My Hong Kongese Dream

From Denmark to Estonia

Author: Iverson Ng (page 1 of 5)

The backlash of #MeToo movement and how the EU can deal with it

By Iverson Ng & Julia Bergström

The movement of silence breakers has been going on in the past few months as more victims of sexual harassment are stepping up against the perpetrators who assaulted them in various ways in the name of working relationships. Yet, what has been called a backlash of the #MeToo movement came as a French actress along with some 100 signatories issuing an open letter to condemn the movement in defence of the freedom to offend.

French actress Catherine Deneuve. (Credit: The Telegraph)

When it comes to the EU institutions, there are existing regulations and mechanisms for the victims of sexual harassment working in Brussels. However, the legal instruments failed to protect the safety of female offers due to a range of reasons from their career prospects to the political party’s reputation. Here’s a short account on the existing legislations that EU staffs from potential sexual harassment in workplace, fundamental problems that lie beyond #MeToo movement and recommendations for the EU to ensure a gender-friendly environment for all staffs in Brussels.

Existing legislations

The EU’s staff regulations explicitly defines psychological and sexual harassments and states that such actions are unacceptable. In Article 12 (a), it defines “sexual harassment” as “conduct relating to sex which is unwanted by the person to whom it is directed and which has the purpose or effect of offending that person or creating an intimidating, hostile, offensive or disturbing environment.” It is categorised as discrimination based on gender. Article 24 also mentioned that the EU will compensate for the victims who are suffered from such discrimination if the perpetrator who caused it cannot compensate on the loss of the victims. Earlier last year, the EU also signed the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, recognising sexual violation on women is a form of human rights violation.  

Fundamental problems

There are numerous cases of sexual harassment within the EU. In October, more than a dozen women accused politicians within the EU of groping, stalking and harassment. Cecilia Malmström, a Swedish commissioner with responsibility for human resources, pointed out the need to better address allegations of sexual abuse within the European parliament and commission after at least two staff members claimed they had been raped. Yet, most of the incidents are never reported. The reasons for the many unreported cases of sexual harassment in the EU are many. Some claim it mainly boils down to a loyalty towards the aggressors and the belief that reporting could end the victim’s career. The question of “if it really happened, why did they not just report it?” becomes naïve when looking at the mechanisms steering work relationships.

Proposed solutions   

Overviewing the current public sphere of discussions, it is sensible for the EU to take actions to follow up the fundamental issues that lie within the European institutions in Brussels: firstly, the proportion of representations in leading roles of the institutions must be increased to transform a patriarchy system into a system being free from gender bias; secondly, a mechanism is needed to report any secret trade-off between female assistants/ trainees in exchange for political interest so that the proposed mechanism can end the vicious cycle within the institutions; thirdly, additional trainings on gender equality must be made compulsory for all the staffs working in the EU.  

Summary

It is obvious that the EU has to take further steps to tackle the fundamental issues. Although it takes time to transform the current European institutions into a better system which everyone can work safe regardless of one’s gender , reported cases of sexual assaults must be followed up to protect the victims from predices. In a nutshell, a double-track approach must be taken to create a safer environment for all EU employees from an instrumental level to a civilizational level.  

This article has also been published in https://medium.com/@julia.bergstrom3

 

The Wrocław satire & Article 7

Town Hall Square, Wroclaw

As a student in Europe, it’s not surprising to spend your Christmas holiday out of the town where you are studying. In my case, I had a week-long visit to this former German city which left a post-World War II legacy with Gothic architectures. Given the ongoing standoff between the EU and Warsaw government, it’s worthwhile to see whether the Commission’s repeated warning on suspending Poland’s voting rights in the European Council has changed the public perceptions towards the European institutions.

The Polish satire

Being a student leader of the Message to Europeans 3.0 project implies that I have a moral duty to promote the positive sides of the EU, albeit the facade of Europe we’re facing right now; an unshakable belief towards the crumbling political project also shows that my desire to make changes overrides the self-protection mechanism to avoid taking risks. With a list of questions on how the Polish people see the EU in general, I met up with an Oxford-based Polish student who studies Politics, Philosophy and Economics. During the conversation I tried to bring up the domestic issues in Poland but she seemed to be indifferent about the latest saga between the Commission and Poland. She also gave me an impression that while she is studying about politics, the level of hopelessness she has in Polish politics in not less than any other average Polish youngsters who are not privileged enough to join the Oxbridge club in England. This led me to start thinking, if an elite student is losing hope in her country, then how about other ordinary citizens?

Leopoldine Hall, University of Wrocław

The biggest beneficiary of the EU

When I walked around the downtown of Wrocław, all I saw was nothing but the traces of the EU here and there. Throughout the week I joined several free walking tours about the old town’s history, World War II & Jewish Wrocław, and the islands and bridges in the city. As I listened to the narrative of the tour guide, I realised how much this city has benefited from the EU–Euro 2012 football tournament to the EU cohesion fund that improves the infrastructure around the city. The tour guide also indicated that there are several buildings are opening for free, thanks to the EU funding. In fact, Poland is the biggest net beneficiary of the EU funding which contributes to a percentage point to the GDP growth of this country.

