Category Archives: Group 1

EU leads economic war against Iran

Since January this year the European Union has made some of the toughest sanctions in its history. According to the spokeswoman of the High representative on Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton, the sanctions are the reason why Iran has agreed to start negotiations. Experts on Iran thinks a solution could have been reached without making civilians suffer. 

by Catarina Nedertoft Jessen

The eye of the western world is at the moment staring at Iran. FN, US and EU are sanctioning Iran in an aggressive way. They want the Iranian regime to stop their Atomic Energy programme that they suspect will lead to development of nuclear weapons.

“The least likely outcome of the sanctions is that the regime will fall.”

That is the opinion of Doctor Evaleila Pesaran, who is lecturing about the political economy of Iran in Cambridge University.

Dr. Hans-Gert Pöttinger, member of the European Parliament and former President of the European Parliament, supports the sanctions and believe in their purpose.

“If you think a country is behaving in a bad way, you must express your own position,” Pöttinger says.

Atomic Energy programme – and so what?
A lot of countries are not very subtle about their atomic programmes. The world community knows for a fact that India, Pakistan and Israel are possessing nuclear weapons.

Iran has voluntarily signed the treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Protocol (NPT) that gives UN’s nuclear inspectors permission to inspect nuclear sites in the country. The three earlier mentioned countries have not chosen to do so.

In November 2011 the UN nuclear inspectors made a very sceptical report about Iran’s nuclear programme that insinuate, that the Iranian regime is not only planning to use their nuclear power in a peaceful way.
In January 2012 the UN nuclear inspectors visited Iran again, and they did not think that the Iranian regime was cooperating in a satisfying way.
On the 23 of January, right after the inspectors visit, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs in the European Union, Catherine Ashton, made the decision about the new harder sanctions.

The Iranian Regime is surprised. They claim that their nuclear programme is completely harmless and for energy purposes only.

Civilians are hit the hardest
Almost a third of Iran’s GDP comes from oil rent. The country is therefore facing hard times, when the oil embargo from EU becomes effective from July 2012. EU are also disconnecting 25 Iranian Banks including the Central Bank from the SWIFT system, that makes it possible to make international trade. So even though countries like Russia and China are not sanctioning Iran, it is getting complicated for the Iranians to get paid for the oil crude from any country.

The big problem with the sanctions according to Iran Expert Janne Bjerre Christensen is that the civil population are the ones being hit the hardest.
“As far as I can see the regime is not hit very hard –they might even benefit from the insecurity on the oil prices,” says Janne Bjerre Christensen who works for Danish Institute for International studies and has an PhD in International Studies and specialises in Iran’s foreign- and security policy.

Doctor Evaleila Pesaran agrees that the civilians are hit the hardest and her numbers illustrates the problem; the overall drop in Iranian oil crude exports was already 14 % in March this year. The economic problems of Iran are hitting the poor people and the middle class.

The Iranian currency the Rial has decreased its value by 50 % since September 2011 and prices on food are still rising. These things really make a difference to the Iranian civilians. If you drive in the streets of Tehran you will see long lines in front of the shops buying gold, because the people don’t expect the metals value to fall.

Double standards
If Iran has nothing to hide then why not cooperate with the UN inspectors? That is the question everyone is asking themselves. The easy answer is, that Iran is working on making nuclear weapons, but according to the experts it might not be that simple.

“Understanding Iran politics is so difficult that some Iranians don’t even understand,” says Bijan Khajehpour, Middle Eastern Economic and Political Analyst from Atieh International

“The Iranian regime thinks that they are the good pupils in class, because they signed up for the NPT-protocol, but they are not acknowledged for their efforts and therefore they want some distance from the Western countries,” says Janne Bjerre Christensen.

India, Pakistan and Israel did not sign up for the NPT-protocol and the UN nuclear inspectors are not allowed to enter these countries. But India, Pakistan and Israel do not get the same kind of behaviour from the EU.

“The double standards are obvious to everyone,” says Janne Bjerre Christensen.

But even though the Iranian regime do not feel they are being treated in a fair matter they have agreed to start negotiations.

“Teherans positive approach to the new round of nuclear negotiations is a signpost that it wishes to deescalate external relations,” says the analyst Bijan Khajehpour.

War is not a solution
Spokeswoman for Catherine Ashton, Maja Kocijancic, feels positive about the development on the Iranian situation after the negotiations in Istanbul on the 14th of April. Next step of the negotiations will be in Bagdad, Iraq.

