The Just Energy Transition Partnership as blueprint for global cooperation with regards to decarbonization

Article by Alexandra Reinhild Berndt

In the context of the COP26 climate summit, South Africa, the European Union, the UK and the US agreed on the Just Energy Transition Partnership, a long-term partnership helping South Africa to accelerate decarbonization (European Commission, 2021). The partnership entails a financial commitment of $8,5 billion and aims at creating a climate resilient economy improving South Africa’s electricity system (European Commission, 2021). Three main steps are planned to realize these goals: the early closure of coal plants, the promotion of clean energy sources, and the support for regions which are dependent on the coal sector (Kumleben, 2021).

In the past, South Africa has been heavily reliant on coal (European Commission, 2021). At the moment, South Africa is “the world’s 12th biggest emitter of climate-warming gases” (Mason et al., 2021). Local communities suffer massively from these high levels of pollution. According to a leaked version of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, “5000 people die each year from pollution in the nation’s coal belt” (Kumleben, 2021). Thanks to the Just Energy Transition Partnership, up to 1-1,5 gigatons of emissions are expected to be prevented over the next two decades (Élysée, 2021). This also reflects UN secretary general Antonio Guterres’ call for poorer countries to stop burning coal by 2040 (WWF, 2021). As coal is “the most polluting fossil fuel”, this is an important contribution to preventing global warming and meeting the 1.5 C target of the Paris Agreement (Mason et al., 2021).

At the moment, more than 120,000 people work in the coal sector (Kumleben, 2021). In the future, their jobs will be affected by the energy transition. As unemployment rates are high and families depend on these jobs, the energy transition needs to ensure that people are granted new jobs (Kumleben, 2021). This is why the partnership aims to support a just transition, helping those affected by the energy transition to find “greener alternatives to make a living” (Mason et al., 2021).

In comparison with other climate agreements, this partnership has the advantage of entailing just a small number of actors (Kumleben, 2021). This enhances the level of accountability and success (Kumleben, 2021). It shows that global collaboration with regards to decarbonisation is possible and provides a blueprint for further cooperation with regards to combating climate change.

One World signage
Picture by Markus Spiske published on Unsplash

References

Élysée (2 November 2021). Joint Statement – International Just Energy Transition Partnership. Retrieved 14 November 2021 on https://www.elysee.fr/en/emmanuel-macron/2021/11/02/joint-statement-international-just-energy-transition-partnership

European Commission (2 November 2021). France, Germany, UK, US and EU launch ground-breaking International Just Energy Transition Partnership with South Africa. Retrieved 14 November 2021 on https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/IP_21_5768

Kumleben, N. (12 November 2021). South Africa’s Coal Deal Is a New Model for Climate Progress. Retrieved 14 November 2021 on https://foreignpolicy.com/2021/11/12/coal-climate-south-africa-cop26-agreement/

Mason, J. et al. (2 November 2021). South Africa to get $8.5 bln from U.S., EU and UK to speed up shift from coal. Retrieved 14 November 2021 on https://www.reuters.com/business/environment/us-eu-others-will-invest-speed-safricas-transition-clean-energy-biden-2021-11-02/

WWF (2 November 2021). Coal end-date key to EU-South Afirca just transition success. Retrieved 14 November 2021 on https://www.wwf.eu/?5006966/Coal-end-date-key-to-EU-South-Africa-just-transition-success

France and the UK are on the verge of a Brexit trade war

Article by Lea Schiller

During the last week of October, two British fishing vessels were investigated in France’s fishing waters during routine patrols. While one was only fined, the other was handed over to the French authorities; allegedly because it had been fishing without a license (Westendarp, 2021). This event came after weeks of tensions between France and the UK. Earlier in October, the UK refused to grant fishing permits for three quarters of French boats, which France claimed was in violation of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (Momtaz, 2021). As a response, France unveiled plans to introduce extra border controls on boats and trucks coming into the country from the UK. The two countries are in a diplomatic row over the fishing industry – but this industry only makes up a small part of each country’s economy, so why has it been the focus of so much contention?

