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The relationship between President Trump and Europe

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] T [/yt_dropcap]he relationship between the United States and the European Union is inevitable and vital, regardless of what both partners think of each other. For Donald Trump, who is much less naive or inexperienced than he is portrayed, the European Union is a political landscape in which the main players are distracted by domestic and current issues, such as the elections in France, Germany, and possibly in Italy.

Not to mention elections in Hungary (before or after the spring of 2018), Albania (on June 18, 2017), Bulgaria (on March 27, 2017), as well as the French presidential elections scheduled for April 23 next.

It is also worth recalling that very important elections will be held in Germany on September 24, 2017, as well as in the Netherlands on March 15 next, in Norway on September 11 and in Portugal at the end of September. Presidential elections will be held in Serbia on April 30, 2017 and in Slovenia in December 2017. Furthermore local, but very important elections are scheduled for May 4, 2017 in Great Britain.

Not to mention the elections to be held in smaller, but often equally important countries: in Northern Ireland (on March 2, 2017), in Armenia on April 2 next – a possible thorn in the flesh for Russia – and in the Czech Republic – a fundamental asset in the new risiko between NATO, the United States and Russia – on a date to be decided yet in 2018.

In a EU geopolitical neighbourhood perspective, we must also mention the Iranian presidential election on May 19 next, or the Lebanese one which is likely to be held this year although the date has not been set yet.

Hence none of the global players are observing the EU as it currently is – with its Don Quixote-style fanciful approach – but all are awaiting – and endeavouring, where possible – to monitor elections and possibly make their favourite candidates win them.

Everybody has always done so and there is no point in being squeamish.

Who do you think funded Mussolini and his interventionist “Italian People’s Party”? The French intelligence services. Not to mention the October Revolution, set ablaze by Lenin who, in Spiegelgasse 14, Zurich – just a few meters to the famous “Cabaret Voltaire”, the birthplace of the Dadaist movement, of which the Russian revolutionary was never aware – was taken by the German Reich intelligence services and brought from the Zurich-Altstetten Station to the Finland Station in St. Petersburg, as told in the marvellous book by Edmund Wilson, “To the Finland Station, a Study on the Acting and Writing of History”.

Not to mention the Dreyfus affair, a late operation of the French intelligence services which exposed the pro-German network in their own apparata – a network which, on the contrary, worked perfectly in France’s penetration from the North. Finally, we can also mention the extraordinary operation of the Italian Fascist intelligence services in Switzerland that succeeded in fooling the British SOE established in the Canton of Ticino with phantasmagorical and yet credible operations in Genoa.

The “influence operations”, the most refined, sophisticated and significant for each intelligence service, are hard to manage but are often very effective. Everybody carry them out without admitting so.

They are the operations which count in the immaterial accounting of intelligence services.

Therefore there are many open political situations and many actions on the field, on both sides.

The poor wretched EU is currently no longer even able to handle a reasonable action in Libya (and I am referring to Italy, in particular) or a rational management of operations in the Gambia, where the Senegalese armed forces intervened – at the end of last January – to support the new Gambian President, Adama Barrow, against the old leader, Yahya Jammeh, who left with a planeload of luxury cars and money.

The Senegalese intervention in the Gambia was supported by ECOWAS, the Economic Community of the 15 West African States, which has no official relations with any Western country, except for its own representative to the United Nations (namely Mr. Tanouu Koné Leon, with residence in New Rochelle) and its liaison officer to the African Union Commission (namely Ms. Rahemat Momodu, in Addis Ababa) and, finally, its representative to the European Union (namely Mr. Jonas Hemou).

The operation was also military supported by Nigeria and Barrow was ousted directly from Botswana, which stated it no longer recognized him as the Head of the Ghanaian State, but once again we fear that the people of Ghana do not really like the change.

And what about the West? No news received.

An African region always guarded and controlled by the French intelligence services is evaporating in a querelle in which the essential aspect is lost: Ghana is the point from which Kenya can be controlled.

No problem for the Europeans: they think that the “sword jihad” can be stopped by shouting in the streets “Charlie c’est moi”.

And, indeed, this will tragically happen sooner or later.

Hence if currently we do not think of Europe within a larger region and perspective, we will lose the sense and the meaning of what is happening and of what will inevitably happen in the future.

Strategic encirclement, internal destabilization, chronic inability to cope with external influence operations, from whatever side they come.

