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Economic Performance and Democratic Consolidation Failure in Myanmar: a Case Study for Comparative Democratisation

Maksim Vassin

Jean Balme


Global Political Economy and International Governance Analysts

Economic Performance and Democratic Consolidation Failure in Myanmar: a Case Study for Comparative Democratisation

Myanmar was plagued by civil war and internal turmoil since its independence in 1948. The recent rise of the National League for Democracy (NLD) and the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi gave hope to the Burmese people and the international community that Myanmar started its transition from a military dictatorship to full democracy.

However, the international community’s hopes never came to fruition – Myanmar never became anything more than a hybrid regime, certainly not a free society many have expected. The article will open up with the discussion of the military leverage in Myanmar after NLD’s rise to power, as well as Myanmar’s failures to consolidate democratic power and move from being a hybrid regime to a full democracy. The discussion on the role of military conglomerates and the threat that privatisation posed to them will follow.

To understand why Myanmar’s democratic ambitions never realised, it is important to analyse the relationships between key stakeholders in Myanmar society. The most powerful stakeholder has always been the military. Even after 50 years of military dictatorship, Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s military, has controlled the transition process in the late-1990s and early-2000s (Nilsen, 2013). Controlling the transition process meant that the military was able to leave considerable leverage for itself, even if the nominal power was transferred to a civilian government. Traces of such leverage are seen in the 2008 Myanmar constitution. Article 109b of the Constitution reserves 110 seats in Pyuithu Hluttaw, the lower chamber of the Parliament, to appointed members of the military; Article 141b of the Constitution reserves 56 seats in Amyotha Hluttaw, the upper chamber, to appointed members of the military (2008 Constitution). This gives the military a quarter of unelected members of the parliament that have the same mandate as those who were elected by the people.

The military may have considerably scaled down but it continues to yield enormous power. The 2008 constitution gives the military a dominant role, and the armed forces are keen to use it for their advantage and influences policies within Myanmar. The constitution gives the military broad powers to act in situations that they consider to be a major constitutional crisis, as well as compromises the system of checks and balances, as the President has the authority to appoint the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (Singh, 2013). Article 299b sections i-ii state that, while the President must submit the nomination to Pyuithu Hluttaw, the lower chamber has no right to reject the nomination unless it does not meet age limits or lacks sufficient experience in law (2008 Constitution).

Myanmar insofar has failed to complete crucial steps of the democratisation process outlined in Rustow’s “Transitions to Democracy: Toward a Dynamic Model”. First of all, the Background Condition was rather weak. Rustow describes national unity as the single most important background condition for launching the genesis of democracy (Rustow, 1970). However, Myanmar is a country of several ethnic groups with several secessionists and local nationalist movement entangling the country in decades-long processes. Such unconscious nationalism, which Rustow claims to be essential, is therefore virtually impossible. The second, the Preparatory Phase, had its difficulties, as well. As Rustow says, “a country is likely to attain democracy not by copying constitutional laws (…) but rather by honestly facing up to its particular conflicts and by devising or adapting effective procedures for their accommodation” (Rustow, 1970, p. 354). During this phase in Myanmar, several local crises have re-erupted, particularly the Kachin conflict and the Rohingya crisis. The crucial failure of Myanmar’s democratisation, however, occurred during the Habituation Phase. Rustow argues that democracy is a competition, and in such competition, those who can rationalise their commitment to democracy, or especially those who wholeheartedly believe in democracy would win (Rustow,1970). By leaving non-democratic leverage inside Myanmar’s politics for themselves, the military showed that they have no regard for democracy and are not planning to genuinely assimilate with it. This absence of commitment did not serve them well in Myanmar’s democratic elections, in which the military has consistently scored abysmal results. This meant that the military was on the verge of having their power diminished, even though the constitution provided the last resort for the military’s foothold within the country.

Such leverage of the military, as well as failures during key steps of the democratisation process, meant that Myanmar’s transition to a full democracy was jeopardised from its inception and would never be completed. The uprising of the military and the military coup that happened in 2021 was simply a question of time.

One must notice that one of the domino effects after modernisation is the role of the military drastically side-lined in the governance of the state. It is clear that the democratic transition engaged by the National League for Democracy (NLD) was not to the liking of the military clan, especially after the 2020 November general elections. Aung San Suu Ki’s party tried to compensate decades of military authoritarianism by opening up its economy to privatisation and foreign investments. It also re-adjusted the government’s budget by reducing public rents to the defence sector. Despite no official documents stating the part of the GDP’s allocations to the defence sector, cross-checking several sources have shown that the percentage evolved from 40% of the annual budget in 1988, at the beginning of the military rule, to 26.2% in 2018 (World Bank, 2020). The reduction of rents allocated to the military has undeniably modified their incentive in sharing power with more democratic institutions. The NLD has taken serious actions that thwarted the military. For the first time, in 2020, the parliament refused an additional budget request from the military of up to 7 million US dollars. This was taken as a confrontation by the military power which undoubtedly left them with a bitter taste. Thus, in a democratic transition, bodies need to distribute power proportionally to ensure stability and install an effective rule of law that would protect the emerging democracy and its citizens (Hartzell and Hoddie, 2020).


The hybrid regime that has characterised Myanmar for the past ten years has slowly split the trust deal signed by the pro-democratic movement and the military power.


As Bell et al. suggest in their much-acclaimed 2018 report ‘’Military Power-Sharing and Inclusion in Peace Processes’’, ‘military power-sharing also often means that militaries are expanded at a point where they should be downsized, and their central control can become more diffuse as the price of a formal state monopoly on the use of force, creating risks if the peace process breaks down’ (Bell et al., 2018).

Without a doubt, the economic interests of the Tatmadaw have paid the price of the democratic transition. Even though democracy reallocates de jure power to poorer agents, richer segments of society, in other words, the military that ruled Myanmar for decades, can take other actions to offset this by increasing their de facto power (Acemoglu et al., 2015). To do so, the rich elite has the advantage of already being empowered by the distribution of income in the democratic transition, contrary to the majority of the population. Therefore, the elite can capture the political system by pursuing investments, increasing their de facto power (Acemoglu et al., 2008). Indeed, the military, or namely the Tatmadaw have been and are key players in the Burmese economy. It governs large business interests in textiles, medical supplies, beer breweries, telecommunications or hotels.

The two main military conglomerates that rule over Myanmar’s economy are the Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) and the Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL), both held mainly by Senior general Min Aung Hlaing and his family. This private military-owned duopoly detains the most profitable parts of the economy. ‘They benefited greatly from privatisation efforts in the 1990s and 2000s by picking up entities at fire sale prices’ (Meyer, 2021). It is under which that Min Aung Hlaing installed its leadership by erecting these two firms with the theft of public assets and corruption. These businesses have expanded their expertise by controlling a large panel of construction projects, claiming contracts and dealing directly with foreign investments, making it a cornerstone of Myanmar’s economy. The following figure proves that the two conglomerates operate directly with foreign companies in joint ventures on all sorts of businesses to control the local market without taking the risk of seeing competition infiltrating Myanmar’s market.


One of the examples that strikes the most is the beer business. In 2015, the MEHL tried to acquire the 55% of shares missing for total control of Myanmar Brewery Limited, responsible at the time of 2/3 of the national beer market. Eventually, the MEHL could only conserve their 45% in a joint venture with the Japanese group Kirin Company. This familial empire absorbed shares and the power that goes with it. In that case, the search for expansion comes at a pivotal time for the economic health of MEHL. Many multinationals such as Heineken International and Carlsberg Group have been able to enter the Burmese market in recent years due to the pro-democracy government’s free trade and competition policy. The Tatmadaw felt that its monopoly was being threatened by economic openness, capitalisation and competition, a direct consequence of the democratic transition launched by the NLD. In fact, it was not in their interest to accept fair rivalries from foreign or local businesses.

The economic openness of Myanmar can be illustrated by the import-export rate below, showing rapid and exponential growth of external trades.

Combining the failures of Myanmar’s democratic consolidation during Rustow’s key steps of the democratisation process with some personal business interests that have been threatened by the NLD’s wish to economically open Myanmar, it is certain that it pushed the Tatmadaw to act and try to re-establish an authoritarian regime.


Acemoglu, D. Johnson, S. Robinson, J. A. Yared, P. ‘Income and Democracy’. American Economic Review. Vol. 98, no. 3, pp. 808-842. 2008.

Acemoglu, D. Naidu, S. Restrepo, P. Robinson, J. A. ‘Chapter 21 : Democracy, Redistribution, and Inequality’ in Handbook of Income Distribution. Volume 2B. North Holland. 2015.

Bell, C. Gluckstein, S. Forster, R. Pospisil, J. ‘PA-X Report : Power-Sharing Series. Military Power-Sharing and Inclusion in Peace Processes’. Political Settlements Research Programme, University of Edinburgh. 2018.

Constitution of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, 2008.

Hartzell, C.A. Hoddie, M. ‘4 – Art of the Possible: Power Sharing, Democratic Transition, and Democratization in Post-Civil War States’ in Power Sharing and Democracy in Post-Civil War States : The Art of Possible. pp. 74-92. Cambridge University Press. 2020.

Meyer, C. ‘Coup puts Myanmar’s crippling military capitalism in the spotlight’. Arab News. April 14, 2021. Available at https://arab.news/z2w9s

Nilsen, M. 2013. “Will democracy bring peace to Myanmar?” International Area Studies Review 16 (2): 115-141.

Rustow, D. 1970 ” Transitions to Democracy: Toward a Dynamic Model.” Comparative Politics 2 (3): 337-363.

Singh, Udai Bhanu. 2013. “Do the Changes in Myanmar Signify a Real Transition?” Strategic Analysis 37 (1): 101-104.

Stokke K., Soe Myint Aung. 2020. “Transition to Democracy or Hybrid Regime? The Dynamics and Outcomes of Democratization in Myanmar.” The European Journal of Development Research 32: 274–293.

