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MEP Ramona Mănescu on the Qatar crisis: When patriotic hackers and fake news destabilize a whole region

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 The Arab states of the Persian Gulf are facing an unprecedented regional crisis. On Monday, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Yemen and Egypt announced a diplomatic break with Qatar. They cut air, sea and land links and ordered Qatari officials and nationals stationed in their countries to return home. 

Qatar, known on the world stage because of its great wealth of oil and natural gas, is being acused of supporting terrorist groups.

Countries in the Gulf are key to the US-led coalition against ISIS, with Qatar hosting the Al Udeid Air Base, the US military’s main regional center for daily air missions and coordination of all air operations. So there are higher stakes to be considered, not only the regional effects.

In an analysis headed” Qatar crisis: when patriotic hackers and fake news destabilize a whole region”, EPP MEP Ramona Mănescu argues that in an already troubled region, ”more instability is the least what people need”. 

Full article signed by Ramona Mănescu, EPP MEP:

Qatar crisis: when patriotic hackers and fake news destabilize a whole region

In the last three days, the whole world witnessed in bewilderment how a whole region, involving 14 countries, from Egypt to Maldives Islands, suddenly shifted to the brink of war.

In a much-unexpected move, between 5 and 6 June 2017, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Yemen, Egypt, the Maldives, and Bahrain all separately announced that they were cutting diplomatic ties with Qatar, imposing trade and travel bans. The Libyan interim government, which is based in eastern Libya and is one of Libya’s three rival governments, also cut off ties. All involved countries ordered their citizens out of Qatar.

Three Gulf States (Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Bahrain) gave Qatari visitors and residents two weeks to leave their countries. The foreign ministries of Bahrain and Egypt gave Qatari diplomats 48 hours to leave their countries. This, of course, created some dramatic situations when mix-nationalities families got separated because of the travel ban.

Other measures involved Qatar being expelled from the Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen, shut down the local office of Al Jazeera Media Network in Saudi Arabia, interdiction for Qatari vessels or ships owned by Qatari companies or individuals in Saudi Arabia and the UAE ports, border shutdown of Saudi Arabia – Qatar border, bank restrictions and airspace restriction to Qatar Airways over Saudi Arabia (and this last measure, taken overnight, brought havoc all over the region with global implications and huge uncertainties about the future of Chicago Convention and the Transit Agreement which assure open skies for everyone).

As a detail, I must say that Hamad Saif al-Shamsi, the Attorney-General of the UAE, announced on 7th of June that publishing expressions of sympathy towards Qatar through social media or any type of written, visual or verbal form is considered illegal under UAE’s Federal Penal Code and the Federal Law on Combating Information Technology Crimes. Violators of this offense face between 3 to 15 years imprisonment, a fine of up to 500,000 Emirati dirhams ($136,000) or both.

All of these look like the whole region is preparing for war because, in diplomatic terms, there is little left to show more aggression than what was already done and said.

In a troubled region, neighboured by several warm conflicts (Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen) and some of the poorest and most unstable countries (Eritrea, Sudan or Somalia), more instability is the least of what people need.

What startled all this diplomatic earthquake?

If someone looks at the general picture in the Gulf area, how it was till days ago, can notice a couple of muffled tensions between the Saudi Arabia and the much smaller neighbor – Qatar. These tensions date back to 2014 when Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain temporarily pulled their ambassadors out of Qatar because of its support for the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.

But it is not only about the Muslim Brotherhood. It is also about Saudi Arabia which tries to impose its position over all the GCC countries, about Qatar which tries to project a much bigger shadow, or about the regional clash between Iran and Saudi Arabia for the control of the world largest natural gas deposit which is shared by Qatar and Iran.

None of these could predict what it is happening now.

It all started on 24th of May just three days after President Trump visit to Riyadh with a hacking of Qatar State News Agency and subsequently carrying of “false statements” on sensitive regional topics attributed to the country’s Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani. Amid an apparent wide-scale security breach it was also reported that the agency’s official Twitter account had also been hacked and “fake” reports that Qatar was withdrawing ambassadors from several countries in the region appeared online.

Among the issues allegedly addressed by the Qatari ruler in the statement were the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, strategic relations with Iran, and comments about Hamas. There were also alleged negative remarks about Qatar’s relationship with the new administration of US President Donald Trump (and this despite President Trump’s declarations in Riyadh, just three days before, which were saying that “Qatar, which hosts the U.S. Central Command, is a crucial strategic partner”).

Despite Government Communications Office statement which said that “The Qatar News Agency website has been hacked by an unknown entity” and “a false statement attributed to His Highness has been published”, the remarks on QNA were picked up and reported by broadcasters in the region, including some in the United Arab Emirates.

What it is really interesting are the early findings of an FBI investigation, called in by Qatar’s authorities, onto the security breach. Intelligence gathered by the US security agencies indicates that Russian hackers were behind the intrusion. Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani told CNN the FBI has confirmed the hack and the planting of fake news.

