Lessons from Afghanistan

Article by Alexandra Reinhild Berndt

After two decades, NATO members withdrew their troops from Afghanistan. Now, it is time for a critical evaluation. The intervention in Afghanistan started in the context of George W. Bush’s War on Terror after 9/11. The mandate of the mission expanded over time including (1) democratization, (2) state building, and (3) promotion of women’s rights. In this article, I evaluate the extent to which these defined goals have been achieved and what consequences the troop withdrawal has.

The mission in Afghanistan was not only costly, but also bloody: Between 2009 and 2020 almost 111.000 civilians died (Petersmann, 2021). At first, the mission was assumed to be realized within a few years (Petersmann & Werkhäuser, 2020). The states involved in the intervention thus severely underestimated the complexity of the situation and the long-term consequences of the military intervention.

The core goal of the US was to avoid a safe haven for terrorists (Petersmann, 2021). Despite the fact that the US troops successfully pushed back the Taliban, the Taliban still control some parts of the country today (Knipp, 2021). With the help of Pakistan, the Taliban were able to regain militarily strength and to expand their influence (Von Hein, 2021; Petersmann, 2021). There is thus a risk that the Taliban take back control destroying all the efforts of US to push them back (Knipp, 2021). Hillary Clinton also expressed the concern that the troop withdrawal might enhance the risk of a “potential collapse of the Afghan government and a possible takeover by the Taliban” (BBC, 2021).

Over the course of time, the goals of the mission have expanded. The US administration searched for further reasons to justify the intervention at home. In this context, the idea of liberating Afghan women and enhancing their rights served as justification for the mission (Steans, 2008, p. 160). Overall, the women’s rights situation has indeed improved (BPB, 2021). Furthermore, schools have been created and the infrastructure has been expanded (Tagesschau, 2021). However, critics points to the immense destruction of infrastructure and to the numbers of civilian casualties provoked by the war. Furthermore, some critics also stress that Bush’s call for liberating Afghan women from Afghan men with the help of “liberated” (female) US soldiers was a form of gendered orientalism promoting gendered and racial stereotypes (Khaild, 2011, p. 20).

Democratization was another goal defined during the process of the mission. On paper, the situation in Afghanistan looks good: The constitution adopted in 2004 is liberal and progressive (Knipp, 2021). The actual situation, however, differs significantly (Knipp, 2021). The idea to copy the Western democratic model in Afghanistan failed completely (Hasselbach, 2021). The peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban also do not show any signs of progress (Der Spiegel , 2021). The goal of durable peacekeeping was thus unsuccessful.

Moreover, the country is not only politically unstable, but also economically fragile as half of the population suffers from extreme poverty. The US, however, assured that they will provide humanitarian and financial aid in the future (Knipp, 2021). Additionally, NATO confirmed the provision of “training and advice to civilian institutions” organized by the civilian office of NATO in Kabul. (Seligmann, 2021). The effects of this measures remain to be seen.

There are some lessons that may be learned from this intervention: First of all, one cannot simply create a democratic system in another country, secondly, war has its costs (financially, and in terms of human lives), thirdly, increasing the amount of money, troops and personnel might not necessarily have the intended effect, fourthly, peacekeeping and peacebuilding are long-term projects that cannot be realized within a few years, fifthly, it is important to draw lessons from these mistakes for other missions (for example in Mali).


Photo by Andre Klimke published on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Article by Elena Simidzioski

Environmental damage is one of the biggest challenges humanity faces at present. Consequences thereof include climate change which results in increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, rising sea levels, droughts, and heatwaves among many  others (NASA). Likewise, environmental damage can be seen in problems such as global warming, loss of biodiversity, and water scarcity. To address all of the above, governments and businesses around the world are in constant quest to make their economies greener and environmentally friendly. One such key player is the EU whose efforts to reach climate goals are outlined in the following:

EU invests €121 million in environmental projects

To deliver its climate goals, the EU has invested €121 million towards climate projects in 11 member states as part of its LIFE programme (European Commission, 2021). The projects are mainly focused at improving the environment in a long-term and sustainable way. Thus, these include alleviation of and adaptation to climate change, preservation of nature, protected areas, and biodiversity, and the management of waste among others (European Commission, 2021).

Recovery of biodiversity by 2030

The issue of loss of biodiversity is another component that affects the climate problem, just as the general well being of society due to increased spread of infectious diseases, food shortages and fires (European Commission, 2021). As such, the EU has set up a plan to start biodiversity recovery by 2030 (European Commission, 2021). The plan includes several actions: (1) increasing the amount of protected land and sea areas with valuable biodiversity; (2) establishing plans for restoration of ecosystems by addressing the key factors causing biodiversity loss; (3) increased investments towards tackling the issue and improving the governance and implementation of respective policies; (4) establishing a framework of biodiversity goals (European Commission, 2021).

Tackling climate change for societal welfare

The impact of environmental problems is not only felt by our planet, but by society as well. This can be seen in that climate change contributes to increasing levels of poverty and food shortages, just as air and water pollution which directly affects the health of society (European Commission, 2020). Even the current COVID-19 pandemic is by some researchers assumed to be a consequence of environmental damage (European Commission, 2020). Hence, the EU aims to deliver better policy implementation and ensure a healthy environment by increasing the amount of green and blue spaces, especially in urban areas (European Commission, 2020). For instance, green aids air pollution, but also lessens the severity ofe heatwaves and serves as an outdoor space where people can engage in physical activity (European Commission, 2020).


In essence, the environment is a multiplex problem which has consequences for several aspects, such as economical, societal, or ecological ones. This implies that the issue can only be fully addressed by improvements in all of these sectors. Besides the aforementioned climate actions, the EU aims to direct travel, by promoting more sustainable travel options such as trains (Papadakis, 2021). Similarly, it accelerates its transition from conventional towards greener and renewable sources of energy (O’Neill, 2021), and invests in the creation of green homes (Sanchez, 2021). Yet, the achievement of all policies require significant degrees of dedication and cooperation between states, which often can be impeded by national interests and pressures from domestic stakeholders, such as oil companies. It thus remains a challenge for the EU to bring about long-term cooperation from national governments if significant progress on the climate issue is to be made.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Article by Lea Schiller

When the UEFA declined a request to light up Munich’s Allianz Arena in rainbow colours, it was a decision that was supposed to keep the politics out of football. Instead, it brought on a wave of protest that made a spotlight shine on underlying political tensions in Europe. Munich’s mayor Dieter Reiter requested the stadium to be lit up in rainbow colours during Germany’s match against Hungary for their UEFA European Football Championship game on June 23. It was meant as a protest against a newly enacted law in Hungary which prohibits any content seen as promoting LGBTQ+ issues to under 18-year-olds (BBC, 2021). UEFA’s rejection didn’t keep the politics out of football. If anything, it brought football into politics. The wave of protest that swept across Germany as a response to UEFA’s denial drew attention not only to the discrimination of LGBTQ+ people in football but prompted prominent political figures to comment on what had caused it in the first place: Hungary’s LGBTQ+ laws.

