Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Europe in the crossfire of words and aggressive gestures

Russia and NATO: who is threatening whom? Wikimedia Commons

NATO and Russia

In her recent article “Russia – A Threat to European Security? A View from Germany”, Gabriele Schöler argues that NATO’s recent “counteraction” against Russia amounts to “provocative behaviour”, since it could be seen as a threat to Russian security. Since 1989 and the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia has seen the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and the loss of much of its territorial control and global influence. Not only has Russia lost its status as a major world power, it has given that very power up to its arch-enemy from the Cold War: the United States or rather NATO, when the latter integrated all the former Eastern European Warsaw Pact states and three former USRR republics to boot.

After this historical and political reasoning, Schöler openly asks: “Who is perceived to pose a threat to whom?” claiming that this is a more critical and logical question than “who started the conflict?

As NATO troops are currently deployed in Poland and the Baltics, Schöler goes on by saying that deploying “NATO troops in Central and Eastern Europe on a permanent basis would be a clear violation of the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security between NATO and the Russian Federation signed in Paris in 1997”. The act was initiated to ease Moscow’s concerns about NATO’s eastern enlargement and its original mission was to “build together a lasting and inclusive peace in the Euro-Atlantic area on the principles of democracy and cooperative security”.

However, as Russia started to regain political, economic and military strength, its leadership took a more confrontational stance which was not aligned with Western values. Published early in 2017 by the Royal United Services for Defence and Security Studies, the book “NATO and the North Atlantic: Revitalising Collective Defence” supports the argument that Russia is trying to meddle in Western affairs, claiming as its starting point that “Russia is blatantly attempting to change the rules and principles that serve as the foundation of European law and order.” The greater part of this work’s thesis puts Russia at the centre of the West’s military and defence concerns, giving NATO a palpable reason for its comeback as an essential international organisation.

 NATO’s revamped role

During the US presidential campaign, Donald Trump, then the Republican candidate, frequently contested NATO’s existence, calling it “obsolete”, while accusing its members of not upholding their commitment of paying 2% of their GDP to the Brussels-based organisation.

In April this year, after a meeting with NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in Washington DC, President Trump backtracked one of his most controversial campaign promises, saying NATO was “no longer obsolete”. According to the analyst Michael Chossudovsky, pro-NATO advisers influenced Trump to change his stance, showing that the US President is not exerting any presidential authority but caving in to the dominant interests of the US elites.

In Europe, NATO is widely perceived as an indispensable institution for the security of the continent, based on the argument of a resurgent Russia and a “vulnerable Europe” following the terror attacks in several European cities.

On the same note, Andrew A. Michta wrote for Carnegie Europe: “A Common Threat Assessment for NATO?” pointing out “two issues” that are rapidly rising to the top of the organisation’s agenda: “regionally, a resurgent and geo-strategically assertive Russia and globally, the accelerating threat of Islamic terrorism”. Michta goes on, saying that this is “a unique opportunity for NATO to align the security outlooks of key European members with that of the US”.

Nevertheless, in May, on the occasion of the first NATO summit attended by Trump, in Brussels, the US president kept his accusations towards 23 of the 28 NATO members of being freeloaders for not paying their fair share towards military protection. The US’ current defence budget of $824.6 billion is the second largest item of federal government expenditure after social security at $1 trillion.

Russia: Declining power or imminent threat?

Now, let’s take a look at how the Western media has been portraying Russia’s conduct. The Economist published in October 2016 “The threat from Russia”, where it highlighted the seemingly endless episode of “Russia hacking the American election” and touched on the “mass slaughter in Syria”, the annexation of Crimea and accusations of Russia talking casually about using nuclear weapons.

While the idea of a fragmented Europe is likely to be in the Kremlin’s interests, the Russian intervention in the Syrian conflict is evidently not in the West’s interests.

Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad said during an interview with a Chinese news broadcaster that “the only serious force effectively fighting the Islamic State together with Syria is Russia”. Assad went further, saying that the US deployment of military in Syrian territory was illegal since they were not invited. Interestingly, Reuters published a similar news piece – “Assad calls US forces ‘invaders’ but still hopeful on Trump” – yet it opted to leave out Assad’s declarations on Russia.

