Moria – the EU’s biggest humanitarian disaster

by Lea Schiller

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

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

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

Photo by Radek Homola on Unsplash


Baczynska, G. (2020, March 24). EU asks Greece to move migrants most at risk from coronavirus out of crowded camps. Reuters. Retrieved from:

Bell, M. (2020, September 11). Riot police deployed to new Lesbos refugee camp after fire. CNN. Retrieved from:

Bormann, T. (2020, Jury 14). Flüchtlinge auf Lesbos: “Moria ist ein vergessener Ort”. Tagesschau. Retrieved from:

Europe migration: EU plans mandatory pact to ‘rebuild trust’. (2020, September 23). BBC. Retrieved from:

‘Moria is a hell’: new arrivals describe life in a Greek refugee camp. (2020, January 17). The Guardian. Retrieved from:

Godin, M. (2020, September 10). Blaze that destroyed Greece’s Moria refugee camp symbolizes breakdown in E.U. over future of migrants. Time. Retrieved from:

The debate about Nord Stream 2 from different perspectives

by Alexandra Reinhild Berndt

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

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

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

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

Photo by Quinten de Graaf on Unsplash


Ballin, A. (2020, September 17). Pipelineprojekt: Russland treibt den Bau von Nord Stream 2 wegen drohender Sanktionen voran. Retrieved September 23, 2020, from

Becker, A. (2020, September 8). Wer braucht eigentlich Nord Stream 2?: DW: 08.09.2020. Retrieved September 23, 2020, from

Ehl, D. (2019, March 04). Salisbury: What we know a year after the Skripal poison attack: DW: 04.03.2019. Retrieved September 24, 2020, from

Handelsblatt. (2020, September 13). Gas-Streit : Polens Regierungschef fordert von EU und Deutschland Stopp von Nord Stream 2. Retrieved September 24, 2020, from

Lenz, L. (2020, September 10). Nord Stream 2 beenden – geht das? Retrieved September 23, 2020, from

Matthaei, K. (2020, September 14). Nawalny-Vergiftung: Lettischer Premier fordert Pipeline-Stopp. Retrieved September 23, 2020, from

Prantner, C. (2020, August 07). Nord Stream 2: US-Senatoren drohen dem Sassnitzer Hafen. Retrieved September 24, 2020, from

Schuller, K. (2020, September 15). Grüne planen Sanktionen gegen Nord Stream 2. Retrieved September 23, 2020, from

Shiryaevskaya, A., & Khrennikova, D. (2020, September 04). Why the World Worries About Russia’s Natural Gas Pipeline. Retrieved September 24, 2020, from

Schmitz, G. P. (2020, September 22). Scholz lehnt Stopp für Nord Stream 2 wegen Kampfgiftanschlag auf Nawalny ab. Retrieved September 24, 2020, from

Von Marschall, C. (2020, September 07). Drei Wege zum Aus für Nord Stream 2. Retrieved September 24, 2020, from

Zeit Online. (2020, September 18). Ostdeutsche Regierungschefs gegen Baustopp von Nord Stream. Retrieved September 23, 2020, from

The roar of a tiger: EU-Vietnamese Trade Deal

by André Francischetti Moreno

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Thijs Degenkamp on Unsplash


Nicholson, C. (2020, February 24). Talking Europe – Free trade, fair play? New EU-Vietnam deal stokes controversy. Retrieved August 07, 2020, from

Press corner. (n.d.). Retrieved August 07, 2020, from

Vietnam trade deal: What are the benefits?: News: European Parliament. (2020, June 10). Retrieved August 07, 2020, from

Vietnam: EU-Vietnam trade agreement meets opposition over human rights issues: Business & Human Rights Resource Centre. (2020, February 22). Retrieved August 07, 2020, from

SOS BEIRUT: What is the EU doing to support Lebanon

by André Francischetti Moreno

Lebanon, a country of seven thousand years whose capital was destroyed and rebuilt seven times. On August 4, a mega blast devastated Beirut once more, causing at least 220 deaths, 7,000 injuries, billions of dollars in property damage (including hospitals), and leaving 300,000 people homeless. The sequence of two explosions that destroyed half of the city was probably caused by the combustion of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate – equivalent to around 1.2 kilotons of TNT– which were confiscated by the Lebanese government from an abandoned ship and remained stored at city port for six years. The disaster could not have happened at a worst time, while Lebanon faces one of the deepest economic crises in its history. All this is aggravated by the needed restrictions to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, and by a political crisis which made the Lebanese PM Hassan Diab (deemed by many as a Hezbollah’s puppet) resign only one week after the explosion. The European Union and international community already mobilized resources to help with the reconstruction of Beirut, to rescue the Lebanese economy and avoid the country to plunge into a deeper political crisis.  

