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Event Report : Istanbul Convention & Women’s Empowerment @ European Parliament

 

On 15 May 2018, European Professionals Network organised a round-table discussion on the Istanbul Convention and Women’s Empowerment at the European Parliament to tackle the issue of gender-based violence. The event was hosted by MEP Elly Schlein. The speakers and most of the participants were professionals and representatives of EU institutions, UN, NGOs and human rights organisations.

 

Klejdia Lazri, EU Project and Communications Manager at the European Professionals Network, introduced the discussion by highlighting the relevance of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, also known as the Istanbul Convention, which represents one of the main tools to protect and reinforce women’s rights within 46 signatory countries. The Istanbul Convention endorses the principles of women’s empowerment and recognises that the realisation of equality between women and men is a key element in the prevention of violence against women.

 

She also drew up the event’s agenda and the list of topics of the discussion:

 

  • The state of the ratification and implementation of the Istanbul Convention at EU level;
  • EU legislations and directives preventing and combating violence against women;
  • The conditions of female refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced women and girls facing discrimination and violence;
  • The link between gender-based violence and women’s employment instability, unequal distribution of power and pay gap;
  • Effective practices and campaigns aiming to promote women’s empowerment and raise awareness on gender-based violence.

 

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Julie Ward, MEP with the Socialists & Democrats Group, initiated the debate by underlying the reasons why the Istanbul Convention’s implementation process is being difficult and why some member states, including the UK, have not yet ratified it. The implementation of the Convention requires the states to invest money and resources by providing support and protection services to victims, effectively prosecuting and rehabilitating perpetrators, giving victims the right to legal assistance and free legal aid, criminalising all forms of violence against women, including stalking, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, forced abortion and sterilisation, and finally providing healthy relationships education. However, in an era of austerity, women’s rights and gender equality often go low down in the list of priorities. In fact, UK’s conservative government cut legal aid to women and funds for shelters for abused victims as part of the austerity measures.

 

Ms Ward noted that the most important dimension of the Convention is its recognition of gender-based violence as a result of gender inequality, and she stressed the importance of sex and relationships education by referring to her successful report Empowering girls through education in the EU. She invited all participants to be braver, to speak the truth and do the things that they know are right, because the EU offers the chance to pass progressive reports and amendments.

 

She also took the time to address the abortion issue, being the pro-life lobby getting stronger and stronger in countries like Poland and Hungary. One of the main opponents to the Istanbul Convention is Bulgaria, currently holding the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, which stated that it will not be ratifying it, as it believes the Convention spreads false statements about gender and hidden LGBTIQ+ agenda. Ms Ward specified that by no means does the Convention have a hidden agenda advocating the recognition of a third sex or even for the legalisation of gay marriage, but even if it were true, it would not be a reason not to ratify it. She added that it is actually very problematic that the Convention does not address specific GBV experienced by the LGBTIQ+ people, and in particular trans people, and she reminded the importance of being inclusive and taking experiences of trans and non-binary people into account.

 

She concluded by reminding that if governments are not ratifying the Convention, not providing the resources to implement it properly and not monitoring it, the cost will be women’s lives.

 

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Asha Allen, Policy and Campaigns Officer at the European Women’s Lobby, started with a brief introduction about the work of the European Women’s Lobby, an NGO representing 2000 women organisations across Europe and in three candidate countries: Turkey, Serbia and Macedonia. The organisation also operates the EWL Observatory on Violence Against Women, bringing together a group of 35 experts across Europe, and cooperates with the EU Coalition to End Violence Against Women and Girls, consisting in 27 organisations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Transgender Europe and European Disability Forum, tackling human rights and social justice issues from varying perspectives, with the collective goal of seeing the ratification of the Istanbul Convention by the EU and all the Member States.

 

Ms Allen explained that the Istanbul Convention is the first international treaty of this kind. It was signed by the EU in 2017, and it requires states to have a uniform standard for combating and preventing violence against women and girls and prosecuting perpetrators. She underlined that the Convention recognises that domestic violence has a gender perspective and that women and girls represent the majority of victims, but it also states clearly that no one should undergo any form of violence and no one should be discriminated in any form.

 

Regarding the opposition to the Convention’s implementation by some member states, Ms Allen stressed that it is linked to an increasing populist, anti-EU and anti-women sentiment, which should be tackled concretely through the collaboration between civil society and institutions. At EU level, the Istanbul Convention needs to remain high in the political agenda, since violence against women is an intersecting form of discrimination, and the most pervasive violation of human rights.

Ms Allen also noted that girls and women are 27 times more likely to experience violence online, and that 9 million girls across Europe will experience some form of cyberviolence or stalking by the time they are 15. This is something that affects women’s participation in the tech industry. Furthermore, violence against women costs the EU 222 billion € a year, which should serve as an incentive to invest more in gender equality’s promotion and eradication of GBV.

 

She concluded by stating that the Women’s Lobby has been fortunate enough to walk alongside UN Women and the Council of Europe in some of their campaigns. She mentioned EWL’s last year event which saw the participation of the feminist icon Gloria Steinem, and reminded that women’s voices are too loud, too united and too strong to remain silent anymore, as the #metoo movement has emphasised.

 

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Ugur Tok, Executive Director of the Platform for Peace and Justice, focused his intervention on women’s condition in Turkey. The country has been in a state of emergency since the failed coup attempt by a group within the military in July 2016, which has led to a limitation of all kinds of freedom in the country.

 

Mr Tok compared the 2006 World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, in which Turkey ranked on average 105th out of 115 countries, to the latest one published in 2017, in which Turkey ranks 131st out of 144 countries, showing a widening of the Political Empowerment gender gap and a re-opening of the Health and Survival gender gap for the first time since 2013.

 

OECD’s 2017 report stated that 42% of women in Turkey have experienced violence at least once in their life. One third of all marriages are forced marriages of underage girls, and in south-east Turkey the percentage goes up to 60%. This is due to a conflict of laws in Turkey: The penal law attests that the minimum required age for a girl’s marriage is 15 years old, while the minimum age according to the civil law is 18. There are still 20.000 parents asking for a permission to marry their children under 15 years old with elder men. Statistically, 80% of the girls forced to get married are illiterate, and 97% of them drop education because of their marriage.

 

Another issue mentioned by Mr Tok is the imprisonment of women and mothers in Turkish jails. Following the 2016 coup attempt, 200.000 people were sacked from their jobs, and 70.000 people were arrested because of alleged coup connections. Currently there are still 7.000 academics, 15.000 primary school teachers and 35.000 police officers detained in Turkish prisons without access to a fair trial.

 

Mr Tok attested that, since 2016, 17.000 women have been imprisoned despite being pregnant or being mothers of new-born children. According to the Turkish law this is not permitted. However, because of the current state of emergency, the government has decided to revoke this benefit for those who are suspected of terrorism, even if they have not been sentenced yet.