Historic and Political Background

Fishing is historically seen as a symbolic industry, and in the past, workers in this industry have threatened to take matters into their own hands, should their government fail to protect them (Gallardo & Caulcutt, 2021). Consequently, the public pays attention to the demands of fishers; thus, when this industry is threatened, it is more likely to become front-page news than it is the case for other industries (Castle, 2020). This heightens the political relevance of the concerns of the fishing industry.

The political situation in both France and the UK exacerbates this effect. France will hold its presidential elections in April of next year. Current President Macron is often criticised by the right-wing opposition of overly prioritising the European Union, and in the months leading up to the election he is being closely scrutinised on whether he can protect the country’s workers. Giving in to the UK’s demands could compromise his chances of gaining votes ahead of the election. Boris Johnson, on the other hand, made promises of taking control of Britain’s waters to the fishing industry (Castle, 2020). Not delivering on this promise could loose him support as well (Castle, 2020).

Why a compromise is direly needed – and so hard to reach

Essentially, the situation is akin to a deadlock. The UK could cut the EU’s fishers off from its waters, but on the other side, the EU can cut the UK off from its internal market, and since British fishers export four fifths of their catch, this would be a considerable blow to their business (Castle, 2020). The European Commission has initiated talks that will bring officials from the European Commission, France and the UK to one table; an initiative that was direly needed. However, British officials have already expressed caution about the likelihood of success for this meeting (Hughes, Parker, Mallet & Khan, 2021). In times where tensions over the provisions for the Irish border in the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement have already complicated the situation at the Irish border and the economies of both the EU and the UK are just slowly starting to recover from the pandemic, adding more conflict is incredibly dangerous. A trade war, which is looking more and more likely, must be prevented.

Picture by Aleks Marinkovic published on Unsplash

References

Castle, S. (2020, October 28). The issue that might sink the Brexit trade talks: Fishing. The New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/28/world/europe/fishing-brexit-trade-deal.html

Gallardo, C. & Caulcutt, C. (2021, October 28). Fishing wars flare as Britain summons French ambassador. Politico. Retrieved from: https://www.politico.eu/article/fishing-wars-france-uk/

Hughes, L., Parker, G., Mallet, V., & Khan, M. (2021, November 1). EU holds last-ditch talks to resolve UK-France fishing dispute. Financial Times. Retrieved from: https://www.ft.com/content/56e3d3fb-2be9-46c5-9779-10cc2d099649

Momtaz, R. (2021, October 27). France retaliates against UK in fishing spat. Politico. Retrieved from: https://www.politico.eu/article/france-announces-retaliatory-measures-on-u-k-over-fishing-rights/

Westendarp, L. (2021, October 28). France detains British boat amid fishing license row. Politico. Retrieved from: https://www.politico.eu/article/france-detains-british-fishing-boat/

Why tensions between Algeria and Morocco increase

Article by Alexandra Reinhild Berndt

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.

motorcycle in the middle of desert
Picture by Daniel Born published on Unsplash

References

Al Jazeera. (2021, August 25). Morocco ‘regrets’ Algeria’s decision to cut diplomatic ties. Retrieved September 5, 2021, from https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/8/25/morocco-algeria-diplomatic-ties-wildfires-hostile-actions

Azkue I., Dr. (2021, March 29). Der vergessene Konflikt in Westsahara und seine Flüchtlinge: Bpb. Retrieved September 5, 2021, from https://www.bpb.de/gesellschaft/migration/laenderprofile/329090/westsahara

Chograni, H. (2021, June 22). The Polisario Front, Morocco, and the Western Sahara Conflict. Retrieved September 5, 2021, from https://arabcenterdc.org/resource/the-polisario-front-morocco-and-the-western-sahara-conflict/

FAZ. (2021, August 25). Spannungen unter Nachbarn: Algerien bricht diplomatische Beziehungen zu Marokko ab. Retrieved September 5, 2021, from https://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/ausland/algerien-bricht-diplomatische-beziehungen-zu-marokko-ab-17500380.html

