Do you know what the European External Action Service (EEAS) is? No? That’s because your English.
Let me take a second to explain what the EEAS is. The EEAS was created to assist the High Representative of the [European] Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy – Cathy Ashton. In this capacity, Ashton chairs the Foreign Affairs Council, is the vice-president of the European Commission and ensures that all the member states are acting cohesively in their Foreign Policy. In other words, she is pretty important and the work of the EEAS is key to supporting her and enabling it all to happen. There is a continuous battling of position between the Member States to ensure they have well placed supporters throughout the organisation. It would appear the French (for once) have won a battle.
This last week saw 29 new appointments made to the EEAS – 9 of which were French, 2 British, 2 Italian, 2 Danish etc. You can spot the issue here. Although I am not that fussed, it does make me chuckle that no one in the UK seemed to pick up on the fact that these appointments took place let alone comment on how they might affect our foreign policy. Through recent appointments
we now have French heads of delegation to Turkey, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cambodia, Fiji, Burkina Faso and Kazakhstan.
It’s time for the UK (the residents included) to wake up and smell the bacon. The EU post Lisbon is the only player in town when it comes to Foreign Policy. Yes national policy (especially of the big three UK, Germany and France) will guide the EU’s foreign policy but unless we start to act seriously within the EU we will lose strategic ground to other member states who have competing objectives. We should be celebrating that we have a Brit at the top of the EU, instead this government spends their time ignoring her and attempting to undermine her. Like it or not Hague, she is more powerful than you!
Am I fussed about 9 more French diplomats? Not really. Would the eurosceptic right be up in arms if they were not too blinded to even notice what was happening? Probably.
There are approximately 10 million Roma across the EU. They face high levels of discrimination across Europe. They are consistently in the highest percentages of unemployed, illiterate and unhealthy. This has come about, not because of poverty but decades of discrimination and human rights abuses. If you are a Roma born in the EU your life expectancy will be 10 years less than the average EU citizen.
France took this discrimination to a new level when it ordered a clampdown against Roma or Gypsy immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria. This manifested in the expulsion of over 1,000 Roma and the demolition of over 100 camps. This action has been widely condemned by the UN, the EU and by the opposition within France. A leaked internal memo from the French government gave instructions to prioritise action against Roma. The European Commission has started action against Paris.
The European commission has given the French government until the 15th October to rectify its violation of the European Treatise (notably in this case ensuring the right of free movement across the Union). The onus they said was on Paris to prove that it was not discriminating against Roma. There are now two interesting things to look out for.
1) What will Paris do in the coming weeks? Can it prove it was not discriminating? I doubt it. Therefore, will it just shun the Commissions request?
2) Will the Commission follow-up its threats of disciplinary proceedings? Will this have a massive backlash from Paris next time they need to negotiate an issue? We can already see the disruption this has caused in the latest EU summit.
It is interesting times ahead. It is also an optimistic time. So often the EU lives up to its commitments around human rights abroad (although not always) and yet ignores internal strife. It is refreshing and extremely positive to see Reading come out and condemn France’s despicable action. Will the Commission follow through with any threats? Will any of this change the deeply engrained discrimination against the Roma? I doubt it, but it appears to be a step in the right direction.
Lord Pearson of UKIP, what a berk!
Cecilia Malmstroem, the EU Home Affairs Commissioner said yesterday that “I do not see the need for a European law on the burqa” when asked if there could be a ban across all of the EU one day. This comes in reflection to a number of Member States moving draft and first reading of bills through their parliaments.
Belgium is perhaps the closet to a full ban of the burqa. In April this year, they voted through the lower house a full ban. It now just needs to be passed by their senate. In France, who has the biggest Muslim population in the EU, the cabinet has approved a draft law to fully ban the burqa. It has already banned it from public spaces such as schools as it is a “religious symbol”. Just last week the Spanish (who currently hold the EU presidency) upper house approved a motion calling on their president to ban the burqa.
It is reassuring then, that at the very least, the EU Commission considers this to be a Member State issue, and not something to be tackled in Brussels.
It is curious to ponder for a short period why such emphasis is placed on the burqa. The first commonly quoted argument against the burqa is “suspicion”. “How do we know who is under this veils?”…”it breads suspicion if you cannot see someone’s face”. These arguments can be equally applied to face paints, balaclavas, full face helmets, cosmetic surgery or pretty much anything else that alters or hides away someone’s face. Another common argument you often is hear is that it is oppressive to women, that they should be “forced” into wearing veils. Lord Pearson (UKIP) once famously stated that the burqa were “is incompatible with Britain’s values of freedom and democracy” and it is “oppressive to women”.
The problem with this argument is that it removes all sense of agency from the individuals. It assumes that these girls and women, do not, and cannot choose to wear a burqa. Although there are clear cases where this is the case, it has to be noted that a significant number of women choose to wear a burqa. If, a universal ban is implemented within a country (or even worse a continent), then we slip down a very worrying slope about the state setting standards about what is, and isn’t acceptable, for it’s citizens to wear. For me, the argument is not about whether a women should be able to wear a burqa or not; it is about why some women feel forced into wearing it. This question will not be addressed by banning it. To empower women by criminalizing their action is absurd.