Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Importance of Integrating Europe's Migrants.
Europe’s population is becoming increasingly diverse, while its capitals true melting pots of cultures and people.
And while we are discussing how to integrate the continent’s economies and population, we seem to forget that nowadays Europe is not a homogenous region. Apart from the indigenous ethnic minorities, many people from all over the world now call Europe “home”.
If we are planning to create a diverse multicultural society, we have to discuss how to integrate these people too; they may have arrived in our continent more recently, yet they know no other home country. We can only make a progress in their integration, when we discuss openly the issues they are facing and try to find solutions. One of the main ethnic groups that still face discrimination in Europe, are individuals of African origin.
Zephrynus “Zeph” Ikeh, the founder and CEO of Africa-Irish Development Initiative Ltd (AIDI) and Project Coordinator of Black History Month Ireland (BHMI), describes how young African immigrants are coping in Ireland.
He has been living in Ireland since 2008 and he is very involved in community work. He has a different opinion on the way people view the integration process. “We cannot speak about integration when people are not included,” he says. According to him, the essence of inclusion is for people to be involved and participate in all aspects of society’s life. “I do not see that happening in the mainstream Irish society, even within the immigrant community” he describes.
Integration for Zeph means equal opportunities in education and employment, social and economic inclusion. For African migrants, the support is definitely not always there. While those who have acquired a European nationality see themselves as EU citizens, they often do not have the same opportunities to feel like one.
A big problem is the lack of information, for EU citizens in general but especially for African migrants. There may be a lot of opportunities, but the access to the information needed to avail them is an issue for everybody.
If there were more immigrants working in government bodies, they could provide all information needed to the immigrant community” Zeph explains.
He also believes that to integrate people from different cultures there must be a creation of various platforms to encourage the integration process; in schools, in community participation projects, cultural events, intercultural festivals etc.
Zeph thinks that the EU must promote cultural diversity and that has to be extended to the immigrant communities. The club’s members are sovereign states but through the EU, Europe could collectively do more to support the integration process. For example, the media do not help much with the situation. “Often the images they use to portray immigrants or especially Africans are very stereotypical” explains Zeph. He also mentions the lack of positive role models of African or other migrant origins in European media.
In Italy a couple of years ago, there was an unacceptable incident when people racially abused the Minister for Integration Cecile Kyenge. There was just not enough condemnation by Europe, or action taken to set up an example.
Many Africans perceived that as a very tolerant stance from European governments, regarding it as racism towards politicians of African origin on our continent. If these people got away with it, then others possibly will do it, too. “Does Europe think it is a club only for white people?” asks Zeph.
You got to understand that an immigrant is someone who has come to a place to settle, not leave after some years. A migrant is someone who has come to a place for a short time” he continues.
His opinion is that European countries treat both groups the same way and that has to be changed. Our governments must establish legislation to assist and promote the immigrants’ integration into our societies.
Bringing only Ireland as an example, Zeph thinks that the political spectrum is one very sided. “There is a stereotypical view of what is Irish or European,” he adds. But that is not only an Irish phenomenon, most EU countries struggle in integrating fully their immigrant communities. So potentially the key is a pan-European effort to eliminate discrimination.
Also, he suggests that certain steps must be taken to assist further integration. For example, there must be some effort and funding to establish media created by immigrant journalists or broadcasters, with a different opinion and content that would interest those of an ethnic background. 
There should be additional opportunities for young African immigrants to get engaged in local, national or European politics. As ignorance is the main problem that generates racism, therefore Zeph believes that through education at all its levels we could fight prejudice.
“Young Africans can contribute a lot to the Irish or European society,” Zeph describes. “There is a lot of potential talent in areas such as sport and music, but also entrepreneurship, yet they do not get access to grants so that they can develop their talents,” he continues.
Zeph brings as an example the African-American contribution to America’s arts, music and sports. He believes that Africans can offer a different perspective and act as a bridge between Africa and Ireland or Europe.
They can definitely help change the world and create a better relationship between Europe and Africa, if only they are encouraged” Zeph concludes.
Our world is becoming increasingly multi-polar, as many new global powers are emerging in other continents, while Europe is a region with limited resources. How it treats its immigrants could potentially influence the future, help forge stronger alliances with the countries of origins of its immigrants.
In other words, Europe must decide what it wants. It is in our interests not to have second-class citizens, that feel alienated and hostile towards the societies they were born. Given the opportunity, they could become an asset, not a burden to our continent.
Europe cannot trap individuals in limbo, using them for cheap labor while hindering their progress. Immigration issues should not be ignored. European nations are becoming more xenophobic recently, but further exclusion is not the answer.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

The fight for the new post-Brexit EU budget.
Britain’s exit in March next year will deprive Brussels of some 12 billion euros from an annual budget now running around 140 billion euros.

That hole has already prompted to some quarreling between other net contributors, which do not want to make up for the loss, and the Eastern states, which say they should not suffer from cuts in EU subsidies. (Irish Independent)

Günther Oettinger presented the draft EU budget for 2018 on the 30th of May, acknowledging decision-making difficulties. 

