From a fragmented French left to a fragile coalition: Is the newly united French left ready to take on Macron?

On the heels of the presidential elections and just about two months after Emmanuel Macron won a second five-year term as France’s president, French voters are asked to head back to the polls and cast their ballots once more. The élections législatives are of great importance, as the parliamentary vote will settle the make-up of the government and could also coerce the president into a coalition with a prime minister from the opposition. This power-sharing scenario is called cohabitation and could mean political paralysis for Macron by curtailing his ability to push through his agenda. 

Whereas two months ago, the French left found itself gridlocked in internal squabbles and sniping, the once fractious left decided to join forces with the aim of blocking Macron from getting a majority in parliament. Previous attempts to unite the French left had fallen short, but with criticism mounting, the formerly disarrayed left has recently sprung into action by throwing its hat into the ring under the banner of the five-party coalition “Nouvelle union populaire écologique et sociale” (NUPES) in a last-ditch attempt to bridge the gap between France’s socialists, greens, and communists. The coalition consists of Mélenchon’s party La France Insoumise (LFI), the Parti Socialiste (PS), the Parti communiste français (PCF), Europe Écologie – Les Verts (EELV), Ensemble!, and Génération.s, as well as their respective partners.

But how do the elections even work? And is the united French left ready to challenge Macron? 

Facts and figures about the élections législatives

The election will see 577 députés or MPs elected to the Assemblée Nationale for a five-year term. The legislative elections are held in each constituency, using a two-round majority voting system. After the first round of voting last Sunday (June 12), the run-off vote will happen this Sunday, on June 19. A candidate needs over half the vote as well as a minimum of 25% of registered voters in a constituency to be elected in the first round. Alternatively, the top two candidates in a constituency, as well as any other candidate who got at least 12.5% of votes, go through to face off in the second round, where the candidate who gets the most votes wins. With a record abstention rate of 52.3% during the first round last Sunday (the lowest voter turnout in the parliamentary elections since 1958), the legislative elections are marked by dwindling participation and a disillusionment of French people with political institutions even though the elections are of great importance. As Macron stated in a speech on June 9: “Si l’élection du Président de la République est cruciale, l’élection des députés est décisive.”

While the second round of the presidential elections two months ago was a two-horse race between Macron and Le Pen, the parliamentary elections will be a toss-up between the centrist movement Ensemble citoyens and the left-wing coalition NUPES. The centrist Ensemble alliance consists of three main parties: Macron’s La République En Marche!, the Mouvement Démocrate, the party Horizons and four smaller ones. Since many voters were only backing Macron during the last election to rein in the rise of the far-right rather than because of enthusiasm for Macron’s political agenda, France’s president now had to enter the fray and take it up with other parties vying for seats in the Assemblée Nationale to maintain the majority in parliament that he enjoyed during his last term.

From a divided French left to a united one? Disagreements and policy differences within the freshly-formed NUPES coalition

After a rocky ride in the presidential elections two months ago, the French left has now decided to showcase unity in order to make its voice heard in the public sphere. While the unification of left parties was a necessary first step to increase the French left’s chances in parliamentary elections, one shouldn’t trivialise the fact that NUPES is a fragile coalition with significant differences of opinion on some focal points: Disagreements with regard to the use of nuclear power and the relationship with the EU and NATO seem to have been papered over rather than tackled and resolved:

There are major policy differences on Europe, where the NUPES coalition is determined to “redirect the course of European integration towards more social justice, better environmental policies, and to defending public services”. However, the party’s respective stances on Europe considerably deviate from each other. La France insoumise presents itself as a movement that might “disobey” EU law, should the EU hinder the alliance from carrying out its programme. The EELV claims to “support a federal Europe” and the PS is “strongly committed to pursuing European integration”. Regarding NATO, one can also find staggering differences of opinion when comparing the different party’s stances: La France insoumise remains sceptic of NATO, whereas the Parti socialiste is commited to France’s NATO membership.

Even though the coalition managed to agree on an impressive number of objectives, e.g the ecology and solidarity programme, criticism of the coalition and Mélenchon in particular also emanates from within the left, namely from some of his former Socialist party members (despite the fact that the Parti Socialiste is also part of the NUPES coalition). Mélenchon bowed out of the PS in 2008 to form his own movement, and ever since then, his rise on the far-left has been frowned upon by some in his former party. 

With regard to foreign policy, the coalition’s election programme claims that NUPES is determined to “defend Ukraine’s territorial integrity”. Even though this aspiration is commendable, it is also a claim that remains rather opaque. The election programme dodges concrete strategies the NUPES coalition would implement to defend Ukraine and takes an evasive approach on this matter.

Despite these facts, however, the resurgence of the formerly marginalised French left and the freshly-formed alliance sparked elated reactions in significant parts of its electorate. The wish for a new political dynamic and a breath of fresh air especially in working-class areas and among young people and the determination of the left’s electorate could thus lay the foundations for an impressive return to the political stage. Whether Mélenchon’s aim to become France’s next prime minister was just a pipe dream or could soon develop into an attainable goal, remains to be seen. But after coming out neck and neck with Macron’s Ensemble coalition during the first round last Sunday, it has become clear that the French left has undoubtedly fought its way back into the political limelight and is back on the political stage – regardless of how the situation unfolds on June 19.

The political struggle over Status S in Switzerland

by Raphael Capaul

During the tragic night of February 24, 2022, Putin began his invasion of Ukraine. Shortly thereafter, the fighting spread across the country, accompanied by reports of suffering and death. Nearly four million people have already escaped the country, with many more Ukrainians expected to flee. In the past weeks, Europe has been preparing for an influx of migrants and preaching support and solidarity.

People from Ukraine are allowed to enter the Schengen Area without a visa – that is, also Switzerland – and have a right of residence for 90 days.

But what are the options after these three months?

On March 2, 2022, the European Commission proposed to activate the EU Temporary Protection Directive (TPD). The principle is to provide temporary protection unbureaucratically and quickly. Asylum applications are not examined individually, but certain groups of people – in this case Ukrainians – are granted protection collectively. Eventually, on March 3, 2022, the European Home Affairs Ministers approved the application of TPD.