 

The lack of hygiene, health care and privacy is a major issue for these women and their children. Moreover, they are held in pre-detention centres without the right to defend themselves by appealing to the court. These conditions represent a serious breach to human rights.

 

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Elena Mancusi Materi, Senior Liaison Officer at UNRWA, described how UNRWA’s work is rather unique in the EU system. UNRWA directly implements its operations by providing 700 schools across the Middle East, performing 9 million patients visits every year in over 840 clinics in the region and supporting 48 women program centres. It does this by employing 31.000 staff members, who are mainly refugees themselves, serving their own communities as teachers, doctors, nurses, engineers, lawyers etc.

 

UNRWA has been ensuring gender parity in school enrolments since 1950s and aims at countering negative gender stereotypes through education. It also targets women throughout microfinance and job creation programs.

 

Ms Mancusi Materi has underlined how these results are significant in terms of empowerment, since they help achieve better standards of living and opportunities for Palestine refugees, given the surrounding conditions. In fact, women refugees living in the region are confronted with GBV exacerbated by conflict, displacement and occupation.

 

Ms Mancusi Materi stated that 37% of married women in Palestinian territory reported physical violence and 58% of them reported psychological violence. In Jordan, 87% of married women, aged 18 to 49, who have visited public health clinics, have reported domestic violence, while 47% of women reported psychological abuse and 98% of them reported physical abuse.

 

Widespread social acceptance of GBV often prevents survivors from reporting and seeking support. In the light of the above, UNRWA is fostering gender sensitive organisational change within its own structure, in order to become more gender responsive in its own operations, as well as to implement good practices for gender sensitive program implementation.

 

UNRWA also addresses the problem of unskilled female employment through the Gaza Job Creation Programme, which aims to reach 60% of women within its beneficiaries, focusing not only on women’s employment in every cultural sector, but also in positions which are traditionally occupied almost solely by men.

 

In Jordan, a participatory approach has been implemented to assess gender needs and improvement of camps, streets and public spaces. In the West Bank, an educational booklet has been distributed in schools since 2015 to teach children how to protect themselves from sexual abuse.

 

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UNRWA has defined a priority on two levels: not only encouraging refugee women to open and seek support from its employees, but also building up capacities of its own staff and their willingness to engage into this subject. The organisation’s goal is to provide adequate responses to GBV survivors and develop preventive interventions. Based on data collected through its field offices in 2017, UNRWA has identified and helped over 40.800 GBV survivors. Moreover, its main beneficiaries and staff members have been increasingly involved in gender awareness activities, as well as information sessions on preconception care. Therefore, while the organisation is acting both at the macro and microlevel, it hopes a significant progress may be made towards the eradication of GBV and the empowerment of women.
Elly Schlein, MEP with the Socialists and Democrats Group, started her speech by talking about her recent mission to Uganda with the EP’s Development Committee, where she witnessed the dramatic situation of more than a million refugees present in the area. Out of them, 82% are women and children. In these settlements, she participated to some activities funded by the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, that aimes at empowering women by providing skills development programs and organising money savings groups.

 

Ms Schlein mentioned the EIGE’s Gender Equality index 2017, which revealed that 1 in 3 women has experienced physical and/or sexual violence since the age of 15, while 75% of women having a professional job or in top management positions have experienced sexual harassment.

 

Ms Schlein also referred to the link between the anti-LGBTIQ+, anti-EU, and anti-migrants movements, underlying the close tie among them and the organised way in which they operate through hate speech on internet. She stressed the importance of fighting them collectively at the political level in the institutions and in strict coordination with NGOs and civil society organisations.

 

Following numerous sexual harassment complaints within the EU institutions, Ms Schlein, together with some colleagues, started the #metooEU petition on the web, which gained 140.000 signatures all around Europe. The petition demands taking stronger measures against sexual abuses, like mandatory trainings for all EP staff members and MEPs, as well as an independent body to which victims could safely report.

 

Last September, European Parliament approved an interim resolution welcoming the signing of the Istanbul Convention by the EU, while on 26 October 2017, the EP approved a resolution on combating sexual harassment and abuses in the EU, strongly condemning such abuses and calling for an effective implementation of the existing legal framework and for the provision of stronger policies. These measures proved to be necessary, since a wide survey conducted in all member states in 2016 showed that over a quarter of respondents claimed that non-consensual sex can be justified in some circumstances.

 

Ms Schlein stressed that education, raising awareness and advocacy are crucial in the fight against GBV. She underlined that school programs on gender equality and against violence are fundamental, because the sooner the problem is addressed, the faster positive results will be achieved for the next generation and beyond. But their implementation is not easy, she explained by indicating the situation in Italy where, even in a city like Bologna, which has always been a home for civil and social rights, some teachers have been threatened by right-wing extremists only because they were teaching programs on gender equality in schools. It is therefore more necessary than ever for the EU institutions to send a clear political message stating that this cannot be accepted, and it will no longer be tolerated.

 

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Ms Schlein also stressed that equal opportunities mean equal treatment when looking for a job and while working. Therefore, it is unacceptable that within the EU women are still earning on average 16% less than men. She praised a new French initiative, which forbids access to public procurements for companies that are not respecting equal pay for men and women. By taking that as an example of good practice, she stated that it will be important to put in place concrete measures to make sure that we are going in the right direction in terms of promoting gender equality, economic empowerment and fighting GBV.

 

Ms Schlein concluded by reminding that the EU should fully comply with the commitments undertaken with the 2030 Agenda for a Sustainable Development and the newly introduced goal on gender equality. All the governments that signed the new agenda are to be taken accountable for the achievement of its goals and targets, which means that it will be essential to monitor whether there are sufficient political will and resources to put them into practice. The overall agenda is about empowering people and fighting inequalities, and this goes through necessarily empowering women and girls, which represents the core principle of leaving no one behind.

 

In the Q&A session, speakers were asked what would be the first concrete measure that should be taken within the EU to change things regarding equal pay and women’s place in industry.

 

Asha Allen responded the question by stressing that governments and institutions should have a closer look at mainstream news, because gender and women’s issues need to be incorporated into every aspect of how we conduct ourselves in society and in politics, as well as in the working environment. She also indicated the importance of further engaging in discussion, as with more discussion comes more consensus.

 

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Another question from the audience was about the measures to be taken for women who are seeking asylum in the EU, and whether the institutions and NGOs address the question of intersectionality.

 

Elly Schlein responded by mentioning a resolution passed at the EU Parliament two years ago on the conditions and needs of women refugees. One of the main measures to be taken should be the provision of adequate and separate spaces for women and men, especially for unaccompanied women or mothers with children, because there is a higher risk for them in some situations, especially when they are being held in pre-removal centres and hotspots like the ones in Greece and Italy. It would also be important to guarantee stable access to health care and psychological support, because most of the times they have suffered traumatic experiences.

