A Common Populism: Trump, Le Pen and Putin: Do they Portent the Beginning of the End for the EU?
“The Brussels wall will have come down just like the Berlin wall came down. The EU, this oppressive model, will have disappeared. But the Europe of free nations will have been born… The EU should not last more than two minutes longer.” –Marine Le Pen
Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s far right National Front, seems poised to become the next President of France in 2018. Political pundits are predicting her victory following Donald Trump’s victory in the US. They aver that Trump’s populism has paved the way for a veritable political revolution in Europe which portends to reshape the existing world order.
How so? Well, for one thing, Le Pen wants the EU to withdraw from NATO, alleging that it would end American dominance in Europe. She repeats Trump’s assertion that NATO is now obsolete, and has in fact declared publicly that Trump’s victory makes such a feat quite possible now. To her way of thinking, NATO is a “tool for making sure countries that are part of it comply with the will of the United States.” She finds this unbearable. What would she substitute it with? She has some interesting proposals in this regard. She has called for “cooperation agreements” with Russia with close cooperation between European capitals and Moscow. In other words, Washington gets substituted with Moscow. She claims that there is “absolutely no reason we should turn systematically to the United States.”
This may sound a bit incoherent. She sees Trump’s victory as an additional stone in the building of a new world order but at the same time wants the EU to take its distance from the US. How does Le Pen square this circle? Thus: “Obviously we have to compare this victory [Trump’s] with the rejection of the European constitution by the French people, of course, with the Brexit vote, but also with the emergence of movements devoted to the nation—patriotic movements in Europe. All these elections are essentially referendums against the unfettered globalization that has been imposed upon us, that has been imposed upon people, and today has been clearly shown to have its limits.” That is to say, she sees Trump’s victory as a “victory of the people against the elite.” This of course is populism at its best, or perhaps its worst.
What is most intriguing about the above glaring statements is that they seem to reveal a mind-set quite similar to that displayed by Trump and Putin. All three seems to have quite a few affinities and seem to like each other. The major affinity seems to be this: they see the political struggles currently going on as struggles of civilizations against each other. Le Pen is on record as saying that next year’s presidential election in France would “establish some real choices of civilization.” She made such a statement in the context of a lashing out against the EU and its immigrant policies based on open borders. She added: “Do we want a multicultural society, following the model of the English-speaking world, where fundamentalist Islam is progressing…or do we want an independent nation, with people able to control their own destiny, or do we accept to be a region, managed by the technocrats of the European Union?”
She has gone as far as comparing the European Union to the Soviet Union: “I don’t see why we should recreate, virtually, this wall between European countries and Russia, unless to obey the orders of the United States, which up until now, have found an interest in this.” She has moreover blamed the EU and the US for destabilizing Europe’s relations with Russia, and has claimed that there is not “a hair’s breath” between her party and the UKIP regarding immigration and the European Union. Keep well in mind that Russia is currently footing the bill for her campaign expenses.
What can one conclude from the above analysis? It could prove useful in answering this crucial question: is this the beginning of the end of the world order established after World War II with its culmination the formation of the European Union and the NATO Alliance? To put it another way: is this the beginning of the breakdown of European stability? Let’s attempt an answer beginning with some historical background in a rather personal mode.
Back in the 50s, when I was a teen-ager, still living in Italy, when the EU institutions were still fragile, I remember writing an essay launched by the lyceum I was attending at the time, where I opined that I was rather skeptcal that the Western Alliance and the European Union would ever take off. In the 70s I was living and studying in the US (where my father was born) and lived through the Vietnam War and read the news about the Red Brigades, and began having doubts again about the survival of the West. I was then in college and was reading books like “The Decline of the West” by Oswald Spengler. That might have influenced me. But in all my adult life I am hard pressed to remember a dramatic moment such as the one we are now witnessing. All we need now is for good men to do nothing and the decline and possible destruction of the West is pretty much assured.
