Many signals and food for thought have been provided by the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Parolin, in his very recent speech delivered at the World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland.
Firstly, it should be noted that, this year, the Pope has sent the Secretary of State of the Holy See to represent the Vatican at the World Economic Forum, and not an eminent prelate – as in other Davos meetings – who was certainly authoritative and influential, but devoid of the political and institutional characteristics suited to represent the Pope officially.
If Europe “has lost its soul”, as stated by Cardinal Parolin in Davos – and this is obvious to everybody – we must go back to the spirit of the Founding Fathers of the European Community and later of the European Union.
This was the first issue raised by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, thus indicating that the Europe’s illness is political, economic, strategic and especially spiritual, precisely because it is global.
It is worth recalling that the Vatican Secretary of State does not currently speak of “Christian Europe” – which would have also been an obvious and reasonable argument for a Cardinal of the Catholic Church. Conversely Cardinal Parolin mentioned the spirit of the Founding Fathers, namely of the former Communist atheist, Altiero Spinelli, as well as of the Catholic Tridentine De Gasperi, or of Catholics such as Adenauer and Schuman.
In other words, the Church says to the “mighty and powerful of the world” gathered in Davos that the Word of Christ is one and one only and will lead to Salvation, but that the political horizon has its conceptual and practical autonomy which allows the union of Catholics, secular and reformed so as to rediscover the European soul.
This is also the meaning of Pope Francis’ words regarding Martin Luther and the Reformation.
A European Union not based on the recognition of a specific religion, but of a fact: the impossibility of reducing each person to his/her mere material dimension.
It is precisely the Catholic Church, represented by the Vatican Secretary of State, which is currently leading Europe’s transformation, as well as the reform of global economy and its now ineffective policy.
Hence no longer secret and occult Catholicism which must almost beg secularism’s pardon so as to continue to exist, but the fullest Glory of the Christian Testimony opening onto the whole world, thus becoming a reference point also for non-believers or for the followers of other faiths.
It is Truth that sets us free, as stated by the Evangelist John.
Hence it is by no mere coincidence that this happens during the Pontificate of a Pope coming from the Company of Jesus.
For Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the irrational – as well as irreligious – deviation, which is central in current times, is the reduction of religious life to an intimate, private and personal fact.
Religious faith is – and must be – the visible identity of believers and, most importantly, the leaven for all men.
It is the visibility of Faith which makes it alive and useful for all men.
This applies to all Faiths, vivified and defended by the current Catholic Church. The issue does not lie in pressing for “parochial” privileges, but rather in protecting every person, regardless of his/her spiritual story.
We must give once again a soul to Europe, as said by the Vatican Secretary of State, because the material culture, the fact of forgetting ideal and spiritual roots, as well as the cheap materialism characterizing the current ideology, are not the solution, but the sign of the illness, which is the same for everyone, not only for believers.
A poor material ideology of the economy, for the first time ruling this world, such as the Devil, without the life-giving and invigorating vision of the first European Community, as that of its founders was.
Today the EU is experiencing a regulatory and legalizing obsession which cannot work and worsens the crisis of the European soul – and this is the essence of its political and organizational crisis.
Again in the vision outlined by Cardinal Parolin in Davos, the Catholic Church shows its soul in one way only – a way by which Pope John XXIII set great store, namely dialogue.
As reaffirmed by Cardinal Parolin in Davos, the Catholic Church never asks or requests any privilege for itself.
Quite the reverse. According to supporting data and evidence, he has reminded us that currently Christians are the most persecuted in the world, without forgetting – even in prayers – the martyrs of other faiths.
When the Church speaks – and, from now on, it will increasingly speak in public and throughout the world – it does so to defend the Holy Spirit and to make it become the essence of public life and everybody’s feelings, but never claiming small or great privileges or some primacy over the other faiths.
Cardinal Parolin was very clear in that regard, both in Davos and on other occasions.
We are now witnessing the attempt – which will probably be successful – to make the Catholic Church become the worldwide reference point for all those who want to improve the current situation.
Paradoxically, Pope Francis has been defined by the New York Times as “the leader of the world Left”, but there is a mistake in this terminology.
Today, in fact, also thanks to Cardinal Parolin’s words in Davos, the Church is proposing itself not to unite all the various “Lefts”, but precisely all men, even those who do not believe in Peter’s Discipleship.
As recalled by Cardinal Parolin in his speech delivered at the UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants on September 19, 2016, also with reference to the burning topic of migration, the real issue certainly lies in curbing the production and sale of weapons, but also in understanding that the human problems are man-made, not God-made. Hence men, not God, can solve them through dialogue.
Even in this case, it is exactly materialism that misleads into error, while recognizing men’s universal spirituality and sacredness is the starting point to experience dialogue with the other faiths and with all men.
The message conveyed by Secretary of State Parolin in one of his 2013 homilies springs to our mind: “We can walk as far as we want, we can build many things, but if we do not follow Jesus Christ, it does not work”.
