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The EU-China relationship characterised by ineffective political action and lack of trust

Wed, 23/08/2017 - 08:54

The EU-China economic relationship appears to be in troubled waters. Battered by policy tensions and hamstrung by political obstacles inhibiting progress, it is necessary to look behind the smiles of summit leaders and beyond the ever-increasing value of goods traded between the economies to try to understand why there continue to be problems.

By analysing the context of the key areas of this relationship, it becomes clearer why its potential is not being fully realised. What emerges as the best description for the current state of relations is that there is now a palpable crisis of mutual trust.

Real disquiet is emerging in European circles over China’s direction of travel over promised economic reforms, especially in respect of the continuing visibility of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in key industrial sectors.

Also linked are concerns about Chinese fairness and openness in economic relations with the European Union, given a trade deficit of €174.5bn for 2016 (despite bilateral goods trade of more than €1.5bn per day) as well as product dumping and over-capacity in Chinese industrial sectors such as steel.

A particular frustration is the poor showing of services in the economic partnership, struggling to reach more than ten per cent of the value of goods traded – even though EU member states include some of the leading services-based economies in the world.

“Real disquiet is emerging in European circles over China’s direction of travel over promised economic reforms”

Whilst outward foreign direct investment (FDI) from China into the EU soared by 77% to a record €35bn in 2016, the same year actually saw a noticeable decline in European investment flows into China, reflecting a more troubled regulatory picture, whilst the accelerating pace of technology acquisitions by China in some EU member states (such as Germany) has promoted sharply negative political commentary about relinquishing Europe’s competitive advantage. Even the issue of whether to create a pan-EU FDI monitoring regime – akin to a European version of the United States’ – appears to be back on the table with China in its sights, albeit as yet with no final decision having been made.

All of this is explained in European circles by pointing to the continuing absence of reciprocity in market access in China linked to suspicions of a nationalist edge to economic policy priorities where the promotion and subsidy of national champions is seen as more important for the Chinese than fulfilling their World Trade Organization commitments.

EU business groups point to the persistence of issues such as compulsory local content requirements in key sectors, unfair procurement tendering rules in the absence of China’s membership of the WTO’s Government Procurement Agreement, required disclosure of business-sensitive information to support collaborative projects, and enforced joint venture creation as a precursor to knowledge transfer to domestic Chinese firms who then become competitors.

Concerns have also been expressed about the persistent instrumentalism underpinning the application of law in China’s economy, such as in intellectual property enforcement cases or through anti-monopoly investigations aimed particularly against foreign firms. Perhaps most worrying is that European businesses in China report growing negative sentiment about the future.

Yet, of course, trust works both ways. The Chinese reject the EU’s focus on anti-dumping measures as unhelpful protectionism and argue that European criticism of government subsidies misunderstands how China’s financial system works while also failing to recognise the progress already made. China is growing more confident in challenging the EU’s application of trade defence measures, most recently at the WTO where the Chinese launched a formal complaint against the EU over the continuing refusal to grant China market economy status. The Chinese maintain this is a clear breach of faith in the commitments made by European economies at the time of China’s accession in 2001.

“None of these steps are easy to deliver politically for either side”

Moreover, the Chinese point out that they have offered trenchant support for the euro in recent times of crisis and that China’s investments across Europe bring direct benefits to local businesses and communities while also showcasing technology for infrastructure and utilities that bring considerable value to EU economies.

Finding political solutions to these tensions should be a priority for both sides but is actually very difficult as each faces internal political challenges to overcome.

In China, there is an ongoing debate about the direction of reform linked to divergent views over whether to prioritise supply-side or demand-side adjustments whilst ensuring the continuing economic stability and social cohesion that underpins the ruling Communist Party’s power. Leadership manoeuvres ahead of the 19th Party Congress in the autumn of 2017 make radical action politically unpalatable and therefore unlikely. Yet a renewed mandate for Chinese President Xi Jinping could offer a platform to relaunch reforms in more far-reaching directions, although whether these moves would overlap with EU demands is of course a completely different matter.

For the EU, some measure of coherence in policy management towards China is desperately needed. A zero-sum mentality between member states undermines the credibility of the Union and can be exploited by global powers. There is at present a fractured response from across the EU to China’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative, ranging from overt enthusiasm to lukewarm consideration. Divisions over trade defence instrument reform need to be addressed at the EU Council to find a balance between supporting the consumer and protecting the producer without unfairly penalising a particular trade partner. But the variable geometry with which the EU exercises power can make finding an agreed pathway problematic.

None of these steps are easy to deliver politically for either side and current evidence suggests no early resolution to these tensions is likely – and it is not due to lack of opportunities.

IMAGE CREDIT: budastock/Bigstock

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Categories: European Union

Emerging economic recovery depends on urgent policy action

Thu, 27/07/2017 - 11:39

During the extended period of crisis and recession which has eroded more than a quarter of its gross domestic product, Greece has gone a long way towards correcting its severe macroeconomic imbalances and implementing the structural reforms necessary to achieve economic stability and growth.

During 2016 fading fears over a possible Greek departure from the euro, or ‘Grexit’, and the easing of capital controls have helped release the growth potential generated by the adjustment process, bringing the country closer to what seemed like a turning point towards recovery. In the third quarter of 2016 a strong rebound in private consumption, investment and exports pushed the country’s rate of change of real GDP to an eight-year high – up 2.0% against the corresponding quarter of the previous year. Substantial improvements were recorded across indicators related to industrial production, retail trade, business and consumer expectations, and labour market conditions.

Although these developments suggest that Greece is moving towards recovery, more recent trends in both GDP and key indicators underline persistant fragility.  Current provisional GDP data points to a fall-back to negative growth during the fourth quarter of 2016 while the latest economic sentiment, consumer and retail confidence indicators show signs of weakening, in reaction to the uncertainty induced by delays in the completion of the second review of the Greek bailout programme. Nevertheless, recent official forecasts from domestic and international institutions agree on a positive outlook for the Greek economy, with the European Commission estimating GDP growth at 2.7% in 2017 and 3.1% in 2018. Some of the requirements to fulfil these prospects are already in place, including improved competitiveness and considerable opportunities for investment and exports. But other crucial pre-conditions are yet to be satisfied, with decisive policy action urgently required from both Greece and Europe.

There are immediate policy changes that could curtail uncertainty and provide a much-needed liquidity boost to the economy, such as completion of the bailout review and the inclusion of Greek sovereign bonds into the European Central Bank’s quantitative easing programme. Progress with structural reforms and major privatisation projects could promote investment and signal positive change.

Finally, the importance of deciding on a set of medium-term debt relief measures cannot be emphasised enough. This will be crucial for restoring confidence in the Greek economy and adjusting primary surplus targets to levels compatible with a sustainable economic recovery. Although debt relief will undoubtedly require some difficult decisions to be taken, it will ultimately be in the interests not only of Greece but of Europe as a whole, enabling Greece to safeguard the interests of Europe in a volatile region.

IMAGE CREDIT: CC/Flickr – Michael Korcuska

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Categories: European Union

From development aid to partnership programmes and job creation

Wed, 26/07/2017 - 11:52

The term ‘development aid’ is no longer in fashion in Brussels. Burdened by its history and ineffective results, the preferred term now is – as observed at the European Development Days (EDD) held on 7‒8 June this year ‒ ‘partnership’: among and between countries and the European Union, as well as between members of civil society, private sector and NGOs.

This approach was also conveyed by the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, and reaffirmed by the leaders and spokesmen of the African countries: the countries no longer want neo-colonialist programmes but instead ask for actions in which they are treated as equals.

In this year’s EDDs, the ‘Davos of cooperation’ as some call them, it was Italy that gained a prominent place: not only because many of our leading figures working on international cooperation attended the event and have been involved in the various discussions, but also because three years after the introduction of a new law on development cooperation (Law 125/2014), Italy seems to have the necessary equipment to keep pace with international trends.

And perhaps Italy is even capable of something more: not only it has the tools, such as a dedicated deputy minister, its contribution to the European Migration Compact and the recognition of the private sector as an actor of cooperation, but also the ambition to conduct wide-ranging action. Or at least it wants to try.

“Migration cannot be solved by investing funds that should be used to fight poverty to increase the number of border police and controls”

Some international issues create cross-cutting crises that require innovative ideas and experience from the field. Migration and development, and migration and security, are often two sides of the same coin.

The issue of migration to Europe from Africa cannot be solved by moving Europe’s borders to Africa, or by investing funds that should be used in the fight against poverty to increase the number of border police and controls. This plan shows its weaknesses under demographic pressure, hunger, drought and wars. And in any case, migratory flows always find openings through which to pass.

But there is one key fact which echoes all other pulling factors for migration: jobs – an  essential condition to limit migrants’ departures and to facilitate their integration into destination countries. The External Investment Plan (EIP) that the EU is implementing, and which could mobilise US$60bn to be allocated to companies that intend to invest in Africa, could be a great opportunity to create real jobs with the involvement of civil society and other local realities and institutions.

The same reality also applies to refugees. Those working in refugee camps know from experience that a cash-for-work project may help those who are staying for endless periods in camps in Lebanon, Jordan or Kenya (just to mention some of the many cases) to recover their own dignity. This is proven in detail by a project implemented in Lebanon with the support of Italian Development Cooperation.

Cash granted for a job, which is often of public interest, is useful for both Europe and the migrants’ countries of origin. In fact, this kind of approach prevents the dispersion of ‘human resources’, a precious capital for countries like Syria that one day, once the war is over, will have to relaunch with the help of its people. Those who fled to Europe during the conflict are not likely to return.

“Work without education has a poor future”

But work alone is not enough. Work without education has a poor future ahead, just as the opposite does. Education used as a mantra in cooperation, but it is not just about schooling, but about inclusivity: in addition to the transmission of technical skills, education must provide a precise ‘essence’. Just consider that even those recruiting violent extremists open schools and invest in some forms of training.

At AVSI, we try to summarise the definition as follows: accompanying young people to think critically and discover that the other ‒ someone of a different culture or religion, for example ‒ is good, and should not be perceived as an obstacle to get rid of.

This is the challenge of the Back to the Future project, funded by the MADAD fund, which AVSI and other partners are implementing in Lebanon and Jordan. Numbers help to understand the extent of this: 30,000 children involved in Lebanon, 10,000 in Jordan, with a total of 200,000 indirect beneficiaries.

Work and education undoubtedly deserve the maximum investment that can be allocated to development and security.

IMAGE CREDIT: CC/Flickr – European Commission DG ECHO

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Categories: European Union

What does the future of Europe-Asia cooperation look like?

Mon, 24/07/2017 - 11:17

For the first time in centuries, Eurasia is again becoming the most dynamic region in the world.

After five centuries of what could be called ‘the Atlantic Era’, a shift towards the East has been happening steadily over the last few decades. But recently momentum is speeding up and tectonic shifts are occurring. Three important current trends are emerging in the region.

First, economic growth is returning to Europe. Its GDP growth surpassed that of the United States in the first quarter of 2017.

Second, the elections of this year have fended off the feared rise of anti-European populist parties in the Netherlands and France. There is something of a ‘backlash against the 2016 backlash’. Although the Netherlands does not have a new government yet, Geert Wilders’ anti-immigrant PVV did not become the largest party, as polls had predicted. In France liberals have come to power.

