A Bright Future for Europe is Possible

As a Polish-Canadian who grew up in Montreal, I clearly see benefits for Quebec to be part of the Canadian Confederation and for Poland within a reconciled and vibrant Europe. Today, when America and China compete for influence, it is only through Europe that individual member states can still play a constructive global role.

IMG_1085Speaking in Geneva to an eclectic audience ranging from international diplomats to political affairs students at the Graduate Institute, outgoing European Commission President, José Manuel Barroso, took advantage of his newly found freedom to fire back at his critics (and those of Europe). Europe faced its share of crises over the past decade: constitutional (2005), financial, social and political, and geopolitical with the situation in Ukraine. But in opposition to his naysayers and to the “prophets of pessimism” who continue to announce the downfall of the European project, Barroso predicts that Europe will not only survive, it will grow stronger and play a growing role in global affairs.

Financial Crisis

In July 2012, at the height of the financial crunch, chief economists of European and American banks expected the exit of Greece and were split 50/50 on the survival of the Eurozone. But at the 11th hour, a political solution was found between the richest and most vulnerable members, balancing responsibility and solidarity. The Eurozone stayed united and stable. As French political economist Jean Monnet predicted, Europe will be built by meddling through crises.

lehman-colapse2-630x200To critics that claim Europe is too complacent, self-satisfied and only wants to protect its situation as the world’s premiere “retirement home” Barroso reminds that the Eurozone crisis did not originate in Europe, it was a spillover from the Lehman Brothers collapse: a “made in the USA” crisis. Something many tend to forget… But still no excuse the fragility of European Banks!

Surely, Europe confronts the same challenges as the rest of the world in terms of protectionism, unemployment, anemic growth and inequality. As elsewhere, this is fueling populist extremism and inflaming xenophobic fears. But despite the emergence of inward looking “tea-party” rhetoric in member states, Europe is in good shape. The last 10 years have tested its resilience and it has come out larger (moving from 14 to 28 member states), with better governance, while the Commission has never had so much say in European affairs. Europe also continues to be a major global player. Already much larger economically and population-wise then the United States, it remains an attractive objective for Ukraine and Turkey.

Resilient and Ambitious

By overcoming the various “stress tests” and defying conventional wisdom, Europe has shown a formidable capacity for renewal and strengthening. The Euro is stable and remains one of the two leading global currencies. This extraordinary resilience comes from Europe’s capacity for integration that is stronger then attempts for isolation and fragmentation precisely because, in a globalized world dominated by the American and Chinese heavyweights, not a single European state has the scale to matter. But a united Europe has the power to protect its interests and project its values in the world. Some member states (i.e., Germany) have realized that through Europe they can get obtain global relevance.

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher

Unfortunately, not all members understand that on their own they are too small. Americans used to call London, their partner for historical, cultural and language reasons, to find out what is happening in Europe. Now they call Berlin. The real challenge is therefore for states to commit themselves to the European project and protect their own future. Thereby lies the challenge that will decide on the future of Europe.

Continued global relevance

As questions of human survival start to take precedence over business as usual politics, a new approach capable of providing a globally cooperative response is needed. The European adventure, enlightened by two self-destructive attempts at world domination (WWI & II) provides an innovative approach for cooperation across nations and an appealing alternative to the greed of unregulated imperial liberalism.

Connie Hedegaard.And for those inclined to discount Europe as decadent and inward looking, it is worth reminding that it was Europe that convinced George Bush to organize the first G20 meeting, that launched the most ambitious trade liberalization program in history, including the investment agreement with China that is being discussed and that remains the source of 60% of the support for development in the world. In 2007 already, Europe adopted the first international climate package with 20% reductions in greenhouse gases by 2020. Now the target is a 40% reduction by 2030, which puts Europe in the pole position on climate action.

Looking Forward

In contrast to Barroso, his successor, experienced and colorful former Prime-Minister of Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Junker did not wait to speak his mind. Prior to the secret-ballot that elected him, he asked French tea-party leader Marie Le Pen not to vote for him as he does not want the support of those who reject, hate and exclude. Among his first tasks he must deal with a new eurozone crisis in Greece, mounting anti-EU sentiment in member states, create jobs across Europe and resolve the lingering confrontation with Russia (with its influence in Syria, Iran and Libya). An exciting job description indeed…

How about an International Court for the Environment?

