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Customs Union: The world’s largest trading block turns 50

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The Customs Union is unique in the world. It is a foundation of the European Union and essential for the proper functioning of the Single Market.The Customs Union is a single trading area where all goods circulate freely, whether they’re made in the EU or imported from beyond its borders. This means that there are no customs duties at the borders between EU countries. Duty on goods from outside the EU is generally paid when they first enter the EU. From then on, there’s nothing more to pay and no more checks. National customs services in all EU countries work together as one to manage the day-to-day operations of the Customs Union. Member countries share one single system for handling the import, export and transit of goods.

The Customs Union comprises the 28 Member States of the EU, Monaco and British territories. Over 114,000 customs officers work around the clock at airports, border crossings, ports, inland customs offices or customs laboratories. The EU’s customs administrations need to work closely to facilitate trade and protect the health and safety of all EU citizens.

How does the EU’s Custom Union help to protect and keep us safe?

The aim of the Customs Union is to protect society at large while making sure that legitimate trade can flow easily. The Customs Union defends against international trafficking and smuggling, protects consumers against illegal and dangerous goods, and preserves the environment and European cultural heritage as well as the financial interests of the EU and the Member States. In the EU, there are 90 state-of-the-art customs laboratories to carry out this job. Some labs specialise in certain types of analysis – for example, toy safety. When human senses are not enough to detect certain types of illegal goods, customs officers partner up with sniffer dogs which specialise in detecting illegal drugs, suspicious food, explosives or even large amounts of cash. 

HOW THE CUSTOMS UNION PROTECTS  

 DRUGS AND CIGARETTES  
  • In 2016, EU customs seized almost 4.6 billion illegal cigarette and 298.9 tonnes of drugs in the EU.
  • In Spain, for instance, law enforcement dismantled an organisation producing contraband tobacco products. In three of these operations, 15 persons were detained and more than 275 tonnes of tobacco products, valued at more than €20 million, were seized. Two types of machines were confiscated: for the manufacturing of the tobacco products and for drying the tobacco. Additionally, numerous sacks containing chemical substances used to fabricate the final product were also seized.
  • In Poland, a tobacco sniffer-dog discovered 10.5 million cigarettes inside a sea-container at the container terminal of the Gdynia sea-port.
  • On the west coast of France, 19 tonnes of cannabis resin were seized in a sailing ship. Three tonnes of cocaine were found in a maritime container. In addition, 120 000 doses of diazepam were seized.
  • In Spain, a customs boat supported by a customs helicopter intercepted a sailing ship loaded with almost nine tonnes of hashish.
  • In Belgium, customs seized 2 275 kilos of drugs which were smuggled through passenger traffic (by air) and 476kg by express consignments.
 
WEAPONS  
  • Some 6,256 firearms were seized in the EU in 2016, along with more than 1 million pieces of ammunition and 1 520 pieces of explosives.
  • Customs officials in Belgium were able to stop 126 pieces of weapons/ ammunition/ explosives from entering the EU. These weapons were being smuggled into the EU through air traffic or post.
  • In Spain, 737 assault rifles and 72 grenade launchers, including chargers and instruction books were seized.
 
FAKE AND DANGEROUS GOODS  
  • EU customs intercepted products suspected of violating intellectual property rights on more than 63 000 occasions. In 2016, more than 41 million articles were detained with an estimated value of nearly €672 million.
  • Estonian customs seized almost 34,000 pieces of fake “Diesel” jeans in Muuga Port.
  • Greek customs seized more than 1.3 million batteries, 537,000 packs of cigarettes and 24,300 wallets.
  • There were almost 14 000 cases of goods presenting a risk for consumers in terms of health (sanitary, phyto-sanitary and veterinary technical standards). More than 37 million items were identified as unsafe or uncompliant in terms of product safety.
 