How UEFA’s actions worsened the situation

Munich’s stadium lights were not the first controversial decision of the tournament. Just days before, UEFA had launched an investigation into the captain of Germany’s national team for wearing a rainbow armband during the team’s matches against France and Portugal. Germany’s Football Association (DFB) stated the rainbow armband was part of their campaigns for pride month and was meant to promote diversity (France24, 2021). In professional men’s football, there is to date no openly gay player. And the current climate in Germany’s national football league has been described as not accepting enough for players to come out without backlash (Deutsche Welle, 2021). UEFA ultimately decided the rainbow armband to be for a good cause and consequently dropped the investigation. But disapproval of the action remained among German fans and officials. When mayor Reiter’s request for rainbow lights in Munich’s arena was denied, this sentiment quickly turned into the desire for action: all over the country, other football stadiums were lit up in rainbow colours and rainbow flags were given out to fans in front of Allianz Arena on the day of the match (Schnitzler & Stroh, 2021). On the other side, Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orbán cancelled his planned attendance of the game (Erlanger, 2021). Orbán stated that “whether the Munich football stadium or another European stadium lights up in rainbow colours is not a state decision” (BBC News, 2021). When asked about the new bill, Hungarian government officials have claimed that it does not infringe upon LGBTQ+ rights and was meant to protect children against paedophiles (BBC News, 2021).

UEFA tried to keep its tournament free of political controversies – but the underlying tension during the match between Germany and Hungary proved their efforts to be futile. The incident prompted widespread protests not only from activists. Bavaria’s state premier Markus Söder commented that UEFA’s decision is a “shame” (Gehrke & Walker, 2021) and Germany’s Minister for Europe Michael Roth called on fans in the arena to show rainbow flags in solidarity with LGBTQ+ people in Hungary (Gehrke & Walker, 2021). This shows that UEFA’s goal of keeping the politics out of the European Championships was fruitless to begin with: choosing to forbid rainbow lights in a stadium is as much of a political statement as accepting the request would have been.

Hungary’s extensive history of conflicts with the EU’s values

Hungary’s new LGBTQ+ content law is not the first time the country has come into conflict with the EU’s values and principles. In 2019, the Central European University (CEU) was forced to relocate from Budapest to Vienna as part of a sustained campaign against its founder by Viktor Orbán (Walker, 2019). In 2020, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that forcing the CEU to relocate was against EU law – but this decision came too late for the university, which had already moved most of its activities to Vienna (Thorpe, 2020). In 2018, the European Commission brought Hungary to the ECJ for violating the EU’s asylum policies. Two years later, the Court ruled in favour of the Commission – Hungary’s non-compliance with EU asylum policies was not justifiable according to the ECJ (Deutsche Welle, 2020). In March of 2020, Orbán ensured he would be able to rule indefinitely by decree (Stevis-Gridneff & Novak, 2020). In May of the same year, the Hungarian parliament voted in favour of ending the legal recognition of transgender and intersex people (Haynes, 2020). Since the EU’s legal options to control member states’ behaviour are limited, the Commission has mainly responded with naming-and-shaming as well as political pressure (Stevis-Gridneff & Novak, 2020). But now, the European public eye is on the LGBTQ+ community in Hungary – the protests are a chance for the EU to use the heightened public attention to exert more pressure on Hungary.

Why UEFA’s decision is a chance for LGBTQ+ rights activists

UEFA’s refusal to light up Munich’s stadium was initiated the wave of solidarity with the Hungarian LGBTQ+ community, former German national player Thomas Hitzlsperger commented on the day of the match. It shed a light on the situation of LGBTQ+ people in Hungary and sparked a public discussion about how a country that lacks protections for minorities can be a member of the European Union, which prides itself in shared values, one of which being Human Rights (European Commission). And the reaction to Hungary’s new ban on LGBTQ+ content left no doubt about the institutions’ displeasure. The Commission has launched a legal procedure against Hungary and its president Ursula von der Leyen called the bill a “shame“ (Bayer, 2021). But whether the Commission can keep the momentum going towards real change remains to be seen.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The role of France in Mali’s complex political, economic and humanitarian situation

Article by Alexandra Reinhild Berndt


The political, economic and humanitarian situation in Mali is very complex. After a second military coup in less than a year, Mali’s political instability has further increased. In reaction, France first threatened to withdraw troops if “political instability leads to greater Islamist radicalism” and then implemented the threat by temporally suspending French troops from Malian territory (BBC, 2021; Vincent & le Cam, 2021). The military coup further isolated the landlocked state as international organisations like the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) announced to suspend the country (Berry, 2021). In this article, I will analyse the political, economic and humanitarian situation and elucidate the role of the international community in the conflict resolution.

Political background

In 1960, Mali became independent from France. The new socialist one-party state had a rough start suffering from “droughts, rebellions, a coup and 23 years of military dictatorship until democratic elections in 1992” (BBC, 2021). The military coup in 2012 significantly worsened the situation as Islamist militias started occupying Northern Malian towns (BBC, 2021). After the military coup Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta won presidential elections in 2013 and 2018 (Burke, 2020). According to BBC (2021), President Keïta “proved unable to unify the country”. People increasingly protested against “government incompetence, endemic corruption and a deteriorating economy” (Burke, 2020). In August 2020, Keïta was overthrown in the context of a military coup (BBC, 2021). ECOWAS then helped to introduce a transition government appointing a new civilian President, Bah Ndaw, and a new Prime minister, Moctar Ouane (World Bank, 2021).

