Inter Press Service » Europe http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Wed, 20 Aug 2014 23:35:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Churches at the Frontline of Climate Actionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/churches-at-the-frontline-of-climate-action/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=churches-at-the-frontline-of-climate-action http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/churches-at-the-frontline-of-climate-action/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 22:29:56 +0000 Melanie Mattauch http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136245 Jänschwalde open cast lignite mine, close to Atterwasch, Germany. Credit: Christian Huschga

Jänschwalde open cast lignite mine, close to Atterwasch, Germany. Credit: Christian Huschga

By Melanie Mattauch
LUSATIA, Germany, Aug 20 2014 (IPS)

Johannes Kapelle has been playing the organ in the Protestant church of Proschim since he was 14. The 78-year-old is actively involved in his community, produces his own solar power and has raised three children with his wife on their farm in Proschim, a small village of 360 inhabitants in Lusatia, Germany.

Now the church, his farm, the forest he loves dearly and his entire village is threatened with demolition to leave space for expansion of Swedish energy giant Vattenfall’s lignite (also known as brown coal) operations to feed its power plants. Nearly all of the fuel carbon (99 percent) in lignite is converted to CO2 – a major greenhouse gas – during the combustion process.“What we’re seeing today is the result of putting economic thinking at the forefront. Our mantra is to just continue doing things as long as they generate profit. We need to counteract this trend with ethical thinking. We need to do what’s right!” – Protestant pastor Mathias Berndt

For Kapelle, this is inconceivable: “In Proschim, we’ve managed effortlessly to supply our community with clean energy by setting up a wind park and a biogas plant. Nowadays, it is just irresponsible to expand lignite mining.”

The desolate landscape the giant diggers leave behind stretches as far as the eye can see from just a few hundred metres outside Proschim.

“It’s only going to take about a quarter of a year to burn the entire coal underneath Proschim. But the land is going to be destroyed forever. You won’t even be able to enter vast areas of land anymore because it will be prone to erosion. You won’t be able to grow anything on that soil anymore either. No potatoes, no tomatoes, nothing,” says Kappelle.

Some 70 km northeast of Proschim, Protestant pastor Mathias Berndt also sees his community under threat. His church in Atterwasch has been around for 700 years and even survived the Thirty Years’ War in the 17th century. Now it is supposed to make way for Vattenfall’s Jänschwalde Nord open cast lignite mine.

The 64-year-old has been Atterwasch’s pastor since 1977 and refuses to accept that his community will be destroyed: “As Christians, we have a responsibility to cultivate and protect God’s creation. That’s what it says in the Bible. We’re pretty good at cultivating but protection is lacking. That’s why I’ve been trying to stop the destruction of nature since the days of the German Democratic Republic.”

“Vattenfall’s plans to expand its mines have given this fight a new dimension,” Berndt adds. “This is now also about preventing our forced displacement.”

Berndt is currently involved in organising a huge protest on August 23 – a human chain connecting a German and Polish village threatened by coal mining in the region. He has also been pushing his church to step up its efforts to curb climate change.

As a result, his regional synod has positioned itself against new coal mines, lignite power plants and the demolition of further villages. It is also offering churches advice on energy savings and deploying renewable energy. The parsonage in Atterwasch, for example, has been equipped with solar panels.

Parsonage in Atterwasch with solar panels. Credit: Christian Huschga

Parsonage in Atterwasch with solar panels. Credit: Christian Huschga

Despite Germany’s ambitions for an energy transition, its so-called Energiewende, the country’s CO2 emissions have been rising again for the past two years, for the first time since the country’s reunification. This is primarily due to Germany’s coal-fired power plants, and brown coal power stations in particular.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has recently confirmed that it is still possible to limit global warming below 2° C. But there is only a limited CO2 budget left to meet this goal and avert runaway climate change.

The IPCC estimates that investments in fossil fuels would need to fall by 30 billion dollars a year, while investments in low-carbon electricity supply would have to increase by 147 billion dollars a year.

As a result, more and more faith leaders are calling for divestment from fossil fuels. One of the most powerful advocates has been Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former South African Anglican Archbishop, Desmond Tutu, who recently called for an “anti-apartheid style boycott of the fossil fuel industry”.

Tutu’s call to action has been echoed by U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres, who has urged religious leaders to pull their investments out of fossil fuel companies.

Protestant pastor Mathias Berndt. Credit: Christian Huschga

Protestant pastor Mathias Berndt. Credit: Christian Huschga

Many churches have taken this step already. Last month, the World Council of Churches, a fellowship of over 300 churches representing some 590 million people in 150 countries, decided to phase out its holdings in fossil fuels and encouraged its members to do the same.

The Quakers in the United Kingdom, the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, the United Church of Christ in the United States, and many more regional and local churches have also joined the divestment movement.

The Church of Sweden was among the first to rid itself of oil and coal investments. It increased investments in energy-efficient and low-carbon projects instead, which also improved its portfolio’s financial performance.

Gunnela Hahn, head of ethical investments at the Church of Sweden’s central office explains: “We realised that many of our largest holdings were within the fossil industry. That catalysed the idea of more closely aligning investments with the ambitious work going on in the rest of the church on climate change. ”

Meanwhile, from the frontline, pastor Berndt calls for putting ethics first: “What we’re seeing today is the result of putting economic thinking at the forefront. Our mantra is to just continue doing things as long as they generate profit. We need to counteract this trend with ethical thinking. We need to do what’s right!”

Melanie Mattauch is 350.org Europe Communications Coordinator

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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TNT and Scrap Metal Eviscerate Syria’s Industrial Capitalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/tnt-and-scrap-metal-eviscerate-syrias-industrial-capital/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tnt-and-scrap-metal-eviscerate-syrias-industrial-capital http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/tnt-and-scrap-metal-eviscerate-syrias-industrial-capital/#comments Tue, 19 Aug 2014 17:53:37 +0000 Shelly Kittleson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136210 Member of Aleppo civil defence team searches for survivors after barrel bomb attack, August 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

Member of Aleppo civil defence team searches for survivors after barrel bomb attack, August 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

By Shelly Kittleson
ALEPPO, Syria / GAZIANTEP, Turkey, Aug 19 2014 (IPS)

Numerous mechanics, tyre and car body shops used to line the busy streets near the Old City of Syria’s previous industrial and commercial hub.

Now car parts, scrap metal, TNT and other explosive materials are packed into oil drums, water tanks or other large cylinders from regime areas and dropped from helicopters onto civilian areas in the same city, in defiance of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2139.

In the days spent inside the city in August, IPS frequently heard bombs throughout the day and night and visited several sites of recent attacks on civilian areas. Locally organised civil defence units could be seen trying to extract survivors from the rubble, but often nothing could be done.

Roughly six months ago, on February 22, the U.N. resolution ordered all parties to the conflict to halt the indiscriminate use of barrel bombs on populated areas. The Syrian regime has instead intensified its use of them.An Aleppo local council official told IPS that of the some 1.5 million people living in the city previously, there were now fewer than 400,000, with most of those who have left in recent months now internally displaced.

Human Rights Watch released a report in late July saying that it had identified ‘’at least 380 distinct damage site in areas held by non-state armed groups in Aleppo’’ through satellite imaging in the period from October 31, 2013 to the February 22 resolution, and over 650 new impact strikes on rebel-held areas in the period since, marking a significant increase.

One of the deadliest days of recent months in the city was on June 16, when 68 civilians were killed by aerial attacks, according to the Violations Documentation Center in Syria. The centre also noted that in the five months between February 22 and July 22, a total of 1,655 civilians were killed in the Aleppo governorate by aerial attacks.

An Aleppo local council official told IPS that of the some 1.5 million people living in the city previously, there were now fewer than 400,000, with most of those who have left in recent months now internally displaced. He said that every month the number of people in the area is re-counted for food supply and other requests to donors given the huge displacement under way.

The only road heading towards the Turkish border in rebel hands is now in danger of falling to the fundamentalist Islamic State (IS) – previously known as Islamist State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) – even if the armed opposition groups manage to keep government troops at bay.

Regime forces are trying to inflict a siege on Aleppo’s rebel-held areas to force them into submission, as they have done to other cities in several parts of the country.

The removal of the jihadist IS group from large sections of territory not under regime control has been entirely due to the fighting by the rebel groups themselves, and it is likely that many will face brutal execution if the group enters the city again – a prospect the regime seems to be favouring.

Barrel bombs are not dropped on IS forces or on the territory held by them, and until recently there were few cases of any sort of attack at all by regime forces against IS-held areas.

A local activist from IS-controlled Jarabulus, now living across the border in Turkey – after coming under suspicion of “speaking negatively of IS” within the community – told IPS that since the jihadist group had taken control of the city, ‘’there has not been a single attack on any part of it’’ by the regime.

The TNT-filled cylinders dropped by Syrian government forces have in recent months instead been destroying the few productive activities that had remained in a city formerly known worldwide for its olive oil soap, textiles and other industries.

Aya Jamili, a local activist now living in Turkey, told IPS that the few Aleppo businessmen who had tried to keep their operations up and running through the years of the conflict had in recent months either moved their equipment across the border or just moved whatever capital they had available and started over again.

Much activity needed for day-to-day survival in the city has moved underground. Underground structures have been renovated by civil defence units into shelters, which also served to hold the festivities marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in late July. Any large gathering in the streets would have been likely to attract the attention of the regime.

People who can have moved to basement flats, as have media centres and bakeries, which work at night to avoid being targeted.

Produce is brought in from the countryside and stands sell melons and tomatoes in the streets nearer the regime ones. Because barrel bombs cannot be precisely aimed, there is too large a risk for the regime of dropping them close to its own side, so these locations are deemed ‘safer’.

Nevertheless, there is still the constant risk of snipers and large sheets of bullet-scarred canvas have been hung across some of the streets to minimise their line of vision.

The once bustling, traffic-clogged streets farther away resemble for the most part desolate wastelands.

On the way out of the city, two barrel bombs were dropped in quick succession near the neighbourhood through which IPS was travelling and, just as the driver said ‘’the helicopters only carry two each, so for the moment that’s all’’ and sped onwards, a third, deafening impact occurred nearby, shaking the ground.

Further down the road, signs indicating the way to ‘Sheikh Najjar, industrial city’ are shot through with bullet holes, an apocalyptic scene of crumbling buildings behind them.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Does Iceland Gain From Whaling?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/does-iceland-gain-from-whaling/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=does-iceland-gain-from-whaling http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/does-iceland-gain-from-whaling/#comments Mon, 18 Aug 2014 07:39:28 +0000 Lowana Veal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136177 Two fin whaling boats in Reykjavik harbour, shortly before heading out to sea. Credit: Lowana Veal/IPS

Two fin whaling boats in Reykjavik harbour, shortly before heading out to sea. Credit: Lowana Veal/IPS

By Lowana Veal
REYKJAVIK, Aug 18 2014 (IPS)

Although fin whaling by Icelanders has encountered increasing opposition over the last year, Icelandic whaling boats headed off to sea again in mid-June for the first hunt of the summer and by August 14 had killed 80 fin whales.

The story of what then happens to the whales once they have been taken back to Iceland is part mystery and part an economic balancing act between the country’s economic interests and its international image.

As soon as the whales are landed in Iceland, work begins on dismembering the whales. But does the meat get sold and where? How much money does it bring in for the Icelandic economy? And are the costs involved more than the revenue?

All of the whale meat is sent to Japan, but Hvalur hf, the only Icelandic company that hunts fin whales, has encountered a great deal of resistance in transporting it there and has had to resort to commissioning a ship to take the meat directly from Iceland to Japan, undoubtedly leading to extra costs.“The story of what happens to the whales once they have been taken back to Iceland is part mystery and part an economic balancing act between the country’s economic interests and its international image”

IPS was unable to find out the fate of the fin meat sent to Japan earlier this year. Two months after arriving at its final destination, a Japanese source, who did not want to be named, told IPS: “My colleague told me that the whale blubber is still in the cold storage of Osaka customs.” The Japanese embassy in Reykjavik acknowledges that there is at least some sale of fin whale meat, but actual figures do not seem to be available.

Earlier this year, a group of North American animal rights and environmental groups started to pressure North American companies to stop buying fish from Icelandic fishing company HB Grandi because of its links with Hvalur hf. Almost immediately, the Canadian/U.S. company High Liner Foods said it would no longer buy fish from HB Grandi and a number of other companies followed suit, including the U.S. health food chain Whole Foods.

The campaigners also called on U.S. President Barack Obama to invoke the Pelly Amendment, which allows the President to embargo any and all fisheries products from countries operating in a way that undermines a conservation treaty – in this case, the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.

Obama decided to invoke the Amendment, and has already implemented one albeit diplomatic rather than economic action, which was not to invite Iceland to the large international “Our Ocean” conference hosted by the United States in June.

Besides the well-known Pelly Agreement, there is also the Packwood-Magnuson Amendment of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which allows the President to block foreign fleets from access to U.S. fisheries if their country is deemed to have diminished the effectiveness of an international conservation programme.

In 1984, Iceland and the United States signed an agreement whereby Iceland would obtain fishing permits in U.S. waters if it agreed to stop whaling. Due to various complications, although Iceland stopped whaling for 20 years in 1986, it did not start fishing in U.S. waters until December 1989 and then only caught a few tonnes of fish.

In spring this year, Social Democrat MP Sigridur Ingibjorg Ingadottir and seven other Icelandic opposition MPs tabled a parliamentary resolution calling for an investigation into the economic and trade repercussions for Iceland of whaling.

There was not enough time to discuss the matter in the last parliamentary session that ended mid-May, but Ingadottir is currently revising and updating the proposal with a view to submitting it early in the next parliamentary session, which starts in September.

“There are two main aspects to the proposal. One concerns the economic and trade interests of the country and the second Iceland’s image on an international scale,” she told IPS.

According to a report published in 2010, “In the years 1973-1985, when Hvalur hf pursued whaling of large cetaceans, whale processing usually stood for about 0.07 percent of GNP. The contribution of whaling itself to GNP is not known.” Minke whaling is not included in these figures.

Ingadottir, who trained as an economist, says that this figure is very low. “At that time, whaling was an industry and pursued systematically. Since then, a range of other large industries and commercial enterprises have sprung up, so the figure is likely to be lower,” she notes.

Gunnar Haraldsson, Director of the University of Iceland’s Institute of Economic Studies and one of the authors of the 2010 report, told IPS: “The problem is that no official figures exist on the returns of whale watching and various other parameters, thus there is a need to collect this sort of data specifically. It is therefore necessary to carry out a new study if we want to know what the national gains (and costs) actually are.”