GOODS VIOLATING ENVIRONMENTAL RULES  
  • 3,500 infringements of regulations for endangered species (CITES) were detected. In 96 cases, exports were detected which did not respect the rules on exports of cultural goods.
  • Estonian customs seized almost 66,000 tubes of face cream which contained caviar.
  • In France, 110,000 cosmetic products with caviar and protected plants were seized, as well as 46 square meters of alligator skin and 20 tonnes of wood from the exotic “Dalbergia retusa” species.
  • In the United Kingdom, 300 map turtles (Graptemys spp), 5 live giant salamanders, 6 kg of caviar, 300 leather items made from python skin, 760 kg of traditional medicines containing protected plant species and 18 kg of ivory tusks were seized.
UNDECLARED CASH
  • Travelers entering or leaving the EU are obliged to declare amounts of cash valued at €10,000 or more (or its equivalent in other currencies or bearer negotiable instruments) to customs authorities. In 2016, there were 571 significant cases, where seizures of undeclared cash amounted to more than €50,000.
  • Each year, more than 100,000 cash declarations are submitted to customs, amounting to more than €62 billion. Each year, more than 10,000 cases of undeclared cash or incorrectly completed cash declarations are recorded
  • As part of the EU’s Action Plan against Terrorism financing, recently-agreed new rules will extend the rules to cover cash sent in postal parcels or freight shipments, to prepaid cards and to precious commodities.

How does the EU’s Custom Union help to facilitate trade?

The EU is one of the largest trading blocks in the world. In 2015, the EU accounted for almost 15% of world trade in goods, worth €3.5 trillion. Managing this volume of international trade requires handling millions of customs declarations per year in a fast and efficient manner. The Union Customs Code removed the need for hundreds of different customs forms and now allows the use of electronic transport manifests for customs purposes and the moving of goods under temporary storage without lodging a transit declaration. It also introduced centralised clearance, and is more straight-forward for businesses, providing uniform and harmonised rules on guarantees. Finally, it also reduces the administrative burden on compliant and trustworthy economic operators (AEOs) by allowing a number of simplifications of customs procedures, and of the use of guarantees, and by allowing self-assessment of customs debts under certain conditions.

What has the Commission proposed to support customs operations as part of the new EU budget?

As part of the plans for the next EU budget, the Commission has now proposed a continued financial commitment of €950 million for the EU’s customs programme, representing just 0.07% of the entire budget. The programme supports the essential cooperation between customs authorities across the EU and protects the financial and economic interests of the European Union and its Member States. It has helped to build a modern and innovative Customs Union that ensures the safety and security of all EU citizens, while at the same time facilitating growing global trade. It allows the joint development and operation of major, pan-European IT systems and establishes networks, bringing together national officials from across Europe.

The new proposed Customs Programme [LINK] will build on this success, helping customs administrations to deal with increasing trade flows and emerging trends and technologies, such as e-commerce and blockchain. It will also support customs authorities through enhanced cooperation on the ground and more training. The programme will help to provide better risk management to protect the EU’s financial interests and to respond to security threats and cross-border crime. A new Customs equipment instrument worth €1.3 billion is also being created to allow the purchase, maintenance and replacement of innovative customs equipment by Member States.

CUSTOMS UNION – TIMELINE AND KEY STEPS 

1 July 1968 

 

All customs duties and restrictions lifted between the six member countries of the European Economic Community (EEC). A common customs tariff replaces national customs duties on products from the rest of the world. Trade between the countries multiplies and investment and economic growth increases.
1987  One Single Administrative Document replaces hundreds of national customs declaration forms. At the same time, the common transit system is created.
1992  EU adopts the Community Customs Code, creating a common rulebook for customs legislation. This milestone leads to much simpler guidance for traders and customs alike.
1993 

 

Free movement of goods become a reality: no more customs formalities at internal borders of the EU and no more long queues for lorries filled with goods to be checked at border crossings. For the first time, uniform customs legislation becomes directly applicable in all Member States of the EU.
1994  Launch of the integrated tariff of the European Union in digital format (TARIC) with daily transmissions to the EU Member States. It replaced the first TARIC database with weekly transmissions since 1987.
1996 EU-Turkey Customs Union enters into force.
2003  A new computerised transit system becomes operational. It is the first European customs system that uses electronic declaration and processing.
2004  10 new countries join the EU and the EU Customs Union, marking the largest expansion of the EU Customs Union in its history.
2005

 

 

EU launches the Customs Risk Management system that connects more than 800 customs offices and provides a digital platform to exchange information about risks and irregularities. New security legislation is introduced providing for advance cargo information, risk-based controls and measures aimed at end-to-end supply chain security, including through use of technology.
2008 

 

 

EU introduces the Authorised Economic Operator (AEO) status: an internationally-recognised quality mark indicating that a company’s role in the international supply chain is secure, and that customs controls and procedures are efficient and compliant. It is voluntary and enables simplified customs procedures and in some cases the right to ‘fast-track’ shipments through some customs and safety and security procedures.
2011  Customs becomes a major actor for increased security in the EU. Common risk criteria for security and safety start to apply to all goods crossing the EU borders, ensuring equal protection of all EU citizens and member states.
2016 

 

 

The Union Customs Code takes effect, further modernising and streamlining customs procedures throughout the EU. It also introduces a number of IT systems to support harmonised customs rules and to reduce the administrative burden for trade. Full implementation of IT systems is foreseen in steps, with the majority of systems being available by 31 December 2020, with further upgrades during the period up to 2025.
2018 The EU Customs Union celebrates 50 years of operation.

