Tag Archives: democracy

Is the EU finally under compulsion to reform?

Tensions in the EU have been simmering for some time. There were ongoing quarrels and contradictions during the Euro crisis, and then, as a consequence of unregulated immigration flows. In addition, the Italian government is planning to seriously run up their debts, violating all relevant stability rules. The EU reactions to Russian assertiveness in Crimea, Eastern Ukraine, Syria, the poisoning scandal in the UK (with fallout now in Switzerland) and, notorious violations of anti-doping rules also raised different levels of concern. The governments in Hungary, Italy and Cyprus have expressed understanding towards Russian leaders. More relevant, there are serious quarrels over perceived violations of the independence of the media, legal institutions and educational organizations in Poland and Hungary.

Until recently, the EU’s reactions have involved a mixture of talking and admonishing, but not much action. But now, both Poland and Hungary are exposed to different stages or Article 7 procedures which have been initiated by EU bodies. Even the conservative party grouping in the EU parliament is becoming agitated.

What is your expert view on these issues? Should the EU respond to rule violations by members in the same manner that they would when non-, or not-yet member states commit violations? What is the prospect of achieving success through further talks? What is the leverage of the EU? How do we factor-in the broader context of rising populism? Can the EU still defend its credibility against spoilers?

-Klaus Segbers

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Syria – Still a pawn in the hands of the powerful

Syria is back in the the headlines (not that it was absent in recent years) and the conflict has returned to the agendas of regional and global stakeholders. With the help of Putin and his regular and private military operations, Assad has regained chunks of the territories ceded in the prior six years.
An attack on the Idlib area seems imminent, which may produce new waves of migrants and possible new gas attacks. At this point in the conflict Russia remains supportive of the regime, Turkey is concerned because of the Kurdish role, and Europe is anxiously wringing its proverbial hands.

This week’s questions are: Do we have to accommodate to a lasting role for the Assad regime, forgetting about his war crimes or not, and accept that he will have a role in Syria’s reconstruction. Or should we deny this, keeping supporting the troubled and fragmented militias, trying to limit Russia’s and/ or Turkey’s influence? We can assume that U.S. and EU interference will be quite limited.

-Klaus Segbers

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In a World of Disasters: Where are we heading until Year’s End?

Almost two thirds of this year are gone. Where is the balance, so far, in global politics? It is summer time, so it is time for reflection.

As last December—when we asked you for the last time for a prognosis, the liberal world order, established after 1945—is in disarray. An alternative is not in sight. The American president is a loose cannon, erratic and unstable. Midterm elections may cost him the majority in at least one chamber of the House. China’s economy looks slightly more stable, but it is entangled in a trade war with the U.S. A medicine scandal is tainting the highly centralized Chinese system, so the buck has to stop at the top.

In the EU, another country is moving away from the basic consensus of the Paris Charter in 1990 – Italy. Half of voters in recent elections voted populist. An impending trade war with the U.S. is on hold, and may (or may not) commence later this year. In Russia, the soccer championship was enjoyable for many, but a much criticized pension reform is shifting the allegiances of the electorate away from the current powers. Ukraine is still not considered to have moved beyond Russia’s sovereignty. Internally, political issues in Ukraine are significant. India and Brazil  are facing their own domestic issues.

Climate change is on the march. We are experiencing one of the hottest summers on record. Plastic is covering ever bigger parts of the oceans (and the earth). The big IT companies are still unsure how to address data protection demands. And how to balance the freedom of expression, and the protection against ‘hate speech’. Protectionism and mercantilism are en vogue, as are nonsense concepts such as ‘alternative reality’. The independence of media has to be defended every month.

What is your forecast for the rest of the year? What can be expected?

-Klaus Segbers

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New global tasks or persevering for a change?