On the occasion of the forthcoming celebration of the 1917 October Revolution, Foreign Policy (FP) magazine wrote, last December, “The Soviet Union is Gone, But It’s Still Collapsing”, in which a number of FP’s contributors outlined the reasons behind the Russian Federation’s stagnation over time, mainly from the 2000’s. The authors pointed out that Russia should not base its foreign policy on ideology and claimed that the former Empire can’t lead through imperialism. Moreover, they claim that the advent of globalisation has only empowered autocrats.

Lenin and The House of Soviets in the background. (Photo: Marta Pacheco)

In March 2017, James Kirchick wrote for FP the article “The Plot Against Europe”, in which he envisages a gloomy future where Putin will roll into Estonia, triggering the first in a series of assaults.

FP magazine has also been publishing differing views on the so-called “Russian threat”. In his article entitled “Vladimir Putin Isn’t a Supervillain”, Mark Lawrence Shred argues that “Russia is neither the global menace, nor dying superpower, of America’s increasingly hysterical fantasies.” For the author, reality lies between the extremes – a declining power and an imminent threat. Russia is not nearly the global menace that many fear, nor is it doomed to collapse. Russia’s geopolitical strength is indeed constrained by its demographic, economic, social, and political weaknesses, but those aren’t as catastrophic as they’re often made to be.

On the other hand, in March 2017, EUobserver published an article “Russian missiles pose new threat to Europe”, in which critics from the US and Germany expressed concerns about the Russian missiles deployed in Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave between Poland and Lithuania. On 10 March, after the EU summit in Brussels, EUobserver delivered another alarming title: “EU alarmed by Russian meddling in Balkans”. At stake are growing fears of nationalist and ethnic tensions in the region that EU leaders believe to be the ideal opportunity for Russian interference in the form of disinformation campaigns.

Who is threatening whom?

Since the Russian annexation of Crimea in February 2014, tensions have grown between Moscow and the West. Endless warnings were delivered by EU leaders until economic sanctions were imposed on Russia. While Russia claims Crimea as its rightful territory, the West, backed by NATO, started moving forward with military deployments in the Baltics, Poland and Romania. The Kremlin did not take long to react to the military deployed in Poland and the Baltics, branding it a threat to Russia’s national security.

The Cold War feeling has been growing more intense. At least, that’s what the media are conveying on both East and West. Will Putin make an attempt on European soil through the Baltic? What should NATO do to make it more difficult to present its largely defensive acts as aggressive moves against Russia?

Comparing the pictures one sees through the lenses of Western media on the one hand, and the RT and Sputnik, often rightly branded as the Kremlin’s propaganda outlets, on the other, one cannot help but see yet another war of words and (dis)information.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Is Portugal on the path to solid economic recovery?

Article published in Katoikos

Portugal's Prime Minister António Costa (Photo: Tiago Petinga)

Portugal has turned its economy around, slashing the deficit and creating jobs. This should boost investor confidence, but the rating agencies will not take Lisbon off the junk pile so easily.

Portugal is no longer in breach of EU deficit rules and has left behind the excessive deficit procedure (EDP), in which it had been trapped for the past eight years. This was recently announced by EU Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs Pierre Moscovici.

This moment represents a turning point in the economic situation of the country, but oversight is required in order to secure the achievement. “Today the exit of the EDP leads us into what is the preventive arm of the treaty, in which we have to maintain a rigorous trajectory in the public accounts and to make a more efficient use of public spending,” said Portuguese Finance Minister Mário Centeno, who became part of António Costa’s Socialist government in October 2015 amid criticism from the overthrown right-wing opposition.

Costa’s left-wing government took power in October 2015, after ousting the Social Democrats (PSD) in coalition with the Popular Party (CDS-PP), following a censorship motion in parliament. Costa, the former mayor from Lisbon, vowed to reset wages and pensions as well as to reverse the austerity cycle that had pushed the country to its knees. Many deemed this coalition a failure, as it seemed, at first glance, unworkable – but significant progress has been achieved since the Socialist Party, backed by the left, took control over the country.

In 2011, Portugal had to borrow more than €70 million from the EU and the IMF in a daunting attempt to avoid insolvency. The years that followed were of great social and economic unrest but Portugal’s economy seems to be healing.

Effective taxation

In 2015, Portugal’s public deficit reached an alarming 4.4% of GDP but the government effectively reversed the spiral with measures such as tax increases on alcohol and tobacco, high-value real estate, vehicles and vacation rentals, as well as by introducing a “sugar tax” on soft drinks. Furthermore, fuelled by a booming tourism industry and a rise on exports, Portugal saw its deficit fall underpinned by an increase of confidence and private consumption.