I hope I am wrong, but, following Trump’s inauguration on January 20, 2017, with a President, so called, totally uninterested in “shared values” with our allies (“not worth American lives” as he puts it), seeming to prefer the company of dictators such as Putin with whom he can make deals, to that of democratic allies, deeming the geo-political world as a huge transactional stage to be exploited on which to negotiate deals, incapable of conceiving the greater good, it would appear that we are two or three bad elections away from the end of NATO, the end of the European Union, and possibly the end of the liberal world order. The almost inevitable consequence will be the return of nefarious ultra-nationalism and fascism in Europe and the loss of democracy in America. Putin and his Trojan horses all over Europe are waiting in the wing. Their strategy is simple: divide and conquer.
To repeat the urgent question: are the lights going out; is it the end of the West as we presently know it?
What I call “the Caligua Presidency” constituted by political entertainment and double talk, has begun, people unfortunately end up getting the government they deserve and the monsters they have created. The omens are bad, but let’s not forget Le Pen. She is now the front runner in next year’s French presidential elections and she also finds alliances burdensome. Some of her campaign commitments are that she will withdraw from both NATO and the EU, will nationalize French companies, will restrict foreign investors, will promote a special relationship with Russia, the same Russia whose banks are funding her election campaign.
The question persists: is Le Pen at least partially right in considering what is going on a civilizational breakdown? More specifically: once France is out of the EU too (after Brexit), possibly followed by other copycats, can Europe’s economic single market survive in any shape or form? Will NATO and the Atlantic Alliance crumble? Trump of course will not be sorry for that, as his misguidedly appealing rhetoric to his misguided followers has made clear; indeed, the short term cost of alliances is easier to see and assess than the longer-term benefits. Let’s not forget that his span of attention is that of the time needed to write a tweet.
There is little doubt that shared economic space, nuclear deterrence via the NATO alliance, and standing armies, while being costly short term, produced more than half a century of political stability and prosperity in Europe and North America. We all take those benefits for granted now, until they are gone for good.
Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.
New offensive on Republika Srpska is coming
If there is a country in Europe that is in constant crisis, it is Bosnia and Herzegovina. This is precisely why most analysts call Bosnia and Herzegovina an impossible state. It is important to note that Bosnia and Herzegovina is a complex country made up of two parts: the Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (where the absolute majority are Bosniaks and Croats).
Recently, two US Air Force “B-1B” bombers made a low flight over Bosnia and Herzegovina, flying over several cities. After the overflight of American bombers, the US embassy in Sarajevo announced that bomber overflight is a sign of the US’s permanent commitment to the sovereignty, territorial integrity and multi-ethnic character of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
– We are celebrating the lasting bond between the USA and BiH. The flight demonstrates our commitment to building strong bilateral relations and is proof of our common values and goals. Through cooperation and understanding, we are building a path to a future of peace, security and prosperity in the region – announced General James Hecker, member of the US Air Force and commander of American air bases in Europe, air forces in Africa and the NATO Joint Air Command.
The B-1B aircraft is a long-range heavy bomber that can carry the largest conventional load of guided and unguided missiles of any aircraft in aviation.
It is stated that these aircraft are able to quickly drop huge amounts of precision and non-precision weapons against any enemy, anywhere in the world, at any time.
However, no sovereign authority in Bosnia and Herzegovina – the Presidency and the Council of Ministers – has made a decision on the overflight of American bombers over Bosnia and Herzegovina. Specifically, it was done without the consent of the legitimate representatives of the Serbs in the institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina. With this act, official Washington violated the sovereignty of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The question arises, why are US bombers now flying over Bosnia and Herzegovina and who are they sending a message to? But the answer to that question is simple. The only ones who were bombed by American bombers in the Balkans were the Serbs. Also, only the Serbs protested against the overflight of the American bombers, because they have bitter memories of the American weapons that were used to kill Serbian soldiers and civilians in the Balkans in the 1990s.
