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Future of Davos in Kyrgyzstan

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Is the new Russian approach towards China and India, vector for a multipolar world order? Will the new Davos – gathering between vanity fair and summit of the mightiest – in future take place in Kyrgyzstan – Central Asian country surrounded by the most prosperous and promising powers?

 

The last months of 2014 were marked by a series of significant bilateral agreements and summits involving Russia, India and China. According to many international analysts, the research of better relations with the two Asian giants by Moscow represents another further step towards global transformation from an unipolar order ruled by United States to a multipolar one.

A key point in order to analyze the fundamental reasons of Moscow’s approach towards China and India is connected to difficulties emerged in the last year with European Union and United States. Complications in Russia-West relations are clearly exemplified by the Ukrainian imbroglio.
However, it’s also necessary to dwell on long-term strategic interests of the countries involved. Despite the current shaky situation of Eastern Europe and Middle East, generally speaking Beijing and New Delhi look at Russia as a reliable partner with whom it’s fundamental continue to dialogue, cooperate and trade. China-Russia dialogue is growing from mid-nineties, while Indian strategic relationship with Moscow is heir of the one established during Cold War with Soviet Union. Moreover, it should not to be underestimate the fact that Russia, India and China are already actively cooperating in other multilateral organizations, such as BRICS forum (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), and have the opportunity to develop new platforms for political, economic and military cooperation, for example within the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). The strategic triangle Russia-India-China (RIC), taken into account difficulties of relations especially considering Indo-Chinese bond characterized at the same time by cooperation and competition, could therefore be an interesting model of dialogue in the new multipolar world order.

The strengthening of Russian-Chinese cooperation
Regarding the close relationship between China and Russia, it is possible to consider latest agreements on energy co-operation, taking into consideration that improvements of this relation have been underway for about two decades after the fall of Soviet Union. It can be argued that Russian-Chinese partnership is based on three basic pillars, key points of Chinese foreign policy: peace, cooperation and development, to which it’s possible to add mutual profit for both sides and “win-win strategy”.
Milestone of last year improvements in bilateral relations was May 2014 agreement worth $ 400 billion, which concerns pipeline Power of Siberia and the sending of 38 billion cubic meters of natural gas from Russia to China. The sale of gas will not begin immediately because natural gas fields in Eastern Russia require infrastructural improvements as well as connecting pipelines have yet to be installed. However, according to agreements the sending of natural gas through the eastern route will be operative from 2018.

Russia and China have also signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the western route, which could guarantee to China further 30 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year. The main important consequence of these agreements is that they could transform China in the largest consumer of Russian gas. An aspect that should not be underestimated in a consideration of medium-long term is that China could become the main market of Russian energy resources as a whole, overcoming Europe. In 2012 Russian exports of natural gas towards Europe totaled $ 66 billion and accounted for more than 10% of total Russian exports. In the diversification of its exports, Russia could find in Chinese market a viable alternative to Europe, while the latter should find clear alternatives such as shale gas from United States reducing its energy dependence from Russia.

At the same time, there is an important strategic advantage for Beijing because it would receive resources through land. This would be a major transformation of Chinese energy supplying, considering that currently resources destined to China are transported by sea through the Strait of Malacca, controlled by United States, and through areas characterized by tensions and territorial disputes (South and Eastern China Sea).
Becoming a fundamental energy partner of China, Russia would be also a competitor of United States since Chinese territory is one of the most advantages markets for Washington’s exportations of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG). Energy sector represents the most important area in which Russian-Chinese cooperation could further develop: for example Rosneft has offered a 10% stake to Chinese authorities for the project of joint exploitation of Vankor oil field in Eastern Siberia, Rosneft’s third-largest onshore production subsidiary. This deal would represent the most substantial Chinese equity participation in Russia’s onshore oil industry to date. Furthermore, it will be offered a representative office to China in the board of the same project, while Moscow would offer the sale of oil from Vankor’s field with payments in Yuan, a move that would exemplify a challenge to international dollar system and its role as reserve-currency in the world.

China aims to invest in Asian infrastructural sector with the ambitious objective to create a complex network of high-speed railways, pipelines, ports and optical fibers cables that could link Chinese cities to neighboring countries and beyond; in this case two projects could be cited, the Silk Road Economic Belt through Eurasia and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road trough East and South China Seas and Pacific and Indian Oceans. These projects could effectively link Europe to Asia-Pacific. Some components of these plans are already under construction, especially in Central Asian republics, but Chinese intentions are to create more links with Russia, Iran, Middle East, Turkey, Indian Subcontinent, South-East Asia and Europe.

