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Updated: 2 months 2 weeks ago

The migration crisis is over: long live the migration crisis

Thu, 09/03/2017 - 09:14

Since the early spring of 2016, the number of people migrating across the Mediterranean has stabilised, to about 200,000 people. This is largely due to the closure of the Western Balkan route and the EU- Turkey Statement of March 2016, which sought to end irregular migration from Turkey to the European Union.

Underlying both actions is the new-found willingness of key European governments ‒ Austria, Germany and Sweden, among others ‒ to ensure orderly procedures and ‘reasonable’ levels of openness. The resulting policy ‘recalibration’ has gradually changed both the terms under which asylum-seekers are received, and the expectations of them; it has led to an increasing determination (albeit still mostly rhetorical) to remove both failed asylum applicants and outright economic migrants. The message to would-be migrants and each country’s general public is that illegal migration will no longer be tolerated.

Of course, people are still trying to reach Europe, both by land and by sea. Land routes include travelling to the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, while the sea routes mean continuous small-craft traffic toward Spanish shores, large numbers of crossings through the Central Mediterranean, and a small (but incessant) number of journeys across the Aegean.

It is clear that while the chaos of 2015 and 2016 has abated, neither the conditions that fuelled it nor the demands for entry into Europe have changed. Considering reports about large numbers of potential migrants gathered across much of North Africa waiting for an opportunity to get to Europe, the pressure for crossing by any means will continue to grow geometrically, and if circumstances align, exponentially.

“The message to would-be migrants and each country’s general public is that illegal migration will no longer be tolerated”

Unending European crises spill over and fuel others: Greece’s economic and social woes; Brexit; terrorism; the rise of left- and right-wing populist politics; the never-ending story about the performance of the European institutions; the various challenges to Brussels by several central and eastern European member states. But the unresolved migration crisis continues to influence all of them.

At the heart of that crisis is a simple fact: Europe faces a fundamental governance test that is undermining the legitimacy of both national and European institutions and, more directly, the integrity of management structures of those member states most directly affected by spontaneous migration.

It is unproductive to enumerate and critique the mistakes made by ‘frontline’ states (the southern European countries through which virtually all migrants enter Europe) and the prosperous central and northern European states that the overwhelming majority of migrants want to reach. And it is even more unproductive to criticise the Brussels institutions because they are playing a supporting role at most on this issue; the initiative has always rested with key member states and the Western Balkan states that are aspiring to become EU members (and which are therefore very compliant).

It is more productive to focus on and understand the behaviour of the protagonists on this story: the migrants themselves. Would-be migrants have learned to ignore the rhetoric of political leaders ‒ whether about values and rights or the importance of the rule of law ‒ in favour of the experiences of those who have reached their destination in Europe and have managed to stay there.

To be sure, the activist and humanitarian ‘industry’ does its best to portray all migration as a humanitarian and protection issue ‒ as it should – and many citizens subscribe to that perspective. But responsible governments know that when crises get out of control, their principal duty is to make policy for and govern on behalf of all their people; to observe legal obligations strictly but narrowly; and to allow values to define only what is purely unacceptable behaviour.

This is not only a European issue. Democratic governments everywhere struggle with squaring the circle of rights and legal obligations with the responsibility to protect borders, to remove those who don’t meet protection standards, and to invest deeply and smartly in the integration of successful applicants. But there are a number of measures that can make what appears like a classic Hobson’s choice in migration management easier.

“The true challenge for Europe in the decades ahead will be mass migration from Africa”

First and foremost, offer refugees adequate humanitarian assistance and real opportunities to resume their lives in first-asylum countries. Educate their children so as to prevent the creation of a ‘lost generation’, and support job creation. Both efforts require the cooperation of the host government and the commitment of very large investments. And all such services must flow both to refugees and the communities that host them, or they risk creating tensions that can undermine the entire effort.

Second, the manner in which people seek protection in desirable destinations must be redirected. Refugees requiring resettlement (because of special needs and/or as a means to relieve pressures on first asylum countries) must be vetted and selected before they reach a destination country. States that resettle refugees must create large numbers of new resettlement places while also working hard to expand the number of wealthy and middle-income countries participating in resettlement programmes, thereby sharing the burden more equitably.

Last, states that receive large spontaneous flows must believe in borders and watch them assiduously. They must institute and execute internal controls responsibly and remove quickly (both voluntarily and not) those without robust legal grounds for protection.

Pursuing the integrated set of policies outlined above will only produce the desired result if each European government embraces them and if there is thoughtful coordination at the European level.

Everyone needs to understand that while the immediate test of leadership is dealing with the causes and consequences of the 2015-16 migration crisis, the true challenge for Europe in the decades ahead will be mass migration from Africa. Much larger public and private resources must be invested in creating opportunities for Africans to stay and build lives in their own countries. Otherwise Europe will find itself taking more extreme steps to protect itself, with less success. Leadership, imagination and patience will be the key ingredients.

Will Europe be up to that task?

IMAGE CREDIT: Anjo Kan/Bigstock.com

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Categories: European Union

Radical or rational? Why Europe needs strong feminist policies to sustain peace and security

Wed, 08/03/2017 - 10:17

We are living through a time of rupture and paradox.

Ground-breaking global commitments on science, sustainable development, climate protection and human rights collide with rising global inequalities, recurrent famine and historically high human displacement. Tolerance and equality are increasingly being met with racism and misogyny.

Frighteningly, we have seen a marked increase in militarisation and a surge in populist movements at the extreme ends of the political spectrum – movements founded on the rejection of pluralism and multilateralism, and a very public embrace of nationalist values and political systems of patronage. Radicalised attitudes risk leading to violence and violent extremism, which feeds on inequality and exclusion, marginalisation and hateful rhetoric.

These extreme agendas are often deeply gendered. They gain much of their populist base from assaults made on the rights of women: over women’s rights to make decisions about their own bodies and personal and public lives; over women’s rights to access education, equal pay, healthcare and positions of leadership.

Attacks on women’s rights constitute a thread that runs from terrorist organisations, such as the self-styled ‘Islamic State’ (Daesh) and Boko Haram, to political populists in Europe and the United States. Both types of group depend on some form of persecution and inequality. Recent gains in human rights and progress toward achieving more inclusive and sustainable societies risk becoming endangered if the pendulum swings too far back.

“Attacks on women’s rights constitute a thread that runs from terrorist organisations to political populists”

For more than 15 years the United Nations’ Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda has stressed the importance of women’s participation and leadership to global peace and security, backed by eight UN Security Council resolutions that formally recognise the transformative impact women’s full and equal participation has on conflict prevention, resolution, peacekeeping and peace-building.

But implementation has been gradual and limited. Among EU member states the WPS agenda is largely perceived as a foreign policy tool – measured in terms of funding dedicated to development projects that target women’s empowerment in fragile contexts, or in terms of the number of women in peacekeeping forces. This is, of course, very much what women, peace and security is about. But it is also about preventing instability and sustaining peace domestically.

The European Union’s Global Strategy for Foreign and Security Policy includes two important priorities: strengthening the resilience of countries surrounding the EU and adopting an integrated approach to conflict and crisis that focuses on prevention and sustaining peace, including preventing relapse into conflict.

We know from qualitative and quantitative evidence that gender equality strengthens societal resilience to conflict and social breakdown. Women’s political and economic participation and leadership increases stability and prosperity.

“We need a shift in thinking to understand that security starts from within”

Inclusive processes with strong participation and leadership from women are systematically more comprehensive and lead to more sustainable solutions, whether in domestic political decision-making or in peace negotiations. Women’s participation in the security and defence sectors improves operational efficiency, reduces corruption, diminishes sexual exploitation and abuse, and increases trust between authorities and civilians. This is demonstrated partially by increased reporting of crimes to authorities. All of these effects are true in both domestic and international contexts.

It seems fair to argue that gender equality and women’s empowerment are the cheapest and most effective tools for economic growth, social and political stability and sustainable peace.

But women’s participation is not valued for its cross-cutting impact. Sweden’s feminist foreign policy is a welcome example of how governments should apply the WPS agenda. But gender-responsive approaches should not be limited to foreign policy only.

We need a shift in thinking to understand that security starts from within. A strong gender lens should be systematically applied and woven into domestic security and development policies in stable and wealthy democracies just as equally as in conflict-affected and developing countries. The EU Global Strategy is on the right track, but would do well to apply its women, peace and security focus both within the Union and outside.

Conflict and extremism cannot take root where there is equality. Never before has the equal participation and leadership of women and the promotion of human rights been as critical to global security. It is time to move from commitments to accomplishments; to ensure the tide will turn the right way. The onus is on Europe – not least as as the biggest humanitarian aid and development cooperation provider in the world – to lead the response. A strong feminist Europe is not radical, it is rational.

IMAGE CREDIT: CC/Flickr – UN Women

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Categories: European Union

It’s time the EU named and shamed backsliding members

Wed, 08/03/2017 - 09:00

A few days ago, the European Commission passed up an ideal moment to warn EU citizens against the greatest threat to their prosperity and that of their children. It wasted an opportunity to persuade eurosceptic voters that the EU still has much worth.

The occasion was the first EU Industry Day in Brussels, an event designed to “help shape the industrial agenda of tomorrow”. What this carefully avoided doing was to identify the backsliding EU countries that have ignored almost two decades of commitments on R&D spending and have sunk to the lowest rungs of global league tables.

Poor productivity is Europe’s greatest weakness, and it is going to be exacerbated by ageing and by youth unemployment. It should be the European Commission’s most powerful rallying call for concerted national policies to boost productivity.

There are bewilderingly different ways to calculate productivity. The essential point is that in the closing two decades of the last century Europe’s productivity growth at around 2% a year was twice that of the United States. Now, at 0.5% it’s less than half. America has its own problems, of course, but major corporations there are on average twice as profitable as in Europe. They have more money to invest, and have entered a virtuous circle.

“European Commission recently wasted an opportunity to persuade Eurosceptic voters that the European Union still has much worth”

One might think recovering lost productivity in services as well as manufacturing is a crusade tailor-made for the European Union to lead. Indeed, it once was; In March 2000, EU governments signed up to its Lisbon Agenda for streamlining their economies, notably by digital means, “to make Europe the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world.”