Since October 2019, the Lebanese pound lost eighty percent of its value, 25% of its population is unemployed, and according to the World Bank, about half of the Lebanese people live below the poverty line. The causes of such an economic crisis lay on years of patronage fueled by a sectarian government, systematic corruption, and government mismanagement. Today, Lebanon is the third most indebted country in the world and struggles to negotiate a bailout with the International Monetary Fund, which request deep reforms mainly in the basic services area. Highly dependent on imports, 90% of all grains come from abroad to the port of Beirut, whose destruction worsened a widespread food crisis. The closer ports in the region are in Israel, which has troubled relations with Lebanon, and Syria, which is at war since 2011. Furthermore, on the Transparency International’s 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index, Lebanon ranked 137th out of 180 countries (180 being the worst). After the mega blast, popular riots took to the streets of Beirut accusing the government of negligence when dealing with the catastrophe, calling for its resignation and demanding a massive political reform.

Following the devastating explosions, the European Union has activated all its emergency mechanisms, mobilizing €33 million to respond to urgent assistance needs in Lebanon and pledging an additional €30 million in aid. The EU deployed approximately 300 highly trained experts in search and rescue, chemical assessment, and medical teams. Not only that, but chemical protection suits and medical supplies were also sent to Beirut. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced that the bloc was ready to aid Lebanon with preferential trade and customs backing, as its Central Bank faces financial meltdown and has limited capacity to cope with the impact of the explosion. Additionally, French President Emmanuel Macron decided to take the lead to coordinate international assistance and sent emergency aid to the former French protectorate. On August 9, Macron coordinated an international donors conference, which counted with world leaders such as US President Donald Trump, and claimed for a quick joint action to support the Lebanese people as well an international pressure for a radical reform of the Lebanese political class. Other European nations that are making massive contributions are Germany and Britain.

The High Representative of the European Union Josep Borrell stated that the EU attaches great value to the unity and stability of Lebanon which are key both for the country and the region. In fact, Lebanon is unique as it is the sole country in the Middle East whose presidency is always held by a Christian. Furthermore, it shelters the highest number of refugees per capita in the world, namely one out of six people is a foreigner in Lebanon, 98% of which come from Syria. 

Given this scenario, more protests are predicted to happen with further claims regarding the Lebanese political system, international pressure for a supra party national unity government will rise, Lebanon shall intensify the investigation of the causes of the mega blast, and a new government should be formed (although incumbent politicians are charged with indicating the new prime minister). Raoul Nehme, the Lebanese Minister of Economy and Trade, stated that it will be painful and long, but Lebanon will get out of this crisis. 

Photo by Marten Bjork on Unsplash


Alderman, L. (2020, August 09). Macron Urges World Leaders to Speed Aid to Lebanon After Explosions. Retrieved August 11, 2020, from

Após explosão em Beirute, primeiro-ministro do Líbano renuncia ao cargo. (2020, August 10). Retrieved August 11, 2020, from

Beirut blast: EU offers full support to Lebanon and the Lebanese people. (n.d.). Retrieved August 11, 2020, from

Beirut port blast: EU offers preferential trade as Lebanon faces economic collapse: DW: 06.08.2020. Retrieved August 11, 2020, from

Crise no Líbano: Após explosão e renúncia do premiê, como fica o país? (2020, August 10). Retrieved August 11, 2020, from

Lebanon: Why the country is in crisis. (2020, August 05). Retrieved August 11, 2020, from

Líbano: Tragédia, crise e pandemia agravam necessidades da população local e refugiados . (n.d.). Retrieved August 11, 2020, from

Smith-Spark, L. (2020, August 10). As the people of Beirut clean up, France’s Macron urges world leaders to come together for Lebanon. Retrieved August 11, 2020, from

Call for board for 2020/2021

The EUSA board is happy to open the call for new board members for the new academic year. Please apply by sending your CV and a letter of motivation to by the 19th of June. More information about the available positions can be found below

Call for board for 2020/2021

The EUSA board is happy to open the call for new board members for the new academic year. Please apply by sending your CV and a letter of motivation to by the 19th of June. More information about the available positions can be found below

Implications of the EU-Turkey deal

by Alexandra Reinhild Berndt

In March 2016 the European Union made a deal with Turkey to stop the immense flow of refugees and to secure Europe’s external borders. In this article I would like to focus on the deal’s implications for Turkey, the EU and the relationship between both parties. 

