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Ukraine war reveals underlying tensions in Franco-German relationship | International




Emmanuel Macron (left) and Olaf Scholz on January 22 in Paris.
Emmanuel Macron (left) and Olaf Scholz on January 22 in Paris.CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON (EFE)

There are moments in history that have a convulsive effect and change the face of entire continents. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, launched almost a year ago, is one of those moments. According to the essayist Luuk van Middelaar, February 24, 2022, is a date comparable to the fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. And, as was the case in 1989, the events of 2022 and 2023 have shaken the foundations of one of the foundation blocks of the European Union (EU): the Franco-German alliance.

The war in Ukraine has had a dual effect for France and Germany, who between 1870 and 1945 fought each other in three wars and whose subsequent reconciliation drove the integration of Europe and post-World War II peace. The first effect is the shift of the EU’s center of gravity eastward. Countries such as Poland and the Baltic states have been warning of the danger posed by Vladimir Putin’s Russia for years, while France and Germany have largely sought to appease the Kremlin. Time has proven the fears of the easter European countries correct.

Germany’s decision to authorize the delivery of Leopard 2 battle tanks to the Armed Forces of Ukraine is the latest example of this shift in the correlation of forces. The nations that provide the EU’s eastern bulwark, together with Ukraine, have been calling for more robust military aid to Kyiv for some time. A year ago, Berlin was reluctant to sever its ties with Moscow and was eager to avoid any militarization of its foreign policy. Now, it has provided heavy weapons that may prove decisive on the battlefield.

The second effect of the invasion of Ukraine on the Franco-German engine is that the war has “exacerbated tensions that already existed between them beforehand,” says Sophie Pornschlegel, a political analyst at the European Policy Centre in Brussels. Last autumn, accumulated disagreements forced Paris and Berlin to postpone a joint council of ministers in extremis, bringing a backlog of unease between the two capitals to the surface.

On January 22, to mark the 60th anniversary of the Élysée Treaty, Emmanuel Macron and Olaf Scholz finally net with their cabinets in a show of unity. But the summit ended without agreements or ambitious plans for the EU. “Both keep making out that they are the best of friends when clearly there are problems,” says Pornschlegel. “It’s quite hypocritical, in the knowledge that Macron and Scholz don’t get along. There are sections of the German government that are clearly pro-European and want to work more productively with France: I’m talking about the Greens. There have been efforts made in this direction. But given the political situation in Europe and the crises we are going through it is irresponsible for France and Germany not to work more closely together. There is a lot of symbolism, but little progress.”

The weakening of the Franco-German driving force in Europe and the tensions between the two countries raise questions: Will they continue to be as important in the future as they were during the previous 70 years of European integration? And, with Europe and the world undergoing rapid change, will they be able to maintain cohesion?

Different visions of Europe

It would not be the first time that obituaries have been prepared for the Franco-German entente. The history of the two countries is one of almost constant crisis. Precisely because both hold different visions of Europe and the wider world, when they do some together they drive Europe forward. Together, France and Germany account for 42% of the EU’s GDP. To assume that the EU can continue to function without this engine being finely tuned is chimeric, as it trusting that it is enough on its own.

“It is becoming increasingly clear that the Franco-German partnership is necessary, but insufficient,” says Arancha González Laya, dean of the Paris School of International Affairs at Sciences Po and a former Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs. During her time in government, González Laya promoted a strategy for Madrid to weave alliances with other partners beyond adhesion to the Franco-German engine. She now talks about an “asynchrony” between the two nations. “Each has a different political rhythm,” she explains. In France, a hyper-centralized power with a president who is in his final term and facing huge social unrest. In Germany, a tripartite coalition of social democrats, ecologists and liberals with different electoral interests and different visions of Europe.

There is a double sense of confusion in France, faced with a Germany that is rearming and could once again assume it role as a political and military power, as well as an economic one, and with a less-Carolingian, more Slavic and Baltic, Europe, which in turn now looks to Washington for its protection. The Ukraine war has forced Macron to shelve his plans for greater European military autonomy and his 2019 diagnosis that NATO is in a state of “brain death” has been proven inaccurate. There is also the suspicion among many of France’s allies that Macron’s Europeanism is, as Pornschlegel puts it, a way of “using the EU for his national interests.”

While Berlin talks of a “Franco-German engine,” in France the relationship is described as a marriage: a practical vision, and a romantic one. Van Middelaar describes the current marital state as one of moving house. “In a couple, in the middle of moving like now, there is a lot of irritability. They have been going through a difficult time since the start of the war, because it affects two of the three most difficult issues between Germans and French: energy and defense. The third issue would be money and the euro, but this is more or less resolved.”

