Chinese investment in Ethiopia

Article by Alexandra Reinhild Berndt

In the context of China’s Belt and Road initiative, China invested heavily in Ethiopia. Between 2000 and 2018, Chinese investments even reached $13.7 billion (Marks, 2020). For Ethiopia, Chinese FDI represents an opportunity for economic growth and development. Even though poverty has been reduced in recent years, the rate of poverty remains a significant problem, especially in rural areas (Worldbank, 2020). Chinese funds have created many development opportunities. However, there are also certain risks associated with Chinese FDI.

The Ethiopian hope

China mainly invested in Ethiopian infrastructure. Railways, highways and metro-systems are financed by Chinese funds. The Ababa-Djibouti railway line is a perfect example showing Ethiopia’s hope in economic growth.  The international railway system links Ethiopia with Djibouti and guarantees Ethiopia access to Djiboutian ports. It provides a “major export and import connection” as it connects “land locked Ethiopia” with “the Red Sea’s international shipping routes” (Mohapatra, 2017).  It is expected to increase employment and revenue and thus shows Ethiopia’s hope in economic development.  Furthermore, the Ethiopian government expects Chinese investments to create an increase in employment. Several industries (as the textile industry) are planned to be further developed with the help of Chinese FDI (Breitegger, 2019). Ethiopia thus aspires to lift people out of poverty by insuring the creation of new jobs. Additionally, the government hopes that the increase in industrialization leads to a growth in the Ethiopian middle class (Breitegger, 2019). Another important aspect making Chinese FDI so attractive for Ethiopia is that China “disburses large sums of development aid to African countries” without making “assistance conditional on maintaining human rights standards or adhering to democratic norms and values” (Marks, 2020).

FDI with no strings attached?

The increasing dependency on Chinese investment, however, is the main risk associated with Chinese FDI. US Vice President Mike Pence even accused China of creating a “debt trap” (Breitegger, 2019; Olander, 2020). According to Marks (2020), “China accounts for nearly half of Ethiopia’s external debt” at the moment. The future will tell whether the American accusations are true.

Beijing’s interests

China’s interest in Ethiopia is multi-faceted. There are four main aspects that are worth mentioning. Firstly, the revenues for Ethiopian workers are significantly lower making it attractive for Chinese firms to create factories in the labor-abundant country (Breitegger, 2019). Secondly, Ethiopia represents a large consumer market (Crabtree, 2018). Thirdly, Ethiopia is attractive for Chinese investment as the Ethiopian government loweres taxes for Chinese firms (Breitegger, 2019). Fourthly, the creation of Chinese firms in Ethiopia provides jobs for Chinese citizens. It is estimated that one million Chinese people live in Africa at the moment, many of them working in the construction industry.

Implications of the Tigray conflict

In November 2020, the conflict in the Tigray region between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Ethiopian federal government escalated (Farole, 2020). According to Farole (2020), “thousands of civilians have been replaced and hundreds have died”. The escalation of the ethnic conflict has motivated the European Union to suspend “nearly €90 million in budgetary aid to Ethiopia” (Marks, 2020). This decision reflects the EU’s attempt to link financial aid with the commitment to democratic values. In contrast to the EU, China’s investment in Ethiopia has not been conditional on the commitment to democratic norms and Human rights thus far (Marks, 2020). However, the impact of the conflict on Chinese investment decisions remains unclear.


Chinese investments are very important for the economic development of Ethiopia. The Ethiopian government hopes that Chinese FDI reduces unemployment and poverty and increase economic growth. However, it remains unclear to which extent the Tigray conflict might influence Chinese investment decisions. Furthermore, the increase in Ethiopian debt raises the question to which extent Ethiopia is dependent on China.

1 U.S.A dollar banknotes
photo by Sharon McCutcheon published on Unsplash


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Marks, S. (2020, February 03). Ethiopia plays Europe off China in bid to boost investment. Retrieved January 4, 2021, from

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Worldbank. (2020, April 16). Ethiopia poverty assessment: Poverty rate declines, despite challenges. Retrieved January 5, 2021, from

COVID-19 could spark change bring about a digital tax in the EU– but will the US give its support?