Switzerland applies Status S for the first time

As is often the case, the question arises of how Switzerland, as a non-EU country, will approach the current crisis.

On February 28, 2022, the Federal Commission on Migration (FCM; an extra-parliamentary commission) recommended to the Federal Council (the government) to apply Status S for people from Ukraine. Apart from some details, it is the equivalent of the EU’s TPD. In fact, both status were introduced after the war in former Yugoslavia, have never been applied before, and the right of residence is limited to one year but may be extended.

Political debates and opinions on Status S were not long in coming. For example, the Swiss Refugee Council (SRC) is in favor of its application, provided it is adapted to the current situation. Among other things, family reunification should be broadly interpreted. The right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SPP) does not want to apply Status S but is in favor of immediate assistance in Ukraine’s neighboring countries. The Social Democratic Party (SP) pleaded for the adoption of the EU’s TPD, because the party sees disadvantages of Status S in comparison to TPD, e.g., people are only allowed to work after three months of residence. Federal Council and Minister of Justice Karin Keller-Sutter countered that the level of protection of the two temporary protection regimes is very similar and that one has a certain flexibility with the application of Status S.

At a meeting with the European Home Affairs Ministers on March 3, 2022, Keller-Sutter announced that she intended to propose the application of Status S to the Federal Council. One day later, on March 4, 2022, the Federal Council welcomed the idea. This was followed by a hearing of the cantons, the humanitarian organizations, and the UN Refugee Agency UNCHR on the proposal, which was met with strong approval. Ultimately, on March 11, 2022, the Federal Council announced its historical decision: Status S will be applied for the first time for people from Ukraine seeking protection.

Recent legislative project on Status S in parliament

It comes with little surprise that Status S is currently attracting the attention of the Swiss political debate. It is a situation of war in Europe, requiring governments to act quickly and flexibly.

However, many issues concern political debates in the long term, including Status S. In June 2018, the Political Institutions Committee (PIC; a parliamentary specialist committee) mandated its secretariat, in cooperation with the administration, to prepare a draft law for a punctual revision of the Asylum Act regarding Status S, based on a parliamentary initiative (see below). The law was to be amended so as to regulate family reunification in a more restrictive way.

The consultation, which took place at the beginning of 2019, disclosed that the draft law was being met by a divided and polarized opinion. A back-and-forth between the Council of States (the upper house of Swiss parliament) and the National Council (the lower house of Swiss parliament) ensued between June 2020 and March 2021. The Council of States voted twice in favor of the draft law and the National Council twice against it, meaning that the legislative project ended up failing.

Several years of decision-making process from the beginning of the preparation of a draft law until the end of the parliamentary debate. This is known about Swiss politics.

Decision-making processes even during initiation of legislative project

But how did it come about that the PIC issued a mandate to prepare a draft law? Such a mandate hardly originates in a vacuum: The draft law on Status S recently discussed in parliament has its history.

According to the Asylum Act and the Geneva Refugee Convention, a refugee is anyone who is personally persecuted, e.g., because of religion or nationality. Following this definition, someone who is fleeing from a hail of bombs is not a refugee. Therefore, Switzerland usually grants the status of provisional admission (Status F) to a person who does not qualify for permanent admission and is supposed to leave Switzerland but cannot do so, e.g., because of war. There is widespread dissatisfaction in the Swiss political debate around Status F because most of those admitted “provisionally” de facto stay in Switzerland. Regarding Status S, many have questioned whether this regulation should be abolished or adapted, since it has not been applied (until very recently).

In March 2016, Philippe Müller (the Liberals), former member of the Council of States, submitted a parliamentary initiative aiming to tighten family reunification for Status S. He argued that extensive family reunification was an obstacle for the application of Status S and wanted to tackle this status to address the problems associated with Status F. In addition, in autumn 2016, the Federal Council published a long-awaited report in response to several postulates, in which the creation of a new status and the abolition of Status S is proposed. This report resulted in a motion of the PIC of the National Council (PIC-N) in April 2017, which called for a new status according to the report, as well as a motion of the PIC of the Council of States (PIC-S) in January 2018, which was a response to the motion of the PIC-N and only called for a punctual adjustment of Status F.

In this complex situation, political decision-makers had to negotiate and decide what needed to be regulated, how, and where, even before any legislative mandates were issued by the Federal Council or the PIC. The interplay between government and parliament – widely recognized as typical for legislation – even began with the initiation of the legislative process.

Even though the first application of Status S in the wake of the war in Ukraine came surprisingly quickly, the status is the subject of Swiss political debates in the long term. For one, years of decision-making on a legislative project have just taken place. For another, it would come to no surprise if the first application of Status S raises new questions and debates, e.g., integration measures.

It’s Crunch Time for France: A rundown of the upcoming presidential election and why the French left is having a hard time finding its voice 

With the French presidential election just around the corner and campaigns gaining steam, France has been thrust into the limelight. As the fronts harden in the battle for the Élysée and the country is gearing up to vote, the French left finds itself faced with a Catch-22 as it is becoming more and more embroiled in political infighting. While the far-right candidates are pounding out their message and trying to steal each other’s thunder in the lead-up to the election on the 10th of April, the French left is just about managing to keep its head above water.

As the political world turns its attention to the country in Western Europe and campaign trails head toward the finish line, let’s look at how the French voting system works, who the most important candidates are and why the French left is so deeply divided.

How does the French electoral system work?

In order to be allowed to join the ballot and vie for the Élysée Palace, French presidential candidates have to garner 500 signatures (parrainages) from elected officials from at least 30 different French départements, which the Conseil constitutionnel then has to validate. This rule is intended to serve as a measure to rein in fringe candidates and whittle down the number of candidates on offer. This year, would-be candidates had to finish collecting their signatures by the 4thof March. After the contenders get the green light, the government then publishes the official list of presidential candidates (due on the 11th of March this year).

