28
May

 

Crowfunding conference (1)

Javier Ramos, Research Associate at the University of Zurich and Complutense Institute of International Relations, addressed the MIR class on Friday 23 May in what was the last seminar of the academic year. His topic, crowdfunding, was both relevant and novel for the students.  Crowdfunding is a relatively recent phenomenon in which funds can be raised through the internet for a political, cultural, non-profit or even commercial campaign.  The three core dimensions of crowdfunding are: social networks (one can raise funds from friends and family); sector specific (the event is usually cultural); low risk (amounts donated or lent are usually quite small). This new form of financing often benefits from the “wisdom of the crowd” or the fact that, collectively, projects can become more efficient or effective. Indeed, through crowdfunding, a person may lend money to a project he/she believes in but can also give feedback on how to improve the project. This is “collective” intelligence or “efficiencracy”: efficiency through democracy.

According to Ramos, there are 4 types of crowdfunding platforms: equity based in which investors seek profits; lending based in which lenders seek interest; reward based in which one receives a reward (a book, a diploma, a gift) in exchange for a donation; and donation based in which whatever you pledge is a donation. What makes this type of financing innovative is that almost anything and everything can get financed: an end of school trip, tuition for a Phd program etc…

Of course, crowdfunding, like any new phenomenon, also presents risks and disadvantages: the risk of fraud or that you will invest your money in something uncertain, untried, untested, distant. Some critics also dislike the fact that there is no interaction or real face to face time with the person who is fundraising for a project. Perhaps, the strongest criticism is that these new internet platforms are as yet unregulated and that international law lags behind these new initiatives. In due time, laws and regulations will catch up and crowdfunding will become a transparent, efficient and democratic way to finance one’s dreams.

27
May

Chappatte cartoon: Protest vote in Europe

 

On the day the Bastille was stormed in 1789, King Louis XVI wrote in his diary, “rien“. Few European leaders will have typed “nothing” into their iPads today, but there is a real danger that, in response to the revolutionary cry across the continent, they will in effect do nothing. Today’s rien has a face and a name. The name’s Juncker. Jean-Claude Juncker.

A disastrous “the same only more so” response from Europe’s leaders would be signalled by taking Juncker – Spitzenkandidat of the largest party grouping in the new European parliament, the centre-right European People’s party – and making him president of the European commission. The canny Luxembourgeois was the longest-serving head of an EU national government, and the chair of the Eurogroup through the worst of the eurozone crisis. Although he has considerable skills as a politician and deal-maker, he personifies everything protest voters from left to right distrust about remote European elites. He is, so to speak, the Louis XVI of the EU.

The danger also lies in what now seems likely to happen inside the European parliament. The most probable development is a kind of unspoken grand coalition of the current mainstream party groupings, centre-right, centre-left, liberal and (at least on some issues) greens, to keep all the anti-parties at bay. If another six of the more xenophobic, nationalist parties accept the lead of the Marine le Pen’s triumphant Front National, papering over their differences to form a recognised group within the parliament, that will give them funding (from European taxpayers’ pockets) and a stronger position in parliamentary procedure, but still not enough votes to overpower such a centrist grand coalition.

Surely that is a good thing? Yes, in the short term. But only if that grand coalition then supports decisive reform of the EU. It should start, symbolically, by refusing ever again to make its absurd regular commute from its spacious quarters in Brussels to its second luxurious seat in Strasbourg – the EU’s version of Versailles – at an estimated cost of €180m a year. If, however, the unspoken grand coalition does not deliver more of what so many Europeans want over the next five years, it will only strengthen the anti-EU vote next time round. Then all the mainstream parties will be held responsible for the failure.

The one silver lining to this continent-sized cloud is that, for the first time since direct elections to the parliament began in 1979, overall voter turnout has apparently not declined. Turnout varies greatly from country to country – in Slovakia it was estimated to be 13% – but in France, for example, significantly more voters showed up than last time. What pro-Europeans preached for so long has finally come to pass: European citizens actively engaging in an EU-wide democratic process. But, irony of ironies, they do so to vote against the EU.

