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A Rudderless And Decrepit EU Courts A Tyrannical Regime

Following up on its decision last December to engage the Eritrean government, the European Union (EU) recently signed a cooperation agreement involving the provision of €200 million in development assistance to the regime. Scheduled to be disbursed over the next five years, the aid package is intended to stem the flow of Eritrean refugees to Europe purportedly by stimulating economic growth and expanding employment opportunities in the country. The news elicited strong reactions from both sides of Eritrea’s political divide: supporters and opponents of the regime. Given Eritrea’s small population and feeble economy, the size of the aid package cannot be trivialized. Nor can one underestimate the socio-economic dividends that would be generated if the funds were to be faithfully utilized for the intended purpose. And so, there seems to be not much disagreement between the two political groups on these aspects of the aid package.

Where a strong disagreement arises between the parties is in their perceptions of what impact, if any, EU’s financial support will have on Eritrean government’s image/status in the international political arena. The regime and its supporters see the aid package as a major political victory over their opponents and as a step toward breaking out of their international isolation. Within the opposition movement, on the other hand, the EU initiative is regarded as being at odds with prevailing international political opinion on Eritrea. As regards their own political struggle, opposition activists view the event as nothing more than a mere setback – even that, only insofar as international advocacy efforts fell short of thwarting the EU decision.

Beyond that, the Union’s move to engage the regime can hardly render the latter any less illegitimate or inhumane than it really is. A fight continues to be waged to have criminality level and accountability established for the regime’s documented human rights violations. That struggle is firmly grounded in recent UN indictments of the regime and in the international political consensus that is growing around them. As such, it will not be deterred by an aberrant EU decision premised neither on uniformity of policy nor on unanimity of purpose of its membership.

Current political analyses and expert opinions consistently portray an EU that is in crisis and inevitably heading towards disintegration. A discussion of the institutional and structural weaknesses of such a troubled organization and attendant political/economic management ramifications is beyond the scope of this essay (It should suffice, in this regard, to refer interested readers to some recent articles on the subject[1][2][3][4]). This essay instead focuses on the question of how the EU came to take a hypocritical decision which negates the “principled” position that Europe professes in matters of democracy and human rights in the world. The Union claims that its decision to engage the Eritrean regime was predicated on the need to stem the flow of Europe-bound migration. It is therefore instructive to consider this claim in the context of EU’s overall performance in the ongoing efforts to manage the continent’s refugee crisis.

EU’s Growing Irrelevance

As refugee influx into Europe reached a crisis level in 2014, the EU failed to develop a collective policy framework for effective management of the problem. It was unable to issue plans and guidelines that could engage member states in a coordinated implementation of a common strategy. In the absence of such a unified EU-led response to the crisis, states decided to take unilateral measures they believed would help check inflow of refugees across their respective borders.[3][4]

Member countries adopted policy decisions that ranged from welcoming refugee (e.g., Germany, Sweden) at the liberal end to erecting razor-wire fencing along their borders (e.g., Hungary, Slovenia) at the xenophobic end of the policy spectrum.[4] Others like Denmark, Britain, Norway and Finland took an intermediate policy approach which afforded them the liberty of turning away and deporting refugees from their territories. The policy often entailed unscrupulously misrepresenting the cause of migration in order to label the majority of migrants as economic refugees who are not entitled to protected status, hence are deportable.[5]

As the refugee crisis deepened, shifts in popular political sentiments forced governments to introduce policy changes that severely limit, if not altogether prohibit, migrant entry. Presently, even the most liberal of countries have reinstated internal border controls that require migrants to carry valid identification/travel documents to gain entry! Thus, EU’s failure to provide effective leadership in managing the crisis inevitably opened the way for unilateralism in Europe. This also led to reversal of policies (e.g., Schengen Convention) once considered symbols of European integration, and contributed to rapid erosion of respect for EU’s institutions. As a result, EU has by all accounts become a crumbling entity unable to ensure its own survival much less command the loyalty of its member states.[2][3][4]

Europe’s Input to UN Resolutions on Eritrea

As a regional block, Europe is fairly well represented in all organs, agencies and forums of the UN system. One such agency is the 47-member UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) whose membership has an equitable geographical distribution and to which states are elected on a rotational basis for a three-year term by the General Assembly. The (eastern and western) European block is represented in the Council by 13 states out of which at least eight are also members of the EU. Put differently, at least a quarter of the 28 members of the EU sit in the UNHRC in any given year.[6]

