Sunday 20 April 2014

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The EU and Contemporary Democracy

Posted by on 17/04/14

The notion of democracy derives from ancient history; it originates from the Greek words dêmos and kratos, which means ‘rule of the people’. Its modern definition lies in the eye of the beholder since nations have various interpretations on what makes a society ‘democratic’.

But generally, a democracy, according to Wikipedia, is “a form of government in which all eligible citizens participate equally—either directly or indirectly through elected representatives—in the proposal, development, and creation of laws.

In the EU, a settled definition on democracy does not exist per se, but certain essential elements of democracy do exist within its treaties that altogether build a European perspective on democracy that includes attachments to several principles, among them include liberty, respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law. Thus, to consider an entity like the EU democratic, it must comply with those given principles.

Democracy was the ideology that reigned supreme in the past century that still influences today’s society, but rising tensions in nations produced new problems and challenges that are currently being faced today. The Economist tackled the issue with a 6-page special essay published last month and argued that one reason for the problems is due to the economic crisis of 2007/2008 and its handling.

The weekly newspaper contended: “The damage the crisis did was psychological as well as financial. It revealed fundamental weaknesses in the West’s political systems, undermining the self-confidence that had been one of their great assets. Governments had steadily extended entitlements over decades, allowing dangerous levels of debt to develop, and politicians came to believe that they had abolished boom-bust cycles and tamed risk. Many people became disillusioned with the workings of their political systems—particularly when governments bailed out bankers with taxpayers’ money and then stood by impotently as financiers continued to pay themselves huge bonuses.

This is probably why, despite the EU’s status as a true democracy, it still produces problems such as economic instability, political distrust and bad governance.

All these factors lead to the notion of the EU having a “democratic deficit”, the concept that suggests that EU governance in some way lacks democratic legitimacy, since it implies the perceived lack of information given to the average citizen and the lack of accountability of EU institutions.

The democratic deficit also refers to the EU’s complex structure, which produces problems due to the fact that the EU is more than an intergovernmental organization yet less than a federal state, making it impossible to reconcile the principle of equality of states (as purportedly upheld by international organizations) and the principle of equality of citizens (as purportedly upheld by nations).

The answer in solving these issues is reform; Eurosceptics argue that the EU needs to reform itself by reducing its powers and letting member states decide what’s best. Such an idea, as I argued in my previous essays, is regressively counterproductive and undesirable.

Pro-Europeanists, on the other hand, insist that what the EU needs is institutional reform, particularly in giving the EU more powers based on federal principles to fix the Union’s civil distrust concerning its political disorganization.

But what everyone can agree to is this: democracy needs an update; The Economist argued that elected governments must regard the idea as something powerful yet imperfect, and that transparency, developed checks and balances regarding the governments’ powers and the adequate control of the emerging idea of globalism and the popular trend of localism are the essential factors in developing and reinforcing a healthy democracy in the 21st century.

Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons


UK Government agency lacks resources to do its basic job

Posted by on 17/04/14
By Chris Whitehouse Staffing crises and soaring workloads at a UK Government Agency have forced it to throw up its hands in bureaucratic despair, a bizarre email acknowledgment suggests. Two main causes come straight to my mind...

Pro-Russia Donetsk Republic orders all Jews “to register”

Posted by on 17/04/14

I am based in Brussels and cannot confirm the authenticity of this document, but I guess it deserves attention.
A website of the Ukrainian city of Donetsk has published a photograph of a leaflet propagated by the authorities of the self-proclaimed pro-Russian “Donetsk Peoples’ Republic” with the following content:

“Dear citizens of Jewish nationality! Due to the fact that the leaders of the Jewish community in Ukraine supported Bendera junta in Kiev and are hostile to Orthodox Donetsk republic and its citizens , the Main Headquarters of the Donetsk republic ruled as follows :

All citizens of Jewish nationality over 16 years, residing in the territory of Donetsk sovereign republic, need until 3 May 2014 appear in front of the Commissioner for Nationalities in the building of Donetsk Regional Administration, Office N. 514 for registration. The registration fee is U.S. $ 50.

You should have cash in the amount of U.S. $ 50 for registration fee, your passports where your religion will be marked, documents of your family members, as well as documents attesting of the real estate property owned by you and your vehicles.

In case of failure to register the perpetrators will be stripped of their citizenship and deported forcibly outside the country with confiscation of property. Your Peoples’ Governor Denis Pushilin”

Putin’s propaganda calls the pro-European Ukrainian citizens fascists. Who are the fascists, actually?

NGOs should be further involved on the implementation of the Youth Guarantee

Posted by on 17/04/14

Last week, AEGEE attended the conference “Youth Guarantee: Making It Happen” organised by the European Commission in Brussels. Both Miguel Gallardo (member of the board of AEGEE-Europe) and Mathieu Savary (from the Youth (un)Employment project) participated in the conference, and also on the preparatory meeting “Youth Employment: what next?” organised by the European Youth Forum and the Youth Intergroup of the European Parliament the day before.

The conference consisted in a series or panels with key note speakers from the different stakeholders involved on the implementation of the Youth Guarantee: member states and its employment services, regional and local governments, companies, trade unions and the youth sector. We could get updated information on which stage the different member states are now, and what are some of the challenges they are facing.

José Manuel Barroso, at the podium, and László Andor, on the right

AEGEE-Europe is happy to see that the Member States are working hard to implement this innovative approach to reduce the impact of the crisis on Youth Employment as soon as possible. However, if only an ambitious plan is essential to tackle effectively youht unemployment, this conference has shown that we are still far from a fully-fledged and successful implementation of the Youth Guarantee:


  • There are still some countries who did not submit the Implementation Plans to the European Commission yet;
  • The money made available from the European Union, through the European Social Fund, is not enough to put into practice an effective Youth Guarantee. Member States should cover the rest without any delay, since the ILO study proved that the costs of inactivity will be higher than the amount to be invested;
  • In most countries, the involvement of the youth sector in the development of the implementation plans has been very limited, and in many cases inexistent. This contradicts the Council Recommendation on establishing a Youth Guarantee, which explicitly mentioned that Member States should “ensure the consultation or involvement of young people and/or youth organisations in designing and further developing the Youth Guarantee scheme”.
  • We encourage all countries to extend the age range of potential beneficiaries to 30 years, to reflect the reality of society and include in the Youth Guarantee those young Europeans who finish their studies in their late twenties.