Third, the external environment is also conducive to more European unity: remaining tensions in the East and the Brexit and Donald Trump’s erratic policy in the West are pushing Europe, in the words of the German chancellor Angela Merkel, to “take fate into its own hands”.

“China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is estimated to be the largest foreign investment drive by any country in history”

After the German elections in September, European politics can stabilise and we can expect these three drivers to lead to new momentum for European initiative and a more unified European Union. Risks remain though, as Europe’s momentum is fragile. Although the populists did not win, their share of the vote did increase and the elections in both the Netherlands and France dealt a heavy blow to traditional ruling parties. With fractured parliaments and new parties, the ability to govern might become a problem in the future.

The second trend concerns China’s vast economic diplomacy. China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is estimated to be the largest foreign investment drive by any country in history, including America’s post-Second World War Marshall Plan. The initiative includes investments from Central Asia to South Asia and Eastern Europe.

What has been particularly notable over the last year, however, is the speed at which China’s investments are shaping the traditional American influence sphere. Since US withdrawal from the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, China is spearheading economic integration in the Asia-Pacific. Under President Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines is drawing closer to China. South Korea’s new President Jae-in Moon is also aligning his country closer to China, and the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has also responded positively to cooperation under the BRI.

The main emerging challenge here is that as China becomes so deeply involved financially in other countries it risks being entangled in local politics. It will be increasingly unable to remain neutral, especially in countries with relatively weak states and strong sectarian differences. This could produce problems. Controversy has already emerged in countries ranging from Zambia to Pakistan and Sri Lanka over China’s investments, and we can expect this to intensify as the country builds its own global financial architecture.

A third (not much noted) trend is the emergence of an active Indian foreign policy. Coming from a relatively isolationist policy, the government of Narendra Modi has become very active with state visits to places like Spain, Belgium and Kazakhstan. Especially notable is India’s policy in its direct environment. The country is developing the Iranian port of Chabahar, which is linked to Afghanistan and competes with the Pakistani harbour of Gwadar (in which China is involved).

India’s ties are also increasing with the Gulf nations. Together with Japan, India is investing in Africa and the country is developing projects throughout South-East Asia. Drawing the lines between these projects shows a strategy to connect a horizontal line along Asia’s southern coastal region. Put differently, it could make the Indian Ocean truly India’s Ocean. A challenge to this trend will be the growing competition with China in the region.

“Shifting economic and political realities also means greater volatility and potential for conflict. Strong mechanisms of diplomacy are required”

So what do these trends amount to? On the one hand, we see a more vigorous EU, and on the other, Asian giants reaching out. Could this lead to increasing Euro-Asian cooperation? I think so. European Council President Donald Tusk described the recent meeting between the EU and China as the most productive ever.

Geopolitics brings Europe and Asia closer together and so does economics. Take, for example, the recent announcement of cooperation between Chinese search-engine Baidu and German manufacturing company Bosch in the field of artificial intelligence for self-driving cars. We might see more of this type of cooperation in the future.

While American companies currently dominate the global online market, in the future the internet will enter the physical world, from cars to homes, the streets and even our bodies. These are domains in which many countries in Europe and Asia traditionally excel. Indeed, with Germany’s Industrie 4.0 and China’s ‘Internet Plus’ policies, these countries are preparing for the transition. Perhaps these countries will be the winners of the next wave of technological innovation and increase cooperation among them.

The fact that Eurasia is again becoming the most dynamic region in the world does not only imply opportunities. Shifting economic and political realities also means greater volatility and potential for conflict. Strong mechanisms of diplomacy are required. Just as the Concert of Europe did in the 19th century after the Napoleonic Wars, a ‘Concert of Eurasia’ could prevent conflict in the future. A strong Europe could play a central role in this.

In the early centuries of the Common Era, there were two powerful empires on the Eurasian plain: the Roman Empire and the Han dynasty. Although contact was limited, the Roman Empire was known as ‘Daqin’ in China. ‘Qin’ refers to the dynasty that unified China and ‘da’ means ‘great’. It suggests the Han saw the European Romans as their equals. Such a situation might again emerge in the future.

IMAGE CREDIT: CC/Flickr – UN Geneva

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Categories: European Union

Cities can create European solidarity and trust between residents and refugees

Thu, 20/07/2017 - 08:48

At the end of 2015 the number of refugees worldwide stood at 65 million. There has never been more. Most people flee from their home countries to neighbouring ones, with Iraqis and Syrians seeking refuge in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey; the efforts of these host countries in accommodating refugees cannot be adequately appreciated. It is hard to imagine the views of people in these countries when we in Europe claim that our continent is ‘full’.

When discussing refugees arriving in Europe, people often speak of a ‘river’ or ‘stream’ of refugees; sometimes  even a ‘wave’, or a ‘tsunami’. This imagery transforms those who arrive into an indistinct mass; it deprives them of their individuality. It creates the impression of being faced with a natural disaster. But this situation is anything but a natural disaster. It was caused by humans, and the wars which forced so many from their homes. Only humans can alleviate it.

Cologne has been at the centre of public debate about refugee accommodation, notably in the light of the 2015 New Year’s Eve attacks against hundreds of girls and women by men predominantly from North Africa. Our city has, however, upheld its welcoming culture, and a wealth of initiatives continue to encourage the integration of those residents awarded refugee status, now numbering more than one percent of the city’s population.

“If integration works once, it increases the chances that it will be successful again”

Cologne has just over one million inhabitants, and our population grows by several thousand each year. Over the past two years nearly 14,000 refugees have arrived in Cologne, as well as several hundred children and teenagers who were travelling alone. Some weeks we had to take in 400 people who arrived without prior warning. It goes without saying that these arrivals constituted an immense challenge. First, we had to find safe accommodation, food and clothing. Next, language courses had to be organised, as well as school and kindergarten places.

But I believe that, thanks to a joint effort with our city’s associations and organisations, we have managed it quite well. We have set up approximately 180 preparatory classes, and about half of arrivals are housed in adequate living spaces.

We only succeeded in this endeavour because we started to create the appropriate framework conditions for hosting refugees many years ago. Over the past two decades committees have been set up to establish a collective consensus on integration measures. We worked to ensure adequate public funding from the State of North Rhine-Westphalia and the German federal government in Berlin. We established guidelines for the provision of accommodation and a roundtable to create societal consensus on issues involving refugees. We established a clear common understanding: it is worthwhile investing in all people, even if they do not have the chance of being granted permanent residency.

All of these actions have been helpful in mobilising civic power. A considerable number of Cologne citizens have volunteered to help, including many church members. Among the volunteers were those who had arrived in Cologne as refugees or so-called ‘guest workers’ – something I was particularly pleased about. They were integrated; now they help integrate others. What this demonstrates is that if integration works once, it increases the chances that it will be successful again.

For a city that grows every year the procurement of housing alone poses a challenge. Our financial resources are limited. The coffers of German local authorities are not plentiful, and this applies in particular to Cologne. We need billions of euros to invest in the creation of housing and other infrastructure to keep up with our growing population, but we do not command the necessary financial resources.

From the start, we in Cologne have aimed to house refugees throughout the city, rather than confining them to accommodation outside the city gates. But living space is limited, so we have had to resort to offering places in container villages, sports halls and old hotels. Nevertheless, it is our priority to move as many refugee families as possible into regular flats, and avoid ‘ghettoisation’. Having refugees live among us allows us to get to know each other and engage in everyday interactions, which is the best way to prevent segregation, envy and resentment. This is evident from the lack of support for right-wing populists – of which, unfortunately, there are quite a few across Germany – in areas with a large migrant population.

If 14,000 people from a completely different cultural background suddenly come to live in Cologne, whether temporarily or permanently, existing residents will experience the stress of a new situation. But we must never forget: our stress is insignificant compared to the stress of those who were forced to flee. 14,000 refugees is a lot of people, but for a city of one million this amounts to a mere 1.3%. Look at this another way: imagine 80 people sitting together in a restaurant when one more person enters. He or she will be sure to find a place.

Of course we must face the negative side: the appalling New Year’s Eve attacks, which remain unsolved. This is a bitter fact, not least for the female victims. Some of the perpetrators had fled from their countries. But they were a tiny minority of all refugees. And it is never right to blame a group as a whole for crimes committed by a few wrongdoers. The Cologne attacks have polarised the discussion on hosting refugees in Germany, and provided a platform for those who oppose it. But the influx of refugees over the past few years has neither changed the security situation, nor our willingness to welcome them in Cologne.

“Europe is first and foremost a continent of cities”

It is my conviction that refugees are an asset to us, even in an economic sense. In Germany refugees are often divided in the qualified ones that we want to keep, and the less qualified that we do not. I believe this to be wrong. In my opinion, each and every one can help us; we can provide education and training to everybody. Germany has an ageing population and will soon suffer from a shortage of skilled workers. This is another reason why we cannot afford to marginalise migrants.

We must also consider that most refugees have lost everything: their relatives, their homes, their communities. But they have not lost their skills and knowledge. They have undertaken a journey into the unknown to improve living conditions for themselves and their children.

The European Union has not yet been able to create the necessary solidarity between its member states to handle the arrival of refugees properly, and this lack of solidarity has driven the EU into a deep crisis.

We, the cities, cannot sit back and wait for this to be resolved. Europe is first and foremost a continent of cities. We have to give constructive answers each day to deal with people’s concerns and problems. The Social Affairs Forum of EUROCITIES – a network of major European cities- recently launched a ‘Solidarity Cities’ initiative. It is a model for progress and a sign of hope that European solidarity will grow from the ground upwards.


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Categories: European Union

Can EU-China cooperation save the Paris agreement?

Mon, 17/07/2017 - 08:46

Coinciding with the EU-China Summit, US President Donald Trump’s 1 June announcement that America would leave the Paris climate change agreement had one silver lining: it provided a golden opportunity for the European Union and China to claim co-leadership over the climate talks.

For Europe, this represents a 180-degree turn from its humiliating experience at the 2009 Copenhagen conference: Europe was absent from the negotiating table when the United States and the ‘BASIC’ countries (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) agreed the final outcomes. Moreover, before 2015, it was the US-China joint climate statement that was seen as the turning point leading to the Paris agreement.

This was immensely frustrating for the European negotiators. After all, the EU had a much better track record in terms of climate change. The Union complied with its Kyoto commitments, was a major provider of climate finance for developing countries and had much more ambitious goals for Paris. Yet it faced a glass ceiling. The world’s eyes were set on the US and China because of their share of global emissions (around 43% in 2015) and their rivalry, which meant one would not move without the other.

Today, China and the EU have more in common on climate change than ever before. Their new, shared objective is to isolate the US and prevent further departures from the Paris agreement: Russia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia may be tempted to become renegades.

“Today, China and the EU have more in common on climate change than ever before”

Both China and the EU are well-placed to exert global climate leadership. They are on course to exceed their 2020 Paris commitments. Given their import dependence on fossil fuels, a key element of their domestic energy security strategy is to increase the share of renewables within their energy mixes. Moreover, they seek major economic benefits from becoming leaders on low-carbon and resource efficiency technologies.

Finally, they share a commitment to provide climate finance to developing countries. China made a pledge of US$3.1bn in 2015, while Europe and its member states delivered €14.5bn in 2014. The climate change statement issued at the summit confirms China and EU’s joint ambitions on climate change.

