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H.E. Card. Parolin Secretary of State goes to Russia

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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For the 70th anniversary of the russian patriarch Cyrill and for the 80th anniversary of pope Francis, there have been many meetings between  the Russian Orthodox Church and the Catholic one.

Card. Parolin and the russian foreign ministry Lavrov, on the 2nd december 2016, met secretly for determining the timing and the political opportunities of an official visit of Pope Francis in Russia, a state visit that, in card. Parolin view, could throw the Catholic Church as the main mediator among the East and the West, mainly with China and Russia, not to forget the indian and central asian interests and geopolitics vis à vis the euro- and the american system.

Card. Parolin never forgets to remember, both to ruling classes and the people, that the European Union is lacking real rayonnement and effective political power, and the cardinal Secretary of State knows very well, as a men of the Church, that only the Roman christianity, in its old relation with the greek and russian tradition, that  by the way only the Vatican can build those “bridges” that neither the US nor the EU can build, now, with the ever increasing eastern and asian world.

The “materialistic empires”, as the Frére Charles De Foucauld named them in the early XX century, in our contemporary political situation have not so much appeal, and this happens mainly because of the failing myth of an economic perpetual and continous growth; and now the future asks us to be interpreted in symbols, myths, visions, hopes, even prophecies.

Of course, the Russian patriarch must win many resistencies, both in the community of the believers and in his  hyerarchy, as it always happens when centuries of hate and fights come to a possible end, but now the cultural, religious, spiritual and even political climate is the best in many years for an effective relation between the East and Western Churches.

Now, in the russian public opinion, every door is open for the dialogue between the vatican and the Russian orthodox Church.

On the political and strategic side, there is a growing concern for the military pressure of NATO to the russian borders, that recalls of old “cold war” scenarios of war, those at the beginning of the XXI century.

The European union cannot even, and we saw that, the power of elaborate an alternative policy a bit different to the one defined by the United States, with its “unilateral sanctions”,  defined against Russian Federations and other countries labelled as the “axis of evil”, and that happens both for the now relevant strategic irrelevance of the EU and for the economic blackmail imposed by Washington.

The “Office for Control of Foreign Assets” had, and I mean this only for an example, has filed the french firm Alstolm, with its business in high velocity trains, and Alstolm could get out of the penalty only selling to an american firm its electric sector to General Electric, in 2014.

BNP Paribas was forced, also in 2014, to pay 9 billions Usd as a fine for transferring due payments to citizens and firms living in countries subject to sanctions by Washington.

We don’t even forget that the german government refused to follow the US “lines” for the new commercial sanctions against the russian government.

The secretary of State in going to deliver antitank up-to-date armour to the government of kiev, and has already put a sum of 410 millions usd for the upgrade of anti-russian commandoes.

This is the real political and social context in which card. Parolin is going to meet the russian political and religoius èlites.

And now, in this psychological and political situation, that russia is going to build a new and culttral and religious identity, made up of traditional zarist and even soviet traditions, with an effective identity of a spiritual superiority from the slavic world in respect to the western, “materialistic” tradition.

We could even imagine that the “nihil” of the western civilization, today, could be better than many other philosophies used even  today, nihilism ha the old dignity of a old-fashioned and even noble philosophy.

“future is uncertain, the past is unforesseable”, as an old russian saying tolds.

But now we see the founding of at least 30.000 new orthodox churches, in our last thirty years, 5000 only from 2010, and this marks effectively the renaissance of a slavic-russian new identity, as a new resurrection of the traditional orthodox religious identity.

The dream of Tolstoj is now becoming true.

But now, in Ukrajne and in many towns in the russian south, slavic orthodoxy is usually in contradiction with the the greek tradition, which is growing, and this is the mirror of a complex relation, in the eastern churches, between the closing against Europe and the competing reaffermation of an unity, in the orthodox tradition, of the eurasian culture.

And, even for that, Russia is thinking itself alone. The useless Europe, servant od the USA and now even of China, the unpredictable Trump presidency, the possible and unheard exchange between Usa and Russia, with a reasonable trade for Assad in Sirya and a foreseeable minor pressure in Ukrajne for Russia by the US.

This is the effective geopolitical landscape for the future visit of Card. Parolin in the Russian Federation.

We could define this political line, held by the Vatican, as an old and common term: dialogue.

  1. E. Card. Parolin goes to Russia, in Pope Francis’ terms, “to wear the garments of the others”.

Card. Parolin wants to understand the “other” and wear their suits, to comprehend his needs, that is his perceived rights, his ideology, his grievancies and rights.

By the way, the old ideologies that retain him to a failed and uneffective past.

In Pope Francis and in card. Parolin view, to held a presence, for the catholic church, in the orthodox traditional areas may have many true meanings: the Pope, as his first line, wants to reunite the eastern world to the Europe, and so to recollect the old line of cultural, religious, cultic traditions that unite the ancient and old members of the “Rus” of Kiev to the eurasiatic peninsula.

Saying it loudly, the Church of Rome knows very well that the progressive, and inevitable, farewell of the Usa from Europe, on e of the most evident results of the end of the “cold war”, and Eu is a slave of a “export economy”, wich is prone to foreign debt, and the Russia Federation could even experiment a strucural economic and political crisis which could even broke its state.

These are the real points that Pope Francis and card. Parolin are treating with the russian government and the orthodox church.

So let’s make the Catholic church the main trait of union between the russian culture, religion and state and, by the way, the eurasian and western world.

Possibly, with its new relation with Rome, Moacow could not be isolated and colud even talk, effectively, with the Usa and the irrelevant UE.

Nil impossibile volenti. And this is the best formula I found for the the trip card. Parolin is going to define with the russia authorities.

And we must know that the the special interest of the catholic church for  the russian world is a recent or superficial one.

Card. Parolin reminds us that Zar Nikola I paid his visit to the Pope, then Gregorio XVI, in 1845, aand two years later the same Zar signed an “Accomodamento” with Pope Pius IX.

Now it comes to our memory the idea, explicitated by Pope Giovanni Paolo II, that we must think of an “europe from the atlantic to the urals”.

In a different line from that of Charles De Gaulle, this will be the main line for the next phase of the catholic foreign policy.

The “precarization of every linkage”, which is the main line of thought in theb woeld after the end of the “cold war”, and this may be the root of the old, and creative, idea of a “third war in pieces” , a strange and new panoplia of war by trade, by third parties, by old techniques of “peaceenforcing”.

Following the line of Pope Francis and card. Parolin, wars are mainly decided by incertain geopolitical future, economic and financial tensions, mailny of an illegal nature, cultural and ethnic conflicts, even of a so called “religious nature” to which neither card. Parolin nor the Pope rely any ground.

Even nationalism, that came to Europe after brexit, is not a real problem for Europe.

The Pope and card. Parolin think that nationalism may void the UE from its remaining values, and both think that nationalism may deprive Ue from its remaining value and leave Europe as a sum of uneffective national states.

In the East, in the Orthodox area, the vatican wants to give God to the men and the men to God”, waiting for the complete freedom of the different churches (also in China) and, by the way, the freedom of every religion, either catholic or national or even non-christian ones.

After card. Parolin went to Bielorussia and ukrajne, that shall be one of the main stones for the new really universal church, not referring only to a “western” christian tradition, and playing for a brand new relation between the church and the state, the real, future, game.

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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