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Europe

Is European humanity skin deep?

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At the border crossing between Ukraine and Moldova at Palanca, refugees stand in line. © UNICEF/Vincent Tremeau

When talking about security the most common line of thought tends to be war and the actors involved in the attack, however, all the people who had regular lives within those territories that are jeopardized are as important. With the increasing tensions and armed conflicts happening within the Twenty First Century, the movement of people searching for shelter has increased. More asylum seekers leave their home countries every single day and contemporary politics is still struggling to find a way to catch up. Europe, history wise, is the zone of the world that deals with more refugees wanting to enter the continent due to different factors: geography, proximity, democratic systems, level of development and more. Nevertheless, with the Russia-Ukraine conflict, true sentiments towards refugees are now being put on display.

Even though all refugees are fleeing their countries because their lives are in mortal danger, authorities and government officials do not seem to care. Processes to apply for the refugee status are getting harder and harder. In Europe, to apply for a refugee passport, people are asked for identifications, online questionaries and many other unrealistic aspects that if not answered correctly, the whole process is cancelled. It is ridiculous to believe that when people are scaping in order to stay alive, they will take under consideration all these requirements to receive help, sometimes even from neighboring countries. Which inevitably leads to the following question: why are refugees accepted based on the legality of their applications and not of their status?

By 2016, nearly 5.2 million refugees reached European shores, which caused the so called refugee crisis. They came mainly from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq: countries torn apart by armed conflicts. Similarly, with Russia’s invasion over the Ukraine in 2022, only few days deep within the fighting,  874,000 people had to flee their homes. Nonetheless, the issue seems to be that, for Europe, not all refugees are the same. When the refugee crisis in 2015 was declared, the European Union called for stopping and detaining all arriving refugees for around 18 months. There was a strong reluctancy from Europeans towards offering them shelter. On the contrary, countries such as Poland and Slovakia have said that Ukrainian refugees fleeing will be accepted without passports, or any valid travel documents due to the urgency of the situation. Therefore, stating with their actions, that Ukrainian refugees are more valuable or seem to be more worthy of help than refugees from Asia, Africa, or the Middle East.

Correspondingly, it is true that not all countries inside Europe deal and act the same way towards refugees, be that as it may, with the current refugee crisis it has been proved that they all share strong sentiments of xenophobia and racism. For instance, Hungary is a country that refused to admit refugees coming from outside Europe since 2015. In 2018, Prime Minister Viktor Orban described non-European refugees as “Muslim invaders” and “poison” to society, in comparison with Ukrainian refugees who are being welcomed without hesitation. In the same way, Jarosław Kaczyński, who served as Prime Minister of Poland and is the leader of the Law and Justice party, in 2017 said that accepting asylum seekers from Syria would be dangerous and would “completely change our culture and radically lower the level of safety in our country”. Furthermore, Germany in 2015 with Chancellor Angela Merkel in charged said that they would accept one million of Syrians. Although, as time passed, Europe’s solution was to make a deal with Turkey, who is not part of the European Union, to close the migrant route. Moreover, the promise of letting refugees integrate into German society was not fulfilled since. Seven year later, an impressive amount of refugees are still in camps and centers, with their lives frozen in time. Sadly, most European governments gambled towards the idea of sending them back once the armed conflict was over, without caring for the aftermath of war’s destruction.

The common narrative until now pushed by leaders, politicians, and mass media has been that Ukrainians are prosperous, civilized, middle class working people, but refugees coming from the Middle East are terrorists, and refuges from Africa are simply too different. Despite, refugees are all people who share similar emotions and struggle to grasp the fact that their lives may never be the same; having lost their homes, friends, family and so much more. Plus, being selectively welcomed based on their religion, skin color or nationality by the continent which’s complete rhetoric is universal rights, just adds another complex layer to the issue. Conjointly, the displacement of people due to war displays how regular individuals are always the ones who suffer the most in consequence to the interests of the few that represent larger powers. Hence, greed, envy, and cruelty are stronger than recognized, even in a developed continent such as Europe.

