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Historicism and Cultural Identity in the EU

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I have repeatedly stated that one of the acutest cultural problems in the EU nowadays is that of a lack of cultural identity rooted in Christianity; this is largely due philosophically to a poor appreciation of historicism. To my mind, the philosopher who first alerted us to this problem was Giambattista Vico, widely considered the father of modern historicism. I’d like to offer a brief outline of his theory of history, trusting that interested readers will then pick up and read his masterpiece The New Science.

In 1976 A. Robert Caponigri of Notre Dame University published an essay in honor of the great Yale Dante and Vico scholar Thomas Bergin (in Italian Literature: Roots and Branches, Yale University Press) in which he stated that “In the ‘Scienza Nuova’ Vico anticipates by two centuries contemporary man’s most profound discovery concerning himself: the fact that he has a history, because by creating history man discovers and actualizes his own humanity.” That statement alerts us to the fact that Vico is well within the Italian humanistic tradition. He is, in fact, nothing short of its culmination. A tradition this which is interrupted by Descartes’ anti-humanistic stance and now waiting, like ambers under the ashes of a technocratic rationalistic society, for a new rebirth.

I am not suggesting that the concept of history is a special privilege of Western Man. Non Westerns too have a history. However, it is only in 18th century Europe that Man becomes aware of the far reaching implications of that fact. While Greeks, Romans, Chinese, Muslims had chronicles and archives, they were not intellectually conscious of the astonishing fact peculiar to Western Man, that the history that man makes expresses his freedom vis à vis events, nature and social life; which is to say, that when Man creates history out of nothing (as a sort of creation ex nihilo), he creates an eminently human factum, a sort of artifact, which is then knowable to the human mind that created it. In short, the awareness that Man has, is, and makes history is a paradigm, or a myth of reality if you will, which is unique to Western thinking and is intimately related to the idea of freedom.

Carl Marx for one utilized this paradigm of Man as his own history, but he was not its discoverer as some surmise. Its discoverer was Giambattista Vico who first proposed it to his contemporaries as a sort of antidote to the then rampant abstract, rationalistic philosophy of Renè Descartes. In fact, I suggest that to perceive Vico’s originality one needs to explore this peculiar Cartesian rationalistic background of our culture. Only in contrast to the thought of Descartes, which has shaped the modern mind-set, can we grasp the relevancy of Vico’s thought.

In the first place, it should be noted that a-historical thinking, a tendency to emphasize and privilege the universal and abstract aspects of thought, at the expense of the particular and the contingent, has been around in the West since Plato. But Descartes believed that he had reached the end of his epistemological ventures with what he considered the final solution to the problem of human knowledge. He accomplishes it by deemphasizing the humanities and claiming that the main criterion of truth for man is that the judgments asserting it must consist of “clear and distinct ideas.”

In his Principles of Philosophy Descartes states that “I term that clear which is present and apparent to an attentive mind, in the same way as we assert that we see objects clearly when, being present to the regarding eye, they operate upon it with sufficient strength. But the distinct is that which is so precise and different from all other objects that it contains within itself nothing but what is clear.” Obviously, within this kind of epistemology symbols related to seeing predominate over those related to hearing. The insistence throughout is on clarity and mathematical knowledge. Mathematics is in fact specifically mentioned in Descartes’ Discourse on Method where he states that “Most of all I was delighted with Mathematics because of the certainty of its demonstrations and the evidence of its reasoning.”

And what exactly is Descartes’ true foundation for his theory of knowledge? His renowned “Cogito, ergo sum,” that is, thought in the act of thinking or reflecting upon itself. In other words, if I think, I exist or at least perceive myself as existing. This first certitude of one’s existence is characterized by the evidence thought has of itself with no other unclear elements. Therefore, Descartes concludes, the criterion of truth must be evidence accompanied by clarity and distinctness. What is dismissed out of hand are all “unclear” ideas upon which history rests: memories, inner psychic states, motives, images, symbols, myths, imaginative fairy tales, works of art with their ambiguous possibilities of meaning. In fact, the vast realm of personal and inter-personal knowledge, defined by Martin Buber as the realm of the “I-Thou,” is summarily rejected.

Now, it does not take much intellectual acumen to realize that since Descartes Western thought has been dominated by a rampant rationalism which, with the possible exception of Nietzschean romantic anti-rationalism culminating with existentialism, has a peculiar view of the relationship existing between a knowing experiencing subject (the self) and the objects and events around it (the observable world) which it perceives and knows. Since the seventeenth century this has been the almost exclusive domain within which the nature of reality has been considered in the West. It is a mode of thought wherein all of reality consists of “external” objects and events which are responsible for the perceptual experience of an observing subject. This is the realm of “I-it” as also defined by Buber; a realm concerned with the world of things and objectified events. It reaches its most restrictive form with modern science which, by its very nature, is exclusively concerned with observable objects and events.

Vico’s peculiar genius lies in the fact that he was the first thinker within Western culture to clearly perceive that Descartes left no room for history; that on this road Man would end up dehumanizing himself. In contrast, he proposed a theory of knowledge which emphasizes and demonstrates the importance and validity of historical thinking. His opus spanned fifteen years (1710-1725) and culminated with the publication of his New Science (the first edition appeared in 1725, the second in 1730 and the third in 1744).

