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The EU-Swiss fallout shows the UK is right to go it alone | Brexit

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Following seven years of intense negotiations between Switzerland and the European Union to formulate a new trading agreement, the Swiss have walked out, leaving an uncertain future between the two neighbours. Has this episode shown the limits of the EU’s approach to negotiations?

Switzerland and the EU are closely integrated, with Switzerland being the EU’s fourth-largest trading partner. With more than 120 bilateral agreements covering issues from trade to freedom of movement, an outsider may be forgiven for thinking that Switzerland was part of the EU. As the EU had just finished the higher-profile – and at times bumpy – UK-EU trade agreement following Brexit this year, hopes have been high that talks with Switzerland would go more smoothly. The sudden rejection from Switzerland has shattered that assumption.

The EU, diminished by the United Kingdom’s departure, continues to harbour ambitions for further expansion. Switzerland would appear to be an obvious candidate to join the club, with its close geography, liberal philosophies and wealth. Yet despite decades of EU political pressure to bolster European unity, it has failed to fully persuade the Swiss, who sought instead to achieve the best of both worlds – a close economic partnership while remaining strictly politically independent.

The Swiss have always been aloof when it comes to the EU. The closest Switzerland has ever come to joining was a referendum in 1992 over becoming part of the European Economic Area (EEA), one step away from being fully in the EU. That was rejected by the Swiss people and attempts to join the EU were soon abandoned.

The appeal of joining has only declined since. EU institutions have taken a battering in recent times, with a slow vaccine rollout during the COVID-19 pandemic, a lack of solidarity in crucial matters such as on migration policy, with rogue EU members Hungary and Poland openly challenging the EU’s principles, causing frequent tussles between the 27 member countries during their council meetings. In turn, jaded EU officials have become more defensive and inflexible, desperate to show their strength by jabbing both the UK and Switzerland with tough trading demands.

The EU’s behaviour has given fuel to Eurosceptic demands in the UK for an economically looser Brexit. In a similar vein, the EU has failed to convince the Swiss that more oversight from the European Court of Justice (ECJ), alongside more rights for EU citizens in Switzerland, were a fair price to pay for more market access. The Swiss government, which practises direct democracy with nationwide referendums for significant policies, knew that any public vote would soundly rebuff those proposals.

The humiliation dealt by the EU in 2014, when the Swiss people narrowly voted to put an end to freedom of movement, demanding quotas for migration, remains fresh in Swiss memory. Switzerland had agreed to freedom of movement with the EU in 2002 and even abolished passport controls when it joined the Schengen Area in 2009. When the Swiss government attempted to negotiate with the EU to fulfil the referendum decision in 2014, however, it was swiftly slapped down by the EU, which threatened to cut access and funding for various education and science programmes.

That move forced the Swiss instead to propose only minor tweaks to favour Swiss residents in Switzerland over foreign workers for unemployment benefits and for new migrants to be required to demonstrate that they have integrated into Swiss society – very far removed from the spirit of the referendum decision. The Swiss people, ever pragmatic, agreed to accept freedom of movement in 2020 during another public referendum. Still, the lingering feeling that the EU appears to be calling the shots has meant a line was drawn on future Swiss cooperation.

With the latest trade talks, the EU had hoped to agree on an overarching partnership framework with Switzerland, which would bring Switzerland into line with other countries in close economic orbit with the EU.

The collapse of these talks means sticking with the status quo – a bureaucratic nightmare, even for the famously complex EU Commission, as the patchwork of bilateral arrangements struggles to cope with ever-changing Swiss and EU laws.

This leaves the EU with a strategic dilemma. Its “take it or leave it” mentality is putting partners off engaging with it and undermines the EU as a political force when smaller countries choose to walk away.

The EU’s defensive mentality stems from its “ever-close union” policy. Brussels policymakers have always fantasised about an increasingly centralised political control over member states’ domestic and foreign policies, including defence and taxation. The UK foresaw and resisted this, and its departure will only accelerate this agenda. This obsession for uniformity leaks into how the EU approaches trade deals with external countries, too.

The EU will see Switzerland as simply stalling the inevitable, given its economic dependency on the European bloc. Without alignment, their respective laws will diverge and trade barriers are already forming.

For example, Swiss medical technology companies, comprising three percent of Switzerland’s gross domestic product (GDP), are now facing tariffs as a result of this divergence. Therefore, the EU will likely lean in, behaving like an overly controlling larger neighbour, but this would be a mistake.

Instead, the EU should take some time for a period of self-reflection during which it should ask itself whether it, rather than the Brits or the Swiss, is the one who is making unreasonable demands. Maybe then it would make more friends again. Until then, it makes a good deal of sense for the UK and Switzerland to stay well away from the EU’s institutions.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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Nic Dlamini is set to be first black South African at Tour de France

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South African cyclist Nic Dlamini
Nic Dlamini is set to become the first black South African to ride the Tour de France

Nic Dlamini will make history at this year’s Tour de France by being the first black South African to compete in cycling’s most famous race.