We believe the Youth Guarantee has a big potential to contribute to the solution of the Youth Unemployment crisis in Europe, but the success of this initiative will depend much on the ownership the Member States take from it. It should not stay a European initiative, but countries and regions have to invest on it and include all actors on the process. The youth sector, through the National Youth Councils and other big youth platforms, can contribute with ideas in development, monitoring and evaluation of the whole scheme, and in the outreach to NEETs (not in education, employment and training), mostly young people far away from the labour market who represent a priority target group of the policy scheme. Overall, NGOs can play a decisive role as a possible placement to put into practice the knowledge acquired through formal education, or gain new skills through methods of non-formal education.

Written by Mathieu Savary, Youth (un)Employment project, and Miguel Gallardo, Project Director of AEGEE-Europe.

Are all EU citizens equal?

Posted by on 16/04/14
By Chris Whitehouse For many years the European Commission has operated a voluntary register in which political consultants, political lobbyists, campaign groups and public affairs advisors are able to register their staff, their clients and, by order of magnitude, their fees for engaging with the institutions of the EU. But there should be one rule for all the citizens of Europe, regardless of whether or not they are “registered”; passes for lobbyists should be withdrawn.

Never again.

Posted by on 16/04/14
As I am writing this I am listening to the speeches in the EP plenary in Strasbourg, on the WW I and lessons of the past as we look to the future. I’ve been pondering on writing on this subject for the past few months, as the subject is so vast and incredibly complex, that [...]

Post-2015 agenda: "UN" discusses the place of women in development

Posted by on 16/04/14


What is the place of women in development? What are the challenges and achievements of the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls? How should the promotion of gender equality be included in the post-2015 agenda?

These are some of the issues discussed during the fifty-eighth session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), by representatives of UN Member States, civil society organizations and UN entities from all regions of the world.

CSW is a global intergovernmental body working for the promotion of women’s rights, documenting the reality of women’s lives throughout the world, and defining global standards on gender equality and women’s empowerment.

This fifty-eighth session of CSW took place at the UN Headquarters in New York from 10 to 21 March 2014 and touched, more specifically, the “access and participation of women and girls to education and training”, and the promotion of “women’s equal access to full employment and decent work”. Furthermore delegates discussed women’s access to productive resources, and land property.

Despite the different delegates’ positions, the Commission finally reached an agreement that called for a stronger effort to achieve the millennium development goals, and confirmed the need for a stand-alone goal on gender equality and women’s empowerment for post-2015 development targets.

In fact in 2015 the set of international targets established in 2000 following the Millennium Summit of the United Nations – Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – will expire.

MDGs seek to eradicate poverty, guarantee primary education, combat HIV/AIDS and other disease, ensure environmental sustainability and develop a global partnership for development. Furthermore, three goals are specially linked to women’s rights: promoting gender equality and empowering women, reducing child mortality rates and improving maternal health.

The debate on the establishment of new sustainable development goals and indicators is very lively, because UN open working group are currently negotiating the future goals. Therefore, in this context, the message of the CSW is extremely strong: the Commission on the Status of women not only underlined the importance of a stand-alone goal for women rights, but also said that gender equality must underpin all other goals.                      



Millenium Development Goals (MDGs)

Relating to the current debate on thiimage005s issue, PubAffairs, a cross-sectorial network of professionals working in the fields of public affairs correlated to the European Union, organized a conference the 18 March. The discussion moderator was Gender Coordinator for OECD Development Center Ms Keiko Nowacka, an expert in the field of women and development.

The panel, composed by Ms Schumacher (UN women), Ms Kakunga (le Monde selon les femmes) and MEP Dan Preda, discussed the different approaches to women development and the different standards for measuring inequalities. Ms Nowacka insisted on the importance of choosing the right indicators; not for nothing is she an OECD officer.

Post-2015 agenda interests many different actors of civil society. In fact, defining new goals means shaping future development policies all over the world. Just looking to EU objectives concerning cooperation and development aid, we understand the influence exerted by UN goals. And that is why CSW delegates decided to use strong sentences in the outcome document of the Commission on the Status of Women. Thanks to their decision to focus on gender equality and women’s rights as a transversal issue as well as an important stand-alone goal, women issues will be always be highlighted in sustainable development goals.

Another question raised by the  post-2015 agenda is how to measure progresses in the field of development. A sensitive topic, especially because nowadays estimates on the achievement of Millennium Development Goals vary considerably.

If OECD in 2004 spoke about a “fast and accomplished progress” in some countries, proving  that “MDGs are achievable”, Amnesty International last year expressed its preoccupations for the lack of transparency in the elaboration of MDGs and the lack of involvement of the population in emerging countries. According to the worldwide NGO, “the MDGs have certainly set goals and targets, but they evaded the obligations of States in respect of human rights, while some rights are crucial to overcome poverty”.

Speaking about gender issues, OECD’s drivers of gender inequality are: discriminatory family code (age of marriage, parental authority…), restricted physical integrity, son bias (fertility preferences and missing women), restricted resources and entitlement and restricted civil liberties.

To face these structural obstacles to women empowerment, OECD proposes to improve their access to education and to economic resources. On the one hand this could help to fight violence against women – dependent women are more vulnerable -, and to improve women self-awareness in family dynamics and in childcare. On the other, this could give women the opportunity to participate in the economic, social and political life of their country.