Whale watching has blossomed over the last few years and at least 13 companies run whale-watching trips from various places around Iceland. Between 2012 and 2013, the number of whale watchers increased by 45,000, and the total number is now around 200,000 annually.

Three MPS had also called for an inquiry into whaling in the autumn of 2012. This was supposed to cover overall benefits to the economy, including economic interests, animal welfare issues and international obligations. A committee was set up to look into the organisation and grounds for whaling, but this petered out.

“The committee has not actually been dissolved, but it hasn’t met since the new government took over (in May 2013],” Asta Einarsdottir from the Ministry of Industries and Innovation told IPS. When asked why the committee had not met, Einarsdottir replied: “The Minister has not had a chance to meet with the Chair of the committee, despite repeated requests.”

Einarsdottir said that the committee was quite large and included representatives from the whale-watching and conservation sectors as well as from the whaling industry and various ministries.

Meanwhile, Icelandic lamb has also been affected by the whaling dispute. Over the last few years, Icelandic lamb has been exported to the United States and sold in the Whole Foods chain of shops under the banner of “Icelandic lamb”.

Last year, however, the chain decided not to brand the lamb as Icelandic because Iceland’s whaling activities had given Iceland a bad name. The expected increase in sales did not occur, and considerable pressure had to be applied to persuade them to keep selling the meat at all.

Ingadottir is forthright in her opinions. “Are they damaging our interests? Are they protecting a narrow group of interests rather than the national interest? What are we actually protecting with this whaling?” she asks, adding: “Iceland has to come up with very good reasons for pursuing whaling in order to continue doing it.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Tajikistan Struggles to Stem Rise of Jihadi Recruitshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/tajikistan-struggles-to-stem-rise-of-jihadi-recruits/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tajikistan-struggles-to-stem-rise-of-jihadi-recruits http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/tajikistan-struggles-to-stem-rise-of-jihadi-recruits/#comments Wed, 13 Aug 2014 19:48:14 +0000 EurasiaNet Correspondents http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136111 Tajik men board a flight from Dushanbe to Russia in June 2013. Many of the Tajik militant jihadis fighting in Syria either fly through Russia on their way to the conflict or are recruited while they are migrant workers in Moscow, from where they eventually travel to Turkey before crossing the border into Syria. Credit: David Trilling/EurasiaNet

Tajik men board a flight from Dushanbe to Russia in June 2013. Many of the Tajik militant jihadis fighting in Syria either fly through Russia on their way to the conflict or are recruited while they are migrant workers in Moscow, from where they eventually travel to Turkey before crossing the border into Syria. Credit: David Trilling/EurasiaNet

By EurasiaNet Correspondents
DUSHANBE, Aug 13 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Before he became a jihadist, Odiljon Pulatov would travel each year from Tajikistan to Moscow to earn money as a construction worker.

“The money I made was enough to sustain my family. But the last time I went there, I met different people, Tajiks and other [Central Asians]. They persuaded me that jihad is a must for every Muslim,” Pulatov told EurasiaNet.org.“We both have a dream to go to Syria and participate in the war." -- Abubakr

Pulatov, a father of four, traveled from Russia to Syria, via Turkey. Once there, over the course of two weeks, Uzbek speakers like himself indoctrinated him, emphasising the importance of jihad.

“Jihad is conducted for an idea, so that you can be closer to Allah,” explained Pulatov, 29.

Pulatov found conditions in Syria harsh, though, and in July he accepted a Tajik government amnesty, returned home and confessed. Now he is back in Spitamen District in northern Tajikistan, building a home for his family. Authorities made Pulatov accessible to various media outlets, including EurasiaNet.org, in an apparent effort to highlight the amnesty.

Madjid Aliev, a police investigator in Spitamen, says Pulatov remains under investigation. “But we are sure he won’t have any issues. That’s why he has not been detained,” Aliev said.

According to the Interior Ministry, almost 200 Tajiks are fighting in Syria. Aliev, the investigator, said officials were negotiating with others who are in Syria, offering a safety guarantee as an enticement for them to return home.

Along with the amnesty, parliament this summer toughened penalties for Tajik citizens who participate in armed conflicts abroad. But, critics say, such punishment is not a deterrent and the government’s response to the rising threat of homegrown jihadis is ineffective.

“I don’t think that this law on punishing participants will resolve the problem and stop Tajiks from participating. There’s a need to take preventive measures, so that we’re not fighting the consequences, but the reasons [men travel to Syria to fight],” said Dushanbe-based religious affairs expert Faridun Hodizoda.

A lack of work is one of those reasons, contends Hodizoda. Unemployment in Tajikistan is so high that over a million Tajiks work abroad: most, like Pulatov, find work in Russia. That number constitutes approximately half of Tajikistan’s working-age males.

In Russia, labour migrants are widely distrusted and subjected to various forms of harassment, including frequent police shakedowns. The difficulties prompt some to turn to Islam for solace.

At home, Tajikistan’s notoriously corrupt government does little to create jobs. And when it comes to religious affairs, officials tend to crack down on moderate expressions of Islam, harassing members of the Islamic opposition and banning children from attending mosques.

Tajiks in Russia – who are often young men with rudimentary educations and few prospects – are an important source of recruits for Jihadist causes.

“Being a gastarbeiter [migrant labourer] is not an easy thing, there’s a lot of humiliation. But recruiters speak to the gastarbeiters kindly. They provide moral support,” Hodizoda explained, adding that money is also a temptation. “When our citizens are told what they will be doing there [in Syria] and that they will be paid 3,000 dollars and treated well, of course they agree. In Russia, they earn 500-600 dollars a month.”

Tajik officials frequently assert that young Tajik men who go to Syria are, in effect, mercenaries, driven to fight by the allure of a substantial payday. But Pulatov says he was not promised a cent. “When we were recruited, no one said we would be paid,” he said.

Another potential fighter, who introduced himself as Abubakr, 23, communicated with EurasiaNet.org from Russia through a social network. Abubakr, who is from Kulyab, said he is working in Moscow with his father and brother, but he is also in touch with a Chechen friend he met online. “We both have a dream to go to Syria and participate in the war,” he said.

“We weren’t promised any money. How can one talk about money when our [Muslim] sisters and children are being killed there. I [communicated] with Tajiks who are there now, and they tell me sometimes they starve, sometimes there’s no place to sleep, but they are fighting infidels,” Abubakr said via Odnoklassniki – which has been blocked in Tajikistan since mid-July, by some accounts because radicals use it as a recruiting tool.

Abubakr believes that Muslims who criticise jihad do not understand their faith. “My mother is also trying to persuade me [not to fight], but there’s a lot she doesn’t understand about [jihad],” he said.

Officials try to use reason to appeal to vulnerable young men, according to the head of the Fatwa Department at the state-run Muftiate, Jamoliddin Homushev.

“It is said that paradise is beneath your mother’s feet and that by insulting her no one gets to paradise. In Syria, an inter-ethnic fight is going on, like it was in the 1990s in Tajikistan. They [the Syrians] should solve their own problems without external interference,” Homushev told EurasiaNet.org.

Such explanations do not seem to convince many young Tajik Muslims, who do not feel their government listens to their concerns. Others feel the authorities exaggerate the extent of radicalism in the country in order to target the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT).

Embattled IRPT leader Muhiddin Kabiri told EurasiaNet.org that authoritarianism, the government campaign against Islam and poverty drive young men into the arms of radicals. “They do not have an opportunity to improve their lives at home,” Kabiri said, referring to young Tajiks.

“We still have time to fix the situation, reform the law so young people feel their rights, including religious, are respected. […] So they realise there is no need to take up arms,” he said. “But the government is failing to address their concerns.”

This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

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Azerbaijan: Human Rights Plummet to New Lowhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/azerbaijan-human-rights-plummet-to-new-low/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=azerbaijan-human-rights-plummet-to-new-low http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/azerbaijan-human-rights-plummet-to-new-low/#comments Sun, 10 Aug 2014 19:29:20 +0000 Shahin Abbasov http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136030 Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev chats with OSCE PA President Ranko Krivokapic, Jun. 28, 2014, in Baku. Credit: OSCE Parliamentary Assembly/CC-BY-2.0

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev chats with OSCE PA President Ranko Krivokapic, Jun. 28, 2014, in Baku. Credit: OSCE Parliamentary Assembly/CC-BY-2.0

By Shahin Abbasov
BAKU, Aug 10 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Azerbaijan in recent months has launched a clear assault against various civil society activists and non-governmental organisations. While rough treatment of critics is nothing new in this energy-rich South-Caucasus country, one question remains unanswered: Why pick up the pace now?

Some observers link this behavior to two causes: The February resignation of Ukraine’s ex-President Alexander Yanukovich in response to mass protests, and the Azerbaijani government’s keen desire for a protest-free 2015 European Games, a Summer Olympics for European countries that is a pet-project of President Ilham Aliyev.

And so, in the best of Soviet traditions, the cleanup has begun.

"Two months ago, the deputy head of the presidential administration, Novruz Mammadov, openly accused the U.S. of financing a revolution in Ukraine. Therefore, the authorities [here] want to deprive the local civil society of any foreign funding [...]." -- Emil Huseynov, director of the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety
The tactics appear to fall into two categories – criminal prosecutions and scrutiny of financial resources. Since June, several leaders of local NGOs, critical bloggers and opposition activists have been arrested and sentenced to long prison terms on various criminal charges, including alleged tax-evasion, hooliganism and possession of illegal narcotics.

On Jul. 30, the crackdown accelerated with the filing of criminal charges, including treason, against outspoken human-rights activist Leyla Yunus. She is now in jail for three months awaiting trial. A former defense-ministry spokesperson actively engaged in citizen-diplomacy with neighbouring foe Armenia, Yunus and her husband, conflict-analyst Arif Yunus, have been under investigation since April.

Shortly before her detention, Yunus and a group of fellow activists publicly denounced the upcoming European Games as inappropriate for “authoritarian Azerbaijan, where human rights are violated.”A group led by Yunus has appealed to the European Olympic Committee (EOC) and the European Union’s EOC representative office to cancel the decision to hold the Games in Baku.

Yunus’ problems with the government, though, are not unique. The list of people sentenced to prison since June reads like a “Who’s Who” of Azerbaijani civil society.

Anar Mammadli, director of the Election Monitoring Center has been sentenced to 5.5 years on charges of tax evasion; his deputy, Bashir Suleymanly got five years. Hasan Huseynli,  head of the youth-education NGO Kamil Vetendash, or Intellectual Citizen, received six years for allegedly illegally carrying weapons and wounding a person with a knife.

Yadigar Sadigov an activist from the opposition Musavat Party is in for six years on charges of “hooliganism.” And three so-called “Facebook activists,” bloggers Elsever Mursalli, Abdulla Abilov and Omar Mammadov were sentenced to upwards of five years for carrying illegal drugs.

On Jul. 25, Baku police put another Musavat activist, Faradj Karimli, into pre-trial detention for allegedly “advertising psychotropic substances.” All of the accused deny the charges.

The prosecutions follow on the heels of legislative changes that now allow law-enforcement and tax agencies greater scope to audit and fine registered NGOs and ban outright unregistered NGOs’ ability to receive grants.

“Obviously, Baku is following the Russian way – to control the financial flows and, thus, to control the situation,” commented political analyst Elhan Shahinoglu, head of Baku’s Atlas Research Center.

“If the pressure will continue further, it will not be possible to talk about the normal activity of NGO’s in the country,” warned Elchin Abdullayev, a member of a network of NGO’s created to resist perceived intimidation-tactics.

The fact that these events are taking place during Azerbaijan’s six-month chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, the continent’s primary human-rights organ, seems to pose no contradiction for the government.

And the desire for control apparently extends to international groups as well. The Baku office of the Washington, DC-based National Democratic Institute was officially closed on Jul. 2 after the authorities accused it of financing “radical” opposition youth groups.

Like others, Emil Huseynov, director of the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety, which also faces funding problems, traces that accusation to Baku’s fear of an Azerbaijani EuroMaidan.

“Two months ago, the deputy head of the presidential administration, Novruz Mammadov, openly accused the U.S. of financing a revolution in Ukraine. Therefore, the authorities want to deprive the local civil society of any foreign funding [...],” Huseynov charged.

Gulnara Akhundova, a representative of the Danish-run International Media Support NGO, said that the government has refused to register any of the organisation’s grants to local NGO’s and individuals. “Most of our partners in Azerbaijan cannot work. The bank accounts of some of them are frozen,” Akhundova said. No reasons have been given.

According to the pro-opposition Turan news agency, the government also reportedly has expressed a desire to halt activities by the U.S. Peace Corps, which has operated in Azerbaijan since 2003.

President Aliyev, however, insists that Azerbaijan has no problem with civil rights. Last month, speaking at the Jun. 28 opening of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly’s session in Baku, President Aliyev repeated that Azerbaijan is “a democratic country where freedoms of assembly, speech, media and Internet are guaranteed.”

Roughly a week later, speaking to Azerbaijani foreign-ministry officials, he claimed that he had never “heard any criticism of Azerbaijan’s domestic policy at meetings with European leaders.”

If so, it is not for lack of talking.

The OSCE has termed the number of journalists in prison in Azerbaijan “a dangerous trend,” while the European Union on Jul. 17 urged Baku to meet its obligations as “a Member of the Council of Europe.”

A difference in perspective poses an ongoing obstacle, however, noted U.S. Ambassador to Baku Richard Morningstar on Jul. 25, Turan reported.

“The major task of Azerbaijan is to keep stability. But we believe that if people would get more freedom, there will be more stability in Azerbaijan,” Morningstar said.

While Shahinoglu believes that the U.S. and European Union, for all their energy and security interests, will have to continue pressing Baku about its “poor human-rights record,” President Aliyev already has cautioned that the complaints will fall on deaf ears.

“Some people who called themselves opposition or human rights defenders believe that somebody would tell us something and we will obey,” he commented on Jul. 8. “They are naïve people.”

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org. Shahin Abbasov is a freelance correspondent based in Baku.

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OPINION: Happy Birthday “UNO-City” – UN’s Vienna Headquarters Marks 35th Anniversaryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-happy-birthday-uno-city-uns-vienna-headquarters-marks-35th-anniversary/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-happy-birthday-uno-city-uns-vienna-headquarters-marks-35th-anniversary http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-happy-birthday-uno-city-uns-vienna-headquarters-marks-35th-anniversary/#comments Fri, 08 Aug 2014 15:18:47 +0000 Martin Nesirky and Linda Petrick http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136007 Credit: United Nations Information Service Vienna

Credit: United Nations Information Service Vienna

By Martin Nesirky and Linda Petrick
VIENNA, Aug 8 2014 (IPS)

Austrians call it “UNO-City”. The United Nations calls it the Vienna International Centre (VIC). Both names give a hint of the scale and scope of the U.N’s headquarters in the Austrian capital, but not the full story.