Article by Lea Schiller

Before COVID-19, there was a move for a so-called “digital tax” in Europe – a tax aimed at the profits generated from digital activities. Even back then, the proposal was contested, not only within the EU but also with its Atlantic partners. Then came the pandemic, and with it not only an even bigger need for these taxes, but also shifted the world’s attention away from these plans. A solution to this problem is desperately needed, especially since governments will need the revenue to revive their economies – but an agreement that both the EU and the US will agree to is going to be difficult to reach. The EU should nevertheless move forward, towards a local digital tax.

What is a digital tax, and why is it important?

The goal of the digital tax is to close the legal hole that has been left by the existing taxation system. The current system does not take into consideration the many new business models that rely on digital spaces to make revenue (European Council, 2020). Current taxation systems assume that businesses have a physical presence in the country in which they make profit. This leads to a situation in which profits are not taxed in the country in which the consumers are – a situation that the digital tax proposal intends to fix. It is a hotly contested idea, not least because the stakes are high: more and more revenue are being generated online, and this development has only been exacerbated by the pandemic. Companies like Google and Facebook have found it easy to grow their revenue, as their business model benefits from the emphasis on digital spaces. On one side, tech giants like Google and Amazon are reluctant to give up their advantage. On the other hand, states seek a way to level the playing field for their domestic companies. In contrast to big corporations in the tech industry, they have been making major losses since the pandemic has started to force governments to put their countries in lockdown.

The EU’s efforts for a digital tax: a rocky road

In 2019, France introduced a 3% digital tax that was planned to go into effect in April of 2020 but had to be pushed back after the US threatened to retaliate with tariffs on French wine (Heikkilä & Braun, 2020). Nevertheless, the move prompted other EU member states (Spain, Italy, Austria and the Czech Republic) to come forward with their own proposals for a digital tax – though none of them have been implemented yet (Heikkilä & Braun, 2020). The EU sent the European Commission to represent the Union at the OECD, which is working on a global solution, in order to avoid regional differences and prevent countries from lowering the tax rate to entice companies to move their headquarters there. However, it is unclear if – or when – the OECD will come to a decision and so France has renewed talks of an EU-wide digital tax (Reuters, 2020). With good reason – the potential revenue that could be collected from these taxes would be welcome amidst the economic fallout of the pandemic.

Roadblock US: Why it will be difficult to keep them on the negotiating table

The first draft of a solution by the OECD consists of two pillars: firstly, the goal that companies will be taxed where they make profit, and secondly, a global minimum corporate tax. The European Commission has stated that it prefers a solution to include both pillars, as otherwise not all member states will agree to it (Heikkilä & Braun, 2020). However, the US has voiced strong opposition to the first pillar. And that is not where the story ends: in June, after pulling out of negotiations with European countries, the US Treasury sent a letter to the finance ministers of the UK, France, Italy and Spain, warning them of imposing a digital tax, and to expect tariffs on their goods if they do (Fleming, Brunsden, Giles & Politi, 2020). And it is unclear if the Biden administration will change its stance on the issue. The new president will have to deal with the economic fallout of the pandemic, and the Democrats have opposed digital taxes in the past, claiming that they unfairly target US companies (Horowitz, 2020). Getting the US to agree to a settlement could be a long, drawn out process that means conflict is ahead, whether the EU moves forward with their plans of a local digital tax or not.

Moving ahead

The EU is in dire need of a solution for the digital tax problem. France’s digital tax was only pushed back until December 2020 and the country is pushing the EU to find a solution by mid-2021, should the OECD not come to a decision until then (Reuters, 2020). It is a deadline that is a chance as much as it is a risk – moving towards a regional tax in Europe could lead to tensions with the newly inaugurated Biden administration. That is to say that establishing such a tax for the bloc is not going to be easy; not least because the EU will need to avoid triggering a trade war with the US. But the issue is too pressing to wait. Big companies operating in digital spaces have made profit during the pandemic – Amazon for example doubled its profits during the second quarter of 2020 (Dastin & Rana, 2020). And if the EU wants to mitigate the effects of the shutdowns on their domestic firms and small businesses, it is going to need as many sources of revenue as possible.

