December 5, 2022No Comments

Rule of Law and European Arrest Warrants

How persistent violations of the Rule of Law can influence the execution of European Arrest Warrants?

Author: Vittoria Brunazzo.

Recently, the European Union (EU) has been facing one of the biggest challenges of its system: the disrespect of the rule of law by Poland and Hungry. Those countries have advanced antidemocratic changes in their juridical system, going against the core principles of the EU. Due to the interconnection between European Member-States, actions taken by Hungary and Poland can be affecting all the European System of Justice, and if not fixed could even jeopardize the functioning of the area of freedom, security and justice of the European Union. The discussions surrounding the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) are one example on how the actions of Poland and Hungary are affecting the functioning of the European judiciary cooperation. 

What is the EAW and the principle of mutual recognition?

The EAW is a cross-border judicial surrender procedure for prosecution or execution of a custodial sentence or detention order in all the EU territory. It is one of many juridical mechanisms, introduced after the implementation of the area of freedom, security and justice by the EU, to further develop cooperation among States on criminal matters. In the absence of border control, the EAW aim to ensure a safe environment in all Union and prevent the use of the right of free movement to evade justice. The EAW is based on the principle of mutual recognition among member States, and it presumes that Members will trust each other’s juridical decisions and execute an arrest warrant without questioning the validity of it. 

The mutual recognition principle has its foundation on the respect of the rule of law, meaning that sovereign powers are bound by the States’ law and cannot act unlawfully. In this principle it is also included the respect of the separation of power and the right of an equal trial. Nevertheless, we can only speak about the rule of law if the law-making process is considered democratic, accountable, transparent and pluralistic. The rule of law is considered a fundamental principle of the European Union, as stated in Art.2 of the Treaty of the European Union (TEU) “The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, […] the rule of law and respect for human rights […]. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.”

Image Source: unsplash.com

The consequences of the disrespect of the rule of law 

In the EAW Framework Decision there is no direct mention to the rule of law, however, the text bounds the warrant to the rule of law indirectly. Recital n.10 of the Framework Decision indicates that the implementation of the EAW shall be “suspended only in the event of a serious and persistent breach by one of the Member States of the principles of the European Union”, which are found in art.2 TEU. Thus, for the suspension of the EAW mechanism, it is not sufficient the risk of violation of art.2, but a serious and persistent breach of those principles asserted unanimously by the European Council.

The issue relies exactly in this situation: a unanimous decision by the European Council, under the procedure of art.7 TEU to contrast actions of Member States from advancing policies that threaten their democratic system, rarely happens. Since its implementation, with the Treaty of Amsterdam, the procedure was invoked just twice, in 2017 against Poland and in 2018 against Hungary. Still, the Council never determined the existence of a serious and persistent breach of art.2 by those States.

In April 2021, two EAW issued by the Polish courts requesting the arrest of a Polish citizen were not executed by the authorities in the Netherlands. According to the Rechtbank Amsterdam Court (Dutch District Court) it was not possible to execute the warrant since there were serious doubts on the effectiveness of the Polish judiciary system which could affect the right of a fair trial of the individual. The case was taken to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) to confirm if the denial was possible based on the allegations of the Dutch Court.

The judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union 

According to the ”Judgment in Joined Cases C-562/22 PPU and C-563/21 PPU Openbaar Ministerie” of the CJEU the evidence presented in the case by the Rechtbank Amsterdam Court was not sufficient to refuse the execution of the EAW. The Court analysis was made based on a two-step examination of the EAW. Firstly the CJEU declared that the ongoing procedure under art.7 against Poland in the European Council, the decision on the case of the Polish Supreme Court (Sąd Najwyższy) and other relevant documents against the reforms adopted by the Polish government cannot be considered sufficient material to deny the execution of an EAW. Secondly, the Court did not find reasonable evidence that the judges involved in the case could not be considered impartial, therefore there is no evidence that fundamental rights of the concerned individual could be violated.

Conclusions

The judgment of those two cases opened a precedent for future non-executions of EAWs. In cases where the concerned individual can provide information demonstrating a lack of impartiality by the judges involved in his case, or in cases where the procedure under art.7 succeeds in asserting the violation of the rule of law, the execution of EAW could be suspended by concerning authorities. Furthermore, the disrespect of the rule of law could challenge the EAW entire system. Hypothetically speaking cases of systematic discrimination of a specific group, persistent deficiencies regarding the right of defence and lack of judicial capacities, and corruption in the judiciary system, could justify the suspension of the States’ right to request the execution of EAWs.

In conclusion one could argue that the violation of the rule of law by Hungary and Poland could be influencing not only the judicial procedure within their territory, but influencing all the European system of security, by putting in discussion tools such as the EAW and other judiciary procedures which were created to improve European cooperation and integration and avoid a lack of justice within the European Union. 

November 7, 2022No Comments

Critical Raw Materials and EU’s Open Strategic Autonomy

Authors: Riccardo Bosticco, Miguel Jimenez and Michele Mignogna.

Introduction

As the energy transition is one of our age's greatest challenges, developments in this direction are likely to exert notable impacts on broader international political and economic processes. In the European Union (EU) case, Russia’s war on Ukraine has taught the importance of avoiding dangerous dependencies and adapting to an increasingly conflictive world. The EU wants to achieve Open Strategic Autonomy (OSA) for this purpose. Moreover, this is of particular significance to understanding the EU’s policy on Critical Raw Materials (CRMs). Thus, this article explains the EU’s approach to CRMs and its connection to the concept of OSA.