As the VIC marks its 35th anniversary, it is worth reflecting on the U.N. family’s work here and its crucial role as one of the U.N.’s four global headquarters.Increasingly, sustainable development is a thread running through the work of all U.N. bodies, including those in Vienna.

The VIC’s three Y-shaped, interlinked buildings are certainly a product of their time. There is a retro 1970s feel to the orange-coloured lifts and to some of the corridors.

Yet the VIC has of course been modernised over the years to host a broad range of major events and more than 4,000 staff working at 14 bodies on topics ranging from nuclear safety to outer space affairs and from combatting drugs and crime to promoting sustainable industrial development and energy.

Six years ago Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a former South Korean ambassador to Vienna, opened an additional state-of-the-art conference building that he said further underscored Austria’s commitment to multilateralism, a commitment that highlights the country’s neutrality and geopolitical location.

When it comes to news, many people link Vienna with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Yet while it has often made headlines because of Iran, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) or Fukushima, the Agency’s work covers much more – including supporting the peaceful uses of nuclear technology in health and agriculture.

Other parts of the U.N. family in Vienna make headlines in their own way.

The Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation promotes the treaty that bans all nuclear explosions and is establishing global verification to ensure no such blast goes undetected. Indeed, its monitoring picks up not just nuclear explosions such as those most recently conducted by the DPRK but also earthquakes like the one that caused a tsunami to hit Japan in 2011.

Atoms apart, the United Nations in Vienna is well known for its work tackling drugs and crime, including through a network of field offices and through its flagship World Drug Report. The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) also plays a vital role in promoting security and justice for all.

Increasingly, sustainable development – a top priority for the Secretary-General and Member States – is a thread running through the work of all U.N. bodies, including those in Vienna. The United Nations Industrial Development Organisation, whose presence in Austria predates the VIC by more than a decade, is a good example, along with UNODC.

Far newer but weaving that same vital thread is the Sustainable Energy for All initiative. Its headquarters are just outside the VIC in an adjacent emerging office and residential district but it is a dynamically growing organisation that is very much a part of the U.N. constellation.

The U.N. Office for Outer Space Affairs is also heavily geared to playing its part in sustainable development as it promotes international cooperation in the exploration and peaceful uses of outer space.

Smaller offices include the U.N. Postal Administration, the Interim Secretariat of the Carpathian Convention (United Nations Environment Programme), the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River, the Office for Disarmament Affairs Vienna Office, the U.N. Register of Damage Caused by the Construction of the Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the U.N. Commission on International Trade Law, the U.N. Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation and the International Narcotics Control Board.

They may not always grab media attention but their targeted technical work has a concrete impact in their respective fields.

The United Nations Information Service Vienna helps to coordinate public information work by those U.N. bodies based in Austria, and is a good starting point for those wanting to know more. It also serves as an information centre for the public, media, civil society and academia in Austria, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia, and provides guided tours at the VIC.

In case anyone wonders, the international bodies based at the VIC split the running costs and pay Austria an annual rent of seven euro cents – it used to be one Austrian Schilling. Needless to say, Vienna is enriched by hosting the United Nations – and other international bodies such as the Organisation of Petroleum-Exporting Countries, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency.

Certainly for the United Nations family, Vienna offers a tremendous venue for technical work, mediation and decision-making that contribute to the global goals of peace and security, sustainable development and human rights. And it is all done in what the Director-General for the U.N. Office at Vienna, Yury Fedotov, likes to call the Vienna Spirit – a spirit of pulling together to decide and then take action.

Next Friday, Aug. 15, a joint-U.N.-Austrian celebration will take place to commemorate the 35th anniversary, which falls on Aug. 23.

Martin Nesirky is Acting Director, United Nations Information Service Vienna.

Edited by : Kitty Stapp

 

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Child Malnutrition Doesn’t Take Vacation in Spainhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/child-malnutrition-doesnt-take-vacation-in-spain/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=child-malnutrition-doesnt-take-vacation-in-spain http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/child-malnutrition-doesnt-take-vacation-in-spain/#comments Wed, 06 Aug 2014 19:45:12 +0000 Ines Benitez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135969 Children in the cafeteria of the Manuel Altolaguirre public school in the poor neighbourhood of La Palma-Palmilla, in the southern city of Málaga, Spain, which provides meals to the poorest students in the summertime. Credit: Inés Benítez/IPS

Children in the cafeteria of the Manuel Altolaguirre public school in the poor neighbourhood of La Palma-Palmilla, in the southern city of Málaga, Spain, which provides meals to the poorest students in the summertime. Credit: Inés Benítez/IPS

By Inés Benítez
MALAGA, Spain, Aug 6 2014 (IPS)

It’s two in the afternoon, and María stirs tomato sauce into a huge pot of pasta. School is out for the summer in Spain, but the lunchroom in this public school in the southern city of Málaga is still open, serving meals to more than 100 children from poor families.

“My son has had to take my grandson to summer school because he doesn’t have enough money to feed him.” -- Mercedes Arroyo
“The kitchen is always operating, winter and summer,” Miguel Ángel Muñoz, the prinicipal of the Manuel Altolaguirre school, told IPS. “There are families in situations of extreme need. For many children, the only hot meals they eat are what they are served at school.”

The school is in La Palma-Palmilla, one of the poorest neighbourhoods in this city in the southern autonomous community or region of Andalusia.

A number of reports have described the dire economic situation faced by many families with children in Spain, and the resultant problems of poor quality diets and child malnutrition.

There are 2.3 million children in Spain – 27.5 percent of the total – living under the poverty line, according to a study by UNICEF, the United Nations children’s fund.

The report, “La Infancia en España 2014” (Childhood in Spain 2014), released Jun. 24, found that the number of households with children where no adult is working increased 290 percent since 2007, the year before the global financial crisis broke out. Between 2007 and 2013 the total climbed from 325,000 to 943,000 families.

The unemployment rate in this country of 46.7 million people stands at 25.9 percent, according to the National Statistics Institute. Then there is the “working poor” who earn wages too low to cover mortgage payments or rent, utility bills and food.

“My mother sells lottery tickets and my father is at home,” Rafa told IPS just after eating pasta, salad and watermelon for lunch in the Manuel Altolaguirre school lunchroom. The eight-year-old has siblings aged four, 10 and 12.

Sitting next to him, 11-year-old Yeray said he and his brother Antonio have lunch at the school every day while his father works “carrying luggage in the airport.”

“The food is good,” said Yeray, who wants to “fix cars or be a policeman” when he grows up.

Daniel Fernández, with the local non-governmental organisation Animación Malacitana, who has been responsible for summertime activities in the school for 13 years, told IPS that “there are entire strata of society in emergency situations” and in need of help in Spain.

Since 2013 the government of Andalusia, the most populous autonomous community in Spain, has extended through the summer vacation period the aid it provides during the school year, and subsidises summer school in institutions like Manuel Altolaguirre in cities throughout the region.

In summer school, the poorest children are served breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack at no cost, while they participate in recreational and educational activities run by social organisations.

“My son has had to take my grandson to summer school because he doesn’t have enough money to feed him,” Mercedes Arroyo, who has three children – aged 18, 24 and 28 – and three grandchildren – two seven-year-olds and a 10-year-old – told IPS.

“And many of us are in that situation,” said her husband, Enrique Sánchez, outside the “25 Mujeres” “economato social” – government shops that sell basic foodstuffs and cleaning and hygiene products at cost to poor families – in La Palma-Palmilla.

It is now common to see grandparents supporting their children and grandchildren – and even great-grandchildren – on their small pensions. Rosario Ruíz, 67, draws a disability pension of 365 euros (500 dollars) and lives with her 26-year-old unemployed granddaughter who is a single mother of two children, aged two and five.

“Are you going to write about how I need help? Are you going to tell?” Ruíz asked IPS after shopping in the ‘economato’.

The families of some 200,000 children in Spain can’t afford a meal based on beef, chicken or fish every two days, the NGO Educo reported on its website.

Poor nutrition in childhood can have irreversible effects on children’s health, abilities and development, experts say.

“Parents need school lunchrooms to be open in the summertime too,” said Muñoz, who stressed the vulnerability of the children who attend schools in La Palma-Palmilla.

The children mainly come from gypsy (Roma) or other immigrant families, most of them from Romania. They are served breakfast and lunch, and are given an afternoon snack in a bag to take home, year-round as part of an anti-poverty plan run by the socialist government of Andalusia, one of the regions with the highest unemployment rates in Spain.

Different NGOs in Málaga also organise summer activities for poor children. For example, Málaga Acoge runs ¡Queremos montar un circo! (We Want to Mount a Circus!) for 120 immigrant children, financed through microdonations, while Prodiversa ran a summer camp in July for 23 children between the ages of six and 11, subsidised by the Obra Social la Caixa Proinfancia and offering meals, tutoring and counseling.

Spain is the European Union country with the second highest level of child poverty, following Romania, according to a report by Caritas Europa on the social impact of the austerity policies applied in the countries hit hardest by the economic crisis, released Mar. 27.

Caritas, a Catholic social assistance organisation, put the proportion of children under 18 in Spain living on the edge of social exclusion at 29.9 percent.

And the report Child Poverty and Social Exclusion in Europe published by Save the Children in June put the proportion at 33.8 percent.

“It’s a chronicle of impoverishment foretold,” economist Juan Torres López told IPS. He said the “policies involving steep cutbacks have dismantled the social services and basic collective assets,” turning Spain into “the country with the worst inequalities in Europe.”

According to the economist, the government of right-wing Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has adopted “inadequate, unfair and ineffective” measures to combat the economic crisis, instead of opting for “alternatives that could bring good results such as tax reforms aimed at greater equality and financing that is not set up to benefit the banks.”

The budget earmarked for children in Spain fell 14.6 percent from 2010 to 2013, UNICEF reported.

Cuts in public spending began during the administration of socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero (2004-2011). But the biggest cutbacks in social expenditure in democracy in Spain have been applied since Rajoy took office.

Teachers and members of social organisations told IPS that some students ask to fill their plates three times in the school lunchrooms. Many don’t even have hot water at home to take showers in the winter, because they live in broken homes or come from extremely poor families.

“Good thing the summer comes. Then I don’t mind taking a shower with cold water,” a boy whose family could not afford a water heater or gas cylinder every month told Fernández.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Time Running Out for Refugees Seeking Asylum in Italyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/time-running-out-for-refugees-seeking-asylum-in-italy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=time-running-out-for-refugees-seeking-asylum-in-italy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/time-running-out-for-refugees-seeking-asylum-in-italy/#comments Fri, 01 Aug 2014 07:54:38 +0000 Silvia Giannelli http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135865 Group of asylum seekers in Casoli, near Bagni di Lucca, Italy. Credit: Silvia Giannelli/IPS

Group of asylum seekers in Casoli, near Bagni di Lucca, Italy. Credit: Silvia Giannelli/IPS

By Silvia Giannelli
LUCCA, Italy, Aug 1 2014 (IPS)

His journey started four years ago in Conakry, Guinea. Now that Mamoudou* has finally reached Italy, he hopes this will be his final stop.

When he first left his home, his plan was to stay in Libya, but after the 2011 crisis, when Gaddafi’s government was overthrown, life in the country became very hard for migrants. “I was jailed 28 times, and tortured,” he told IPS, “so I decided to come to Italy, because it’s a democracy and I hope I will have a peaceful and secure life here.”

Together with 13 other asylum seekers from Mali, Pakistan and Bangladesh, Mamoudou is now living in a tiny village in the Tuscan mountains, where the ‘Partecipazione e Sviluppo’ association is taking care of his application.“While trying to look at tackling the root causes [of migration] in economic disparity may be a laudable objective, it is not going to make a difference any time soon […] Without an effective rescue response people are going to drown, and they have drowned, and more will drown” – Benjamin Ward, Deputy Director of Human Rights Watch

They all arrived between April and June from Libya, where they had migrated to escape conflicts and hunger and it is now painful for them to recall how their voyage took. “

In order to smuggle me to the Libyan coast, they put me in the boot of a car,” says Mamoudou. “I don’t know how many hours I spent there and what day I left Libya, but my registration documents say I arrived in Sicily on April 11. “

He paid the equivalent of 1,000 dollars to human traffickers to share a boat with 80 people and no skipper. “They told us where the North was and that we should have taken turns steering. When the Italian Navy found us, we had no idea where we were and the boat was already sinking.”

Since the tragedy off the Italian island of Lampedusa, which left more than 350 migrants dead in October last year, the Italian authorities have started a rescue operation called ‘Mare Nostrum’ (Our Sea). Mamoudou is one of the more than 80,000 migrants that have been saved since the operation started, winning appreciation from human rights NGOs and European Union authorities.

“Mare Nostrum is extremely important because it has saved many lives,” Benjamin Ward, Deputy Director of Human Rights Watch, told IPS. “We think it is something that needs to continue and we are among other groups calling for the European Union to respond positively to Italy’s call for European support for the operations”.

Given the high costs of the operations – about 9.3 million euro a month, according to Italian Navy – the Italian Minister of the Interior, Angelino Alfano, who is also leader of the New Centre Right (NCD) party, has stressed on several occasions the need for Frontex, the European Union border management agency, to take over Mare Nostrum.

“Mare Nostrum was set up as an emergency operation. It can’t last forever,” the minister told G6 interior ministers in Barcelona in June. ”Europe must replace Italy in this effort, and Italy will continue to make its contribution,” he added.

“Europe must come up with a clear strategy to regulate the flow of migrants. The Mediterranean that unites us is a European sea. It does not just belong to Italy, Spain, or any of the other countries that look onto this extraordinary body of water,” said the minister.

Yet, the answer of the European Commission leaves little room for negotiation. “Mare Nostrum is a very broad and expensive operation and Frontex is a small agency, it cannot take over Mare Nostrum,” Michele Cercone, spokesperson for EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström, explained to IPS. “Of course Frontex can and will contribute and can do a lot, but we don’t have the means to totally substitute it.”

Despite the widespread approval that the Italian rescue operation enjoys, Italian right-wing party Northern League has been calling for its termination since its early stages. “The only real outcome of Mare Nostrum is the favour we make to the traffickers, who can now leave tens of thousands of people at risk of dying, because they know the Navy will come and rescue them,” Massimiliano Fedriga, party leader in the Chamber of Deputies, told IPS.

“The only real solution is to have EU observatories in the North African countries to verify who has the right to receive asylum, which must be a European asylum and not the asylum of a single country. The others, the illegal migrants, who are the majority, should not come and must not come to our country,” he concluded.

