[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] E [/yt_dropcap]mmanuel Macron was elected president of France on May 07 with a business-friendly vision of European integration, defeating Marine Le Pen, a far-right nationalist who threatened to take France out of the European Union (EU) to be the second European nation to be out of EU by following Brexit.
The 39-year-old former investment banker, who served for two years as economy minister but has never previously held elected office, will now become France’s youngest leader since Napoleon with a promise to transcend outdated left-right divisions. The projections, issued within minutes of polling stations closing at 8 p.m showed Macron beating Le Pen by around 65% to 35 – a gap wider than the 20 or so percentage points that pre-election surveys had pointed to.
Macron, the 48-year-old’s share of the vote was set to be almost twice that won by her father Jean-Marie, the last National Front candidate to qualify for a presidential runoff, who was trounced by Jacques Chirac in 2002.
Against mainstream politics
Emmanuel Macron is a former investment banker who has won Presidency and for the first time will hold an elected office. Running as an independent, Macron formed the “En Marche Party” after serving as economics minister under French President Francois Hollande. He has described himself as “pro European Union and pro immigrant.”
Macron describes himself as being pro European Union. In his political rallies, Macron encourages supporters to wave both the French tricolor and the European Union flags. One commentator remarked: “He is the man Europe wants”.
So much so that European commission president Jean-Claude Juncker broke protocol of staying neutral and publicly congratulated Macron for winning the first round against Marine Le Pen. A commission spokesman later clarified that according to the EU, the decision facing the French electorate “was a fundamental one”, between Macron, who represents pro-Europe values, and Le Pen, who “seeks its destruction”.
Macron was expected to be propelled to power an estimated 8.25 million voters switching their allegiance from also-rans Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Benoit Hamon and Francois Fillon. The centrist candidate won 23.9 per cent of the first round of voting and looks set to win 60 per cent of the final round on May 7. Marine Le Pen came second in the initial vote with 21.4 per cent, and is predicted to score 40 per cent in the second round.
When the race to win the French presidential election has entered its final days and first round with Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen both vying to win over it wasn’t quite clear whom the electorate as voters wanted to choose. The two candidates face off in the second round on May 7, where Macron is widely tipped to become the president of France – he would take 65 per cent of the vote in a second-round run-off against Le Pen.
People have lost trust in the existing mainstream parties. It was expected that Macron – a centrist – should be able to attract a wider spectrum of second-round voters than Le Pen, pulling in left-leaning voters from Hamon and Mélenchon as well as those leaning to the right that voted Fillon in the first round.
Marine Le Pen
Ms Le Pen is the outsider with odds of 13/2, however most bets have been placed on the far-right candidate. Le Pen’s high-spending, anti-globalization ‘France-first’ policies may have unnerved financial markets but they appealed to many poorer members of society against a background of high unemployment, social tensions and security concerns.
The market for the Next President naturally exploded into life on polling day and with the race narrowed down to the last two there is still plenty of bets coming in. Macron had a very clear lead over Le Pen once votes were counted and he was trading as the strong odds-on favourite with an 88% chance of winning. Despite this fact, Le Pen accounted for 70% of bets placed since the first round but remains trading at 13/2, so the bets being placed on her are likely to be small punts from bettors expecting the type of last minute upset world has become accustomed to in recent politics.
Marine Le Pen performed much better this time as she achieved her highest vote shares in the North East of France when she failed to make the second round in 2012. It was no different this time around with there being a clear East-West divide in the way that the country voted. Le Pen attracted her highest vote share in the department of Aisne, to the North East of Paris. More than one in three votes went to the Front National leader in Aisne – double the number that went to Macron.
However, support for Le Pen within Paris was conspicuous by its absence. Fewer than one in 20 voters cast their ballots for the far-right leader. This is a lower proportion than who did so in 2012. Three days on from a terror attack in the capital that claimed the life of a police officer, it makes Paris one of just four areas of the country where Front National support fell compared to 2012. Macron scooped up 34.8 per cent of the vote in Paris, his strongest area of support.