Vico’s initial attack on the Cartesian paradigm begins with his inaugural lecture at the University of Naples in 1710 titled De Antiquissima Italorum Sapientia. There he inquires as to what it is that makes mathematical ideas, the prime example of Descartes’ “clear and distinct ideas,” so irrefutable? His answer is that such clarity and irrefutability derive from the fact that we ourselves have made them. In geometry we are able to demonstrate truth because we ourselves have created it. Vico employs a Latin formula to explain this idea: Verum et Factum convertuntur, which basically means that we can only fully create, and hence fully know, the things that we design and make out of nothing. In other words, the privileged position of mathematical propositions, as regards clarity and persuasiveness, rests upon the fact that they are arbitrary creations.

Vico then proceeds to qualify Descartes’ position before setting out the theoretical basis for historical knowledge proper. His basic insight is that truth is a dimension of the subject and it is a fallacy to think with Descartes that it can be conceived as a property of objects themselves. In other words, truth is the mode of presence of the subject to itself as mediated by the objects it observes. This circularity establishes the integrity of the mind as total presence to itself. Within it the dualism subject/object is mediated. To say it in even more simple terms Vico, as the consummate humanist that he is, proposes that besides metaphysics (rational intuition), mathematics (deductive knowledge), and natural science (empirical knowledge), there is a fourth, very important kind of knowledge: self-knowledge.

Within self-knowledge we are more than mere passive onlookers. We are the protagonists of situations which we understand from the inside. In its broadest sense Vico is equating this kind of necessary knowledge, well known to the ancient Greeks, with historical knowledge proper. Moreover, he alerts us to the fact that since nobody has made himself, this self-knowledge will not have the “clear and distinct” quality of mathematics. On the other hand, neither will it have the game quality, the fictitiousness and arbitrariness of mathematics. It will be a superior kind of knowledge because it is not an observing of phenomena exterior to us, and therefore ultimately unknowable to us. In fact, it will be even superior to the empirical knowledge of the natural world. In this respect, Vico is the precursor of Martin Buber’s basic insight that it is only in the world of I-Thou that true reality is to be found. The world of I-it is there to be analyzed, categorized, organized but it is not the total world. Vico had intuited that the world of Descartes’ cogito may be indubitable, but it also essentially limited and sterile. It cannot yield the essence of either thought or existence. From it we will never derive the causes and the nature of our being.

Vico has thus established that the Cartesian cogito, i.e., thinking thought, cannot be science but mere consciousness. In searching for a principle of truth one must begin from an absolute reality, namely that of God who has created all things and therefore knows them all. He is the Primus Factor, therefore in Him there is the first truth. In as much as all elements of things (both exterior and interior) are present in Him, complete truth resides in Him. This is so because verum factum convertuntur, he who causes a thing knows it.

This concept of causation in Vico shows the relative character of human knowledge. In as much as God contains all things, He can “read” all the elements of things. His mind is characterized by intelligentia. The human mind, on the other hand, is foreign to all, is foreign to all things that are different from itself and is therefore characterized by cogitatio by which it gathers elements external to itself. In other words, Vico is saying that we reason because we are imperfect. God does not reason, He intuits.

From this relative character of human thought issues a sort of metaphysics of humility, a new paradigm for perceiving reality; and it is this: the more external the object to the knowing mind, the more generic will be its knowledge. For example, nature had long been in existence when man arrives on the scene. The human mind, therefore, can never fully participate in its origins. Sciences are better or less knowable depending on how much human thought operates in building them: mathematics is surer than mechanics, mechanics surer than physics, physics surer than morality. Vico wisely suggests that the more congenial thing for man is to limit himself to the examination of what has been produced in history: the customs, the deeds, and above all, the language of Man. He refers to this as the certum, the cultural residue constituting the subject matter of the historian.

It is crucial that this certum, these records of history, be understood as that which man has made, the factum. Here again Vico’s insight is that the certum and the factum are convertible; which is to say, history leads to knowledge; more specifically it leads to self-knowledge when it approaches its own documents (the certum) with the understanding that these are what other selves have created in history. We are then within Vico’s hermeneutical circle: whenever Man creates in history, and above all when he creates language, he creates a structure that constitutes an interpretation of his experience. In turn that interpretation organizes the world around him. The study of history turns out to be an ongoing understanding and evaluation, in effect a constant reinterpretation, of these interpretative structures which men have created. There is no such thing as “objective” history, once, once and for all as some historians, in their eagerness to declare their discipline a “science” would contend.

A scientist with positivistic tendencies in describing the history of science, will reveal to the perceptive reader the Cartesian paradigm under which he labors. Inevitably, there is a tendency to see religion not at the very origins of science but as magic and superstition hostile to it; while science per se and its rational method of perceiving reality will be assigned preeminence over and above myth-making, poetry and poetic wisdom.

This rather cavalier intellectual stance would not be so repugnant were it stated as a premise at the outset. The sheer hubris of the Cartesian mind-set (what Vico calls “the barbarism of the intellect” and I call “hard-wired rationalism”) is exhibited by its insistence that it is the only valid and “objective” view of what constitutes reality, while other views or paradigms can only proceed out of ignorance and have therefore little, if any, intellectual value. A. Robert Caponigri puts it best when he writes that “The concrete processes of culture alone provide the context for the idea of man because only in that context are the conditions of total presence realized…In culture, the alienation latent in nature is overcome because all cultural structures are modes of the presence of man to himself as defined against nature.” (“The Timelessness of the Scienza Nuova of Giambattista Vico.” In Italian Literature: Roots and Branches, Ed. Jose Rimanelli, Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, 1976, p. 310).