flag of U.S.A.
photo by Renan Kamikoga published by Unsplash


Dastin, R. & Rana, A. (2020, July 30). Amazon posts biggest profit ever at height of pandemic in U.S. Reuters. Retrieved from:

European Council. (2020, October 20). Digital Taxation. Retrieved from:

Fleming, S., Brunsden, J., Giles, C. & Politi, J. (2020, June 17). US upends global digital tax plans after pulling out of talks with Europe. The Financial Times. Retrieved from:

Heikkilä, M. & Braun, E. (2020, July 23). Digital Tax: A cautionary tale. Politico. Retrieved from:

Horowitz, J. (2020, November 25). France orders Big Tech to pay despite threat of US tariffs. CNN. Retrieved from:

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The CFA franc – a relic of the colonial past

An article by Alexandra Reinhild Berndt

Luigi Di Maio, an Italian minister, accused France of impoverishing Africa by means of the CFA franc (Giles & Goodman, 2019). The CFA franc has been introduced by the French government in 1945 and is still used by 14 African countries in West- and Central Africa (Specia, 2019). Why is the CFA franc still used today even though it is a legacy of the colonial era? In the following, I will elucidate both the advantages and disadvantages of the currency. Furthermore, I will investigate whether or not the Eco represents a solution to the problem. The Eco is a new currency that will be introduced in eight of the fourteen countries (Frisch, 2020).

Stability – The main economic advantage of the CFA franc

There are three central economic advantages of the CFA franc. First of all, the currency guarantees low inflation rates. This is very important as high inflation rates can have a negative impact on a country’s economic development (Assoko, 2020). Secondly, the CFA franc provides for low borrowing costs as interest rates are capped (Assoko, 2020). Thirdly, the currency makes it easier for investors to predict fluctuations (Assoko, 2020). The CFA franc thus ensures economic and monetary stability (Specia, 2019).

The neocolonial nature of the CFA franc

Critics perceive the CFA franc as a legacy of colonialism (Frisch, 2020). The original name of the currency was “Franc of the French Colonies of Africa” reflecting the neocolonial nature of the CFA franc (Specia, 2019). Many African artists showed their indignation at the currency in the context of art campaigns. In 2018, ten rappers from six different West African countries published a song named “seven minutes against the CFA” criticizing the currency as a relic from the colonial past (Cascais, 2018). Hervé Youmbi, an artist from Cameroun, invented a pan-African currency in the context of an art campaign to express his anger at the currency (Frisch, 2020).

Economic dependence – a point of critique

Critics of the currency condemn the economic dependence on France. France holds 50 percent of the foreign exchange reserves (about ten billion euro) in the French central bank in return for stable exchange rates (Herrmann & Bos, 2019). Furthermore, the CFA franc is pegged to the euro. This has several consequences. The currency is automatically pegged to monetary policies of the European Central Bank (Reuß, 2020). This means that the states using the CFA franc cannot change their exchange rates on their own. Moreover, the monetary policy of the European Central Bank does not necessarily serve African interests (Reuß, 2020). The states using the CFA franc are thus not independent in their economic and monetary decision-making. Another criticism is that French firms profit from the existence of the CFA franc as they can more easily export their products to the regions where CFA franc is used (Frisch, 2020). There are thus not only political, but also economic points of critique.

The Eco – a possible solution?

Eight countries from the West African Economic and Monetary Union decided to introduce a new currency: the Eco (Fröhlich, 2019). Changing the currency from CFA franc to Eco has several implications. The French government will “stop holding 50 percent of the reserves in the French Treasury” (Fröhlich, 2019). Moreover, France will “withdraw French governance related to the currency” (Fröhlich, 2019). However, the Eco is also “pegged to the euro, just like the CFA franc” (Fröhlich, 2019). In this regard, nothing has changed. It thus remains questionable whether the reform really provides a significant change.

In conclusion, countries using CFA franc face a trade-off between economic stability and self-determination. The debate about the currency shows the extent to which post-colonial countries are affected by colonial legacies. The Eco is an attempt to end economic dependence. However, it remains unclear whether the Eco-reform really guarantees self-determination.