The Commissioner said that the draft budget had taken account of recommendations from the Parliament and the member states, by increasing the amounts allocated for the Erasmus+ programme, as well as for Horizon 2020. 

Also, the European Solidarity Corps, a new initiative which provides volunteering placements, traineeships and job offers for 2-12 months, is getting its own budget for the first time.

While the EU Commission labeled it an exercise in stimulating job creation for young people, boosting growth and strategic investments, for some of the bloc's members things are more complicated. (Euractiv)

Last February eight Eastern European EU countries agreed to support an increase in payments by member states in the bloc’s next long-term budget, but recently things turned a bit sourer.

The problem is that until now, the largest source of revenue in the EU’s budget is a uniform percentage levied on the gross national income (GNI) of each member country. (Irish Independent)

All this is about to change, due to a new styled budget. Warsaw and Budapest are expected to lose out on massive amounts of cash as Brussels proposes to move tens of billions of euros in EU funding away from central and Eastern Europe to the countries worse hit by the financial crisis, such as Spain and Greece. 

The aim of the plan is to support the less developed parts of the union as Brussels does not want to continue distributing cash just based on a country’s wealth or GDP. Cash given to countries will depend on different criteria such as youth unemployment, education, the environment and innovation. (Express)

In addition to the above alteration of EU's priorities, the Commission, backed by Germany, France and the EU’s other wealthy budget contributors, want to tie funding on which poorer eastern countries rely to respect for the rule of law. This could cost Hungary and Poland millions of euros.

The two countries found themselves in the bad books of EU, after a series of misconducts. First, it was their rebellion against the bloc's migrant quota, in order to deal with the refugee crisis. In addition, their shift to more authoritarian government and the reformation of their judiciary system, did not go down very well with the rest of the EU.

There have been many calls from top European politicians to cut funds towards these two nations, or even limiting some of their voting power in the Council of EU. While there is a justification in such calls, as EU membership comes with certain obligations, the danger here is from where these two countries will seek to cover the gap in their income.

Poland has already hinted at allowing more US bases to settle in its territory, no doubt with further US financial support, while Hungary is known to flirt with Russian elites and influence. Can the EU push these two countries further away from its core? 

By May, the prime ministers of Hungary and Poland, allies in their disputes with Brussels, united in opposing cuts under the European Union’s new budget. The EU plan is set clearly to cut money in the 2021-2027 budget for member states that interfere in their legal systems. Poland and Hungary however, insist on protecting the interests of their farmers. (Reuters)

These two countries are not the only ones which may be heavily affected by the new budget. Ireland’s annual contribution to the EU budget is likely to rise to over €3 billion, more than 50 percent above the current level.

However, the budget is framed around cuts to farming subsidies that the Irish economy is dependent on. In an effort to cut costs and promote other policies, farmers will see aid shrink in the 2021-2027 period to €365 billion, down 5 percent from the current Common Agriculture Policy budget.

Something that France too, by far the largest beneficiary of CAP, has already signaled their opposition to the proposed cutbacks in farm spending. (Irish Times)

From the Irish point of view, there is a concern on contributing more, if it means more funds going towards security and less on agriculture.

Ireland, a country that is neutral, may have to be spending money on European defense, while at the same time cutting the backbone of its economy by the reductions to CAP. For its farmers and many of its MEPs, that is an issue. (RTE)

It is really regretful that many countries want to hold on to what already exists. Reforms are always painful and bring challenges, yet they are necessary to progress and deal with the increasingly fluctuant reality that Europe finds itself in.

From Brexit to American change of foreign policy under Trump, increased security issues and immigration, a multipolar world with many emerging economies and blocs, or the assertiveness of China and Russia, Europe is faced with many challenges.

The Common Agriculture Policy has always been a great source of income for Europe's farmers, and a pillar of the European economy. Yet things are constantly changing and like everything, it has to be reformed, in order to adapt. Europe cannot rely forever largely on agriculture.

EU policies must reflect the needs of Europe's economy and political reality, which have been changing for many decades now. Thus, we need to keep updating them. Naturally, any drastic alteration always leaves some losers while others as winners. However, this shift is necessary.

We need to diversify our economy, both as individual member states and collectively as a continent, in order to prepare our future generations for the world that is coming. With America becoming an unreliable partner, we have to start looking after ourselves.

This budget is only the beginning. As some states will lose out from CAP, the richer nations must realize that the smaller, poorer ones will need a new different type of funds and support, in order to keep their economy thriving, by investing directly in these countries.

Thus, a further integration of the European economy is much needed and the solution. And while rich member states like Germany oppose and block this development, it will come a day that even they won't be able to stop it, unless they are ready to see the disintegration or further fragmentation of the block.