Ten years later that boast was being widely ridiculed. A plethora of studies showed that, far from making progress, EU countries were slipping behind newcomers in the globalising world economy. Already by November 2004, former Dutch prime minister Wim Kok had presented a high-level experts’ report saying the Lisbon strategy wasn’t working because of national governments’ inertia and lack of investment. He recommended that the Commission should name and shame the culprits.

Needless to say, successive commissions have never done so. Their reluctance reflects a fear of political repercussions and a deeply-held belief by EU officialdom that the European project would be seriously damaged by public criticism of a member state. Other than on €-zone disciplines, it remains unthinkable that EU governments should be publicly called to account.

“Poor productivity is Europe’s greatest weakness, and it is going to be exacerbated by ageing and by youth unemployment”

That’s not entirely so. In early 2015, former Finnish premier Jyrki Katainen, remarked as the Commission’s vice-president for jobs, growth and investment that “naming and shaming is a good tool, and we shouldn’t be too modest to use it.” Encouragingly, he returned to the question very recently on the embryonic EU plans to stimulate increased defence spending and cross-border research cooperation, endorsing the value of naming ‘free riding’ governments that did not deliver on their commitments.

So what’s the solution to Europe’s sagging productivity, and why should Brussels point its finger at national capitals? There are several answers, and they all add up to the need for a tough and uncompromising new approach by the EU commission.

World Bank researchers say that improving productivity isn’t so much about introducing “industrial strategies” as it is about removing barriers. They pinpoint rules governing business practices, insurance, hiring and firing, and intricate social security regulations as among the difficulties handicapping companies, especially the 95% of them that are SMEs.

EU officials have long championed ambitious innovation policies and cross-border scientific research, yet European productivity keeps on sliding. That’s why it’s time for Brussels to unsheathe its most potent weapon of all – embarrassment. Publicise league tables of national failures and achievements on reversing the productivity slide and public opinion will do the rest.

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Categories: European Union

Is there such a thing as feminist foreign policy?

Tue, 07/03/2017 - 15:28

When Margot Wallström took office as Sweden’s Foreign Minister in 2014, she adopted a ‘feminist’ foreign policy. For her, this meant three Rs: rights, applying equally to women; representation in decision-making; and resources being fairly allocated to women.

Wallström gave a name to an approach that had been undertaken by Hillary Clinton. She proclaimed the rights of women and girls as a cornerstone of the United States’ foreign policy and vital to American national security interests when she became secretary of state in 2009.

Clinton’s commitment to these issues has been a constant in her career. But her passion was sparked by her participation in the Fourth World Conference on Women, organised by the United Nations in 1995. There, as first lady of the United States, she made a keynote address that captured the world’s attention. Clinton declared that “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights” – no longer relegated to the margins, but enshrined in international human rights law.

The administration of President Barack Obama, with Clinton leading its foreign policy in the first term, promoted the integration of gender into US foreign policy as a matter of vital national interest.  Investing in women and girls was considered to be one of the most powerful and positive forces for reshaping the globe.

Today there is a wealth of research and data to show that investing in women is critical for economic, social and political progress. Advancing equal rights is a moral imperative – but it’s smart and strategic too. It helps tackle the most pressing global challenges, from jobs creation to peace and security.

To ensure the institutionalisation of women’s global issues into US Foreign Policy, President Obama created the position of Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues. Gender policy guidelines were established for the State Department and the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The guidelines focused on coordination within the Department, gender responsive budgeting and planning, and the Foreign Service Institute’s training programmes for diplomats.

“Countries where the gender parity gap is smaller are far more prosperous”

Gender issues were also included in the first-ever ‘Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review’. The study, set up by Clinton, proposed “integrating women and girls into everything we do in all our diplomacy with other governments (and) our work on conflicts and crisis.” Clinton’s successor, John Kerry, noted the example of gender integration as an excellent illustration of how key crosscutting issues should be mainstreamed across the Department.

Three issues were seen as vital gender priorities: the global economy; peace and security; and human development.

Economic growth, job creation and shared prosperity for all nations and people are formidable global challenges, and evidence points to women’s economic participation as being vital to the achievement of these objectives.

The World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report shows that those countries where the gender parity gap is smaller – where men and women are more equal – are far more prosperous. With women investing up to 90% of their incomes in their families and communities – on food, healthcare and education – female economic participation has a multiplier effect and constitutes an investment in a higher standard of living.

Studies also show that women-run small businesses are accelerators of gross domestic product. They lift incomes and create jobs. But laws, customs and discriminatory practices are often serious obstacles to women starting or growing a business. In some places women have no inheritance or property rights. They face violence, a global scourge. Women entrepreneurs often lack access to training, to mentors, to finance and to markets.

The effects are real. A UN report calculated that close to US$90bn in GDP is lost each year in the Asia-Pacific region due to untapped potential and structural discrimination of women. That’s why the State Department pushed the issue of women’s economic participation in multilateral forums, including the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).

And the change is real, and global. APEC now holds programmes on women and the economy to address barriers to entrepreneurship. In Africa, the African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program, promoted by the State Department, supports access to markets for women-run SMEs. In Latin America the Pathway to Prosperity initiative provided training and access to trade opportunities. And in Europe, through Invest in the Future, the Department brought together women entrepreneurs from the Balkans, the Caucasus and other areas to support each other.  A concerted effort was made to support the economic potential of women.

Considerable efforts were also made to advance women’s role in conflict resolution, negotiations and peace-building – notably through implemention of UN Security Council Resolution 1325.

At the end of 2011 the US launched a national action plan on women, peace and security, and as secretary of state Clinton took the lead abroad. During a trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, she addressed a range of issues relating to the country’s violent conflict, from security sector reform and peacekeeping to transitional justice. She focused on the atrocities being perpetrated against women and girls, hearing first-hand accounts of mass rapes, used as a strategic weapon of war.

“The Obama administration promoted the integration of gender into US foreign policy as a matter of vital national interest”

Action followed. Clinton put forward UN Security Council Resolution 1888 to create greater accountability for sexual violence, to end impunity, and to improve the role of peacekeeping missions to protect women and children from sexual violence. The resolution also called on the UN Secretary-General to appoint a special representative on sexual violence in conflict.

But empowerment was also on the agenda. As a female activist said to me in a discussion in Kabul, “Stop looking at us as victims but as the leaders that we are.”  Women have been greatly victimised in Afghanistan – but they are also critical agents of change.

The State Department and USAID also recognised gender as a key element in global development. Research shows that investment in women means poverty reduction and improved human development.

The Obama administration’s Feed the Future initiative – which aimed to strengthen the world’s food supply – recognises women farmers as vital to agriculture. In many places they form the majority of small farmers, but they are often disadvantaged when it comes to securing land tenure rights or owning land outright. Women farmers often get poorer access than men to training, credit and tools. But when they are treated the same, they can yield the same.

On climate change, women have a key role to play. Clinton led governments and the private sector in creating a Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves – an example of how engaging women in developing, disseminating and maintaining clean technologies can have significant benefits to them and to society.

Technology was also recognised for its potential to transform women’s lives by providing critical access to information as well as opportunities for financial security. But there is still a gender gap in access to mobile technology, which is essential to enabling poor women to transform their lives.  Investments in global development see women are not just beneficiaries but also drivers of social change.

Clinton succinctly described the stakes for all humankind: “Until women around the world are accorded their rights and afforded opportunities to participate fully in the lives of their societies, global progress and prosperity will have its own glass ceiling”.

A foreign policy that has women at its core – whether called ‘feminist’ or not – recognises that democracy, peace, prosperity and social progress need the full participation of women. No country can get ahead if it leaves half its people behind.

IMAGE CREDIT: k2 images / Bigstock.com

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Categories: European Union

The storm of new protectionism: what lies behind it?

Tue, 07/03/2017 - 11:45

In the United States, views advocating a ‘strategic’ approach to international trade were mostly marginal in public debate for decades. But with the Trump administration there is increasing talk in Washington, DC of bilateral agreements and using tariffs to protect industries. American companies are prodded to move operations back home; a reversal of finance regulation and supervision reforms is foreseen.

To consider this radical change as only a temporary anomaly would be simplistic. Deep currents have been present for a long time. Within European Union member states similar forces and national concerns are on the rise too – witness Brexit – but EU rules bind countries into a free trade order. Immigration policies are being re-examined, both in the US and in Europe.

But where does this new protectionism come from? Why do ‘sirens’ of protectionism and nationalism ring in the developed world? I believe that we can look to two main explanatory areas: economics and security.

In terms of economics, there is the decline of America’s global power status, threats to the economic pre-eminence of the Western world, new technologies replacing jobs, the financial crisis, and bad corporate practices such as tax-dodging.

New protectionism is also a reaction to unmanaged globalisation and the perils it has entailed. One can argue that if public policies had been more attentive to the needs of individuals and companies that lose out from global competition, there would not be so much social stress at the moment.

One should also remember that countries have used protectionism and industrial policies to construct competitive advantages and alter the balance of power in the past. That has been the case with the power struggles between the US and the UK; between Germany and the UK; between Japan and the West. The rise of other Asian economies can be judged through such lenses.

“New protectionism is also a reaction to unmanaged globalisation and the perils it has entailed”

When it comes to security, the role of the state as a guardian of public interest is becoming even more prominent on the public agenda. Terrorism, unconventional threats (cyber warfare, hybrid wars), fears for the future and uncertainty are putting pressure on national governments. New security measures are proliferating. The refugee/migrant crisis has undermined the Schengen passport-free zone. But isolationism, protectionism and nationalism may act as a boomerang; they may only serve to make things worse.

Another issue that needs to be addressed is the potential trade-off between security and openness.

Authoritarian temptations and inward-looking proclivities come up in liberal democracies during hard times. These propensities match the way states act in times of heightened tensions and war (creating a ‘war economy’ or ‘war society’ syndrome). But a trade-off is possible. One can link protection/security to openness (economic freedom) and imagine levels of citizens’ comfort in terms of these two public goods.

Substitution of protection/security measures with economic openness has its limits, because these public goods are not independent of each other. Protectionist measures and restrictions distort an open society if they go too far; total economic or societal openness, with no rules or protections, may cause intense social strife. In very good times people prefer more openness. When times get worse, a more inward-looking society emerges: this may involve protectionism and restrictive measures.

How decisions are made regarding public goods, and who make those decisions, brings politics into the spotlight. People have varying and changeable opinions; it may be that the way people value protectionism versus openness varies over time, and what is abnormal or unpalatable today may be acceptable at another time. The problem is that  protective measures trigger similar responses from partners that may outlast these changes in opinions – and trade wars are likely to damage all parties.

