Monthly Archives: April 2013

Whither partnership? Reflecting on the EU’s response to the Arab uprising

By Tressia Hobeika

The ‘Arab street’, a once-upon-a-time irrational space for ‘riffraff’, has taken on a new lease of life in the wake of the recent uprisings in the EU’s southern neighbourhood. ‘Belonging to the street’ – a hitherto pejorative expression in colloquial Arabic – has come to be assigned to a panoply of new local actors, including organised civil society, whether in the form of associations or political parties.

A new offer on the table

Under this new sky, and “respecting the democratic choice” of this same revitalised Arab street and its confluence of local newcomers, the EU has ultimately set to revamp its relations with its purlieus. It would accordingly lend its support to the uprisings on the basis of the ‘more for more’ and ‘mutual accountability’ principles, as enshrined in its communications: Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity and New Response to a changing neighbourhood. Combining the two, could a new partnership be on its way? What is a partnership anyway?

A rather woolly concept like many others in the EU jargon (democracy, rule of law…), the threads of partnership were finely unpicked as “one of these nice feely words beloved by politicians” (Boateng, 1999). In a more pragmatic attempt at defining this slippery concept, a partnership was found to be a “programme that has [inter alia] a high level of commitment, mutual trust [and] equal ownership” (Stern and Green, 2005). How does the EU espouse its new partnership in these new-fangled Arab streets?

A Janus-faced partnership

Partnership is not a new variable in the Euro-Mediterranean equation.

The 1995 Euro-Mediterranean Partnership came to the fore in a pivotal Huntingtonian context of conflicting views on Mediterranean security. The “Clash of Civilisations” security thesis would therefore be counterweighed with a three-basket cooperation with the objective of establishing a free trade zone in the Mediterranean.

In 2011, the Arab street’s convulsion would soon become another turning point in the EU-Mediterranean relations, therefore paving the ground towards another new partnership. Any signs of commitment, mutual trust and equal ownership?

According to the ‘more for more’ principle, the EU’s commitment would only carry punch if its to-be-partners fulfil the “qualifications for the partnership”: free and fair elections, freedom of association, rule of law, fight against corruption and reform of security and law enforcement. In other words, pouring in more money is conditioned upon a compliance to the implementation of prescriptions from abroad. And the EU’s communications are crystal clear about it: the EU would “reconsider support when countries depart from this track”. However, what track is the right one? And who fixes the benchmarks for such departure? Southern Mediterranean civil society has so far been critical of the patronising EU conditionality, especially when the criteria for both benchmarks and progress assessments have not been negotiated.

As for mutual trust, although quite present in rhetoric, mutual distrust has so far been the order of the day. The Arab street has lost trust in the EU, due to its past with authoritarian regimes whereas the EU still hesitantly contemplates the burgeoning Islamic parties and political Islam.

Equal ownership, closely linked to the communications’ call for ‘mutual accountability’, has also been questioned by the confluence of local actors on the Arab streets. The concepts of ‘equality’ or ‘mutuality’ have particularly raised some question marks. How can they hold their northern neighbour accountable for its hesitant common foreign and security policy, such as its lack of a single voice on the Palestinian UN membership? Can they, in fact, hold it accountable for anything at all?

The Arab street did renew. How about its northern neighbour? It is high time that the EU turns its ‘ring of friends’ into a genuine ‘ring of partners’.

EU relations with the Gulf Cooperation Council: light at the end of the FTA tunnel?

22 years! 22 years have passed since the launch of negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the European Union (EU) and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Bolstered by the prospects of a first inter-regional trade agreement of its kind, both partiinto-the-tunneles entered negotiations in 1991 with great aspirations. Needless to say, both sides saw in this agreement invaluable economic opportunities; in a nutshell: Gulf countries looked to the EU as a major actor in international trade characterized by its strong and attractive common market with dollar-billed eyes; Europeans saw in the GCC a grouping of six Gulf countries so rich in energy reserves to make energy supply concerns a bad dream of the past. Continue reading

The “Bruges Action Plan”: A simulated G20 Meeting

The Setting
The science of climate change emphasizes the need for immediate action to stem the growth of heat trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Emissions need to drop by 80% in developed countries and 50% in developing countries within 50 years. Other analysis suggest that the world as a whole needs to reduce emissions by 80% by 2050. The peak emissions must occur before 2020/25 to have any chance of achieving these goals. Continue reading

EU-US Trade Agreement: Turkey as the ‚odd one out’?

By Jacqueline Breidlid

Benefits of a possible EU-US Free Trade Agreement (FTA) are widely believed to be high. Mutual trade liberalisation would boost exports on both sides and could, according to Barroso, act as a “game changer” with regard to the current financial crisis. Yet for one player, ongoing negotiations have rung an alarm bell: Turkey.

Turkey has been a member of the Customs Union since 1995 and since then benefited from free circulation of industrial goods between itself and the EU internal market. The Customs Union however also meant that it had to, not only adopt the external tariff of the EU, but also to bring its trade policy in line with that of the EU. This again implies that every time the EU concludes an FTA with another party, Turkey has to negotiate a similar agreement with the same party…  and that without having a say in the decision-making leading up to the conclusion of the FTA or a guarantee that the other party is actually interested in negotiating an extra-FTA with Turkey.

Continue reading

The Flower Pot Men strike again? The EC’s illustrative list of packaging.

There is environmental law and then there is environmental law.

On the one hand of the spectrum, one finds highbrow discussions such as in Kiobel, where novel approaches to regulation culminate in the discussion of how one can, if one should at all, subject multinational corporations to the strictest standards of environmental and human rights law, wherever they operate. These issues speak easily to faculty, students, activists and governments.

On the other extreme, the recent European Commission illustrative list of packaging. It confirms that for instance, wax layers around cheese are not packaging within the meaning of the European packaging and packaging waste Directive. Flower pots are, if they are not intended to stay with the plant for the rest of its life. The list is, I fear, highly relevant. No packaging = no packaging waste laws = no obligations to reduce such packaging, no packaging levies apply, no waste management company needs to be recruited to deal with the waste, no permit required for export, etc. These issues are a bit less handy to entertain with faculty, students, activists and governments. They speak to CFOs and compliance managers, rather than to the media. Lest it be to bemuze or provide ammunition for those who consider the EU to be over-regulatory.

I find it is in pondering both ends of the spectrum that environmental law truly comes to life.

Geert (just in case you wondered: tea bags: not packaging).

USSC ruling has an impact on EU private international law, too

I have published my first impression of the USSC Kiobel case here. At issue is the extraterritorial application of the US Alien Torts Act, in a case pitching Nigerian individuals against a number of MNCs, for alleged violation of human rights law. As I note in my assessment, the EU are pondering a different route to further the debate on Corporate Social Responsibility: namely the use of classic private international law /conflict of laws procedures (the Brussels I and Rome II Regulation) to bring non-EU activities of EU-based MNCs within EU purview.

The EU’s approach is not without its faults or challenges. However it is certain to come back to the fore following the USSC’s strict views in Kiobel.


The Divine Path Towards IMF’s Money

by Romain Gustot

blog 5The revolution in Egypt has brought about some important changes in the relation between the new decision-makers and the international institutions. One of the best illustrations is the ever-changing attitude of the Egyptian government toward the EU and the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) money. On December 20th 2012, Egypt has finally committed itself to accept the $4.5 billion loans from the IMF in order to straighten its financial situation. Van Rompuy also announced last Sunday 13 January that the EU offers Egypt 5 billion euros ($6.7 billion) in grants and loans stressing that a deal with the IMF was a condition to trigger additional financial support.

This contribution was posted on the ARTE Blog; consult here