Monday 1 September 2014

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The SCO expands

Posted by on 25/08/14

The EU’s expansion into Ukraine obeys the law of unintended consequences. Alliances that were probably decades into the making are starting to take shape in months, if not weeks.

Thus, after ten years of protracted negotiation, Russia agreed to sign the huge gas-supply contract with China last June. The two countries have reinforced their diplomatic and military cooperation within the SCO and are now poised to enlarge this organization to ten members.

Russia and China have recently announced that India, Iran, Pakistan and Mongolia will be accepted as new members at the forthcoming SCO summit in Dushanbe to be held on the 11th-12th September 2014. This is how the enlargement process is perceived in New Delhi:

With Beijing having had a profound rethink on India’s admission as a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the tectonic plates of the geopolitics of a massive swathe of the planet stretching from the Asia-Pacific to West Asia are dramatically shifting. That grating noise in the Central Asian steppes will be heard far and wide — as far as North America, says Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar.

In a not-too-distant future we could expect Turkey to respond positively to President Nazarbayev’s invitation to join the Eurasian Union. There is also a very strong possibility that Turkey’s observer status within the SCO will morph into full membership of the organization.

In hindsight, the EU’s and NATO’s ill-inspired eastward drive and subsequent sanctions against Russia have greatly accelerated the latent integration plans in Asia and have increased the bonds of solidarity and economic cooperation within the BRICS group of countries. 


Shinzo Abe’s Nationalism

Posted by on 25/08/14

Japanese nationalism was first introduced at the end of the 19th century. During the Meiji period, industrialisation, centralisation, mass education and military conscription resulted in a shift in popular allegiances. The Emperor saw through the transition, where devotion to the state took the place of feudal loyalties.

Nationalism of this time comprised a mix of local and imported  political thinking, which eventually grew to a favouring of totalitarian government and overseas expansion during the Taisho and Showa periods. Early nationalists would often demand  tempering of Japan’s ‘westernisation’ achieved by placing limits on industrialisation. However, after the First World War, politicians in the West began to disapprove of Japan’s imperial ambitions, restricting military expansion in 1922′s Five Power Naval Limitation  Agreement.

When the Japanese army invaded Manchuria, the League of Nations condemned the action, prompting Japan to withdraw its membership; international isolation then give rise to increasing support for nationalism in the country. Nationalism in Japan began to decline  post-World War II after Japanese forces  surrendered to American forces in a defeat which ended the war. America’s intention at the time was to root out Japanese militarism through essential reforms in the government, society and economic structure.

The country soon faced heavy restriction in military development because of which Japan would turn to the United States for security for many years, especially during the Cold War. In the coming years, economic progress in Japan would downplay the prevailing pre-war militarist nationalism, instead opting for a rather different form of political slogan: prosperity is achievable without the presence of colonies.

Many people in Japan today perceive nationalism to be on the rise. Some lawmakers in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party even seek to alter the  constitution, especially “Article 9″, which had largely de-militarised Japan after the war. Shinzo Abe came to power last year backed by his nationalist agenda and promises to amend the pacifist constitution to hand the military with more freedom, take a hard line with North Korea and strengthen the security alliance with United States.

Neighbouring countries are still left wondering after Shinzo Abe’s victory however, just how much he will free Japan from the restraining legacy of the Second World War. It is known that the Prime Minister supports revisionist history textbooks which teach students to take pride in their nation, rather than learn a great deal about accounts of Japanese atrocities and aggression. He has even gone so far as to question whether every Prime Minister must repeat Japan’s standard apology for its wartime actions.

Japan started to show signs of leaving pacifism behind under the leadership of Shinzo Abe’s predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, when he sent in military support in non-combat roles for US-led missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, despite opposition at home. Abe wants to craft a Japan with an expanding naval base, spending more than 1 percent of GDP on defence. This is presently not permitted by the constitution dictated by the US after the Second World War. These sorts of ideas were heretical in post-war Japan but have proved to be popular amongst the Japanese in recent years, as China swiftly developed its military and North Korea began testing missiles and nuclear devices.