Also, due to frequent crises in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the political leader of the Serbs in that country, Milorad Dodik, often talks about a referendum for the independence of the Republika Srpska. And while no one disputes this right with Scotland, as well to other countries in Europe in the past years(like Montenegro), Republika Srpska is threatened with war. Not only from Bosnian radical politicians, but also from American diplomats. To make matters worse, at the same time official Washington created and recognized an independent Kosovo through war. Even today, the main protector and financier of independent Kosovo is US.
It is the hypocrisy of official Washington towards Kosovo that creates additional anger in Republika Srpska. Because, we must not forget, Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina experienced the Holocaust at the hands of Croats and Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) during the Second World War. Precisely the genocide that the Serbs experienced in the Second World War is the reason why the Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the breakup of Yugoslavia clearly said that they do not want an independent Bosnia in which those who mercilessly killed them during the Second World War will have the main say. But that they want to live with their mother country Serbia.
The Serbs from Bosnia expected that, just as the Jews got their own state, they too would have the opportunity to decide where they would live. Unfortunately, part of the international community had other plans. The artificial state of Bosnia and Herzegovina was forcibly created, and since the Croats do not want Bosnia in addition to the Serbs, a de facto colonial administration was appointed in Bosnia. It is reflected in the character of the Office of the High Representative. Namely, in the nineties, when US was the only superpower in the world, Washington lobbied to introduce the position of High Representative in Bosnia. He was given dictatorial powers, so the democratic will of the people in Bosnia is valid only if the High Representative agrees with it. Plus, the High Representative could remove politicians, fire them from their jobs, in short, make life hell for anyone who opposes him. Due to all of the above, and bearing in mind that the position of the High Representative was expected to last for a short time, rebellions by local Serbs and Croats, as well as part of the international community, soon occurred. Many respected Western organizations that deal with the protection of human rights have been pointing out for years that the office of the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina must be abolished, because it contradicts democracy and has the characteristics of a dictatorship.
However, the current High Representative, Christian Schmidt was illegitimately elected to that position because he was not appointed to that position by the United Nations Security Council. That is why the Republika Srpska has clearly said that it does not recognize Mr. Christian Schmidt as the High Representative. However, US diplomats in Bosnia don’t accept that decision of Republika Srpska, which is why a new crisis is being created in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Since the Republika Srpska, in accordance with international law, refuses to implement the undemocratic decisions of the High Representative, part of the international community led by Washington plans to implement a new law that obliges everyone to comply with the decisions of the High Representative. And that is exactly why the American bombers flew over Bosnia and Herzegovina, to send a message to the Republika Srpska that it must listen, otherwise they can be punished as they were in the 1990s.
Another big problem is the issue of state property in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Namely, according to the Dayton Peace Agreement, which ended the war and created today’s Bosnia and Herzegovina, all property belongs to the entities, except for property that is decisively stated to be state property.
Even if international law is on the side of Republika Srpska, on this issue as well, the US ambassador in Bosnia and Herzegovina, contrary to diplomatic practice, announced his position in the form of an order.
Speaking about the claims from the Republika Srpska that there is no state property and that it belongs to the entities, Murphy stated that this is completely wrong.
– It is a legal fiction. No matter how many times the Republika Srpska authorities claim the opposite, it does not change the fundamental facts, said Murphy and added that the issue of property is resolved at the state level and that the state must say what property it needs, such as prospective military property.
– If there is property that is not needed, you do not have to keep it and the state can transfer it to another owner: municipality, canton, and even entity.
The question arises, where does a foreign ambassador have the right to interfere in the internal affairs of a sovereign state and to determine what has been resolved and what has not?! However, all of the above indicates that a new serious offensive is heading towards Republika Srpska.
Political neutralization of Milorad Dodik
Republika Srpska, bearing in mind that international law is on its side (Dayton Peace Agreement), must not accept to have her property taken away, under no circumstances. Also, the Office of the High Representative is a relic of the past and is not in accordance with international law, so Republika Srpska is doing the right thing by not recognizing the newly appointed High Representative. This policy of the President of the Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik, has shown that even small entities/states, if they have strong leaders like Mr. Dodik, can lead an independent and beneficial policy for their people.