The CRMs Landscape 

CRMs are crucial materials for the construction of wind turbines and solar panels, batteries for electric storage and cars and the development of technologies for digitalisation. The energy transition cannot be achieved without their availability. Among them, some of the most familiar are lithium, cobalt, platinum, and tungsten, yet the latest Act by the European Commission identifies around 30. A distinctive feature of CRMs is their limited and concentrated supply. According to the forecasts of the International Energy Agency, the net-zero equation will be solved with renewables such as wind and solar, predicted to account for 70% of power generation by 2050. Those countries where these materials are abundant would become green-commodity superpowers. Indeed, by 2040, those nations could pocket an estimated annual revenue of $1.2trn. CRMs share some features with fossil fuels. They are unevenly distributed. For instance, one-half of the world’s cobalt supply is located in the Democratic Republic of the Congo alone, South Africa possesses around 40% of the world’s manganese, while lithium is heavily concentrated in Chile, Argentina and Australia. Secondly, this endowment is mostly located in recognised autocracies, making them uncertain suppliers considering the instability of this type of governments. If there is one country which is way ahead in the race, not only in terms of being the major source to many of them but also by controlling 80% of the processing capacity, that is China. The current arm-wrestling with Russia has made EU countries aware of the vulnerabilities of relying on external sources for indispensable materials in the future. Thus, they have deployed measures to decrease dependency on China for these materials, which currently satisfies 98% of the demand for rare earth permanent magnets, a subcategory of rare earths

The EU’s Approach to CRMs

After the experience of the European Battery Alliance (EBA), in September 2020, European Commission Vice President Šefčovič and Commissioner Breton launched the European Raw Materials Alliance (ERMA) as part of theAction Plan on Critical Raw Materials. The alliance aims to secure access to CRMs, advanced materials, and processing know-how for EU industrial ecosystems. Equally to the EBA, the ERMA involves relevant industries along the CRMs value chain, Member States and regions, trade unions, research and technology organisations, investors, and NGOs. To better understand the EU’s approach to CRMs, it is helpful to look at previous policy inputs by the EU in this field. In 2008, the European Parliament (EP) resolution on trade in raw materials and commodities made the point that access to raw materials is vital for the EU economy and highlighted the minor involvement of European industries in the exploration of such materials in third countries. The same year, the Raw Materials Initiative proposed an integrated strategy based on ensuring access, proper framework conditions to guarantee supplies, and resource efficiency to reduce consumption and dependencies. Later resolutions extended the actors involved, including the European External Action Service and other relevant stakeholders, to engage in resource diplomacy. In February 2012, a European Innovation Partnership on Raw Materials proposal was published. It expressed the need to create a “critical mass towards the single objective of ensuring sustainable access to raw materials” by stimulating synergies between different policy instruments and Member States. Moreover, the Communication on CRMs Resilience stressed the strategic priority of securing CRMs and acknowledged their relevance to achieving open strategic autonomy. Hence, ERMA was given birth to create synergies among European CRMs stakeholders to address concentrated global markets, overcome technical barriers to investments and innovations, and ensure public awareness and policy acceptance, thus making the EU autonomous and strategic in this sector. While designing the ERMA’s role, the Commission Staff Working Document on Strategic Dependencies and Capacities indicated its purposes to create resilient value chains and investment pipelines, identify mining and investment projects and facilitate contacts with investors to compete on global markets. Yet, such developments have to be analysed in the cadre of overall EU policy directions, and for this purpose, the concept of OSA needs further discussion.  

Image Source: pixabay.com

Expanding Horizons: the EU Open Strategic Autonomy

The debate on the EU’s strategic autonomy has been central in the agenda of the EU’s institutions since the 2010s. As the 2016 Council defined it, strategic autonomy is “the capacity to act autonomously when and where necessary and with partners wherever possible”. In 2022, the EP has been more specific by stating that “the EU strategic autonomy refers to the capacity of the EU to act autonomously – that is, without being dependent on other countries – in strategically important policy areas [which] range from defence policy to the economy, and the capacity to uphold democratic values.” Notably, strategic autonomy expands well beyond the military and defence, with an increasing number of strategic sectors identified, and it has now evolved into the concept of Open Strategic Autonomy. As Josep Borrell has observed, after Covid-19, “strategic autonomy has been widened to new subjects of an economic and technological nature". In a recent study by the EP, OSA is defined as “the ability to act autonomously, to rely on one’s own resources in key strategic areas and to cooperate with partners whenever needed”. Specifically, the new concept deals with emerging challenges and future chances, encompassing five dimensions and looking at them holistically: geopolitics, technology, economy, environment, and society. OSA drives the EU to be economically and geopolitically stronger by reinforcing its economic assets and industries. It strengthens the international role of the Euro to sustain the economy, finance the recovery from the crisis, and stay competitive and connected to the rest of the world. It makes the EU sustainable and responsible by solidifying existing alliances, cooperating with like-minded partners, and increasing its internal political cohesion to lead the construction of a greener and more equitable society. It aspires to act assertively against unfair trade practices, keeping its liberal soul by favouring global cooperation and multilateralism to address complex issues. In this view, the trade dimension of OSA focuses on supply chain resilience and sustainability. For instance, it might encompass the repatriation of strategic industries back to the EU or reshoring. Yet, this should not mean that international trade or partnerships would be jeopardised. It gives the opportunity to act more assertively by choosing trade partners more selectively without losing normative ambitions to fight for a healthier society and environment. Moreover, it requires the EU to avoid past misunderstandings, for instance, by reducing its vulnerability to external sources of supply. As argued by Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič at the Raw Materials Security of Europe Conference, this is exactly the case with CMRs.

Conclusion

Global economic developments challenge the ambitions of the EU. Indeed, the prior balance between interdependence and autonomy is being rearranged as a result of structural shifts in the global economy and world order. Some have identified such developments as a geoeconomic turn, namely a shift away from the liberal international order. With a particular focus on a crucial sector at the heart of the green transition, this article has outlined how the EU is trying to adapt to the challenge of a changing environment. As it has demonstrated, the EU looks like it cannot rely on market forces anymore. If this is the case, as the flourishing literature on geoeconomics suggests, then the next challenge for the EU will be to act cohesively and effectively on the global ground without losing its market competitiveness. 