So what were Europeans telling their leaders? The general message was perfectly summed up by the cartoonist Chappatte, who drew a group of protesters holding up a placard shouting “Unhappy” – and one of their number shouting through a megaphone into the ballot box. There are 28 member states and 28 varieties of Unhappy. Some of the successful protest parties really are on the far-right: in Hungary, for example, Jobbik got three seats and more than 14% of the vote. Most, like Britain’s victorious Ukip, draw voters from right and left, feeding on sentiments such as “we want our country back” and “too many foreigners, too few jobs”. But in Greece, the big protest vote went to the leftwing, anti-austerity Syriza.

Simon Hix, an expert on the European parliament, has identified three main schools of unhappiness: north Europeans outside the eurozone (Brits, Danes), north Europeans inside the eurozone (the kind of Germans who secured several seats for the anti-euro party Alternative für Deutschland) and south Europeans inside the eurozone (Greeks, Portuguese).

That leaves the east Europeans, many of whom are unhappy in their own ways. The fact that the Unhappy come at the problem from such different angles makes it harder to address. The Syriza voter’s dream for eurozone policy is the Alternative für Deutschland voter’s nightmare.

Yet one thing they all have in common: fear for the life chances of their children. Until about 10 years ago, the general assumption was that things would be better for the next generation of Europeans. “Europe” was part of a larger story of progress. But a Eurobarometer poll earlier this year found more than half saying that the lives of children in the EU would be “more difficult” than their own.

There is already a generation of European graduates who feel they have been robbed of the better future they were led to expect. They are members of a new class: the precariat.

In such a dramatic moment for the whole European project, it is worth going back to the very origins, to the 1948 Congress of Europe, where the veteran advocate of Pan-Europa, Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi, admonished his fellow founders: “Let us never forget, my friends, that European union is a means and no end.” That is as true today as it was then. European union is not an end in itself. It is a means to the end of delivering better – more prosperous, free, secure – lives for its people.

So what we need now is a radical focus on delivery. Enough of those endless institutional debates. The question is not “more Europe or less Europe?” It is: more of what and less of what? For example, we need more of the single market in energy, telecoms, the internet and services, but we may need less Brussels-led policy in fisheries and culture.

Every step that produces a single job for a currently unemployed European should be taken. Every centimetre of red tape that puts someone out of work must be torn up. This is no time for Junckers. The moment demands a European commission of all the talents, led by someone of proven ability like Pascal Lamy or Christine Lagarde, entirely dedicated to the task of convincing the legions of the Unhappy that there is a better future for their children, and that it lies with Europe.

That is what should happen. But will it? I have a dreadful feeling in my bones that future historians may write of the May 2014 elections: “This was the wake-up call from which Europe failed to wake up.”

Timothy Garton Ash is a historian, political writer and Guardian columnist. His personal website is www.timothygartonash.com. He directs the 13-language websitefreespeechdebate.com, and is writing a book about free speech

 

Published on Monday 26 May 2014 in the www.theguardian.com

 

22
May

How Putin Won Big in China

Written on May 22, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Asia, Energy & Environment, Op Ed

Done deal. Photographer: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin has achieved what Western leaders feared: He has cut a big, long-term deal to supply natural gas to China, a pivot to the East that makes Russia much less vulnerable to whatever sanctions the West might impose.

The gas contract had been 10 years in preparation, mostly because the parties haggled relentlessly over the price. The parameters of the deal made public by Alexey Miller, chief executive officer of Russia’s near-monopoly gas producer, Gazprom, suggest the final price will be roughly $10 per million British thermal units. That is less than Russia may have wished for, but about as much as it makes sense for China to pay. Data from Platts suggest that the weighted average price of gas from Myanmar, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan came to about $10.14 last year. This year, Gazprom expects to export its gas at the average price of $10.62 per million Btu, but traditional consumers in Europe are trying to bargain it down.

Crucially, the deal opens up a major new market in case Europeans make good on their threat to cut their dependence on Russian gas supplies. China has signed up to import 38 billion cubic meters per year, more than its total 2013 pipeline imports (they reached 27.7 billion cubic meters) and about 20 percent of Russia’s 2013 export volume. China can easily take more, too. The country currently gets two-thirds of its energy from coal, which it is eager to replace with gas for environmental reasons. The current gas imports are a drop in the bucket compared with the potential market size.

Two more bonus points: It’s likely that China will help Russia finance the enormous infrastructure investment — estimated at more than $30 billion — required to uphold its end of the deal, and China will probably be paying in renminbi, making the deal safe from any Western sanctions.