For this bilateral cooperation to be ground-breaking, China and the EU must pass the following three tests:

  • Put the world on a credible, long-term decarbonisation pathway in line with science. This means coming to the UN negotiating table with evidence-based, mid-century plans for reaching net-zero emissions domestically and globally by 2020.
  • Make global carbon pricing a reality. According to a recent report, we need carbon prices to reach a minimum of $40 per tonne of CO2 by 2020. This is not achievable without a successful reform of EU Emissions Trading Scheme, a convincing kick-off of China’s new carbon trading system as well as joint diplomatic action to link together existing carbon markets.
  • Step up cooperation on climate finance, at the very least to fill the gap left by US withdrawal from its climate finance commitments.

Alas, there are some dark clouds in this rosy scenario. The G20 saw rising trade tensions around the steel industry. The US, the EU and China are all scrambling to protect their domestic sector in a context of global over-production, instead of looking for more economically, socially and environmentally sustainable solutions.

The EU and China successfully used the G20 to maintain the US isolation on climate change. In a way, this was the easy part.

According to the scientific community, the window of opportunity to keep climate change under control is rapidly closing. Some say we only have three years left. Given this urgency, protecting the steel industry should be the least of their worries. Instead, the EU and China should step up their bilateral cooperation to support a low-carbon transition in heavy-polluting industries, like the steel sector, which produces five per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The EU and China should also explore how trade policies ‒ whether domestic or through the World Trade Organisation ‒ can effectively support the realisation of the Paris agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Bridging the gap between sustainable development commitments and mostly carbon and sustainability-blind trade policies would be a real game-changer.

IMAGE CREDIT: CC/Flickr – European External Action Service

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Categories: European Union

A real industrial strategy for Europe could unleash the low-carbon innovations we need

Fri, 14/07/2017 - 08:43

Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris agreement on climate change provided the backdrop for the 8th Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM), held this year in Beijing.

The summit saw China stepping closer to a global leadership role on climate action, joining forces with the European Union and 24 ministers from around the world to reaffirm its commitment to the climate accords. China also played host to the second Mission Innovation (MI) forum, held in June 2017: a group of 22 countries and the European Commission, all of whom have agreed to double their clean energy research and development budgets over five years.

It is good news that these two summits will continue to be hosted together, as this improves the prospects of them linking up their processes to cover the entire innovation value chain, from upstream research (MI) to market uptake (CEM), in a consistent and streamlined way. MI is essentially driven by public sector investment and hopes to engage the private sector on ‘upstream’ innovation (such as in labs and demonstration sites). CEM, meanwhile, aims to get innovations ‘into the field’.

After the summit, the EU’s Competitiveness Council had just called on the Commission to develop a full industrial strategy. The strategy is to be presented to heads of government in Spring 2018. This is a good idea.

“Europe has its strengths in industrial innovation”

Over the years working in innovation and energy policy, I have become convinced that what we call ‘mission-driven innovation’ is only possible with clear strategic leadership and tangible goals. And this is what is missing in the EU at the moment.

Europe has its strengths in industrial innovation: it has one of best educated workforces in the world; European organisations have been responsible for around a fifth of all clean-tech-related patents in the last fifteen years (the largest share in the world); the EU’s research and development programmes, like Horizon 2020, are some of the best publicly-funded schemes in the world; Europe has an enviable record of setting global regulatory standards.

But we have to admit that there are weaknesses too. Europe may still be the largest global investor in renewable energy but investment levels are now falling. And the ‘deployment deficit’ continues to be an issue: there is no shortage of ideas but too many innovations get caught in the ‘valley of death’, never reaching deployment or even demonstration at scale.  Industrial carbon capture and storage is a good example here. Partly because of this, Europe now finds itself under increasing competition from other global regions, many of which are now very active members of both the CEM and MI.

To take an example, 50,000 European jobs in renewable energy ‒ mainly in solar power ‒ were lost in 2014 alone. This is partly down to local deployment rates for solar and wind technologies still being too slow. For nearly a decade, Europe has been a net importer of solar components, mainly from China. And 2015 was the first year that a European company was beaten to the top spot on the global table for wind energy deployment by capacity, with Chinese manufacturer Goldwind overtaking Vestas. Volkswagen, BMW and Renault’s market share in the global electric vehicle market may be strong for now, but they are vulnerable to slower vehicle sales in their home markets compared with global rates. Again, this is connected to the limited roll-out of European charging infrastructure.

“If we get the next steps right, we could unleash another wave of home-grown, low-carbon innovation”

So, what should the Commission’s next steps be in creating an Entrepreneurial Union?  The first must be mapping the ‘innovation landscape’ in Europe. Where do the most promising technologies stand in the innovation and investment cycle, and which EU policies currently support them? After that, we need to understand the bottlenecks, in order to prescribe specific remedies.

A recent study I was involved in tried to do this for the Energy Union, examining 11 low-carbon technologies, from hydrogen fuels to smart distribution grids, and found that only two (onshore wind and biomass) were benefitting from strong EU leadership at deployment stage.

Next year the MI summit will take place in Europe, alongside the European Clean Energy Industrial Competitiveness Forum. These two events can help kick-start discussions on what needs to be done more strategically, and how the EU can support leading clean energy actors. MI will be a good chance to showcase the progress that has been made in setting up European investment platforms (involving national, regional and local authorities, entrepreneurs, project managers, innovators, investors, companies, research centres and universities) with the aim of covering the entire innovation value chain, from upstream research to market uptake.

Likewise, Horizon 2020 could become an essential catalyst for mission-oriented industrial innovation. And this, in turn, should inform the design of the forthcoming EU innovation programme under the next Multiannual Financial Framework.

If we can get these next steps right, we could unleash another wave of home-grown, low-carbon innovation. An exciting prospect.

IMAGE CREDIT: digitalista/Bigstock

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Categories: European Union

Europe must empower moderate voices to change the story on Islam

Wed, 12/07/2017 - 08:40

We watch in despair as one terror attack after another kills and maims innocent people in the name of Islam. The self-styled ‘Islamic State’ group, or Daesh, which has ostensibly established an Islamic caliphate, often claims responsibility without shame. No wonder Europe has a crippling affliction of Islamophobia.

A growing number of European countries are electing far-right nationalists into various positions of power. The Alternative for Germany (AfD), which states that ‘Islam does not belong in Germany’, attracted up to one in four voters in state elections last year. Geert Wilders of the Dutch Party for Freedom, who has likened the Quran to Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, leads the polls ahead of the general elections. Marine Le Pen, tried and acquitted of anti-Islam hate speech last year, dominates France’s presidential election.

Islamophobic rhetoric has transcended the extreme right and made its way into private and public institutions. For example, cities across France are clutching onto bans on the ‘burkini’, a body-covering swimsuit, despite adverse court rulings. At the European level, the European Court of Justice has issued a non-binding ruling that a workplace ban on headscarves is not religious discrimination.

The 2015 European Islamophobia Report states that “the refugee-migration-Islam-terrorism nexus became the standard argument justifying a number of domestic and international measures”. But it is a flawed argument, one that brings us no closer to mitigating the real problem of violence and one that risks tearing apart the social fabric that binds Europe. For example, in 2016 we saw the near-breakdown of the Schengen system following the refugee influx, threatening the freedom of movement that so defines Europe.

“Muslim refugees and Muslims living in Europe are often victims of both Islamophobia and terrorism”

But we must not misdiagnose Islam as the root cause of the EU’s problems; the Schengen problem is more likely a symptom of a much deeper breakdown, and should lead Europeans to ask themselves a more fundamental question about whether Islam is just a bogeyman for an already-disintegrating Europe.

The fact is that Muslim refugees, and Muslims living in Europe, are not causes of strife but often victims, of both Islamophobia and terrorism. With the number of Muslims growing (in 2010 Muslims made up six per cent of Europe’s population; by 2030 this proportion is predicted to reach a formidable 30%), Europe needs to address both issues and look for a new approach to religious diversity.

To do so, Europe — its leaders, religious institutions, and people — must neither ignore nor vilify adherents of the religion. It must engage with progressive Islamic scholars (ulama) who fully support religious coexistence: a meaningful dialogue with the Muslim world is a crucial first step in ending the scourge of terrorism.

Daesh is a media leviathan, churning out slick videos, sophisticated graphics and round-the-clock tweets. Some critics argue that traditional scholars are ill-equipped to compete with Daesh’s social media-savvy ways.

But Islam has influential and respected thought leaders who can trigger change. One is Sheikh Abdullah Bin Bayyah, renowned for his denunciation of Daesh’s religious extremism. The Mauritanian professor of Islamic Studies caught the world’s attention when former United States president Barack Obama quoted him in an attempt to advocate moderate Islam: “We must declare war on war, so the outcome will be peace upon peace”.

Sheikh Bin Bayyah’s ‘war’ is not a literal one, but a contest of ideologies. He argues that today scholars are necessary, albeit incapacitated. They lack not the message, but the means of communicating it. Europe can help, such as by inviting moderate ulamas to deliver Friday sermons or public lectures.

These scholars can also help change the current Western narrative, which disproportionately portrays terrorism as the hallmark of Islam. This has denied everyone — Muslims and non-Muslims alike – the opportunity to objectively appraise contextual interpretations of Islam as well as perversions of Islamic belief.

If Europe instead chooses to tolerate (or even celebrate) the presence of Islamic scholars, both sides of Islam’s conflict on extremism can be directly compared. The ideological faultlines of extremism can be confronted and quashed. To quote Bin Bayyah, “[Daesh’s brutality] is challenging [Islam’s] existence, and its treatment has to come from Islam itself, using the same language that the extremists understand.”

The notion of letting thought leaders be heard is shared by Sheikh Hamza Yusuf Hanson, an American Islamic scholar who argues that religious literacy and knowledge will inoculate young people against extremist ideologies. Over the years the media has reported story after story of Muslims (and non-Muslims) who fall prey to the dangerous ideologies of radical Islamists on the internet. These terrorists poison the minds of young, naïve, alienated people, creating ‘foreign fighters’ in Syria and elsewhere. 30% of these foreign fighters are estimated to return to their home countries. The very least Europe can do is lend a voice to the moderates as an early intervention measure.

“Today’s Islamic scholars lack not the message, but the means of communicating it”

For non-Muslims the presence of rational, moderate scholars will begin to erase misperceptions of Islam as inherently violent. Like people of all faiths, Muslims need guidance and support, not victimisation. Expulsions of Muslims from Europe will not solve terrorism but instead feed the conviction of a minority that Europe is not their home. Bans and discrimination play directly into the hands of terrorist groups.

While it is clear that Muslims face Islamophobia, they also bear the brunt of terrorism. Several studies show that most of Daesh’s victims are moderate and peaceful Muslims. The US State Department found that between 2007 and 2011 Muslims suffered between 82% and 97% of terrorism-related fatalities in attacks where the religious affiliation of casualties could be identified. More recently, Daesh has attacked many Muslim-majority countries: Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Indonesia. Muslims are equally – if not more – vulnerable to terrorism.

So we have a paradox, as identified by former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan: the victims of terrorism – helpless refugees, mainly Muslims, are seeking salvation in Europe; the people of Europe, safely within its embrace, are increasingly considering breaking away. Indeed, according to the Spring 2016 Global Attitude Survey by Pew Research Centre conducted across ten EU nations, nearly half of the respondents have unfavourable opinions towards the EU. As Annan noted, “Europe is a symbol of freedom, prosperity and justice that attracts immigrants. At a time when the EU is not popular within its own borders, Europeans should reflect on the significance of their popularity abroad.”