 

Asha Allen added that an aspect often neglected about migrant and refugee women is that the migrant crisis is still ongoing, and it masks a much bigger issue which is the trafficking of women and sexual exploitation. Italy, for example, has experienced an increase in the number of young Nigerian women under the age of 16 who have been trafficked and forced into prostitution and sexual exploitation. Furthermore, the European Women’s Lobby has been highlighting the fact that migrant women, women with disabilities and women from minority communities are at a higher risk of violence because of intersecting forms of discrimination, and the Istanbul Convention acknowledges this very explicitly, which is why it is crucial to advocate for all member states and the EU to incorporate the Convention in their legislation.

 

Author: Klejdia Lazri

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Panel Report: ” Professions Vital for Democracy ” @ European Parliament

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EP PANEL

PROFESSIONS VITAL FOR DEMOCRACY

“Working in challenging times”
March 30, 11:00 – 13:00
European Parliament

REPORT

On March 30, 2017 at the European Parliament, European Professionals Network organized a panel discussion on the current challenges of Turkish journalists, lawyers, academicians and civil society members. The event was hosted by MEP Sander Loones. The participants were mostly composed of professionals, representatives of international justice and human rights organizations, media members and reps of journalist and lawyer associations.

EPN PANEL-1Dr. Ugur Tok initiated the panel by giving brief information on the current situation in Turkey. He stated that 7,317 academics have lost their jobs; 4,272 judges, prosecutors have been dismissed; 149 media outlets were shut down and 162 journalists have been arrested since July 2016. These figures are changing on an almost daily basis and subject to constant revision. That means the institutions that symbolize and defend the democratic values are now all crumbled.

EPN PANEL-2Mr. Ricardo Gutiérrez, General Secretary of European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) stated that they follow the cases of 152 journalists in Europe; 145 of them are currently jailed in Turkey. According to the latest survey of EFJ, %86 of Turkish journalists suspect that they are under surveillance; 83% feel psychological pressure and thus apply self-censorship; 64% have experienced intimidation by political groups. He also states that EFJ, The Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE) and European Association of Judges (EAJ) will publish a joint declaration on the ongoing crackdown on the rule of law in Turkey. (Click here for the full statement)

EPN PANEL-5Turkish exiled journalist Mr. Yavuz Baydar stressed that the figure of 150 jailed journalists adds up to 60% of the whole world. This dramatic figure is the highest level ever in the history of journalism. He noted that Turkey entered a historical referendum era with no independent media. The public debates on TV stressing diversity, pluralism of views, exchanging of ideas have all vanished since the coup attempt in Turkey. He indicated that these types of TV programs are essential for the public opinion particularly at times of elections or referendums. Mr. Baydar stressed that the members of the opposition groups are being sentenced to starvation, to a life without dignity. Those people are losing their hope and their desire for life. Because they are being deliberately turned into pariahs, third class citizens regardless of their political color — simply because they are opposition. Baydar also thinks that no matter what result will come out from the referendum, Turkey might end up with a society that turns against each other with the poison of hatred, causing not only psychological violence but also physical one.

EPN PANEL-15Ms. Judith Lichtenberg from “Lawyers for Lawyers” focused on the role of lawyers on upholding the rule of law. She points out that in many parts of the world, lawyers that take up sensitive cases are threatened, harassed, intimidated, persecuted and subjected to disciplinary sanctions for simply doing their jobs.  Unfortunately Turkey is one of those countries. There are 7 UN principles that guarantee the lawyers’ rights. Out of 7, 6 of them are violated in Turkey. One of them has particular importance in Turkey — that is to discern the lawyers from their clients. The lawyers are accused of the charges — such as terrorism — related with their clients. In 2011, 46 lawyers were arrested and persecuted; they were all the lawyers representing Abdullah Ocalan. In 2016, the lawyers who were representing those lawyers were also arrested. After the coup attempt, the situation got much worse. There are thousands of people in prison. The lawyers have hardly excess to their clients. Some are able to see their clients one hour in a week. It is not possible to have a confidential conversation with the client. All the conversations are recorded, filmed and accompanied with a prison guard. All the documents exchanged with the lawyer are controlled by the prison staff. Just like journalists’ self-censorship matter, lawyers are afraid of taking sensitive cases. Because they know that they will be the next target.

Mrs. Elif EPN PANEL-18Alduman, president of KYM International, began her presentation by giving brief information on the civil society in Turkey. She stressed out that 1125 associations and 560 foundations were shut down since the coup attempt. She indicated that 85% of the population is not a member of a civil society because they are afraid of to be targeted by the government. The case was similar with KYM Foundation. KYM had the consultative status with the United Nations ECOSOC, was the executive partner of the UNHCR, had 3 million individual donators and 224,000 volunteers before it was shut down by the government. Not only the board members but also the employees of KYM were arrested after July 15. Ms. Alduman also noted that there are around 134.000 civil servants who got sacked and these people are not allowed to work in public sphere or at any job that they can work with their diplomas. This figure increases to almost half a million when you consider the families of those sacked. However the case of detained and arrested people is more critical. There are 50 suspicious deaths and many rape allegations in the prisons after the coup attempt. She also gave the following individual example: A detained high school teacher who was denied to have access to his diabetes medics found dead in his prison cell. She also explained how Turkish embassies and consulates not only refuse to give any service to some Turkish citizens but also confiscate their passports.

In the Q&A section, exiled journalist Sevgi Akarcesme stated that the dictators behave true to type; they oppress people. Her question was why the mainstream media and most of the Turkish intelligentsia use the same rhetoric with the government since it helps enable the language of the current autocratic regime in Turkey and further worsens the situation. Mr. Baydar responded that the problem lies with an ethical dilemma of journalists and it is nothing new. A significant part of the media has always demonized certain journalists or groups, such as Kurds, since the beginning of 80s. What we are going through now is a more severe situation, though. The polarization, political fanaticism, pursuing one’s own self-interest, advocating for democracy only for your own group is merely a sickness.

EPN PANEL-20Stéphanie De Windisch Graertz among the participants asked whether the acts of the journalists that mouthpiece the government and propagate its rhetoric are compatible with the core principles of journalism and whether it is accurate to call them as journalists. Mr. Baydar responded that there are four criteria that define journalism: freedom, independence, safety and pluralism. Propagandism falls inside journalism according to this definition as freedom of expression is the bedrock of the freedom of the media. So propagandism can be compatible with journalism only when pluralism exists. But in the case of Turkey, diversity and pluralism are severely damaged because the “independent” segment has disappeared to a large extent. So the pro-government sources dominate the mass media.

