouane (BBC, 2021). The UK demanded the same and condemned the military coup (Deutsche Welle, 2021). In the context of MINUSMA (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali), not only French troops were in Mali, but also troops from other UN-members as Germany. Despite the French troop withdrawal, Germany announced keep supporting Mali (Der Spiegel, 2021).
In conclusion, the political, economic and humanitarian worsened as a result of the military coups Mali experienced. The effect of the international pressure and the French troop withdrawal, however, remains to be seen.
North Macedonia is one of the key states waiting for EU-accession as part of the EU’s enlargement plan to the Western Balkans. One can trace back North Macedonia’s initial efforts towards EU-membership to 2005. Yet, North Macedonia’s attempts to join the EU are still unfolding, as the country faces a multiplicity of constraints. To join the EU, it was an indispensable condition for North Macedonia to resolve its longstanding name dispute with Greece (De Munter, 2020). After more than a decade of trying to put the matter to sleep, the dispute was finally concluded with the ‘Prespa Agreement’ (De Munter, 2020).
Where we are now
At present, accession negotiations have been open since 2019 (De Munter, 2020). Currently, Bulgaria challenges the origins of the Macedonian identity and language (Koutsokosta, 2021). Therefore, Bulgaria demands from North Macedonia to accept its language and identity as Bulgarian in origin (Koutsokosta, 2021). These demands are opposed by the Macedonian government and have resulted in significant backlash among the Macedonian population. Importantly, as denoted by Reuters (2021), Bulgaria’s interim government shows no signs of change in its position regarding the contested issue. As such, the veto is likely to stay in place over an extended period. Thus, the question is now, is there a way for North Macedonia to move forward in its EU-accession negotiations. Furthermore, it remains to be seen ehat challenges the prolonged negotiations pose to its domestic affairs?
Consequences of stalled EU accession
In several instance, the European Union has failed to deliver on its promises made to North Macedonia (Zsiros, 2021). This in turn undermines the very credibility of the EU as an organization and allows Euroscepticism to take its toll among politicians and the domestic population (Zsiros, 2021). Despite constantly striving to meet EU demands, and essentially achieving them, the EU has failed to keep its promise to proceed with North Macedonia’s EU-accession and integration. This can be seen in that individual member-states give rise to new disputes with North Macedonia.
The EU-negotiations impasse is increasingly dividing the Macedonian population in two camps: one pro-European integration, and the other opposing such efforts. Whereas pro-European views were prevalent initially, a significant share of the population is starting to provide impetus for nationalist and anti-European rhetorics (Brzozowski & Makszimov, 2021). This can only further impede North Macedonia’s process of EU-accession.
Outflow of human capital
Partly arising from the EU-deadlock, an increasing brain drain is taking place on Macedonian soil (Parrock, J. 2021). The country falls short on several matters, such as educational, economic, and political development. All of these inspire even pro-European youngsters to make a living elsewhere (EWP, 2021). Having lost faith in EU-accession, individuals are incentivized to acquire EU-nationality by securing Bulgarian citizenship, which partly fuels the aforementioned dispute between the countries. Thus, North Macedonia is facing a serious problem with shifting demographics, where the educated labor force decides to migrate. Joining the EU would aid the problem as the implementation of the rule of law and a growing economy due to the free market will diminish major drawbacks for leaving the state.
Is the Sisyphean fate inescapable?
Essentially, after many years of trying to join the European family, Macedonia’s efforts seem like a never-ending cycle of failure and new endeavors to fulfill EU-membership conditions. Yet, is North Macedonia’s journey destined to resemble the myth of Sisyphus in reality? Frankly, two streams of assistance may serve to further pave its way towards EU-membership:
As the country faces drainage of human capital and malfunctional state infrastructure, financial assistance can aid the general well-being of the economy and encourage increased government expenditure on state infrastructure, education, and implementing the rule of law (European Western Balkans [EWP], 2020). Financial support may thus help to improve overall rates of completed higher education. Further, one-time grants aid the development of infrastructure, however, recurrent costs cannot be realized which causes infrastructure to erode. It is equally vital to implement the rule of law – political development must take place. State institutions need to undergo substantial reforms as they constitute breeding places for patronage, corruption, and pork-barrel politics. Inconveniently, hardly anything can be realized without assistance, given the country’s GDP of 12.546 billion dollars (World Bank [WB], 2019).
North Macedonia’s EU trajectory has been marked by persistent games of power politics. This is illustrated by the dispute with Greece, contesting North Macedonia’s constitutional name (De Munter, 2020). Further, it is illustrated by the current dispute with Bulgaria (Stamouli, 2021). Thus, the country is in need of political empowerment by powerful actors from the Western bloc who need to create a level-playing-field for North Macedonia vis-à-vis its challengers. Only then, North Macedonia can have a strong-enough-backbone to defend its stance in ongoing disputes, and eventually attain its long-desired EU-membership.