What is happening in Yemen and where does the EU stand?

by Lea Schiller

The civil war in Yemen began five years ago in 2015, when Shiite rebels named Houthi took control of its capital city Sana’a after negotiations with the government failed. In March, a coalition led by Saudi Arabia and support by the United States launched air strikes against the insurgents. Since then, numerous attempts at installing peace – including peace talks facilitated by the UN – failed, and regional powers such as the Gulf states and Iran continuously intervene in the conflict.

Meanwhile, the toll on Yemen’s population has been enormous. According to UN Secretary-General António Guterres, “four out of every five people” need lifesaving aid, which makes the number of Yemeni people dependent on relief efforts 24 million in total. More than eight million directly rely on UNICEF for water, and their operations in Yemen are so short of money that some are at risk of being shut down, which would leave millions without soap and water. Additionally, the war has displaced millions from their homes, many of them fleeing to neighbouring countries such as Djibouti.

And not only do precarious sanitary conditions and floods increase the risk of older diseases like malaria, dengue fever and cholera, but COVID-19 now poses an even bigger threat to the population of Yemen. Since the country recorded its first case on April 10th, the number has risen into the thousands. But considering the low testing rates and the disorganised situation in the country, the real numbers are likely to be much higher – and according to Guterres, it is likely that community transmission has already begun in Yemen. Mortality rates are among the highest in the world, which is not surprising given that trying to improve the country’s health services (such as hospital’s supplies of electricity and oxygen) is difficult when half the population does not have access to clean water.

What Yemen lacks is about 2 and a half billion US dollars in aid. The EU has given almost 500 million in humanitarian aid to Yemen, mostly focused on food, healthcare and hygiene measures. Nevertheless, Yemen is still in dire need of lifesaving aid, and according to UN Humanitarian Coordinator Mark Lowcock, gathering the money necessary to deliver aid is the biggest problem. But what Yemen needs most is peace. In October 2018, after the death of Saudi-Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the European Parliament called on its member states to stop weapons sales to Saudi Arabia. Germany responded with suspending all its arms exports to Saudi Arabia, but after pressure coming from the United Kingdom and France, where companies depend on German-made components to build their arms, the decision was revoked.

In the EU, the Common Position on arms export controls defines the criteria by which potential export licenses must be judged – including respect for human rights. But although it is legally binding, there is no mechanism to enforce it, and since defence policy lies with the member states’ sovereignty, it is often ignored in favour of commercial interests. And since EU-made arms have allegedly already been used in multiple strikes that involved civilian casualties and at the very least enabled Saudi Arabia to launch military intervention in Yemen in the first place, this begs the question how the EU can justify this next to its commitment to human rights and the rule of law. In France, minister Florence Parly first claimed that French weapons were not directly used in the war. When evidence of the contrary surfaced, she claimed there was no evidence that these weapons had been intentionally used against civilians. To hold onto its values and promote peace in the region, the EU needs to start enforcing its Common Position on export controls.

Bild von David Peterson auf Pixabay

References

European Commission. (2020, June 03). Yemen. Retrieved from: https://ec.europa.eu/echo/where/ middle-east/yemen_en

Funding shortfall affecting critical water, sanitation services in Yemen. (2020, June 12th). UN News.

Retrieved from: https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/06/1066192

Global Conflict Tracker. (n.d.). War in Yemen. Retrieved from: https://www.cfr.org/global-conflict- tracker/conflict/war-yemen

Kuzmanić, A., Perić, I. (2019, June 25). Yemen, a European humanitary disaster. Voxeurop. Retrieved from: https://voxeurop.eu/en/yemen-a-european-humanitary-disaster/

Mielcarek, R. (2019, October 4). Why is Europe still feeling the war in Yemen? The Nation. Retrieved from: https://www.thenation.com/article/archive/yemen-europe-weapons/

Oppenheim, B. (2019, September 18). Europe is at war over arms exports. Foreign Policy. Retrieved from: https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/09/18/europe-is-at-war-over-arms-exports/