Yugoslavia flag under blue sky
photo by Anthony Choren published on Unsplash


Assoko, J. T. (2020, December 03). The CFA Franc, Macron and everyone else. Retrieved December 5, 2020, from

Cascais, A. (2018, July 21). Westafrika: Rap gegen die “Kolonialwährung” CFA-Franc. Retrieved December 5, 2020, fromährung-cfa-franc/a-44340082

Frisch, R. (2020, October 04). Das Ende einer Kolonialwährung. Der Franc CFA und die Kontrolle des Geldes in West­afrika. Retrieved December 5, 2020, from

Fröhlich, S. (2019, December 23). West Africa’s new currency, the Eco: Rebrand or fresh start? Retrieved December 5, 2020, from

Giles, C., & Goodman, J. (2019, January 25). African migration: Is the CFA franc forcing people to leave? Retrieved December 5, 2020, from

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Specia, M. (2019, January 22). The African Currency at the Center of a European Dispute. Retrieved December 5, 2020, from

How Biden’s presidency will change transatlantic relations

An article by Lea Schiller

Although they are looking to improve under Biden, relations between the European Union (EU) and the United States (US) as we have known them for the past couple of decades are over. For the EU, this situation is as much a hurdle as it is a chance.

It would be easy to assume that Biden, who has close ties to European leaders and has always been a transatlanticist (Karnitschnig, 2020), will reset the relationship between the EU and the US to what they were before Donald Trump took office. However, both EU diplomats and politicians in the US have argued that this is not going to be the case. For the EU, trying to hang onto its old relations with the US would not only mean treading on a path long abandoned, but missing a vital chance to establish a foreign policy free from American influence.

Throughout his entire four years in office, Trump has not only set a different tone towards Europe, but highlighted issues that had been plaguing the transatlantic relationship for years – one of the most important ones being the defence budgets of NATO members. Many members of the EU still have not fulfilled their pledge to raise their defence spending to 2% of their GDP – and Biden is unlikely to let this issue go (Karnitschnig, 2020). But even more important will be various issues connected to trade. Resolving conflicts around Europe’s planned digital tax and US subsidies for American aircraft maker Boeing might not be easy to resolve for Biden – Trump’s presidency has left distrust in the US’ trade deals in many Americans, especially Republicans (Lawrence & Murray, 2020). If the Democrats cannot gain a majority in Senate (two key Senate seats will be voted on in January), trade will be a hard-fought issue for years to come.

EU diplomats have also asserted the need for change. As Germany’s Foreign Affairs Minister Heiko Maas said in front of the European Council in June: “Regardless of who wins the elections in November, […] we will have to think about how to better contain the conflicts in Europe’s vicinity, even without the US” (Maas, 2020). And just two weeks ago, Emmanuel Macron asserted that “We owe it to our citizens not to depend on others” (Walt 2020). For many EU diplomats, the Trump presidency has been an awakening (Walt, 2020). After verbal attacks, taxes on European goods and conflicts around NATO, the US is not the dependable partner it once was.

Both sides are preparing for lasting change in their relationship; but what can the EU gain from this? Simply put, it is more autonomy from the US and a chance to assert itself as a world power, independent from the tensions between the US and China for instance.

But in order to stand on its own, the EU will need to present a more united front to the world – in practice, this means more integration. The willingness to achieve this is there for some – earlier this year, Macron called for a clear and definitive move towards more integration (Wintour, 2020). But on the other side of the bloc, Hungary and Poland have been blocking the enactment of the EU’s new seven-year budget following plans to tie it to the rule of law (Hopkins, Shotter & Fleming, 2020). The push for more integration would undoubtedly be met with stern opposition. Whether this can be overcome will depend on upcoming national elections in other member states; most notably, Germany in 2021 and France in 2022.