Yet, in April Alfano had already said that “immigration is deeply changing profile […] there are increasingly more asylum seekers than economic migrants.”

Riccardo Noury, communications director of Amnesty International Italy, confirmed. “The migrants who arrive, when they manage to survive, at the European border, which is often the Italian and the Greek border, are mostly people who would have the right to asylum or other types of international protection,” he told IPS.

Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch seem to be mostly concerned by Europe resistance to changing its approach towards migration.

“Obviously there are other aspects like border enforcement, like taking action against dangerous smuggling, which are important and need to continue, but we do think that saving lives should be the top priority,” said Ward.

“While trying to look at tackling the root causes in economic disparity may be a laudable objective, it is not going to make a difference any time soon […] Without an effective rescue response people are going to drown, and they have drowned, and more will drown. That in our view is something that has to be engaged. The European Union can’t simply say that it’s Italy’s mess to fix,” he added.

According to Noury, there are several reasons why Italy’s requests have not been heard.

“In the past years, Italy has lost the chance to show credible policies while asking for Europe’s support. We have been the country of push-backs, the country that threatened to release fake residence permits during the 2011 crisis to allow migrants to cross the Italian Northern border… we haven’t been a reliable partner when it came to reform the EU’s migration policies,”  the Amnesty International spokesperson commented.

“But we now have another opportunity, with the EU presidency [which Italy assumed for a six-month period at the beginning of July], to assume a leadership role.”

If Italy fails to obtain strategic and financial support from the European Union, it will be soon forced to scale down or discontinue its rescue operations. One year after the Lampedusa tragedy, exactly same conditions might be in place, and the consequences could be deadly once again.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

 * Name changed to protect his identity.

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Is Europe’s Breadbasket Up for Grabs?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/is-europes-breadbasket-up-for-grabs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=is-europes-breadbasket-up-for-grabs http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/is-europes-breadbasket-up-for-grabs/#comments Wed, 30 Jul 2014 21:29:03 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135828 Ukraine is the world’s third-largest exporter of cotton and the fifth-largest exporter of wheat. Credit: Bigstock

Ukraine is the world’s third-largest exporter of cotton and the fifth-largest exporter of wheat. Credit: Bigstock

By Kanya D'Almeida
NEW YORK, Jul 30 2014 (IPS)

Amidst an exodus of some 100,000 people from the conflict-torn eastern Ukraine, ongoing fighting in the urban strongholds of Donetsk and Luhansk between Ukrainian soldiers and separatist rebels, and talk of more sanctions against Russia, it is hard to focus on the more subtle changes taking place in this eastern European nation.

But while global attention has been channeled towards the political crisis, sweeping economic reforms are being ushered in under the leadership of the newly elected president Petro Poroshenko, who recently brokered deals with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund that have rights groups on edge.“These reforms sound good on paper, but when you look more closely you see they are actually designed to benefit large multinational corporations over workers and small-scale farmers." -- Frédéric Mousseau

Even before Poroshenko assumed office on Jun. 7, international financial institutions (IFIs) were rushing emergency missions into the country, with IMF European Department Director Reza Moghadam declaring on a Mar. 7 visit, “I am positively impressed with authorities’ determination, sense of responsibility and commitment to an agenda of economic reform.”

After years of dangling a 17-billion-dollar loan – withheld in part due to ousted President Viktor Yanukovych’s refusal to implement a highly contested pension reform bill that would have raised the retirement age by 10 years, and his insistence on curbing gas price hikes – the IMF has now released its purse strings.

The World Bank followed suit, announcing a 3.5-billion-dollar aid package on May 22 that the Bank’s president, Jim Yong Kim, said was conditional upon the government “removing restrictions that hinder competition and […] limiting the role of state control in economic activities.”

While these reforms include calls for greater transparency to spur economic growth, experts are concerned that Ukraine’s rapid pivot to Western neoliberal policies could spell disaster, particularly in the immense agricultural sector that is widely considered the ‘breadbasket of Europe.’

A quiet land-grab

Ukraine is the world’s third-largest exporter of cotton and the fifth-largest exporter of wheat. Agriculture accounts for about 10 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), with vast fields of fertile soil yielding bumper harvests of grain and cereals each year.

According to a 2013 forecast by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Ukraine is poised to become the world’s second biggest grain exporter in the world (after the U.S.), shipping over 30 million tonnes of grain out of the country last year.

The World Bank estimates that farmers and agricultural workers made up 17 percent of the country’s labour force as of 2012. And according to the Centre for Eastern Studies, agricultural exports soared in the last decade, from 4.3 billion dollars in 2005 to 17.9 billion dollars in 2012.

Lush soil and a rich agrarian culture do not immediately add up to nationwide dividends. Potential investors have cited“red tape” and “corruption” as hindrances to development, as well as a communist legacy that forbids the sale of land.

But the past decade has seen an abrupt change in Ukraine’s agricultural sector, with foreign investors and agri-business hugely expanding ownership and influence in the country.

According to a report released Monday by the U.S.-based Oakland Institute, over 1.6 million hectares of land have been signed over to multinational companies since 2002, including “over 405,000 hectares to a company listed in Luxembourg, 444,800 hectares to Cyprus-registered investors, 120,000 hectares to a French corporation, and 250,000 hectares to a Russian company.”

A deal brokered between China and Yanukovych prior to the political crisis – now disputed under the present regime – granted Beijing control over some three million hectares of prime farmland in the east, an area about the size of Belgium that totals five percent of Ukraine’s arable land.

This changing climate has been a boon for investors and corporations, with Michael Cox, research director at the investment bank Piper Jaffray, referring to Ukraine as one of the “most promising growth markets for farm-equipment giant Deere, as well as seed producers Monsanto and DuPont.”

Such statements have raised a red flag among researchers and trade watchdogs.

OI Executive Director Anuradha Mital told IPS, “IFIs are imposing Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) in Ukraine, which we know – from the experience of the Third World – will undoubtedly lead to severe austerity measures for the people and increase poverty among the Ukrainians.”

“Ukraine is also one of the 10 pilot countries in the World Bank’s new Benchmarking the Business of Agriculture (BBA) project,” Mittal told IPS, referring to a brand new initiative, still in the development stage, which is connected to the Bank’s controversial Doing Business rankings.

This index has been criticised by numerous groups including the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) – comprised of over 176 million members hailing from 161 countries – for favouring low taxes for transnational corporations and lowering labour standards in developing countries as a means of attracting foreign investment.

The Bank itself says the BBA will largely serve as a tool for improving agricultural output.

“The world needs to feed nine billion people by 2050,” a World Bank spokesperson told IPS.

“For small-scale farmers to be more productive and far more competitive, they need access to land, finance, improved seed, fertiliser, water, electricity, transport and markets.

“By identifying and monitoring policies and regulations that limit access of smaller producers to these critical components of success, BBA is being designed as a tool to foster an enabling environment that boosts local and regional agribusinesses,” she concluded.

David Sedik, senior policy officer at the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) regional office for Europe and Central Asia, believes such an initiative is sorely needed in Ukraine, where “the primary beneficiaries of subsidies granted by the agricultural VAT system are… large agri-holding companies, the overwhelming majority of which are Ukrainian.”

“The list of needed reforms is quite long, and could start with building a more transparent land market,” he told IPS. “A first step in this direction could be the lifting of the moratorium on land sales.”

“The BBA project seems to support the construction of a transparent and inclusive system of agricultural regulation, something Ukraine lacks,” Sedik added.

But the OI report’s co-author Frédéric Mousseau says initiatives like the BBA and others exist primarily to pry open Ukraine’s doors, hitherto sealed by its socialist traditions, to foreign capital.

“These reforms sound good on paper, but when you look more closely you see they are actually designed to benefit large multinational corporations over workers and small-scale farmers,” Mousseau told IPS.

“Ranking systems like the BBA push for contract farming, which entails farmers working for corporations, instead of as subsistence producers. We are denouncing this rhetoric, and its attendant struggle between different foreign interests over Ukraine’s resources.”

Research into the impacts of the Bank’s ‘Doing Business’ rankings in eight countries – including Mali, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka and the Philippines – has yielded similar results: sharp increases in foreign investments and land-grabbing in a bid to appear more ‘business friendly’.

Further, Mousseau said, arrangements such as the Association Agreement between the European Union and Ukraine offer glimpses into an agricultural future steered by corporate interests.

“Until now, Ukraine had banned the use of GMOs in the agriculture sector,” Mousseau stated. “So when we anaylsed the EU Association Agreement we were surprised by article 404, which states very clearly that both parties agree to expand the use of biotechnologies.”

Such clauses, experts say, could strengthen existing initiatives such as Monsanto’s Ukraine-based ‘Grain-basket of the Future’ project (which offers 25,000-dollar loans to rural farmers) and Cargill’s 200-million-dollar stake in UkrLandFarming, the eighth largest land cultivator in the world.

These developments give weight to the title of OI’s report, ‘Walking on the West Side’, a reference to the role of Western interests in Ukraine’s unfolding political crisis.

“It is necessary to see this in context of the U.S.– Russia struggle over Ukraine,” Joel Kovel, U.S. scholar and author of over 20 books on international politics, told IPS.

“Geostrategic politics and neoliberal economics fit together within the overall plan …in which global finance capital under American control and neoconservative leadership imposes austerity, seeks dominion over the easternmost portion of Europe, and continues the policy of encircling Russia,” he stated.

Editing by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at kanyaldalmeida@gmail.com

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Somali Refugees Find an Unlikely Home … In Istanbulhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/somali-refugees-find-an-unlikely-home-in-istanbul/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=somali-refugees-find-an-unlikely-home-in-istanbul http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/somali-refugees-find-an-unlikely-home-in-istanbul/#comments Tue, 29 Jul 2014 09:16:27 +0000 Hannah Tayson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135808 By Hannah Tayson
ISTANBUL, Jul 29 2014 (IPS)

Among the labyrinth of winding narrow streets just outside a major shopping centre in the Kumkapi neighbourhood of Istanbul is a rundown road, congested with shops and apartments stacked atop one another.

Istanbul's "Somalia Street" - so called because immigrants from Somalia (and elsewhere in Africa) have adopted it as a staging post during long, rigorous journeys to find permanent homes. Credit: Hannah Tayson

Istanbul’s “Somalia Street” – so called because immigrants from Somalia (and elsewhere in Africa) have adopted it as a staging post during long, rigorous journeys to find permanent homes. Credit: Hannah Tayson

Cars somehow manage to come barrelling down the street as people slowly move to the narrow pavement already full of food carts and clothes strewn out on blankets for sale. Trash lazily rolls past groups of men engaged in conversation while sitting on buckets or leaning against shop windows. The area feels oddly serene.

This street is host to a community of African refugees, with the majority comprising Somali natives, and aptly named “Somalia Street”. Through word of mouth and family ties, Somali refugees seek a temporary home in this nook of Istanbul, in order to find some respite from the political and natural disasters that have devastated Somalia for decades.

Istanbul has become a staging post for Somalis hoping to eventually travel on to Australia, Canada or the United States, migration trend watchers say.  Because of the constant population flux, it is difficult to estimate the number of refugees actually living on the street at any given moment, but street residents say that there are a few hundred Somalis living there.

Dalmar, 30, a Somali refugee, has only been in Istanbul for a month with his brother Amet, 20, and lives in a small apartment with 12 other refugees. This arrangement is very common here. Often, refugees will live in small apartments with 20 or 30 other people.

“Istanbul is very temporary,” said Dalmar. “The living conditions are poor. Istanbul is expensive, and it is very hard to find work here.”

Turkish labour laws require a passport and residence card for employment, neither of which refugees can easily obtain. This has led to much illegal work, usually consisting of manual labour and odd jobs.Through word of mouth and family ties, Somali refugees seek a temporary home in this nook of Istanbul [Somalia Street], in order to find some respite from the political and natural disasters that have devastated Somalia for decades

A refugee who has lived in Turkey for many years, Liban, 31, said he worked in various manual labour jobs when he first arrived in Istanbul. He pointed out that that the language barrier between Arabic and Turkish makes it “difficult to get jobs in the first place.”

Yet inhabitants appear to have established a unique community along the littered, cobblestone street. Most Somalis interviewed said they enjoy life in Istanbul. The community takes care of them as they arrive in droves. Often, refugees will find work with Kurdish shop owners, who seem rather protective of them.

During one interview with a group of refugees, a Kurdish man popped his head of his shop out to make sure they were not being harassed.

The Katip Kasim mosque stands on Somali Street, its low brick wall recently painted white and orange. The mosque is rather unassuming compared to the grandiose and elegant mosques around Istanbul.

Muammer Aksoy has worked as Katip Kasim’s imam for 19 years, and has seen the community change significantly. This area of Istanbul has always been a refuge for minority groups in Istanbul, beginning with Kurdish migrants from Turkey’s east. Romanian refugees arrived in the 1980s and 1990s. There has since been an increase in African refugees to the area, the majority arriving within the last five years.

During the holy month of Ramadan, Somalia Street unites. Somalis are very devout Muslims. Once the sun begins to set, the Katip Kasim mosque courtyard fills with people waiting in line to receive their dinner to break the fast, or iftar.

Imam Aksoy began the community iftar dinners eight years ago, after seeing a Somali refugee attempt to break his fast with a small piece of bread, and by drinking soiled water from the fountains used to wash feet before entering the mosque.

“It is my responsibility as the imam to take care of my community,” said Aksoy. “I don’t discriminate between people here. Everyone is welcome.”

The imam has enlisted a different shop owner on the street each evening to provide the iftar dinner for 300 people.

A long-time resident and family friend of the imam, Arzu, has also seen the change in the community. “Refugees come because they heard people take care of them here,” she said proudly.

Turkey and Somalia have an unlikely partnership. According to a 2013 report by the Norwegian Peace Building Centre, Turkey has established networks in Africa, Somalia in particular, to enable peace-building efforts and humanitarian initiatives. In turn, says the report, this “strengthens Turkey’s international image as a global peace actor.”

“The relationship between Somalia and Turkey is very recent. It was just in 2011 that this relationship began,” said Dalmar. “Now there are scholarships and programmes for students.”

Somalia receives more aid from Turkey than any other African nation, with 93 million dollars in 2011, and 1,500 Somali students received scholarships to study at the public Istanbul University in 2013.

Abdifitah, 25, who has been living in the community for one year, was a scholarship recipient. To take advantage of the opportunity, Abdifitah and his family moved together from Somalia. His family cannot find work, but has moved with him in order to support him.

“Istanbul gave me a chance to learn,” said Abdifitah.