Even in troubled and fearful times, Europe and Europeans must remember that among the 1.7 billion Muslims worldwide, terrorists are an exception rather than the rule. There is much expertise in the Muslim world for Europe to leverage, and so many Muslim hearts and minds that Europe is capable of influencing for the better.

IMAGE CREDIT: FS-Stock/Bigstock

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Categories: European Union

Progress made on women in science – but much still to do

Mon, 10/07/2017 - 08:50

The academic fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics – known as STEM – are becoming progressively more important to economies around the globe. But while the number of people working in STEM is increasing, women are still significantly under-represented and this gender disparity becomes more and more prominent at senior levels.

Across the European Union, while there is near gender parity at undergraduate level across the sciences, less than one-fifth of more senior, decision-making roles are occupied by women. Depending on the country and discipline, this proportion is even lower. This ‘scissor effect’ is a worrying issue in STEM and, in the pursuit of excellence in scientific research, we should strive to tackle and improve diversity in research at institutional and cultural levels.

The European Commission has attempted to tackle the matter of gender inequality in STEM through various policies and funding mechanisms. In Horizon 2020, the EU’s current major research and innovation programme, the objective of gender equality has been enshrined in commitments such as prioritising gender balance in research teams as a ranking factor of project proposals, achieving a target of 40% female representation in expert groups and evaluation panels and, where appropriate, emphasising gender as a focus of research. This strong emphasis on gender by no means undermines some of the excellent examples of research and mentorship to date, but rather emphasises the goals of gender equality in STEM at local, national and European levels.

‘Standing on the shoulders of giants’, a phrase associated with the collective practice of expanding our understanding of the world around us, has more often than not referred to successful male scientists than to their female counterparts. Until the 20th century, women were largely prohibited from studying at higher-level institutes and this has led, in part, to a lack of female role models with the same renown as researchers such as Max Planck, Albert Einstein and Robert Boyle. Historically, arguments were made that once numbers of women entering university reached sufficient levels, gender bias in the sciences would gradually disappear.

“We should be encouraged by the levels of success in STEM research across Europe”

But the so-called ‘leaking pipeline’ has prevailed. Despite the growing number of women studying STEM at undergraduate level and annual increases in the number of women employed as scientists and engineers, women still account for just over a quarter of PhD graduates in engineering, manufacturing, and construction, and only a fifth of those graduating from computing. Only two of the 203 Nobel laureates in physics have been women (Marie Curie and Maria Goeppert-Mayer) and it was not until 2014 that a woman, Maryam Mirzakhani, was awarded the Fields Medal, the most prestigious award in mathematics.

Even more worrying, the latest ‘She Figures’ report from the European Commission has noted the persistence of a sizeable pay gap between male and female researchers. These inequities are not due to innate inabilities of women in the sciences, but rather to underpinning structures and cultures within STEM research.

Many studies have highlighted the disadvantages facing women when it comes to hiring and promotion. In the Netherlands, a study of applications and funding reviews found a bias towards male applicants. Research from Germany has shown that women, despite having as many or more publications in fields such as material science and astronomy, are less likely to hold the more senior role of ‘corresponding author’ on research papers. Further studies have shown that women researchers are less likely to be invited as keynote or guest-speakers at large conferences, a metric often valued in academic promotion. When combined, such biases create an environment favouring male researchers in STEM and, to use the phrase coined by Virginia Vallan of City University of New York, these “many molehills together make a mountain”.

Issues of gender inequality can only be addressed by highlighting potentially biased practices, no matter how embedded, and through clear and robust policy directives supporting women researchers. Taking my own country  as an example, in an attempt to retain excellent female researchers and increase the standard and impact of Irish research, Science Foundation Ireland has recently committed to decreasing the gender imbalance among its award holders.

“Many studies have highlighted the disadvantages facing women when it comes to hiring and promotion”

There are incentives for research bodies to submit applications from female researchers to various programmes. Within three years all higher education institutes in Ireland will need an Athena SWAN Bronze Institutional Award – which requires a commitment to advancing gender equality – to be eligible for funding. This is a dramatic move in the STEM landscape in Ireland and one which has brought discussions and policies on gender equality in the sciences to the fore. Furthermore, a recent policy document from Ireland’s Department of Education and Skills has committed the government to encourage more young women into mathematics- and physics-based courses, where there is a marked difference in the numbers of male and female students enrolling at post-primary and undergraduate level.

At an EU level, it is important to establish networks of women scientists to promote and support gender equality in STEM. Initiatives such as AcademiaNet, set up by Dr Ingrid Wünning Tschol of the Robert Bosch Stiftung in Germany, provide a platform for women to share their expertise across the continent and to establish important networking mechanisms for women working in STEM. Other initiatives attempting to directly tackle gender inequity involve gender quotas and female-only job competitions for positions in research and academia. For example, The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, 13% of whose membership is female, is to hold women-only elections for up to ten new members.

We should be encouraged by the levels of success in STEM research across Europe. From exciting findings in particle physics at the nuclear research body CERN, to breakthroughs in anti-viral drugs, European researchers are at the forefront of increasing our knowledge of the world around us. But noting the gender inequalities currently evident in STEM, it is important to remember that diversity supports creativity and innovation, and that research is a highly creative endeavour that benefits from the participation of all social groups and genders.

It is important that we continue to highlight potential biases in present research systems and reassess policy structures so that they provide everyone with viable pathways of development and promotion in STEM. Changing certain cultures of research will not negatively impact quality; instead it will enhance the output of the scientific research communities.

IMAGE CREDIT: trans961/Bigstock

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Categories: European Union

Breaking down barriers: my journey to the European Parliament presidential election

Thu, 06/07/2017 - 08:52

As the first female deaf Member of the European Parliament I am naturally a supporter of rebalancing under-representation in political and economic debates. While I do not solely focus on gender or disability in my Parliamentary work (I also work on migration, security and privacy), these issues do play a large role in my day-to-day life as a politician and advocate for people with disabilities. Equality and non-discrimination are the fundamental values that underpin all my efforts at the European Parliament, matched with a passion forged by the challenges I have dealt with throughout my life.

I was the first deaf lawyer in Belgium, finishing my law studies in 1993 at the Catholic University of Leuven. I have previously studied in the United States (as a Rotary exchange student in Kirkwood, a suburb of St Louis, Missouri), and also studied in the United Kingdom (as an Erasmus exchange student in Leeds) and at the University of California, Berkeley, where I completed my Master’s in Law. These experiences gave me valuable international experience as well as fluency in American and British Sign Language and English written and spoken language skills from which I still benefit today.

There were challenges: much of my education was spent in mainstream schools where I did not have a sign language interpreter to support me in the classroom. It was only through my time in Kirkwood that I learned that accessibility and the provision of sign language interpreters are (or should be) ‘normal’ parts of equal treatment in education and in the workplace.

This experience led me to spend time working for the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund in the United States, and the California Center for Law and the Deaf and, after having joined the Brussels bar, in the non-profit sector for a number of disability-related NGOs. Here I saw first-hand the issues faced by people with disabilities at a regional, national and European level.

“Equality and non-discrimination are the fundamental values that underpin all my efforts at the European Parliament”

As a lawyer my impact was limited to one client at a time. In politics I had the opportunity to have a more significant and longer-lasting influence on a greater number of people. Being aware of the very real and practical barriers that people with disabilities encounter on a daily basis, I believe I can take a much more realistic and holistic view of legislation and policies and assess them based on their practical effect in daily life.

I was a Member of the Flemish parliament from 2004 to 2014. For seven of those ten years I was also a city councillor in Ghent and a Belgian senator. In 2014 I was elected to the European Parliament and became a Vice-President of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) Group. From the beginning I have also been a Co-Chair of the Disability Intergroup, an informal cross-party group that meets regularly to bring disability and accessibility issues to the forefront of Parliament’s political debate.

Having spent time in NGOs I understand how difficult it can be for civil society organisations to reach out to politicians, especially ministers and other high-ranking officials. So when I am abroad on official parliamentary business I always try to ensure that I meet with local disability and deaf organisations. I listen to their concerns and pass these on to the relevant government representatives or put them in touch with each other. I feel it is one of my responsibilities and something that is relatively easy for me to achieve, while it might take a local or national organisation years to have the same network and contacts.

When it comes to accessibility, for me the most important factor is making sure that change is sustainable. There had only ever been one other deaf MEP, and the system in place for that MEP was not fully suited to my situation and needs. Ever since I arrived at the Parliament, I have been working to change the system and rules of procedure, not only for fellow MEPs with a disability, but for staff and interns too.

I work with two sign language interpreters on a daily basis, matched to my linguistic profile: one works with both spoken English and American Sign Language, while the other uses Flemish Sign Language and spoken Dutch. This enables me to have meetings in both Dutch and English, which is essential in a multilingual European environment. To protect the status of sign language and improve the status of sign language interpreters in Europe I also initiated a resolution that was almost unanimously adopted in plenary in November 2016.

“When it comes to accessibility, the most important factor is making sure that change is sustainable”

I also regularly ensure that public meetings at the European Parliament, such as committee sessions and hearings, are accessible to all. This has led to my office becoming a contact point for accessibility. While in the short term this is positive for my personal visibility in the Parliament, I am working to change the situation so that the Parliament itself takes over this responsibility and becomes a more inclusive workplace and institution – a key theme of my campaign to become the Parliament’s president.

Three of the seven candidates in the January 2017 presidential election were women (the figure has never been higher). But since 1979, when the European Parliament was first directly elected, there have only been two female presidents: Simone Veil and Nicole Fontaine. Italian centre-right MEP Antonio Tajani won the election, continuing a 15-year run of male presidents.

Some people claimed my candidacy was merely a political stunt or a statement, and not a real campaign. But that is not true. My candidacy was the first to be announced. It was supported by a structured campaign with a manifesto, a website and a whole campaign team working tirelessly for weeks. I would almost go so far as to say that it was my candidacy that sparked a real presidential race with candidates from all political parties – something not seen for many years.

But of course a very important side effect was an increase in visibility of sign language, and indeed disability and gender issues. My campaign was not at all built on the fact that I am deaf or disabled; instead we focused on the role of the president, as well as the gender factor. My team and I felt that being disabled was irrelevant to the job of the European Parliament president, and so the issue did not constitute part of my election manifesto. But it was mainly through my previous collaborative work on disability and equality that I was able to gather cross-party support throughout the whole European Parliament.

Being both deaf and a woman can be challenging and sometimes frustrating on a daily basis. However, I have learnt to stay positive and to embrace my role as a ‘change-maker’ for a large group of people, which includes women, persons with disabilities, ethnic minorities, and all others who might be in a disadvantaged situation that they are unable to change by themselves.

IMAGE CREDIT: ©European Union 2017

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Categories: European Union

Russia and China take the lead in hybrid warfare while West struggles to respond

Tue, 04/07/2017 - 08:38

The efforts of NATO and the European Union to address hybrid warfare are unlikely to succeed. While promising, their efforts are neither broad enough in scope nor sufficiently integrated.

This is because both NATO and the EU see hybrid warfare as a new set of techniques for aggression rather than what it really is: a comprehensive offensive approach. In the meantime, Russia and China have been using hybrid warfare to expand their influence and gain territory.