The pandemic and subsequent bailout plans allowed the EU and the Franco-German engine to take a leap forward. But the war has exposed the gap in energy policy between France, which remains committed to nuclear power plants, and Germany, which is abandoning nuclear energy and rethinking its Russia-dependent model of recent decades. Differences have also emerged in military matters: France, which has a nuclear arsenal, claims to uphold the Gaullist tradition of providing a “balancing power” between the superpowers; Germany feels more aligned with NATO and Washington.

“The year 2022 is a mini-1989,″ says Van Middelaar, founder of the Brussels Institute for Geopolitics. “Maybe it is not so serious, but it belongs to this category of major events that affect all the balances within the continent, including the Franco-German balance. And if we remember all the difficulties the Franco-German marriage went through at that time, between Helmut Kohl and François Mitterrand, who, it must be remembered, were long-time friends and had worked together… last February, Macron and Scholz barely knew each other. There is neither the same trust nor the same intimacy between the two. This has to be taken into account as well.”

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Boris Johnson says ‘partygate’ untruths were an honest mistake | International




Former U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson acknowledged Tuesday that he misled Parliament about rule-breaking government parties during the coronavirus pandemic — but insisted he never intentionally lied. Johnson said it never occurred to him that the gatherings — which variously included cake, wine, cheese and a “secret Santa” festive gift exchange — broke the restrictions his own government had imposed on the country.

Britain’s boisterous former leader is set to be grilled by lawmakers on Wednesday over whether he lied when he denied there had been parties in his Downing Street offices in violation of Covid-19 lockdown rules that barred socializing. If found to have lied deliberately, he could be suspended or even lose his seat in Parliament.

In a dossier of written evidence to the House of Commons Committee of Privileges, Johnson acknowledged that “my statements to Parliament that the Rules and Guidance had been followed at all times did not turn out to be correct.”

But he said his statements “were made in good faith and on the basis of what I honestly knew and believed at the time. I did not intentionally or recklessly mislead the House.”

The committee will quiz Johnson in person on Wednesday afternoon about “partygate,” the scandal over a string of gatherings in government offices in 2020 and 2021. Police eventually issued 126 fines over the late-night soirees, boozy parties and “wine time Fridays,” including one to Johnson, and the scandal helped hasten the end of his three years in office.

Revelations about the gatherings sparked anger among Britons who had followed rules imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus, unable to visit friends and family or even say goodbye to dying relatives in hospitals.

Becky Kummer, spokesperson for the group Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, said Johnson’s claim to have acted in good faith was “sickening.”

“He isn’t fit for public office,” Kummer said.

When reports of the parties first emerged in late 2021, Johnson initially said that no rules had been broken. He later apologized and said there had been “misjudgments.”

But in the 52-page dossier he said he “honestly believed” the five events he attended, including a sendoff for a staffer and his own surprise birthday party, were “lawful work gatherings.”

“No cake was eaten, and no one even sang ‘Happy Birthday,’” he said of the June 19, 2020, celebration, for which he received a police fine. “The primary topic of conversation was the response to Covid-19.”

Johnson said suggestions that people in government considered themselves to be “in a guidance-free bubble where the requirements we imposed on the rest of the country did not apply” could not be further from the truth.

“Drinking wine or exchanging gifts at work and whilst working did not, in my view, turn an otherwise lawful workplace gathering into an unlawful one,” he said.

Johnson said he was assured by “trusted advisers” that no rules had been broken — assurances that turned out to be wrong. He said he was later “genuinely shocked” by the rule-breaking uncovered by police and by senior civil servant Sue Gray, who led an investigation into partygate.

Johnson and his supporters have also questioned the impartiality of Gray because she has now accepted a job as chief of staff to the leader of the opposition Labour Party.

If the committee finds Johnson in contempt, it could recommend punishments ranging from an oral apology to suspension or even expulsion from Parliament, or it could recommend no sanction at all. Any punishment would have to be approved by the House of Commons.

Johnson was forced to resign in July after a slew of scandals over money and ethics finally proved too much for Conservative colleagues, dozens of whom quit the government.

For Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Wednesday’s televised hearing will be an unwelcome reminder of the turmoil that engulfed the Conservative government under Johnson — just as the party’s poll ratings are starting to edge upward.

Sunak took office in October, replacing Liz Truss, who stepped down within weeks of becoming prime minister after her tax-cutting budget plans caused turmoil on financial markets.

Johnson, once considered a secret weapon with voters, is now a liability, said Robert Hayward, a polling expert and Conservative member of the House of Lords.

“He is a serious negative for most people,” Hayward said. “Boris’s polling is far worse than is the case for Rishi (Sunak).”

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Drought caused 43,000 ‘excess deaths’ in Somalia last year, half of them young children | Global development




A new report released by the Somalian government suggests that far more children died in the country last year due to the ongoing drought than previously realised.

The study estimates that there were 43,000 excess deaths in 2022 in Somalia due to the deepening drought compared with similar droughts in 2017 and 2018.

Half of the deaths are likely to have been children under five. Up to 34,000 further deaths have been forecast for the first six months of this year.