Recently, Somali refugees have been moving to Turkey’s capital, Ankara, because work is easier to find, and housing is cheaper than in overcrowded Istanbul.

Liban lives with his family in Ankara, but makes a living as a translator for the local African football league in Istanbul. When asked if he would like to go somewhere else, he shook his head.

“When I was younger, I really wanted to go to America. Now, if someone handed me an American passport, I wouldn’t take it,” said Liban. “I have everything I want here.”

 

Freelance writer Hannah Tayson was a foreign correspondent intern with the Institute for Education in International Media (ieiMedia) in Istanbul during the summer of 2014. She can be contacted at htayson@scu.edu

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People Before Bordershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/people-before-borders/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=people-before-borders http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/people-before-borders/#comments Tue, 29 Jul 2014 07:37:05 +0000 Geneviève Lavoie-Mathieu http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135803 By Geneviève Lavoie-Mathieu
ROME, Jul 29 2014 (IPS)

With Italy having taken over presidency of the European Union (EU) until December 2014, questions remain regarding Europe’s migration policies as reports of migrants dying at sea while trying to reach Italy regularly make the headlines.

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates that since the beginning of 2014, 500 migrants have died in the Mediterranean Sea and almost 43,000 have been rescued by the Italian Navy.

However, Italy’s “Mare Nostrum operation has gone a long way towards addressing the issue of saving people’s lives,” says Anneliese Baldaccini, Amnesty International’s Senior Executive Officer for Asylum and Migration.

Mare Nostrum – the Italian search-and-rescue operation – was launched following the tragedy of October 2013, when 366 migrants died as the boat in which they were travelling sank off the coast of Lampedusa, an Italian island which is closer to Tunisia than Italy.“The EU needs to do more to create legal channels for asylum seekers and migrants” … at the moment, "the EU is focused almost exclusively on strengthening its borders” – Gregory Maniatis, advisor to the U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary-General for International Migration

Italy is the lone sponsor of the search-and-rescue initiative, investing an estimated nine million euros every month.

In an interview with IPS, Baldaccini highlighted the unsustainability of this operation, arguing that this is why “Amnesty is calling on the European Union to act in a concerted way to support Italy in these operations”. So far, she continued, “the EU has proved reluctant in doing so.”

“With its Mare Nostrum operation, Italy has been pushing for a collective humanitarian response,” said Gregory Maniatis, Senior Policy Fellow at the Migration Policy Institute and advisor to Peter Sutherland, U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary-General for International Migration. “But what is missing at the EU level is a common vision of the problem,” he told IPS.

“The EU needs to do more to create legal channels for asylum seekers and migrants,” Maniatis explained. At the moment, “the EU is focused almost exclusively on strengthening its borders.”

Maniatis also argued that the EU does not have a sustained focus “to improve asylum processing to create a truly common European system, to increase its capacity to receive refugees, and to establish ways for people to apply for asylum without undertaking the dangerous Mediterranean crossing.”

According to Amnesty International, there is a dichotomy between the “EU’s aspiration to promote human rights and the reality of human rights violations in member states.” In its recommendations to the Italian EU presidency, Amnesty International stated that currently, “border control measures expose migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers to serious harm.

Their detention is systemic, rather than exceptional. And their lack of agency makes them vulnerable to abject exploitation and abuse.”

Amnesty International has calledon Italy, in view of its presidency of the European Union, “to show leadership and steer the Union in the direction of human rights, putting people before politics”.

The European Council Summit held on June 26-27 agreed broad guidelines for Europe’s migration and asylum strategy but these “do not change the current status quo” according to Amnesty’s migration expert Baldaccini. They “even represent a setback,” she told IPS. Overall, said Baldaccini, they “show a lack of political commitment.”

She went on to explain that the Secretariat of the European Council has partly blamed the recent rise of far-right parties at the last European Parliament elections as being the reason why no progress was made in terms of migration policies.

In general, states – and not only far-right parties – are reluctant to “mention human rights as it could be perceived as encouraging more arrivals to Europe,” Baldaccini said.

Many organisations have called on the European Union to change its approach to migration policies. The Lampedusa tragedy is only one example of a long series of similar events, said Elena Crespi, Western Europe Programme Officer at the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), an NGO representing 178 organisations throughout the world.

“Despite repeated commitments to change,” Crespi told IPS, “EU migration policies remain security driven, and aim at reinforcing border control while migrants’ rights are given little attention.”

One such example, she argued, is the increasing presence of FRONTEX, the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union.

Crespi explained that the intensification of FRONTEX operations has not resulted in fewer incidents, nor better respect for migrants’ and asylum-seekers’ rights. On the contrary, an increased number of allegations have been made regarding human rights violations at the Union’s external borders, which remain unaddressed.

FRONTEX has turned down the recommendation by the E.U. Ombudsman to put in place a mechanism to allow alleged violations to be investigated.

This, said Crespi, raises questions regarding the compatibility of FRONTEX’s operations in terms of human rights.

The presence of the European Border Agency is not sufficient to prevent people from dying at sea, she noted. Instead, enhanced border control pushes more and more people into taking increasingly dangerous routes into Europe, thus putting their lives at risk.

Italy is now pushing for FRONTEX to assume the costs of the Mare Nostrum operations, explained Simona Moscarelli, a legal expert for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Rome. But to do this, the “FRONTEX mission will have to be revised because its mandate does not include search-and-rescue operations.”

“FRONTEX’s role is not to save lives but rather to prevent and deter migrants from coming into Europe,” Crespi told IPS.

Moreover, “the vast majority of migrants travelling across the Mediterranean Sea are Syrian and Eritrean nationals and should be entitled to asylum,” Moscarelli told IPS.

According to the UNHCR, the number of Syrians reaching Europe by sea increased in 2013. Last year, Italy rescued an estimated 11,307 Syrians in the Mediterranean.

“The European Union must overhaul its approach to migration, and put respect for migrants’ and asylum seekers’ rights at its centre. Opening new channels for regular migration, enhancing reception capacity including by increasing responsibility sharing for migrants coming into Europe and investigating human rights violations are some steps that could be taken in the right direction,” said Crespi.

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Food – Thou Shall Not Wastehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/food-thou-shall-not-waste-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=food-thou-shall-not-waste-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/food-thou-shall-not-waste-2/#comments Tue, 29 Jul 2014 07:34:49 +0000 Silvia Giannelli http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135788 Still edible food thrown away together with plastic bottles and empty crates at local food market in Lucca, Italy. Credit: Silvia Giannelli/IPS

Still edible food thrown away together with plastic bottles and empty crates at local food market in Lucca, Italy. Credit: Silvia Giannelli/IPS

By Silvia Giannelli
LUCCA, Italy, Jul 29 2014 (IPS)

“Only two years ago, the soup kitchen was serving 50 meals a day. Today the number has almost doubled and, what is even more worrying, we have started receiving families with children,” says Donatella Turri, director of the Caritas Diocese of Lucca.

The paradox is that the lengthening queues at the Lucca soup kitchen come against a backdrop of increasing food loss and waste.

Turri has no doubts concerning the impact of the current economic crisis on Italian families in terms of food security – “we call it ‘poverty of the third week’.”If our goal is to feed the planet, we cannot simply increase production and keep losing and wasting one-third of it. Our first commandment needs to be 'thou shall not waste' – Andrea Segré, President of Last Minute Market

“It means that the poor are no longer the homeless, the mentally ill and the drug addicts. More and more often we get requests for primary goods from families that simply cannot reach the end of the month with their salaries,” she told IPS.

Turri’s claims are confirmed at the national level by the yearly Italian National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT) report on poverty. According to the survey, absolute poverty [the threshold below which a family cannot afford the goods and services that are essential to guarantee a barely acceptable standard of living] has maintained its steady increase in recent years, rising from 4.6 percent in 2010 to 7.9 percent in 2013.

“The traditional distinction between the quantitative aspect of food security being typical of developing countries, and the qualitative one being a concern of the industrialised world, is fading away,” Andrea Segré, Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture at Bologna University and President of Last Minute Market, a company that recovers unsold or non-marketable goods in favour of charity organisations, told IPS.

However, while access to food is also becoming increasingly difficult for the low-income class of developed countries, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that Europe, North America and Oceania are top of the world’s food wasting classification, with a per capita food loss of almost 300 kg per year in North America.

“Food loss and waste are dependent on specific conditions and local circumstances,” Eliana Haberkon from FAO’s Office for Communications, Partnerships and Advocacy, explained to IPS.

“In low-income countries, food loss is mainly connected to managerial and technical limitations in harvesting techniques, storage, transportation, processing, cooling facilities, infrastructure, packaging, etc. … and food waste is expected to constitute a growing problem due to undergoing food system changes and due to factors such as expansion of supermarket chains and changes in diets and lifestyle.”

Currently, the biggest gap between rich and poor nations remains the quantity of food wasted at the consumer level. According to FAO figures, Europeans and North-Americans waste between 95 to 115 kg of food per capita every year, while in sub-Saharan Africa and South/Southeast Asia the number drops down to only 6 to 11 kg a year.

At the beginning of July, Last Minute Market, in cooperation with the SWG survey company, published a report called ‘Waste Watcher’. Using a complex questionnaire survey among Italian consumers, the outcomes paint a comprehensive picture of the social dynamics and behaviour of families that lead to food waste.

“The overall waste of food in Italy is worth 8.1 billion euro every year, and most of it comes from our houses. The rest of the losses, in agriculture, industries, distribution and service, can be recovered, but it is much less significant than what we throw in our bins,” said Segrè, commenting on the survey results.

Last Minute Market is now working to prepare the ground for a discussion on food waste during EXPO 2015, which will take place in under the heading ‘Feeding the planet, energy for life’.

“In order to be credible, EXPO needs to take into account the issue of food waste,” said Segré. “If our goal is to feed the planet, we cannot simply increase production and keep losing and wasting one-third of it. Our first commandment needs to be thou shall not waste.”

Indeed, as Haberon explained, the consequences of food loss and waste stretch far beyond their monetary value, “affecting current use and future availability and causing unnecessary pressure on natural resources.”

Studies by FAO estimated a yearly global quantitative food loss and waste of 30 percent of cereals, 40-50 percent of food crops (fruits and vegetables), 25 percent of oil seeds, meat and dairy products and 30 percent of fish.

Both Last Minute Market and Caritas agree on the paramount role of education in tackling food waste. In cooperation with more than ten local primary schools, the Caritas Diocese of Lucca has managed to recover excess food intact from school canteens for a value of 40,000 euro, taking it to the soup kitchens it manages.

This initiative has allowed it to develop a parallel food education project with the children of the schools involved.

“We obviously need normative support to help us reduce food waste, but first of all we must re-introduce food education, starting from primary schools,” said Segrè. “The current generation has completely lost the value of food and we must get it back.”

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Oil Lubricates Equatorial Guinea’s Entry into Portuguese Language Communityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/oil-lubricates-equatorial-guineas-entry-into-portuguese-language-community/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=oil-lubricates-equatorial-guineas-entry-into-portuguese-language-community http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/oil-lubricates-equatorial-guineas-entry-into-portuguese-language-community/#comments Fri, 25 Jul 2014 16:10:59 +0000 Mario Queiroz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135748 Equatoguinean President Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has sidestepped accusations of human rights violations and won his country membership in the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP). Credit: Embassy of Equatorial Guinea/CC-BY-ND-2.0

Equatoguinean President Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has sidestepped accusations of human rights violations and won his country membership in the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP). Credit: Embassy of Equatorial Guinea/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Mario Queiroz
LISBON, Jul 25 2014 (IPS)

Evidently, oil talked louder. By unanimous resolution, the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP) admitted Equatorial Guinea as a full member, in spite of the CPLP’s ban on dictatorial regimes and the death penalty.

At the two-day summit of heads of state and government that concluded on Wednesday Jul. 23 in Dili, the capital of East Timor, Portugal was the last nation to hold out against the inclusion of the new entrant. Portuguese prime minister, conservative Pedro Passos Coelho, finally yielded to pressure from Brazil and Angola, the countries most interested in sharing in the benefits of Equatorial Guinea’s oil wealth.

The CPLP is made up of Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, East Timor, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal, and São Tomé and Príncipe.

“Obiang never thought entry to the CPLP would be possible, but in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, all the president’s goals are possible." -- Ponciano Nvó, a lawyer and distinguished defender of human rights
Between its independence in 1968 and the onset of oil exploration, Equatorial Guinea was stigmatised as a ferocious dictatorship.

But when the U.S. company Mobil began drilling for oil in 1996, the dictatorship of President Teodoro Obiang, in power since 1979, was afforded the relief of powerful countries “looking the other way.”

Gradually, the importance of oil took precedence over human rights and countries with decision-making power over the region and the world became interested in sharing in crude oil extraction. Oil production in Equatorial Guinea has multiplied 10-fold in recent years, ranking it in third place in sub-Saharan Africa behind Angola and Nigeria.

“The kleptocratic oligarchy of Equatorial Guinea is becoming one of the world’s richest dynasties. The country is becoming known as the ‘Kuwait of Africa’ and the global oil majors – ExxonMobil, Total, Repsol – are moving in,” said the Lisbon weekly Visão.

Visão said this former Spanish colony has a per capita GDP of 24,035 dollars, 4,000 dollars more than Portugal’s, but 78 percent of its 1.8 million people subsist on less than a dollar a day.

In the view of some members of the international community, “Since 1968 there have been two Equatorial Guineas, those before and after the oil,” Ponciano Nvó, a lawyer and distinguished defender of human rights in his country, told IPS during a three-day visit to Portugal at the invitation of Amnesty International.

In spite of average economic growth of 33 percent in the last decade, the enormous wealth of Equatorial Guinea has not brought better economic conditions for its people, although it has lent a certain international “legitimacy” to the regime, crowned now with the accolade of membership in the CPLP.

Since Equatorial Guinea’s first application in 2006, the CPLP adopted an ambiguous stance, restricting it to associate membership and setting conditions – like the elimination of the death penalty and making Portuguese an official language – that had to be met before full membership could be considered.

“Portugal should not accept within the community a regime that commits human rights violations; it would be a political mistake,” and also a mistake for the CPLP, Andrés Eso Ondo said in a declaration on Tuesday Jul. 22.

He is the leader of Convergencia para la Democracia Social, the only permitted opposition party, which has one seat in parliament. The other 99 seats are held by the ruling Partido Democrático de Guinea Ecuatorial.

In Portugal, reactions were indignant. The president himself, conservative Aníbal Cavaco Silva, remained wooden-faced in his seat in Dili while the other heads of state welcomed Obiang to the CPLP with a standing ovation. Meanwhile, in Lisbon, prominent politicians were heavily critical of the government’s accommodating attitude.