The current Asian political scenario, considering these Chinese infrastructural projects, is then characterized by the consolidation of a strategic cooperation between Russia and China, a factor confirmed at the end of the last meeting between APEC countries (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation), hosted by Beijing (November 10th – 11th, 2014). This strategic cooperation has been further emphasized by visit of Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu in Beijing few days after APEC summit. From all these meetings and subsequent agreements emerged the prospect of an alliance based on common economic, military, political and energy interests in order to share development and stability in the Asia-Pacific region. This cooperation could also appear to some extent as a political response to NATO’s containment of Russia and US pivot strategy finalized to rebalance of power in Asia-Pacific. This particular kind of interpretation focused on Washington’s concerns is founded analyzing Eastern Europe’s tensions and sporadic diplomatic clashes for the economic control of East and South China Seas.

China looks favorably to economic consequences arising from its cooperation with Russia. The international situation and concerns related to strategic issues have created the conditions for a strengthening of teamwork between Russia and China so that Moscow could defend its interests and Beijing could maintain globally a balance of power. It is possible that this kind of collaboration could go further, making the two countries interdependent and able to reinforce relationship in other sectors (agriculture, aerospace, defense and information technology). Russia and China have already a consolidated business relationship worth approximately $ 100 billion and at the same time China could support Moscow to deal with the effects of Western sanctions on its finances. Beijing would continue to invest in Russian bonds and make direct investments in Russia. China is currently in the position to do so, given the availability of foreign exchange reserves (more than $ 4,000 billion).
Additionally, as demonstrated by the visit of Russian Defense Minister Shoigu to Beijing the Russian-Chinese cooperation will be strengthened in other fronts such as that of the military cooperation, which could be implemented considering common concerns related to cited US Pivot to Asia. As announced by Shoigu during 2015 there will be Russian-Chinese joint naval exercises not only in the Pacific, but also in the Mediterranean Sea.

This is a deliberate long-term Russian strategy to leave behind cooperation with Europe and United States or is a merely tactic searching a revitalization of relations with the West? It’s likely that Russia contemplates strengthening of partnership with Beijing as a useful alternative to relationship with Europe, but also to counterbalance US role in Asia-Pacific. However, the whole scenario is more multifaceted, given the complexity of Sino-US relations and the economic interdependency between Washington and Beijing. Tensions between Russia and West could be exploited to its advantage by China. Given the all picture, another point to consider is in fact that China does not intend to completely sever its relations with Washington coming to a strategic rivalry between blocks typical of Cold War period. The complexity of Sino-American relations is evident, given the value of economic cooperation and common concerns on various global issues (Islamic terrorism, the future of Afghanistan, Iran’s nuclear issue and agreements on global warming). The current global context is not characterized by the presence of ideological opposing blocs, but can be rather be described as an evolving multipolar system characterized by power centers interdependent with an increasingly significant role of Asian countries.

The long-term synergy between India and Russia
After China, Moscow may look to other alternatives to Europe for its natural resources exportations, considering a strengthening of relations with Japan, South Korea and India.
In the specific case of India, the Sino-Russian energy pact could be followed by a similar cooperation between Moscow and New Delhi. Narendra Modi, the new prime minister of India in charge from last May 2014, is searching to improve relationships with many global and regional actors, like United States, China and Japan. Russia is another important partner, to which current India’s government looks with deep attention in a changing international environment. At the same time it’s thanks to Vladimir Putin that from the end of nineties Russia-India strategic partnership had new force after the fall of Soviet Union.  

A stronger Indo-Russian energy relation could significantly change the political equilibriums of Asian continent. This kind of cooperation would be focused on natural gas and in particular in the importation by India of LNG, despite the need of infrastructural improvements in Indian and Russian territories. Since India has limited reserves of natural gas, it would be for New Delhi a concrete opportunity to diversify its energy supply and a necessary provision in order to support economic growth and meet rising domestic demand of energy resources. However energy collaboration could also involve Russian oil.

Nevertheless, there are a number of political issues that could hinder Indo-Russian energy cooperation. Russia negative relations with Western countries represent a counterproductive aspect for India and an expected tightening of Western sanctions against Russia linked to Ukrainian situation could affect the activity of certain Indian public companies with interests in dealing with Russian counterparts, such as Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited (ONGC), Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL) and Bharat Petroleum (BP). ONGC’s interests to drill shale oil in Siberia could be delayed because sanctions against Moscow make it more problematic to work with US counterparts, given the fact that last September 2014 Washington banned its companies from supporting exploration and productive activities in deep water, Artic offshore and shale projects in Russia. This problematic situation could affect ONGC’s activity because it has contracted US firm Liberty Resources to drill four wells in the Bazhenov shale formation in Siberia, a project that now could be interrupted. ONGC has also a 20% stake in the Sakhalin 1 project in Russia and is in consultations with Rosneft over a stake in two east Siberian oil fields and it could look out for alternative solutions for drilling in the Bazhenov.