The EU will need to perform a very delicate balancing act of holding onto its good relations with the US while simultaneously protecting its own interests and finding a way to detach itself from American control. This, although difficult to achieve, will also be a chance for the EU. By losing dependence on the US, the EU could pursue its own foreign policy goals, without having to adhere to demands from Washington. But to make this possible, deeper integration of the bloc is unavoidable – whether this will be possible, and how quickly it could be realised, remains to be seen.

selective focus photography of USA flaglet
photo by Raúl Nájera on Unsplash

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Wintour, P. (February, 15 2020). Macron sets out 10-year vision for EU with call for more integration. The Guardian. Retrieved from:

The link between ghettoization and Islamist terrorist attacks in France

An article by Alexandra Reinhild Berndt

More than 200 people died due to Islamist terrorist attacks in the five past years in France (Gennies, Meier & Jansen, 2020). The beheading of the French teacher Samuel Paty and the killing of three people in a church in Nizza demonstrated the increasing danger of Islamist terror. In this article, I will evaluate the reactions of the French government and the Muslim world. Furthermore, I will investigate the causes of the increase in Islamist terrorist attacks by focusing on the formation of parallel societies.

The French school teacher Paty was murdered by an Islamist terrorist as he showed caricatures of the prophet Muhammad in class (Safi, Makoii, Baloch & Ahmed, 2020). The French government reacted by defending the right of freedom of speech and press. Furthermore, the military presence was increased from 3000 to 7000 soldiers (Gennies, Meier & Jansen, 2020). Macron also promised to introduce a new law against “Islamic separatism” (Willsher, 2020). The objective of this law is to fight against Islamist extremism by facilitating the shutdown of “mosques and other organizations accused of fomenting radicalism and violence” (Burke, 2020). Among the additional new measures introduced by the president are: homeschooling, the oversight over religious funding and the enforcement of respect of “Republic values” (Sandford, 2020). Another important consequence is the further increase in anti-Muslim sentiments, not only within the population, but also within government (Hebel, Salloum & Truckendanner, 2020). The presidents’ remark that Islam “is in crisis all over the world today” even lead to a diplomatic crisis with Muslim countries in the Middle East (Fishere, 2020). Muslim states as Turkey, Iran, Kuwait and Algeria started boycotting French products (Hebel, Salloum & Truckendanner, 2020). Iran even summoned a French diplomat and accused France of hypocrisy and arrogance vis-à-vis Islam (Hebel, Salloum & Truckendanner, 2020). An important Egyptian religious authority, Al-Azhar, even accused Macron of hurting “the feelings of two billion Muslim followers” and hindering “the path to constructive dialogue” (Fishere, 2020). The president’s remark on Islam thus even led to a diplomatic crisis. The Muslim community is now very concerned about stigmatization, an increase in anti-Muslim sentiment and discrimination against the Muslim minority in France (Hebel, Salloum & Truckendanner, 2020). The remarks of Macron, stigmatizing “the entire faith” for “actions of a small number of extremists”, also brought back memories about colonial times when people were systemically discriminated on the basis of their religious faith (Safi, Makoii, Baloch, & Ahmed, 2002).

After having examined the reactions of the French government and the Muslim society, I will subsequently investigate the role of parallel society and ghettoization. After Samuel Paty’s murder, Macron admitted that the French government made severe mistakes in the past in terms of dealing with ghettoization and parallel societies (Wachs, 2020).  France has had important problems with the integration of the Muslim minority into the French society (Onishi & Breeden, 2020). The formation of ghettos and parallel societies are a symptom of this failed integration. In the ghettoes, Muslim immigrants “turn to religion as a defense mechanism and rallying point” (Burke, 2020).  The president now promised to solve this problem by threatening to shutdown “mosques and other organizations accused of fomenting radicalism and violence” (Burke, 2020). However, these political measures only aim at calming voters short-hand, but fail to solve the underlying problem (Wesel, 2020). A solution to the problem is much more difficult and a long process. Solving the problem would mean to invest a lot of time and resources into integration, education, infrastructure and housing (Wesel, 2020). However, if the ghettoization was one of the main causes of radicalization and Islamist terrorism, it would be in the interest of the French society to invest time and resources to fight against it. An anti-Muslim rhetoric is not solving the problem but rather contributing to a severe intersocietal, interethnic conflict.