The 25-year-old will be one of the eight riders for Africa’s only top-flight professional cycling team Qhubeka-Assos at the Tour, which runs from 26 June until 18 July.

He will be the only African on the team that will be jointly led by Australia’s Simon Clarke and Austrian Michael Gogl as well as including the Italian 2015 Vuelta a Espana winner Fabio Aru.

“Being selected to ride in my first Tour de France is an absolute dream come true for me,” Dlimani said.external-link

“It’s always been an childhood dream and now that I’m about to live it makes it feel surreal.

“I think it speaks to what the team is about, the Ubuntu spirit [I am because we are], and how we change people’s lives because it is honestly a very special moment: to come from a small township and then to go to the Tour de France.”

He becomes the latest rider to progress from the South African-registered team’s development squad and onto the UCI WorldTour.

Humble beginnings

South African cyclist Nic Dlamini

The 25-year-old, who grew up in an informal settlement in Cape Town, first caught the eye as a runner before moving into cycling where his talents saw him move to the UCI’s World Cycling Centre Africa in Potchefstroom, South Africa.

“Considering where I come from it would simply have been impossible for me to have the opportunity to ride at the Tour de France if it wasn’t for Team Qhubeka-Assos,” he explained.

“The platform that they’ve provided me, and other riders from Africa, to compete at the highest level in cycling has been critical.

“I really hope that this will serve as a reference of hope and inspiration to many young South Africans, and people around the world, who have been working really hard to reach their dreams. My hope is that they take from this that anything is possible.

“I want to race the Tour to inspire more kids on Qhubeka bikes to follow in my footsteps and to experience the world like I have, for more kids in communities to put their hands up for bikes to work hard like I did, to dream big.”

According to the team “Dlamini’s style of racing will likely see his talents deployed in the offensive strategy the team will look to pursue during the race, while also playing a key supporting role in the flatter stages.”

The team is completed by Belgium’s Victor Campenaerts, Max Walscheid of Germany, debutant Sean Bennett of the USA and Colombian Sergio Henao.

Qhubeka-Assos’ team principal Douglas Ryder also hopes that Dlamini’s inclusion is a special moment.

“For Nic, what a moment though; his story is simply an incredible one and for him to have earned this opportunity shows that dreams really do come true, and for the team to have provided that opportunity makes me incredibly proud,” he said.

“He’s always been an individual that has stepped up and taken the opportunities that he’s fought for; and he does so again as he lines up at the startline in Brest on the sport’s biggest stage in front of the world.

“This will culminate in an incredible moment for him, South Africa and especially for our team.

“His selection speaks to everything about what we’ve created and built with this team through providing hope, an opportunity and then ultimately the platform to be on the biggest stage of all, the Tour de France.”

The only African rider to have worn the Tour de France leader’s famous ‘yellow jersey’ is Dlamini’s compatriot Darryl Impey, who wore it for two stages in 2013.



Source – www.bbc.co.uk

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In COVID hit Asia, mixed messages on refugee vaccinations | Coronavirus pandemic News

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Medan, Indonesia – Earlier this month, dozens of Rohingya refugees landed on a deserted island off the coast of Indonesia’s Aceh Province.

The refugees had been at sea for more than 100 days, having left Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh in a rickety wooden fishing boat, and were spotted huddling on uninhabited Idaman Island by local fishermen who used the island as a rest stop between fishing trips.

By June 5, just a day after their arrival, all 81 refugees, including children, had been vaccinated against COVID-19.

“The refugees were vaccinated in conjunction with the local government,” Nasruddin, the humanitarian coordinator of Geutanyoe Foundation, an NGO which provides education and psychosocial support to refugees in Indonesia and Malaysia, told Al Jazeera.

“When we found them, they were in a crisis situation on the island with no food, water or electricity, so local residents brought them food and we also brought them 50 tanks of water,” he added. “The feeling on the ground was that we needed to share our vaccines with the refugees in order to protect them as well. No one complained that the vaccines were being given to refugees.”

Aceh Province has been widely praised by humanitarian groups, NGOs and the general public for vaccinating Rohingya refugees, but elsewhere in Southeast Asia, asylum seekers, refugees and migrant workers have not been so lucky.

Hard line

When Nasruddin assessed the 81 refugees on Idaman Island, they told him that they had wanted to go to Malaysia. Some had family members who were already living there, while others were under the impression that the country had a more liberal policy towards refugees than its neighbours.

Some of the Rohingya refugees who arrived in Aceh earlier this month. They told NGOs that they had wanted to go to Malaysia because they had family there or thought it would be more welcoming to refugees than other countries in Southeast Asia [Cek Mad/AFP]

But like most countries in Southeast Asia, Malaysia is not a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention and while the government has said it will vaccinate everyone living in the country, it has also taken a hard line on undocumented migrants and refugees, including Rohingya.