Meanwhile, in response to all the nationalist sentiment creating waves in Japan, the American media in particular branded Abe as a risky nationalist, perhaps because of the post-war convention that has often been in display, one of being unilaterally peace-loving. But this would be an incorrect perception of the reality and on-the-ground situation in the country, because nationalism is actually embedded in the very fabric of Japanese society through the prevailing popularity of Marxism, various newspapers and nationalism itself acting as a form of socio-cultural identity.

Nationalism in Japan is well-received in modern times, in spite of decades of pacifism and subdued patriotism. The social strata in Japan nowadays consider nationalism to be more collectively acceptable. The Liberal Democratic party is largely controlled by a nationalist faction and Abe’s eagerness to reassess Japan’s place in the world has won support amongst the conservatives in his party.

Shinzo Abe needs to attempt to repair Japan’s troubled  relationships with both China and South Korea first though, which has not improved with time at all. Nationalists in Imperial Japan during the latter half of the 19th century were exasperated by the weak, inward-looking stance of the previous military ruler, a  sentiment that echoes amongst their contemporaries today with respect to China’s aspirations for  hegemony, since emerging as an economic powerhouse.

Furthermore, although there’s been a growth in the competitive index for Japan’s markets, paving a path out of a decade-long economic slowdown for the country, important domestic issues such as the widening gap between the rich and poor in Japan, which has seen an increase under Koizumi, needs to be addressed as well. Japan has a growing ageing population and much of the fiscal policy in Japan, termed as Abenomics is directed towards building infrastructure rather than increasing welfare spending.

The popular-at-home nationalist point of view for Abe should not stand in the way for regional co-operation, which has thankfully already seen an increse with the latest introduction of idealogies, such as corporate tax cuts, more support for migrant workers and foreign investors – mostly from the country’s largest neighbouring trade hubs, from China to South Korea. Perhaps coupled up with the positive index the stock market has shown because of Abenomics, the nationalist sentiment being projected by Shinzo Abe will reign in patriotism home for Japan too.

Captain Schettino’s conference at la Sapienza University

Posted by on 06/08/14

Italy never fails to astonish us.

In the beginning of July 2014 Costa Concordia Captain Francesco Schettino, who is still on trial over manslaughter and abandoning ship, took part in a conference on forensic psychopathology in Rome. The seminar was organized by La Sapienza University School of Medicine, Tuscany’s popular newspaper La Nazione reported.

In an official press release, La Sapienza rector Mr Luigi Frati said that Schettino’s speech was not authorized by the University and that he actually was not invited to attend. In other words, one of the professors invited Schettino without a formal permission from his bosses. “Academic freedom does not mean irresponsibility”, Frati said.

Commenting on the news, Italy’s Minister for Education Stefania Giannini described it as “shocking”. “Academic self-government should not harm the memory of the victims of the Costa Concordia incident or their families”.

Now everybody is blaming the La Sapienza University professor for having invited captain Schettino, but is there anybody else to be held responsible for such a mistake that is bringing shame on one of our best Universities?

Karel De Gucht’s press team not insane

Posted by on 05/08/14

European Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht recently faced serious communication issues. First, in a yesterday documentary by German broadcaster ARD he was portrayed as a clueless politician, when confronted with the figures of his own commissioned study. It was broadcasted before, my sympathies to him as indeed the purpose of these studies is to back, not to take decisions, and no one except evil German journalists takes “jobs and growth” jargon too seriously.

Today he responded with an op-ed contribution for the Munich-based Sueddeutsche quality newspaper.

headline: TTIP is fresh as beans
teaser: The Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement is not dead – even though some claim the opposite. Why that is factual and important irrespective of public uproar, and what has been discussed in the sixth TTIP negotiation round.