For Turkey, the deal offers several incentives. In terms of financial help, Turkey receives a six-billion-dollar aid package, from which 3,2 billion euro have already been transferred (Engel, 2020). The money flows into local humanitarian aid organizations and more than hundred projects (Engel, 2020). Furthermore, Turkey benefits from visa-liberalizations for Turkish citizens for the Schengen-Area and from a resumption of EU-membership negotiations (Heck and Hess, p. 45). Ankara thus profits financially as well as strategically from this deal. However, due to human rights violations and anti-democratic developments, “Turkey’s membership perspective is no longer tenable“ and Turkey is rather seen as a “major strategic ally“ (Saatçioğlu 2020, p.170). 

In order to maintain the deal, the EU was forced to make normative concessions (Saatçioğlu 2020, p.169). The is EU largely dependent on Turkey’s compliance with the deal to protect EU external borders and prevent illegal immigration. Turkey’s bargaining power is thus unprecedented (Saatçioğlu 2020, p.175). In the last years, Turkey disregarded core democratic values and violated Human rights. However, the EU made significant normative and political concessions in order to manage the crisis. The deal is thus at the cost core democratic principles (Saatçioğlu 2020, p.177).

The relation between the EU and Turkey deteriorated significantly lately. The Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has the impression that Turkey is not sufficiently supported by the European Union and thus threatened the EU by opening its borders (Braun, et al., 2020). Moreover, he claims that the EU does not comply with the deal (Kirchner, 2020). In terms of the EU’s compliance, one can say that the European Union did not comply with all the agreements, but at least, the required money has been transferred (Kirchner, 2020). Therefore, Erdoğan actually cannot claim that the EU does not financially supports Turkey.

In conclusion, the European Union made not only financial, but also normative concessions in order to maintain the deal. Erdoğan’s claims that the EU does not comply with the agreements of the deal are only partly correct, but not in financial terms as the EU paid its agreed part.

Photo by Adli Wahid on Unsplash


Braun, S., Bullion, C. von, Fried, N., Herrmann, B., Szymanski, M., & Balser, M. (2020, March 3). Wie Berlin über die Lage an der griechisch-türkischen Grenze denkt. Retrieved from

Engel, G. (2020, March 5). EU-Türkei-Abkommen: Wer hat den Flüchtlingsdeal gebrochen? Retrieved from

Heck, G., & Hess, S. (2017). Tracing the Effects of the EU-Turkey Deal. The Momentum of the Multi-layered Turkish Border Regime. Retrieved from,hess–tracing-the-effects-of-the-eu-turkey-deal.html

Kirchner, T. (2020, March 6). Flüchtlinge: Tückischer Deal zwischen EU und Türkei. Retrieved from

Saatçioğlu, B. (2020). The European Union’s refugee crisis and rising functionalism in EU-Turkey relations. Turkish Studies, 21(2), 169-187.

The EU and Coronabonds – What comes after the pandemic?

by Lea Schiller

The COVID-19 pandemic has left the European Union a region that is not only hit differently by the virus, but also dealing with diverse economic outlooks. Some countries went into a strict shutdown for months and others started relaxing their measures after just a few weeks. Bound together in the European Union, these countries now have to find a way to keep the region from spiralling into a recession – and provide financial support for the states hardest hit.

In early April, after three days of difficult negotiations, the Council of Ministers decided on a €540 billion relief package – but this is far from where the story ends. For one, experts are suggesting the EU might need another €500 billion to mitigate the effects of the shutdowns. And for another, not all member states are happy with the initial package.

“Italy doesn’t need the ESM,” was Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte’s comment on the decision, effectively refusing €39 billion in aid. Next to support for installing short-time work and loans from the European Investment Bank, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) was decided to be the third part of the EU’s relief package. First installed in 2012, its purpose is to support member states who are highly in debt – but its money is bound to strict conditions. Italy’s Five-Star Movement had threatened to end the coalition government should Conte say yes to the ESM – out of fear the country would be put under similar controls as Greece was during the debt crisis. Regardless of the fact that the EU had abandoned all conditions that are usually bound to the ESM out of respect for Italy’s difficult situation, and against initial resistance from the Netherlands.