“In February, the cabinet decided that in the interest of pandemic recovery all foreigners would receive vaccination free of charge, including refugees and undocumented migrants,” Lilianne Fan, the co-founder and international director of Geutanyoe Foundation who is based in Kuala Lumpur, told Al Jazeera.

“The COVID-19 Immunisation Task Force and Science Minister Khairy Jamaluddin as coordinator of the vaccination programme, have been vocal advocates of this approach.

“However, the recent statement of the minister of home affairs that those without valid documents should not be vaccinated, combined with renewed crackdown on undocumented migrants, contradicts the government’s earlier position and will simply drive more people into hiding and slow down Malaysia’s pandemic recovery.”

Malaysia went into its second strict lockdown at the beginning of June after cases of coronavirus surged – stretching hospitals and intensive care units to the limit. The health ministry announced 6,440 new cases on Friday.

The government has indicated that it will ease the lockdown as more people are vaccinated, and Khairy has consistently stressed that the programme will include everyone living in the country.

But as it did during last year’s first lockdown, Malaysia has once again stepped up operations against undocumented migrants.

Malaysia’s Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin has declared that PATI – the acronym for undocumented people in the Malay language – will be detained and sent to immigration detention centres.

This month, he stressed that undocumented migrants had to “surrender” before they would be vaccinated.

In early June, a video from state news agency Bernama showed 156 undocumented migrants from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar being sprayed with disinfectant in Cyberjaya, near Malaysia’s international airport, after they had been detained.

Last week the immigration department shared a post on its Facebook page – styled like a poster for an action movie – with the headline “Ethnic Rohingya migrants are not welcome”. After an outcry, but not before it had been widely shared among refugee communities, it was deleted.

The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia on Monday expressed concern at “recent statements portraying migrants, undocumented or irregular migrants, refugees and asylum seekers as a threat to the safety and security of the country and a risk to the health of Malaysians” and urged the government to rethink its approach.

“Instilling fear through threats of arrests and detention of undocumented foreigners is counterproductive in light of ongoing efforts to overcome the pandemic and achieve herd immunity,” it said, stressing the clear differences in the situations of migrant workers, and refugees and asylum seekers.

Malaysia closed its borders during the first strict lockdown last year when immigration officers carried out a number of raids on areas under ‘enhanced’ lockdown. Rights groups fear more raids will deter people from coming forward for the vaccine that is crucial to Malaysia ending the COVID pandemic [File: Lim Huey Teng/Reuters]

Rohingya made up about 57 percent of the 179,570 refugees registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Malaysia at the end of May.

Unofficial estimates suggest the country may have as many as three million undocumented migrants, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Widespread problem

The mixed messaging on vaccinations for refugees is not exclusive to Malaysia.

In a statement released in early June, the UN refugee agency warned that a shortage of vaccines in the Asia Pacific region was putting the lives of refugees and asylum seekers at risk.

“Refugees remain especially vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19. Overcrowded settings, coupled with limited water and sanitation facilities, can contribute to increased infection rates and an exponential spread of the virus,” UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic said in the statement.

There are almost 900,000 Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, making it the single largest and most densely populated cluster of refugee camps in the world. According to Mahecic, the number of COVID-19 cases in the camps has increased dramatically in the last two months.

As of 31 May, there had been more than 1,188 confirmed cases among the refugee population, with more than half of these cases recorded in May alone.

None of the refugees in Cox’s Bazar has yet been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Mahecic added that, in many countries in the Asia Pacific region, there were not enough vaccines to go around, leading to groups such as migrant workers and asylum seekers being sidelined.

The UNHCR had observed a “worrying increase” in the number of coronavirus cases among refugees and asylum seekers in countries including Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, he said.

Indonesia, at least, appears to be starting to do more to address the problem.

The UNHCR says COVID-19 has begun to accelerate in the crowded refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar, but no Rohingya living there have been vaccinated [File: Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters]

Other parts of the country have started to follow Aceh’s lead, according to the IOM, which vaccinated more than 900 refugees in the Indonesian city of Pekanbaru in Riau Province in early June in collaboration with the local government.

“IOM applauds the response of the City Government of Pekanbaru for making vaccines available to the refugee community in the city,” Ariani Hasanah Soejoeti, the national media and communications officer of IOM Indonesia told Al Jazeera, adding that all refugees in the city over the age of 18 have now received vaccines.

“Vaccines are one of our most critical and cost-effective tools to prevent outbreaks and keep individuals and therefore entire communities safe and healthy,” she said.

“The virus knows no borders or nationality; and neither should our solidarity.”





Source – www.aljazeera.com

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Why Ethiopia’s 'alphabet generation' feel betrayed by Abiy

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PM Abiy Ahmed swept to power after mass protests, but his Oromo community still feel like outsiders.



Source – www.bbc.co.uk

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