The so-called comprehensive approach is a way to achieve a common understanding and approach among all actors of the international community. This is possible through the coordination of political, development and security efforts.

The comprehensive approach focuses on building a shared understanding of the problem, developing a shared overarching vision of the solution and facilitating coordination of effort while respecting the roles and individual mandates of multiple entities.

The concept of hybrid warfare, in turn, is broadly defined as the mix of conventional and unconventional, military and non-military, overt and covert actions employed in a coordinated manner to achieve specific objectives while remaining below the threshold of formally declared warfare.

Since 2014 Russia has used these broad-spectrum tactics to wrest Crimea from Ukrainian control and subsequently annex it into the Russian Federation. More recently, China has been employing a similar approach in the South China Sea.

Looking through the military and security lens, hybrid warfare appears to target critical vulnerabilities and seeks to create ambiguity to hinder swift and effective decision-making.

“Both NATO and the EU see hybrid warfare as a new set of techniques for aggression rather than what it really is: a comprehensive offensive approach”

Taking a broader perspective, hybrid warfare is actually a comprehensive approach in the offence. While the comprehensive approach seeks to create space for friendly actors to strengthen governance, hybrid warfare seeks to shrink it. While the comprehensive approach seeks to heal a society’s divisions and seek reconciliation, hybrid warfare targets a society’s deepest historical wounds to make them bleed again.

There are a wide range of applicable measures in hybrid campaigns: from cyber-attacks on critical information systems and the disruption of critical services, such as energy supplies or financial services, to undermining public trust in government institutions and exploiting social vulnerabilities. Once a state is weakened sufficiently, the aggressor’s strategic aims can, if necessary, be consummated by the use of conventional or paramilitary forces.

Both Russia and China have employed hybrid warfare in recent years, often successfully achieving their political aims.

It was used by Russia against Estonia in 2007, Georgia in 2008, and eastern Ukraine in 2014.  China has gradually expanded its control and influence in the South China Sea by constructing artificial islands, sending armed fishermen to patrol claimed territorial waters, and declaring an air identification zone. It is easy to conclude that their next steps will be to establish military bases on these islands, thereby cementing their claim to the territory ‒ without firing a shot.

In both cases, the countries applied a full spectrum of economic, legal, informational, cyber and paramilitary means to achieve their objectives in a slow and ambiguous manner, so as to not cross any threshold that would trigger collective military action in response. As recent history tells us, hybrid warfare lowers the political price for aggression, making regime change and territorial annexation possible ‘on the cheap’.

While Russian hybrid warfare does present a new challenge to NATO, the EU, and their member states, they are in a much better position to address it if they work together effectively.

In response to Russian hybrid warfare in 2014, NATO adopted the Readiness Action Plan (RAP) as a means of responding rapidly to new threats as they present themselves along the eastern and southern flanks.

In December 2015 NATO adopted a Hybrid Warfare Strategy, and a few months later the EU adopted its Joint Framework for Addressing Hybrid Threats. Both documents speak of working in conjunction with a variety of actors in order to improve resilience, security and continuity of governance in the face of hybrid threats.

So, what would a comprehensive approach to hybrid warfare look like?

It is hard to know for certain unless a diverse comprehensive approach working group can work on it together, but building on the previous work on hybrid warfare within NATO, the EU and their member states, a comprehensive approach could seek to more coherently contain the Russian use of organised crime as an instrument of state power.

A comprehensive approach would address how to prevent Russia from moving money and buying influence within the European countries. It would rely on many of the same techniques used to contain and disrupt organised crime as the Kremlin, like organised criminal groups, relies on the use of the legitimate economy to move money to achieve many of its aggressive aims.

“Hybrid warfare appears to target critical vulnerabilities and seeks to create ambiguity to hinder decision-making”

The inclusion of real estate, business law, and transparency expertise could help to identify ways to thwart the Russian use of front companies and real estate holdings in major European capitals, which launder money and support destabilising elements. In many cases, transparency can prove to be a helpful offset.

To be prepared for extreme cases, contingency plans could be formulated to ban Russian financial institutions from the SWIFT network that processes global secure financial transactions.

A comprehensive approach to address Russian hybrid warfare will require a more extensive assessment phase than when conducting this process for crisis response. This involves a brutally honest self-assessment of the weaknesses, vulnerabilities and historical grievances of the government as well as the society. By seeing our vulnerabilities and weaknesses through our adversaries’ eyes, we will be more able to target our resilience efforts and leave far fewer blind spots.

It is also important to recognise the vital role of law enforcement, the private sector (including banks and financial institutions) and strategic communications, as well as cyber, media and energy sector collaboration, but also to integrate their efforts with broader economic, communication and security measures.

Good progress has already been made on addressing Russia’s ability to use of energy as a weapon. However, it remains unmoored from a broader comprehensive approach that includes how to convince Russia to abandon aggression and to reintegrate into the international community as a trusted partner.

The views presented in this paper represent the author’s personal opinion and findings and not the official views or policy of the United States government.

IMAGE CREDIT: CC/Flickr – 7th Army Training Command

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Categories: European Union

Estonia, the land of digital natives

Fri, 30/06/2017 - 09:11

When I tell in Europe that I come from Estonia, most people react by saying something like, “Oh you are the digital natives!”, or “I know, it’s the digital country”.

Given that Estonia is a very small country of just 1.3 million people, it is definitely our strength to be known as a digital society. But how has Estonia reached this status? How have we built the digital state?

In Estonia the state has been the driver of digital development. The process started in 2000 with the creation of digital identities in cooperation with banks. To ensure that people would take up digital identities, the state needed to provide services where citizens had to use them. So the government simultaneously created both demand and supply.

The starting point was tax declarations. People started declaring their taxes online and would receive their tax returns by online transfer a few days after filing the declaration. Nowadays, Estonia is probably the only country in the world where people actually compete in how fast they do their taxes ‒ the record is currently under two minutes. Considering that over 95% of the overall population do their taxes online, we can say that people have taken up digital identities quite well.

“In Estonia the state has been the driver of digital development”

People in the 21st century are increasingly living neither online nor offline but are rather engaged in what we now call ‘onlives’. This lifestyle is largely dependent on the ability to identify oneself in the online world. Creating secure and encrypted digital identities that enable people to identify their communication or business partners, sign agreements and communicate with the state is crucial.

We know that countries compete for people and investment. Small countries with a relatively bad climate don’t have much to attract investments and people. During the years after the introduction of digital identities, Estonia acknowledged that our digital services have made doing business in Estonia a lot easier. But only Estonian residents could access these services. So we decided to create the e-residency programme that allows foreigners to become e-residents of Estonia, establish their companies there, and enjoy our digital services even if they do not live in our country. Since the introduction of the e-residency programme, almost 20,000 people have become e-residents.

The digital revolution has brought many changes to the way we behave and live our lives. Any kind of disruption brings opposition, but the state has different ways to react: it may try to abolish or to not allow the changes, or it can go with the flow and make the transition as easy and smooth as possible. Estonia has chosen the latter.

If the accusation against the collaborative economy is that they don’t pay taxes, then it is up to the administration to come up with solutions so that they can easily pay those taxes. The collaborative economy is all about the digital world and it only needs a platform where taxes can be filed with one click. The state has to be a partner of companies and citizens, not their supervisor.

“Don’t try to reinvent the wheel ‒ use the solutions Estonia has already tested”

To avoid a digital divide, it is also the state’s obligation to come up with an educational response to the changes that are taking place. How to improve people’s digital skills is a big and worrisome question that needs an answer. Humans will never be better in computing than a computer, but it is important that people feel comfortable with technology. For that purpose, Estonia has included coding and robotics in pre-school activities (it’s a great way of playing too) and we teach our children how to behave and stay on the safe side of the internet.

Teachers have to use digital tools in their curricula and our e-school system allows parents to follow their children’s results, homework and teachers’ comments via an app. We also have professional educational technologists who can help teachers find the right tools.

There are many more examples from different areas of life where we have decided to deploy digital solutions in our governance. But the key is that governments need to understand that the technical transformation is not going to stop and we should take the necessary decisions to help our people adapt to the digital age.

If your country is still hesitant, Estonia can help you. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel ‒ use the solutions we have already tested.

IMAGE CREDIT: CC/Flickr – © European Union 2011 PE-EP/Pietro Naj-Oleari

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Categories: European Union

The paradox of the white paper

Thu, 29/06/2017 - 09:18

After a decade of dismal years, during which the European Union seemed to be besieged by its own biblical plagues, the European Commission took the initiative to restore citizens’ confidence in the Union by publishing a White Paper on the Future of Europe.

Laudable as this initiative may be, the White Paper contains a remarkable paradox. It proposes to strengthen the bond between citizens and the Union by presenting various modes of cooperation between member states.

The need to involve citizens in the functioning of the EU has already been stressed by the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, in his inaugural address to the European Parliament in 2014. He described his team as “the last chance Commission: either we succeed in bringing the European citizens closer to Europe – or we will fail”.

In view of this creed, it seems almost beyond belief that citizens should form the blind spot of the White Paper on the Future of Europe. Admittedly, citizens did not play any part in the organisation of the European Communities. The Declaration on European Identity, which the European Council adopted in 1973, correctly portrayed the Communities as an organisation of democratic states.

“The European Commission should encourage citizens to participate in the democratic life of the Union”

But the character of the organisation changed fundamentally in 1992 with the inclusion of citizens in the legal framework. The Treaty of Maastricht introduced EU citizenship and laid the foundation for the evolution of the EU towards a Union of states and citizens. The Lisbon Treaty, agreed in 2007, pictures the Union as one of both states and citizens, in which the citizens are entitled to participate in the national democracies of their countries and in the common democracy of the Union.

If the Commission wants to overcome the ‘multiple crisis decade’ and intends to restore the trust of citizens in the present EU, the White Paper should be preceded by and/or complemented with a strategy for reinforcing the bond of trust between the Union and its citizens.

The theory of democratic integration – something I have developed since the conclusion of the Maastricht Treaty – is a solid basis for the Commission to launch a citizen-oriented strategy. The novelty of the theory is that it replaces the diplomatic perspective of states with the civic viewpoint of democracy and the rule of law.

The theory presumes that, if two or more democratic states agree to share the exercise of sovereignty with a view to attaining common goals, the organisation they establish for this purpose should be democratic too. The EU should not only pride itself on being the largest union of democratic states in the world – as the White Paper on the Future of Europe does – but aspire to function as a democracy of its own.

The practical value of the theory lies in its capacity to provide guidance to the EU in its transition from an organisation of democratic states (from Copenhagen in 1973) to a democratic union of states and citizens (Lisbon in 2007, and beyond).

“The White Paper should be preceded by and/or complemented with a strategy for reinforcing the bond of trust between the Union and its citizens”

This means that the European Parliament and the European Commission should adapt themselves to the innovations brought about by Lisbon. The European Parliament elections are still based on a law from 1976, with citizens of member states entitled only to cast their vote in the state in which they live: a state-, not citizen-based system. Although Article 10(2) of the Treaty on European Union states that the citizens are directly represented at EU level in the European Parliament, the electoral rules have not been adjusted. The rules may even amount to discrimination on grounds of nationality.

Similarly, the European Commission should no longer regard citizens primarily as participants in Second World War commemorations or twinning activities but encourage them to participate in the democratic life of the Union and initiate EU citizenship education programmes.