Indeed, women empowerment in educational and economic sectors is very important to reduce poverty and attain other development goals. However, as Mrs. Kakunga said during PubAffairs conference, reducing poverty we also help women’s rights.


An interesting initiative put in place by OCDE Development to enable the exchange and improve the knowledge on gender equality-related issues around the world, is Wikigender. This web platform, based on the work of the OECD Gender, Institutions and Development Data Base, provides citizens with articles about women issues and updated statistics.

According to its founders, Wikigender aims to “highlight the importance of social institutions such as norms, traditions and cultural practices that impact on women’s empowerment”.

To go further:

- Article of The Guardian about 58° Commission on the status of women: EN

- Article of The Guardian about women’s rights progress: EN

- CSW on the website of UN women: EN

- Millenium Development Goals: EN

- Amnesty International point of view on the achievement of MDGs: EN

- Wikigender: EN


Classé dans:Actualités, DROITS FONDAMENTAUX, Egalité entre hommes et femmes, Non discrimination

United States supported – Europe abstained?

Posted by on 16/04/14


On April 1, United States Congress voted for allocation of financial aid to Ukraine. The bill that also includes sanctions against Russiawas supported by 378 deputies of the House of Representatives.
Earlier this document was approved by the Congress Senate. Its provisions stipulate punitive sanctions against persons undermining sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine specifically against “people in Russian Federation involved in large-scale corruption and responsible for it.”
Sanctions freeze up assets under US jurisdiction and refuse issuance of American entrance visas. The limitations are applied not only to persons guilty in undermining of sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine or corruption in Russia, but to their business partners and family members.
The bill also provides for credit guarantees to Ukraine at the sum of 1 billion US dollars. Moreover, the bill allocates 50 million USD for strengthening of civil society in Ukraine and 100 million USD more for broadening of cooperation with East European partners in security area.
Certainly, such decisive measures of Congress evidence the effort of the state to counteract military aggression of Russia to make it understand that the world community shall not forgive Putin intrusion into sovereign states. Considering that Ukraine voluntarily refused from nuclear weapons and Russia in its turn guaranteed Ukrainian territorial integrity recent events in Crimea appear to be a spit on any guarantees made by Putin and his helpers.
American example should be followed by Europe, from which only promises and apprehensions of worsening of trade negotiations with Russia are heard. Acting in such a way part of EU state leaders silently support policy of Russian Federation and accept Crimea annexation. It looks like they surrender Ukrainian effortsto meet their own economic interests.
Of course,European energy independence from Russia is an issue that will take a decade to be settled and application of sanctions presently looks unreasonable. Then, there is another way- to give economic impulse to Ukraine itself. It is needed to provide Ukraine with financial resources, economic preferences, to develop economic and technical cooperation between our enterprises. Ukraine is well-known forrelatively cheap labor force and huge human resources that in cooperation with our industry and high technologies in different areas can develop economic miracle in Ukraine.
To make our help to Ukraine effective it is necessary to involve European Investment Bank and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development that also declare their intentions to invest in Ukrainian economy, but no specific arrangements are initiatedso far.
Only European politics, as it is seen, do not keep their word and continue promising Ukraine to provide financial help while our American partners already grant it.

Aid was promised, but where is the money?

Posted by on 15/04/14

At the end of February of this year the EU leaders in reply to changing of State power in Ukraine promised to give financial help, aimed at financial system stabilization and different investment projects realization directed on development of the country economy.
Then Elmar Brok, chairman of the EP Committee on Foreign Affairs announced a sum in 20 billion Euros, which will be received by Ukraine for the reform implementation as soon as a new government will be formed.
At the beginning of March Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission informed that the sum of total aid would make 11 bn Euros. However, this is not all. A sum of 11 bn Euros will be allocated not immediately, but over four years and only on condition of signing of Association Agreement and implementation of all IMF requirements by Ukraine.
And only then aid will be given to Ukraine…only of about 610 million euro?! Why such number? Europe unexpectedly forgot its primary promises. After some time the EU leaders thought and decided to raise the size of macro financial aid, which will be given to Ukraine on 1 bn Euros, but the primary 610 million will be given in three tranches.
There is a rather strange “aid, aimed at financial system stabilization and effective reforms implementation”. It looks like a handout for the temporal closing of the budget gap. At the same time, according to Barroso, rest of the money will be collected by means of the European financial institutions including the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and European Investment Bank. Hence, it raises new questions: Will this money cover those projects, which were ratified by EBRD and EIB before?
If it’s so, then it turns out that Europe promises money, which was already planned. It looks like not European way, frankly speaking, they are waiting for our firm steps, but we just promise.
Now it’s already the end of March and Ukraine didn’t get any financial aid tranche. Is it simple surrendering of Ukrainian interests or banal confirmation that Europe doesn’t charge with its promises?
There is certainly probability that Europe doesn’t have money for such “giant” aid, after the decision of allocation of 8,5bn Euros to Greece within the “second anti-recessionary program” framework. Or did our leaders decide that people in trouble are left to themselves!? It is necessary to think over that consequences of Ukrainian economic crisis may without fail influence on us. The weak state is always under the threat of its neighbor’s aggression. So let’s start to do something, while we can help.

Up to the sky

Posted by on 15/04/14

Monday, 14 April, Google announced to buy Titan Aerospace – a New Mexio-based Startup that builds unmanned vehicles flying for months or even years on very high altitude in the mid-regions of the Earth’s atmosphere. The atmospheric satellites are aimed to deliver internet access to third-world and developing countries and to realize real-time solutions for such services like Google Maps. Such developments give an outlook where real big business for the future lies ahead. The price of the deal wasn’t issued, but Facebook’s approach to the company some time ago was at $60 million. Another sector, where EU’s missing a trend?