One of the most important Vichian principles is this: “The nature of institutions is nothing but their coming into being (nascimento) at certain times and in certain guises” (SN, 147). Vico’s stress upon the ongoing development of history is one in which the legacy of the past is taken with complete seriousness, but without obscuring the necessity of reprehending the past in ways appropriate to the present, or the necessity of leaving the future free to apprehend the past in ways which are perhaps as yet unthinkable. Indeed, the Columbus of 1992 is a differently perceived Columbus than the one of 1892.

With the above examined understanding of history Vico attempts to oppose Descartes’ claim that “clear and distinct ideas” constitute the highest form of knowledge. He perceived that Descartes’ claim inevitably leads to a concept of history as a clearly and distinctly apprehended “hard core of historical facts” known once and for all. Indeed, that “hard core” may have the simplicity of mathematical ideas but it is similar to them in the sense that it is an abstraction arbitrarily created out of the complex flow of history; an abstraction which can then be used as a counter in a game that we ourselves have invented. This appeal to thinking of history in terms of “hard core” facts can be better understood if we keep in mind that the moving of abstract counters in freely invented games gives one a great sense of control while calling for little commitment on the part of the player. For example, let the reader imagine, if you will, the computerized video games routinely played by generals in the Pentagon and other nations’ War Departments. In a few seconds these powerful Caesars are able to obliterate millions of enemy soldiers, not unlike the original Caesar who claimed more than a million lives in his Gallic War. In the video game, it happens from time to time that millions of one’s own soldiers are nuked by mistake. One general’s comment to this “friendly fire” mistake supposedly was “Holy cow!” The reader may retort that there is nothing wrong in playing a virtual war game if it ultimately prevents a real war. Fair enough. The problem however arises when those “hard core” facts are fallaciously assumed to exist objectively “out there” and made to constitute the substance of history. When millions of soldiers and whole cities come to be seen as mere counters in a dangerous chess game of “realpolitik,” then we end up with the “Evil Empire” engaging the world in an arms race costing the world a couple of million dollars a minute. Some already envision a new start of those games, called Cold War, in the 21st century, and they may be right.

E.F.Schumacher in his A Guide to the Perplexed (Perennial Library, Harper and Row Publishers, New York, 1977) puts the matter thus: “The change of Western man’s interest from ‘the slenderest knowledge that may be obtained of the highest things’ (Thomas Aquinas) to mathematically precise knowledge of lesser things—‘there being nothing in the world the knowledge of which would be more desirable or more useful’ (Christian Huygens, 1629-1695—marks a shift from what we might call ‘science for understanding’ to ‘science for manipulation.’ The purpose of the former was the enlightenment of the person and his ‘liberation;’ the purpose of the latter is power. ‘Knowledge itself is power,’ said Francis Bacon, and Descartes promised men they would become ‘masters and possessors of nature.’ In its more sophisticated development, ‘science for manipulation’ tends almost inevitably to advance from the manipulation of nature to that of people” (pp. 53-54).

Vico clearly perceives this fallacy more than two hundred years ahead of his times and insists on the conversion of the certum with the factum, i.e., that the study of history is a reinterpretation of those interpretative structures which Man has created. He shows that the formula he initially applied to mathematics, the true and the made are convertible, is applicable to history as well. However, when applied to history, a different kind of knowledge arises. While in mathematics the resulting knowledge is “clear and distinct,” albeit fictitious and arbitrary, in history it cannot be so since we have neither created ourselves nor the world of nature out of nothing.

History cannot yield clear and distinct ideas because it deals with tangled non fictitious matters of purposes, goals, motives, acts of the will, fears, hopes in effort to reach self-knowledge. Even more simply put, history deals with the heritage of the past, understanding for the present and hope for the future. This truth of self-knowledge is convertible with what Man has accomplished in history because as Vico explains it: “…the world of civil society has certainly been made by men, and its principles are therefore to be found within the modifications of our own human mind” (SN, 331).

We are not accustomed of speaking of this matter in terms of verum and factum. And yet all we need to do is transpose “content” for verum, and “form” for factum, to understand that Vico is basically saying that the content of anything is but the form it assumed at the point in history at which it came into being. In other words, content comes into existence with or within form. Contrary to what Descartes thought he could do, content and form can be distinguished but cannot be separated from one another. To fully know one at its origins is to know the other. They are convertible because they arise together. There is no such thing as “the inner meaning of myths” or of fact separate from interpretation in the study of history. Once that is granted, then one has to also grant that history is equally knowable as mathematics. This is so because history is the result of the development of the human mind and of the universal principles it contains and by which it judges things and to which it tries to conform.

And here is how Vico himself expresses the unity of content and form: “Our science therefore comes to describe at the same time and ideal eternal history traversed in time by the history of every nation in its rise, development, maturity, decline, and fall. Indeed, we made bold to affirm that he who meditates this Science narrates to himself this ideal eternal history so far as he himself makes it for himself by that proof ‘it had, has, and will have to be.’ For the first indubitable principle posited above is that this world of nations has certainly been made by men, and its guise must therefore be found within the modifications of our human mind. And history cannot be more certain when he who creates the things also narrates them. Now, as geometry, when it constructs the world of quantity out of its elements, or contemplates the world, is creating it for itself, just so does our Science create for itself the world of nations, but with a reality greater by just so much as the institutions having to do with human affairs are more real than points, lines, surfaces, and figures are. And this very fact is an argument, o reader, that these proofs are of a kind divine and should give thee a divine pleasure, since in God knowledge and creation are one and the same thing (SN, 349).”

