[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] T [/yt_dropcap] he government led by Paolo Gentiloni, obscure Foreign Minister of the vacuous but electrifying Renzi’s government, replaces the previous government but also marks the start of a new political configuration.
The aims of this new government will be the return to the proportional representation voting system, with a small hurdle (3/4%) and a new role played by the government in mediating among the Parliamentary forces and between them and the President of the Republic.
The Democratic Party (PD) will play the same role as the former Christian Democratic Party (DC), Grillo’s Five Star Movement will play the same role as the old Communist Party (PCI) and Meloni’s Brothers of Italy – National Alliance and Salvini’s Northern League will play the same role as the former national right party, Italian Social Movement (MSI).
This government seems to be follower of the liberal laissez-faire approach, but only because it has no impact on various situations and problems. It is also an inert and inactive political system, because Italy is increasingly irrelevant on the international economic scene, of which not only does it not manage some flows, but does not even know how to do so.
The current government is certainly a “photocopy” of Matteo Renzi’s, considering that the rude and ill-mannered “little boy” of Rignano sull’Arno has not lost the election, but only a referendum on a bizarre law reforming the representation system that he had overburdened so much with values and effects, it had not, to vex both his supporters and the majority of voters.
What was particularly irritating were the stadium cheer, the never-ending repetition of slogans and the glib tongue of the “little boy” from Pontassieve, never letting others retort or raise objections .
Now, de facto, he is still the leader inspiring and controlling most of Gentiloni’s government actions.
It is a new form of Parliamentary system, the so-called “ventriloquial” government.
However, what does the new President of the Council of Ministers, Paolo Gentiloni, plan to do?
In his speech before Parliament he dwelt – with sloppy language – on the main actions to be taken with a view to achieving the well-known Italy’s “relaunch”.
A sloppy language is indicative of a lack of ideas.
Firstly, in his opinion, our economy – which is “recovering” – must not miss the opportunity of the new trend of global growth.
The usual refrain by Matteo Renzi, who knows nothing and gets thrilled for everything.
Neither the Italian recovery nor the global growth trend are materializing.
According to SVIMEZ, since 2008 the industrial production has fallen by 35% and investment by 59%.
In Italy the current unemployment rate is 11.4% and, according to the European Commission, a further 12% of people have left the labour market.
In the South of Italy, the youth unemployment rate is huge: 65% in Calabria, 56% in Sicily and 53% in Campania, despite the fact that every year 100,000 young people migrate abroad from the South.
Banks – which, in Gentiloni’s opinion, are “basically sound” – record a 20% share of non-performing loans, which is the highest level in Europe.
Moreover, the European Stability Pact prevents Italy from creating a “bad bank” where all these non-performing loans can be channelled.
According to the strange EU legal experts, this would be a sort of “State aid” that the naïve EU institutions and experts consider Absolute Evil.
Spain, however, did so and Germany backed its Landesbanken which were floundering in a deep crisis.
Furthermore the European Union imposed penalties also on Real Madrid, Barcelona and five other Spanish football clubs, whereas – with an absent-minded and inattentive approach – it is thinking of accepting State aid to the bank Monte dei Paschi di Siena.
The EU has no single and unambiguous policy, despite the endless codicils of its rules and regulations.
If banks – which are not “an aid to recovery”, unlike what maintained by the optimistic Paolo Gentiloni – have run up too much debt to survive, the option will only be the arrival of the Troika.
Germany “called” it for us on December 6, by stating that the new Gentiloni’s government should ask for an aid program to the European Stability Mechanism (ESM).
Germany even wants the IMF’s parallel support.
Furthermore the German leaders and politicians maintain that if the new government does not truly modernize the country, there will certainly be the Italexit from the euro.
This is the reality we have to face, which is a thousand miles away from the optimism of Gentiloni’s new “photocopy” government.
On top of it, we need to carefully consider the situation of the small entrepreneurs and young people who leave the country to go and work abroad – currently an uncontainable flood of people.
Between 2008 and 2014 as many as 14,000 small and medium-sized companies (SME)were wiped away. In 2015 a lower number of companies exited the market due to bankruptcy proceedings or voluntary liquidation procedures – less than usual, but the trend has not been reversed yet and it has not returned to pre-2008 levels.