An elusive ruling government backed by 43% Poles

Before visiting this city, my assumption was that people were generally sceptical about the EU because the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) has more than 40% support from the public. So I went to Literatka, a local cafe that is  believed to have intellectuals and artists meeting near the town hall square. I talked to two medical students and they are pro-EU in a way that they feel more European than Polish. The Erasmus programme and Schengen area encouraged them to study and travel within the EU, painting a different picture when we talked about the European institutions. I also met a Ukrainian migrant who speaks conversational Polish as she has been in Poland for 2 years. She didn’t feel excluded by the locals and it’s a good sign for an European ideal that embraces cultural diversity.

For now, the so-called “nuclear option” for triggering Article 7 in the name of sanctioning Poland against the violation of the rule of law doesn’t seem to be a decisive factor that changes the perception of Polish people towards the EU.

Literatka café

 

The question of European identity:

What does it mean to be European?

The European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium

It seems to be a cliché to ask such question but there are at least dozens of different answers because there are 28 member states in the European Union. But if you consider European countries which are part of the European Economic Area without a EU membership, then there will be 32 approaches to define “Europeanness”; if you are generous enough to also take the potential candidates and  candidate countries into account, then there will be 39 different perspectives on the meaning of being a European. The list goes on if you also include the Council of Europe……

What makes the “European identity” an even more interesting topic is that it depends on the geopolitical integration, ethnic minorities, and, above all, identity politics.

First, the geographical proximity of European countries creates different categories for the public to generalise various characteristics of “Europe”. When people refer to the “West”, it often implies the UK, France, Germany, and the Benelux countries, i.e. Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg; when there is a discussion on “Eastern Europe”, it somehow identifies post-Communist countries including the Visegrad group (Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia), the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania), and the Balkans ( countries located within the Balkan Peninsula using the Danube-Sava-Soča border definition).

Wait! But how about the other Balkan countries which are excluded by the Danube-Sava definition? It seems like our romantic Italian friends and the Greek philosophers are missing! As Christmas is coming, we should also count in our Viking friends and Santa Claus in Lapland, isn’t it?

In truth, it’s problematic to draw a line between eastern and southern Europe because their histories are not mutually exclusive and one can’t simply say there is no tie between the two. Even for Scandinavia, one could put Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland into the same basket, but when you refer this definition to the Danes and Swedes, it often results in their dubious attitudes on whether the Finns are Scandinavians, or it might conclude with a broader term “Nordic“.

Second, the question of ethnic minorities in the Baltic states. Due to the Soviet legacies, there are about one-quarter of ethnic Russians born before/after the independence of the Baltic states respectively. Although there is only 8% of ethnic Russians living in Lithuania at the moment, there are almost two-thirds of Latvians with Russian backgrounds and around 330,000 ethnic Russians living in Estonia.

It raises a question on the dual identity of ethnic Russians who were born and raised in the Baltic states after the independence–they are localised but never fit in for neither “Russian” or “Estonian”/”Latvian”/”Lithuanian” categories. The locals don’t see them as part of the community, not would the Russians living in Russia consider them to be Russians because they often possess a strong accent associated with Estonian/Latvian/Lithuanian.

Third, identity politics, for far too often, denotes a “us” versus “them” scenario. People identify themselves in different ways because there is a significant “otherness” to compare with. In the case of identity politics, one’s identity is confirmed because there is an “enemy” who is against the whole group of people with the same characteristics. In the case of Europe, it’s ambiguous due to its universality of values and principles–Europe isn’t bounded by physical borders, but it encompasses imperial legacies, colonial past, and the civil wars that lingered for centuries.

In my case, I’m a Hongkonger identified as an ethnic Chinese with a British colonial past which nurtured me with European values. I feel European in some ways because I embrace European values but I was born and raised in an ethnic Chinese community and Cantonese is my native language, even though English is my working language. I’m also British by nationality but it doesn’t make me culturally British because my knowledge on English history is rather limited.

What’s your take on European identity?

The future of European Monetary & Finance Policies

The statue of Euro outside the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium

This is my first “digital diary” on being a student leader after the initiation of the EU-funded citizenship project Message to Europeans 3.0 in Warsaw. Enjoy!

10.12.17
Money talks.

During the EU Monetary Policies class last week, we had pitches and voting about our opinions on further centralization and efficiency of the economic governance by the EU, namely the establishment of a EU-wide corporate taxation, EU tax system, fiscal transfer system, doubling EU budget, membership of European Monetary Union, Banking Union, Asset Purchase Programme, Eurobonds, the establishment of Eurozone institutions and independent Fiscal Board.

Given that the majority of our classmates are Estonians, the class overwhelmingly voted for further centralization of monetary policies of the EU in order to create income equality through redistributing the capital among the EU countries. On the other hand, the class was split regarding the establishment of an efficient system for economic governance.

