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Updated: 2 months 2 weeks ago

As Trump disengages from the world, Europe and others can take the lead

Wed, 01/02/2017 - 11:28

The new President of the United States, Donald Trump, is upending liberal democracy, spreading ‘alternative facts’ and smashing civilised values.

The loss of US leadership in championing democracy and human rights is worrying. But America’s retreat from the global stage is also an opportunity for others to craft a different vision for living together in the 21st century.

As Trump puts ‘America first’ and disengages from the world, other nations must take the lead in fashioning more inclusive societies, rethinking global governance, reforming and galvanising multilateral institutions and creating new networks and coalitions.

Europe can and should be at the forefront. It can do so by rebuilding its fractured unity but also by revamping and reinforcing its still-fragile global profile. Given the rapidity with which Trump is enacting his campaign promises there is little time to lose.

The European Union’s response should be in three steps.

First, EU leaders should use their forthcoming summit in Valetta to take a hard look at just how Europe is going to conduct itself in the Trump era.

Second, the EU must rethink its stance on refugees and immigration, its trade and aid policies, and its relations with key emerging powers – including Russia and China, which have markedly divergent views on Trump.

And third, ahead of the Treaty of Rome anniversary on 25 March and elections in the Netherlands, France, Germany and possibly Italy, Europe’s mainstream democratic parties must work harder to forge a new and inspirational narrative to counter populist rhetoric and reconnect with citizens.

“America’s retreat from the global stage is an opportunity for others to craft a different vision for living together in the 21st century”

The EU must act quickly. The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has already told Trump that the war on terrorism is not an adequate reason to renege on the 1951 Geneva Convention, which requires signatories to help people fleeing from conflict.

The Valetta summit should go further. It should send an even stronger message to the new American administration on the ‘Muslim ban’ and other controversial edicts of the last few weeks.

If it is to be taken seriously, however, the EU must practice what it preaches and stop EU leaders who are also spreading anti-Muslim and anti-migrant hate and fear.

Individual EU governments and leaders who think they can forge bilateral bonds with Washington should learn from the British Prime Minister, Theresa May. Even holding the President’s hand and showering him with compliments is no guarantee he will spare you major embarrassment just hours later.

EU policymakers are also well advised to bury the illusion that Trump’s appointments will be more Euro-friendly than their boss.

For further proof, European leaders should listen carefully to Trump’s likely pick for ambassador to the EU, Ted Malloch. He told the BBC that he was looking forward to being in Brussels because he had previously “helped bring down the Soviet Union. So maybe there’s another union that needs a little taming.”

Time must not be lost in rethinking Europe’s refugee, migration, trade, aid and foreign and security policies.

Certainly, all European nations should meet the NATO commitment to spend two percent of gross domestic product on defence. But the EU’s global security strategy, adopted last summer, needs to be revised to take account of new geopolitical realities triggered by Trump’s isolationism.

“EU leaders should now grab the opportunity to grow up, and morph Europe into a global actor in its own right”

The EU is certainly on the right track. The last few years have seen Europe stepping up its engagement in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East, even though discord remains on key issues, such as relations with Russia.

Significantly, as President Trump moves to make the his country more insular, transactional, and narrowly interest-driven – saying the US will buy American and hire American – China has set up stall as the defender of economic globalisation and free world trade. As Chinese President Xi Jinping warned at the Davos World Economic Forum last month, “No one will emerge as a winner in a trade war”.

And as Trump pulled the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull made clear he was ready to press on with the TPP with China, rather than US, at the centre.

Others are also stepping into the space being vacated by America. When Trump signed an executive order known as the ‘global gag rule’, withholding US government funding from aid groups that perform or promote abortions, the Dutch and Belgian governments said they would help set up an international abortion fund.

The EU has so far been more than happy to play second fiddle to the US, shadowing Washington on most international issues, and waiting for the US to make up its mind before taking a stance.

But all has changed. EU leaders should now grab the opportunity to grow up, and morph Europe into a global actor in its own right.

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IMAGE CREDIT: CC/Flickr – © European Union 2015 – European Parliament

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Categories: European Union

To Space2030 and beyond: space as a driver for sustainable development

Tue, 31/01/2017 - 09:18

Space activities are a crucial part of our everyday lives: they influence and enable many of the things we do and take for granted, be it using a mobile phone or checking the weather forecast, or the things we need urgently and reliably, such as disaster relief.

Space is instrumental for every country as it offers decision-makers the necessary information to deal with a variety of issues. Space is also a long-term driver for innovation and creates new opportunities to address global challenges.

In order to build resilient and sustainable societies we have to pay more attention to the peaceful uses of outer space. We also need to make sure that space remains sustainable so that it can be used by all – now and in the future.

There are two essential steps we need to take so that humanity benefits from everything that space offers us: increasing access to space technologies and promoting international cooperation. Achieving these goals will enable the international community to make space a driver for equality and for the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals.

“In order to build resilient and sustainable societies we have to pay more attention to the peaceful uses of outer space”

Having open access to space-derived data is a good example of how countries can benefit from space activities. This kind of accessible and transparent data contributes to equal distribution of opportunities, broadens economic gain, fosters research and innovation, and supports decision-making processes. The global challenges the world faces today, from the impact of climate change to the fair distribution of food resources, can only be collectively addressed if there is open and fair access to data. In this sense, access to space-based data can contribute directly to sustainable development.

Many countries cannot afford a standalone space programme, and increasing access to space depends on building international partnerships. The international community can help the many non-space-faring nations to enjoy the benefits of space by working together.

It is important to remember that this kind of cooperation is extremely beneficial to all those involved, since the current global issues we need to address, such as climate change, are transnational and can only be solved if nations work together and with the United Nations. At the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) we work hard to strengthen the ability of countries – especially developing countries – to access and use space.

In response to these issues, UNOOSA has been given the task of organising UNISPACE+50, a special segment of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space in June 2018 to mark fifty years since the first United Nations Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. UNISPACE+50 will serve as a platform for the international community to meet and consider the future of space. Our goal is to build, together with all stakeholders, a new concept of space governance in a new framework strategy called Space2030.

Space2030 will support the use of space as a tool for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. We want to make sure that space technology and applications are used to bring concrete benefits to all humankind, paying special attention to the future space-faring and developing countries while also carefully considering the long-term sustainability of outer space activities for current and future generations.

“This kind of cooperation is extremely beneficial to all those involved: the current global issues can only be solved if nations work together”

The Space2030 framework will be built upon four pillars:

  1. Space accessibility: all communities using and benefiting from space technologies;
  2. Space diplomacy: building and strengthening international cooperation in space activities;
  3. Space economy: development of space-derived economic benefits;
  4. Space society: evolution of society and societal benefits stemming from space-related activities.

We expect the Space2030 framework to foster cooperation in the broader space community, including private actors, non-governmental organisations and others, so that we can work together towards building better lives on Earth. We believe that through this new perspective space will become an indispensable asset that improves the well-being of all people. It will also play a valuable role in the attainment of the global development agenda.

In preparation for UNISPACE+50 and Space2030, UNOOSA is organising a series of High Level Forums for stakeholders to identify ways to harness space technology and applications for socio-economic development and contribute to Space2030. The most recent Forum was held in Dubai in November 2016 and resulted in the Dubai Declaration, which underscored the need for greater cooperation in outer space activities.

The next Forum will be in November 2017, and UNOOSA encourages all interested parties in the broader space community to engage in this process to help us build Space2030 and the future of international space cooperation.

IMAGE CREDIT: CC/Flickr – NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center

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Categories: European Union

The new UN chief is an ambassador of hope

Thu, 26/01/2017 - 15:31

Hope, when so many despair, has been rekindled by the choice of António Guterres as the United Nations’ new Secretary-General. Hope in a reinforced UN that is more efficient and able to intervene against whoever wages war. Hope for global security and conflict resolution. Hope for economic regulation, social justice, sustainable development, human rights and the international rule of law.

A former Portuguese prime minister, a former president of the Socialist International and a former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Guterres is highly intelligent, good-hearted but also has sang froid. Thanks to his personal and political journey through national, European and international institutions, he has been able to polish his exceptional diplomatic skills and in-depth knowledge of the UN machinery and of the many fields where it operates.

All of this contributed to his nomination by acclamation by the Security Council after an unprecedented selection process for the post of secretary-general, the most open and scrutinised ever allowed by its five permanent members, known as the P5. But what made Guterres win in all voting rounds – overcoming the ‘obstacles’ of being neither a woman (how ironic) nor from eastern Europe – was  the transformative and strategic ambition that he proposes to give back to the UN.

At a time of unprecedented challenges − from cyber warfare to the ‘post-truth’ information age, from a Putin-Trump duet aiming at destroying the European Union to the denial of climate change – it is only by sticking with the UN that we can generate some degree of legitimate and efficient multilateralism and global cooperation. This is not possible with the G7, G8, G20 and other groups that have no moral or binding power.

“One cannot change the world all at once, but there is a moment in time when change begins”

But clearly the UN does not currently match up to this challenge. This is mainly because the P5 have blocked urgently-needed reform of the Security Council, which, paralysed by vetoes, has left humanity to drown in the criminal and impudent slaughter of children and other innocent civilians in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, South Sudan, and elsewhere.

In such troubled times, can any secretary-general make the difference, especially with P5 members who are increasingly entrenched in the defence of indefensible privileges? Can any secretary-general make the difference when the post-Second World War architecture is under attack by some of those very same powers that shaped it?

If anybody can make the difference, if anybody can face up to these tremendous challenges, it is António Guterres. He fights for values, has strategic insight and has an abundance of political courage. Given the transparent process to which he was submitted, he has legitimacy and responsibility.

But humanity’s most representative institution cannot satisfy itself with self-congratulation on the smoothness of the process. It has to show results. One cannot change the world all at once, but there is a moment in time when change begins. It is when hope is rekindled. Change began when the international community managed to agree on António Guterres as the new Secretary-General.

