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The Brexit issue

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Currently Great Britain’s annual net budgetary transfers to the European Union amount to 13 billion pounds. In various forms, every year the European Union injects 7 billion pounds into the British economy.

Hence, while – as a result of Brexit – Great Britain shall renegotiate the trade agreements with the European Union, it shall simultaneously reshape its trade flows also with the United States, Japan and China.

Not to mention the 60 Commonwealth nations, which would become a new and huge replacement area for all the economic sectors in which the EU incurs more difficulties in promoting British companies.

It is certainly a great economic change, but also a strategic and geopolitical revolution which many experts are already analyzing in Great Britain.

It is also worth recalling that over 50% of the current British trade regards the EU, while the trade balance with the other nations refers to Treaties reached only through the frame, namely the European regulatory framework.

And not all European frames have favored the British economy.

It is a painful mystery how we can imagine a Union of countries competing one another, with largely overlapping economies, in a context of international trade expansion, which uses one currency only (but this is not the British case), but has no common tax policy nor pools the public debt.

An eternal situation of countries which always quarrel and compete, but have more convergent interests than it may seem.

Sooner or later, however – as always happens within alliances – a leader creating a hierarchy will emerge.

Hence Brexit is Great Britain’s way to say that it no longer wishes to accept a German-led European Union.

Therefore Great Britain is reacting to an EU crisis which is structural and has not only merely commercial roots, but also strong geopolitical and strategic ones.

In fact, the idea of some British economists is that reformulating the Treaties with the EU itself and, at the same time, with China, the Russian Federation and the United States – pending the TTIP – is more useful than indulging in a massive negotiation between the EU and these external commercial areas.

A negotiation that would inevitably favor the continental economies at the expense of the British one, which has another productive configuration compared to the German or the Spanish ones.

Hence, at analytical level, the pros and cons, namely the Brexit and the Bremain are equal, and no one can now evaluate the specific weight of each economic or political choice.

For Great Britain remaining in the EU means to avoid the tariff barriers and the commercial brokerage costs which the Union has abolished.

Therefore leaving the European system could be dangerous.

Nevertheless, given Great Britain’s economic size and importance, the Brexit supporters think it is always possible to negotiate new and more favorable terms and conditions with the EU.

Moreover, outside the European Union, Great Britain will be in a position to renegotiate a new global tariff system without being obliged to be subject to EU regulations.

The new trade rules could certainly stimulate further internationalization of the British economy, which would have open doors in China, Japan and Russia.

All this while EU exports are shrinking.

With Brexit, Great Britain could also decide to carry out dumping on growing markets and quickly replace the exports of many EU countries, especially those in crisis.

Furthermore Great Britain pays 340 pounds a year to the EU for each household, while earning approximately 3,000 for each household.

Moreover, should Great Britain leave the European Union, the average costs would not decrease, because there would always be costly mechanisms for access to the European market or to the other geoeconomic systems.

Conversely, should Great Britain stop making transfers to the EU, the 350 million pounds a week (half of the British school budget), which are the cost for remaining in the EU and comply with its rules, could be spent to create new companies and improve vocational and scientific training – an issue to which Great Britain is particularly sensitive, as is the case with all the economies in which the service sector is particularly large and developed.

Moreover, leaving the EU does not absolutely mean reducing migration flows to Great Britain, as claimed by the Brexit opponents. After all, Great Britain could carry out more stringent controls at its borders thus avoiding – as currently happens – differentiating between the immigrants coming from the EU and the ones coming from other continents.

Furthermore, many Brexit supporters point out that now Great Britain counts for very little within the EU and hence it is highly unlikely for this situation to improve if voters decide to stay in the EU.

The British Treasury Ministry, which is firmly opposed to the country leaving the EU, notes that Brexit could make the British GDP shrink by 6% as from 2030.

We do not know how Prime Minister Cameron’s government has made these calculations.

Let us imagine it assumes an increase in the prices of goods and services imported from the EU, but this is by no means certain.

We are in a phase of structural deflation and competition among the EU Member States is such that Great Britain could take advantage of this situation by focusing on one country or the other.