It often comes to the point of frustration when European youths talk about European politics from an institutionalized point of view since the functioning of the European Union as a whole is far too complex for ordinary citizens who are not well-informed about what really happens inside the European institutions in Brussels. Yet, the mandatory presentations in the class somehow reflected the opinions of a particular group of Estonian students who attended the class. Thus, this article aims at describing Estonian students’ attitudes towards further economic integration among the EU countries in terms of federalization, sovereignty, and democratic accountability.

Federalization
There was a general consensus that by setting up a EU-wide system on corporate taxation, the fairness of competition among EU countries will be ensured due to harmonization of corporate tax system. Business companies will not invest in EU countries with lower corporate tax because of the standardization. The shortcoming will be, though, that national governments will have less control over business activities since the competence will be given to the EU institutions and less developed economies with the EU won’t be able to catch up with the advanced economies in other EU countries since they will lose the advantage of low corporate tax in order to attract business activities in respective countries. The same logic goes with the establishment of a EU tax system.

Sovereignty
During the pitches, there were several presenters pinpointing the loss of sovereignty if all EU countries will eventually become part of the European Monetary Union (EMU) and Banking Union. It’s a hasty generalization to state that a country’s sovereignty will be lost if it joins the EMU which gives competence to the EU to administrate monetary policies and Banking Union which regulates European Banks. Currently, while Denmark and the UK have the opt-out from joining the EMU, all the EU countries have to join the Eurozone and EMU once they have fulfilled the Maastricht convergence criteria enshrined in the EU Treaties. For the membership of the Banking Union, 19 EU members from the Eurozone countries along with 5 non-Euro area countries are part of the Banking Union, meaning that there are only 3 EU member states which don’t belong to the Banking Union. The argument of “sovereignty” is a mere misconception which isn’t applicable to the current situation of the economic integration among EU countries.

Democratic accountability
It comes to a paradoxical situation which criticisms are surrounding the EU regarding democratic deficit in European economic governance but more than half of the class didn’t agree to set up a separate “Eurozone parliament” which can establish check-and-balance with the Eurogroup leaders who decide public spending cuts in particular EU members whose financial situations are at stake. The paradox is, though, if there is such EU institution within the Eurozone, the European citizens’ concerns will be brought to the Eurozone parliament which affects the unpopular decisions such as austerity measures; on the other hand, it could further confuse the European citizens who don’t understand the organizational structure of the EU, thereby undermining the legitimacy of the decision-making process.

To sum up, it’s never an easy job for us to promote the understanding economic policies of the EU since there are times when populist politicians misinform the public and point fingers at the EU when it comes to economic downturn, so that they can archive personal goals such as getting more seats in the local parliament with more votes from the public. For far too often, we’d forget about the fine balance between simplifying how the EU works exactly and detailing the operations of this European project because of the degree of technocracy which creates a distance between the European citizens and the Eurocrats in Brussels.

Cross-Strait Relation between mainland China and Taiwan(Chinese only)

兩岸關係論文

導言

民進黨主席蔡英文於二零一六年的總統大選以六百八十九萬票當選成為下屆台灣首位女總統,這意味著第三次政黨輪替即將出現,兩岸關係將有重大變化,而台灣的外交政策更帶望能打破現任總統馬英九「外交休兵」的消極方式,從而找出台灣應對中共的最佳方案。本文旨在透過分析過往與兩岸關係相連的歷史事件,從而根據政情、外交、經濟及文化方面了解兩岸關係的變化和未來走勢。

背景

國民黨跟共產黨自國共內戰後分別經歷了軍事衝突(1949-1979)及解凍階段(1979-1987)。兩岸關係經過熱戰及冷戰的洗禮後因為台灣解除實行三十八年的《臺灣省政府臺灣省警備總司令部佈告戒字第壹號》進入了和平對待的階段。

跟據《中華民國憲法增修條文》,台灣自1996年開始實行總統直選,並在第一屆台灣國民黨總統李登輝的「兩國論」主張下,與中國共產黨的政權抗衡,更一度中止了台灣主導的「財團法人海峽交流基金會」跟中國大陸主導的「海峽兩岸關係協會」之間的兩岸會談。

總統直選後四年,第一次政黨輪替出現,當時主張台灣獨立的民進黨總統陳水扁於二零零二年發表了「一邊一國論」,及後更於二零零八年推動「以臺灣名義加入聯合國全國性公民投票案」,不過方案因未夠一半投票率而告終。兩岸關係急轉直下。

國民黨總統馬英九自零八年上任後,再次出現政黨輪替,兩岸關係更因其偏軟的作風而好轉,但也有台灣民眾認為他沒有在對等尊嚴的情況下跟中共對話。從去年的兩岸領導人會談可見,馬英九未能說服中共領導人習近平撒回對台導彈,亦只有提及「一個中國」,卻省去了「各自表述」,令台灣民眾大感不滿。不過,此「習馬會」卻是兩地元首自國共內戰後首次會面,為促進兩岸關係打穩基礎。

政情

台灣侯任總統蔡英文雖然在當選後強調她會「維持現狀」,跟大陸維持良好的關係,可是當她在任陸委會主席期間,曾經跟另一位前國安會副秘書長林碧炤共擬「兩國論」,更曾經受銜點為「一邊一國論」到美國解話。於二零零三年,蔡英文在行政院大陸委員會上指「中華民國是主權獨立的國家」,可見蔡英文的兩岸政策在她未發表就職演說前也是模棱兩可。