A joint statement signed ahead of the deal sounds like an anti-Western pact. Echoing the Russian position on the Ukraine crisis, it contains this thinly veiled invective against U.S. and EU policies:

The parties stress the necessity of respecting nations’ historic heritage, their cultural traditions and their independent choice of sociopolitical system, value system and development path, of counteracting interference in other countries’ domestic affairs, of rejecting the language of unilateral sanctions, or organizing, aiding, financing or encouraging activity aimed at changing the constitutional system of another country or drawing it into any multilateral bloc or union.

Coupled with a spate of smaller contracts and agreements, this is all Putin could have wished for. China apparently sees no downside to strengthening its partnership with Russia. It is getting a reliable source of much-needed energy, calm along a 2,600-mile border and easier terms for companies wishing to invest in Russia’s vast natural resources. As for the West, it is dependent on China to produce its industrial goods and maintain a high level of investment in its public debt. Beijing is unlikely to suffer any political fallout from embracing Putin when he’s a pariah in Western capitals.

Putin, for his part, is virtually assured of coming out a winner from his Crimea adventure. The alliance with China allows him to crawl off into the reeds like a sated crocodile. He is no longer hungry, for the moment, and there is no immediate threat of total isolation. The only problem for him is that China is clearly the stronger partner in the alliance: The Beijing talks were politically much more important for Putin than for his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping. Russia could end up China’s satellite if it does not at least partially rebuild a relationship with the West. That, however, is a problem Putin can deal with later.

 

By Leonid Bershidsky; Published on May 21, 2014

http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2014-05-21/how-putin-won-big-in-china

21
May

A Finland Model for Ukraine?

Written on May 21, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Democracy & Human Rights, EU Expansion, Europe, Op Ed

 

WASHINGTON — After months of war fever over Ukraine, perhaps the biggest surprise is that citizens there will be voting to choose a new government in elections that observers predict will be free and fair in most areas.

This electoral pathway for Ukraine seemed unlikely a few weeks ago, given Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea and his covert campaign to destabilize the Russian-speaking areas of eastern Ukraine. There were dire warnings of a new Cold War, and even of a ground war in Ukraine. The country seemed at risk of being torn apart.

If this Finland-like status is what Ukrainians support (and recent evidence suggests their new leaders may indeed choose this course) then it should be a welcome outcome for the West, too. Ukraine’s problems are internal; it needs ideological coherence more than territorial defense. It needs the breathing space that nonalignment can provide. The Ukrainian people can’t be barred from seeking membership in NATO or the European Union, but it’s unimaginable that either body would say yes, perhaps for decades. So Putin can breathe easier on that score.

Maybe the elections will dull the self-flagellating domestic rhetoric in America that Putin’s menacing moves were somehow the fault of President Obama and his allegedly weak foreign policy. Obama has made mistakes, especially in the Middle East, but his Ukraine policy mostly has been steady and correct. He recognized that the U.S. had no military options and fashioned a strategy that, with German help, seems to have deterred Putin from further recklessness.

If the election goes forward (with Putin maintaining his current “wait and see” stance), Obama deserves credit for crisis policymaking of the sort recommended by the respected British strategist Lawrence Freedman. “The basic challenge of crisis management is to protect core interests while avoiding major war.” Freedman wrote in a March essay on the blog “War on the Rocks.” He argued, even then, that criticism of Obama’s allegedly weak stance was “overdone.”

The case for “Finlandization” emerges in a monograph prepared recently by the State Department’s Office of the Historian. It argues that “Finnish foreign policy during the Cold War successfully preserved Finland’s territorial and economic sovereignty, through adherence to a careful policy of neutrality in foreign affairs.” Ukraine’s new government may pursue a similar nonalignment, judging from the leading candidate, billionaire oligarch Petro Poroshenko, who has pro-Western ties but also served in the Moscow-leaning government of deposed president Viktor Yanukovych.

The State Department study also noted that nonalignment allowed Finland “to serve as a bridge between the Soviet bloc and the West.” Helsinki became a meeting ground for arms-control and human-rights talks that eventually transformed Eastern Europe. A similar bridging role for Ukraine would be welcome, as it would draw Russia west, away from an atavistic strategy of creating a Eurasian trade bloc to re-establish Soviet-style economic hegemony.