The above quote makes it quite clear that the starting point of this unique approach to history cannot be the Cartesian thinking subject. Vico demonstrates that Descartes, whole intention was that of overcoming doubt and founding a sure system of reaching truth, ironically ends up with the position of Protagoras: “Man is the measure of all things.” However, given that Man is a partial being and not his own creator, given too that he doubts and his thought is a relative truth, the Cartesian criterion of truth proves to be inadequate. It is in effect a reduction of truth to the private, what Vico aptly calls “la boria dei dotti,” the arrogance of the learned, i.e., the production of truth in a closet independent of the real world out there. To the contrary, Vico insists that the above mentioned common ideal notions have become present in the human mind through the life of nations as “common sense of the people.” For him “common sense” is a consensus reached by a whole people without reflection and expressing itself in spontaneous wisdom or poetic wisdom. Homer’s poetry in the Iliad and the Odyssey was reached that way for those epics could not have been written by the same man. It sprang from the common sense and the poetic wisdom of the ancient Greeks before the onset of philosophical reflection. Such a notion is fundamental to a critical approach to problems of history, be they in religion, law, art, language, for truth is not something private to be pondered in a closet or an ivory tower for that matter. It is rather a public patrimony finding its natural dimension in the social life of man.

To briefly summarize Vico’s theory of knowledge we can say that history becomes science when Man orders and understands his deeds according to those eternal notions that Man (through the mediating operation of the intellect) finds in himself. The truth of history does not consist in mere facts produced by men, but also in the possibility that men have to recover the facts of history to the structure of their mind and to the eternal order that God reveals to the mind of men. As we shall see more thoroughly further down, in Vico philosophy and philology are completely integrated. While the human mind generates institutions such as language, laws, religions, poetry, myths, the civil world of tribes and nations, this production is not wholly autonomous. It operates under what Vico terms “the force of truth” immanent in the eternal notions present in the mind of man. This is providence at work. Of everything that Man may know, this is most authentically scientific.

Unfortunately the modern Cartesian positivistic mind-set has not yet fully come to terms with this Vichian new paradigm. The delusion persists that questions of meaning in history and civilization can be adequately answered with the technological know-how. Until that fallacy can be overcome, the danger of dehumanization and loss of freedom will continue to persist.

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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Europe

More Europeans will perish from energy crisis than Ukraine war death toll

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More people will perish in Europe this winter because of unaffordable household energy costs than those who have died on the battlefield in the Ukraine war, according to research by the British weekly newspaper The Economist.

Last week, the United Nations said the official civilian death toll from the Ukraine war has risen to nearly 6,900, with civilian injuries topping 10,000.

Whilst the death of military forces in Ukraine has been difficult to verify, the number of soldiers thought to have died in Ukraine is estimated at 25,000-30,000 for each side.

The Economist modeled the effect of the unprecedented hike in gas and electricity bills this winter and concluded that the current cost of energy will likely lead to an extra 147,000 deaths if it is a typical winter.

Should Europe experience a particularly harsh winter, which is something likely when considering the growing effects of climate change, that number could rise to 185,000. That is a rise of 6.0%. It also reports that a harsh winter could cost a total of 335,000 extra lives.

Even in the rare case of a mild winter, that figure would still be high with tens of thousands of extra deaths than in previous years. If it is a mild winter, research by The Economic indicates the death toll would be 79,000.

The Economist’s statistical model included all 27 European Union member countries along with the United Kingdom, Switzerland, and Norway.

It is anticipated that Governments across Western Europe would be alarmed and concerned by these shocking figures published by the study.

But it remains to be seen what measures these governments will take to prevent so many extra fatalities in their own countries because of the energy shortage.

The energy crisis itself began when Europe, which was heavily reliant on Russian gas, imposed heavy sanctions on Russian energy exports following Moscow’s war in Ukraine. Before the war, Russia supplied 40-50% of the EU’s natural-gas imports. One of Europe’s strongest economies, Germany for example, had become dependent on Moscow’s gas flows and had no Plan B.

The move clearly backfired on Western economies, with inflation reaching record levels not seen in decades, mainly as a result of the soaring energy prices. That has left pensioners and other poorer as well as middle-class income households facing a choice of putting food on the table this winter or heating their homes.

The study by The Economist says that despite European attempts to stockpile as much gas as possible to fill their storage facilities, many consumers are still being hurt by the rise in wholesale energy costs.

It adds that even as market prices for fuel have slightly declined from their peaks, the real average residential European gas and electricity costs are 144% and 78% above the figures for 2000-19.

As it is being hurt the most, Europe could take serious and concrete efforts to push both Kyiv and Moscow to the negotiating table and hold peace talks that would bring an end to the war.

That would ease a lot of problems facing the continent – and the world – from energy shortages to the global food supply chain disrupted by the war.

However, critics argue, this would backfire on many Western arms manufacturers who are making lucrative profits from their weapons shipments to the warzone.