Now, he must use his voice, influence and actions to press all member states to live up to their commitments according to the UN’s principles – an existential issue at a time when Trump and Putin seem willing to expose mankind to civilisational regression.

IMAGE CREDIT: CC/Flickr – UN Geneva

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Categories: European Union

Europe must take control of its own destiny in 2017

Thu, 26/01/2017 - 08:52

The end is in sight for the Atlantic alliance as we have known it for 70 years. The European Union, both with and without Britain, must now prepare for the new multipolar world and decide whether it is in control of its own destiny.

In the days after the United States presidential inauguration, one cannot better the following Washingtonian commentator on the new administration’s international outlook: “[Donald Trump] has no mental map of the world, no strategy, no ideas but only irresistible and changeable impulses.”

It is foolish to believe that President Trump’s messages are purely rhetorical. Despite soothing commentaries to the contrary, he will make it clear that his campaign threats are for real. Europe can expect a sharp decline in American interest in its future welfare and prosperity. Washington will have less time for Europe’s security concerns. NATO, says Trump, is “obsolete”.

Meanwhile Russia, in its current imperial, nationalist mood, will seek opportunities to cause trouble in central and western Europe, providing compensatory distraction from economic failure at home. A (perhaps hypothetical) meeting of minds between Moscow and Washington will be at Europe’s expense.

But Europe continues to mess its own nest. Three important elections this year augur no good. A strong populist showing in the Netherlands in March, ushering Geert Wilders into a government coalition, will send a negative message throughout Europe and weaken the traditionally strong and exemplary Benelux component of the EU.

In May François Fillon seems most likely to enter the Elysée Palace, unless the outsider Emmanuel Macron beats him to it. But two factors could tip the scales in favour of the National Front’s Marine Le Pen in the second round: centre-right voters choosing the real right-wing over a light version, and a high abstention rate among centre-left and left-wing voters. Whatever the result, a new president could face substantial unrest spilling onto the streets.

In Germany, the era of ‘Super Merkel’ is over, although she will probably remain as Chancellor. The political scene will harden to the right. As elsewhere, the nationalist ‘wir/nous/us/noi’ phenomenon will gain further strength.

“Europe continues to mess its own nest – three important elections this year augur no good”

Throughout this period we can also expect intensified interference in the European political process through falsehoods, as has happened in the US. Part of this will be generated by RT (formerly Russia Today) and its adjuncts. Part will be of American origin, notably through Breitbart, now expanding activities in Europe and influenced by its former executive and current Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon.

On top of this comes Brexit, which is turning into an appalling distraction from more important business. Speculation about ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ Brexit, or Swiss, Norwegian or other so-called solutions remains largely a waste of time. Brexit risks becoming ‘hard’ by default. Mrs May’s rambling, repetitive discourse of 17 January, tinted with jingoism, failed to address one fundamental point: how has EU membership prevented Britain from seizing the opportunities presented by being a member of the international community?

Other factors, currently understated, will add to the tension: growing irritation among continental partners blaming Brexit for their poor economic performance and falling investment; difficult domestic politics in other European countries resulting in little patience for British foibles; and irritation that Brexit crowds out the other important issues on the European agenda. All of this while eurozone woes continue; while bank weaknesses threaten growth and stability; while Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic further downgrade their commitment in Europe; and while NATO is undermined and Europe’s military is overstretched and incoherent.

Brexit must not be allowed to dominate Europe’s agenda to the detriment of everything else. There are other things to be done.

Immigration and inequality are two issues that will condition politics in Europe in the months and years to come.

Immigration alone will fill Europe’s demographic gap and provide the wherewithal to sustain its economy, its welfare system and the pensions of its ageing population. But ironically, it is older people who primarily resist it. Immigration has happened too rapidly and on too large a scale for economically stagnant Europeans to stomach it. Less discussed is that many immigrants are from the generation needed to engineer development prospects in their origin countries – which should be the priority of Europe’s neighbourhood policy.

“With Trump’s words now meaning actions, it’s wake-up time for Europe”

That same factor of economic stagnation draws increasing attention to inequalities. Swathes of Europeans feel the pinch of frozen or declining incomes, with accompanying losses of self-esteem and expectation, for themselves and for their kin. Meanwhile the media highlights corporate tax evasion, indecent wealth (be it of footballers or bankers) and indulgent consumption by those who can afford it. Many Europeans sense an ‘establishment’, economic and political, which is not bearing its share of social responsibility.

Neither of these two major threats lends itself to quick-fix solutions.

Could all this amount to a wake-up call? Or will the alarm clock fail and Europe sleep on?

There some urgent steps that Europe can take:

1. Re-evaluate defence infrastructure, while saving the assets of NATO after US withdrawal.
2. Pursue the Banking Union to tackle Europe’s banking weaknesses.
3. Accelerate renewal of inadequate infrastructure – through the Juncker Plan, national (particularly German) efforts and information technology investment.
4. Step up practical measures to make an Energy Union a reality.
5. Set up Erasmus II to foster artisan exchanges.
6. Make a start on the road to fiscal union by stepping up action against tax fraud and evasion.
7. Step up a programme to enact greater “subsidiarity” in the workings of the EU.
8. Spell out the realities of unity in diversity in the EU.
9. Plan for some dual-mandated national and European parliamentarians in the next European Parliament.
10. Pursue immigration policy with firm selectivity but backed by European efforts and better spending to integrate immigrants into European society (in areas such as language skills and technical training).
11. Renew efforts for development of neighbourhood countries economically, security-wise, particularly in the Balkans, North Africa and the Middle East.

None of the steps above require treaty amendments, and all of them are practical objectives which people can understand.

Perhaps, as the EU’s history shows, it takes ‘external threats’ as now to bring Europeans to their senses. With Trump’s words now meaning actions, it’s wake-up time for Europe.

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

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Categories: European Union

Trump will be a gift to Europe’s lost unity

Wed, 25/01/2017 - 12:20

The presidency of Donald J. Trump is going to be a gift to Europe’s troubled and divided policymakers, even though it comes in a package labelled ‘Handle with Care’ and ‘Danger’.

President Trump’s open hostility to the European Union and his disdain for America’s European partners in NATO will be the rallying flag that Europe has lacked for a decade.

More and more European voters have forgotten what the EU is for. The old slogans of ‘no more war’ and ‘stronger together’ no longer resonate. What will strike a chord, though, is antagonism from across the Atlantic.

There’s no doubt that the populism that pushed Trump into the White House is the same blend of dissatisfaction and opportunism that produced the UK’s Brexit vote and the rise of extremist parties on Europe’s far left and far right.

But that doesn’t mean that the Trump administration will be able to tap into populist forces on this side of the Atlantic. Populists in Europe, as in Trump’s America, don’t have viable answers to the problems of sluggish growth, structural unemployment and declining competitiveness in the globalised world economy.

Trade barriers, clampdowns on migration, the rolling back of aid to poor countries and the abandonment of credible security frameworks may sound good to some voters, whether in Europe or America, but they are surefire recipes for transatlantic dissension.

“The signs are that President Trump will be the catalyst for a major change in Europe’s political chemistry”

That’s when EU governments will rediscover the virtues, indeed the necessity, of political and economic integration.

The Eurosceptic tide has been running strongly against the EU for a decade, ever since the financial markets crisis of 2007 turned into an economic depression and led to the eurozone’s sovereign debt crisis. Although it was the half-completed nature of economic and monetary union that was largely to blame, public opinion across the EU wrongly blamed ‘too much Europe’ for their ills. Trump looks like being the antidote to this.

It’s too soon to be sure that President Trump will be the catalyst for a major change in Europe’s political chemistry, but the signs are that he’s going to perform that function ably. A thumbnail sketch of how he’ll interact with America’s longstanding allies in Europe has been provided by a senior figure from within the Republican Party, Bob Zoellick, who was President George W. Bush’s top trade negotiator before going on to head the World Bank.

Zoellick’s take is instructive. “Mr Trump,” he wrote recently, “will break with presidential practice by speaking freely without worrying about subsequent reversals…staking out audacious positions, adjusting and even disclaiming as necessary, and then trumpeting any result as a win.”

“This conduct,” he went on, “may seem shocking to foreigners who have relied on US pronouncements as (usually) sources of clear direction.”

“If implemented, Trump’s approaches to NATO, Brexit and dollar devaluation each have the potential to unite Europe’s fractious, squabbling governments overnight”

America’s new President clearly doesn’t have much appetite for the detail that is the fabric of the transatlantic relationship, but he’s all set to apply broad brushstrokes illustrating the way he wants to redefine it.

Trump doesn’t see NATO’s ‘all for one, one for all’ Article 5 commitment as binding. He backs Brexit and looks forward to further defections from the EU’s ranks. He thinks that the strong dollar handicaps American exports, raising fears of a dollar devaluation policy that could create havoc.

If implemented, any one of these positions would unite Europe’s fractious, squabbling governments overnight. They would also drive home to voters and the increasingly Eurosceptic media the need for deeper integration.

The EU’s member states have shied away from ‘ever closer union’ since the 2005 collapse of the ambitious project for a European constitution. Europe’s political leaders have feared, and often suffered, punishment by their electorates when appearing to sacrifice their country’s ‘sovereignty’ by handing over more powers to Brussels.

That will be Donald Trump’s gift to Europe’s frayed solidarity. The areas where he seems bent on challenging transatlantic relations – from trade to security – are those where no single European country can stand up to the US on its own. As the electoral battlegrounds are prepared for the French, Dutch and German elections this year, campaigning politicians can be more confident than before that there are votes to be won from being pro-EU.