If this statement will be confirmed by the final report, we can all say that it is for the first time in history when a cyber-attack combined with fake news creates a real regional crisis.

What is equally interesting is the link between some Russian hackers and very well targeted fake news insertion into a State News Agency. There is no money ransom, no database theft, no “this site was hacked by…”. Actually, it is difficult, if not impossible to believe that hackers (no matter their nationality or how patriotic they are) will conduct such an attack otherwise than at the request and guidance of a state actor. In this case Russia.

In police investigations, the leading line is “follow the money”. In geopolitics, we can say “cui prodest”.

Who would benefit from a fractured GCC and a weaken alliance with the United States

Syria? Bashar al-Assad regime is in no way capable of conducting such an organized attack.

Iran? Iran benefits more from today’s certain nuclear deal than from an unclear future of a tougher conflict with Saudi Arabia and most of the other Arab countries.

There is only one state actor, present in the region, capable of orchestrating such a plot, that would cash in the effects of a fractured GCC, a weaker US in the Middle East and even a higher uncertainty on the oil and gas market. This is Russia!

No lucid analyst can buy the theory which says that all this trouble is because of the many accusations, pointing towards Qatar, saying that the Gulf state is a major sponsor of various terrorist organizations.

These accusations are not new, they are circulating around for years and even if now is the time to clarify them, they don’t justify the huge regional crisis we are witnessing.

Also, similar accusations, even more, serious ones, like the yet unpublished UK government report about terror funding in the UK, are pointing to Saudi Arabia.

There is no need to even mention Iran and its proven links with Hamas and Hezbollah.

If all of these are about cutting ties with terrorism and its funding there is no better moment. The international community has never been more determined to tackle this problem in such a way it will not bounce back in just a year. But destabilizing a whole region is not solving problems is just bringing new ones.

I believe that instead of rushed actions it is time for calm, diplomacy and vision.

The future of the Gulf countries is together, cooperating as a strong alliance and a reliable partner for both US and EU. Everyone needs a strong Arab countries alliance in the Gulf area, from their citizens to the countries in the neighborhood.

It is also time for the UN to step in and tackle the issue of state actors accused of sponsoring terrorism. This cannot limit to only one country and it must cover all the accusations that are floating around.

Last but even more important, it is time for the international community to acknowledge the urgency of criminalizing the cyberwarfare, cyberterrorism, and cybercrime in such a manner they can be prosecuted in a credible way. Countries that are still blocking this process must understand that nobody and no one is fenced when we talk about cyber threats and any aggressor can become a victim.”

 

 

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MEP Vasile Blaga: The last day with Great Britain in the EU, the first day of a new relationship that we want to be close

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Great Britain, the historical partner of the EU, leaves our table but remains a friend of the European Union, said MEP Vasile Blaga in a statement sent to CaleaEuropeană.ro.

December 31 is the last day on which the UK still applies Community law, and from January 1 the Brexit agreement will be applied, having already been signed by European officials.

“There are a few more steps for this agreement, concluded in extremis, on Christmas Eve: the evaluation of the agreement by the European Parliament, the British Parliament and its ratification by the Parliaments of all Member States,” said Blaga.

“We are talking about an extremely important agreement given that official figures show that over 3 million EU citizens live in the UK and over one million Britons live in one of the 27 Member States. The agreement has been worked on, and often on the brink of collapse, by a team led by Michel Barnier who deserves congratulations for the tenacity with which he defended the rights of European citizens and European companies. It is an unprecedented agreement, no other such agreement has been concluded by the EU so far, from a commercial and economic point of view. Basically, the historical partner of the EU leaves our table but remains a friend of the EU. Because not even a democratic vote can cancel a family relationship and a history like the one between Europe and Great Britain “, declared Vasile Blaga.

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MEP Vasile Blaga: “A coordinated vaccination campaign at European level, an example of unity and solidarity”

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MEP Vasile Blaga (PNL, PPE) welcomes the start of the vaccination campaign at the same time in the European Union.

„The debut of the European level vaccination campaign, which is more or less simultaneous in all European Union states, has not been able to mobilize the EU to be able to provoke the annulment of all countries.” It is clear that you are critical of the address of the module in the European Commission to manage the contracting seminar with vaccines, tattoos, but through care, the moment of this moment, the functioning of the European Union, according to the European Plan.

The European MP informed Romania about the 150,000 vaccine dose of Pfizer BioNtech: „The European Commission has allocated 10 million vaccine doses for Romania to COVID 19″, said Vasile Blaga.

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Op-ed: Biden can help unite Europe. A closer political union is the rational outcome for Europe, and a globalist U.S. President can assist even passively

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A closer political union is the rational outcome for Europe, and a globalist U.S. President can assist even passively, writes former Romanian PM Mihai-Răzvan Ungureanu, in a joint op-ed with two US experts. The op-ed released to CaleaEuropeană.ro is published as an epistemic response to a piece authored by Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Klaus Leggewie in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung calling for a German-French Federation as a “breath of fresh air” for Europe. 

