Strasbourg plagued by COVID19

Anna van Densky, Brussels 25.09.2020 The opening of October European Parliament session in Strasbourg does not look promising for the Members of the European Parliament, while the significant for the city business event for 2.200 participants has been cancelled today over sanitary situation #360GrandEst.

The planned September Plenary in Strasbourg was cancelled and took place in Brussels, and it is highly likely the similar situation is awaiting for both October sessions scheduled in the hauntingly beautiful capital of Grand Est region of France.

As is clear to us all, we are still in the midst of the COVID-19 emergency. We had hoped before the summer break that we would be returning to some degree of normality. Unfortunately, this is not the case and we find our countries still greatly affected by the pandemic. The rate of infection has increased, leading to the adoption of new containment measures by national governments.

“For this reason, and on the basis of information provided by the French medical services and authorities, I regretfully took the decision not to hold the plenary session in Strasbourg for this September session”  wrote David Sassoli, the president of the Europarl.

“…I am grateful to the French authorities for their understanding and their constant collaboration in these difficult months. On behalf of all our members, I extend a warm greeting to the mayor and people of Strasbourg, where we hope to return soon.”  Sassoli concluded, however it the sanitary situation in France does not look encouraging for travel to host the MEP “soon”.

1992 decision formalised a situation that already existed at the time and which reflected compromises arrived at over a number of years.

When the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was set up a few years after WWII, in 1952, establishing joint management of the steel and coal reserves of six countries, including Germany and France, its institutions were located in Luxembourg. The Council of Europe (an intergovernmental body made up of 47 countries championing human rights and culture was also set up in the immediate post-WW2 period), was already based in Strasbourg and it offered its plenary chamber for meetings of the ECSC’s “Common Assembly”, which was to develop into the European Parliament. Strasbourg gradually became the main home of plenary sessions of the Parliament, though additional sessions were also held in Luxembourg in the 1960s and 1970s.

After the creation of the European Economic Community in 1958, much of the work done by the European Commission and the Council of Ministers came to be concentrated in Brussels. Since Parliament’s work involves closely monitoring and interacting with both these institutions, over time Members decided to organise more of their work in Brussels. By the early nineties, the present arrangement was more or less in place, with committees and political groups meeting in Brussels and the main plenary sessions taking place in Strasbourg. A major part of Parliament’s staff is based in Luxembourg.

Mali: EU-ECOWAS democratic dogmatism

Brussels, 20.09.2020 Anna van Densky, OPINION: An extraordinary pressure on Mali officers to transfer power to civilians without delay paves the way to one more failed state on the map of the world. During the anti-government protests, which led to the coup d’état, ousting of President Keita, there has been no single political force able to offer a comprehensive programme to reform the Sahel country and direct it firmly to the democratic future. Moreover, there is not such a clear path to democracy for Malians, plagued by extremism, sectarian conflict, ethnic divisions, and endemic corruption.

The European Union (EU)- the avid supporter of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) efforts in Mali- actively promotes a model of the democratic institutions, run by the civilians, without any consideration of the context, and previous failures of the similar kind – the state-building in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and in Libya. Nowadays the ECOWAS, flanked by the European diplomacy, is pushing Malians towards pro-forma return to the “Constitutional” order, denouncing the idea of the country run by the military for the next 18 months. However the energetic push is performed in absence of a coherent strategy in dealing with corrupt and ineffective state structures, and detached local communities doomed to isolation in absence of adequate infrastructures. Last, but not least is the factor of the general instability in the region, aggravated by rise of Islamists in Sahel, affiliated with Al-Qaeda and Islamic State aiming to restore the legendary Caliphate of Sokoto.