May 30, 2022No Comments

The Geopolitics of the Energy Transition’s Momentum

Authors: Riccardo Bosticco and Michele Mignogna.

Introduction

The main result that Putin has achieved until now with the aggression of Ukraine is a solid stance from the European Member States to halt gas imports from Russia. This and other green commitments have pushed the EU and the whole world to give renewed impetus to renewable energy. Moreover, the relation between climate and industry policies is increasingly evident. In a broader context of power competition trade, investment policies in the energy and climate sectors play an ambivalent role: energy dependencies have been conceptualized as mutually benefitting; yet, the current war unveils their risky nature. After a brief description of the renewables’ geopolitical dimensions, this article outlines what is at stake for the EU’s primary areas of energy cooperation. 

The Impact of Renewable Energy on Geopolitics

Renewable energies have the potential to transform interstate energy relations. Renewables have fundamentally distinct geographic and technological properties than coal, oil, and natural gas. Sources are plentiful but intermittent; their production is increasingly decentralized and utilizes rare earth resources in clean tech equipment and, lastly, their distribution is predominantly electric and entails tight management standards and long-distance losses. This contrasts sharply with fossil fuel resources’ geographically fixed and finite character, their reliance on massive centralized production and processing facilities, and their ease of storage and transit as solids, liquids, or gases worldwide.

The energy transition provides a chance to rethink and revise long-standing trading relationships. It also allows countries to engage in previously closed energy value chains. Significantly, the future of the energy world will likely redefine the concept of energy security. However, in this society, the impulse to produce things domestically will collide with the logic of size and global supply networks. The energy transition will rewire the planet, but how much of it will transcend international borders is still unclear. A crucial element will be the commerce of minerals, distinct from that of oil, gas, and coal in terms of location. Nonetheless, such business will follow a familiar pattern: resources will be harvested in one region of the world, transported to refineries and processing centers, and then transformed into final goods. Diversification, bottlenecks, extraction disputes, and rent-seeking dynamics will all be present, although with different details.

Such developments will require a significant shift in energy strategies, indicating that areas pursuing industrial policies rather than decarbonization may reap climatic advantages. The previous energy map established a link between natural resources and markets. Yet, the new energy map will be much more complex.

The Geopolitics of the Energy Transition and the EU

Bringing together the words ’geopolitics’ and ‘renewables’ leads to the study of renewables and related security risks, the effects of the energy transition on traditional energy relations, possibilities of mutually beneficial ties, and windows of opportunity for countries to move up in the global power hierarchy. The energy transition is indeed a process where the industrial advantage is likely to bring with itself political benefits and leadership status. In the context of the current war in Ukraine, this is becoming clearer every day. Yet, the energy transition is expected to become part of power competition as the most impellent challenge – posed by the war as well as climate change and the security risks with it – of our times and will likely create amities and enmities.

Take the example of Russia. In the past decade, Russia has perceived the EU’s energy transition problematically. The EU-Russia energy relationship was primarily based on gas, oil, and coal. Nonetheless, the association is characterized by different conceptions of energy and energy security, although both actors recognize the potential of energy interdependence. While the EU and European countries are more enthusiastic concerning the transition, Russia’s discourses are more conservative yet try to defend the role of natural gas in the energy transition.

While it is difficult to predict an essential role played by Russia nowadays, given the progressive isolation it is forced to, the energy wire will see China having high stakes in renewable developments and geopolitics. Concerning relations with the EU, some have argued that the energy transition is likely to be the determinant of the future of EU-China relations. Energy in EU-China relations does not play the same role as relations with Russia. While the renewable sector has encouraged interdependence between the two powers in the past, more recently, nationally oriented policies have hindered the precedent path.

Still, the energy transition will significantly shape relations between the EU and the Arab states. While Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates are challenged by balancing relating with the US and China, managing regional crises, the pandemic, and containing Iran as the primary regional rival, the last point precisely is preventing some of the Arab states in the Gulf region to act assertively against Russia. Nonetheless, looking ahead to the 2020s, how those countries manage the energy transition will have consequences on internal and external political and economic environments. Especially Gulf countries envision a sustainable future, thus setting the stage for redrawing energy investments. In this context, the EU will play a crucial role, opening to the Gulf’s market interests and advancing regional security interests.

Conclusion

Overall, the current war is not only highlighting the strategic value of energy resources and energy ties but also how the transition to new energy systems is likely to rewire the world. In a context where the main political divide on the global stage is between liberal and illiberal forces and strong energy dependences revealed security threats, future systems of alliances will have to account for this. For the EU, the energy transition will have to deal with Russia, act as cohesively as possible, and strengthen its strategic thinking concerning big partners such as China and the Gulf States. The transitions’ stakes entail a strategic opportunity to avoid past errors.

May 26, 2022No Comments

Will the new Transatlantic Data Framework withstand a ‘Schrems III’ in European Courts?

Authors: Beatrice Gori, Giovanni Tricco and Giorgia Zaghi.

On March 25, amid a week of summits in Brussels overshadowed by the Ukrainian war, Joe Biden and Ursula Von Der Leyen in a joint meeting unexpectedly announced a new transatlantic data privacy agreement in principle, clearly showing  the political status nearby the issue. Since the fall of the previous privacy shield in 2020 the data flows between the two transatlantic actors have been surrounded by uncertainty, making it difficult for companies, particularly SMEs, to conduct business. Transatlantic data and information flows between the United States and the European Union are estimated to be valued at over $7.1 trillion dollars with over 5300 companies participating, including technology behemoths such as Google, Meta and Microsoft. Therefore, a new agreement is well expected by both sides of the Atlantic since the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) decision in Schrems II which called for the unproportionate capability of US surveillance capabilities and the lack of an effective redress body for European data owners.