The Eurasian Union turning into a Mirage

Posted by on 15/04/14

On 2 October 2012 Vladimir Putin published an article, entitled “A new Integration Project for Eurasia” in which he set out his visions for the future of Russia and the former Soviet Republics.

His vision was simple and optimistic. He hoped to establish a powerful association of independent states capable of becoming one of the poles of the modern world that would serve as an efficient bridge between Europe and the dynamic Asia-Pacific area.

Its member states would be linked by a customs union and cooperation reaching from services to capital flows, free labour movement, technical standards, patents, economic and currency policies, a development bank, a court of justice, a joint Commission and other supranational components.

Basically, the vision mirrored the EU. No surprise therefore that it also aimed at joining hands with the EU to establish a huge free trade area reaching from Lisbon to Vladivostok. But the EU did not pick up the “offer” being not allured by Putin’s vision which contrasted too much with the real policies pursued by him.

Though the idea goes back to the 1990 s the EAU has not progressed the way the Kremlin had hoped for.

The number of member states has not increased beyond the three founding countries, Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Under pressure from Moscow tiny Armenia, heavily dependent on Russian security, had to accept joining in 2013. The central Asian countries – Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan- are still not keen on membership. Nor are Georgia, Azerbaijan and Moldova, let alone Ukraine, seen as a crucial element.

Cooperation has not advanced much beyond free trade. No comparison with the internal EU market, which is huge compared to that of the three EAU countries.

For Putin it must have been painful to see how the former Soviet Republics refused to accept his courtship in favour of the much more attractive European Union, where small countries have nothing to fear from big ones bullying them or ignoring their interests. Feeling himself as a “modern zsar” Putin failed to address the structural fault lines of the EAU, the overwhelming Russian dominance, the absence of the rule of law, independent judiciary and democratic governance.

No doubt, his pride must have been hurt by the lacking success of his “geostrategic baby” which was to replace the Soviet Union, in his eyes the biggest geostrategic catastrophe of the 20th century.

This may also explain his reactions to the Ukrainian shift toward Europe. If he succeeded to “recover” the Donetsk basin, Ukraine’s industrial core, he might succeed in winning even more support from the nationalist majority at home. But at what costs for him and Russia? And how often can he play that trick?

Rather than pursuing the mirage of a Russian-dominated Eurasian Union his successors would be well advised to follow a more realistic approach of a Eurasian free trade area with the EU, fully based on the rule of law, independent judiciary, personal freedoms and democracy. But for this to happen Russia would have to undergo profound political and constitutional changes that are not in view.

Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 15/4/2014


Social and economic costs of malnutrition

Posted by on 14/04/14

Malnutrition is defined as undernutrition, micro-nutrient deficiency and overweight. Unfortunately, it causes high economic and social costs to society in almost every country.  According to FAO’s latest estimates, 12.5 percent (868 million people) of the global population is undernourished. Still, 26 percent of the world’s children have child growth retardation (stunting); 2 billion people suffer from one or several micro-nutrient deficiencies. On the other hand, 1.4 billion people are overweight, including the 500 million who classify as obese. All these nutritional disorders, with more than one form, can be found in every country. A small table has been arranged with a few samples to clarify the importance of nutritional disorders in the world (see Table). Some countries are suffering terribly from child stunting (an indicator of undernutrition), whereas others struggle with iodine deficiency or anemia (often caused by iron deficiency, increases the risk of women dying in childbirth). Iron is an essential metal micronutrient for human health; its deficiency in the human diet contributes to high rates of mortality in developing countries. More than 125 million children under five years of age suffer from vitamin A deficiency (VAD) in the world. More than half of the children who lose their sight because of VAD die within a year. The above table shows how high the VAD is in developing countries. Iodine is another essential, a non-metal micronutrient for human health (its deficiency impairs thyroid functions). When severe deficiency occurs, fetal development can be affected with consequent irreversible brain damage and mental retardation. Interestingly, iodine deficiency seems to be an overlooked issue in the developed world.

Malnutrition may affect economic development by limiting productivity and human capital accumulation. The decline in productivity beyond the social cost of malnutrition and treatment expenditures is equal to 5% of the annual world gross national product (GNP) 3.5 trillion US$ (equal to 500 US$ per capita). The full breakdown of the amount in question has been estimated in 2010 as 1.4 trillion US$ globally, which includes the risk factors of overweight and obesity.

Studies show that reduction of such malnutrition disorders is economically possible. Research results from Ethiopia, India and Nigeria show that every US$1 invested in reducing child stunting generates between $12 and $34 in economic returns[1].

To reduce the cost involved and to provide better nutrition food systems, the solution begins with agriculture. It is, beyond being a source of livelihood, a source for food production. Therefore agriculture is the most significant sector to minimize eating disorders. Bio-fortification is possible in every stage ranging from production, processing, storage, and transport to marketing. So beside the pharmaceutical and food industries, agriculture could also serve to enrich food in some cases, with the insertion of micro-nutrient genes into regarded plant genomes and it would be affordable, especially in developing countries. Actually, the lack of trace elements had been covered by currently commercialized new genotypes in a few food sources, like fatty acid omega-3 enriched rapeseed, antioxidant enriched likopen tomato and folic acid increased lettuce.

The importance of the subject brought the World Health Organization, Food and Agriculture Organization and the CGIAR (Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research) together as the top organizations on this issue, to step up to a more serious level of cooperation in 2004. Starting an international program, namely the “HarvestPlus Challenge”, they have begun with classical plant breeding and transferred genes into the most consumed local plants which did not contain enough vitamins or micronutrients. New genotypes were able to store vitamin or micro-elements in plant leaves, roots and seeds. Let’s take a look at some of the newly commercialized cultivars in some countries:

  • In 2011, vitamin A-enriched cassava varieties in the Congo;
  • In 2012, iron-enriched bean varieties in the Congo;
  • In 2012, vitamin A-enriched maize varieties in Zambia;
  • In 2012, iron-enriched maize varieties in India;
  • In 2007, agricultural vitamin A-enriched sweet potato varieties in Uganda and Mozambique;
  • In 2013, zinc-enriched rice in India and Bangladesh;
  • In 2013, zinc-enriched wheat cultivars in India and Pakistan.