As usual, the future renegotiation of Trade Agreements will lead to favor some sectors and penalize others.

Today no one can predict what the British top exports to the EU will be in the coming years, and not even the structure of European exports to Great Britain.

Hence, the British government reiterates that, in case of Brexit, the British GDP would decline by 5-6%.

And shall we not also consider the inevitable expansion of British trade in the Commonwealth region?

Again, rational forecasts cannot be made – everything will depend on the political mechanism of the upcoming negotiations and on a strategic and geoeconomic context full of variable factors rather than constant ones.

A global context which is changing very rapidly and it is unpredictable both in relation to Great Britain and the EU.

It is not at all certain that the pound sterling – which is currently 5.6% undervalued compared to its commercial value – shall remain “low”, thus attracting capital from abroad.

Indeed, it is likely that – after the signing of the TTIP between Great Britain and the United States – there will be an increase in the pound sterling at purchasing power parity and a parallel increase in the euro.

The advocates of Great Britain’ stay in the Union, provide the following assessment on the Leave costs.

The transport costs would increase (by 4-7.5%) since most of the vehicles used are produced in the EU region.

However, setting the great British automotive industry again into motion could become reasonable, with a large market outside the EU which requires being motorized.

A replacement economy would be created in the British transport sector which would increase employment.

Furthermore, obviously the means of transport have a short payback time which implies a decreasing trend of unit costs.

With Brexit, the prices of alcoholic beverages would increase (again in a 4-7% range), which is certainly bad news for all pub-goers.

But which is the British share of alcohol imports from the EU?

The British producers and dealers of this industry report that the imports are decreasing steadily, from about 151 million bottles in 2010 to 142 million ones in 2014.

The British government also charges high excise duties on alcohol, in addition to the EU common taxation.

As we can see, also the structure of alcohol prices in Great Britain is more complex than it may seem and the industry will be probably able to resort to effective replacement practices, to the delight of all British barfliers.

Again according to the Bremain supporters, food prices would increase by 3-5%.

However, how can such a statistical evaluation be made on one of the most diversified markets?

We do not know, nor do we know what the average British nutrition style is, although everyone knows that the British cuisine does not certainly stand out for quality.

Have you ever found an English restaurant abroad?

The already high prices of the selected, high quality and “high end” food products – almost all imported and consumed by the British upper classes –

are likely to further increase.

But probably the prices of lowbrow food for the working class, traditionally scarcely influenced by imports, will not rise much.

Clothing prices are expected to increase between 2% and 4%, but we think that the price of high fashion and luxury products imported from France and Italy may increase.

While, today, the networks selling low-cost clothes already largely defy EU regulations and manufacturing processes.

Again according to the Bremain advocates, as a result of Brexit, on the best possible assumption, the average revenue per household would fall by approximately 1.9% per year.

On the worst possible assumption, the purchasing power per household would decrease by over 4% per year.

But how? It is totally inconceivable that a country like Great Britain shall forcedly renegotiate, with the EU or the WTO, less favorable terms and conditions than those currently existing with the EU.

In fact, after the possible Brexit, Great Britain could follow the Norway’s and Switzerland’s examples and join the European Economic Area (EEA) and EFTA.

Or it could renegotiate trade agreements with the WTO only.

Hence are we sure that both negotiations would make Great Britain obtain much more draconian terms and conditions than the EU ones? And why?

On the contrary, it is likely for Great Britain to create good synergies with the Swiss Confederation, which walked out of EFTA in 1993, as well as with the other EEA countries, thus taking advantage of the weight of its economy and its world standing on the financial and stock markets.

Are we sure that a second trade agreement with the EU would be harder than the current one for Great Britain, after the EU possibly discovering the clout of the British economy no longer subject to its regulations?

Or its ability to “do harm” to the EU countries on global markets?

In that case I think that many countries would do everything to bring Great Britain back into the EU, after the possible Brexit.

Again at commercial level – and here the Bremain supporters show to have credible arguments – if Great Britain adhered to the EEA there would be more transaction costs for British exporters to those countries, with the inevitable reintroduction of quotas and administered prices for agricultural and fishery products.