GAIL company, the nation’s largest natural gas distributor,has recently signed several agreements with some US corporations, for example the pact with US-based WGL for buying about 2.5 million tons of gas for twenty years. GAIL may incur therefore in problematic situations in the case of business activity with Russian firms, for example Gazprom held discussions with GAIL for deliveries also of Russian LNG.
While it’s true that India has other public companies that haven’t developed agreements outside of the Subcontinent and could benefit from an effective Indo-Russian energy cooperation, United States see adversely the developments of New Delhi-Moscow relations. Washington has publicly expressed its disappointment in the aftermath of the positive 15th Indo-Russian bilateral summit held last December in New Delhi, arguing that this is not a good time “to make business with Russia as usual”.

New Delhi has not approved Western sanctions against Russia, but at the same time it has not yet recognized Crimea as an effective part of Russia, though refusing to criticize openly Moscow. At this particular juncture it’s clearly emerging an Indian intention to maintain a substantial strategic autonomy and a difficult balance position in its approach towards United States and Russia. Though, it’s at the same time clear that Washington has used and will continue to apply sanctions to commercial activities related to energy sector as a political tool to isolate opponents (for example Iran in the past for nuclear issue and Russia today for Ukrainian situation),pressuring its allies (for example India) to stop commercial activities with these antagonists States that have to change a specific political behavior according to Washington strategic calculus. Iran’s case of few years ago is emblematic: New Delhi as a result of US pressure supported sanctions against Tehran regarding nuclear issue, partially spoiling Indo-Iranian traditional good cooperation. If it is true that in that case sanctions had United Nations assent and India is against unilateral sanctions, it is certainly not to be underestimated US irritation towards India’s attempts to improve relations with Russia.

At the last Indo-Russian bilateral summit the two countries signed twenty agreements – seven intergovernmental and thirteen commercial – including a strategic vision for a peaceful cooperation in the use of atomic energy. In summary, agreements have concerned energy sector, fields of technology and innovation and they promoted a wide-ranging engagement in commercial activities, considering the use of national currency for bilateral trade. According to Vladimir Putin’s statements, Russia will support India in the construction of twelve nuclear power plants after the positive results related to Kudankulam nuclear power project and the oil company Rosneft will start to send ten tons of oil per year. Russian authorities offered to build in India one of the most advanced Russian helicopters and it will speed up the implementation of the joint project for the fifth-generation fighter jet. Russia aims also to participate in the plan for the realization of Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor and facilitate the process of India’s accession to SCO. However, trade is declining and it’s equal to $ 11 billion; for a comparison, Indo-Chinese bilateral commerce is about 70 billion, while Sino-Russian stands around 100 billion. In this sense, negotiations to promote a free trade agreement between India and Eurasian Union could be seen as a measure suitable to boost bilateral commerce. It’s also important that the project for North-South Transport Corridor (involving Russia, India and Iran) would be effectively implemented since the intentions of a commerce network that could integrate South Asia, Iran, Central Asia and Russia. The geographical distance between India and Russia is significant, but last bilateral summit showed willingness in both sides to overcome this particular difficulty. The basic idea is to encourage a transformation of bilateral cooperation in a much better quality, observing also the international framework and supporting the development of a collective, balanced and inclusive security in Asia-Pacific, considering the legitimate interests of all States in a region led by the respect of international law.

Narendra Modi has recently affirmed the importance and priority assigned to Moscow in the strategic calculus of New Delhi, claiming that Russia will remain the most important partner of India in defense sector. The Indian government is also interested to enhance cooperation with Russia in spite of sanctions sponsored by Washington. However, it is important to underline that Modi is keen to have stronger defense ties with US – the main partner in the sector of arms imports in recent years during Manmohan Singh government – although it’s not possible at this moment to replace Russia’s role. At the same time Moscow is looking to Pakistan, which could become a strategic military partner of Russia. Another aspect is that Russian-Chinese partnership could be seen with concern by New Delhi: Russian technologies and systems are now exported also to China, not only to India, and a rising Chinese power could transform Asian balance of power, pushing India towards United States.
Nevertheless,India seems interested to promote a deep cooperation with Russia, which could aspire to become one of the countries most concerned in governmental campaign “Make in India” launched by Modi and designed to accelerate the economic growth of the country and particularly to support the Indian manufacturing sector by attracting foreign direct investment. In this case the nature of Indo-Russian cooperation could be transformed by purchaser-consumer structure to joint manufacturing partners.

 

The recent meeting between Putin and Modi, as well as summits and agreements between Russian and Chinese authorities are particularly important for the period in which they occurred, few months after the inauguration of a new government in India andwith the specter of a “New Cold War” between West and Russia, though the use of the term “Cold War” in order to describe the current standoff of US-Russian relations is not totally correct.