However, precisely because of the patriotic policy of Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik, part of the international community is trying to remove him from power. First of all through accusations of corruption and on top of that with colored revolutions. Despite speculation that NATO soldiers could arrest Mr. Dodik, this is not realistic. But what is realistic is that the State Prosecutor’s Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina issues an arrest warrant and that NATO special units assist in the execution of that act.
There is already intelligence that such plans are being prepared. Due to all of the above, the President of Republika Srpska and the Government of Republika Srpska must approach this issue seriously. First of all, through increasing the number of members of the special police units of the Republika Srpska in Banja Luka and through the mobilization of the people of the Republika Srpska. It is necessary to make it clear to part of the international community that if the political persecution and arrest of Milorad Dodik were to take place, the people of the Republika Srpska would rise to the defense of their democratically elected president through mass protests and demands for the independence of the Republika Srpska. Only these two factors can stop the political neutralization plan for Milorad Dodik, which is already formulated in Sarajevo.
Sweden’s NATO Predicament and the Nations whose Destinies Connected
Exploring the Historical Bonds of Sweden, Poland, and Turkey
The Swedish monarch, Charles XII, exuded pride and arrogance as he led his formidable army towards Moscow, still in his twenties. He believed his forces to be invincible, drawing comparisons between himself and his soldiers to the legendary Leonidas and his valiant 300 Spartans. Several factors contributed to the young king’s unwavering confidence on the path to Moscow.
A mere few years prior, in 1700, a powerful coalition comprising Denmark-Norway, Saxony-Poland-Lithuania, and Russia had launched a coordinated assault on the Swedish protectorate of Holstein-Gottorp, as well as the provinces of Livonia and Ingria. Undeterred by the overwhelming presence of enemy armies, Charles XII triumphed in successive sieges, vanquishing his adversaries one by one. Following the Battle of Narva, even the formidable Tsar Peter the Great of Russia sought terms of agreement, but Charles XII disregarded these pleas. By the time they arrived at the gates of Moscow, the Swedish army had emerged victorious against foes two or even three times their own size, bolstering the commander’s sense of invincibility, akin to the great conquerors of the past like Leonidas or Alexander the Great. However, the seemingly indomitable Charles XII committed the same error as dreamy conquerors such as Napoleon and Hitler before him: underestimating the challenges posed by the vast Russian steppes. The army of Charles XII suffered a devastating defeat, compelling the young monarch to seek refuge in Ottoman territories, accompanied by a mere thousand men.
The Swedish king and his men remained guests in the Ottoman Empire, which is today Ukrainian territory, for more than 5 years. The Ottomans treated Charles like a king and cherished him, and he and his Polish and Ukrainian entourage were generously borne. Turkish Sultan Ahmed III was aware of the importance of Sweden for Ottoman security. The King, who could not return to his country, hoped to defeat Russia through an alliance with Poland and Ottoman Turks. The presence of the Swedish King in the Ottoman Empire also strained Turkish-Russian relations and eventually brought them to the brink of war. The most important reason for the Ottoman-Russian Prut War (1710-11) was the Turks’ refusal to surrender Charles XII to the Russians.
Nations whose Destinies Connected
If one were to ask residents of Istanbul about the location of Sweden or Poland today, they might draw a blank. In the minds of modern Turks, these countries no longer hold strong alliances or close ties. Similar sentiments can be found on the streets of Stockholm or Warsaw. Relations between Turkey, Sweden, and Poland have weakened and even become uncertain since the days of the Ottoman Empire. However, during the Ottoman era, particularly in the 16th-18th centuries, the sultans in Istanbul viewed Sweden and Poland as crucial counterbalances against Russia in Eastern Europe, and they prioritized these relationships.