Related content

IMAGE CREDIT: jiawangkun/

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Categories: European Union

Space becomes a new frontier for business activities

Tue, 24/01/2017 - 08:52

Private industrial involvement in designing, building and operating space assets isn’t new. Large European companies like Airbus Defence and Space can boast more than 50 years of involvement in manufacturing space hardware, and smaller ones like Austria’s Magna Steyr can enthrall audiences with the story of how they came to be a world expert in building cryogenic feed systems for Ariane rockets.

What is new is the leadership the commercial space sector is showing in setting the space agenda. They are finding solutions to problems of space sustainability. They are shouldering serious business risk. And they are boldly identifying business opportunities worthy of substantial private investment.

As recently as a decade ago, it was rare to see private businesses represented at international gatherings focused on multilateral space policy. Today they are active participants in briefing United Nations forums such as the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space and the High-level Forum preparing UNISPACE+50 – often there by invitation as others seek their expertise and insight.

The recently-founded Hague Space Resources Governance Working Group, which looks to identify policy building blocks to facilitate fair and orderly development of raw materials in space, has a wide range of members, including businesses. The government members of the Group on Earth Observations are actively considering giving business a greater say on the GEO’s work.

Winston Churchill likened private enterprise to a healthy horse, pulling a sturdy wagon. But space businesses are increasingly involved in designing the cart and setting its direction.

“The commercial space sector is showing leadership, finding solutions to problems, shouldering business risk and identifying business opportunities”

As private industry becomes more heavily engaged in space as a business opportunity, it also becomes less willing to wait for governments to overcome barriers to operating a successful business in the harsh environment of space. This phenomenon has been a driving force in the emergence of the European-born Space Data Association. This association adds member-provided ephemeris data (on location, timing and ‘health’ of objects) to government-generated surveillance and tracking information, dramatically improving the ability of satellite operators to make informed decisions about avoiding collision with the orbiting assets of other operators.

There are also a growing number of private solutions being proposed to address the hazard that space debris presents to space activity. The days when we look only to government laboratories for this kind of research are behind us – even if space entrepreneurs have yet to show that they can close a debris removal business plan without substantial public investment.

There are important changes in the way the private space commerce community is reacting to, and with, public investment. Where once the holy grail of space commerce was a government contract that covered costs and guaranteed a profitable return,  businesses and governments are increasingly seeking more traditional purchase contracts for space services and assets.

When the American company SpaceEx lost a rocket and its payload to a launchpad explosion in September 2016, the company and its financial backers had to accept the resulting loss of income as a cost of doing business. That loss has been estimated at US$250m. Had the company’s return to flight in January 2017 not been successful, there is a chance that the company could have suffered irreparable damage. SpaceX clearly benefits from large government contracts, but what is changing is that it also shoulders considerably more business risk than was the case for space companies a decade or two ago.

“Private business’s greatest contribution to the human experience of space might prove to be its creativity”

What may yet prove to be private business’s greatest contribution to the human experience of space is the creativity with which this part of the space sector turns technical and scientific discoveries into business ideas. Private funding, creativity, and capital are moving ahead with plans that are pressing frontiers and, presenting challenges that were not part of the space activity environment until very recently. Virgin Galactic is pressing forward with a vision of suborbital space flights for private citizens in spite of reversals. Swiss entrepreneurs at S3 are seeking to demonstrate active debris removal capability with their robotic space plane. The Sierra Nevada Corporation is converting an abandoned NASA lifting body project into a Dream Chaser spacecraft with the potential for worldwide service.

All of these trends taken together have implications not only for the future of privately-funded, profit-seeking operations in space but for public space programmes as well. As private initiatives make progress on the ways to provide reliable space activities at reduced costs they increase their attractiveness to national space agencies and publicly-funded space projects. Former European Space Agency director Jean-Jacques Dordain made this point very clearly several years ago at a Global Networking forum sponsored by the International Astronautical Federation. Acknowledging the ESA’s support for the trend toward greater involvement of the private sector in publicly-funded space projects, he also noted pointedly “We want reduced costs.”

Fortunately, that’s what the commercial space sector wants too. In 2004 SpaceX founder Elon Musk told participants at the International Space University’s symposium that he expected to reduce the cost of launch by an order of magnitude and “maybe by two”.

Proposed new architectures, techniques or approaches are increasingly presented in terms of their promise to offer increased value and broader benefit at reduced cost. Businesses that deliver on these promises have a solid foundation for success.  Those that don’t are likely to fail. Business is like that.

IMAGE CREDIT: CC/Flickr – NASA Johnson

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Categories: European Union

Europe needs a data-driven economy – ten ways to achieve it

Mon, 23/01/2017 - 08:57

The policymaking implications of the so-called 4th Industrial Revolution – the fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres – are hard to measure.

What steps must we take to enhance transatlantic cooperation? How should Europe’s digital skills, labour market and regulatory framework evolve? And what must we do to encourage this change?

The success of digital companies is based on how they use data to create and improve services. Their products are data engines or algorithms surrounded by a great customer experience. These algorithms are fuelled by data in an iterative process: the more customers they have, the better their algorithms get. This continuous learning circle makes the companies’ products better and better.

Amazon is a prime example of a digital success story. It may seem that their success is based on selling their own products, together with those of other retailers, in a logistically smart way. But it was the company’s algorithm, recommending what customers may be interested in buying next, that made sales grow. Amazon keeps evolving its algorithm and has started to offer loans to its retailers. A new business model is born, thanks to digitalisation.

“Digital means data-driven: not only for digital native companies, but for any company or sector that wants to survive”

Another example is Netflix. You might imagine you log on to see movies or series that you want to watch, but the truth is that 85% of the content people watch is based on the suggestions made by the company’s recommendation engine.

LinkedIn, with its ‘people you may know’ algorithm, has made its networks grow at a faster pace than ever before. Again, sets of algorithms are driving successful businesses.

So, from my point of view, digital means data-driven: not only for digital native companies, but for any company or sector that wants to survive into the near future. Data-driven, in a nutshell, means using data either to support decision-making or eliminate it through process automation. Every company should now consider how they use data engines in their products and processes. As your business becomes data-driven, transactions costs tend to zero and virtually anyone can play in your field.

But to allow the data-driven economy flourish in Europe, we need to deal with data innovation and data protection in a coordinated way, without giving up either of the two.

There are ten aspects that I think require particular focus:

  1. Data literacy for citizens: today we have a situation where people give away their data without control but at the same time complain about data use that might be beneficial for the societies, like investigating health data.
  2. Transparency: there is a need for more transparency from companies and governments in how they use data. This should be promoted and seen as a business advantage, and not just a subject for legal compliance.
  3. Data security research coordination: we need global standards that guarantee protection against cybercrime, such as using blockchain technologies for distributed identity and data management.
  4. Data flow and data storage: a good effort has been made with the European Union’s free data flow initiative, but still we experience many delays when using cloud storage and cloud tools.
  5. Algorithm protection and interpretability: investments in algorithm development are high and the companies should be able to decide whether they want to protect them or open them up. Interpretability of algorithms is also mandatory in the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) but further discussions are needed so that the industries can work on explaining complex models that work better than the traditional ones.
  6. The use of anonymised and aggregated data: there are many opportunities in the use of this kind of non-personal data, both for companies and for society as a whole. However, it is still unclear in which cases using this type of data is allowed.
  7. Promoting open data policies: this is essential, and not only for the public sector. Today a company that opens its data faces many more risks than rewards. This is why only a few companies are actually doing this.
  8. Data portability: the right to data portability in all sectors is a way to promote fair competition and innovation in data services. Data portability will be mandatory in 2018 for the financial sector according to the Directive on payment services, but not for other sectors, although the GDPR introduces it as an important aspect of data innovation.
  9. Harmonisation of data laws: this should take place across the EU so that digital businesses can operate in all of them without frontiers.
  10. Artificial intelligence: we need to examine the impact of AI on labour markets and what we can do to help them adapt as fast as possible.

This list is far from exhaustive, but it includes several regulatory, cultural and educational factors that, in my view, need to be considered by the EU, its member states and the companies if Europe is to make the most of the opportunities presented by the 4th Industrial Revolution.

IMAGE CREDIT: vectorfusionart/

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Categories: European Union

Maltese presidency aims to make the ordinary extraordinary

Thu, 19/01/2017 - 08:54

On 1 January Malta, the smallest member of the European Union, took on the giant task of the presidency of the EU Council.

It is an onerous responsibility in times when the Union’s purpose is noisily questioned by populists, when the United Kingdom is preparing for departure, and when migrants in numbers not seen since the Second World War are arriving at Europe’s external borders.

It is also an onerous responsibility given that the Council presidency is seen by many as archaic, and that small states that lack resources have sometimes managed the presidency ineptly.

From the start, Malta’s presidency has been mired in controversy. The opposition used the opening ceremony to bring attention to the alleged involvement of a minister in the Panama Papers scandal and to their dislike of government’s investor programme schemes.

Malta’s programme for the presidency – which focuses on maritime affairs, migration and the Mediterranean – came under the microscope of pressure groups, who are critical of replicating the current EU-Turkey deal. The Maltese Prime Minister’s statement that Brexit must result in an inferior status for the UK brought ire from Brexiteers.

But much of this discourse is at best window dressing, at worst a distraction. The EU Council presidency is not about the sound and fury of the glamorous international stage. It is not about grand gestures and high politics.

Since the Lisbon Treaty, with its introduction of the role of the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and its upgrade of the European Council, security, defence and foreign policy are generally excluded from the remit of the EU Council.

“The EU Council presidency is neither about the sound and fury of the glamorous international stage nor about grand gestures and high politics”

Nowadays the Council deals primarily with domestic policy – more prosaic, but still important. In the 19th century it was not the drum roll of revolution but the introduction of labour and social laws and rights that slowly empowered and transformed the life of the masses. Today the EU, which has long excelled as a world-leading regulatory regime,  attempts to improve the lot of its citizens and serve as a model of good governance globally, one law at a time. The presidency remains at the heart of the Union and characterises what is best about it: a relationship among equals.