     Two weeks ago a new call was made for the creation of an international environmental court during a conference at the European Parliament in Brussels. This Corrine Lepage (MEP France) and Jo Leinen (MEP Germany) initiative, supported by a broad group of civil society organizations (see below) was well received by the public and the media. Within hours hundreds of signatures were collected through an online petition for the creation of the court.  A Brussels Charter has been drafted and will be sent to UNSG Ban Ki-moon and to EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso.


Jo Leinen, Ahmed Alami, Antonino Abrami, Alfonso Pecoraro Scano, Corrine Lepage, Jean-Philippe Rivard, Carlos Jativa, Adam Koniuszewski

     This is not the first time this idea is being explored. As far back as the late 1940s, a Commission on Crimes Against Peace and Human Security has been debating the inclusion of “Ecocide”, the massive damage and destruction of ecosystems and the natural environment, as part of the 1948 convention on “Genocide”. In 1995, due to objections from four countries (France, the Netherlands, UK and USA) ecocide was removed from the discussions of what would become the Rome Statute that established the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2002 in The Hague to address genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression – but not crimes against the environment. This is why Ecocide is sometimes  called “The Missing 5th Crime Against Peace”.

     Interestingly, 10 countries, most of them former-Soviet states, already have local ecocide laws: Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan and Vietnam. Major Soviet-era disasters (Chernobyl, the Aral-Sea) and large-scale contamination during the Vietnam War provided compelling justification to protect their citizens from serious crimes against the natural environment.

         But for an ecocide law to be effective it would need to be implemented and enforced at the international level. Many now believe that the Rome Statute should be amended to bring back “ecocide” as originally proposed. To raise global awareness about this idea, UK Lawyer Polly Higgins staged the now famous “Mock Ecocide Trial” by the UK Supreme Court in 2011. Polly is leading a growing movement that has collected some 115,000 signatures in EU member states to make this happen. Check out her Ecocide TED Talk:

     At the Brussels conference, expert testimonies from the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear catastrophes, the Bhopal chemical disaster and the oil pollution cases of the Niger Gulf and in Ecuador provided compelling examples where international law has failed to address trans-national crimes against the environment. The difficulties in defining environmental crimes where are also discussed by International Criminal Court Judge Tarfusser and an international survey in seven languages was launched to better understand public expectations of what constitutes a crime agains the environment.

     The creation of such a court is not a silver-bullet that will resolve all our problems but could be an important element in the global governance framework needed to overcome the critical ecological challenges of the 21st century. Such a framework will also provide businesses with the stability and predictability necessary to plan ahead and a world-scale level playing-field to ensure fair competition.

In front of the Palace for Peace in The Hague

Peace Palace, The Hague

     If we agree on international law as the sound basis to maintain justice and order, then we also say that it must be upheld, enforced and re-invigorated. Impunity despite reckless activities that cause widespread environmental damage should ring as an alarm bell for the urgent “upgrade” needed in the field of international environmental law. The Hague, city of international order and justice and home of the International Criminal Court, would be an ideal location for a center of knowledge and expertise in this area. Institutions of academic excellence, such as the T.M.C. Asser Instituut, The Hague Academy of International Law, the Grotius Centre for International Legal Studies and the Institute for Environmental Security are some of the institutions that can provide the intellectual capital necessary to make this happen.

     It is worth noting that INTERPOL has already set up a program to address crimes against the environment and observes that a significant proportion of wildlife and pollution crime is carried out by organized criminal networks because of the attraction of the low risk and high profit nature of these types of crime. More on this soon.

Charter of Brussels Supporting Organizations: SEJF Foundation,  International Academy of Environmental Sciences, The International Criminal Court of Consciousness Against Nature and the Environment, European Network of Prosecutors for the Environment, Basso Foundation, SERPAJ, SELVAS, End Ecocide in Europe, The Association of Former Ministers for the Environment and International Leaders for the Environment (FME-ILE) and Globe EU

and the support of Green Cross France & Territories