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Justifying the lowering of the voting age for local elections

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In the following paper we shall discuss the link between age as a personal characteristic and the right to vote as one of, if not the most important fundamental political human right, which is inseparably linked to a democratic, plural state ruled by law.

The ability to influence important decisions in a certain state or municipality is often limited by different criteria. Who will represent the people in a democratic state or at a local level is a result of general elections. A question subjected to a referendum is dependent on voter turnout and the prevailing choices of individuals who have the right to take part in such decision making.

The right to vote is not absolute, but is subject to certain restrictions and limitations and was historically limited by criteria nowadays unimaginable, such as race, gender, social status etc. In the 21st century we have lesser restrictions, but some still remain such as citizenship, residence/domicile and age. They are not problematic if they are set on a basis of legitimate reasons. Age based distinctions »are currently employed to determine when a person can marry, vote, drive, consent to sexual intercourse and sell property«.

Age is therefore used as a tool preventing a certain social group from engaging (more) actively in certain areas of political and legislative spectre of society. Stricter age distinctions or rules usually apply regarding the right to run in elections or be a candidate (passive right to vote) than in being able to vote or cast your vote (active right to vote). Concrete chosen age is usually a result of a societies or legislators presumption at what age an individual is capable of understanding the right to vote in a way that he or she will be able to carry out his right in a proper manner with reasonable decisions which will be founded on available information at hand, to choose between different options that are available, so that he or she will choose the option closest to his personal beliefs, values and interest.

Different generations have different interest and values. Legislature (almost) never uses “old age” as a reason for someone to »loose« his right to vote, while youth is often or always used as a reason to prevent the young(er) generations from participating in elections. Since the right to vote is a fundamental political human right it should be interpreted in a broad manner without unnecessary restrictions and limitations.

Age limit regarding right to vote is a consequence of a false presumption by the legislator that young people are not capable of understanding the meaning and effect of elections. Voting ages have changed through time and are not set in stone. Changing social circumstances demand changes in legislature, and the legislator is the one who must show legitimate and convincing reasons and arguments for keeping the voting age at a certain (high) level. A patronage over younger generations in this case is not justified.

A lowering of the voting age – especially for local elections – is justified and would enable a larger part of the population to participate in elections, therefore expanding the electoral body and the total number of voters and at the same time voter turnout – more people vote, more interests and values collide more legitimate the result. Right now the interests of the younger generations are underrepresented and so the electoral or referendum results do not present a real picture of the peoples interests. The picture on a smaller scale is very similar on the local level with some specifics which will be discussed further on.

Balance Between Generations

A whole social group is excluded from public decision making process on the sole ground of their age, or better because of their youth. There exist many initiatives from different youth organisations worldwide promoting the lowering of the voting age. Similar ideas can also be found in a Council of Europe General Assembly Resolution »Expansion of Democracy by Lowering the Voting Age to 16« from march 2011.

Because of the demographic changes in some countries, which are especially visible in certain municipalities, (less young people compared to elder generations) we could be witness to a conflict between generations if the younger generation which thinks that it is capable of making mature, quality and responsible decisions will feel disadvantaged and cut off from public decision making which influences their future. The right to vote would enable them to influence such decisions in a legitimate way by casting their own votes. If the legislature enables them to do so, it would increase their sense of possibilities to influence, which in time could develop into higher voter turnout in their age group. Political arena must not be a place where main topics discussed are connected only to the older generations, on the ground that they have social and political power that can be demonstrated on elections. Important political decisions (from social to ecological) would in such cases be more long term orientated, deliberate and quality, since they would be more future orientated. Younger generations would understand this as decision making regarding their future, and the solutions for the improvement of the future conditions of society and life in a local environment would be subject to more control, because their realization is in the best interest of this younger generations.

There also exist a wide divide between younger and older legislative or local governing body structures and institutions, that does not express the actual structure of society. Although, general representative bodies such as legislative or local bodies represent (local) society as a whole – without any age limitations. The governing bodies are constituted of representatives not belonging to young generations, since they are not allowed either to vote or to run for election, and therefore cannot identify themselves with institutions on the structure of which they have absolutely no influence.

Some respected constitutional scholars like Dieter Suhr claimed that our democracy is based on an error that »the people« is constituted only of adults, while others thought that in a real representative democratic society every voice should be heard and that representative democracy in a state where the right to vote is limited to individuals older than 18 years of age is a myth used to hide systematic age discrimination of children, and that such age limitations deny human dignity and present a violation of the general right to vote (Merk, 1996:12 and 2006: 22, 23). The removal of the voting age would mean that the right to vote is a natural human right, but would also open up new questions regarding who would vote »instead« of the children, who are too young to understand the meaning and effect of elections. If the parents or other legal guardians would execute this in their children name it is known as demeny voting and was already proposed in certain countries (Sanderson, 2007). For example in Germany in 2003 47 member of Bundestag proposed such a solution in a document »Mehr Demokratie wagen durch ein Wahlrecht von Geburt an« , the prevailing argument being that demographic changes demand a reconsideration of the intergenerational contract and that the right to vote is a fundamental basis of every democratic society and therefore limiting this right for children and teenagers on one hand raises a question of the principle of equality before the law and on the other hand encouraging politics which shifts the burden on younger generation.

Similar was the situation in Slovenia where in 2002 a group of 24 members of parliament proposed a constitutional change to lower the right to vote (suffrage) from 18 to 16 years (Ribičič, 2002, 2003). None of these proposals succeeded. Maybe some part of the failure can be contributed to the “all or nothing” stance regarding the lowering of the general voting age. The results might have been different if the proposal referred to or was limited only to lowering the voting age for local elections (as the first step). Such case would make it easier for the legislator to except certain arguments in favour of the proposal since it would not be directly affected by the proposal. In the Preamble of the European Charter of Local Self-Government we can read that “local authorities are one of the main foundations of any democratic regime”, and that “the right of citizens to participate in the conduct of public affairs is one of the democratic principles…” that can be most directly exercised at a local level. The support of local authorities could also be important in the decision making process from the “building democracy from the bottom up” point of view. If we take a look at 2014 State of Participatory Democracy Report we see that one of the goals for local authorities should include the promotion of “youth voice”. Young people are often seen as a driving force for local democracy. Democratic countries that have an inclusive system on local level that enables young people to take part in local decision-making also rank higher in the Participatory Local Democracy Index. What better way to give the youth a proper voice than by giving them the right to vote.