The best way to deal with disobedient member states like Hungary and Poland, or weaker economies like Greece and Irish or French over-reliance on CAP, is to modernize, diversify and harmonize further the European economy. If everyone has a secure flow of investments to achieve this, the quarreling will soothe out, while in addition there will be less foreign interference in EU, as there will be a lesser need for third-party cash.

In other words, if every EU member state is wealthy and has a stable economy, the more engaged and committed it will be with the bloc and its requirements. In theory at least. Inequality on financial terms, protectionism within Europe, conservatism and petty nationalism will have to give way for the greater good of the continent, in order to achieve collectively bigger achievements. European countries must finally decide which direction they want to follow and this budget hints of hopeful changes. 

Saturday, June 2, 2018

An interview with former Irish MEP, Gay Mitchell.
Gay Mitchell is an Irish politician who was elected as a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for the Dublin constituency on 11 June 2004. 

He was a member of Fine Gael, a part of the European People's Party, and a former Teachta Dála (TD) for the Dublin South–Central constituency from 1981–2007.
In a past interview with him, we discussed the impact of the economic crisis in Europe on the future of our continent.
“We really got to look at the history of Europe”, notes Mr. Mitchell, as he describes how the EU is all about peace and stability in our continent. About 60 million Europeans killed each other during the first half of the last century. A small number of people came together after that and had the vision of building European interdependence.
Sadly, the citizens’ trust and confidence citizens towards the EU institutions were badly damaged by the economic crisis in Europe. “What is different about this crisis is that we now are going through a golden era”, he continues. The Berlin wall has come down, and eleven former communist states have joined the ever-widening and deepening block.
“I know that many people across Europe are suffering because of the crisis. But if you compare what happened back in the ‘20s and ‘30s, things were much worse. Now we got these institutions and they are trying to help. When we look back at this era, we will say that our relationship got us through the worse financial crisis the world has seen since the ‘20s and we’ve weathered it”, M. Mitchell adds.
He also believes that we are wrong to be talking about austerity in Europe. Instead, we should be talking about solidarity - country to country and person to person.
“But we are too near the wood to see the trees. The real problem we have in Europe is lack of solidarity. And I do not just mean the German solidarity with the Greeks and the Irish. I mean solidarity between people - all of us who can afford to give, should give” he continues.
According to M Mitchell, the fall of the Berlin is the source of the problem. At the time, the question was whether Europe would end up with a Germanic Europe or a European Germany. Mr. Kohl and Mr. Mitterrand decided, in a very statesmanlike way, that it would be a European Germany – and the common currency was born.
Abolishing the German mark and the French franc was not easy. The European currency was not well-founded, and when the crisis came, Europe was not able to deal with it because it did not have a central fiscal control.
“But now we have all these foundations, so that when we come out of this, we will do so stronger”, believes Mr. Mitchell “In the meantime, we should remember that the EU is about interdependence and solidarity”.
“The EU is not without its faults and sometimes it will drive you crazy, but so is the Irish political system which it is not without its faults. No political system is perfect. But it really is an extraordinary exercise”, he continues.
He also believes that the more Europe there is, the better it is for small member states. More inter-governmentalism just allows Germany, France and Britain to lead the agenda. When Germany and France broke the stability pack, nothing happened, so it is unfair of them to lecture the peripheral countries. We all make mistakes. The EU Commission is here to protect the Treaties, which are agreed by all member states. The interests of all nations must be taken into account in the European process.
Some like to say that the European continent is set to become the “United States of Europe”. But in reality, this process does not have a name. “In political science, there are terms of federalism and confederalism but what we are doing is unique. The Queen of England won’t disappear and neither will the President of Ireland”, Mr. Mitchell explains. The EU is a new, unique political entity which we are building by mutual agreement and this, along with how successful it has been, is the remarkable part of it.
The Lisbon Treaty brought about a more considerable change in the balance of power in Europe that people realize. The European Parliament (EP) has become really powerful, in European terms. “We don’t do what the national parliaments should do; therefore MEPs should be a bit more accountable”, he notes.
 “I’d like to see some process whereby MEPs and the work that we actually do gets more coverage and exposure, but also more questioning and debate”, Mr. Mitchell says.