For all the war talk, Ukraine has really been a test of nonconventional forces and covert action rather than military intervention. Putin, the ex-KGB officer, launched a deniable “stealth” invasion of Crimea in February, using troops without insignia. He continued the pressure in eastern Ukraine by working with pro-Russian irregular militias, though their unruly behavior eventually seemed to worry even Putin. He may have threatened invasion but he never seemed eager to roll his tanks across an international border.

What seems to have slowed Putin’s allies in Ukraine is similarly unconventional. It wasn’t Ukrainian government troops that restored order in eastern cities such as Donetsk and Mariupol. The army’s performance was middling, at best. Stability returned because of the deployment in at least five eastern cities of steelworkers and miners apparently dispatched by Ukraine’s richest man, Rinat Akhmetov, who opposed a breakup of his country.

“This has to be Ukraine’s choice,” argues Karen Donfried, the new president of the German Marshall Fund (where I’m a trustee) and former National Security Council director for Europe. If Ukrainians seek an accommodation with Moscow, it must be their desire for self-limitation, not a policy imposed by Washington or Berlin.

The stabilizing factor here will be a Ukraine that makes its own decisions.

davidignatius@washpost.com
Published on May 21, 2014 in the Washington Post.
20
May

 

Should Pakistan Welcome Modi’s Election in India?

As others have reported today, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won a landslide victory in India’s parliamentary elections this month. It’s the first time that a single party has won a clear majority in an Indian election in three decades.

The BJP’s victory will bring Narendra Modi to power as India’s next prime minister. As Ankit and I talk abouton the podcast today, Modi and the BJP’s victory are in many ways a nightmare for Pakistan. The BJP is a Hindu nationalist party, and both Modi and the BJP have been perceived as being especially hardline when it comes to Pakistan.

Ankit, for instance, pointed out that Modi has suggested that India might conduct covert cross-border raidstargeting specific Pakistan-based anti-India terrorists. Another harrowing possibility is that Pakistan-based terrorists, at least assumed to be working in cohort with Pakistani terrorists, will carry out another major terrorist attack in India in the mold of the 2001 bombing of the Indian Parliament building or the siege of Mumbai in 2008. A BJP government under Modi is unlikely to act with the same restraint that the outgoing UPA government has shown in these incidents.

Even if incidents as dramatic as these don’t materialize, Modi and the BJP’s victory could put the brakes on the nascent Indo-Pakistani détente. As The Diplomat has reported, since Nawaz Sharif’s assumption of power in Pakistan in 2013, India and Pakistan have made small but notable progress in expanding trade and people-to-people ties. It’s possible that Modi will reverse course on this front, which is probably one reason Sharif has been so quick to reach out to Modi and congratulate him on his victory.

Although none of these possibilities should be dismissed, it’s possible that Modi will actually become an asset for Pakistan on a couple of fronts.

First, the BJP in general and Modi in particular have been widely criticized as being anti-Muslim. Most notably, many believe Modi either acquiesced in or actively encouraged the anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat back in 2002. At the very least, Muslims in India are extremely wary of Modi and the BJP at present. If actions and rhetoric in the ensuing months and years confirm their current suspicions, Indian Muslims and other non-Hindu Indians are likely to become extremely dissatisfied.

Moreover, if the Indian government enacts egregious anti-Muslim policies, or condones anti-Muslim actions (especially something like the Gujarat riots in 2002), this will hurt India’s image in the international community, particularly among Western nations like the U.S. and Muslim nations in the Middle East. Pakistan will have opportunities to exploit this dissatisfaction among Indian Muslims, although it will have to tread carefully so as not to provoke Delhi into a kinetic conflict. At the same time, it will benefit from India’s image suffering in the court of international opinion.

Second, Modi’s premiership might push China even closer to Pakistan. As Ankit discussed on the podcast today, it’s not clear that Modi will take a hard line against China, especially given the importance he places on economic growth. Still, if history is any guide a BJP prime minister is likely to see China with greater alarm than a Congress Party leader. And if India adopts more hardline policies towards China, Pakistan becomes a bigger asset in the eyes of Beijing. This would be extremely beneficial to Islamabad, given its desperate need for Chinese assistance and aid in numerous areas, especially as the U.S. is likely to reduce its own aid to Pakistan as it withdraws from Afghanistan.

Thus, while on the surface Modi’s electoral victory is unsettling to Pakistan, it may ultimately work out in its favor.

 

Published on 17 May, 2014 in http://thediplomat.com

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