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Germany and Italy within the European Union

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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No one is really fine in the European gas chamber but – just to paraphrase Orwell – someone is finer than the others. It is Germany, as you can easily imagine.

Earlier this year, the German industrial production recorded no annual growth and consumer confidence was at very low levels.

However, as is now well-known, since the beginning of the Euro phase Germany has destroyed our manufacturing industry and is replacing us in the major global markets: China, Russia (except for the crazy sanctions due to the situation with Ukraine – an operation much more linked to the US and NATO actions than to the Russian ones).

Hence the crisis of German production was short and regarded the relative compression of the Chinese market, as well as the much more severe negative cycle of the US production.

However, when markets are stolen from the others, everything gets easier and quicker.

The story began with the Social Democrat Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, shortly before the phase of the EU single currency started, when – also thanks to the “reabsorption” of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) still underway – he managed the forced lowering of the German mark value and the companies’ production costs, already below the expected Euro waterline, so as to make the “great German factory” already competitive even before the introduction of the single currency.

Moreover the Euro certainly enabled Italy, which was not at all prepared for the single currency, to reconstruct its own debt record, which was approaching the end with an imminent “Argentina-style” perspective.

But the single currency, inevitably too “high,” destroyed the purchasing power of wages and salaries, by halving them, and doubled both production costs and consumer prices.

Italy experienced an 80% deflation, which lasted six month, of which you can easily imagine the social effects.

Social effects experienced not even after the Second World War lost – and that says it all!

Hence Italy was forced to increase exports, which made us gain some positions on the world market, but destroyed – due to an usurious and virtually absent ruling class – the great State-owned industry, sold at a loss, however with one-off “transfers and payments” to the old and new political forces.

Furthermore, the shift to a stupidly “high” currency value further destroyed Italy’s banking system, which is now playing a secondary role compared to the large liquidity areas being created both within the EU and in the rest of the world.

In fact, Italy experienced recession for at least five of the past eight years.

Still today, Italy’s GDP is lower than in 1999 and its sovereign debt has grown by 133% since 1999. Furthermore, since the introduction of the Euro the national average productivity has steadily declined.

But what does it has to do with Germany? Certainly it has to do with Germany.

In fact, the European Union is unable to manage the huge German current account surplus – and indeed it remains silent before it. Said surplus is over 8% – a percentage that no EU Treaty allows and which also funds the current remarkable growth of wages and salaries in Germany (4.5% on average), besides refinancing the local domestic demand, which is the real engine of growth in the current phase in which exports are flagging.

Since the beginning of the 2006 crisis, caused by the US “financial bubble” on the European monetary and banking markets, Germany has slowly but relentlessly forced the other EU countries to be more fiscally “correct”.

This means to increase their domestic taxes in order to support the expected lower purchase of government bonds and to “cash” money to add to their coffers in case of few renewals of bonds at maturity.

Nevertheless, even freshmen in Business and economic universities know that if taxation increases, domestic consumption will decrease and that if the internal market shrinks, there must be an equivalent share of exports offsetting that loss.

However, if the Euro external value changes for each individual country of the Area, Italy’s EU competitors recording a stronger and more stable external value of the Euro will take markets away from Italy also at equivalent prices.

This has meant basically destroying the Italian, Spanish and sometimes even French companies to favour both Germany and the German industrial expansion area beyond the old Iron Curtain.

Since the very beginning, the German labour outside German borders has supported the country’s expansion onto global markets at highly competitive prices, while Italy and the other regions which had not been cynically prepared for the Euro geoeconomics have collapsed under the weight of the unsustainable costs of their exports and international competition.

While former Italian President Ciampi was visiting China’s Great Wall, Chancellor Schroeder quickly landed in Beijing and in one single day signed all the contracts concerning the remarkable expansion of the Volkswagen Group into China.

It is worth recalling that this was exactly the same paradigm used by the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) against the German Democratic Republic (GDR), reduced to an Anschlűss country, both to avoid the competition of Communist Germany’s companies, which were not performing so poorly, and to use – at a much lower cost – the labour force “released” from those areas.

Hence the model with which the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) bought the German Democratic Republic (GDR) – with our money, and sometimes even with the GDR money – was replicated for the rest of Europe.