Being outside the EU, Great Britain should renegotiate – and not always from a position of strength – trade agreements both with the European Union and other 50 countries, in addition to having to renew temporary trade agreements with other 67 nations.

A situation of “economic uncertainty” which would block British companies’ decisions and investment, besides driving back a lot of capital which could be used in the British production system, as well as in its innovative finance.

However, as the Brexit supporters maintain, the time schedule may be reduced by a standardization of negotiations.

A dangerous, albeit not impossible, choice.

Moreover, if Britain were to use only the WTO for tariffs and trade, it should decide its import tariffs on its own.

Nevertheless, if Great Britain decided to maintain zero tariffs with the EU countries – which is in its own interest – it should unilaterally reduce its tariffs for imports from all the WTO members, should there be no specific preferential agreements with particular countries.

However the EU economic and political leverage vis-à-vis Great Britain is still very significant: only 8% of EU exports go to Great Britain, while over 50% of UK exports go to the EU region.

Only 3.1% of European GDP depends on exports to Great Britain, while 12.6% of the British GDP depends on trade with Europe.

But man does not live by bread alone.

Brexit is the materialization of Great Britain’s dream of a new global role, the memory of an imperial past, as well as confirmation of the fact that the British people are not, and will never be, fully Europeans and the other way round.

In these cases, we should well revise the EU Treaties and rethink the structure of the European single currency – which luckily Great Britain has not adopted – as well as create a new myth for the whole continent, including Great Britain.

This is exactly what will never happen and the EU business as usual will also destroy many of the good results the EU has achieved over the years.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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A New Turn to the Indo-French Relations

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A file photo of French President Emmanuel Macron and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. | PMO India/Twitter

Hudson Institute’s researcher, Aparna Pande called France as “India’s new best friend” in 2019. Fast forward to present day, France has taken its partnership with India to the next level through the recent Indo-French space partnership for expeditions to Venus.

The space expedition partnership has followed the French envoy’s support for India’s UNSC membership and the launch of a satellite for climate observations. Furthermore, Emmanuel Lenain, ambassador of France to India said, “This year has been an eye opener for Europe. The world is becoming dangerous and the world has powers that do not want to play by the rules. We consider India as positive and trust it for exemplary dependency. France will support India’s bid for a permanent seat at the United Nations.”

Indo-French Relations

India and France have had trade relations since the 17th century. The diplomatic relations go back to the time when India became the newly independent country in 1947. The development of bilateral ties was significantly achieved through the state visit of French President  Jacques Chirac in 1998. Since then, there had been a series of state visits to and forth between the heads of both India and France establishing close ties with each other.

Additionally, India and France have been long term partners in the defence arena since 1953. India had acquired the famed MD 450 Ouragan, nicknamed ‘Toofani’ and Mystere in the 1970s and 1980s. Recently, the Indian government has also procured the Rafale fighter jets from France which had arrived in July 2020.

Under the leadership of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Emmanel Macron, the Indo-French relations have been strengthened through regular state visits contributed to take the strategic partnership established in 1998 further ahead. Just like the defence sector, the Indo-French relation is prospering in the space sector as well. This is also because of France’s pivot to Indo-Pacific region. The growing tensions between the US with China and Russia, Brexit, both France and India are realizing that a shift in the world order is underway especially with the Covid 19 pandemic making the world unstable on various fronts.

Indo-French Space Partnerships

The Indo-French space partnership for expedition to Venus seems a follow up from the 2018 bilateral agreement on the India-France Joint Vision for Space Cooperation. This strategic partnership was spread over different facets of space science including sounding rocket development, joint satellite realization, training programmes, satellite launches. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) successfully reached Mars on its first attempt in 2014. In the same year, the French National Space Agency (CNES) successfully launched the E-CORCE Earth observation satellite. In recent years, there has been a number of partnerships between ISRO and CNES.