Now, we know that headlines are usually not written by the authors, and probably the same applies to the teaser. Yet, this is how the op-ed starts, I try to emulate the German syntax:

A few days ago we concluded, mandated by the 28 EU member states and with general support from the European Parliament, the sixth negotiations round of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). While in some places we read that the agreement would be “dead” already or negotiations would not make any progress, I can hereby confirm that its fresh as beans.

A German reads between the lines, it’s dead, it is time to walk away and leave it to the jackals. Or as Andersens famous tale once put it:

“But he hasn’t got anything on!” the whole town cried out at last. The Emperor shivered, for he suspected they were right. But he thought, “This procession has got to go on.” So he walked more proudly than ever, as his noblemen held high the train that wasn’t there at all.

Understood: Karel De Gucht wanted to express that the envisaged agreement makes progress and claims to the contrary are wrong. But why did his ghost writers actually write that underlying message down and place it that prominently? Are Karel De Gucht’s media advisors bad or do they conspire against him?

De Gucht’s media staffers are not insane though some may argue the opposite, in fact they are highly professional and deliver excellent work. They victoriously defend their Commissioner against the court of public opinion.

The European Ombudsman needs to protect whistleblowers in EU

Posted by on 04/08/14

Last week the European Ombudsman announced that it had launched an inquiry into the internal rules for whistleblowing which the EU institutions are required to adopt as of 1 January 2014. While this might be seen as good example of the Ombudsman’s own-initiative investigations, the inquiry is limited in scope and misses the Ombudsman’s own role in whistleblowing protection.

Whistleblowing is usually defined as unauthorised disclosure or reporting of corporate information to people and media outside the organisation (external disclosure). Whistleblowing, however, can also take place inside the organisation when for example an employee reports to his manager that wrong-doing or malpractice has occurred (internal disclosure).

It has been a hot topic in the European Commission since 1999 when 20 commissioners were forced to resign following the disclosure of irregularities. A single person, Paul van Buitenen, “blowed the whistle” and alarmed the European Parliament, which in its turn expressed its non-confidence in the entire College of Commissioners.

Buitenen was later elected to the European Parliament. He has described and justified his whistleblowing in a book: “Blowing the whistle – one man’s fight against fraud in the European Commission”. His whistleblowing was effective but he and his family paid a price in terms of personal suffering and economic uncertainty.

Following this incident, the Commission adopted new rules in the internal staff regulations. An official shall not suffer any “prejudicial effects” on the part of the institution as a result of having communicated information concerning “possible illegal activity, incl. fraud or corruption”, provided that he acted “reasonably and honestly”.

However, this doesn’t apply to information disclosed to the official in the course of proceedings in legal cases, whether pending or closed. It’s also obvious from the rules that the Commission prefers internal disclosure.

Protection isn’t guaranteed if an official discloses information even to the European Parliament or the European Court of Auditors without previously having disclosed it to OLAF or to his own institution. That said, the situation is surely better than it used to be when there was no protection whatsoever.

To assess the effectiveness of whistleblowing regulation in the EU one would need to ask some questions. How often does whistleblowing achieve its declared objective of putting an end to wrong-doing? How often does the whistle-blower remain unharmed and protected against replacement, dismissal, or other forms of retaliation by the employer?

When an employee blows the whistle the attention will be drawn to him/herself rather than to the issue that needs to be corrected. A double burden of proof will most often be laid on the whistle-blower – to prove that the allegations are true and that his/she has acted in good faith.

Therefore the odds are heavily against the whistle-blower as the following quotation shows (Glazer, “Whistleblowing”, in Psychology Today, Aug 1986):

“If you have God, the law, the press and the facts on your side, you have a 50 – 50 chance of winning.”
The inquiry by the European Ombudsman will obviously not deal with these questions which are more appropriate for an external audit. The inquiry is limited to the implementation of a new paragraph (22 c) in the staff regulations.

It requires the EU institutions to put in place a procedure for the handling of complaints made by officials concerning the way in which they were treated after or in consequence of whistleblowing. The procedure shall include rules for the “protection of the legitimate interests” of the officials concerned and of their privacy.