Looking beyond the 2019 European Parliament elections, the theory of democratic integration suggests that the long-standing stalemate in the debate about the future of Europe has been overcome. Since Lisbon, the question is no longer whether the EU should become a federal state or form a confederal union of states. Thanks to the Lisbon Treaty the clash of opinions between the federalists and the sovereignists has ceased to be relevant. The novelty of ‘Lisbon’ is that it construes the EU as a democracy without turning the Union into a state. Putting this breakthrough in technical terms, the theory holds that the EU forms a Union of states and citizens.

From this perspective, the long-term aim of the EU should be to evolve towards a Union of democratic states and European citizens, which functions as a constitutional democracy.

IMAGE CREDIT: CC/Flickr – © European Union 2014 – European Parliament

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Categories: European Union

Peace is the ultimate goal of conflict – and cooperation is the key

Wed, 28/06/2017 - 09:18

It’s time we think about peace. By doing so in the context of war, we might win both the war and the peace.

We plan to win wars and therefore we organise, train and equip ourselves, our allies and our partners to win wars. But what is our plan to win the peace?  How do we train for that? Do we even really understand the new complexities of the globally-integrated 21st century?

War is the ultimate come-as-you-are event: it doesn’t allow time to prepare. Military victory must be pursued before a war begins; but military victory is no longer a sufficient outcome.  Lasting peace is the ultimate goal, but it cannot be achieved without preparation, which must be pursued even before a war begins.

The United States-led military missions accomplished in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, were only the beginning of the fight for the real victory ‒ peace.  The massive application of treasure that followed the military’s exploits does not appear to have been as well planned as the military campaign that preceded. It begs the questions: did we really understand the nature of the war we were about to enter into before we engaged in combat?  Do we ever?

Over the last fourteen years of war, a few simple truths have emerged.

“War is the ultimate come-as-you-are event: it doesn’t allow time to prepare”

First, cost: we cannot afford our current way of dealing with instability, and we never could.  Nevertheless, we become involved again and again. It will be too expensive unless we adapt.

Second, collateral damage: any time we choose ‘kinetic options’ ‒ formerly known as violence ‒ we create a humanitarian disaster on some scale.  We are not prepared in advance to deal with those consequences.

Third, collaboration: many people are constantly engaged in improving the human condition, wherever the military goes. These people don’t work for defence ministries  or for government. So military personnel don’t know who these people are or how to work with them, and their work is often neglected in operational planning. But these people are addressing instability on the ground before the military arrives; many stay during the military operations; most return to continue their work after the conflict is over.

Fourth, cooperation: the armed forces are not the solution ‒ they are part of the solution, but we have yet to figure out how to effectively integrate military and civilian activities. Creating the conditions for the success of others is the key activity of the military.

And last but not least, context: preparing the exit strategy for the next possible conflict now is the best guarantor of future success. Understanding the context in which we are operating, committing to close cooperation with those also engaged, and collaborating effectively with partners to ‘de-conflict’, coordinate and integrate everyone’s efforts, are essential elements of the military’s realisation of a tenable exit strategy.

With a good plan in hand, the military must be prepared to operate on the ground in the area of instability in ways that reinforce the stability and the development work of the international community. But such comprehensive preparation to win the peace and to understand the exit strategy takes time, and as time is scarce once a military operation begins, the preparation must take place in advance.

It’s always been easier to form a coalition to manage a crisis than to create a coalition to prevent one. But the silver lining is this: if we can build the necessary relationships to operate effectively together from day one of a crisis, we would have the same set of relationships and the same level of understanding required to work collectively to prevent that same crisis in the first place.

Even if we don’t fully prevent conflict from breaking out, our collective efforts from the start can go a long way towards mitigating the consequences of the conflict, reducing its intensity and shortening its duration.

“Crises grab our attention, motivate us to action, and force us to collaborate and cooperate”

By focusing our collaborative efforts on building a coherent capacity to manage the next crisis somewhere in the world, we will simultaneously develop the capacity to work together effectively in potentially unstable hot spots while there is still time to do something about it.

Crises grab our attention, motivate us to action, and force us to collaborate and cooperate. It’s time to take the energy we put into responding individually and then figuring out how to work together on the ground, and channel it into preparing together to respond collectively. In this way, thinking about both war and peace in the same context, we see how preparing for war with a view toward the peace that follows can give us the capability to better preserve the peace in the first place.  An ounce of prevention is certainly a pound of cure in this case.

And this is an urgent imperative. If we continue to see crisis response as too expensive and too ineffective, we will not respond. If we continue to see conflict prevention as too complicated and too amorphous, we will not apply the resources we need in time.

Only by living the way we intend to fight, doing the difficult now so the easy will come, can we start to develop the collective set of skills we need to engage effectively ‒ if we are to win the peace we must start now.

The views presented in this paper represent the author’s personal opinion and findings and not the official views or policy of the United States government.

IMAGE CREDIT: CC/Flickr – Latvijas armija

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Categories: European Union

The French elections are over ‒ now the business of politics begins

Tue, 27/06/2017 - 08:51

It wasn’t quite the tsunami some were predicting after the first round of the French general election on 11 June, but Emmanuel Macron’s extraordinary story continues.

After securing the presidency on 7 May with the second-highest run-off score under the Fifth Republic, the new head of state’s La République en Marche (LRM) – a party that won’t be one until July – secured 308 of the 577 seats in the National Assembly on 18 June, with a further 42 seats for its allies from former justice minister François Bayrou’s party, MoDem.

This isn’t a record. In 2002, Jacques Chirac’s UMP won 365 seats. But what does matter is that LRM has a majority by itself, should relations with MoDem deteriorate further than they did in the week following the elections.

However, faced with allegations that MoDem MEPs siphoned funding from the European Parliament to the party, the party’s three ministers ‒ Bayrou, Sylvie Goulard at defence and Marielle de Sarnez at European affairs ‒ asked Edouard Philippe not to include them in his post-election cabinet. For both Bayrou and Macron, it became impossible for the minister guiding legislation on the ‘moralisation’ of politics to hold on to his position in the face of an official enquiry. The extent to which Bayrou jumped or was pushed has not yet fully emerged.

A fourth minister from the first Philippe government, the former Socialist Richard Ferrand, one of the first converts to Macronisme, also stood down over separate allegations about his past activities. Re-elected to the Assembly on 18 June, he is expected to chair the LRM group.

“The major difference between this legislature and its more recent predecessors is a political one”

The incoming legislature does show some original characteristics. First, three-quarters of deputies are newcomers. Second, there are more women deputies than ever before: 223 (38%) compared to the last parliament’s previous best of 155 (27%). What is more, the proportion of women elected is much closer to the overall proportion of candidates, which was a little over 40%, despite the penalties parties risk if they don’t run an equal number of women and men.

The Assembly is also younger on average than its predecessor:  48 years compared to 53 in 2012. There are far more deputies in the 20-30 years and 30-40 years age groups than ever before, and far fewer are over 60 years old.

Macron’s promise to shake up the political class has obviously paid off in respect of the ‘newness’ of the class of 2017. But in other ways it hasn’t. The largest socio-professional group in the Assembly are defined as cadres (senior management), and they are followed by ‘category A’ civil servants, then businessmen and -women. The technocratic and business elites that gave us Macron and his PM will throng the Bourbon Palace.

Of course, the major difference between this legislature and its more recent predecessors is a political one. There is no clear left-right divide between government and opposition. LRM-Modem straddles the broad centre. To its right, the Republicans (LR) and their allies in the Union of Democrats and Independents (UDI) number some 136 deputies, along with various unaligned right-wing deputies. But already, before parliament has formally met, the LR-UDI group has splintered, with about 40 deputies forming a separate group willing to work with the government.

On paper, the Socialists and their allies, with more than 50 seats, have done far better than anyone expected. Below the surface, however, the situation is desperate. The collapse from more than 200 seats will have an enormous impact on party finances. More significantly, five years of ‘Hollandisme’ has seen the party’s presence evaporate at the various levels of local government. Moreover, the divisions between those prepared to work with the government and those opposed is likely to see them split into two groups in the Assembly.

By contrast, the right is still strong in la France profonde, and it is no surprise that leading right-wingers have decided to re-centre their power bases in regional assemblies or as the mayors of some of France’s major cities.

“It’s Macron who has a majority, and the elections are over”

The strength of the parties at local level will be tested in September, when half of the Senate is due to be re-elected. The upper house is elected by departmental colleges comprised of local councillors but dominated, in numerical terms at least, by municipal delegates. All the elections that determine the complexion of France’s local assemblies took place well before the launch of Macron’s En Marche!, and it’s not yet clear how the presidential party will go about recruiting supporters and candidates in the colleges.

Macron, however, already has a hard core of supporters in or connected to the Senate. Gérard Collomb, his interior minister, was a senator and mayor of Lyon. Two of his closest advisors, Jean-Paul Delevoye and Jean Arthuis, were once influential figures in the upper house and still have their networks. Delevoye handled the nominations of LRM candidates for the National Assembly and is almost certainly working on the Senate election. In the meantime, Macron has delegated François Patriat, a former Socialist and senator for Côte-d’Or in Burgundy to sound out ‘Macroncompatibles’ senators, mostly on the left, in an effort to establish a group of perhaps as many as 60 supporters, ahead of the Senate renewal.

The Senate cannot block legislation except over constitutional questions that are not put to a referendum. In any case, the right-wing majority there is unlikely to oppose Macron’s attempts to modify the labour law that he has made the flagship reform of his first months in power.

Opposition to that, within parliament, will come the rump PS, but above all from Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise and from the Communists (PCF). The former have 17 seats and had hoped to persuade the latter, with eleven, to join them. But within the PCF leadership there is no love for Mélenchon and they have set up their own group, with the help of a quartet of overseas left-wing deputies.

However, it’s Macron who has a majority, and the elections are over. Now the politics begins.

IMAGE CREDIT: CC/Flickr – Parti Socialiste

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Categories: European Union

BRI can spark an EU-China conversation on peace, security and development

Mon, 26/06/2017 - 08:42

China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has the potential to spark a more ambitious and truly strategic EU-China conversation on crucial issues of global peace, security and economic governance.

Europe has so far focused on the obvious trade, business and connectivity dimensions of China’s ‘project of the century’. That is understandable: In a world hungry for more infrastructure, BRI is certainly about massive investments in roads, railways, bridges and ports. It is also about digital connectivity and expanding financial and cultural links. Businesses in Europe world are right to explore just how they can secure a piece of the cake. The EU-China connectivity platform has an important role to play in facilitating such a conversation.

Europe should not make the mistake, however, of viewing BRI solely through a narrow trade and business prism. The EU should widen its view of BRI, seeing it as not merely as an economic ‘project’ but as a reflection of Beijing’s ambitious vision of its role in a rapidly-transforming world.

China’s blueprint articulates its self-confident repositioning in an uncertain era marked by erratic American engagement with the world. As such, BRI creates an array of hitherto largely-unexplored opportunities for a deeper EU-China dialogue on issues ranging from peace and security to climate change, Africa and Agenda 2030.

In recent months, both EU and Chinese policymakers have underlined that uncertain times demand their “joint responsibility” to work for a strong rules-based multilateral order. “We are living in times of growing tensions and geopolitical unpredictability so our cooperation has never been so important”, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said after a recent meeting with China’s state councilor Yang Jiechi. The challenge now is to turn such statements into joint actions.

