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Monday, February 28, 2011

Northern Ireland: The Peace Process


Kristin Archick
Specialist in European Affairs

Since 1969, over 3,500 people have died as a result of political violence in Northern Ireland, which is a part of the United Kingdom. The conflict, which has its origins in the 1921 division of Ireland, has reflected a struggle between different national, cultural, and religious identities. The Protestant majority (53%) in Northern Ireland defines itself as British and largely supports continued incorporation in the UK (unionists). The Catholic minority (44%) considers itself Irish, and many Catholics desire a united Ireland (nationalists).

For years, the British and Irish governments sought to facilitate a political settlement. After many ups and downs, the two governments and the Northern Ireland political parties participating in the peace talks announced an agreement on April 10, 1998. The resulting Good Friday Agreement (also known as the Belfast Agreement) called for devolved government—the transfer of power from London to Belfast—with a Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive Committee in which unionist and nationalist parties would share power. The agreement also contained provisions on decommissioning (disarmament), policing, human rights, UK security normalization (demilitarization), and the status of prisoners.

Despite a much improved security situation in the years since then, full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement has been challenging. For years, instability in Northern Ireland’s devolved government was the rule rather than the exception; decommissioning and police reforms were key sticking points. The devolved government was suspended for the fourth time in October 2002 amid a loss of trust and confidence on both sides of the conflict; this suspension lasted almost five years. During this time, London and Dublin led talks with Northern Ireland’s political parties to try to find a way forward.

On May 8, 2007, Northern Ireland’s devolved political institutions were restored following a power-sharing deal between the traditionally anti-agreement Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). The DUP and Sinn Fein are the largest unionist and nationalist parties, respectively, in Northern Ireland and have long been viewed as the two most polarized forces in Northern Ireland politics. London and Dublin hoped that this deal would entrench the political settlement embodied in the Good Friday Agreement and produce a politically stable devolved government.

In 2008, the DUP and Sinn Fein clashed over the outstanding issue of transferring authority for policing and justice affairs from London to Belfast. Given the sensitive nature of this portfolio, the parties had been unable to agree on its devolution at the time of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. After protracted negotiations, the parties reached a deal in February 2010 paving the way for the devolution of police and justice powers in April 2010.

Successive U.S. administrations and many Members of Congress have actively supported the Northern Ireland peace process. The United States has provided development aid through the International Fund for Ireland (IFI) since 1986. In recent years, congressional hearings have focused on the peace process, police reforms, and the status of public inquiries into several murders in Northern Ireland in which collusion between the security forces and paramilitary groups is suspected. Many of these issues related to Northern Ireland, including the future of the IFI, may continue to be of interest in the 112
th Congress.


Date of Report: February 18, 2011
Number of Pages: 17
Order Number: RS21333
Price: $29.95

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

The European Union’s Reform Process: The Lisbon Treaty


Kristin Archick
Specialist in European Affairs

Derek E. Mix
Analyst in European Affairs


The Lisbon Treaty, the latest institutional reform treaty of the European Union (EU), went into effect on December 1, 2009. The document was signed by the heads of state or government of the 27 EU member countries in December 2007. The process of completing ratification by each individual member country lasted nearly two years, concluding with ratification by the Czech Republic on November 3, 2009. The Lisbon Treaty reforms the EU’s governing institutions and decision-making process to enable the EU to operate more effectively. The treaty grew out of the proposed “constitutional treaty” that foundered after French and Dutch voters rejected it in referendums in 2005.

The Lisbon Treaty seeks to give the EU a stronger and more coherent voice with the creation of a new position, President of the European Council. The first holder of this office is former Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy. He chairs the activities of the 27 EU heads of state or government, working to facilitate consensus and ensure policy continuity, and acting as the group’s spokesman. Additionally, the Lisbon Treaty seeks to increase the weight and visibility of the EU on the world stage by creating the new position of High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Catherine Ashton (from the United Kingdom), formerly European Commissioner for Trade, serves in this position. She will be supported by a newly created EU diplomatic corps, the European External Action Service.

The treaty also makes changes to the EU’s internal decision-making mechanisms. These changes have been designed to streamline the process and make it less susceptible to gridlock or blockage. Additional reforms attempt to address concerns about democratic accountability and transparency in EU policy-making by granting a greater role to the directly elected European Parliament, national parliaments, and citizens’ initiatives.

Experts assert that the Lisbon Treaty could have positive implications for U.S.-EU relations. Some observers believe that it could eventually allow the EU to take on a more active and effective role as a U.S. partner in tackling global challenges. The adoption of the treaty could also help make the EU more amenable to future enlargement, including to the Balkans and perhaps Turkey, which the United States supports. On the other hand, some observers doubt how much of an impact the Lisbon Treaty will have, and some skeptics maintain that a stronger EU poses a potentially detrimental rival to NATO and the United States.