There are many officials and other influential figures in the West, especially the U.S. congress (despite America not being included in a study by The Economist), who have links to arms manufacturers; which makes the possibility of peace somewhat unlikely.

While the United States has sent weapons to the tune of $40 billion dollars, European countries show no sign of opting for peace with the new British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, the latest to announce plans of maintaining or increasing military aid to Ukraine next year

The other course of action is for Western governments to ease the cost-of-living crisis by spending more on social welfare and hiking the tax rates for the rich.

This would save lives by allowing families to heat their homes but many Western governments are taking the opposite route, by claiming they need to cut spending in order to strengthen economic growth in the long run. 

As things stand, the new research by the Economist will add to the fears already facing families in Europe ahead of the winter season. The lower the temperatures will be in Western Europe, the more likely it will be that higher-than-usual death tolls are going to hit the continent. 

As The Economist notes, although heatwaves get more press coverage, cold temperatures are usually deadlier than hot ones. Between December and February, 21% more Europeans die per week than from June to August.

The report says that in the past, changes in energy prices had a minor effect on mortality rates in Europe. But this year’s hikes to household bills are remarkably large.

The Ukraine conflict has exposed other massive costs that have accompanied the violence. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development estimates that the world economy in 2023 will be US$2.8 trillion smaller than was estimated in December 2021, before the fighting erupted in February.

The British weekly newspaper, which built a statistical model to assess the effects of the sharp rise in energy prices, forecasts deaths based on weather, demography, influenza, energy efficiency, incomes, government spending, and electricity costs, which are closely correlated to prices for a wide variety of heating fuels.

It used data from 2000-19, (excluding 2020 and 2021 because of covid-19) and says the model was highly accurate, accounting for 90% of the variation in death rates.

High fuel prices can exacerbate the effect of low temperatures on deaths, by deterring people from using heat and raising their exposure to cold.

It says that with average weather, the study found a 10% rise in electricity prices is associated with a 0.6% increase in deaths, though this number is greater in cold weeks and smaller in mild ones.

In recent decades’ consumer energy prices have had only a modest impact on winter mortality, because energy prices have moved or swung back and forth in a regular rhythm.

In a typical European country, increasing fuel prices from their lowest level in 2000-19 reduce the temperature from the highest level in that period to the lowest which means colder weather increases the death rate by 12%.

The study cites the case of Italy, where electricity bills have surged to nearly 200% since 2020, extending the situation, which it said was a linear relationship that yields extremely high death estimates. It has been reported that the country will suffer the most extra deaths. The results show that Italy, which has an older population along with soaring higher electricity prices makes it the most vulnerable. 

Other countries such as Estonia and Finland are also expected to suffer from higher fatalities on a per-person basis. People in Britain and France will also be affected. The model for the effects of fatalities from high energy costs did not include Ukraine.

However, damage to the energy infrastructure in Ukraine as a result of the war, will also certainly have a dire humanitarian effect on Ukrainians as well.

Over the past weeks, many reports have emerged citing Europeans as saying they will be forced to switch the heating off because of the high fuel prices, essentially exacerbating the effect of cold temperatures on deaths by raising people’s exposure to low temperatures.

The most vulnerable people in Europe, the elderly and those living alone or on low pay to medium paychecks will pay the highest price: Death.

Tehran Times

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Significance of first EU-Bangladesh political dialogue

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Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen with Deputy Secretary General of the European External Action Service Enrique Mora. Photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bangladesh Oct. 2021

The European Union (EU) and Bangladesh held their first “political dialogue” on Thursday (November 24) in Dhaka to “elevate” their partnership by providing strategic direction and stepping up their cooperation on foreign and security policy.

Md. Shahriar Alam, state minister for foreign affairs of Bangladesh, leads the delegation there, while Enrique Mora, deputy secretary general of the European External Action Service (EEAS), represents the EU.

It was the first-ever political discussion in an effort to strengthen their ties at a time when Bangladesh’s influence is rising around the globe. All have an opportunity to discuss all sorts of political issues that they have shared concerns on.

When Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen and the Deputy Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS) met in Brussels in October 2021, the two parties decided to begin the political dialogue.

For the first time, a political dialogue between Bangladesh and the European Union (EU) has been held in the capital Dhaka which bears some significance message for Dhaka and Brussels both. Various issues were discussed in the dialogue. However, things like democracy, fundamental rights, rule of law and human rights have gained importance. Bangladesh and EU have pledged to work together on these issues.

Besides, both sides agreed to sign a Partnership Cooperation Agreement (PCA) in view of 50 years of relations between Bangladesh and the European Union. It is reported that the agreement will include issues such as connectivity, defense, cyber security framework and addressing the risks of climate change. And the basis of this new legal framework will be human rights.

There is no doubt that the economic and political alliance of 27 developed countries of Europe will bring benefits to Bangladesh in various fields if cooperative relations are developed with the European Union. Such relationships are also important in the current global context. So, we welcome this initiative. It has not yet been determined when the partnership agreement will be signed.

However, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam has expressed hope for its implementation in the context of 50 years of relations with the European Union. He said, ‘We have agreed to work on a partnership and cooperation agreement. It has a negotiation process. Taking into account the growing capacity, growth and journey of Bangladesh with the European Union, there is an opportunity to deepen and expand the relationship between the two sides.