Holding the presidency is a demanding task which requires additional resources, foresight, effective coordination and lengthy preparation. The presidency takes place in three stages.

In the first stage the state has to ensure that its institutions and infrastructure are up to the task.

Malta, which joined the EU in 2004, has been preparing for the presidency for the last four years. In 2013, within days of the formation of a new government, an EU affairs ministry and a planning and priorities coordination division were set up.

The civil service took on more experts in EU policy − over a hundred were allocated to Brussels alone. Additional staff were posted to offices in Vienna, the Hague, New York, Rome and London. A new operating system was introduced and policy planning, education, training, communication and logistical support fine-tuned. Malta prepared its own presidency handbook determining protocols, priorities and practices.

In the second stage, which began a year before the presidency, the state has to fine-tune its relations with the EU institutions and work with its partners in the ‘trio’ of presidencies to maximise the potential for positive results.

“What we Maltese want is for people to remember how we facilitated compromise so that solutions can be found”

Malta conducted hundreds of meetings to a rapport with the Council secretariat and with the Commission. The European Parliament was consulted widely on issues relating to the presidency. Malta worked with the Netherlands and Slovakia to formulate a common programme that focused on jobs, growth, competitiveness and environment. The trio shared working practices: Malta assisting Slovakia on fisheries; Slovakia assisting Malta on forestry policy. Malta prepared provisional agendas for every Council meeting, chairs for every committee were appointed and then trained, and position papers on different policy areas drawn up. Local meetings were held with civil society and projects developed to further the European agenda.

The final stage kicked off on New Year’s Day. Over the next six months many meetings and conferences will take place, tackling contentious issues such as migration. However, the detailed work will take place in the Council formations, where Malta will chair debates, steer discussions and build compromises on about 150 pieces of legislation.

This work includes laws relating to the digital single market – ending roaming fees, ensuring portable online content, removing geo-blocking and facilitating parcel delivery. Malta will lead discussions on updating crucial legislation on the posting of workers within the Union and on social security, including long-term care. Laws on competitiveness and copyright will be revised. New anti- discrimination legislation will be discussed, including introducing quotas for women on company boards and bolstering laws to protect women’s rights.

As Neil Kerr, Malta’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the EU, explained, what we Maltese want is for people to remember our presidency for sweating the small stuff; to remember how the government conducted its business, including everyone and not keeping anyone out in the cold; and to remember how we facilitated compromise so that solutions can be found.

Malta’s aim for its six months at the heart of Europe is to act in the interests of its citizens, make a better life for them, and bring a greater appreciation of the EU to its people. Through small acts by a small country, we can achieve these bigger goals for the whole of Europe.

IMAGE CREDIT: CC/Flickr – European Council President

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Categories: European Union

The necessary art of saying no to hatred

Wed, 18/01/2017 - 14:40

Even in a world of uncertainties, some things are certain.

We know the year ahead is going to be a rollercoaster ride. We’ve learned to expect the unexpected, knowing that opinion polls and experts will once again get it wrong in forecasting election results.

And across the world, there will be even more venom, racism and hate directed at refugees, migrants and minorities – led, unfortunately, by the United States and Europe.

US President-elect Donald Trump and Europe’s far-right populists have already made Muslim-baiting their favourite sport. Their anti-Islam rants have unsurprisingly triggered a surge in real-life hate crimes and online hate speech against Muslims, migrants and refugees. Anti-Semitic attacks and social media posts are also on the rise.

It’s going to get worse. With Marine Le Pen in France, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and Frauke Petry of the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) in Germany seeking even more headlines and voters in upcoming polls, there will be no let-up in anti-Muslim hate-mongering in Europe.

“Truth, courtesy and facts are out. Lies, insults and dishonesty are in”

Migrants and refugees in Europe are getting a large share of the poison. The EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency warns that the arrival of asylum seekers and migrants in large numbers, combined with reactions to terrorist attacks in a number of European Union countries, has contributed to a “more open manifestation of racism, xenophobia and intolerance in public discourse”.

Social media has, of course, made hate crime and incitement to hatred much easier. Statements posted online spread quickly and widely, making it difficult to challenge them and to remove them completely.

Overnight, we have become used to a post-truth world of lying politicians. Truth, courtesy and facts are out. Lies, insults and dishonesty are in. Bullying and hate-mongering represent the ‘new normal’.

It’s time to start practicing the necessary art of say no to spreading hate.

It won’t be easy. But many people are taking up the challenge. Just this month, three high-level conferences are taking a closer look at ways to stop the ‘hate game’.

The EU, Canada, the United States and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) hosted a high-level forum this week on combating anti-Muslim discrimination and hatred. The event, held at the United Nations in New York, looked at government policies to combat anti-Muslim hate, stressed the need for coalition building and discussed new narratives to promote pluralism and inclusion.

“Conferences and codes of conduct – even legislation – are not enough. Everyone has to pitch in”

The Maltese government, which holds the presidency of the EU Council, and the European Commission will hold an event in Brussels on 25 January to explore ways to change negative perceptions of migration through an evidence-based, forward-looking and balanced narrative.

And a day later the European External Action Service and the UN Alliance of Civilisations will focus on improving the quality of media coverage of migrants, promoting ethical journalism and preventing hate speech on the internet.

But conferences and codes of conduct – even legislation – are not enough. Everyone has to pitch in to ensure that anti-discrimination laws are enforced, xenophobic politicians are taken to task and media – social and traditional – stops inciting hatred.

The forum in New York underlined that civil society has a key role to play in building inter-faith and inter-ethnic coalitions to combat discrimination and create positive stories of societies built on pluralism, diversity and inclusion.

Hate and discrimination may be just something that happens to ‘them’, those ‘others’ in our midst. But when xenophobia goes mainstream, society and democracy are endangered. And everyone suffers.

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Categories: European Union

Energy storage – unlocking flexibility to deliver a clean energy future

Tue, 17/01/2017 - 15:34

A tumultuous 2016 and uncertainty over the United States’ future role in global climate change action may have cast a shadow over the start of 2017, but there are reasons for optimism too.

Whether reading about the launch of Bill Gates’ $1bn Breakthrough Energy Ventures Fund, China’s plans to plough $430bn into renewable fuel by 2020, Tesla’s Gigafactory moving up to full production or solar power becoming the cheapest form of new electricity, it’s easy to see why US President Barack Obama believes momentum towards a clean energy future is irreversible.

Figures from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) show that the world passed an important turning point in 2013, and is already adding more capacity for clean energy each year than for coal and natural gas combined. Peak fossil fuel use for electricity may be reached by 2025.

Our transition to a clean energy future, coupled with rapid advances in technology and innovation, are transforming how electricity systems operate. Grid agility and flexibility are essential as we move from traditional models of centrally dispatched generation – available at the flick of a switch – and incorporate more intermittent renewable generation into the system.

Energy storage is a key part of this transition, helping to integrate wind and solar generation efficiently and provide the instantly-dispatchable power needed to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and maintain energy security.

“Strategies to store energy and manage consumption in a smart way give the businesses and households control over how, when and from where they consume their energy”

Most people associate energy storage with batteries, but storage exists in many forms, from pumped hydropower and compressed air to demand-side response (DSR). The latter takes advantage of thermal storage (heating or cooling) in industrial processes or water pumped and stored in reservoirs to provide much-needed flexibility for electricity systems.

For example, on a windy day, when too much energy is being supplied, industrial processes can adjust their consumption patterns to absorb surplus power, whether by switching air conditioning units on, pumping water or heating liquid bitumen. Similarly, when there is not enough power, demand can be delayed temporarily rather than asking a battery to discharge.

This flexible demand is ideally suited to heating and cooling assets that have the characteristics of stored energy devices.  The ‘thermal inertia’ in these devices means that the amount of energy they use can be adjusted without immediately affecting their performance. By invisibly switching them on or off for a few minutes at a time, energy demand can be adjusted to meet available supply in real time, creating a distributed storage technology.

To capitalise on the potential of this demand-side flexibility – which can be provided by both battery storage technologies and DSR – it is important that policymakers do not discriminate between energy stored in a fridge or a heated liquid and energy stored in lithium ion cells. A technology-agnostic approach to the energy system, free of subsidies and long-term contracts, will enable technologies to prosper based on their merits, in terms of both the carbon and consumer cost of these offerings.

Either way, consumers should win. For businesses and households, strategies to store energy and manage consumption in a smart way – powered by smart technology platforms – will not only deliver income and savings but – more importantly – give them control over how, when and from where they consume their energy.

“We are moving to the point where sustainably-driven energy decisions are no longer uncompetitive or inconvenient, but are boosting productivity and enhancing standards of living”

Right now, businesses are leading the way, displaying best practice with regard to sustainability and developing strategies to maximise the value of their total flexibility. Through a combination of battery storage and DSR they are cutting costs during peak price periods, earning revenue, unlocking value from assets with zero flexibility and beginning to trade their capacity in wholesale electricity markets.

Every megawatt of demand-side flexibility they provide to help manage fluctuations in electricity supply and demand is a megawatt that doesn’t have to come from a fossil-fuelled power station. In the UK alone, it is estimated this smart power can deliver consumer savings of up to £8bn ($9.6bn) a year.

This behind-the-meter approach to battery deployment makes the smartest use of existing infrastructure, using established grid connections and land already controlled by the consumer. But grid-scale energy storage is also being deployed at scale and speed.

In 2015 Californian policymakers were faced with a shutdown at the state’s biggest gas storage facility, threatening peak shortages and blackouts. To solve this immediate challenge with an immediately-available solution, policymakers fast-tracked 64.5MW of electricity storage and approved $11.5m for DSR and dynamic pricing. Energy storage projects were constructed in less than four months, compared to a previous average of three-and-a-half years.

In 2016 more than one gigawatt of energy storage prequalified for National Grid’s Enhanced Frequency Response tender in the UK, of which some 210MW was purchased. Globally, BNEF analysis suggests 780MW of energy storage will have been installed in 2016.