Yemen: ‘Hanging on by a thread’. (2020, June 2). UN News. Retrieved from: https://news.un.org/ en/story/2020/06/1065292

Yemen: Events of 2018. (2018, December). Yemen: Events of 2018. Retrieved from: https:// www.hrw.org/world-report/2019/country-chapters/yemen

The Aegean Sea: Disputes between the Greek and Turkish worlds

By André Francischetti Moreno

According to the Hellenic National Defense General Staff (HNFGS), on December 17th of 2019 Turkish fighter jets F-16s invaded the Greek airspace forty times, even entering the Athens Flight Information Region without submitting flight plans or asking for an authorization. These violations led to 16 mock dogfights, which were already proven lethal in other interception attempts by Greek forces in the past 19 years of invasions. The relationship between the two NATO allies went through moments of sympathy and animosity throughout history. Notably, moments of tensions took place during the Turkish War of Independence and the invasion of Cyprus in 1974. Nevertheless, a great feeling of partnership was seen, for instance, in the summer of 1999, when a terrible earthquake hit both countries and several measures of solidarity and reciprocity improved Greco-Turkish relations in what would be known as the earthquake diplomacy. This feeling was extended until the early 2010s, with the approximation between Turkey and the European Union. Nevertheless, from there onwards substantial diplomatic differences came up between Greece and Turkey, and in 2018 the deterioration in their diplomatic relations became rougher.

The delimitation of economic zones, territorial waters and national airspace are at the heart of the tensions. In addition, Turkey claims sovereignty over a myriad of islets off its southwestern coast. The vehemence of the topic is due to the overwhelming number of Greek islands in the Aegean Sea. In particular, Turkey´s complaints regard a chain of Greek islands lined up along the Turkish west coast blocking the latter from extending its zone of influence. It is important to highlight that both territorial waters and airspace are measured from the nearest inhabited territory, and thus influence zones are critical when it comes to securing partial control over shipping, full control over the airspace above, and exclusive right to economic exploitation of resources on and under the seabed. Due toTurkey´s strategic importance to the European Union in anti-terrorism policies, migration containment and as a NATO ally, the transcontinental country only suffered mild economic sanctions of the European Union over the past months in protest against President Erdogan´s violations of human rights and over what the EU sees as Turkish interference with Cyprus´ EEZs.

The concern of European leaders regarding Erdogan´s decisions got higher at the end of 2019. In December, the Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, accused Turkey of not abiding by the EU 2016 refugee agreement, as the number of migrants coming through Turkey to the already worrisome Greek refugee camps dramatically enlarged. Whereas at a ceremony on the 27th  November in Istanbul, the UN-recognized government of Libya, at odds with its parliament, and Turkey signed a security accord and a memorandum understanding on the demarcation of maritime jurisdiction areas, aiming at gas and oil exploration and production in the region. Moreover, after President Erdogan said that he would send ships to drill for energy off Crete in the coming months, Vice- President Fuat Okay declared that military forces could be sent into the East Mediterranean. The EU Parliament issued a statement arguing that not only the memorandum is arbitrary and geographically questionable, however it also ignores the sovereign rights of Cyprus. Furthermore, as Italy and France have high stakes in the region because of the activities of ENI and Total in the gas drills off Cyprus, they agreed together with the Cypriot army to perform a joint naval exercise in Cyprus´ EEZs.

Hubert Faustmann, professor in the University of Nicosia and Cyprus director of the Bonn-based Friedrich-Ebert Foundation, said that Ankara´s agreement with Libya was a tactic to delay the multi-billion-dollar EastMed gas pipeline project planned by Greece, Israel, Italy and Cyprus, as it would cross maritime zones claimed by Ankara. The EastMed project would make of the involved countries a vital link to Europe’s energy supply chain, and Turkey holds its key as it can block any agreement by fostering its military, navy and air force capabilities in Northern Cyprus. According to the professor, “Turkey´s strategy is to create grey zones and disputes territories within the economic exclusive zones claimed by Cyprus and also Greece.” It is worth remembering that Turkey does not recognize the Republic of Cyprus, and claims Nicosia´s gas and oil exploration areas.

