It’s the 33rd Edition of Brussels Brief* and we are back with a sad tale of modern-day slavery, hopeful European startups…and weed killer, don’t forget that.
Shocking, disgusting, inhuman. These are reactions that the global commons are too used to in an age of mass media. The concept of engineered consent has become more like engineered impotence as images of terror attacks, death and destruction invade our TV and laptop screens twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. The ‘numbification’ of masses was interrupted this week as scenes of a phenomenon that was thought to be consigned to the 19th century reared its ugly head in the southern Mediterranean. According to the CNN Freedom Project, which documents and exposes modern slavery, over 40 million people are enslaved worldwide. Why did this phenomenon wake people up from the numbness of the migration crisis and turned this week's top story into ‘not another migration story’. The fact that the general population, and the institutions that represent them, are oblivious to a problem as big as slavery shows that they are too used to another humanitarian problem, that of migration. What’s up with that?Add paragraph text here.
Not another migration story. Migration is the issue that never got away. As much s the EU tries to kick the can up the road and short-term solutions it is a blossoming mushroom cloud of ugliness. Perhaps one of the ugliest scenes so far, other than the 33,974 deaths previously reported in Brussels Brief, was something that has been occurring in the shadows for far too long, slavery. Images of sub-Saharan African migrants chained up and displayed for auction has sent shockwaves through the western world, even provoking outrage and even riots in some places, even in our own backyard (see below). The phenomenon, some argue, is a direct result of the EU-Libya agreement to keep would be migrants over the Mediterranean in camps in the country. The EU which is attending the EU-Africa development summit this week will have to answer to leaders of the continent confront (or not) EU leaders on this issue and the broader migration issue in Africa and beyond. The EU has come out on the side of ‘legality’, but such arguments, although good in a court of law, do not respond to the reality, and the alleged dirty work, done on the ground. One IO that has been calling out the EU on its own BS is the UN which two weeks ago called the EU-Libya arrangement to keep migrants in camps as ‘inhuman’ and has called on Libya directly to shut down the camps. You would think its pretty bad in Libya but it gets worse if they embark on their voyage across the Mediterranean which has been deemed the‘world’s deadliest border’. Estimates between 31 and 50 migrant deaths were recorded this past weekend alone. [The Independent, Eurotopics, Al Jazeera, The Japan Times, Deutsche Welle, The Intercept, The Guardian, Euractiv, Euronews, Middle East Monitor, Daily Sabah]
Killing the herb. Killing the weed is big business and the EU (or rather Germany) has had its say on the matter. In a classic France vs Germany matchup where France’s Emmanuel Macron, aka Mr. #MakeOurPlanetGreatAgain failed at banning the world’sbest selling herbicide on an EU level due to German opposition. The use of Glysophate is a mainstay of farming across the continent and also of agri-giant Monsanto’s product line, whose license was set to expire on 15 December. It was instead renewed for a further five years despite the claims that the herbicide could be carcinogenic (aka causes cancer) according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization. However, despite the many special interests involved, the science seems to be out on the harmful effects of the herbicide, especially in comparison to other more toxic weed killers out there. Instead of killing the weed how about growing the weed instead? Like the Swiss (see below). [New York Times, EUobserver, Reuters, Science Magazine, The Guardian, Nature Magazine]
Boarding the Orient Express. Divide and conquer is a time-tested strategy for maximising influence and a bit of carrot can go along way. In China’s case, the carrots are billions of euros of investments in Central and Eastern Europe. While Chinese leaders seem ecstatic at the new prospects of gaining influence in Europe the alarmclocks are ringing in Brussels with the Commission worried that the new Chinese overtures can undermine the single market and violate EU law. Cue Viktor Orban enfant terrible of the EU who seems to relish in this newfound position of gaining the attention of both Brussels and Beijing after having concluded a €2.4 billion railroad deal with China without a public tender. Orban’s succinct observation that geopolitical power is shifting towards Asia served to remind that Europe will be increasingly dependent on China and without European unity little chance of shaping future developments. [The Irish Times, ABC News, Nikkei Asian Review, Politico Europe]
It’s the border, stupid. As reports come out that the UK will swallow its pride and bravado in honouring the financial settlement, potentially in full, tired Brexit followers are starting to see where the real points of contention are. With the December (14-15) deadline on the first round of negotiations fast approaching the UK will likely follow the financial settlement with some declaration of citizens rights. The Irish border, however, has always posed a much more complex and intractable issue (video). On the UK side, International Trade Minister, Liam Fox, made the clearest indication yet that the UK government are unwilling to discuss the fate of the Irish border without first discussing terms of a future trade deal. However, this goes against the whole two-phase Brexit negotiation agreed on by the two sides and the Ireland has made it clear that it will not stand for uncertainty on the border as a matter of principle and alsonational security. Whether the preferred Irish solution is for a customs union solution or remaining in the single market for a fluid, the political appetite of those options is almost dead in the water for both the UK and the EU. Migration and border security were key issues in the run-up to the Brexit vote and on the EU side there is a stark realization that Britain must not leave the EU with their cake and be able to eat it too. Verdict: impasse. [EUobserver, BBC Newsnight, Euractiv, BBC News, CNBC, NPR, Eurotopics, Bloomberg]
Delicious smoke. Difficult to go unnoticed, a fire broke loose at a Belgian waffle factory not far from Forest last Thursday. Everyone was evacuated and there are no reported injuries, although the factory was destroyed. The sweeping efforts of approximately 50 firefighters is what prevented the fire from spreading although the smoke made for a rather grim, fearful effect. Schools and businesses were temporarily closed, as the Mayor suggested closing windows and staying away from the potentially toxic smoke. [Politico Europe, BBC, Reuters]
High business potential. The Swiss insist on doing things in their own way. Now Jonas Duclos, a 31-year-old Swiss entrepreneur, is selling cannabis around the EU, legally. The trick: the plants have a low THC-level (the substance that gets you high) and high CBD contents (which has medicinal effects). Most EU countries allow for this kind of cannabis exports but the little plant is still contentious e.g in the UK where any THC-level is prohibited and, although it is legal, the products remain controversial in France. But Cannabis legalisation is gaining ground these years with several countries decriminalising cannabis and, in the US, eight states have now legalised recreational use of cannabis. Duclos has high hopes for the future pointing out that regulating the cannabis market will bring in tax revenue for governments while stripping illegal providers and gangs of income. Win-win-pass. [The Guardian]
Lowest common denominator. In an effort to involve the East as a part of its own, the European Union has found the lowest common denominator for a strategy aimed at Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. And while that's good for the few that are not profoundly EU enthusiasts, argues Jana Kobzova, it isn't for those aspiring to join the EU. This isn't to say that the Eastern Partnership doesn't benefit both sides: as the partners have the financial and technical assistance to build towards European standards, the EU develops strengthens its relations with its neighbors, keeping Russia at a distance. Still, how can there be a single Strategy implemented for countries that only wish to find common projects and others who wish to be more than Europe's neighbours? [Politico Europe]
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