The Brief, powered by GSMA – Listen to Europe’s youth, see far

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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Raising awareness of a critical issue too early may prove to be counterproductive, either because short-sighted politicians focus on short-term interests or because they simply do not see what is coming up.

The “wait and see” approach, hoping for internal change, usually in vain – applied in the cases of Belarus and Turkey – has become the default approach of EU foreign policy, even though the results are poor.

Aiming for a bottom-up change in internal politics could also be interpreted as a diplomatic way of keeping a distance from a problem.

Belarus, and the EU’s tolerance of the regime, is an example where the EU’s youth campaigners warned about the gravity of the situation years ago, but its concerns were disregarded.

Brutal protest crackdowns, opposition leaders either in jail or exiled, and more than 30,000 people arrested since the election last summer is the current state-of-play in Europe’s last dictatorship.

In March, the Free Belarus campaign of Young European Federalists (JEF Europe) marks its 15-year anniversary and EU-wide actions have been scheduled from 18-25 March.

Together with eight youth organisations from across the political spectrum, JEF Europe has published a joint statement calling on the EU to back Belarussians’ right to demonstrate freely and allow journalists to report without fear.

But the statement has been the same for 15 years now, as well as the situation on the ground in Minsk.

Following an initiative of some EU lawmakers, a debate was organised on Wednesday (10 February) to discuss why European Parliament chief David Sassoli has denied a representation office for the Belarus opposition in the Parliament, presumably upon advice from EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell.

But Borrell is the scapegoat again, as his role is limited to providing options. As always, EU member states have the last say and some of them are making bilateral energy deals with Lukashenko’s patron, Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

In December 2020, the European Commission adopted a €24 million assistance package for Belarus to support civil society and independent media, a move which smacks of an inexpensive attempt to wash away one’s sins.

The message is that Europe is here for you, providing some money to help you trigger a bottom-up change at some point.

The question is whether EU diplomacy had foreseen this outcome or whether it had simply miscalculated, as was the case with the Arab Spring, Russia’s alarming warnings in 2007 or, as is highly likely, with Turkey’s neo-Ottoman turn.

What is promising is that youth campaigns have persisted, despite politicians’ deaf ears, and still give some hope.

Less hopeful is the fact that we don’t know for how long young activists will stay so motivated as they enter an internship-driven labour market reality.

Fighting for democracy is never in vain. But coping with the mediocrity of EU diplomacy is a challenge.

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The Roundup

A range of private media outlets went off the air in Poland on Wednesday, running blank pages and slogans such as “this used to be your favourite programme,” in protest against a proposed media advertising tax they say threatens journalistic independence and diversity.

While European lawmakers were scolding the bloc’s top diplomat Josep Borrell for his ill-fated trip to Russia, European Council President Charles Michel has announced he will be travelling to Ukraine and Georgia in March.

Lawmakers in the European Parliament voted to pass the EU’s €672.5 recovery and resilience facility, unlocking unprecedented funding aimed at helping Europe “build back better” after the COVID-19 crisis.

Eight EU member states have yet to submit their national recovery and resilience plans to the European Commission to access EU post-crisis funds for COVID-19, while 19 countries have already done so, including Portugal.

Portugal’s foreign minister Augusto Santos Silva said that China is no substitute for the United States, emphasising that Beijing is an economic partner while Washington is an ally.

The European Commission wants to promote a “strong social dimension” at the May summit in Porto, as part of the Portuguese EU Council presidency, advocating a focus on young people who are facing a “difficult period” due to the COVID-19 crisis​​​​​​​.

Lawmakers in the European Parliament adopted a set of ambitious proposals on the EU’s circular economy action plan, including calls to introduce mandatory targets to reduce waste.

Claude Turmes, the Grand Duchy’s energy minister who used to be at the forefront of calls to withdraw from the Energy Charter Treaty, has backtracked on his earlier statements, saying the EU should first aim to redouble efforts to reform the beleaguered post-Soviet-era charter.

The EU should prohibit targeted advertising as part of new rules against Big Tech platforms in the bloc’s Digital Services Act, the EU’s institutional data protection watchdog has said.

Look out for…

  • Last day of European Parliament plenary with debates a.o. on human rights, safety of the nuclear power plant in Ostrovets (Belarus) and votes on motions for foreign policy resolutions
  • EU-Ukraine Association Council
  • Commissioner Margrethe Vestager meets Prime Minister of Ukraine and Prime Minister of Romania

Views are the author’s

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