But Italy is not the only country that wants to move away from the ESM, and install the so-called Coronabonds instead. Next to Italy, France has also expressed their support, with Macron telling the British media that they were “necessary” as otherwise eurosceptic populists in Italy, France and elsewhere would win. Their support has been met with heavy resistance from the northern countries, particularly the Netherlands, Germany, Austria and Finland, which sparked a debate that Conte warned could threaten the existence of the bloc.

“Coronabonds” are essentially the new application of an old idea: joint debt that would be collectively guaranteed.  Which would, as countries like Italy are hoping, lead to lower borrowing costs and more favourable terms. But on the other side, the northern countries are hesitating to sign loans for countries whose spending they cannot control – fearing it will lead to their taxpayers paying the bill; with neither side ready to give, which way the EU will go is still uncertain. And during the summit on the 23rd of April, the European Council passed the initial relief package that was put forward by the EU’s finance ministers – putting the topic of a recovery fund in the form of Coronabonds off for another day.

Photo by Branimir Balogović on Unsplash


Investigate Europa (2020, March 23). Widersprüchlicher Umgang mit dem Virus: Wie die EU in der Coronakrise versagt. Der Tagesspiegel. Retrieved from

Brenton, H. (2020, April 19). EU needs extra 500 billion for recovery, says eurozone bailout fund chief. Politico. Retrieved from

Coronavirus-Hilfen: Italien sagt Nein zu 39 Milliarden der EU. (2020, April 14). Tagesschau. Retrieved from

Koch, M. (2020, April 17). Coronabonds: Macron und EU-Parlament erhöhen Druck auf Deutschland. Handelsblatt. Retrieved from

Boffey, D. (2020, April 9). EU strikes €500bn relief deal for countries hit hardest by pandemic. The Guardian. Retrieved from

Einigung der EU-Finanzminster: 500 Milliarden gegen die Corona-Krise. (2020, April 10). Tagesschau. Retrieved from

Football in Spain: Just a Game?

By André Francischetti Moreno

When one thinks of Spain, it is hard not to recall La Liga, or at least, its two major teams, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. As Pele for Brazil and Maradona for Argentina, there is a strong relationship between the image of the Iberic country and football. It is not a coincidence that my friends and I got our first contact with a myriad of countries by fulfilling FIFA´s 2010 World Cup album, which was won by Spain. Since 2010, Spanish teams won an incredible six out of nine editions of the Champions League, and today people from all over the world save the date to watch El Classico, the most-watched club game in global football, played by Real and Barça. In Spain, the football industry goes far beyond the pitch, encompassing an astronomical amount of money, cultural identity and social responsibility.

According to Price Waterhouse Cooper (PwC), the professional football industry generated approximately 15,7 billion euro in economic activity and 4,1 billion euro in taxes in Spain during the 2016/2017 season. Furthermore, 184,626 jobs were generated, and the industry represented 1.37% of the country´s GDP. Another report from PwC demonstrated that in all regions, except for one, the contribution was over 1% of the GDP. In Barcelona the numbers are outstanding as one can see by visiting the Espai, which is the FC Barcelona sports complex and the greatest of its kind in Europe. In fact, Barça´s museum is the third most visited in Spain, and Nike´s megastore has the highest revenues per square meter on earth. In addition, FC Barcelona is responsible for 6% of the tourism market of the fifth most visited city in Europe and generates 1.7 million overnight stays according to Deloitte. 

Due to TV contracts (keep in mind that only four countries do not transmit La Liga games), marketing, and a massive global communication capacity, Spanish teams can produce impacts on a planetary scale. In terms of operating revenues, Real and Barcelona lead among all sports teams on the planet, and alone are responsible for 1.20 out of 1,000 euro produced in Spain. The Blaugrana team overtook Real in Deloitte´s money league 2018/2019, and is the richest club in the world, reaching 837 million euro against 757 of its rival. Moreover, six out of the 10 most expensive transactions of the sport´s history were made by one of the two, including the most expensive one, the Brazilian player Neymar Jr., who was sold to Paris Saint-German for 222 million euro, surpassing the price of many great European companies i.e, the Dutch IT group Getronics (220 M).  