One thing that has become clear through this dialogue is that the European Union’s interest in Bangladesh is gradually increasing. It was also understood in the speech of EU representative Enrique Mora at the end of the dialogue. He said, ‘We are reconsidering our relationship with Bangladesh for two reasons. One is the incredible growth and achievement of Bangladesh. That’s why we want to cooperate on various issues. The other is that we have important interests in the Indo-Pacific region. Our objective and strategy are to take a bigger position here. To achieve this goal, we want to increase the partnership with the countries of the region.

A country’s foreign policy is determined based on the country’s national interests. Just as the European Union has interests in strengthening relations with Bangladesh or countries in the region, Bangladesh also has interests in strengthening relations with the EU. Bangladesh’s policy makers have to adopt the strategy of how to make maximum use of this opportunity. There is an opportunity to expand the commercial relations of Bangladesh with the developed countries of Europe. Bangladesh needs the cooperation of those countries in the field of education, science and technology.

On issues like the Rohingya crisis, Bangladesh can expect the support of the EU in various international forums, including the United Nations. Bangladesh can also ask for special benefits for tourism in EU countries. Therefore, the potential of mutual cooperation created through the Bangladesh-EU dialogue, the sooner it becomes a reality, the better.

The EU recognized Bangladesh’s renewed national confidence and growth momentum and expressed interest in working with Bangladesh to address issues of mutual interest, including by emphasizing the Indo-Pacific.

The fields of collaboration between Bangladesh and the EU are growing, and both nations have a variety of international and bilateral interests. While convening the first-ever “political dialogue” between the two sides in this location, Bangladesh and the European Union (EU) indicated a strong desire to take their current relationships to the next level.

State minister Alam and EU representative Mora announced at a joint news conference that they have expressed a willingness to sign a “partnership cooperation agreement” to improve Bangladesh’s relationship with the EU. Alam stated at the briefing that “They (EU) do have such a pact with main economies of ASEAN.”

The state minister reported that during the meeting they also discussed finding a political solution through the repatriation of the displaced people from Bangladesh to Myanmar and examined the Rohingya situation from a security viewpoint.

Additionally, both parties discussed a number of topics of shared interest, such as security cooperation, free and fair Indo-pacific, the Ukraine crisis, food security, trade facilities, and the issue of continuing duty-free access for Bangladeshi goods to the market after Dhaka graduates from the LDC status. Charles Whiteley, the ambassador of the EU to Bangladesh, was also present.

The EU will also have a scheme for duty-free benefits called “GSP Plus. But EU puts some conditions. Bangladesh has made significant economic and social advancements in recent years. The most significant achievement Bangladesh might make in the next years will be leaving the LDC category. But the issue still stands: Will Bangladesh’s commerce sector be equipped to handle the challenges when it leaves the Least Developed Country (LDC) category in 2024? The most difficult part of the journey to seamless graduation appears to be losing privileged market access in many export destinations.

The largest buyer of Bangladeshi goods has historically been the European Union (EU), which accounts for 64% of all clothing exports and 58% of all exports overall. As a least developed country (LDC), Bangladesh has benefited from the finest Generalized Scheme of Preferences of the European Union programs with zero tariffs. One of the nations to make use of the EU’s preferred market access is Bangladesh. Therefore, following LDC graduation, Bangladesh must maintain its tariff preference in all significant markets, but especially in the EU market. The country’s exports would increase if favorable tariffs were used to maintain export competitiveness. As a result, there would be more manufacturing, more export revenue, more employment opportunities for women, and ultimately less poverty.

 Both parties should prioritize the issue. As Bangladesh is on the way of development, EU should support Bangladesh to be a developed country.  Bangladesh has been included in a new EU initiative named “Talent Partnership’.

Bangladeshi migrants are increasingly choosing to go to Europe, particularly to Italy, Greece, Spain, and Portugal. The EU insists on stopping unauthorized immigration, and both are working to do so.  Although there is still space for improvement, Bangladesh has achieved great strides in the area of labor, and the EU is pleased with it.

The EU has supported Bangladesh strongly on the Rohingya issue and this is discussed in the meeting. Bangladesh looks for financial aid for climate change adaptation as well as technology support for renewable energy. The discussion centers on the need for a free and open Indo-Pacific region and cooperation in counterterrorism initiatives.

After the loss of the duty-free and quota-free market access facility in the EU under the Everything but Arms (EBA) scheme in 2029, Bangladesh shall work to take advantage of the Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) facility of the European Union (EU).

Bangladesh is going to sit in political dialogue with the European Union (EU) for the first time. The deepening and broadening of relations with the EU and the current complex geopolitical context necessitate a political dialogue.

In addition to discussing bilateral relations, political discussions were held on the three issues discussed in the Bangladesh-EU Joint Commission meeting since 2001 namely development cooperation, trade and good governance and additional issues of human rights. The purpose of this political dialogue is to give a strategic direction so that the stakeholders understand what they have to do.

Security issues was discussed on a large scale in this forum. The security agenda covers terrorism, cyber security, peacekeeping, food and energy security, climate change, international crime and more.

The two sides discussed about creating and expanding the cooperation relationship on the issues between the two sides. The EU has already announced its Indo-Pacific Strategy. Bangladesh’s position on the Indo-Pacific is being worked on. Besides, there are various mechanisms of cooperation between the countries of this region. The region’s importance was greater than ever as the world’s center of power shifted towards Asia. Regional cooperation is very important to the EU and they want to know how Bangladesh is positioned in the region – that is normal. Enrique Mora also said that Bangladesh has become an important state with excellent economic progress.