Is this enough? The European Ombudsman draws the attention to its own draft decision on internal rules concerning whistleblowing. In this decision the Ombudsperson herself shall protect a whistleblower against any acts of retaliation or reprisal. However, this applies only for the employees in the European Ombudsman institution.

There is a growing awareness that employees, both in the public and private sector, need an external supervisory body to protect them against negative consequences if they have acted in good faith and used accepted and authorised channels for reporting on wrong-doing and irregularities.

Employees should try to avoid whistleblowing for the simple reason that it’s never in their best interest to get entangled in whistleblowing. Nor is it in the interest of employers to receive negative publicity on not having prevented an irregularity. But it would be wishful thinking to think that we live in the best of worlds where no whistleblowing will ever have to happen.

There is definitely a public interest in the protection of employees disclosing criminal offences committed by companies or public bodies, in particular when public funds are involved or when there is a clear danger to health, safety and environment. Such protection can be given by Ombudsman institutions, e.g. by rulings against adverse measures against the whistle-blower.

Whistleblowing protection isn’t only an issue in the EU institutions but even more so in the member states where most corruption occurs. A study in 2012 by Transparency International (“Money, politics, power – corruption risks in Europe”) showed that the vast majority of EU member states haven’t introduced whistle-blower protection legislation.

Legislation, where is exists, reflects a piecemeal approach and is often inadequate. An EU directive on whistleblowing protection legislation might be required.

The best known example of legislation is the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA) in United Kingdom. The act entered into force in 1999 and has been described as one of the world’s broadest whistleblowing laws. On the positive side is also the current discussion in the new network of Ombudsman institutions in the candidate countries to include whistleblowing protection among their tasks.

NATO Wales Summit: Security Puzzles for Transatlantic Community

Posted by on 03/08/14

Russian invasion of Crimea has partially demolished European security system, as neither international organizations nor super power states could stop Kremlin on its way. Ukrainian crisis showed that the European states still miss security guarantees and there is not any treaty which can be fully trusted. The Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurance of 1994 has left Ukraine as a master of its fate during this crisis as the signatory sides are powerless to confront Russia and assure the territorial integrity and political independence of the state. It seems that the West didn’t study much from the previous lesson of 2008 when Russia made military intervention in the state only for the reason that Kremlin wanted to regain influence over disobedient neighbor streaming to join NATO. Besides, some European political groups criticized Georgia for improvident policy in order to please and take Russia dry out of water.

Ukrainian crisis shows that nowadays Russia is more prepared for everything then it was in 2008. Unfortunately the West follows the same path and repeats the same mistakes.  Disappointment towards transatlantic unity is on surface. There are questions – which will be the next state? Can NATO guarantee security of the Baltic or Center-East European states? Will German, French or other societies push their national governments to protect societies of other NATO member states? Does transatlantic society have solidarity towards each other?

Still we have not seen NATO in real business of combating aggression against its member states, of course if we don’t take in account 9/11 terrorist attack, when the Alliance the first time in its history used the Article 5. In 2008 and 2013 NATO was not ready to protect its partner states which were confronting Russia for their Euro-Atlantic aspiration. Today we see that USA and EU have only sanctions in their arsenal which has “Chilling Effect” on Russian economy. NATO needs consolidated approach towards threats and every member state should work to increase military spending. Members should analyze that security is public good rather than supplementary burden.

Transatlantic unity needs solidarity between member states and their actions don’t have to oppose common interest. Members should overcome different perception on security; some states look confident that threats will not reach to them; others believe that it’ll be protected by the US. It’s trend that member states reduce military spending explaining it by economic crisis. In this response Alliance needs to ensure fair contribution and participation of all member states.

Some NATO member states oppose accession of Georgia and Ukraine in NATO. They ban not only their accession but also refrain themselves to supply the mentioned states highly need defensive weapons. In parallel of it France made lucrative deal to sell the Mistral Warships to Russia which still is under negotiation. It looks illogic from one hand to confront Russia and from another to give encouragement. NATO needs to face the threats instead of escaping from reality. Member states should boost military spending and elaborate workable plans rather than to focus on “Smart Defense” arguing that with limited sources it is possible to increase operationability.