In despite of the high revenues coming from the stadiums, on the 1st of October of 2017 Barcelona decided to play against Las Palmas behind closed doors in protest to the violent repression of the Spanish police to prevent the Catalonia´s independence referendum. As it says in its motto, written in Catalan, FC Barcelona is more than a club, being a resistance symbol of the region. Catalonian flags are waved at Camp Nou, fans sing cheerful or protest chants in Catalan, Barcelona jerseys now and then are stamped with the Catalonian flag, and the national feeling is amplified when the match is against Real Madrid, which represents the crown and the Spanish identity. 

Having in mind their relevance, the Catalans and Merengues are involved in a series of technological and social initiatives. Barcelona supports start-ups, is engaged in partnerships with universities and co-develops several products, which are tested on what is deemed by Josep Maria Bartomeu as the greatest human lab in the world: 2,500 men and women athletes from 8 to 30 years. Furthermore, the hub of 16 staff is partnering in about 40 studies of muscle and tendon injuries and developed Pol, a new robot that helps sick people to visit places by controlling it from their hospital beds. The team joins technological progress with social responsibility. Real Madrid, in turn, effects its social commitment through the creation of adapted and inclusive social sports schools, supports charity initiatives and triggered the final boost that Spanish women´s football needed to fulfill its potential by purchasing Club Deportivo Tacón as Real Madrid´s official women´s team. According to Xavi Bové, sports marketing consultant, Real will attract global and local sponsors and awareness over the category. Over the past 15 years, the number of women playing football more than quadruplicated in Spain and mixed teams from very young age became frequent. 

As one can see, it may seem so at first sight, but football is much more than just a game. In the case of Spain, it involves matters that range from economic impact to the national identity of a region, to social engagement and public awareness. The football industry can connect fans, companies and players worldwide, and is an active agent who can and should work for society. Regarding the financial impact of the game on the Spanish economy Javier Tebas, president of La Liga, said “ this reinforces our message about the importance of taking responsible and well considered decisions over everything that could affect this industry, one that is so relevant for our society.” After all this data, I finally discovered what to do during this quarantine: training my football skills at home.

Photo by Vienna Reyes on Unsplash


(n.d.). Retrieved from

Kuper, S. (2019, March 1). How FC Barcelona are preparing for the future of football. Retrieved from

Longman, J. (2019, June 23). For Spain, Investment Pays Off at the World Cup. Retrieved from

Most expensive transfers of all-time: Neymar, Mbappe, Pogba, Ronaldo and more. (2018, July 10). Retrieved from

Norman, B. (2019, August 15). La Liga returns – with a turnover of nearly €16bn for the Spanish economy. Retrieved from

Public Funding of Spanish professional football clubs: a game worth playing? (2019, July 30). Retrieved from

Redirect Notice. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Revealed: Football’s economic impact stretches across all parts of Spain. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Soccer as a key factor in shaping a unified European identity. (2016, February 24). Retrieved from

Soccer as a key factor in shaping a unified European identity. (2016, February 24). Retrieved from

The Economic Impact of El Clasico. (n.d.). Retrieved from

World Football Summit. (2019, August 1). WFS responds: This is how Real Madrid’s entry will impact women’s football worldwide. Retrieved from

Hungary and the EU: A conversation with the Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade

By Lea Schiller

On the 1st of May 2004, Hungary was one of ten eastern European countries to join the European Union (EU) as part of the biggest enlargement to date. Since then, political and economic changes have shifted Hungary’s relationship with the EU – from an applicant in the process of consolidating its democracy, to a country in the middle of some of Europe’s most challenging conflicts. As a leading Hungarian foreign policy think-tank, The Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade (IFAT) not only carries out research in all fields of Hungarian foreign policy, but also publishes its own foreign policy journal and organises conferences and workshops.

In an interview, Dr. Attila Kovács, a Senior Research Fellow at the institute, describes the work of the institute as well as his own judgements on the current position of Hungary in the European Union.

What does your day-to-day work look like?

The work is flexible, so I am not in the office every day. Sometimes I have meetings with representatives of other think-tanks, or I go to the ministries. But normally we are writing; for example, we follow the daily news from other countries. I could also talk to the media about once a week on average. Especially when there is a political situation, for example a plenary week of the European Parliament, then it’s very common that I will get calls to give my expectations on what’s going to happen. But in the very end, we are measured based on the written outcome of our work.

So would you say written reports are the biggest part of your work?