In 2019, there was an agreement signed between CNES and ISRO to establish a maritime surveillance centre in India. As part of this, both the space agencies are collaborating on India’s first crewed space mission, Gaganyaan project which is scheduled to launch in 2022. CNES has agreed to train Indian astronauts at the Toulouse Space Centre helping India to lay the foundation for preparation for future human spaceflight. The 2019 partnership followed the broader agreement signed during President Emmanuel Macron’s state visit to India in March 2018.

The latest joint Indo-French Venus mission is a historic partnership till now. The instrument for the mission, VIRAL (Venus Infrared Atmospheric Gases Linker) is developed by Russian and French agencies. In September 2020, CNES has confirmed in a statement, “in the domain of space exploration, France will be taking part in ISRO’s mission to Venus, scheduled to launch in 2025. CNES will coordinate and prepare the French contribution, the first time a French payload will be flown on an Indian exploration mission.”

India-France relations in space have been a great success in the past. The upcoming ISRO-CNES Venus mission will strengthen the Indo-French partnerships further.

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Taking For Granted … Be Wary

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The title of these comments is inspired by my personal experience in important areas of public policy both as a politician beginning in the 1970s and more recently as Secretary General of the OECD from 1996 until 2006. That was a very important decade as it ushered in the period which some day we thought would be known as the beginning of globalization on a grand scale.

When I took up my responsibilities in Paris at the end of May 1996 it was a time brimming with  optimism about the great future ahead for our children and generations to follow! We were about to say goodbye to one of the most brutal and bloody centuries in human history. Physical human suffering was compounded by poverty and misery of hundreds of millions, especially in the developing world.

Many of us involved at the international level in public policy saw major opportunities to address challenges which had eluded us in the past. Indeed we took a great deal for granted and I must confess that I certainly did. Why? Here are a few examples and the reasons for taking so much for granted.

  1. We had just witnessed major geopolitical restructuring in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Soviet Union had collapsed and we assumed that the threat of nuclear war had disappeared with it;
  2. With the replacement of the GATT the ( WTO) we took for granted the exciting prospect of global free trade and investment, which would bring economic growth and rising prosperity everywhere, but especially to the developing world. We expected “trade” not “aid” to be the route out of third world poverty;
  3.  The expansion of the proven Marshall Plan formula to regions fractured by division and conflict. We took for granted that such approaches could bring peace to the war torn Balkans and perhaps even to the Middle East and  the Arab World;
  4. We took for granted that with the publication  of the Brundtland Report “ Our Common Future” on Sustainable Development  followed by the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, followed by the commitments in the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, that the decades long stalemate of slowing green house gas emissions (GHGs) (and therefore global warming) had been broken  and that multilateral international commitments would ensure the protection of the biosphere and its natural capital;
  5. We took for granted that improvements to the stunning success of healthy capitalism through universal principles of good corporate governance, supported by an Anti Bribery Convention, would control the greed inherent in the undue exploitation of unfettered capitalism.  We took for granted that the wealth and wage disparities would narrow, especially in the United States;
  6. We witnessed the remarkable rise of the European Union (EU) uniting former enemies. We took its expansion and global role for granted. Regarding the EU,  I often quote a paragraph from the preface of A History of Europe by H. A. L Fisher, a warden at Oxford University in the 1930s. He wrote: “[No] question [would be] more pertinent to the future welfare of the world than how the nations of Europe … may best be combined into some stable organization for the pursuit of their common interests and the avoidance of strife“;
  7. We also took for granted the gradual spread of democracy and democratic institutions into the former countries of the Soviet Union and elsewhere in central Europe, South America and Asia;
  8. Early misgivings about the ideological bent of  Recep Erdogan as the Prime Minister, and then President of Turkey, were dispelled as he initially seemed supportive of good governance, freedom of the fourth estate, free speech  and democratic principles. We believed him and took for granted that the remarkable reforms introduced by Mustafa Kemal, known as Ataturk, would ensure the survival of a secular democratic Turkey;
  9. We took for granted the United States as a lone global superpower, magnanimous and fair, the first true united nation with people drawn from all corners of the planet to its robust democracy and unlimited opportunities.