EPN PANEL-aaAnother question from the audience was why the European media doesn’t write or speak enough about Turkey. Mr. Baydar told that the high priority is to show solidarity with jailed, fired or persecuted journalists. And many of the western European media such as Belgian, Dutch, German, Scandinavian, Italian and Spanish media are aware of the situation enough to report about it. Also many organizations such as EFJ, CPJ, Reporters without borders etc. have been campaigning about Turkey for months with petitions, visits, conferences in and out of Turkey. They have been doing enough, but the situation in Turkey has hit the wall. As a possible solution, he suggested that let’s say if the city of Ghent adopts one jailed journalist in Turkey, the city of Amsterdam adopts a jailed Kurdish journalist and another German city adopts a Gulen-affiliated journalist, this symbolic act would lead to a social awareness of the situation and bring it to the attention of the local media and thus the civil society members. Declaring him/her as “Honorary Citizen” would make a huge impact in the international media.

Taken together, the picture emerging from the comments drawn on firsthand experience and expert remarks is that Turkey is moving away from its century-old democracy. The main takeaway is that all the segments believing in democratic values, rule of law and human rights should unite their voices and work together against the ongoing oppression, autocratic and unlawful practices. Professionals such as journalists, lawyers, academicians and civil society members play a crucial role in shaping a healthy democracy and thus they are to be protected no matter how.

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EPN REPORT: Public Seminar on “Integrating Refugees into the Labour Market: Turning the Crisis into an Opportunity” 22 February 2016

reportThe Labour Market Observatory of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) hosted the seminar in cooperation with the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound). EPN and more than 280 participants from 24 countries attended this event which took place the 22th of February 2016.

 

By the end of 2015, more than 1.250.000 people had sought asylum in the EU. Member States are differentially affected by the refugees’ arrivals. Notwithstanding 2013/33/EU directive laying down standards for the reception of applicants for international protection, refugees policy are decided at national level by each EU member States and remain heterogeneous. For example, national regulations for waiting time for labour market access to asylum seekers vary. Each EU member State also offers different integration facilities (language training, adult education, skills assessment, civic education, job-related training).

 Speakers agree about the need of a common EU asylum system or, at least, of an intergovernmental agreement to unify refugees hosting. Speakers also consider the refugee status as a specific type of migration.

There are several benefits of labour market integration. Work is an important integration mean because individuals feel recognize when they can participate to production society. Work avoids refugees’ poverty at short and long-term. Negative perception of migrants by local people could be reversed knowing that refugees are not assisted inactive peoples. Work integration of refugees can be a economic growth factor, even more in sectors facing workforce shortage.

Labour market integration involves the implementation of basic conditions in hosting countries. Language training is essential. Indeed, late access to language training have a significant bad impact on job-seeking. On the contrary, combining language course with professional training reinforce motivation. It is also important to recognize skills and diplomas. Refugees often do not have proof of past working experience and/or education. Labour market integration also requires stable housing in order to allow school attendance and job-seeking. These kind of facilities should be quickly organised for refugees as late integration make it more complicated both the them and the hosting society.

However, EU member States’ legal contexts hinder integration pathway. Long asylum seeking processes force refugees to inactivity. The short-time limitation of work/residence permission de not allow refugees to engage in several years training. Resettlements give sometimes rise to Catch-22 situations between residence permit and work permit as refugees need one to get the other and vice versa. Also, the current Dublin Convention remains problematic and refugees decide to postpone their registration or to not register at all.

In order to make refugees integration easier, the hosting countries should also consider to use other social activities (sport, culture,…) to rebuild refugees’ social networks; to involve social partners to assist the refugees and avoid their vulnerability on labour market; to provide them access to information about refugees facilities and social security and employment agency national systems; to better inform social workers and employment agency workers about refugee status’ rights; to extend existed employment aid measures to refugees, and to develop public-private partnerships to train and hire refugees.

Three good initiative on refugees integration have been highlighted. “Mentoring for Migrants” in Austria help migrants to develop a career plan, identify and organize further training, establish contacts, optimize application processes, get job interviews, build self-confidence, develop a business plan to pave the way to self-employment. Within the “Fast track to Integration” program in Sweden, migrants’ personal skills and expertise are assessed against what the industry require with a view to their employment, while attending language courses. In Belgium, non-profit organisation “Duo for a Job” organizes intergenerational job search mentoring for young immigrant by experienced retired seniors.

Author: Hélène Gire

EPN

EU Project & Communication Manager

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EPN REPORT: A New Start for Europe: Opening up to an ERA of Innovation

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On 22 June 2015, EPN attended a conference hosted by the European Commission called “A New Start for Europe: Opening up to an ERA of Innovation.” In the presence of Commissioner Moedas, this conference brought together over 500 professionals from key research and innovation organizations to discuss EU policies on three interconnected topics: Open Science, the European Research Area, and Innovation.

Commissioner Carlos Moedas spoke about how innovation is the key to bring different nations together. It is what connects the world on a global level and it is important to build a solid foundation in order to grow as a global economy. He showed statistics on how science has lead to economic growth. For instance, studies have shown that up to 10,000 job offers have been offered through a digital portal.

However, these studies have shown some challenges as well. There are a few areas in science that Europe has been lagging behind in. Moedas gave three reasons to explain this lag: not succeeding in getting research results to the market, Europe falling behind on scientific revolutions, and Europe falling behind in science diplomacy.

FullSizeRender (3)He also gave a three ways to combat these failures: 1) Open innovation, which focuses on the capitalization on EU research. This could be done by bringing in more companies, focusing more on research, utilizing the knowledge the economy made, utilizing their resources, venture capital, and changing the paradigm of financing. 2) Open science, which focuses on excellence. He introduced a science cloud project that would create a cloud for European scientists. It would allow open access to research and open data. This will help increase quality and create more initiative for research integrity. It would also create partnerships and in turn lead to scientific diplomacy. 3) Open to the world- this would basically help the world see what kind of research Europe is doing and allow the other countries to grow from it. It is necessary to have a worldwide communication portal to cultivate growth in all areas of the world.

He stated that the main areas that needed to be changed were food, water, health and energy. A few ways to keep this going would be to invest in more projects that unite different people and create bridges using science as a common language.

Mr. Jack Metthey talked about a program called “Science 2.0: science in transition” he believed we needed a systematic change in the way we research and see science. Some of the areas to change were availability of digital technologies, rise in global scientific population, public demand for better/ more efficient space, demand for accountable and responsive science, need to address faster societal challenges, need to contribute to economic growth

In conclusion, all the speakers are keen on the idea of integrating the world and using science as a means to achieve that. While there are some challenges to overcome, it is very possible to reach these goals if there is cooperation and motivation. The European Commission firmly believes that science and research can improve the conditions in Europe.