(In)experience, Competence, Legitimate Decisions and Quality of Choice

Most common argument against the lowering of the voting age are that young people are inexperienced, immature, lack knowledge, political interest and motivation, are incompetent of quality decision simply do not stand. Many researches indicate that the younger generation (16 – 18 year-olds) is just as educated and familiar with public matters if not even more compared to the older generations (Hart and Atkins, 2011).

On the other hand a low level of voting should be particularly worrying when the reason behind it is a reflection indifference, disenchantment or lack of capability or competence (Chan and Clayton, 2006).

With the development of modern information society and easy access to certain social media the younger generations have a practically unlimited access to day to day information on politics, state, public affairs etc. and are probably better equipped with information or have easier access to them, compared to some members of older generations. This vital information makes them competent to make a »quality« decision. At this point I cannot turn away from the question of quality and legitimacy of a young voters’ choice. It is very hypocritical to claim that an individuals’ choice in election is not quality choice since quality in such cases is very subjective, depending on the interests and values of a specific and individual voter. In this respect all choices can be and are quality choices. Allowing younger generations to vote would probably enhance the quality of choice and result since new, fresh ideas and habits would appear on the political map that would promote progress and perspective instead of reinforcing old and obsolete patterns.

Modern mass media in the 21st century has a tremendous effect and can reach and activate greater audiences. For instance in Slovenia 82 percent of Slovenian youth (aged 16–27) use the Internet as their main source for acquiring information on current political events. Likewise, 71 percent of Slovenian youth obtain information about politics from television. .

Young voters may also prefer new and different model of political participation over traditional forms such as electoral participation (Topf, 1995).

Generations used to following the media, collecting information, picking out and buying products, paying their bills by internet etc. has become detached to certain traditional ways of doing things that require physical attendance at a certain place like elections. Such ways of casting a vote could be modernized by electronic voting, which would bring the act of voting closer to the everyday of younger generations and would make it easier for them and encourage them to vote (with regard to the secret ballot). This could also add to the level of democracy in a society, one of which aspect is also (voluntary) voter turnout.

Some think that cast votes should reflect citizens’ true preferences, and choices made in elections or votes given should be consistent with the citizen’s views, attitudes and preferences (Lau et al, 2008; Lau, Redlawsk, 1997). This would have negative consequences for democracy (Wagner, Johann and Kritzinger, 2012: 374). This however is true only if the young voters are not tricked into believing something is in their own interest’, or that a political program of a political party will be realized, but the reality later shows a different story.

All and all, every choice is a legitimate choice. This later statement originates from a simple claim that political parties or candidates at elections as well as choices on a referendum must be constitutionally and legally admissible – must fulfil all legal requirements to be able to participate in election etc. Therefore any choice a young voter would be – regarding electoral or referendum choice – is a legitimate and quality choice.

Younger age has some other positive aspects. Young voters are largely still involved in some sort of compulsory school education, mostly live at home and are more involved in their local environment. This period of their life and the environment surrounding them is relatively stable (parental, school and local influence). It is therefore easier to develop the so-called voting habit at an earlier age, since the environment surrounding a younger individual is more encouraging for a young voter to take part in elections (Plutzer, 2002; Franklin, 2004; Highton and Wolfinger, 2001; Bhatti and Hansen, 2010 ).

The consequences of such changes will be positive if they help to encourage young people to participate in the democratic process, encourage the development of voting habit ensure the representation of the young voters interests (Wagner, Johann and Kritzinger, 2012: 373).

There are many possible solutions to enable someone to vote at an earlier age. One of them is connected to the so-called »birthday risk«. An individual can vote only after reaching the voting age, but the closer the election day and an individuals’ birthday are, the bigger the chance he will take part in elections, instead of another individual who will have to wait several months or even years after reaching the voting age to get the chance to cast his or her vote (Folkes, 2004, p. 52-56).This risk can be lessened by different possibilities such as the »voting year benefit«, meaning that a voter would be able to vote from the beginning of the calendar year in which he or she turn old enough to vote (Zagorc, 2006: 338).

The argument that the right to vote belongs only to experienced, mature and capable of quality decision making individuals has also been rejected by different international documents and court decisions.

At the end, most of the presented factors such as motivation, knowledge etc., do not help explain the low turnout rates among young voter, so we cannot claim that young voters fail to vote for reasons particularly troubling for democratic legitimacy (Wagner, Johann and Kritzinger, 2012). Most of the reasoning used for state elections applies also for local elections.

Low Voter Turnout

One of the later and main reasons for upholding status quo regarding the voting age is also the presumption that younger voters do not actively participate in election or do not turn out to vote therefore limiting the legitimacy of electoral result. Some other motives and reasons causing low turnout must also be considered.

Many researchers of late have detected low levels of youth political participation in established democracies. This is up to some extend true also for Slovenia, especially regarding participation in elections. But factual participation in elections regarding youth (in this case 18 to 27 years of age) does not give us a reliable data on the potential participation in election of the 16 (or lower) to 18 year group. The last age group has its own characteristics.

The emphasis should not be on the (youth) voter turnout, because the willingness of the young generation to partake in election, should not be crucial in deciding whether or not to lower the voting age. Such a case would again subdue the younger generation to a stricter standard than the ones that apply to older generations. Once a person reaches a certain age and acquires the right to vote no one asks if this individual participates in elections or referendums and realizes his right. There are no discussions on whether they should be deprived of his voting right if they are not active in the use of this right. Even systems with mandatory voting do not anticipate such sanctions. Therefore the argument of low youth voter turnout cannot be an accepted argument against a lower voting age.

Otherwise the same reason of »low voter turnout« can be used as an argument for enacting a rule that would take away the right to vote for those individuals who fail to exercise their right without an excusable reason.

Later we will show that the prediction of “low turnout” is not entirely true which can be empirically proven at least in the case of local elections.

The same argument is without a doubt used differently for different generations in society, with one extra very important difference – low young voter turnout is an assumption while voter turnout of older generations who already attained the right to vote is a proven fact. The legislator therefore denies a young generation to vote among other reason because of a presumption of a low voter turnout, while at the same time allowing older voters to participate in following elections or referendums although if we would prohibit those individuals to vote it would probably result in higher voter turnout.