“In the last year the possibility of war is increasing” says Rouzbeh Parsi Research Fellow at the European Unions Institute for security studies deals with Iran, Iraq and the Persian Gulf.

 

European External Action Service is putting all their efforts into making a peaceful solution with Iran, and will not comment on what will happen if the negotiations do not go as planned. Using harder methods will not be the way to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

“A war might end up delaying the process of making nuclear weapons, but it will for sure make Iran feel like they need strong weapons if they feel threatened,” says Janne Bjerre Christensen.

Strengthening the sanctions further is also a thing that should be though about very severely before taken action, all the experts agree.

“Once you put sanctions in place they are bloody hard to remove.” Rouzbeh Parsi from EU

The experts also agree that the changes in Irans Atomic Energy Programme won’t be quick, but they believe in a peaceful solution. They are not sure, that the negotiations started because of the sanctions, the Iranian regime has a lot of economic reasons for coorperating with EU and the US, and the experts are worried about the humanitarian situation.

“It would be nice if the EU focused on people and human rights,” says Dr Evaleila Pesaran.


 

 

 

Cocoa industry embraces Parliament resolution against child labour, but solutions are “no quick fix”

Workers load cocoa in Takoradi Harbour, Ghana. Source: European Commission Audiovisual Services

 

JENNIFER TSE

In a move welcomed by bodies in the cocoa and chocolate industry, the European Parliament both gave formal consent to the 2010 International Cocoa Agreement and passed an additional resolution targeting child labour in the cocoa sector last Wednesday.

Applauded by the Association of Chocolate, Biscuit, and Confectionery Industries (CAOBISCO), the European Cocoa Association, the World Cocoa Foundation, and the Federation of Cocoa Commerce, the resolution calls on stakeholders involved in cocoa production to take action against child labour by improving traceability in the cocoa supply chain.

“The agreement is important in itself in the sense that it enhances, reinforces, and improves the capacity of the International Cocoa Organization to bring more transparency and sustainability to the sector,” said Vital Moreira, Chair of the International Trade Committee for the European Parliament. “It’s a major achievement in my view, raising awareness about the child labour situation.”

Vital Moreira, Chair of the International Trade Committee for European Parliament

But both the industry and European Parliament are aware of the complexity of the issue and the need for a multifaceted approach.

“Only a holistic and coordinated framework that addresses the root causes of child labour and is implemented on a long-term basis by governments, industry, traders, producers, and civil society can deliver significant changes,” the resolution reads.

Diagnosing the problem

According to the resolution, about 7.5 million people produce 70 per cent of the world’s cocoa in West Africa, almost exclusively on smallholder farms. At the heart of the issue are poverty, infrastructure, access to education, and rural development—items that typically fall under the sovereignty of the state, said European Cocoa Association secretary-general Isabelle Adam.

“Cocoa farming is very traditional. In many instances, such as peak production times, the whole family pitches in,” said Adam. “Because of a lack of education and understanding for some dangerous practices, like the application of pesticides, children are sometimes unfortunately engaged in activities which are totally inappropriate.”

Defining child labour was a point of contention during the plenary debate on the International Cocoa Agreement. “What was attempted was to take away the strong criticism of any form of child labour by easing the wording,” said Helmut Scholz, German MEP and International Trade Committee member.

Due to the culture of family tradition in cocoa production, however, Moreira stresses that there is a difference between tolerable and unacceptable forms of child labour. “Worse forms imply trafficking or forced labour,” he said. “We should distinguish the situations which are not the same.”

Helmut Scholz, German MEP and member of the International Trade Committee

Traceability is a key goal in the resolution because the farms are scattered in hard-to-reach rural areas, making it difficult for companies to buy beans directly or assess farm practices and working conditions.

Current efforts

The European cocoa industry has been playing its part for years to address the problem of rural development, and the resolution’s recognition of this fact, said Adam, is a step forward.

“We have to work very closely with local communities, NGOs, and the governments of the countries that produce cocoa,” Adam said. “We work with the governments of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, for instance, and provide funding and support for a number of programs that address schooling needs, infrastructure, and community-building projects.”

The resolution states that the European Committee for Standardization recently set up a project committee to develop a two-part European standard for traceable and sustainable cocoa. It also calls on the European Commission to consider a legislative proposal on a way to effectively trace child-produced goods, and urges International Cocoa Agreement partners to support improvements to the supply chain.

“There are no quick-fix solutions,” said Adam. “It’s going to take quite a lot of time to see effective and sustainable change.”