Not every plant has a donor genotype to be enriched with the above mentioned items. So to enrich the rice plants with vitamin A, biotechnology stepped in. The globally recognized GOLDEN RICE project was started in1999. The different forms of Golden Rice contain between 1.6 and 35 µg β-carotene per gram of rice. A recent study with children has shown that the bio-availability of pro-vitamin A from Golden Rice is as effective as pure β-carotene in oil, and far better than spinach in providing vitamin A to children. A daily intake of 60 g of rice (half a cup) would provide about 60 per cent of the Chinese Recommended Nutrient Intake of vitamin A for 6–8-year-old children and be sufficient to prevent vitamin A malnutrition[2]. But it has been blocked by some GOLDEN RICE opponent group, so it has not yet reached to farmers’ field. Economic evaluation of such delay has been estimated with a mathematical model by two scientists (Wesseler J. And D. Zilberman 2014)[3] in a peer reviewed article (The economic power of the Golden Rice opposition) and come to a remarkable conclusion: “Despite Golden Rice being available since early 2000, this rice has not been introduced in any other country. Governments must recognize additional costs that over-compensate the benefits of the technology to explain the delay in approval… The model has been applied to the case of India. Results show the annual perceived costs have to be at least US$199 million per year approximately for the last decade to explain the delay in approval of the technology. This is an indicator of the economic power of the opposition towards Golden Rice resulting in about 1.4 million life years lost over the past decade in India”.

Agriculture can create more than we, the global population receives today. Not only is this true with routine food, but also in terms of bio-fortified products that the global population will need in the future. We have to improve agricultural research strategies to create more sustainable production systems. Orienting existing manpower to agricultural research and giving political priority to agricultural research should be considered an important issue for policymakers.

Nazimi Açıkgöz

[2] Tang G, Hu Y, Yin S, Wang Y, Dallal GE, Grusak MA & Russell RM (2012). ß-carotene in GE ‘Golden’ rice is as good as ß-carotene in oil at providing vitamin A to children. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 96: 658-664.


Reality check time of Mideast peace process

Posted by on 14/04/14

The Mideast peace process is now on the edge of collapse and the parties desperately are looking for a package of measures which would be the basis for extending talks beyond the original deadline at the end of April 2014. Ironically one could note that now talks are ongoing only to find whom to blame about failure of peace process.

peace logoThe Obama administration’s efforts to impose a peace settlement seems to be a disastrous failure despite whether the negotiations formally break down or a face-saving formula is adopted which is nonbinding and incorporates sufficient reservations to make it meaningless. It seems that U.S. is preparing for a possible reduction of its involvement in the Israel-Palestinian peace process and Obama administration is taking position that Israel and Palestinians need to work through current deadlock themselves. Abed Rabbo (SG of PLO) might hit the nail on the head saying “We can’t return to the empty routine, a search for a framework for talks – this empty routine which is negotiating about negotiating,”.

Is it time issue a death certificate for the peace process or keep the facade?

The apparent breakdown in the American-brokered Israeli-Palestinian negotiations is a good time to re-evaluate basic assumptions of the diplomatic process. As reports about possible deal and even changes for deal differ it remains to see if there will be extension of negotiations or not. Even if formal meetings take place the peace deal in my opinion would be extremely unlikely. “The way it’s looking now, the talks as they were several weeks ago are no longer relevant. Last week’s package deal (offered to the Palestinians) is now off the table and Israel is preparing to return to routine dealings with the Palestinians as they were before the negotiations started nine months ago,” one official said. “As far as we’re concerned, the coordination on the ground with the different security forces continues, but the peace process is no longer relevant,” he added. (Source: YnetNews )

mideast peace talks

However Channel 2 reported that based on a source in Washington Israel and the Palestinians were close to finalizing a deal that would see peace talks extended by nine months. Also the head of the Arab League – Nabil Elaraby – said he was confident that Israel and the Palestinians would resolve the crisis soon and extend peace talks beyond April. (Source: The Times of Israel )

The Palestinians reportedly issued a long list of new preconditions for resuming talks — demands that Israeli officials privately dismissed immediately. These preconditions, according to the Ma’an news agency, included a demand for official Israeli agreement to the establishment of a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 lines with East Jerusalem as its capital; the release of 1,200 Palestinian prisoners including convicted terrorist chiefs Marwan Barghouti and Ahmad Saadat; a building freeze in East Jerusalem and the West Bank; granting Israeli citizenship to 15,000 Palestinians under a family reunification program; the termination of Israel’s security blockade of Gaza; permission to bar the IDF from West Bank Area A (areas under full PA control) for entrance to arrest or kill terror operatives; and increased Palestinian control in Area C (areas under full Israeli control). (Source: The Times of Israel ) However, according to Haaretz, Erekat denied that his team presented such a list, arguing instead the demands had been issued by Fatah officials, rather than the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organisation), and did not represent the official Palestinian negotiating position.

A potential deal which would extend final status negotiations between the two sides for a further year would include a Palestinian commitment not to make use of international conventions they have already joined and suspend additional applications for membership. In exchange, Israel would go ahead with the suspended release of the fourth group of 26 prisoners serving long sentences for terror offences agreed in July 2013, including Arab-Israelis. Israel would further release hundreds of additional Palestinian prisoners described as “high calibre,” and also agree to a quiet freeze on settlement construction. It is expected that the deal will include the release from prison of Jonathan Pollard, a former US intelligence officer convicted of spying for Israel 30 years ago.