Europe is changing fast and the developments are happening because we are planning our future. The world is moving Eastwards and Southwards. When the USARussia, but also ChinaBrazil and India will be powerful, we will be 6% of the world’s population, so we can’t speak with 28 voices in those circumstances”, he explains.
The EU is already planning for that and its institutions are what allows Europe to be heard. The block already has one spokesman for foreign affairs, a permanent head of the European Council and an external action service.
“Have a look at the picture of the EU Parliament in Strasburg. It is architecturally designed like an unfinished building, because the EU is a work in progress. We are deciding all this together. It is an extraordinary democratic process”, Mr. Mitchell describes.
“It is a great thing that the European nations cooperate in this. I think that this whole exchange of cultures and people is a great thing, it as it has enriched us all”, he adds.
Of course, it is now the ECB who sets the interest rates and decides on the value of our common currency. “But we have a feed in the ECB through the European system of Central Banks and in time we might have an Irish Governor of the ECB. That is far better for us than when the British were setting our interest rates, as it happened when Ireland had the pound”, he notes.
“People have to realize that within the institutions of the EU there has been a shift of power, and somehow the European Parliament needs to become as accountable as the US Congress. When they think of an MEP, they should think of a Congressman. And the only way we can achieve that is actually by giving more coverage to what the EP does, so people will be aware of its work. Who are our Commissioners and our MEPs matters.” Mr. Mitchell believes.
Yet any serious political business is very hard to get coverage for. “I remember what a prominent RTE journalist told me years ago. If you want to close a newsroom in the RTE, send a news-story about Northern Ireland or Europe. These two were the two most important policy issues for us at the time”, he says.
“But the only thing that made the media aware was a bomb in Northern Ireland, and that’s not the media’s fault. When they start broadcasting serious stuff, people switch stations”, he adds.
The EU has to engage the people somehow, and make them want to know more. Maybe something needs to be done in the area of public sector broadcasting, so that people could switch on and listen directly. Europe needs to find a way of communicating issues to the people.
European citizens, on the other hand, must not just be defensive of their country, but participate and have a say. Express what their view is on where Europe has to be. Collectively, we should be building coalitions with other EU nations and work on sorting out things.
“We are doing an examination of what and how the Troika did, when dealing with the economic crisis. There were mistakes made and wrong things done, but the government at the time and the one that succeeded it, fell themselves at a sort of “3 o clock in the morning” scenario and so did the EU”, Mr. Mitchell explains.
“If everybody had full hindsight I think there are a number of things that could have been done differently. For example a bail-in rather than a bail-out, that would be there for everybody. There are still some issues that I think really need to be renegotiated. The government here is doing remarkably well in the economic area and they are winning the war. They did not win every battle of course”, he adds.
Mr. Mitchell suggests that Ireland and other countries under a bail-out program will not get the money back from the people they paid, but the EU has to look at it again. “We all participated in that decision, which was not perfect and so there must be a revision”, he says.
We are lucky that we had the right institutions in Europe. The deputy governor of the British Bank of England made a speech about their importance. They made a difference this time, in Europe’s battle with the crisis.
“The Markets threw everything at us; they tried to bring the single currency down. Do you know what the implosion of the currency would mean? The implosion of the union, because barriers then would go up, people would start devaluing their currencies for competitive advantage and then the single market would fall apart”, Mr. Mitchell explains.
The consequences of that would be similar to what happened to Yugoslavia. Peace and stability are what the EU is about, building economic interdependence and then prosperity can follow. And not just in Europe, but in the world.
Gay Mitchell will not be running for the 2014 European elections. After ten years in the European Parliament and 26 years in the Dail (the Irish House of Representatives), he decided that it is a good time to go and focus on other things that he wants to do.
 “I feel very privileged to have been an MEP and I loved the job in the EP. I have had an influence and a say. I found it hard in ways because it is very difficult for small states to break through and get higher jobs. It was lonely at times, ten years of not being at home with my family. Because when you are finishing in the Parliament in Strasburg, you got to go and visit other places”.
“One of the most interesting and influential jobs I have held is as an MEP. I can persuade other people, the Commission, as well as the Ministers, want to talk to you when you are an MEP, depending on what Committee you are on”, he says.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Shaping Europe from the bottom up.