Moving to a clean energy future that is more decentralised and more consumer-focused is going to take time. But it’s clear that there is appetite from investors to bring innovation to market. As technology advances continue to drive down costs, we are moving to the point where sustainably-driven energy decisions are no longer uncompetitive or inconvenient, but are boosting productivity and enhancing standards of living. Here’s to 2017.

IMAGE CREDIT: – zhudifeng

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Categories: European Union

Why we should resist the idea and practice of ‘post-truth’

Fri, 13/01/2017 - 09:02

In November 2016, after what was by any measure a tumultuous year for Europe and the world, Oxford Dictionaries chose ‘post-truth’ as its Word of the Year. Oxford Dictionaries define the word as an adjective “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”.

In the immediate aftermath of a six-month period which saw the success of Brexit campaigners in the United Kingdom and the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, it is certainly tempting to conclude that truth has ceased to matter.

In these two campaigns, facts and expert opinion seemed to count for nought, to be replaced by appeals to existing prejudices against immigrants, minorities and the political elite. As a result we have been forced to re-examine our conventional understanding of the relationship between facts and voting behaviour. It is not surprising that new terminology is needed to describe this situation.

There are reasons to be cautious about accepting the idea of ‘post-truth’ as the new normal. And there are perhaps even stronger reasons to resist the word itself.

The first fallacy of the idea of the world having entered a ‘post-truth’ era is the implication that an era of absolute truth existed at some earlier point in time. This view is ahistorical and in many ways unfounded.

“Before ‘post-truth’, the practice of deliberately trying to shape public opinion was called propaganda”

‘Truths’ have always been shaped by power struggles. Whether or not we accept that the phenomenon of absolute truth – such as an objectively verifiable event – exists, any attempt to communicate this truth is subjective to some extent. Communication is bound to language and cultural convention. It consists of choices made in an attempt to convey the message. Truth becomes an interpretation, rather than an absolute.

Communication and interpretation have been tied to power structures throughout history. These structures, in turn, aim to influence people as they communicate with each other. Before ‘post-truth’ there was a different word for the practice of deliberately trying to shape public opinion through appeals to emotion, personal belief and prejudice. It was ‘propaganda’.

Today, we see many of the major traits of propaganda at work in ‘post-truth’ practices such as fake news spreading on the internet and the endless repetition of unverifiable claims as ‘facts’. The mechanisms may have changed and evolved, but the goals remain largely the same.

The second fallacy about the notion of ‘post-truth’ is to do with the word itself and its potential impact. It would be a mistake to see ‘post-truth’ as a neutral label for an existing phenomenon. Words do not simply describe reality; they also actively help us perceive, understand and construct the reality we live in. Therefore, every time we repeat the notion of a ‘post-truth’ era, we give more power to the idea that truth has ceased to matter.

Rationality has been the basis of Western democracies since the Enlightenment. In many ways the technological, scientific and social progress made in Europe over the past 300 years is built on the notion that facts are relevant to the choices we make as individuals, as societies and as an international community.

If you remove the notion that truth – or at least, a sincere attempt to convey the truth with as little bias as possible – matters, the very foundation of our democracies crumbles under our feet. We are left susceptible to whichever way the next populist wind blows.

“Simple and catchy words are rarely capable of capturing complex realities, and our reality is increasingly complex”

So at its most dangerous, ‘post-truth’ has the potential to turn into Orwellian newspeak. It normalises the situation where facts no longer have any weight to them. It neutralises the sinister undertone of fake news and online hate speech. It paralyses us, leaving us feeling like there is nothing to be done since the blade of our best weapon, truth, has been made blunt and rendered useless.

This is precisely what fake news and other ‘post-truth’ practices seek to achieve. They are meant to leave us feeling confused and powerless. They are designed to divide and weaken. This confusion benefits those seeking to implement the simple-sounding solutions offered by authoritarian rule rather than solutions that actually work.

It is crucial to develop a new awareness of how ‘post-truth’ practices operate, to strip their mechanisms bare and place them under scrutiny. To do this, it may be necessary to launch an international discussion on a possible code of conduct for the ethics and responsibilities of spreading information online, where conventional ethics of journalism do not apply.

The notion of a ‘post-truth’ era may sound catchy, but perhaps this alone tells us something about the nature of the term. Simple and catchy words are rarely capable of capturing complex realities. And we live in an increasingly complex reality.

We may choose to look at it through a simplifying lens, or strive for a more nuanced understanding. History has shown that the latter is usually a more laborious way but less disastrous in the long run. We can let the notion of ‘post-truth’ politics numb us or we can resist it and turn this into an era of reclaiming the truth.

The choice, and the future built on that choice, is ours.

IMAGE CREDIT: Bigstock – devon

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Categories: European Union

Sir Ivan’s departure highlights Brexiteers’ ‘muddled thinking’ on trade

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 12:21

Although a gross generalisation, it is nevertheless fair to say that the British were never believers in the European dream, with its vision of shared values and a common political culture. The UK sees its withdrawal in terms of trade: from London’s standpoint, Brexit is all about defending its commercial interests.

That’s understandable. So it’s particularly unfortunate that the ministerial team handling Brexit under Prime Minister Theresa May has failed to grasp the basics of international trade. Their misapprehensions were highlighted by the resignation of the UK’s ambassador to the European Union, Sir Ivan Rogers.

The Brexiteer ministers’ crucial mistake is to think that governments beyond Europe will be willing to award the UK lucrative trade deals – and that they are even able to do so. The powers of any government concerning international trade are limited to lifting barriers – something that, needless to say, has been the EU’s great achievement. The creation of cross-border business, meanwhile, is down to companies.

In today’s climate of creeping protectionism, it’s clear that Britain couldn’t have chosen a worse moment to leave the sheltering arms of the EU. Until the 2008 onset of worldwide economic crisis, international trade had for decades been expanding by seven per cent a year. Now it has slowed to less than 1.5%. There are fears that protectionist politics in Europe and the United States could whittle that down to almost zero. The Brexiteers’ brave talk of ambitious new trade deals beyond Europe is looking very hollow.

“Sir Ivan’s point was simple. Realigning Britain’s trading relationship with continental Europe and the rest of the world will be very complex and is fraught with danger.”

While it lasted, booming world trade fuelled spectacular global growth, suiting developed and developing countries alike. Two-thirds of world trade is handled by multinational corporations, many of them based in America or Europe, while the shifting of production towards low-wage countries did much to create the Asian ‘tigers’ and support China’s development as the world’s largest national economy.

But now trade is under pressure. The World Trade Organization’s Doha Development Round, which promised a new era of multilateral trade liberalisation, lies in tatters. It seems unlikely that either the EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) or the US-Asia Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will ever see the light of day.

The new protectionism is largely spurred by rich countries, which are responding to the shrinking number of industrial jobs at home. Forecasts from the WTO say that “in an open trade environment” developing countries are set in the years ahead to outpace richer competitors from members of the OECD, both in terms of exports and overall growth, by a factor of two to three.

Exchanging the benefits of intra-EU trade for the uncertainties of the global marketplace looks a poor deal for Britain. But until a general election in the UK can reassess the will of the people, it’s plain that the May government will press ahead with its undertaking that ‘Brexit means Brexit’.

“Brexiteer ministers have little understanding of, or sympathy with, the treaty commitments the UK has made and that the EU-27 will be insisting on.”

The question is whether it will be a hard or soft Brexit – one of an abrupt severance or one that keeps economic disruption to a minimum. This is where the debate over trade becomes crucially important.

Sir Ivan Rogers’ widely publicised resignation comment about the “muddled thinking” of British government ministers reflects expert opinion on both sides of the English Channel. Free trade is the wellspring of economic growth, and depends on common technical standards and norms rather than on bargains struck by politicians. Untangling Britain from rules that safeguard the single market, while protecting the UK’s exporters, would indeed take a decade – just as Sir Ivan warned last November.

His warning drew the ire of 10 Downing Street, and brought accusations in the anti-EU right-wing press that he is a ‘Bremoaner’ who wants to overturn last June’s referendum’s result.

But his point was simple. Realigning Britain’s trading relationship with continental Europe and the rest of the world will be very complex and is fraught with danger. Unless British companies observe European rules and standards, their EU business risks drying up overnight.

In London other senior civil servants have joined Sir Ivan in warning of the difficulty of achieving a hard Brexit that avoids the collapse of negotiations with Brussels. The UK has virtually no seasoned trade negotiators after four decades in which the European Commission has handled trade issues on behalf of member states. Worse, the Brexiteer ministers have little understanding of, or sympathy with, the treaty commitments the UK has made and that the EU-27 will be insisting on.

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IMAGE CREDIT: © European Union, 2017

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Categories: European Union

Mindless optimism masks dangerous lack of preparation for Brexit

Tue, 10/01/2017 - 16:18

The role of the United Kingdom’s permanent representative to the European Union has always been highly political one. Never more so than now, as the start of the Brexit negotiations approach.

Over 40 years, most of its occupants of the role have been highly skilled and very tough public servants – qualities now attributed to the new leader of the UK representation in Brussels, Sir Tim Barrow.

All have been neurotically sensitive to the attitudes to Europe of the prime minister of the day. One of Sir Tim’s illustrious predecessors confessed over a glass of whisky some decades ago that his main objective was “to reconcile the prime minister to membership of the European Community”. She was never fully converted.

Sir Tim is being parachuted into what is already the toughest job in British diplomacy; a job made all the more difficult by the laser-like focus from the British media and Brexit supporters across the political spectrum. The speed of his appointment – within hours of the explosive resignation of Sir Ivan Rogers – suggests that Prime Minister Theresa May was anxious to sidestep any attempt to establish clear support for Brexit as an indispensable qualification for the job.