In President Trump’ strategic thinking, however, the EU is “nothing covered with nothing” – just to paraphrase an old saying by Churchill on Soviet Russia.

In previous years, Barack Obama had noted with some surprise the European policy line during the Ukrainian crisis, with the annexation of Crimea in 2014, which the United States still consider illegal.

In 2015 there was the crisis of migration which, however, has shown an absolute lack of leadership on the part of the European Union.

Not to mention Brexit, a EU real act of strategic and military closure, if strategy and geopolitics ever played a role in Brussels or Strasbourg corridors and meeting rooms.

Just a European economics-oriented half-baked knowledge and beginner’s work, similar to what Marx himself called “trivial Marxism” and that the former USSR dissident, Vladimir Bukovsky – a biophysicist released in 1976 after 12 years spent in Soviet prisons – believed to be increasingly similar to what he experienced in the “wooden language” of the Soviet apparata.

By the way, Bukovsky, who collected the most beautiful and extensive archives of the old Soviet intelligence, was accused of having “searched for” paedophile sites on the Internet. Who knows why…

Indecisiveness and lack of determination, however, are always the major original sin in foreign policy and, from this viewpoint, Europe has committed this sin repeatedly.

Reverting to our considerations on the “agents of influence”, thank goodness in 1984 NATO, and later Helmut Schmidt himself, were alerted by a Milanese executive of the Italian Communist Party (PCI) – who shall remain nameless – that a senior KGB officer had certified the absolutely offensive use of the Soviet SS-20 missiles which, at the time, had 441 launch bases and were much better than the Pershing II missiles, which were later deployed by the Atlantic Alliance with great political difficulties, as well as demonstrations and riots in the streets. However, as President Trump clearly stated in his interview to the newspaper Bild of January 15 last, in his opinion NATO is “obsolete” and the EU is a “vehicle for Germany” – not to mention the fact that President Trump expects to see another European country soon leaving the European Union.

Although the Atlantic Alliance is obsolete – and in many respects it is really so – the 2017 budget still amounts to 1.29 billion euro, while the civilian budget is worth 234.4 million euro.

The criteria for defining contributions are carefully defined on the basis of tables drafted jointly by all the Member States of the Alliance.

Saying that the United States “pay too much” only means that they are not satisfied with the cost-benefit ratio within NATO, and not that the EU members of the Alliance should pay more for operations which ultimately serve only the US geopolitical interests.

Therefore the problem lies not so much in the financial and accounting cost of the Atlantic Alliance, but in the relationship between this cost and the value of the strategic result we plan to achieve by mutual agreement, which is the NATO geopolitical least common denominator.

EUCOM, namely the US-NATO European Command, covers 51 countries and has two traditional geopolitical goals: the actual separation between the Western Eurasian peninsula, namely Europe, and the Eurasian Heartland and control over the largest economic market of the world, namely Europe’s.

As Brzezinski used to say, the US strategic aim in this context is to break the continuity between the Eurasian central mass and the Asian Sino-Slavic centre.

Currently the Atlantic Resolve operation, based in Wroclaw, Poland and in Bulgaria, with 2,800 German tanks and artillery units and some US brigades, shows pressures from the United States – and in different degrees from Germany – on the Russian Federation, in clear correlation with the Russian actions in Crimea and Ukraine.

Furthermore, a few days ago Putin started to facilitate the granting of Russian documents to the citizens of the Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk.

This means that Russia has already lost its patience with Trump and is prepared to raise the level of confrontation – a level that has a visible profile and an invisible profile.

Pressures from Poland and Bulgaria which relate to the US and NATO operations in the Baltic countries, with 4,000 US soldiers and a group of CIA operatives to reassure the new independent countries of the region and close Russia northwards.

Is it a rational strategy? Yes and no. The Russian Federation should know that the expansion of its “influence” is not accepted in the EU, but that Europe intends to negotiate a new multipolar balance with Russia.

And here the issue does not lie in “trivial Marxism”, in trade ties disrupted or in export blocks.

If NATO remains the Cold War ghost, we are no longer interested in it.

Conversely if it is turned into a means of military pressure and threat, and even of influence, for dangerous areas (the Greater Middle East, Central and Southern Asia, Northern and Central Africa), it will still be the extraordinary instrument we knew until 1989.

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

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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Europe

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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Europe

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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