Unilateral options

After Israel initially postponed the fourth prisoner release, Abbas retaliated by resuming efforts to win further recognition of a state of Palestine, over Israeli and U.S. objections. Among Palestinians, lead negotiator Saeb Erekat recommended his government unify with militant groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad – designated as terrorist organizations by the U.S. – to govern the Gaza Strip. Probably the PA would now continue their unilateral steps by applying to numerous other international organizations, including pushing for boycotts of Israel and seeking legal rulings against Israel via international courts in The Hague. Earlier the Palestinian leadership was planning to apply for member in 48 additional international treaties if peace talks with Israel failed. The immediate implications might be: international legitimization of the Palestinian appeal to the UN for recognition, with European backing, and a parallel intensification of the settlement boycott phenomenon – with it leaking across the Green Line – causing harm to the Israeli economy.

American legislators – in senate and Congress and both Republican and Democratic leaders – have expressed disappointment with Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas’s latest move – applying for membership in United Nations organizations as the “state of Palestine.” Both said that the U.S. should seriously consider cutting aid – about $400 million annually from the US – to the PA if Abbas continues with the process. The PA’s applications are violating the agreed framework of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Israel area CFrom Israeli point of view if even three-state solution does not come true so then unilateral solution would be in my opinion the best option. To connect main blocs up to Israel will require a land swap of about 6% and 20-30,000 households will have to be absorbed back into Israel. That is doable as this has been almost accepted in previous talks at Camp David and Annapolis as well in Olmert’s proposal at last final status negotiations 2008. (More in PaliLeaks, land swaps and desperate search of peace )

Recently Mr Yoaz Hendel (chairman of the Institute for Zionist Strategies ) offered his solution in his column in the Guardian as follows:

For the international community to remain relevant it must understand the restrictions and the available options. The most realistic practical option in the current circumstances is the drawing of borders along demographic lines. Most Palestinians (98%) in the West Bank live in Areas A and B, under the control of the Palestinian Authority. These areas are spread over 40% of Judea and Samaria. Most Israelis live in 12% of the West Bank in large settlement blocks.
The remaining 48% of the territory has 100,000 Israelis and an equal number of Palestinians. The Palestinians’ territories should be upgraded to the status of demilitarised state with interim borders and continuity based on A and B. The large settlement blocks can be annexed to Israel, and as result of that the disputed territory would be immediately halved.
It is not a permanent solution, but it would be progress. If the money from the various pro-peace organisations were to be invested in the Palestinian education system, encouraging support for democracy, it would be possible to restart negotiations in a generation. If the international community can let go of its attachment to the phrase “an end to the conflict” who knows – maybe we will have a glimmer of a practical peace on the ground, which would improve the chances for a comprehensive peace in the future.

Indeed Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett has urged PM Netanyahu to turn his back on the failed negotiations and annex portions of the West Bank. In a letter to Netanyahu, Bennett requested “to have a session as soon as possible on an alternative plan (Plan B) to begin the process of applying Israeli sovereignty on areas in Judea and Samaria that are under Israeli control.” The economy minister listed some of the blocs he wants to annex, including Gush Etzion, Maale Adumim, the settlements of Ofra and Beit El and more. These areas are home to 440,000 Israeli settlers, Bennett argued, and only tens of thousands of Palestinians, and would therefore not cause a demographic crisis and undermine the Jewish majority. Bennett compared the process of absorbing these areas into Israel to the incorporation of Jerusalem during the Six-Day War, and the Golan Heights during then-prime minister Menachem Begin’s reign. (Source: Times of Israel )

palestine mapAnnexation the main (settlement) blocs from sc Area C to Israel in my opinion means inheriting the arabs: Israel would be obligated – while excluding mass population transfer as option – to give the Arabs full citizenship which would change the demographic balance. Palestinians could then have full autonomy in areas A and Band most parts of area C. While the situation is not ideal, until the Palestinians agree to full peace with Israel, they could build capacity of their society as well be welcomed as neighbors in the Israeli economic system – participating in Israel’s commercial and creative life.

Negotiating about negotiating or minor points

The whole April so far has been mostly empty talks about wheater to negotiate after April or not. In addition issues outside this formality have in my opinion been only secondary ones. From my point of view the core issues are borders, Jerusalem, refugees and security. The dispute over recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people is only secondary one and simply hides that chasm.

Recognizing Israel as ‘Jewish State’ has been from Israeli side a core element in peace deal as from my point of view it is only unnecessary and empty phrase. The Palestinians have already recognized the State of Israel de facto, through Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat and then by PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas. In addition, the Arab peace initiative also officially recognized the State of Israel, as have Jordan and Egypt, which signed peace treaties with it. Moreover, Israel has no need of specific recognition by any country or entity. “‘Jewish state’ was resolved in 1947 in resolution 181, where there are more than 30 mentions of ‘Jewish state’ and this in my opinion should be enough. Even if that kind of formulation would be in agreement so what is the worth of this kind of lip-service without any commitment from PA side.

West bank settlements mapSpeaking about settlements one should note that besides allowing to build new homes in disputed territories Israel also tries to remove some illegal (according Israeli law) constructions and outposts. Last example was on 8th Apr. 2014 when Israel Defence Forces (IDF) soldiers met with violent resistance from extremist Jewish settlers in the West Bank as they moved in to destroy four illegally constructed buildings in the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar. Hundreds of settlers participated, throwing stones, burning tires, blocking roads, and damaging IDF vehicles. An IDF post in the area to protect the settlement was also attacked. The soldiers responded with riot dispersal methods. According to reports six soldiers and four settlers were hurt in the clashes. Yitzhar is a small mainly Orthodox settlement with a population of just 1000, situated just south of the Palestinians city Nablus in the northern West Bank. It is known as one of the most extreme settlements, and its residents have a history of clashes with IDF forces and local Palestinians. (Source: Bicom )

The Mideast peace process with or without Kerry

(Kerry) has come to us determined and is acting out of an incomprehensible obsession and a messianic feeling – (he) cannot teach me a single thing about the conflict … The only thing that can save us is if (he) wins the Nobel Prize and leaves us alone … The security plan is not worth the paper it is written on.” (Israel’s Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon)

In wider perspective I have some doubts if the negotiations with PA will have real impact to the Mideast peace process. One should remember that with the exception of Fatah, all PLO factions were against the resumption of the peace talks under Kerry’s terms. These factions include the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Peoples’ Party, in addition to Hamas and Islamic Jihad. With this background the options of President Abbas and PA are quite limited.