According to the spring forecast released by the European Commission last week, “Portugal’s economic growth is set to rise further in 2017 before easing off in 2018. The labour market is also expected to improve with unemployment falling from 11.2% in 2016 to 9.2% in 2018. After turning out at 2.0% of GDP in 2016 the general government deficit is set to remain below 2% over the forecast horizon.”

The government has successfully reduced the deficit to 2% of GDP in 2016, well below the 3% defined by the Maastricht Treaty, and the lowest since Portugal joined the eurozone in 1999. Additionally, Portuguese authorities have guaranteed that work on the stabilisation of the public debt will continue as the recapitalisation of the bank Caixa Geral de Depósitos (CGD) is still underway – yet this did not influence the Commission’s decision as the injection of capital is not supposed to be accounted for in the deficit.

The executive is hopeful of a positive turnout for next year’s budget. A growth rate of 2.8% was registered after the first three months of 2017 and an increase to 3.2% is expected by the end of the year, according to President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa. Additionally, Centeno told Reuters that “the government’s message is that economic growth is strong and sustained, and it is accelerating. The fact is that we are converging with the European Union, we are finally converging.”

Public debt

However, Portugal still carries a high general public debt as a proportion of GDP; it rose slightly to 130.4% in 2016, mainly due to higher issuance of government debt for the ongoing recapitalisation of the state-owned bank CGD. However, the ratio is forecast to decline to 128.5% in 2017 and to 126.2% in 2018, due to primary budget surpluses and continued economic growth.

The government’s reaction

Brussels validated the work of the Socialist Party, the major party in government, thereby giving it the legitimacy to continue its endeavours. The remaining left parties in power – the Left Bloc, the Communist Party and the Greens – are delighted with the significant gains achieved in the country – the meaningful exit from the Excessive Deficit procedure – while reiterating the necessity for a better redistribution of the country’s wealth through better salaries and public services. To this, Prime Minister Costa replied that despite the financial release the budgetary margin is still narrow.

What’s next?

With a better reputation, leaving the corrective arm for the preventive arm enshrined in the Stability and Growth Pact, Portugal is eyeing the rating agencies, hoping for an upgrade. Indeed, with Portugal leaving the corrective arm – a model designed by the EU to guide member states in correcting their public finances – to the preventive arm – a similar model, yet based on economic and financial surveillance to ensure the continuation of stability – rating agencies may look at the country with fresh eyes: new investment opportunities might be just over the horizon.

Although the recent accomplishments do not signal an imminent rise in the country’s investment rating and agencies anticipate several difficulties in the near future, the rating agency Moody‘s notes that the evolution of the budgetary situation and Brussels’ recent decision will have a “positive impact” on the confidence of future investors.

Having junked Portugal at the height of its crisis seven years ago, Moody’s currently ranks Portugal’s debt at BA1 – one level below investment grade. Nevertheless, an upgrade is not on the cards in the foreseeable future.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Chemical attacks and other motivations behind Trump’s recent raids

Article published in Katoikos

                                           U.S. Navy Destroyers Launch Strikes on Syria on April 7, 2017 © Google

International finger-pointing will not bring justice for the chemical attack in Syria. With tensions running high, only a thorough investigation can reveal the truth and diffuse the critical situation.

The recent US airstrikes on the Al-Sha’ayrat airbase were the first time in six years that Washington has directly interfered in the Syrian conflict, and they bring to the surface memories of the US invasion of Iraq, in March 2003.

These warlike actions have triggered a diplomatic row throughout the international community. The question of who is responsible for the chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoum, in the district of Idlib, which killed dozens of civilians, remains open. It also seems clear that US President Donald Trump’s order for the raid was not only a knee-jerk reaction to the use of chemical weapons but should be seen in a wider geopolitical context. The blame game has started once again and the international community is deeply divided and apprehensive as to what will follow.

 United States

At the United Nations, on 7 April, US Ambassador Nikki Hailey delivered an accusatory speech blaming the use of chemical weapons on the Syrian regime. Hailey claimed: “Assad did this [chemical attack] because he thought he could get away with it as he knew Russia would have his back.” A different opinion was expressed by Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who affirmed during a CNN interview that “what matters here is the evidence and the facts”, after having characterised Trump’s military airstrikes as “reckless”. In addition, Gabbard acknowledged being “sceptical” of Assad’s involvement in the chemical attack.