Hagmann, J. (2021, August 25). Algerien kappt Beziehungen zu Marokko: Es knirscht im Maghreb. Retrieved September 5, 2021, from https://taz.de/Algerien-kappt-Beziehungen-zu-Marokko/!5791563/

Lovatt, H., & Mundy, J. (2021, May 26). Free to choose: A new plan for peace in Western Sahara. Retrieved September 7, 2021, from https://ecfr.eu/publication/free-to-choose-a-new-plan-for-peace-in-western-sahara/

Reuters. (2021, March 01). Refugees’ frustration drives renewed Western Sahara conflict. Retrieved September 5, 2021, from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-algeria-westernsahara-idUSKCN2AT2OE

Sadaqi, D. (2021, August 28). Neue Eiszeit zwischen Marokko und Algerien. Retrieved September 5, 2021, from https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/afrika/marokko-algerien-101.html

SRF. (2021, August 25). Algerien gegen Marokko – Das steckt hinter dem Zwist der Maghreb-Staaten. Retrieved September 5, 2021, from https://www.srf.ch/news/international/algerien-gegen-marokko-das-steckt-hinter-dem-zwist-der-maghreb-staaten

What Germany’s elections mean for the EU

Article by Lea Schiller

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.

Conclusion

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.

Picture by Element5 Digital published on Unsplash

References

Amaro, S. (September 3, 2021). ‘It is not a normal election’: The outcome of Germany’s historic vote remains uncertain. CNBC. Retrieved from: https://www.cnbc.com/2021/09/03/germany-election-european-and-national-stability-at-risk-ambrosetti.html

Ålander, M., Mintel, J. & Rehbaum, D. (August 12, 2021). What the 2021 election manifestos tell us about the views of German parties on the EU. London School of Economics. Retrieved from: https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2021/08/12/what-the-2021-election-manifestos-tell-us-about-the-views-of-german-parties-on-the-eu/

Karnitschnig, M. (August 24, 2021). German election a toss-up as Merkel’s center-right fades. Politico. Retrieved from: https://www.politico.eu/article/germany-election-campaign-cdu-csu-angela-merkel-polls-armin-laschet-spd-greens-coalition/

Discrimination against Roma in the Western Balkans before and after COVID-19

Article by Alexandra Reinhild Berndt

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.

text
Picture by Adam Nieścioruk published on Unsplash

References

Central Council of German Sinti & Roma. (2020, April 03). Alarming situation of Roma communities in the Western Balkans and Turkey through the COVID-19 pandemic. Retrieved August 5, 2021, from https://zentralrat.sintiundroma.de/en/alarming-situation-of-roma-communities-in-the-western-balkans-and-turkey-through-the-covid-19-pandemic/

Müller, S., Tair, F., Ibishi, B., & Gracanin, D. (2020, April 01). Roma: Europe’s Neglected Coronavirus Victims. Retrieved August 5, 2021, from https://balkaninsight.com/2020/04/01/roma-europes-neglected-coronavirus-victims/

Müller, S. (2020, November 25). Two realities: Roma in the EU and Roma in the Western Balkans in the eyes of the EC. Retrieved August 5, 2021, from https://europeanwesternbalkans.com/2020/11/25/two-realities-roma-in-the-eu-and-roma-in-the-western-balkans-in-the-eyes-of-the-ec/

Müller, S. (2020, July 08). Roma Inclusion in Balkans Depends on Governments Recognising Antigypsyism. Retrieved August 5, 2021, from https://balkaninsight.com/2020/07/08/roma-inclusion-in-balkans-depends-on-governments-recognising-antigypsyism/

OSCE Mission to BiH supports Month of Roma Women’s Activism. (2021, March 8). Retrieved August 6, 2021, from https://www.osce.org/mission-to-bosnia-and-herzegovina/480634

Regional Cooperation Council. (2021, June 28). Bregu: Discrimination against Roma remains very high, and we have to take actions to reduce and prevent it. Retrieved August 5, 2021, from https://www.rcc.int/news/713/bregu-discrimination-against-roma-remains-very-high-and-we-have-to-take-actions-to-reduce-and-prevent-it

World Bank. (2019, March 12). Breaking the Cycle of Roma Exclusion in the Western Balkans. Retrieved August 5, 2021, from https://www.worldbank.org/en/region/eca/publication/breaking-cycle-of-roma-exclusion-in-western-balkans

Floods, storms, fires: How is Europe coping with the effects of extreme weather?