The election itself then uses a two-person runoff system. If no candidate wins an outright majority in the first round of voting (taking place on the 10th of April), the two frontrunners who received the most votes in the first round go through to face off in a head-to-head second round (taking place on the 24th of April). The candidate who manages to get more than 50 per cent of the overall national vote is elected President for a tenure of 5 years.

The election outcome will not only matter for France but also for the European Union, since France took over the six-month rotating presidency of the EU at the start of this year. For six months, France therefore has considerable influence to push forward certain issues – which is why the outcome of the election in April is of utmost importance for the whole of Europe.

Who are the most important contenders vying to unseat Macron and what do they want?


  • Jean-Luc MélenchonLa France insoumise: Mélenchon has already stood for various left-wing groupings since bowing out of the Parti Socialiste in 2008. Mélenchon’s focal points include wanting to grant the right to vote to everyone from the age of 16, introducing compulsory voting, raising the minimum wage to €1.400 net per month, earmarking €200 billion for an ecological transition. Moreover, he suggests abolishing the law that allowed the passe vaccinale, re-employing healthcare workers who were suspended due to not wanting to get vaccinated, extending the deadline for abortion, guaranteeing asylum for refugees and wants to make use of the opt-out regulations of the EU more often. Mélenchon also advocates for the shutdown of power plants.


  • Anne HidalgoParti socialiste: The current mayor of Paris is best known for her efforts to reduce the number of cars in the French capital. Focal points in her election programme include wanting to grant the right to vote to everyone from the age of 16, allowing companies that wish to reduce working hours to do so and raising the minimum wage to €1,446 net per month. Moreover, she wants to create a ministry for women’s rights and advocates for a more humane and effective migration policy by reforming the Dublin Regulation and doubling salaries of teachers.
  • Yannick JadotÉcologie les Verts: The former Greenpeace militant and current Member of the European Parliament wants France to pull the plug on its nuclear power plants in the next 20 years and blisteringly criticises Macron’s decision to build up to 14 new nuclear reactors by 2050. Jadot also advocates for banning the sale of diesel and conventional thermal cars from 2030 onwards. Moreover, he vouches for changing the income tax by introducing additional levels for citizens who earn more. Jadot also wants an income guaranteed for everyone over 18.



  • Marine Le Pen, Rassemblement national: The nationalist Eurosceptic and runner-up to Emmanuel Macron in 2017 peddles an anti-immigration, anti-EU message that seems to appeal to a broad audience, since she is currently polling at around 17%, directly after Macron. Dotted around her programme are ideas like withdrawing France from NATO’s integrated military command, renegotiating the Schengen agreements and re-establishing border controls, exempting under-30s from income tax, letting French people decide by referendum on the migration policy they wish to see applied and promising to halt abuse of the right to asylum. She no longer plans to leave the EU, but intends to prevent the implementation of any European law contrary to the French Constitution.
  • Éric Zemmour, Reconquête: Never a man to mince his words, the political journalist and far-right firebrand is known for waspish and provocative comments and has recently hogged the limelight for spurring racial hatred by calling unaccompanied migrant children “murderers” and “rapists” on CNews in September 2020. Zemmour wants to increase salaries by lowering social taxes, does not want to increase the minimum wage, advocates for the expansion of the number of military forces deployed abroad and vouches for the suspension of the Schengen area and the implementation of border control. 

If you want to find out more about other candidates from the left and right, you can find more extensive lists containing all of the 12 candidates currently declared here.       

Drifting between the left and the right: Emmanuel Macron

Smouldering resentment and mounting criticism over the government’s handling of the pandemic continue to be a real stress test for Macron and have thrown a spanner in the works of his campaign – clearing the way for more right-wing politicians (a phenomenon by no means confined to France only) to thwart his agenda. A vulgar linguistic attack on France’s unvaccinated combined with his government’s efforts to turn the pass sanitaire into the pass vaccinal was met with trenchant criticism. 

However, Macron’s diplomatic efforts in the wake of Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine have led to surging approval ratings and could increase his re-election chances. The invasion has caused a sharp shift in defence policy within the European Union, prompting member states to want to raise defence spending and military co-operation – something Macron had been recommending for years. The incumbent has also gained support for staying in touch with the Russian president and becoming somewhat of an unofficial spokesperson for Europe, since he is the last European leader that Putin still speaks to. The war in Ukraine may have plunged his campaign into turmoil, but to some extent, the incumbent also benefits from the current crisis.

Right now, it is looking very likely that Emmanuel Macron will be re-elected in April (maybe after a close-fought second round against Marine Le Pen or Valérie Pécresse). But even though the final outcome of the election can obviously not be predicted, one result already seems to be certain: The election is very likely to be a disaster for the once dominant French left. 

The race for the Élysée and the deeply divided French left: A doomed race on the road to irrelevance?

While centre-right and far-right politicians are drumming up supporters and are pulling out all the stops in a last-minute scramble for votes, the splintered French left has gotten bogged down in internal squabbles and what has first been dismissed as teething problems has now become a serious problem: Unity seems out of reach for the fragmented French left facing an electorate that is increasingly lurching to the right – which is why the looming election probably won’t pan out according to plan. None of the multiple candidates of the left is currently polling above 12% and the chances of any of them qualifying for the second round are scant.

One of the biggest issues for the French left is that, historically, there has always been a stark political dichotomy between two fractions: On one side of the spectrum, there are the radicals and on the other side, the reformist social-democrats. After the presidency of François Hollande (Parti Socialiste), Macron then completely reshuffled the political landscape in 2017, forged new dynamics and caused even more fragmentation by managing to woo voters who used to vote for the Parti Socialiste (which has been accused of veering increasingly towards the centre and failing to cater to the needs of its working-class electorate). Since the 2017 election, the French left is going through a phase of reorganisation and now, 5 years later, voters are still few and far between.

Right-wing candidates are moreover reaping the results of what has become a windfall for the right and a deathknell for the left: The convergence of party programmes and stark similarities between candidates from the left and their political standpoints have completely torpedoed the campaigns of left candidates and have led to voters veering off to the centre-right and right.