Europe is watching with puzzlement and growing despair at how the world is changing. The liberal global order as it was established after 1945 is becoming weaker. The guarantor for this order, the administration of the United States, is turning away from this role. China, while implicitly
suggesting that it might take over this role, is far away from it, at least far from any support for a liberal order. Russia (a middle power with nukes and based on carbon-based energy resources) is far away from both: order, and liberalism.

The EU, the biggest economic bloc and with two permanent seats in the Security Council, is considering its options. While alliances with either China or Russia are out of the question, the 70 year alliance between the EU and the US is under threat.

What, then, is a higher risk to the EU? To muddle through and hope for a better U.S. president (possibly an erroneous tactic), or to finally take over more of its own responsibility—especially in security and trade?

-Klaus Segbers

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What is the right way to handle the migration flows in Europe?

Attitudes and policies toward migrants are a relevant issue across countries and continents. The issue of migration is amongst the most divisive of our political epoch, and there is constant debate about the practical and moral challenges of migration policies.

One philosophical question at the forefront of debate is whether states have the right to determine or select which incoming migrants have the right to asylum. Proponents of a selective intake have argued that this can help to protect existing cultural, economic and political communities from outside influence. In response, critics argue that the background and circumstances (such as birthplace) of potential migrants should have no bearing on their freedom of movement.

Practically, it is a challenge to properly categorize incoming people. This challenge is exacerbated by the fact that certain privileges or entitlements are tied to certain categories or statuses. For example, asylum seekers are generally accepted, refugee cases must be treated in accordance with the UNHCR regulation, and rejected (but not deported) individuals can retain a subsidiary status. Legislation and bilateral agreements also offer possibilities such as migration for the purpose of family reunion, or for labor.

On a logistical level, it is difficult to establish an effective system for processing migrant applications. Issues include creating registration centers and procedures, offering shelter while applications are being processed, and the especially pertinent issue of where asylum seekers should be resettled once their applications have been processed. The refusal of several EU states to accept their assigned quota of refugees has made the issue of resettling migrants especially difficult.  In Europe, additional issues are the role of the protection of the external borders by Frontex, the role of traffickers and NGOs, and the (mostly encouraging) effect of social media on the decision making of potential migrants.

For those incoming people who are legally accepted (and for some who are not), it has to be determined what the aim of their stay is: is the best approach for Europe to encourage incoming migrants to adapt, to integrate, or assimilate?  Should the option of ‘returning home’, for example after a civil war has ended, be kept as a real one?

All these issues are potentially and actually disruptive in many societies. Populist movements have bolstered their support around allegations of government mismanagement of immigration. What are both ethical and legitimate, but also effective, responses that  governments should consider?

– Klaus Segbers

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How to deal with populist power in Europe?

Following the Italian elections in March this year, we now have the opportunity to observe a newly elected populist government in action. One can argue that Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia have become increasingly populist under existing conservative and nationalist governments. Austria’s governing coalition uneasily incorporates many aspects of populism into their far-right platform. Italy, however, is the most explicit example of populist governance in action, because the election campaign was led with clear anti-EU and anti-Euro rhetoric, pro-Russian and anti-German messages, and a radical anti-immigration program.

A few days ago, the Austrian chancellor, Kurz spoke of a new ‘axis’ between Vienna, Rome and Munich. Decisions made in German politics this week may result in significant collateral consequences for the traditional German party system and for the stabilizing role that Germany has played under chancellor Merkel in the EU and beyond.

The current strategy of the acting German government’s majority is to address the new Italian government (and the Austrian government) by suggesting concrete solutions for factual issues, instead of fighting ideational battles.

Do you think that this is the right way of addressing populists in power?

Klaus Segbers

See also: Was denkbar ist – Klaus Segbers

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What kind of role does politics play in sport?

In a few days one of the world’s largest sporting events commences: the FIFA Football World Cup, this year held in Russia. With the recurrence of the World Cup in a new city every four years, we find ourselves debating how close or far politics should be from big soccer events.

Putin’s Russia (which is not all of Russia) is many things. Democracy, minority protection and international rule observance would not come to mind quickly when describing today’s Russia.