Building a democratic European project and European identity requires shaping Europe from the bottom up: that is the challenge for Europe today.
The idea of shaping Europe from the bottom up was at the heart of the discussion surrounding the Closing Conference of the European Year of Citizens 2013, in Vilnius, Lithuania.
During this workshop, the importance of European identity, as well as the process through which to shape it, were the primary topics of discussion. Initiatives such as encouraging the participation of students in various exchange programs, the increase in mobility for all European Union citizens, and the engagement of EU citizens in voluntary projects across Europe were all acknowledged as key factors in creating such an identity.
“We should learn how to combine our national identity with our European one,” was one of the main ideas put forward in this event. In order for that process to take place, not only should the EU invest in a new self-image campaign but the important role of local communities in promoting an active European citizenship should also be acknowledged and encouraged.
One of the main obstacles in achieving this combination of identities is the common practice, among local and national politicians, to use the EU and its institutions as scapegoats in justifying their policy failures, while taking credit, exclusively, for every success case.
One issue brought up in the discussion was the importance of culture and how it positively impacts in building a sense of common European identity. Neither the single currency nor the single market can ever unite a mosaic of nations in such a way as the promotion of a constant cultural dialogue and exchange.
A need for a new participatory strategy
Certain new tools recently introduced by the EU Commission, such as the European Citizens' Initiative, were also discussed and explained to participants. The EU Commission seems to support a new type of participatory strategy, built from the bottom up, aimed at encouraging a more active participation of citizens in European politics, providing them with new participatory mechanisms, such as the ECI.
The main purpose of such initiatives is to create a forum for Europeans to debate, citizens to be heard and fulfill the potential of their EU citizenship. Initiatives such as the ECI have the potential to become agenda-setting tools, in the cases which they are broadly embraced by European civil society and the issues they put forward are debated and lead to concrete policy changes.
Various surveys conducted in Italy, but also at a supranational pan-European level, enquired citizens as to their expectations regarding the EU’s work and their aspirations for Europe. The overwhelming majority of respondents referred to employment, security and the guarantee of a sustainable exploitation of national resources.
Throughout 2013, at least eight citizens’ dialogues were organized in Italy and many others across Europe, debating the future of each region. The main idea put forward by the Commission was that, if citizens were disgruntled with Europe, this was mainly due to its policies being negatively perceived and communicated by national governments.
Sadly, Europe does not have enough funding available, in the form of a considerable independent budget, for instance, that would allow it to implement the policies that would respond most effectively to people’s needs.
One Europe, equal citizenship rights
One fundamental issue raised during this debate concerned the voting rights of those Europeans living in other EU member states: the initiative “Let Me Vote” focuses on the limitations that many expatriates experience while residing in an EU member state outside of their own. These citizens contribute towards the economic and social fabric of their new countries, yet do not often enjoy the same rights as natives. Being able to fully exercise the same rights in all member state is a fundamental condition in encouraging the free movement of citizens and reshaping Europe.
Many lose their right to vote in their national Parliamentary elections, after having lived abroad for a certain number of years. Under current national legislation norms, they are also not allowed to vote in the Parliamentary elections in their new country of residence (although they can vote for local and European elections).
Mr. Philippe Cayla, President of Euronews Development, presented this situation to participants, arguing that voting rights across Europe should not be made dependent upon nationality.
All EU citizens must have the right to vote in the countries of their residence. “Europe already registers a very low voter turnout in every European election and we must be committed to improving that record”, he said. Such move would give a “full sense of a European identity and the notion that EU citizens are not immigrants”.
Building a European identity through a mobile population
On a more positive note, participants at this Closing Conference mentioned that interest in European politics is higher among mobile citizens, or people who have migrated to another EU country. Being mobile is a life-changing experience and these people become the best ambassadors for EU and Europe.
Mobility within Europe is crucial in creating a European identity and extended voting rights, or the lack of them, is certainly a limitation to the rights of EU citizens. “Besides, if we want to promote greater pluralism and elite rotation in each country, the inclusion of other EU nationals in the election debates and campaigns, as well in the decision-making process, could be very positive,” Mr. Cayla continued.
One of the main obstacles Europe is faced with, when encouraging its citizens to participate in European affairs, is their general lack of interest in public life. This problem is largely connected with the deterioration of elites’ political legitimacy as perceived by different European public opinions and a consequent detachment of public life.
As they move from country to country, they not only become increasingly aware of different national issues and ways in which they could be resolved, but also of transnational issues that affect their home country, the countries they have settled into, and even Europe in general. Thus, one of the most effective ways for Europe to increase citizen participation in European politics is to encourage people to work, study and travel abroad.
There is a general lack of ownership of the EU project on behalf of its citizens, which can possibly be demonstrated by a lack of overall intra-European mobility. The absence of coordination and synchronization between national institutions and organizations from different member states is to be blamed, and that is where the efforts in finding solutions must start.
At the moment, only an estimate of 2% of Europe’s population is either mobile or dislocated in another EU member-state, which explains why not enough legislation and change has taken place, since these people are a minority. Increasing awareness of European issues is easier with a mobile population, which is accustomed to thinking outside of its own national reality.
The political culture of Europeans is changing and must endure further changes in the upcoming future. Increased public responsibility, awareness and fulfillment of our duties as citizens must be cultivated and upheld, in order to make the European decision-making process and its institutions more democratic.
Now that the economic crisis has started to impact on increasingly more EU households, people demand to be heard and consulted throughout the decision-making process of their governments. Therefore, Europe finds itself at a critical juncture, a moment of transition.
Citizens do have the power to organize themselves to demand being heard and to call for change, as the cases of Ukraine, Bulgaria but also Poland and other recently-joined EU member states continue to show us. Naturally, online public consultations do not pose a lasting or successful solution, as they are often non-binding. Therefore, in order for change to happen, citizens must take things more seriously with further actions.
The power of communication
Europeans do not always understand what the EU does and how it affects their lives, or what its consultations mean. This is yet another obstacle that the EU faces when trying to communicate its functions, procedures and decisions to its citizens. Simpler vocabulary, repetitiveness and commitment must be applied to mitigate this problem.
The fact that Europe struggles to “sell” itself, particularly the European Union institutions, to its own citizens was another topic discussed at this forum. Using Italy as a case in point, Mr. Alessandro Giordani, Head of the sector “Communication, information and networks” of the EU Commission Representation Office in Rome, explained some of the main obstacles Europe is currently faced with.
“The economic crisis has changed the environment and attitude dramatically, for any attempts to promote Europe as a solution to its citizens,” he stated. The EU Commission needs to change the process through which has been presenting Europe to populations up until now.
In other words, a lot of work must be undertaken in reshaping our continent from the bottom up.  But “if we do not change ourselves and our tools, the world will force us to change,” as Andris Gobins, the President of the European Movement in Latvia, stated, closing the debate.
The world is changing fast and Europe must be ready for change and be prepared to keep up with the rest of the world. Failing to do so, will mean fewer opportunities for our future generations, minimizing Europe’s role in an ever increasing globalized world.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The scrapping of Iran Nuclear Deal is forcing Europe to alter its relationship with USA.
On Tuesday the 8th of May, a day before Europe traditionally and increasingly apathetically celebrates Europe's Day, US President Donald Trump decided to pull out the Iran Nuclear Deal.

