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The Maastricht Diplomat

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Bullets, Bread and Ballots; another eventful week.

Updated: Mar 23, 2022

Spring has finally come, with the March Equinox being today. Also, Happy Nowruz, the Iranian new year. As the time comes to start cleaning out our winter hovels, Maastricht is beset by yet another exam period in the coming days. There is always something happening and it is impossible to keep up with every development. As I sit here thinking of what to cover I can’t help but get hung up on the fact that there is just too much to cover. Simply, I will write up some points which stuck with me last week.

The starting with the ongoing conflict in eastern Europe, as it is an omnipresent factor in day to day discussions. The war in Ukraine enters its 24th day of the conflict today, with continued stagnation in the advance of Russian forces and the intensification of shelling and assaults on the, ever more isolated, city of Mariupol by both Russian and separatist forces. Civilian and military casualties continue to climb, with over 3 million people having fled the conflict so far. These numbers show no signs of abating.

As this war continues the Western posture towards Russia hardens, the incremental increase of the scope and severity of sanctions accompany this, however further sanctions on energy commodities will be unlikely as energy hungry Europe is still heavily dependent on Russia.

With the China - U.S. tensions being pulled in too, the increasing internationalisation of the conflict also shows no signs of slowing down.

The E.U. member states will take part in a regular summit meeting on the 24th and 25th next week, being joined by the U.S. president on the first day to discuss the support of Ukraine and the “strengthening transatlantic cooperation in response to Russia’s aggression”. The following days of the summit will focus on security and defense, energy, economic issues and the still ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Speaking of the pandemic, the W.H.O. held a regular briefing on the 16th, where Director General Dr. Tedros announced that following a period of decline global Covid-19 cases are on the rise again. Impressing that when cases increase deaths follow and stressing that the places hit the hardest by this are still those with low vaccination rates. Noting that every country faces differing situations, Dr. Tedros urges “countries to remain vigilant” as “the pandemic is not over”. Repeating the importance of “expanding access to vaccines everywhere”.

In the same briefing, Dr. Tedros speaks to the situation in Ukraine, listing what humanitarian aid the W.H.O. and partners are provided and highlighting that there are a lot of weapons being sent into the conflict and not nearly enough humanitarian aid. Stressing that a cessation of violence is the only productive way forward. While mentioning that the W.H.O has already verified at least a dozen attacks on healthcare in the conflict in Ukraine, Dr. Tedros states that in the first 75 days of 2022 there have been 89 verified “attacks on healthcare around the world, in Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, DR Congo, Libya, Nigeria, the occupied Palestinian territory, Sudan, the Syrian Arab Republic, and of course, Ukraine.”

One country which may not be listed is also brought to the forefront by Dr. Tedros, his home country of Ethiopia where a civil war has been quietly raging for about 500 days. Dr. Tedros stressed that Tigray, the region where the conflict is primarily focused, has been “sealed off from the outside world”. Stating plainly "there is almost no fuel, no cash & no communications. No food aid has been delivered since the middle of December. 83% of the population is food insecure. Our partners are running out of what little food they have & the fuel to transport it." With a population of 6 million, this is an incredibly devastating humanitarian crisis.

Being from Tigray, Dr.Tedros has been caught up in controversy in regards to his origins and his role. Having been on the receiving end of outcry by the Ethiopian government who deny placing Tigray in a de facto siege. When addressing these concerns Dr. Tedros admits that what is happening to his home affects him personally, but that he has a duty due to his position to promote the health and well being of all. Stating that “nowhere on earth where the health of millions of people is more under threat than in Tigray.” Emphasising, that in any case "Peace is the only solution – in Ukraine, Yemen, Afghanistan and Ethiopia."

When speaking of this it is hard to lose sight of things closer to home, things that all of a sudden may not feel as important anymore. For example the municipal elections in the Netherlands last week, and the turnout was historically low. Maastricht also had a low turnout, with only 45% of the population voting. The local Senioren Partij Maastricht came out on top with 5 of the 39 seats, followed by the bigger national parties; CDA, GroenLinks and D66 with 4 respectively after having lost a seat each. The other national parties that did well were the PvdA who managed to also get 4 seats and the SP who 2.

Many also maintained their seats with Partij Veilig Maastricht, the Liberale Partij Maastricht and Prime Minister Mark Rutter’s party the VVD all kept their 3 seats. While SAB and 50Plus retained their 2 and M:OED(albeit just) their 1. PVV lost a seat, leaving them with 1. Volt, PvdD, and FvD all managed to claim their first seat this year while many parties did not make it, with some even losing their place entirely in the council. RE:SET, a party formed out of a different one that already held a seat on the council, did not make it. It accompanied by Belang van Nederland, ChristenUnie, Groep Gunther, Maastricht Vooruit, Maastrichtse Ondernemers Partij, and the Lijst 20, who all did not make it into the council.

This sets the scene for another 4 years. Its make-up is not hugely different to last year. Let's hope that the parties can compromise quickly and effectively in order to deal with, among other things, the ongoing housing crisis and the local implementation of policies to further the energy transition. But we shall see.

That’s all from me and this Sunday Summary, good luck in the upcoming week.

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