Incidentally, at that time the “moralistic” rules on rigour, which found many inexperienced advocates (but we would also say agents of influence) applied not even to Germany which, in the phase of “rigour”, made three-year investment plans accounting for 5.2% of GDP.

Also at geopolitical level, the strategic relationship between Germany and the United States makes economic sense: the pressure of sanctions against Russia, guilty of taking back what is its own in Crimea and part of Ukraine, undermines the economies more interrelated with Russia, including Italy’s – hence a crisis adds to the other.

The US interest is very clear: the more the European economic fabric and common interest crumble, the more the Dollar area – and, in any case, the US commercial and financial expansion area – is guaranteed and expanded.

The more the United States come back to Europe, the more the German bilateral power on the USA increases and the bilateral power of the other EU countries proportionally decreases. After the notorious “Arab springs”, the latter are now reduced to an internal struggle (such as Italy vs. France for Libya) or to a “joint action” – often fully ineffective – with the United States which, however, think they must walk out of the Middle East, after having madly set fire to it.

In a recently-published book, a CIA executive has candidly admitted that the United States “hoped that the democratic uprising would destroy Al Qaeda” – and we have seen with what tragic and uncontrollable outcomes.

Not to mention the case of the war in Syria and its impact on the EU welfare, which will shortly become totally unsustainable and will place the less cautious and far-sighted EU countries in a tragic situation while, on the contrary, it will create opportunities for profitable investment for the North European and US banks and private insurance companies.

After the EU restrictive rules on the EU Member States’ public budgets, with the 2011 regulations known as “Two Pack Regulations”, France has set itself – at least partially – against the financial (and later political) Germanization of the European Union, while Italy has continued to use the debt lever and the lucky chance provided by the ECB Governor, Mario Draghi, with the programme designed to repurchase – on the secondary market – the surplus of government bonds of countries like Italy.

But it will not last.

There are only two possibilities: either the sequence of “sacrifices” and budgetary constraints is applied – and forget about the story that States spend too much and badly, because all States do so – and hence Italy will no longer have a domestic market to support its industrial output, because it also has a low labour productivity, or it shall incur debt on financial markets and ultimately collapse under the burden of the interest generated by that debt.

Obviously, they will help us die.

Later, they will buy our companies at low cost so as to incorporate them in their European and global networks, with the national workforce that will be a variable – and not a constant – factor of business calculations and profits which will go abroad.

In 2013, Italy already ranked second in the list of Mergers and Acquisition (M&A) of German companies – and it just so happened during the crisis – and currently over 30% of the Italian companies which are now no longer nationally-owned have already been sold to the Germans.

Only in 2013, for example, we recorded as many as 23 deals of German small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) which acquired Italian companies, out of a total of 171 sales of national SMEs between 2013 and 2014.

Given the complexity of these operations, it is obviously not possible to speculate on the activities which are still in progress.

Hence the issue lies in undermining a country and then buy it at very low prices.

A strategy which has long been developed and that Italy, for the fatal inability of its ruling class, did not prepare on time, i.e. before the Euro’s entry into force.

What can be done? Getting out of the single currency is useless.

However, Italy must operate freely on the major global markets where the country can still compete with its European “allies” – and it shall do so quickly and with harsh and resolute methods.

And it must accept foreign to foreign transactions not denominated in Euro, as with China and the Russian Federation.

This is what good intelligence and a ruling class not consisting only of mere parvenus and upstarts, like the current ones, would be for.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs "La Centrale Finanziaria Generale Spa", he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group and member of the Ayan-Holding Board. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d'Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: "A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title of "Honorable" of the Académie des Sciences de l'Institut de France

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Europe

From Davos to Munich

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An overview of the views and attitudes of European officials during the Davos and Munich Conference and their comparison with each other suggests that the security, economic, and political concerns of European countries have not only not diminished but are increasing.

During the World Economic Summit in Davos, the Chancellor of Germany and the President of France both gave a significant warning about the return of nationalism and populism to Europe. This warning has been sent in a time when Far-Right movements in Europe have been able to gain unbelievable power and even seek to conquer a majority of parliaments and form governments.