World Bank ‘The Republic of the Union of Myanmar Public Expenditure and Financial Accountability (PEFA) Assessment Report 2020. PEFA Secretariat, World Bank Group. March 6, 2020.

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The constraints of future peacekeeping missions in Haiti: understanding the legacy of sexual abuse and unaccountability

Esther Brito Ruiz


Researcher in the Defence and International Security Department

The constraints of future peacekeeping missions in Haiti: understanding the legacy of sexual abuse and unaccountability 

On July 7th 2021, the world watched as news of a group of armed men storming the quarters of the Haitian president ended in the assassination of the head of state. The assassination of Jovenel Moïse has caused a political stir in the country and will lead to a new round of elections. In the meantime, Haiti’s interim government has made a controversial call for the United Nations and the United States to send armed military to secure key infrastructure points and ensure safe elections.

This request calls back to a turbulent history of foreign intervention in the country and has increased public distrust in the interim government. However, there is very well a possibility that negative developments regarding the security of the Haitian state will read the United Nations to deploy a mission in support at the transition process, as was done in the past. This is especially probable in the face of the United States declaration that it has no prospect of sending military. This potential deployment raises severe concerns on the future of Haiti and its developing security situation. Were this to be the case, it will be necessary for the UN to address the shortcomings of their previous engagements in the state, and ensure operational measures are taken to differentiate this potential new military deployment. Within this narrative, we must never forego the notion that it is the Haitian people that must be the agents determine the future of their country, and UN forces must solely – if deployed – serve to help support and secure those popular demands, without incurring in the harm these missions have historically caused to the community. With this aim, its necessary to understand the history of the United Nations mission in Haiti as a precondition for building a more responsive, accountable, and effective operation.


The UN Mission in Haiti: the legacy of sexual abuse and cholera


Throughout the last two decades, Haiti has experienced a variety of trying situations – ranging from civil and political unrest, coups, the assassination of political leaders, the proliferation of organized-crime, and severe natural disasters.  Some of these circumstances were what prompted UN Resolution 1542, through which the United Nations Security Council approved the deployment of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). The Peacekeeping Operation (PKO) took place from 2004 to 2017 and had its fair share of both successes and failures. Having mobilized almost 8500 military and police personnel, as well as over 1500 civilian staff, the mission represented the largest UN engagement in the country’s history (Kolbe, 2020). The mission’s original mandate was to protect civilians against organized crime and cycles of violence (Lemay-Hébert, 2015), but was expanded in 2010, after the earthquake worsened the condition of existing governance structures. As a result, the mission was tasked with providing humanitarian support, helping manage elections, and ensuring the protection of human rights. However, its presence became  despised by the local population – with peacekeepers holding as little legitimacy with local populations as local institutions (Mary Fran & Roslyn, 2013).  This perception was due to both the critical negligence of the PKO that caused a cholera epidemic, which killed thousands of Haitians, and the horrific instances of sexual assault by peacekeepers.

The MINUSTAH mission is known for their precipitation of a deadly cholera outbreak in 2010. After the devastating earthquake Haiti suffered, negligent sanitation practices within a UN peacekeeping base brought forth one of the most severe cholera epidemics in the state’s recent history. Over 800.000 Haitians needed medical attention, and almost 10,000 lost their lives (Ivers & Guillaume, 2017). This paradoxical failure called into question the peacekeeping mission’s presence in Haiti and whether they were fulfilling their mandate or worsening the situation further (Agbedahin, 2019). 

Adding to his is the mission’s troubling legacy of unaccountability in regards to sexual abuse. While this was not the only UN operation in which accusations of severe sexual violence against members of local communities occurred (Lee & Bartels, 2020) – allegations have been registered across missions in Haiti, CAR, Libera, and the Democratic Republic of Congo – the rape of civilians by UN peacekeeping forces in Haiti became a notorious feature of the mission. A long line of feminist scholarship has explored the gendered dynamics of sexual violence in PKOs – noting that adverse local socio-economic conditions facilitate the coercive scenarios in which sexual abuse in PKOs occurs (Vahedi, Bartels, & Lee, 2021; Vahedi, et al. 2021). While the UN has instituted a Zero Tolerance Policy, the MINUSTAH mission saw 119 registered allegations of sexual abuse from 2007 to March of 2021 – with the real number is estimated to be much higher (Kolbe, 2020). Additionally, beyond the direct cases of sexual abuse perpetrated by peacekeepers, it is considered that MINUSTAH created what is called a “Peacekeeping Economy” in Haiti –economic activity derived directly from the presence of peacekeepers and international aid workers – which led to an expansion of the local sex industry and an increase in human trafficking (Toledo & Braga, 2020).   

Allegations of sexual abuse have often been denied investigation, even when extensive evidence has been provided, proving them true (Ivers & Guillaume, 2017).  This denies justice for victims and naturally worsens – if not nullifies – the role of PKOs as protectors. There is little recourse for victims due to the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which decreets that troop-contributing countries maintain legal jurisdiction over the troops sent to PKOs (Reiz & O’Lear, 2016). This creates legal lagoons where victims in states harboring PKOs are unable to seek redress. While there is a base for this arrangement with regards to international security – fewer countries would be as willing to engage in missions if they were required to renounce legal control over their troops – this has severe human rights implications. One example of this is the conditions suffered by children fathered by MINUSTAH peacekeepers – which studies have shown experience high levels of economic deprivation and have been denied access to basic services and education (Lee & Bartels, 2020).  Overall, there has been no accountability for perpetrators or compensation for victims – painting the mission as almost an occupying force, rather than a provider of aid and security.


Policy changes needed for any future United Nations Missions in Haiti


The following measures would serve as a starting point to restructure future UN operations in Haiti: 

Firstly, the legal framework established by the UN SOFA needs to be reconsidered in this case so as to increase the accountability of sexual violence by peacekeepers – weather by structural amendments to UN procedures or by agreements with troop contributing countries. This is a precondition for any realistic re-entry of UN troops into the state, and would help promote public trust. In addition, compensation funds or other redress measures would need to be facilitated to victims – both with regards to sexual abuse claims and the cholera epidemic. While a compensatory fund was established for the later, financing has been scarce and the recognition of responsibility by UN officials has been lacking. 

Secondly, the inclusion of binding international human rights law principles in the deployed mission can also help both enhance operational effectiveness and promote greater accountability (Howland, 2006). This can be argued of legal precedence due to the binding commitments of both the UN and the troop contributing states based on treaty commitments. As such, any approved and funded UN operations would be subject to these incurred obligations. While there is increased consensus on this matter, there is no practical operationalization of these obligations on the ground. A prospective mission into Haiti could serve as a testing ground for these new obligations, which would not only serve to enhance transparency and accountability, but also increase local reporting of abuses. Of course, this will be dependent on a strong and consistent enforcement mechanism. 

Thirdly, some UN missions and policymakers have suggested that more gendered balanced missions – with a higher presence of female peacekeepers – might serve to reduce instances of sexual violence or increase reporting by victims (Karim and Beardsley, 2016). This view can be problematic insofar it may be based on the belief that increasing the number of women in PKOs will serve to automatically reduce sexual violence (Simić, 2010). This of course, not in any way the case (Mazurana, et al., 2002). There have been studies have implied that – only if and when adequately trained, engaged, and visible – women peacekeepers can contribute to operational success by aiding in more gender-aware policies and contributing to changes in mission’s behavior (Karim & Beardsley, 2016). However, the impact of gender-mixed units in peacekeeping are not generalizable and remain context specific, contingent upon certain commonalities in identity – be they linguistic, cultural, ethnic or other – between the host community and the peacekeepers (Heinecken, 2015). In this same line, this impact depends on interaction with local communities– if this engagement is to make local women and girls to be more inclined to report abuses to female peacekeepers (Valenius, 2007). However, long term reductions will have to address the root causes of sexual misconduct and necessitate severe and consistent punishment for perpetrators (Simić, 2010). A future UN mission in Haiti would benefit from PKO’s troops that speak a common language with the local population or share other identity features that can help them better interact and promote trust with local communities. 

Ultimately, these policies can serve as a starting point from which a potential UN deployed mission can start to build back trust in Haiti, after their lackluster heritage. If the security situation in Haiti were to worsen, and UN engagement became a reality, future missions must be ready to adhere to these and added policies so as to fulfill their fundamental obligations: those of their mandate and those of the founding principles of the UN.


Agbedahin, K. (2019). The haiti cholera outbreak and peacekeeping paradoxes. Peace Review31(2), 190-198.

During the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), reports of sexual abuse and exploitation and children fathered by peacekeepers were brought forward to the UN

Heinecken, L. (2015). Are Women ‘Really’Making a Unique Contribution to Peacekeeping?: The Rhetoric and the Reality. Journal of International Peacekeeping, 19(3-4), 227-248.

Howland, T. (2006). Peacekeeping and conformity with human rights law: how MINUSTAH falls short in Haiti. International Peacekeeping13(4), 462-476.

Ivers, L. C., & Guillaume, Y. (2017). The Price of Peace? Peacekeeping with Impunity Harms Public Health in Haiti. The American journal of tropical medicine and hygiene97(3), 639.

Karim, S., & Beardsley, K. (2016). Explaining sexual exploitation and abuse in peacekeeping missions: The role of female peacekeepers and gender equality in contributing countries. Journal of Peace Research, 53(1), 100-115.

Kolbe, A. R. (2020). Prospects for Post-Minustah Security in Haiti. International Peacekeeping27(1), 44-57.

Lee, S., & Bartels, S. (2020). ‘They put a few coins in your hand to drop a baby in you’: a study of peacekeeper-fathered children in Haiti. International Peacekeeping27(2), 177-209.

Lemay-Hébert, N. (2015). United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). In The Oxford handbook of United Nations peacekeeping operations.