外交

在蔡英文上任總統前兩個月,中華人民共和國跟西非國家甘比亞恢復外交,但由於中華民國跟甘比亞的邦交也是反反覆覆,故此除了現任總統馬英九對大陸此舉表示強烈不滿外,民進黨沒有太大反應,只表示「兩岸在國際上不要從事針對性競爭」。由此可見,即使馬英九由上任總統起主張「活路外交」,盡量避開主權問題,不過大陸並沒因此放棄與台灣的前邦交國建交,所以在可見的未來,蔡英文不可能用同樣被動的方式採取外交政策。

而最近肯亞遣返台灣人到中國大陸一事亦可見中方為「海峽兩岸共同打擊犯罪及司法互助協議」立下壞先列,因為當中的第一章第六節中列明「雙方同意依循人道、安全、迅速、便利原則,在原有基 礎上,增加海運或空運直航方式,遣返刑事犯、刑事嫌 疑犯,並於交接時移交有關卷證(證據)、簽署交接書。」不過,中方在未有通知台灣下便把台灣疑犯押回大陸,此舉將會逼使就讀法律出身的蔡英文在未來於司法管轄權上採取強硬措施。

經濟

應對馬英九政府早在二零零九年提出的《海峽兩岸經濟合作架構協議》,蔡英文在上任前提出了「新南下政策」,並希望台灣在未來能夠引導台灣企業在東南亞國家投資,從而強化印度跟東盟的整體關係。然而,根據香港貿發局對東盟市場的統計,東盟國家跟台灣的貿易只有4%,比而中國大陸的貿易額是接近台灣的四倍;而台灣佔東盟經濟體的總出口只有3.1%,只有中國大陸的三分之一。

如果蔡英文希望以加強跟東南亞國家的商業關係以抗衡中國向台灣於經濟上施壓,恐怕台灣應該想辨法如何跟大陸保持經濟關係的同時,亦不會削弱台灣的經濟自主性,以及兩岸的「對等」關係。

文化

雖然兩岸的「九二共識」均同意「一個中國,各自表述」的原則,可是雙方解讀的方式各有不同。在過去十五年中,兩岸人民有三次因中華民國國旗出現爭議。二零零一年,前台北市長馬英九於亞洲女子足球盃中不讓台灣球迷在球場內展示中華民國國旗,擔心中國隊會退出比賽,影響賽事; 二零一三年,台灣歌手張懸因在英國曼徹斯特大學的演唱會中展示中華民國國旗而導致北京的演唱會被取消;二零一五年,旅韓台灣歌手周子瑜因在韓國電視節目中展示中華民國國旗而被指支持台獨,後來被逼以短片形式向中國網民道歉,並「承認」自己是中國人。

上述事件均反映台灣人在國際活動或海外均受到大陸方面的壓力而放棄台灣人的獨特身份認同。不論上述主角支持台獨與否,可以肯定的是,大陸人民普遍未能接受台灣的現況是中華民國歷史的廷續,而台灣人的文化亦受到海外大陸人的質疑。長遠來說,如果雙方的文化衝突未能因大陸的經濟發展而減低,兩岸的「九二共識」會造成分歧,而「一個中國,各自表述」的原則更會蕩然無存,令蔡英文政府日後走上「暗獨」—暗地把台灣走上獨立之路。

The Rise of Islamic State (2015)

Background

The Islamic State(IS)  is a self-acclaimed state of government which declares sovereignty of muslim communities all over the world. Grown out of al-Qaeda in Iraq(AQI) in April 2013, the jihadist military group aims at creating new provinces to erase the Iraq-Syria border by carrying out terrorist attacks.

Unlike other terrorist groups, the IS is close to modern bureaucracy. It has several ministries maintain daily operations of the state in terms of health, education, environmental policies and religious rulings.

Apart from providing vaccination which Taliban banned, the terrorist group also provides certificates for babies who were born in their hospital. The governing authority’s stamp marks as, however, The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Education is another tactic of the IS to legitimize their governing position. In the last summer, Mosul, the second largest city of Iraq , was took over by the military group in order to get strategic advantage of building their “emperor”.

The group completely changed the education policy of Mosul University after shutting it down for about four months. While subjects related to democracy and political thought, hotel management and tourism along with archaeology would be banned, basic subjects such as reading, writing, mathematics and religion would be taught. However, the IS required male and female students should be separated, forcing female students to study from 9 am to 2pm  while males will study in the following 4 hours after girls.  

To further affirm their authority in Iraq, the Islamic extremists have destroyed Ancient statues in Mosul museum, which are 3,000-year-old artworks about Syrian history. The action showed that the IS wanted to eradicate the ancient historical root of the region to strengthen the ruling power of the IS. It is a propaganda showing the superiority of the jihadist group to destroy ancient human civilisation. While the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) condemns the terrorists as “their strategy to destabilize and manipulate population”, no further actions could be taken to stop them from destroying the cultural heritage which is protected by the UN.