In conclusion, the Islamist terrorist attacks are a symptom of the ignorance of parallel societies. Adopting a Muslim rhetoric is not helpful, but rather contra-productive and has serious repercussions for the relations with the Muslim community in France and worldwide.

photo by Stephanie LeBlanc on Unsplash


Burke, J. (2020, October 29). Attacks in France put Islamist extremism back in spotlight. Retrieved October 30, 2020, from

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An update on Brexit

An article by Lea Schiller

As the transition period of Brexit comes to a close, many are asking what future relations between the two might look like. Currently, the UK still has to abide by EU regulations – but next year, it will leave the Single Market, the Customs Union. The Withdrawal Agreement, which was signed in January of 2020, makes provisions for both the transition period and the UK’s outstanding commitments to the EU. It does not, however, regulate how future trade relations will look like; it is therefore crucial whether a new deal can be reached before the transition period comes to an end. In this article I intend to provide a short overview on the key events that have halted the progress towards a new trade deal between the UK and the EU.

Negotiations started in March, with the most important issues being access to the UK’s fishing waters and state aid to companies. Hopes for a deal took a hit in early September following plans for the Internal Market Bill in the UK. It would override parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which stipulates that goods passing through the Irish border will not need to be checked. The Internal Market Bill would give the UK the power to interpret the trade arrangements made for Northern Ireland, even though the Northern Ireland Protocol gives this power to a Joint Committee of representatives from both the UK and the EU (Edgington, 2020). If implemented, the Internal Market Bill would therefore be an intentional breach of international law; as the Northern Ireland Protocol is part of the Withdrawal Agreement between the UK and the EU. The reaction from the EU was accordingly firm. EU diplomats have described this bill as “shocking” (Moens, 2020), and potentially the first step towards a no-deal. In short, the negotiations have been far from an uncomplicated process.

Around the same time, Boris Johnson threatened to walk away from negotiations should there be no deal reached by the 15th of October (Landler & Castle, 2020), adding more fuel to the fire. As of the end of October 2020, no deal has been reached, but this is not the first time Johnson has demanded a breakthrough by a certain date, only to later backtrack on this; in February, he already threatened to walk away if no deal was reached in four months (Landler & Castle, 2020). The EU is pushing to continue negotiations but would only sign a new trade deal if the UK amends the Internal Market Bill to be in accordance with previously signed deals, such as the Withdrawal Agreement and the Northern Ireland Protocol.

In the midst of frustration and wide disagreements on cure issues, the scenario of a no-deal is a possibility that is steadily coming closer. In this case, the UK and the EU would fall back on standard WTO terms (Sandford, 2020) – a disaster for everyone involved. Compared to the Single Market of the EU, trade under WTO rules would mean tariffs and non-tariff barriers to trade that have not existed between the UK and the EU for years. A drop in exports and imports would then make a recovery from the current recession even more challenging, which is why these last few weeks of the transition period are so crucial.

photo by Rocco Dipoppa on Unsplash


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The debate about Nord Stream 2 from different perspectives

by Alexandra Reinhild Berndt

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

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

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

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

Photo by Quinten de Graaf on Unsplash


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The EU and Europe’s last dictator

by Lea Schiller

When elections were held in Belarus on August 9, Aljaksandr Lukaschenko had already been in power for 26 years. He has been dubbed “Europe’s last dictator“, and his reign has seen many rigged elections. This presidential election however, was different. For one, even though the country’s stagnating economy has caused dissatisfaction with Lukaschenko, COVID-19 was what fuelled most of the recent outrage against the president. The case numbers in Belarus are a lot higher than in neighbouring Poland, which has about four times as many citizens, and Lukaschenko has refused to introduce rules for social distancing. For him, the virus is merely a “psychosis“ – but his citizens fear for their lives. Additionally, the opposition found an unexpectedly popular candidate in Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya after her husband, who was originally meant to be in the race, was arrested by Belarusian authorities. 

Lukaschenko is said to have won with 80% of the vote with an 84% participation rate, but soon after the results were made public, people took to the streets all over the country, contending the election was rigged. It’s the biggest protests the country has ever seen – and they have one goal: to push Lukaschenko out of office. Riot police responded with tear gas and stun grenades to break up the protests. Thousands of people were detained and hundreds hospitalised for their injuries. 

