31
Dec

A Happy New Year for Europe?

Written on December 31, 2015 by Waya Quiviger in News

As the European Union prepares to enter the new year, it faces an almost perfect storm of political challenges. The strategy it has used in the past – barely muddling through a series of calamities – may no longer be enough.
Of course, the EU is no stranger to crisis management. The euro crisis, for example, was widely expected to destroy it; but, after a couple of years of tough summits, the issue was more or less handled. Greece remains in poor shape, but it has retained its EU and eurozone membership. And the EU now has stronger mechanisms for economic-policy coordination.
But the situation today is far more demanding than anything the EU has seen so far – not least because of the sheer number of serious challenges that Europe faces. Far from the “ring of friends” that EU leaders once envisioned, the European neighborhood has turned into a “ring of fire,” fueled largely by the combination of Islamist terrorism and Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine. The idea that the EU, with its open societies and firm rule of law, would inspire those values in surrounding countries has been turned on its head, with the disorder of Europe’s near abroad projecting tensions and instability into the Union.
One of those challenges is the surging refugee crisis, fueled by conflict in the Middle East, especially Syria. To be sure, only a tiny fraction of those who have been displaced are currently seeking to enter the EU, and the million refugees expected to arrive this year represent only about 0.2% of the EU’s population. But when so many arrive in so short a time in just a few countries, the EU’s capacity to manage the influx has been overwhelmed, and controls at some borders within the Schengen Area have been restored.
In 2016, EU countries can be expected to get a handle on the immediate challenge, agreeing to key steps to control borders and share the burden of migration more equitably. But the longer-term challenges – integrating the refugees into European society and countering the rise of xenophobic political parties – will be far more difficult.
Even without the refugee crisis and its aftershocks, the EU would be facing a demanding agenda. Progress on both the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and a single digital market are central to the EU global competitiveness, as are efforts to implement the planned capital-markets union. As if that were not enough, a new “global foreign and security strategy,” to replace the one that was developed during the more optimistic days of 2003, must be in place by June.
To fulfill this demanding agenda, the EU must be at its best, cooperating effectively on multiple fronts simultaneously. That will be extremely difficult at a time when the United Kingdom is flirting with withdrawal. Although it seems increasingly likely that British Prime Minister David Cameron will strike a deal with his European counterparts by February, the chances that British voters will endorse the deal in the subsequent referendum, which Cameron has promised to hold in 2017, are probably no higher than 50/50.

Read more at https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/european-union-crises-brexit-by-carl-bildt-2015-12#ljsqb1lyrzoDSxOH.99

Carl Bildt was Sweden’s foreign minister from 2006 to October 2014 and Prime Minister from 1991 to 1994, when he negotiated Sweden’s EU accession.

30
Dec

Last Monday, at the conclusion of China’s closed-door Central Economic Work Conference, Beijing’s public relations machine went into high gear to show that the country’s leaders had come up with a viable plan to rescue the economy.

Unfortunately, they do not now have such a plan. In reality, they decided to continue strategies that both created China’s current predicament and failed this year to restart growth.
The severity of China’s economic problems—and the inability to implement long-term solutions—mean almost all geopolitical assumptions about tomorrow are wrong. Virtually everyone today sees China as a major power in the future. Yet the country’s extraordinary economic difficulties will result in a collapse or a long-term decline, and either outcome suggests China will return to the ranks of weak states.

As an initial matter, China’s current situation is far worse than the official National Bureau of Statistics reports. The NBS maintains that the country’s gross domestic product rose 6.9 percent during the third calendar quarter of this year after increases of 7.0 percent during each of the first two quarters.

Willem Buiter, Citigroup’s chief economist, a few months ago suggested the rate was closer to 4 percent, and growth could be as low as the 2.2 percent that people in Beijing were privately talking about mid-year. The most reliable indicator of Chinese economic activity remains the consumption of electricity, and for the first eleven months of the year electricity consumption increased by only 0.7 percent according to China’s National Energy Administration. Read more…

Published on Dec. 29 in nationalinterest.org 

Gordon G. Chang is the author of The Coming Collapse of China.