The extremist group claims to extend their influence in several European countries, the Arabic countries, the Caucasus countries and even the US. According to an IS defector, there are 70% foreigners and 30% Syrians within the organization.

On the other hand, according to the Central Intelligence Agency, there was about 30,000 IS fighters including local supporters in late 2014. Few months later, it is estimated that there were around 20,000 overseas supporters of the IS from 90 different countries who left their homes and flew to Syria in order to join the Islamic group, according to Nicolas Rasmussen, the Director of the National Counterterrorism Center. Among the surging number of foreign terrorist fighters, 3,400 of them are believed to be from Western countries, including more than 150 of them are US citizens.

Reactions of affected countries
The Saudi government joined the military action with the US against the IS in Syria last year. The authorities said there is a growing concern about the islamic group inspiring Saudi-based terrorists to challenge its government’s legitimacy and try to overthrow it. In the last summer, Riyadh, the largest city and capital of Saudi Arabia, mobilized 30,000 troops to strengthen security along its border with Iraq, the country which is seriously affected by the extremist group.

The Jordanian military doubled its number of troops along the border with Iraq as the IS threatened to erase the borders of Jordan. Allied with the US, Jordan joined an air strike operation with the US and several Arab countries on the Islamic rebels in Syria last year, claiming this is an act to protect its border. Some 2,000 civilians from Jordan were believed to have travelled to Syria to fight against the terrorist group in the past few years.

The Iranians have played a significant role in combating the IS extremist group. They have Revolutionary Guards to give professional analysis for Iraqi security forces, air strikes carried out by Iranian pilots and mobilisation of Shia militia backed by Iran. Iran has also been delivering weapons and strategists to Iraqi Kurdistan to withstand the military influence of the IS.

With a strong opposition on Islamic groups in the country, the United Arab Emirates was reported to carry out air strikes on the IS in Iraq before the joined Arab countries military operation with the US in Syria last September. But according to US officials, the oil country terminated its coalition force after the Jordanian pilot was captured.

Qatar is suspected to provide financial support for the Islamic rebels, according to Iraq’s Shia leaders. Yet, the Doha authority supported Al-Udeid Air Base, a US-led facility which carry out attack and surveillance missions to combat with the terrorist issue.

As a country lying between Europe and Middle East, Turkey takes an active role in defeating the Islamic rebels in Iraq and Syria.  Concerning its geographical proximity to Syria, there are more than 450 foreigners who have been detained or deported as they wanted to join the Islamic rebels. While the Turkish authority refused to sign an agreement on cooperating with the West and other Middle East states to encounter the terrorist group, the authority claimed to save 49 Turkish citizens who were kidnapped by the jihadist group in Mosul last June following a rescue operation by Turkish intelligence.

Dealing with influx of refugees from war zones in the Middle East countries along with killing and kidnapping of Lebanese security personnel, Lebanon suffered from a series of suicide bombings in its  largest city and capital Beirut. Even though the Lebanese authority hasn’t joined the US-led coalition operation against the IS, it has received advanced military weapons from the US to allow Lebanese army to defend their own territory under the harsh climatic conditions in Lebanon.

Hells Angels, a German motorcycle gang group, has pledged to support the Kurds and travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight against the German Islamic rebels in those countries. It is believed that there are around 400 German jihadists who joined the IS. However, referring to Germany’s domestic intelligence service (BfV), it is illegal to join the Kurdish Workers’ Party since it is banned as a terrorist organization in Germany.

Where does the money come from?

As the British Broadcasting Corporation(BBC) suggested in a documentary, the Islamic State is the “World’s Richest Terror Army”. Approximately, the IS made $3 million a day from various financial resources such as selling oil, ransoming, human trafficking, and extortion. It was also suggested that the group had a total worth of more than $2 billion. Getting a monthly ‘salary’ of more than Syrian rebel groups or the Iraqi government can offer, the jihadists are paid around $400 per month. The money was moved in cash since there were no cheques.

Besides, referring to the US officials, the military group earned not less than $20 million last year from ransoms paid for hostages. Several French and Spanish journalists were good points of illustration. The Iraq Energy Institute also showed that the IS manages to have some 300 oil wells in Iraq.   

Analysis: Why the Islamic State?

The rise of Islamic State imposes a challenge to the existing world order, but it also reflects a disequilibrium of power distribution between the West and several Middle East countries. Comical it may sound, the US claims the Islamic State as one of the greatest threat to its own country, yet in the eyes of some of the extremists, the Americans should be blamed for their cultural imperialism.

Let alone the dominance of military presence of the US across the globe, its entertainment industry and mass media distribution also shaped the ‘universal values’ of ordinary lives. Capitalism and the ideas of freedom somehow contradicts with the traditional islamic values, yet the voices of the opposition could barely be heard since the US dominates both economic and military sectors. If direct confrontation is not an option for the radical Islamic population, then the attack aiming at creating a sphere of fear would be a tactic used by the jihadists.