Mary Fran T, M., & Roslyn K, C. (2013). Peacekeepers and the people: Domestic evaluations of peacekeeping operations in Haiti. Journal of International Peacekeeping17(3-4), 385-413.

Mazurana, D., Lopez, E. P., Johnston, N., & Cobley, B. (2002). Gender mainstreaming in peace support operations: Moving beyond rhetoric to practice. International Alert. 

Reiz, N., & O’Lear, S. (2016). Spaces of violence and (in) justice in Haiti: a critical legal geography perspective on rape, UN peacekeeping, and the United Nations status of forces agreement. Territory, Politics, Governance4(4), 453-471.

Simić, O. (2010). Does the presence of women really matter? Towards combating male sexual violence in peacekeeping operations. International Peacekeeping, 17(2), 188-199.

Toledo, A., & Braga, L. M. (2020). Abuse and Sexual Exploitation in Peace Operations: The Case of MINUSTAH. Revista Estudos Feministas28.

Vahedi, L., Bartels, S. A., & Lee, S. (2021). ‘Even peacekeepers expect something in return’: A qualitative analysis of sexual interactions between UN peacekeepers and female Haitians. Global public health16(5), 692-705.

Vahedi, L., Stuart, H., Etienne, S., Lee, S., & Bartels, S. A. (2021). Gender-Stratified Analysis of Haitian Perceptions Related to Sexual Abuse and Exploitation Perpetrated by UN Peacekeepers during MINUSTAH. Sexes2(2), 216-243.

Valenius, J. (2007). A few kind women: Gender essentialism and Nordic peacekeeping operations. International Peacekeeping, 14(4), 510-523.

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The current pandemic will not be a “once in a century” crisis – why climate change will bring more pandemics

Alice Altmayer


Environmental and Climatic Affairs Analyst

The current pandemic will not be a “once in a century” crisis. 

And why this will be caused by climate change. Covid-19 has undeniably changed our lives. From our social habits to the way we work, our  ambition to achieve ever greater comfort has been challenged, especially in the northern  hemisphere and the cities.

This abrupt change quickly leads us to underline the exceptional  character of such a crisis and qualify it as a “once in a century” crisis. While this statement was  still plausible at the time of the last disruptive pandemic in 1918, it is less believable today, as  human activities increase the frequency of outbreaks. As Professor Matthew Baylis from the  University of Liverpool states, “As in the last 20 years, we’ve had six significant threats – SARS,  MERS, Ebola, avian influenza and swine flu. We dodged five bullets but the sixth got us”. One of the main drivers of this phenomenon is the ever-growing impact of humans on  biodiversity. The human-induced biodiversity loss and destruction of natural habits are  gradually favouring zoonotic diseases and spill-over effects, i.e. diseases transmitted from  animals to humans. Let’s take the example of city building. When a city is created, as natural  as it now seems to us, it means destroying a complex biodiversity that was previously there. 

By destroying the natural habitat, humans are creating more and more interfaces with species,  thus promoting the exchange of pathogens. But the threat does not end there. According to new research, the most resistant species to human action, such as rats and pigeons, are also  the ones most likely to transmit diseases to them. Their populations even tend to increase  when an environment changes from rural to urban, as they replace the more rare and specific  biodiversity that did not survive the change. These findings, made after analysis of more than  184 studies on a total of more than 7,000 species (BBC), underline the potential danger  associated with urbanisation. 


This statement is doubly challenging as an urban environment also means increased human proximity, thus facilitating human-to-human transmission, and the onset of an epidemic and  a potential pandemic.


For instance, Ebola outbreaks in Central Africa did not create an  epidemic until Guinean citizens sought medical treatment in major cities in 2014. Once in the  city, the virus was able to flourish (Genton et al, 2014). This is all the more worrying when one  considers the large share of substandard housing in the growth of cities in developing  countries. Currently, more than one billion people are living in informal settlements, often  near cities (UN). Those settlements do not have the sanitary facilities necessary for the good  health of their population. The populations of such settlement are thus more in contact with  animals carrying contagious diseases but are also more exposed to waterborne diseases. Without any urgent change in policies, urbanisation will continue to favour outbreaks. 

The impact of humans is not only in their distribution. Indeed, man-made climate change is  also a crucial factor in the increase of outbreaks. As we warm the planet, we disrupt entire  ecosystems, forcing them to change and adapt. For instance, the new temperatures will allow more areas to be inhabited by mosquitoes transmitting diseases such as malaria or dengue  fever. It is important to note that this disease can also be transmitted between humans. Thus,  according to the World Health Organization (WHO), between 2030 and 2050, 250,000 more  people will die from mosquito-borne diseases. For instance, dengue fever has already gained  ground in recent years. In 1970, it was endemic in 9 countries, today that number has risen to  128, and projections state that it will threaten 60% of the population in 2080.

The movement of animals is therefore a pressing issue if we are to cope with this new “pandemic era” (Dr Anthony Fauci). Let’s take the example we are familiar with due to the  current contact: Bats. Bats are carriers of many viruses and other pathogens. Between 1994  and 1998 at least four pathogens were transmitted to humans by bats. Not every disease  becomes a pandemic, but if the frequency of these exchanges continues to increase, the risk  of a pandemic also does.

With global warming, disruption of their environment, and natural food source cycles, bats  struggle to find food. Hence, they move closer to civilisation (Robert M Beyer, 2021). This  trend favours their contact with other animals and humans as well as increases their risk of  transmitting pathogens. To take a concrete example, in 1994, in Australia, bats moved closer  to civilisation for reasons already mentioned. By urinating in grass later ingested by horses,  these bats contaminated them with a virus that caused the death of 7 people (RollingStone). With an estimate of 1.7 million undiscovered viruses in the animal population, the movement  of animals and their increased contact with humans are cause for concern in the coming years. 

Our way of exploiting nature and organising ourselves as a society is therefore not optimal in  protecting us from epidemics, but rather increases the risk of their creation. This is a global  phenomenon that cannot be confined to specific countries. Therefore, we need to rely on  international cooperation as a foundation on which to build our resilience. At a time of  uncertainty when it is easy to turn inward, many call for greater collaboration. On 30 March  2021, world leaders joined a call led by the WHO and the European Council for an international  treaty on preventing and managing future pandemics. This treaty will aim to increase  collaboration in pandemic research and response to limit their frequency and impact. At the same time, the “One Health” approach advocated by the WHO joins and extends this  idea of international collaboration. “One Health” considers health and disease in a holistic,  interconnected way between the environment, animals and humans. Better prevention, therefore, requires a global analysis of these different sectors It advocates extensive  collaboration between sectors, for example, between industries and academics in exchanging  research and data to expand knowledge and prevention of pandemics. 

These new ways of thinking about our connection to each other and to the environment must  form the basis of our response to future pandemics if we are to limit their impact.


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Football: more than just a game?

Emma Somos


Health and Social Affairs Analyst

Football – more than just a game?

As the long-awaited final match of UEFA European Football Championship (Euros) takes place, thousands of eager fans will be crowded into pubs and bars across the World. The game’s sheer ability to draw-in people, including those who may not usually be football fans, into this multi-billion pound industry leaves economic and political powers at awe.

No wonder the game which was once a simple recreation has now evolved into one of the world’s largest institutions; with the symbolic (or “soft”) power to communicate and promote both cultural and political messages, all while generating huge revenue. So as we all sit and watch the final between England and Italy, somewhere in the back of our minds we must wonder…is football more than just a game?

European football attracts global attention, and despite a nominal political neutrality being strongly promoted by The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), one cannot ignore the political connections of individual teams. Clubs such as Paris Sain-Germain (owned by Qatar) and Manchester City (owned by the United Arab Emirates) present strong connections between national government interests and the game of football.¹ Countries that get to host important football games and tournaments also gain a global exposure which not only brings economic advantages such as increased tourism and investment opportunities, but also an increased exposure of their political leadership and values.

First introduced by Harvard Political Scientist Joseph Nye, the concept of “soft power” described the way countries can achieve their goals not by direct action, but by “getting other countries to want what it wants.² On one hand, sports can help popularise countries, and their respective governments can capitalise on such attraction by fostering political cooperation and asserting themselves as global leaders. Researchers view China and Qatar’s increasing engagement with global sports to be based on such a desire to acquire ‘soft power’.³ On the other hand, athletes (and increasingly fans) have also begun to realise how sports, especially football, can function as a platform to communicate and as a means to achieve social action. Society and sports are deeply embedded systems and the long history of athlete activism demonstrates this.⁴ Although most would agree that athlete activism is entirely different to governments and corporations asserting their interests and power through sports, some remain unconvinced. While athletes usually speak up for social diversity and inclusion, or against human rights abuses, governments and corporations tend to have more power and profit-related intentions.

The expected political neutrality of football games are fixed in Articles 1 and 2(a) of the UEFA Statutes, stating “neutral, politically and religiously” is essential to “promote football in Europe in a spirit of peace, understanding and fair play, without any discrimination on account of politics, gender, religion, race or any other reason”.⁵ Although the UEFA, and International Federation of Association Football (FIFA), have historically been stringent in their policing of political or social statements made by teams and players, there seems to have been more ease in restrictions over the past year.

The national soccer teams of Norway, Germany, and the Netherlands all wore T-shirts that supported human rights during the 2022 World Cup qualifiers voicing a criticism of migrant workers’ rights in Qatar, the host of next year’s World Cup.^5 Furthermore, the murder of George Floyd and recent police brutality towards the African-American community in the United States inspired many football players to take the knee before matches to show support for racial justice and solidarity with people of colour. In a step away from its usually neutral position, UEFA announced its support for players taking the knee because it “has a zero-tolerance against racism and any player who wants to demand equality amongst human beings by taking the knee will be allowed to do so”.⁶ An act as simple as dropping to one knee has had the power to bring discussions of racial inequality and discrimination onto the global agenda. It has proved a powerful tool in the ongoing fight for racial justice, but also provides an example of how the soft power of football has the ability to impact positively on society, and not just increase power and revenue for some stakeholders.