This leads to an illogical conclusion that the legislator prohibits younger individuals, who wish to participate in elections or referendums to do so on a presumption that they will not turn out, while at the same time we offer every opportunity to older generations to participate in public decision making solely on the grounds of their age and do not take this opportunity away even if they choose not to use it. Therefore the deprivation of someone’s right to vote on the grounds that he or she did not turn out for election day is an inappropriate measure, as well as unfounded opposition to lowering the voting age on the grounds of presumed or expected low voter turnout of the young generation is. Acting on a presumption is not the same as acting on fact. Younger generations should be given the opportunity to prove whether such presumptions are fiction or fact.

Increased Participation and Voter Turnout, Active Citizenship and Citizenship Education

Electoral or voter turnout in most of modern democracies has declined in the last thirty years, This is contributed to low voter turnout by young eligible voters. This general trend towards declining voter turnout or participation is especially noticeable in Western Europe (Aarts, Wessels, 2005) and wider.

It is often argued that the younger generations exhibit low political interest (Blais et al., 2004)

It is feared that it will cause a decline of democratic legitimacy if the elections fail in its role as the »institutional connection« between citizens (voters) and the state (Topf, 1995a). Same can be said in relation to local elections.

Some scholars see the reasons behind this in different values and interest prevailing between different generations, since the young generation does not consider elections in the sense of a »civic duty« (Blais, 2000; Inglehalt, 1990; Dalton, 2009; Mattenberg, 2002), while others see the prevailing reasons in the fact that to young voters elections do not really seem competitive enough. They have the feeling that their voices cannot change anything, have no effect (Franklin, 2004: 25-30). This is not entirely true for local elections. (Dis)belief in political influence is very important regarding the participation and voter turnout. In Slovenia the study showed that “In general, more young people (16 – 27 years old) have higher self-perceived influence on local institutions than on national institutions.” and that “young people (18 – 27 years-old) are more likely to attend elections if they believe that they have more influence on national institutions or on local institutions” . More young people believe they have influence on the local level and in local elections. Similarly interesting is the fact that in Slovenia local institutions are much more trustworthy for young people (16 – 27) than national institutions or political parties. 34 percent of young people trust (very much or to some extent) local government/mayor/municipal council, while on the other hand the trust is much lower for national institutions such as Government (12 percent), Parliament (11 percent), Political Parties (8 percent). Participating in local elections for young generation is therefore more interesting and appealing.

People under 18 or 21 have different interests than older generations., Therefore a low turnout of those under 18 leads to an underrepresentation of those interests or unequal representation of interest connected to different generations which would have negative consequences for democracy (Verba, 2001).

One of the possibilities to increase young voter participation could be (citizenship) education which could reaffirm or strengthen the bond between young individuals eligible to vote and encourage them to take a more active part in public affairs such as elections, referendums etc. This could be done by teaching the basics of a state constitutional order, electoral and referendum system, system of local self-government etc.

We already established that a higher voter turnout means a more legitimate result in elections. Therefore a high(er) level of voter turnout at elections is often understood as an indicator or sign of a healthy democracy (Fieldhouse, et al., 2007).

Some argue that a low turnout is an indication of high satisfaction with democracy, and therefore a low turnout among younger voters does not endanger the health of democracy (Dittrich and Johansen, 1983, Lipset, 1959). Although this might be true from a perspective that they are satisfied with their interest being realized without their turnout it is not very likely.

When a voting age is lowered a new group of potential voters appears – a young(er) generation – with different values and interests. We can even expect a proportional rise of voter turnout due to the fact that, because of the entry of new interests and values through the new electorate, the later will try to enforce them, which would stimulate the rest of the age or generational groups of voters with different values and interests to actively participate in elections and by doing so enforcing their interests, which would result in the enforcement of a wide variety of interests, together representing a wide mixture of different interest, the sum of which can be described as a wide social interest or even as public interest. Or as the Council of Europe resolution Expansion of democracy by lowering the voting age to 16 puts it »The first argument is the expansion of democracy. An election which also includes 16- and 17-year-olds is more representative than one which includes only those over 18. Adding another section of society increases the representativeness of those elected and there is no counter argument to this…. Lowering the voting age to 16 would continue this trend, making democracies more democratic by including more citizens in decision-making processes. European society is subject to constant change, new challenges, needs and opportunities, especially for young people«. Of course there is no need to stop at 16, but 16 can be the first next step.

Political choices are legitimate if and because they reflect »the will of the people« – that is if they can be derived from the authentic preferences of the members of community.« (Scharpf, 1999:6). This supports the view that individuals who are capable and willing to partake in democratic public decision making should be able and allowed to do so.

Therefore democratic input legitimacy can be negatively affected if a lower voting age extends suffrage to young citizens who are not motivated or capable to take part in public decision making through elections or referendum (Wagner, Johann and Kritzinger, 2012).

In the case of Slovenia a study was carried out recently on the situation of youth in Slovenia. The findings conclude that the youth is relatively uninterested in politics in general, are not burdened by ideology, don’t feel represented (by political institutions), are not satisfied with democracy and its institutions, feel they lack influence on politics etc. On the other hand the youth feels they have more influence on local (rather than state) politics and would more actively take part in elections if they had more influence – a step in the right direction is to enable them to participate in elections. Their trust in local political institutions (mayors and municipality councils) and local politics is also relatively high.

The later statements are empirically harder to test since there is not much data on the subject, a short analysis will follow on the case of Austria. Nevertheless studies conducted in Austria thus far found an increase in political interest among 16- and 17-year-olds following the lowering of the voting age (Zeglovits and Zandonella, 2013).

A Comparative Approach

Many countries are considering the lowering of the voting age to 16 (most of them have the voting age set somewhere between 18 and 21 years of age). Some empirical data on the impact of the lowering of a voting age can be found in the case of neighbouring Austria.