Author: Uroosa Khalid

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EPN Report: A More Inclusive Democracy: How New Europeans are changing European Politics

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On 4th June 2015, UNITEE held New Europeans Forums at the European Parliament. The topic of the first panel was “A more inclusive Democracy”. Adem Kumcu, president of UNITEE, started the panel by indicating the long-term challenges EU is facing, globalization, pressure on resources and ageing, and indicated that immigrants could be a potential solution for these challenges.

Francois Foret, political science professor at the Free University in Brussels, started his speech by describing “New Europeans” and the positive effects singularizing ethnic dimension would provide to the EU.

Sukru Masmas, president of HOGIAF (Dutch Federation of Young Entrepreneurs), then took up the topic of education and integration. Mr. Masmas noted that civil participation is necessary and that this is achieved through organizations and education. Immigrants are still not well integrated into the society. Nevertheless, there are still black and white school areas, and there is still segregation among different ethnic groups. In order to address the challenges EU is facing, it is important to establish race-tolerant schools, and improving the education. Mr. Masmas also claimed that the value of New Europeans is underestimated.

Maureen O’ Neil, President of the SOC Section of the EESC, indicated that the people need to be better integrated, walls need to be torn down, the education system needs to be improved in order for EU to maintain its competitive role in the globalized world. The changes, however, need to start from bottom. Civil society organizations need to work with locals and brings about changes up to EU- level.

Philip De Backer, member of European Parliament, explained his awareness of the value of the New Europeans and mentioned that people need to take more action. Backer noted that people need be empowered and need grab chances given to them.

To summarize, there was a consensus that education plays a big role in easing the process of integration and participation of New Europeans. There is however not much mentorship efforts and many young people are not led to right paths. In order to create a more inclusive democracy, it is therefore necessary to cultivate young generations who are mentored well and are interested in taking their role in shaping society.

Author: Muhammed Kafi Cifci

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Free Movement of Professionals

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Free Movement of Professionals

How does it make the EU richer and smarter?
16 June 2015, European Parliament

 

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On 16 June 2015, EPN in collaboration with ECAS and UNITEE organized a panel on Free Movement of Professionals at the European Parliament. The event was co-hosted by Ms. Eva Paunova, MEP and Mr. Jo Leinen, MEP. Mr. Selçuk Gültaşlı, EU correspondent at Zaman Media Group, started the panel by indication the necessity and importance of further developing Free Movement of labor and professionals in order to achieve a functioning single market.

2 Eva PaunovaMs. Paunova was then introduced to give keynote speech. Ms. Paunova underlined that free movement of professionals is one of the key pillars of the Europe 2020 strategy. Moreover she noted that “we do need thriving businesses in Europe and businesses need international professionals”.  The need for new legislation that promotes ease of mobility across borders was also stressed. She also introduced a few ways to help move forward. For instance, ERS has been active in 26 languages which allows them to reach a larger pool of people. Another idea was to encourage legislation for health insurance overseas. This way people working in other countries will be covered, or at the very least reimbursed. It also very important to recognize diplomas given from different countries so those who have completed their education can earn a decent living based on it.

3 Jorg TaggerMr. Jorg Tagger, deputy head of unit at DG employment gave the second keynote speech. Mr. Tagger sees the Free Movement of labor as one of the key pillars of the internal market. He explained that labor mobilization is becoming a hot topic and that the commission is proposing a balanced approach to labor mobility.  Mr. Tagger also touched on the issue of social security and described how regulations have been improved to protect European citizens working within EU and European Economic Area countries. Talking from data, Mr. Tagger noted, “20 percent of Europeans would be willing to move to another country for work”. This is a significant statistic when considering that only around three percent of Europeans work in another country. In order to encourage more people, the commission is working on a labor-mobilizing package that will also revise social security coordination. He explained some of the aspects of his package and how they will help the cause. These however introduced some challenges that will need to be addressed through careful revision and assessment of the deal.

4 Assya KavrakovaMs. Assya Kavrakova, Director of ECAS, focused on the importance of free movement of professionals as a contributor to advances in economy as well as democracy. She indicated “studies reveal that Erasmus students are better positioned to find job after graduation due to their international experience”. This shows that free mobility is not only about economics, but also about a better democracy. She also talked about how certain studies have shown to improve the overall quality of life for those who participate. They also show a higher level of participation during elections which makes them more active in society. Unfortunately, some challenges such as certain delays and requests for documents can pose as threats to the success of the program. Lack of recognition of diplomas was also stressed as an issue again.

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Mr. Giovanni Collot from UNITEE noted that the Free Movement of professionals aids in creating a common market and cultivating New Europeans. Immigrants that travel to Europe bring with them growth and innovations due to their experience in so many different cultures. He did point out that education, or lack thereof, can be a challenge. Nevertheless, this mobility aids in rise of democracy, creation vibrant economy and also in strengthening of the European identity.

Mr. Melih Erdem Koctepe, business consultant at Benson & Winch, took up the topic from a business perspective. He noted that there is lack of candidates in some sectors, despite relatively high employment rates. For this reason, companies hire talent from countries like India or China rather than Europe. It was also stated that work permits can be difficult for some to obtain and will slow down the hiring process. Decreasing the  need for work permits will allow Europe to expand its competitive market. Encouraging and improving Free Movement of professionals would therefore allow a more efficient allocation of resources and also cause significant economic growth.

Mr. Matthias Busse, researcher at CEPS, indicates that despite all the benefits that the Free movement of Labor would bring, there are still significant challenges. Professionals have sought to move across borders due to the recent crisis, but they experience language and bureaucratic hurdles. There is also uneven mobility of professionals. Most professionals move along East-West corridor, but there is not much of mobility along North-South. As a result of free movement, stock of Euro has increased and there is circular migration that is helping economic growth. In order to enable better conditions, we should tackle language and bureaucratic barriers. While there have been language courses offered, they have been costly and time consuming, but effective nevertheless. Moreover, there is a need for increased communication between institutions and promotion of the opportunities available.

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To summarize, there was a consensus that the Free Movement of Professionals is an important driver of economic growth and the creation of a functioning single market. Education of professionals was also mentioned to be very important for an economically stable Europe.  Free Movement of Professionals also strengthens European identity, entrepreneurship and innovation. Barriers standing in the way of personal, social, and economic success of professionals include bureaucratic barriers, language barriers, fear of insurance benefits across borders, and lack of recognition of bordering education systems. Various solutions were discussed to combat these barriers, the most seemingly promising to be the revision of the Labor Mobility Package in December of 2015. The revisions will include revising Social Security rules, consulting with stakeholders, and issuing a targeted review of labor mobility. In accordance to tackling the education barrier, MEP Eva Paunova and Ms. Assya Kavrakova both mentioned how improving the recognition of various diplomas, programs, and related job experiences across borders is a priority of the EU.