Recent political development

Assimi Goita, leader of Mali’s most recent military coup, fired and detained President Bah Ndaw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane causing a storm of protest from the international community (Deutsche Welle, 2021). Last week, Mali’s constitutional court approved Goita’s position as new interim president (Deutsche Welle, 2021). Goita justified the coup by saying that the former government has shown a “demonstrable intent to sabotage the transition” (Deutsche Welle, 2021). Furthermore, he promised to hold elections next year, which, however, remains to be seen (Al Jazeera, 2021).

Factors increasing political instability

An important factor increasing the political instability in Mali is the lack of territorial control and the spread of Islamist militias in the North and Centre of the country. The state has difficulties to ensure access to basic services as health care, education, water and electricity in many parts of the country (Klatt, 2020). The impoverished population is getting more and more vulnerable to the influence of Islamist militias. Islamist rebels successfully recruit people for their purpose promising an income with drug and arms trafficking (Klatt, 2020).

Climate change further aggravates the situation (Klatt, 2020; Römer, 2021). Droughts increasingly pose an important threat to food security. They impede the population’s food supply, take away people’s income and thus increase the country’s conflict potential (Römer, 2021). A large part of the population still depends on agriculture and livestock farming making climate change a serious threat (Römer, 2021). The fight for resources increases success chances of Islamist militias as people suffering from consequences of droughts are more vulnerable to recruitment (Römer, 2021). The violence of Islamist militias not only threatens Mali, but also Mali’s neighbours. After an attack on Nigerien villages in January 2021, the Nigerien government sent troops to the Malian border region (Der Spiegel, 2021).

Economic and humanitarian situation

The economic and humanitarian situation suffers from the political instability. According to World Bank (2021), the pandemic and the socio-political crisis have led to an economic recession. Unemployment and increasing prices for food lead to frustration amongst the population further increasing political instability (Klatt, 2020). Mali is a landlocked country (a country without access to the sea) which is economically “undiversified and vulnerable to commodity price fluctuations“ (World Bank, 2021). This, in turn makes the country more vulnerable for political conflict creating a vicious circle which is difficult to escape.

Role of France

One year after the military coup in 2012, France started to intervene militarily in Mali to assist Malian troops in the fight against Islamist militias (BBC, 2021). The French intervention was initiated “at the request of the government in Bamako [capital city of Mali] and with the UN’s blessing” (Baig, 2013). Francois Hollande, French President at the time, justified the choice to militarily intervene in the name of the fight against Islamist terror. The intervention was thus framed as counter-terrorist measure (Ganley, 2020). Since then, the French were massively involved in the fight against Islamist rebels in Mali. Until recently, there have been 5000 French soldiers in the Northern region of Mali.

The perception of French troops shifted over the course of time. As already mentioned, French troops started the intervention on request of the Malian government. At first, they were successful at helping Mali to regain the territory occupied by Islamist rebels (BBC, 2021). However, over time, their ability to stop Islamist militias decreased (Wiegel, 2021). In the long run, the situation did not improve, on the contrary, political instability increased and Islamist militias got more and more influential (Schaap, 2020; Wiegel, 2021). In the last months, the French have increasingly been perceived as “occupiers with a hidden imperialist agenda” (Ganley, 2020). People even protested on the streets against French troops. According to Ganley (2020), they “carried signs decrying the former colonizer”. 

The role of international organizations

As response to the military coup, the African Union and ECOWAS suspended Mali (Berry, 2021). Furthermore, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres increased pressure on Goita calling for the release of (former) President, Bah Ndaw, and (former) Prime minister, Moctar Ouane (BBC, 2021). The UK demanded the same and condemned the military coup (Deutsche Welle, 2021). In the context of MINUSMA (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali), not only French troops were in Mali, but also troops from other UN-members as Germany. Despite the French troop withdrawal, Germany announced keep supporting Mali (Der Spiegel, 2021).

In conclusion, the political, economic and humanitarian worsened as a result of the military coups Mali experienced. The effect of the international pressure and the French troop withdrawal, however, remains to be seen.

person in camo attire near other people at daytime

Photo by Clovis Wood Photography published on Unsplash


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Baig, R. (2013, January 16). The interests behind France’s intervention in Mali: DW: 16.01.2013. Retrieved June 5, 2021, from https://www.dw.com/en/the-interests-behind-frances-intervention-in-mali/a-16523792

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Burke, J. (2020, August 19). Mali’s president announces resignation after ‘attempted coup’. Retrieved June 5, 2021, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/aug/18/mali-army-mutiny-sparks-fears-of-possible-coup

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Der Spiegel. (2021, May 31). Mali: Merkel will trotz Putsch an Bundeswehreinsatz in Mali festhalten. Retrieved June 5, 2021, from https://www.spiegel.de/ausland/mali-angela-merkel-will-trotz-putsch-an-bundeswehreinsatz-in-mali-festhalten-a-185c09be-284e-4a45-9ab1-74309598014f

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Ganley, E. (2020, August 25). French troops stay in Mali after coup, no end in sight. Retrieved June 5, 2021, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/africa/french-troops-stay-in-mali-after-coup-no-end-in-sight/2020/08/25/3b3a4f88-e6b2-11ea-bf44-0d31c85838a5_story.html

Klatt, C. (2020, November 04). Mali. Retrieved June 5, 2021, from https://www.bpb.de/internationales/weltweit/innerstaatliche-konflikte/175842/mali

Römer, J. (2021, April 20). Wie der Klimawandel Terror und Gewalt fördert – ein Bericht des Forschungsinstituts Sipri. Retrieved June 5, 2021, from https://www.spiegel.de/wissenschaft/mensch/sipri-bericht-zu-mali-wie-der-klimawandel-terror-und-gewalt-foerdert-a-e1adee2b-b257-42b2-aee3-d0c848fd1f6b

Schaap, F. (2020, August 27). Frankreichs Afghanistan. Retrieved June 5, 2021, from https://www.spiegel.de/ausland/mali-der-putsch-bringt-probleme-fuer-frankreich-a-e824d47e-7e12-4147-8cce-84402a0b5f29

Vincent, E., & Le Cam, M. (2021, June 03). La France suspend sa coopération militaire bilatérale avec le Mali. Retrieved June 5, 2021, from https://www.lemonde.fr/afrique/article/2021/06/03/la-france-suspend-sa-cooperation-militaire-bilaterale-avec-le-mali_6082742_3212.html

Wiegel, M. (2021, May 30). Nach dem Putsch in Mali: Solidarität alleine reicht nicht. Retrieved June 5, 2021, from https://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/ausland/macron-droht-putschisten-mit-truppenabzug-aus-mali-17365548.html

World Bank. (2021, April 28). The World Bank in Mali: Overview: Context. Retrieved June 5, 2021, from https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/mali/overview#2

Voyage to EU-Membership: The Case of North Macedonia

Article by Elena Simidzioski

How it began

North Macedonia is one of the key states waiting for EU-accession as part of the EU’s enlargement plan to the Western Balkans. One can trace back North Macedonia’s initial efforts towards EU-membership to 2005. Yet, North Macedonia’s attempts to join the EU are still unfolding, as the country faces a multiplicity of constraints. To join the EU, it was an indispensable condition for North Macedonia to resolve its longstanding name dispute with Greece (De Munter, 2020). After more than a decade of trying to put the matter to sleep, the dispute was finally concluded with the ‘Prespa Agreement’ (De Munter, 2020).