This was a deal that was discussed by the representatives of Iran and the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, France, and China, plus Germany) and the European Union, for months.

It was finally agreed and signed in April 2015, while by July the 14th of the same year, a comprehensive agreement based on the April 2015 framework, was announced.

The deal was welcomed by most world leaders, either participating in the discussions or not, apart from Israel's. The country's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, strongly opposed the deal and claimed that it actually threatens the survival of Israel. He also wrote that "such deal would not block Iran’s path to the bomb, it would pave it".

And although many analysts have pointed out some of the agreement's weaknesses or shortcomings, this deal offered a full access of the international community to inspect the nuclear program in Iran. Something that no other country with nuclear plants ever agreed on, or was obliged to give permission to. 

Now that Trump decided to trash the agreement, how can anyone trust American foreign policy, if it changes with every US president? The deal might not have been perfect, but it was a good start to try to smooth out some thorny issues in the region, potentially leading to a breakthrough and a solution for a lasting peace in the Middle East. Is no access or control in Iran's program, better than a deal that allows it? 

It is doubtful after all, that that's what the US administration aims for. Rather it clearly is interested in its regional allies' interests promotion and safeguarding, even if it means that Iran and any other nation which stands in the way, is bullied and humiliated. That's not how you work for peace though.

Personally, I've never felt threatened by Iran or its nuclear ambitions and it is evident that the whole problem is embroiled in Middle Eastern regional politics and power struggles. Yet somehow, Europe is dragged into them with the continent's alliance to the USA, plus the participation of three of its powers in the negotiations.

I have also never understood, how some countries are allowed to invest in nuclear power and develop it, while others are forcibly forbidden by doing so, by another country and its allies. Is Pakistan more stable and reliable than Iran, for example. 

Until now, it was mainly Iran and other Middle Eastern countries that either the US administration or its allied states in the region-such as Israel and Saudi Arabia-felt that pose a threat to their interests, baring the consequences and hostility of American foreign policy. 

However, Trump's recent move hurts Europe directly this time. In 2016, the European Union exported more than €8.2 billion ($9.7 billion) worth of goods to Iran, while importing almost €5.5 billion ($6.5 billion) from there, according to the European Commission.

"U.S. sanctions will target critical sectors of Iran's economy. German companies doing business in Iran should wind down operations immediately," Richard Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany tweeted on the same night the scrapping of the deal was announced.

Carl Bildt, the former leader of Sweden who is now co-chair of the European Council on Foreign Relations, highlighted that the sanctions would have the biggest impact beyond America's borders.

"U.S. Iran sanctions are hardly hitting any U.S. companies, but aim primarily at European ones," he said in a tweet.

Trump has now directed maximum economic sanctions to be applied. This is nothing less than a massive assault on the sovereignty of European states and the European Union. 

They are deprived of their right to decide on their policies and actions by brutal dictates from a foreign and allegedly friendly country.  It relegates Europe to just abiding by and implementing policies with which it profoundly disagrees. (The Washington Post)

It is becoming increasingly obvious that the USA cannot be regarded as a reliable ally of Europe forever, unless of course, our leaders abide with American foreign policy to the letter, regardless if it hurts our economies.

The Trump administration not only previously opened a trade war with Europe, but now it additionally forbids us to conduct business with third countries, unless they agree to it or the terms. It is time for Europe to get the message that the new US government is trying to give; we either get ourselves together and look after our own affairs, or we follow their command to the letter if we want to continue to receive their protection and investments. 

Perhaps Europe should consider its weaning from American influence and guidance, while seriously look into becoming self-sufficient and reach out to new blocks and partners to trade with and forge alliances with. Maybe that's what the new US government also wants, as it appears.

There was always some healthy competition between the two sides of the Atlantic, but recently it has become obviously more intense, with under-the-belt hits.

Just before the US scrapped the Nuclear Deal, Iran decided to start reporting foreign currency amounts in euros rather than U.S. dollars, as part of the country’s effort to reduce its reliance on the U.S. currency due to political tension with Washington.

