Few political figures have done more to keep Ukrainians fighting - and dying in huge numbers - in a bloody, futile proxy war of attrition than Von der Leyen.
Last Friday (July 21), droves of high-profile international lawyers, NGO execs and politicians converged on the UN headquarters in New York to attend the closing ceremony of the 28th World Congress on Law, the flagship biennial event of the US-based World Jurists Association (WJA). During the event the King of Spain Felipe VI and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau* presented EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (whom I shall henceforth refer to as VdL) with the “World Prize for Peace and Freedom,” which she received on behalf of the institution she fronts.
VdL began her acceptance speech by outlining the EU’s long, storied history of supporting peace in Europe:
When World War II ended, Europe was in ruin and ashes, and European countries mortal enemies. Five of them decided to forgive. Not to forget, but to forgive. They stretched out their hand to Germany and others, and over time invited them back into the circle of democracies. Under one condition: to do everything necessary for a just and lasting peace, grounded on the rule of law…
The story of our Union is one of democracies, young and old, getting stronger together. It is the story of Germany’s and Italy’s rebirth after the war. It is the story of Spain’s, Portugal’s and Greece’s path from dictatorship to democracy. It is the story of democratic renaissance after the fall of the Iron Curtain. And the next chapter in this story is being written today – in Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, as well as in the Western Balkans.
A Bizarre Choice
While the EU may have played an important role in fostering peace in Europe during its formative years, today’s EU Commission makes for a bizarre choice for a peace and freedom award, given:
It is a participant in the proxy war taking place in Ukraine and has been directly arming the Ukrainian forces through its Orwellian-dubbed European Peace Facility (more on that later);
It has imposed eleven rounds of largely self-maiming sanctions on Russia that have crippled German and Italian industry and are undermining the economic health of the entire EU bloc;
It has also not exactly been a staunch defender of freedom in recent years. For a start, in June 2021 it implemented the “Green Pass” vaccine passport, which was used by EU Member governments to deprive millions of unvaccinated EU citizens of their basic rights and freedoms on the basis of a vaccine that did not prevent transmission of COVID-19 and which the World Health Organization would now like to turn into a global standard. It is also about to declare all-out war on freedom of speech on the Internet.
The World Congress on Law is sometimes referred to as the “Davos of Law”. Its World Prize for Peace and Freedom is the WJA’s highest honour, given to individuals or institutions that have apparently distinguished themselves in promoting “peace through the rule of law.” It is sometimes described as the Nobel Prize of international law.
That is probably less of a complement than intended. After all, the real Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded both to peacemakers and serial warmongers alike, including, most notoriously, Henry Kissinger, for his contribution to “ending the war and restoring the peace in Vietnam.” Barack Obama also picked up a Nobel for doing literally nothing during his first nine months in office. He would then go on to sow mayhem in at least seven countries, in the process authorising ten times more drone strikes than his predecessor, George W Bush, including against US citizens.
Likewise, few political figures have done more to keep Ukrainians fighting in a bloody proxy war they have zero chance of winning than VdL. As Responsible Statecraft reported last week, Kyiv simply doesn’t have the human resources or physical infrastructure to achieve its goals:
As unpalatable as it is for all supporters of Ukraine, the most prudent course for Zelensky may now be to seek a negotiated settlement that preserves as much freedom and territory as possible for Kyiv. Ending the war now would end the deaths and injuries for tens of thousands of Ukraine’s brave and heroic fighters — men and women whom Kyiv will need to rebuild their country once the war ends.
But Europe and the US are holding firm, even as the leaders of more and more non-aligned countries, including Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia and China, call for an immediate ceasefire. While NATO may have no viable exit strategy, VdL fears that a ceasefire would consolidate the territorial gains made by Russia since February 2022, as if that fate were somehow avoidable at this stage. As the piece in RS notes, “Ukraine is unlikely to militarily evict Russia out of its territory, no matter how many men they feed into battle.”
VdL has other concerns too, including the threat a negotiated settlement could pose to US-EU’s grandiose reconstruction plans for Ukraine, in which, to paraphrase Julian Assange, potentially trillions of dollars of taxpayer funds will get washed through Ukraine and back into the hands of a transnational security elite. Here’s VdL from late May:
A ceasefire would be inherently unstable and destabilise the region along the contact line. Nobody would invest or rebuild, and the conflict could flare up again at any time. No. A just peace must result in the withdrawal of the Russian forces and their equipment from the territory of Ukraine.
Since VdL said those words, Ukraine’s long-awaited counter-offensive has come and almost completely gone while achieving next to nothing, apart from massively escalating the Ukrainian body count. As the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday, “When Ukraine launched its big counteroffensive this spring Western military officials knew Kyiv didn’t have all the training or weapons, that it needed to dislodge Russian forces. But they hoped Ukrainian courage and resourcefulness would carry the day. They haven’t.” And yet the meat grinder grinds on.