One possible scenario could be a partial – temporary – deal; a gradual deal that would require neither dividing east Jerusalem nor an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders, despite fears that any partial agreement will end up constituting a permanent arrangement the partial deal not necessry solve any core problems.

Failure with the Mideast peace process might be the last nail to Kerry’s Nobel Peace Prize coffin. “He doesn’t understand the situation on the ground,” Israel’s Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said, adding that Kerry’s motives were illegitimate, “messianic” and “obsessive.” Washington Post columnist Jackson Diehl echoed Yaalon’s sentiments, saying that the secretary was “delusional” and “detached from reality.” At the same time, the Palestinians view Kerry as someone incapable of pressuring Israel and getting results, deeming him irrelevant.

From my point of view FM Kerry’s commitment to the success of the diplomatic process and the time he has invested in solving the Mideast problem, regardless of the other unresolved conflicts (Ukraine, Syria, Iran…) in the world, should to be appreciated. Regrettably, the U.S. intervention has only exacerbated the situation and even undermined the chances of low-profile interim progress and economic cooperation. One way to continue the Mideast peace process could be to dig the archives and pull out two or three documents bearing the signatures of various Israeli prime ministers, including the present one, dust them off and implement them. Fulfilling the existing agreements could completely change the skeptical and even gloomy mood hanging over the diplomatic negotiations. The United States, which was an active partner in formulating these documents and which provided them with its imprimatur, cannot absolve itself from them. (More e.g in Al-Monitor )

peace sign israelThe peace settlements between Israel and Egypt and Jordan were achieved because both parties sought to come to an accommodation. The U.S. did not then seek to impose solutions. It only became involved as a facilitator and honest broker after both parties had taken the initial steps and invited them.

Three State Solution(s)

One interesting approach for replacing two-state solution is a new kind of three-state solution proposed by Georgetown University lecturer Ori Z Soltes few years ago. In his article A Modest Proposal: The Three-State Solution he uses the experience of India and Pakistan. Having primarily Muslim Pakistan divided into two parts by primarily Hindu India proved disastrous for decades, until finally the two Muslim states were disconnected from each other, leaving one as Pakistan and the other as Bangladesh. Why not do the same with non-Israeli Palestine?

According Mr Soltes, this proposal would eliminate the main logistical complication pertaining to the communication between the two parts of the Palestinian state. The notion of creating a land corridor between Gaza and the West Bank, with a free flow of people and commerce between the two, seems ill-conceived as an on-the-ground practicality. It effectively cuts Israel in half: how do Israelis then flow from north to south of the corridor? There have been other proposals, for extensive connecting tunnels or bridges, but these, too, are a logistical challenge. Moreover, two separate states for Palestinians would accord more realistically with a key current political reality: Hamas controls Gaza and the Palestinian Authority controls the West Bank. Creating two separate states would allow each to develop according to its own plans.

The three-state solution would make it possible for Israel to focus toward normalized relations with the West Bank, PA-led Palestinians; and on defense measures with regard to the Gazans. The possibility of Hamas being voted out by the Gazan Palestinians themselves would increase. But the potential isolation might also increase the incentive for Hamas to accept peaceful co-existence with Israel.

The idea of Mr Soltes is different than that three-state approach, which I have propagated a half decade. There Gaza is returned to Egyptian control and the West Bank in some configuration reverts to Jordanian sovereignty. From my point of view this solution is both pragmatic and doable and now more actual than ever as two-state solution is more and more utopia and road map towards it has been death for years. (More in A Jordanian-Palestinian Confederation Is On The Move and The Three-State Option could solve Gaza Conflict )

The three-state solution essentially replicates the situation that existed between the 1949 Armistice Agreements and the 1967 Six-Day War. Beginning in 1949, Egypt occupied the Gaza Strip, Jordan occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and no Palestinian Arab state existed. In 1950, Jordan officially annexed the West Bank and granted the Arab residents Jordanian citizenship.


Potential scenarios

A monthly peace index, last published in March by the Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University, found 69 percent of Israelis “somewhat don’t believe” or “don’t believe at all” that the negotiations will lead to peace. A poll conducted last month in the West Bank and Gaza Strip by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Research showed that about three-quarters of those surveyed believed chances for establishing a Palestinian state in the next five years are “slim or non-existent.” (Source: The Jerusalem Post )

An face-saving win-win deal now could be following: The Palestinian Authority terminates their U.N. bid, Israel withdraw their plans for economic retaliation, the Palestinian prisoners who were going to be released are released, the U.S. releases convicted spy Jonathan Pollard, and possibly the Israelis make some muted statement about restraint on construction in disputed territories in the future. Each side would be able to state that had it not been for their tough actions, a deal would have been impossible.

intifada logoThe crisis in the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians has shaken up the Israeli political scene. The stability of the governing coalition has once again come into question, with Yisrael Beytenu’s leader, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, saying that he would prefer new elections over the release of more terrorists, and Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog (Labor) calling for the formation of a new government comprised of the Left and haredi parties without holding new elections.