For the Ottomans, it was advantageous that Russia was engaged in a conflict with Sweden in the north, as it alleviated pressure on the Ottoman Empire. Ottoman wars with Russia also presented an opportunity for the Swedish Kingdom to launch attacks against Russia. In line with Ottoman foreign policy, the corridor spanning from the Ottoman Empire to the Baltic Sea, encompassing Ukraine, Poland, the Baltic states, and the Kingdom of Sweden, was considered a unified entity and treated as such. Presently, the prevailing method of interpreting maps primarily revolves around an east-west orientation, neglecting the various other facets of geography. Restricting the analysis of Russia’s perception of Eastern Europe solely to the East-West dimension would be highly deceptive. When examining the map from the vantage points of influential decision makers or political scientists situated in Istanbul or Stockholm, it is crucial for them to perceive a comprehensive geographical corridor extending harmoniously from Sweden to Anatolia. This broader perspective is essential in formulating appropriate policies aligned with the geographical realities at hand. While it can be acknowledged that Ottoman efforts were insufficient, their approach to map interpretation holds validity, and a comparable perspective remains relevant in contemporary times.
Growing Russia Shrinking Nations
The Russian threat necessitated cooperation and coordination among Sweden, Poland, and the Ottoman Empire. Since the time of Peter the Great, Russia’s objective had been to expand its reach to the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea, which inevitably led to westward and southward offensives by Russian armies. The ongoing conflict in Ukraine draws its origins from these historical objectives as well: Russia seeks to establish a lasting and greater presence in the Black Sea region and gain access to war seas.
Over the centuries, Moscow (Russia), a relatively insignificant principality in the 15th century, rapidly expanded at the expense of three states: the Ottomans, the Kingdom of Sweden, and Poland. As Russia grew stronger, these three states gradually declined. By the end of the 18th century, Poland lost its independence and disintegrated, while the Swedish Empire diminished to the status of an ordinary state. Although the Ottoman Empire persisted until the 20th century, numerous Russian attacks eventually contributed to its collapse.
History, known for its repetition, serves as the best teacher of world politics. Hence, learning from the past is a paramount virtue for adept statesmen. Following the Ukrainian War, “old history” resurfaced in Eastern Europe, prompting regional states to seek reliable havens in anticipation of a potential Russian assault. Even Finland and Sweden, traditionally regarded as the world’s most pacifist states, found themselves lining up for NATO membership during the Cold War years. Countries under the NATO security umbrella, such as Poland and Turkey, experienced some degree of reassurance.
NATO members, particularly the United States, warmly embraced the applications of Sweden and Finland to join the alliance. However, Ankara surprisingly vetoed both applications, citing national interest. The Turkish government argued that these two states harbored anti-Turkey sentiments and terrorist groups within their borders. At least, these were the explicit reasons given. Finland managed to persuade Turkey within a year and became the fastest member state after applying to NATO. However, Turkey’s veto on Sweden’s membership still remains in effect. Sweden even made constitutional amendments in an effort to sway Turkey. While Sweden’s desire to join NATO can be understood from various perspectives, Turkey’s expectations from Sweden, as well as the key NATO member, the United States, appear more intricate.
The timing of Sweden’s accession as the 32nd NATO member remains uncertain, but statesmen should draw lessons from history. The realities faced by Poland, Sweden, and the Ottoman Empire still hold relevance in today’s international relations. Setting aside current crises, the relationships between Poland, Sweden, and Turkey fall short of their potential. These countries must strive for closer and more coordinated cooperation to maintain peace and stability in Eastern Europe while safeguarding their vital and existential interests. Furthermore, this cooperation should not solely be based on hostility towards any specific state, but rather on deterring hostilities altogether. (*)
(*) For Turkish-Polish relations also see: Laçiner, Sedat, et al., Turkish-Polish Relations: Past, Present and Future, (Ankara: ÇOMÜ Press, 2015).