As we look back over the past 25 years it is obvious that much too much was taken for granted. Given that so few of the opportunities we assumed would bring the world to a much better place were seized by my generation, what do you perceive as a better way forward? When we open that discussion in a few minutes, I hope I have convinced you to take little for granted. Be wary, if not skeptical, about those who foresee only a prosperous and peaceful future for this wonderful planet.

We need to remind ourselves of the following and address the questions I raise in our general discussion.

1. We failed to engage Russia with the West and as a result are now strengthening NATO in an effort to contain Putin’s aggressive behaviour. History may show this to be the most egregious of all Western public policy failures in the post-Soviet Union period because of its impact on other areas of global concern where Russia should have been a partner. Is it too late to recover from a failure to engage Russia despite the Russian adventures in Crimea and the Ukraine?

2. The EU is increasingly fragile, with concern about the future of the euro common currency and the EU’s capacity to deal with massive immigration from the war-torn areas of the Middle East. Do the weaknesses of the EU reflect a too rapid expansion without strengthening institutions which would move it toward a more federalist structure promoted by the Spinelli group?

3. Tensions have grown between China and its neighbours over territorial disputes, convincing the United States to pivot from its European focus and increase its military presence in Asia. Does this refocussing plus a strengthening alliance between China and Russia herald the reigniting of another Cold War like the one my generation grew up with?

4.Now many more nations( and possibly terrorist groups) have access to nuclear weapons. Does that greatly increase the possibility of a 21st century nuclear war?

5.The global free trade agenda is in the doldrums with the failure of the Doha Round and the concomitant rise of protectionist rhetoric, especially in the United States ,at the highest political levels. Does this mean that global free trade is now beyond reach?

 6. Is the prospect of eliminating poverty in the developing world through trade and investment  dying?

7.Reductions in GHG emissions, especially CO2, but also methane, continueto elude us after decades of effort, showing how ineffectual the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change process has been and will be. The widely heralded but unenforceable Paris Agreement in the context of a history of failures is even dangerous because much of the public thinks our leaders have come to grips with this challenge (as we all did after the Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997). Do they do not realize that even if the agreed upon targets are achieved they are not sufficient to keep global temperatures below the level that the scientific community tells us is necessary to prevent dramatic and irreversible climate change?Is there resistance to developing a Plan B as a last resort to prevent unacceptable global warming? Solar radiation management , a form of geo engineering, seems to be broadly under consideration. Is that good or of concern? As areas of the world may become uninhabitable, will there be mass migration from areas of the developing word to more temperate climates?

8. For those who believe in democracy and perceived it as beginning to take root after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union do subsequent developments undermine the confidence that many democratic governments may be in retreat?  In some countries, such as Thailand, there has been a return to a military dictatorship. In others, such as Russia and other countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union, there is only a pretense of democracy with rigged elections, as in Belarus. There also appears to be backsliding in Turkey, a very important global player and a bridge between Asia and its historic Western allies. The situation in Turkey, which held such promise only a decade ago, is very worrisome. President Erdogan seems increasingly autocratic and intolerant of criticism and dissent. Failure of this democracy could be a sad, even tragic, development. Turkey is a major regional and global power, and through the influence of Atatürk it became an emerging secular democracy with a majority Sunni population straddling Europe and Asia. Atatürk showed the world what individual leadership supported by ethical standards could accomplish in a short period of time.

9. Is the world faced with a growing number of autocratic strongmen who would prefer to destroy the important international infrastructure if it constrains their personal ambitions? It would appear that when one combines the far east, parts of Eastern Europe, Russia, Turkey, China, North Korea, the Philippines, Thailand etc, more than 50% of humanity is or will soon be governed by “strong men“. With few exceptions such as Ataturk, history shows that such people have only one interest “me”.

President Trump gives every indication that he is anxious to join the ranks of these strongmen, initially by withdrawing the United States from the central role it had played through visionary leadership by building and helping to maintain the post war international and institutional architecture. His slogan “America First” should be interpreted for what it really is, namely, “Donald Trump First”.

There is a disquieting commentary in the New York Times of 16 December 2016 entitled “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy” by Professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt of Harvard University. Here is an excerpt:

“Donald J. Trump’s election has raised a question that few Americans ever imagined asking: Is our democracy in danger? … Past stability is no guarantee of democracy’s future survival … Our research points to several warning signs.