At the moment the only European Union country which lowered the general voting age to 16 is Austria, while a rare few other countries outside EU made similar changes e.g. Argentina, while debates on the subject are going on in many countries such as Malta, Ireland, Norway, Denmark, United Kingdom etc. Estonia is the latest newcomer to the family of countries which lowered the voting age (from 18 to 16 years of age) for local elections in May 2015. The result of the constitutional change is that in 2017 when next local elections for local government councils 24.000 young Estonians will be able to cast their vote. The reasoning behind the decision is seen through some of the discussions in the Parliament. The lowering of the voting age as the parliamentarians saw it is a sign of trust towards the younger generation, it enables them to actively participate in society, is an important development to democracy, it allows young people decide to on the progress of their local communities, it might increase the interest of young people in politics etc. One interesting argument from the initators of the constitutional change was the ageing of Estonian society. Therefore the importance of senior voters, whos number is growing is increasing in elections. At the same time age of representatives passing decisions on the issues concerning the life of younger people is ever growing – the young do not feel represented.

In Slovenia for instance there are few examples of members of Parliament or municipal councils below the age of 25, so that even those young individuals with the right to vote end up for years only deciding on the election of older before being themselves able to successfully run for public office. In the Parliament’s second house – the National Council – which represents special local and professional interests, the young also find no special representation. For these reasons, the interests of the young find themselves wading as salmon against the stream of predominant interests trying to reach the representatives elected by their parents and grandparents. There can be no doubt that they are not in the same position as the elderly and their interests, which are represented through the deputies they themselves elected. The young and their interests face a significant two-stage obstacle on the road to the representative bodies: first, they are represented by deputies who cannot be given binding instructions (Art. 82 Constitution of the Republic of Slovenia) and second, these deputies have been elected by the older generations in line with their own interests and beliefs. Thus, the representation of the young and their interests is a special kind of two-stage, cascade representation. It is therefore of great significance that the voting age be lowered as much as possible and not remain at the age of 18, where it has been maintained for the last 70 years. In so doing, less young individuals will be in the position of having their interests represented on the basis of the described double mediation.

In Ireland a referendum should have been held before the end of 2015 on the lowering of the voting age, since the majority of the Convention on constitution members recommended that the voting age should be lowered from 18 to 16. The Irish government still has not kept up to their promise but instead organized a referendum on the question of the eligible age to run for president – Voters were asked whether to reduce the minimum age of presidential candidates from 35 to 21 years. The results were 73.1% against and 26.9% in favour of lowering the age limit. Interesting enough is also an agreement between the Scottish government and the government of United kingdom, that gave the Scottish Parliament the power to decide whether 16 and 17 years old would be allowed to vote on the referendum regarding Scottish independence that was held in 2014, and by doing so giving the young the power to decide on their countries future. The Scottish Parliament later passed the referendum franchise bill allowing the »every 16 and 17 year old the right to add their voice to the most important decision made in Scotland in 300 years«. On the other hand some countries lowered the voting age for state (not federal), regional and local elections. Such are the cases of Bremen, Lower Saxony, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, North Rhine-Westphalia, Saxony-Anhalt and Schleswig-Holstein, in Switzerland canton of Glarus and in three British Crown dependencies Isle of Man, Jersey an Guersey. Norway for instance even did a trial test of reducing the voting age for 2011 local elections where 20 municipalities participated and voter turnout among 16 and 17 year-olds was 58 per cent, compared to 64,5 per cent state average. The state average for 18 to 21 year-old was 46 per-cent and for 21 to 29 year-olds was 45 per-cent. Some reasons for such results are probably that 16 and 17 year-olds are more easily mobilised than their slightly older peers, they live in a stable environment (go to school, live with their family), still live in their local community.

One must also not neglect the efforts of the municipalities that (voluntarily) entered into trial to try to promote the local elections with the younger generation as much as possible and were also very much engaged in youth politics (Bergh, 2013).

On the other hand Austria reduced the (active) right to vote to 16 years for the elections to the EU Parliament, National Council (Nationalrat), president of the federal republic, referendums, candidate support and peoples initiative. The Government of Austria put in its program for the forthcoming 23rd legislative period the lowering of the voting age to 16. The debate in the Nationalrat was similar to paternity test, since political parties and members of the council mostly fought about who was the first one to propose such legislation, while most of the comments went in the direction as »it is about time for change«, »since young people pay taxes they have the right to take part in decision making about how it is spent«, »enrichment with the view of the young«, »the interest of the young are to connected to their (legal) maturity«, »a decision in support of more intergenerational justice since the population is aging«, »a great success for which the citizens will be more active and decision making processes (because of higher turnout) more legitimate« etc. One of the reasons for the lowering of the voting age was also the positive experience in Austria from the reduced voting age for local elections. But later on a research was carried out, showing that the voter turnout between the age group of 16 – 18 year old was relatively low, but that is not enough to claim that a certain voting habit has developed, since for that more time must pass. The findings in the research also indicate that young voters have more confidence in political institutions on one hand and less knowledge of political parties on the other, but this does not explain low turnout. The research also indicates that the quality of choice (capability to choose political parties that are ideologically closer to younger voters) compared to older counterparts is of the same »quality« therefore a lower voting age does not influence the quality of choice. Their findings on the lowering of the voting age indicate no apparent negative impacts on input legitimacy and the quality of democratic decisions(Wagner, Johann and Kritzinger, 2012: 372, 378, 380-381).

A study of electoral participation from two regional elections in Austria the “first time voting boost” is even stronger among youngest voters and is significantly higher compared to 18- to 20- year-old first time voters and not substantially lower than the average turnout rate at elections. The authors therefore concluded that their findings are encouraging for the idea of lowering voting age as a means of establishing higher turnout rates in the future (Zeglovitz and Aichholzer, 2014: 351). Therefore many positive aspects on the other hand do exist and should be studied carefully.

