Monthly Archives: October 2016

European Parliament to EU Governments: ‘Ban nukes in 2017!’

Leo Hoffmann-Axthelm, 29 October 2016

Brussels/Strasbourg. European Union’s legislature takes clear stance on upcoming negotiations on international treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons: the EU’s Member States should “support the convening” and “participate constructively” to its negotiation.

Non-proliferation we can agree on. The EU scored a major foreign policy success in brokering the talks between Iran and six major world powers on the dismantling of parts of its nuclear programme. It is less vocal on the nuclear weapons of the other countries pictured here.

Non-proliferation we can agree on. The EU scored a major foreign policy success in brokering the talks between Iran and six major world powers on the dismantling of parts of its nuclear programme. It is less vocal on the nuclear weapons of the other countries pictured here.

Even as the EU expands its foreign policy machinery and acquires new powers to represent its Member States at the United Nations, it has been oddly silent on one of the most exciting topics at this year’s UN General Assembly meetings.

Its silence on nuclear disarmament and the humanitarian-led push to ban nuclear weapons, is even more striking if one considers the EU’s status as “civilian super-power” and the world’s largest provider of humanitarian assistance.

So what is its stance on the last weapons of mass destruction not yet subject to a universal treaty prohibition? In two words, embarrassingly reactionary. On the occasion of the 2015 NPT Review Conference, when 185 countries joined statements entitled “Humanitarian Initiative” or “Humanitarian Consequences Group”, the EU’s representative was unable even to utter the word “humanitarian”, positioning the EU on the outer fringe of the nuclear discourse.

Nuke watchers will not be surprised to hear that a veto is to blame for this diplomatic blunder. The EU’s Foreign Affairs Council is the Council formation composed of foreign affairs ministers, which formulates EU foreign policy – if they can reach unanimity. France’s reticence in particular left the EU with only one option to show that it cares about nuclear disarmament: ensuring highest-level attendance and sending Federica Mogherini, the EU’s “Foreign Minister” and Chair of the Foreign Affairs Council, to deliver the EU statement in person. Ms Mogherini is known to be a longstanding supporter of nuclear disarmament.

With the Council and by extension the European Commission’s foreign affairs apparatus deadlocked, attention turned to the European Parliament. Freed from formal obligations in foreign policy matters, the European Parliament – like most national parliaments – finds it easier to ‘do the right thing’ and put moral considerations above so-called ‘realist’ constraints, e.g. the claim that NATO states cannot be leaders on disarmament matters, having to move at the speed of the slowest members.

Alas, after progressive resolutions reinforcing the global calls for complete nuclear disarmament in years past, the 2014-19 legislature had so far remained silent on the matter. Leading up to the 2015 debacle, the parliament declined to pass a resolution to call for a progressive EU position, in spite of efforts to the contrary. Ms Mogherini voiced her dismay in the next plenary session.

As the Humanitarian Initiative unfolded into a movement to negotiate a treaty prohibition of nuclear weapons, parliamentarians took notice, however. Unlike the majority of the EU’s governments, who appear to prioritise NATO cohesion over their moral convictions, the European Parliament took a clear stance last Thursday. With impeccable timing, on the same day as the start of voting in the United Nations General Assembly’s First Committee tasked with disarmament matters, the EU’s Parliament:

  • “Welcomes the recommendation to the UN General Assembly … to convene a conference in 2017 … to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons”
  • “Invites the EU Member States to support the convening of such a conference in 2017 and to participate constructively in its proceedings”
  • “Invites VP/HR Federica Mogherini and the European External Action Service to contribute constructively to the proceedings of the 2017 negotiating conference”

In a particularly encouraging development, almost all of the EU’s centre-right and conservative parties also voted in favour of this language. While their governments at home are almost the only countries globally to oppose a Ban Treaty, except for the nuclear-armed themselves, the people’s representatives took a view that much closer mirrors what surveys have been showing for a long time: we reject nuclear weapons, and will not want to entrust our “security” to a deterrence gamble that has failed far too often to guarantee 100% reliability. Even while condemning Russia’s nuclear sabre-rattling, the resolution sends a clear signal of de-escalation. No nuclear warfare in Europe, please.