An allegedly impeccable source told former Liberal MEP Andrew Duff that Sir Ivan resigned because Theresa May was no longer listening to his advice. The working relationship between May and Rogers is said to have been damaged by last month’s leak of his memo to Downing Street. The memo warned that it might take up to ten years to complete a new trading arrangement with the EU.

“For four decades the rules, regulations and political processes of the EU have shaped the policy thinking and actions of successive British governments”

Up to now Britain’s permanent representatives in Brussels have been dedicated to making EU membership as successful as possible for the UK. Since 23 June this role has been stood on its head, and Sir Ivan’s task had been to work for a successful withdrawal.

He clearly had little taste for it. The referendum result has imposed a physical and emotional toll on middle and senior managers at the Foreign Office and in the home civil service that should not be underestimated.

For four decades the rules, regulations and political processes of the EU have shaped the policy thinking and actions of successive British governments. More than a few civil servants have complained over the years that membership was a straitjacket around national policymaking. But as time has gone on very few of them either wanted Brexit, or thought it possible.

Now, UK civil servants are being forced to discard the political and intellectual framework that has shaped their careers and assumptions about the future. Worse, they will have to unpick regulations and obligations that have benefitted Britain for more than 40 years. Civil servants are also being encouraged to regard profound economic uncertainty at home and a loss of status and influence abroad as exciting opportunities.

The machinery of government is creaking badly in Britain, as demonstrated by Sir Ivan’s resignation. Dave Penman, head of the top civil servants’ trade union, said in early January: “If the civil service is to deliver a successful Brexit negotiation, the recipe for that success is unlikely to be to starve it of resources, lack clarity of objective and be surrounded with yes men and women who will not speak truth unto power,” he said.

“Conviction is not enough – without fact-based analysis, post-truth becomes no truth, no matter how uncertain the future”

There is too much work for too few people with the knowledge and experience to manage disengagement from the EU across the whole spectrum of government, from trade policy to research and innovation.

The situation is worsened by the Prime Minister and her senior colleagues consistently underestimating the challenges of Brexit. Understandably, by nature of their trade, ministers generally have to glow with optimism about changes they advocate. Whether it is transport or social policy or health and welfare reform, they must exhibit an evangelical conviction that they will make things better.

But conviction is not enough. Without fact-based analysis, post-truth becomes no truth, no matter how uncertain the future. Brexiteers float on a cloud of mindless (or, as Sir Ivan said, “muddle-headed”) optimism and a meretricious minimising of the dangers to Britain of its historic change of direction. The government’s political mindset is defensively blind to the possibility of Brexit failure because the alternative is the deafening sound of political careers crashing to the ground.

As the triggering of Article 50 looms and the process of departure becomes real, the United Kingdom is dangerously unprepared for the consequences. Second thoughts will come, and they will change the face of British politics.

IMAGE CREDIT: CC / FLICKR – European Council

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Categories: European Union

Beware clashes of big-power nationalisms in 2017 – with Europe stuck in the middle

Mon, 09/01/2017 - 11:53

2017 will see the clash of big-power nationalisms, triggered by Donald Trump’s forthcoming inauguration as the 45th President of the United States.

The most immediately striking characteristic of the Trump administration is its attitude to China. During the campaign the President-elect threatened to impose very high tariffs on Chinese imports. But his decision to abandon the Trans-Pacific Partnership leaves China in the driving seat as far as trade policy in East Asia is concerned.

Since the election, he has sought to use Taiwan as a bargaining chip in negotiations with China. Adding a conflict over the island’s status to this mix could have very unpredictable results. After its experience of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries China is very sensitive to western ’humiliations’, and to threats to its raw material supply lines.

There will a fanning of nationalist sentiment on both sides.

We should not forget that the economic transformation of China is the most important global economic event of the past forty years. It has changed the balance of power on the Eurasian landmass in ways we are only beginning to comprehend.

It has led to an increasing number of well-off, high spending consumers. The Boston Consulting Group recently estimated that the number of Chinese people belonging to the ‘upper middle class’ – a group that can afford regular foreign holidays – will rise from 53 million today to 102 million by 2020.

But at the other end of the scale, China has not established a well-developed welfare system. The income gap is very wide. Stress is high. There is a two-tier labour market under which long-established city residents qualify for social support, but recent arrivals in the same cities do not. The latter group can remain in a precarious situation for years.

“The economic transformation of China is the most important global economic event of the past forty years”

This gap presents a problem of political management. One can foresee the deliberate fomentation of Chinese nationalism by the Communist leadership in an effort to shore up support and to distract attention from the ill-effects of a very uneven distribution of the fruits of prosperity.

Chinese nationalism could, all too easily, collide fatally with the American nationalism that the Trump campaign has rekindled – a nationalism that has risen with great success from quite similar motives.

Faced with this collision, Europe should look out for its own interests – especially as it seems likely that the US will move closer to Russia. The new dynamic this possible Russo- American rapprochement creates in global affairs has consequences for Europe.

Trump’s statements during the campaign and since the election – as well as some of his nominations to the new administration – indicate that a less confrontational approach is in the offing. While benefits may flow from this, it is something that is likely to reinforce the anxiety that some, but not all, central European members of the European Union already feel about Russian intentions.

Russia has traditionally been hostile to the EU, because it has felt excluded from pan-European security structures. It feels hemmed in by NATO members. It has given support to parties in Western Europe that are hostile to EU integration. A disintegrated Europe would offer more opportunities to Russia than a united one, and would mitigate Russia’s sense of being encircled.

On the other hand, the US, like China, has traditionally been a strong supporter of European integration, notably under the administrations of Harry Truman and George H. W. Bush.

But the incoming Trump administration seems to be headed in the opposite direction, giving visible support to political parties that would break up the EU.

President-elect Trump’s decision to give an effusive welcome to Nigel Farage, before he met any other European leader, and immediately after Farage’s success in engineering the first ever exit of a country from the EU, sends a clear and hostile signal. Putin and Trump seem to share the same view of the European Union.

“Europe’s voters tend to think about short-term issues, not about the long-term impact of decisions”

In the face of this link-up, the EU may find its interests aligned more with those of China – in fields such as climate change and energy, as well as on global issues, given China’s greater economic and strategic weight compared to Russia. On the other hand, Russia is a member, along with the EU countries, of the Council of Europe, and this link could be used to reduce tensions.

Europe needs to draw the right lessons from these global movements. Unlike the US, Europe does not have vast energy resources and is much more dependent on an open global trading system. In this it has similar interests to China.

But Europe is both a crowded and an ageing continent. Its voters tend to think about short-term issues, not about the long-term impact of decisions  the EU may make about relationships with the rest of the world, and notably the rapidly-growing and youthful populations of Africa and the Arab world.

So European electorates need to think very carefully about where their protest votes may lead. As we will see with Brexit, protest votes can have consequences far beyond mere protest. These consequences will be felt long after the cause of the original protest is forgotten.

A disunited Europe could become a playground for the clash of great power rivalries. Notwithstanding their notional ‘sovereignty’, individual European countries could find themselves being used as pawns in a wider struggle, in the same way as the religious factions in Syria are now being used.

Twenty years ago, few people thought Syria would ever have a civil war. There are many ancient and buried antagonisms that could be exploited on this continent if European unity is broken.

The UK, which did so much to defend the liberty of Europe in 1914 and 1939, forgot this completely when it voted so recklessly in its recent referendum.

The rest of Europe must not make the same mistake.


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Categories: European Union

Dealing with the Cyprus problem: an alternative proposal

Thu, 05/01/2017 - 08:50

In recent years a consensus has developed on dealing with the division of Cyprus: things will get better only if there is a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation on the island. But this is not necessarily the case as the solution that will be discussed at talks in Geneva from 9 to 12 January has a number of pitfalls. For example, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for Cyprus to continue in the eurozone. Serious concerns have already been expressed in various circles in Cyprus, as well as in the European Union and at the International Monetary Fund. Also, models based on ethno-nationalist pillars in a single state often lead to blockages, friction and frustration. Bosnia and Hercegovina and Lebanon are instructive examples.

A solution improving the status quo for the Greek-Cypriots seems difficult to achieve given the current stance of Turkey. Turkey aims to push aside the Republic of Cyprus to replace it with a new state entity. One of the risks involved in this is Cyprus being a ‘protectorate’ of Turkey. A bi-zonal, bi-communal federation with political equality would see Turkey gain a say in the EU affairs through its influence on the affairs of the new state of Cyprus. We should also not forget that there has been a gradual alignment of Greek Cypriot positions with Turkish demands since the latter’s invasion in 1974.

The status quo poses serious risks, but so does the current proposal for a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. So we need an alternative proposal. We need to reassess the situation and focus on policy options that may help both sides to break the deadlock in a constructive way. And we need these alternative approaches to be based on an evolutionary rather than revolutionary process.

“The status quo poses serious risks, but so does the current proposal for a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation”

It will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to move from one state of affairs to another overnight. The issues are not just legal. There are separate narratives, experiences, perceptions, value-systems and political, economic and social realities.

So we need some basic principles to make the evolutionary approach work.

First, the occupied areas in the northern part of Cyprus should be turned into an EU region under the Turkish Cypriot administration. This means that Protocol 10 of the Treaty of Accession of the Republic of Cyprus to the EU, which suspends application of EU law in the northern part of Cyprus, no longer applies and European rules are effective throughout the island.

Second, Turkey should gradually return occupied territories to Greek Cypriot control, with the four basic EU freedoms of movement implemented and relevant obligations put on the Turkish Cypriot community.

Third, the Republic of Cyprus and Turkey must normalise relations.

Fourth, the two sides should develop a roadmap and guidelines for a federal constitution; it is essential to amend the 1960 ‘consociational’ constitution by introducing more federal integrationalist elements.

Fifth, the EU should take on its responsibilities to ensure a harmonisation process in the occupied territories of Cyprus. With the adoption of EU law in the occupied northern part of Cyprus, a process of internal political, social and economic convergence needs to be launched.