Conclusion

A close correlation exists between the influence of the people, citizens on the decision making process and the state of democracy in a country. We have shown that age is one of the factors still used to prevent certain groups or generations of citizens to contribute and take part in formal public decision making processes such as elections (on all levels) and referendums. Different countries have different age limitations for acquiring the right to vote. This differs even between different types of elections (state, local etc.) For most of the countries there still exists a leeway to changing certain age restrictions. The decision in such cases is left to the everyday legislator, who enjoys a wide margin of appreciation regarding the regulation of electoral processes. Lowering of the voting age, would increase the absolute number of the voter body or electorate, the consequence of which would be a rise of absolute number of voters and probably also voter turnout (proportion of citizens who can vote), but in any case more citizens (a larger portion of »the people«) would be able to contribute to the decision making. A high(er) voter turnout would in the end also mean more legitimacy for elected representatives, enacted decisions and laws passed through a representative body or referendum, since it has wide support of the people. De lege ferenda we shall probably witness a lowering of the voting age in constitutions and laws in many countries across the world, especially those with demographic challenges such as the ageing of society, that will try to balance different interest of generations through giving a real voice to the younger generation, a voice than can be used in formal decision making, in elections etc. Taking into account the legislators’ wide margin of appreciation in the field of state electoral system, we can conclude that a decision at the end will be left to him. The arguments are convincing, nevertheless if they are convincing enough to make the legislator do something about is a thing of political judgment more than professional. The municipality of Ljubljana has (in May 2015) suggested to the Parliament that in the future when the Government decides to propose a change to the Local Elections Act they should change the age limit from 18 to 16 years of age. Maybe Slovenia is following Austria’s footsteps – will be interesting to keep an eye on the development and realisation of such proposals in Slovenia. Some argue that’s Slovenia’s constitution prohibits the lowering of the voting age for local election to the age of 16. We are of the opinion that the constitution should be interpreted as not prohibiting the lowering of the voting age for local elections since municipal council are not even mentioned in the constitution. In the same manner, it would also be possible to enable the young to vote in the referendum, sign the legislative initiative etc. without having to amend the Constitution. Taking into account Article 15 of the constitution that “No human right or fundamental freedom regulated by legal acts in force in Slovenia may be restricted on the grounds that this Constitution does not recognize the right or freedom or recognises it to a lesser extent” the conclusion should be self-evident. Local elections are a very suitable first experience and a good testing ground for young people. Candidates on the local level are closer to them, they know them better and the fears as to what programs and parties the young might support are lesser as they are at the national level. Groups with highly original programs run in local elections (mushroom gatherers, beer lovers etc.) whereas after the failure of the Youth party several years ago, no one seems to come up with the idea of representing the interests of the young. The concerns of political parties would also likely be reduced after the first experiences with local elections.

By removing some age restrictions regarding the right to vote, we would help balance interest of different generations to make their choices about the decisions affecting their future. We are always in delay regarding measures taken in this field since the ageing of society is demolishing an already fragile intergenerational balance in favour of the older generation. Time to act is now, to give the younger generation in the present a chance to decide on their future. We have seen many ways how this is done. Local elections can be the “test” we need to see how the youngest electorate feels about taking part in public decision making at the local level. The prevailing arguments against the lowering of the voting age such as immaturity, quality of choice and low voter turnout have been theoretically and empirically proven as mere presumptions. The lowering of the voting age especially for local elections is justified, but the choice to do so or not is up to the legislator.

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Europe

The projection of Turkish power in the Eastern Mediterranean

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The recent military conflict between Greece and Turkey over potential gas fields located in disputed waters is linked to a complex historical and political conflict between the two nations, so geographically close, but also culturally and politically distant. The superpowers have problems and alliances linked to the two countries, thus globalizing the conflict. Furthermore, all the countries concerned need the cooperation of Greece and Turkey in various fields such as the refugee crisis.

It is symptomatic of the changing nature of geopolitics, geoeconomics and the aftermath of Covid-19. The frictions reflect Turkey’s strategic rebalancing. The conflict in the eastern Mediterranean is mainly the result of a dispute between Turkey and Greece. Two aspects in particular of this balance of power form an explosive mixture in the Eastern Mediterranean, firstly the conflict stems from the fact that there are no agreed maritime borders between Turkey and Greece. The two countries contest their mutual claims on maritime territories and thus contest their respective rights to search for underwater energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea.

Secondly, Turkish policy in the Middle East has helped lure other powers into maritime conflict.

The rift between Turkey and its eastern Mediterranean neighbors mainly affects Cyprus. While the Republic of Cyprus is internationally recognized as a sovereign state, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus has only been recognized by Ankara since its establishment in 1974. And above all, it sees the southern part of the island as secessionist. Turkey has longstanding objections to exploration licenses Cyprus offers to international energy companies, including ENI and Total. These licenses are mainly concentrated in the south and southwest of the island. These zones are included in the exclusive economic zone claimed by Cyprus but which, according to Ankara, violates its continental shelf as well as the territorial waters belonging to.

International law currently offers few possibilities for resolving maritime complaints. The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea states that coastal nations are entitled to a 200 mile exclusive economic zone where they can claim the rights to fishing, mining and drilling. But shorter distances in the eastern Mediterranean force states to settle on a negotiated dividing line. Turkey’s position adds further complexity to these issues: Turkey is in fact not a signatory to the UN convention and defends a different interpretation of maritime rights, arguing that the waters adjacent to the Greek Cypriot administration remain an integral part of the continental shelf of Turkey.

The agreement of 27 November 2019 signed between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj defined a maritime border between the two signatories. The agreement was the most important signal of Turkey’s ambitions. The text delineates a 35-kilometer line that will form a maritime border from the southwestern coast of Turkey to the north of Libya, and crosses the areas claimed by Greece and Cyprus. It tilts the balance of power in the eastern Mediterranean in favor of Turkey. This disrupts the planned route of the 1,900-kilometer Eastern Mediterranean gas pipeline that would carry gas from Israel through Cyprus and Greece to southern Europe. Greece called on the United Nations Security Council and NATO to condemn Turkey’s maritime agreement and for this expelled the Libyan ambassador to Greece. Apparently, as a countermeasure to Turkey’s tactics, Israel, Cyprus and Greece have teamed up to carry out the Eastern Mediterranean pipeline.

It must be said that Ankara has the ambition to be an energy hub for Europe. The Turkish state wishes both to guarantee the Turkish Cypriots a share of future gas revenues and to free Turkey from its dependence on Russian gas supplies. Erdogan had sent his own drilling vessels into disputed waters north-east and west of Cyprus, as well as south of Kastellórizo.

Turkey fears it will be cut off from most of the Aegean Sea and therefore from major sea routes if Greece unilaterally expands its territorial waters and creates new areas of maritime jurisdiction. Erdogan responded by adopting a more assertive line with more aggressive rhetoric. The Turkish government says that as long as talks on maritime disputes are pending and Greece and the Republic of Cyprus continue to do research or drilling, Ankara will too. For their part i Greek officials say Turkey’s new policy is what has reignited the dispute and strained Ankara’s relations with its neighbors. Greeks are increasingly concerned about the safety of hundreds of islands that are very close to Turkey.

