Wednesday, 10 October 2018

NATO and the EU suffer a setback in former Yugoslav Macedonia

This article was published by The Weekly Standard

The Euro-Atlantic trajectory of the Western Balkans was cast into doubt after a referendum in the former Yugoslav Macedonia backfired over the weekend.

Prime Minister Zoran Zaev gambled on the popularity of European Union and NATO entry – which enjoy support of 83 percent and 77 percent of the population respectively – to carry a proposal to change the country’s name to North Macedonia. Greece agreed last June to lift vetoes to the Balkan country joining both bodies if it adopts that name.

While 91.4 percent of voters supported the change, only 36.9 percent of eligible voters turned out, making the referendum legally invalid. The hardline opposition’s call to boycott the vote is widely perceived as having won.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

East Mediterranean gas creates new allies, but deepens old enmities

This article was published by The Weekly Standard.

On January 30, the deepwater drillship Saipem 12000 sent its drill bit into a cavern beneath one-and-a-quarter-miles of water and a mile of rock in the eastern Mediterranean. Italian oil and gas company ENI, which had contracted the ship, announced a week later that the cavern, called Calypso, was “an extended gas column”, estimated at 6-8 trillion cubic feet (tcf). The gas deposit belongs to Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone – an area of water where it has sovereign rights to exploit, manage and conserve natural resources - and seismic studies suggest that it represents only an intimation of the island’s future hydrocarbon wealth.

Over the next three months, ExxonMobil and the Qatar Petroleum Company are to embark on their own exploratory drilling off Cyprus’ southern shore in October. “We know the size of the structures and the possible hydrocarbons in them,” says geologist Konstantinos Nikolaou of the intended drill sites in an allotment called Block 10. “The sum of the deposits may amount to more than Zohr… it is very promising,” he says.

At 30 tcf, Zohr is the eastern Mediterranean’s largest known gas deposit, discovered three years ago offshore Egypt. Egypt plans to be energy self-sufficient by the end of 2018, doing away with oil and gas purchases worth $3bn a year. Similar deposits would make Cyprus not only self-sufficient, but an exporter.

Friday, 28 September 2018

Will a name-change referendum say yes to North Macedonia?

This article was published by Al Jazeera International.

On Sunday, just under 1.8 million voters in former Yugoslav Macedonia will vote on whether to change their country’s name to Northern Macedonia. Polls will open at 7am and close at 7pm.

The proposal stems from an agreement last June between the governments in Athens and Skopje, which aims to normalize relations between the two countries.

They have been at odds since the fall of Yugoslavia, when its six republics declared independence. The southernmost has called itself the Republic of Macedonia. Greece objects on the grounds that this implies territorial claims on its northern region of Macedonia.

In return for adding the qualifier “Northern” to its name, Greece will lift its standing veto on its neighbour’s membership in the European Union and NATO.

 The question put to voters is, “Are you in favour of NATO and EU membership, and accepting the name agreement between the Republic of Macedonia and Greece?”

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Proposal for rapid screenings of refugees at sea draws fire

This article was published by Al Jazeera International.

Europe’s increasingly hardline refugee policy is raising concerns about the transparency of search and rescue in the Mediterranean, now that all vessels operated by aid organisations have been put out of action.

Panamanian authorities informed Doctors Without Borders (MSF) on Sunday that they would revoke the registration of its vessel, the Aquarius, even as it plied the waters with 58 rescued asylum-seekers on board. It was the last non-state search and rescue vessel in operation.

“We’re looking for whatever flag will allow the ship to do its job… We’re in this process [of applying] to all [EU] member states,” Apostolos Veizis, head of MSF programmes in Greece, told Al Jazeera.

“Europe’s policy now is quite clearly pushbacks, border closure and detention,” he added. MSF has publicly blamed Italy for pressing the Panamanian government to revoke the Aquarius’ flag.

Monday, 20 August 2018

Op/Ed: Greece’s Exodus is the beginning of its travails in the desert

On June 22, at three o’clock in the morning, officials in Brussels declared a victory for the Eurozone’s last intensive care patient after eight years of public spending cuts, and cleared Greece to borrow from markets after August 20.

Austerity has brought some important results. Greece balanced its budget, so it is living within its means. Its exports are rising, so it is bringing in much-needed foreign revenue. The assurance of creditworthiness from the International Monetary Fund and the European Stability Mechanism – the sovereign distress fund that now owns most of Greece’s debt - is an important signal to markets. It should mean that Greece can start to rebuild its credit history and refinance its debt.

Other aspects of the deal are less reassuring. Supervision of public spending will persist for the next 40 years, so Greece hasn’t really graduated - it’s on probation. During those two generations, Greece must set aside an average of 2.2 percent of its economy to repay its creditors. This means that it will remain belaboured by austerity policies that presently include uncompetitively high taxes.

Friday, 29 June 2018

Lifeline ship resisted pressure to return refugees to Libya

This article was published by Al Jazeera International. 
Valletta, Malta - As Europe's leaders forged a new common policy on rescuing refugees at sea, one small ship came to embody the battle for the soul of the continent.

The MV Lifeline soared to notoriety this week after it refused to hand over 233 refugees and migrants it rescued to Libyan authorities.

The vessel, operated by German charity Mission Lifeline, picked the refugees up just outside Libya's 12-mile territorial waters on June 21. What followed pitted governments against freelance search-and-rescuers.

Thursday, 28 June 2018

Lifeline reaches safe harbour, but Europe heads into migration storm

This article was published by Al Jazeera International

VALLETTA, Malta - As it slowly steamed toward Boilers Wharf to be impounded by Maltese authorities, the MV Lifeline faced disgrace with a note of triumph – two long toots on its horn, signalling pride in its rescue of 233 refugees and migrants between Italy and Libya.

Malta’s prime minister, Joseph Muscat, had earlier in the day said the Lifeline would be investigated for not being registered as a search and rescue ship but a pleasure boat, for disobeying Italian authorities co-ordinating rescue operations north of Libyan waters, and for sometimes switching off its transponder in an apparent attempt to conceal its whereabouts.

“It is extremely worrying that there was a vessel intercepting people, carrying people on board, claiming to have a particular registration…and we have it black on white – the Dutch are saying, ‘No, this is not the case.’”

Muscat’s intimation was that the Lifeline was abetting smugglers under the guise of conducting rescue, though he did not openly say this.