Furthermore, the right and the far-right take up a lot of space in the political and media sphere, with candidates like Zemmour hogging the limelight every day and waspish rhetoric gaining more attention than candidates talking about topics that continually fall by the wayside, e.g global warming and climate protection.

Whether the French left will weather the storm is yet to be seen. One thing, however, is crystal clear: This election should serve as a cautionary tale and should spur the Left to overhaul some of their policies. If not, the French left will gradually fade into the abyss of irrelevance. 


Why does Russia always cheat? 

By Ivanna Biryukova

“Today, at 4 o’clock in the morning, without any claims having been presented to the Soviet Union, without a declaration of war, German troops attacked our country, attacked our borders in many places and bombed our cities from their planes.” This is a quote by Vyacheslav Molotov, who announced the German invasion of the USSR in June 1941. 

Yesterday, at 5 o’clock in the morning, without a declaration of war, Vladimir Putin ordered an attack on Ukraine. 

However improbable this move may have seemed to many experts, a government that continuously sponsors a doping program despite having been penalized, cannot be trusted to make predictable and logical political decisions. 

During the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing, Kamila Valieva and the coaching team behind her were investigated after the 15-year-old figure skater tested positive for a banned drug. Kamila is a student of Eteri Tutberidze, a coach with a track record of producing “disposable” athletes. 

Many skaters who trained under Tutberidze retired before reaching the age of 17. Her methods are ineffective for a long-term career, which is why Russia is home to some of the sport’s youngest World and Olympic champions, who quit after one or two major accomplishments and nothing more than a suitcase of ceased hopes of long-term success. 

The 2014 Sochi doping controversy also demonstrates that, for some reason, Russian coaches and sports associations have lost faith in their athletes’ ability to succeed without the use of performance-enhancing substances. If a Russian athlete enters the race for an international title, they have no choice but to participate in the illegal activities that have been enforced by the Russian government for many years (for a more in-depth look into the doping scandal watch “Icarus”, an Oscar-winning documentary on Netflix).

In an attempt to try and find proof that doping is not an exclusively Russian problem, I did some digging on this issue in my own country: Switzerland. A close friend and former Swiss figure skater told me: “The main goal of Russian figure skating is the pedestal. The girls show crazy results very quickly and burnout just as fast. A minimum age of 18 should be required to compete in elite events, as it is in many other sports. Because of the discrepancies in bodily development, the differences in results are so pronounced. Teenagers have different abilities to adults, point-blank.” To my question as to whether she had ever been offered any form of drugs, she said: “Absolutely not. And I don’t know anyone who has been.”

For various reasons, ex-athletes rarely discuss this, but numbers and facts speak louder — Russia cheats. It cheats quietly, almost shamefully, but it still does. During the Sochi Olympics, after every foreign supervisor had already left for the day, the testing lab swapped out incriminating urine tubes for clean ones and handed them over to FSS (Federal Security Service) agents through a hole in the wall. Thankfully, the cheating scheme was revealed by a whistleblower, and Russia was banned from competing under its flag. This did not, however, prevent Russian athletes from participating. The Russian Olympic Committee is now the official representative of Russian athletes at international events. For some, this halfway ban does not make sense, and rightfully so. As these Olympic Games have shown, this state-sponsored, all-permeating swindle is still very much intact. 

Russia doesn’t only cheat in sports. It cheats in much bigger, more influential international arenas – it cheats politically and morally. Vladimir Putin is not afraid to completely rewrite history for the sake of disruption and chaos. He will do everything to conquer and destroy. He will announce the return of his troops from a sovereign country where they were not supposed to be in the first place, only to send in more. In his eyes, he is no longer “just” a president – he is a puppeteer, playing with his Western counterparts from his big cosy castle. He is a king, an emperor. But in reality, Putin is nothing but a pathetic war criminal, afraid to look out of his gold-plated windows to witness the destruction he has caused in his country and is going to cause in Ukraine. He is nothing but a dictator, whose power lies in the apathy and tiredness of his people. 

In order to make sports fair again, to restore the rudiments of Russian democracy, to assure peace in Europe and save tens of thousands of Ukrainian lives, Putin and his gang must be held accountable. 

The Iran Nuclear Deal: will the sleeping beauty reawake?

From a Fairytale …

Once upon a time, the Grimm Brothers wrote the tale of the sleeping beauty

A king and his queen long wished for a child. Eventually, their wish came true and to celebrate the birth of their daughter they threw a huge party. Twelve of the thirteen gifted wise women of the kingdom were invited (because the king and queen only had twelve golden plates). And so, once the party was over, each one gave a blessing to the princess. Suddenly, the thirteenth wise woman appeared, angry that she had not been invited. She stood over the crib and declared “In the fifteenth year of her age the princess shall prick herself with a spindle and shall fall down dead.” Shortly after being born, the princess was cursed.

Luckily, the twelfth wise woman had not yet given her blessing:  instead of death, the princess would fall into a deep sleep lasting one hundred years. Despite her parents’ best efforts, the fifteen-year-old princess could not escape her fate, pricking her finger and falling into a deep sleep. The whole court met the same fate and a thicket of thorns grew around the castle. Only after many, many years did a prince finally succeed in waking up the sleeping beauty with a kiss.

… to a Deal

Once upon a time, the atomic bomb was invented. The introduction of nuclear weapons lead to shifting power balances and many countries desired an atomic bomb for themselves. To prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the United Nations introduced the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) in 1970. Despite this, some countries still developed and acquired nuclear capabilities over time. One of these countries is Iran.

Since it launched its nuclear program in the 20thcentury, rival countries such as Israel and the U.S. have responded with tough sanctions as retaliation. This brings us to today’s tale: many countries, led by the United States, have long wished for Iran to halt its nuclear program and Iran for sanctions to be lifted. Eventually, these wishes came true: after years of negotiations, on the 2nd of April 2015, the Iran Nuclear Deal (aka the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA) was born, sanctions were lifted, and the IAEA (aka the International Atomic Energy Agency) was called in to monitor the Iran nuclear program.