Perhaps there is an optimal degree of openness that changes according to circumstances, to long cycles of upswings and downswings in the world economy. But even in this case a complete breakdown of an international rule-based system based and multilateral agreements would be disastrous. (It is worth recalling that the globalism of the 19th century was also followed by commercial and military conflicts.)

“If those who are on the losing side of global economy are not given a fair chance and continue to feel excluded, tensions will rise and conflicts will intensify”

The world seems to be bumping into fragmentation: there is an increasingly multi-polar and uncertain reality. Many developed states feel threatened by ascending economic powers and seek to protect themselves via various measures. Terrorism and other new threats fuel these inward-looking tendencies.

If those who are on the losing side of global economy are not given a fair chance and continue to feel excluded, tensions will rise and conflicts will intensify. Interethnic and religious conflicts add to the social and political strain; the new (4th) Industrial Revolution does not ease efforts to adapt to shocks.

New protectionism will probably usher in a prolonged interregnum in global trade, with a corrosion of international, global institutional arrangements and increased instability. This is worrisome for those who believe in the virtues of multilateralism and rules. Europeans know from their own history where unrestrained rivalries may lead to.

But the big question is what the new economic order will be during this interregnum. Will multilateralism survive as a basic principle? This is a fundamental question. It seems that we are in a transition towards a new international regime and it is vital that big conflicts and serious damage be avoided.

The EU, which is a public good itself, has to be protected despite threats to multilateral systems. As former EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana put it, the EU may be the world’s best line of defence against what threatens the multilateral order.

But the EU needs reforms that address its internal divides and prevent their deepening. The eurozone needs completion. Europe needs security arrangements that are adapted to a new reality. EU member states will have to pay more for their own defence. And the EU and the US need to work together to prevent major conflicts in the world.

New protectionism won’t go away quickly or easily: it is up to multilateral organisations, such as the EU, to take these necessary steps to weather the storm.

IMAGE CREDIT: phakimata / Bigstock.com

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Categories: European Union

The best alternative to a ‘hard’ Brexit may be no Brexit at all

Mon, 06/03/2017 - 12:25

It seems possible that, if the necessary conditions are created, British voters could decide not to leave the European Union at all.

And Ireland should work to create those conditions. The terms for Brexit set out by Theresa May will do incalculable damage to the island of Ireland – politically, emotionally and economically. We cannot simply wait for this to happen. While seeking to mitigate the effects of ‘hard’ Brexit, we must also do everything we can to ensure that there is no Brexit.

May has outlined the future she wants for Britain: out of the single market, out of the customs union, and ’control‘ over immigration. But she has avoided a few questions that remain open: the financial terms of the divorce; the status of EU citizens living in the United Kingdom, and vice versa; and two aspects of a future EU-UK trade agreement (if there ever is one), namely arbitrating disputes and addressing the issue of third-country imports getting into the EU via the UK.

It is unlikely that the Article 50 letter that May will send to the European Council President this month will tell us much more about the UK’s negotiating position than January’s Lancaster House speech did. So it is time to start thinking how the EU is going to respond.

The European Council is supposed to meet in April to agree on the guidance it will give to EU negotiators for discussions with the UK, which are scheduled to start in June. Every EU head of government needs to accept the orientation. For Ireland this April meeting is potentially the most important European meeting a Taoiseach (Irish prime minister) will ever attend.

The crucial thing for the European Council is to work out is what negotiators call the ‘BATNA’ – the best alternative to a negotiated agreement. It is important to have an alternative ready because there is every possibility that no agreement will be reached within the two-year timeframe.

“Ireland must use its imagination and ingenuity to find out a way out for the UK and the EU”

Mrs May has said that, for her, no deal at all is preferable to a bad deal. Her BATNA is no deal at all.

‘No deal’ would mean that the UK simply crashes out of the EU overnight, sometime before the end of March 2019. This scenario would mean an overnight halt to flights, to trade and to commerce. There would be immediate, massive currency instability.

From the perspective of pure negotiating tactics, May could be simply voicing threats. But to do so without a well-crafted fallback plan is something the UK cannot really afford. It vindicates former prime minister Tony Blair’s description of the UK government as “not driving the (Brexit) bus”, but rather “being driven” by partisan and ideological forces it has not tried to control. Without a real alternative to a hard Brexit, the government is on autopilot, heading towards a cliff.

The EU country worst affected by the UK crashing out of the EU with no deal is, of course, Ireland. So Ireland must use its imagination and ingenuity to find out a way out for the UK and the EU.

However, it is reasonable to ask whether the EU should offer UK voters another option.

If the UK government is unable or unwilling, because of domestic politics, to work out a responsible BATNA, the EU should do it on the government’s behalf. The 27 remaining member states should adopt it alongside their line-by-line response to the UK’s negotiating demands.

Having a BATNA would also strengthen EU’s own negotiating position. It would provide something with which an emerging deal could be compared. It would also provide a basis on which the UK could reconsider its decision of 23 June 2016, if it wants to do that. As Blair said, British voters have a ”right to change their minds”. After all, politicians can change their minds – so why not voters?

If British voters do ever change their minds about Brexit, it will happen slowly and incrementally. Parts of the Brexit scenario, obscured during the referendum campaign, will become clearer during the negotiations. The unavoidable interconnections between the EU’s freedoms and rules will emerge. It will be in the EU’s side of interest to ensure that there is maximum public understanding of the unfolding negotiations. Transparency will benefit the EU.

If the alternative to EU rules is no rules at all, citizens in both the EU countries and the UK may come to see the EU membership in a different light. They may, for the first time, see the EU as something that simplifies – not complicates – their lives.

In my view, the EU’s BATNA is an offer to continue the UK’s EU membership under the same terms as in 2015.

And these terms were generous. They allowed the UK to opt out of the euro, of Schengen, of police and judicial cooperation, of the Stability and Growth Pact, and of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The UK itself had also decided that it would have a referendum on any new EU powers. In that sense the UK was already having its cake while eating it, before even deciding opting for Brexit. These terms should be left on the table by the EU – but without the unjustifiable UK budget rebate.

At this stage the UK would reject such an offer. But, as the inevitable consequences of Brexit become clearer, British public opinion might begin to see merit in it, particularly when the offer is compared with the costs of simply crashing out of the EU overnight.

“Keeping the offer of resumed British membership on the table would be good politics and good economics for the EU”

Resistance to such an offer is more likely to come from some EU member states. Some members will point to the UK’s insatiable demands when it was a member, for opt-outs, rebates and exceptions. They will recall former French president Charles de Gaulle’s original veto of British membership, and his foresight that the UK would never settle in as a member. They may also argue that offering the UK a way back, after it has triggered Article 50, could encourage others to try the same approach.

But if these members sit back and think about it they will, I believe, conclude that an EU with the UK is better than one without, even if a trade deal were to be eventually concluded. Keeping the offer of resumed British membership on the table would be good politics and good economics for the EU.

The terms of the Lisbon Treaty do create some problems for this approach. But they are not insurmountable.

Article 50 (3) says a country that has sought to leave the EU under that article will be automatically excluded from the EU two years after it has triggered Article 50 unless the EU side “unanimously decides to extend the period”.

Article 50 (5) says that if a state that has withdrawn from the EU asks to re-join, it has to do so under Article 49. This means the application would have to be ratified by all existing members.

Others may argue that the UK cannot withdraw its Article 50 letter once it has sent it. This is a matter for the European Court of Justice to decide, but Article 6.8 of the Vienna Convention on treaties explicitly allows revocation of a notice of intention to withdraw from a treaty.

These problems are real but manageable. A political declaration by the European Council in April would create a realistic basis.

The real debate about Brexit – and whether it will really happen – has barely begun.

IMAGE CREDIT: Bigstock – CharliePhoto

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Categories: European Union

Trump’s travel ban does more harm than good

Thu, 02/03/2017 - 09:36

Only days after his inauguration as President of the United States, Donald Trump stated that he would not shy away from “fighting fire with fire” when it comes to combating terrorist organizations, such as the self-styled ‘Islamic State’ (or Daesh) and al-Qaeda.

The newly-elected President publicly contemplated the reintroduction of ‘enhanced interrogation’ methods such as waterboarding, opposing international law and conventions. Two days later the new administration’s counter-terrorism strategy turned into reality as Trump signed an executive order to restrict immigration to the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries.

Although the measure was condemned by many, it also received acclaim, especially from a chorus of populist politicians in Europe. Marine Le Pen, Frauke Petry and Geert Wilders all cheered; all advocate similar measures to reduce Muslim immigration and all call for the repeal of the Schengen agreement.

While it is impossible to predict the exact number of future attacks that may be prevented by this measure, we can gain insight by looking at past acts of terror.

Take the most recent attacks in the United States: neither the 2015 San Bernardino attack nor the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting would have been prevented by the travel ban, as the perpetrators were either born in the United States or in Pakistan, which is not among the listed countries.

“The desire to close borders overlooks the notion that today’s terrorists are mostly homegrown”

Looking at Western Europe it seems unlikely that such travel restrictions would have made our societies much safer. The most violent attacks in recent years (the January 2015 Charlie Hebdo shooting, the November 2015 Paris attacks, the March 2016 Brussels bombings, the July 2016 Nice attack and the December 2016 Berlin Christmas market attack) are unlikely to have been prevented. The perpetrators were either EU nationals, came from countries whose nationals do not face restrictions, or entered Europe using fake passports as part of the refugee flow. Rather than counterfeiting a Syrian or Libyan passport, they can simply opt for another nationality that would not be subject to a ban.

The desire to close borders overlooks the notion that today’s terrorists are mostly homegrown.

The approximately 5,000 to 6,000 EU nationals that travelled to Syria and Iraq since 2012 – not to mention the thousands more that were unable to make the journey – indicate that the current threat is not purely exogenous. Instead it finds its roots, to a significant degree, in our own society. Restricting immigration will not end the underlying grievances; it may even exacerbate them.

Organisations like Daesh and al-Qaeda are actively trying to drive a wedge between the Islamic and Western worlds by creating a narrative that emphasises the oppression of the former by the latter. Discriminatory policies such as this travel ban only feed the jihadist propaganda machine; it seemingly confirms their notion that the West is at war with Islam. Trump’s decree has made the jihadists’ job much easier.