Implications for producers and consumers

Education is key, according to Adam. Since cocoa farming is rooted in tradition, in some areas, it is still produced in exactly the same way as it was 100 years ago. Teaching farmers more efficient practices not only promotes a safer working environment, but allows them to increase their yield and income, she said.

It’s a win-win situation, she added, because it also increases quality and quantity of cocoa for chocolate companies.

Adam claimed that there is not necessarily a link between child labour and increased profits for companies because the choice of whether or not a child works is often taken in a family context.

“What could influence the price of cocoa to the consumer are some of the programs that look at certification and labeling schemes,” she said. “Some are talking about child labour-free labeling. We see from experience that it’s incredibly difficult to give a 100 per cent guarantee to the consumer—it would be misleading to think that that’s a possibility.”

Cross-sector knowledge exchange

Adam said that the rural challenges on the table go beyond cocoa or even a given country.

The child labour issue should be addressed from a multi-sectoral and regional perspective, said CAOBISCO in a written statement, going on to voice approval for the Parliament’s invitation to exchange best practices between different economic sectors.

“We are very aware that child labour is not limited to cocoa,” said Moreira, “but we have a special responsibility here because the EU is the world’s largest importer and user of cocoa.”

Whatever improvements achieved in the cocoa sector could have a positive influence on other sectors as well, he said. Child labour has also been a recurring topic in parliamentary debate, he added, with a discussion on child labour in the cotton industry in Uzbekistan being held just a few months prior.

The 2010 International Cocoa Agreement, which has been provisionally enforced until now, will replace its predecessor from 2001 and will be effective for the next 10 years.

Progress, according to Scholz, begins with communication. “We should discuss other methods of production and raise awareness among consumers,” said Scholz. “We should not have to link the pleasure of eating chocolate to the fate of children.”

EU fighting to save child trafficking victims

 

There's still hope for saving children from the hands of traffickers. Photo courtesy of Scanpix

Some members of the parliament believe that the newest directive to fight human trafficking within EU member states falls short when it comes to child victims’ welfare in destination countries.

By Hala Hisham

A recent directive was implemented in March of 2011 as an attempt to define who should be prosecuted for human trafficking and the appropriate action to be taken in each member state when it comes to supporting victims.

However, certain aspects of the directive are thought to be lacking required legal aspects to help child victims.

What about the children?

According to Staffon Dahl, parliamentary assistant to MEP Anna Hedh, the directive comes short of giving child victims a fair chance of remaining in their destination countries within Europe if that was proven to be in their best interest.

“The problem is that this directive, legally, is not about migration, so therefore the most pressing issue, is permits. Whether or not to give victims residence permits,” says Staffon Dahl.

According to the directive, the child is given legal aid and each member state has the obligation to see what further action should be taken to provide assistance, support and protection for the child.

This is done after the victim is first clearly identified as a child and gone through the necessary investigations. Meanwhile, if the child’s desire is to remain in the destination country, he or she will have to begin applying legally for a residence permit, which in some cases has been proven difficult to acquire.

“Some people claim that if you let victims stay then everyone will claim they’re a victim, it doesn’t really work like that, because that’s done after you’ve gone to court and have been seen as a victim, and that is something you can’t really fake,” says Staffon Dahl.

Victims of trafficking often resort to unconventional ways to enter the country in hopes of finding a better standard of living, but instead are caught in trafficking circles who exploit them for sexual trade or forced labor.

Britta Thomsen, MEP, expresses how she disagrees with the fact that the directive does not make it easier for child victims to stay in host countries if they choose to.

“They shouldn’t be sent home,” says Thomsen. “However, in some cases, like in Denmark, we can see that the majority of trafficked victims want to go back,”

Cecilia Malström, European Commissioner for Home Affairs, believes that the directive gives a chance for other alternatives when that is found to be appropriate.

“The Directive does foresee the return and reintegration of the child to the country of origin as a possible durable solution but not as the only solution,” she says.

Legal complications

Currently, member states are allowed to give a reflection period for victims, if they would cooperate with investigations. In that period, they might be considered for a residence permit.

While this may give the children a little hope, a report by the European union agency for fundamental rights documents that the reflection period has proven to be ineffective and rarely helps the child in getting an asylum status.

“The only way in this situation is to go beyond trafficking and start talking about asylum and then see through the process, if protection is found needed, asylum is given,” says Jan Micallef, parliamentary Assistant of Dr Simon Busuttil, MEP and coordinator for the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs committee.