Authors: M.Kafi Citci, Fatima Naqvi & Uroosa Khalid

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EPN REPORT: Reporting the movement of people. Perspectives from Europe and Asia

Report of the briefing seminar about media and migrations organised by European Institute for Asian Studies (EIAS) and the University of East-Anglia on May 12

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 On May 12, EPN attended the briefing seminar about media and  movement of people organised by the European Institute for Asian  Studies in collaboration with the University of East-Anglia. The event  took place at EIAS’ offices in Brussels.

After a short introduction by Lawrence Hardy, senior lecturer at  University of East-Anglia and chairman of the event, the panel  discussion was launched.

Alexander Egger, team coordinator at the Think Young think tank started his presentation by illustrating the work of their organisation. Its aim is to promote young people and intercultural exchanges. Through audio-visual research and the realisation of documentaries, Think Young works to capture attention of the young generations, but also of the civil society in general. An ongoing project involves the use of visual anthropology. Several short interviews with young migrants with different origins and backgrounds are conducted and then connected as a series of portraits through the realisation of a documentary. Think Young also organises other activities such as visit sessions involving European students going to Asia and vice versa. These international and intercultural experiences are always filmed by Think Young in order to be able to realise and then share documentaries through the Think Young’s YouTube page. Another interesting project developed by the think tank is the Entrepreneurship School. Within the context of this project, students in small groups are encouraged to conduct interviews with different entrepreneurs and are expected to give a presentation about their research after one week. The best presentation wins the competition. As the chairman affirmed, the positive message that the students can receive from the Entrepreneurship School experience is that “you can do whatever you want to do”; if you have the will and the motivation, everything is possible.

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After Egger’s presentation, Shiraz Raj, director at Alaap-International took the floor. First, Raj declared that he was very pleased to see that the seminar was dedicated to a group of students. The speaker gave a general presentation with personal insights about youth and migrations. During his speech, Raj analysed the phenomenon of youth migration from a historical point of view. He then referred to the situation of his home country, Pakistan, highlighting some current issues related to incoming and outgoing migration. Concluding his presentation, Raj pointed out that the movement of people is always presented from a negative point of view by the media. Most of the times, media privilege information about conflicts and conflictual aspects of migrations, while neglecting other the positive outcomes of the movement of people, such as the numerous cultural and political exchanges and the phenomenon of integration.

 

       DSC_0192After Raj’s presentation, Wouter Van Bellingen, Director at  Minderheden Forum took the floor. He presented the  organisation for which he works, and then he talked more  generally about the migrants’ situation in Brussels. According to  research and surveys, there are different so-called framings, in  which the Belgian population insert the migrants according to  their origins. Van Bellingen highlighted the unrecognised  importance of migrants in the development of the society and  stressed the need to change the public image of migrants through stories and personal experiences. Concluding his speech, Van Bellingen reminded the audience that diversity enriches societies.

Last but not least, Jennee Grace U. Rubrico, visiting fellow at EIAS took the floor. She presented the phenomenon of movement of people from the point of view of Asia and ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations). Rubrico illustrated the so-called “Migrations framework”. According to her, there are two categories of stories related to migrations that media can choose to report: statistics stories and human stories. The latter are less frequent but can arouse a greater reaction among the public. An example of this kind of stories reported in the news is the narrative of human trafficking and human rights. Rubrico continued her presentation mentioning intraregional migrations in ASEAN and movement of people in the Philippines, where migrants are called the “Heroes of the economy”. The speaker concluded the panel stating that the role of the media is crucial in the case of migrations, since the audience shapes its own ideas about the issue according to how the media decide to recount the stories. For this reason, it is important to know that, depending on where the news is located in the newspapers, the story can collect more or less popularity among the public. Nevertheless, according to Rubrico the role of journalists should be less about shaping the public opinion and more about reporting facts.

 

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The chairman took up the subject and shared the last speakers’  vision about the role of the media. According to him, the media  should report stories in the most possible balanced way. Hardy  also made an interesting remark about the fact that a negative  framing of the phenomenon of migrations appeared to be a  common theme among all the speakers.

After the panel discussion, a short session of Q&A concluded the  seminar. Some interesting remarks were made both by the audience and the panellists. An Italian businessman highlighted the fact that migrants’ work should be revaluated by the whole society, as positive outputs are of clear evidence. For example, migrants contribute significantly to the development of their countries of origin. In this context, the transfer of technology has to be considered as a relevant positive consequence of the movement of people. Moreover, the participant declared that the enterprises created by migrants proved to be stronger than other companies, especially during the critical times of the financial crisis.

All the panellists agreed on the fact that the phenomenon of movement of people should be reviewed and reconsidered by all strata of civil society. So far, a mostly negative vision of the phenomenon has prevailed; therefore the role of the media should be to provide the audience with a variety of stories that can show the phenomenon of migrations as multifaceted and diverse.

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Author: Lucia Montanari

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EPN REPORT: Maximizing efficiency throughout EU economy

Report of the workshop about resource efficiency in the EU organised by the Center for European Policy Studies (CEPS) on March 11th, 2015

 re5sOn March 11th, EPN attended the NETGREEN Thematic Policy Workshop « Maximizing resource efficiency throughout the EU economy » at CEPS.

After a brief introduction by Arno Behrens, Head of Energy and Research Fellow at CEPS, and a short welcome speech by Wanda Gaj, Project Officer at DG Research & Innovation (EU Commission), the workshop started with a presentation by Lucas Porsch, Senior Fellow at the Ecologic Institute. Porsch introduced NETGREEN, the “Network for Green Economy Indicators”, explaining how this website can support policy makers in measuring progress towards resource efficiency. According to Porsch, there is the need to measure progress towards the green economy while making a fruitful usage of the indicators we already dispose of and that are currently unused. Measuring-progress.eu is an interactive online tool that can be used by policy makers to understand the green economy indicators, to choose the ones they need for they purposes and to interpret them correctly. Porsch concluded his presentation with a virtual tour of the website.

After Porsch speech, Behrens gave the floor to Barbara Bacigalupi, Policy Officer on Resource Efficiency and Indicators at DG Environment. Stating that resource efficiency means “doing more with less”, Bacigalupi mentioned the key EU policies initiatives on resource efficiency and highlighted the importance of the 2020 timeframe and of a 2050 European vision on the issue, consisting of nine priority objectives. Reminding the audience that “you cannot manage what you cannot measure”, the speaker pointed out the importance of moving from policy to indicators. She also gave some examples and illustrated some graphs showing the following indicators: resource productivity, environmental taxes, eco-innovation, and green jobs in the EU. Bacigalupi concluded her speech declaring that if the EU wants to do some progress in the field of resource efficiency, it is then necessary for all the actors to constantly work together.