“Counterterrorism efforts should be rooted in Western values and focus on inclusion, rather than exclusion”

As a direct result of the ban the Trump administration also risks affronting its Arab allies, whose support is crucial to effectively fight Daesh and its underlying ideology. American and European forces fight side-by-side and rely on Muslim forces in their attempts to oust Daesh.

That regional actors such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey are involved in the US-led operation targeting Daesh is already a delicate subject, prompting them to maintain a low profile. Trump’s provocation might force these regional actors to distance themselves, shattering the unified front, and further diminishing the prospects of stability in the region.

Counterterrorism efforts should be rooted in Western values and focus on inclusion, rather than exclusion – both nationally and internationally. Terrorism can be tackled effectively only through a consistent and coherent approach that respects fundamental rights, such as the right to privacy and the freedom of religion, thought, and expression. Any strategy that neglects the rule of law would merely be grist to the mill of jihadist organisations and further bolster their propaganda and recruitment efforts.

Rather than fighting fire with fire, it is imperative that we base our strategy on Western, liberal values.

President Trump may have been right when he noted that the battle with Daesh is not played on an even field. However, as Frans Timmermans, First Vice-President of the European Commission, recently remarked during the Future Force Conference, we should avoid getting into a mud fight with a pig, as the pig will love it, while we would look awful. As Timmermans said, “only an open society can truly protect us from the challenges of modernity”.

IMAGE CREDIT: CC/Flickr – Masha George

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Categories: European Union

Security is about more than just military spending

Wed, 01/03/2017 - 09:24

Security is not just about strong armies, aircraft carriers and boots-on-the-ground. Peace and stability in the 21st century demand that we tackle so-called ‘soft’ or non-traditional security challenges including development, governance, and environmental degradation.

The new President of the United States, Donald Trump, is clearly a hard security man. He talks and tweets tough. The men surrounding him are hardened ex-military officers – and even those who are not clearly think wearing a uniform is the best thing in the world.

Not surprisingly, Trump’s 2018 budget seeks to boost defence spending by ten percent, or US$54bn. The increase is going to be at the expense of aid and environmental programmes.

The US President is hardly alone. Hard security is also the name of the game in many parts of the world. Spending on arms is on the rise worldwide as countries anxiously seek to flex their military muscle.

“Soldiers can defend borders against invading armies – or unwanted refugees and migrants – but they can’t fight climate change or pandemics”

But some are taking a broader approach. While still spending money on classical defence, members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are looking at non-military challenges to peoples and states posed by a host of problems: climate change, cross-border environmental damage and resource depletion, infectious diseases and natural disasters. They are also examining the link between security and irregular migration, food shortages, people smuggling, drug trafficking and other forms of transnational crime.

As the ‘hard’ vs ‘soft’ security debate climbs up the transatlantic agenda, with Washington warning that its support for NATO hinges on increased European defence spending, let’s listen to recent warnings from European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel that security cannot be “narrowed down” to military spending. Development aid and humanitarian assistance also count as contributions to global security.

Investing in development and in the fight against climate change is not charity. As Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign policy chief, insisted recently, it is also “an investment, a selfish investment, in our security”. Also, long-term stability is the result of strong societies, not strong men.

Juncker, Merkel and Mogherini are right. Security and development are inextricably linked: there can be no sustainable development without peace and security, while development and poverty eradication are crucial to a viable peace. That is why implementing the Sustainable Development Goals is important.

“Investing in development is not charity”

Soldiers can defend borders against invading armies – or unwanted refugees and migrants – but they can’t fight climate change or pandemics. Those seeking asylum in Europe are fleeing not only war and conflict but the devastation caused by climate change, bad governance and a lack of economic opportunities. Terrorist groups like the self-styled ‘Islamic State’ (or Daesh) and al-Qaeda cannot be defeated through military action alone.

But Europe must practice what it preaches. The definition of development aid is becoming wider and more fluid than many like. European aid organisations criticise EU governments over the growing use of foreign aid budgets to meet refugee costs at home. Many EU countries are backsliding on their aid spending commitments.

The OECD’s Development Assistance Committee, meanwhile, has expanded the definition of overseas aid to include limited forms of counterterrorism and military activities or training. British ministers are reportedly eager to divert aid from “wasteful” projects in Africa and Asia to allies in Eastern Europe in a bid to get a better deal on Brexit.

Security is an important priority for European citizens and will continue to climb higher up the agenda as the world becomes even more volatile, unpredictable and inter-connected.

Europe, with its still-large development budget, is well-placed to combine hard and soft power to tackle an array of new and old challenges. It should continue to do so smartly and without apology.

Related content:

IMAGE CREDIT: CC/Flickr – United Nations Photo

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Categories: European Union

Wilders’ way with words is here to stay

Tue, 28/02/2017 - 08:48

All over Europe populist parties oppose immigration, Islam, Europe and established politics.

Although these parties are nationalist, they have many things in common. This is what Marine Le Pen of France’s National Front, Frauke Petry of Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) and Geert Wilders of the Netherlands’ Party for Freedom (PVV) wanted to show by meeting together in Koblenz this January.

Yet Wilders stands out in at least two respects.

First, he is the only one of the three party leaders who is completely dependent on the national parliament. He has hardly any party organisation to speak of; everything revolves around him. He tweets regularly, but people listen only because he is an influential parliamentarian.

Many of other populist leaders do not even have a seat in their country’s assembly, but Wilders has always been in and around the national parliament. He started as an assistant to the Dutch conservative-liberal party, the VVD, and became an MP for the party before he broke away and started the PVV. Parliament is also the place where Wilders honed his rhetoric: his second salient feature.

People vote for him because they agree with his views about immigration and Islam, but mostly because of the way he puts these views forward. The minister had gone “stark raving mad”. The Netherlands is threatened by a “tsunami of Islamisation”. The socialist opposition leader is the “company lap dog” of the conservative government. A left liberal leader is a “pitiful dwarf”.

“Doesn’t democracy imply almost absolute freedom of speech and shouldn’t even offensive language be acceptable?”

Whereas in some parliaments most people would scarcely blink an eye at such language, it was unheard-of in Dutch parliament. There has been a long Dutch tradition of consensus-seeking; of managerial and administrative politics. That tradition has, of course, been attacked many times before – but until now, it has proved to be very persistent.

This time politics really seems to be changing. Wilders is using the changing mood of the Dutch parliament to his advantage. It is so unusual to hear his kind of language – simple, clear, violent – and so unusual for a Dutch politician to block every compromise and still be popular.

At first nobody knew how to respond, but this was just a portent of bigger changes in Dutch politics. Parliament used to be mainly concerned with coalition politics, government oversight and making laws. But now its representative function has become much more important. Political parties have been losing their grip on their members, but parliament is on the news bulletins every night.

Most parliamentarians now agree that they should listen to the people, be the voice of the people, or at least they try to be in the public eye all the time. That is only partly down to Wilders alone.

Alexander Pechtold, leader of the left-liberal D66 party and Wilders’ fiercest opponent in parliament, also plays the national audience, albeit with another purpose. By opposing Wilders he has considerably increased the number of seats for his own party. However, most leaders in parliament now prefer transparency and simple language to old-fashioned ideas about the dignity of parliament and administrative politics and they, in fact, condone abusive or unparliamentary language.

Doesn’t democracy imply almost absolute freedom of speech and shouldn’t even offensive language be acceptable? The Prime Minister, the VVD’s Mark Rutte, is Wilders’ competitor for right-wing votes and even he seems to be trying to piggy-back on Wilders’ success.

“Growing political polarisation leads to more abusive language in politics”

Rutte has said that young Dutch citizens from Moroccan origin who do not follow Dutch rules should “sod off”. But his electoral and parliamentary rhetoric differ: he does not use such language inside parliament and says that they reflect his “personal views”. He does not overtly confront the norms, but pragmatically tries to use Wilders’ tactics in his advantage.

Growing political polarisation leads to more abusive language in politics. This is partly a process of ‘normalisation’ of Dutch politics and the Dutch parliament, an adjustment of tone to what has been common in many other countries. But the growing importance of the representative role of parliament as a megaphone for the ‘voice of the people’ has also changed the concept of how a parliamentarian should behave.

Hans Janmaat, a Dutch right-wing politician who used discriminatory language, was convicted in court in the 1980s and 1990s. One of the reasons was that, as an MP, he was supposed to play an exemplary role. Today, it is the other way round: it has often been argued that Wilders should have more liberty to say what he wants than ordinary people, because he is a politician who should be able to freely express the views of his party.

It is very hard to predict how Wilders and his party will perform at the 15 March elections. Wilders is not new anymore, there is very little chance that he will become part of the next government, and he is increasingly locking himself in his own paranoid world. The polls predict a victory, but not a huge one – he will probably not gain more than about a fifth of the seats in parliament.

However, his influence on political language will remain, because he was the first one to see the window of opportunity opened by the changing role of parliament. As long as parliament is seen as a forum to voice the complaints of the people, there will be the temptation to use the megaphone.

IMAGE CREDIT: CC / Flickr – Roel Wijnants

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Categories: European Union

When it comes to Brexit talks, it’s all about the money

Fri, 24/02/2017 - 14:23

The European Union never wanted a ‘hard’ Brexit. The British government, under Prime Minister Theresa May, chose it without consultation and convinced a reluctant Parliament.

May brought into her government die-hard ‘Leave’ supporters who can continue to rely on the Eurosceptic media and who make hay with the result of the binary referendum. So it is hard to see how one can please the British government without bringing into question the EU’s structures and body of law (and causing havoc within the EU).

It’s time to be tough: if Britain unexpectedly ends up remaining within the single market, it should be granted none of the opt-outs it had obtained in the past (which were testimony to the EU’s efforts to keep the UK on board, no matter the difficulties these exceptions caused).

But this is not about ‘punishing’ the UK for following a democratic mandate. Brussels – whose main purpose is to uphold EU law and to keep its troops together in difficult circumstances – has simply noted that the referendum did not indicate that a majority wanted a hard Brexit. Brussels has now to react to May’s personal interpretation of the result and her aggressive decision (which Giles Merritt calls “baffling”) to go the hard way despite the lack of a national consensus.