Moreover, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked Gabbard whether she believed the Pentagon’s claims of having evidence to prove Assad’s culpability. She replied that “they did not bring up that evidence before Congress, to the American people”, further adding that “they have not sought authorisation from Congress to launch this military action on another country”. The Congresswoman accused the US of for years “waging this war covertly through the CIA” in order to overthrow the Syrian government.

Meanwhile, on 11 April, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson went on his first official visit to Russia with the arduous quest of trying to convince Moscow to choose sides. Tillerson posed a “friendly ultimatum” to  Moscow, requesting that the Russians join the US and “their like-minded people” or remain on the side of Assad and Iran.

Syria and Russia

Syria’s Deputy Prime Minister Walid al-Moallem stated on Thursday, 6 April, that the Syrian Army did not use chemical weapons “even against the terrorists” who threaten their own people. As for Russian President Vladimir Putin, he considers the US strikes on Syria to represent “an act of aggression against a sovereign country violating the norms of international law”. Furthermore, the Russian leader requested theUS to provide the evidence they claim to have: “Show it to UN observers and at the Security Council,” said Putin.

The recent veto from Russia at the Security Council on the draft US-UK resolution to punish Assad for the chemical attack thus came as no surprise.

Europe’s reactions

The US attack hailed a low-point for trust between Russia and the US, prompting international reactions that reveal very different positions. Overall in the West, the main chorus of voices can be heard clinging to the premise that “Assad must go”.

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande have attributed responsibilityfor the attacks to Assad alone. Merkel characterised the US airstrikes as “understandable”, given the critical situation in Syria.

The UK has also stood beside the US, with Prime Minister Theresa May demanding an investigation into the attack, while defending the view that Assad cannot stay in power. Yet, British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon stated that Britain would not be joining airstrikes in Syria. A different position was adopted by Peter Ford, an ex-UK Ambassador who gave an interview defending that it is “highly unlikely” that Assad or Russia were behind the chemical attacks. Ford claims that the Assad regime was aware that it would never have benefited from such an assault.

If this form of atrocity seems like an act of desperation, why would the Syrian regime jeopardise its reputation in a war in which it is has lately gained the upper hand? Equally odd is the immediate response by the US, just two days after the incident. A fact that gave the Russian Foreign Ministry an good opportunity to accuse Washington of “preparing the airstrikes” long before the attack in Idlib.

At EU level, Foreign Affairs chief Federica Mogherini was quick to respond to the chemical attack, saying that “there was a primary responsibility” from the Syrian government. However, on behalf of the EU, she hascondemned the US airstrikes of 6 April. At the same time, following her recent official visit to Moscow, Mogherini reaffirmed the EU’s stance on extending Russian sanctions.

NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in an official statement that “the Syrian regime bears the full responsibility for this development”. The organisation’s chief further stated that “NATO has consistently condemned Syria’s continued use of chemical weapons as a clear breach of international norms and agreements”, even though, so far, no real proof of such accusations has been made public.

Turkey and the Israeli Connection

Turkey belittled the US attack as a “cosmetic intervention” that will not serve to oust Assad. Israel and its security officials, meanwhile, said it was only “highly probable” that the chemical attack was carried out by the Syrian regime.

There is another surprising thing about Trump’s swift military response: the policy that he promptly followed was very much aligned with Hillary Clinton’s conviction, as revealed by Wikileaks, that “the best way to help Israel deal with Iran’s growing nuclear capability is to help the people of Syria overthrow the regime of Bashar Assad”, an ally of would-be nuclear power Iran.

According to the Syrian analyst Afraa Dagher, it was no coincidence that the US chose Al-sha’ayrat airbase as a target: “The Al-Sha’ayrat airbase was the place from which Syria fired anti-missile Sam rockets at attacking Israeli warplanes, two weeks ago. Syria downed one of the four warplanes, hit another and forced the remaining two fighter jets to quickly fly out of Syrian airspace.” Dagher believes Trump’s actions have sent a strong message of support to Israel, which continues its illegal occupation of the Syrian territory of Golan Heights.

Further research from the Canada-based organisation Global Research has brought to light information stating that the “Pentagon trained Syria’s Al-Qaeda “rebels” in the use of chemical weapons”. This piece of news was originally published in the British Daily Mail in January 2013, but it has vanished from the website after the controversy around the “mysterious” chemical attack followed by the US airstrikes on Syria. Furthermore, before these airstrikes, Assad gave an interview to a Cypriot paper, in which he pointedly stated that “to protect Europe from terrorists, (the West) should stop backing them in Syria”.

