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We have Coronavirus, a global economic crisis looming up, potential famines in the underdeveloped, poor nations and generally chaotic politics in most places. Brian Milne poses the question if isn’t it time the European Union stood up to be counted? 

As often the case, I find myself needing to write from a largely personal perspective, much of which is based on experience and knowledge acquired over the years with greater emphasis on my professional life rather than my private domain. At present the lockdown that is restricting my movements and activities more than usual has given me time to reflect. I would like to look at what I have thought about without including any overt bias that mirrors my political and other views that could be taken to influence my perspectives prejudicially.

At present we are probably all reflecting on many things, perhaps ourselves and what the situation is doing or the consequences in the future. It may be that we are thinking about many other things, other people or places among them. If anything, I am preoccupied with the world. That is not to say I believe I have a great deal to offer to change or make things better, but perhaps I can contribute to some of the many discourses that were already very necessary but nobody got round to.

Superpowers against peace

One of the things that inspired me, if that is the right way to say so, was something that I find unbelievable. Recently massive appeals and petitions were raised to ask the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, to seek binding UN Security Council backing for a global ceasefire to help fight the pandemic, which by then had claimed more than 150,000 lives worldwide. Despite strong support for a universal armistice from many countries, human rights organisations, charities and religious leaders, the Trump administration and Russia are refusing to be bound by the measure. The USA’s objections are part and parcel of White House, Pentagon and State Department unease that such a comprehensive measure could get in the way of their capacity to carry out military operations against terrorist groups such as Isis in Iraq and other targets that are considered to be a threat to the USA’s interests. Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, is believed to have similar reservations in regard to the impact on Russian military operations in Syria and their support for proxy groups aligned with them in other countries.

A Foreign Policy website in the USA has published a special report in which it is stated ‘both governments fear that a universal ceasefire could potentially constrain their own efforts to mount what they consider legitimate counter-terrorism operations overseas.’ That is part of a bigger and more complex picture, of course, but one that has prevented the UN Security Council (UNSC) and General Assembly (UNGA) from seeking a global ceasefire. UNSC has 15 members, but only its five permanent members, China, France, Russian Federation, UK and USA, hold the power to impose a veto on the council’s resolutions. The ten other members Belgium, Dominican Republic, Germany, Indonesia and South Africa whose membership ends in 2020 and Estonia, Niger, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Viet Nam until 2021, have no veto right. A UNSC veto cannot be overridden by the UNGA resolution they have been given to make their decision on. In this case two of the 15 members are effectively holding the world to hostage to maintain the right to belligerence.

In Europe we have France as one of the countries very much supporting the motion to have a worldwide ceasefire, an opportunity to use the present situation to begin the process of brokering world peace; the UK sits firmly on its hand, clearly not wishing to defy the USA whilst not standing accused of supporting their position.

Are we hostages to superpower demands?

Are we being held to ransom? It feels that way in my mind. UNSC has primary responsibility, under the UN Charter, for the maintenance of international peace and security. It is for UNSC, for instance, to determine when and where a UN peace operation should be deployed. At present, it would be an advantageous point in time to get as many ceasefires as possible; realistically accepting it would be unlikely that all wars could be brought to a halt. Europe is hostage to the five permanent members which somehow diminishes the considerable strength of a group of 27 nations.

Then the same ‘superpower’ has, to use the word termed by The Guardian, scuppered the publication of a communiqué by G20 health ministers on Sunday 19 April  that committed the groups support for strengthening the WHO’s mandate in coordinating a response to the worldwide pandemic. That failure to agree on the statement emphasises the extent to which the pandemic has become the theatre in which the growing disagreement between the USA and China that is forcing other nation states to take sides is played out without Europe standing up as a body to be counted. As it is we have any number of conspiracy theories that begin with the creation of the virus in a laboratory in China, through the pandemic as cover for a supposed global world order using it to tenaciously crash the economy, end the use of cash payments and track every individual using mobile telephones. Then we have 5G masts set on fire because a paper by Dr Bill Curry in 2019 that is very flawed was misunderstood and over interpreted by fringe groups who believe electromagnetic waves make the virus worse. Such matters are particularly important under present circumstances with the degree of fear and paranoia that accompanies that which people cannot understand that is also driving us toward as state in which civil liberties are being ‘constrained’ and ‘threatened’.

That is not to say that the lockdown should be lifted, but that those who hold power could very easily begin to make the present constraints into a permanent condition in the interests of ‘security’. In Europe we already have the growing threat of populism with increasingly powerful political parties who given power could formalise the measures at present into permanent population controls. Our countries should step back from the increasing nationalism that is emerging across Europe to look again at the advantages of closer cooperation and why the EU is so important, must survive to learn to cooperate better including closing the gaping gaps that have been made all too clear. Therewith we will also have the clout to stand up and not only be counted but heard.

Do we have the people to stand up to them in Europe?

We have too few able politicians to form any kind of body, whether we might call that a collaborative government that we might rely on rather than the European Parliament and the Commission as they stand, but at present there are a few who could do well given the task. The French president Emmanuel Macron and his prime minister Édouard Philippe are both head and shoulders above most other politicians in Europe, Simon Coveney, the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade since 2017, recently showed his mettle when he spoke out against Donald Trump and Angela Merkel may well be on the way out, but still a force to be reckoned with. There are too few, but where there are people of their calibre right now we need them here on our continent fighting for us and as a counterweight to the kind of misfortune being rained down on us by the USA that we do not deserve. That may be a personal opinion, but who else is there who carries any weight and the confidence of the European people?

As for UNSC and its present permanent members, China, France, Russian Federation, UK and USA, each of them is in one sense or another a federation or union of some kind. China includes what we historically consider other countries; France has a large number of overseas territories, some of them fully autonomous, plus jurisdiction over Andorra and Monaco; the Russian Federation speaks for itself; the UK is a union of four parts and the USA is, after all, a union of 50 states. There is justification for the EU to be a permanent member of the Security Council with veto rights, perhaps even replacing France as the only present EU member state. It would require greater effort to unify to make the case entirely convincing but is not outside the realm of reality as a goal for a more unified EU.

The moment has arrived for Europe to stand together instead of bickering, to stop pointing fingers at each other and begin to work together. The recent fiasco over so-called Corona Bonds and the compromise reached should be a lesson, it did not go far enough but it was at least a good exercise in compromise. I have so often heard the expression ‘European family’ used. Well let us be like a family. Sometimes we will shout at each other, storm out of the room, sulk but as often as not we will soon be back together, getting on with doing what families do which is mainly coexisting comfortably and sharing a table.

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Brian Milne
A Social anthropologist who specialises in the human rights of children. In practice Brian Milne has worked on the street with 'street children', child labour, young migrants, young people with HIV and AIDS. Brian’s work has taken him to around 40 countries, most of them developing nations; at least four of them have been in a state of conflict or war, thus taking him to the front line in two. Brian’s theoretical work began with migration; working on, written and publishing on citizenship and generally best known as an 'expert' on the human rights of children. Brian has a broad knowledge of human and civil rights for all ages, environmental issues and has been politically active most of his life. An internationalist and supporter of the principle of European federalisation.

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