This first part of the workshop was followed by a short session of Q&A, where some issues related to resource efficiency and indicators were highlighted by the audience. To mention an interesting one, one of the participants asked the speakers about the international dimension of NETGREEN and of the indicators. According to Porsch, there is an international component, but for now it is still very limited. Nevertheless, there is the willingness to extend the database to a global context in the future.

After the Q&A session, the panel discussion started, and new speakers reached the stage. After a brief introduction by Charles Seaford, Senior Advisor at New Economics Foundation (NEF), the floor was given to Stephan Lutter, Researcher at the Institute for Ecological Economics in Vienna. Lutter brought a researcher’s perspective to the discussion. According to him, the environmental problems are the result of the quality and quantity of social metabolism, meaning the interaction between society and nature. This is why we need to focus on resource efficiency, which is also fundamental for the human well-being and for the well-functioning of the economic activity. Lutter mentioned different kind of resources, among which water, land, and fuels. In order to measure these resources, we dispose of two types of indicators: territorial ones, related to production, and footprint ones, related to consumption. The first ones provide solid data bases, but at the same time they can just represent a national dimension. The second ones relate to a global dimension, but at the same time they present only modelling approaches and they are hardly accepted by policy makers. Anyways, to respond to international challenges, some methodologies are in development in order to be applied at a global level.

After Lutter’s presentation, Seaford gave the floor to Evi Ford-Alexandraki, Statistical Officer on Resource Efficiency Indicators at Eurostat. Ford-Alexandraki briefly presented the resource efficiency scoreboard, which gathers statistics from Eurostat and other research centres and organisations. The speaker mentioned the existence of data centres on resources and talked about some indicators for four groups of resources: material, land, waste and carbon. She also highlighted the importance of knowing that there are some relevant differences among the same indicators depending on the objectives and the priorities of the creators of such indicators.

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The following speaker was Janneke Van Veen, Coordinator Resource Efficiency/Circular Economy at the Government of Flanders. Van Veen stressed on Flanders’ objective to move from a waste policy to a sustainable materials management. In 2012, two new policy instruments were introduced by the government in order to achieve this goal: a materials decree, which constitutes a legal framework to the issue of sustainability and environmental challenges, and a Flemish material programme, constituted of three pillars: research, innovation and an action plan. Moreover, an executive plan is giving its contribution through a more classical approach. Van Veen talked about the new approach that the Flemish government is applying to its projects on the topic: other than measuring the waste from the households, researchers started to measure the waste from the enterprises. Indeed, there is a significant loss of materials reflected in the indicators. This means that the focus is less on the loss rather than on the recycling process. According to the speaker, there is the need to find a way to keep our materials and to reuse them once the product is used and thrown away. This is why Europe presents a high dependence on importations of materials. What we need is to change our policies in order to become more independent, supported by the creation of a European database.

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After Van Veen presentation, the floor was given to Loredeana Ghinea, Executive Director at A.SPIRE, Sustainable Process Industry through Resource and Energy Efficiency. The first problem that Ghinea pointed out is the issue of how Europe can cope with less resources and increasing needs. To give an answer to this problematic, the speaker firstly illustrated the functioning of the value chain. The process involves row materials, then process industry and manufacturing. In order to better allocate the resources and achieve efficiency, there is the need to invest in innovation and to reinvent several key factors and products. These actions imply that the actors, among which the process industry and the Public and Private Partnerships (PPPs) have to: implement a more efficient digital equipment; reinvent feedstock; reinvent devices for monitoring, control, etc.; reinvent materials and products; reinvent technologies for valorisation of waste in order to turn it into a resource. Therefore, Ghinea stressed on the fact that the industry palace in Europe has to be reinvented. In order to make this happen, we need to build synergies across industries, borders, technologies and public & private partners.

Last but not least, Carsten Wachholz, Resources use and Product Policy Officer at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) took the floor. Wachholz brought a NGO’s point of view to the discussion, mentioning the kind of indicators that are useful for these organisations. Referring to the Report released by the EEB in March 2014, the speaker talked about some resource-use indicators. He immediately pointed out that, by adding a monetary value on material savings and other factors, it is easier for NGOs to capture the attention of policy makers. The speaker highlighted some potential benefits that could be gained due to a successful resource efficiency starting from now to 2030: more land use, food-waste reduction, water use reduction, gas emission savings, jobs creation. In order to obtain these beneficial outputs, some policy approaches need to be implemented: addressing durability and reparability of products; improving product design; moving up the waste hierarchy; reinforcing the demand side of the circular economy. Indeed, there are different ways to unlock the potential, and according to Wachholz we just have to choose one. We have a lot of tools available, but we need to guide the actions towards the direction we want to move to.

After the last speaker’s presentation, a discussion with the panellists and a short session of Q&A took place. The event ended with a networking lunch.

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Author: Lucia Montanari

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EPN REPORT: Les « printemps arabes » quatre ans après : entre reconsolidations autoritaires et démocratisations ?

Report of the conference about the « Arab Springs » organised at Universite Libre de Bruxelles on February 25th, 2015

 

On February 25th, EPN attended the conference « Les « printemps arabes » quatre ans après: entre reconsolidations autoritaires et démocratisations? » at Université Libre de Bruxelles. Vincent Legrand, doctor, researcher and teacher at Université catholique de Louvain started the conference by introducing the Arab uprisings occurred in 2010-2011 and their causes.

 

First of all, the revolts were related to the critical socio-economic situation of the interested countries. For instance, some features related to the working condition of a significant amount of young people are among the factors that contributed to the explosion of the revolts. The unemployment rate of young people, which in some countries reached 30%, is one of the factors that boosted the revolts.

 

Actually, the uprisings in the Arab world have been existing for a decade, considering for example the revolts that occurred in 2008 in Tunisia. Nevertheless, a new element has to be highlighted when it comes to the Arab revolts of 2010-2011. The latter were actually interested by a transformation process leading to true revolutions and to the fall of leaders. According to Legrand, these phenomena were predictable, because a boost of education in recent times fueled people’s expectations.

After the explanatory introduction, Legrand highlighted some political issues, which contributed to the rising of the protests. In some countries, such as Algeria and Saudi Arabia governments bought a “social peace” by using financial resources obtained from gas and oil related businesses. In other cases, governments granted favorable treatments to the army and the police in order to keep them on their side. Other countries, such as Morocco and Jordan launched their constitutional reforms. The speaker also pointed out the victory of the Islamist parties during the democratic transition. This factor appears more as a social and political phenomenon than a religious one. For the demonstrators, the Islamist parties were representing strong actors able to solve the economic problems of their countries. Some civil representatives, though, expressed their opinion about the incompatibility between democracy and Islamists parties. Besides, some young people referred to the Islamist parties as the “thieves of their revolution”; they contested the presence of a major gap between the parties’ programme and the young people’s expectations.