Where we are now

At present, accession negotiations have been open since 2019 (De Munter, 2020). Currently, Bulgaria challenges the origins of the Macedonian identity and language (Koutsokosta, 2021). Therefore, Bulgaria demands from North Macedonia to accept its language and identity as Bulgarian in origin (Koutsokosta, 2021). These demands are opposed by the Macedonian government and have resulted in significant backlash among the Macedonian population. Importantly, as denoted by Reuters (2021), Bulgaria’s interim government shows no signs of change in its position regarding the contested issue. As such, the veto is likely to stay in place over an extended period. Thus, the question is now, is there a way for North Macedonia to move forward in its EU-accession negotiations. Furthermore, it remains to be seen ehat challenges the prolonged negotiations pose to its domestic affairs?

Consequences of stalled EU accession

Rising Euroscepticism

In several instance, the European Union has failed to deliver on its promises made to North Macedonia (Zsiros, 2021). This in turn undermines the very credibility of the EU as an organization and allows Euroscepticism  to take its toll among politicians and the domestic population (Zsiros, 2021).  Despite constantly striving to meet EU demands, and essentially achieving them, the EU has failed to keep its promise to proceed with North Macedonia’s  EU-accession and integration. This can be seen in that individual member-states give rise to new disputes with North Macedonia.

Increased polarization

The EU-negotiations impasse is increasingly dividing the Macedonian population in two camps: one pro-European integration, and the other opposing such efforts. Whereas pro-European views were prevalent initially, a significant share of the population is starting to provide impetus for nationalist and anti-European rhetorics (Brzozowski & Makszimov, 2021). This can only further impede North Macedonia’s process of EU-accession.

Outflow of human capital

Partly arising from the EU-deadlock, an increasing brain drain is taking place on Macedonian soil (Parrock, J. 2021). The country falls short on several matters, such as educational, economic, and political development. All of these inspire even pro-European youngsters to make a living elsewhere (EWP, 2021). Having lost faith in EU-accession, individuals are incentivized to acquire EU-nationality by securing Bulgarian citizenship, which partly fuels the aforementioned dispute between the countries. Thus, North Macedonia is facing a serious problem with shifting demographics, where the educated labor force decides to migrate. Joining the EU would aid the problem as the implementation of the rule of law and a growing economy due to the free market will diminish major drawbacks for leaving the state.

Is the Sisyphean fate inescapable?

Essentially, after many years of trying to join the European family, Macedonia’s efforts seem like a never-ending cycle of failure and new endeavors to fulfill EU-membership conditions. Yet, is North Macedonia’s journey destined to resemble the myth of Sisyphus in reality? Frankly, two streams of assistance may serve to further pave its way towards EU-membership:

  1. Financial assistance

As the country faces drainage of human capital and malfunctional state infrastructure, financial assistance can aid the general well-being of the economy and encourage increased government expenditure on state infrastructure, education, and implementing the rule of law (European Western Balkans [EWP], 2020). Financial support may thus help to improve overall rates of completed higher education. Further, one-time grants aid the development of infrastructure, however, recurrent costs cannot be realized which causes infrastructure to erode. It is equally vital to implement the rule of law – political development must take place. State institutions need to undergo substantial reforms as they constitute breeding places for patronage, corruption, and pork-barrel politics. Inconveniently, hardly anything can be realized without assistance, given the country’s GDP of 12.546 billion dollars (World Bank [WB], 2019).

  1. Political empowerment

North Macedonia’s EU trajectory has been marked by persistent games of power politics. This is illustrated by the dispute with Greece, contesting North Macedonia’s constitutional name (De Munter, 2020). Further, it is illustrated by the current dispute with Bulgaria (Stamouli, 2021). Thus, the country is in need of political empowerment by powerful actors from the Western bloc who need to create a level-playing-field for North Macedonia vis-à-vis its challengers. Only then, North Macedonia can have a strong-enough-backbone to defend its stance in ongoing disputes, and eventually attain its long-desired EU-membership.

blue and white flags on pole

Photo by Guillaume Périgois published on Unsplash


Reuters (2021, May 12). Bulgaria interim govt to maintain veto on North Macedonia’s EU talks.

Brzozowski A., & Makszimov V. (2021, May 10). EU faced with ‘deep disappointment’ in Western Balkans. Euractiv.

European Comission (2020, July 16). Coronavirus: Macro-financial assistance agreement provides for €80 million disbursement to North Macedonia (2020, July 16) [Photograph].

De Munter, A. (2020, November). The Western Balkans. European Parliament.

Koutsokosta, E. (2021, May 11). Splitting EU membership bids of North Macedonia and Albania ‘not possible’. Euronews.

Parrock, J. (2021, April 29). The President of North Macedonia calls for more EU presence in the Balkans. Euronews.

European Western Balkans (2020, November 20). Rule of law essential for the EU accession process, but new tools are required

Stamouli N., (2021, May 19). North Macedonia PM: EU risks losing sway in Balkans. Politico.

Telarico A. F., (2021, April 13). North Macedonia’s Journey to the EU. Modern Diplomacy.

World Bank (2019). GDP (current US$) – North Macedonia.

European Western Balkans (2021, May 19). Zaev warns about increasing Euroskepticism in North Macedonia due to EU accession impasse.

Zsiros, S., (2021, May 7). EU’s credibility ‘undermined’ if North Macedonia delayed from joining the bloc. Euronews.