To me personally, yes. Sometimes these are not for the external audience, but for inside: for the ministry; for decision makers. I haven’t organised that many events yet, but many of my colleagues are concentrating on increasing the visibility of the institute via organising lots of events. Another thing is that when there is a foreign delegation coming to Hungary, we regularly meet with them. Top-level diplomats are going to the ministry, but at the expert-level, they come to the institute, where we have workshops or talks with them. It can be just an exchange of views, or we establish some relationships with them.

I read about the round-table on minority affairs in the European Parliament that was organised by the IFAT.  The report mentioned that Hungary’s involvement in minority affairs in Europe is due to the fact that they are also at the centre of Hungarian domestic politics. Could you explain why that is the case?

It comes from one hundred years ago exactly. This year in June a hundred years ago, two-thirds of the previous territory of Hungary were detached from the country and given to neighbouring countries. […] Five million Hungarians were put outside of the country’s borders. Historically, it was one country with a similar population, and that’s a historical wound in Hungary. It’s still a living wound, and many Hungarians consider this as a very unjust outcome of the First World War. This is the root of the situation. Since then – depending of course on the ideological orientation of the government – we have been paying special attention to Hungarians living outside of the official borders of Hungary. Most of them live in Romania, Slovakia, Serbia and a small part in Ukraine, which is very sensitive nowadays because of the Ukraine-Russia relations. But apart from that, there is a specialised group in the European Parliament dealing with the traditional minorities in Europe, for example the Catalans in Spain. But with these issues, there is a high level of political sensibility; there are independence movements, autonomy movements and many other, so you need to be very delicate when you approach these things. That was the root of the event. And I can see that Hungarian politicians – no matter what political side they are – are paying attention to these situations frequently.

How do you see Hungary’s position in the new European Commission under Von der Leyen?

There is a debate in Hungary, but also in Central Eastern European countries including Poland and the Czech Republic, that after sixteen years of the EU enlargement – so after sixteen years of EU membership since 2004 – there is not a double standard within the European Union, for example regarding the allocation of positions and the level on influence that countries have. Many believe that the allocation is still biased in favour of the old member states, and we are not represented based on the population. To answer your question, in this new Commission, Hungary got a good portfolio, which is Enlargement and Neighbouring Issues. I think so far this is the most important position that we have had in the European Commission. Previously, we had things like Youth Issues and Sports, which is not as important. For many young students, things like Erasmus are impactful, but politically speaking, Enlargement is much more important.

What do you see as Hungary’s long term goals for European Integration?

Hungary could be – and this is why the Enlargement and Neighbourhood portfolio is important – a bridge to Russia, and to Turkey. Orban has good relationships with Putin and with Erdogan. We need to maintain good relationships with Turkey and Russia. I think this could be a special role for Hungary in the European Union, to be an intermediary. Economically speaking, based on logistics, but also politically speaking, Hungary can be an intermediary; a bridge between the European Union and Russia and Turkey. And another thing is the Balkan countries, which we are neighbouring with, and that have a very special set of power relations. For example, the last war in Europe was in the Balkans, and the Balkans are one of the main sources of migration in Europe, which is also a sensitive issue. And again, Hungary is at the crossroads.

What is the position of the current Hungarian government towards the European Union? Under the current government, Hungary’s position is very critical, but it is not critical towards the European Union itself, but more towards the leadership – or the lack of leadership – regarding the European Union. […] For example, if you take a look at the current coronavirus situation, we didn’t see bold decisions like we see them now from the previous European Commission, while Von der Leyen immediately disclosed huge funds to handle the economic consequences of the virus. So what Hungary had a problem with was the lack of leadership. The second thing is more of an ideological approach. The current Hungarian government believes that the European Union should be about economic integration, not necessarily a political or cultural type of melting pot but economic cooperation of nation states. And this is a huge, fundamental debate; whether we should one day be the United States of Europe or a loose cooperation of nation states. Hungary represents that states still need to have significant powers in the European Union, and that can be a conflict. I can also tell you that Hungary has never been as important as it is today and in the last fifteen years. No matter what you think of Orban’s policies, everyone agrees that he has put Hungary on the map of Europe. Before that, it was a country no one really cared about, but now Orban became a reference point. Be it in a good sense or a bad sense – that’s a matter of personal interpretation – but Hungary counts today.

Photo by Matthew Waring on Unsplash


European Union (n.d.). EU member countries in brief: Hungary. Retrieved from:

Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade (n.d.). About the Institute. Retrieved from:

Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade (n.d.). Hungarian national interest in Europe: minority affairs in the European Parliament. Retrieved from: