Archive for the ‘Europe’ Category

23
Sep

By Cameron Abadi

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To state the obvious: Angela Merkel, who has just won a third term as German chancellor, isn’t very macho. Her preferred free-time pursuit is recreational nature walking. (Also, baking: she admitted during the campaign season that her husband was sometimes displeased by the paucity of crumbs atop her cakes.) She hardly ever indulges in public demonstrations of authority; she speaks softly, and mostly refrains from displays of emotion, except for occasional flashes of a nervous smile. As for body language, her signature gesture is the Merkel diamond, which seems laboratory-tested to avoid appearing confrontational.

Compare that, for a moment, with the testosterone-soaked state of U.S.-Russian diplomacy, which has devolved in recent weeks into a high-profile pissing match. Vladimir Putin raided U.S.-backed NGOs, while Barack Obama chided Putin’s posture; Putin extended asylum to America’s most-wanted fugitive, as Obama canceled a bilateral Moscow summit. For a while, it seemed as if the confrontation would have to be settled with a round of one-on-one basketball or some judo sparring. Eventually, they both managed to claim credit for averting war with Syria—Putin from the op-ed page of the one newspaper that Barack Obama professes to care about.

There was something transfixing about the display of presidential one-upsmanship; even Germans seemed more drawn to the Putin-Obama show than their own election campaign. But if Putin and Obama ever do manage to stop their reciprocal bouts of preening, they’d do well to consider cribbing from Merkel’s machismo-less political methods. There’s an argument to be made that it’s Merkel who is the Machiavelli of our day—better, and certainly shrewder, at power politics than any of her peers, including her colleagues in the White House and Kremlin.

Merkel’s quiet affect shouldn’t obscure her influence. Germany has more power today than at any time since World War II. Merkel is prima inter pares in the European Union, capable of determining the shape of the bailout packages given to the continent’s ailing economies and, thus, capable of determining the shape of their national economies for years on end. Even the ostensibly independent European Central Bank seems to take its directions from the chancellory in Berlin, afraid to get too far ahead of Merkel’s plans. Read more…

Cameron Abadi is Deputy Web Editor at Foreign Affairs.

As published in www.newrepublic.com September 22, 2103.

17
Sep

Europe cannot decide the course of the Arab spring, but it still matters

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After the butchering of soldiers in the first world war and of civilians in the second, one should not be too hard on Europeans—especially Germans—for losing their love of killing. Post-war Europe is, increasingly, past wars. To judge from the parliamentary vote in Britain and the debate in France over military action in Syria, even the more martial countries are now less warlike. Yet pacifism can be too much of a good thing. When news of the chemical-weapons attacks in Syria broke on August 21st, European foreign ministers were holding an emergency meeting in Brussels. The gassing of civilians was barely discussed; the topic of the day was the military coup in Egypt. Eurocrats claimed that information was too scant; cynics said many ministers wanted to ignore the horror lest they were forced to act.

The European Union only formally got around to Syria on September 7th, at a long-planned meeting in Vilnius, after an embarrassing flip-flop by Germany. The day before the Germans had refused to sign a declaration by Western leaders at the G20 summit demanding “a strong international response”. They reversed course when a softer version, with an exhortation for UN action and peace talks, was agreed on in Vilnius. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, clearly did not want a repeat of 2011, when she was isolated among Western leaders in rejecting military intervention in Libya. But nor did she want, just before a German election, to allow the Social Democrats to repeat their feat of 2002, when Gerhard Schröder came from behind to win the election partly by strongly opposing military intervention in Iraq. The odd thing is that nobody has even asked Germany, or most other Europeans, to take part in strikes against Syria. Only Britain and France have the wherewithal to fire cruise missiles from a safe distance. There was no pressure to arm the rebels, a cause of previous divisions. Yet still the Europeans havered.

All of which raises questions about Europe’s declared wish to be a “global player”. The Arab world is where the EU should make its influence felt. Thanks to its growing energy independence America may one day feel less burdened by the region. Not so Europe: the Middle East is next door. France and Britain took the lead in Libya (with much American help). But for Jan Techau, director of Carnegie Europe, a think-tank in Brussels, the vacillation over the chemical attacks in Syria shows that “the Europeans have never been able to get out of the passenger seat to become the driver—and silently they are quite happy with that.”

For decades the Middle East has been a region where, as an old cliché puts it, “America plays, Europe pays”. This remains true in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The EU is a huge financial supporter of the Palestinian Authority. But it was the Americans who got the two sides to start talking again. Now the EU stands accused by Israel of prejudging the talks by issuing formal guidelines to prevent any funding of projects in territories that were occupied by Israel in 1967. Read more…

As published in www.economist.com on September 14, 2013 (from the print edition).

12
Sep

Los comicios alemanes del 22 de septiembre son cruciales para el futuro de la UE

Por José Ignacio Torreblanca, Profesor Asociado de IE School of International Relations

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El problema es que, en la UE actual, las cosas son exactamente al revés o, al menos vistas desde Alemania, adoptan un cariz muy diferente. Como ponen de manifiesto las encuestas, una mayoría de alemanes rechaza cualquier tipo de mecanismo que suponga asumir o mutualizar las deudas en las que han incurrido otros países. De ahí que mientras que una gran parte de los europeos querría que las elecciones alemanas pusieran en marcha una dinámica de cambios que llevara a completar la unión monetaria con aquellos elementos de los que en la actualidad carece (eurobonos, un presupuesto propio, un mecanismo de gestión de crisis bancarias común, etc.), los alemanes parecen querer a toda costa que las elecciones no introduzcan cambios de importancia en la actual política europea de su gobierno. Como señala la encuesta recientemente realizada por el Instituto Open Europe, en Alemania no hay apetito por políticas que profundicen la integración europea sino que, al contrario, por “más Europa” se entiende “más control” sobre el resto de los países.

El curso político europeo 2013-2014 se abrirá con las elecciones generales alemanas el 22 de septiembre y se cerrará con las elecciones al Parlamento Europeo el 25 de mayo de 2014. En teoría, las primeras deberían tener una importancia secundaria y las segundas ser cruciales. Pero, paradojas de la vida política europea, la situación es más bien la contraria: las primeras son cruciales para el futuro de Europa mientras que las europeas tendrán una importancia marginal. Previsiblemente, un gran número de europeos, que desde 1979 tienen derecho a elegir a un Parlamento, por cierto, bastante poderoso, ni se molestarán en acercarse a las urnas en mayo de 2013 (recuérdese que en las últimas elecciones europeas, celebradas en junio de 2009, la participación fue del 43%). Sin embargo, conscientes la importancia que para su futuro ha adquirido Alemania, es bastante probable que, si se les diera la oportunidad, muchos europeos sí que tuvieran interés en votar en las elecciones alemanas.

Todo ello nos habla de la gigantesca disociación sobre la cual está organizada la Unión Europea: mientras que bienes, servicios, capitales y personas circulan libremente en un enorme territorio articulado en torno a una moneda común, la política sigue organizándose sobre la base de una serie de unidades nacionales sumamente fragmentadas y de muy desigual tamaño y capacidad. Esta incoherencia entre las fronteras de la política y la economía es lo que llevó al Emperador Marco Aurelio Antonino a extender la ciudadanía a todos los habitantes del Imperio Romano. El edicto de Caracalla, promulgado en el año 212, utilizaría un argumento de bastante actualidad: “es legítimo que el mayor número no sólo esté sometido a todas las cargas, sino que también este asociado a mi victoria”. Está asociación entre los impuestos y la legitimidad de un régimen político es pues una constante en la historia y ha llegado hasta nuestros días en forma de una regla de muy sencilla: uno debe votar donde contribuya con sus impuestos y financiar con sus impuestos sólo aquello sobre lo que pueda votar. Seguir leyendo…

Artículo publicado por El País el 9 de septiembre de 2013.

 

6
Sep

Europe’s posture in the face of Middle East unrest is best described as hiding under the bedcovers

By Philip Stephens

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Someone else can keep the peace. The west has had its fill of squaring up to tyrants. It is time for others to pick up the baton. So runs the shrug-of-the-shoulders response to the fires raging in the Middle East and the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons. The snag, as can be seen from the paralysis in the UN Security Council, is that there is no “someone else”.

This week leaders of the Group of 20 leading nations are meeting in St Petersburg. Russia has proved a fitting venue for the gathering. The summit offers sight of a future for international relations in which competition prevails over co-operation and narrow national interests trump respect for rules. The host, President Vladimir Putin, counts such disarray a success. He sees the absence of global consensus as a cloak over inexorable Russian decline.

The purpose of the G20 was to broaden and strengthen the international system by reflecting the redistribution of power from west to east. Instead it holds up a mirror to the fractures and fissures in the emerging order. The rising nations cast themselves as guardians of state sovereignty against western imperialism. They may have history on their side: the established powers have anyway wearied of efforts to enforce international rules.

A vote in the Westminster parliament has seen Britain wash its hands of Bashar al-Assad’s crimes against the Syrian people. Were the looming decision in the US Congress to go against President Barack Obama’s call for intervention, the sole superpower would do the same. France, for all its Gallic self-regard, cannot go it alone.

The facts of globalisation have not changed. A glance at the present economic troubles faced by countries as distant as India and Brazil, Indonesia and South Africa, retells the story of inescapable interdependence.

The US Federal Reserve is reining back the extraordinary injection of liquidity into the US and world economies after the global crash. Cheap American credit fuelled growth in the emerging nations. Now they feel the pain of its withdrawal. These nations pretty much shrugged off the 2008 financial crash. It would be cruel irony indeed to be laid low by a recovery in the US. Read more…

As published in www.ft.com on September 5, 2013.

22
Aug

The country has battled water shortages, rising food prices, and declining oil production, and it’s fueling the current conflict.

By Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed

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With more than 600 people killed and almost 4,000 injured from clashes between Egyptian security forces and Muslim Brotherhood protesters, the country’s democratic prospects look dismal. But while the violence is largely framed as a conflict between Islamism and secularism, the roots of the crisis run far deeper. Egypt is in fact on the brink of a protracted state-collapse process driven by intensifying resource scarcity.

Since the unilateral deposition of President Morsi, the army’s purported efforts to “restore order” are fast-tracking the country toward civil war. The declaration of a month-long state of emergency–ironically in the name of defending “democracy”–suggests we are witnessing the dawn of a new era of unprecedented violence with the potential to destabilize the entire region.

Underlying growing instability is the Egyptian state’s increasing inability to contain the devastating social impacts of interconnected energy, water and food crises over the last few decades. Those crises, already afflicting other regional states like Yemen and Syria, will unravel prevailing political orders with devastating consequences–unless urgent structural transformation to address those crises becomes a priority. The upshot is that Egypt’s meltdown represents the culmination of long-standing trends that, without a change of course, can only escalate with permanent repercussions across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and beyond.

A major turning point for Egypt arrived in 1996, when Egypt’s domestic oil production peaked at about 935,000 barrels per day (bpd), dropping since then to about 720,000 bpd in 2012. Yet Egypt’s domestic oil consumption has increased steadily over the past decade by about 3 percent a year. Since 2010, oil consumption–currently at 755,000 bpd–has outpaced production. It is no coincidence that the following year, Hosni Mubarak was toppled. Read more…

As published by The Atlantic on August 19, 2013.

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