In response to the memorandum, Greece and Egypt are speeding up the demarcation of their territorial waters, while the European Council reaffirmed its solidarity with Greece and Cyprus. The EU issued soft sanctions over Turkish energy ships drilling off Cyprus and the Cypriot government received international warrants for the crews arrest but did not enforce them. Furthermore, Greece is trying to isolate Turkey internationally, forcing the annulment of the Turkish-Libyan accords, expelling Libya´s ambassador, looking at making an official complaint to the UN and requiring a meeting of EU leaders to condemn Turkey´s actions. In spite of being backed by Russia, Israel, Egypt, EU countries and the United States, the Greek Defense Minister stated that “if it came down to a fight in the Aegean, we shall not wait for anyone to come and help us… Whatever we do, we shall do alone.” Turkey, in turn, defends that the memorandum is in accordance with international law and that Cyprus and Egypt issued a similar document in 2015. Moreover, it uses its army, geo-political importance and cooperation towards migration control as leverage against Europe. Charles Ellinas, an Atlantic Council senior associate, however, believes Turkey has nothing to gain from escalating military moves in Cyprus.

Photo by Matt Artz on Unsplash

References

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Admin. (2019, July 12). EU threatens Turkey with sanctions over Cyprus drilling. Retrieved from https://www.euractiv.com/section/energy/news/eu-threatens-turkey-with-sanctions-over-cyprus-drilling/

Aegean dispute. (2020, February 23). Retrieved from https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aegean_dispute

Al Jazeera. (2019, December 13). Turkey flexes muscle as Greece and EU stick to international law. Retrieved from https://www.aljazeera.com/amp/news/2019/12/turkey-flexes-muscle-greece-eu-stick-international-law-191213175146069.html

Brzozowski, A. (2019, October 11). Greece calls for more NATO ships to patrol Aegean Sea following Turkey’s Syria offensive. Retrieved from https://www.euractiv.com/section/global-europe/news/greece-calls-for-more-nato-ships-to-patrol-aegean-sea-following-turkeys-syria-offensive/

Gotev, G. (2020, January 20). Turkey targets ‘weakest link’ Cyprus in regional dominance bid. Retrieved from https://www.euractiv.com/section/global-europe/news/turkey-targets-weakest-link-cyprus-in-regional-dominance-bid/

Greece says Turkey not abiding by EU refugee agreement: (n.d.). Retrieved from https://ahvalnews.com/greece-turkey/greece-says-turkey-not-abiding-eu-refugee-agreement?amp

McCarthy, N. (2015, November 27). Turkish Jets Violated Greek Airspace Over 2,000 Times Last Year [Infographic]. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2015/11/26/turkish-jets-violated-greek-airspace-over-2000-times-last-year-infographic/amp/

Memorandum of Understanding between Turkey and Libya on Maritime Borders. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/P-9-2019-004285_EN.html

Michalopoulos, S. (2019, December 11). Greece seeks EU’s diplomatic shield against Turkey at Council. Retrieved from https://www.euractiv.com/section/defence-and-security/news/greece-seeks-eus-diplomatic-shield-against-turkey-at-council/

Tnh. (2019, December 19). Turkish Fighter Jets Invade Greek Airspace, 16 Mock Dogfights Ensue (Adds). Retrieved from https://www.thenationalherald.com/274637/turkish-fighter-jets-invade-greek-airspace-16-mock-dogfights-ensue/

Tnh. (2019, December 10). Greece Wants EU Full-Court Press on Turkey, EU Backs Off. Retrieved from https://www.thenationalherald.com/272988/greece-wants-eu-full-court-press-on-turkey-eu-backs-off/