“We need to think outside the box − it is not too late to seriously consider an alternative proposal”

Sixth, Turkey must also assume its responsibilities. When Turkey invaded Cyprus in July 1974 it declared that its objectives were to restore the constitutional order of the Republic of Cyprus and to protect the Turkish Cypriot community. Turkey should now contribute to achieving these goals. The first steps should be to end its ongoing colonisation and withdraw its military forces.

Seventh, the Republic of Cyprus should react accordingly at all levels. It is essential to make the Republic’s voice heard and to promote it effectively.

Finally, any solution to the crisis should be based on a voluntary agreement between the two communities of Cyprus. The evolutionary approach gives both sides the necessary time to strengthen relations between the communities and make real the concept of an integrationalist, federal, indivisible state. If this is not possible, other ways should be sought to ensure peace and security within the framework of Cypriot membership of the EU.

Next week’s talks in Geneva will try to reach a comprehensive agreement. But achieving consensus with a strong majority support on each side will be difficult.

This is why we need to think outside the box. It is not too late to seriously consider an alternative proposal, one that is more rooted in the fundamental principles of politics, the economy, history and sociology. By doing so, we can have an outcome that satisfies multiple interests and objectives.

The article is based on a joint proposal made in the Greek-language policy paper ‘Bi-zonal Bi-communal Federation and the Alternative Proposal’ by Andreas Theophanous, Soteris Kattos and Constantinos Mavroedis


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Categories: European Union

What does it mean to be European?

Wed, 21/12/2016 - 09:33

What does it mean to be European in the 21st century?

Identity is the linchpin of the broader question of European integration and cohesion. It is an issue that was brought up several times during Friends of Europe’s State of Europe roundtable in October 2016.

At a time when the refugee crisis is critical to the balance of European security, peace and prosperity, the question of European identity and integration is becoming increasingly important.

The migrant and refugee crisis is not going away: ongoing violence in Syria and continued social instability across much of Africa means the crisis will continue to be a significant issue for us in Europe. It’s one we need to tackle head-on. But there are different models for integration in Europe: some lean towards embracing diversity and multiculturalism; others insist on assimilation.

But what is assimilation? It has been argued that we in Europe share a common identity. But is this really the case? The European Union has been a unifying power, but it is only a few decades old. Even today, national identities are important. Shakespeare is not as important to the French as Baudelaire is; Cervantes less precious to the Poles than Miłosz.

“Acknowledging differences – whether cultural, linguistic or religious – is important in an age in which it is tempting to couch migration in simplistic terms of ‘them’ and ‘us’”

And does this matter? Do we need to speak of a shared European identity to give historical authenticity to the political and economic union that has supported peaceful relations between the nations of Europe since the middle of the last century?

The shared history of our continent is very complex, encompassing much warfare and regional rivalry. The European project, forged in the wake of two devastating global conflicts that both began in Europe, deserves credit as an economic and political force for unity in a region historically rife with political, ideological, religious and ethnic conflicts.

But acknowledging differences – whether cultural, linguistic or religious – is important in an age in which it is tempting to couch migration in simplistic terms of ‘them’ and ‘us’.

Perhaps what binds us together is the shared desire for peace derived from the dark lessons of disunity and war where we can find the roots of the successes of the European Union. The desire for peace and the desire to see the similarities, not just in Europeans but in humanity, is the foundation upon which a future for this continent can be built.

It is possible to achieve a future where we share common goals and values of peace and commitment to universal human rights. A future Europe can be a continent that exemplifies how embracing democratic values across cultures provides a unifying model for economic and political progress.

“The migrants arriving now may need a period of adjustment, and we should gladly offer the help they need”

Accepted over time, this can slowly become a ‘shared identity’ where cultural differences can be celebrated but citizenship is derived from an adherence to a set of basic values around democracy, rights and peace. An inclusive model for 21st-century European citizenship should also emphasise outreach to youth and children.

Our hard-won values need to be respected and appreciated, but where there is justice and goodwill, it is possible. There is room for a multicultural Europe, as Europe today is not made up of a few tribes but of many groups, converging from near and far. Many of us are first-, second-, or third-generation Europeans, with roots in colourful distant lands. Nearly all of us are of relatively recent migrant ancestry.

The migrants arriving now may need a period of adjustment, and we should gladly offer the help they need. We know that we have the structures in place to support their inclusion in European life. In various countries across Europe, supportive structures include linguistic and cultural sensitivity training, an overview of legal requirements and expectations, and societal openness – as shown particularly in Greece and Norway.

Our Europe is, and has been, one of diversity: rich in distinct regional cultures, languages and identities. The love for our great literary traditions as well as of democratic principles belongs to all, both across Europe and around the world.

There is a place for a multicultural Europe – indeed, we inhabit it.

But at the same time we share recognition of our common humanity and our common desire to live in a just and peaceful society. While we do not have exclusive ownership of these values, they are still – even in these difficult times – key parts of what it means to be European.

IMAGE CREDIT: Bigstock – maxxyustas

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Categories: European Union

We, the people, must become the first line of defence

Tue, 20/12/2016 - 14:08

On Monday 19 December Berlin was the latest city to be targeted in a terrorist attack.

Pauline Massart, Friends of Europe’s Deputy Director for Security and Geopolitics, argues that while we should mourn, ordinary people also need to fight back and ensure that they can be an effective first line of defence.

It’s a familiar dance now. The news breaks. Social media goes crazy. Rumours circulate. Foul play is confirmed. Political leaders howl their indignation. We change our Facebook profile pictures. We are Berlin, Paris, Istanbul, Nice.

The right is quick to point out that the alleged perpetrator is an immigrant, the left rushes in to downplay that he is a Muslim. We hurt, we’re in shock, we try hard to carry on. Yet deep inside we’re almost getting used to it. And we know the next one is around the corner.

Sorrow and anger are natural reactions. They are justified. But they are not enough. We have to fight back. We, the people, must become the first line of defence.

Europeans should engage in massive training programmes involving doctors, fire brigades, police forces, intelligence professionals and soldiers. If terrorists target ordinary citizens, then these ordinary citizens must learn to fight back.

“Sorrow and anger are natural reactions. They are justified. But they are not enough. We have to fight back. We, the people, must become the first line of defence.”

After the November 2015 Paris attacks, some called for training of citizens to react properly in cases of terror attacks, including learning the necessary first aid skills.

But we should all be training for much more than that. The quick reaction of American soldiers during the August 2015 Thalys train attack showed the importance of individuals’ actions – and we must all become these individuals.

Onlookers at the Bataclan, the bloodiest scene of the Paris attacks, recalled the fear at seeing people hopelessly trying to flee. Citizens must be taught about first aid but also how to react: whether to run, hide or fight. For some it may even be about learning combat, but ultimately we should learn how to anticipate, notice and react.

We need to learn awareness in crowds, and how to master a panic reaction. This is not about learning to be suspicious, but rather learning to control an uncontrollable situation. If we are ‘familiar’ with a potential situation – however gruesome – we will feel more confident about our ability to react in an appropriate way, whether it is providing basic life-saving care, stopping an attacker, or facilitating emergency services’ access to the scene of an attack.

We must learn to know our neighbours and get more involved in our communities. We must learn to recognise the signs of impending radicalisation of individuals, by engaging with them directly, whether at school, at the supermarket or at the newsagent’s. We must build trust locally instead of shutting ourselves off in like-minded groups.

“We must learn the skills to counter attacks and recover from them quickly. For if we are not afraid, the terrorists lose”

We need to build individual strength and resilience to collectively build societal resilience. We must not become vigilantes, but we cannot rely on security forces only. We must learn to be more than sitting ducks.

Terrorists attack our freedom of movement and our way of life. A total crackdown and taking away civil liberties is not the answer, nor is building a ‘fortress Europe’. We must instead learn the skills to counter attacks and recover from them quickly. This, much more than surveillance or more police or armed forces on the street, will cut the ground from beneath the terrorists’ feet. For if we are not afraid, they lose.

The identities of the Berlin attack victims are unknown. And the cycle of indignation – however justified – has only just begun. We’ve barely finished grieving for Aleppo, fearing the worst following the murder of the Russian ambassador’s in Istanbul, or agreeing in near-global unison that 2016 is a year we’re happy to see the back of.

But 2017 heralds more upheaval, more fear and more uncertainty.

We, the people, the individual citizens, carry the answer. It’s time to make security an individual as well as a collective concern.

IMAGE CREDIT: CC / FLICKR – Andreas Trojak

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Categories: European Union

Will Mogherini’s plans transform European defence?

Tue, 20/12/2016 - 09:13

Many politicians have spoken, many policymakers have written and many analysts have analysed. And most of them agree: the world is changing; Europe faces a volatile security environment; the mix of challenges is unprecedented. So now is the time for the members of the European Union to be serious about defence cooperation.

One of the people who has understood the urgency of the matter is Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Besides publishing the highly-anticipated EU Global Strategy, Mogherini and her team have been working on three proposals that aim to make European defence stronger and more agile.

Recently Mogherini stepped forward with the Implementation Plan on Security and Defence, which introduces measures to put in place the security and defence aspects of the EU Global Strategy. She launched the European Defence Action Plan, which creates conditions for efficient defence spending and an innovative industrial base. And she published a follow-up Implementation Plan for the Joint Declaration on EU-NATO cooperation.

These three initiatives have the potential to provide the changes and reforms that European defence cooperation needs so badly to be more successful.

The European Commission is a relative newcomer when it comes to the field of defence, and is stretching the limits as to what is permitted under the Treaty of Lisbon. The 1998 Saint-Malo declaration, for example, was a bilateral agreement between France and the United Kingdom that paved the way for the creation of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP).

What the three initiatives put forward by Mogherini have in common is that they place the Commission in the lead in creating a more attractive framework, whether it be a European defence market or closer cooperation with NATO on operational matters.