The clearest warning sign is the ascent of anti-democratic politicians into mainstream politics. Drawing on a close study of democracy’s demise in 1930s Europe, the eminent political scientist Juan J. Linz designed a “litmus test” to identify anti-democratic politicians. His indicators include a failure to reject violence unambiguously, a readiness to curtail rivals’ civil liberties, and the denial of the legitimacy of elected governments. “

Mr. Trump tests positive on all counts. In the campaign, he encouraged violence among supporters and pledged to prosecute Hillary Clinton;

He haspage213image41232512page213image41225792page213image41222912threatened legal action against unfriendly media, and continues to suggest that he might not accept the election results saying the election will be rigged. If he loses will he in some way resist leaving office?

Since his 2016 election he has not changed his attitude on any of these issues.

David Frum, a Conservative and traditional Republican and a senior editor at the Atlantic published a book two years ago “Trumpocacy- The Corruption of the American Republic”. It has recently been released in paperback with a new preface by Frum which reviews the appalling record of this individual to whom Americans have entrusted the leadership of the most powerful nation in history.

In a concluding paragraph of the book he writes….” President Trump is cruel, vengeful, ignorant, lazy, avaricious and treacherous…”

Later he adds: “We are living through the most dangerous challenge to the free government of the United States that anyone alive has encountered. What happens next is up to you. Don’t be afraid. This moment of danger can be your finest hour as a citizen and as an American”

Today I cast Frum’s challenge to each of you in a global perspective rather than just American.

Yes, democracy can be fragile everywhere.

 We who live in well-established democracies must never be complacent or smug about the success of our societies. The comments of the Harvard professors above echo that concern.

Our democratic societies and their political systems must adapt to a rapidly evolving world. We are increasingly in that global village through forces of globalization amplified by communication and transportation technologies.

In line with the work of Charles Darwin, it has been said that “it is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” The same could be said of democratic governments and even empires.

What happens next to global free government is up to your generation of leadership. It is a humungous challenge, especially in countries where the seeds of democracy have never been planted or where they have enjoyed short life spans, Thailand and especially Turkey come to mind.

The future of democracy across the globe could be destroyed if the autocratic motives and moves of Donald Trump succeed, as they well might if I read the current political climate in the United States correctly. Despite shortcomings which need correction such as the unfortunate influence on elections through Super Pacs, the United States has been perceived for years as a remarkable democracy which others attempt to emulate. This may be about to change as it is increasingly viewed as government by the rich, of the rich and for the rich, and Trump does not appear to feel constrained by the institutional checks and balances of the constitution. He could put American democracy on the terrible path to an autocratic state which he seems to admire, especially in the Russia and Turkey of today.

In summary, what looked to be a promising future in all the major areas of concern in the 1990s has evolved into what could best be described as an economic, social, and geopolitical mess. But as bad as that story is, we have succeeded in making the future even more problematic with the arrival of global terrorism.

My generation must recognize the extraordinary failures of the past decades. Your generation must do better.

It seems that efforts to create consensus on major issues amongst many sovereign nations does not work. Is there not a better way forward in global governance? This is the last question I leave you with.

Have 190 counties not offered proof  of the impossibility of finalizing an international and binding free trade agreement known as the Doha Round, or as almost 200 countries have done in their efforts to find consensus on concrete solutions to address the challenges of climate change. Neither set of efforts, the first initiated through the WTO process and the second through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change process, has delivered the results sought and it is unlikely they ever will.

Is starting small and gradually broadening an international consensus a better option? The EU successfully evolved from a small base but has it expanded too rapidly to consolidate and build upon its remarkable and successful beginnings? Even the G20 may be ineffectual because of size and economic and social diversity.

Does the difficulty of building broad consensus on these issues suggests that a structure more resembling the UN Security Council would be more effective? Could the Security Council itself with a limited membership of powerful countries become a global steering group and replace the G-7 process?

