As the rhetoric surrounding the status of Syrian refugees in the United States and Europe continues to intensify, a handful of people are turning to music as a tool to attempt to bring a more civil tone to the discussions. At its final summit of the year, the European Union’s meeting of Heads of State reached agreement on efforts to increase border security, dedicating more than $300 million to expand funding for security at border crossings and establishing an EU “rapid-reaction force” to respond to refugee influxes. The government of Denmark came under sharp scrutiny last week for a proposal to seize assets of asylum-seekers in order to pay for their upkeep, a plan which critics decry as echoing Nazi seizure of the jewelry belonging to the Jewish victims of concentration camps. And the United States, Republican President candidate Donald Trump continues to promote his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States—a proposal which, according to a Fox News poll, receives support from a narrow majority of voters.
A music video released last week by a Syrian-American hip-hop artist in New York seeks to draw attention to the plight of refugees. The video by Akram Shibly covers Taylor Swift’s Wildest Dreams, reworking the lyrics and includes a call to action by viewers. Shibly’s goal is to get viewers to tweet @taylorswift13 using the hashtag #DearTaylor, hoping that Swift will use her celebrity status to change the discourse and welcome refugees to the United States.
What do you think? Would such a grassroots campaign to create a more welcoming environment for Syrian refugees in the United States be successful? Is Shibly correct to target a celebrity like Taylor Swift rather than politicians or elected officials? What conditions are necessary to ensure civil society can affect the political discourse around accepting refuges? Why?
German celebrated the 25th anniversary of the reunification of the country, which followed a year after the collapse of the Berlin Wall in November 1989. The fall of the wall was a key turnpoint in the twentieth century, effectively marking the end of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Many Germans celebrated the anniversary, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who attended festivities in Frankfurt. But during the celebrations, Chancellor Merkel highlighted the challenges faced by Germany today—most notably the refugee crisis—and observed that many of the challenges cannot be addressed alone. According to some estimates, Germany may welcome more than 1 million refugees this year—a figure that frightens many Germans and sparks political opposition both inside Germany and in the broader European Union.
What do you think? Should Germany and the European Union welcome refugees that seek political asylum in the EU? Other than the refugee crisis, what are the most important challenges faced by Germany today? And what might be done to address them?
Voters in Catalonia go to the polls this weekend to cast ballots for the regional parliament. And political leaders in Spain and across the European Union are watching closely, as polls suggest a coalition of parties favoring independence for the region may win a majority in the regional parliament. The coalition brings together two parties that traditionally fall on opposite sides of the political spectrum. But the parties share a common vision for a Catalonia independent from Spain.
The Spanish government has so far declined to state how they would address a pro-independence parliament. Political leaders in Catalonia have not said they would declare independence unilaterally, but would instead likely move towards a popular referendum on independence from Spain. European Union officials have warned Catalonians that the country would not automatically become part of the European Union if it were to form. Business and financial corporations wave warned that independence would be economically problematic. And the Roman Catholic Church has espoused the benefits of Catalonia remaining part of Spain.
But voters appear to be supportive of the idea of a greater autonomy—and perhaps independence—for the region. Spain’s economic woes no doubt contribute to the movement. And a broad anti-EU sentiment that appear to be on the rise across Europe no doubt contributes as well.
What do you think? What impact would independence for Catalonia—Spain’s wealthiest region—have on Spain and the European Union? Would you support independence for Catalonia? Why?
The European Union is currently in the midst of an historically unprecedented wave of immigration. In 2014, more than 130,000 people sought refugee status in Europe. Fewer than 25,000 of those qualified for some form of protection (as an asylum seeker or refugee). And this year, tens of thousands of migrants have sought to enter Europe. Many are fleeing warzones—like those immigrating from Syria—while many more are economic refugees.
Thousands of migrants have already died trying to reach Europe. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHRC) has stated that the European Union has a “clear responsibility” to aid refugees seeking to immigrate, but the response from many European Union Member States has been to close down immigration possibilities. But several tensions play out. While the European Union has rules governing immigration, many of the governments of the Member States oppose the EU’s policies and have refused to enforce them. Further, many far-right anti-EU parties have used the European Union’s immigration policies as a focal point for mobilization, increasing anti-EU sentiment.
What do you think? What steps should the European Union take to address the refugee crisis it current faces? How could the EU address the concerns expressed by many Member States, particularly those in Eastern and Southern Europe, around the financial costs imposed by the EU’s immigration policy on Member States?
Greece failed to make a €1.6 billion payment due to the International Monetary Fund yesterday, making it the first developed country in the world to default to the IMF. The Greek government had asked for a postponement of the payment to permit the country to conduct a referendum on a series of austerity measures demanded by its creditors to extend repayment. After European Union negotiators refused, it was not clear how Greece would respond.
This morning, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said the country would “conditionally accept” most proposed austerity measures, but he also indicated that the national referendum on the measures would proceed to a vote on July 5 as scheduled. If voters reject the austerity measures, as Tsipras has campaigned for them to do, Greece’s future in the Eurozone would be cast into doubt.
What do you think? Should the Greek government accept the austerity measures demanded by the International Monetary Fund and the European Union in exchange for the loan restructuring it desires? Should Greece consider exiting the Eurozone? And what would the impacts of an exit be both for Greece and for the European Union more generally?
