Why the South African High Court ruling against Shell’s oil exploration plans is a victory for local communities and the environment

Article by Alexandra Reinhild Berndt

Shell was prohibited from starting seismic surveys along the South African Wild Coast thanks to a South African High Court decision in the Eastern Cape Town of Makhanda on December 25 (BBC, 2021). Seismic tests are part of Shell’s oil exploration in the Wild Coast area. During the procedure, shockwaves are blasted into the ocean every ten seconds (Louw, 2021). This has devastating effects both on the environment and on local communities.

The South African High Court in the Eastern Cape Town of Makhanda had ruled against a different High Court ruling from December 3 which had previously given Shell a green light for the seismic testing (Reuters, 2021). Shell is now obliged to pause the survey. The decision against Shell on December 25 was perceived as an important victory from numerous environmental organizations (BBC, 2021). Shell, however, already announced a review of the court’s decision (BBC, 2021).

Before the court’s ruling, many South Africans were protesting against Shell’s oil exploration plans on the Wild Coast as seismic surveys can cause important harm to local communities. Many South Africans are economically dependent on fisheries and the shockwaves of seismic surveys either cause death to the fish or scare them away (Sishi, 2021). This would mean financial ruin for local people depending on fisheries. Moreover, the coastal wilderness is a tourist attraction and many South Africans are economically dependent on tourism (Louw, 2021). The seismic blasting would destroy the undisturbed wildlife and thus cause a drop in tourism – an economic sector important for local people. Seismic surveys also cause non-economic harm to the local population: The Wild Coast has a special meaning and importance with regards to the spirituality of many local communities (Louw, 2021).

Environmental groups stressed the devastating impact of seismic surveys on coastal wildlife. Whales use the coast as breeding grounds. Shell’s oil exploration procedure can have devastating effects on the whales’ feeding, breeding and migration behaviour as their sense of hearing can be massively disturbed by the shockwaves that are blasted into the ocean during the procedure (South China Morning Post, 2021). Not only whales, but also other endangered species can be affected (Louw, 2021).

Shell argued that finding oil on the Wild Coast “could significantly contribute to the country’s energy security” (Reuters, 2021). At the moment, South Africa is still dependent on importing to meet national energy needs (Ambrose, 2021). Greenpeace Africa, however, said the focus should be on promoting the transition to green energy and not on burning fossil fuels. Especially with regards to worldwide efforts to reduce CO2, Greenpeace makes an important point. Projects like the Just Energy Partnership with Europe and the US already pave the way to realizing a green transition. The decision of the South African High Court on December 25 was thus a (small) step towards an environmentally friendly future.

white and blue wooden signage
Picture by Jethro Carullo published on Unsplash

Sources:

Ambrose, J. (1 December 2021). Last-minute attempt to stop Shell’s oil exploration of whale breeding grounds. Retrieved on 18 December 2021 from https://www.theguardian.com/business/2021/dec/01/last-minute-bid-to-stop-shells-oil-exploration-in-whale-breeding-grounds-in-south-africa

Ambrose, J. (3 December 2021). Shell to go ahead with seismic teests in whale breeding grounds after court win. Retrieved on 18 December 2021 from https://www.theguardian.com/business/2021/dec/03/shell-go-ahead-seismic-tests-whale-breeding-grounds-court-oil-south-africa

BBC (28 December 2021). South Africa court blocks Shell’s oil exploration. Retrieved on 14 January 2022 from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-59809821

Louw, A. (10 December 2021) . Shell in South Africa: fossil fuels at full blast. Retrieved on 18.12.2021 from https://www.greenpeace.org/international/story/51645/shell-in-south-africa-fossil-fuels-at-full-blast/

Reuters (3 December 2021). Shell wins court case to start seismic surveys offshore South Africa. Retrieved on 18 December 2021 from https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/shell-wins-court-case-start-seismic-surveys-offshore-south-africa-2021-12-03/

Reuters (28 December 2021). S. African court halts Shell’s offshore seismic survey. Retrieved on January 12 2022 from https://www.reuters.com/business/sustainable-business/safrican-court-halts-shells-offshore-seismic-survey-2021-12-28/

Sishi, S. (6 December 2021). S. Africans protest against Shell oil exploration in pristine coastal area. Retrieved on 18 December 2021 from https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/safricans-protest-against-shell-oil-exploration-pristine-coastal-area-2021-12-05/

South China Morning Post (6 December 2021). Environmentalists protest on South  Africa beaches to oppose Shell oil exploration. Retrieved on 18 December 2021 from https://www.scmp.com/news/world/africa/article/3158562/environmentalists-protest-south-africa-beaches-oppose-shell-oil

Why the vaccination rates dividing Europe are a symptom of a bigger problem

Article by Lea Schiller

In the beginning of November, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned that Europe had once again become the epicentre of the pandemic – Case numbers and deaths had soared to record highs in Germany, the Netherlands, Greece and all over Eastern Europe (BBC, 2021). The continent as a whole hit its highest weekly increase in Covid cases since the start of the pandemic that same week (UN, 2021). This development comes at a time when all residents of the EU are eligible to get vaccinated, and many also have access to booster shots. While some member states such as Spain and Malta have vaccinated over 80% of their population (Reuters, n.d.), vaccine hesitancy is widespread in Eastern Europe, where vaccination rates are as low as 40% of the population, as well as some parts of Western Europe. These sharp differences point to structural differences in public trust in healthcare systems which urgently need to be addressed.