Socialist lawmaker João Soares said allowing Equatorial Guinea to join the CPLP is “shameful for Portugal and a monumental error,” while Ana Gomes, a member of the European Parliament for the same party, said it was unacceptable that the community should admit “a dictatorial and criminal regime that is facing lawsuits in the United States and France for economic and financial crimes.”

“The dead are not only those who have been sentenced to death in a court of law, some 50 persons executed by firing squad after being convicted; we should multiply that number by 100 to reach the figure for the people who have disappeared,” and who were victims of repression, Nvó told IPS.

In the 46 years since independence, “during the first government of Francisco Macías Nguema, all the opposition leaders were murdered in prison, without trial, having been accused of attempts against the president. The ‘work’ was carried out by the current president, when he was director of prisons and carried out a cleansing, before overthrowing his uncle,” he said.

Before oil was discovered, “Obiang never thought entry to the CPLP would be possible, but in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, all the president’s goals are possible,” he complained.

In Nvó’s view, joining the CPLP “is another step in Obiang’s strategy of belonging to as many international bodies as possible for the sake of laundering his image. He used to belong to the community of Hispanic nations, but then he came to believe that he would never get anywhere with Spain; then he joined La Francophonie, but that did not last because of his son’s troubles with the French courts.”

Now, however, the CPLP has been satisfied with a moratorium on the death penalty, which remains on the statute books. Its enforcement depends only on the fiat of the head of state. “It’s an intellectual hoax,” Nvó said.

The Equatoguinean foreign minister, Agapito Mba Mokuy, told the Portuguese news agency Lusa on Tuesday that his country “was colonised for a longer period by Portugal than by Spain (307 years under Portugal compared to 190 under Spain), so that the ties to Portuguese-speaking countries are historically very strong.”

“Joining the CPLP today is simply coming home,” he said.

In a telephone interview with IPS, former president of East Timor José Ramos-Horta said, “I agree with the forceful criticisms denouncing the death penalty and serious human rights violations that are committed in that country.” In his view the denunciations of the regime made by international organisations are to be credited.

However, Ramos-Horta believes that “concerted, intelligent, prudent and persistent action by the CPLP upon the regime in Equatorial Guinea will achieve the first improvements after some time.”

In exchange for admission, Ramos-Horta recommended the CPLP should establish an agenda to force Obiang to eliminate the death penalty, torture, arbitrary detentions and forcible disappearances.

It should also include, he said, improved facilities and treatment for prisoners; access to inmates by the International Red Cross; and later on, the opening of an office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Malabo.

One of the most critical voices raised against the events in Dili was that of political sciences professor José Filipe Pinto, who asserted that a sort of “chequebook diplomacy” had prevailed there, with Malabo offering to make investments in CPLP countries, relying on its resource wealth.

In his opinion, “an organisation must have interests and principles,” and he regretted that “some elites and the crisis conspired to exempt the latter.”

(END)

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AIDS Conference Mourns the Dead, Debates Setbackshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/aids-conference-mourns-the-dead-debates-setbacks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aids-conference-mourns-the-dead-debates-setbacks http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/aids-conference-mourns-the-dead-debates-setbacks/#comments Fri, 25 Jul 2014 15:22:41 +0000 Diana Mendoza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135746 Messages of sympathy adorn a street in Melbourne. Credit: Diana G Mendoza/IPS

Messages of sympathy adorn a street in Melbourne. Credit: Diana G Mendoza/IPS

By Diana Mendoza
MELBOURNE, Jul 25 2014 (IPS)

The 20th International AIDS Conference concluded today as the first in its history that remembered not just the 39 million people worldwide who have died of AIDS but also those who lost their lives in the crashed MH17 flight carrying six of its delegates, one of whom was the past president of the International AIDS Society (IAS).

The double memorial, however, did not hamper 12,000 scientists, researchers, advocates, lobbyists, and activists from 200 countries, including 800 journalists, from scrutinising a few advances and disturbing setbacks in HIV and AIDS awareness and prevention, treatment to prolong and improve the quality of life of people living with HIV, and compassion and care to those infected and people close to them.

The IAS and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) said that globally, there are about 35 million people living with HIV in 2013, but 19 million of them do not know that they have the virus. Also in 2013, around 2.1 million became newly infected, and 1.5 million died of an AIDS-related illness.

"We will not stand idly by when governments, in violation of all human rights principles, are enforcing monstrous laws that only marginalise populations that are already the most vulnerable in society.” -- Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, president of the International AIDS Society (IAS)
But the good news is that HIV transmission has slowed down worldwide, according to Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAIDS, and that millions of lives are being saved by antiretroviral drugs that suppress and slow down the replication of the virus, but do not eradicate it.

An estimated 13 million people are taking antiretroviral therapy that has resulted in a 20 percent drop in HIV-related deaths between 2009 and 2012. In 2005, there were only 1.3 million who were accessing ART.

Sidibé said at least 28 million people are medically eligible for the drugs. Currently, according to UNAIDS, spending on HIV treatment and prevention is around 19 billion dollars annually, but this needs to be scaled up to at least 22 billion dollars next year.

“We have done more in the last three years than we have done in the previous 25,” said Sidibé, who warned that these advances are disturbed by a few setbacks that are difficult to battle, such as laws against gay people in Africa and the crackdown on intravenous drug users in Russia.

In other countries, new policies have also emerged, criminalising homosexual behaviour and the use of intravenous drugs, and penalising those who engage in sex work.

Activists and experts say these policies help HIV to thrive by driving homosexuals, injecting drug users and male and female sex workers underground, where they have no access to preventative services.

Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, IAS president and chair of the conference who co-won the Nobel Prize for helping discover the virus that causes AIDS, said, “We will not stand idly by when governments, in violation of all human rights principles, are enforcing monstrous laws that only marginalise populations that are already the most vulnerable in society.”

The upsurge of anger was also obvious in the Melbourne Declaration that delegates were urged to sign early on, which demanded tolerance and acceptance of populations under homophobic and prejudiced attack.

The Melbourne Declaration called on governments to repeal repressive laws and end policies that reinforce discriminatory and stigmatising practices that increase the vulnerability to HIV, while also passing laws that actively promote equality.

Organisers believe that over 80 countries enforce unacceptable laws that criminalise people on the basis of sexual orientation and HIV status and recognise that all people are equal members of the human family.

The conference also called on health providers to stop discriminating against people living with HIV or groups at risk of HIV infection or other health threats by violating their ethical obligations to care for and treat people impartially.

Bad news for Asia-Pacific

Another setback is that while HIV infections lessened in number globally, some countries are going the other way. Sharon Lewin, an Australian infectious disease and biomedical research expert who co-chaired the conference with Barre-Sinoussi, said Pakistan, Indonesia and the Philippines are experiencing epidemics in their vulnerable populations with “worryingly high” proportions in 2013.

“While new infections continue to decrease globally, we are unfortunately seeing a very different pattern in Indonesia, Pakistan and the Philippines with increasing numbers of new infections in 2013,” Lewin said during the conference opening.

She cited men who have sex with men (MSM), sex workers, people who inject drugs and transgender persons as the most at-risk populations in the three countries.

Remembering the Dead

In all the speeches, activities, and cultural events that happened inside and outside the Melbourne Convention Centre, reflections were dedicated to the six delegates who died in the plane crash and did not make it to the conference: former IAS president and professor of medicine, Joep Lange; his partner and Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development public health official, Jacqueline van Tongeren; AIDS lobbyists, Pim de Kuijer and Martine de Schutter; director of support at the Female Health Company, Lucie van Mens; and World Health Organisation media coordinator, Glenn Thomas.

Red ribbons that have been globally worn to symbolise AIDS advocacy were tied to panels of remembrance around the conference site.

Flags in several buildings around Melbourne and the state of Victoria were flown at half-mast at the start of the conference. A candlelight vigil was held at the city’s Federation Square a day before the conference concluded.
Lewin said that while sub-Saharan Africa remains accountable for 24.7 million adults and children infected with HIV, Asia-Pacific has the next largest population of people living with HIV, with 4.8 million in 2013, and new infections estimated at 350,000 in 2013.

This brought the rate of daily new infections in the region to 6,000; 700 are children under 15 while 5,700 were adults. But 33 percent of them were young people aged 15-24.

Aside from Pakistan, Indonesia and the Philippines, she said Thailand and Cambodia are also causes for concern because of their concentrated epidemics in certain populations, while India remains a country with alarmingly high infections, accounting for 51 percent of all AIDS-related deaths in Asia. Indonesia’s new HIV infections, meanwhile, have risen 48 percent since 2005.

Meanwhile, the U.N. predicts that AIDS will no longer exist by 2030. UNAIDS’ Sidibé introduced the “90-90-90 initiative” that aims at reducing new infections by 90 percent, reducing stigma and discrimination by 90 percent, and reducing AIDS-related deaths by 90 percent.

“We aim to bring the epidemic under control so that it no longer poses a public health threat to any population or country. No one must be left behind,” Sidibé stressed.

The conference also saw a few hopeful solutions such as the portable HIV and viral load testing devices presented by pharmaceutical and laboratory companies that joined the exhibitors, and radical approaches to counselling and testing that involve better educated peer counsellors.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) issued consolidated guidelines on HIV prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care designed to assist health providers and policymakers develop HIV programmes that will increase access to HIV testing, treatment and reduce HIV infection in five key populations vulnerable to infection – men who have sex with men (MSM), people who inject drugs, sex workers, transgender people and people in prison and other closed settings – who make up 50 percent of all new infections yearly.

Part of the guidelines recommend that MSM – one of the most at-risk groups for new infections – consider pre-exposure prophylaxis or taking anti-retroviral medication even if they are HIV negative to augment HIV prevention, but they are asked to still used the prescribed prevention measures like condoms and lubricants. The prophylaxis that prevents infection can reduce HIV among MSM by 20 to 25 percent.

(END)

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As Winds of Change Blow, South America Builds Its House with BRICShttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/as-winds-of-change-blow-south-america-builds-its-house-with-brics/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=as-winds-of-change-blow-south-america-builds-its-house-with-brics http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/as-winds-of-change-blow-south-america-builds-its-house-with-brics/#comments Fri, 18 Jul 2014 14:36:36 +0000 Diana Cariboni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135624 Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, President of Brazil Dilma Rousseff, President of China Xi Jinping and South African President Jacob Zuma take a family photograph at the 6th BRICS Summit held at Centro de Eventos do Ceara' in Fortaleza, Brazil. Credit: GCIS

Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, President of Brazil Dilma Rousseff, President of China Xi Jinping and South African President Jacob Zuma take a family photograph at the 6th BRICS Summit held at Centro de Eventos do Ceara' in Fortaleza, Brazil. Credit: GCIS

By Diana Cariboni
MONTEVIDEO, Jul 18 2014 (IPS)

While this week’s BRICS summit might have been off the radar of Western powers, the leaders of its five member countries launched a financial system to rival Bretton Woods institutions and held an unprecedented meeting with the governments of South America.

The New Development Bank (NDB) and the Contingent Reserve Arrangement signal the will of BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) to reconcile global governance instruments with a world where the United States no longer wields the influence that it once did.“The U.S. government clearly doesn't like this, although it will not say much publicly.” -- Mark Weisbrot

More striking for Washington could be the fact that the 6th BRICS summit, held in Brazil, set the stage to display how delighted the heads of state and government of South America – long-regarded as the United States’ “backyard”— were to meet Russia’s president Vladimir Putin.

At odds with Washington and just expelled from the Group of Eight (G8) following Russia’s intervention in the Ukrainian crisis, Putin was warmly received in the region, where he also visited Cuba and Argentina.

In Buenos Aires, Putin and the president of Argentina, Cristina Fernández, signed agreements on energy, judicial cooperation, communications and nuclear development.

Argentina, troubled by an impending default, is hoping Russian energy giant Gazprom will expand investments in the rich and almost unexploited shale oil and gas fields of Vaca Muerta.

Although Argentina ranks fourth among the Russia’s main trade partners in the region, Putin stressed the country is “a key strategic partner” not only in Latin America, but also within the G20 and the United Nations.

Buenos Aires and Moscow have recently reached greater understanding on a number of international issues, like the conflicts in Syria and Crimea, Argentina sovereignty claim over the Malvinas/Falkland islands and its strategy against the bond holdouts.

Meanwhile, the relationship between Washington and Buenos Aires remains cool, as it has been with Brasilia since last year’s revelations of massive surveillance carried out by the National Security Agency against Brazil.

Some leftist governments –namely Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador— frequently accuse Washington of pursuing an imperialist agenda in the region.

But it was the president of Uruguay, José Mujica –whose government has warm and close ties with the Barack Obama administration— who better explained the shifting balance experienced by Latin America in its relationships with the rest of the world.

Transparency clause

In an interview before the summit, Ambassador Flávio Damico, head of the department of inter-regional mechanisms of the Brazilian foreign ministry, said a clause on transparency in the New Development Bank’s articles of agreement “will constitute the base for the policies to be followed in this area.”

Article 15, on transparency and accountability, states that “the Bank shall ensure that its proceedings are transparent and shall elaborate in its own Rules of Procedure specific provisions regarding access to its documents.”

There are no further references to this subject neither to social or environmental safeguards in the document.

After a dinner in Buenos Aires and a meeting in Brasilia with Putin, Mujica said the current presence of Russia and China in South America opens “new roads” and shows “that this region is important somehow, so the rest of the world perhaps begins to value us a little more.”

Furthermore, he reflected, “pitting one bloc against another… is not good for the world’s future. It is better to share [ties and relationships, in order to] keep alternatives available.”

Almost at the same time, Washington announced it was ready to transfer six Guantanamo Bay detainees to Uruguay, one of the subjects Obama and Mujica agreed on when the Uruguayan visited the U.S. president in May.

Mujica has invited companies from United States, China and now Russia to take part in an international tender to build a deepwater port on the Atlantic ocean which, Uruguay expects, could be a logistic hub for the region.

But beyond Russia, which has relevant commercial agreements with Venezuela, the real centre of gravity in the region is China, the first trade partner of Brazil, Chile and Perú, and the second one of a growing number of Latin American countries.

China’s president Xi Jiping travels on Friday to Argentina, and then to Venezuela and Cuba.

“The U.S. government clearly doesn’t like this, although it will not say much publicly,” said Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

“With a handful of rich allies, they have controlled the most important economic decision-making institutions for 70 years, including the IMF [International Monetary Fund], the World Bank, and more recently the G8 and the G20, and they wrote the rules for the WTO [World Trade Organisation],” Weisbrot told IPS.