There are different expectations from Russian government that new course in India will fortify Indo-Russian partnership and many signals go in this direction; as well as it could be possible a strategic alliance with China, considering many fields of joint cooperation. The world order is changing and Western countries should take into account the complex network of relations involving Russia, India and China and other Asian countries. These regional powers are no longer only spokesman of an emergent world seeking voice in an anachronistic international system, considering for example India and China aspirations to reorganize board of United Nations, World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Furthermore, Russia, India and China are not only characters of multilateral forums such as BRICS or G-20, but they are already proponents of deep bilateral relations and bearer of new systems of payment in international trade, considering the use of national currencies than could potentially change future global balances of power. These are clear exemplifications of the emergence of a multipolar world order.

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Economy

Uber & the Neoliberal State

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Everyday in my local papers, I read stories with headlines like “Subway Ridership Dropped Again in New York as Passengers Flee to Uber.”  AMNY, in its daily Tweet compilation section, generally devotes at least half of its selections to posts bashing the subway and bus system.  In the midst of the hangover that was last week’s Uber IPO (in which it immediately lost 8% of its value), it would be appropriate to contemplate the intersection of Uber (and its ugly stepsister Lyft) and the government.

In the shadow of the Great Depression and WWII, under the Administrations of the multimillionaire Franklin Roosevelt and the no-nonsense Republican Dwight Eisenhower, the federal government invested the equivalent of football fields full of cash on infrastructure projects like the Interstate Highway System (which cost half a trillion in today’s dollars).  States and cities likewise undertook great transportation schemes.  Between the 1920s and 1960s, Robert Moses funded 413 mi. of parkways and 13 bridges for NYC through, among other things, local tolls. 

This spirit of investing in the mobility of American citizens and goods gradually died off with the rise of neoliberalism in the 1970s and 1980s; federal spending for transportation infrastructure spending has been in decline since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.  The sea change was most spectacularly evidenced on Oct 22 1981, when President Reagan fired and blacklisted 11,345 striking federal air traffic controllers. Cue to the present… The American Society of Civil Engineers has given America’s infrastructure a dismal grade of D+ since 2013.  Trump on the 2016 campaign trail said that, “Our airports are like from a third world country.”

Governmental abdication in regards to public transportation has created a vacuum that the private sector is now trying to fill. This is problematic for many reasons. Bereft of the full-time employee status and union membership of public transit employees, Uber and Lyft drivers, as “independent contractors”, are treated like sharecroppers, with no minimum wage or pension/healthcare plans.  Infrastructure underfunding leads to lost opportunities for construction companies and their suppliers, which costs the economy money and jobs.  Uber and Lyft, by contrast, contribute nothing to the roads, tunnels and bridges that they use, other than tolls and the income that they don’t shield via elaborate tax evasion schemes… That and a nearly threefold increase in congestion, which hurts shipping and personal drivers’ commutes. Safety laws are frequently broken by Uber and its drivers, who undergo nothing more than a basic background screening, and receive no substantive training, prior to being hired.  The secluded, close-quarters nature of the rideshare template has led to many incidences of sexual assault and harassment for drivers and riders alike (by contrast, bus and yellow-cab drivers are generally shielded from their clients by bulletproof glass).

The privatization of transit also creates a commuter caste system, in which affluent citizens can spend $20 on a quick Uber ride to work, while poorer people must rely on perpetually-delayed trains, anxiously waiting on train platforms that are often literally falling apart due to neglect.  This problem extends far beyond rideshare apps.  For years, Elon Musk has been unsuccessfully trying to sell various municipalities on the concept of the experimental hyperloop, a pricier, less efficient version of a subway.  Hyperloop trains of the future will supposedly be able to travel at 700 mph… but they can only carry 28 people at a time!  So Musk wants cities to potentially invest billions to construct underground tunnel networks that only a couple hundred people a day max would be able to use, let alone afford, considering the pricy ticket fees that would probably be necessary in order to generate electricity for the hyperloop’s futuristic maglev-vacuum operating system.  Bullet trains also operate on a maglev system, but the cost gets spread out to over a thousand customers per trip, instead of just 28.  Emulating Musk, fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos just unveiled his space exploration company Blue Origin’s lunar lander prototype.  The fact that NASA is, due to chronic underfunding, being outpaced by Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX, is not only a national disgrace, but a matter of concern for the welfare of humanity as a whole.  If space travel becomes monopolized by a handful of billionaires, it could eventually lead to the scenario envisioned by sci-fi dystopias like Elysium, wherein only the rich will be allowed to escape our dying planet, while the poor masses are left behind.

In regards to public transportation (and many other fields), the US is quickly falling behind China.  The Middle Kingdom has over 19,000 mi. of high-speed rail (much of it built just this past decade); the US has just 2% of that total and much of it is contained to an old NYC-DC Acela line that is woefully obsolete. Eight new airports get built in China every year, meaning that China’s total stockpile of airports will double by 2035.  The last American international airport was built last century and many existing airports, like the infamous LaGuardia, are falling apart due to underfunding.  The nation famous for its cyclists also boasts the world’s largest elevated bike lane; by contrast, bike lanes are a very controversial issue in American cities, where its staunch-individualist detractors decry them as Communist plots.