More important for Bangladesh is Rohingya repatriation. On the other hand, the situation in Myanmar is normal for the EU. EU countries have been supporting the solution of the Rohingya crisis since its inception. But after the military seized power in February last year, restoring democracy in Myanmar became paramount to them and the Rohingya issue took a back seat. The two sides must highlight their respective positions and discuss how to work to resolve the issue. It is not the only issue of Bangladesh. Again, this is not a bilateral issue between Bangladesh and Myanmar. He said, this is an international problem. The international community should be concerned about this. EU IS putting pressure on Myanmar’s military authorities by suspending various types of sanctions and development aid, including arms. The EU reiterated its gratitude for the continued generous role and actions of the Government and people of Bangladesh to temporarily shelter more than 1.1 million Rohingya forcibly displaced from Myanmar for more than five years.

However, to ensure mutual advantage, EU and Bangladesh can cooperate in a variety of fields and approaches. This initial political discussion may open the door to further fortifying the bonds.

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European Parliament Declares Russia as Sponsor of Terrorism: Implications and Future Developments

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European Union’s relations with Russia has taken a different complicated turn, this time declaring Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism. What are the significance and implications the European parliament, arguing military strikes on Ukrainian civilian targets such as energy infrastructure, hospitals, schools and shelters, to classify and finally vote in favour of a resolution calling Russia a state sponsor of terrorism? Why should the European parliament take this decisive legislative step at all giving this status to Russia?

The European parliament at a plenary meeting in Strasbourg on November 23 declared Russia as “a state sponsor of terrorism” around the world. The resolution passed by 494 votes, while 58 deputies voted against and 44 abstained. The document brings a number of accusations against Russia. The bloc has already imposed a series of unprecedented sanctions on Russia over its special military operation in Ukraine which began February 24. European lawmakers, in a largely symbolic move, now voted for this measure against Russia.

The Yermak-McFaul sanctions group, in a special project for independent newspaper Ukrainska Pravda, pointed to six main consequences of the potential U.S. designation of the Russian Federation as a state sponsor of terrorism:

1. Symbolic: recognition of Russia as one of the main global perpetrators of atrocities and terror, which the country carries out against civilian populations.

2. Diplomatic: reduction of formal ties and joint programs between the U.S. and Russia, along with increased diplomatic isolation of Russia.

3. Sanctions and restrictions on transactions: it will be illegal for American individuals and legal entities to participate in financial transactions with the Russian government, Russian state-owned banks and enterprises, and persons connected with the Russian government.

4. Secondary sanctions against entities that are connected, for example, by transactions with Russia and its institutions. This means that the U.S. and its allies can impose sanctions (usually financial or trade) on any country that continues to cooperate with the Russian Federation, prompting other countries to avoid such cooperation.

5. Blacklisting of the Russian Federation by The Financial Action Task Force (FATF):unlike the partial disconnection of Russian banks from SWIFT, this step would affect the banking system of the Russian Federation in its entirety, rather than in selective parts (this would mean the blocking of correspondent accounts of Russian banks around the world, including in China).

6. Enabling judicial, executive, and other actions against Russia directly by voiding Russia’s sovereign immunity, thereby allowing the real possibility of bringing Russia to justice in the courts of other countries. Normally, a court of one country cannot issue judgements against another country. However, a state sponsor of terrorism designation creates an exception to sovereign immunity in U.S. courts.

There have been several media reports. As the BBC has noted, there have been other attempts to designate Russia as a “terrorist” state. In the spring of 2018, after an assassination attempt by the Russian special services on Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the UK, the ranking Democrat on the U.S. Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, Robert Menendez, called for this step against Moscow. In December 2019, the Committee supported a bill introduced by Republican Senator Cory Gardner to recognize Russia as a sponsor of terrorism.

Despite these calls, Russia has still never been included on this list. However, the savage and brutal full-scale war that the Kremlin is waging against Ukraine has repeatedly strengthened both Kyiv’s calls for this step and the grounds for it.

On May 12, 2022, members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Republican Joe Wilson and Democrat Ted Lieu introduced a bipartisan resolution proposing to recognize the Russian Federation as a state sponsor of terrorism.

“By designating Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism, the United States would be able to ban dual-use exports to Russia and take economic action against other countries that do business with Russia,” argued Rep. Lieu in a joint statement with his Republican colleague.

“What’s more, the U.S. could further inflict pain on Russia by freezing the country’s assets in the U.S., like real estate. We know that Russia provides sanctuary to a U.S.-designated terrorist group and has employed mercenaries with histories of human rights violations. A state sponsor of terrorism designation is a common-sense way to further aid Ukraine.”

They also recalled that in addition to war crimes in Ukraine and “the bloodbath that has already resulted in the death of unknown thousands of Ukrainian civilians and soldiers.”

“However, Russia’s involvement in international terrorism is more expansive and has been well documented for years, whether through direct attacks or orchestrated through private military networks and hired thugs. Their reign of terror must be stopped,” they urged.

In a recent article, the news magazine Foreign Policy analyzed why the hypothetical decision to recognize Russia as a sponsor of terrorism has drawn skepticism.