This is only one of the causes for the rise of terrorism in general, though. The rapid expansion of the IS illustrated its success in operation and recruitment of fighters. More than suicide bombings and kidnappings, the group strategically make use of mass media and social media to promote their ideology, which is stigmatized by the Western media. Given the advancement of social media management, it becomes a world-known terrorist group as Twitter allows the information flows around the globe. Moreover, thanks to the Western media, now everyone knows about the massive killings and ransoming messages delivered by the terrorists as the mainstream media constantly display violent and bloody scenes about the terrorist group. This is a propaganda which the media should be responsible of filtering.

In spite of the fact that it is journalists’ duties to report the truth to the public, the mass media should uphold the ground of ethical principles to be a responsible news agency. In this  case, the ethical theory of community and care should be applied while reporting terrorist activities. As the IS aims at feeding the mass media for publicity, any mass media which decides to make this as a headline should consider several factors: first, will there be any possible harms on human relationship after broadcasting the news; second, if the public can find out the original footage from social media, is it necessary to play it again on the screen; third, whether the younger generation would mimic the acts of the terrorists will be another concern as they are unable to filter information like an adult does.

To be specific, if the US should be partly responsible for the emergence of terrorism, or the IS in particular, then the mainstream media should also be blamed for being not responsible for making news as they ‘helped’ the terrorist group to spread the message indirectly. Some may argue that the influence of mass media isn’t as influential as in the past due to the advancement of social media. Yet, the point being, given the advertisement market via broadcasting companies is still weighing over the online market, it is still valid to say that the mass media can shape the reality.

Apart from its excellence in managing social media, the operational model of the Islamic State is much more sustainable than the previous terrorist groups in the Middle East countries. The IS has manipulated the Mosul University in Iraq, thereby training more extremist young fighters to continue their kidnappings and beheadings for propaganda. Their massive destruction of cultural heritage on Syrian history is a sign of re-shaping the history in their controlled regions. Their acts of radically banning academic freedom and destroying evidence of human civilisation have showed that their group is well-planned to establish another emperor in the name of islamic religion.

In conclusion, the Islamic State isn’t a terrorist group that can be eliminated by neither military efforts nor diplomatic resolutions as it is an ideology extended from the flip side of the Internet. The idea of Internet facilitates collective intelligence, meaning people are much more powerful and democratised than ever. Regarding the current strategy of the IS, there are even videos about the establishment of Islamic State Health Service(ISHS), which aims at recruiting overseas doctors to provide medical services for the IS fellows. On one hand, the organizational structure of the IS makes no difference from a sovereign state, but on the other hand the group has a court system which interprets Sharia Law in a strict way that violates countless fundamental human rights. This mixed ideology does attract ten thousands of ‘freedom fighters’ and even doctors to work for them, so it is foreseeable that the Islamic State will be further expanded in an enormous scale. Although it is not feasible to eliminate the extremist group, the mass media should shoulder the mission to prevent the current situation from further exacerbating.

References:

  1. Al Arabiya News: ISIS axes gender mixing in Mosul universities

  2. The Local de: German motorcycle gang join Isis fight

  3. Lebanon Pulse: Lebanese army advances to secure boarder

  4. ABC: ISIS Trail of Terror

  5. UN News Centre: Urging international action, UNESCO chief condemns ISIL’s ‘cultural cleansing’ in Iraq

  6. The Economist: Where Islamic State gets its money

  7. The Economic Times: Islamic State: The money behind the monstrosity

  8. The Guardian: ‘It’s God’s gift.” Islamic State fills coffers with Iraqi government cash

  9. BBC: Islamic State Conflict

  10. CNN: How ISIS makes( and takes) money

  11. CNN: How ISIS controls life, from birth to foosball

Reflection on EU Study Tour 2016

Residential area in Brussels

Residential area in Brussels

Why I participated the programme

I feel a sense of responsibility to deepen my knowledge in various EU institutions and issues as I won the Model EU conference as the best individual delegate of Portugal on migrant issues in Europe. The most attractive part of the programme is a proposed visit to NATO headquarter, however it seemed not to work out in the end, but the HKETO and EEAS are still desirable to visit as both of them are linked to HK-EU political relations. 

A fruitful journey to consolidate my knowledge about the EU

In general I was enlightened by the experts who are specialised in migration policies, counter-terrorism policy, and human rights policies. Yet, it was surprising to acknowledge the fact that the speaker who shared the official views of EU-Hong Kong political relations seem not to be familiarised with the political issues in Hong Kong. Plus, my understanding towards the EEAS is further deepened as the official mentioned several terminologies. 

As a journalism student who is critical towards various international organisations, I was curious about why some European countries could introduce temporary borders for such a long period, but later I learnt that the Article 29 of Schengen Border Code indicates that the migrant crisis is defined as one of the case where exceptional circumstances put overall functioning of the Schengen area at risk, so that Germany, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway were legitimate to introduce such border checks. 