This growing disparity is being fuelled by the two nation’s different appropriations models.  China realizes the importance of central planning in regards to major infrastructure projects.  Investing in high-speed rail might not be “profitable” if measured solely by ticket revenue, but it pays for itself in the long-term by spurring urban development, construction contracts and employment, and increased tax revenues from workers now able to access better jobs and commerce.  Not to mention that traffic accidents, often the result of crumbling and obsolete road infrastructure, is the #8 cause of fatalities worldwide, including 32,000 a year in the US.  The American mindset is more myopic, focused only on short-term viability for investors.  This was encapsulated by Trump’s infrastructure plan, which focused on subsidies for corporations and localities… the same model that has been failing America’s infrastructure for decades.

It’s clear that the Uber-ization of public transportation is an inadequate and unsustainable solution.  The corporate model is solely predicated on short-term growth and the exploitation of its workforce.  In order to keep up with fellow superpower China, the US must take a centralized approach to maintaining and upgrading its faltering subways, trains, airports, bridges, roads and waterways.  Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration employed about 9M Americans in the construction of some of the world’s most successful infrastructure projects, such as 29,000 new bridges, at the height of the US’ greatest financial crisis. People like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are looking to emulate this past success by enacting a Green New Deal, which would employ millions of Americans in constructing sustainable infrastructure.  Likewise, it would be a boon for construction firms, industrial goods suppliers like Caterpillar, shipping-oriented companies like Amazon and urban-based businesses as a whole.  America must invest itself, in its people, in its future.

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Convergence Of Competitive Markets And Indian Elections

Joseph Abraham

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If competition is a key component of a flourishing economy, it is equally true that competition in electoral politics and elections is a powerful force for the healthy growth of a vibrant democracy enhancing legitimacy of political parties and their responsiveness to the aspirations of the electorate.

Viewed from the Indian perspective, there is a striking identity between the rights of consumers in the free market economy and the rights of voters in our political democracy. Equally noteworthy is the identity of the fundamental principles governing the rule of law in the free market system, the institutional arrangements for safeguarding consumer rights and the rule of law of elections and the regulatory environment for monitoring the functioning of a free and fair electoral democracy. The free market system ensures the best available goods and services are offered to the consumer at the optimal price following the principles of free market competition without restrictive and unfair trade practices enforced through the Consumer Protection Act1986 and the Competition Act 2002. 

 In the democratic system, the voters are given the right to elect the best available persons as people’s representatives through conducting elections in a free and fair manner which forms the bedrock of democracy. This is ensured by the Election Commission through the enforcement of the Guidelines of Model Code of Conduct for political parties and candidates during elections mainly with respect to speeches, polling day, polling booths, portfolios, election manifestos, processions and general conduct. Thus, while the role of a Referee in the free market system in India is played by the Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum and Competition Commission of India, the rules of  free and fair elections in  political democracy are enforced by the Election Commission of India.    

In a market economy, competition facilitates a host of benefits: awareness and market penetration, higher quality at same prices, increase in demand and consumption through competitive pricing, product differentiation, upgradation and innovation, improvements in efficiency of production at optimal levels by minimising cost and losses and increasing customer service and satisfaction. Competition in politics and elections elevates the voter to a pivotal role in democracy as that given to the consumer in a market driven economy. Electoral candidates vie for votes by promising reforms such as better governance, greater socio-economic equity and positive measures for poverty alleviation.

Each political party through its campaigns, manifesto and other propaganda machinery strives hard to win the maximum number of voters in electoral democracy transforming it as a political free market system with fierce competition  between the players similar to the efforts of sellers in the  free market economy to attract the maximum number of customers.

A   free market system across the globe,  is characterised by the existence of not only the  most efficient firms but also several  inefficient ones who are unable to produce the best quality goods and services  at lowest prices and even  those resorting to fraudulent ,  restrictive and unfair trade practices. Similarly, in political democracy and elections around the world,  besides politicians and parties with high degree of integrity and democratic values, there are those with criminal records, adopting ideologies prejudiced by notions of  race,  caste, colour, gender and religion based politics, and those charged with allegations of vote buying etc. which continues to undermine the democratic process.

Consumer Rights in a Free Market Economy

In India,  the interests of the  consumer in the market economy from restrictive, unfair and anti-competitive trade practices by firms  is safeguarded through several strong legal provisions which inter alia includes  the enactment of the  Consumer Protection Act 1986  and the Competition Act 2002. In addition, consumers rights in the economy are further protected through The Indian Contract Act, 1872, The Sale of Goods Act, of 1930 and  The Agriculture produce Act of 1937.   This is further strengthened by the establishment of supportive quasi-judicial institutional arrangements i.e the Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission at the National, State and District level as well as the Competition Commission of India.