“It’s time to be tough: if Britain unexpectedly ends up remaining within the single market, it should be granted none of the opt-outs it had obtained in the past”

It is May’s position, not the referendum result, that has antagonised people in Europe, occurring as it does after years of British ambiguities, diffidence, equivocations, misgivings and grievances that started with the 1975 referendum. It is worth noting that in the run-up to that referendum the government of then prime minister Harold Wilson allowed Commission officials to directly inform British voters about the EU; I was one of the two-dozen who regularly spoke in Britain during the campaign. The Cameron government opposed a repeat.

We Europeans have had enough disputes about money, by far the most well-known being Margaret Thatcher’s arrogant demand of “Give me my money back”. When I oversaw the budget in the cabinet of Commission president Gaston Thorn, my proposal for a solution failed to foresee a sunset clause.

The result was that the UK, one of Europe’s richest countries per capita, pays relatively much less than others, including the Visegrád Four countries (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia). Britain refused to recognise the more recent realities of EU contributions because none of Thatcher’s successors would dare give up what she had won.

Giles Merritt’s suggestion to start with the “easy” part – defence and security cooperation – is wishful thinking. It is true that in this realm the UK has much to offer and the EU much to gain, but why didn’t Britain offer it during 40 years of membership? Besides, it has opposed European defence union objectives, a European defence fund and the creation of an autonomous EU military headquarters in Brussels. It has refused to participate in the European Defence Agency.

Even after Brexit, it has continued to cause trouble. The German Defence Minister, Ursula von der Leyen, recently had to warn the UK not to interfere with European plans to strengthen defence integration. And don’t forget that the Saint-Malo agreement between the UK and France was nothing but a ploy to prevent any attempt at substantial defence integration.

“That the UK will have to pay more to the EU budget than the Brexiteers imagined is the Brexiteers’ fault”

Giles Merritt’s proposal – that Brexit negotiations should consider defence before money – is simply unrealistic. The reason is threefold: first, for the British, money has always taken priority; second, defence is not the easiest subject; and third, money relates to the current Brexit process, whereas defence relates to what follows.

That the UK will have to pay more to the EU budget than the Brexiteers imagined is the Brexiteers’ fault. It is excessive to label as “perverse” the decision to start with the cost of withdrawal. What is truly perverse is the amount of lies spread by the Brexiteers. While nobody knows in which programmes the UK will wish to continue participating, it is essential to establish early on a general cost of withdrawal. Clear figures can be determined at the beginning of the negotiations. It will then be easy to adjust them in the light of the outcome of the negotiations.

Giles Merritt rightly says that the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States has helped us appreciate the urgency of European defence integration. This has to be discussed further by France and Germany. If Britain joins in, progress will slow. As soon as it is ready, the EU should adopt a dual-track process, involving the revision of the common security and defence policy (CSDP) governance model and a new partnership between CSDP and the UK (as a third party).

For the first time Giles Merritt appeared to take a British position, albeit presented in the interest of the EU as a whole. There might well be a “cash clash”, as you say, but discussing defence first is no alternative and would only allow Britain to make an EU agreement more difficult to reach.

And for the reasons given in the article, we have no time to lose.

IMAGE CREDIT: CC / Freestock

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Categories: European Union

Don’t start Brexit talks with a clash on cash

Wed, 22/02/2017 - 10:09

The eyes of the world will soon be on the Brexit negotiations, amid widespread fears that they may end in a ‘train crash’, not least because of a cash clash. Here’s a suggestion for averting that – or at least making it much less likely.

The pressures and constraints affecting both sides are well-known, but aggressive positions across the English Channel have inflamed tempers and risk putting the talks in peril. On the continent, the UK’s espousal of a ‘hard Brexit’ is baffling, because it limits London’s room for manoeuvre. For the British, the idea of their government’s democratic mandate being ‘punished’ by Brussels is intolerable.

Seasoned negotiators say that the best way to approach hard bargaining is to deal first with the easiest elements. Creating an emollient atmosphere is always helpful. Yet the Brexit talks are due to open with tough demands for the UK to pay tens of billions of euros into the European Union’s coffers.

There is a better way. Begin instead with defence and security cooperation. Military outreach and intelligence-gathering are areas where the UK has much to offer, and the EU much to gain.

London’s line has been that Britain’s NATO membership guarantees Europe’s security. But in political terms there’s far more to be won for all concerned by binding the UK into the EU’s burgeoning ‘defence union’.

“Military outreach and intelligence-gathering are areas where the UK has much to offer, and the EU much to gain”

Britain is militarily the strongest country in Western Europe. Although France and Germany are intent on forging themselves into a unified spearhead of EU defence, it will take at least a decade before that happens. Meanwhile, security threats from resurgent Russia and the turmoils of the Middle East are on the rise.

These threats are common to all Europeans, and at a time when the Trump administration has called into question the United States’ support for NATO, the case for underpinning Europe’s own defence capabilities is obvious. It’s an area where Britain can exert leadership while safeguarding its sizeable exports of defence equipment.

But the idea of starting the marathon two-year Brexit process with a win-win topic like defence and counter-terrorism cooperation has gained little traction. For reasons that have more to do with political grandstanding than finding mutually satisfactory solutions, negotiators on both sides prefer to open with the thorny question of the exit bill to be presented to London.

The subject is guaranteed to inflame passions. The EU-27 faces a gaping hole of at least ten per cent in the 2021-27 EU budget, the multiannual financial framework, and are desperate for funds. Britain’s largely Eurosceptic mass media, meanwhile, will howl with rage when it learns what Brexit will cost the UK Exchequer in cold cash. British ministers may even find themselves having to walk out before the talks can get down to business.

“Brexit negotiators on both sides prefer to open with the thorny question of the exit bill to be presented to London”

How large the amount due to the EU will be seems anyone’s guess. Estimates of pension obligations and commitments to various EU projects vary quite wildly, from a low of €40bn up to €60bn. If the UK’s share in EU assets is deducted that could whittle down the final figure a bit, but it will still compare starkly with the €8bn net annual cost to British taxpayers of EU membership.

The irony is that no definitive figure can be reached until the end of the Brexit negotiations, so it seems perverse to place it at the head of the agenda. Nobody can yet say whether the UK will decide to remain part of key EU programmes on research and development or industrial cooperation – something that the worlds of business and science are crying out for.

It’s possible that the die-hards in Theresa May’s government who demand a hard Brexit will win the day, causing a degree of havoc in the UK economy that some analysts put at £100bn in costs and lost growth. But perhaps cooler heads will prevail, with their warnings that by value half of all Britain’s exports go to the EU, and that leaving the single market threatens the UK’s position as the leading recipient of foreign direct investment in Europe.

Much hangs on the mood created during the early days of the Brexit talks. With Article 50 still to be invoked, there has been sabre-rattling and name-calling on both sides, so it’s time to lower the temperature. Pushing the cost-accounting of Brexit to one side and replacing it with security and defence cooperation would be a good way to start.

Related content:

IMAGE CREDIT: Ezio Gutzemberg/Bigstock

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Categories: European Union

Migrants may be the game-changers in the new world of Dutch politics

Tue, 21/02/2017 - 08:48

The Netherlands kicks off what is bound to be an important and historic electoral year. With the French and the Germans also casting their ballots in 2017, Europe might look and feel very different by the end of the year.

13 million men and women are eligible to vote in the Netherlands. They must choose between 1,114 candidates, spread over 28 political parties.

But at first glance, there should be little reason to change course. The country is doing well: in 2016, the economy grew by 2.1% – it has grown for 11 quarters in a row. Consumer spending is growing. The unemployment rate is dropping and job growth is at its highest rate in five years.

The Netherlands is back to being an economically healthy country and one of the strongest economies in the world. The coalition of Liberals (VVD) and Labour (PvdA), led by Liberal Prime Minister Mark Rutte, is responsible for this success. The coalition was formed after the September 2012 election and it is the first cabinet this century to complete its full period.  Let’s make the Netherlands great again? Mission accomplished.

But the upcoming election is not about the economy. When you dig deeper, you find that the Dutch are in the midst of a severe identity crisis and an overall general feeling of discontent.

The Netherlands is a country once known and praised internationally for its entrepreneurial spirit, tolerance, solidarity and diversity. A country once known for looking beyond its borders – a big reason for its prosperity – is openly discussing rebuilding frontiers and looking more and more inward. Fear is leading the way; the Dutch are in desperate need of hope and change.

“The Dutch are in the midst of a severe identity crisis and an overall general feeling of discontent”

At this stage of the campaign, no-one seems to be able to address both the hopes and fears of the electorate. You are either pro-fear or pro-hope, and fear is currently winning. The polls show a country that is moving increasingly towards the Right, with the far-right PVV, led by Geert Wilders, leading the polls, followed closely by the Liberals.

Throughout history, the two biggest parties have included one from the Left and one from the Right. Having two right-wing parties leading the polls is unprecedented.

On the Left, there is no clear frontrunner. The Greens (GroenLinks) have a new party leader, Jesse Klaver, and stands at a record high in the polls. With grassroots and online campaigning inspired by the 2008 presidential campaign of Barack Obama, the party has organised so-called ‘meet-ups’ hoping to convince people to ‘vote for change’.

Labour, traditionally one of the biggest parties, is at a record low. They too have a new party leader: the current Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Social Affairs, Lodewijk Asscher. The PvdA is being punished for joining the Liberals in government, but the party has also lost the loyalty of voters with a migrant background. For decades Moroccan Dutch and Turkish Dutch have backed the PvDA. For many of them, backing the party is no longer an option.

How migrants will vote is something to keep an eye on. Migrants are done with being ‘migrants’. In recent years these people, largely born and brought up in the Netherlands, have been raising their voices, (re)claiming their rights and questioning the Dutch status quo. The discussions, protests and arrests in recent years over the presence of ‘Zwarte Piet’ – a blackface companion of Saint Nicholas – is a prime example.

“Migrants are done with being ‘migrants’ – how they vote is something to keep an eye on”

The process of shedding off a solely ‘migrant’ identity and embracing and representing multiple identities has been reflected in politics as well. Denk (‘Think’), a new party formed by two former PvdA MPs, is attracting a large section of the bicultural Dutch people from the PvdA. But the pro-immigrant and anti-racism party is also attracting another group: bicultural people who have never voted before, but are motivated to do so for the first time.

According to the polls, Denk could get two seats in the parliament. But here’s the tricky part: the group Denk appeals to is not the group that gets polled. The party might become the game-changer of this election.