By Robert Braun, Mihai-Razvan Ungureanu and Dan Perry

The incoming Biden Administration is expected to break with its predecessor’s obsessively transactional foreign policy, enabling progress on issues ranging from global warming to international trade to human rights. An important consequence, not obvious from headlines at the moment, involves Europe.

Outgoing President Trump’s evident disdain for global cooperation, supranational governance and the European Union in particular has had a devastating effect on those who yearn for greater European political union. It emboldened the UK’s Brexiteers, Euroskeptic leaders in the east and nationalists in almost every country, creating a paralytic continental bad karma. Trump’s departure holistically offers a moment for the European Union to regain its ambition, boldness and creativity.

The EU embodied a successful economic vision, but failed to transform that business case into a shared political values to an extent that could drive action. The treaties of Maastricht and Rome ultimately amounted the rhetorical flourishes and bureaucratic advances that could not sweep aside nationalist resistance. This is now best exemplified by the  Polish-Hungarian effort to derail the European budget and halt political oversight over individual countries’ authoritarian practices.

If Europe is to make its mark in the world, it needs a bold vision for political union: tighter control over exploitive and corrupt practices of local and multi-national companies, an inclusive social net with universal basic income, a welfare system socially and economically strengthening unions and representation bodies, and safeguards for the independence of the free press, of universities and of civic-cultural institutions.

A unified Europe can be a beacon of progressive values and modernity to the world. This should be the response to those in the world who derided Europe as an ossified vessel of yesterday while benefitting from its values. 

This will strengthen Europe, and make it a better partner to a rejuvenated, post-Trump United States – and to other democracies. It is a vision that the new U.S. Administration will be able to get behind.

Of course, this is not currently the direction of things, nor will it be without an electrifying course correction. In theory, there would be a variety of ways to shock the system. We’d like to throw our support in favor of constitutional unification of Germany and France, an idea floated recently by French MEP and 1960s student leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit and German political scientist Claus Leggewie.

France and Germany have fought bitter wars, and can view each other through a narrow lens of stereotype and historical grievance. They have different labor market politics and instincts about fiscal and monetary policy. They speak different languages, and each possesses a profound patriotic instinct that may seem at odds with a ceding of national sovereignty. France is also more interested than Germany in a European security mechanism independent of the United States.

And they both have fostered business interest, sometimes at the expense of others in the European Union, that were grounded in “nation first” ideals.

And yet, France and (West) Germany are the two largest founding members of the European Economic Community that grew into the EU of today. The differences between their political and economic structures are minor when one considers their common fealty to Western and European values of the post-Renaissance and Enlightenment.  They are also the two strongest forces for political union among major EU members; there is a scenario where they agree to blaze the path.

A constitutionally unified, politically strong core would create economies of scale – combined population of 151 million and GDP of 6.73 trillion that make up 40% and 44% respectively of the bloc with the UK factored out – that would be irresistible, and prove that language need not be a barrier in a world in which English (ironically in light of Brexit) and innovation are unifying forces. 

Different languages may pose a challenge. But Canada, even with succession initiatives in Quebec, proves community and understanding are more about shared values than similar languages. Respect for different cultures and strong compassionate leadership are at the core of New Zealand’s political success. There is real reason to assess that a successful Franco-German unification would soon draw in an essentially liberal and internationalist countries like the Netherlands, Belgium, and Denmark, linguistic satellites like Austria and Luxembourg, and then large countries of the southern cone like Italy, Spain and Portugal. 

What of former east bloc countries where populist nationalists currently hold sway?  The euphoria of expansion was driven by both idealism and business interests, and while it yielded economic growth for the East it also left many in that region with resentments about a perceived neocolonialism, yielding a nationalist backlash.  Deft political diplomacy and considerable sensitivity will be required to avoid a repeat. A strong European political union may create the political momentum to rejuvenate a progressive urban electorate in Eastern Europe as well. Western European politicians should also find ways to acknowledge that peoples east of Vienna are valuable beyond picking asparagus, caring for the elderly and doing menial jobs for less. 

It seems far-fetched today. Nations tend to wait for crises to break established paradigms. We propose getting ahead of the curve. Germany and France can jump-start the process of European unification.

National identity – indeed tribalism – has been one of the building blocks of civilization. The question has always been granularity.  Right now, what is needed for stability, prosperity and global impact is a European identity.  It won’t be easy, because local identities are strong. But nothing ventured, nothing gained. Quite probably, very much lost.

* * *

Historian Mihai Razvan Ungureanu was prime minister and foreign minister of Romania. Social Theorist Robert Braun was a top aide to Hungary’s prime minister and is a senior researcher at Vienna’s Institute for Advanced Studies. Dan Perry was Europe-Africa Editor and Mideast Editor of the Associated Press news agency and is managing partner of the Thunder11 communications firm.

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