The main objective of the competition law of India is to promote economic efficiency using competition as one of the means of assisting the creation of market responsive to consumer preferences. The advantages of perfect competition are three-fold: allocative efficiency which ensures that costs of production are kept at a minimum and dynamic efficiency which promotes innovative practices.

To achieve its objectives, the Competition Commission of India endeavours to do the following:

  • Make the markets work for the benefit and welfare of consumers
  • Ensure fair and healthy competition in economic activities in the country for faster and inclusive growth and development of the economy.
  • Implement competition policies with an aim to effectuate the most efficient utilization of economic resources.
  • Develop and nurture effective relations and interactions with sectoral regulators to ensure smooth alignment of sectoral regulatory laws in tandem with the competition law.
  • Effectively carry out competition advocacy and spread the information on benefits of competition among all stakeholders to establish and nurture completion culture in Indian economy.

Voters Rights in a Political Democracy

As a free market economy cannot sustain consumer rights without supportive legal and institutional framework, there is little doubt that for the survival of a free and fair democracy, the rule of law should prevail and it is necessary that the best available persons should be chosen as people’s representatives for proper governance of the country (Gadakh Yashwantrao Kankararao v Balasaheb Vikhepati lAIR 1994 SC 678). India isa sovereign, socialist, secular democratic republic. Democracy is one of the inalienable basic features of the Constitution of India and forms parts of its basic structure (Kesavanand Bharati v State of Kerala and Others AIR 1973 SC 1461). The concept of democracy, as visualised by the Constitution, pre-supposes the representation of the people in Parliament and State Legislatures by the method of election (N.P.Punnuswami v Returning Officer Namakka lAIR 1952 SC 64).

 Accordingly, in India,  in the  realm of political democracy and elections, the interests of the voters and electorate  is safeguarded through the Constitution of India,  Representation  of the People’s Act 1950 and 1951,Presidential and Vice Presidential Elections Rules 1974, Registration of Electors Rules 1960 and Conduct of Elections Rules 1961.

In India, the above legal provisions of elections and voting under political democracy    are administered and further supplemented by the Election Commission’s directions and instructions on all aspects. The underlying principle of  parliamentary democracy enforced by the Election Commission of India  is to ensure free and fair elections for which there are three pre-requisites: (1) an authority to conduct these elections, which should be insulated from political and executive interference, (2) set of laws which should govern the conduct of elections and in accordance whereof the authority charged with the responsibility of conducting these elections should hold them, and (3) a mechanism whereby all doubts and disputes arising in connection with these elections should be resolved. The Constitution of Indi has paid due attention to all these imperatives and duly provided for all the three matters.

The Constitution has created an independent Election Commission of India in which vest the superintendence, direction and control of preparation of electoral rolls for, and conduct of elections to, the officers of president and Vice President of India and Parliament and State Legislatures (Article 324). A similar independent constitutional authority has been created for conduct of elections to municipalities, panchayats and other local bodies (Articles 243 K and 243 ZA) along with legal and institutional provisions for  settlement of disputes relating to elections.

Model Code of Conduct in India

Election Commission of India  has laid down a set of guidelines for conduct of political parties and candidate during elections. The main points of code of conduct are:

  1. The government may not lay any new ground for projects or public initiatives once the Model Code of Conduct comes into force.
  2. Government bodies are not to participate in any recruitment process during the electoral process.
  3. The contesting candidates and their campaigners must respect the home life of their rivals and should not disturb them by holding road shows or demonstrations in front of their houses. 
  4. The election campaign rallies and road shows must not hinder the road traffic.
  5. Candidates are asked to refrain from distributing liquor to voters.
  6. The Code hinders the government or ruling party leaders from launching new welfare programmes like construction of roads, provision of drinking water facilities etc or any ribbon-cutting ceremonies.
  7. The code instructs that public spaces like meeting grounds, helipads, government guest houses and bungalows should be equally shared among the contesting candidates. These public spaces should not be monopolized by a few candidates.
  8. On polling day, all political party candidates should cooperate with the  poll-duty officials at the voting booths for an orderly voting process. Candidates should not display their election symbols near and around the poll booths on the polling day. No one should enter the booths without a valid pass from the Election Commission.
  9. There will be poll observers to who any complaints can be reported or submitted.
  10. The ruling party should not use its seat of power for the campaign purposes.
  11. The ruling party ministers should not make any ad-hoc appointment of officials, which may influence the voters in favour of the party in power.
  12. Before using loud speakers during their poll campaigning, candidates and political parties must obtain permission or license from the local authorities. The candidates should inform the local police for conducting election rallies to enable the police authorities to make required security arrangements. 

Conclusion

In a wider sense, both free markets and democratic elections are run on the basis of a set of rules with respective regulatory bodies enforcing the rules of the game. While there is a strong element of political centralization in the decision making process of elections, free market system is tilted more towards the principle of economic decentralisation. However, the consumer and the voter whose rights are legally and institutionally safeguarded remain as the principal beneficiaries of both systems- the economic and political. Thus free markets and democracy have identical underlying objectives of maximising welfare of the people. The convergence of the political economy of free markets and elections therefore highlights the democratic principles governing the welfare of citizens.