“U.S. officials and experts familiar with the matter describe a debate within the National Security Council and State Department on the merits of the move, with some officials arguing that a [state sponsor of terrorism] designation would send a powerful signal of support to Kyiv and others arguing that it wouldn’t have much of a practical impact, given that Russia already faces one of the strictest sanctions regimes in the world,” the publication reports.

On the other hand, other experts argue that the recognition of Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism would have a significant reputational effect. The move would increase pressure on the Kremlin and make virtually any relationship with Russia impossible for U.S. citizens, writes Politico. According to Atlantic Council sanctions expert Edward Fishman, “Labeling Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism would be significant because it’s a blanket measure… [It] brings risk to any relation-ship with Russia.”

He also added that a congressional mandate to grant the Russian Federation such a status would make any secondary sanctions against Russia “far more effective.”

In addition above, the Swiss daily Neue Zuercher Zeitung’s columnist wrote that “Emotionally, this decision can be understood, but it entails no legal consequences. Moreover, it is politically meaningless,” columnist Daniel Steinvorth believes. In his opinion, the resolution adopted “looks powerful”, but in reality, it is such “only verbally.”

The author draws attention to the fact that the decision of the parliament “is not binding” for either the European Commission or the countries of the European Union. The European deputies’ demand for reducing official contacts with Russia to an “absolute minimum” has been “met long ago,” taking into account the expulsion of Russian diplomats from the EU countries after the start of a special military operation in Ukraine, the columnist noted.

Steinvorth recalls that the United States, unlike the EU, does not consider Russia a sponsor of terrorism, because it is well aware that “at some point the West will inevitably have to sit down again at the negotiating table with Russia,” while “terrorists are not to be negotiated with.” Strasbourg “prefers not want to wait for this moment and hurries to attach labels instead,” the observer laments.

On the other hand the widely circulated daily Russian newspapers have, during the week, attempted to offer some analysis behind the European parliament’s move to brand Russia a ‘state sponsor of terrorism’ for its actions in Ukraine and interviewed for views from so many political experts. For example Izvestia

“This decision cannot have any legal consequences, because the European Parliament does not have any appropriate prerogatives. However, there are political implications, and the resolution may propel this issue legally,” Associate Professor of the Department of Integration Processes at MGIMO Alexander Tevdoy-Burmuli told Izvestia. The expert said the EU could later make decisions to facilitate the recognition of a third country as “a sponsor of terrorism”.

Director of the Center for European Information, Associate Professor at MGIMO Nikolay Topornin doubts the EU will soon be able to tweak its legislation for that. “This resolution would rather attract the attention of Africa, Asia, the Middle East and other regions,” he told Izvestia. And Tevdoy-Burmuli did not rule out that the EP could use this resolution to try and deprive Russia of its say at the United Nations Security Council, even though the procedure of stripping a permanent member of its right to veto is not envisaged in the organization’s documents.

What’s more, the resolution came as no surprise for Moscow. According to First Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council Committee on Foreign Affairs Vladimir Dzhabarov, the European parliament is no longer playing a decisive role, and all it has been doing of late is inciting enmity between nations. The senator suggested Russia, in its turn, should approve a document recognizing all NATO countries as “sponsors of terrorism” for the massacre of civilians in Yugoslavia, Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The European parliament at a plenary meeting in Strasbourg on November 23 declared Russia as “a state sponsor of terrorism” around the world. The resolution passed by 494 votes, while 58 deputies voted against and 44 abstained. The document brings a number of accusations against Russia. The European parliament further asked the Council of the European Union to broaden the list of sanctioned persons and called on “all EU candidate countries and potential candidates to align with the EU’s sanctions policy.”

The European parliament “calls on the Commission to come forward with a legislative proposal to amend the current EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime […] by extending its scope to include acts of corruption, to swiftly adopt targeted sanctions against individuals responsible for high-level corruption in Russia and Belarus, as well as their EU-based enablers and beneficiaries,” the resolution says.

It “asks the Commission and the Member States to consider possible measures against countries that try to help Russia circumvent the sanctions imposed; urges the Commission to ensure that national penalties for breaching EU sanctions are effective, proportionate and dissuasive.”

“European Parliament members have given the member states an idea of developing a European Union’s legal framework ‘for the designation of states as sponsors of terrorism and states which use means of terrorism’ and called on European capitals to put Russia on this blacklist so that no one has any doubt which state they mean. The absurdity of this idea is evident to all but European Parliament members who supported it,” the mission wrote on its Telegram channel.

According to the mission, “the task set by the European Parliament is simple – to whip up confrontation with Russia by all possible means.” It is being done at the expense of the wellbeing of people who are faced with the adverse impacts of the anti-Russian sanctions, it added. Brussels has is a framework definition of terrorism and a list of terrorist organizations, and the resolution will not have any judicial consequences for Russia. Although resolutions are not legally bunding and are recommendatory, they are widely used in the EU media and political environment to promote and disseminate specific political positions.

In addition, European deputies recommend “an immediate and full embargo on EU imports of Russian fossil fuels and uranium, and for the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines to be completely abandoned.”

Earlier, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly published a resolution, which recommends that Russia be designated “a terrorist regime.” A similar resolution was adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in October. The European Parliament resolution adopted is an advisory recommendation for consideration by the European Commission and the Council of the European Union.

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