About Kirsty Hughes

Kirsty Hughes is a writer and commentator on European and international politics. She has worked at a number of European thinktanks including Chatham House, Friends of Europe, and the Centre for European Policy Studies and has published extensively including books, reports and as a journalist. Most recently she worked for Oxfam as head of advocacy and was CEO at Index on Censorship until earlier this year.

Articles by Kirsty Hughes

This week's editor

Ray Filar

Ray Filar is co-editor of Transformation and a freelance journalist.

Constitutional conventions: best practice

Greece and the eurogroup: capitulation or breaching austerity's dam?

George Papandreou cancelling his referendum was a capitulation. Tsipras and Varoufakis achieving new space and flexibility and four months to achieve a genuinely new approach was quite an achievement.

Syriza win – hope for Greece and Europe?

Though the challenges they face are immense, Syriza have brought some much needed hope back to Greece - and even to the European Union.

Britain and the EU – a sorry tale of collapsing influence and dishonest debate

Without EU 'reforms' he may not even recommend a 'yes' in the referendum on membership in 2017, says British PM. But what he asks for is mostly there already.

EU myths, politics and scaremongering on an independent Scotland

The EU is governed by hard politics, and the easiest thing for everyone if Scotland votes yes will be that she never leaves the EU.

Why the UK has no foreign policy

In the absence of any political lead either from their UK masters or their indirect US ones, the UK's foreign office diplomats are left with little direction to exercise real clout, and no role, even on a realpolitik basis, to play in a changing and challenging world.

Gathering clouds over digital freedom?

The debate over the direction of the web has just started, and contradictory messages that need careful scrutiny are emerging from governments and corporations alike.

Lost in a 1990s timewarp: the UK and the European Union

Is the crucial change in the UK's position in the EU, that demands a referendum, really the need to extend UK doctors' working hours? And what of the EU – has it got a better story to tell?

What future for a Greece in crisis?

Will Greece see a process of painful rebuilding, be mired in stagnation and despair - or even face a social explosion?

Another summit, another bleak day for European democracy

The new 'fiscal compact' treaty agreed at Monday's summit aims to take vital economic policy choices out of the reach of democratic decision-making. Beyond that, there is no new thinking, nothing to stimulate growth, nothing to give some hope to the 23 million unemployed – and those who will join them as the recession deepens.

EU democracy in crisis: mired in a perfect storm or rebounding?

If the heart of the crisis lies in the politics – including in the politics of the economic policy choices being made – then solutions may lie, not in yet more EU institutional changes and the creation of an austerity union, but in the practice and the dynamism of democratic European politics. But a certain tradition of creating a theoretically more democratic Europe for the people even if they do not seem to want it has deep roots in the EU elites. So far, this hasn't worked.

The UK and Europe: how much damage did Cameron's veto do?

Reactions are still rolling in, just over a week after Cameron's veto. Was it the tantrum of an 'obstinate kid'? Whatever reasons he had, he has relegated the UK to the sidelines of Europe.

The five follies of David Cameron

Perhaps now, as the eurozone and the entire EU struggles to survive, there will have to be a serious debate in the UK about the EU.

Euro end-game or end of crisis? Eurozone heads into critical summit

There will be huge sighs of relief if the potential political and economic catastrophe of a break-up of the euro is avoided. But a return to 'normal' politics it will not be.

The UK's vanishing European influence

The UK has a choice over whether to be a small player on the margins of Europe. But to become so without any serious national debate is surely a major error.

Turkey's judicial-political crisis

Turkey's political and democratic troubles are deepening. The country's domestic problems are grave enough, but an additional complicating factor is that few of its putative friends and partners abroad are able or wish to exert a positive influence on the direction of events.

Britain through Indian eyes

Kirsty Hughes returns to her homeland after almost a year in south Asia and sees a different country.

Tamil Nadu after the tsunami: hopes and obstacles

Their world turned upside down in the great Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004. Six months on, the fishing communities of southeast India struggle to rebuild their lives. Kirsty Hughes reports from a forgotten frontline of reconstruction.

France's 'non', Holland's 'nee', Europe's crisis

The French non to the European Union constitution on 29 May is still reverberating across Europe, probably to be followed by a Dutch nee on 1 June – tipping the European Union into the biggest crisis in its history.

Zanzibar: in the eye of the storm

An Indian Ocean microcosm of global politics – democracy, development, and election fraud, arguments over sovereignty, violence and pluralism – what can Zanzibar teach the world? Kirsty Hughes talks to Juma Duni Haji, a leader of its main opposition party, the Civic United Front.