In addition to racism, LGBTQIA+ discrimination has also became a central topic during the Euros 2020. Discrimination against the LGBTQIA+ Community in Hungary increased as a new law passed in the FIDESZ majority national parliament practically banned any LGBTQIA+ representation or support from education.⁷ Members of the LGBTQIA+ community in Hungary already had no legal right to marry, adopt kids, or have legal recognition of gender reassignment. This latest bill is particularly outrageous as it falsely conflates LGBTQIA+ with paedophilia. Despite this, the UEFA showed support for Viktor Orban, national conservative and openly anti-LGTIQ prime minister of Hungary, only one year before national elections in Hungary take place. Orban has been known for his obsession with football, or more precisely, with building unnecessary and enormous stadiums in Hungary (of which the construction contracts have been awarded to his close friends and allies).⁸ Although Orban’s right wing voter coalition building has proved to be effective⁹, as his party has been re-elected twice in the past 10 years, there is increasing opposition among Hungarians against his openly homophobic and discriminative policies.¹0


The UEFA’s open support for such a political leader has raised questions from players, fans, and activists in solidarity with the LGBTQIA+ community.


Prior to the Euro 2020 match between Germany and Hungary, Munich City Council requested to illuminate the Allianz Arena in rainbow colours to show support for social inclusivity and diversity¹¹. UEFA rejected their request saying they are a politically neutral organisation and that the request would contradict this stance due to the “political context” given the illumination would be “a message pointing to a decision made by the Hungarian national parliament”.¹² Interestingly, Sándor Csányi, a Hungarian banker and close friend of Viktor Orbán, serves as the vice-chair of UEFA’s executive committee and FIFA, as well as being the President of the Hungarian Football Association. One is forced to consider whether such an alliance would bear influence on UEFA’s decision. In another example, UEFA’s Control and Disciplinary body also considered whether Manuel Neuer’s (goalkeeper and captain of the Germany national team) rainbow armband should be punished for displaying a “political message”, but the investigation was later dropped.¹³ Adam Crafton from The Athletic rightly reported that the UEFA is passive on homophobia, but proactive when players show solidarity.¹⁴ Aleksander Čeferin, President of UEFA is known to have a good relationship and has been pictured with authoritative Eastern European leaders such as Alexander Lukashenko (President of Belarus), Vladimir Putin (President of Russia) and Viktor Orban (Prime Minister of Hungary).

As a young Hungarian myself, I recognise the advantages and joy of attending such high-level games in my capital, however the UEFA providing spotlight and prestige for undemocratic leaders without any challenge or scrutiny is a shame. There is an urgent need to engage and grow the game outside of Western Europe, and be more aware of the game’s subtle association with certain leaders, countries, and organisations.

This being said, we are now witnessing a change across the entire footballing industry. Some clubs and players are becoming increasingly aware of their soft power and have begun to show support for particular social justice matters. The lighting of stadiums with rainbow colours by several German clubs during recent matches shows solidarity with the LGBTQIA+ community. Posting images and messages on social media has also allowed clubs to demonstrate their support for a more inclusive and diverse society. Following the controversy prior to the Germany/Hungary match, German player Manuel Neuer addressed his position as an athlete activist: “In the past, it was often the case that we did not position ourselves politically that way and instead followed the guidelines as it always has been, but we want to give the national team a face and show people that there are important things outside of football that we point out and that we stand behind. We are role models for many children and young people, and I think that we are currently giving a positive image”.¹⁵

Sports is not something that exists in a bubble and that can be fully autonomous. Football can serve as a platform of discussion and be the leader of change. And while the space of football has long been dominated by powerful stakeholders such as football federations, governments and corporations, athletes and consumers are beginning to realise their voice in the game. The coming years will be a turning point for the industry and I, for one, am looking forward to the witnessing the growth of the game.


[1] East, S. (2015). Middle East millions fueling European football [Online]. CNN. Available at: https://edition.cnn.com/2015/01/12/football/qatar-uae-sponsor-football-europe/index.html (Accessed: 09 July 2021)

[2] Nye, J. S. (1990). Soft Power. Foreign Policy, (80), 153. doi:10.2307/1148580 https://www.jstor.org/stable/1148580

[3] ‘Qatar’s big push to establish itself as a footballing soft power’. (2019, September 09) [Online]. Goal. Available at: https://www.goal.com/en-sg/news/qatar-football-soft-power-major-investment-world-cup-fifa/1ftx705j09k0f16omvssx82f90 (Accessed: 09 July 2021) and Leite J. E. and Rodrigues C. (2020) Belt, Road and Ball: Football as a Chinese Soft Power and Public Diplomacy Tool. In: Leandro F., Duarte P. (eds) The Belt and Road Initiative. Palgrave Macmillan, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-15-2564-3_4

[4] Reeves, R.. (2021). A new era of athlete activists inherit a centuries-old fight for justice [Online]. The Undefeated. Available at: https://theundefeated.com/features/a-new-era-of-athlete-activists-inherit-a-centuries-old-fight-for-justice/ (Accessed: 09 July 2021)

[5] ‘Qatar World Cup: Germany, Norway and Netherlands players voice human rights concerns’. (2021, March 30) [Online]. SkySports. Available at: https://www.skysports.com/football/news/11095/12258996/qatar-world-cup-germany-norway-and-netherlands-players-voice-human-rights-concerns (Accessed: 09 July 2021)

[6] ‘Europe divided on taking the knee during EURO 2020 football tournament’ (2021, June 11) [Online]. Euronews. Available at: https://www.euronews.com/2021/06/11/europe-divided-on-taking-the-knee-during-euro-2020-football-tournament (Accessed: 09 July 2021)

[7] Papp, R. (2021). Discrimination against LGBTIQ Community in Hungary. [Online]. 4Liberty.eu. Available at: http://4liberty.eu/discriminating-against-the-lgbtiq-community-in-hungary-and-its-implications/ (Accessed: 09 July 2021)

[8] Lambert, S. (2018). Orbán Government Stadium Construction. [Online]. The Orange Files. Available at: https://theorangefiles.hu/government-stadium-construction/ (Accessed: 09 July 2021)

[9] Goldblatt, D. and Nolan, D. (2018). Viktor Orbán’s reckless football obsession. [Online]. The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/jan/11/viktor-orban-hungary-prime-minister-reckless-football-obsession (Accessed: 09 July 2021)

[10] Simon, Z. (2021). Same-Sex Parenthood Draws Unexpected Support in Hungary. [Online]. Bloomberg. Available at: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-03-21/same-sex-parenthood-draws-unexpected-support-in-hungary (Accessed: 09 July 2021)

[11] Gulácsi, P. (2021, February 23.). Instagram post. [Online]. Available at: https://www.instagram.com/p/CLon2VUlbKL/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link (Accessed: 09 July 2021)

[12] Vaski, T. (2021) FM Szijjártó Praises UEFA for Declining Munich’s Rainbow Stadium ‘Provocation’. [Online]. Available at: https://hungarytoday.hu/munich-rainbow-stadium-uefa-rainbow-flag/ and Miller, G. (2021). Uefa blocks the protest at the LGBTQ + rainbow stadium in Munich | Euro 2020. [Online]. Available at: https://insider-voice.com/uefa-blocks-the-protest-at-the-lgbtq-rainbow-stadium-in-munich-euro-2020/ (Accessed: 09 July 2021)

[13] ‘Manuel Neuer: UEFA drops review of rainbow armband worn by Germany captain at Euro 2020 during Pride Month’ (2021, June 21) [Online]. SkySports. Available at: https://www.skysports.com/football/news/19692/12337162/manuel-neuer-uefa-drops-review-of-rainbow-armband-worn-by-germany-captain-at-euro-2020-during-pride-month (Accessed: 09 July 2021)

[14] Crafton, A. D. . (2021, June 22.). Tweet. [Online]. Available at: https://twitter.com/AdamCrafton_/status/1407230000055607297?s=20 (Accessed: 09 July 2021)

[15] Salt, N. (2021). Germany are in talks about taking the knee ahead of Euro 2020 Wembley showdown against England tomorrow despite not kneeling at all in 2021… with goalkeeper Manuel Neuer impressed by solidarity of Three Lions in tackling racism. [Online]. Mail Online. Available at: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/sportsnews/article-9732631/Euro-2020-Germany-talks-taking-knee-ahead-Wembley-showdown-against-England.html (Accessed: 09 July 2021)

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The extradition of Italian ex-terrorists in France puts an end to the Mitterrand Doctrine

Giulia de Nardin


International Relations and Global Governance Analyst

The extradition of Italian ex-terrorists in France puts an end to the Mitterrand Doctrine

Thanks to the operation ‘Red Shadows’ (from Italian: ‘Ombre Rosse’), France released on probation all former Red Brigades terrorists apprehended in its territory and wanted by the Italian justice after several years of contentious and protracted negotiations. 

The law will now require them to comply with several obligations, such as signing and reporting to the police twice a week in Italy, as long as they wait for their trial. The French attempt to tackle this judicial and political issue counters the famous and much-debated Mitterrand Doctrine by reopening the dossier after decades of controversies. The reasons why the Macron government has taken up the case are far from being accidental. Whether this decision is because France has been deeply transformed by terrorist attacks, because of the understanding between the current Italian and French political leadership, or simply to allow President Macron to win the upcoming elections, it takes place in a particular geopolitical climate worth analysing.