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Euro – 20 years on: Who won and who lost?

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The common European currency – the euro – came into being 20 years ago. Since January 1, 1999, the euro has been widely used in cashless money transfers. On January 1, 2002, banknotes and coins were introduced into circulation. How did the European countries benefit from the single currency? How many profited from its introduction?

In the early 1990s, the European Community entered a new stage of development which was characterized by a transition to a higher level of integration within it and expansion to include more members. This was provided by the Treaty on European Union, which was signed on February 7, 1992 in the Dutch city of Maastricht and entered into force on November 1, 1993. The Maastricht agreements and the subsequent decisions of the EU’s governing bodies – the European Council and the Council of the EU –formed a groundwork for a gradual, stage-by-stage creation of a monetary union and the introduction of a single currency, the euro.

At the time the decision on the introduction of the euro came into effect it was believed that the main objectives of the transition to a single monetary policy and the replacement of national banknotes with a single European one were the following. First of all, a monetary union was supposed to put the finishing touches to the formation of a common market and was to transform the EU territory into an economic space with equal opportunities for all players. A single currency was expected to facilitate the transition of the EU to a common economic policy, which, in turn, was seen as indispensable for moving to a new level of political integration. Many also viewed a single currency as vital for cementing European integration and a symbol of the economic and political integrity of the region. It was assumed that the euro would keep European countries “in the same harness” even in times of crisis and would help them to overcome differences and even resist outbursts of nationalism.

The second goal was to prevent losses caused by continuous fluctuations in the rates of Western European currencies. Once the euro was established, risk payments for possible losses in different-currency transactions became a thing of the past. It was assumed that stable and low interest rates would bring down inflation and stimulate economic growth. Thirdly, it was thought that fixed exchange rates within the euro zone with no more fluctuations would boost investment activity and, as a result, would improve the situation on the labor market. In addition, a better economic performance was to make it easier for countries to enter the EU and adapt to the new reality. A better economic performance was supposed to make European products more competitive in world markets.

Fourth, a single currency was supposed to significantly cut circulation costs. At the end of the 1990s, the existence of various national currencies cost the EU countries 20-25 billion ECU (26-33 billion dollars) annually, including the cost of keeping records of currency transactions, insuring currency risks, conducting exchange operations, drawing up the price lists in various currencies, etc. Finally, fifthly, the initiators of the single currency hoped that the euro would become one of the international reserve currencies. The introduction of the euro was supposed to change the balance of strength between the United States and united Europe in favor of the latter. In the long run, it boiled down to ensuring more independence of the EU economic policy since interest rates on long-term loans would be less dependent on American ones.

What is happening at present? Not surprisingly, the greatest difficulties emerged  while grappling with the most pressing and large-scale agenda involving the ambitious plans of the political and economic transformation of the EU and the strengthening of its global geo-economic role. Indeed, since the late 1990s, the economic and financial spheres of the EU have undergone dramatic changes. In 2004 and 2007, the majority of Central and Eastern European countries joined the Union (an increase in social dumping). The current EU “bears little resemblance” to that of 20 years ago. “Not only the currency has become different, but the entire European economy has changed.”

Nevertheless, as predicted by those who criticized the approved version of transition to a single European currency, chances for meeting the criteria of eurozone membership in case the global economy followed an unfavorable scenario are pretty slim for most countries of the eurozone. As economic and financial crises sweep Europe one after another, the presence of the euro and the unprecedentedly high level of the European Central Bank’s autonomy and its extensive powers are restricted by the “possibility of influencing the economy” of separate states. Since inflation rates vary from country to country, the interest rate suggested by the ECB (about 2%) turns out to be too low for countries with high inflation (which leads to financial bubbles) and too high for countries with low inflation (which has a negative impact on investments).

As a result, the economic slowdown in European economies in the 2000s through 2010s led to increases in budget deficits. According to the requirements of the eurozone, governments have to raise taxes or cut spending, even if it damages national economy. Formally, there exists a procedure to tackle economic upheavals in this or that country of the eurozone to minimize their consequences for other members. From the point of view of abstract macroeconomic indicators this procedure is functioning well. But, judging by what happened in Spain, and then in Greece and Italy, its social, economic and subsequently, political costs are too high. In the first place, we talk about social upheavals, which became one the main reasons for the rise of “right-wing populists” across Europe.

The euro is running into problems mainly because it hinges on politics, rather than economics. On the one hand, it is this that largely keeps it from the collapse. The EU leadership is ready to sustain any financial or economic losses to preserve the single currency.  However, from the economic viewpoint, the ECB’s readiness for currency interventions has ruined market discipline. In March this year the German Wirtschafts Woche stated that the euro had failed to become either an effective currency or an EU stability enhancing tool. What proves it is the fact that without “billions and billions in financial injections on the part of the European Central Bank and European governments to save the euro the single currency would have long sunk dead”. The 2008 financial crunch quickly triggered the crisis of the eurozone which culminated in the Greek debt crisis of 2010. As a result, “the dispute over how to save the single currency laid bare purely political differences across Europe”.