This report provides information on the Lisbon Treaty and possible U.S.-EU implications that may be of interest to the 112
th Congress. Also see CRS Report RS21372, The European Union: Questions and Answers, by Kristin Archick and Derek E. Mix.


Date of Report: February 8, 2011
Number of Pages: 10
Order Number: RS21618
Price: $19.95

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Friday, February 11, 2011

Belarus: Background and U.S. Policy Concerns

Steven Woehrel
Specialist in European Affairs

Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko snuffed out Belarus’s modest progress toward democracy and a free market economy in the early 1990s and created an authoritarian, Sovietstyle regime. Belarus has close historical and cultural ties to Russia. Efforts to establish a political and economic “union” between the two countries have had substantial public support in Belarus. Nevertheless, the pace of integration between Belarus and Russia has been fitful. Current Russian policy toward Belarus appears to be focused on gaining control of Belarus’s economic assets while reducing the costs of subsidizing the Belarusian economy.

For many years, the United States limited ties to the regime while providing modest support to pro-democracy organizations in Belarus. The United States and the European Union also imposed sanctions on Belarusian leaders. In March 2008, Belarus withdrew its ambassador from Washington and forced the United States to recall its ambassador from Minsk, in response to what Belarus perceived as a tightening of U.S. sanctions against Belneftekhim, the state-owned petrochemicals firm. Later in 2008, the United States and European Union suspended some sanctions in exchange for very modest improvements on human rights issues. Analysts attributed the policy shift, in which the EU played the leading role, to a variety of factors, including concerns about Russia’s increasing assertiveness in its relations with neighboring countries, especially after Russia’s military assault on Georgia in August 2008. In May 2009, Belarus was permitted to join the EU’s Eastern Partnership program, which could provide Belarus with EU aid and other forms of cooperation.

However, this policy appeared to suffer a setback in December 2010, when Belarus held presidential elections that observers from the OSCE viewed as falling far short of international standards. Moreover, in response to an election-night demonstration against electoral fraud in a square in central Minsk, the Lukashenko regime arrested over 600 persons, including most of his opponents in the election, as well as activists, journalists, and civil society representatives. Some of those detained were viciously beaten by police. The United States and the EU have warned Lukashenko to release those still in detention (currently about two dozen persons) or face sanctions against himself and other top Belarusian officials. On January 31, 2011, the EU and the United States imposed enhanced visa and financial sanctions against top Belarusian officials. The United States also reimposed sanctions against two key subsidiaries of Belneftekhim. They also pledged enhanced support for Belarusian pro-democracy and civil society groups.

Congress has responded to the situation in Belarus with legislation. The Belarus Democracy Act (P.L. 108-347) authorized aid for pro-democracy forces in Belarus and funding for increased U.S.-sponsored broadcasting to Belarus. The bill supported sanctions on Belarus and top leaders of the Lukashenko regime until Belarus met specific democratic and human rights criteria. The bill also required the President to report to Congress on the sale by Belarus of weapons or weapons-related assistance to regimes supporting terrorism, and on the personal wealth of Lukashenko and other senior Belarusian leaders. The 109
th Congress passed several resolutions criticizing human rights abuses and calling on Belarus to hold free and fair elections. In January 2007, President Bush signed the Belarus Democracy Reauthorization Act (P.L. 109-480), which reauthorized and updated the provisions of the original Belarus Democracy Act. On January 26, 2011, Representative Chris Smith introduced H.R. 515, which would reauthorize the Belarus Democracy Act.


Date of Report:
February 1, 2011
Number of Pages: 17
Order Number: RL32534
Price: $29.95

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Friday, February 4, 2011

United Nations Reform: U.S. Policy and International Perspectives



Luisa Blanchfield
Specialist in International Relations

Since its establishment in 1945, the United Nations has been in a constant state of transition as various international stakeholders seek ways to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the U.N. system. Recent controversies, such as corruption of the Iraq Oil-For-Food Program, allegations of sexual abuse by U.N. peacekeepers, and instances of waste, fraud and abuse by U.N. staff, have focused renewed attention on the need for change and improvement of the United Nations. Many in the international community, including the United States, have increased pressure on U.N. member states to implement substantive reforms. The 112th Congress will most likely continue to focus on U.N. reform as it considers appropriate levels of U.S. funding to the United Nations and monitors the progress and implementation of ongoing and previously approved reform measures.