In her speech, Angela Merkel emphasized that the twentieth century’s mistake shouldn’t be repeated. By this, the German Chancellor meant the tendency of European countries to nationalism. Although the German Chancellor warning was serious and necessary, the warning seems to be a little late. Perhaps it would have been better if the warning was forwarded after the European Parliamentary elections in 2014, and subsequently, more practical and deterrent measures were designed. However, Merkel and other European leaders ignored the representation of over a hundred right-wing extremist in the European Parliament in 2014 and merely saw it as a kind of social excitement.

This social excitement has now become a “political demand” in the West. The dissatisfaction of European citizens with their governments has caused them to explicitly demand the return to the twentieth century and the time before the formation of the United Europe. The recent victories of right wing extremists in Austria, Germany and…, isn’t merely the result of the nationalist movement success in introducing its principles and manifestos. But it is also a result of the failure of the “European moderation” policy to resolve social, security and economic problems in the Eurozone and the European Union. In such a situation, European citizens find that the solutions offered by the moderate left parties didn’t work in removing the existing crises in Europe. Obviously, in this situation “crossing the traditional parties” would become a general demand in the West. Under such circumstances, Merkel’s and other European leaders’ warnings about the return to the twentieth century and the time before the formation of the United Europe simply means the inability of the Eurozone authorities in preventing the Right-extremism in the West.

These concerns remain at the Munich Security Conference. As Reuters reported, The defense ministers of Germany and France pledged to redouble their military and foreign policy cooperation efforts on Friday, inviting other European countries to participate if they felt ready to do so.
In a speech to the Munich Security Conference, German defense minister Ursula von der Leyen said Europe’s countries would not be able to respond nimbly enough to global challenges if they were stymied by the need to decide joint foreign policy approaches unanimously.

“Europe has to up its pace in the face of global challenges from terrorism, poverty and climate change,” she said. “Those who want to must be able to advance without being blocked by individual countries.”

Her French counterpart Florence Parly said any such deepened cooperation would be complementary to the NATO alliance, which itself was based on the principle that members contributed differently depending on their capacities.

“The reality has always been that some countries are by choice more integrated and more able to act than others,” she said.

The push comes as Germany’s political class reluctantly concedes it must play a larger security role to match its economic pre-eminence in Europe, amid concerns that the European Union is unable to respond effectively to security concerns beyond its eastern and southern borders.

But in their deal for another four years of a “grand coalition” government, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and the Social Democrats have agreed to boost spending on the armed forces after years of post-Cold War decline.

The deal, which must still be ratified by the Social Democrat membership, comes as Germany reluctantly takes on the role of the continent’s pre-eminent political power-broker, a role generations of post-war politicians have shied away from.

Days after U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis reiterated President Donald Trump’s demand that European countries spend more on their militaries, Von der Leyen pledged to spend more on its military and the United Nations, but called in return for other countries not to turn away from mulitlateralism.

The pledges come as the EU seeks a new basis on which to cooperate with Britain, traditionally one of the continent’s leading security players, after its vote to leave the EU.

Earlier on Friday, the leaders of the three countries’ security services said close security cooperation in areas like terrorism, illegal migration, proliferation and cyber attacks, must continue after Britain’s departure.

“Cooperation between European intelligence agencies combined with the values of liberal democracy is indispensable, especially against a background of diverse foreign and security challenges,” they said.

First published in our partner Tehran Times

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Election Monitoring in 2018: What Not to Expect

Alina Toporas

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This year’s election calendar released by OSCE showcases a broad display of future presidential, parliamentary and general elections with hefty political subjecthoods which have the potential of transforming in their entirety particularly the European Union, the African Union and the Latin American sub-continent. A wide sample of these countries welcoming elections are currently facing a breadth of challenges in terms of the level of transparency in their election processes. To this end, election observation campaigns conducted by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the Council of Europe, the Organisation for American States (OAS), the United Nations Electoral Assistance Division, the National Democratic Institute, Carter Center and even youth organisations such as AEGEE and Silba are of paramount importance in safeguarding the incorruptibility of election proceedings in fraudulent and what cannot be seen with the naked eye type of fraudulent political systems, making sure elections unfold abiding national legislation and international standards.

What exactly does an election observation mission supposed to accomplish?   