While nonproliferation enthusiasts around the world celebrated this success, the deal received considerable coverage during the 2016 U.S. presidential elections. On the campaign trail, presidential candidate Donald Trump declared that the JCPOA was the “worst deal ever” and threatened to withdraw from it if he was elected – shortly after its birth, the JCPOA was cursed.

Luckily, the JCPOA was not only signed by the U.S. and Iran but by other states as well. Thus, in case of a U.S. withdrawal, the blow would be softened and instead of immediate death, the deal would fall into a deep sleep. With now-President Trump’s threat hanging in the air, the European powers tried to convince him to not abandon the Deal. But despite their best efforts, on the 8th of May 2018 Trump withdrew from the deal, placing the JCPOA into a coma.

With U.S. sanctions reimposed, Iran slowly scaled up its nuclear program again. While the Iran Deal was fast asleep, the wheels of politics kept on turning: in 2021, both the U.S. and Iran welcomed new presidents. In the U.S., Joe Biden took over from Trump, expressing cautious support for reentering the JCPOA. Across the Atlantic, President Hassan Rouhani – a central figure in the negotiation of the Deal – was replaced by Ebrahim Raisi. And in Vienna, brave diplomats attempted to make their way through thick rose bushes without getting caught in the thorns.

What now?

So far, despite the diplomats’ best efforts, the JCPOA is still sound asleep. Without a clear prophecy, we cannot foresee when or if the deal will reawake. We can only hope that it does not take one hundred years. In the fairytale of the Grimm Brothers, a prince stepped through the roses and awoke the princess with a kiss. This brings us to the final question – who must kiss who to reawake the JCPOA?

What is the Iran Nuclear Deal?
The JCPOA is an agreement between Iran and the P5 + 1, meaning the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany.

Negotiations for the deal were taking place for over a decade before the deal was implemented on 18th October 2015. These talks were not without different obstacles.

The western powers and Iran have had rather hostile relations in the past. Events such as the US-UK instigated coup of Iranian president Mossadegh in 1953 or the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979 led to a lot of distrust between the countries. Nonetheless, after several political setbacks and despite much criticism, in July 2015 Iran and the P5 + 1 agreed to a deal. The purpose of the deal was to restrain Iran’s nuclear program and in return lift economic sanctions imposed on Iran. Furthermore, the deal was intended to build trust between involved parties. 

In the deal, Iran agreed to get rid of all of its 20% enriched uranium, limit its stock of low enriched uranium to 300kg, and the stock of heavy water to 130 metric tons. Additionally, the agreement restricted how Iran could use its centrifuges and conduct enrichment-related research. The implementation of the deal in Iran would be monitored by the IAEA, the agency that also monitors nuclear programs in other states. Compared to other countries though, the JCPOA granted the IAEA the most far-reaching monitoring powers anywhere in the world. The so-called ‘sunset provisions’ are the greatest point of criticism of the deal: they limit the measures for the upcoming 15 years. This would buy the countries more time to negotiate on the future of the Iranian nuclear program as Iran will not willingly give up its right to having a nuclear program. Thus, the compromise of 15 years was reached.

According to periodic reports of the IAEA, Iran complied with the deal except for two temporary minor overages in the stock of heavy water in 2016. Despite Iran’s compliance, in May 2018 the U.S. announced its withdrawal from the JCPOA and reimposed sanctions on Iran. Currently, there are ongoing negotiations in Vienna about a possible revival of the deal. 

For a closer look at the Iran Nuclear Deal, what is in it, and how it came to be I have a podcast recommendation for you.

My body, but not my choice – why Italy still lags behind in abortion regulation

Abortion regulation is an issue that continues to make headlines and polarize opinions all over the world. In most European countries, the interruption of a pregnancy is authorized by law and embedded in the national health system. However, in some the law also allows healthcare professionals to abstain from performing an abortion on the grounds of conscientious objection. This means that practitioners can refuse to perform abortions because of ethical or religious reservations. 

One of the most alarming examples is Italy, where over 67% of gynaecologists are objectors and 35.1% of healthcare facilities do not provide abortion services. These high percentages cause significant delays and inefficiencies that put the health of many women at risk. Some are forced to travel across regional borders and even abroad to access the treatment they need. In extreme circumstances, they must even resort to unsafe alternatives. The Covid-19 pandemic has further exacerbated this issue demonstrating how the country’s outdated restrictions cause harm instead of protection. Allowing healthcare practitioners to refuse to provide a service that is required by law is harmful to the health of many women and is an unjustifiable abandonment of professional obligations to patients. 

An inadequate, contradictory law

Abortion in Italy is regulated by Law 194. In addition to stating the conditions for the voluntary termination of a pregnancy, the Law recognizes the right of healthcare personnel to object to performing abortions. The principle behind this is that the rule of law must allow doctors to maintain their oath to protect life by abstaining from practices that go against their religious or ethical beliefs. 

According to the same law, however, all hospital bodies must be able to offer abortion services. In facilities where 100% of the personnel are objectors, this is theoretically, but not practically possible. Furthermore, in some regions, such as Sicily (83% objectors) and Molise (96.4% objectors), where only a few non-objecting gynaecologists are available, facilities struggle to organize their shifts. This has a significant impact on the timeliness and efficiency of abortion services. How are hospitals and regional authorities supposed to guarantee safe access to abortion with so many objectors? By attempting to equally guarantee the rights of both patients and practitioners, the law is clearly inadequate in safeguarding the well-being of the patients themselves. 

What is behind conscientious objection?

In some cases, conscientious objection is motivated by religious convictions, but with practising Catholics in steady decline, the high number of objectors requires another explanation. Studies show that objection is actually more of a career choice. Some doctors become objectors to avoid discrimination by the director of their medical division. Others do so because non-objectors are perceived as being professionally disadvantaged. Due to the high number of objectors, practitioners who are available to carry out these procedures often find themselves relegated to solely performing abortions. As a consequence, many young gynaecologists, fearful of being professionally disadvantaged, become objectors. 