The BRICS bank “is the first alternative where the rest of the world can have a voice.  Washington does not like competition,” he added.

However, the United States’ foreign priorities are elsewhere: Eastern Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

And with the exception of the migration crisis on its southern border and evergreen concerns about security and defence, Washington seems to have little in common with its Latin American neighbours.

“I wish they were really indifferent. But the truth is, they would like to get rid of all of the left governments in Latin America, and will take advantage of opportunities where they arise,” said Weisbrot.

Nevertheless, new actors and interests are operating in the region.

The Mercosur bloc (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay) and the European Union are currently negotiating a trade agreement.

Colombia, Chile, México and Perú have joined forces in the Pacific Alliance, while the last three also joined negotiations to establish the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

In this scenario, the BRICS and their new financial institutions pose further questions about the ability of Latin America to overcome its traditional role of commodities supplier and to achieve real development.

“I don’t think that the BRICS alliance is going to get in the way of that,” said Weisbrot.

According to María José Romero, policy and advocacy manager with the European Network on Debt and Development (Eurodad), the need to “moderate extractive industries” could lead to “changes in the relationship with countries like China, which looks at this region largely as a grain basket.”

Romero, who attended civil society meetings held on the sidelines of the BRICS summit, is the author of “A private affair”, which analyses the growing influence of private interests in the development financial institutions and raises key warnings for the new BRICS banking system.

BRICS nations should be able “to promote a sustainable and inclusive development,” she told IPS, “one which takes into account the impacts and benefits for all within their societies and within the countries where they operate.”

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U.S. Accused of Forcing EU to Accept Tar Sands Oilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-accused-of-forcing-eu-to-accept-tar-sands-oil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-accused-of-forcing-eu-to-accept-tar-sands-oil http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-accused-of-forcing-eu-to-accept-tar-sands-oil/#comments Thu, 17 Jul 2014 23:59:06 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135619 Mining tar sands oil at Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada. Credit: Chris Arsenault/IPS

Mining tar sands oil at Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada. Credit: Chris Arsenault/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Jul 17 2014 (IPS)

Newly publicised internal documents suggest that U.S. negotiators are working to permanently block a landmark regulatory proposal in the European Union aimed at addressing climate change, and instead to force European countries to import particularly dirty forms of oil.

Environmentalists, working off of documents released through open government requests, say U.S. trade representatives are responding to frustrations voiced by the oil and gas industry here. This week, U.S. and E.U. officials are in Brussels for the sixth round of talks towards what would be the world’s largest free-trade area, known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).“These documents show that the U.S. is simply not interested in an open, transparent [negotiation] process.” -- Bill Waren

“These documents show that the U.S. is simply not interested in an open, transparent [negotiation] process,” Bill Waren, a senior trade analyst with Friends of the Earth U.S., a watchdog group, told IPS. “Rather, U.S. representatives have been lobbying on the [E.U. regulatory proposal] in a way that reflects the interests of Chevron, ExxonMobil and others.”

The oil industry has repeatedly expressed concern over the European Union’s potential tightening of regulations around transport fuel emissions, first proposed in 2009 for what’s known as the Fuel Quality Directive (FQD). Yet according to a report released Thursday by Friends of the Earth Europe, the sector now appears to have convinced the U.S. government to work to permanently block the implementation of this standard.

Current negotiating texts for the TTIP talks are unavailable. But critics say the negotiations are forcing open the massive E.U market for a particularly heavy form of petroleum known as tar sands oil, significant deposits of which are in the Canadian province of Alberta.

“Since the adoption of the revised Fuel Quality Directive in 2009, the international oil companies … petroleum refiners, the Cana­dian government and the Albertan provincial government have spent enormous resources and used aggressive lobbying tactics to delay and weaken the implementation proposal,” the new report, which is being supported by a half-dozen environmental groups, states.

“The oil industry and the Canadian government … are afraid that the FQD could set a precedent by recognising and labelling tar sands as highly polluting and inspire similar legislation elsewhere.”

Safeguarding investments

At issue is the mechanism by which the European Union would determine the greenhouse gas emissions of various types of oil and gas. As part of Europe’s broader climate pledges, the FQD was revised to reduce the emissions of transport fuels by six percent by the end of the decade.

In 2011, the E.U. proposed that tar sands and other unconventional oils be formally characterised as having higher greenhouse gas “intensity” than conventional oil, given that they require more energy to produce – 23 percent higher, according to a study for the European Commission.

Yet tar sands have received massive interest from oil majors in recent years. Some 150 billion dollars were invested in Canadian tar sands between 2001 and 2012, according to Friends of the Earth, a figure expected to grow to nearly 200 billion dollars through 2022.

“Major oil investors want to immediately move as much tar sands oil as possible to Europe,” Waren says. “Over the longer term, they want to get the investments that will allow them to develop the infrastructure necessary to ship that exceptionally dirty fossil fuel to Europe.”

Many investors likely assumed the Canadian tar sands oil would have a ready market in the United States. But not only is the U.S. economy reducing its dependence on oil – particularly imports – but the trans-national transport of Canadian tar sands oils has become a major political flashpoint here, and remains uncertain.

So, last year, oil lobbyists here began to push U.S. trade representatives to use the nascent TTIP talks to safeguard the E.U. market for unconventional oils.

“[I]f the EU approves the proposed amendment to the FQD … it would adversely affect the U.S.-EU relationship, potentially eliminating a $32 billion-a-year flow of trade,” David Friedman, a vice-president with American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, a major trade association, wrote in a May 2013 letter to the top U.S. trade official.

Now, according to an internal European Commission e-mail uncovered by Friends of the Earth Europe and outlined in the new report, U.S. trade representatives appear to be echoing this analysis.

“[T]he US Mission informed us formally that the US authorities have concerns about the transparency and process, as well as substantive concerns about the existing proposal (the singling out of two crudes – Canada and Venezuela,” the letter, said to be from October 2013, reportedly states.

Canada and Venezuela have the world’s largest deposits of tar sands oil.

The letter also notes that the U.S. negotiators would prefer a “system of averaging out the crudes”, meaning that all forms of oil would simply receive one median score regarding their emissions intensity. This would effectively lift any E.U. bar on unconventional oils – and, according to the Friends of the Earth analysis, add an additional 19 million tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

‘Threatening’ climate policies

The new revelations come just a week after the leaking of a TTIP paper on E.U. energy policy, which would push the United States to abolish restrictions and automatically approve crude oil exports to the European Union. The document offered a rare glimpse into notoriously secret talks.

“We strongly oppose attempts by the E.U. to use this trade agreement, negotiated behind closed doors, to secure automatic access to U.S. oil and gas,” Ilana Solomon, director of the Responsible Trade Program at the Sierra Club, a conservation and watchdog group, told IPS. “I think there’s strong support for continued restrictions on this issue among both the public and policymakers, due to the implications for both energy security and the climate.”

The new disclosures have indeed caught the attention of the U.S. Congress. Last week, 11 lawmakers renewed a line of questioning from last year about Washington’s influence on E.U. tar sands policy.

“We reiterate that actions pressuring the EU to alter its FQD would be inconsistent with the goals expressed in President Obama’s Climate Action Plan,” the lawmakers wrote to the U.S. trade representative, Michael Froman, “and we remain concerned that trade and investment rules may be being used to undermine or threaten important climate policies of other nations.”

Yet such concerns may already be too late.

Last month, media reports suggested that the European Commission is now considering a proposal to go with the U.S.-pushed “averaging” approach to its fuel-emissions calculation. The same week, Europe’s first shipment of tar sands oil – 570,000 barrels from Canada – reportedly arrived on Spanish shores.

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Russia Hoping Cuba Can Help Spur Trade with Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/russia-hoping-cuba-can-help-spur-trade-with-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=russia-hoping-cuba-can-help-spur-trade-with-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/russia-hoping-cuba-can-help-spur-trade-with-latin-america/#comments Wed, 16 Jul 2014 16:20:51 +0000 Peter J. Marzalik http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135596 By Peter J. Marzalik
MOSCOW, Jul 16 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Amid deteriorating relations with the West, Russian President Vladimir Putin is looking to diversify a Russian economy that is tightly linked to European markets. Fittingly, an old Soviet-era satellite state seems eager to lend a helping hand.

Emilio Lozada, Cuba’s ambassador to Russia, led a trade delegation in June to Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, a resource-rich republic located 500 miles east of Moscow on the Volga River. Garcia met with Tatarstan’s chief executive, Rustam Minnikhanov, to discuss Cuba’s efforts to emulate the “Tatarstan model,” which has seen the autonomous republic emerge as one of Russia’s most prosperous regions during the post-Soviet era.The diversification push stands to make Russia less vulnerable to economic pressure, especially sanctions exerted by the United States and European Union in response to the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.

Lozada explained that Cuban officials, in studying Tatarstan’s economic experiences over the past few decades, seek to “find many useful things for ourselves,” the Tatar-Inform news agency reported.

Cuba by no means represents an alternative to Europe, but the Kremlin is still very interested in encouraging Cuban trade. In late May, prior to the Cuban delegation’s trip to Tatarstan, two major Russian energy companies, Rosneft and Zarubezhnetf, signed joint exploration agreements with the Cuban energy concern, Cupet.

Underscored by its recent gas deal with China, Russia is intent on reorienting trade away from Europe. Toward this end, the Kremlin hopes an expansion of commerce with Cuba could act like a wedge, opening broader ties with Latin American states.

The diversification push stands to make Russia less vulnerable to economic pressure, especially sanctions exerted by the United States and European Union in response to the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. Annual trade turnover between Russia and Latin America stood at 16.2 billion dollars in 2012, according to International Monetary Fund data.

The Kremlin’s revived interest in Latin America was also evident in Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s recent tour of the region. Lavrov sought to bolster relations with old allies, such as Cuba and Nicaragua, as well as woo traditionally anti-Communist states, especially Chile and Peru.

During their Kazan meeting, Lozada and Minnikhanov discussed ways Tatar businesses in the oil, pharmaceutical, and tourism sectors could help bolster economic development in Cuba.

“I think that this is a very useful undertaking. These contacts were started [back in the Soviet era], and now they need to be restored, to work actively with Cuba; through it they can access all of Latin America,” Shamil Ageev, the chairman of Tatarstan’s Chamber of Commerce, asserted.

While many Russian regions are struggling, Tatarstan has comparatively thrived over the past two decades. The republic produces 32 million tons of oil per year and possesses reserves estimated at more than one billion tonnes. In addition, Tatarstan hosts the Kamaz truck factory, the Kazan helicopter plant, and Tupolev aviation production facilities.

Cuba’s ties to Tatarstan date back to the early 1990s, a time known among Cubans as the special period, when the island’s economy imploded due to the Soviet Union’s collapse and cut-off of aid from Moscow.

“We will never forget that late in the 90s, when our country experienced serious difficulties, Tatarstan opened an economic representation in Cuba,” Ambassador Lozada said in Kazan.

“Cooperation between Russia and Cuba are getting stronger and diverse ties between Tatarstan and Cuba develop within its framework. We are your friends and Tatarstan is open for you,” Mintimer Shaimiev, the former long-time Tatar president who now serves as a senior advisor to the autonomous republic’s government, was quoted as telling the visiting Cuban delegation.

Editor’s note:  Peter J. Marzalik is an independent analyst of Islamic affairs in the Russian Federation. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

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North’s Policies Affecting South’s Economieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/norths-policies-affecting-souths-economies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=norths-policies-affecting-souths-economies http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/norths-policies-affecting-souths-economies/#comments Wed, 16 Jul 2014 08:40:13 +0000 Yilmaz Akyuz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135587

In this column, Yilmaz Akyuz, chief economist of the South Centre in Geneva, argues that in recent years developing countries have lost steam as recovery in advanced economies has remained weak or absent due to the fading effect of counter-cyclical policies and the narrowing of policy space, and he recommends measures to reduce the external financial vulnerability of the South.

By Yilmaz Akyuz
GENEVA, Jul 16 2014 (IPS)

Since the onset of the crisis, the South Centre has argued that policy responses to the crisis by the European Union and the United States has suffered from serious shortcomings that would delay recovery and entail unnecessary losses of income and jobs, and also endanger future growth and stability. 

Despite cautious optimism from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the world economy is not in good shape. Six years into the crisis, the United States has not fully recovered, the Euro zone has barely started recovering, and developing countries are losing steam. There is fear that the crisis is moving to developing countries.

Yilmaz Akyuz

Yilmaz Akyuz

There is concern in regard to the longer-term prospects for three main reasons.

First, the crisis and policy response aggravated systemic problems, whereby inequality has widened. Inequality is no longer only a social problem, but also presents a macroeconomic problem. Inequality is holding back growth and creating temptation to rely on financial bubbles once again in order to generate spending.

Second, global trade imbalances have been redistributed at the expense of developing countries, whereby the Euro zone especially Germany has become a deadweight on global expansion.

Third, systemic financial instability remains unaddressed, despite the initial enthusiasm in terms of reform of governance of international finance, and in addition new fragilities have been added due to the ultra-easy monetary policy.“The external financial vulnerability of the South is linked to developing countries’ integration in global financial markets and the significant liberalisation of external finance and capital accounts in these countries” – Yilmaz Akyuz

The policy response to the crisis has been an inconsistent policy mix, including fiscal austerity and an ultra-easy monetary policy. While the crisis was created by finance, the solution was still sought through finance. Countries focused on a search for a finance-driven boom in private spending via asset price bubbles and credit expansion. Fiscal policy has been invariably tight.

The ultra-easy monetary policy created over one trillion dollars in fiscal benefits in the United States – which was more than the initial fiscal stimulus; the entire initial fiscal stimulus was limited to 800 billion dollars.

There was reluctance to remove debt overhang through comprehensive restructuring (i.e. for mortgages in the United States and sovereign and bank debt in the European Union). Thus, the focus was on bailing out creditors.

There was also reluctance to remove mortgage overhang and no attempt to tax the rich and support the poor, particularly in the United Kingdom and the United States – where marginal tax rates are low compared with continental Europe. There has been resistance against permanent monetisation of public deficits and debt, which does not pose more dangers for prices and financial stability than the ultra-easy monetary policy.

The situation in the United States has been better than in other advanced economies. The United States dealt with the financial but not with the economic crisis, whereby recovery has been slow due to fiscal drag and debt overhang. And employment is not expected to return to pre-crisis levels before 2018.

As for the Euro zone, Japan and the United Kingdom, all have had second or third dips since 2008. None of them have restored pre-crisis incomes and jobs.