The migrant crisis doesn’t just bring up the debate on whether the Schengen Agreement is still  in effect, but it also raises a question on whether it relates to the frequent terrorist attacks in Europe. In the counter-terrorism session, I asked about the loopholes of illegal transfer of weapons from non-EU countries such as Ukraine to European countries like Poland, then she indicated that the existing Firearms Directive is enough to prevent it from happening. Yet, countries like Germany and Austria are still allowed to possess firearms with a licence.She also hinted that Tour De France may also be the target of the terrorist attack since it is a populated event. 

While there are solid ideas from the above talks, it remains a broad topic to talk human rights in general. The officer started off by stating that there is no major difference between EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and Universal Declaration of Human Rights, just that the titles are not the same. On British Referendum, she said that the argument of how the EU breaches the sovereignty of Britain is simply a populist argument. On Chinese human rights issues, she only pointed out that there is an existing arm embargo against China, but she didn’t comment much on whether the EU will take further steps to give sanctions against China if there is any further breach of human rights. 

Comments on the study programme 

Before the trip, I was looking forward to meeting officials from NATO as the programme leaflet listed. Yet, I found HKETO more relevant to me as a Hong Kong citizen after noticing the changes in the itinerary. It was enlightening to listen to personal stories from the Administrative Officers (AO) who paid a visit to Brussels like us, because there were two officers who studied journalism like me and now they are part of the Hong Kong government. However, I really hope to interact with some officers who are not from Hong Kong but at the same time working at the office in Brussels. 

Plus, it would be more attractive for the participants if there are recruitment talks in the EEAS as it is valuable for those who have intense interests to know more about this EU institution in Brussels. 

Portugal’s position paper on Migrant Crisis in Europe

Topics: Refugee crisis and EU-Turkey deal

Country: The Portuguese Republic

Background:

Last year, over one million refugees flooded into the European continent, resulting the largest refugee crisis since the end of World War II. As the existing refugee relocation policies couldn’t redistribute the asylum seekers within 28 EU Member States proportionally regarding the Dublin Agreement, there are a surging number of migrants crossing the West Balkan route from Greece through Serbia and Macedonia to Hungary or Croatia.

The situation worsens, as there are cross-border crimes, human trafficking and even smuggling, thereby signaling a need for the EU to further cooperate with other neighbouring countries. The EU and Turkey signed an agreement to alleviate the illegal migrant issue by exchanging every irregular migrant from one of the EU Member States and every registered asylum seeker in Turkey, making the EU to pay 6 billion euro to Turkey for financial assistance in terms of the migrant-related cooperation this year.

Issues:

The most common way of Syrian refugees crossing Mediterranean Sea from North Africa to the Greek Island is by boat. Yet, since the refugee boats are usually below the safety standard, they are likely to sink and eventually failed to land on the Greek Island due to an excessive amount of people on the boats.

Conducted by the EU’s border security agency Frontex, Portugal has been conducting a humanitarian mission with Italy, Croatia, Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Spain, Ireland, Austria, Switzerland, Romania, Poland, Lithuania and Malta for the Operation Triton–the voluntary mission which aims to intercept and save migrants who cross the Mediterranean.  

Even though the EU interior ministers meeting in the Justice and Home Affairs Council agreed to relocate 66,000 asylum seekers over two years from Italy and Greece to all other EU countries except Denmark, Ireland, and the United Kingdom in September last year, there are only less than one-tenth of asylum applicants were relocated from the above two frontline states.

As there are about 11,000 refugees getting stuck at the Greek makeshift camp near the Greece-Macedonian border for months under the blockade of the Macedonian authority, it sets off alarm bells on the surging number of refugees in Greece, as they couldn’t pass through non-EU countries to apply asylum claims in other EU countries.  

In addition to the urgent need of assisting Greece to relocate its refugees to other countries, the latest EU–Turkey Agreement also raises a question of whether it is necessary to strengthen EU borders with Turkey in order to avoid new routes emerging to Bulgaria and Romania.

Proposed resolutions:

  • Encourages EU Member States with the lowest number of asylum applications to make more places available for migrant relocation

Portugal has one of the lowest numbers of asylum applications, as there are only 80 applications per million inhabitants. To support the EU’s Emergency Relocation Mechanism, Portugal offers 1,642 places made available for the relocation of refugees in Europe, which is the highest among all EU Member States.

The Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa has also sent letter to Austria, Greece, Italy and Sweden for offering up to 5,800 more refugees they already agreed to take as part of the EU refugee quota system.

The Portuguese Republic strongly suggests top five particular countries with the lowest number of asylum applications per million inhabitants to lead the relocation plan because the progress is well below expected–less than 5,000 asylum applicants have been relocated from Greece and Italy.

  • Suggests to provide funding for non-EU neighbouring countries to allow asylum seekers to pass through those countries for transitional purpose in order to let refugees to apply asylum in other EU Member States

In response to the latest event of a particular non-EU neighbouring country connecting to the Greek border, Portugal considers it is inappropriate for the Macedonian officials to use tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the refugees who attempted to cross the Macedonian border.

Standing on the humanitarian ground, Portugal suggests all EU Member States to provide a negotiable amount of funding for non-EU neighbouring countries that help the asylum seekers. Being an area of protection, the EU has established European Refugee Fund within the Common European Asylum System.