Another reason is economic. Abortion in Italy is one of the few practices that cannot be performed outside of hospitals at the expense of patients. Many practitioners, therefore, become objectors because the practice of pregnancy termination is not considered financially rewarding. Objection is therefore not so much dictated by ethical motivations, but rather by other, more pragmatic interests. It proves that there is hardly anything conscientious about the choice to object anymore. The law cannot continue to protect a choice that is no longer justified by ethical reservations and continues to deprive women of a fundamental right. 

One of the main reasons why this problem persists is that access to abortion services varies significantly at the regional level, with high percentages of objectors in southern Italy and lower ones in the North. Because of this, the State can continue to argue that access to abortion is always guaranteed by law without ever taking a stand on what should be done when there are not enough practitioners available. Furthermore, in Italy, only gynaecologists and obstetricians can perform abortions and not general practitioners like in other countries.  

Supporters of conscientious objection would argue that healthcare practitioners have the right to refuse to treat a patient even if it compromises a patient’s right to be treated. This argument however is particularly questionable in a public health system such as Italy’s that has the duty and responsibility to guarantee all necessary treatments to its citizens. In 2016, the Council of Europe even reprimanded Italy for the difficulties in applying the law and again in 2019 acknowledged that there are still considerable disparities when it comes to accessing termination of pregnancy services at the local level. This should be more than enough evidence that something needs to change. 

How do we move forward?

The issue of conscientious objection in Italy needs to be more clearly regulated. The current law overseeing abortion is inadequate in safeguarding the wellbeing of women, and objectors are abandoning their professional obligations for unjustifiable reasons. Changing Law 194 is a rather idealistic objective but there are some practical solutions that would improve access to safe and timely abortion services. 

First, general practitioners could be involved in abortion procedures, as in other countries. This would automatically lead more people to be available and willing to perform abortions. Conscientious objection could also be discouraged by offering benefits to non-objectors such as better salaries or more holidays. Lastly, all health facilities should ensure they have at least 50% non-objector staff so that a more equal ratio can be achieved. These steps would concretely address the current constraints and ensure that women have unrestricted, safe access to the care they are entitled to by law. 

Case study Nagorno-Karabakh: What happens when international cooperation fails?

A few weeks ago, we discussed the limitations of the international community when it comes to intra-state conflicts. Today, we focus on how international organizations can cooperate to prevent inter-state conflicts, what happens when cooperation fails and how future failures can be prevented: The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict serves as an ideal case study to examine these three elements. 

In 1988 amidst the crumbling Soviet Union, a war erupted between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Six years and approximately 30’000 deaths later, a Russia-brokered ceasefire ended the immediate belligerence. Yet, due to the obvious fragility of the truce, further international cooperation would be necessary to attain peace and prevent future wars. The second Nagorno-Karabakh war is proof that this international cooperation failed. 

Failed attempts at international cooperation

While the 1994 ceasefire ended the immediate fighting, the conflict was frozen but far from over. The problem with frozen conflicts is, that time alone does not solve them, cooperation does. With diplomatic relations and friendly advances, the two countries could have ended the conflict once and for all– but they didn’t. Neither Armenia nor Azerbaijan took the first step towards burying the hatchet. 

The international community made some efforts towards resolving the conflict. The most prominent example is the Minsk Group, an OSCE institution founded in 1992 with the purpose of resolving tensions between the two countries. Despite several rounds of negotiation and the creation of the Madrid Principles, the group faced heavy criticism for its apparent failure of mediation. 

Conflict resolution attempts were also made by the United Nations. The security council passed a total of four resolutions (822, 853, 874, 884) that condemned the violations of the 1994 ceasefire, called for a return to the negotiating table, and prompted Armenia to withdraw from Azeri territory. All attempts failed. The ceasefire was a missed opportunity to resolve the conflict diplomatically. 

So, what must change to bring about fruitful international cooperation when the next opportunity arises?

Why the chances of successful international cooperation are slim

According to political scientists Axelrod and Keohane, there are three main aspects that facilitate/hinder international cooperation – the mutuality of interest, the so-called shadow of the future and the number of actors. In the context of the Nagorno-Karabakh, we find obstacles in all three categories.

The object of interest was the territory between the two countries including the self-proclaimed independent Nagorno-Karabakh region. Under international law, this territory is part of Azerbaijan, yet Armenian forces have occupied the area since the first Nagorno-Karabakh war. Since both belligerents want all of the disputed land, the interests are completely diverging. There is very little room for compromise due to the cultural and historic significance of the territory and neither party is willing to divide the land because that would legitimize the opponents claim to the area.

When it comes to war, the shadow of the future does often not seem so dark. Why cooperate and compromise if you can just achieve your goals with war? The mistrust that dominates the international field is especially present in this context. In war, the first mover advantage benefits the aggressor and thus increases the risk of escalation. It is only after homes have been destroyed and lives have been lost that the actual cost of war is felt. 

Even though the conflict started as a local dispute, there are now many actors involved. Turkey has a strong allegiance to Azerbaijan, Russia has a military base in Armenia, both countries are part of the UN and the OSCE. This complicated net of relations increases the stakes and turns the conflict into a regional powder keg. If even one actor breaches an agreement, decisive retaliation may result in complete escalation. Joint efforts by international organizations such as the UN or the OSCE were made difficult because both belligerent countries are member states and would thus oppose decisive action that went against their interests.

Where there is a will, there is a way.

It would be wrong to abandon hope for international cooperation between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Nevertheless, failed attempts from the last two decades have shown that it is no easy task. While the international community can try to facilitate cooperation between the two belligerents, the most basic requirement for success is the will for diplomacy in both countries. As long as either party is unwilling to compromise, it is only a question of time until the third Nagorno-Karabakh war breaks out.

The 2020 EastMed Crisis – A Failure of European Solidarity?

“We almost went to war with Turkey three times last year.” This close did the Eastern Mediterranean come to erupting into conflict during the Summer of 2020. What’s more, this grim assessment did not originate in one of the conflict-stricken states bordering Turkey’s eastern and southern borders. It came from Greek Defence Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos.The question must therefore be addressed, how a dispute initially concerned with resource exploitation could almost escalate into an outright military confrontation. 