Bank transactions involving the dollar have been already difficult for Iran because legal risks make U.S. banks unwilling to do business with Tehran. Foreign firms can be exposed to sanctions if they do Iranian deals in dollars, even if the operations involve non-U.S. branches.

As a result, France started offering euro-denominated credits to Iranian buyers of its goods later this year to keep its trade out of reach of U.S. sanctions, the head of state-owned French investment bank Bpifrance said in February. (Reuters)

Europe's response to Trump's announcement is to potentially shield individual European companies from US pressure by deploying its so-called “blocking statute,” banning EU companies from complying with Washington’s sanctions and protecting them from penalties imposed by overseas courts.

There is a precedent. Washington issued a similar threat against European companies in 1996 over Cuba. The EU evoked the “blocking statute” and the Clinton government backed down.

Thus Brussels is now considering it and a final decision is expected at the European Summit in Sofia on May 17. Right after the summit, European Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete is expected in Tehran for consultations on May 18.

The EU could open a credit line to Iran in Euros and continue to absorb Iranian oil; Italy already has a €5bn credit line for investment in the Islamic Republic. These combined moves would keep the agreement afloat. The question is whether all EU 28 have the consensus to play hardball with Washington
. (New Europe)

It is shameful that the USA is behaving like a bully, even towards its oldest allies. Hopefully, Europe will stick together in this case, showing Trump and its administration that our continent needs the freedom to conduct business with countries that are of economic or political interest to us.

Unless of course, the USA desires us to always rely on its own businesses to achieve economic growth, something that doesn't comply with Trump's "America First" policies. They cannot have both; if America looks after its own first, then Europe has no other option but to do the same. 

Maybe this is for the best interest of both sides, as the USA was carrying the weight- but also ripping the benefits, of monopolizing European defense, protection and economic stability or growth. 

Under that arrangement, Europe can never claim its own role in the globe and expand its influence, while America will always solely bear the burden-and indeed the privilege, of promoting Western values to the rest of the world. 

No one has agreed to give to the USA this privilege though, we were all bought into this by circumstances and in the case of Europe, our own grave mistakes. The times are changing and we are receiving an ultimatum from our American allies.

The rift across the Atlantic maybe not permanent or necessarily bad. It will certainly help establish new rules in this old alliance, ones that will push Europe out of its comfort zone at last. Re-evaluation of a relationship is always good and our continent was too hesitant to challenge the status. This time it is our American friends that are initiating the change. Will Europe step up to the challenge and form a united front towards Trump's ultimatum? 

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Europe must pressure Israel to adopt a more humanitarian role on the Gaza issue.
On May the 14th 2018, the world woke up to yet another gruesome reality, in an already very unstable and troubled region.

As Israel and the USA were celebrating the relocation of the US Embassy in the country, from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem, thousands of Palestinians from the Gaza strip, rallied to the borders with Israel to protest against the move.

Soon things got out of control and by the end of the day another 60 or so Palestinians, among them many children, were lying dead from Israeli fire or tear gas.

As usual, European governments were quick to condemn, but this has happened too many times before already, the situation has reached beyond the point of condemnation and criticism of the Israeli government.

I have been watching incidents such as these my whole life, all 40 years of it. Yet nobody seems to be willing to do anything to stop this madness. Ever since the creation of the state of Israel back in the '40s, the region is locked in a never-ending war which has claimed way too many lives, from both sides.

Understandably, the Palestinians are angry since they feel that their homeland was taken away from them; they are right. When the West decided to "fix" Europe's sectarian problem that resulted in one of the worse atrocities in human history, the Holocaust, the outcome was the creation of the state of Israel, in the nation's ancient historic lands.

The problem was that by then, the region was already populated by Palestinians. The international community decided that they should simply give up the land they grew up, to make way for the creation of the new country.

Obviously, that sowed the seeds of the current impediment, as the Palestinians felt the injustice that was placed upon them. The world should have dealt with the problem better then, but understandably during the '40s, it was recovering from the disaster and horror of WW2. Thus, another one was created.

Both the Israelis and the Palestinians thereafter entered a deadly circle of violence and hostilities, fueled by religious and nationalistic fanaticism. Sadly with the involvement or protection of third parties, either regional or global powers like the USA, they turned the Middle East into one of the world's most unstable and deadly region.

The pro-Palestine or Arab side, never really accepted the creation or existence of the state of Israel in its current form, while the Israelis hold this fundamental belief, stemming from their religious and cultural heritage, that this land is theirs and only.

Neither side wants to back down, yet Israel with the funding from the USA, plus the support from Europe has the upper hand. But instead of using this power and influence to solve the problem and end the stalemate, saving both Palestinian and Israeli lives, it chooses to perpetuate the situation.

The country's leadership has to understand, that they cannot make over of 4 million of Palestinians to disappear unless they want to be the initiators of another holocaust. Particularly in the case of Gaza, they have created a prison of around 2 million people, with no prospects or quality of life, living in poverty and desperation.