The new Transatlantic data pact is expected to heal such gridlocks and foster the data economy in the near future. However, a text has not been published, raising serious doubts among privacy experts. Max Schrems, the Austrian privacy activist who has torn down the two previous agreements, welcomed the new pact as “a lipstick on a pig” calling for future challenges in front of the European judicial system. The line between whether such a new agreement will fulfill the CJEU criteria or pave the way for a Schrems III is exceedingly thin. Nonetheless, the question is surrounded by different controversies, indeed The CJEU highly criticized US practices without taking into account the national capabilities of its Member States. Several reports, including one from theEuropean Fundamental Right Agency (FRA) and from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, outlined how surveillance programs conducted by European intelligence services allegedly vary from collecting traffic metadata from diverse sources to monitoring web forums and intercepting cable-bound transmissions.

Indeed, in Europe surveillance activities fall under the scope of national security, which is a matter of national competence according to the Treaty of the European union (TEU), therefore European courts cannot legislate or address changes to its Member States. The EU courts’ approach has provoked anger and disbelief among US national security experts: “mix of judicial imperialism and Eurocentric hypocrisy”, as pointed out by Steven Baker a partner in the law firm Steptoe & Johnson LLP and former general counsel of the National Security Agency (NSA). Therefore, while the CJEU’s Schrems II decision emphasized how the current laws inadequately protect the right of non-nationals to judicial redress in the United States, additional surveillance and intelligence reform should be addressed even in the EU to create a political momentum for legislative intervention in the American congress. Until that moment as underlined by Peter Swire it is “unrealistic for the EU to demand changes to U.S. national security legislation when European countries themselves are not averse to similar practices.”

Image Source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-57489588

Swire's forecast appears to have come true, in the fact sheet released by the US government no legislative amendments are mentioned; instead, it calls for the establishment of a new redress mechanism and other safeguards to satisfy the CJEU’s request via a Presidential Executive Order (EO). Such a process would raise doubts regarding the capacity of the new mechanism to be independent and able to investigate wrongdoings by the American Intelligence Communities (IC). Theoretically, this would represent the same issues of the Ombudsman of the old-fashioned Privacy Shield. However, an intriguing solution t has been envisaged by experts. They call for the creation of an independent redress authority via a regulation of the Department of Justice (DOJ) which will be independent by the executive, in conjunction with EOs from the President that would confer to the newly redress authority concrete capability to effectively investigating redress requests and for issuing decisions that are binding on the entire American IC. A non-statutory solution according to them that would – theoretically – satisfy the request of the European courts in Schrems II.

The European Data Protection Board (EDPB) made the point clear in its statement saying that it will direct “special attention to how this political agreement is translated into concrete legal proposals.” Therefore, until a text is missing just speculation can be made. Indeed, at the moment the political agreement made on 25 March 2022 is just the latest step on the ‘intense negotiations’ on a Privacy Shield replacement, as stated by the European Commissioner of Justice Didier Reynders, who announced that the works for a final text is undergoing in order to have the final agreement for late 2022. He pointed out that: "It is difficult to give a precise timeline at this stage, but we expect that this process could be finalized by the end of this year. On the European side there is trust in the work and commitment of American officials. Indeed, the U.S. Department of Commerce Deputy Assistant Secretary for Services Christopher Hoff said to IAPP that the United States made unparalleled commitments to significantly increase privacy and civil liberties safeguards through the establishment of the new multi-layered redress mechanism, assuring that it will be independent and binding in its safeguards on how the court is set up, as well as the protections for the judges' selection and removal. In addition, he pointed out that he strongly believes that the agreement will be durable and that all the features surrounding the new agreement will be much clearer at the appropriate time.

The stakes are high, indeed, in case the agreement will not survive the scrutiny of the CJEU legal uncertainty will persist and future economic losses for the digital economy of the EU and the US will increase. Accordingly, to forecasts of DIGITALEUROPE by 2030 if a stable agreement that enables lawful and consistent data transfer is not assured the European Union economy could lose €1.3 trillion in cumulative economic growth by 2030, €116 billion in annual exports and 1.3 million job losses, primarily high-skilled professions. On the other hand, if a stable mechanism of data transfer will be assured the EU economy would gain €720 billion in cumulative extra growth by 2030, equivalent to an increase of 0.6% in GDP on a yearly basis, €60 billion in annual exports, of which half coming from the manufacturing sector, boosting the position of European SMEs and 700 thousand new jobs will be created. Therefore, it is critical that the text of the new agreement will include proper safeguards as requested by the CJEU in Schrems II in order to ensure a long-standing Transatlantic Data Flow Agreement, on which the European data economy may foster, as well as, the protection of the rights of europeans being guaranteed in the years ahead. 

April 5, 2022No Comments

Putin’s War and the Shaping of a New Global Energy Map

By: Riccardo Bosticco, Lorenzo Caruti, Sofia Dal Santo, Miguel Jiménez, Michele Mignogna.

Introduction

The Russian invasion of Ukraine started on February 24, is already showing significant effects on a global scale. As most States and international organizations have officially condemned the war - from West to East between America, Europe, and Africa - openly criticizing Putin's behavior and deciding to sanction Moscow heavily, the biggest problem concerns the aspect inherent to energy supplies. "Europe depends on Russia for about 40% of its natural gas, with most of it transported by pipeline", explains Reuters. Luckily for them, most European countries have cut reliance on Russian gas in recent years. Yet dependency is still weighty, and the most recent sanctions on Moscow caused a further growth of gas prices. European states and companies have acknowledged the danger of relying too heavily on Russian energy, and also those countries that had a commercial, yet controversial, understanding of energy relations with Russia, like Germany, decided to act firmly.

The United States proposes solutions to Europe, while oil and gas producers in the MENA act controversially, and China remains cautiously in the background, carefully observing the evolution of the situation without intervening directly or taking a clear position. Where will the current energy decisions drive us?