Released on Monday by Somalia’s federal health ministry together with Unicef and the World Health Organization, the report was compiled by researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Imperial College London, who looked at retrospective estimates of mortality across Somalia from January to December 2022.

Accurate statistics are difficult to compile from a population spread across remote areas, and with about three million people displaced from their homes. The highest death rates are thought to be in the regions of south-central Somalia, including Bay, Bakool and Banadir, that are the worst hit by drought.

Somalia’s health minister, Dr Ali Hadji Adam Abubakar, found cause for optimism that famine had so far been averted.

“We continue to be concerned about the level and scale of the public health impact of this deepening and protracted food crisis in Somalia,” he said.

“At the same time, we are optimistic that if we can sustain our ongoing and scaled-up health and nutrition actions, and humanitarian response to save lives and protect the health of our vulnerable, we can push back the risk of famine for ever.”

If this did not happen, he said, “the vulnerable and marginalised will pay the price of this crisis with their lives.”

“We therefore urge all our partners and donors to continue to support the health sector in building a resilient health system that works for everyone and not for the few,” said Abubakar.

For the first time, a prediction model was developed from the study. A forecast from January to June 2023 estimates that 135 people a day might also die due to the crisis, with total deaths projected at being between 18,100 and 34,200 during this period.

The estimates suggest the crisis in Somalia is far from over and is already more severe than the 2017-18 drought.

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Wafaa Saeed, Unicef’s representative in Somalia, said he was saddened by the grim picture of the drought’s impact on families, but added: “We know there could have been many more deaths had humanitarian assistance not been scaled up to reach affected communities.

“We must continue to save lives by preventing and treating malnutrition, providing safe and clean water, improving access to lifesaving health services, immunising children against deadly diseases such as measles, and providing critical protection services.”

There have now been six consecutive failed rainy seasons in the climate crisis-induced drought, which coincides with global food price rises, intensified insecurity in some regions, and the aftermath of the pandemic.

The study is the first in a planned series and was funded by the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

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War crimes committed on all sides in Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict, U.S. says | International




The Biden administration announced Monday that it has determined all sides in the brutal conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. The move carries no immediate U.S. policy implications but lends weight to calls for such allegations to be prosecuted.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the determination less than a week after he returned from a visit to Ethiopia during which he met with Ethiopian government and Tigrayan officials as well as victims of the conflict, but said little about the U.S. view of prospects for accountability.

His determination covers members of the Ethiopian and Eritrean national armies as well as the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and forces aligned with the Amhara region. Blinken said those responsible for atrocities must be held accountable.

He said after “careful review of the law and facts” he had determined that members of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces, Eritrean Defense Forces, Tigray People’s Liberation Front forces and Amhara forces committed war crimes during the conflict in northern Ethiopia.

Members of the Ethiopian, Eritrean and Amhara forces also committed crimes against humanity, “including murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence, and persecution,” Blinken said. “Members of the Amhara forces also committed the crime against humanity of deportation or forcible transfer and committed ethnic cleansing in western Tigray.”

Blinken announced the determination as he rolled out the State Department’s annual global human rights reports, which cover 2022 and also called out Afghanistan, China, Cuba, Iran, Myanmar and Nicaragua for abuses.

“I condemn the unspeakable violence against civilians and destruction that occurred in northern Ethiopia,” he said. “Recognizing the atrocities committed by all parties is an essential step to achieving a sustainable peace.Those most responsible for atrocities, including those in positions of command, must be held accountable.”

The formal determination is more measured than his assertion early in the two-year conflict that “ethnic cleansing” was taking place in parts of Tigray.

Last year, a United Nations commission of inquiry said it had turned up evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity by Ethiopian government forces, Tigray forces and Eritrea’s military. But the commission also said Ethiopian forces had resorted to “starvation of civilians” as a tool of war and that Ethiopian and Eritrean forces were found to be responsible for “sexual slavery” — while Tigray forces were not.

The conflict, which ended with a peace deal in November, killed an estimated half-million civilians in Tigray alone, according to Ghent University researchers, a death toll echoed by U.S. officials.

Blinken called on all sides to respect the agreement and follow through on pledges “to implement an inclusive and comprehensive transitional justice process.”

He said Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban, which took power after the U.S. withdrawal from the country two years ago, “relentlessly discriminates against and represses women and girls” and has taken action that threatens humanitarian assistance to all Afghans.

On China, Blinken said Beijing continues abuses, including genocide and crimes against humanity, against Uyghur Muslims in it western Xinjiang area. It also continues the repression of Tibetans and pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong, along with mainland Chinese citizens who have tried to exercise basic freedoms.

In Myanmar, also known as Burma, Blinken said human rights “have further eroded,” and in Nicaragua, he said “the authoritarian government continues to detain political prisoners and hold them in appalling prison conditions.”

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