Sexual violence against women in Tigray

Article by Alexandra Reinhild Berndt

In Ethiopia’s Tigray region sexual violence against women has dramatically increased. According to Mark Lowcock, the Emergency Relief Coordinator of the OCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), sexual violence in the Tigray region is “used as weapon of war” (Nichols, 2021). Women’s rights groups confirm this assessment: Saba Gebremedhin, a women’s rights activist from the Tigray region, warned that rape is increasingly used as means of humiliation and dehumanisation against Tigrayan people (Africanews, 2021). Weyni Abraha, another Tigrayan women’s rights activist, also stated in an interview with the BBC that women are raped “purposely to break the morale of people, threaten them and make them give up the fight” (BBC, 2021). In this article I will focus on the situation of women and the reaction the international community and the Ethiopian government.

Cruel reports of sexual violence

In the last weeks and months, more and more cruel stories of sexually abused come to light. There are reports of individuals who were “allegedly forced to rape members of their own family, under threats of imminent violence” (BBC, 2021). Many other women reported that “rocks, nails and other objects have been forced inside [their] bodies” (Walsh, 2021). The physical and emotional injuries are unimaginable. There are women who suffer from “sexually transmitted diseases and injuries that rendered them incontinent” (Houreld, 2021).

Lack of access to medical help

The access to medical help is thus more than ever important to women. According to UNICEF, however, only thirteen percent of the medical facilities in the Tigray region are functional (UNICEF, 2021). Most of the health clinics have been plundered, damaged or destroyed during the conflict (Walsh, 2021). This further exacerbates the situation of affected women. It is more and more difficult for women to get access to medical help, anti-STD medication and emergency contraception (BBC, 2021)


Dr. Fasika Amdeselassie, a public health official reported that there have been at least 829 cases of sexual assault since the beginning of the Tigray conflict (Nichols, 2021; Houreld, 2021). The estimated number of unknown cases, however, is assumed to be much higher. There are two main reasons for this: lack of medical facilities and stigmatization. Ethiopia is a very conservative country (Clark & Kyte, 2021). Many women are afraid to report sexual violence because rape is highly stigmatized in Ethiopia (Houreld, 2021). Those women who are willing to tell their trauma are exposed to a “risk of reprisal” (Clark & Kyte). Furthermore, officials are sometimes unwilling to report sexual violence due to fear of facing retaliation from the military which “could target them for documenting the crime” (Walsh, 2021). Women are thus increasingly living in a situation of fear and insecurity. Many women who experienced sexual violence are no longer able to “care for their children and support their families” (Clark & Kyte, 2021).  This has devastating effects on children. The calls for support of Tigrayan women and girls are thus getting louder.

International reaction

The increase in sexual violence against women has captured the attention of the international community (Houreld, 2021). France, Italy, Germany, the UK, the US and Canada “condemn[ed] the killing of civilians [and the] sexual and gender-based violence” (Euronews, 2021). The United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, “demanded that the UN act at the highest level to apply resolution 1325 to the crimes in Tigray” (Clark & Kyte, 2021). This resolution (which has been adopted in 2000) calls for the protection of women and girls from violence in conflict (Clark & Kyte, 2021). In April 2021, the Security Council finally agreed on a public statement. The members of the Security Council “expressed their deep concern about allegations of human rights violations and abuses, including reports of sexual violence against women and girls” (Nichols, 2021).

Reaction of the Ethiopian government

In March 2021, Abiy Ahmed, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia acknowledged the atrocities and promised to punish offenders (Houreld, 2021). Furthermore, Ethiopia’s minister of women, children and youth, Filsan Abdullahi Ahmed, initiated a task force to investigate cases of sexual violence (Africanews, 2021). The Ethiopian government thus reacted to the international pressure.


Already in August 2020, Human Rights organizations as Genocide Watch expressed their concerns and warned the international community of potential atrocities (Ochab, 2021). It is thus very sad that it needed so much time for the international community to find a response to the violence in Tigray.

silhouette of person on window
Photo by Maxim Hopman published on Unsplash


Africanews. (2021, March 09). Survivors allege rape by soldiers in Tigray. Retrieved May 5, 2021, from https://www.africanews.com/2021/03/09/survivors-allege-rape-by-soldiers-in-tigray/

BBC. (2021, February 15). Ethiopia’s Tigray crisis: ‘I lost my hand when a soldier tried to rape me’. Retrieved May 5, 2021, from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-55832711

Clark, H., & Kyte, R. (2021, April 27). In Tigray, sexual violence has become a weapon of war. Retrieved May 5, 2021, from https://foreignpolicy.com/2021/04/27/in-tigray-sexual-violence-has-become-a-weapon-of-war/

Euronews. (2021, April 02). G7 ‘seriously concerned’ about human rights violations in Tigray. Retrieved May 5, 2021, from https://www.euronews.com/2021/04/02/g7-seriously-concerned-about-human-rights-violations-in-ethiopia-s-tigray-region

Houreld, K. (2021, April 15). Health official alleges ‘sexual slavery’ in Tigray. Retrieved May 5, 2021, from https://www.reuters.com/world/special-report-health-official-alleges-sexual-slavery-tigray-women-blame-2021-04-15/

Nichols, M. (2021, April 15). Sexual violence being used as weapon of war in Ethiopia’s Tigray, U.N. says. Retrieved May 5, 2021, from https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/sexual-violence-being-used-weapon-war-ethiopias-tigray-un-says-2021-04-15/

Nichols, M. (2021, April 22). U.N. Security Council, for first time, declares concern about Ethiopia’s Tigray. Retrieved May 5, 2021, from https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/un-security-council-notes-concern-over-humanitarian-situation-tigray-2021-04-22/

Ochab, E. U., Dr. (2021, February 16). Mass atrocities, including the use of rape and sexual violence, in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. Retrieved May 5, 2021, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/ewelinaochab/2021/02/16/mass-atrocities-including-the-use-of-rape-and-sexual-violence-in-the-tigray-region-of-ethiopia/?sh=17d7701353d3

UNICEF. (2021, April 27). Statement on gender-based violence in Tigray region of Ethiopia. Retrieved May 5, 2021, from https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/statement-gender-based-violence-tigray-region-ethiopia

Walsh, D. (2021, April 01). ‘They told us not to resist’: Sexual violence pervades Ethiopia’s war. Retrieved May 5, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/01/world/africa/ethiopia-tigray-sexual-assault.html

Sofagate – A serious blow for the European Union

An article by Lea Schiller

It is a video that is uncomfortable to watch – Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, is left standing while Turkish President Erdoğan and the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, take the two chairs in the centre of the room in Ankara. This incident is now widely known as “Sofagate”. It turned a meeting meant to improve relations between the European Union (EU) and Turkey into a diplomatic scandal. Side-lining one of the EU’s leaders, a female one at that, to a sofa while the two men self-evidently take the chairs has prompted discussions about sexism and the relationship between the European Commission and the European Council – for good reason. In the following, I will lay out why this situation cannot – and should not – be brushed aside.