An election monitoring mission consists of operational experts and analysts who are all part of a core team and are conducting their assignments for a period of time varying between 8 and 12 weeks. Aside from the core team experts and analysts, there can be short-term or long-term observers and seconded observers or funded observers. Joining them, there is usually a massive local support staff acting as interpreters and intermediaries. Generally, an election observer does not interfere with the process, but merely takes informative notes. With this in mind, it is imperative of the observer to make sure there isn’t any meddling with votes at polling stations by parties and individual candidates; that the people facilitating the election process are picked according to fair and rigorous benchmarks; that these same people can be held accountable for the final results and that, at the end of the day, the election system put in place by the national and local authorities is solid from both a physical and logical standpoint. Oftentimes, particularly in emerging democracies, the election monitoring process goes beyond the actual process of voting by extending to campaign monitoring.

In practical terms, the average election observer needs to abide by certain guidelines for a smooth and standardised monitoring process. Of course, these rules can vary slightly, depending on the sending institution. Typically, once the election observer has landed in the country awaiting elections, their first two days are normally filled with seminars on the electoral system of the country and on the electoral law. Meetings with candidates from the opposition are sometimes organised by the electoral commission. Talking to ordinary voters from builders to cleaners, from artists to businesspeople is another way through which an election observer can get a sense of what social classes pledged their allegiances to what candidates. After two days in training and the one day testing political preferences on the ground, election day begins. Since the early bird gets the worm, polling stations open at least two hours earlier than the work day starts, at around 7am. Throughout the day, observers ask voters whether they feel they need to complain about anything and whether they were asked to identify themselves when voting. Other details such as the polling stations opening on time are very much within the scope of investigation for election monitors. Observers visit both urban voting centres and rural ones. In the afternoon, counting begins with observers carefully watching the volunteers from at least 3 metres away. At the end of the day, observers go back to their hotels and begin filling in their initial questionnaires with their immediate reactions on the whole voting process. In a few weeks time, a detailed report would be issued in cooperation with all the other election observers deployed in various regions of the country and under the supervision of the mission coordinators.   

Why are these upcoming elections particularly challenging to monitor?  

Talks of potential Russian interference into the U.S. elections have led to full-on FBI investigations. Moreover, the idea of Russian interference in the Brexit vote is slowly creeping into the British political discourse. Therefore, it does not take a quantum physicist to see a pattern here. Hacking the voting mechanism is yet another not-so-classic conundrum election observers are facing. We’re in the midst of election hacking at the cognitive level in the form of influence operations, doxing and propaganda. But, even more disturbingly, we’re helpless witnesses to interference at the technical level as well. Removing opposition’s website from the Internet through DDOS attacks to downright political web-hacking in Ukraine’s Central Election Commission to show as winner a far-right candidate are only some of the ways which present an unprecedented political savviness and sophistication directed at the tampering of the election machinery. Even in a country such as the U.S. (or Sweden – their elections being held September of this year) where there is a great deal of control over the physical vote, there is not much election monitoring can do to enhance the transparency of it all when interference occurs by way of the cyber domain affecting palpable election-related infrastructure.

Sketching ideational terrains seems like a fruitful exercise in imagining worst-case scenarios which call for the design of a comprehensive pre-emptive approach for election fraud. But how do you prevent election fraud? Sometimes, the election observer needs to come to terms with the fact that they are merely a reporter, a pawn which notwithstanding the action of finding oneself in the middle of it all, can generally use only its hindsight perspective. Sometimes, that perspective is good enough when employed to draft comprehensive electoral reports, making a difference between the blurry lines of legitimate and illegitimate political and electoral systems.

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Can Europe successfully rein in Big Tobacco?

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Photo by Mateo Avila Chinchilla on Unsplash

In what looks set to become the ‘dieselgate’ of the tobacco industry, a French anti-smoking organization has filed a lawsuit against four major tobacco brands for knowingly selling cigarettes with tar and nicotine levels that were between 2 and 10 times higher than what was indicated on the packs. Because the firms had manipulated the testing process, smokers who thought they were smoking a pack a day were in fact lighting up the equivalent of up to 10, significantly raising their risk for lung cancer and other diseases.