This sizeable European representation was in place throughout the period 2012-2015 when the UN Special Rapporteur’s periodic reports on Eritrea were sequentially approved by the Council. That was also the case when the Council approved the June 2015 COIE report, condemned Eritrea’s government for the documented rights abuses and extended the mandate of the COIE until October 2016 – all by consensus![7][8]

Likewise, at the 70th Session of the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee held in October 2015, European country delegations and a Special Representative of the EU took part in interactive dialog with the COIE which culminated in the Committee’s endorsement of the report on Eritrea.[9] As such, all the declarations and resolutions that these world bodies passed on Eritrea are as much EU decisions at they are the UN’s.


The factual account presented in the preceding sections of this essay raises fundamental questions of how the EU came to decide on supporting an autocratic regime under an international indictment for gross human rights violations. Specifically, was this the work of the “unaccountable technocrats” in the EU’s “Brussels bureaucracy”[2] desperate to claim credit for anything that resembled a “success” after having dragged the organization from one crisis to another for so long?[4] Or was this pushed by few powerful states intent on using the EU as a front for furthering their national interests taking advantage of the indifference of most member states and their preoccupation with tackling the refugee problem at home?  And how is it that the EU dithered for nearly a year before deciding in favor of putting out a small “emigration fire” in Eritrea while an “emigration inferno” raged uncontrollably in the Middle East and across Europe?

Inevitably, time will provide answers to these “who” and “how” questions of the case. Still, there remains an even bigger question of “why” the EU took the decision it did, and whether the real reason(s) for the decision lie hidden below the cloak of “stemming migration”!  That’s an issue that will have to be tackled in another article.


[1] http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=147_1451209868
[2] http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/feb/05/eu-no-longer-serves-people-europe-diem25
[3] http://www.hindustantimes.com/analysis/the-disintegration-of-europe-how-the-eu-is-falling-apart/story-8rAAWdv1tfuUaf2BeZelcM.html
[4] http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2016/02/11/europe-verge-collapse-interview/
[5] https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/07/02/uk-flawed-policy-eritrean-refugee-claims
[6] http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/Pages/Membership.aspx[7] http://www.refworld.org/country,,UNHRC,,ERI,,,,0.html
[8] http://www.ijrcenter.org/2015/07/20/commission-of-inquiry-and-special-rapporteur-on-eritrea-mandates-extended/
[9] http://www.un.org/press/en/2015/gashc4146.doc.ht

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  • Amanuel

    Hi Yohannes
    I couldn’t agree more with your analysis. The EU has been at odds with reality and its institutions contradicted each other. That is why it is in crises at the moment. It is well know that this aid package is nothing to do with controlling refugees but as you have said it has been pushed by powerful states to use EU as a front to further their national interest. Assuming that the PFDJ regimes implements the agreement to the letter, it is not going to stop the flow of refuges to Europe. That is because hundreds of thousands have already left the country and are in Ethiopia, Sudan or other neighbouring countries on their way to Europe. Any solution doesn’t consider those refuges is doomed to fail.

  • T..T.

    Hi Yohannes Zerai,

    In your conclusion you stated that “this essay raises fundamental questions of how the EU came to decide on supporting an autocratic regime under an international indictment for gross human rights violations.”

    Well, it is evident that the 99.999% unmet goals of the Eritrean Revolution under Isayas’s rule confirm the Eritrean people’s rejection of Isayas and that agrees with the Eritrean voices that reveal Isayas’s hate-ability of 99.999%.

    Many of the opposition members say that Isayas’s party has been favorite criminal group of the Arab Gulf countries. Now, the EU has been added to the list. It is not that the EU does not know that putting more money into the hands of Isayas will lead to more terrible destruction and wars in the region.

    If there is a reason to cut up criminals involved in the human smuggling and organ harvesting operations, so also the same reason applies to those who foster and nurture the crimes. But it is a make believe that the EU based its decision to release the funds on the ground that EU cannot enforce rule of law in Eritrea but it can enforce a contract of no more crimes. How? Not known as yet. The EU knows well that the Eritrean people by their nature are decent law abiding citizens even if they carry guns, as they do now. But the problem, in the eyes of the EU, is that the criminals are on their own now and are remote controlled and it is believed that only through contractual obligation or the terms of the EU contract with Isayas that the remote control can be controlled to ensure no more crimes or abuses that force Eritreans to flee their country.