Official responses to the incident

Later in the month, von der Leyen gave an impassioned speech to the European Parliament, describing her discomfort in the situation and blaming sexism for the incident: “In the pictures of previous meetings I did not see any shortage of chairs. But then again, I did not see any women in these pictures, either” (Boffey, 2021). It is a strong choice of words – especially when compared to Michel’s response. The President of the European Council claimed the incident was “regrettable”, but also did not apologise in this initial statement on the situation (Gray, 2021). After heavy criticism from women’s rights groups as well as members of the European Parliament, Michel expressed regret and his apologies for the situation (Boffey, 2021). Meanwhile, Turkey’s Foreign Minister put the blame for the lack of chairs on the EU, arguing that the seating arrangement had been made based on the demands made by the EU. Council president Michel however, blamed Turkey’s strict interpretation of the EU’s protocol rules (BBC, 2021). This is a blame game that does not leave either Turkey or Michel in a good light. Turkey, because the agenda for the meeting included Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention of Violence Against Women. Michel, because of his seemingly instinctive decision to sit down while von der Leyen was left standing.

Sofagate and its consequences

Sofagate is no laughing matter, and its ramifications are twofold. Firstly, the EU has made itself vulnerable to scrutiny of the relationship between its Council and its Commission. There have long been rumours of tensions between von der Leyen and Michel (Herszenhorn, de la Baume & Barigazzi, 2021), and this incident has only added more fuel to the fire. Afterwards, Michel struggled to explain his inaction as von der Leyen was left standing – his reasoning being that he did not want to cause a diplomatic incident and compromise the success of the meeting (von der Burchard & de la Baume, 2021). While this is a fair objection to those demanding he should have insisted on a third chair, its argumentative power wanes in light of Michel’s later complaints that the controversy around the situation had overshadowed the actual meeting – a questionable comment from one of the two people who were provided with a chair.  And secondly, the EU has visibly failed to take a stand for women’s rights, and perhaps even more importantly, for respect towards one of its highest representatives.

Why Sofagate affects the European Union as a whole 

Instead of discussing the results of the EU’s talks with Erdoğan, the attention is now on the missing chair, and the clumsy way it was handled by the EU. The European Union was left standing divided between two of its big powerhouses, having failed to stand up for itself and for women’s rights. This comes to show that incidents like these cannot be written off as funny or unfortunate mistakes – they expose a deeper incoherence in the EU’s internal power structure, and they make us painfully aware of the sexism that is deeply rooted in the highest ranks of the EU. Us – that is not only European citizens, but also those working within the EU. In the words of Sophie in ’t Veld, who is a Dutch MEP in Brussels: “Europe will never become a strong, geopolitical force until it learns to stand up for itself by speaking with a single voice” (in ’t Veld, 2021). In the end, it is not only Michel and Erdoğan who have been tainted by “Sofagate”, but the European Union as well.

teal flag under cloudy sky
Photo by Sara Kurfeß published on Unsplash


BBC News (2021, April 8). Turkey blames EU in ‘sofagate’ diplomatic spat. Retrieved from: https://www.bbc.com/news/56676344

Boffey, D. (2021, April 26). ‘Sofagate’ snub would not have happened to a man – von der Leyen. The Guardian. Retrieved  from: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/apr/26/sofagate-snub-would-not-have-happened-to-a-man-von-der-leyen

Gray, A. (2021, April 7). Charles Michel on Sofagate: Not my fault. Politico. Retrieved from: https://www.politico.eu/article/charles-michel-on-sofagate-not-my-fault-ursula-von-der-leyen-recep-tayyip-erdogan/

Herszenhorn, D.M., de la Baume, M., & Barigazzi, J. (2021, August 29). Presidential power wars: von der Leyen vs. Michel. Politico. Retrieved from: https://www.politico.eu/article/battle-in-the-bubble-ursula-von-der-leyen-and-charles-michel-clash-for-presidential-primacy/

in ’t Veld, S. (2021, April 9). What Sofagate says about Ursula von der Leyen. Politico. Retrieved from: https://www.politico.eu/article/what-sofagate-says-about-ursula-von-der-leyen/

von der Burchard, H. & de la Baume, M. (2021, April 8). Charles Michel on Sofagate: ‘I deeply regret this situation’. Politico. Retrieved from: https://www.politico.eu/article/charles-michel-admits-mistake-in-sofagate/

Witch-hunts in Tanzania

Article by Alexandra Reinhild Berndt

In Tanzania, socially vulnerable and discriminated groups such as the LGBT+ community, elderly women and people with albinism are running the risk of being murdered in the context of witch-hunts. The murder of people who are suspected to be practicing witch-craft is not a new phenomenon in Tanzania: Already between 1960 and 2000, around 40,000 people have been murdered after being accused to practice witch-craft (Müller & Sanderson, 2020). Certain communities try to find a scapegoat for their problems; they try to blame, for instance, “diseases such as HIV/AIDS or female infertility on witchcraft” (Müller & Sanderson, 2020). Tanzania is not the only country facing this problem: witch-hunts are practiced in 36 other countries around the globe (Müller & Sanderson, 2020). In this article, I will focus on the situation of elderly women, people with albinism and the LGBT+ community.

Elderly women

In the last 20 years, thousands of elderly women have been murdered in the context of witch-hunts in Tanzania (Müller, 2020). Most vulnerable are those women who are not protected by their families (Müller, 2020). Oftentimes, poverty plays an important role. If there are no pension systems, elderly women are dependent on the help and financial support of others to make their living; they are thus perceived as a burden. The introduction of a pension system could contribute to a safer environment and provide “an incentive to keep them alive” (Migiro, 2017). According to Migiro (2017), another reason for witch-hunts is land: If the husband of a women dies, the widow has the right to live on the land the husband possessed. Only after the death of the widow, the land can be passed on to male relatives of the husband (Migiro, 2017). This can increase likelihood of attacks. Accusing the widow of practicing witchcraft represents a method to get rid of the women and to get access to land (Migiro, 2017).  Elderly women are thus particularly vulnerable to be victims of witch-hunts.