Article by Lea Schiller

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.

car on body of water
Photo by Chris Gallagher published on Unsplash

References

Brock, R. & Fessel, R. (2021, July 19). ‘It’s terrifying’: Merkel shaken as flood deaths rise to 188 in Europe. Reuters. Retrieved from: https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/bavaria-hit-by-floods-german-death-toll-climbs-156-2021-07-18/

Die Zeit (July 19, 2021). Wissenschaftlerin: Schwere Vorwürfe gegen Behörden. Retrieved from: https://www.zeit.de/amp/news/2021-07/19/wissenschaftlerin-schwere-vorwuerfe-gegen-behoerden

Eddy, M. (2021, July 18). Merkel visits flood region as toll continues to mount. The New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/18/world/europe/germany-floods-merkel.html

Fountain, H. & Schwartz, J. (2021, July 18). ‘It is all connected’: Extreme weather in the age of climate change. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/16/climate/europe-floods-climate-change.html

Gatopoulos, D. (2021, July 30). In heat emergency, Greece adds checks for fires, power cuts. ABC News. Retrieved from: https://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/heat-emergency-greece-adds-checks-fires-power-cuts-79166546

German Meteorological Service. (2003, July). The century flood of the river Elbe in August 2002: Synoptic weather development and climatological aspects. Retrieved from: https://www.dwd.de/DE/leistungen/besondereereignisse/niederschlag/20020901_eveu_centuryflood.pdf?__blob=publicationFile&v=5

Morris, L. & Davis, A. (2021, July 20). In aftermath of devastating floods, Germans wonder what more could have been done. The Washington Post. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/germany-flood-warnings-aftermath/2021/07/20/076ee7a2-e8b6-11eb-a2ba-3be31d349258_story.html

Nugent, C. (2021, July 21). How deadly flooding in Germany and Belgium exposed Europe’s climate change hubris. Time. Retrieved from: https://time.com/6081472/germany-flooding-climate-change/

An Unequal Europe: Income Inequality in the EU

Article by Elena Simidzioski

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).

Conclusion

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.

two Euro banknotes
Picture by Christian Dubovan published on Unsplash

References

Associated Press. No summer break: 35 million can’t pay for holiday in the EU. Retrieved 2 August 2021, from https://apnews.com/article/lifestyle-europe-business-d71ab18fbd726ba502dbb3ab05f52e2e

Bubbico, R. L., Freytag, L. (2018). Inequality in Europe. European Investment Bank. Retrieved 2 August 2021, from https://www.eib.org/attachments/efs/econ_inequality_in_europe_en.pdf


European Commission (2017). European Semester Thematic Factsheet–Addressing Inequalities. Retrieved 2 August 2021, from https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/default/files/file_import/european-semester_thematic-factsheet_addressing-inequalities_en_0.pdf

Ferreira, H. G. F. (2021). Inequality in the time of Covid-19. International Monetary Fund.Retrieved 2 August 2021, from https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/fandd/2021/06/inequality-and-covid-19-ferreira.htm

Oxford Reference. Income Inequality. Retrieved 2 Aug. 2021, from https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803100000431.

Scott, J., & Marshall, G. (2009). inequality. In A Dictionary of Sociology. : Oxford
University Press. Retrieved 2 Aug. 2021, from https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780199533008.001.0001/acref-9780199533008-e-1106.

Statista (2020, December). COVID-19 Economic downturn and recovery. Retrieved August 2 2021, from https://www.statista.com/study/72052/covid-19-economic-downturn-and-recovery/

Lessons from Afghanistan

Article by Alexandra Reinhild Berndt

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).