The more these people remain living in these conditions, the easier will be for them to be radicalized by certain organizations and schedule attacks against Israel. They simply have nothing else to lose, apart from their lives. The Israeli leadership must accept this, then take control and show compassion.

Not only for the Palestinians' sake, but for their own people too. If Palestine is allowed its own statehood, the last thing that its youth will have on its mind, will be throwing petrol bombs towards Israel. They will have a world waiting for them, to study, travel and prosper. The more they remain poor, the more they adopt and anti-Israel mentality which is passed on to every generation.

Sadly that doesn't seem to resonate with anyone in the region. And so both nations are entangled in a decades-old conflict, with third countries getting involved and using it to promote their own interests, defining local politics and agendas.

The European population and their governments are also divided on the issue, although in general they reinstate their support for Israel, yet condemning its actions. That hasn't helped much until now. Europe owes to get decisively more engaged with Israel, constructively lobbying its leadership for a solution.

It is, after all, our continent's responsibility too. Centuries-old hate, fear, sectarianism, racism and anti-Semitism have contributed to the creation of this problem, while indeed a reversed version of the same attitudes are perpetuating the Palestinian drama.

During the opening of the new US Embassy in Jerusalem, only 4 EU nations and 9 European overall have attended the ceremony. If we want to make any difference in solving the problem, we have to show unity and speak with one voice. That for European standards has always been proved to be hard.

Condemning Israel's actions while siding with the USA all the time, especially under Donald Trump is simply not good enough anymore. Europe needs to actively engage and convince Israel to change attitudes towards Palestine and its people. In addition, our leadership could mediate to both sides for an end of this situation.

Otherwise, another generation of Israeli children will be raised with the constant fear of Palestinian bomb attacks, while Palestine will lose more of its own to either Israeli gunshots, bombs or simply poverty.

The solution could have been a federal state between the two nations, during the beginning of the creation of the state of Israel. We have passed this stage, we've lost this opportunity. There is simply too much hate and fanaticism to bring the two sides together now.

At this moment, a two-state solution is the only way to end this conflict, preferably with a withdrawal from the settlements to the more or less previously agreed territories. However, it is Israel that blocks this outcome. To the more radical and nationalistic elements of Israel's leaders and citizens, the land is simply theirs. And since America backs them, there is no way of moving on from this stalemate.

So this is where Europe could step in and gather support from other regions or nations too, to convince Israel of the damage that this hostile stance towards Gaza and Palestine, does to its people. Is controlling all the land more important than peace and stability?

Why would any nation want to be surrounded by enemies, viewed in a negative way by the international community and maintain a warzone climate for its future generations to grow up in, does not resonate with me.

Israel is rich, developed, powerful and much respected in Europe. It has a lot to offer to the world in many fields as it already has, yet somehow it is best known for this ongoing conflict and its role in the Middle East. That doesn't make any justice to this nation.

Understandably, one will question the intentions of the Palestinians and their Arab allies in the region. But even if they did want an open war or the destruction of Israel, the protection of the USA and support of Europe, are enough to deter them. Israel has powerful allies.

But it uses its power the wrong way. By allowing a state of Palestine to exist, while itself supporting it, nurturing it and helping it to prosper, not only it will end this conflict, but it will have an influence on its future generations. Israel should be investing in Gaza, not cutting it off from the rest of the world.

In this way, young Palestinians will have options. Then all Israel will have to do is let capitalism take over and do its work. A stable and prosperous nation, rarely risks its status to attack a richer nation that is depending upon for investments. Why have Palestinians hate you, rather than need you and ask for your money and help?

By keeping your country as a highly militarized zone, you are only making the global arms industry richer. Plus you insist on becoming a hate figure for most Muslims, while for once you could be seen as their partner and benefactor.

Similarly, the Palestinians and their supporters have to accept where their interests lie. And they are definitely not in the constant radicalization of the region's youth, in hate, conflict, war, anti-Semitism or anti-Americanism.

Modern Israelis have as much place in the region as any other nation, for the past 70 and more years they exist as a nation. They were born and raised in the same land, thus they have as much right to it now as anyone else born in it. They are there to stay, have the right to self-determination and yes, even to chose their own capital.

Rather than the Palestinians being nostalgic for what has been in the past, it is better to embrace what it is now and try to make the most of it. If Israel changes its attitude towards the Palestinian people and stops expanding its settlements, agreeing in addition to a Palestine statehood, then as it is a richer nation it could be a valuable asset for the whole region.

Including of course the Palestinians, if both sides get over their racial and religious hatred. Europe should finally mediate but first, it must itself change attitudes towards the conflicting parties. Selling weapons to the one side, while condemning it lightly whenever it does wrong won't do it anymore.

We need to have this conflict finally ended. And that must mean a decisive engagement, plus the formation of the appropriate foreign policy from our part. Our continent must finally realize its role in the world, that of a global influencer for the betterment of humanity. Perhaps starting from Israel and Palestine.