Whether we like it or not, each major power has spheres of influence over smaller regional powers through shared history, culture (sometimes language), and trade and investment.

When we compare human and societal evolution to a relay race one generation must pass the baton on to the next. In a small way that is what I am saying to you today. I hope our discussion will touch upon a number of these important and often controversial issues.

We have fallen behind in many respects in the early years of this 21st century, perhaps even forfeiting many of the hard-earned benefits of good capitalism and democracy to an ever increasing number of corrupt strong men and autocratic regimes.

Is that the future?

Remember the words Shakespeare attributed to Brutus:

“There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.”

I am persuaded that the latter may be our fate. We did not take the flood of opportunities at hand in the 1990s. Is it too late to recover through hard work, sacrifice and creativity in restructuring global governance for a better world.

What should we do? What can you do?

It will depend to a large extent on your personal values which I hope have not been irreversibly warped by admiration for the material success of greed and visible wealth of the famous 1% who dominate power and politics in the USA and increasingly elsewhere.

I have described the state of the world today as analogous to the fireplace at my country home. It is usually fully loaded with tinder, kindling and dry wood. All it awaits is a match. Unfortunately, in the world today there are many matches waiting to be lit and spread their deadly destruction to regions, if not the planet as a whole.

*This text is exclusively made as supplementary for a university lecture held on 28 OCT 2020. It is a part of the so-called ‘Geneva Lecture Series – Contemporary World of Geo-economics’, concepted and considered by prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic for the Swiss University in Geneva.

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Economic situation is EU citizens’ top concern in light of the coronavirus pandemic

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In a troubled period marked by the coronavirus pandemic, trust in the EU remains stable and Europeans trust the EU to make the right decisions in response to the pandemic in the future. In the new Standard Eurobarometer survey released today, European citizens identify the economic situation, the state of Member States’ public finances and immigration as the three top concerns at EU level. The economic situation is also the main concern at national level, followed by health and unemployment.

In the new Eurobarometer conducted in July and August, concern about the economic situation is reflected in the perception of the current state of the economy. 64% of Europeans think that the situation is ‘bad’ and 42% of Europeans think that their country’s economy will recover from the adverse effects of the coronavirus outbreak ‘in 2023 or later’.

Europeans are divided (45% ‘satisfied’ vs 44% ‘not satisfied’) regarding the measures taken by the EU to fight the pandemic. However, 62% say they trust the EU to make the right decisions in the future, and 60% remain optimistic about the future of the EU.

Trust and image of the EU

Trust in the European Union has remained stable since autumn 2019 at 43%, despite variations of public perceptions during the pandemic. Trust in national governments and parliaments has increased (40%, +6 percentage points and 36%, +2 respectively).

In 15 Member States, a majority of respondents says they trust the EU, with the highest levels observed in Ireland (73%), Denmark (63%) and Lithuania (59%). The lowest levels of trust in the EU are observed in Italy (28%), France (30%) and Greece (32%).

The proportion of respondents with a positive image of the EU is the same as that with a neutral image (40%). 19% of respondents have a negative image of the EU (-1 percentage points).

In 13 EU Member States, a majority of respondents has a positive image of the EU, with the highest proportions observed in Ireland (71%), Poland and Portugal (both 55%). In 13 other Member States, the EU conjures up a predominantly neutral image for respondents, with the highest proportions observed in Malta (56%), Spain, Latvia and Slovenia (all 48%).

Main concerns at EU and national level

Citizens mentioned the economic situation as the most pressing issue facing the EU – over one-third (35%) of all respondents, a strong increase of 16 percentage points since autumn 2019, and rise from third to first concern. Concern about the economic situation has not been this high since spring 2014.

Europeans are also increasingly concerned about the state of Member States’ public finances (23%, +6 percentage points, the highest level since spring 2015), which moves from fifth to second place on a par with immigration (23%, -13 percentage points), the latter now being at the lowest level since autumn 2014.

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, health (22%, new item) is the  fourth most mentioned concern at EU level. The issue of the environment and climate change has lost ground, down 8 percentage points to 20%, followed by unemployment (17%, +5 percentage points).