There is no Italian economy without the SMEs: they record a turnover of 838 billion euros, a value-added equal to 189 billion euros and a debt to the tune of 255 billion euro.
Hence the weak recovery depends on the severe lack of investment.
And where can we find governments’ ability to attract foreign and national capital for the industrial revival, considering that investment is falling in every part of the world, except for China and the Russian Federation?
In 2015 alone, over 107,000 Italian citizens left the country.
Five million Italians already live abroad – 36.7% in the 18-34 and 35-49 age groups.
A huge stream of people that impoverishes professions and innovation. This is also a cost, which the State and families bear without having any benefit, amounting to 700,000 euros per each graduate leaving the country.
Not to mention the many entrepreneurs who committed suicide because of the crisis.
In the first half of 2016 the cases of suicide for economic reasons have been 81, involving both workers and entrepreneurs at the same time.
36.4% of the total number of suicides for economic reasons were committed by entrepreneurs who could no longer run their companies and pay their workers.
In 2015 the rate of entrepreneurs who committed suicide was equal to 46.1%.
There exists no elsewhere in Europe the same amount of entrepreneurs committing suicide. This means that the nice story told by Italian governments and Italian research centres on the “magnificent and progressive fate” – just to quote the verse that Giacomo Leopardi took from his cousin, Terenzio Mamiani, to ironically challenge his blind belief in the unlimited and extraordinary progress for the human race – .is only a beautiful fairy tale.
With a view to redressing the budget deficit, the Italian GDP should grow at least at a 1.3% pace for the next six months, thus enabling Italy to achieve a deficit-GDP ratio slightly over 2%.
Reverting to the new Gentiloni’s government, we need to recall the gaffes made by the current Prime Minister.
The abstention on the UNESCO Resolution denying the link between Judaism and the sacred sites of Jerusalem was presented by the then Foreign Minister Gentiloni as a success for the “yes” vote, with endless and irrelevant digressions and cogitations.
Not to mention an explicit desire to cede sovereignty to the EU shown in a twitter of 2012.
We have governments that have long wanted only to go on holiday and leave everything in the hands of the European Union, which is not necessarily our ally but also our competitor.
It is also worth recalling Gentiloni’s advice to Donald Trump not to change his policy on nuclear power, Iran and climate and how the President-elect reacted on these three topics.
Let us not forget, however, the most severe issues, such as India, which fooled us – when Gentiloni was Foreign Minister – on the exhausting and shameful matter of the two Italian marines.
Not to mention the tragedy of the Italian researcher, Giulio Regeni, in which the then Foreign Minister did not touch a ball, thus leaving even the Egyptian leaders speechless.
Finally not a gaffe, but a truth, namely the statement of the then Foreign Minister Gentiloni that there are also terrorists on migrants’ boats – a truth soon denied by him, for fear of the left representatives within the government.
It would take America to delegate our foreign policy to him, but this is not the case.
And indeed Renzi’s US myth looked like the replica of the well-known character of Nando Mericoni in the movie An American in Rome, a satire of Americanization starring Alberto Sordi.
We should also add the project for a “Syrian transition beyond Assad” – one of Gentiloni’s singular and far-fetched idea, given what is happening on the ground which, however, can be understood if we consider the great and sometimes funny servility of this government and the previous Renzi’s government vis-à-vis America.
And what about his crazy cry at New York’s Italian Consulate on September 23 last, when he concluded his speech by shouting “Go, Hillary, go” at the top of his lungs?
An allied country must not interfere in the affairs of a friendly State, let alone Renzi’s funding of Hillary Clinton’s election campaign – an unlawful and dangerous behaviour.
Gentiloni also expressed full solidarity with Turkish President Erdogan after the failed coup, not to mention Italy’s full support for Fayez al-Serraj in Libya, the politician the international community “chose” as new leader in Libya.
The fact is that al-Serraj rules just on his palace along the shores of Tripoli, whereas it would have been smarter to distribute our support to the major non-jihadist parties involved.
But now our foreign policy is in the hands of mere amateurs who serve others’ interest rather than our own.
There is no longer Italy’s national interest, but only the provincial and narrow-minded rhetoric of politically correct which is turned into foreign policy by these petty politicians.
From Davos to Munich
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
Election Monitoring in 2018: What Not to Expect
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.
Can Europe successfully rein in Big Tobacco?
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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