The Convention endgame: beyond bad bargains?

Two Brussels insiders review the logjam over proposals for how Europe shall be governed, and the bargains being sought behind closed doors over crucial questions of institutions and power-balance.

Transatlantic meltdown over Iraq: is France villain or hero?

France’s reluctance to support the US’s military approach towards Iraq has drawn bitter criticism from the US and some of its EU partners. But in defending diplomacy rather than advocating a military solution, France is the truer defender both of the European project and, in the long run, of the transatlantic relationship.

A constitution for Europe: where is the real debate?

There is a clear route to enlargement after the Irish referendum, but the constitutional convention debate is stifled by the self-serving ambitions of the large states. A healthy debate about Europe’s democratic deficit requires the convention itself to take a lead.

Democracy takes a back seat

The prospects for engaging Europe’s citizens in the debate on the future of the Union are still hostage to the power politics of the member states.

US and Europe fall out in the fight against terrorism

Why should the EU hugely increase its military capacities in order to argue for a non-military solution?

Dissecting Laeken: a personal view

The ambitious policy decisions agreed by the EU at its Belgian summit carry both promise and threat for the community’s future. Europe needs both to deepen its cooperation and remain open to the world. After Laeken, will it?

Europe united?

The European response so far to the terrorist attacks on the US has been one of strongly expressed solidarity. But the global crisis provoked by the attacks on America, poses an old question in a very new context for the European Union. Can the EU match its global economic weight with a parallel political influence? Or will the EU’s recurring difficulty in speaking with a single voice undermine its ability to contribute at global level to ensuring a peaceful and effective long-run resolution of the current crisis?

Initial European reactions to the attacks were strong and clear: shock and outrage at the atrocities; shock at the vulnerability of the US; and fear at the potential for more attacks that might choose targets throughout the western world. These initial reactions were followed rapidly by questions as to how the US would and should respond, and how the EU could contribute to and influence that response. Very deep concerns remain as to which path the US will choose – particularly about a too wide and too rapid military response, with potentially huge destabilising effects.

European leaders remain reluctant, apart from Tony Blair, to use the rhetoric of war, and the communiqué from the emergency summit of EU heads of state on 21 September did not use the term. European leaders, including Schröder and Chirac, have emphasised that political solidarity, and the unconditional condemnation of the attacks, does not mean an unconditional signing up to all subsequent US actions and responses. This remains the case, even with the unprecedented agreement of NATO to invoke its Article 5. And it seems clear that the US will not in fact work through NATO, in order to retain its greatest freedom of manoeuvre and decision-making.

Three Challenges

The EU’s political leaders face three main questions that will determine the role and influence of the Union in the unfolding global crisis. Can Europe unite in establishing its short and longer-term political strategy in response to the attacks and in tackling terrorism more broadly? Will the EU be able to maintain and advance its own point of view while maintaining strong relations with the US? And will the EU strengthen its own internal security, without alienating its citizens and weakening civil liberties, and without building a ‘fortress Europe’?

The answers to all these questions will depend not only on the EU’s internal political dynamics. They will inevitably depend critically on the extent and impact of US military action, on the approach the US adopts to its wider global strategy against terrorism, and on whether there are further terrorist attacks in the near future.

At present, while the US continues building a global coalition of support, the nature and extent of its military and non-military plans still remain unclear. This lack of clarity is paralleled in the strong but very general declarations of solidarity being made around the world. Once more specific actions and policies emerge, the diversity of views behind the expressions of solidarity will come sharply into focus.

The EU has the chance to give a positive response to its three big challenges – of unity, influence and effectively combined security and civil liberties. But while there are some positive signs in these very early days, the prospects for success in all three areas looks weak, for both internal and external reasons.

A diplomatic contribution?

At their emergency summit on 21 September, the EU’s political leaders made a strong statement of political support for the US, including support for a US response as legitimate on the basis of the UN Security Council Resolution 1368 (passed on 12 September). They also expressed member states’ willingness to participate in such actions but ‘each according to its means’. This reflects the fact that the EU itself is still not in a position to participate as a body in military activity.

But behind the solid political front in the summit communiqué lie different views on involvement in military action, and the form of action, if any, that is desirable and legitimate. This reflects different foreign policy stances, very different military capabilities and differing approaches of smaller and larger member states (plus the existence of 4 neutral countries within the EU). Public opinion varies too, with nascent peace movements in many countries (Germany for example with its strong pacifist section of opinion, while France so far has seen little peace movement activity). All this suggests that once military action begins, unless it is very focused and limited in time and impact, the EU will struggle to maintain a single view on the US’s military strategy.

