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Short political reports of the KAS offices abroad

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IMAGO / ABACAPRESS

Franco-German tensions and European pressure to act

Ukraine conference in Paris

On February 27, 2024, President Macron invited 20 heads of state and government, including 15 representatives of the EU member states as well as the UK, the USA and Canada, to a conference on Ukraine in Paris at very short notice. This took place under the impression of the extremely difficult situation on the Ukrainian front and the possible discontinuation of military aid from the USA to Ukraine. At the press conference for the meeting, Macron polarized with a statement on the possible deployment of ground troops in Ukraine, which was met with fierce criticism, particularly in Germany. He also sent several pointed remarks in the direction of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, which reinforced the impression that tensions in Franco-German relations are currently immense, particularly in view of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine. France itself is under pressure to act. The government has repeatedly denied the figures from the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, according to which France is one of the worst performers in the European context in terms of military aid to Ukraine (see info panel). Macron, who attempted to maintain a dialogue with Vladimir Putin as the driving European force at the beginning of the invasion in 2022, now wants to become the geopolitical leader in Europe again. Whether he will succeed in this seems rather uncertain. The European partners immediately distanced themselves clearly from the scenario of a troop deployment in Ukraine. The French president may also have led himself up the garden path domestically. The opposition described Macron's proposal as risky and ill-considered. The right-wing populist camp in France in particular is likely to exploit the president's geopolitical move in order to use it against him in the upcoming European elections.

IMAGO / Manfred Segerer

Escalation in the Red Sea

The military dimension, the deployment of the Bundeswehr and the calculations of regional players

The deployment of the frigate Hessen to the Red Sea was described in advance as the most dangerous deployment of the German navy in the history of the Bundeswehr and is aimed at protecting funda-mental national interests. This naval mission fundamentally challenges central assumptions and plans of Germany’s defence policy of the past two decades. A return of the Bundeswehr to East Africa was long considered just as unlikely as an air defence scenario against a non-state armed group. Now the Yemeni Houthi militia is confronting the US naval forces with a primarily Iranian arsenal of weapons that is clearly superior in quality to that of many other non-state armed groups. While in terms of de-fence policy, Europe is almost completely tied down along NATO's eastern flank, it is becoming appar-ent that the conflict-ridden region around the Red Sea could pose an additional security challenge in the long term and require additional commitment and resources. After all, the maritime trade route between the Suez Canal and Bab al-Mandab and access to the Indo-Pacific region are of key economic and security importance for Germany and Europe.

IMAGO / ITAR-TASS

Elections as a “special operation”

With Lukashenka’s “single voting day” only a coup by the democratic forces is surprising

On February 25, 2024, the “single voting day” for the national parliament and local councils took place in Belarus. This was likely the least free election in the history of the nation. Politically sterile, with no opposition on the ballot or in the election commissions, Lukashenka is ushering in a process that the democratic opposition calls a “special operation.” Strictly guarded by a massive contingent of his repressive apparatus, the system is now to be restructured in the spring with a new super-committee in order to secure his authoritarian rule and personal power. From his point of view, the people are above all a threat following the peaceful pro-democratic mass protests of 2020. An action led by democratic forces produced a surprise on the eve of “Election Day.”

IMAGO / ITAR-TASS

The Human Rights Situation in Belarus on the Eve of the “Single Voting Day”

The repressive system in Belarus today is no less brutal than in Putin's Russia

Just days after the breaking news of Alexei Navalny's death made global headlines, Belarusian independent media reported another tragedy that is similar in character but will likely cause much less attention. The political prisoner Ihar Lednik died in a hospital in Minsk after he had been incarcerated despite a known heart condition. He had been accused of “slandering Lukashenka” in a publication that demanded the dissolution of the Union State with Russia. This underlines yet again that the repressive system in today’s Belarus is not less brutal than in Putin’s Russia. Since 2020, at least five political prisoners have died in Belarus, four of them within the last nine months. Since last spring, at least six political prisoners, among them the most prominent leaders of the 2020 democratic protest, have “disappeared”. Former inmates and relatives describe the conditions in the penal colonies as “creeping death” and the UN sees signs of “crimes against humanity”. Since the repressions aim to secure Lukashenka’s rule beyond “elections”, this report is to give an overview of the human rights situation in Belarus on the eve of the “single voting day” on February 25, 2024.