Aside from in Paris, though, Macron’s vote share tended to be higher in the North western areas of France; areas like Ille et Vilaine and Finistere in Brittany.
Ms Le Pen has announced that she is temporarily stepping aside as the National Front leader in a last-ditch attempt to win voters on a non-partisan platform. “This evening, I am no longer the president of the National Front. I am the candidate for the French presidency,” she said.
Candidates support Macron
Immediately after the first round of voting, Fillon and Hamon urged supporters to back Macron in order to prevent a Le Pen presidency. Fillon, once the favourite to win the election, said in his concession speech: “The National Front has a history of violence and it would bankrupt France, especially by plunging us into EU chaos and taking us out of the Euro,” he said. “Extremism can only give rise to division within France and so I urge you to vote against extremism.”I will vote for Emmanuel Macron, it’s my duty.”
A massive 72 per cent (1.65m) of his supporters now said they will back Macron, with just two per cent (45,000) switching to Ms Le Pen and 26 per cent (595,000) abstaining. Jean-Luc Mélenchon stopped short of endorsing Macron, but has launched a poll of his supporters.
Forty-three per cent of Fillon voters (3.1m) switched plan to vote for Macron, with 31 per cent (2.23m) supporting Ms Le Pen and 26 per cent (1.87m) abstaining. Hamon echoed his words, calling the National Front “an enemy of France”.
Macron the consensual candidate
The second round is important as the top two candidates fight the final results. The top two candidates Macron and Marine faced off in a second run-off on May 7. Of the nine elections since the first direct presidential election in the Fifth Republic in 1965, three have seen the winner of the first round lose out in the second. This led to the elections of Valéry Giscard d’Estaing in 1974, François Mitterrand in 1981 and Jacques Chirac in 1995.
The consultation was sent to 450,000 registered supporters, and says: None of us will vote for the far-right. Half of Mélenchon voters polled by PrésiTrack plan to vote for Macron, which translates to 3.5 million extra votes. Another 18 per cent (1.27m) are set to back Ms Le Pen and 32 per cent (2.2m) plan to abstain.
When asked who they thought will be elected as president, 80 per cent said Macron with just 16 per cent backing Ms Le Pen. When asked who they would like to see elected, 59 per cent said Macron and 33 per cent said Ms Le Pen.
Macron has vowed that he would be “a president of all the people of France”. In recent days his campaign has been overshadowed by fresh attention of his marriage to Brigitte Trogneaux – his former high-school teacher who is 24 years his senior.
Macron has been the bookies’ favourite to become president, with the last average of the polls before the election showing him considerably ahead of Le Pen. For those who have lost faith in political polling, asking people who are prepared to put their money where their mouth is the best way to predict elections.
Emmanuel Macron ‘s emphatic victory, which also smashed the dominance of France’s mainstream parties, will bring huge relief to European allies who had feared another populist upheaval to follow Britain’s vote to quit the EU and Donald Trump’s election as US president.
Macron will be sworn into office as the French president. It was a record performance for the National Front, a party whose anti-immigrant policies until recently made it a pariah in French politics, and underlined the scale of the divisions that Emmanuel Macron must try to heal.
Macron’s immediate challenge will be to secure a majority in next month’s parliamentary election for En Marche! (Onwards!), his political movement that is barely a year old, in order to implement his program. However, at least one opinion poll published in the run-up to the second round has indicated that this could be within reach.
After Brexit, the election of Donald Trump and the 2015 General Election, many now believe that political betting markets can better predict elections, relying on the wisdom of a crowd of punters to sort and weigh all the probabilities.
Macron is determined to implements “reforms” into the European Union, which would include having a common budget, finance minister, working together on defence and perhaps the biggest project: strengthening the Euro. “The euro is a weak deutsche mark,” Macron has said. “The status quo is synonymous, in 10 years’ time, with the dismantling of the euro.” “The truth is that we must collectively recognize that the euro is incomplete and cannot last without major reforms. It has not provided Europe with full international sovereignty against the dollar on its rules. It has not provided Europe with a natural convergence between the different member states,” he added.