Whether it is Turkey or Greece, the two countries are using the migration issue to exert pressure. The situation on the Greek-Turkish borders in fact remains tense and very unstable; the current status quo in the region has all the hallmarks of a hybrid battle. Turkish officials and security forces push migrants to the neighboring country, often even helping them with illegitimate means. Meanwhile, the press and social media are fully used to shape public opinion in favor of interested parties. Propaganda in this context plays a vital role in this conflict. In addition, Ankara also uses its strategic position with the Bosphorus Strait and threatens to close the US Incirlik base to serve its interests.

Turkey has pursued an aggressive and expansive policy in its region for the past decade. This Turkish government approach is steeped in neo-Ottomanism and pan-Islamism. We find in this approach the ramifications of a much older school of Ottoman imperialist thought. The wave of bellicose maneuvers by the Turkish government can be attributed to the 2016 coup attempt, which gave the Erdogan government carte blanche to implement its long-sought power projection policy.

The government’s strategy to create a sense of successful foreign policy in the country, and thereby destroy most of the opposition parties, involves a discourse that emphasizes national interest. This vague but extremely useful term has had a paralyzing effect on the various opposition factions in the country, as they are unable to formulate a counter-narrative without risking being accused of lack of patrioticism. Very often the analysis of modern Turkey’s foreign policy as neo-Ottoman politics ends with the assertion that Erdogan and his party are nostalgic for the restoration of Ankara’s influence in the ancient regions of the Ottoman Empire.

If we take the example of Libya, one of Turkey’s goals in Libya is to completely control the country’s market and establish economic dependence on Turkey. It should be added that Turkey has signed two memoranda with LNG, one on military support and the other on demarcation at sea. Under the maritime border demarcation agreement, LNG has supported Turkey’s demands on part of the waters of Greece and Cyprus. Furthermore, Ankara intends to exploit any gas reserves on the Libyan coast. Indeed, in exchange for military support, Ankara imposed a treaty on Tripoli to take control of a significant portion of the country’s oil and gas wealth and forced LNG chief Fayez Sarraj to support its territorial claims in neighboring countries. This is a classic example of Turkish imperialist politics.

As a result, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Turkey has engaged in the past two years in a remarkable series of geopolitical foreign interventions from Syria to Libya via Cyprus and more recently alongside Azerbaijan. Some have called it Erdogan’s “New Ottoman Empire” strategy. Yet a collapsing lira and a collapsing national economy threaten to unexpectedly put an end to its great geopolitical ambitions. To date, in 2020, the lira has fallen 34% against the US dollar and 70% over the past five years. While some believe it would increase Turkey’s exports of goods, what it does is expose the entire Turkish banking system and economy to a colossal debt explosion. It can also be noted that at this point Erdogan’s interventions met with unserious sanctions or opposition from the EU. One obvious reason is the high exposure of EU banks to Turkish lending. Spanish, French, British and German banks have invested more than $ 100 billion in Turkey. Spain is the most exposed with 62 billion, followed by France with 29 billion. This means that the EU is walking on eggshells, unwilling to pour more money into Turkey but hesitant to precipitate a collapse on economic sanctions.

The eastern Mediterranean has become a hot spot for the natural gas industry. The discoveries have generated growing interest among several international oil companies and countries. It all started with Noble Energy (based in Texas) which announced the discovery of the Tamar field off the coast of Israel in 2009, with an estimated capacity of 280 billion cubic meters. In the space of two years, Noble Energy announced two further discoveries: the Leviathan field, also off the coast of Israel, in 2010 and the Aphrodite field, in Cypriot waters, in 2011. This has reinforced regional ambitions to make the Eastern Mediterranean a gas exporting region. . These ambitions were also based on two assessments made by the US Geological Survey (USGS) in 2010, which estimated the presence of nearly 9.8 trillion cubic meters of undiscovered technically recoverable gas and over 3.4 billion barrels of petroleum resources in the area. However, the real turning point (for regional energy ambitions) came in 2015 when the Italian Eni announced the discovery of the gigantic Zohr gas field off the coast of Egypt. With its 850 billion cubic meters of estimated average gross resources, the Egyptian offshore field is the largest ever discovered in the Mediterranean Sea. It should be added that these fields have another feature: geographical proximity. Thus was born a regional alliance with a pipeline project that excludes Turkey from the energy dynamic. The presence of natural gas has become an axis of cooperation and rivalry in the region. It can be said that gas is the main motivation behind Erdogan’s maneuvers. Indeed, Turkey’s unique geopolitical situation stems from the fact that it is poor in hydrocarbon reserves while its neighborhood has abundant resources. It is therefore imperative for Ankara to maintain stable energy ties with neighboring energy-rich countries or regions. In line with Turkey’s growing domestic demand, efforts to focus on energy security have become an integral part of the country’s foreign policy over the past two decades. The search for hydrocarbons, in particular natural gas, has become a fundamental geopolitical and geo-economic objective for the country.

The rationale for Turkish natural gas policies can be described by three aspects:

1. Being a country dependent on imports, Turkey’s main objective is to guarantee its access to natural gas supplies to satisfy its internal demand.

2. aims to diversify its current supply structure and counterbalance Russia’s dominant role in its energy portfolio.

3. Turkey aims to strengthen / increase its integration into the regional energy security architecture by promoting its role as an energy transit country and a potential hub for supplying Europe.

At the moment, the Eastern Mediterranean region does not supply gas to Turkey, with the exception of market agreements with Egypt. However, it emerges as a critical point on the Turkish foreign policy agenda, as the region is viewed by Ankara not only through the prism of energy security, but also through the prism of its protracted conflict with Cyprus and in the broader context of competition for regional power in the eastern Mediterranean.

In line with the above, it is possible to identify at least five key factors that explain Turkey’s greater involvement in the Eastern Mediterranean:

1. Turkey looks for potential gas reserves in its waters that could bring economic benefits to the country.

2. Turkey does not want to be excluded from developing a new regional energy agenda and is ready to protect its interests.

3. Turkey intends to be an energy transit country that could strengthen its role as an energy hub and undermine rival projects such as the EastMed pipeline.