The European Union 

The EU is a substantial energy importer, largely reliant on Russia's supply. Accordingly, due to sanctions imposed to punish Russia, the EU has set about to make a significant course correction. The European Commission has proposed an outline of a plan to make Europe independent from Russian gas before 2030: REPowerEU. The main goal of this ambitious plan is to diversify to the greatest extent possible the gas suppliers of the EU by increasing LNG Imports and constructing alternative pipelines. To do so, a strong political will by the Member States to follow the correct route and avoid uncoordinated actions is needed.

Currently, there are not sufficient LNG terminals in the Eastern EU, although growing investments have been undertaken in recent years by the Union; it is, therefore, crucial that such countries have access to regional gas hubs. In addition, even the construction of alternative pipelines prompts some issues. Unsurprisingly, European customers are unwilling to commit financially to long-term gas purchase contracts, which would be necessary to sustain pipeline development, due to EU green obligations. Furthermore, authoritarian governments like Azerbaijan's, Turkey's, and the Gulf monarchies' influence on the gas trade would remain, leaving the door open for political exploits of energy flows. Besides, the existing alternative sources of natural gas to the EU appear to be already at the highest production level. Therefore, the most likely option seems to import from the Caspian Sea. 

Overall, an emphasis is placed by the Commission on boosting energy efficiency and increasing the use of renewables. This is essential since it contributes to terminating the EU's overdependence on a single supplier, even though it does not provide a suitable solution in the short term. Last but not least, the Commission has even undertaken initiatives to mitigate high energy prices

The United States 

Since the energy sector is the primary source of Russia's revenues, this was a primary target for Western sanctions. Yet, while the EU depends heavily on Russian energy, the US is a net energy exporter. Biden recognized this fact. When asked about Italy's carefulness at sanctioning energy, he answered that "this is an alliance of nations that each have their priorities and their […] concerns". Yet, on March 8, the US sanctioned all of Russia's energy exports in the US. The United States is now trying to convince the European allies to do the same by offering additional LNG supplies. On March 25, while in Brussels, Joe Biden announced that the US would send another 15 billion cubic meters of liquefied natural gas to Europe. The United States' primary objective is to disentangle European energy dependency on Russia. The challenges at stake are significant, and the following lines highlight them.

While the strategy to realize such an objective is to rely on scale capacity, what matters in a crisis like this is spare capacity, a factor that might complicate things for the US. Further, the opacity around the technical aspects surrounding the March 25 deal seems indeed mirror the difficulties of disentangling the EU from Russian gas. Moreover, LNG infrastructural capacities in Europe need funds. Turning to oil, the US has demanded an increase in oil output to avoid prices spiking. However, national frackers and OPEC+ countries show little interest in ramping up output. The dilemma is over the first-mover's disadvantage. There has been a phone call between Biden and King Salman of Saudi Arabia concerning additional output; yet, Riyadh answered that it does not want to politicize oil, preferring to observe the other producers' moves and the outcome of the Iranian sanctions lift issue. So, what is next for the US energy strategy?

MENA Region 

While the war is taking place in Europe, it will have long-term effects in the Middle East, too. The leaders found themselves at a crossroads: they condemned Russia but did not agree to impose such severe punitive sanctions. Russia is an essential economic and strategic ally, necessary to maintain control over the Iranian nuclear threat. Moreover, it is the main supplier of wheat, on which many countries in the North African area depend. However, the United States is a fundamental player, too, especially for the political stability achieved in recent years by some countries. In the war context, the oil-producing countries in the Gulf have seen increased revenues. However, beyond the economy, the outcome of this conflict could have significant geopolitical implications for the region, including reshuffling alliances and redefining pipeline routes.
The geopolitical consequences of the war also affected the oil market. Leading OPEC Plus member countries, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have stressed that cutting Russia out of the oil market would have severe consequences for both the European Union and the United States. Both Ryad and Abu Dhabi are moving closer and closer to Asia, also considering accepting the Yuan instead of the dollar as the oil currency, distancing themselves from Washington, which has been indifferent to the recent missile attacks they suffered. Another debate on energy matters is underway in the Mediterranean area. For example, Turkey is trying to maintain neutrality in the conflict in Europe: with the new energy alternatives that Europe could have at its disposal in order not to be dependent on Russian gas, Turkey could act as a bridge to bring gas to Europe via the Turkstream project, a possible option if Nordstream is not activated, and also for the East-med Pipeline, currently stalled due to the recent withdrawal of the US from the project.

China  

The eventual termination of European energy contracts would put Vladimir Putin under strain since these cash flows are helping the president sustain an already longer than expected invasion. That is where China comes into play. Even though the "red dragon's" stand on Russia's invasion has been somewhat ambiguous, the country has got many reasons for stepping up and taking over the gas imports that Europe will, in time, refrain from. Energy has fueled the extraordinary growth of the "workshop of the world". The country began to aggressively pursue energy sources beyond its borders after 1993, when it became a net energy importer. This deficit was accentuated by the surge of bilateral and multilateral deals after joining the WTO in 2001. The prospects which visualize the country undergoing a structural transformation and moving towards less energy-intensive sectors might alleviate these increased energy needs. However, guaranteeing energy security is a top priority for the one-party state until then. 

Surprisingly, oil meets a tiny fraction of China's domestic total energy demand, and much of it gets to China through the South Sea, a heavily disputed route among Asian countries. This supply uncertainty prevents China from reducing its coal consumption, representing 60% of energy consumption. Nevertheless, China's commitments to be carbon neutral by 2060 do inevitably accelerate the phasing out of coal. Besides having long-term plans for heavily investing in nuclear energy and hydrogen, natural gas supplied by Russia has become increasingly more relevant. The first steps towards this alliance materialized in 2019, with Siberia's pipeline pumping liquefied natural gas to northeastern China. This association was scaled up on February 4, when a 30-year contract was settled which secured the construction of a pipeline connecting with the northeast of the country. Yet, this alliance may even go beyond natural gas. Recent news of the departure of oil giants such as BP, Shell, and Exxon from their joint ventures with Russian companies have spurred speculations of China's state-owned companies stepping in.  