Macron has also said he was “wary of globalization” as “not everyone respects the rules so we will turn the protection of European industry into one of the major pillars of reinventing the EU.” He is also determined to make Paris a rival to London when it comes to banking and finance, which will inevitably cause friction with the UK.
Some believe that a Macron win would end the populist wave that seemed to be making its way around the world after Brexit and the Trump win. That might be premature. However, Macron wants closer ties with the West and is seemingly wary of Vladimir Putin, which would be music to the ears of prominent leaders.
Iceland’s Historic(al) Elections
The morning of September, 26 was a good one for Lenya Run Karim of the Pirate Party. Once the preliminary results were announced, things were clear: the 21-year-old law student of the University of Iceland, originating from a Kurdish immigrant family, had become the youngest MP in the country’s history.
In historical significance, however, this event was second to another. Iceland, the world champion in terms of gender equality, became the first country in Europe to have more women MPs than men, 33 versus 30. The news immediately made world headlines: only five countries in the world have achieved such impressive results. Remarkably, all are non-European: Rwanda, Nicaragua and Cuba have a majority of women in parliament, while Mexico and the UAE have an equal number of male and female MPs.
Nine hours later, news agencies around the world had to edit their headlines. The recount in the Northwest constituency affected the outcome across the country to delay the ‘triumph for women’ for another four years.
Small numbers, big changes
The Icelandic electoral system is designed so that 54 out of the 63 seats in the Althingi, the national parliament, are primary or constituency seats, while another nine are equalization seats. Only parties passing the 5 per cent threshold are allowed to distribute equalisation seats that go to the candidates who failed to win constituency mandates and received the most votes in their constituency. However, the number of equalisation mandates in each of the 6 constituencies is legislated. In theory, this could lead to a situation in which the leading party candidate in one constituency may simply lack an equalisation mandate, so the leading candidate of the same party—but in another constituency—receives it.
This is what happened this year. Because of a difference of only ten votes between the Reform Party and the Pirate Party, both vying for the only equalisation mandate in the Northwest, the constituency’s electoral commission announced a recount on its own initiative. There were also questions concerning the counting procedure as such: the ballots were not sealed but simply locked in a Borgarnes hotel room. The updated results hardly affected the distribution of seats between the parties, bringing in five new MPs, none of whom were women, with the 21-year-old Lenya Run Karim replaced by her 52-year-old party colleague.
In the afternoon of September, 27, at the request of the Left-Green Movement, supported by the Independence Party, the Pirates and the Reform Party, the commission in the South announced a recount of their own—the difference between the Left-Greens and the Centrists was only seven votes. There was no ‘domino effect’, as in the case of the Northwest, as the five-hour recount showed the same result. Recounts in other districts are unlikely, nor is it likely that Althingi—vested with the power to declare the elections valid—would invalidate the results in the Northwest. Nevertheless, the ‘replaced’ candidates have already announced their intention to appeal against the results, citing violations of ballot storage procedures. Under the Icelandic law, this is quite enough to invalidate the results and call a re-election in the Northwest, as the Supreme Court of Iceland invalidated the Constitutional Council elections due to a breach of procedure 10 years ago. Be that as it may, the current score remains 33:30, in favor of men.
Progressives’ progress and threshold for socialists
On the whole, there were no surprises: the provisional allocation of mandates resembles, if with minor changes, the opinion polls on the eve of the election.
The ruling three-party coalition has rejuvenated its position, winning 37 out of the 63 Althingi seats. The centrist Progressive Party saw a real electoral triumph, improving its 2017 result by five seats. Prime-minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir’s Left-Green Movement, albeit with a slight loss, won eight seats, surpassing all pre-election expectations. Although the centre-right Independence Party outperformed everyone again to win almost a quarter of all votes, 16 seats are one of the worst results of the Icelandic ‘Grand Old Party’ ever.