As skeptics forecast, membership in the eurozone, sought by countries with different levels of economic development regardless of the tough requirements and selection criteria, resulted in a situation in which a setback in the global economic performance hit weaker members the hardest. Citing the IMF, Le Figaro points out that “the euro exchange rate is too high for France and Italy (which deals a blow on their competitiveness), and is too low for Germany (by about 20%)”.  This provided the German economy with a clear edge over other EU members and secured a “huge foreign trade proficit”. Moreover, in the course of the eurozone crisis in 2009 there emerged a vicious circle: Germany’s domineering position in the EU enabled Berlin to dictate its policy of austere budgetary measures to the greater part of the rest of Europe, which, in turn, gave rise to an outburst of anti-German sentiment in a whole range of countries, including Greece and Italy.

Therefore, in 20 years of its existence the euro has made Germany yet more powerful economically than it used to be. Simultaneously, it has become a major factor that contributed to Germany’s isolation in Europe. Critics say that while drafting the euro project its authors meant to weaken Germany. Instead, the single currency “strengthened it, providing it with competitive advantages through a “weak” euro”. Central Europe has become a supplier of spare parts for German businesses thereby putting into practice the Mitteleuropa Doctrine in the 21st century. The rest of the EU countries have become a market for German goods. Meanwhile, Germany has to pay for economic failures of an ever greater number of its EU partners. In such a way, Germany’s economic might has all but become a major threat to European integration. Pessimists fear the current economic and geopolitical trends will sooner or later push the Germans into pursuing a more “egoistic” and “aggressive” policy, in every sense of the word. Everyone remembers what this kind of policy ended with in a period from the mid19th to the mid20th century.

As for the second and third points of the objectives of a single currency, the results are contradictory. Inflation in the eurozone is indeed at an all-time low. There has occurred a unification of the common market of goods, capitals and workforce. At the same time, measures which are being taken by the European Central Bank to fight low inflation have more than once driven a number of EU countries into recession and sovereign debt crises. Living standards in EU countries have not been growing steadily over the past few years. A rise in wages has turned out to be much smaller than predicted in the late 1990s.  Most European banks still prefer holding debt obligations of their countries only, which, in case of financial crisis, is fraught with banking problems and could ruin national economy. As for competitiveness, the appearance of a single market “in the first place, aggravated competition between  EU countries”. Simultaneously, the introduction of the same standards and requirements for all countries of the eurozone “cemented their differences, rather than brought them together”.

The fourth point can be considered fully implemented. Economic transactions have been simplified, cost less and have got rid of exchange-related risks. According to the British The Economist, three out of five residents of eurozone countries consider the euro useful for their country. And 75% of Europeans are sure that the single currency benefits the EU. Meanwhile, the removal of barriers to capital movements has led to a significant imbalance in investments, especially in the industrial sector. The main benefits went to countries located in the center of the EU while the geographical “periphery” of the eurozone has lost some of its former investment attractiveness. But the presence of the euro makes it impossible for the less fortunate countries to stimulate the economy by bringing down the currency value.

As for the fifth point, some of the ambitious plans have been implemented. The euro has already made a significant contribution to the weakening of the position of the US dollar in the global economy. According to the European Commission, one-fifth of the world’s currency reserves are denominated in the single European currency. “340 million citizens use it daily, 60 countries and territories link their currency to it”. On the other hand, 10 years of 20 years of its history the eurozone has devoted to the struggle against an “unprecedented crisis”. By now, experts say there has been a “fragile recovery.” Nevertheless, unlike its main competitors, the dollar and the yuan, the euro has no solid foundation. The EU budget is used mainly for paying subsidies to member countries, while the years-long disputes over prospects for creating a common EU ministry of finance all but fuel differences between 19 eurozone governments.

Thus, according to optimists, criticism of the euro is first of all the result of profound differences on the fundamental issues of European economic policy. The single currency consolidated the leaders of Europe, provided them with the common goal of creating a more integrated, a more attractive for trade and business, and a globally competitive, economy. However, a further stable existence of a single currency mechanism in Europe calls for urgent reforms, which European politicians are either not ready for or are not capable of. According to critics, the single currency has driven the different economies of the EU countries into the Procrustean bed of all-fitting standard format. The single currency mechanism completely ignores, if not completely denies, the geographical, historical and cultural specifics of the member states. Overall, the current model of economic and monetary integration in the EU mindlessly forces countries whose national economies do not match the general format “to carry out endless reforms,” which all but aggravate their long-standing inherent problems.

 First published in our partner International Affairs

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