4. Turkey intends to involve other countries in the region to support its objectives, as seen in the case of the maritime border agreement with the government of national agreement based in Tripoli in Libya, to promote its position by preventing it from doing so. way for others to gain influence;

5. Turkey intends to demonstrate its capabilities as a military power in the eastern Mediterranean.

The Greek-Turkish crisis is likely to influence the shift in the balance of power in the Eastern Mediterranean region. It is possible that over time the United States will relocate its military base from Incirlik to one of the military installations in Greece. Athens wishes to modernize and strengthen the army and navy to contain Ankara. Greece, Cyprus, France but also regional actors such as Egypt and Israel do not agree with the Libyan-Turkish synergy. Analyzing the differences in this balance of power, it is clear that Erdogan appears to be in a position of strength. But from this analysis it also emerges that Ankara does not have sufficient capacity to realize its imperialist ambitions .

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Europe

Recovery action plan of the Union: On Next Generation EU & a New Independent authority?

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The first address of the European Commission since the pandemic was one highly anticipated by all the citizens of the EU block. On September 16, President Ursula van der Leyden took it upon herself to reveal the EU’s roadmap for a post-Covid world following the approval of the recovery funds last July which constituted a breakthrough and sent a welcome signal in terms of cohesion and solidarity on the part of the 27 members.

Aside from paying tribute to our frontline workforce and praise the courage and human spirit showed by all in the face of virus spread, van der Leyen set out what she called NexGenerationEU; a movement to breathe new life into the EU but also and most importantly to adapt and lead the way into shaping tomorrow’s world. Through her speech, the president highlighted roughly 8 key themes which will be at the centre of this new European era’s agenda for the next 12 months, in accordance with the cardinal principles of trust, tolerance and agility. In other words, the 750 billion recovery funds raised extra-ordinarily will be directed towards the following areas:

1° Economy: the Union members must all breed economies that offer protection, stability and opportunities in the face of the continuous health crisis with a specific wish expressed for a stronger Health union – and thereby an extension of the Union’s competencies on the matter – but also the advent of European minimum wages.

2° Green Revolution: the Union will adopt more radical attitudes towards mitigating climate-change and safeguarding our planet, starting with the ambitious aim of becoming the first climate-neutral continent by 2050 through the EU’s Green Deal. So called ‘lighthouse’ high-impact and hydrogen-based projects will become an additional focus.

3° Technology: Europe has to step up its game and become a digital leader through securing industrial data and using it to support innovation. Delineating the use of AI by regulating the field, creating a secure EU e-identity and ensuring connectivity deployment so as to fully cover rural areas are also high on the list.

4° Vaccine management: The Union praises the open approach followed up until now in facing the virus whilst many others have opted for withdrawal and undercutting of cooperation. Having served as an example regarding vaccines research and funding, the EU must uphold its policy all the way to the finish line and ensure its accessibility for every citizen around the world.

5° Multilateralism: the current international order system needs some rethinking and international institutions need reform in order to de-paralyze crucial decision-making in urgent situations. This starts with the EU taking faster univocal positions on global issues (Honk-Kong, Moscow, Minsk, and Ankara) and systematically and unconditionally calling out any HR abuses whilst building on existing partnerships with EU’s like-minded allies.

6° Trade: Europe will be made out as a figure of fair-trade by pushing for broker agreements on protected areas and putting digital and environmental ethics at the forefront of its negotiations. Global trade will develop in a manner that is just, sustainable, and digitized.

7° Migration: A New Pact on Migration will be put forward imminently as to act on and move forward on this critical issue that has dragged for long enough; in that regard every member state is expecting to share responsibility and involvement including making the necessary compromises to implement adequate and dignifying management. Europe is taking a stand: legal and moral duties arising from Migrants’ precarious situations are not optional.

8° Against hate-inspired behaviours and discriminations: A zero-tolerance policy is reaffirmed by the Union by extending its crime list to all forms of hate crime or speech based on any of the sensitive criteria and dedicating budget to address de facto discriminations in sensitive areas of society. It is high time to reach equal, universal and mutual recognition of family relations within the EU zone.

Granted, the European ‘priorities forecast’ feels on point and leaves us nearly sighing in relief for it had been somewhat longed for. The themes are spot on, catch words are present and the phrasing of each section is nothing short of motivational with the most likely intended effect that the troops will be boosted and spirits lifted subsequently. When looking closer to the tools enunciated for every topical objective, there seems however to be nearly only abstract and remote strategies to get there.

This is because a great number of the decisive steps that the Union wishes to see be taken depend on the participation of various instruments and actors. Not only does it rely for most on the converging interests, capabilities and willingness of nation States (inside and outside the euro zone), but it is also contingent on the many complex layers and bodies of the Union itself. And when a tremendous amount of the proposed initiatives for European reconstruction is reliant on such a far-reaching chain of events, it simply calls into question the likelihood for the said measures and objectives to be attained – or at the very least in which timeframe.

One might then rightfully wonder whether good and strong willpower coupled with comprehensive projections can be enough. And perhaps in the same vein, whether we can afford to wait and let it play out in order to find out? In his recent writing Giles Merritt, founder of the platform ‘friends of Europe’ tends to suggest we most certainly do not have the luxury of waiting it out and not pushing the forward thinking even further. Indeed, according to him, Europe could and should do more. More than a call for action and change that might end up echoing and fading in the depths of the EU’s bureaucracy, the Union would be expected to back up its ambitious intentions with the setting up of an independent planning agency to ‘ensure revolutionary ideas and projects are speedily implemented’, to borrow Merritt’s words.

Whilst van der Leyen’s announcement was promising and efficient in that it sent an important message – the EU is wanting to get in the driver’s seat – only the follow-up with radical motions such as the creation of a readily available tool to implement fast and impactful changes can lend support to a claim that Europe is in a position to resolve current internal and external EU challenges, and more generally to bounce back from conceded decline suffered in the most recent decades.

As a matter of fact, Diplomat Ali Goutali and Professor Anis Bajrektarevic were the firsts to make an analysis in that sense as they articulated their proposal for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) earlier this year. Faced with similar challenges and need for sharper thinking and tools in order to be at the forefront of the economic and technologic challenges ahead, the OIC had relied heavily on its Committee on Scientific and Technological Cooperation and agenda reform to reinforce its cooperation and innovation capabilities as a global player.