The new European Commission must lead the global shift to sustainability

Posted by on 02/08/14
by Catherine Bearder MEP, Liberal Democrat, South East of England/// The nomination of Jean Claude Juncker as Commission President has been something of a bumpy process to say the least. However, it’s now time to move forward and see how to make the best use of Britain’s EU membership over the next five years. That [...]

What Israel and Turkey can learn from each-other

Posted by on 01/08/14

Surely countries can learn from each-other. Mustafa Akyol, a Turkish columnist and author, illustrates this with the Kurdish issue in Turkey (INYT, July 24). During the civil war in the 90-ies between the Turkish state and the Kurdish PKK, thousands of people were killed and hundreds of thousands displaced.

In the past Turkey faced a terrorist threat. However, since two years the vicious circle of violence has been replaced by a peace process towards reconciliation.

Israel needs also to break the vicious circle of violence in its relations with the Palestinians. But this is a challenge which seems more difficult than the one that faced Turkey. P.K.K. has changed and differs obviously from Hamas. Its objective is limited to autonomy in Turkey and civil rights for the Kurds.

But as Akyol writes, the Kurdish issue is still far from resolved, which shows how difficult even an issue which has been reduced to local and regional self-government is difficult to solve in Turkey.

Take for example the Turkish constitution which is still subject to review. The current constitution declares that the fundamental duty of the state is to preserve the “independence and integrity of the Turkish nation”. The Kurds still don’t have the right to study their mother language or use it as a language of instruction in public schools.

Unfortunately, the Turkish prime-minister is hardly the right person to teach Israel any lessons. More than a year has passed since the Israeli apology for the Mavi Marmara incident and diplomatic relations between the two countries haven´t been re-established yet. Mr Erdogan has missed a chance to mediate in the war between Israel and Hamas.

Learning from each-other doesn’t mean that countries copy or emulate experiences and institutions. Lessons learned need to be adapted to national circumstances.

As regards good governance Turkey can learn a few things from Israel. In the fight against corruption, Israel’s independent judiciary has prosecuted a former prime minister who was sentenced to jail a few months ago.

In every liberal democracy there are also strong checks and balances institutions in the form of the supreme audit institution and the Ombudsman institution. Both are badly needed for Turkey if it wants to accelerate the accession process with EU. In both areas Israel has strong institutions.

To promote transparency and accountability the Turkish state audit would need to carry out performance audits which it has done in the past. The new Ombudsman institution in Turkey would need to strike a balance between independence and accountability in the judiciary system and start investigating complaints against judiciary maladministration.

Israel: When is enough enough?

Posted by on 31/07/14
By Financial Guy It has been relatively easy for the international community to start imposing economic sanctions against Russia. So what about Israel? One hopes that national governments and international organisations can come together soon to try and end the bloodshed in Gaza soon.

US Senate urges the President to liberate Republic of Moldova

Posted by on 31/07/14

The US Senate has recently urged the President to take all the necessary measures in order to determine Russia to withdraw its military troops.

In a Resolution backed by the American Senate, the Russian Federation is summoned to respects its commitments made in Istanbul in 1999 according to which Russia promised to withdraw its occupation troops from the Transdniester region, in the East of the Republic of Moldova.

The US Senate „urges the President to consider increasing security and intelligence cooperation with the Government of Moldova”.

„Calls on the Government of the Russian Federation to refrain from using economic coercion against the Republic of Moldova, cease support for separatist movements in the territory of the Republic of Moldova, and fulfill its commitments made at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) 1999 summit in Istanbul to withdraw its military forces and munitions from within the internationally recognized territory of the Republic of Moldova”, it’s just one of the many points of the declaration.