In September 2005, heads of U.N. member states met for the World Summit at U.N. Headquarters in New York to discuss strengthening the United Nations through institutional reform. The resulting Summit Outcome Document laid the groundwork for a series of reforms that included establishing a Peacebuilding Commission, creating a new Human Rights Council, and enlarging the U.N. Security Council. Member states also agreed to Secretariat and management reforms including improving internal U.N. oversight capacity, establishing a U.N. ethics office, enhancing U.N. whistle-blower protection, and reviewing all U.N. mandates five years or older.

Since the World Summit, U.N. member states have worked toward implementing these reforms with varied degrees of success. Some reforms, such as the creation of the Human Rights Council and the Peacebuilding Commission, have already occurred or are ongoing. Other reforms, such as mandate review and U.N. Security Council enlargement, have stalled or not been addressed. U.N. member states disagree as to whether some proposed reforms are necessary, as well as how to most effectively implement previously agreed-to reforms. Developed countries, for example, support delegating more power to the Secretary-General to implement management reforms, whereas developing countries fear that giving the Secretary-General more authority may undermine the power of the U.N. General Assembly and therefore the influence of individual countries.

Congress has maintained a significant interest in the overall effectiveness of the United Nations. Some Members are particularly interested in U.N. Secretariat and management reform, with a focus on enhanced accountability and internal oversight. In the past, Congress has enacted legislation that links U.S. funding of the United Nations to specific U.N. reform benchmarks. Opponents of this strategy argue that tying U.S. funding to U.N. reform may negatively impact diplomatic relations and could hinder the United States’ ability to conduct foreign policy. Supporters contend that the United Nations has been slow to implement reforms and that linking payment of U.S. assessments to progress on U.N. reform is the most effective way to motivate member states to efficiently pursue comprehensive reform.



Date of Report: January 24, 2011
Number of Pages: 34
Order Number: RL33848
Price: $29.95

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Thursday, February 3, 2011

The European Union: Questions and Answers

Kristin Archick
Specialist in European Affairs

Derek E. Mix
Analyst in European Affairs


The European Union (EU) is an economic and political partnership that represents a unique form of cooperation among its 27 member states. The Union is the latest stage of a process of integration begun after World War II to promote peace, stability, and economic prosperity in Europe. The United States has strongly supported the EU and its progenitors as a means to foster democratic states and robust trading partners.

The EU has been built through a series of binding treaties, and EU member states have committed to a process of integration by harmonizing laws and adopting common policies on an extensive range of issues. For most economic and social issues, EU member states have largely pooled their national sovereignty, and EU decision making has a supranational quality. Decisions in other areas, such as foreign policy, require unanimous consensus among member states.

EU member states work together through common institutions to set policy and to promote their collective interests. The three main institutions of the EU are: the European Commission, which upholds the common interest of the Union as a whole and functions as the EU’s executive; the Council of the European Union (also known as the Council of Ministers), which represents the national governments; and the directly elected European Parliament, which represents the citizens of the EU. The Lisbon Treaty, which took effect in December 2009, is the EU’s latest attempt to reform its governing institutions and decision-making processes in order to enable an enlarged EU to function more effectively. The Lisbon Treaty also seeks to give the EU a stronger voice in the foreign policy realm and to increase democratic transparency within the EU.

The EU has a strong common trade policy and has been developing a Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) to make it a more coherent actor on the world stage. It has also been seeking to build a Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) in order to improve its military capabilities. Although some shortcomings exist in EU-NATO relations, the two institutions continue to seek a more cooperative and complementary relationship. Over the last decade especially, the EU has been working to forge common internal security measures in the Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) field, including by boosting police and judicial cooperation and enhancing the Union’s ability to combat terrorism and other cross-border crimes.

The United States and the EU have an extensive and dynamic political partnership and share a large, mutually beneficial trade and investment relationship. The global financial crisis has challenged both sides to forge a common response. The United States and the EU have a number of lingering trade disputes, but have led the push to liberalize world trade, and have sought to reduce non-tariff and regulatory barriers in the transatlantic marketplace.

This report provides a brief overview of these issues, many of which may be of interest to the 112
th Congress. For more information, also see CRS Report RS21618, The European Union’s Reform Process: The Lisbon Treaty, by Kristin Archick and Derek E. Mix; CRS Report R41088, The European Union: Leadership Changes Resulting from the Lisbon Treaty; by Derek E. Mix, and CRS Report RS21998, The European Parliament, by Kristin Archick and Derek E. Mix.


Date of Report: January 24, 2011
Number of Pages: 12
Order Number: RS21372
Price: $29.95

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