So when global soccer teams−with media, fans and commercial interests in tow−stream to Moscow and other Russian cities, we should think about how to frame this event:

Are these Putin’s games, or the festival for the youth of the world? Is this a gigantic media event, or will we encounter islands of authenticity? Can we separate the event from the Russian political context, or should we use the opportunity and talk on the spot about Crimea, Syria, and doping? And should political leaders of the world who care about values go to Russia and cheer for their teams, or not?

-Klaus Segbers

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“Partying Like It´s 1933”- What Did We Learn and Can We Do Better This Time Around?

There is an ongoing debate about the character of these years, 2017 and now 2018. Maybe stimulated by the recent change of years and nostalgic sentiments, there were some features added to this debate. The core issue suggested is that we are experiencing a major change in the global structure, an epochal rupture, a tipping point, or a Zeitenwende, away from the liberal global order established after the horror of the Second World War. The organizations and institutions of the Bretton Woods system are experiencing, so we learn, an erosion, a devaluation, and are partly supplemented by Chinese-led structures (AIIB, OBOR, etc.). The U.S. in particular is departing from organizations (UNESCO), and global treaties (Kyoto Protocol), giving up on trade regimes (TTIP, TPP) and customary rules (status of Jerusalem), and afflicting damage to other agreements (Iran Vienna agreement), reducing the credibility of established organizations (NATO), and addressing the EU with contempt and ASEAN with neglect. Although the Chinese are more polite, they may agree with the substance of a perceived or claimed need to build a new global (dis)order. Russia does not care much either way, violating rules if convenient. Most of the EU sticks to rules, but it is not united, losing with the UK an important member state, and is not strong enough to serve as a counterweight.

A second, more specific concern is the question of whether there are parallels between 1933 and 2017-18. What was the rise of National Socialism 85 years ago, is now, as some writers suggest, the rise of populism. One and a half years ago, Robert Kagan alerted the public with the piece ‘This is how fascism will come to America’. More recently, the President of the Australian Institute of International Affairs stated that ‘the global order that had shaped the world since the end of World War II was over’. The observer Alex Bayer wrote in Kyiv Post under the header ‘Partying like it’s 1933’ about a world that is ‘being launched upon some kind of destructive course and careening full speed toward as yet unknown disaster’, and sees a situation he compares ‘(i)n this respect … is similar to the year 1933 when the foundations of the subsequent momentous events in world history were laid but the events themselves were yet to take shape’.

The New York Times registers and comments on two new publications with the header ‘Will Democracy Survive President Trump? Two New Books Aren’t Not So Sure’. One of the authors, David Frum, who has a sound Republican background, is quoted as saying ‘if it’s potentially embarrassing to speak too soon, it can also be dangerous to wait too long’. USA Today published a piece by the former under-secretary of state Nicholas Burns under the title ‘America is on the brink of a historic break with Europe, thanks to Trump’.

It is very difficult during the course of ongoing events not to lose perspective. Very true. But most of the consequences of 1917, for example, were not quite anticipated, as was the trajectory of 1933. The end of the East-West conflict in 1989 surprised most professional pundits. The financial crashes of 2007-08 came over the world in a similar fashion. So this week’s question is: Do we think that we can do better now?

 – Klaus Segbers

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What are the three most relevant, potentially destabilizing challenges the world is facing in 2018?

Like every year, we will have a look at the year to come:

Dear experts,

what are the three most relevant, potentially destabilizing challenges the world is facing in 2018?

And what are the three developments you would welcome most in global politics next year?

Given the coming holidays, I would appreciate it if many of you would respond. It may be short.

Season’s greetings, and – despite your maybe skeptical forecasts: Happy New Year.

– Klaus Segbers

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The Chinese Way – Our Model?