People with albinism

In comparison with other African countries, the rate of albinism is very high in Tanzania: It is estimated that “around one in 1,400 people have albinism in Tanzania, while in most other parts of Africa it occurs in one in every 5,000 to 15,00 people” (Velton, 2017). Between 2000 and 2017, “around 80 people with albinism in Tanzania have been murdered” (Velton, 2017). People with albinism are believed to be “ghosts or haunted beings” (Chang & Thompson, 2017).

Some parts of the population also believe that body parts of people with albinism can be “used to extract potions against all sorts of ailments” (Müller & Sanderson, 2020). Witch doctors spread the idea that “bones and other organs of persons with albinism if mixed with a magic potion” will make clients rich and successful (Chang & Thompson, 2017). People with albinism are thus dehumanized and exposed to an immense threat.

The LGBT+ community

In 2018, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet warned of a “witch-hunt (which) could be interpreted as a license to carry out violence, intimidation, bullying, harassment and discrimination against those perceived to be LGBT” (Burke, 2018). The threat of a “gay witch hunt” has spread a lot fear among the Tanzanian LGBT+ community (Bhalla, 2018). Since President John Magufuli’s election in 2015, attacks against the LGBT+ community have risen (Bhalla, 2018).


Overall, social vulnerability is an important factor (Migiro, 2017). All the mentioned groups (elderly women, people with albinism and the LGBT+ community) are socially vulnerable in Tanzania. These groups need particular protection and support. The pension system for elderly women (which would make them more independent and less prone to attacks) is a good example of how this protection can be achieved.

grayscale photo of human palms
Photo by Om Prakash Sethia published on Unsplash


Bhalla, N. (2018, November 01). Gay witch-hunt sparks fear and panic in Tanzania’s LGBT community. Retrieved April 5, 2021, from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-tanzania-lgbt-rights-idUSKCN1N65PB

Chang, J., & Thompson, V. (2017, December 28). Retrieved April 5, 2021, from https://abcnews.go.com/International/tanzanian-children-albinism-hunted-body-parts-receive-prosthetic/story?id=49496498

Migiro, K. (2017, March 21). Despite murderous attacks, Tanzania’s ‘witches’ fight for land. Retrieved April 5, 2021, from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-tanzania-women-landrights-idUSKBN16S2HU

Müller, C., & Sanderson, S. (2020, August 10). Witch hunts: A global problem in the 21st century: DW: 10.08.2020. Retrieved April 5, 2021, from https://www.dw.com/en/witch-hunts-a-global-problem-in-the-21st-century/a-54495289

Müller, C. (2020, August 10). Witch hunts, not just a thing of the past: DW: 10.08.2020. Retrieved April 5, 2021, from https://www.dw.com/en/witch-hunts-not-just-a-thing-of-the-past/a-54509188

Velton, R. (2017, April 25). The ‘silent killer’ of Africa’s albinos. Retrieved April 5, 2021, from https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20170425-the-silent-killer-of-africas-albinos

The EU’s vaccine export controls are only the tip of the iceberg

Article by Lea Schiller

In the last week of March, the European Union once again found itself in a controversy over its vaccine campaign, when the Commission proposed a rule which would give the bloc extensive powers to curb vaccine exports for six weeks. This action received mixed responses inside the EU and criticism from outside of it. But while the critique has valid reasons, the debate around these restrictions is misplaced – because while the EU might be stirring up conflict with other rich, vaccine producing nations, the developing world has largely been left to its own devices. In the following, I will lay out the reasons behind the restrictions, the mechanisms with which they work and the implications they have for the global vaccine trade

What led to the decision to impose export restrictions?

The EU is mainly exporting the Pfizer/BionTech vaccine. The rest of the exports are made up of Moderna and AstraZeneca shots, the latter of which has been the source of many conflicts in the past months. The main problem is that AstraZeneca has failed to meet its contractual obligations with the EU. In the meantime, the EU has been exporting millions of AstraZeneca doses to the UK, with none coming the other way – even though the EU invested thousands of Euros to expand manufacturing capacities in the UK (Herszenhorn & Deutsch, 2021). On top of that, Italian authorities discovered a stockpile of almost 30 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine (Martuscelli, 2021). It’s still unclear who these doses were meant for – the Commission has stated that there were no exports planned in the near future, and the company denied that the find was a stockpile in the first place (Martuscelli, 2021). In conclusion – weeks of mistrust between the EU and AstraZeneca, on top of a slow vaccination campaign within the EU have led up to the risky strategy of imposing vaccine export controls.

How do the export restrictions work?

The new rule, which went into force on the last day of March, allows export bans to countries on two conditions. One targets countries that restrict exports of vaccines or raw materials needed for vaccine manufacturing to the EU. The second applies to countries which have a higher vaccination rate than the EU or are experiencing a less severe COVID-19 outbreak. The first part of the regulation is clearly aimed towards the United Kingdom, which practically put an export ban in place when it signed a deal with AstraZeneca that states the company is to supply the United Kingdom first, before it is allowed to ship vaccines to other buyers (Herszenhorn & von der Burchard, 2021). The EU’s new export restrictions will affect millions of doses that are destined for the UK, which could slow down Britain’s fast-paced vaccination campaign.

Why vaccine export restrictions are controversial

Responding to the Commission’s proposal, Britain appealed to collaborative values and stressed that the fight against the pandemic is an international effort (Stevis-Gridneff, 2021). But such statements seem empty when some of the richest nations have been refusing to supply other countries with vaccines since the beginning of the vaccination campaign. The EU’s push for export controls may be ill-advised because it risks retaliation by other countries, specifically those who export the raw materials needed to manufacture the vaccines (Cendrowicz, 2021) – but this is only part of the problem. For one, other developed nations such as US and the UK have had practical export bans in force since the beginning of their vaccination campaign. And secondly, the UK, the US and the EU all opposed a proposal by developing countries to waiver the intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines, which could have boosted the vaccine production in poorer nations (Reuters, 2021).