Realising conflict was only narrowly averted on Europe’ southern frontier may have caught some observers off-guard. Still adhering to the post-Cold War belief in Liberalist determinism, many Western policymakers have taken the ability of multilateral organisations to guarantee peace for granted. While institutions like the European Union (EU) may be suited to facilitate market integration, the bloc has with its unregulated engagement fallen woefully short in contributing to the security of its members. The close call witnessed in the EastMed should therefore serve as an urgently needed wake-up call! 

Recent Developments in the EastMed: Old Rivalries and New Alliances

The (southern) periphery of Europe is in a state of unrest not seen since the Second World War! Ideally, EU executive institutions and member states would realise that a divided foreign policy will leave them frustrated in every endeavour. Worse still, disunity offers ready-made avenues for authoritarian leaders to selectively challenge member states. In the absence of European solidarity, individual member states will be forced to rely on outside powers to guard against external threats. The risks of such a trend are manifold, not least because conflicting entanglements with third states may further fracture EU cohesion. 

Returning to the introductory quote, the case of Greece illustrates succinctly where a lack of EU cohesion leaves the bloc’s peripheral members. Not being able to rely on the bloc to protect itself from rising dangers in the region, Greece was left scrabbling for alternative ties outside its Western alliances. This development was further compounded by the US’ disengagement from the region, which precipitated the emergence of rivalling alliance systems.

Perceiving Turkey as an existential threat, Greece naturally joined a coalition that opposed Ankara’s revisionist ambitions. In pursuit of active deterrence, the Hellenic Republic has gradually built up bilateral and trilateral ties as a foundation for a fully-fledged regional alliance. The emerging coalition stretches from the Hellenic Republics of Cyprus and Greece to Israel and Egypt over the Arabian Peninsula (Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Bahrain) all the way to India. 

Of all these ties, the Greek relationship with the UAE has seen the most progress. Under the de facto leadership of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (MBZ), the Emirates have taken a firm stance against Turkish support of Islamist movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood. United in their opposition of Ankara’s destabilising role in the region, MBZ agreed to establish a formal defensive with Athens this past November. For Greece, this marks a major step towards renewed engagement with its eastern neighbourhood, seeing as it constitutes the first agreement of this type outside the Western alliance framework (EU-NATO).

Future prospects: Stronger European Cohesion or Further Fragmentation?

The latest effort by Greece to cement itself within a new regional stability framework was the “Philia Forum” held on the 13th and 14th of February 2021. It brought together in Athens the Foreign Ministers (FM) of Cyprus, Egypt, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, with the French FM attending virtually as an observer. The conferences laid out a broad range of economic and social domains on which the attendees pledge to cooperate. However, the broader implications the summit carried were unmistakable, seeing as from cooperation on peripheral domains would invariably follow closer coordination on matters of defence. The primary target attending countries intended to deter did not fail to take note of this development. The response from Ankara was the usual polemic rhetoric: Its Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hami Aksoy accusing participating countries of harbouring “hostility against Turkey”.

On a broader scale, it must be asked where these developments on its very doorstep leave the EU. Although Greek efforts to solidify its deterrence have so far proven successful, there is no telling when tensions will once again spiral out of control. The only way to sustainably reduce tensions is for EU members to start conducting a more cohesive foreign policy. Members states should – for a start – terminate exports of military material in support of expansionist third states, especially if they threatened fellow member states. Coordinating such a transition falls to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. It is high time for her to fulfil her promise of a “geopolitical Commission” and realise a united European approach to external threats.

From a local dispute to a regional powder keg: The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict explained

Almost 30 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh is grappling anew with the implications of a centuries-old dispute. Under international law, Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous region in the South Caucasus, to which both Armenia and Azerbaijan lay claim, is part of Azerbaijan – even though the majority of its population is Armenian.

The ethnic-territorial conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh is multi-layered and complex. It contains political, socioeconomic and changing geopolitical dimensions – ranging from territorial disputes to ethnic hostilities. In order to understand other stakeholders, root causes, conflict dynamics and peace capacities, we need to take a look at the past.

Skirmishes along the front lines of Nagorno-Karabakh are nothing new

The power tussle between Armenians and Azerbaijanis over the region dates back to the 20th century. Even though in 1923, most of the population in Nagorno-Karabakh was Armenian, the region was attached to the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) under Stalin. 

When the Soviet Union began to crumble, the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh requested the transfer from the Azerbaijani to the Armenian Union Republic in 1988, which laid the groundwork for the ensuing political turmoil. The request was rejected by both the leaders of the Azerbaijani Republic in Baku and Moscow. Nagorno-Karabakh’s declaration of independence in 1991 also went unheeded. This sparked a bloody war that claimed many lives and caused a stream of people to flee their homes. 

The conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh: More than just a Cold-War-era relic

After the demise of the USSR in 1991 and the independence of both Azerbaijan and Armenia, the framework changed. The local quarrel over Nagorno-Karabakh morphed into an all-out war between the two independent states, drew in other powers and turned into a regional powder keg. Although the war officially ended with a ceasefire in 1994, frictions did not simply vanish. 

Peace talks chaired by Russia, France and the U.S. were slowly plodding along and eventually fizzled out completely – which led to new fights erupting in April 2016, lasting just four days and yet claiming the lives of approximately 350 people.

When analysing this conflict, one also needs to take into account that both sides are propped up by powerful backers: Turkey for example has close ties with Azerbaijan and is thus a staunch supporter, while Russia has provided weapons to both sides and wishes to preserve neutrality. But Armenia and Russia are both part of a security treaty of six former Soviet nations, which states that they must support each other in case of armed conflicts. This has led Azerbaijan to argue that Russia favours Armenia in this conflict. 