Meanwhile, trade imbalances have not been removed, but redistributed. East Asian surplus has dropped sharply and Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa have moved to large deficits. Developing countries’ surplus has fallen from 720 billion dollars to 260 billion dollars. On the contrary, advanced economies have moved from deficit to surplus, whereby U.S. deficits have fallen and the Euro zone has moved from a 100 billion dollars deficit to a 300 billion dollars surplus.

As tapering comes to an end and the U.S. Federal Reserve stops buying further assets, the attention will be turned to the question of exit, normalisation and the expectations of increased instability of financial markets for both the United States and the emerging economies.

This exit will also create fiscal problems for the United States because, as bonds held by the Federal Reserve mature and quantitative easing ends, long-term interest rates will rise and the fiscal benefits of the ultra-easy monetary policy would be reversed.

Developing countries lost steam as recovery in advanced economies remained weak or absent due to the fading effect of counter-cyclical policies and the narrowing of policy space. China could not keep on investing and doing the same thing. Another factor contributing to the change of context in developing countries has been the weakened capital inflows that became highly unstable with the deepening of the Euro zone crisis and then Federal Reserve tapering. Several emerging economies have been under stress as markets are pricing-in normalisation of monetary policy even before it has started.

The external financial vulnerability of the South is linked to developing countries’ integration in global financial markets and the significant liberalisation of external finance and capital accounts in these countries. These include opening up securities markets, private borrowing abroad, resident outflows, and opening up to foreign banks. While developing countries did not manage capital flows adequately, the IMF did not provide support in this area, tolerating capital controls only as a last resort and on a temporary basis.

Several deficit developing countries with asset, credit and spending bubbles are particularly vulnerable.  Countries with strong foreign reserves and current account positions would not be insulated from shocks, as seen after the Lehman crisis. When a country is integrated in the international financial system, it will feel the shock one way or another, although those countries with deficits remain more vulnerable.

In regard to policy responses in the case of a renewed turmoil, it is convenient to avoid business-as-usual, including using reserves and borrowing from the IMF or advanced economies to finance large outflows. The IMF lends, not to revive the economy but to keep stable the debt levels and avoid default. It is also inconvenient to adjust through retrenching and austerity.

Ways should be found to bail-in foreign investors and lenders, and use exchange controls and temporary debt standstills. In this sense, the IMF should support such approaches through lending into arrears.

More importantly, the U.S. Federal Reserve is responsible for the emergence of this situation and should take on its responsibility and act as a lender of last resort to emerging economies, through swaps or buying bonds as and when needed. These are not necessarily more toxic than the bonds issued at the time of subprime crisis. The United States has much at stake in the stability of emerging economies. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

 

*   A longer version of this column has been published in the South Centre Bulletin (No. 80, 30 June 2014).

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Uzbek Minorities Taking Advantage of New Russian Citizenship Ruleshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/uzbek-minorities-taking-advantage-of-new-russian-citizenship-rules/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uzbek-minorities-taking-advantage-of-new-russian-citizenship-rules http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/uzbek-minorities-taking-advantage-of-new-russian-citizenship-rules/#comments Tue, 15 Jul 2014 20:26:08 +0000 Murat Sadykov http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135583 A baker stencils patterns into dough to make non, a traditional Central Asian round flatbread, in Bukhara in July 2013. Russian speakers from all former Soviet republics, including Uzbekistan, can now obtain citizenship in Russia, where 2.3 million Uzbek migrants are alreayd working, according to Russia’s Federal Migration Service. Credit: Dean C.K. Cox/EurasiaNet

A baker stencils patterns into dough to make non, a traditional Central Asian round flatbread, in Bukhara in July 2013. Russian speakers from all former Soviet republics, including Uzbekistan, can now obtain citizenship in Russia, where 2.3 million Uzbek migrants are alreayd working, according to Russia’s Federal Migration Service. Credit: Dean C.K. Cox/EurasiaNet

By Murat Sadykov
TASHKENT, Jul 15 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Judging by the long line outside the Russian Embassy in Tashkent one recent afternoon, new Russian legislation offering citizenship to Russian-speakers is prompting lots of individuals in Uzbekistan to ponder emigration.

Some see a chance to escape economic woes; others, stymied by Uzbekistan’s own Byzantine bureaucracy, want to seize on an opportunity to obtain a proper passport.Many in Uzbekistan still watch Russian state television and are influenced by Kremlin propaganda.

Following Moscow’s March annexation of Crimea, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered citizenship basically to anyone hailing from the former Soviet Union, so long as they speak fluent Russian and renounce their current citizenship.

For migrant workers from Uzbekistan, Russian citizenship offers a solution to the status quo. Uzbekistan sends millions of migrants to Russia annually, who often work with semi-legal status.

According to Russia’s Federal Migration Service, there were 2.3 million Uzbek migrants in Russia as of March. (The real number is thought to be higher). A Russian passport can ease problems with police and employers.

Tashkent does not offer legal or other support to its citizens working in Russia. And though migrants’ remittances make up a sizable portion of the Uzbek economy – at least 16 percent according to Russian Central Bank data – Uzbek officials actively denigrate them.

Last year President Islam Karimov branded migrant workers “lazy” people who “disgrace” all Uzbeks. In May, Uzbekistan-based websites cited Uzbek consulates abroad as stating citizens permanently residing in foreign countries without consular registration could have their citizenship revoked.

The fact that Russia retains a generally positive image among Uzbek citizens is helping to spur interest in the citizenship programme. Many in Uzbekistan still watch Russian state television and are influenced by Kremlin propaganda.

A visit to the Russian consulate off Nukus Street in Tashkent one scorching afternoon recently vividly demonstrated just who is interested in Russian citizenship. Apart from a few Russian citizens trying to resolve consular issues, most people queuing in an alley outside the consular section were Uzbek citizens of various ethnic backgrounds, or stateless persons, many of them of Uzbek ethnicity.

“I want to get Russian citizenship to make it easier to work in Russia and live in Uzbekistan,” an ethnic Uzbek who moved from Tajikistan to Uzbekistan’s southern Kashkadarya Region in the early 2000s told EurasiaNet.org.

Since his arrival in Uzbekistan, he’s been living as a stateless person, making it difficult even to leave Uzbekistan, let alone obtain a Russian visa. (Russian visas are required for stateless persons, but not Uzbek citizens).

Indeed, many people in line were stateless people from other former Soviet republics who have been trying for years, and failing, to obtain Uzbek citizenship. Uzbekistan does not publish data on how many people it grants citizenship each year, but the number is thought to be in the single digits.

An ethnic Korean woman said she and her Tajik partner, who holds an Uzbek stateless person’s document, were queuing to obtain Russian citizenship to make it “easy” for him to live with her in Kazakhstan. She moved to Kazakhstan last year and intends to obtain a residence permit there. Living in Kazakhstan as a Russian citizen, in her opinion, is the best option for her partner.

Uzbekistan does not publish reliable figures on the country’s ethnic breakdown and has not conducted a census since 1989. According to figures published in the Ethnic Atlas of Uzbekistan in 2002, Uzbekistan was home to about two million members of ethnic minority groups in 2000, including 1.2 million ethnic Russians and sizeable numbers of Ukrainians, Koreans, Armenians, Tatars and others.

Many minorities are primarily Russian-speakers, and, thus, are prime candidates to apply for Russian citizenship.

One requirement that should be simple for many Uzbeks to prove – fluency in the Russian language – is difficult to demonstrate in Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan does not have an authorized center for language testing, thereby requiring Uzbek residents to travel to neighbouring countries in order to take the 3.5-hour-long language exam.

In the line outside the Russian Embassy, an ethnic Armenian who is an Uzbek citizen and received an engineering degree in Russia four years ago said he hopes to use his diploma to obtain Russian citizenship and eventually find a job in Russia.

The Kremlin may have devised the new scheme to help boost its population after a state program on voluntary settlement of ethnic Russians abroad failed to attract immigrants from the former Soviet Union. That programme has managed to attract fewer than 150,000 people since its inception in 2007, according to the Russian Federal Migration Service, despite state support offered to qualified migrants. The Russian government had hoped for 700,000 by 2012, according to the Kommersant daily.

The new legislation may prove more successful in attracting skilled immigrants, as the queues outside the Russian Embassy seem to testify: In June the Embassy was accepting appointments for no earlier than October.

Editor’s note:  Murat Sadykov is the pseudonym for a journalist specialising in Central Asian affairs. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

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OPINION: Why Asia-Europe Relations Matter in the 21st Centuryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-why-asia-europe-relations-matter-in-the-21st-century/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-why-asia-europe-relations-matter-in-the-21st-century http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-why-asia-europe-relations-matter-in-the-21st-century/#comments Mon, 14 Jul 2014 23:23:21 +0000 Shada Islam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135562 By Shada Islam
BRUSSELS, Jul 14 2014 (IPS)

Hopes are high that the 10th Asia-Europe Meeting – or ASEM summit – to be held in Milan on October 16-17 will confirm the credibility and relevance of Asia-Europe relations in the 21st century.

ASEM has certainly survived many storms and upheavals since it was initiated in Bangkok in 1996 and now, with ASEM’s 20th anniversary in 2016 approaching rapidly, the challenge is not only to guarantee ASEM’s survival but also to ensure that the Asia-Europe partnership flourishes and thrives.

Talk about renewal and revival is encouraging as Asians and Europeans seek to inject fresh dynamism into ASEM through changed formats and a stronger focus on content to bring it into the 21st century.

ASEM’s future hinges not only on whether governments are ready to pay as much attention to ASEM and devote as much time and energy to their partnership as they did in the early years but also on closer engagement between Asian and European business leaders, civil society representatives and enhanced people-to-people contacts.  An ASEM business summit and peoples’ forum will be held in parallel with the leaders’ meeting.

Shada Islam. Courtesy of Twitter

Shada Islam. Courtesy of Twitter

Significantly, the theme of the Milan summit – “Responsible Partnership for Sustainable Growth and Security” – allows for a discussion not only of ongoing political strains and tensions in Asia and in Europe’s eastern neighbourhood, but also of crucial questions linked to food, water and energy security.

Engagement between the two regions has been increasing over the years, both within and outside ASEM. Five of the 51 (set to rise to 52 with Croatia joining in October) ASEM partners – China, Japan, India, South Korea and Russia – are the European Union’s strategic partners. Turkey and Kazakhstan have formally voiced interest in joining ASEM, although approval of their applications will take time.  There is now a stronger E.U.-Asian conversation on trade, business, security and culture.

Exports to Asia and investments in the region are pivotal in ensuring a sustainable European economic recovery while the European Union single market attracts goods, investments and people from across the globe, helping Asian governments to maintain growth and development.  European technology is in much demand across the region.

Not surprisingly, Asia-Europe economic interdependence has grown.  With total Asia-Europe trade in 2012 estimated at 1.37 trillion euros, Asia has become the European Union’s main trading partner, accounting for one-third of total trade.  More than one-quarter of European outward investments head for Asia while Asia’s emerging global champions are seeking out business deals in Europe.  The increased connectivity is reflected in the mutual Asia-Europe quest to negotiate free trade agreements and investment accords. For many in Asia, the European Union is the prime partner for dealing with non-traditional security dilemmas, including food, water and energy security as well as climate change. Europeans, too, are becoming more aware of the global implications of instability in Asia.

ASEM’s connectivity credentials go beyond trade and economics.  In addition to the strategic partnerships mentioned above, Asia and Europe are linked through an array of cooperation accords. Discussions on climate change, pandemics, illegal immigration, maritime security, urbanisation and green growth, among others, are frequent between multiple government ministries and agencies in both regions, reflecting a growing recognition that 21st century challenges can only be tackled through improved global governance and, failing that, through “patchwork governance” involving cross-border and cross-regional alliances.

Discussions on security issues are an important part of the political pillar in ASEM, with leaders exchanging views on regional and global flashpoints.  Given current tensions over conflicting territorial claims in the East and South China Seas, this year’s debate should be particularly important.

Asian views of Europe’s security role are changing. Unease about the dangerous political and security fault lines that run across the region and the lack of a strong security architecture has prompted many in Asia to take a closer look at Europe’s experience in ensuring peace, easing tensions and handling conflicts.  As Asia grapples with historical animosities and unresolved conflicts, earlier scepticism about Europe’s security credentials are giving way to recognition of Europe’s “soft power” in peace-making and reconciliation, crisis management, conflict resolution and preventive diplomacy, human rights, the promotion of democracy and the rule of law.

In addition, for many in Asia, the European Union is the prime partner for dealing with non-traditional security dilemmas, including food, water and energy security as well as climate change. Europeans too are becoming more aware of the global implications of instability in Asia, not least as regards maritime security.

Meanwhile, over the years, ASEM meetings have become more formal, ritualistic and long drawn-out, with endless preparatory discussions and the negotiation of long texts by “senior officials” or bureaucrats. Instead of engaging in direct conversation, ministers and leaders read out well-prepared statements.  Having embarked on a search to bring back the informality and excitement of the first few ASEM meetings, Asian and European foreign ministers successfully tested out new working methods at their meeting in Delhi last November.

The new formula, to be tried out in Milan, includes the organisation of a “retreat” session during which leaders will be able to have a free-flowing discussion on regional and international issues with less structure and fewer people in the room.  Instead of spending endless hours negotiating texts, leaders will focus on a substantive discussion of issues.  The final statement will be drafted and issued in the name of the “chair” who will consult partners but will be responsible for the final wording.  There are indications that the chair’s statements and other documents issued at the end of ASEM meetings will be short, simple and to-the-point.

ASEM also needs a content update.  True, ASEM summits which are held every two years, deal with many worthy issues, including economic growth, regional and global tensions, climate change and the like. It is also true that Asian and European ministers meet even more frequently to discuss questions like education, labour reform, inter-faith relations and river management.

This is worthy and significant – but also too much.  ASEM needs a sharper focus on growth and jobs, combating extremism and tackling hard and soft security issues. Women in both Asia and Europe face many societal and economic challenges.  Freedom of expression is under attack in both regions.

ASEM partners also face the uphill task of securing stronger public understanding, awareness and support for the Asia-Europe partnership, especially in the run up to the 20th anniversary summit in 2016.

The 21st century requires countries and peoples – whether they are like-minded or not – to work together in order to ensure better global governance in a still-chaotic multipolar world.

As they grapple with their economic, political and security dilemmas – and despite their many disagreements – Asia and Europe are drawing closer together.  If ASEM reform is implemented as planned, 2016 could become an important milestone in a reinvigorated Asia-Europe partnership, a compelling necessity in the 21st century.

Shada Islam is responsible for policy oversight of Friends of Europe’s initiatives, activities and publications. She has special responsibility for the Asia Programme and for the Development Policy Forum. She is the former Europe correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review and has previously worked on Asian issues at the European Policy Centre. 

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