The first person to announce the news to the press was Jean-Louis Chalanset, the French lawyer of the ex-militant of the Red Brigades, Enzo Calvitti. Calvitti is now aged 66 and will have to serve a sentence of about 19 years’ detention, in addition to probation for four years. Raffaele Ventura, ex-terrorist belonging to the ‘Autonomia Operaia’ group, was sentenced to approximately 24 years for the murder of Deputy Brigadier Antonio Custra on 14 May 1977 in Milan during a demonstration organised by the extra-parliamentary left. His lawyer affirmed that he was in a legitimate situation in France, according to what was agreed when he arrived in the country back in 1982: in order to be considered as out of clandestinity, he submitted to regular police controls and abandoned all criminal activity in both countries¹. He also obtained French nationality, but these actions were not enough to convince Italy to waive his extradition^1. Calvitti and Ventura are not the only ones who will have to face this legal procedure. The former militants affected by this new order and their respective political parties or organisations to which they belonged are: Giorgio Pietrostefani of ‘Lotta Continua’; Roberta Cappelli, Marina Petrella, Maurizio Di Marzio, Sergio Tornaghi, Enzo Calvitti and Giovanni Alimonti of ‘Red Brigades’; Narciso Manenti of ‘Nuclei Armati’; Luca Bergamin of ‘Proletari Armati’; Raffaele Ventura of ‘Autonomia Operaia’².

This case traces its origins back to the so-called ‘Years of Leads’ (from Italian: ‘Anni di Piombo’),  thus named because of the high number of shootings that occurred in Italy from the late 1960s to the late 1980s, and the above-mentioned former militants participated directly or indirectly in one or more crimes during this period. The fact that they could stay in France to avoid serving their respective sentences in Italy, thus gave rise to the so-called ‘Mitterrand Doctrine’.

The socio-political scenario back then was characterised by social conflicts and political tension, as well as a number of acts of terrorism carried out by right and left-wing political and student organisations. This period started in a tense political climate, marked by the so-called ‘Hot Autumn’ strikes in 1969. In the following months, there was an escalation of terrorist attacks with the killing of policeman Andrea Annarumma during a public protest organised by the Italian Communist Party (PCI), the Piazza Fontana bombing on 12 December 1969 provoked by the extreme right and the subsequent death of anarchist Giuseppe Spinelli, wrongly accused of the massacre and who died in uncertain circumstances in police custody³. Many other incidents such as the Borghese Coup (1970), the ‘Piazza della Loggia’ bombing in Brescia (1974), the White Coup (1974), the Italicus train bombing (1974), the Bologna massacre (1980) stained this era with blood; but its ultimate climax was the kidnapping and assassination, orchestrated by the Red Brigades, of Christian Democrat secretary and former prime minister Aldo Moro (1978). With his left-leaning view, he was implementing a deal called the ‘Historic Compromise’, trying to include the PCI headed by Enrico Berlinguer in the Italian government, but his plan was abandoned after his death.

Many militants accused of taking part in these terrorist acts fled to countries that granted them protection thanks to their asylum policies: most of them went to France, while others opted for South American countries such as Brazil and Nicaragua. The French Socialist President at the time, François Mitterand (1916-1996), elaborated a policy, presented for the first time during a speech at the Palais des Sports in Rennes on February 1st 1985, that refused to accord extradition of Italian citizen involved in the Years of Lead violent acts, exept in case of “active, actual, bloody terrorism”⁴. He then affirmed at the 65th Congress of the Human Rights League, on 21 April 1985, that “Italian refugees (…) who took part in terrorist action before 1981 (…) have broken links with the infernal machine in which they participated, have begun a second phase of their lives, have integrated into French society (…) I told the Italian government that they were safe from any sanction by the means of extradition”⁵.

The raison d’être of the Mitterand Doctrine is controversial. According to an article published in 2007 by the Italian newspaper ‘Il Corriere della Sera’, it was the French Catholic priest Abbé Pierre who persuaded Mitterrand to pursue this policy⁶, while according to the lawyers of the former militant Cesare Battisti, he took this decision following consultations with Bettino Craxi, the then Italian Socialist PM. Analysing Mitterrand’s policy in more depth, ever since he was Minister of Justice in the Guy Mollet government during the Algerian war, he had declared himself opposed to emergency and exception laws, considered political violence legitimate in certain cases and prioritised human rights issues: this makes his position in the fight against terrorism consistent over time⁷. The Mitterrand doctrine has never been defined or embodied in any law.

Decades after the events, the extradition of ten former terrorists definitively marks the end of the Mitterrand doctrine. Despite the fact that the policy had already been ‘violated’ in 2002 with the extradition of Paolo Perisichetti, ex-member of the Red Brigades, and that the French Council of State had declared it of no legal value, France continued to deny the extradition of numerous ex-militants during the years. Other releases followed, without France ever accepting the Italian requests in their entirety, often due to problems with the Italian criminal investigation: France could not accept its legal conclusions because the accusations often came from a so-called ‘pentito’ (a former criminal who later repented), a figure not recognised by the French legal system⁸. For this reason, it is worth noting that it never happened until April 2021 that France granted extradition for such a large number of former terrorists, thus marking a turning point in diplomatic relations between France and Italy concerning asylum policies and  in the dismissal of the Mitterrand Doctrine. Many ex-terrorists are still missing from the roll call to be extradited to Italy to serve their sentences, and we expect France to be cooperative after setting a precedent like this.

There are several reasons, although not all yet confirmed by official sources, that justify the choice of French President Emmanuel Macron to grant extradition during the spring of 2021 and explain why the doctrine has come to a standstill. In particular, we recognise the impact that recent terrorist attacks had on France’s new security policies. We also acknowledge the positive influence of the relationship between French President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Mario Draghi on diplomatic relations between France and Italy and the importance of President Macron’s current political choices on the upcoming presidential elections. First of all, Italy was trembling because of terrorism  in the ‘Years of Lead’, and France has found itself in a similar though not entirely comparable situation, with the attacks that have plagued it in recent years. As stated by the Elysée “France, itself affected by terrorism, understands the victims’ absolute need for justice. Through this handover, it is also consistent with the imperative need to build a Justice Europe, in which mutual trust must be at the centre”. 

Among the many attacks, we will mention the Charlie Hebdo shooting (7 January 2015), the Paris attacks (13 November 2015), the Nice truck attack (14 July 2016), the Normandy church attack (26 July 2016), the Champs-Élysées attack (April 2017), the Marseille attack (1 October 2017), the Strasbourg attack (11 December 2018) and the two extreme right-wing attacks on mosques in Brest and Bayonne (27 June and 28 October 2019). These tragic incidents did not leave France impassive: following the Paris attacks, President François Hollande proclaimed the state of emergency (from French: état d’urgence) in November 2015, which was then replaced when President Emmanuel Macron introduced the 1510 Act to reinforce internal security (30 November 2017). Given that the Mitterrand doctrine opposed Italian anti-terrorism laws in some regards, it cannot be ruled out that the French decision to bury this policy was taken with the precise aim of removing obstacles to possible future diplomatic cooperation concerning terrorism. For example, if in the future there will be French terrorists seeking political asylum in Italy, France can hope for greater cooperation from its neighbour country if it proves willing to give in Italian ex-terrorists today.

Secondly, it cannot be denied that this successful bilateral operation would not have happened without good diplomatic and political relations between France and Italy. In this regard, we must remember how much the relationship between the two states had soured back in 2018-2019: main tensions concerned not only the extradition of Cesare Battisti in 2019, but also the issue of high-speed trains on the border between the two countries, Di Maio’s visit to the yellow vests in France and several immigration incidents.


This led France to recall its ambassador in Rome, and Italy did the same with its one in Paris, and it is worth noting that the previous time an ambassador was recalled it was in 1940 and Italy had just declared war on France.


After these tensions with the then deputy PM Salvini and Di Maio, the Mattarella-Conte-Macron relationship healed in February 2020¹⁰. Later, it improved with the arrival in government of former European Central Bank President Mario Draghi on 13 February 2021, and also with a number of diplomatic and political developments in Libya on which the two have been cooperating¹¹. The reconciliation has also been confirmed by Italian President Sergio Mattarella’s state visit to President Macron in Paris between 5 and 6 July 2021.Last but not least, it should be added that the extradition of the Italian ex-terrorists to France is a judicial but also very political decision. In fact, in less than a year’s time, the current French President Emmanuel Macron will run for the presidential elections,which is why every current political choice he makes may be decisive sfor his re-election. He chose to keep a firm position on the fight against crime and terrorism, as well as on national security issues: in particular, he introduced the 1510 Act to reinforce internal security after the recent terrorist attacks, as mentioned above. Therefore, being inconsistent between domestic and foreign policy would not work in his favour at all if he is willing to be re-elected. Furthermore, the Macron government has always had a pro-European stance, and has in particular supported the creation of a common European legal space. The union of EU states against the threat of terrorism is undoubtedly a fundamental pillar to strengthen future European law on this topic.


[1] La Repubblica (2021), Secoli d’Italia (2021), L’Eco di Bergamo (2021), Le Monde (2021)

[2] RaiNews (2021)

[3] Indro Montanelli, Mario Cervi, L’Italia degli Anni di Piombo (1991)

[4] François Mitterrand, Speech at the Palais des Sports in Rennes (1st February 1985)

[5] François Mitterrand, Speech at the  65th Congress of the Human Rights League (LDH) (21 April 1985)

[6] Massimo Nava, Il Corriere della Sera, Abbé Pierre, il frate ribelle che scelse gli emarginati (23 January  2007)

[7]Marco Gervasoni, Claude Sophie Mazéas, La gauche italienne, les socialistes français et les origines de la doctrine (2010)

[8] Nino Maiorino, Ulisse Online (2021)

[9] French Presidency announcement (28 April 2021)

[10] Conchita Sannino, La Repubblica, Dossier Anni di Piombo: la Francia ora riapre al rimpatrio di 11 terroristi  (11 April 2021)

[11]  Jean-Pierre Darnis, Université Côte d’Azur and Istituto affari internazionali, Se Macron guarda con interesse a Draghi (2021); Maria Grazia Rutigliano, Luiss University, Telefonata tra Draghi e Macron: due leader europei sempre più vicini (22 April 2021)

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Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: The Thorn in the Side of the European Common Policy

Felipe Taylor Murta

International Relations and Global Governance Analyst

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: The Thorn in the Side of the European Common Policy

In the first half of 2021, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict started a new escalation that lasted 11 days before the ceasefire but resulting in a large number of civilian casualties mainly in Gaza and the West Bank.