“China and the EU should seize opportunities for cooperation, ask questions and seek clarifications and explanations”

It should not be too difficult. While trade and investments continue to form the backbone of the EU-China relationship, both sides already meet for regular high-level strategic discussions on global and regional challenges. The vast scope and many facets of the BRI provide an opportunity to strengthen and deepen the strategic conversation as a first step to launching possible joint actions.

Three important areas deserve priority attention.

First, given their joint interest in Africa, the EU and China should use the opportunities opened up by BRI to explore ways of working together to boost the continent’s still vastly-untapped development potential. Europe may once have viewed China’s growing economic influence and outreach in Africa with a degree of wariness and suspicion. But the migrant crisis has made EU governments more acutely aware of the need to inject more funds into Africa’s quest for jobs, growth and development. Cooperation with China on issues of Africa’s development as well as the achievement of the sustainable development goals is now definitely in the EU’s interest.

Second, China’s new blueprint provides room for a stronger EU-China conversation on global economic governance, including in the vital area of climate change leadership as well as multilateral trade liberalization and financial regulation. With President Trump still undecided on whether the United States should stick with the Paris agreement on climate change, the initial focus should be on EU-China cooperation to maintain the Paris accord even if Washington pulls out of the deal.

Third, President Xi Jinping’s description of BRI as a “road for peace” and the EU’s recent steps to strengthen its defence identity open up opportunities for more pro-active EU-China cooperation on issues of global peace and security, including North Korea, Iran, Syria and Yemen as well as counter-terrorism. This also puts the onus on China to ensure that BRI projects such as the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) do not exacerbate regional tensions.

“The way ahead is going to be complicated and difficult”

The EU-China relationship will benefit greatly from a wider, ‘beyond trade’ conversation which looks outside purely bilateral ties to ways in which Brussels and Beijing can work together constructively on the global stage. Such interaction can go a long way in creating more trust between the two sides. It can also help to create a more stable relationship anchored in a better understanding of each other’s priorities and concerns.

Over the coming months, as projects are identified, investments are lined up and work starts in earnest, China will have to ensure that BRI becomes more transparent, procurement rules become more rigorous and projects fit in with the global sustainable development goals.

Significantly, also as the initiative gains traction, China will inevitably have to conduct itself as a ‘traditional’ development partner, abandoning its ‘non-interference’ policies for a stance that is more concerned about the domestic affairs of its partner states, including on issues like governance and terrorism.

The way ahead is going to be complicated and difficult. China will need to learn how to deal with complex demands and painful facts on the ground in its myriad partner countries. Europe can help make the BRI a success by sharing its knowhow, knowledge and experience.

China and the EU should seize opportunities for cooperation, ask questions – however difficult – and seek clarifications and explanations. With BRI, China has embarked on a long journey and set itself many ambitious goals. But it cannot do it alone.

This article was first published in China Daily on 26 May 2017.

IMAGE CREDIT: palinchak/Bigstock

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Categories: European Union

Can the EU and China act together?

Fri, 23/06/2017 - 08:47

The post-Second World War and post-Cold War international system is facing some strong headwinds. Europe has been under siege from massive immigration, terrorist attacks, rising populism, a war in Ukraine and, of course, Brexit. The Middle East remains stuck in violence and cold peace without any hopeful signs. Meanwhile, East Asia seems to be adrift without a concrete regional project. Most critically, the United States under Donald Trump seems to be unable and unwilling to act as a responsible stakeholder in global governance anymore.

In this time of upheaval, the European Union and its member states, as well as China, need to find new roles in some uncharted territories. We believe it is high time for the EU and China to move beyond their existing patchy patterns of cooperation and build a more stable and reliable partnership by acting together in some key areas of global governance. Both share an interest in upholding the existing international order. As such, both sides – and the world – will benefit much if the EU and China can act together.

From a European perspective, we are arguably witnessing the most profound structural change since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the end of systemic bipolarity in international relations. Most prominently, under Trump, the transatlantic partnership has largely changed from that of a normative community based on values to a functional necessity based on interests. The new US administration’s ideology of ‘America First’ risks a further transatlantic estrangement, if not the partnership’s erosion.

Key leaders within the EU now openly challenge some of Trump’s key approaches. In view of Trump’s bans on travel to the US from many majority-Muslim countries and his rejection of the Paris climate change agreement, Emmanuel Macron, as candidate and French President, has offered home to scientists and entrepreneurs: “I want all those who today embody innovation and excellence in the United States to hear what we say: from now on… you will have a new homeland, France.”

“The European Union and China need to find new roles in some uncharted territories”

For Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel, the US under Trump is ceasing to be a reliable partner and Europe can no longer “completely depend” on the US. The so-called West is threatened to disintegrate, taking with it some key institutions that have so far governed the existing international order.

From a Chinese perspective, the time for shouldering more global responsibilities might have come earlier than expected. Fundamentally, China’s economic development depends on the collective goods provided by the existing international order. Yet the existing order is now under duress because the US under Trump is threatening to pull the plug of some key pillars of the order. With so much uncertainty, even the success of China’s two key projects, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), is not guaranteed.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, when Trump proclaims the merits of protectionism in his inaugural address, Chinese President Xi Jinping, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, not only called for an open economic order but also proclaimed China’s interest to “vigorously foster an external environment of opening-up for common development.”

Although Trump and Xi had a fairly successful informal summit, there is lingering doubt within China’s policy circles about Trump’s reliability as a leader, in addition to the existing worry that Trump may go too far in undermining some of the key pillars of international order. Moreover, many Chinese elites also suspect that the US will be unwilling to accept China as an equal partner, no matter what.

Both the EU and China grasp that their bilateral relationship is now more critical than ever. The EU is China’s biggest trading partner while China is the EU’s second-largest trading partner after the US. In addition, there are a host of issues on which the EU and China share common ground. So as Trump withdrew from the Paris agreement, the EU and China, meeting in Brussels, re-emphasised their resolve to fight climate change.

But it is also apparent that the EU and China cannot patch things up easily. The recent EU-China summit in Brussels made this fact abundantly clear. Because of the EU’s refusal to grant market economy status to China an expected EU-China joint declaration on climate change was not agreed. Instead, the focus during the summit shifted to deep differences between China and the EU. Negotiations on an EU-China investment agreement stalled; the EU continues to deplore limited market access and Chinese dumping, especially in the steel sector. EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström was critical of Beijing: “The welcome commitments from [China] about liberalisation have not been matched by concrete action”.

“There are several concrete measures that the two sides can take”

But for China, Brussels’ anti-dumping measures against Chinese products are only exposing the EU’s protectionism towards China. The challenges to a redefinition of China’s and Europe’s role in international relations also became evident in the public debate in Germany surrounding Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s recent visit to Berlin. Some observers argue for an EU-China partnership in trade and climate change, whereas others emphasise the risk of letting China gain the upper hand.

We believe that the EU and China should work with each other closely to clear the way for a steadier partnership, even if the US comes back from Trumpism. With the US disengaging from global governance and multilateralism in international affairs, Europeans are, for the first time, fundamentally challenged to develop real autonomy and agency. The EU now needs partners other than the US to uphold the international order on which Europe’s prosperity and security depend. On this front, China is an obvious choice. China’s prosperity and security also depends on the stability of the international order.

We believe that there are several concrete measures that the two sides can take.

The upcoming G20 summit in Hamburg in early July will present Europeans, China and other countries with a key opportunity to reject America’s turn towards protectionism and its America First ideology. The Chinese government laid a solid foundation for addressing climate issues within the G20 during the Hangzhou summit last year. To further this process, closer cooperation between Europe and China is now essential, and Europe and China can also send a clear signal against America’s protectionism at the Hamburg summit.

The EU and China can also work together in Africa. For Europe, supporting African peace and development is an investment in its own security and prosperity. Africa is a key component of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Africa is also a key component in the EU’s 2016 Global Security Strategy. Africa does not only need China’s investment but also China’s experience in economic development.

“In this age of uncertainty, both the EU and China will benefit from more long-term strategic thinking when it comes to the other side”

So far, Europe has mostly criticised China for neglecting human rights and environmental issues when doing business in Africa. But without working with China and African countries, Europe can be accused of being sour obstructer. So it is time for Europeans and China to compare notes and start coordinating their Africa policies where appropriate. The EU-Africa summit later this year in Brussels provides an opportunity to start a strategic dialogue on how China’s Belt and Road Initiative and the EU’s Africa policy can complement each other.

Finally, the EU and China should also work towards an EU-China Free Trade Agreement. With the Doha Round blocked, an EU-China FTA could become a major project with potentially wide impact and a motor of further Asia-Europe economic integration.

Along the way, the EU and China may also bring the East Asian region, which is now adrift, into a region with a purpose again by facilitating the build-up of regional governance capacity. The 50th anniversary of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) this August is a great opportunity. The EU has for a long time shown an interest in joining the East Asia Summit (EAS).

As an ASEAN dialogue partner the EU should also participate in the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus. If negotiations on an ASEAN-EU Free Trade Agreement are relaunched, as it is expected to happen this year, then the EU could also become in principle eligible to joining the newly-developing Asian trade architecture within the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). With President Trump’s decision to exit the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), future EU membership of the RCEP would contribute to further strengthening of regional and global trade governance. Next year’s Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) summit in Brussels would be an additional opportunity to enhance the capacity for sustainable development and inter-regional governance.

In this age of uncertainty, both the EU and China will benefit from more long-term strategic thinking when it comes to the other side. The world will be more blessed with a steadier EU-China partnership, regardless what happens in Trump’s America.

IMAGE CREDIT: CC/Flickr – European External Action Service

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Categories: European Union

What next for President Macron?

Thu, 22/06/2017 - 08:46

If a week is a long time in politics, what about a few months?

Back in March, the European Union was bracing itself for drama: would the powerful wave of discontent that had swept over the United Kingdom and the United States in 2016 engulf the Netherlands and France?

With the staunchly anti-EU Marine Le Pen riding high in the polls for the presidential election, the bet was on France plunging the EU in turmoil. And then came Emmanuel Macron ‒ the man with no party to his name, the youngest candidate who nobody had bet on, pipping everyone to the post in the first round and going on to win handsomely in the second round.

And now, here he stands, with an absolute majority following his convincing victory in the June 2017 parliamentary election, a feat very few people thought possible only a few weeks ago. Far from being the lame-duck President with no majority that many had predicted, he has emerged as a strong leader with a majority that owes him everything. So, what now for Macron and France?

Three main areas are likely to make or break Macron’s presidency.

“President Macron holds all the cards in his hands”

On top of the list is the labour reform Macron promised during his campaign. Reforming the labour market is, without a shadow of a doubt, an explosive issue in France. Millions of people took to the streets in 2016 to oppose the reforms of Macron’s predecessor, François Hollande, known as the El Khomri law. The precedence it gave to potentially less favourable local agreements over collective sectorial agreements on working time was deemed an intolerable attack on workers’ rights.