And precisely when the Church becomes all men’s voice, it fully remains the Bride of Christ and not “a mere charitable and welfare-oriented non-governmental organization” – just to use Cardinal Parolin’s words.
Certainly it is by no mere coincidence that these statements are made by a Cardinal who has already had a long and brilliant diplomatic career and is currently still at the top of the decision-making process.
As already noted, the first aspect underlined by the Secretary of State in Davos is that, with Pope Francis, the Holy See’s diplomatic activity has increased significantly both in quantitative and qualitative terms.
After the enlightening Pontificate of Benedict XVI, who outlined the cultural, geopolitical and especially spiritual lines of the Catholicism of Globalization, with Pope Francis and Cardinal Parolin the Church is living the most dangerous, but exciting phase of its new global leadership and of a new geopolitical and strategic role, fully freed from the old and no longer existing shackles of the Cold War.
In the Catholic canton of Grisons Cardinal Parolin reminded us of the fact that Pope Francis is now universally recognized as a world leader – and this is a new fact, a Grace, for the Catholic Church.
As the Secretary of State recalled in Davos, the Vatican diplomacy has no worldly aims, such as power and hegemony, but it intends to reaffirm the spiritual nature of all men that – according to Saint Ignatius Loyola’s thinking – is a real fact and hence the foundation of dialogue between faiths and all men.
It is in this deeper and more spiritual sense that we can say that the aim of Vatican diplomacy is Peace.
Peace among all men, but also peace inside man and peace between faiths, that respect each other because – just to recall once again the themes dear to Cardinal Parolin – Catholics build in the world to follow Jesus Christ.
And fighting for peace among all men means eradicating all the man-made causes of wars and geopolitical crises.
“Building bridges, working for peace” is one of the three goals that Pope Francis has set for the Vatican diplomacy.
The first is to fight poverty, which is the source of all current evils and, above all, makes men lose their dignity and the perception of their spiritual nature.
Hence poverty in the material, but also in the spiritual sense: poor people always lose themselves and fall prey to political and economic evil, but even to the devil which, not surprisingly, is the “lord of this world”.
The second goal of Pope Francis’ diplomacy is to build bridges, as Cardinal Parolin said in Davos.
What does it mean? It simply means that what divides men was created by them, but what unites and allows to practice dialogue – as Pope John XXIII hoped for – always comes from God.
“Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue!” urges the Holy Father, recovering and following up the tradition of an extraordinary Pope such as John XXIII, whom I still remember with great emotion.
The third goal is to achieve peace in the world and I wish to recall that this is a political, but also a spiritual aim: Peace is the offspring of men’s reconquest of their souls and, hence, of the construction of reality when we give testimony to Jesus Christ, while respecting everybody.
Religious freedom, in particular, is one of the key points of the speech delivered by Cardinal Parolin in Davos.
Without religious freedom there is no freedom, because we do not recognize the spirituality of man, of all men.
When religious freedom is safeguarded, all the other “human rights” are automatically protected.
Nevertheless if we fight against the Church and all the other religions, we also destroy the long-standing secular tradition of the humanism of rights and the protection of each individual person.
We can add that, after all, it is completely contradictory to speak of “full freedom”, but not of religious freedom – as is the case with much contemporary culture – or even reaffirm traditional liberalism also and too often only in conflict with the rights of the Church and of the other Faiths.
Either freedom for everybody or no freedom at all – here logic, well before politics, defines and settles the issue.
And if we do not respect the person’s transcendent dimension – which is a fact – we cannot even protect his/her materiality, made up of choices and concrete rights.
As reiterated by the Vatican Secretary of State, the human being has always and anyway a transcendent dimension, which cannot be reduced to materiality. And the Church of Christ will always be in the forefront to defend the right of all men and faiths to speak freely.
As Cardinal Parolin stated, here the future of mankind will be defended.
And we can also add that in so doing we will preserve the prestige and the political and moral dignity of the Catholic Church itself, which speaks to everybody precisely because it follows Jesus Christ.
This is what we are currently witnessing in the long and complex negotiations between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China.
It is exactly one of Cardinal Parolin’s diplomatic masterpieces and it is very likely for current tensions to be overcome with an agreement between the Vatican and the Chinese government which will enable the Holy See to choose a bishop among the 5-6 cardinals proposed directly by the Chinese political authorities.
This is the political and strategic sense of Peter’s Discipleship: as Jesus Christ has already ordered us, the civil power is Caesar, and it is free, autonomous and independent, because it does not regard Heaven, but Earth, which has its own laws that are also created by God, our Father.
And if it regards Heaven it is not a real power, as the Spirit of the Gospel does not regard Earth, does not make laws and does not create economic systems.
However it is exactly in the full and clear respect for “politicians’ autonomy and independence” that the current genuine aim of the Church as Bride of Christ lies and stands out, namely the supernatural nature of all men and, therefore, the absolute need for dialogue, as called for by Pope John XXIII.
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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