Similarly, the economic situation (33%, +17 percentage points) has overtaken health as the most important issue at national level, rising from seventh to first position. Although in second position, health has had a notable increase in mentions since autumn 2019 (31%, +9 percentage points), taking it to its highest ever level over the past six years.

Unemployment has also increased considerably in importance (28%, +8 percentage points), followed by rising prices/inflation/cost of living (18%, -2 percentage points), the environment and climate change (14%, -6 percentage points) and government debt (12%, +4 percentage points). Mentions of immigration (11%, -5 percentage points), are at their lowest level for the past six years.

The current economic situation

Since autumn 2019, the proportion of Europeans who think that the current situation of their national economy is ‘good’ (34%, -13 percentage points) has declined considerably, while the proportion of respondents who judge this situation to be ‘bad’ has increased sharply (64%, +14 percentage points).

At national level, a majority of respondents in 10 countries says that the national economic situation is good (down from 15 in autumn 2019). The proportion of respondents who say the situation of their national economy is good ranges from 83% in Luxembourg to 9% in Greece.

The coronavirus pandemic and public opinion in the EU

Europeans are divided on the measures taken by the EU institutions to fight the coronavirus outbreak (45% ‘satisfied’ vs 44% ‘not satisfied’). However, a majority of respondents in 19 Member States is satisfied with the measures taken by the European Union institutions to fight the coronavirus pandemic. The highest positive figures are found in Ireland (71%); Hungary, Romania and Poland (all 60%). In seven countries, a majority of respondents is ‘not satisfied’, especially in Luxembourg (63%), Italy (58%), Greece and Czechia (both 55%) and Spain (52%). In Austria, equal proportions of respondents are satisfied, and not satisfied (both 47%).

However, more than six Europeans in ten trust the EU to make the right decisions in the future (62%). The most frequently mentioned priorities for the EU’s response to the coronavirus pandemic are: establish a strategy for facing a similar crisis in the future and develop financial means to find a treatment or vaccine (each 37%). 30% think that developing a European health policy should be a priority.

Europeans’ personal experiences of confinement measures were very diverse. Overall, close to three Europeans in ten say that it was fairly easy to cope with (31%), while a quarter say it was fairly difficult to cope with (25%). Finally, 30% say that it was ‘both easy and difficult to cope with’.

Key policy areas

Asked about the objectives of the European Green Deal, Europeans continue identifying ‘developing renewable energy‘ and ‘fighting against plastic waste and leading on the issue of single-use of plastic’ as the top priorities. More than one third think the top priority should be supporting EU farmers (38%) or promoting the circular economy (36%). Just over three in ten think reducing energy consumption (31%) should be the top priority.

Support for the Economic and Monetary Union and for the euro remains high, with 75% of respondents in the Euro area in favour of the EU’s single currency. In the EU27 as a whole, support for the euro has increased to 67% (+5).

 EU citizenship and European democracy

A majority of people in 26 EU Member States (except Italy) and 70% across the EU feel that they are citizens of the EU. At a national level the highest scores are observed in Ireland and Luxembourg (both 89%), Poland (83%), Slovakia and Germany (both 82%), Lithuania (81%), Hungary, Portugal and Denmark (all 80%).

A majority of Europeans (53%) say they are satisfied with the way democracy works in the EU. The proportion of respondents who are ‘not satisfied’ has increased, by 3 percentage points since autumn 2019 to 43%.

 Optimism for the future of the EU

Finally, in this troubled period, 60% of Europeans say they are optimistic about the future of the EU. The highest scores for optimism are observed in Ireland (81%), Lithuania and Poland (both 75%) and Croatia (74%). The lowest levels of optimism are seen in Greece (44%) and Italy (49%), where pessimism outweighs optimism, and France, where opinion is evenly divided (49% vs 49%).

Background

The ‘Summer 2020 – Standard Eurobarometer’ (EB 93) was conducted face-to-face and exceptionally completed with online interviews between 9 July and 26 August 2020, across the 27 EU Member States, in the United Kingdom and in the candidate countries 26,681 interviews were conducted in the 27 Member States.

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