Most voters are yet to make up their minds. The post-election political landscape could be completely different to the one the polls are showing now. In recent years, the PVV’s support was inflated in the polls, but the party ended up with far fewer seats in parliament.

Even if the PVV does become the biggest party in this election, it is unlikely that Geert Wilders will become the next prime minister, as most parties have ruled him out as a coalition partner. It is more likely that we will get a third cabinet led by Mark Rutte – although he will need at least three, possibly four other parties to form a cabinet and reach a coalition agreement.

The current polls show that it won’t be quick and it won’t be easy. Forming a cabinet this time around may take a very long time. And new elections may even follow soon after.

Welcome to the new world of Dutch politics.

IMAGE CREDIT: Alexandru Nika/Bigstock

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Categories: European Union

Europe-Asia relations become a priority in the age of Trump

Wed, 15/02/2017 - 08:43

Asian governments are still trying to make sense of Donald Trump’s unpredictable approach to their region.

After lambasting both Tokyo and Beijing over their trade and currency policies, the new President of the United States has made constructive contact with both the Chinese and Japanese leaders.

But conflicting statements by American policymakers indicate that Washington will take time to craft a lucid, well-thought-out policy towards Asia.

As America reassesses its Asia policy, Europe must redefine its own relationship with the region. Asia’s economic growth continues to be strong, but political antagonisms and rivalries are on the rise.

North Korea’s recent firing of an intermediate-range ballistic missile into the sea off its east coast, the first such test since the US election, is one important indication of Asia’s significance for global security.

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini’s recent visit to the US, where she discussed the future of the Iran nuclear deal with the new administration, is a welcome sign of Europe’s proactive stance on global challenges.

The EU should show similar determination to craft a standalone policy towards Asia which, despite America’s dominant presence and China’s growing clout, still looks to Europe for trade, investment, technology and security support.

“It’s time  for the European Union to further enhance its own distinct trade, political and security profile in the region”

America has been both a rival and a vital ally as Europe has expanded its ties with Asian countries. It’s time now for the EU to further enhance its own distinct trade, political and security profile in the region.

Brexit and the EU’s many other crisis and economic woes have tarnished some of Europe’s lustre. But here are three ways in which Europe and Asia can work together to ease some of the anxieties of the Trump era.

First, Europeans and Asians have a common interest in working together on issues such as climate change, preserving the Iran deal and safeguarding multilateral institutions, including the United Nations.

In addition to its soft power credentials in areas such as peace-building, preventive diplomacy and conflict management, the EU is also a valuable partner for Asia in areas such as maritime security (including anti-piracy operations), counter-terrorism and fighting cybercrime.

A more visible European security profile in Asia will have the added benefit of helping the EU’S long-standing desire to join the East Asia Summit, an annual forum of Asian countries that since 2011 has included the US and Russia.

Second, given America’s decision to pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement and its disinterest in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the EU should work harder to finally clinch pending free trade agreements with Japan, India and individual South-East Asian countries.

As EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström underlined recently, trade is essential for employment – with some 31 million European jobs dependent on exports – and a way to spread good values and standards.

Brussels should therefore get serious about negotiating a free trade pact with the ten-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and speed up trade talks with Australia and New Zealand.

Importantly, the EU and Asians should join forces to inject new life into the World Trade Organization.

“Europe needs to use its influence to prevent the rise of unwise nationalisms, destructive conflicts and confrontation”

Third, the EU should make a serious effort to upgrade its bilateral relations with Asia’s key players and regional organisations.

Brussels has worked hard over the years to engage in a sustained manner with China, Japan, Korea, India and ASEAN. These links are significant and impressive but often get muddied by small irritants. They must be given more resilience, strategic substance and direction.

Europe should take a closer look at other regional initiatives in Asia such as trilateral cooperation efforts by Japan, China and Korea (whose relationships with the Trump administration will be the subject of a Friends of Europe debate on 22 February).

While disagreements over historical issues and North Korea have long strained relations between the three countries, Japanese, Chinese and Korean leaders have held several trilateral summits since 2008 and are currently reassessing ties to take account of the new US administration.

Another summit is being mooted while the Trilateral Cooperation Secretariat in Seoul continues to work on its mandate to promote peace and common prosperity between the three countries.

In addition, in today’s uncertain and volatile world, ASEM (the Asia-Europe Meeting), which brings together more than 50 European and Asian countries, is needed more than ever to deepen connections and networks.

The EU’s Global Strategy calls for a deepening of economic diplomacy and an increased security role for the EU in Asia. That commitment should be translated urgently into action.

Europe’s history and experience make it imperative that it uses its influence to prevent the rise – both at home and abroad – of unwise nationalisms, destructive conflicts and confrontation.

Related content:

IMAGE CREDITS: CC/Flickr – FutureAtlas.com; Olivier/Bigstock.com; CC/Flickr – Nathan Congleton; Antaris/Bigstock.com

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Categories: European Union

Behind the headlines, Merkel’s refugee policy is working for Germany

Tue, 14/02/2017 - 09:24

Refugees are often used as scapegoats, but the success stories of Germany’s refugees paint a very different picture.

Angela Merkel has come under fire from many directions for her so-called ’open door‘ refugee policy. But apart from the usual suspects – domestic and foreign right-wing politicians, groups and parties – criticism has come from moderates as well.

Merkel is by no means an infallible stateswoman. She doesn’t get it right all the time. But her decision to allow more than one million refugees into Germany when others refused to take them is up there with greatest humanitarian acts in history. So how is it possible that it has made her life so difficult? And will it cost her a fourth term as German chancellor?

Those who oppose her may argue that she should not have made that decision so unilaterally; that more than a million is too many; that the right thing to do is not always the right thing to do. Perhaps. But has the result been so catastrophic for Germany?

The pressures – economic and cultural – have been well documented. The success stories have been publicised, but not to the same degree. But these success stories are vital in forming public attitudes towards refugees.

Upon hearing of a country taking so many refugees, many people ask how they will be cared for, housed, fed, clothed and educated. And how much this will cost. But this question is often based on the assumption that these million refugees will be forever dependent on German taxpayers.

“Merkel’s decision to allow more than one million refugees into Germany is up there with greatest humanitarian acts in history”

Providing the refugees’ basic needs has indeed been a burden on the German taxpayer. But it is an investment in Germany’s future labour force. There are many highly-educated people among the refugees, bringing with them skills and experience that make them valuable human capital that can be readily absorbed by the German labour market.

To help bring this about, Germany has introduced legal measures requiring migrants to integrate into German society. These include the first-ever integration law, designed to make it easier for asylum-seekers to gain access to the German labour market. The German government has also promised to create 100,000 new working opportunities for asylum seekers.

According to a study by the Federal Employment Agency’s Institute for Employment Research, 50,000 refugees found work between September 2015 and September 2016. By September 2016, 30,000 were already earning enough to make them subject to social security contributions.

While these figures are still low, and statistics never tell the full story, they do show progress. The gloomy picture some like to paint is not accurate. With an ageing population and a marked labour shortage, Germany must do something if it wishes to remain Europe’s largest economy. This is not only a question of economics, but of geopolitics.

But it is often not big-picture statistics that shape public perceptions; rather the actions of individuals. There are many positive stories to tell.

Muhannad M., a Syrian refugee in the town of Minden, returned €150,000 that he found in a second-hand cupboard he had been given.

Yusra Mardini, a teenager who left Syria when her house was destroyed in the country’s civil war, swam for three hours in the Aegean Sea pushing a sinking dinghy to safety, saving the lives of nineteen people. Settling in Berlin, she swam for the Refugee Olympic Team at the 2016 Rio Games, winning the first heat of the women’s 100m butterfly. She is currently studying, working to change people’s perception of refugees and hopes to compete in Tokyo in 2020. Perhaps, one day, she will win a gold medal for Germany.

“It is often not big-picture statistics that shape public perceptions but the actions of individuals”

Taking in these refugees is a success in another sense too. Their gratitude to a country that helped them in their time of need will surely have a positive impact on how their friends and relatives in their home country view Germany and, by extension, the West. This comes at a time when positive bonds between the West and the Muslim world are more important than ever.

Of course the picture is not all rosy. Recent events have shown that Merkel’s policy also brings with it security risks and cultural challenges. Dismissing any anti-refugee argument as racism is not only over-simplistic but also a form of intolerance, as many people have legitimate concerns. Lessons of the past must be learned, integration given priority, and security services given the tools and resources they need.

Integrating Germany’s refugees will be challenging, it will cost money, and it will take a long time. In the shorter term, Merkel’s opponents will benefit from her refugee policy. But if the policy is properly managed, it is Germany that will benefit in the longer term.

And it is a policy that could cement Merkel’s legacy as one of Germany’s great leaders: one who looked ahead, beyond her own term of office – making her a rarity in the politics of today.

IMAGE CREDIT: Number 10

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Categories: European Union

Breaking the glass ceiling for women and girls in science

Fri, 10/02/2017 - 09:32

Excellent science and innovation require the talents of both women and men. But there are still too few female scientists occupying top positions in scientific decision-making.

According to She Figures 2015, a compilation of gender-disaggregated science statistics published by the European Commission, “men are more than two times as likely to choose engineering, manufacturing and construction” at degree level. The figures also lead the Commission to argue that “despite progress, the under‑representation of women continues to be a problem in all narrow fields of science and engineering, except life science”, with the case of computing also being problematic.

But efforts are under way to buck this trend.

Since 1998 the Commission has supported many actions through reports and project funding. The European Parliament has produced several recommendations similar to the one passed on 9 September 2015 onwomen’s careers in science and universities, and glass ceilings encountered’. These actions have led to increased awareness across Europe, but much remains to be done.

“To compete globally, Europe must step up its game in science, technology, engineering and mathematics”

The aim of European Platform of Women Scientists (EPWS), an international non-profit organisation for female scientists in Europe and beyond, is to represent the interests of 12,000 women scientists at all stages of their careers, and to engage in discussions with national, European and international institutions.

To compete globally, Europe must step up its game in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Special action is needed to target teenagers before they choose their higher education discipline. The place of women in science is directly related to girls choosing to study these disciplines.

So the EPWS and its members are taking action. Several EPWS member associations in Europe are running original initiatives for young people, and especially for girls. Women scientists address both girls and boys in classes, but their testimonies hit home with girls, for whom the scientists can become role models.