Nobody said banning nuclear weapons was easy: otherwise, it would have happened decades ago. Banning nuclear weapons takes courage, or, as President Obama would say, it takes a “moral revolution”. Let’s ban the worst weapons of all under international law, and help his successors to overcome obstacles in taking more decisive steps to reduce investment, posture and numbers.

Nuclear disarmament is a process, after all, not a black-and-white dichotomy. A ban helps.

@leo_axt

 

Leo Hoffmann-Axthelm (Voltaire Promotion) has followed nonproliferation and disarmament diplomacy since 2010. After a stint as disarmament envoy for the Republic of Nauru, he co-founded the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) in Germany. Today he is in Brussels for ICAN and Transparency International.

 

Free passes for InterRail ?

keep-calm-and-go-interrail-3

Vincent Delhomme, 14 October 2016

Violeta Bulc, the Commissioner for Transport, recently told the European Parliament[1] that she was ready to carry through an old idea of offering free InterRail tickets to all young adults turning eighteen, sparking a wave of enthusiasm among MEPs and Brussels officials. These tickets enable their holders to travel by train freely through Europe for a certain number of weeks and has quickly become a masterpiece of the young European tool-kit. The aim of such a measure is clear: enhancing youth mobility and fostering the European feeling among new generations. However, if on the face of it, the plan may sound appealing, it is neither a legitimate policy instrument, nor an efficient way of fighting Euroscepticism and increasing mobility.

First and foremost, this idea will be costly, tremendously costly. Estimates vary from 1,5 to 3 billion euros, between 1 and 2 % of the EU budget, at a time where this budget is precisely subject to fierce negotiations and is put under stronger pressure due to the financial impact of Brexit. Which program is going to be trimmed in order to pay for this generous plan? Which other source of financing is available? These remain open questions.

It is not to say that building a European sense of belonging is not worth a couple of billions. It undoubtedly does. But it is doubtful that offering InterRail passes is the best way of reviving the love for the EU among youngsters. Frequent trips throughout Europe are already a reality for many young Europeans thanks to InterRail and low-cost carrier flights. Alternatively, this money would be better employed to fund the Erasmus programme whose financing has been put under threat for the last years and which still remains inaccessible for many students. This money could also be provisioned for the programme of an apprenticeship Erasmus, put forward by the French MEP Jean Arthuis[2].

This idea is also problematic on a political point of view. Is it really the role of a government to offer free journeys with taxpayer’s money? And even if it were, is it the role of the European Union? If something needs to be done to help the least well-off to discover their continent, it seems that national governments are perfectly capable, and better suited, to conduct such a policy. At a time where resentment for the Union is at a record high, when it is regarded as an out of touch and wasteful institution, it is not the moment to make its detractors right.

Moreover, the EU has better tools at its disposal to make travelling easier and cheaper for all European citizens. It could carry on with the opening of the European rail network to competition, especially international lines, currently in limbo. If the EU seeks to increase mobility as a whole, it should continue to break down barriers on the continent, a task it has been very good at for the last decades.

Simply put, this plan is demagogic and clientelistic. It is just wrong to buy the love and support of the voters with gifts. It is ridiculous to expect to get the respect of young people by offering them a trip to explore the night-clubs of Budapest and Berlin. Youngsters are perfectly capable of rationally understanding why the EU is so important in their lives and for their future. The EU is an extraordinary journey that has done more than any other institution to connect the European peoples, and this is precisely why it should give up this idea that undermines its credibility and will do nothing to improve it.

[1] https://www.euractiv.com/section/transport/news/eu-ready-to-explore-free-interrail-tickets-for-european-youngsters/

[2] http://jean-arthuis.eu/fr/presse/393-un-erasmus-des-apprentis-experimente-en-2016.html

Vincent Delhomme is currently a student of the College of Europe, Legal Studies Department.