“This move by the EU is not entirely new – the Union has acted in security and defence for years. What is new is the scale of actions”

This is exactly what the EU should be doing. To achieve practical cooperation, it should assist member states and help them to coordinate efforts to increase defence cooperation.

This move by the EU is in itself not entirely new – the Union has acted in this field for years, with institutions such as the European Defence Agency, tasked with joint capability development and research. What is new rather, is the scale of the proposed actions.

With the Implementation Plan on Security and Defence, Mogherini proposes more detail regarding the practicalities of the defence and security side of the EU Global Strategy. The plan sets out a level of ambition in security and defence that includes prioritising capability development, deepening defence cooperation and adjusting the EU structures to deal with situational awareness, planning and conduct. The plan also includes financial measures and investigates possibilities for permanent structured cooperation.

The European Defence Action Plan focuses on creating favourable conditions for increased and more efficient defence spending by member states. It initiates a European Defence Fund to support investment in joint research efforts and the joint development of defence capabilities of strategic importance. The plan also creates conditions for investment in the European industrial base as a way of stimulating badly-needed openness and competition in the European defence market.

22 out of 28 NATO countries are also members of the EU. To avoid unnecessary duplication and enhance cooperation in the fields of hybrid threats, maritime issues, cyber security and capacity building, among others, Mogherini brought forward an Implementation Plan for the Joint Declaration on EU-NATO cooperation.

“It is the member states who decide how effective and fruitful the initiatives proposed by Mogherini will be”

Its detailed proposals are the most far-reaching since the creation of the CSDP. They are a major leap forward – and one may wonder why these initiatives were not taken sooner. The simple answer is that the situation was never as urgent as it is today. Never has the EU been under pressure from threats that are so many in number and so diverse in scope; both internally and externally. European defence needs European efforts now more than ever.

Perceptions matter too. The media and politicians have been wary about the idea of an EU army, which presumably is the ultimate objective of these plans.

But current proposals are not about an EU army but rather about creating conditions for member states to invest in capabilities more effectively, avoid unnecessary duplication and simplify cooperation. They would allow for more cooperation between, for example, the Netherlands and Germany, or the Visegrád countries. The plans should also give room for hugely important bottom-up defence initiatives between the countries.

In the end however it is important to point out that it are member states who decide how effective and fruitful the initiatives proposed by Mogherini will be. Member states should look critically at the proposed plans. But the proposals should help tackle the capability gap that member states – and as a consequence the EU – suffer from.

It should be borne in mind that the European Commission can only shape the framework and create the necessary conditions for increasing the effectiveness of defence spending and cooperation. Should Mogherini’s initiatives fail to be successfully implemented by member states or prove to be otherwise inadequate, Europe risks losing the momentum to achieve major progress on the European defence cooperation and integration.

If today’s security environment ultimately proves not conducive to achieving the results needed, one should seriously wonder whether it ever will be.

IMAGE CREDIT: CC / FLICKR – European External Action Service

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Categories: European Union

Europe needs ambition to make the most of the digital revolution

Mon, 19/12/2016 - 10:10

Most European citizens are fond of ‘Europe’: its values, culture and social model. When it comes to its leadership, citizens have more mixed feelings. 60% of citizens tend not to trust the EU institutions. They feel that European policy is disconnected from their daily reality.

As a tech entrepreneur who is active in big data, I too feel disconnected – in my case, from the digital agenda of the European Commission. The agenda and its priorities do not align with the tremendous potential of the digital revolution, something I have the immense privilege to experience every day.

From fighting Ebola to alleviating poverty – I am a member of a community of shapers who use technology to improve society. Every day I encounter yet more amazing digital visionaries who create robots, build networks and develop apps that affect every facet of our lives. From citizen to state to Union, we are witnessing the acceleration of the 4th Industrial Revolution.

“Ambition matters. It sets leaders apart. It allows them to inspire people through their vision of society, and to drive change”

But what are we doing about this revolution? At the EU level, we can summarise the strategy in three words: defragmentation, standards and infrastructure. All important, all relevant, but nothing near the level of ambition required.

And ambition matters. It sets leaders apart. It allows them to inspire people through their vision of society, and to drive change.

I would fight for an EU with ambitions to use digital to save the planet, or to connect citizens to their cities, or to give everyone meaning in their lives, whether through a job, a task or simply helping their peers.

In the absence of political ambition, tech entrepreneurs will set their own. But is this the road we want to take? Do policymakers want to shape the agenda or only to react?

The time has come to be ambitious. We need leaders who are willing to take up that role.

My call for a greater digital ambition comes from my entrepreneurial background. Without naming the problem you cannot correctly design a solution, but instead of simply pointing the finger at EU leaders I have three simple initiatives that could put Europe back on the global digital map.

The first solution is for the European Commission to practice what it preaches – or ‘eat its own dog food’. Is the Commission itself digital? How much paper does it produce? How much big data does it use to improve its effectiveness? How often do its politicians and officials use Amazon, Uber or Spotify?

These questions boil down to a simple task: show us that you are role models; show us that you are the champions of this revolution. I’m tired of naming American or Chinese companies as the most digital organisations. I want to name you. You can get there.

“It is time to bring back our digital visionaries. With these experts Europe can bridge the digital gap within a decade”

Second, make policies based on what people do, not on what people say. At some point in history, EU policymakers surely had reason to design a law requiring internet users to accept cookies before browsing. In 2016, I don’t get the point. Do you know a single person who refuses the cookie and declines to browse a website? Policymakers should observe our behaviour and test policies before making laws.

Third, bringing back our visionaries. Most of Europe’s most brilliant and disruptive minds have left Europe to go to the United States. It is time to find a way to bring them back. With these experts, and with their networks and ambitions, Europe can bridge the digital gap within a decade.

I’m aware that I’m biased: entrepreneurs see the world as an ocean of opportunities. Digital frontrunners believe in the positive nature of technology.

I know I am not paying attention to certain constraints. I know I don’t have the full context. And I’m not a politician. But I’m a believer in Europe, in the value of statesmanship, and in the immense potential of our citizens.

I will act to shape this European ambition. Will you join me?

IMAGE CREDIT: Believeinme/

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Categories: European Union

Challenge Trump to an innovation race, and avoid a trade war

Thu, 15/12/2016 - 09:12

Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the United States presidential election has put global climate negotiators on the back foot.

The President-elect’s promise to pull the United States out of last year’s Paris Agreement and his unabashed enthusiasm for coal slowed the momentum that negotiators had hoped to sustain at this year’s climate change talks in Marrakech, Morocco. Trump’s shocking win also provoked threats of tariffs – decision-makers in Canada, Mexico and Europe mooting the possibility of carbon duties on American products.

But there’s a better approach: challenge the incoming president to an innovation race.

That would do a lot more than a carbon tariff to fix the climate over the long term.

The carbon tariff proposal contravenes the fundamental premise of the Paris Agreement. Each nation offered its own commitments at Paris, with the negotiators then constructing a plausible path forward by putting them all together.

A key aspect of this process is periodic renegotiation to bring the sum of national commitments closer to the global goal of limiting the rise in average global temperature to two degrees Celsius or less. But the International Energy Agency says that even if they are fulfilled, the Paris commitments would lead the world to overshoot the target by 35%.

“Challenging the US to a low-carbon innovation race would tap into emotions of pride and superiority, but channel them in constructive directions”

We need another approach to a carbon tariff, which would take us back to the bad old days of top-down climate negotiations.

While setting a global cap, divvying it up among nations, and punishing countries that exceed their quota might seem logical, this approach failed miserably in the 1990s and 2000s. It left the world playing catch-up in the fight against climate change. Wielding the stick causes a backlash. It threatens national identity and self-worth, even when succumbing to pressure may appear to be the economically rational response.

The United States under President Trump would undoubtedly react badly to the carbon tariff. As Harvard economist Robert N. Stavins put it: “Is he the sort of person who would back down or would he retaliate? He seems like the kind of person who would retaliate. And then you’d have a trade war.”

If the stick of tariff threats is a bad approach, will the carrot of competition work?

Challenging the United States to a low-carbon innovation race would tap into similar emotions of pride and superiority, but channel them in constructive directions. If the United States can come up with new and better ways to produce electricity, trap carbon and save energy, Americans would save the world and make a lot of money. If the Mexicans, Canadians, and Europeans do the same… well, at least the world still gets saved.

“The cost the US’s energy innovation commitment is a mere rounding error in the context of tax cuts spending that are set to come”

A global focus on innovation would lead to new options that will make the energy services that everyone needs more affordable and more accessible. Simply making dirty energy more expensive – the carbon tariff approach – will not do that. Europe’s very high tax on gasoline, for instance, has encouraged Europeans to drive smaller cars, but it has not led to the breakthroughs in electric vehicles that the world desperately needs to kick its petroleum habit. The small carbon tariffs being suggested will have small results in the best of circumstances. Yet even relatively small investments in innovation have the potential to be truly transformative.

Mission Innovation, a lesser-known agreement which was also signed last year in Paris, provides the framework for an innovation race. Many of the world’s largest nations, including the United States, pledged to double their investments in low-carbon energy research and development by 2020.

A deep-pocketed group of global entrepreneurs, led by Bill Gates, promised to provide billions of dollars in follow-on investment to reap the fruits of this R&D in the market. They announced a US$1bn initial fund on Monday. The cost of fulfilling the US’s Mission Innovation commitment would be $6.4bn per year when fully ramped-up. That’s a mere rounding error in the context of the giant tax cuts and spending extravaganza that are set to come in the next year.

So a message to the nations of the world as they await Trump: be afraid, even very afraid, but don’t let fear lead to a counterproductive spiral of threats and counter-threats.

Stay on the sunny side, keep doing the right thing, and hope that, as Winston Churchill was famously supposed to have said, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing… after they have tried everything else.”


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Categories: European Union