In Portugal, Amonet members are introducing the experimental study of science and technology in pre-schools and primary education and even in the family. In the United Kingdom, the Women in Physics Group of the Institute of Physics has launched Physicists in Primary Schools, an initiative to interest children in physics, with demonstrations and hands-on activities. In France, the associations Femmes & Sciences, femmes et mathématiques and Femmes Ingénieurs are jointly acting as role models in classes.

But how can we improve the situation of women scientists overall?

First, women need to be given a voice in the EU research policy. To achieve this EPWS organises conferences and debates. Several EPWS members have been and are participants in or coordinators of EU gender-related projects, and the EPWS encourages its members to shape the EU research agenda.

“The world of science needs to become accessible for everyone – women and girls included”

Second, sex and gender analysis in research needs to be highlighted. There are recommendations at national and European levels but these might have not led to action. This integration of gender dimension in science and research requires dialogue between gender studies and science decision-makers, creating a link between knowledge and action.

Third, networking is crucial. The EPWS offers its member networks and individual members a channel for successful communication.

Last, information-sharing and public relations play important roles.  By being aware of good practices concerning women scientists in other EU countries, EPWS members can make suggestions to decision-makers in their home countries.

Through numerous practical actions and initiatives, the EPWS and its members are working for the improvement of the situation of women and girls in science. Initiatives such as the European Science Week and the United Nations International Day of Women and Girls in Science – observed annually on 11 February – are warmly welcomed.

Promoting gender equality, the understanding and integration of the gender dimension in science and research is essential so that the world of science becomes accessible for everyone – women and girls included.

IMAGE CREDIT: CC/Flickr – IFPRI

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Categories: European Union

Eurozone proposals will be Rome party pooper

Wed, 08/02/2017 - 10:52

Pity the European Union’s top officials as they contemplate next month’s sixtieth anniversary of the Treaty of Rome.

Planned as a glorious popular celebration, it’s shaping up to be a political embarrassment. The EU is caught between two conflicting pressures: it wants to showcase the Union’s achievements at the 25 March informal summit in Rome, but is also committed to producing a white paper that promises genuine progress on the future of the euro.

Now that the anniversary is looming large, the upper echelons of the European Commission are grappling frenziedly with the text. Billed as the roadmap for securing economic, financial, fiscal and political union by 2025, it in fact risks revealing the true extent of European disunity.

There’s no doubt that Europe needs a morale booster. The EU’s sinking popularity and the further destabilisation threatened by Brexit and President Trump’s dystopian agenda should be countered by a clear-eyed assessment of the EU’s worth – past, present and future.

A few politicians have said so, though softly. France’s President, François Hollande, has suggested that the informal European Council in Rome “should open a new page for the future of Europe”. Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has spoken rather vaguely of the need for a future “two-speed Europe” to be discussed at the Rome meeting.

“There’s no doubt that Europe needs a morale booster”

The icing on the EU’s sixtieth birthday cake was to have been a show of unity on Europe’s economic and monetary union (EMU) and the future of the euro.

But discussions on how to strengthen the eurozone in the wake of the sovereign debt crises that have shaken Greece, and also Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Italy, have been a saga.

In mid-2015 the so-called ‘Five Presidents’ Report’ (involving the European Central Bank and Eurogroup heads, as well as those of the three main EU institutions) set out a fairly tentative blueprint for completing EMU. The report pushed to one side the thorny questions of mutualised debt and fiscal transfers from richer to poorer eurozone members.

Last September, EU leaders meeting in Bratislava declared the EU’s determination to make progress on eurozone governance and a range of other issues, including refugees.

But Bratislava was widely judged to be a damp squib, and in concrete terms did little more than kick the can down the road, especially on the eurozone’s future. This increased the pressure for a white paper with enough muscle to reassure Europeans that political momentum in the EU isn’t slowing to a halt.

The waters of the EMU debate have been muddied further by the Commission’s desire to beef-up its EMU paper by tacking on a ‘European Pillar of Social Rights’.

This pillar sees the eurozone’s future depending significantly on developments in national employment and welfare policies, but there is a risk that the profound divisions over improving eurozone governance will be obscured by social policy issues and the Commission’s brainchild of a ‘Competitiveness Board’ in each member state to assess reforms for speeding economic convergence.

“Discussions on how to strengthen the eurozone in the wake of the sovereign debt crises that have shaken Greece, and also Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Italy, have been a saga”

The Commission has so far been hugging the white paper’s text to its chest. Some EU ambassadors believe that they may not catch sight of it until early March, by when there will be little time to do more than fine-tune a fait accompli. It is generally acknowledged that the timing is made tricky for the Brussels executive by elections this year in France and Germany. If the white paper inflames controversy, it could do more harm than good.

The big question is what the proposals will say about the steps that would lead to EMU’s scheduled completion in 2025.

These are dangerously toxic decisions as they span common eurobonds to ease the problems of deficit countries, an EU-level reinsurance scheme to underpin national bank deposit guarantees, and a macroeconomic stabilisation mechanism to deal with severe economic shocks. Over them all hangs the mooted creation of a single eurozone treasury in the hands of an EU ‘finance minister’.

These matters divide Europe’s rich north and poor south – and in some eyes, the frugal from the spendthrift. With Berlin at the EU helm there will be no swift resolution, and that cold reality is already casting a pall over the Rome Treaty’s sixtieth birthday party.

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Categories: European Union

Why is Europe so silent on Syria?

Tue, 07/02/2017 - 09:00

Why did nearly six years have to pass? Why did hundreds of thousands of people in Syria have to die and many millions have to flee? Why did it take so long for Europe to feel even a little disgust at the tragedy of Aleppo, one of the biggest worldwide humanitarian catastrophes of recent years?

Why, for months, did the European Union only keep ‘under review’ the idea of using air drops to supply aid to those in the Syrian regions being besieged by government forces – a measure long demanded by the most senior United Nations officials?

Dropping aid into hard-to-reach regions is technically feasible if the political will exists. The Greens in the German Bundestag, of which I am a member, introduced a proposal to this effect in Parliament last autumn.

The proposal was rejected by a majority of MPs, even though in just a few months before even then Germany’s foreign minister, Social Democrat Frank-Walter Steinmeier, had mentioned these airdrops as an option should ceasefires not hold. The weapons did not stay silent – but nothing happened.

Nothing happened, despite images of horror and destruction and regular testimonies of war crimes delivered daily into our homes since 2011.

“In the face of atrocities, the peace movement kept quiet”

Nothing happened, despite the Syrian tragedy occurring right on Europe’s doorstep, despite our continent – not least Germany, which has accepted more than a million refugees since 2011 – being immediately affected by the results of flight and displacement.

Shortly before rebel-held east Aleppo fell in December 2016, prominent authors and artists called for a demonstration in front of the Russian Embassy in Berlin. Several hundred people or more attended.

But where was the voice of the peace movement, which in the 1980s could mobilise hundreds of thousands of people in Germany?

In the face of the atrocities which befell Homs, Daraya and Aleppo the peace movement kept quiet, or they surrendered to those who castigated the United States as Middle East imperialists and praised Russia as the dove of peace. And this despite the use by Moscow of questionable opinion leaders, supposed experts or allegedly independent journalists for propaganda campaigns in Germany and other European states.

The EU has failed to present a united front against Putin and Russia, with too many vested interests and equivocal attitudes towards the Russian government. This phenomenon has shown itself more clearly than ever since the annexation of Crimea and the beginning of the Syrian war. Most EU governments’ relations with Russia are strained enough with the tensions in Ukraine; they do not want to exacerbate the conflict with Moscow.

Berlin too, which has taken a relatively hard line, could barely afford to ramp up the pressure as existing sanctions against Russia are already a thorn in the side of parts of the German economy. And there are heads of government like Hungary’s Viktor Orban, who is a declared fan of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Without Western military engagement since the Russian military intervention, the possibilities for influence and action have been restricted. Through the use of poison gas and the dropping of barrel bombs, the ‘red lines’ that US president Barack Obama drew in 2012 and 2013 were crossed, but he pulled back from forceful action, allowing Putin to become a critical player in the region. When the American presidential primary and general election campaigns began the idea of a stronger military engagement in Syria had no chance.

“The EU has failed to present a united front against Putin and Russia; EU governments do not want to exacerbate the conflict with Moscow”

And there is the issue with Turkey: an increasingly questionable partner under its increasingly authoritarian President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on whom Europe became dependent during the refugee crisis. Turkey, due to its hardline actions against the Kurds in northern Syria, has indirectly supported the self-styled ‘Islamic State’, or Daesh, for years.

Any discussion about events in Syria runs the risk of becoming stifled. People argue that the situation in the region is too complex; that there are too many players with incomprehensible interests. Of course, much remains hidden. But the fact that war crimes are taking place, that more than 90% of the deaths of doctors, journalists and civilians are the result of actions of the Syrian regime and its allies − this is not propaganda.

Brave journalists and Syrian human rights activists, as well as doctors and volunteers, document the events blow by blow, and take account of all the victims.

Western journalists have taken great risks to deliver solid reporting from the heart of the conflict. Should all these efforts, and this commitment, remain without impact?

They speak up. Europe should too.

IMAGE CREDIT: radekprocyk/Bigstock.com

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Categories: European Union

Building bridges to end female genital mutilation

Mon, 06/02/2017 - 10:57

For thousands of years the mysterious and life-creating power of women has been recognised and cherished. But her sexuality and power to create life is also feared.

In many communities around the world there have been attempts to contain or neutralise this power by literally cutting it away. Every year on 6 February this harmful practice comes under the spotlight as the world observes International Day for Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation.

The harmful practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) takes many forms. In some places FGM constitutes a small cut of the clitoris on infants. In others, it means the scraping of the entire vulva and a stitching of the labia so extreme that urination and menstruation may be affected and the consummation of marriage becomes a painful, bloody and sometimes deadly affair. Justification includes ensuring chastity and marriageability, religious or cultural obligation, hygiene, aesthetics and initiation into womanhood.

Wherever or for whatever reason it is practised, FGM represents a violation – of autonomy, of bodily integrity, and of the right to health. Because it is perpetrated on girls too young or powerless to resist, it also constitutes a form of child abuse.

Although prevalence rates are declining, some 200 million girls and women worldwide have suffered through FGM. The survivors typically live in around 30 countries from Africa’s Atlantic coast to the Gulf of Aden, through the Middle East and Indonesia. Many of these countries have high fertility rates and a young population, so the absolute number of girls being cut could increase in the near future.