Conclusion 
As soon as the shock of the Ukrainian war arrived, the West discovered a hard truth: even in a globally interdependent world, it is not safe to be heavily dependent on a single country. As mentioned above, Europe is moving towards making plans to become energetically independent. Nevertheless, West leaders are conscious that the road to independence will be long and winding, indeed taking years to make it. However, the problem is not only a European matter: as previously said, even a solid Russian ally like China is facing the effect of the energetic crisis. On the other hand, Beijing will probably be seen as the only winner at the war's end, mainly for its ambiguous position. At the same time, the United States is dealing with a different situation: even though it does not depend on energy imported from Moscow, its role as a leader is put to the test. Washington needs to help its allies and, simultaneously, avoid the MENA Region ending up in the hands of China. Therefore, what is at stake is not only the energy question: the current world order could become very different at the end of the day.

January 7, 2022No Comments

Gonzalo Pozo Martin on the Nord Stream 2

In this ITSS Verona Member Series Video Podcast by the Political Economy, Development, and Energy Security Team, Gonzalo Pozo Martin talks about Nord Stream 2 and its consequences on EU-Russia relations, touching upon the Ukrainian crisis, the European sanctions, the EU taxonomy, and the context following German elections. Gonzalo Pozo Martin is Lecturer in International Relations, with a specialization in International Political Economy at Stockholm University, Sweden.

Interviewer: Elena Bascone

January 4, 2022No Comments

The Far Right’s Threat On and Offline

By: Zachariah Parcels and Lucia Santabarbara.

Image Source: https://unsplash.com/photos/efrRLPZukCQ?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=view-photo-on-unsplash&utm_campaign=unsplash-ios

A United Nations (UN) report in July 2020 by the Security Counterterrorism Committee (CTED) showed a 320 per cent increase over the past five years in attacks by individuals and groups holding right-wing (RW) extremist ideas. The phenomena known as right-wing or far-right extremism is evidently becoming ubiquitous in nature, accelerated by the ever-increasing exchange of online content on social media platforms and imageboards. This article, thus, intends to briefly explore far-right extremism, how it might be defined, the role of the Internet, and the so-called “Lone Wolf” factor. There are various international initiatives that will be touched on to combat this cancerous, heterogeneous movement.  

What is far-right extremism?

Scholars and policymakers amalgamate ethnically-, racially-, and gender-based political violence, and various anti-liberal ideologies to define right-wing extremism (RWE). RWE’s heterogeneity translates to problematic umbrella definitions that are not necessarily categorically helpful. Nevertheless, many have attempted to address these conceptual challenges. For example, it might be conceptually useful to frame transnational RWE networks as internal revisionist challengers to the Liberal International Order.

Right-wing extremism (RWE) includes a swath of actors with differentiating beliefs and subcultures; these actors do not necessarily agree with one another or converge. Brenton Tarrant, who carried out the terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, exemplified the transnational nature of RWE. He wore a patch representing the Azov Brigade, a white supremacist paramilitary group fighting in Eastern Ukraine. He also supposedly interacted with and was evidently inspired by the Norwegian terrorist, Anders Behring Breivik, who carried out a car bombing in Oslo and a mass shooting on Utøya at a Labour Party youth camp.

RWE incorporates ideas such as ultra-nationalism, radical traditionalism, and neo-Nazism. In the United States (US), the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) perceives RWE dichotomously: there is the white supremacist sphere (the “alt-right,”neo-Nazis, and “racist skinheads”) and the anti-government extremist sphere like the radical militias and the sovereign citizens. ADL also highlights various single-issue movements on the fringes of mainstream social conservative movements that adopt extreme stances, such as anti-immigrant and Islamophobic sentiments. However, there is some intersectionality in the RWE phenomena that is helpful in conceptualising and addressing these ideologies.

Generally, RWE are anti-democratic and anti-liberal (hence, the revision challenger concept). Supremacy is an underlying foundation in RWE streams, which inherently opposes equality. RWE is associated with antisemitism (not necessarily anti-Israel stances; e.g.Anders Behring Breivik), racism, xenophobia, and authoritarianism, to name a few. 

There also appears to be shared catalysts in the rise of and a distinguished modi operandi among the various streams of the far right. The far right narratives share a collective memory of infamous events that justify their anti-government positions, namely the Ruby Ridge Standoff (1992), the Waco Seige (1993), the Brady Bill (1994) under former President Bill Clinton (perceived violation of their second amendments), and the Oklahoma City Bombing (1995) carried out by Timothy McVeigh. Two watershed moments further catalysed the rise and normalisation of various far-right notions, possibly unwittingly through political pandering. The election of President Barack Obama (2008-2016) created a nativist and white supremacist counter-reaction while the Presidency of Donald Trump (2016-2020) witnessed the normalisation of nativist, anti-government, anti-liberal, and antisemtic notions, individuals, and groups. For example, Trump infamously refused to denounce the far right and right-wing militia: “... Proud Boys, stand up and stand by…” The Proud Boys, one of many emerging organisations propagating far right notions, was founded by Gavin McInnes and have adopted various misogynistic, Islamophobic, transphobic, anti-immigrant, and, recently, antisimitic stances. The far-right have seemingly embraced Louis Beam’s notion of the “leaderless resistance” - a modi operandi known as “Lone Wolf” terrorism today was discussed as an alternative to a centralised hierarchy at an notorious RWE meeting at Estes Park, Colorado in 1992. This meeting is also perceived as the birthplace of the modern American militia movement.