The results of the Social-Democrats, almost 10% versus 12.1% in 2017, and of the Pirates, 8.6% versus 9.2%, have deteriorated. Support for the Centre Party of Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, former prime-minister and victim of the Panama Papers, has halved from 10.9% to 5.4%. The centrists have seen a steady decline in recent years, largely due to a sexist scandal involving party MPs. The populist People’s Party and the pro-European Reform Party have seen gains of 8.8% and 8.3%, as compared to 6.9% and 6.7% in the previous elections.
Of the leading Icelandic parties, only the Socialist Party failed to pass the 5 per cent threshold: despite a rating above 7% in August, the Socialists received only 4.1% of the vote.
Coronavirus, climate & economy
Healthcare and the fight against COVID-19 was, expectedly, on top of the agenda of the elections: 72% of voters ranked it as the defining issue, according to a Fréttablaðið poll. Thanks to swift and stringent measures, the Icelandic government brought the coronavirus under control from day one, and the country has enjoyed one of the lowest infection rates in the world for most of the time. At the same time, the pandemic exposed a number of problems in the national healthcare system: staff shortages, low salaries and long waiting lists for emergency surgery.
Climate change, which Icelanders are already experiencing, was an equally important topic. This summer, the temperature has not dropped below 20°C for 59 days, an anomaly for a North-Atlantic island. However, Icelanders’ concerns never converted into increased support for the four left-leaning parties advocating greater reductions in CO2 emission than the country has committed to under the Paris Agreement: their combined result fell by 0.5%.
The economy and employment were also among the main issues in this election. The pandemic has severely damaged the island nation’s economy, which is heavily tourism-reliant—perhaps, unsurprisingly, many Icelanders are in favor of reviving the tourism sector as well as diversifying the economy further.
The EU membership, by far a ‘traditional’ issue in Icelandic politics, is unlikely to be featured on the agenda of the newly-elected parliament as the combined result of the Eurosceptics, despite a loss of 4%, still exceeds half of the overall votes. The new Althingi will probably face the issue of constitutional reform once again, which is only becoming more topical in the light of the pandemic and the equalization mandates story.
New (old) government?
The parties are to negotiate coalition formation. The most likely scenario now is that the ruling coalition of the Independence Party, the Left-Greens and the Progressives continues. It has been the most ideologically diverse and the first three-party coalition in Iceland’s history to last a full term. A successful fight against the pandemic has only strengthened its positions and helped it secure additional votes. Independence Party leader and finance minister Bjarni Benediktsson has earlier said he would be prepared to keep the ruling coalition if it holds the majority. President Guðni Jóhannesson announced immediately after the elections that he would confirm the mandate of the ruling coalition to form a new government if the three parties could strike a deal.
Other developments are possible but unlikely. Should the Left-Greens decide to leave the coalition, they could be replaced by the Reform Party or the People’s Party, while any coalition without the Independence Party can only be a four-party or larger coalition.
Who will become the new prime-minister still remains to be seen—but if the ruling coalition remains in place, the current prime-minister and leader of the Left-Greens, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, stands a good chance of keeping her post: she is still the most popular politician in Iceland with a 40 per cent approval rate.
The 2021 Althingi election, with one of the lowest turnouts in history at 80.1%, has not produced a clear winner. The election results reflect a Europe-wide trend in which traditional “major” parties are losing support. The electorate is fragmenting and their votes are pulled by smaller new parties. The coronavirus pandemic has only reinforced this trend.
The 2021 campaign did not foreshadow a sensation. Although Iceland has not become the first European country with a women’s majority in parliament, these elections will certainly go down in history as a test of Icelanders’ trust to their own democracy.
From our partner RIAC
EU-Balkan Summit: No Set Timeframe for Western Balkans Accession
On October 6, Slovenia hosted a summit between the EU and the Western Balkans states. The EU-27 met with their counterparts (Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Kosovo) in the sumptuous Renaissance setting of Brdo Castle, 30 kilometers north of the capital, Ljubljana. Despite calls from a minority of heads of state and government, there were no sign of a breakthrough on the sensitive issue of enlargement. The accession of these countries to the European Union is still not unanimous among the 27 EU member states.