“Wherever or for whatever reason it is practised, FGM represents a violation of rights and a form of child abuse”

FGM follows the people who practice it, and it has been exported to every continent, making FGM a global concern. Girls in diaspora communities in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand are subjected to the practice. While FGM is banned and punishable under national law in all of these countries and regions, the practice is continues to be inflicted clandestinely on girls. We at UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, also know of girls who have been taken to their home countries during school holidays and cut. In Europe, an estimated 180,000 girls are at risk every year, in particular in Belgium, France and the United Kingdom, where large diaspora communities from areas that practice FGM now reside.

The fact that the practice is now a global issue requires a global response. The international community has taken a strong stance against this assault on the human rights and the dignity of women and girls, highlighted in numerous regional and international declarations and in three resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, adopted in 2015, also call for an end to the practice globally by 2030.

To achieve this ambitious goal we need to accelerate current efforts by grassroots organisations, individuals and communities. Many of these groups are supported by UNFPA’s Joint Programme on Female Genital Mutilation, organised in collaboration with UNICEF.

One of the promising approaches UNFPA endorses is the creation of bridges between diaspora and their communities of origin, as well as among groups addressing FGM around the world. This year’s International Day for Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation has adopted the ‘building bridges’ approach as one of its main themes.

The building bridges approach promotes sharing experiences and adapting good practices for addressing FGM. For example, gynaecologists and obstetricians in Western countries have received guidance from colleagues in Africa who have more experience in dealing with the physical and emotional harm the practice can cause. Child protection services are collaborating with asylum-seekers, and civil society organisations provide additional resources and lessons on how to stop the practice.

Dialogue and discussions take place across virtual bridges, such as webinars, videoconferences, group emails and web platforms. This idea of bridges is relevant to accelerating a shift in social norms as well: bridges of communication can keep the conversation evolving.

“Some diaspora families may not be aware of shifting attitudes back home and continue to cut their daughters out of a sense of religious or cultural obligation”

A recent survey has revealed a seismic shift in personal beliefs on FGM. In Somalia, for example, the prevalence rate has dropped from 98% to 65% in the past few years, and social acceptance of the practice is plummeting, with a substantial majority of women (82%) opposing it. Only one-third of women surveyed said they had cut their daughters. More than 70% of the men stated that they would marry a girl who was not cut, signifying that the cultural importance placed on female genital mutilation in preparing a girl for marriage is no longer strong.

Some diaspora families have abandoned the practice and became powerful spokespersons against it in their communities of origin. This is extremely relevant information for families and their daughters who live in other countries. They may not be aware of shifting attitudes and expectations about FGM back home, and who might continue to cut their daughters out of a sense of religious or cultural obligation.

Ending FGM by 2030 will spare millions of girls who would otherwise face this emotional, physical and human rights violation. The building bridges approach has the potential to speed up the efforts that are ongoing in many countries around the world.

We know that the end of FGM is in sight, but for the sake of women and girls, we must make every effort to hasten its demise.

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Categories: European Union

Go with the flows

Fri, 03/02/2017 - 13:47

For many people, the word ‘globalisation’ conjures up, at best, images of container ships moving manufactured goods from far-flung factories. At worst, it stirs acrid debates about trade deficits, currency wars, or jobs moving to China.

But in the 4th Industrial Revolution that is upon us it is easy to ignore a new but essential element of globalisation: cross-border flows of data.  Since the 2008 financial crisis, these international data flows have exploded, even as the global flow of goods and services has flattened and cross-border capital flows have declined sharply.

Just 15 years ago cross-border digital flows were almost non-existent. Today, they exert a larger impact on global economic growth than traditional flows of goods, which have developed over centuries.

Approximately 12% of physical trade of goods is now conducted via international business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce.  In China, close to 20% of imports and exports takes place on digital platforms – approximately double the share in Europe.

This digital share grows significantly when the underlying product is digitised – more than 30% of international communication worldwide in 2016 was via Skype. Among high-profile news and entertainment companies, close to 80% of bits traffic originates internationally for the Financial Times, 60% for BBC, and up to 50% for BuzzFeed and Netflix.

Overall, usage of cross-border bandwidth has soared 45-fold since 2005, reaching an estimated 400 terabits per second by the end of 2016.  A part of the growth is due to digital information units becoming increasingly enriched and shifting to broadband. Yet the story that flows are growing on a large scale remains valid.

“This new age of globalisation is knowledge-, rather than capital- or labour-intensive”

So what does it all mean for transatlantic cooperation?

This new age of globalisation differs from the older 20th century variety in a number of important ways. It is knowledge-intensive, rather than capital- or labour-intensive. It requires good broadband connections rather than vast shipping lanes. Much of it is intangible. Most powerfully, digital flows open up the global economy to anyone with an internet connection. That reduces the barriers to entry and changes old rules about how business is done—and who can participate.

So the digitalisation of globalisation marks a very significant change that will play out in the international arena. It is likely to affect the competitiveness of nations and the very nature of commerce.

Looking forward, it is important to focus on three questions:

First, what flows are really making the difference to the world today, and what are factors that could enhance or impede them? After all, new technologies such as 3D printing are opening up possibilities to achieve global reach differently.

For example, in December sportswear company Adidas started selling its Futurecraft 3D running shoe, which is produced by 3D printing. Production and sale of the $333 trainer are limited — for now, it is only available in New York, London and Tokyo.

But Adidas is making the point that 3D printing is not just a marginal idea limited to a tiny number of simple products, but one that could become viable for all types of manufacturers. Physical walls and trade barriers will simply accelerate such developments.

“3D printing is not just a marginal idea, but one that could become viable for all types of manufacturers”

Second, are Europeans losing out on this trend? If you look more closely at data flows, you can clearly see the dominance of the United States, which runs a huge surplus with the rest of the world in terms of digital content.

But you can also see that, relative to 15 years ago, American centrality is decreasing. The centre of gravity has been shifting to large European countries such as Germany and the UK.

In Europe, a new order is also starting to develop. We are witnessing the strong participation of the Netherlands, southern Europe merely catching up, and small northern European countries like Belgium moving more and more to the periphery of the cross-border data network.

Also of note is the rise of Asian economic and digital centres, notably Hong Kong and Singapore. This correlates well with the rise of Asia in worldwide digital commerce.

Third, picture a world with full automation. What will be the importance of free flows of data? Automation could upend conventional wisdom about trade and supply chains.

If recent advances in robotics and artificial intelligence continue at the speed we have seen in the past few years — and if the costs of the hardware and software continue to fall — companies will need to change their criteria for making strategic location decisions.

It may become cheaper for companies based in Europe and the US to bring production of some goods back from emerging economies with low labour costs and deploy automation technologies at home instead.

Protectionist trade barriers could actually accelerate the structural shift to automation and away from manual manufacturing jobs.

IMAGE CREDIT: Djahan/Bigstock.com

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Categories: European Union

LiFi ready to transform wireless communications

Thu, 02/02/2017 - 08:56

WiFi – a term coined less than twenty years ago – is now part of our daily language. But now its sister technology, known as LiFi, is ready to make a breakthrough.

LiFi – short for light fidelity – is a new wireless communication technology that uses both visible and infrared light for ultra-high-speed wireless communication. Specifically, LiFi draws upon the light produced by light emitting diodes (LEDs). This means that in the future your energy-saving LED lightbulb will not only provide illumination, but will simultaneously act as your gigabit wireless router.

All lightbulbs in our homes and offices could function as wireless routers, creating massive high-density wireless networks. Your wearable technology, your oven, your TV, your toaster, your fridge, your car and streetlights – could all be turned into wireless routers.

But why do we need it?

Light is part of the electromagnetic spectrum that ranges from low-frequency radio frequency signals to gamma rays. It belongs to the same family as radio frequency signals, which we have been using for more than 100 years for various wireless services. But our exhaustive use of the radio frequency spectrum means that space has become a rare commodity.

“We are witnessing a trend where the use of artificial intelligence in smart environments is gaining significant traction”

This has now become a problem, referred to as the radio frequency ‘spectrum crunch’ by some. And the significance of this development is huge as we live through what economist Jeremy Rifkin calls the 3rd Industrial Revolution, and prepare for the 4th Industrial Revolution.

Until now people have been using the internet primarily for private and professional purposes. Now we are witnessing a trend where the use of artificial intelligence in smart environments is gaining significant traction. This means that objects around us are becoming more intelligent: I call them ‘smart-X’ – examples being smart city, smart home and smart manufacturing. A prominent example of this phenomenon is the driverless car.

But ‘connectivity’ is the key. For an environment to become smart, an intelligent system needs to sense it as we humans would do with our senses, and transmit then the information to a central processor, the equivalent of the human brain.

This process happens usually by electrical impulses sent through the nervous system, or equivalently through our wireless networks. The ‘brain’ processes the data in real time and has the tremendous task of filtering relevant information. In technical terms this is called ‘big data’ or ‘data analytics’.

Next, the intelligent system will act on the available information by moving the legs, or steering the wheel in case of a driverless car.

And this is where LiFi comes in.

In the future, there will be a storm of ‘things’ that will be connected to the internet. There will also be a push towards more intelligent systems to modernise manufacturing and to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, to give just two examples.

“In light fidelity we have found a resource equivalent to mineral oil – LiFi can provide the unprecedented and ubiquitous connectivity that drives the new economies”

We need more space, and the visible light spectrum is thousand times more plentiful than the entire radio frequency spectrum. The light spectrum is unlicensed and it is not known to cause any health concerns as long as the eye safety regulations are maintained.

What this means is that in light fidelity we have found a resource equivalent to mineral oil, which was the driver for the energy-based 2nd Industrial Revolution. LiFi can provide the unprecedented and ubiquitous connectivity that drives the new economies, as it holds huge potential for creating future economic success in Europe. The European governments can accelerate this success by helping with large scale LiFi adoption in public buildings and public places, and by developing research programs that will ensure continuous leadership in this field when international competition is gaining significant momentum.

A European spin-off company, pureLiFi Ltd, is currently leading the way in LiFi commercialisation and has already equipped the European lighting industry with LiFi modules. As a result, there is LiFi-enabled equipment available on the market and a number of pilots are underway – for example, at the headquarters of the Sogeprom real estate company in Paris.

Perhaps we are, in fact, entering a new enlightened era.

IMAGE CREDIT: arrow123/Bigstock.com

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Categories: European Union

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