The Internet and the “Lone Wolf” Risk

Individuals and groups espousing RWE ideologies have an exponentially growing online presence. This growth is being catalysed by the dissemination of conspiracy theories and disinformation that form or galvanise “enemies” in the COVID era’s anti-government zeitgeist. As illustrated through Raffaello Pantucci’s study of Breivik, the internet plays a focal role in disseminating extremist ideologies. The internet actualised Beam’s dreams of a “leaderless resistance” by inciting or mobilising individuals to violence, specifically to act as “lone wolf” terrorists. This was exemplified by Breivik in Norway, Alek Minassian in Toronto (2018), and Brenton Tarrant in New Zealand (2019). Boaz Ganor defines the latter as when one perpetrates a terrorist attack on their own or with the assistance or involvement of others, but without operational ties to any terrorist organisation. Beyond the essentiality to impede online mobilisation to violence to curb this “leaderless resistance,” studies have found that the far right are more likely to learn and communicate online than Jihadist-inspired individuals. Thus, there is plenty of impetus to combat far-right extremism online. 

International Initiatives to Combat RWE Content Online

The events before, during, and after the storming of the US Capitol building on 06 January 2021 further illuminates the crucial role the cyber domain is playing in RWE recruitment and propaganda initiatives. The planning and logistical organisation behind the Capitol Hill violence were via social media platforms. They were supported by the spread of disinformation and nationalist propaganda, such as through Telegram, Twitter, and Facebook. Operational information - namely the best times and methods to conduct the attack - were shared on social media months before. Precise details about the streets to take and paths to tread to avoid police checks were disseminated beforehand.

Many governments, and public and private entities have undertaken initiatives and practices to counter RWE online extremism to avoid such expressions of far-right extremism. One such initiative to counter RWE online content followed the abhorrent events in Christchurch in March 2019. New Zeland Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s government together with French President, Emmanuel Macron, launched the Christchurch Call with high-tech companies and social media platforms to eliminate terrorist and violent content from social media sites. This initiative was followed also by a severe condemnation by United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) towards acts of violence based on religion or belief,”alluding to Tarrant’s targeting of Muslim worshippers in Christchurch. On the 2 April 2019, the UNGA released the Resolution Combating terrorism and other acts of violence based on religion or belief, denouncing “the heinous, cowardly terrorist attack.” On 09 October of the same year, after the deadly attack on a synagogue and murder of a regional Christian Democrat (CDU) governor by far-right extremists, Germany approved the Network Enforcement Act. This act aims at preventing the dissemination of far-right online content and combating online hate speech and fake news. A provision also requests social media networks (with more than 100 complaints) to publish biannual reports to clarify how they dealt with complaints about illegal content. Lastly, the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT) - a partnership between the European Union (EU) Internet Forum, Meta, Microsoft, Twitter, YouTube, civil society and academia - was initiated in 2017. The GIFCT adopts a global synergic technological approach based on knowledge sharing and joint research to prevent terrorists and violent extremists from exploiting digital platforms.

However, recent studies consistently show the increasing ubiquity and mobilisation of right-wing extremism networks that make current measures less effective. Recent COVID-19 emergency measures have inaugurated changes entailing limitations on personal freedoms for collective public safety. These pandemic-induced changes have created an anxiety-rich online environment with an abundance of conspiracy theories, disinformation or “fake news,” and memes that normalise violence. 

​​In conclusion, it appears that these challenges to liberal values and public safety demand innovative and persistent approaches. The cyber domain is continuously being exploited to radicalise and propagate far-right, anti-government narratives. Therefore, effective governmental responses - especially in the form of counter-narrative and public resilience initiatives - need to continuously adjust to these dynamic and adaptive revisionist challengers. 

December 14, 2021No Comments

Andrej Movchan on the influence of the Russian Federation on today’s Geopolitics.

Today, with our guest Andrej Movchan, we had the chance to probe today's geopolitical situation, so that we can understand as best as possible what our future holds. We discussed the contrasts between Russia and Japan, its relations with Ukraine and Afghanistan, the northern development and how the Federation is facing the large demand for gas from European states.

Andrej Movchan is a Russian economist and a nonresident scholar in the Economic Policy Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center. His research focuses on Russia's economy, the Eurasian Economic Union, and the future of Russia's economic relations with the EU. Movchan has been a top executive for Russian and international financial institutions since 1993. He was an executive director of Troika Dialog for six years. From 2003 to 2009, Movchan headed Renaissance Investment Management Group, which he founded, and from 2006 to 2008, he was the CEO of Renaissance Credit Bank. He also founded the Third Rome investment company, and was its CEO and managing partner from 2009 until the end of 2013. Movchan has also authored numerous publications on economics and finance. His op-eds and commentary regularly appear in the media. He won two PRESSzvaniebusiness journalism awards in 2011 and 2013.

Interviewers: Alessio Calzetti and Igor Shchebetun.

July 23, 2021No Comments

Jasmine El-Gamal on Middle East Relations, ITSS Verona

Jasmine M. El-Gamal talks about the shifting relations between the Middle East and the EU. El Gamal discusses with our ITSS members the approach of the EU to the Middle East. She also talks about the aftermath of the Syrian War, non-violent Islamism and terrorism. Jasmine el Gamal is a political analyst, writer and speaker, currently working at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue.

Interviewers: Giovanni Rasio, Alessandro Spada and Sonia Martínez

This is ITSS Verona Member Series Video Podcast by the International System Team, UK & EU Team.

ITSS Verona - The International Team for the Study of Security Verona is a not-for-profit, apolitical, international cultural association dedicated to the study of international security, ranging from terrorism to climate change, from artificial intelligence to pandemics, from great power competition to energy security.