Two days later, the EU’s High Representative released a declaration, criticising that the election was neither free nor fair, and that state authorities used “disproportionate and unacceptable violence” . Without any progress on human rights in Belarus, its relationship with the EU could only get worse and the EU would assess the actions of Belarusian authorities to review its relations with Belarus. A week later, EU leaders released a statement declaring that the EU would not recognise the results, as the elections were neither “free nor fair”. 

Among EU member states, there has been much debate about how to respond to the situation. Neighbouring states Lithuania, Poland and Latvia have all offered to be intermediaries. Lithuania, for instance, proposed a “National Council” for Belarus including both members of civil society and the government as well as an immediate end to police brutality in the country. Hungary meanwhile warned not to burn diplomatic bridges to Minsk – hardly surprising, considering that President Viktor Orbán has good relations with Lukaschenko and already called to end the existing EU sanctions against Belarus. 

On Friday the 14th of August, the EU’s foreign ministers took the first step towards imposing new sanctions on Belarus. After agreeing on imposing sanctions, the EU’s diplomatic body, the European External Action Service, will start preparations to compile a list of individuals and organisations responsible for the fraud violence around the election. All member states will then have to approve every name on the list before sanctions can be put in action, and how long this process will take is unclear.

Photo by Jana Shnipelson on Unsplash


Barigazzi, J. (2020, August 14). EU takes first step toward Belarus sanctions. Politico. Retrieved from:

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Council of the European Union. (2020, August 11). Belarus: Declaration by the High Representative on behalf of the European Union on the presidential elections. Retrieved from:
Shotter, J & Seddon, M. (2020, August 10). Protests break out in wake of Belarus presidential vote. The Financial Times.

Restitution of African cultural heritage as chance

by Alexandra Reinhild Berndt

At this moment, 90 percent of the African cultural objects are in Europe (Kassel & Zimmerer, 2018). Most Africans do not have access to their cultural heritage as not everyone has the financial capacity to buy a plane ticket to Europe and visit a European museum. The Senegalese economist Felwine Sarr and the French art historian Bénédicte Savoy recommended to restitute the cultural objects according to the right to cultural heritage (Arend, 2019). On their recommendation, the French President Emmanuel Macron promised to pave the way for the restitution of culture objects within five years (Arend, 2019). This initiated a Europe-wide debate. In Germany, for instance, the government stipulated in the coalition agreement that it aims at promoting provenance research (Förster, 2019, p. 78). However, it did not consider the restitution of African cultural heritage.  Provenance research includes the examination of the acquisition practices and power asymmetries during the acquisition (Förster, 2019, p. 85). This means that it checks if the acquisition has happened without consent or under coercion (Förster, 2019, p. 85). At colonial times, the trade relationship was oftentimes not fair or voluntary (Förster, 2019, p. 85). The price reflected the economic and political power asymmetries (Förster, 2019, p. 85). Sometimes cultural objects have been acquired in the context of colonial wars, pillages or punitive expeditions (Förster, 2019, p. 86). Provenance research uncovers these circumstances. However, the German historian and specialist in African studies Jürgen Zimmerer fears that provenance research postpones a decision on the restitution of culture objects (Zimmerer, 2019). In this article, I would like to examine the legal point of view, the opinion of the museums and the view of the critics of the museums on the restitution of African cultural heritage.

From a legal perspective, following principle applies: Colonial goods are assumed to be unlawfully acquired until it can be demonstrated that this is not the case (Zimmerer, 2015, p. 24). Furthermore, the UN declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of 2007 states that indigenous societies have the right to self-determination which also includes the access to ceremonial objects (Förster, 2019, p. 90). 

From the point of view of the museums, restitution is seen rather negatively. The Belgian director of the Africa Museum in Tervuren, Guido Gryseels, warns against insufficient infrastructures in Africa and empty museums in case of restitution (Kirchner, 2018). He claims that depositories and possibilities of restauration are unsatisfactory in African countries as Congo (Kirchner, 2018). Museums are defending their collections of colonial goods by insisting on extensive provenance research. Provenance research takes a lot of time as there are oftentimes only poor records about the object’s origin. It is thus difficult to find the owner of the cultural object as there may be a “chain of ownership” (Förster, 2019, p. 82). Sometimes it is not clear to whom these objects should be restituted: To the state of origin, the families, societies or the ancestors (Förster, 2019, p. 82)? 