The bigger picture

The provisions that have long been in place that allow richer nations to hoard vaccines and the profit they generate are keeping life-saving vaccinations from millions of people in need. So, while it is debatable whether the export restrictions will leave the EU better off in the long run, they are a mere fraction of a regime that is keeping the vaccine supply catered towards the richer part of the world. The West is not only creating divisions between themselves and the developing world, but also actively endangering the fight against the pandemic by allowing COVID-19 to spread unhindered in these regions. Until all countries have reached herd immunity, new mutations are free to emerge – and with them comes the threat of variants that vaccines cannot protect us from.


Cendrowicz, L. (2021, March 25). An EU ban on vaccine exports would make its wretched rollout take longer still. The Guardian. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/mar/25/an-eu-ban-on-vaccine-exports-would-make-its-wretched-rollout-take-longer-still

Deutsch, J., Eder, F., & Herszenhorn, D.M. (2021, January 26). Enraged at AstraZeneca over shortfall, EU calls for vaccine export controls. Politico. Retrieved from: https://www.politico.eu/article/enraged-at-astrazeneca-over-shortfall-eu-calls-for-vaccine-export-controls/

Herszenhorn, D.M. & von der Burchard, H. (2021, March 24). EU moves toward six-week vaccine export cut. Politico. Retrieved from: https://www.politico.eu/article/commission-proposes-six-week-vaccine-export-ban-amid-fears-of-trade-war/

Martuscelli, C. (2021, March 24). Italian authorities discover 29M Oxford/AstraZeneca doses: La Stampa. Politico. Retrieved from: https://www.politico.eu/article/italian-authorities-discover-29m-oxford-astrazeneca-vaccine-doses-la-stampa/

Reuters (2021, March 10). Rich, developing nations wrangle over COVID vaccine patents. Retrieved from: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-wto-idUSKBN2B21V9

Stevis-Gridneff, M. (2021, March 28). E.U. will curb covid vaccine exports for 6 weeks. The New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/23/world/europe/eu-curbs-vaccine-exports.html

The threat of low fertility rates in South Korea

Article by Alexandra Reinhild Berndt

In South Korea, low birth rates pose an important threat to society. The current fertility rate is estimated at 0.84 children per women (Lee, 2020). This means that the population is increasingly shrinking. At the moment, many Koreans decide to delay or avoid marriage (Kown & Yeung, 2019). The causes for this are multi-faceted and range from discrimination at the job market to the burden of care work. The government tried to counteract this development by providing financial incentives to young couples. Whether this approach is sufficient remains to be seen.

Causes of low fertility rates

The job market poses an important problem. Many women feel that they have to choose between a career and children. They have the impression that children are a significant impediment to a career (Gladstone, 2021). Women are expected to care for children, so that a return to the previous full-time job is very unlikely (Stangarone, 2019). Women may also face “questions about their marriage status and plans for having children when applying for a job” even though these questions are technically illegal (but the fines in case of law breaking are relatively low, so that firms are still willing to ask these questions) (Stangarone, 2019). Furthermore, the gender pay gap is with 35 percent the highest pay gap among OECD countries which have an average gap of 13,8 percent (Stangarone, 2019). Additionally, the work culture is very challenging with an average of 1967 hours of work per year (37,8 hours per week) (OECD, 2019).

The burden of care work

There are also social factors contributing to the decrease in the fertility rate. Koreans point to unsatisfactory childcare services as reason for not having a baby (Lee, 2020). Women carry most of the burden of care work (Peters, 2020). They work four times more in the household as men (Peters, 2020). It is thus not surprising that women prefer to work and earn money (instead of doing unpaid care work at home).  

Living and housing conditions

Suboptimal living conditions are also playing a role. Housing and rental prices are continuously rising and it is hard to find and adequate housing arrangement (Lee, 2020).  It is thus difficult for a young family to find an affordable and appropriate home.

Implications of decreasing birth rates

A shrinking and ageing population poses certain risks. It is important for a society, that there is a balance between the number of old people and children born. A decline in birth rates and an increase in life expectancy means a burden for the labor force. However, if the birth rate is too low to “stabilize its population”, migration might be an option to reduce the burden for the labor force.

Reaction of the South Korean government

Moon Jae-in, the South Korean President, tries to incentivize couples to get children. At birth, a couple is rewarded with 2 million won ($1,826) and there will be an extra amount of cash bonus every month (Gladstone, 2021). Furthermore, a young family may also expect “increased medical and other benefits” (Gladstone, 2021). In terms of the working conditions, the maximal number of working hours has been reduced from 68 hours to 52 hours per week in 2018 (Peters, 2020).


The causes of low fertility rates in South Korea are multi-faceted. The working conditions for women, however, seem to play a very important role. Especially for working mothers, it would be important that burdens for childcare are eliminated and that the working conditions are more flexible (Stangarone, 2019).

photo by Rod Long published on Unsplash


Gladstone, R. (2021, January 04). As Birthrate Falls, South Korea’s Population Declines, Posing Threat to Economy. Retrieved March 5, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/04/world/asia/south-korea-population.html

Kim, S. (2021, February 10). South Korea’s jobless rate hits 21-year high as COVID cases rise. Retrieved March 5, 2021, from https://www.aljazeera.com/economy/2021/2/10/bb-southkoreasjobless-rate-hits-21-year-high-as-covid-cases-rise

Kwon, J., & Yeung, J. (2019, August 29). South Korea’s fertility rate falls to record low. Retrieved March 5, 2021, from https://edition.cnn.com/2019/08/29/asia/south-korea-fertility-intl-hnk-trnd/index.html

Lee, D. D. (2020, December 27). Can South Korea lift the world’s lowest birth rate with cash incentives? Retrieved March 5, 2021, from https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/health-environment/article/3115396/can-south-korea-lift-worlds-lowest-birth-rate-offering

Peters, K. G. (2020, March 07). Südkorea: Warum viele Koreanerinnen keine Kinder möchten. Retrieved March 5, 2021, from https://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/suedkorea-und-die-niedrige-geburtenrate-warum-viele-koreanerinnen-keine-kinder-moechten-a-40617d97-7761-43f0-ac63-4d63f3433a17

Quick, M., & D’Efilippo, V. (2019, October 14). South Korea’s population paradox. Retrieved March 5, 2021, from https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20191010-south-koreas-population-paradox

Stangarone, T. (2019, June 14). Gender Inequality Makes South Korea Poorer. Retrieved March 5, 2021, from https://thediplomat.com/2019/06/gender-inequality-makes-south-korea-poorer/

OECD (2021), Hours worked (indicator). doi: 10.1787/47be1c78-en (Accessed on 05 March 2021)