IMAGO / CTK Photo

Fico pushes through controversial criminal law reform - and thus unites the opposition

The fight for the rule of law characterises the first months of the legislative period. Presidential elections in March will also be essential for the country's further development.

Although the result of the parliamentary elections in Sept. 2023 also allowed for other constellations, SMER-SD formed the government for the fourth time with Robert Fico at the lead. Coalition partners are Peter Pellegrini's HLAS-SD and Andrej Danko's National Party SNS.

One of the first things the Fico government did was to abolish the special anti-corruption prosecutor's office and shorten the statute of limitations and prison sentences in a shortened legislative procedure. Experts warned, the opposition held firm against this, as coalition MPs and former SMER-SD ministers would also benefit directly from this. Tens of thousands of people demonstrated across the country week after week - a testament to how divided the country is and a sign of how tough the upcoming election campaign for the direct presidential elections in March will be. In the run-off, the Social Democrat Pellegrini is expected to face off against the civic candidate and former foreign minister Ivan Korčok.

In terms of foreign policy, Fico is still using harsh rhetoric against Ukraine, but he is not blocking the EU's joint decisions in this regard. Commercial arms exports as well as humanitarian and technical support for Ukraine will continue under Fico, but bilateral military aid will not.

KAS Genf

The E-Commerce Moratorium: 404 Not Found

The "Geneva Telegram" explores events in Geneva-based multilateral organizations on a current topic. This time, we focus on the E-Commerce negotiations ahead of the 13th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization, which will take place from 26-29 February in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

Senegal's democracy passes the stress test

The Constitutional Council has repealed Macky Salls' decree of 03.02.24 annulling the elections

There was much commotion in the country after President Macky Sall canceled the election date set for 25.02.2024 just a few hours before the start of the campaign. Senegalese civil society and the international community reacted with bewilderment and interpreted the annulment as an attempt by Macky Sall to extend his mandate indefinitely. Now, in a historic decision, the Constitutional Council has annulled the presidential decree.

IMAGO / Pond5 Images

Why the European elections could be decided in Italy

Movement in the Italian party system reaches as far as Strasbourg and Brussels

2024 will be a real stress test for Italy's party landscape. European elections, regional elections, local elections - a super election year has begun. For some party leaders, political survival is at stake. And some groupings may no longer exist afterwards. Only Giorgia Meloni and her Fratelli d'Italia can look to the future with relative calm when looking at the demoscopic data. The election to the European Parliament could even make the Italian head of government a key figure in Brussels when it comes to appointing new EU leaders. And surprises cannot be ruled out on the Tiber either.

IMAGO / SNA

Nothing new in Baku

Incumbent Ilham Aliyev was declared the winner of the presidential elections in Azerbaijan with an overwhelming result. Only the president's vote itself caused a stir.

The start of the "super election year" 2024 had hardly any surprises in store. According to the official results, the incumbent Ilham Aliyev emerged as the clear winner of the early presidential elections in Azerbaijan on February 7. With this election victory, Aliyev has further consolidated his power and will remain in office for another seven years. Even before the election, his fifth re-election was considered a mere formality, as it was a rehearsed simulation of democracy in a state that has been firmly ruled by an authoritarian regime for three decades. Beyond the expected course of events, the president's own vote was of extraordinary symbolic value.

U.S. Mission / Eric Bridiers / flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

The 154th Meeting of the WHO Executive Board

The "Geneva Telegram" explores events in Geneva-based multilateral organizations on a current topic. This time, we focus on the 154th meeting of the Executive Board of the World Health Organization (WHO), which met in Geneva from 22 to 27 January 2024.

Significant progress was made at the 154th meeting of the Executive Board of the World Health Organization (WHO). A decisive milestone was the design of the WHO strategy for the period 2025-2028, which will be submitted to the World Health Assembly (WHA) for approval in May. Member states signalled broad support for the comprehensive plan of the first round of investment, which is supposed to take place in November 2024. This was a crucial step for sustainable financing and strengthening of the WHO. The session comprehensively covered health priorities, including universal health coverage, noncommunicable diseases, immunization, maternal and child health, neglected tropical diseases, antibiotic resistance, polio, emergencies, and health and peace. Progress has also been made on organisational and governance reform.

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About this series

The Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung is a political foundation. Our offices abroad are in charge of over 200 projects in more than 120 countries. The country reports offer current analyses, exclusive evaluations, background information and forecasts - provided by our international staff.

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Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung e.V.