During her final tour of the Balkans three weeks ago, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that the peninsula’s integration was of “geostrategic” importance. On the eve of the summit, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz backed Slovenia’s goal of integrating this zone’s countries into the EU by 2030.
However, the unanimity required to begin the hard negotiations is still a long way off, even for the most advanced countries in the accession process, Albania and North Macedonia. Bulgaria, which is already a member of the EU, is opposing North Macedonia’s admission due to linguistic and cultural differences. Since Yugoslavia’s demise, Sofia has rejected the concept of Macedonian language, insisting that it is a Bulgarian dialect, and has condemned the artificial construction of a distinct national identity.
Other countries’ reluctance to join quickly is of a different nature. France and the Netherlands believe that previous enlargements (Bulgaria and Romania in 2007) have resulted in changes that must first be digested before the next round of enlargement. The EU-27 also demand that all necessary prior guarantees be provided regarding the independence of the judiciary and the fight against corruption in these countries. Despite the fact that press freedom is a requirement for membership, the NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urged the EU to make “support for investigative and professional journalism” a key issue at the summit.”
While the EU-27 have not met since June, the topic of Western Balkans integration is competing with other top priorities in the run-up to France’s presidency of the EU in the first half of 2022. On the eve of the summit, a working dinner will be held, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, called for “a strategic discussion on the role of the Union on the international scene” in his letter of invitation to the EU-Balkans Summit, citing “recent developments in Afghanistan,” the announcement of the AUKUS pact between the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom, which has enraged Paris.
The Western Balkans remain the focal point of an international game of influence in which the Europeans seek to maintain their dominance. As a result, the importance of reaffirming a “European perspective” at the summit was not an overstatement. Faced with the more frequent incursion of China, Russia, and Turkey in that European region, the EU has pledged a 30 billion euro Economic and Investment Plan for 2021-2027, as well as increased cooperation, particularly to deal with the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Opening the borders, however, is out of the question. In the absence of progress on this issue, Albania, North Macedonia, and Serbia have decided to establish their own zone of free movement (The Balkans are Open”) beginning January 1, 2023. “We are starting today to do in the region what we will do tomorrow in the EU,” said Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama when the agreement was signed last July.
This initiative, launched in 2019 under the name “Mini-Schengen” and based on a 1990s idea, does not have the support of the entire peninsular region, which remains deeply divided over this project. While Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro are not refusing to be a part of it and are open to discussions, the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti, who took office in 2020, for his part accuses Serbia of relying on this project to recreate “a fourth Yugoslavia”
Tensions between Balkan countries continue to be an impediment to European integration. The issue of movement between Kosovo and Serbia has been a source of concern since the end of September. Two weeks of escalation followed Kosovo’s decision to prohibit cars with Serbian license plates from entering its territory, in response to Serbia’s long-standing prohibition on allowing vehicles to pass in the opposite direction.
In response to the mobilization of Kosovar police to block the road, Serbs in Kosovo blocked roads to their towns and villages, and Serbia deployed tanks and the air force near the border. On Sunday, October 3, the conflict seemed to be over, and the roads were reopened. However, the tone had been set three days before the EU-Balkans summit.
German Election: Ramifications for the US Foreign Policy
In the recent German election, foreign policy was scarcely an issue. But Germany is an important element in the US foreign policy. There is a number of cases where Germany and the US can cooperate, but all of these dynamics are going to change very soon.
The Germans’ strategic culture makes it hard to be aligned perfectly with the US and disagreements can easily damage the relations. After the tension between the two countries over the Iraq war, in 2003, Henry Kissinger said that he could not imagine the relations between Germany and the US could be aggravated so quickly, so easily, which might end up being the “permanent temptation of German politics”. For a long time, the US used to provide security for Germany during the Cold War and beyond, so, several generations are used to take peace for granted. But recently, there is a growing demand on them to carry more burden, not just for their own security, but for international peace and stability. This demand was not well-received in Berlin.