He explains that in some cases it is easier to acquire asylum rights when the person in question is under 18 years of age.

Meanwhile, the current directive is unable to deal with immigration issues in order not to conflict with any other migration directives within the EU member states.

Staffon Dahl expressed that the parliament could not address migration issues in the new directive as long as another legal document exists that deals with illegal immigrants. However, that document does not take in consideration victims of trafficking or exploitation.

“We would have liked in this directive to make sure that victims can stay if they want to,” says Staffon. “When it comes to reflection periods, in the Netherlands for example, it is 3 months and mostly shorter in other member states, but it is important to make that period longer.”

Longer reflection periods would allow the legal process to go smoother for child victims. It would also give them the chance to rehabilitate from any traumatic experiences they might have faced.

Malström also stresses that particular attention to unaccompanied minors is always the top priority in this directive. “If it were decided that a child should go back to their home country, in theory, according to the Directive, this could only have been done if it were in the best interests of the child,” she says.

Another way out

Petya Nestorova, the executive secretary of the group of experts on human trafficking in the Council of Europe (GRETA), identifies the problem as more than a play of laws and legislations.

“There is a need to involve child experts, and to have a multi-disciplinary approach, we have countries where it is all left to the police, we criticize that in our reports, we say that basically the system has to be a multi agency with specialists in child protection, social workers, educators..etc,” says Nestorova.

She believes that involving more trained officials would help the child cope better after any trauma and thus make a sound decision on what he or she sees as their best interest.

Moreover, experts working in independent organizations dealing with trafficked victims believe that, commonly, victims want to remain in the destination countries and attempt to integrate.

Marco Bufo, coordinator of the European NGOs platform against trafficking, exploitation and slavery project “ENPATES”, suggests that child victims should be offered prospects of inclusion in the host society.

“It depends on the age and the individual situation and so on. When they are grown up, normally, they do not want to go back,” says Bufo.

Similarly, Enrico Ragagalia, project officer of the Anti-Trafficking program at the International center for migration policy development “ICMPD”, adds that the nature of the circumstances during which the child was brought in the country is crucial to identify whether staying is more beneficial.

“I have to say that most of the time they want to stay in the country,” says Ragagalia. “It also depends on the way they were recruited, if they were kidnapped they might want to go back.”

Is it safe to go back?

Trafficked children once sent back to their country of origin are often feared to be caught again by traffickers and thus go back into the same cycle.

Søren Kragh Pedersen, spokesman of Europol, suggests that this is a possibility. “There is a risk, but it would be different from country to country and is up to these countries, hopefully, to have appropriate mechanisms to ensure that this is not going to happen”.

Moreover, Silke Albert, crime prevention expert at UNODC described that several cases of re-trafficked victims have been reported to the human trafficking section. However, no specific numbers could be documented.

“Such cases could concern e.g. Roma children trafficked from Romania, Bulgaria to one EU country, would, after having been returned to their country of origin, end up trafficked in another EU country. Also victims from African countries who have been trafficked to European countries could fall victim again – their vulnerability may have even increased after returning home, often empty-handed and stigmatized,“ he says.

However, the question remains of whether these risks would be prevented if a change was seen in the current directive, or more legal action was taken in protecting child victims.

  • The United Nations estimates that 700,000 to 4 million women and children are trafficked around the world for purposes of forced prostitution, labor and other forms of exploitation every year.
  • Trafficking is estimated to be a $7 billion dollar annual business.
  • Victims of trafficking are subject to gross human rights violations including, rape, torture, forced abortions, starvation, and threats of torturing or murdering family members.

Malström believes that currently the directive well defines any appropriate action that should be taken.

“An individual assessment of the best interests of the child victim should determine whether returning to their home country presents a real danger for the victim.” She says.

Early analytical reports of the effectiveness of this directive are to be published by the European commission sometime this April. These will hopefully shed some light on issues that might need adjustments in the near future.

France takes the European Parliament to court

With 357 votes for and 255 against, the calendars of the European Parliament 2012 and 2013 have been adopted. Instead of 2 plenary sessions with one week to separate, they have decided two short plenary sessions with only one day in between. This made the French government reacts immediately, by taking the European Parliament to the Court of Justice. They think that this is against the Lisbon Treaty.