References

Photo by Andre Klimke published on Unsplash

BBC. (2021, May 03). Hillary Clinton warns of ‘huge consequences’ in Afghan US troop withdrawal. Retrieved July 5, 2021, from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-56966473

BPB. (2021, June 06). Nach 20 Jahren: NATO-Truppenabzug aus Afghanistan: Bpb. Retrieved July 5, 2021, from https://www.bpb.de/politik/hintergrund-aktuell/334345/nach-20-jahren-nato-truppenabzug-aus-afghanistan

Der Spiegel. (2021, July 02). Afghanistan: Nato-Soldaten ziehen ab – schon melden sich die Taliban. Retrieved July 5, 2021, from https://www.spiegel.de/ausland/afghanistan-nato-soldaten-ziehen-ab-schon-melden-sich-die-taliban-a-f0e3819f-81ef-42ca-bb61-8eab8606779f

Hasselbach, C. (2021, June 29). Meinung: Afghanistan – aus der Traum vom Demokratieexport: DW: 29.06.2021. Retrieved July 5, 2021, from https://www.dw.com/de/meinung-afghanistan-aus-der-traum-vom-demokratieexport/a-58089210

Khalid, M. (2011). Gender, orientalism and representations of the ‘Other’ in the War on Terror. Global Change, Peace & Security, 23(1), 15-29.

Knipp, K. (2021, April 16). Geostrategische Folgen des Rückzugs aus Afghanistan: DW: 16.04.2021. Retrieved July 5, 2021, from https://www.dw.com/de/geostrategische-folgen-des-rückzugs-aus-afghanistan/a-57233326

Knipp, K. (2021, July 4). Das Scheitern des Westens: DW: 04.07.2021. Retrieved July 5, 2021, from https://www.dw.com/de/das-scheitern-des-westens/a-58153284

Petersmann, S., & Werkhäuser, N. (2020, September 11). Die Bundeswehr und der lange Krieg in Afghanistan: DW: 11.09.2020. Retrieved July 5, 2021, from https://www.dw.com/de/die-bundeswehr-und-der-lange-krieg-in-afghanistan/a-54779421

Petersmann, S. (2021, June 29). Afghanistan-Abzug: Deutschland zieht Bilanz: DW: 29.06.2021. Retrieved July 5, 2021, from https://www.dw.com/de/afghanistan-abzug-deutschland-zieht-bilanz/a-58087789

Petersmann, S. (2021, June 30). USA und NATO lassen Afghanistan im Krieg zurück: DW: 30.06.2021. Retrieved July 5, 2021, from https://www.dw.com/de/usa-und-nato-lassen-afghanistan-im-krieg-zurück/a-58090320

Reuter, C. (2021, July 01). Afghanistan-Abzug der Bundeswehr: Die große Illusion. Retrieved July 5, 2021, from https://www.spiegel.de/ausland/afghanistan-abzug-der-bundeswehr-die-grosse-illusion-a-ce1ca39a-1b03-4bf3-8f1b-3bcf50eda4d2

Robertson, N. (2021, June 24). Afghanistan is disintegrating fast as Biden’s troop withdrawal continues. Retrieved July 5, 2021, from https://edition.cnn.com/2021/06/24/asia/afghanistan-taliban-offensive-intl-cmd/index.html

Seligman, L. (2021, June 14). NATO commits to training Afghan forces after U.S. withdrawal. Retrieved July 5, 2021, from https://www.politico.com/news/2021/06/14/nato-training-afghan-forces-494319

Steans, J. (2008). Telling stories about women and gender in the War on Terror. Global Society: Journal of Interdisciplinary International Relations, 22(1), 159-176.

Tagesschau. (2021, April 29). Maas verspricht Afghanistan Hilfe auch nach Truppenabzug. Retrieved July 5, 2021, from https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/asien/maas-afghanistan-111.html

Von Hein, M. (2021, June 14). Afghanistan: Gefährliche Nachbarschaft: DW: 14.06.2021. Retrieved July 5, 2021, from https://www.dw.com/de/afghanistan-gefährliche-nachbarschaft/a-57876200

EU’s green actions contributing towards climate goals and societal welfare

Article by Elena Simidzioski

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).