The EU is also moving rapidly and so far cohesively on non-military fronts – both internal and external – to respond to the attacks. It strongly supports the broad US view that a successful global strategy against terrorism must involve a range of diplomatic, economic and legal tools. It is particularly trying to contribute diplomatically in the Middle East – both with a direct focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and through attempts at bilateral diplomacy, including with Iran and Syria. But EU leverage in the Middle East is limited – in part precisely because of its own inability to build over time a genuine strong common foreign policy and to have a global profile as a strong foreign policy actor. Despite moves forward in recent years, member states, particularly the big ones such as Britain and France, remain jealous of their own national foreign policy roles (including in the UN Security Council).

On the wider foreign policy front – diplomatic, economic, institutional – at its most positive, the current crisis does potentially open up the opportunity for stronger and more coordinated global action on a range of fronts to tackle wider sources of global instability, tension and inequality. As the EU’s Commissioner for foreign affairs Chris Patten put it, in one of the broadest political interventions in the early days of the crisis: “we [must] work together not only to root out terrorism but to tackle its causes and consequences.” Calling for action within the UN to destroy terrorist safe havens and networks, he at the same time emphasised that “we need to redouble efforts to redress the divisions and inequalities in this world which are an affront to us all and which sustain the men of violence and hatred” (Guardian, 15 September 2001).

But so far, there is scant evidence to show that such a positive and wide-ranging response will be forthcoming. The EU, like the US, has been moving rapidly to do what it can to deal with the economic fall-out. And both the US and EU look to be pushing for launching a world trade round at Doha in November as a signal of positive global economic action.

There is no sign yet, for example, of a wide-ranging initiative from the EU setting out a bold and concrete new path to match Chris Patten’s strong words, and which the EU could lobby for with the US and globally. And examples from the EU’s recent history are not too encouraging here either. EU trade negotiations with post-apartheid South Africa were held up lengthily and shamefully by individual member states wrangling over sectoral interests, at the level of cut flowers and fortified wines. The Commission’s recent initiative to remove trade barriers for the world’s poorest countries, ‘everything but arms,’ was weakened by member states to protect key products such as rice and sugar (‘everything but agriculture’ said some). It is on such detailed sectoral and national interests that the EU’s efforts at a common voice have frequently floundered.

Can crisis produce progress?

Crises can produce rapid progress that seems impossible in more normal times. It is too early to see if the EU can maintain some of its newfound unanimity and rapidity of movement in internal and external affairs. But the EU has moved quickly both diplomatically and in internal areas, notably on drawing up a common terrorist list and in looking for agreement on a single European arrest warrant by early December. And such speed does not necessarily mean that proper democratic scrutiny is being avoided – the slow pace of typical European legislation is often as much for bureaucratic and procedural reasons as for democratic ones – but there are still genuine concerns that EU responses could negatively impact on civil liberties, and on international obligations (on asylum and refugees notably). And if the EU’s response is to over-tighten its borders, this will impact negatively on political relations in the EU’s often none too stable wider neighbourhood.

Rapid improvement in transatlantic relations, suffering in the first 9 months of the Bush presidency, is a perhaps not surprising outcome of the current crisis. Apart from declarations of solidarity, plans for cooperation have already been announced in a variety of focused areas from air transport security, police and judicial cooperation, border and visa controls, to action against terrorists’ financial networks. But the real questions and opportunities lie in the areas that were causing contention earlier this year – from the environment to the Middle East to tackling world poverty.

It is still too early to see clear outlines of the strategic direction the US will take – whether it will aim to assert its weight as a hegemonic superpower, picking and choosing its supporters and coalitions on different issues. Or whether, there can be a more genuine set of global policies and partnerships, of which a positive transatlantic relationship can form one important part.

As for the EU, it faces the challenge of trying to build and maintain a unified and influential voice. If it splinters and divides, Europe’s political weight on the world stage will be minimal in these critical times. The first challenge in the coming weeks will be whether the EU can remain cohesive once military action is underway – or whether we see a familiar divide, with the UK closer to the US than any other European country. The bigger and longer run challenge is for the EU both to develop and to unite around a strong, multi-dimensional set of global policies. The EU must not be not only persuasive in promoting those policies. Above all, it must avoid splintering on its own diverse sectional self-interests.

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