July 1, 2021No Comments

European Security Challenges II: Russia

By: Alessandro Spada

Picture via West vs Russia: the Clash of Narratives | Madan

The tensions between the European Union (EU) and Russia have considerably increased over the last years. In this context, Ukraine has become a crucial geopolitical flashpoint. Ever since the annexation of Crimea and Russian military intervention in Ukraine in 2014, the relations between Russia and the EU have deteriorated progressively with the adoption of severe sanctions by the latter.

In addition to the Ukrainian crisis, both the Russian intervention in the Syrian war and the attempted poisoning of the former Russian military intelligence officer Sergei Skipral and his daughter by Kremlin agents in 2018 are worth recollecting. Besides, the use of targeted actions to influence and to destabilise European countries such as disinformation, cyber-attacks and support for pro-Kremlin political parties and NGOs, and in the end, the attempted murder by poisoning of Alexei Navalny, one of the most fearsome opposition leaders of Vladimir Putin, have imposed EU to take further countermeasures.

The Russian threat can be subdivided into the following three categories: 

  1. Military threat: The high-risk level of Baltic States to be invaded by Russian troops in just a few days and short-range Iskander missiles stationed in “the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad” with high capacity to deliver nuclear warheads attack and to reach Poland and Eastern Germany in 2013. In this regard, it is worth highlighting that the repeated NATO airspace and sea space violations have often provoked several skirmishes between the Russian and NATO planes and warships in the Black and the Baltic Seas. In addition, more than 100,000 Russian troops have been deployed to the border between Russia and Ukraine and Russia’s navy presence around the whole Crimean Peninsula, including also the Sea of Azov, are not absolutely less alarming for Ukraine, NATO and European allies.
  2. Hybrid threat: This is meant as financial and political support for pro-Kremlin parties and NGOs, also spreading disinformation. Furthermore, it is worth mentioning the cyber-attacks to influence and cause instability within European Countries and borders. For example, Moscow was able to build strong ties with populist and mostly far-right political parties such as Rassemblement National (RN) in France, Lega in Italy, Alternative für Deutschland(AfD) in Germany, Vlaams Belang (VB) in Belgium and Catalan independence movement in Spain. Among Russian hybrid tools, the state-owned RT news channel and Sputnik news agency, are considered propaganda instruments, which disseminate anti-establishment conspiracy theories, aim at creating divisions on sensitive issues such as migration and Islamic terrorism. At last, it is worth recalling the Internet Research Agency (IRA), the St. Petersburg-based “troll factory”, specialized in fake social media profiles on Facebook and Twitter.
  3. Energy threat: Russia supplies a third or more of EU oil and gas demand and “a large share of this is delivered via pipelines crossing Ukraine, a country whose relations with Moscow are even more problematic than the EU's, raising the possibility that Europe's gas supplies could be held hostage to geopolitical tensions”. Indeed, the energy crisis in 2006 and 2009 created serious warnings for gas supplies.

In reaction to these threats, 4500 troops have been stationed on a rotational basis in Poland and Baltic countries by NATO since 2017 and Lithuania approved the reintroduction of compulsory military service in 2015. The three Baltic countries have significantly raised their defence budget and two neutral countries as Finland and Sweden strengthened partnership with NATO. Furthermore, this year, many European countries took part in DEFENDER-Europe 21, “an annual large-scale U.S. Army-led, multinational, joint exercise designed to build readiness and interoperability between U.S., NATO and partner militaries”. Last May, 600 NATO and non-NATO forces, including troops from Ukraine and Georgia, were involved in the "Trojan Footprint" military exercise across five Eastern European countries (Bulgaria, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Georgia, and Romania). The drill took place “alongside much larger Defender-Europe 21 NATO joint exercises”, mentioned before, which had “some 28,000 forces participating from 26 different countries”. 

Numerous countermeasures have been taken by EU countries to counter Russian disinformation. For example, media literacy training has been introduced in school curricula by several countries and “regulators have clamped down on pro-Kremlin outlets such as RT for failing to comply with media standards”. In 2015, EU created a special task force as East StratCom Task Force for a weekly publication of Disinformation Review identifying and unmasking disinformation from pro-Russia sources. Moreover, it has the purpose to cooperate with Eastern Partnership countries for building resilience to pro-Kremlin disinformation, for example explaining EU policies to audiences from the region by producing Russian-language materials and training journalists. In 2018, the disinformation Code of Practice and the Action Plan were both adopted by the European Union. Several media companies signed the Code of Practice, committing to remove fake profiles and allowing users to see who pays for online political adverts.

The EU has taken meaningful measures to mitigate energy shortage. For example, it has started to build new energy infrastructures - such as interconnecting pipelines enabling EU Member States to share gas, building terminals to import LNG from USA and Qatar and storage facilities to keep gas in reserve. In this context, NATO plays a fundamental role as well, establishing “three main priorities regarding energy security. The first is to enhance allies’ strategic awareness of the security implications of energy developments. The second goal is to support the protection of critical energy infrastructure, including tankers and offshore energy installations. Third, NATO has prioritized enhancing energy efficiency in the military”.       

The EU will have to support Eastern European member countries politically, military and economically to counter Russian threats. It will have to promote major policies of economic development, social inclusions fighting inequalities created by pandemic, more cooperation and investments in counter-intelligence and cybersecurity technologies. Additionally, it will have to invest more financial resources to rebuild the economy based on renewable energies, being less hostage by the Russian oil and gas. In the end, it will need to be more independent from the American influence and speaking with a common and single voice. If Europe does not follow this path, it would put at risk the foundations of European democratic institutions, causing their disintegration, paving the way to antidemocratic and populist political parties and lastly it would continue to be subject to energy blackmail of the Kremlin.

What is sure for now is that Russia is still perceived as a real threat to the whole Western world, as also demonstrated by the UK and USA. Indeed, concerning this last one, in spite of the constructive U.S.-Russia Summit in Geneva on 16th June 2021, the deep underlying tension between the superpowers seems less than solved.

Here you can read the first part of this article.