Wikileaks revelations with Geopolitical Implications

To add fuel to this diplomatic conflict, Wikileaks revealed US State Department plans to destabilise Syria and overthrow the Syrian government as early as 2006. Additional cables revealed the existence of CIA involvement on the ground in Syria, fomenting mass demonstrations as early as March 2011.

The leaks suggest direct involvement by the Israeli government in the plans to provoke civil conflict and sectarianism through partnership with nations like Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, and Egypt, aimed at demolishing the power structure in Syria in order to weaken Iran and Hezbollah.

According to Mint PressNews, “It became then evident that the US, UK, France, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey would be jumping on to organise, arm and finance rebels from the Free Syrian Army.” In 2012, “The Group of Friends of the Syrian People” was created by these very nations with an agenda to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. “The plan was to use a number of different factors to create paranoia within the Syrian government; to push it to overreact, to make it fear a coup,” said Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

As always, global energy supply may shed some light on possible geopolitical motivations. According to one view by Dmitry Minin, published in May 2013 by the Strategic Cultural Foundation, based in Moscow, “a battle is raging over whether pipelines will go toward Europe from east to west, from Iran and Iraq to the Mediterranean coast of Syria, or take a more northbound route from Qatar and Saudi Arabia via Syria and Turkey. Having realised that the stalled Nabucco pipeline, and indeed the entire Southern Corridor, are backed up only by Azerbaijan’s reserves and can never equal Russian supplies to Europe or thwart the construction of the South Stream, the West is in a hurry to replace them with resources from the Persian Gulf. Syria ends up being a key link in this chain, and it leans in favour of Iran and Russia; thus, it was decided in the Western capitals that its regime needs to change.”

What’s next?

Russia and Iran, the alliance behind Assad, have warned that they will retaliate should red lines be crossed again. While the drums of war are being banged with increasing intensity and the investigations at a standstill, with Russia and the West unable or unwilling to agree even on basic facts, it is crucial to conduct an independent, in-depth investigation in order to bring to justice those who are responsible for the chemical attacks in Syria.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Can the European project be revamped?

European Parliament, Strasbourg, February 15 2017. EP Audiovisual Service for Media

Europeans are living times of disturbing uncertainty and the feeling is palpable. On the 31st of January, the European Council’s President Donald Tusk assessed the future of Europe in a letter sent to the 27 heads of State or government, where the Polish head of the Council identified three main threats currently undermining the stability of the Union: the transformation of the geopolitical scene, the rise of nationalist and xenophobic sentiments and the doubt in the fundamental values of liberal democracy. 

As for the European Commission’s president, Jean-Claude Juncker, he has proposed different plans to bring back the popularity of the EU, or, at least, to save it from crumbling apart. Focusing more on a political way of conducting the EU institutions, which is highly linked to the current lack of attractiveness of the Union, Juncker unveiled a “White Paper on the future of the EU” to be implemented by 2025.

 Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker. Google

White Paper 

“Stop bashing the EU” said Juncker during his speech to MEPs in the European Parliament. The Commission’s leader appeared rather irritated with the recurrent assaults to the EU’s core after Brexit and the rise of an anti-European rhetoric across the bloc. Presented on March 1, in Brussels, the White Paper put on the table five proposals offering different solutions for the feeble European Union (EU). Hence, the five scenarios are as follow:

  1. Carrying On - The EU27 focuses on delivering its positive reform agenda
  2. Nothing but the Single Market - The EU27 cannot agree to do more in many policy areas beyond key aspects of the single market
  3. Those Who Want More Do More - The EU27 proceeds as today but allows willing Member States to do more together in specific areas
  4. Doing Less More Efficiently - The EU27 focuses on delivering more and faster in selected policy areas not acting in where it is perceived not to have an added value
  5. Doing Much More Together - Member States decide to do much more together across all policy areas
Overall, Juncker said he would not favour any of the five proposals, but he said he rejects the idea "that Europe should be reduced to a free trade area" which the Commission would be administrating.

Nevertheless, some, including Gianni Pittella, the leader of the Socialist group in the Parliament, received these proposals with considerable criticism. “We would consider it a clear political mistake to simply present five options concerning the EU’s future without pointing out a clear political preference,” said Pittella. 