Across Eastern Europe, vaccine hesitancy has a common denominator: distrust in the government. For countries who transitioned to democracy from communist rule only a few decades ago, trust in public institutions is still eroded (Laizans & Tsolova, 2021). As it is, the sharp divide in vaccination rates lies exactly where the iron curtain used to split Europe (Kottasová, 2021). And those who do turn to the state for guidance receive contradicting information – some politicians caution against the vaccine (Higgins, 2021). Instead of the state or the healthcare system, many citizens instead place their trust in religious leaders, particularly in rural areas. In Romania, where the Orthodox Church is the second most trusted institution, its leaders have sent mixed signals to the public (Higgins, 2021). Some have called on Romanians to listen to doctors, while others urged people not to be scared of Covid and even denounced the vaccine as the devil’s work (Higgins, 2021). Additionally, political instability is impacting the governments’ ability to respond to the situation, and exacerbating the lack of trust among the population. Bulgaria, for example, held three elections in 2021, after the first two ended in a stalemate (Kottasová, 2021). All these deep-seated issues do not divide the people along partisan lines but make them distrustful of politicians as a whole, which makes the vaccination campaign in Eastern Europe complex and difficult to speed up.

But Eastern Europe is not the only region in the bloc struggling with vaccine hesitancy. In Western European countries such as Germany and the Netherlands, the vaccination campaign stagnated for several weeks, and incentives like entry restrictions for the unvaccinated yielded little uptake in the number of first doses administered. This development should not be a surprise – after all, even before the pandemic began, Europe had been one of the most vaccine-hesitant regions in the world (Skapinker, 2019). Several causes of this have been proposed by researchers: some point to the rise of social media and misinformation, others to the vaccination campaign during the 2009 influenza pandemic, which many believed was an overreaction supported by pharmaceutical companies (Skapinker, 2019). Experts from Spain, which has one of the highest COVID-19 vaccination rates in Europe, have also pointed out that the structure of healthcare systems may also be to blame (Amiel, 2021). Many European countries have a mix of public and private healthcare. This means a division of access to healthcare into two different groups, which is likely to alienate people who are already sceptical about putting trust in vaccines. These structural problems have been present for much longer than COVID-19 has, and are thus not easily negated by material incentives or vaccination-dependent restrictions.

For a long time, vaccine hesitancy in Europe has been an underlying problem, too controversial to be properly addressed and not urgent enough for the population to realise the danger stemming from this phenomenon. The pandemic has shown Europe’s high vaccine hesitancy rates for what they are: an emergency. And while it is important to increase the COVID-19 vaccination rates in Europe as quickly as possible, the next pandemic will push the continent into a similar situation if the structural causes of vaccination hesitancy are not addressed.

blue and white plastic bottle
Picture by Daniel Schludi published on Unsplash

Sources:

Amiel, S. (2021, September 3). How struggling Spain became one of Europe’s vaccination champions. Euronews. Retrieved from: https://www.euronews.com/2021/09/03/how-struggling-spain-became-one-of-europe-s-vaccination-champions

BBC (2021, November 5). Covid: WHO warns Europe once again at epicentre of pandemic. Retrieved from: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-59160525

Higgins, A. (2021, November 8). In Romania, hard-hit by Covid, doctors fight vaccine refusal. The New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/08/world/europe/romania-covid-vaccine-refusal.html

Kottasová, I. (2021, October 1). They have all the vaccines they need, but these EU nations are still miles behind their neighbors. CNN. Retrieved from: https://edition.cnn.com/2021/10/01/europe/eastern-europe-vaccine-takeup-bulgaria-romania-intl-cmd/index.html

Laizans, J. & Tsolova, T. (2021, October 22). Regret and defiance in Europe’s vaccine-shy east as COVID-19 rages. Reuters. Retrieved from: https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/regret-defiance-europes-vaccine-shy-east-covid-19-rages-2021-10-21/

Reuters. (n.d.). COVID-19 tracker. Retrieved from: https://graphics.reuters.com/world-coronavirus-tracker-and-maps/regions/europe/

Skapinker, M. (2019, June 26). Why rich countries are more prone to ‘vaccine hesitancy’. Financial Times. Retrieved from:

United Nations. (2021, November 12). Europe hits highest weekly COVID-19 cases since pandemic began. Retrieved from: https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/11/1105702

Europe’s water pollution problem

Article by Elena Simidzioski

Introduction

Water is an essential resource to enabling life while also playing an important role in growing crops and production. However, Europe’s waters, whether it comes to lakes, rivers or seas, are largely polluted. Therefore, even though drinking water is available to most of Europe’s population, the overall well-being of humans, just as plants and animals disturbed[b2]  by water pollution (European Environmental Agency, 2020). Among the key water pollutants can be named farming (i.e. diffuse pollution) and industrial waste (i.e. point source pollution) (European Environmental Agency, 2020). Importantly, the issue of water pollution is an intrinsically complex matter. The EU constantly works on the issue which is evident from the numerous policies designed to reduce water pollution.

The scope of water pollution in Europe

Statistics show that diffuse pollution – or farming – pollutes 22% of surface water and 28% of ground water in Europe, mainly through pesticides (European Environmental Agency, 2021). Fortunately, the sales of pesticides have remained more or less the same throughout the last decade (Eurostat, 2021). 34% of the water is distorted because of structural changes [b10] which can often impact biodiversity of seas and rivers (European Environmental Agency, 2021). Additionally, droughts are another impediment to water quality. Droughts imply decreased water flows which in turn impede the amount of oxygen dissolved in the water and affect the death rates of fish (Bunch, 2018). About 6% of surface water and 7% of groundwater is largely subject to abstraction of water – often because of farming purposes or industrial use (European Environmental Agency, 2021). The statistics refer to water pollution throughout Europe, and are not region specific.

Preventive action: What the EU does to limit or prevent water pollution

The EU put in place a Water Framework Directive (WFD) that demanded all waters (coastal, transitional, and inland) to reach a satisfactory ecological and chemical status by 2015 (European Environmental Agency, 2020). Nutrient losses are measured as part of determining the quality of water (European Environmental Agency, 2020). Additionally, WFD aims to address water pollution by promoting strategies of sustainable development (European Environmental Agency, 2020).

Furthermore, the EU also has several conventions in place that encompass preventive measures to water pollution. Examples include the Paris and Helsinki Conventions in prevention of marine pollution among other conventions, just as many river conventions (European Environmental Agency, 2020). Yet, the success rates of conventions are oftentimes unsatisfactory as targets are sometimes not met because participating parties free-ride on their duties due to the lack of enforcement mechanisms.

In Europe rivers are especially polluted[b14] . Many pipes are unable to channel large amounts of rainfall and cause wastewater to enter rivers and canals (De Radzizky, 2021). The EU has therefore started an initiative called ‘digital water city’ to advance research on technologies that improve water quality – such as placing sensors in rivers to prevent overflows (De Radzizky, 2021). Likewise, the EU’s Zero Pollution Action Plan is put forward by the Commission to maintain the quality of waters while pollution is being reduced in rivers and seas (Frost, 2021).

Conclusion

Tackling the issue of water pollution is a complex task to accomplish. While technology is crucial in keeping water pollution down, there is always room for improvement in policies by EU authorities to decreasepollution caused by farmers and industries. The main pollutants need to be addressed to prevent pollution in the first place. Cleaning water after it is polluted is a very big and  less effective task to do. Simply put, the amount of waste that goes in waters is incomparably bigger than the amount of waste that can be extracted.

Picture by Adonyi Gábor published on Unsplash

Sources:

Bunch, K. (15 November, 2018). Droughts can excacerbate water quality problems. https://www.ijc.org/en/droughts-can-exacerbate-water-quality-problems#:~:text=Strong%20water%20flows%20along%20rivers,and%20lead%20to%20fish%20kills.

De Radzitzky (4 September 2021). Swimming in sewage. How can we fix Europe’s smelly rivers? https://www.euronews.com/green/2021/09/04/swimming-in-sewage-how-can-we-fix-europe-s-smelly-rivers

European  Environment Agency (24 June 2020). Water pollution – overview. https://www.eea.europa.eu/archived/archived-content-water-topic/water-pollution/overview

European Environment Agency (24b June 2020). Prevention strategies. https://www.eea.europa.eu/archived/archived-content-water-topic/water-pollution/prevention-strategies/prevention-strategies-index

Eurostat (April 2021). Agri-environmental indicator – consumption of pesticides. https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php?title=Agri-environmental_indicator_-_consumption_of_pesticides#Key_messages

European Environment Agency (23 September 2021). Pollution and barriers are key problems for Europe’s waters. https://www.eea.europa.eu/highlights/pollution-and-barriers-are-key

Frost, R. (23 June 2021). How clean are Europe’s oceans, lakes and rivers? https://www.euronews.com/green/2021/06/17/how-clean-are-europe-s-oceans-lakes-and-rivers

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.

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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/