  • Yohannes Zerai

    Dear Spark,

    Whatever happened to the notion of “self-reliance” that the Eritrean government has touted as its principled national policy for so long? And why is it some people consider themselves more patriotic than others simply because they advocate the idea of receiving handouts from foreign countries/organizations to feed the Eritrean people. Is that considered to be doing the people a favor or showing concern for their plight? There are certainly better of doing so!

    The EU aid package is worth €200 million and will be disbursed over a five-year period – in effect amounting to €40 million a year. The Eritrean government has been earning an amount equivalent to the total EU package in each of the last five years from the development of the Bisha mine. Would it not therefore be more rational and patriotic to instead question where this huge (by Eritrean standards) annual revenue has been going over the last five years and if the population has benefited from any of it at all?

    Be that as it may, you seem to have missed the thrust of the article. The main focus of the article is not so much the failings of the Eritrean government as it is the sinister and exploitative designs that some of the key members of the EU seem to have on Eritrea.

    • Spark

      [from the moderator: begin your comments with salutation. This is your last warning]

      I asked you to do better than the government if you want to do less that is your choice, if you have a responsible government you and I should not have to argue, the government neglected the people and some people are opposing the idea of getting help for the already suffering people, caring for them makes me conserved citizen not overly patriotic.

    • dawit

      Dear Yohannes Zerai,
      As your title indicate you seem to be the rudderless and clueless opposition member.. Spark wrote a very sensible comment about the difference between being an opposition to a government and a country. He brought an example from Ethiopian oppositions who support their people and country while opposing the government. Now wise yohans instead of commenting on the important idea for all Eritreans supporters or opposition to the government,
      You diverted the question to show us your knowledge of accounting lesson. 200,000,000 in five years which means 40, 000,000 a year. Then you continued your accounting lesson that referring to Bisha mine revenues in the last five years of 200,000,000/year amount to 1 billion. Now you drop your accounting hat and put your Auditing hut and ask where did the money from the mines went? Then you mock on Eritrean government policy of Self-Reliance, for accepting aid from the ‘”Rudderless EU” despite of your firm opposition supported by your allies the enemies of Eritrean government and people, as if the money came from your pocket. .
      You lobby every foreign government to prevent Eritreans from contributing 2% Diaspora tax, you harassed Eritrean Embassies and communities from collecting the 2% voluntary tax. Is that not part of ‘Eritrean Self-Reliance policy? How can you criticize Eritrean government if it accept Aid from EU to help for the development of the country? Mind you Eritrean government did not begged for it or put a gun on the head of EU to handover the Aid money. EU did it voluntarily trusting the Eritrean government will use it to the stated purpose of make Eritrea self sufficient in clean natural energy supply, also helping to combat global warming. I agree with sis sara’s assessment and even goes further it is useless, rudderless and deceptive article .

  • Solomon Haile

    Selamat Yowhaness,
    I honestly had to look the word rudderless up. More maple syrup please. I only have the anticipation that if the EU is rudderless, then you may be in Eritrea no time soon building a ramp for take off? There was an equilibrium formula by the Northerner that did not include , =

  • Hayat Adem

    Dear Yohannes,
    Those are worth asking questions. It seems the EU went ahead despite the overwhelming evidence and testimony that the flow of refugees from Eritrea has more things to do with government produced hardships than anything else. Even if they concluded, economic reasons may be the main reasons, this regime can never be part of the solution of stopping outward flow with or without EU aid. They are simply enhancing the capacity of the regime to do more harms on citizens which will feed more onto the outward flow. I don’t know whether their decision has anything to do with placing a prelude in preparing EU companies for investment in the mining sector. Whatever their reason is, it will do more harm than benefit.

    • Yohannes Zerai

      Dear Hayat,

      Thank you for your very perceptive comment. Hopefully an article on possible EU’s selfish designs on Eritrea will be forthcoming; stay “tuned”!

  • sara

    Dear sir
    this article reminds me of those erileaks, where they contain nothing we didn’t already know, only they just say it. EU,USA,using Eritrean refugees issue for their own interest, to go after those who don’t agree with their policies and interests. this are are all things that should be assumed. In that respect i am some how disappointed in this “essay” and wish it had more substance than what is brought here.