After Juncker’s announcement, the Visegrad GroupCzech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia – warned for a possible “disintegration” of the EU. "Any form of enhanced cooperation should be open to every member state and should strictly avoid any kind of disintegration of the single market, the [passport-free] Schengen area and the European Union itself," the EU leaders expressed in a joint statement

The Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipilä revealed disagreement as to a multispeed Europe, where Members follow different goals. “The European Union should not be split into groups of states that increase their cooperation at different speeds,” said Sipilä. 

“Many of the proposed changes would require the re-opening of the EU Treaties. This would mean a multi-year negotiation process with no certainty about its results. The Union cannot afford this,” Finland’s PM went on.

Contrary to Finland’s position, Germany and France seem to endorse a “multi-speed” Europe, where different actions are taken from different Member States in different subject matters, hence ensuring a distribution of efforts in an uneven way. However, French President François Hollande said in an interview in Le Monde that the multi-speed option is the only choice to avoid the “explosion” of the bloc.

Isabella Lövin, Sweden’s deputy prime minister, backed Juncker’s analysis that EU members are too quick to blame Brussels for their problems. “Many EU member states have used the EU as a scapegoat for everything that goes wrong in their country and taking credit for everything that goes right,” she told the Guardian shortly before Juncker’s speech.

Leaders of the 27 states will discuss the scenarios outlined by Juncker when they meet to celebrate the bloc's 60th anniversary in Rome on March 25.

However, the EU summit in December will be the peak of the process to forge the “new vision” for Europe for the next decade. The Commission foresees that other scenarios will arise between March and December, such as a scenario focusing on defence, another one supporting the liberal approach, and one from countries opposing a common EU response to the refugee crisis.


The other aspect that has created a surge of populism throughout the Union is the lack of understanding of the functioning of the European institutions. Indeed, some Member States have accused the Commission of being extremely bureaucratic (which in fact, it is) and pointed out the democratic deficit tainted in the decision-making process. 

As a reaction, in February, Juncker vowed to change the comitology process of the EU, meaning the decision-making process of the Union. Juncker’s idea is to give Member States more responsibility over important and often controversial decisions (such as pesticides and genetically modified food) taken at EU level. 

Indeed, over his first two years as president, Juncker blames the comitology process of the EU as a toll that has been undermining the credibility of the Union as a whole. As a reaction, Juncker has come forward with four options to reform the comitology process:

  1. Changing the voting rules so that abstentions are not counted when calculating the qualified majority needed in a committee;
  2. Refer decisions back to the Council of Ministers if national experts fail to reach a conclusion;
  3. A proposal that would require a positive majority only in sensitive areas surrounding health and food safety;
  4. A scheme in which countries would vote multiple times until a conclusion was reached.

The latest controversial example is the famous glyphosate case. Glyphosate is an active substance used as a plant protection product, commonly known as a pesticide. Back in June 2016, in the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals and Feed (an official meeting where Member states cast their votes on important issues mainly related with health and food safety), Member States did not reach a qualified majority on a voting decision to ban the use of the pesticide. Hence, the final decision was shifted to the Commission, which decided to prolong the authorisation of the pesticide in the EU until the end of this year amidst growing concerns from NGOs and public manifestations against the use of glyphosate.

Yet, several trade associations operating in the food and pesticide industry believe that this move may undermine a science-based decision-making process and are contesting Juncker’s move.

The comitology proposals were transmitted to the European Parliament and the Council for discussions under the co-decision procedure. Until the plans are adopted, the current rules remain in force.

60th Anniversary Treaty of Rome

 Celebration of the Treaty of Rome, March 25, 1957. Google

Immersed in a political drama which outcomes may define the future of the Union, EU leaders will convene and debate the challenges facing the bloc on the occasion of the celebration of the 6Oth anniversary of the Treaty of Rome.

According to Daniel Guéguen, Professor at the College of Europe with 40 years of experience in EU public affairs, “celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome can only go hand in hand with a feeling of revolt against all those at EU and national level who have replaced the old Community method with intergovernmentalism and abandoned their political power to the bureaucracy.” Even though the Commission’s chief has announced his intention of not running for a second term, Guéguen claims “the first thing that needs to be done right away is the replacement of Commission President Mr Juncker”. 

The expert in EU affairs further states that the EU must not be “a head control by civil servants” and highlights the importance of making EU agencies like the European Food Safety Agency, the European Medicines Agency and the European Chemicals Agency independent of the Commission, in order “to confer an objective role to science in food and plant health regulation” and also to “challenge the subjective exploitation of science for particular interests” which often raises ethical suspicions between legislators and stakeholders.