The post-Oslo era seems to have hardened the coordination of political actors in the promotion of the international agenda, which was aggravated by the decisions made by former American President Donald Trump, and the inability of the European Union to jointly promote the main values that constitute the European Neighborhood Policy.

The ceasefire came not long after the international appeal by the UN Secretary General, the current US president Joe Biden and 26 of 27 European Union member states, with the knowingly exception of Hungary. Even though Hungary was the only country to fully support Israel, one of its most important partners, other EU members have blocked political action of the block for many years as a result of geopolitical interests.

This analysis seeks to understand the position of the European Union stances, considering its official statements and the difficulties behind the negotiation amongst its Member States. In order to set a critical analysis for the matter, the first part of this article will focus on historical facts that constitute not only the relations between the EU and Israel and Palestine, but also the constitution of its Neighborhood Policy since the Barcelona process, which is important for this specific conflict. Secondly, it will explore the response of the block to the most recent escalation, which shall result in the final and global analysis.

The European interest in the Middle East is not new, whether considering economic, political, and military variables. Because of the geographical proximity, security and stability became recurrent words in the European discourse towards the region. Since 1995, during the Barcelona process that gave birth to the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EMP, 1995-2004), 15 European countries expanded their relations with 13 neighbor countries in the Mediterranean, as for Algeria, Cyprus, Lebanon, Malta, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, Israel, and Palestine. The cooperation amongst member-States called for good governance, the rule of law, human rights and partnerships in economy, finance, politics, and culture.

Under the EMP, Association Agreements were made, including the continuation of ‘preferential’ arrangements with Israel, that were first introduced in 1975, and resulted in growing trade relations with the country, as well as the increasing participation in the peace process. Concomitantly, in 1997, an Interim Association Agreement on Trade and Cooperation was signed with the Palestinian. Aiming to increase the effort to consolidate peace between Israel and Palestine, the EU has acted in building security, especially in the Palestinian Territory (PT), initiating with the Joint EU-Palestinian Security Committee, that sought to improve the security sector in the PT, and creating an institutional infrastructure that would take responsible a Prime Minister and Interior Minister for the counter-terrorism efforts.

During that period, tensions were not resolved. Between 2000 and 2002, the second intifada led to an increase of attacks carried out by Palestinian forces against Israel, resulting in military responses that brought all PNA infrastructure to the ground. The many attempts to build a sustainable peace in the Middle East has its roots in both differences between EU Member States’ geopolitical interests and in the comprehension of which path should be taken in order to establish stability. Let us start with the latter.


The European Union Foreign Policy, considering both the ENP and UfM (former EMP) understand that in order to achieve peace, democracy and good governance are essential.


Discussing this first point needs to address the definition of both subjects. Good Governance, according to UN Officials, shall show eight main characteristics: it is participatory, representative and accountable, consensus-oriented, transparent, responsive to societal needs, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive, and follows the rule of law; which would ensure that minorities be heard in the decision-making process. Nevertheless, the idea of interaction between society and the state is not the same, including how they understand democracy.

Democracy has many ways to be defined, and according to the concept, its link to good governance can become weaker or grow stronger, while full democracy can also only exist with good governance. The problem resides in the structure called ‘democratic piety’, borrowing the term from Adrian Little, where democracy is considered to be a cure for violent conflict, a belief rooted in the democratic peace theory. Furthermore, only considering the electoral practice, and minimizing or even ignoring other political realities as a consideration in the resolution of a conflict is erroneous.

In the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, focusing only in creating a mirrored institutional frame that reflects western – thus European – values, their ideas of good governance and democracy, is quite complicated. First, it assumes that the same model would be accepted in different cultures and perspectives and reflects rather the own European interest in maintaining stability in its neighborhood, rather than establishing sustainable peace in different terms. Thus,

Analyzing only the recent escalation between Israel and Palestine shows that the response from the European Union differs considerably from its latter statements, which would often be more neutral. The last statements communicated by Peter Stano and Elisa Castillo Nieto, respectively Lead Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Press Officer for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy at the European Union, condemn Hamas’s rockets as a clear attack to Israeli people, whilst recognizing the legitimacy of Israel’s response in protecting civilians. National actors from the block assume similar political positions. For instance, Australian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has decided to fly the Israeli flag in public buildings as a form of public support in the conflict. In Germany, the left and right wings in political class have shared their support for Israel, reinforced by former Chancellor Angela Markel statement, where Hamas’s actions are considered as “terrorist attacks’ ‘.

Those are not the only two European countries to establish a pro-Israeli political behavior. Israeli prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu has recently thanked France, British, German, and Austrian presidents for their support, and, evidently, the United States. The foreign policy shift could be explained by recent proximity between Israeli Head of State and illiberal European Leaders, such as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini.

The European Union remains the biggest financial actor of the U.N Relief and Works for Palestine and they maintain their official position calling for a peace process and end of occupation, with a two-state solution since 1967 (except for Hungary and Czech Republic). However, the Israeli-Palestinian situation has been put aside considering the importance that other Middle East situations have acquired. During the 2000s, most of European Leaders and negotiations as a block considered that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian situation would solve Middle East problems. However, Arab Spring and Iran nuclear movements have shifted priorities, and some European diplomats privately acknowledge the Abraham accords. In addition to it, Israeli economic importance in R&D in security and innovation put the country in a position as one of the main contributors in terms of security for the European Union. Recently, Athens and Jerusalem announced a $1,65 billion defense contract. The countries’ tech performance brought the country close to Europeans too: Israel was the first non-European country to be associated with the EU scientific body, CERN. Shall we not forget that France, since 2011, has purchased 500-million-dollar worth of Heron drones from the country, braking with the 44-year embargo proclaimed by Charles de Gaulle, followed by Emanuel Macron’s economy and digital affairs minister in the Israeli innovation Festival back in 2017, just after the election. Germany followed the path, engaging in a 9-year contract for Israeli drones, in a 1.2 billion contract, that would be further used to European Security. In 2020, Airbus and two Israeli air and space companies were called up together to launch drones over the Mediterranean Sea to monitor migrant smuggler ships.

Thus, the position of the European Union is rather complicated. It is important to take other steps in order to aid the peace process in the region, different from the Oslo agreement.


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Last dictatorship in Europe — what should the EU do with it?

Maksim Vassin


International Relations and Global Governance Analyst

Last dictatorship in Europe — what should the EU do with it?

On May 23rd, 2021, in violation of numerous international laws and regulations, Belarusian Air Force forced Ryanair Flight 4978 to land in Minsk Airport, citing a bomb threat from Hamas.

The threat was quickly discredited as fake, and the plane was given a green light to leave Minsk. However, several passengers stayed behind. Among them was Roman Protasevich, a prominent dissident journalist, and his girlfriend, as well as several passengers who are alleged to be Russian and Belarusian KGB agents. Protasevich and his girlfriend were detained, causing outrage among the EU member states and other countries around the world. The incident was allegedly staged by the Belarusian officials only to detain the journalist. The incident with the Ryanair plane did not start the confrontation between Belarusian ruling regime and its citizens but it became the second act of the conflict stemming from summer 2020, when the sitting president Lukashenka allegedly rigged the election, and the popular winner Svetlana Tikhanovskaya was forced to flee to Lithuania. The largest protests in Belarusian history followed, yet they were brutally suppressed by the oppressive regime, jailing innocent people, silencing the media and doubling down on human rights violations.

Belarus became the battleground for spheres of influence between the Western democratic states and Russia. Belarus sits firmly within Russian area of regional hegemony and its sphere of interests (capitalised on economic and socio-cultural interests in the near abroad rather than outright political manipulation in neighbouring countries) (Szostek, 2018; Trenin, 2009). Russia attempted to integrate it culturally, economically, and socially, especially through the establishment of the Union State between Russia and Belarus. However, on the other side, the Baltic states, notably Lithuania, have tried to influence and accelerate the democratisation of Belarus in 2020. Lithuania gave political asylum to many Belarusian political migrants, pressured the EU to impose new sanctions and, recently, gave Tikhanovskaya’s team diplomatic recognition. On July 5th, Lithuania recognised Tikhanovskaya as the winner of Belarusian elections and gave diplomatic recognition to the Belarusian Democracy Representation Office (source); Tikhanovskaya was recognised as the legitimate winner of the election by Lithuania back in September 2020 (source).

Such interest from the Lithuanian side towards the faith of Belarusian democracy is not surprising nor unjustified, and the answer to this lies within the constructivist international relations theory and recent history of the Baltic states. The relations between states, according to Wendt, are based upon prior interactions and shared historical experiences (Wendt, 1992). The understanding of “common destiny” through historical experiences is important for current foreign and security policy of the Baltic states, and is a uniting component for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania (Vaiksnoras, 2000/2002). As countries with the highest democracy ratings in the post-USSR space (Economist Intelligence Unit, 2020), it is no surprise that the Baltics, led by Lithuania, are at the front of the line to aid the Belarusian democratic movement gain traction globally and regionally.

However, this is met by many challenges from Russia, as Belarus is seen as an important economic and strategic bargaining tool. Firstly, Russia-friendly Belarus brings a crucial strategic military advantage for the Kremlin — the Suwalki Gap. The Suwalki Gap is a narrow strip of Polish-Lithuanian border situated between the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad Oblast and Belarus. Should military conflict ever ensue and if Belarus stays loyal to the Kremlin, the Suwalki Gap can be closed in a matter of days and would completely cut off the Baltic States from the rest of Europe. The gap is a crucial strategic advantage for Russian forces and is a major weakness in NATO’s defence plan for the Baltic States. Should Belarus democratise and turn towards the EU, this strategic advantage can be lost for Russia, especially since it has invested large sums of money in ramping up its military presence in Kaliningrad.