By far, the funding is only available for the EU Member States, however, given that there is an urgent need for both Member States and their neighbouring countries to cooperate for the relocation of refugees, it is suggested to give financial support to those neighbouring countries for the relocation.

  • Recommends to strengthen EU borders with Turkey in order to suppress the number of illegal migrants via the Eastern Mediterranean route

The EU’s border agency Frontex has been guarding the European air borders, sea borders and land borders for decades.

According to the official statistics, in 2015, there are around 900,000 migrants arrived in the EU via the Eastern Mediterranean route, which indicates that Frontex has to intensify its cooperation with border guards from other non-EU neighbouring countries so as to make sure asylum seekers are crossing from war-torn areas to the European continent legally.

Portugal urges all EU Member States to send skilled personnel to assist the neighbouring countries for more efficient asylum application procedures, so that the EU-Turkey deal can be executed successfully, thereby curbing the issues of cross-border human smugglers.

Venezuela’s position paper on the IMF’s impacts on long-term economic growth

Committee: the International Monetary Fund (IMF) 

Topic: development and economic growth 

Venezuela was loosely tied with the IMF after the 12-month Stand-By Arrangement expired in 1997. In April 2002, the relationship between Venezuela and the Fund has deteriorated as the organization responded to the military coup quickly and pledged to provide financial assistance to an illegitimate government, making it suspicious of whether the IMF erroneously predicted the economic performance of Venezuela in relation to its political consideration on supporting the overthrown of democratically elected government.

Meanwhile, Venezuela was further distanced from the IMF from 2001 to 2003, which was largely due to highly inaccurate forecast of economic growth of Venezuela by the Fund. It overestimated the growth by 11.7% and 10% in 2001 and 2002 respectively. Even worse, it underestimated Venezuela’s economic performance by 10.6% in 2003 as an opposition-led oil strike took place in December 2002.

The relationship between Venezuela and the IMF went to a freezing point in 2007 as the former left the latter by clearing all its debt to the IMF. Until now, though, Venezuela is still listed as a member country in the IMF.

Venezuela calls for international support in relations to its proposed reform on the IMF which balances the needs of both developing and developed countries:

  • Adds “Social Progress Index” as a new criterion of formulating the quota system

The current formulation of quota system has led to heavily weighted decision-making power of developed countries in the IMF. Social Progress Index is suggested to be included as a tool to measure the basic human needs, foundation of wellbeing and opportunity so as to compensate the loopholes of calculating GDP as an index, which fails to reflect the economic status of member countries. By equally distributing the proportions of formulating the current quota system In terms of Social Progress Index, average of GDP, openness, economic variability, and international reserves, all countries would enjoy a reasonable right to involve in making decision in the IMF.  

  • Aids developing countries to build up social infrastructures to attract private investors

The IMF’s current mechanism of providing short-term relief will only lead to a vicious cycle for developing countries to overly rely on the financial aid without making any economic progress. For a betterment of those countries, one must provide a long-term strategic plan to allow private investors to boost their economic development. Social infrastructures are the foundation of a stable economy, which fosters the confidence level of private investors. By taking the above measure, the vicious cycle will come to an end.

  • Cancels the veto power of the developed country with the largest economic power

There has been an obvious imbalance of power between developing countries and developed countries within the IMF. For the eight countries having their own Executive Director in the Executive Board, they consist of 46.37% voting power in total. To avoid their economic manipulation on developing countries through the IMF, limitations on the country with excessive veto power should be imposed to balance the economic needs of both developed and developing countries.

USA’s position paper on discrimination against the disabled

Committee: The Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCR)

Representative country: United States of America

Topic: Zero tolerance to discrimination towards people with disabilities

Discrimination against either physically or mentally disabled individuals should never be tolerated. In light of shielding fundamental human rights, everyone is born free and equal regardless of their gender, age, social class, ethnicity and sexual orientation. Any unfair treatments against the disabled must be addressed as nearly every child in developing countries could not attend primary school as a UN report stated. There are some 1 billion people in the world are disabled, constituting one-sixth of the entire population.

The United States of America has hence signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol in 2009 in order to support the idea of changing one’s attitudes and approaches to individuals with disabilities. However, the US deems it is not necessary to ratify the Convention as it may not be beneficial to the disabled US citizens.

The existing policies and laws in USA have strengthened prevention of potential disability problems, increased employment opportunities for the disabled, expanded educational opportunities for the disabled, and supported development as well as use of accessible technology for the disabled. The US has ratified the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to provide financial assistance to the disabled for education, rehabilitation, independent living and processing disability applications. There are as much as $87 billion delivered for medical purposes.

Regarding the current policies to protect the basic rights of the disabled, the US proposes several amendment to ensure their voices are heard, their basic rights guaranteed. First, all States should provide equal opportunities for the disabled to accept higher education to avoid social exclusion. Second, all States should encourage national broadcasters to give the disabled a chance for public appearance in order for the public to understand the daily challenges of the disabled. Third, a funding with an aim of long-term support for the disabled should be established so as to ensure the disabled.

Older posts