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According to Legrand, the success of the revolts can be often explained by the cohesion of the population. For example, the uprisings in Tunisia began in the city of Sidi Bouzid and from there widespread in the whole country. On the contrary, in Syria some key regions like Damascus and Aleppo were sustaining the President Bachar al Assad, therefore they did not support the revolts.

Legrand concluded his speech by briefly illustrating the rising of ISIS. According to him, it is difficult to clearly define ISIS, although at this stage of research it could be considered either as a terrorist organisation or as the willingness to establish a government. In this case, though, it is not sure that ISIS has the means to achieve its objective. It could also be seen as just a criminal phenomenon which hides behind some religious ideals. Some researchers argue that ISIS was born and is acting in a post post colonial period. For example, ISIS boasts of having abolished the borders between Syria and Irak, which were imposed by Europe in the 20th century. ISIS gathers foreigners as well as Sunni from Iraqi baas parties, which have undergone a “debaasification” by the USA. In other words, ISIS can be considered as a consequence of the Iraq war in 2003.

The “Arab springs” are characterised by similarities as well as differences. This is why it would be a mistake to talk about one “Arab spring”. Indeed, each country presents its own features. Some of them experienced the fall of leaders, while others did not.

The intervention or non intervention of foreign powers in this context can be explained by their interests at stake and by the geopolitics of international relations. For example, Russia and China voted against the intervention in Syria.

 

The “Arab springs” are not over, and the process of democratic transition is still ongoing: democracy cannot be built in a day.

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Authors: Siham Lechkar and Lucia Montanari

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EPN REPORT: EMI TTIP Briefing with the European Ombudsman

Report of the briefing about TTIP organised by Madariaga College of Europe Foundation and European Movement International (EMI) on January 29th

On January 29th, EPN attended the briefing about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) organised by Madariaga College of Europe Foundation in collaboration with the European Movement International (EMI). The event took place at the Madariaga Foundation in Brussels.

The director of EMI and MEP Jo Leinen made a short introduction, first of all by making his congratulations to the Ombudsman Ms Emily O’Reilly for the work she is doing for all European citizens. Subsequently, Mr Leinen introduced the topic of discussion, namely the question of transparency related to the TTIP which is now under negotiations between the EU and the US. The director of Madariaga stated that an incredibly high interest about TTIP was recently shown by European citizens. This increase in public awareness can be explained by the fact that both trade and economy have a huge influence on people’s life style. Mr Leinen concluded his short speech saying that the recent facts could be a new start of the process of democratisation of trade policies.

After Mr Leinen introduction, the Ombudsman Ms Emiliy O’Reilly took the floor, stressing once more on the fact that European citizens showed a significant level of interest in the issue of TTIP. The Ombudsman’s role is to deal with all sort of complains addressed to the EU Institutions, and thus Ms O’Reilly participated to the event with the aim to share the results and findings of the public consultations that were conducted in order to acquire useful information about the citizens’ opinions on the TTIP issue.

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The Ombudsman affirmed that the TTIP is probably the biggest bilateral trade agreement ever negotiated in history and therefore it will have a huge impact on citizens’ life. This is the reason why the latter are asking for more transparency on this matter. According to the Ombudsman, a high level of transparency is actually needed in the 21st century. This is another reason why she is encouraging the Commission to publish more documents about the TTIP and to make public announcement of its meetings. Ms O’Reilly declared that she could act this way because she was pursued by the fact that several organisations and a significant amount of people made their voice heard and were involved with such a big interest in this issue. According to her, citizens desire more information to be made available online, and they need to have access to more detailed documents. Moreover, the publication of a list of meetings between the Commission and stakeholders was asked. As a consequence, the Commission promised the publication of updated documents, shared with the Council and the Parliament, and the Ombudsman declared to be ready to examine also the steps that might be taken for further negotiations. Ms O’Reilly added that, if on the one hand a public access to documentations is fundamental for a democratic functioning of the EU Institutions, on the other hand absolute transparency is not ideal. The Commission needs to keep some information as confidential, at least at some stages of the ongoing negotiations, as long as it is justified. In some cases, some transparency measures could risk to compromise these negotiations. The Ombudsman stressed on the fact that a balance is needed between what can be disclosed to the public and what needs to be kept as reserved information. Nevertheless, it is true that a good practical sense comes from people’s understanding of EU activities and decision-making process, as it is true that citizens’ participation to politics is fostered by transparency measures. This is why Ms O’Reilly still believes that transparency should be enhanced. She doesn’t agree with the fact that more transparency would create confusion among the citizens, as someone would suggest, instead she actually believes it would have the opposite effect. According to her, the civil society should be able to contribute to the shaping of the TTIP agreement. The citizens are increasingly aware of the content of the negotiations, and the Commission will soon publish updated documents about the agreement. The Ombudsman pointed out that the Commission should go further, through the extension of some transparency measures to other activities, such as the meeting agenda. Ms O’Reillly actually informed the Commission that by March 6th she would like to know how the measures she asked to take will be implemented.

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After the Ombudsman’s presentation, Mr Leinen thanked her and the Madariaga Foundation for the initiative. He also highlighted once more that citizens should have the right to access most of EU documents. According to him, what the Junker Commission did –coming out with the initiative of transparency– is a huge step forward within the process of democratisation. In a democracy people should have the capacity to debate, and this is possible when facts, and not rumours, are available to the civil society.

After Mr Leinen’s considerations, a short section of Q&A took place. Some interesting questions were raised by the audience, such as the issue of the public opinion in the US. The public questioned the Ombudsman if in the US the citizens are looking for more transparency as it is happening in Europe. Apparently a discussion about this topic will be soon launched between the US and the EU, as the two partners have different systems and different cultures concerning transparency measures and the involvement of the citizens in political affairs. The US perspective will come further into focus within the context of these negotiations. Another participant asked Ms O’Reilly to comment on the reactions to the TTIP in different European countries. The Ombudsman answered that, even if citizens of more industrialised countries – such as Germany – are obviously more interested in gathering information about the TTIP, there is certainly going to be more awareness across the whole continent. In fact, people are now particularly mobilised in the UK and in other countries such as Belgium. Another interesting problem was highlighted by someone in the audience: the problem of language. The documents drafted by the Commission are always in the three main EU languages, namely French, English and German. This limit leads to the fact that a significant amount of people cannot understand the content of important information. This is why the Ombudsman declared that a mediator role should be played by different ONGs, institutions, businesses and so on, in order to actively gather information and subsequently involve the citizens with the aim to act collectively and to influence the EU decision-making process.   

The Ombudsman concluded the Q&A section stating that her role is to do more than the Court of Justice, and that is why she started her own initiative on the TTIP issue.

Mr Leinen concluded the briefing by thanking Ms O’Reilly for her work. He also assured that more events about transparency will be organised, as more negotiations for trade agreements with third parties will be started in the near future. 

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Authors: Lucia Montanari & Siham Lechkar