Conclusion

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.

shallow focus photo of clear glass globe table ornament
Photo by Bill Oxford published on Unsplash

References

Climate.nasa.gov. (n.d.). The effects of climate change. Retrieved from: https://climate.nasa.gov/effects/

European Commission. (2021, February 17). LIFE Programme: The EU invests €121 million in environment, nature and climate action projects.

European Commission. (2021). Biodiversity strategy for 2030.

European Commission. (2020, September, 8). Tackling pollution and climate change in Europe will improve health and well-being, especially for the most vulnerable.

O’Neill, M. (2021, June, 14). Destination net-zero in Europe – Accelerating the energy transition with the combination of renewables and gas turbine technology. Euractiv.

Papadakis, D. (2021, June, 14). New Environment Action Programme: The direction of travel. The Parliament Magazine.

Sanchez, G. (2021, June, 29). Green homes: Resource sufficiency is key to achieving climate neutrality. Euractiv.

How UEFA’s refusal to light up Munich Stadium in rainbow colours exposed old conflicts in Europe

Article by Lea Schiller

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.

multicolored flags under white sky
Photo by Jasmin Sessler published on Unsplash

References

Bayer, L. (2021, June 23): It’s Hungary vs. Everyone after attacks on LGBTQ+ rights. Politico. Retrieved from: https://www.politico.eu/article/its-hungary-vs-everyone-after-attacks-on-lgbtq-rights-euro-2020-viktor-orban/

BBC (2021, June 22): Euro 2020: Uefa declines request to light up Allianz Arena in rainbow colours. Retrieved from: https://www.bbc.com/sport/football/57566224

Deutsche Welle (2021, February 17): ‘You can count on us’: German footballers join campaign to support gay colleagues. Retrieved from: https://www.dw.com/en/you-can-count-on-us-german-footballers-join-campaign-to-support-gay-colleagues/a-56601778

Deutsche Welle (2020, December 17): Hungary asylum policies ‘failed’ to fulfill EU obligations. Retrieved from: https://www.dw.com/en/hungary-asylum-policies-failed-to-fulfill-eu-obligations/a-55970205

European Commission. The EU values. Retrieved from: https://ec.europa.eu/component-library/eu/about/eu-values/

Erlanger, S. (2021, June 23): A culture war between Hungary and Europe escalates over LGBT bill. The New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/23/world/europe/hungary-europe-lgbt-culture-war.html

France24 (2021, June 21): No UEFA action for German ‘keeper Neuer’s rainbow armband at Euro 2020. Retrieved from: https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20210621-no-uefa-action-for-german-keeper-neuer-s-rainbow-armband-at-euro-2020

Gehrke, L. & Walker, L. (2021, June 22): Dismay at UEFA decision to ban rainbow lights at Germany vs. Hungary game. Politico. Retrieved from: https://www.politico.eu/article/uefa-rainbow-ban-munich-stadium-germany-hungary/

Haynes, S. (2020, May 19): Hungary’s Parliament Votes to End Legal Recognition of Transgender People. Activists Fear ‘Devastating’ Consequences. Time. Retrieved from: https://time.com/5838804/hungary-gender-recognition-vote-transgender/

Schnitzler, K. & Stroh, K. (2021, June 23): Wo es in München heute bunt wird. Süddeutsche Zeitung. Retrieved from: https://www.sueddeutsche.de/muenchen/em-muenchen-regenbogen-protest-fragen-antworten-1.5330589

Stevis-Gridneff, M. & Novak, B. (2020, March 31): E.U. tries gentle diplomacy to counter Hungary’s crackdown on democracy. The New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/12/world/europe/hungary-poland-lgbt-rights-eu.html

Thorpe, N. (2020, October 6): Hungary broke EU law by forcing out university, says European Court. BBC News. Retrieved from: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-54433398

Walker, S. (2019, November 16): Classes move to Vienna as Hungary makes rare decision to oust university. The Guardian. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/nov/16/ceu-classes-move-to-vienna-orban-hungary-ousts-university