The peace deal in November 2020

In July 2020, the conflict started to flare up again and in late September, the Six Week War war broke out: 45 days of intense artillery fire, shell bombardments and more than 5000 soldiers dead. In an attempt to damp down tensions, Russia brokered a peace deal – inked on Nov. 9 – which temporarily put an end to the Six-Week War. The ceasefire deal, under the aegis of Russia, also required the exchange of war prisoners, left the capital of the Nagorno-Karabakh region under Armenian control, but allowed Azerbaijan to keep broad parts of Nagorno-Karabakh and required Armenia to withdraw from other territory as well. The reaction? Jubilation in Azerbaijan, protests in Armenia.

The ceasefire did not last long: In December 2020, clashes were recorded and both sides started to blame each other over violations of the peace treaty. 

Whether there will ever be a deal that really manages to yield a permanent and full-scale settlement of the crisis over Nagorno-Karabakh remains to be seen. If so, it will end one of the world’s oldest ongoing conflicts. But if not, and if the countries involved are not willing to bury the hatchet, the fighting will go on and we could very quickly witness a seventh week of the Six Week War. 

The Moria Catastrophe and the collective failure of the European Union

COVID-19 and the US presidential election: If you’ve turned on the news anytime in the past few weeks, you will probably have realised that these topics have been dominating the headlines incessantly. Magazines are cluttered with news about the coronavirus pandemic sweeping across the world and were littered with coverage of a particularly heated election campaign and a very unusual and rocky transfer of power in the US. 

The current situation on the Greek island of Lesbos, however, scarcely attracts coverage in the news cycle, even though hundreds of people have died and are still dying in the Mediterranean Sea on their way to Europe: More than 1,000 migrants in 2019, 554 in 2020 and already 42 migrants in a shipwreck off the coast of Libya this January. These appalling figures showcase a social crisis and call for a total rethink of both policy and attitude towards immigration. The issue is by no means confined to Greece only, but rather is the most obvious and significant symptom of an asylum policy based on fortifying borders.

Solidarity, tolerance, justice: Europe’s noble but hypocritical values

The conditions under which EU states are housing refugees on Greek islands are nothing new, the final catastrophe had already been brewing for months – if not years. The devastating fire in the Moria refugee camp in September 2020 only highlighted the political deadlock and human cost of the status quo, and laid bare the failure of EU member states. The humanitarian fallout caused fury among journalists and activists, directed sharply towards the EU. Empty words on the part of the European Commission and a tangle of bureaucracy, indifference, as well as a sheer lack of political willpower were met with widespread anger and seemed to typify the EU’s ambivalence towards the issue.

Two weeks after the Moria camp burnt down, the “Kara Tepe” camp was built and the people, who had just escaped intolerable conditions in Moria, found themselves in a refugee tent camp almost worse than the one before: Over 7,500 people are now living in a tent camp originally intended for 1000 people – among the dust and debris of a former military shooting range. Europe’s noble values – solidarity, tolerance, justice – probably sound like cynical mockery to those who are crammed into overcrowded tents and makeshift shelters with little to no access to water, food, sanitation and healthcare. 

But it’s not just Moria. The French port of Calais for example, has become a bottleneck for hundreds of migrants hoping to reach the United Kingdom – a journey now aggravated by Brexit. And since EU states like Hungary have put up border fences, the situation outside the EU has also become rather tense as migrants are looking for new routes: Many now try to enter the European Union via Bosnia. In December 2020, calls for help grew louder as thousands of migrants lost shelter after a blaze broke out at the so-called Lipa camp in Bosnia and had to live outside amid plummeting winter temperatures. Since early 2018, the EU has provided €89 million to Bosnia and continues to criticise the dire circumstances, as well as Bosnia’s dysfunctional migration management system to this day. 

And yet it is still hypocritical for the EU Commission to point a finger at Bosnia – after all, the EU member states themselves have also been unable to agree on a common asylum and migration policy. Especially now, as the EU border agency Frontex is accused of being involved in several illegal pushbacks on the part of Greek coast guards, it’s just duplicitous to call solidarity, tolerance and justice Europe’s values and at the same time tolerate that people are forcibly being prevented from seeking asylum in a country of the European Union – a right to which everyone arriving at the border of the EU is entitled. Passing the entire responsibility on to Bosnia and thinking that money alone will solve the problem will not be of any help. The EU should work with the authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina in order to find systemic and long term solutions, since the crisis in Bosnia is simply a consequence of the EU fortifying its borders.

Worse than the lacklustre response to the refugee crisis per se, however, was the EU’s continued refusal to completely overhaul its dysfunctional asylum policy. The two main flaws of the EU’s short-sighted, inhumane, and ineffective asylum policy have been known for years: asylum applications always take too long to process and some European member states simply don’t want to cooperate and still wish to seal off their country completely. 

The EU’s solution strategies: unrealistic, bureaucratic and too late

On the 23rd of September 2020, the European Commission launched the New Pact on Migration and Asylum in an attempt to streamline the EU’s policies in this area. 

Immediately after the pact was announced, it came under fire for allowing EU member states to opt out from participating in the relocation of asylum seekers by offering financial aid. Meaning that member states, which had previously flouted laws and agreements, suddenly had the legal permission to stand idly by. Critics have also expressed their concerns about the fact that border security had been prioritised over access to asylum and that the pact introduced measures that seemed to hamper the process of obtaining protection in the EU. Support, albeit half-heartedly, only came from a few countries – along with a lukewarm remark that the pact was at least a good starting point. 

Until September 2021, the EU wants to have established a new camp on Lesbos together with Greek authorities. For this, a memorandum of understanding between the EU, Greece and the European migration authorities was signed at the beginning of December last year. Once again, the solution comes far too late and is of no help whatsoever to those who are currently suffering. There’s a glaring irony to the fact that the European Union, the Nobel Peace Prize winner of 2012, continuously contradicts the values that the award represents, doesn’t manage to own up to its responsibility and doesn’t live up to the expectations it sets for others.

The EU must revert back to its values, and it must do so as quickly as possible. Because immigration is not something that will die down soon: The crisis is currently on a disastrous trajectory, because for years and years, it’s been categorically deprioritised, normalised and banalised. If the EU is not eager to deal with the grim reality in a human-centred way, this crisis will serve to further divide an already divided Europe, plunge Lesbos into even more turmoil and risk many more lives.