Sadly the list of problems does not end here, the Tuareg dream of creation of an independent state in the north of Mali – Azawad – has never faded, but retreated for time being under pressure of the overwhelming French army, while the experts unanimously admitted that there is no military solution to the ethnic conflict, and invited the belligerent parties to resolve the conflict at the negotiation table defining the region future status within Malian state. So far in vain.
Back in 2012, while declaring the independence, Azawad leaders claimed that Mali was an “anarchic state”, and Tuareg liberation movement has opted for a military transition period, to ensure the protection of their land and conducting the transition to the democratic institutions. The massacre (2014) of the Tuareg civilians by Fulani-Islamists has been too recent to be forgotten. Not least are the tensions between Tuareg and Chadians, caused by massacres of the civilians by Chadian army in the North of Mali in the region of Kidal.
In short, not only a clear path to democracy is absent, but also there is no path in view for national unity, allowing to construct a functional political system producing a corruption-free credible government, leading way to economic recovery, and well-being of regular Malians.
Struck by multiple systemic conflicts, causing a permanent state of crises, Malians are not able to rise out of poverty, in spite of the remarkable natural wealth.
The profound misunderstanding of capacities of a new born protest movement of 5 June (M5) to become a constructive political force over night will result in further turmoil in political life, and cause even more resent of the citizens, searching for responses to their justified claims. Being the prime victims of the ECOWAS blockade, the regular Malians will turn to an available alternative, finding warm welcome by the anti-Occident militant groups, and the extremists will rise again, feasting on poverty, and frustrations of communities.
The five thousand strong French military corps, fulfilling the counter-terrorist operation Barkhane in Sahel region has limited capacity to deal with the consequences of the ongoing failed state drama in Mali, and it would be too naive to expect them to defeat jihad, in absence of the state-building process.
The EU is a major donor of assistance in Mali, providing more than €350 million in humanitarian aid in the country since the beginning of the crisis in 2012, adding to €23 million in 2020. However the Europeans contribute without any pragmatic plans for the future of the country, preferring in the current crisis to support the ECOWAS blindly, joining the pro forma claims of civilian government, without any consideration of its notoriously poor quality, leading to the current state of affairs, while under President Keita 40% of state purse vanished in pockets of corrupt civil servants.
The ECOWAS-EU strategy of pressure on the Malian army by imposing border and financial transactions blockade, will destroy the relations with Malian patriotic officers, and cause further impoverishment of Malians, pushing them into the arms of extremists of various calibre.
Mali is far too significant to the West Africa to allow the Europeans to leave it alone, watching it’s descending to chaos, but it is far too big as a challenge to resolve the complex of state-building and security problems, through simplified linear punitive measures.
Recent Ursula von der Leyen sanctions policy concept will create nothing but remorse and discontent among Malians, who today still regard Europe as a friend. The enduring threat of Islamic extremism requires elaborate and flexible European diplomacy, navigating the country to effective forms of governance. Further escalation of tensions in name of democracy and “Constitutional order” will produce exactly the opposite effect – an explosion. An explosion, throwing Malians into hands of kleptocratic clans of war-lords, descending into chaos.
Instead of fearing of a hypothetical dictatorship led by Colonel Hassimi Goita as deviation from the imaginary path to democracy, the EU should embrace the co-operation with the patriotic and secular Malian army as the constructive force in disposal of capabilities to introduce reform, and allowing the political process to thrive towards the meaningful free and fair elections concluding the suggested transition period.
Let us not forget that Kemal Ataturk, and General de Gaulle were military man, however their remarkable contribution to democracy is ways more significant, than of many other statesmen in civilian suits. Rejection of enthusiasm of young generation of Mali officers, aiming at reforming their country and nation-building will end in one more fiasco, making Mali to follow the path of the other failed states. It is clear there are not simple answers to Malian crisis, and the obsession with the civilian rule, achieved by imposing de facto sanctions, will result in a huge bill for the European tax-payer for the humanitarian aid, and ever-growing burden for the French army, combating extremism in Sahel, transforming into another Afghanistan.
The EU diplomacy, led by Josep Borrell needs to regard the context, abandoning dogmatism in promoting of democracy and rule of law in Mali, and become flexible and adaptive, formulating short, medium and long-term goals, working on achievement of them in stages, with a focus on long-term stability of both Mali and Sahel.
Moreover, the EU needs to built genuine partnership with the Malian armed forces, investing in development of their capabilities to defend Malian state, and combat extremism. The essential element of the EU success in promotion of the democracy, is the demonstration of a genuine interest in problems of Malians, and readiness to compromise in search for attaining long-lasting common goals, as stability, prosperity and lasting peace.

However, today, when the Malian state is in a profound crisis, and its future is in peril, nothing is so detrimental to promotion of the European values in Sahel, as dogmatism and forceful imposition of European concepts within fragile Sahel context. Mali is on the crossroads, it is up to the EU to decide if it wishes to contribute to the push of the Malians down the slope, following Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, direction of the failed state, fanatically exporting European concepts to vast spaces of African Savannah.
Will the EU diplomacy in Mali adapt or become obsolete? The ability of the bloc to change, adapt and experiment will become far more significant in Sahel, than the capacity to punish and sanction. Above all, it makes little sense from the EU behalf to appeal to legality and return to the constitutional order – “Necessitas non habet legem” – Necessity has no law.

#SOTEU: Leyen formal debut

The traditions September State of the Union Speech (#SOTEU) of the European Commission president has been the first one for Ursula von der Leyen. The address before the European Parliament took place in Brussels, instead of Strasbourg, because of the coronavirus restrictions.
On 16 September in her first #SOTEU speech, she shared her vision for a stronger Europe and a better world after the coronavirus pandemic, radiating obligatory for her status enthusiasm over the EU radiant future.
However if in tone the speech did not deviate from the EU classical tradition of depicting the project as the ever-growing and successful endeavour in essence it broke with the tradition,because COVID-19 pandemic, vaccination of humanity, and related issued became the major focus, causing compression, and sidelining of many other policies – international relations became one of these areas of shrinking attention.

The overview of the EU external relations started with China, and ended with Africa with Enlargement and Neighbourhood policies squeeze in between, and complimented with haphazard mentioning of human rights. The compression of the foreign affairs chapter was striking,leading to frantic dashes from Uyghurs to Magnitsky Act, from Salisbury poisoning of former Russian secret service agent to migrant camps in Turkey.

President von der Leyen has been mixing the issues and problems with vague promises, and warnings of international politics as a disc jokey (DJs) mixes melodies, weather forecasts and advertising. The speech has been delivered on time, and almost entirely in English language in spite of the fact it is used only in two of the bloc members – Malta and Ireland – which constitute one per cent of the EU population. This Anglophilia was largely misplaces, taking into consideration the recent British Prime Minister consideration to opt for no-deal exit.

According to British press Boris Johnson will present an ultimatum to negotiators in coming days, demanding the UK and Europe to agree a post-Brexit trade deal by 15 October or Britain will step out without any agreement at all. Under the circumstances von der Leyen choice of English language looked rather submissive, and even masochistic, dissonating with major tones of the oratory, mixing cheerful slogans and staccato warnings.
“And the band played on…”

Mali political crisis

Mali’s political crisis deepened further when the opposition M5-RFP rejected the Charter negociated by the officers led by Colonal Assimi Goita and the ECOWAS. The stalemate is about than whether a civilian or a soldier should lead the transition. What looks like a crisis of confidence, in reality is a wrestling for power, while interests of Malians go begging. The country is suffering from block of the borders, and freezing of financial transations as a reaction of Mali neigbours to coup d’etat of August 18. Here is my comment for the Eye on Africa TV.