Nevertheless, Goutali and Bajrektarevic already felt months ago that additional steps ought to be taken for the OIC to be able to respond swiftly and reaffirm further its mandate of facilitating common political actions. To that end, it was suggested that a mechanism for policy coordination in critical times – the Rapid Reaction Capacitation – in charge of, primarily, vaccines management and AI applications should be introduced. Furthermore, the stakes behind the urgent need of strengthening our international order through cohesive endeavours are evidently the same for both the EU and the Arab World. That is to permanently leave behind a pseudo-competitive nation-based attitude that is nothing but a relic from the past and has achieved little in the context of the Covid outbreak.

Hence, if such an independent body was to be established, all three authors agree that it could gather the indispensable political power and resources to carry out the desired reforms on multilateralism, cyber and digital infrastructures, Covid recovery measures or geopolitical partnerships. Necessarily streamlined in order to avoid undue blockades, these new regional bodies could be composed of energetic forward thinkers across the private and public sectors empowered to map out and act on adequate strategies for a post-Covid world. This is because we all share the same goal: achieving solidarity not only on paper or as a conceptual motto but in real life and in real time. And after all, didn’t von der Leyen herself concur with that line of thinking as she enjoined Member states to move towards qualified majority voting to avert slow and cumbersome decision-making processes?

It seems pretty clear to me that such discussions in relation to the aggressiveness in actions and potential bureaucratic barriers might raise an old-as-the-world yet still very important questions: Should we, Europe, be ready to risk losing some of the legitimacy or democratic aspects of our political bodies in order to gain in speed and efficiency in times of crisis? And if not, considering the embracement of some of our supra-national entity’s actions is already on shaky grounds, how can we ensure that such bold measures may still be reconciled with maximal legitimacy given our equally urging need for unity?

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Europe

Deciphering EU’s new investment deal with China

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The perceived economic gains of the Comprehensive Agreement on Investments (CAI), which the 27-nation European Union recently struck with the People’s Republic of China, come at the cost of disregarding human rights, which the Western bloc is known for, amid clear and irreconcilable systemic differences.

***

The closing days of 2020 saw the European Union and China striking a deal known as the Comprehensive Agreement on Investments (CAI), thereby concluding seven long years of negotiations, as per the year-end deadline. China is also the EU’s biggest trading partner after the United States, but a strategic and systemic rival too.

The European Commission, Brussels-based executive arm of the EU, primarily led the negotiations on behalf of the bloc. Germany, being the holder the EU Council Presidency and led by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s continued push, combined with Beijing’s last-minute concessions, proved instrumental in expediting the process of finalising the CAI before the end of 2020.

However, the deal will still have to wait for a formal ratification by both sides and an approval by the Strasbourg-based EU Parliament, a tougher task, before finally setting it on course to be effective in a couple of years’ time, if not by early 2022.

Better rules, level-playing field for European businesses

The EU, by this deal, aims to widen the access for European companies to lucrative Chinese markets, with billion-plus consumers, on a wide range of sectors, particularly in services such as healthcare, finance, cloud-computing and air travel, among others, that has always been restrictive to foreign players in the past.

The deal could bring in a level playing field in the conduct of European businesses in China wherein Chinese state-owned enterprises will no longer be given preferential treatment through subsidies, thereby promoting fair competition and ensuring transparency in technology transfers. Newer possibilities for the expansion European businesses in China will be opened.

The CAI also promise better rules, investment protection, and an investment dispute settlement mechanism within two years of signing, which will replace all the separate bilateral investment treaties currently signed between China and EU member states. The EU maintains that the main purpose of this new deal is to address the economic imbalance in its relations with China.

However, the most striking aspect of the CAI is that, for the first time, China commits to follow accepted standards on climate and labour aspects, even though in a vague form. And for the EU, the timing of this deal with China is significant as a way of signalling its reengagement with the world in the aftermath of a post-Brexit scenario.

At the same time, the CAI reaffirmed reciprocal access for Chinese companies into European markets, which they always had. So, the deal matters to Europe, more than it matters to China. So, the real question is the extent of compromises which European negotiators had to make to strike the deal with the Asian superpower.

The issue of forced labour in China

Many EU member countries and the US had been apprehensive about the human rights situation in the northern Xinjiang province of China where there have been evidences and investigations on the use of forced labour from the media and elsewhere, which has not been duly factored in while concluding the investment deal.

It has been alleged that in the past several years, the Chinese government has forced over a million Uighur minorities in Xinjiang to perform seasonal labour against their will and are often underpaid. But, the Chinese government has repeatedly denied such allegations.

Many European lawmakers believe that China is not interested in fully complying with international agreements after signing it and is not a responsible and trustable partner. The presence of mass detention camps in this province, as verified by satellite imagery and other documents, is also a human rights concern which the EU was not supposed to ignore, considering its historical commitments to human rights.

US concerns and strategic rivalry

The incoming Biden administration has also raised concerns about the CAI, stating that it would “welcome early consultations” with its European partners on shared concerns surrounding China’s unfair economic practices, hinting at the issue of forced labour and the deal’s lacking on the question of enforcement of human rights.

Being a security and strategic partner of the US and part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), any such deal which EU and its member countries sign with its strategic rival, China, could effectively undermine American-led efforts to counter the strategic and geopolitical threat posed by Beijing’s aggressive and expansionist policies around the world.

It also flies in the face of an incoming Biden administration which is openly committed to mend relations with allies in Europe that had been worsened under Donald Trump. Many experts in the US have felt the EU should’ve waited for a few more weeks until the Biden administration takes charge to form a co-ordinated approach, as it related to their common systemic and strategic rival, China.

Moreover, the deal comes at a time when individual EU members such as Germany and the Netherlands have recently released their own outlook on the Indo-Pacific strategy, which is perceivably aimed at containing China’s rise and to ensure balance of power in the region. Meanwhile, France’s outlook is in existence for two years now.

Way ahead for implementation

The deal has now been reached at the technical level, paving way for a final ratification. But, getting the deal through the European Parliament, which attaches far more significance to human rights concerns than the Commission and the Council, is going to be a tough task, as many European legislators are increasingly sceptical of Chinese intentions and commitments to any deal.

The coming months are going to be crucial with regard to how the European legislators will debate and take forward the deal to the next level.

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