25
Dec

Last week the Iraqi government in Baghdad claimed that Turkey had violated its sovereignty by deploying troops and tanks to the town of Bashiqa, north of Mosul. Turkey has stated that this deployment is part of a previously agreed plan to train Iraqi Kurdish forces to combat ISIL. Some Iraqi officials in the central government deemed it a Turkish “invasion”.

The deployment, which had the blessing of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) of Iraq, but resulted in condemnation from the central Iraqi government in Baghdad, is symptomatic of the schizophrenic foreign policy of post-2003 Iraq, compounded by a complete reversal of a Turkish policy of allying with Iraq’s Kurds against Turkey’s own Kurds

I am not using “schizophrenia” to be dismissive of this medical condition. Adham Saouli, professor at St Andrews University, applied this “condition” to Iraq, writing: “As fragmented states, Lebanon and Iraq suffer from what one may call political schizophrenia. Like schizophrenia, this is a personality split resulting from the coexistence of opposed sets of identities and pursuits.”

Confusing matters

To highlight this dynamic, the KRG in Iraq is governed by two Iraqi Kurdish factions, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Turkey is in an alliance with the KDP, the party of Masoud Barzani, president of the KRG.

To make matters more confusing, Fouad Massoum of the PUK is the president of Iraq itself, thus representing the central Iraqi government. The secular, ethno-national PUK has cultivated ties with the Islamic Republic of Iran, yet is pro-US at the same time. Read more…

 

Published on Dec. 16 in www.aljazeera.com

Ibrahim al-Marashi is an assistant professor at the Department of History, California State University, San Marcos. He is the co-author of “Iraq’s Armed Forces: An Analytical History.” He is a former professor in the Master in International Relations at IE School of International Relations.

24
Dec

With the results of Spain’s election on Sunday, a tumultuous 2015 for Europe is ending on a stinging note that underscores Germany’s increasing isolation and Europe’s deepening division.

Spain’s voters followed those in Portugal and Greece this year in punishing a conservative government that had allied with Brussels, Berlin and international creditors in carrying out the austerity policies pushed as the solution to Europe’s debt crisis.

After the Spanish vote, Italy’s prime minister, Matteo Renzi, a center-leftist who had built a good relationship with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, renewed his attack on austerity and, quite nearly, Ms. Merkel personally, effectively blaming her policies for the rise of populism across Europe. Read more...

Published on Dec. 22 in www.nytimes.com

16
Dec

Thousands of people on a march for global climate justice in Paris

The climate accord reached by 195 countries in Paris on Saturday, which aims to halt global warming within this century, is being heralded by many world leaders, climate scientists, and news organizations as the turning point in the fight against human-induced climate change. The Guardian even went so far as to call the agreement the “end of the fossil fuel era,” as did activist leaders like May Boeve, the executive director of the environmentalist organization 350.org. In remarks celebrating the accord, President Obama said that the agreement was “the best chance we’ve had to save the one planet that we’ve got,” and that it showed “what’s possible when the world stands as one.” He also declared that the resulting deal “establishes the enduring framework the world needs to solve the climate crisis.”

However, many proponents of the plan agree that its value is more about symbolism and hoped-for gains than near-term substance, and critics are zooming in on the agreement’s lack of legal teeth, as well as how optimistic it seems to be about future international cooperation, technological advancement, and the sustained domestic will within each country. Much of the agreement was reportedly made deliberately vague so as to avoid hurdles like the Republican-controlled Senate. According to climate scientists, the voluntary emissions-reduction plans already fall far short of the agreement’s goal of keeping the world temperature less than 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels by the year 2100.

 

Read more…

 

Published on December 13, 2015

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