The critics of the museums accuse the museums to not adequately deal with their past. With their exhibitions and representation practices, cultural differences and asymmetries of knowledge have been underlined and naturalized (Bobineau, 2019, p. 95). During the colonial era, European museums popularized racist stereotypes (Förster, 2019, p. 78). If the museums are not willing to look critically at their past, it is a wasted opportunity to come to terms with the past and to learn from it.

Some museums proposed to lend the objects to African museums or to create digital versions objects (Mangold, 2018). Both ideas would, however, contribute to a maintenance of power asymmetries between global north and global south. The restitution of colonial objects is therefore a good way to promote the Eurafrican dialogue and to eradicate postcolonial power asymmetries. Furthermore, restitution may be a chance to reconciliation and to dialogue. European politicians and museums should thus start getting proactive and not loose time with extensive provenance research. By engaging in an extensive provenance research in Europe, we reserve the right to determine the future of the objects that our ancestors acquired unlawfully.

Photo by Louis Hansel @shotsoflouis on Unsplash


Arend, I. (2019, July 15). Für eine neue Beziehungsethik zwischen Nord und Süd. Retrieved August 26, 2020, from

Bobineau, J. (2019). Koloniale Diskurse, afrikanische Epistemologien und das AfricaMuseum in Belgien. Zum Potential einer postkolonialen Interkulturalität bei Felwine Sarr und Bénédicte Savoy. interculture journal: Online Zeitschrift für interkulturelle Studien, 18(32), 87-102.

Förster, L. (2019). Der Umgang mit der Kolonialzeit: Provenienz und Rückgabe, 78-103.

Kassel, D., & Zimmerer, J. (2018, November 22). Koloniale Raubkunst – Ein Vorschlag von “globaler Tragweite”. Retrieved August 26, 2020, from

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Zimmerer, J. (2015). Kulturgut aus der Kolonialzeit–ein schwieriges Erbe. Museumskunde, 80(2), 22-25.

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What Apple’s victory could mean for the future of tech giants in the EU

by Lea Schiller

In 2016, the European Union’s (EU) Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager’s efforts to control low taxes for big, multinational companies led to the Commission ordering Apple to pay back 13 billion euros in unpaid taxes to Ireland. Including interest, that number has now surpassed 14 billion – a sum that both Apple and the Irish government have submitted an appeal against. To understand why, and what this could mean for other tech companies in similar positions, one has to look into both the history of the case and Ireland’s economy.

Apple had already been under fire in the US for corporate tax avoidance in 2013, a case during which US senators called Ireland a tax haven for global companies. Three years later, the European Commission ordered Apple to compensate the Irish government for the taxes it had not paid between 2003 and 2014 due to a preferential tax deal. Such a deal that was not available to other companies, which made it a case of illegal state aid under the EU law. Now, Apple’s appeal was approved by the EU’s General Court, which argued that the Commission had failed to provide enough evidence to prove that Apple was receiving preferential treatment.

The Irish government stressed that it had been clear Apple had not received any special arrangement. That Ireland welcomed the decision is hardly surprising, considering that Dublin is the host of many other multinational companies – with its low corporate tax rate, the country is an attractive location for large corporations, and they provide a considerable number of jobs and income for the country. Receiving several billion euros in taxes is, at least for the Irish government, a penalty in this scenario. Apple CEO Tim Cook had been even more decisive in his judgement of the EU’s move to order Apple to pay back its taxes, saying it was “political crap”.

The EU now has two months to appeal the decision and is expected to do so. The EU’s appeal will then be presented to the EU’s highest court, the European Court of Justice, which will issue a final decision. Vestager stated she would study the judgement carefully and then decide on her next steps but added the Commission will continue to investigate aggressive tax deals to multinational companies.

Apple’s successful appeal has been called a landmark ruling – not least because Amazon and Google have submitted similar appeals that are still pending. Apple’s case could create a precedent and deliver a setback to the efforts that have been made towards curbing the monopolistic position of big tech companies in Europe.

Photo by Medhat Dawoud on Unsplash


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