What should also be noted is the economic importance of Belarus for Russia. The investigation by the journalists of NEXTA, the media outlet spearheaded by the jailed journalist Roman Protasevich, has shown that Russia utilises Belarus as the transit stop to legitimise importing sanctioned EU goods. This has proved to be a major economic boost for both Belarusian and Russian power elite, rather than being an accelerator for the economy that would benefit all (NEXTA, 2021). Again, democratisation of Belarus threatens to undermine such supply chains for both countries and cost the power elite a major source of enrichment.

What should be EU’s next steps regarding the Belarusian democracy crisis?  The most imminent and urgent matter is the refugee crisis on the Lithuanian border. Due to Belarusian state agencies aiding migrants reach Lithuanian border, the Baltic country is facing a refugee influx that it is not capable to deal with. Recent deployment of emergency forces by Frontex (EU Border and Coast Guard Agency) is the first step towards dealing with the matter on hand. However, this only treats the symptoms, rather than the disease. Other Baltic States, Poland, and other countries that have undergone the same transition from a totalitarian dictatorship to a democracy in Europe must give Svetlana Tikhanovskaya diplomatic recognition. Not only it will show unity within the EU but, most importantly, delegitimise Lukashenka’s regime. This will be instrumental in dismantling the system that the governing elite profits off of and boosting the transition process, as well as pressuring EU to impose further sanctions on Belarus.

Are such interventions justified? Locke gives a particularly relevant insight into when interventions in state’s sovereignty are justified. Locke’s natural law sets three basic principles: “no one ought to harm another in his right, health, liberty and possession; inalienable right for self-preservation; not in competition with self-preservation, do everything to preserve others, all mankind”. Should a state violate these laws, others have the right to punish those who deviated from them (Locke, 2015). (Locke also says that they have the right to kill those who violate the laws but, in this context, it is rather extreme). With the regime’s handling of the initial protests in 2020 — reports of abuse, beatings, and even torture — Lukashenka has clearly violated the social contract and laws of nature, thus giving other states justification in meddling with Belarusian internal affairs. The task for the EU is to devise a coherent action plan that would make use of this justification and fast-track the democratisation process in Belarus, while keeping Russian strategic and economic interests in the region in check.


Economist Intelligence Unit (2020). Democracy Index 2020. In Sickness and in Health?

Locke, J. (2015). The second treatise of civil government. Broadview Press.

NEXTA (director). (2021). Лукашенко. Золотое дно (from Russian: Lukashenka. The Golden Bottom).

Szostek, J. (2018). The Mass Media and Russia’s “Sphere of Interests”: Mechanisms of Regional Hegemony in Belarus and Ukraine. Geopolitics, 23(2), 307-329.

Trenin, D. (2009). Russia’s spheres of interest, not influence. The Washington Quarterly, 32(4), 3-22.

Vaiksnoras, V. (2002). The Role of Baltic Defence Cooperation for the Security of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Categories
Non classé

The Gender Gap in Men: Social Perceptions and its Effect on the Physical and Mental Health of Men

Eric Cui Wu


Health & Social Affairs Analyst

The Gender Gap in Men: Social Perceptions and its Effect on the Physical and Mental Health of Men

Equality to access does not mean equality in outcome. That is something that we can profoundly see through the healthcare system. In the European Union, men and women theoretically have the same access to the medical system. Therefore, they should have the same quality of care and outcome when controlling for socioeconomic differences.

Nevertheless, the average life expectancy for men in the European Union is 5.5 years less than women.¹ If we were to ask the public why men have shorter life expectancies compared to women, chances are the most common explanation is that men are more likely to partake in riskier behaviours. While it is true that in general, men are more likely to drink, smoke, have unhealthier diets, and participate in violent actions; all of which affect one’s chances of mortality; it does not fully explain all the differences we see in the healthcare outcome of men and women.² ⁻ ³. There must be some underlining reasoning behind why 75% of all alcohol-related deaths occur in men.⁴ We need to begin to uncover other possible reasons behind why men are more likely to act a certain way and how that affects their relationship with their health.

Going back for generations, cultural expectations of gender roles have continued to shape and dictate the behaviour of men and women. These traditional gender roles still influence our media and culture in the modern era, especially with the rise of hypersexualised social media. Men are told from a very young age to conform to certain ideals of power and strength. These definitions of masculinity are often very strongly tied culturally to one’s own identity and can play a large part in how society perceives their self-worth as a man.⁵ Men are often told not to show emotion and instead be strong, stand up, and fight for themselves continuously… To be a man. This idea that men are unemotional is widespread in media, even with a song from The Cure called “Boys Don’t Cry”. When we tell men to be emotionless, to behave a certain way, we are really setting up some men for failure to not achieve this idealistic masculinity set up by social and political expectations.⁶ False normalities plague the modern media, setting continuously unrealistic expectations of what a normal man’s life is.

Society dictates how a man acts, thinks, looks and responds to the community. This constant pressure can help to explain why men are more likely to take up risky behaviours, as they need a release from societies expectations. However, the impact of these social perceptions does not stop there. How can we expect men to work through their vulnerabilities and behaviours while chastising them for speaking out about their emotions? Ultimately, current societal expectations of masculinity and men detriments men’s physical and mental health; and can help explain some of the reasoning behind why men behave in a certain way.


As we delve deeper into the reasoning behind the gender gap, we can see the effect that the societal ideal of masculinity has on sickness in men’s physical health.


On average, men between the ages of 16 and 60 are less likely to consult a healthcare provider than their female counterparts.⁷ This delay in the timing in which men are unlikely to seek treatment can increase their severe injury and illness risk. In the long run, this reluctance leads to preventable diseases, such as melanomas, where men are 50% more likely to die than women.⁸ This increase in preventable diseases also leads to a general rise in deaths in men, ultimately contributing to the 86% of all male deaths attributed to non-communicable diseases and injuries.⁹ Men are disproportionately affected simply because of the hesitation to seek out help. This hesitation stems from societal perceptions we tell men to power through and toughen up instead of asking for help when they medically require it. These social perceptions of the right way masculine men should act ultimately cause a detriment to the level of preventative care that men partake.

This perception of male strength trickles down to how men intake and interact with medical information. Men are less likely to consult advice from media and their peers and are more likely to pretend that their physical health is normal. Furthermore, because men often dominate the medical field, they are less likely to create and disseminate men’s sexual health information to other men as well.⁸ Men are also generally less likely to seek out medical information independently, despite the multitude of available sources.¹⁰ There are many different layers of complexity to publicising medical advice to men, but underlining it is the perception of masculinity and the strong, independent man. This narrative that seeking help is unmasculine has dampened the willingness of men to receive proper medical guidance. This unwillingness eventually cycles back into men’s health, negatively impacting their physical health in the long term.

An essential counterpart to the physical health of men is the mental impact that perceptions of masculinity can have. Like women, men can and commonly do have body confidence issues and suffer from mental illness. One in five adult males in the UK surveyed has negative perceptions of their body image, with one in having been diagnosed with at least one mental illness.¹¹ The idolisation of unattainable and often unhealthy perceptions of health and the human body in modern media has continued¹² to contribute to the increasing negative self-perceptions of men. As media and companies focus on body positivity in women, there is a marked need for increased attention and men’s inclusivity and body positivity.

Internationally across the board, more men die from suicide than females, often at drastically higher rates.¹³ Nearly every three in four suicide victims in the European Union are male.¹⁴ Many factors can contribute to the higher suicide rate in men, including that men are more likely to commit suicide using deadlier methods. However, one such crucial underlining factor is the unwillingness of many men to discuss their mental health with friends, family and health professionals.⁸ Many societies push their men to be strong and to bottle up their emotions. In a survey conducted by Generation Maastricht of its male volunteers, there was a strong indication across the board that men are less comfortable talking about their mental health to family, friends and medical professionals when compared to their physical health. There is a disproportionate number of men using mental health services compared to women.¹⁵ We say to young children; boys do not cry; men are not supposed to be vulnerable. Be strong and get through it. However, society still wonders why men are less likely to discuss their feelings and more likely to be dependent on alcohol and drugs than women.

Today, it is generally more accepted in many societies if we choose to break away from traditional gender normalities. Expressing your identity, personality and sexuality in ways that do not traditionally conform to preconceived gender roles has been liberating for many. Yet, we still have lingering ideals of masculinity, especially hypermasculinity, which affect many men, cis-gendered and transgender, within the LGBTQIA+ community. It is essential to consider that sexuality is just as important as gender and sex when considering comfort in discussing men’s health. Many LGBTQIA+ men can struggle with openly discussing their sexuality with health professionals. One in five LGBTQIA+ individuals, rising to 40% in bisexual men, are not out to their health professional. One in seven have avoided treatment for fear of discrimination.¹⁶ It may be tough to gauge the openness of health professionals when speaking to them; as such, some may feel compelled to hide what is considered crucial medical information when considering the risks for certain diseases.

A lack of openness among all men in discussing sexuality in society also negatively affects the mental health of LBGTQIA+ men, with one in two LGBTQIA+ individuals currently diagnosed with a mental illness and nearly half of individuals identifying as transgender having contemplated suicide before.¹⁶ Many of these individuals can feel isolated due to traditional normalities of what men should act like, often putting on a mask and hiding from society. Gay men are three times more likely to have depression when compared to the general population and are at a much higher risk for suicide.¹⁷ With 2.9% of adult males openly identifying as gay or bisexual, and a steady rise in the LGBTQIA+ population, it is increasingly essential to consider the needs of queer and transgender men in the picture when we consider men’s physical and mental health.¹⁸ By opening the conversation to include not only heterosexual, cisgender men, we can benefit from the increased shared acceptance and understanding of different expressions of men and masculinity, creating a more welcome environment for all men.