Publicly all sides want the peace talks to continue, but also know that they will not lead to anything. Negotiations and attaining a peace agreement that will, in the short-term, prevent regional violence and isolation of Israel, and in the long-term avoid a binational state with a Palestinian majority, are essential interests of the State of Israel. It is therefore believed that, just like in previous rounds of gestures to the Palestinians, Netanyahu will manage to reach a series of silent understandings with them and attempt to win their approval for a quiet freeze in settlement construction, rather than engage in a demonstrative release of terrorists. Such a scenario would grant Netanyahu another half a year of quiet and enable him to maintain the diplomatic status quo. In the end, however, even this six-month grace period will end, and Netanyahu will no longer be able to avoid anymore making political decisions and then the outcome might be that Netanyahu will be forced to make the necessary changes to his coalition.

In my opinion the situation now is leading Israel toward a de facto binational future toward one-state solution and this might be the worst option for both sides. If negotiations now fail so I think that unilateral moves might not be so bad idea. If three-state option can not replace the buried two-state solution so then the way forward for Israel seems to be annex the main settlements to Israel, finalize the security fence and wait if and when the Palestinian side and international facilitator want negotiate about some details based on this reality on the ground.

anti-obama plakat


An excellent background information in concerning the guidelines on European funding of Israeli entities in the “Occupied Palestinian Territories”:

ECI Open Letter to Ashton April 2014

israel peace sign


A little bit more

Posted by on 14/04/14

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a scientific body under the auspices of the United Nations. In Germany, it is called „Weltklimarat“, what means in direct translation „World Climate Council“. This has more impetus than a normal committee of scientists would have. Maybe this describes best why its most current warning on climate change is the usual one but well recognized here. When scientists like Ottmar Edenhofer are stating that „we have to move away from our actual way of doing business“ he wants us to shift completely from fossil fuels towards renewables. That’s not a really big news. Increase in CO2 emissions over the last 10 years is certainly wrong direction. There would be only few people not agreeing to this. Even conclusions, that Germany has contributed to this „wrong way” by its coal-fired power plants are right. But it should be also mentioned that Germany is leading in renewables and the higher percentage of coal to the energy mix is due to phasing out nuclear. It’s a large industry with many employees, this renewables in Germany. This is also a reason why councils like IPCC are more to Germans than only another scientific council. We recognize what they say, even when its an old truth.

Will humanity take effective action against climate change?

Posted by on 14/04/14

In the fall of 2015 the international community is set to adopt a comprehensive action plan to combat climate change. Paris having been chosen as the meeting place the French government is showing more interest in climate issues and trying to mobilise the EU on a rapid agreement of its 2030 climate objectives.

The UN preparatory machinery keeps running full steam to obtain a successful outcome.

This goes above all for the scientific aspects.

In the last seven years, Humanity has accumulated a huge amount of scientific data on the climate change that has taken place during the 20th century and is likely to occur during the 21st century. Never have human beings known so much about the climate. It is therefore no longer possible for anyone to deny climate change taking place and being mostly man-made.

There is also a consensus on its main causes: C02 and methane emissions from burning fossil energies for heating, cooling, transport, industrial processes and massive deforestation are the principal villains.

If Humanity were able to contain these major causal factors within the next five decades it would still have a chance of mitigating climate change.

Theoretically this is possible.

Humanity can do without burning as much fossil energy as it does. This goes in particular for the wealthy West and China.

Wind, solar, biomass and waves can substitute fossil energy, provided storage facilities and long-distance grid interconnections are in place.

As long as they are still more expensive than coal and gas temporary subsidy regimes should offer incentives.

But why should the 2015 “big bang” in Paris be any different from the 20 preceding “Conferences of the Parties” and lay out a convincing path for Humanity to throw off the burden of climate change that will weigh so heavily on the shoulders of the coming generations?

The 195 countries that will attend the COP 21 remain deeply divided on the nature of the commitments and the burden sharing they will have to accept for a successful outcome. So far they are likely to agree only on the necessity to contain global warming within the critical margin of two centigrade; but that would be nothing new and rather meaningless without firm and verifiable commitments as to the actions to be taken.

But the international community is less than ever concerned about climate change. According to the last assessments the impact of climate change on the global economy is likely to be much lower than projected only six years ago by the Stern Report. And how many politicians care already about the impacts on biodiversity, natural catastrophes or even a steep increase in the numbers of “climate refugees”!

It is therefore not surprising to see the emphasis shifting from mitigation to adaptation. Humanity seems to prefer the costs for adaptation rather than invest in mitigation efforts, even if that will be risky because of the irreversible effects of climate change.

It is fully in line with this trend that:

  • big polluter countries like Japan, Australia, Canada or Russia are anything but keen combating climate change;
  • all major fossil energy producing countries refuse phasing out their massive oil and gas subsidies;
  • EU climate policy suffers from the global indifference. The EU rightly underlines that its efforts matter less and less as its share of global emissions is approaching 10 per cent. Contrary to the wishes of the UN Secretary General, it is not likely to play the role of a powerful locomotive in Paris, however regrettable this may be.

China and USA, the two emission giants, accounting for about half of global emissions, might be a glimpse of light in the gloomy picture.

But China will take another 20 years or so before its emissions might start falling; and the US objective of reducing its emissions by 17 per cent until 2017 compared to 2005 will not be a glorious achievement, considering its extremely high per capita emissions of 14 tons and the EU scheduled reductions and by at least 40 per cent until 2030 over 1990.

In conclusion, it looks presently unlikely that the COP 21 in Paris will turn out to be a thrilling success.

It would be a great progress if:

  • the 20 major emitter countries responsible for about 75 per cent of global emissions committed themselves to formulate 20-year strategies within a UN framework and to submit annual performance reports;
  • all rich countries, including the oil/gas exporters, offered the World Bank the financial means – say $ 100 billion per year – to help finance a big programmes for wind, hydro and solar energy;
  • the tropical forest countries were to curb illegal wood cutting and receive appropriate compensation for these efforts.

Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 11/4/2014