Western perceptions of China were recently quite ambivalent. On the one hand, Chinese leaders were quick to exploit President Trump’s contempt for liberal organizations and institutions, and to offer Chinese leadership in defending liberal values, especially open trade (see President Xi’s speech in Davos last spring). At the same time, there are more and more indications that China is moving with breathtaking speed toward a more illiberal, authoritarian form of governance.

A new state agency against corruption will double the existing intra-party body addressing the same task, with competencies contradicting existing laws and the constitution. Apparently there are provisions allowing for arbitrary arrest (NYT, China anti-graft plan criticized, NYT, December 2, 2017). This has triggered an unprecedented wave of protests by Chinese lawyers – so far to no avail.  In an unrelated development, a harsh campaign against migrant laborers living and working in the Beijing suburbs is disrupting their living conditions, compelling them to leave on very short notice. This campaign is allegedly directed at preventing new fires in communities with hazardous fire protection, but its manner of execution is being criticized even by established Chinese citizens.

The conditions for external actors being active in China are worsening as well. The law on foreign NGOs is well known. And it gave headaches to many foreign organizations looking for one of the few available Chinese partners, and the new rules for their work. In addition, the Chinese government is now trying to stipulate that Communist party cells must be established in all mostly foreign owned private enterprises. The rights of these cells are impressive, up to co-deciding or overruling investment and other issues, thereby infringing on property rights. The normally quite hesitant chambers of commerce (like the German ones) sent out clear official warnings that German companies may have to withdraw from China if this policy is enforced. Along similar lines, academic cooperation also is becoming more difficult. President Xi gave at least two speeches stating that there are too many foreign professors and foreign textbooks in China, apparently ignoring the fact that Karl Marx also was (and remains) a foreigner, with lots of ‘textbooks’ still in use in China that carry an official imprimatur.

A very worrisome trend is the Chinese strategy of making international companies bow to special Chinese rules. Big U.S. IT companies are all under pressure to allow Chinese state authorities access to their customers’ data, a debate also common in Western countries. The big five are open to accommodating these ‘wishes’ to different degrees; if they do not comply they are blocked (like Facebook). What is more specific is that publishers, especially academic ones, are also under a lot of pressure to make certain journals inaccessible for Chinese customers. Last summer, Cambridge University Press agreed to remove 300 articles from its Chinese website. The same goes for Springer Nature publishers. Later this year, Cambridge UP reconsidered. Even more surprising, in Australia the publisher Allen & Unwin withdrew a book (Silent Invasion: How China is Turning Australia Into a Puppet State) from the Australian (!) market, after China ranted against the publication.

In the international arena, China is continuing to broaden its ‘One Road One Belt’ initiative. This ‘New Silk Road’ has implications far beyond economics, and is often tied to political interests. Recently, there was another meeting of the ’16+1′ format, where eleven EU members and five Balkan states, plus China, came together in Budapest. It is not stretching the imagination too much to claim that some of the Eastern and Central European participants enjoy the presence of China in this format – not only as an investor, but also as a partner who does not issue reprimands about their human rights practices and worsening separation of powers.

The most frightening trend is the introduction of an all-Chinese ‘social credit point system’, where not only social, health and work-place relevant data and parameters are collected and combined for each Chinese citizen, but also assessments of peoples’ social and political activities, opinions, and social network activities. When people move beyond a threshold of negative points, they are punished by, for example, being unable to buy train or plain tickets, or to send their kids to school. This is a combination of (in Western parlance) ‘big government’ and ‘big business’ data parameters and algorithms, leading to immediate consequences for the person’s well-being and mobility options. This resembles a super-Matrix, where hardly anybody can escape from total control. Orwell 3.0.

While properly assessing all these trends, we should not overlook that in some instances there are responses and criticism inside China. I do think one only can admire the risk-taking of these individuals.

But the question this week is: Are these trends now unstoppable, and is this what we have to anticipate for other parts of the world as well? Is this our future? I know that this post may be not so well suited for advent time; or maybe, it is?

– Klaus Segbers

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