Then, the environment around Germany changed and new threats loomed up in front of them. The great powers’ competition became the main theme in international relations. Still, Germany was not and is not ready for shouldering more responsibility. Politicians know this very well. Ursula von der Leyen, who was German defense minister, asked terms like “nuclear weapons” and “deterrence” be removed from her speeches.
Although on paper, all major parties appreciate the importance of Germany’s relations with the US, the Greens and SPD ask for a reset in the relations. The Greens insist on the European way in transatlantic relations and SPD seeks more multilateralism. Therefore, alignment may be harder to maintain in the future. However, If the tensions between the US and China heat up to melting degrees, then external pressure can overrule the internal pressure and Germany may accede to its transatlantic partners, just like when Helmut Schmid let NATO install medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe after the Soviet Union attacked Afghanistan and the Cold War heated up.
According to the election results, now three coalitions are possible: grand coalition with CDU/CSU and SPD, traffic lights coalition with SPD, FDP, and Greens, Jamaica coalition with CDU/CSU, FDP, and Greens. Jamaica coalition will more likely form the most favorable government for the US because it has both CDU and FDP, and traffic lights will be the least favorite as it has SPD. The grand coalition can maintain the status quo at best, because contrary to the current government, SPD will dominate CDU.
To understand nuances, we need to go over security issues to see how these coalitions will react to them. As far as Russia is concerned, none of them will recognize the annexation of Crimea and they all support related sanctions. However, if tensions heat up, any coalition government with SPD will be less likely assertive. On the other hand, as the Greens stress the importance of European values like democracy and human rights, they tend to be more assertive if the US formulates its foreign policy by these common values and describe US-China rivalry as a clash between democracy and authoritarianism. Moreover, the Greens disapprove of the Nordstream project, of course not for its geopolitics. FDP has also sided against it for a different reason. So, the US must follow closely the negotiations which have already started between anti-Russian smaller parties versus major parties.
For relations with China, pro-business FDP is less assertive. They are seeking for developing EU-China relations and deepening economic ties and civil society relations. While CDU/CSU and Greens see China as a competitor, partner, and systemic rival, SPD and FDP have still hopes that they can bring change through the exchange. Thus, the US might have bigger problems with the traffic lights coalition than the Jamaica coalition in this regard.
As for NATO and its 2 percent of GDP, the division is wider. CDU/CSU and FDP are the only parties who support it. So, in the next government, it might be harder to persuade them to pay more. Finally, for nuclear participation, the situation is the same. CDU/CSU is the only party that argues for it. This makes it an alarming situation because the next government has to decide on replacing Germany’s tornados until 2024, otherwise Germany will drop out of the NATO nuclear participation.
The below table gives a brief review of these three coalitions. 1 indicates the lowest level of favoritism and 3 indicates the highest level of favoritism. As it shows, the most anti-Russia coalition is Jamaica, while the most anti-China coalition is Trafic light. Meanwhile, Grand Coalition is the most pro-NATO coalition. If the US adopts a more normative foreign policy against China and Russia, then the Greens and FDP will be more assertive in their anti-Russian and anti-Chinese policies and Germany will align more firmly with the US if traffic light or Jamaica coalition rise to power.
|Issues Coalitions||Trafic Light||Grand Coalition||Jamaica|
1 indicates the lowest level of favoritism. 3 indicates the highest level of favoritism.
In conclusion, this election should not make Americans any happier. The US has already been frustrated with the current government led by Angela Merkel who gave Germany’s trade with China the first priority, and now that the left-wing will have more say in any imaginable coalition in the future, the Americans should become less pleased. But, still, there are hopes that Germany can be a partner for the US in great power competition if the US could articulate its foreign policy with common values, like democracy and human rights. More normative foreign policy can make a reliable partner out of Germany. Foreign policy rarely became a topic in this election, but observers should expect many ramifications for it.
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