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Essential freedoms vs undue influence: a (still) current EU political establishment dilemma

Essential freedoms vs undue influence: a (still) current EU political establishment dilemma
Credit: European Union

Recently, two reports came out regarding the role and influence in EU policy making by foreign states and organisations.

One, written by a Belgium-based, international-acting organisation, “Droit au Droit”, implies that the role of the United Arab Emirates (UE) in its lobbying activities in Europe is disturbing the role of European Muslim communities and creating internal problems that lead to radicalisation in European Member States. Another one, published by the European Eye on Radicalisation, advocates for a stronger stand against the Muslim Brotherhood in Italy and across the European Union, following the examples of Austria and France.

Let’s look closer at the first report. As, it is not a coincidence that a hearing in the European Parliament subcommittee of Human Rights is currently debating the stand of the UAE on human rights and its role in influencing EU policy making, following the findings of the “Droit au Droit” investigative report. That report also tries to link the UAE with Russia and China as regards their “influencing” modus operandi albeit finding that the “both within the European (EU) institutions and beyond the Emirati presence is rarely acknowledged as a problem in contrast to Russian and Chinese lobbying efforts” (page 53). The Belgian organization is also accusing the UAE of lack of transparency in their European “operations” (including in the work of their accredited diplomats in Brussels). A long list of examples of such alleged lack of transparency follows as well as a consequent list of recommendations to EU institutions on how to best fight that lack of transparency. While any state could probably do better in enhancing their human rights protection standards and their transparency, we have not found in the report what concretely is the standard to be used to measure “undue” influence by a state. An interesting fact to note: we used the same system of “check and balances” proposed by “Droit au Droit” in their report in a try to find out how transparent that organisation was. And although we found the mission, team and partners listed on their website we were unable to find any information on the organisation vested interests, eventual conflicts of interest or financing. So, just maybe, transparency should be a two-ways street. And, in this case, it should be made clear if the partner of “Droit au Droit” called DG Justice (listed under that heading on the organization website) is involved financially or otherwise in the report at hand: just for the EU citizens to transparently understand who is lobbying for essential freedoms and who is pointing out undue influence – under which context and following which influence.

Let us look at the second report: The European Eye on Radicalisation highlights in its report the links that the Muslim Brotherhood maintains in Italy and in other European Union Member States. The authors of the report find that “in Europe, countries like France and Austria have already taken steps to contrast the infiltration of Islamists, not only in the Muslim community, but also in politics and academia. Italy, where Islamists are particularly active today, needs to take a clear stance on this matter. Indeed, a common course of action at the European level is required to avoid the creation of “Islamist-friendly” countries.”  After reviewing the ways in which such an organisation infiltrates collectivities within the European Union Member States and, in particular, in Italy the authors of the report raise a number of questions: “Who do our institutions want to empower? Which ideologies do we want to promote? Who should get recognition and representational power? These are the issues that should guide policy decisions on which groups to interface with.” The authors of the report find that “it is crucial to ensure pluralism in the Islamic associative sphere in order to prevent the attempts by any organizations to impose themselves as the exclusive representatives of a community that is as broad and diverse as Italy’s Muslims, with different expressions based on ethnicity, culture, and doctrine. Muslims have the right to elect their own representatives, who should not be placed in key positions according to family relationships and organizational ties. Last, but not least, the connection between Sunni Islamism and Iranian-linked Shia Islamism must be carefully investigated. As past and present events in the Middle East have shown, Sunni and Shia extremists can viciously fight each other, but they can also establish alliances in the name of a common goal — for example, opposition to the West and/or Israel or the pursuit of a sharia-based state — as has been seen with Iran and Al-Qaeda. The Muslim Brotherhood (with local exceptions) has historically entertained warm relations and shared ideological affinities with Iranian Islamists and the Islamic Republic they created in 1979. Italy needs to be mindful about the signs of a reproduction of this unholy alliance at the local level, as its potential for societal radicalization and institutional infiltration poses a novel threat to its liberal democracy.”

If a sub-committee of the European Parliament discusses “undue influence” or “respect of human rights” of a country, maybe the same sub-committee should also look at international organisations: at the end of the day, we live in a globalised, interconnected way and international organisations can be just as powerful if not more powerful than states in their positive as well as in their negative action(s). Seeing just one side of the coin is, probably, just not good enough. Moreover, the European Union should look closer to the recent agreement between the UAE and Israel and see how it changed not only the political reality, but, mostly important, successfully engaged the civil society, making a real effort to build peace. Peace, such a dear word for all of us today.

A commissioner within the current European Commission has a mission to protect our “European Way of Life”. The European way of life does not oblige any one to assimilate the local cultures or the local “habits” but finds at its foundation the socle of European values: the rule of law, tolerance of minorities, support to the idea and existence of civil society. It also protects fundamental freedoms and democracy. If fundamental freedoms and values or our European way of life come to be threatened by internal or external actors, we, as European citizens have a duty to defend them together with their “guardians” – the European institutions and Member States of the EU. But even that defence needs to respect our high standards of integrity, of fundamental freedoms and of “bona fides” to third countries and organisations. Our defence needs to be decisive but fair, our analysis of threats detailed and comprehensive.

By Vlad Olteanu, Founder of I3pact EU

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