Sino-European Relations Souring as Russia-Ukrainian War Intensifies
Since the establishment of Sino–European relations in 1975, there have been significant changes toward building a China-driven agenda in the past 15 months. These changes are intrinsically related to China’s rise, which diverted the EU-American international protagonism.
While there is no common ground among EU members on how to counterbalance the dependence on trading with the second-largest economy in the world, the G7 Summit imparted to the collective endeavors of the largest economies to ‘de-risk’ from China. The EUA, Canada, the UK, and Japan have joined the club.
The Russo-Ukrainian War Context
In March 2019, the European Union adopted a two-folded stance on its relationship with China, defining it as competition cooperation. This dualism underlines the need to understand how to play politics the Chinese way. Since then, the EU has sought to adopt a more assertive tactic, and the ‘systemic rival’ approach has thus prevailed. Besides, the recent Russia-Ukrainian war has contributed much to this decision. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen recently stated, “How China continues to interact with Putin’s war will be a determining factor for EU-China relations going forward.”
China’s close ties with Russia have been around for a while. Their connections in the global arena intensified to counterbalance the American world leadership. Sino-Russian relations were built through symmetric ideological concepts, where the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is still rooted in the Marxism-Lenist ideology.
China’s foreign affairs are based on non-interventionism principles, but its alignment with Putin has been questioned instead as support to the current war that possibly includes military intelligence and economic aid to Russia. China’s abstention from voting on the resolution that condemned Russia’s latest actions in Ukraine in October 2002 and the recent visit of Xi Jinping to Moscow days after the international criminal court issued an arrest warrant for President Putin contributed to the EU to build the narrative that China does support Russia’s point of view and justifications to the war.
The EU strongly condemned Xi’s trip, voicing worries about China’s role in the war and power balance in its relations with Russia, which now favors China. In late March, Von der Leyen delivered a speech on EU-China relations to the Mercator Institute for China Studies and the European Policy Centre, stating, “President Xi is maintaining his ‘no-limits friendship’ with Putin.”
As Xi voiced “peace talks” and “responsible dialogue” over the war, a joint statement with his Russian counterpart raised the flag of a possible siding with Russia. The joint statement contained criticisms of sanctions and the contributions of NATO in expanding the conflict.
China’s possible role in a peaceful negotiation is unlike the one adopted to break a deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which ended decades of elusive diplomatic relations. The reason is simple: its close ties with Russia.
The Economic Context
In the G7 summit in Hiroshima last week, the largest global economies voiced ‘de-risking’ China against possible economic coercion in various areas involving trade, technologies and intellectual property, and supply chain.
Apart from the Sino-American trade war and the reliance on trading in China – the EU recorded a trade deficit of more than 365 billion euros with China in 2022 – at least two other concerns have debuted on the discussion agenda: the country’s rare earth metals control and responsibility in cyberspace.
To counterbalance China’s new status quo on the global stage, the G7 announced the launch of the Partnership for Global Infrastructure Investment. The total of $600 billion in financing for quality infrastructure is a clear threat to the Belt and Road initiative, but it is unlike that it will pose any danger to China-led investment activities.
The Taiwan Context
The expansion of Chinese influence in the South China Sea has also become a prominent topic at the G7 summit. The G7 Foreign Ministers released a joint statement against China’s latest military activities near Taiwan, condemning economic coercion and urging peaceful talks.
Taiwan is perhaps China’s most irrevocable negotiation topic in foreign relations as the “One China” policy emphasizes the recognition of the island as an integral part of its territory instead of a separate sovereign state. This policy is the central pillar of bilateral diplomatic relations with China.
The complex dynamics shaping countries’ perceptions and interactions with China have shifted Europe’s future standpoint, leaning towards a more assertive approach. As Europe redefines its relationship with China, the balance between reciprocity and market access, and strategic cooperation in climate change will shape the continent’s strategy moving forward. In any event, Europe’s future relations on China promises to be more stick, less carrot.
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