Funding War Through the European Peace Facility (EPF)
Interestingly, the Commission’s peace and freedom prize has garnered next to no attention in Western media. Maybe the MSM thought it too farcical a story to cover. But it has been covered elsewhere, including in an op-ed by British journalist and lecturer Mark Blacklock in China’s English-language government house organ Global Times. Blacklock describes the WJA’s latest choice of recipient for the award as “peculiar”:
In her acceptance speech, [VdL] spoke of the war between Ukraine and Russia, quoting from the UN Charter to declare countries should refrain from “the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.”
Why then has the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, deliberately concocted a method of evading its own internal checks and balances — designed to prevent the EU from distributing military aid to countries outside the bloc — in order to enable it to send billions of euros worth of weapons and ammunition from its member countries?
The disingenuously-named European Peace Facility (EPF) was created by the EU in 2021 to finance initiatives designed to avoid wars and encourage peace in other countries and strengthen international security. It was necessary because the EU is not allowed to finance military actions itself. The EPF’s original budget of 5.5 billion euros ($6.1 billion) was meant to partly reimburse its 27 member countries for the cost of lethal weapons, ammunition, and other military hardware supplied to other nations for those purposes. Now the budget stands at 12 billion euros ($13.5 billion) and has been repurposed so it can now be used to help Ukraine. Already, 4.6 billion euros ($5.1 billion) has been allocated to Kiev, and last week the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, outlined plans to send 20 billion euros ($22.3 billion) to Ukraine over the next four years. This war marks the first time the EU has supplied lethal weapons this way to a third country.
The Commission is in the process of setting up a procurement platform for EU nations to jointly purchase weapons, arguing that pooling demand will allow EU Members to secure better terms from suppliers — just as happened with the Commission’s COVID-19 vaccine procurement platform. You know, the one in which the terms and conditions — at least those that seeped out into the public sphere despite Pfizer, BioNtech and the Commission’s best efforts — got progressively worse as time went on, even as the Commission’s orders ballooned in size. That’s right: the more vaccines the Commission bought, the more it paid per unit.
Now, EU Member States are inundated with hundreds of millions of COVID-19 vaccines that nobody wants. Germany alone has binned 83 million doses of coronavirus vaccines at an estimated cost of €1.6 billion, and has 120 million further doses sitting idle in warehouses around the country. Yet Germany, like all other EU Member States, must continue buying more vaccines until 2028. At the same time, its Health Ministry recently announced that it was dramatically scaling back a €100 million programme for research into long Covid and post-vaccination injuries, as well as support for those afflicted, as part of Berlin’s new austerity drive.
The VdL Commission’s vaccine procurement practices are now the subject of two investigations by the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO). As the Belgian news weekly Le Vif recently reported, in late June the EPPO took up a criminal complaint filed by Frédéric Baldan, a Belgian lobbyist, in Liège, against VdL for, among other things, “destruction of public documents” (the infamous text messages between VdL and Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla) and “corruption”. For all his troubles, Baldan’s lobbying firm, CEBiz, was suspended from the European register of lobbyists, even though its accreditation had been renewed in April.
But I digress. Back to the WJA’s award, which, as its title suggests, is meant not just to honour the recipient’s commitment to peace but also to freedom. And this is something else the VdL Commission has little apparent regard for. As I reported a couple of weeks ago, in exactly one month’s time (August 25) the European Union’s Digital Services Act, or DSA, is set to go fully live. From that date, all “Very Large Online Platforms” (VLOPs) and “Very Large Online Search Engines” (VLOSEs) will be obliged to speedily remove illegal content, hate speech and so-called disinformation from their platforms. If not, they risk fines of up to 6% of their annual global revenue:
So, who in the EU will get to define what actually constitutes mis- or disinformation?
Surely it will be the job of an independent regulator or a judicial authority with at least clear procedural parameters and no or few conflicts of interest. At least that is what one would hope.
The ultimate decider of what constitutes mis- or dis-information, possibly not just in the EU but across multiple jurisdictions around the world, will be the European Commission. That’s right, the EU’s power-hungry, conflict-of-interest-riddled, Von der Leyen-led executive branch. The same institution that is in the process of dynamiting the EU’s economic future through its endless backfiring sanctions on Russia and which is mired in Pfizergate, one of the biggest corruption scandals of its 64-year existence. Now the Commission wants to take mass censorship to levels not seen in Europe since at least the dying days of the Cold War.
Late last year, the Electronic Frontier Foundation warned that the DSA, in its current form, could have “a significant negative impact on the rights of users, in particular that of privacy and free speech.” And as American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) notes, free speech and a free press are the foundation stones of any genuine liberal democracy. And the European Commission is about to enshrine a censorship regime that threatens to put paid to freedom of speech in Europe and could even end up going global. Yet the same Commission just won the World Prize for Peace and Freedom. Once again, Orwell will be turning in his grave.