Each month thousands of boxes like these, are moved back and forth between Brussels and Strasbourg. Photo: European Parliament Audiovisual

By Lars Klitgaard Christensen

The European Parliament has only one official seat. In Strasbourg. However, all the members of the parliament, interpreters, journalists etc. are travelling back and forth between Brussels and Strasbourg each month. Three weeks a month is in Brussels, while the plenary sessions are in Strasbourg, as according to the treaty.

The travelling circus

This arrangement, often referred to as the travelling circus, has existed since 1965, where the member states of the European Communities (EC), the previous version of the European Union (EU), decided that the symbolic value of having Strasbourg, Brussels and Luxembourg as the three seats of the Parliament would be strong. The official seat of the Parliament is Strasbourg, where the plenary sessions are held. Luxembourg is the seat of the secretariat, and Brussels got the group meetings, the committees and the external parliamentary activities.

Even though the Council of Europe has nothing to do with the European Union, their buildings have been used for the plenary sessions until 1999, when the new buildings in Strasbourg were finished.
In the post-war time in 1949, Strasbourg was selected as the seat of the Council of Europe, due to the historic wars between France and Germany. This seat should be a symbol of “never again”.

Some critics say, that the cost of the travelling of the European parliament is between 180 and 203 million Euros each year. This is more than the BNP of for instance Tonga, Sao Tomé & Principe or Kiribati.

Facts:
– A study group from the free university of Brussels came out with a report in November 2007, saying that the cost of the two seats of the European Parliament is estimated to be between 180 and 203 million Euros each year. Read it here.

– The same report estimate the environmental costs to be 18884,5 tonnes of CO2 each year.
– Another report from the European Association of Young Entrepreneurs came out with a report in February 2012, claiming that the numbers from this report is wrong, and the real cost is 51,5 million Euros and 4199 tonnes of CO2. Read it here.

From symbol to politics

The times are changing, and what is happening in the European Union is not symbolic anymore. It is about politics. Therefore a group of members of the Parliament started a campaign, The Single Seat Campaign. Edward McMillan-Scott and Alexander Alvaro, both from the alliance of Liberal and Democrats, are frontrunners in this campaign.
The reason they fight “the travelling circus”, is that they think that it weakens the European Parliament as an institution.
“All other activities of the European Parliament is happening in Brussels, except from the secretariat in Luxembourg. The committees and group meetings are happening in Brussels. Our staffs are in Brussels. And the Council and the Commission, the two other institutions that belongs to the triangle of decisions in the European Union is situated in Brussels.” Alexander Alvaro says.

Difficult to change

Even though many members of the Parliament wish “the travelling circus” to end, it is not easy to change. It is written in the treaty, that the seat of the European Parliament is in Strasbourg, and that there shall be 12 plenary sessions in Strasbourg each year. To change this, it takes a change in the treaty, where all member states have to agree. But it might be unlikely, that France will ever give up the European Parliament.
When the calendar of the European Parliament was put into voting in September 2011, it was decided, that the two plenary sessions in October should be held within one week from 2012. This means, that instead of one week in Brussels, one week in Strasbourg, another week in Brussels and another week in Strasbourg, the plenary sessions are shortened down to two days, then a day off and then two days of the next plenary session. This means, that they save a trip back and forth from Brussels.

Immediate French reaction

The decision from the European Parliament led to an immediate French reaction from the French government. According to them, it is written in the treaty, that there must be 12 plenary sessions of 1 week in Strasbourg each year. Therefore they have taken the decision to the Court of Justice, in hope that they will say, that the calendar is not valid, because it is against the treaty.

This makes no worries in the camp of the single seat campaign.
“This voting shows, that a majority of the members of the Parliament want to decide themselves, when and where the European Parliament is seated”. Alexander Alvaro says.

The local authorities are worried

At the municipality of Strasbourg, the Leader of the delegation of European and International affairs, Guillaume Delmotte, have no doubt: The home of the European Parliament is in Strasbourg, and will forever be here.
“Strasbourg is a symbol of the relationship between France and Germany. This is why it has been chosen. This is why it should be here. In a time with crisis, we need symbols more than ever.” Guillaume Delmotte says.

Facts:
– The official seat of the European Parliament is in Strasbourg.

– There are 12 plenary sessions of four days in Strasbourg each year – this means that the European Parliament in Strasbourg is used 48 days per year.
– In 2012 and 2013, two of the plenary sessions will be only 2 days, which means, that the buildings will be used only 44 days per year.
– According to the municipality of Strasbourg, more than 10.000 persons have a job related to the European institutions in the city, and the economic gain in estimated to be around 600 million Euros each year.