According to the National Committee Against Smoking (CNCT), cigarettes sold by the four companies have small holes in the filter that ventilate smoke inhaled under test conditions. But when smoked by a person, the holes compress due to pressure from the lips and fingers, causing the smoker to inhale higher levels of tar and nicotine. According to the lawsuit, the irregularity “tricks smokers because they are unaware of the degree of risk they are taking.”

It was only the most recent example of what appears to be a deeply entrenched propensity for malfeasance in the tobacco industry. And unfortunately, regulatory authorities across Europe still appear unprepared to just say no to big tobacco.

Earlier this month, for instance, Public Health England published a report which shines a positive light on “tobacco heating products” and indicates that electronic cigarettes pose minimal health risks. Unsurprisingly, the UK report has been welcomed by big tobacco, with British American Tobacco praising the clear-sightedness of Public Health England.

Meanwhile, on an EU-wide level, lawmakers are cooperating too closely for comfort with tobacco industry executives in their efforts to craft new cigarette tracking rules for the bloc.

The new rules are part of a campaign to clamp down on tobacco smuggling, a problem that is particularly insidious in Europe and is often attributed to the tobacco industry’s own efforts to stiff the taxman. According to the WHO, the illicit cigarette market makes up between 6-10% of the total market, and Europe ranks first worldwide in terms of the number of seized cigarettes. According to studies, tobacco smuggling is also estimated to cost national and EU budgets more than €10 billion each year in lost public revenue and is a significant source of cash for organized crime. Not surprisingly, cheap availability of illegally traded cigarettes is also a major cause of persistently high smoking rates in the bloc.

To help curtail cigarette smuggling and set best practices in the fight against the tobacco epidemic, the WHO established the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2005. The first protocol to the FCTC, the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products, was adopted in 2012 and later ratified by the EU. Among other criteria, the Protocol requires all cigarette packs to be marked with unique identifiers to ensure they can be tracked and traced, thereby making smuggling more difficult.

Unsurprisingly, the tobacco industry has come up with its own candidates to meet track and trace requirements, notably Codentify, a system developed by PMI. From 2005 through 2016, PMI used Codentify as part of an anti-smuggling agreement with the EU. But the agreement was subject to withering criticism from the WHO and other stakeholders for going against the Protocol, which requires the EU and other parties to exclude the tobacco industry from participating in anti-smuggling efforts.

The EU-PMI agreement expired in 2016 and any hopes of reviving it collapsed after the European Parliament, at loggerheads with the Commission, overwhelmingly voted against a new deal and decided to ratify the WHO’s Protocol instead. Codentify has since been sold to the French firm Impala and was rebranded as Inexto – which critics say is nothing but a front company for PMI since its leadership is made out of former PMI executives. Nonetheless, due to lack of stringency in the EU’s draft track and trace proposal, there is still a chance that Inexto may play a role in any new track and trace system, sidelining efforts to set up a system that is completely independent of the tobacco industry.

This could end up by seriously derailing the EU’s efforts to curb tobacco smuggling, given the industry’s history of active involvement in covertly propping up the black market for cigarettes. In 2004, PMI paid $1.25 billion to the EU to settle claims that it was complicit in tobacco smuggling. As part of the settlement, PMI agreed to issue an annual report about tobacco smuggling in the EU, a report that independent researchers found “served the interests of PMI over those of the EU and its member states.”

Given the industry’s sordid history of efforts to prop up the illicit tobacco trade, it’s little surprise that critics are still dissatisfied with the current version of the EU’s track and trace proposal.

Now, the CNCT’s lawsuit against four major tobacco firms gives all the more reason to take a harder line against the industry. After all, if big tobacco can’t even be honest with authorities about the real levels of chemicals in their own products, what makes lawmakers think that they can play a viable role in any effort to quell the illegal cigarette trade – one that directly benefits the industry?

Later this month, the European Parliament will have a new chance to show they’re ready to get tough on tobacco, when they vote on the pending proposal for an EU-wide track and trace system. French MEP Younous Omarjee has already filed a motion against the system due to its incompatibility with the letter of the WHO. Perhaps a ‘dieselgate’ for the tobacco industry might be just the catalyst they need to finally say no to PMI and its co-conspirators.

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