And yet Macron wants to go much, much further, by promoting local agreements over their sectorial counterparts in all areas, including wages and working conditions. He argues that France needs to make its labour market less rigid by giving more flexibility to individual companies, to encourage job creation. Critics say that workers will be left to face far worse conditions. The parties on the Left, along with some workers’ unions, have already warned about a summer of industrial action. Considering the long pattern of mass demonstrations defying and defeating countless French governments, Macron has a huge battle on his hands. It is too early to tell its outcome, but his presidency will be defined by his ability ‒ or inability ‒ to implement the most contentious plank of his programme.

With France under a state of emergency since November 2015, terrorism will also be high on Macron’s agenda. But he is caught between a rock and a hard place: keep a regime that is supposed to be for exceptional times only and be accused of illiberal practices; end it and be accused of gross negligence if another attack occurs. That’s why the state of emergency has been called a political trap.

Macron is planning to put an end to it by incorporating its main measures, criticised by many for curtailing civil liberties, into law. By effectively making the state of emergency permanent, Macron risks turning the criticisms into widespread anger, as already witnessed in the call from French jurists and human rights organisations to withdraw his proposals. He might find solace in being supported by a large majority of French citizens, who yearn for security, but does he really want to be dubbed illiberal and tarnish his reputation of being at the vanguard of liberal progressive values? Finding a way out of this trap certainly won’t be easy.

And then there’s the EU. Leaving Brexit aside ‒ after all, no one really knows what Britain wants ‒ Macron’s priority is a strong France in a strong EU. His ambitions are bold and wide-ranging, from deepening EU integration and re-igniting the Franco-German engine to strengthening the Eurozone with its own parliament, budget and finance minister. The question remains how feasible all of this will be. Many states fear Franco-German hegemony, in a re-enactment of the ‘Merkozy’ couple of (still) German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former French president Nicolas Sarkozy. But this time it will be without the counter-balancing act traditionally provided by Britain. Many countries in the eurozone are also wary of losing sovereignty to a more integrated zone, however tempting the possibility of Eurobonds might be. And the idea of Eurobonds is not popular in Germany.

“The road to reforming France will be long and winding, with pitfalls at every corner”

And yet, following the Brexit referendum, the mood has changed in the EU. Pro-European sentiments are on the rise and the EU has more confidence to push its integration forward, as seen in the pledge to enhance EU defence cooperation.

At this point, it is too early to tell whether Macron can reshape the EU. Nothing substantial will happen anyway until the German election in September, and the Brexit talks might well consume all of EU’s energy for the foreseeable future. But Macron is certainly the most pro-European French president since François Mitterrand, and his future role in the EU deserves to be closely monitored.

President Macron holds all the cards in his hands. He has an absolute majority and he has radically redefined the whole political landscape. Out the two traditional juggernauts of French politics, the Socialist party is facing extinction and the Republican Right is licking its wounds. Marine Le Pen’s National Front is in full in-fighting mode over its future direction and Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s hard Left only has 17 MPs.

But before anyone jumps to the conclusion that Macron is now set to radically change France, let’s not forget that despite his outstanding electoral successes, he can’t take popular support for granted. He might have won very handsomely indeed but with a record high abstention rate in June, at 52% in the first round and 57% in the second, France was clearly not swept by a wave of Macronmania, and its deep divisions have not suddenly disappeared.

Concentration of power can easily lead to a sense of complacency, but the French ‘street’ has a knack of biting back. Macron is all set, but the road to reforming France will be long and winding, with pitfalls at every corner.

IMAGE CREDIT: CC/Flickr – Lorie Shaull

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Categories: European Union

Cyber-defence needs to be implemented in EU’s military activities

Wed, 21/06/2017 - 08:39

All Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) activities of the European Union, including military missions and operations, are dependent on effective command and control, on assured information and functioning, as well as on uncontested communication and information systems.

They rely on the availability of free and secure access to the internet or – using the newer and broader term – to ‘cyberspace’. But cyberspace is becoming a new battlefield. Cyber-attacks are daily business, and part of foreign affairs as well as CSDP operations and missions.

Anonymously, without attribution, and below the threshold of armed conflict, adversaries are using the cyber domain to accomplish their political, economic and military objectives in emerging ‘hybrid’ scenarios. The means vary from sharing disinformation in social media and influencing public opinion and electoral behaviour to more severe, destabilising operations: cyber-attacks targeted at energy, transport or banking systems, and even direct cyber operations on the EU’s CSDP networks.

Although there is no evidence yet being specifically targeted, operations and missions are facing growing cyber-threats.

“Cyberspace is becoming a new battlefield”

In 2014 – in the follow-up to the publication of the EU Cyber Security Strategy – the European External Action Service developed a framework policy to improve Europe’s resilience against cyber threats in CSDP activities and develop capabilities for cyber-security and defence implementation.

Recently, the Global Strategy for the EU’s Foreign and Security Policy designated cyber-security and defence as a priority. These high-level documents form a valuable foundation for the implementation of cyber-security and defence in CSDP activities.

For the three most recent EU military missions, an appropriate consideration of cyber-defence aspects was achieved in planning; resilience and protection of command, control and communication information have been implemented successfully.

The missions also identified four lessons for the future:

  • Human risk mitigation: The most important aspect of resilience is to prepare the people involved, as the most common ‘cyber-vulnerability’ is the human element. This essentially requires a change in culture and behaviour in handling and working with information and communication technologies, which can be achieved through constant education and by regular cyber-awareness training.
  • Early planning: To ensure effective cyber-security and -defence during conduct, it is essential to consider cyber aspects as early as possible during the planning phase.
  • Sharing Cyber Intelligence information: Cyber aspects must be included in and seen as part of the overall threat evaluation for the planned operations or missions. Any planning and conduct of cyber-defence has to be supported by continuous cyber-intelligence information. This information is to be provided by the EU’s strategic intelligence structures, underpinned by intensified information-sharing between member states and other partners.
  • Increased awareness: Importantly, commanders and their staff must be able to understand detailed cyber-related information. They have to know about the relevance of the cyber domain in today’s conflicts ‒ to be accepted and used as the fifth operational domain equal to land, air, sea and space ‒ and the impact of cyber operations.

In view of the above-mentioned challenges and reflecting the lessons learnt, the EU Military Staff (EUMS) developed a new ‘EU Concept for Cyber Defence for Military Operations and Missions’ in 2016. The aim was to describe the process of an assured and effective consideration of cyber aspects in (military) planning and give means to implement cyber-defence measures in operations and missions, addressing cyber-specific organisational and procedural aspects as well as requirements for member states’ provision of cyber-capabilities for CSDP activities.

The Cyber Defence Concept also defined follow-up activities to implement cyber-defence in CSDP activities. A major task is building up resilience, mainly through education, training and exercises, and the streamlining of the EU’s cyber-defence education and training landscape.

“A key enabler is cooperation with civilian and military partners”

Supported by the EUMS and the member states, the EU Military Training Working Group (EUMTG), the European Security and Defence College (ESDC) and the European Defence Agency (EDA) are working hand-in-hand on new initiatives for the design, development, conduct and evaluation of training activities and exercises, from awareness training to courses for high-level decision-makers.

A key enabler for this work is cooperation with civilian and military partners. While cyber-expertise from industry and academia is linked into the processes mainly by the EDA and the ESDC, the EUMS interacts closely with NATO on military aspects of cyber-defence. The implementation plan of the EU-NATO Joint Declaration, adopted by the European Council in December 2016, gives a huge impetus also to the common use and development of training and exercises by the two organisations.

The success of cyber-defence in security operations and missions remains dependent on a well-balanced combination of state-of-the-art technology, well-functioning structures and procedures, as well as educated, cyber-aware and competent staff.

But, more than ever, this success has to be enabled by agreements on cooperation and sharing of information on cyber incidents, both with external partners, such as NATO, and internally, across member states and EU institutions.

With likely organisational changes and the integration of civil and military elements in crisis management and response, there is a clear need for an integrated approach to counter cyber- (and hybrid) threats for a stronger stance and more resilience across all military and civilian security and defence activities.

IMAGE CREDIT: CC/Flickr – West Point – The U.S. Military Academy

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Categories: European Union

Time for the EU to act in the Arctic

Tue, 20/06/2017 - 08:37

As the saying goes, “what happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic”. And even though the President of the United States, Donald Trump, has said that the country will withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement, no one can escape the effects of global warming.

If there were ever a time for the European Union to assume leadership, this is it. Finland, as the Chair of the Arctic Council for the next two years and the northernmost EU member state, is trying to achieve just that. We want to turn the focus of the EU to the Arctic, and for the EU to assume leadership in tackling the challenges of climate change.

We in Finland are fully aware that this will not be easy. We can’t, and won’t, tackle the issue alone.

Our Arctic Council chairmanship slogan ‒ ‘Exploring Common Solutions’ ‒ reflects the need for constructive cooperation between all Arctic stakeholders. At the same time, we ambitiously want to take Arctic cooperation to the next level.

Our four priorities include environmental protection, connectivity, meteorological cooperation and education.

“It is in the interests of the EU, and the whole world, that that solutions to complicated Arctic questions are resolved peacefully together”

Environmental protection remains a key task for Arctic cooperation. As for connectivity, economic development is directly linked to the adoption of modern communications technology.

Meteorological cooperation is a new focus of the Arctic Council, and work is carried out jointly with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Meteorological cooperation is becoming increasingly important for the development of ice and weather services, as well as for the real-time assessment of scientific research on climate change. And last but not least, education is the key to sustainable development. The Arctic region is no exception in this respect.

For Finland, the Arctic Council chairmanship and the new focus of the EU on the Arctic, are opportunities to showcase our world leading expertise ‒ known as ‘snow-how’ ‒ and technology.

The objective of the Finnish government is that Finland provides practical solutions to Arctic challenges. Two-thirds of the world´s icebreakers have been designed in Finland, and as our Foreign Minister Timo Soini has joked, “all the best ones” are of Finnish making.

The High North and Arctic are the ultimate testbeds for anything and everything functional, and therefore one can well say, “if it works in Finland, it works anywhere”. To work here, ideas must be Arctic-proof – and withstand the challenges of the changing seasons. Finns are born with an Arctic attitude and Finland is one of the leading countries in the world because we have to cope with, and get to enjoy, an Arctic climate.

As the EU as a whole holds a leading position in science, it should increase its participation in large-scale scientific cooperation. Research and education are central to the EU’s Arctic Programme.

“Environmental protection remains a key task for Arctic cooperation”

When it comes to project funding, the EU should put its money where its mouth is. The objectives of Finland for the Arctic Council chairmanship are supported by the EU’s growing interest in northern investment, infrastructure development and innovation. But more funding is needed for projects that focus on the connectivity and logistics in the North, thereby improving the lives of the people and giving an economic boost to the region.

Engagement of all stakeholders, both public and private, is needed. A high-level event, entitled ‘A Sustainable Arctic – Innovative Approaches’, was co-hosted by the Finnish foreign ministry, the European Commission and the European External Action Service, in the city of Oulu on 15-16 June.

Timo Soini, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini and European Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Karmenu Vella all stressed the importance of deepening the cooperation in the Arctic region between local, regional and national authorities and with the representatives of the indigenous peoples.

Despite geopolitical tensions rising in the last years, the Arctic region has remained one of peaceful cooperation.  We must continue to ensure cool heads prevail in the future as well.

It is in the interests of the EU, and the whole world, that the Arctic remains a region where constructive international cooperation is conducted and that solutions to complicated Arctic questions are resolved peacefully together.

IMAGE CREDIT: CC/Flickr – NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

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Categories: European Union