Less than a week after International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde accused the Greek government of failing to negotiate in good faith, it appears Greece, the IMF and the European Union are no closer to reaching a deal to restructure or postpone Greece’s looming debt crisis. Greece faces a massive €1.6bn payment due on June 30. The Greek government has already indicated it will not be able to make the payment, an option the IMF says is not acceptable.
The Greek government has several options. It may compromise with the European Union and the IMF and cut spending on social services as part of a wider austerity package. But according to the Greek government, the effects of such a move would be devastating. Equally important from their perspective, it would violate a central campaign promise made by the center-left government less than a year ago.
If no agreement can be reached by June 30, Greece could default on its loan payment. If Greece defaulted, it could be forced to exit the Eurozone. No country has ever left the Eurozone so it is unclear what that process would look like or who would be responsible for making that decision.
What do you think? Can Greece reach an agreement with the EU and the IMF to avoid default? What might that deal look like? Or is Greece better off defaulting on its loan payments? Why?
The capsizing of the King Jacob, a 500-foot ship, off the coast of Libya on Sunday brought renewed attention to the problem of human trafficking and smuggling. More than 850 people were packed into the vessel at the time it capsized—and only 28 are believed to have survived. Italian authorities arrested the ship’s captain, 27-year-old Tunisian Mohammed Ali—on suspicion of multiple homicide. Authorities also detained Mahmud Bikhit, a 25 year-old Syrian and a crew member on the vessel, on charges of engaging in illegal migration.
The tragedy focused attention on the problem of illegal migration and human smuggling from North Africa to the European Union. According to some observers, Libya has become a primary staging point for migrants seeking passage to Europe. The business of trafficking has become incredibly profitable, with smugglers demanding $1,000 per person for passage and grossing upwards of $3 million per trip.
What do you think? How should the European Union approach addressing the economic and humanitarian challenges posed by migration from North Africa? How would multi-entry visas advocated by the International Organization for Migration affect the dynamics of migration to Europe? If you were a citizen of the European Union, would you support such a proposal? Why?
The G7 met yesterday, producing a statement on Russia that threatened additional “restrictive measures” on Russia if it continued its efforts to destabilize Ukraine. The G7 (which had been the G8 until Russia’s membership was suspended at the end of March over its intervention in eastern Ukraine) appears to be at a loss for how to effectively address the situation in Ukraine. The organization appears to be divided on how to proceed, with France and Germany pushing for “dialogue and de-escalation” The current meeting had been scheduled to take place in Sochi, Russia, but was relocated to Brussels following Russia’s suspension from the organization.
What do you think? Will the G7’s effort to isolate Russia be effective in changing Russia’s Ukraine policy? Does European reliance on Russia’s oil and energy production undermine the effectiveness of Western efforts to address the situation in Ukraine diplomatically? And if so, what other tools, if any, does the West have to address Russian intervention?
A Meeting of the European Court of Human Rights
The European Court of Human Rights is hearing a case centering on the extraordinary rendition and alleged torture of two men currently held at the United States’ Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba. The case was brought by lawyers for Abu Zubaudah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, both al Qaeda members, against the government of Poland. In it, lawyers for Zabaudah and al-Nashiri allege that they were seized and flown to secret US-administered “black sites” in Poland, where they were subject to waterboarding, mock executions, and other ill treatment. Lawyers allege that all of this took place with the knowledge and consent of the Polish government. Lawyers for the Polish government do not contest the accusations but assert that the Polish government should be allowed to undertake its own investigation before the case is brought to the European Court. A similar suit filed by lawyers for Khaled al-Masri against the government of Macedonia in 2012 was successful, resulting in an order by the European Court that the Macedonian government compensate al-Masri.
The use of the European Court of Human Rights is an interesting twist in the protection of human rights of alleged terrorists. One of the key features of the extraordinary rendition program was that it took place outside the United States, and thus beyond the reach of US courts. Do you think that the European Courts will be able to effectively protect the rights of suspected terror suspects held incognito by the United States in Europe? Why?
The establishment of the World Trade Organization in 1995 marked the high point in multilateral negotiations to liberalize international trade. While it was originally envisioned that the WTO would continue to liberalize trade through a successive series of rounds of talks, the ability of the WTO Member States to reach consensus—and growing public opposition to the WTO—left the organization stalled. Instead, states have generally opted to pursue bilateral talks directly with one another.
The United States and the European Union were last week engaged in just such a negotiation, with the aim of establishing a new Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. According to officials, a new EU-US trade agreement could be worth more than 2bn euros (approximately $2.7 billion) per day, with as much as 80 percent of these gains realized from harmonizing regulatory policy.
But this is the stick. Whose regulatory policy should reign supreme? Each of the two trade partners maintains extensive regulations governing public safety and protecting human health and the environment. But the regulations often focus on different areas, and agreement on the most controversial aspects of regulatory policy (such as genetically modified organisms) remains elusive. Critics of the WTO and other free trade agreements warn of the “downward harmonization” of standards, meaning that regulations could tend to favor the lowest level of protections, weakening environmental and health standards.
What do you think? Would a new trade agreement between the United States and the European Union provide beneficial economic growth for the two trade partners? Would the new agreement undermine existing environmental, health, and safety standards? Or can the US and the EU reach agreement that would liberalize trade while maintaining strong regulatory standards?