„Affirms that lasting stability and security in Europe is a key priority for the United States Government which can only be achieved if the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all European countries is respected”, it is written in the document.

In this moment the OSCE is handling this conflict but we are talking about an entity that is under total control of the Russian Federation. In fact, Russia is at the same time occupant, negotiator and judge. The last 20 years have proved that OSCE cannot solve this conflict and it does not want to because Russia does not.

The USA doesn’t want to wait for the European Union to react and will secure the Eastern European frontier, even if it will have to use force. Here an important role will be played by the Eastern flank of NATO, mainly Poland-Romania-Turkey.…



ODS showcased in Bucharest

Posted by on 31/07/14

OpenDiscoverySpace was showcased during the international conference on ‘Agriculture for Life, Life Agriculture’, which took place in Bucharest from the 5th to the 6th of June.

On the second conference day, during the morning Agronomy session, partner Salvador Sanchez-Alonso (Universidad de Alcalá) presented OpenDiscoverySpace as a successful eLearning initiative to transform Education in Europe.
Using Agriculture as an example, the presentation focused on how ODS aims to improve educational curriculums and practices through ICT tools and cutting-edge methodologies.

OpenDiscoverySpace always arouses interest among audiences, and the great results of ODS’ second year were a strong token of the project’s past (and future…) achievements!

Public believes that parents should be able to take their children on holiday in term time

Posted by on 30/07/14

A majority of Britons (55%) believe that parents should be able to take children on holiday for a week if it means a “significant financial saving” for the family, according to a new ComRes poll commissioned by political communications and education policy specialists the Whitehouse Consultancy.

Support for term time holidays is particularly high among parents in the United Kingdom with children under 18 (64%).The poll also showed significant levels of support for parents being able to take children out of school for the final two days of term if it enabled families to make a significant financial saving (73%).

The results of the poll follow a number of recent high profile cases of parents challenging fines imposed on them for term-time absences, after former Education Secretary Michael Gove tightened rules on allowing holidays in term time. Parents are issued with a £120 fixed penalty notice for an unauthorised absence.

Three quarters of Britons (74%) supported the idea of children being allowed time out of school if a trip had “demonstrable educational value”. Taking children out of school for a family bereavement had almost unanimous support (90%), whilst absence for a significant family celebration also had broad support (69%).

Chris Whitehouse, Chairman of the Whitehouse Consultancy, said:

“Despite his success in driving up educational standards in England, fining parents for taking their children out of school during term time was one of former UK Education Secretary Michael Gove’s more controversial policies, and this is reinforced by a poll that shows Britons believe they should have the right to take their children out of school if it saves them money on an annual holiday.

“While some parents working in the likes of the tourist sector will be unable to take their children away during the peak time of school holidays, the principal issue for many families is cost. Recent research shows that families can expect to pay in excess of £1,300 more if they travel during school holidays rather than during term time. Many parents will rightly question why they should face additional costs for following the rules, particularly if those costs make holidaying too expensive. The challenge for policy makers and schools must be to ensure that as many families as possible are able to take a holiday, without incurring astronomical costs or harming children’s education.”

‘Good law’: When intellectual property meets Open Innovation

Posted by on 30/07/14
Guest blogpost by Martha Suda, who works at the Open Innovation team in the EU Commission’s DG CONNECT.   Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) is an omnipresent topic. What is more, it does not get any easier when you want to start an Open-Innovation-based business. First allow me to briefly introduce myself: My name is Martha Suda. [...]

British officials in Brussels and the UK’s policy leverage

Posted by on 29/07/14
By Gergely Polner The UK still holds a high number of senior civil servants in the EU, but their number is in decline. The foreign office should encourage young civil servants and graduates to work in Brussels.

Ukraine: it’s High Time for Plan B

Posted by on 29/07/14
By Florian Pantazi It is high time therefore to search for a diplomatic way out of the Ukrainian quagmire. One such solution has been offered by two American historians and geopoliticians, who outlined the so-called Plan B to the current sanctions campaign against Russia.