Writing this as a cisgender male, I realise that many of these problems we face in society are so engrained that simply knowing and recognising them does not do enough. Even though I know men should be reaching out for help, I still feel uncomfortable discussing physical and mental health issues. I recognise I have been more likely to dismiss smaller sickness and physical ailments, to the point where they may be affecting my overall physical health. Still, I continue to choose to simply power through it because it feels more comfortable. These gender normalities that have been drilled in my psyche since youth are so ingrained that it takes a lot of work and effort to push against and combat them. And that’s part of the problem; reversing generations of thought and ideas takes an insurmountable amount of time and effort and is a continuous uphill battle. But it is a battle that we must continue to fight for generations to come.

In the end, many other factors ultimately affect men’s healthcare outcomes as well, but this does not mean that we cannot begin to change the narrative. As modern society continues to tackle many traditional societal normalities, the growth in openness to discuss men’s health must continue. Young boys need to be taught to be open with their feelings. Men should feel comfortable discussing their physical and mental health and not feel shamed into silence and self-loathing. The conversation around masculinity and the role of men should change to be more open and accepting of different perspectives. There needs to be continued efforts to improve gender equality in healthcare for both men and women.¹⁹ This improvement also means including women, minorities and LGBTQIA+ individuals in the conversation about men’s health and making sure that men feel comfortable reaching out for help. In the end, healthcare needs to have both equal access and equitable outcome. The methods in which we derive that equitable outcome has yet to be developed. And maybe, one day, the gender gap will simply be a page in the history books.


[1] Eurostat (2021) Mortality and life expectancy statistics [Online]. Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php?title=Mortality_and_life_expectancy_statistics#:~:text=Life%20expectancy%20at%20birth%20in,year%20higher%20than%20in%202018 (Accessed: 21 July 2021).

[2] Pinkhasov, R.M., Wong, J., Kashanian, J., Lee, M., Samadi, et al. (2010) Are men shortchanged on health? Perspective on health care utilization and health risk behavior in men and women in the United States, International Journal of Clinical Practice, 64(4), pp. 475-87.

[3] Harvard Health Publishing (2019) Mars vs. Venus: The gender gap in health [Online]. Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/mars-vs-venus-the-gender-gap-in-health (Accessed: 21 July 2021).

[4] WHO (2018) Alcohol [Online]. Available at: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/alcohol (Accessed: 21 July 2021).

[5] Slater, M. (2019) ‘The Problem With a Fight Against Toxic Masculinity’, The Atlantic, 27 Feb. Available at: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2019/02/toxic-masculinity-history/583411/ (Accessed: 21 July 2021).

[6] Schumacher, H. (2019) ‘Why more men that women die by suicide’, BBC, 18 March. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20190313-why-more-men-kill-themselves-than-women (Accessed: 21 July 2021).

[7] Wang, Y., Hunt, K., Nazareth, I., et al (2013) ‘Do men consult less than women? An analysis of routinely collected UK general practice data’ British Medical Journal Open 2013, doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2013-003320.

[8] Banks, I. (2001) ‘No man’s land: men, illness, and the NHS’, British Medical Journal, 323(7320), pp. 1058–1060. doi: 10.1136/bmj.323.7320.1058.

[9] WHO (2018) Men’s health and well-being in the WHO European Region [Online]. Available at: https://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/health-determinants/gender/mens-health (Accessed: 21 July 2021).

[10] Wellstead, P. (2011) ‘Information behaviour of Australian men experiencing stressful life events: the role of social networks and confidants’, 16(2), paper 474. Available at: http://informationr.net/ir/16-2/paper474.html (Accessed: 21 July 2021).

[11] Mental Health Foundation. (2021). ‘Millions of men in the UK affected by body image issues – Mental Health Foundation survey’, Mental Health Foundation, Available at: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/news/millions-men-uk-affected-body-image-issues-mental-health-foundation-survey (Accessed: 21 July 2021).

[12] Mental Health Foundation. (2021). ‘Mental health statistics: men and women’, Mental Health Foundation, Available at: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/statistics/mental-health-statistics-men-and-women (Accessed: 21 July 2021).

[13] WHO Mental Health and Substance Use. (2021) Suicide worldwide in 2019. World Health Organization.

[14] Łyszczarz, B. (2021) ‘Production losses attributable to suicide deaths in European Union’, BMC Public Health 21, 950. doi: 10.1186/s12889-021-11010-5.

[15] Chatmon, B.N. (2020) ‘Males and Mental Health Stigma’, American Journal of Men’s Health, 14(4), doi: 10.1177/1557988320949322.

[16] Mental Health Foundation. (2021). ‘Mental health statistics: LGBTIQ+ people’, Mental Health Foundation, Available at: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/statistics/mental-health-statistics-lgbtiq-people (Accessed: 21 July 2021).

[17] Lee. C. Oliffe, J.L., Kelly, M.T., et al. (2017) ‘Depression and Suicidality in Gay Men: Implications for Health Care Providers’, American Journal of Men’s Health, 11(4), pp. 910-919. doi: 10.1177/1557988316685492.

[18] Office for National Statistics. (2021) Sexual orientation, UK: 2019. Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/culturalidentity/sexuality/bulletins/sexualidentityuk/2017 (Accessed: 21 July 2021).

[19] WHO Regional Office for Europe. (2018) Strategy on the health and well-being of men in the WHO European Region. World Health Organization.

Categories
Environment and Climate Non classé

How the Covid-19 Pandemic is affecting and reshaping our cities

Augustin Agabriel


Energy, Urban and Sustainable Affairs Analyst

How the Covid-19 Pandemic is affecting and  reshaping our cities 

Cities are the heart of exchanges, as the centres of commercial and political relations. It is not  surprising that viruses can easily be transmitted in these urban areas where people live closer together  and meet one another. Cities have historically been the transmission hubs of pandemics (see for  example, the Black Plague or the Spanish Flu). 

Facing those issues, cities have often restructured their infrastructures to improve hygiene conditions and limit virus transmissions. For example, lying at the heart of London, the Victoria  Embankment was built in the middle of the 19th century during a cholera epidemic to carry wastewater  out of the city down the Thames. It successfully managed to flow away wastewater from water  pumping sites and avoided any mix of potentially infected water with drinkable one. From another  perspective, New York’s Central Park was designed on the premise that it would improve human health  conditions during a cholera pandemic in the 1850s.

As many previous epidemics, Covid-19 has had an impact on cities, both directly and indirectly.  The first impact is the most direct one, as Covid-19 underlined or revealed already existing issues in  cities: “COVID-19 has laid bare existing fault lines in cities that are impossible to ignore,” (Ani Dasgupta, director of the WRI Ross Centre For Sustainable Cities). One of these issues is air pollution, researchers showed a strong correlation between highly air-polluted cities and mortality with Covid-19. In the  Netherlands for example, the Institute of Labour Economics found that a small increase of air pollution  was associated with a 21.4% increase in death rates.

Other issues are also seen in housing conditions. Neighbourhoods with unhygienic housing  conditions are environments in which it is easier for viruses to be spread because social distancing  cannot be efficiently applied. For example, in New York, in August 2020, the Bronx saw up to 33% of tests coming back positive, while Manhattan “only” suffered 19% of positive tests. This is mainly explained by the fact that poorer neighbourhoods feature more unhygienic housing conditions than  richer ones do, making it easier for the virus to be spread.

Regarding hygienic issues underlined by Covid, it appears necessary for these cities to act, for  the health and life quality of their inhabitants. A 2020 UN Policy brief warned that “there is an urgent  need to rethink and transform cities to respond to the reality of COVID-19 and potential future  pandemics”. To tackle health issues caused by unequal housing, some have decided to be more socially  inclusive to allow people to live in good housing conditions. Bristol has for example developed a “One  City Economic Recovery” plan. The plan has for objective to reduce inequalities, increase the city’s  resilience and the environment by offering loans or IT support to charities, organizations and  associations taking care of minorities in order to reduce inequalities by better integrating habitants in  the city, which would lead to easier accessibility of healthier housings. Concerning air regulation,  initiatives of new environmental directives have been brought to the European Commission to be  debated throughout 2021. 

A second effect that Covid-19 had is more undirect. To tackle the virus, many states have set  up lockdowns: in early April 2020, more than half of the world population was under lockdown  restrictions. By staying at home, citizens were not using anymore public infrastructures, which opened  an opportunity for mayors to use this period to make profound changes into the city structure to be  more “resilient, inclusive and sustainable” (UN directive). With the digitalization of working, the need  for cities to reinvent themselves to avoid losing their population has become a need and this pandemic  is a perfect moment to do so. As Ernesto Ottone (UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture)  declared: “Cities should seize the moment and focus on the new possibilities triggered by the crisis  towards transforming themselves into resilient, socially inclusive and green communities”.  


Tendencies following this line have been seen across the globe to modify urban planning and  designs: there has been a notable emphasis on plans to make city more eco-responsible.


An important  focus is made on the development of bicycle tracks to promote green transportations into the city.  Cities such as Bogota or Paris have added tens of kilometres of new paths to promote this mean of  transportation. The crisis has also underlined the importance of green spaces, with cities such as Dallas  seeing an increase after lockdowns of 135% of use of public parks. To answer this demand, Montreal  presented new plans of developing and building new green spaces in the city. Finally, some cities have  opted to develop “15-min cities”, in which habitants should be able to be offered “services and quality  of life within the space of 15 minutes on foot from home” (Milan’s Mayor, Giuseppe Sala), such as  Milan or Paris. 

As many previous pandemics and epidemics, Covid-19 will lead to major changes in city  planification, both indirectly and directly linked to the pandemic. These will probably affect the way  we move into urban spaces by improving clean transports and developing green spaces but also our  houses, by improving housing conditions, as well as our health, by regulating air pollution for example.  But one thing is sure, the pandemic will certainly affect for on a very long term our way of living.  


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