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What Everyone Should Know About Preventing Ethnic Violence: The Case of Bosnia

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Image source: srebrenica.org.uk

When the Balkans spiraled into violence and genocide in the 90’s, many wondered what caused this resurgence in militant ethnic nationalism and how a similar situation may be countered.

***

The 1990’s were a vibrant decade, that is unless you were living in the Balkans. 1995 was especially bad, as the 11th of July of that year marked the Srebrenica Massacre, which saw Serbian soldiers murder over 8,000 Bosnian Muslims over the span of two weeks. This shocked the world, as it was the first case of a European country resorting to extreme violence and genocide on ethnic lines since World War II. After World War II, the idea that a European country would resort to genocide was unthinkable. As Balkan nations continue to see the consequences of the massacre after over 25 years, it is increasingly evident that more needs to be done to curb ethnic violence.

We must first investigate key causes of ethnic violence. According to V.P. Gagnon, the main driver of ethnic violence is elites that wish to stay in power. Ethnic nationalism is easy to exploit, as creating a scapegoat is extremely effective for keeping elites in power. This is exactly what happened in Yugoslavia, which had previously seen high levels of tolerance and intermarriage in more mixed areas that saw the worst violence during the war. Stuart J. Kaufman argues that elites may take advantage of natural psychological fears of in-group extinction, creating group myths, or stereotypes, of outgroups to fuel hatred against them. While they may take different approaches to this issue, Gagnon and Kaufman agree that the main drivers of ethnic violence are the elites.

David Lake and Donald Rothchild suggest that the main driver of ethnic conflict is collective fears for the future of in-groups. Fear is one of the most important emotions we have because it helps secure our existence in a hostile world. However, fear can easily be exploited by the elites to achieve their personal goals. In a multiethnic society such as Yugoslavia, the rise of an elite that adheres to the prospects of a single ethnic group could prove dangerous and sometimes even disastrous. The destruction of Yugoslavian hegemony under Josip Broz Tito and the resulting explosion of ethnic conflict at the hands of Serbian elites in Bosnia underline this because of the immense fear this created.

Regions with high Serb populations in Bosnia sought independence from the rest of the country when they found themselves separated from Serbia by the dissolution of Yugoslavia. Republika Srpska was formed by these alienated Serbs. The leadership and elites in Serbia riled up the Serb population of Republika Srpska by stereotyping and demonizing Bosnian Muslims as “descendants of the Turkish oppressors”. This scared the Serbs in Bosnia so much so that they obeyed the elites of Serbia in supporting and fighting for the independence of Republika Srpska by any means necessary. As was seen in Srebrenica, they were not opposed to genocide.

We know how the elites fuel ethnic tensions to secure power as well of the devastating effects of these tensions reaching their boiling point. But what could be done to address ethnic conflict? David Welsh suggests that a remedy for ethnic conflict could be the complete enfranchisement of ethnic minorities and deterrence towards ethnic cleansing. This means that we must ensure that ethnic minorities are able to have a say in a democratic system that caters to all ethnicities equally. Fostering aversion to genocide is also vital toward addressing ethnic conflict because it is the inevitable result of unchecked ethnic conflict.

There is also the issue of members of ethnic groups voting for candidates and parties on ethnic lines. For example, in the United States, White American voters have shown to prefer White candidates over African American candidates, and vice versa. Keep in mind that the United States has a deep history of ethnic conflict, including the centuries-long subjugation of African Americans by White Americans.

Ethnic violence is horrifying and destructive, but it can be prevented. The first measure would be the establishment of a representative democracy, where members of all ethnicities are accurately represented. Another measure would be to make ethnic conflict and ethnic stereotyping taboo so that the average person would not resort to genocidal behavior once things go wrong. Lastly, making people feel secure is the most important step towards preventing ethnic conflict. If the people feel secure enough, they will not even need to think about ethnic violence. In short, while it is important to consider the differences of the various ethnic groups in a multiethnic society, it is vital that each group is kept represented and secure, free of any fears of subjugation.

While the case of Bosnia was extremely unfortunate, it provides an integral view into what could happen if perceived subjugation and fear of eradication reaches a breaking point. As was seen in Bosnia, ethnic violence can be extremely violent, resulting in untold suffering and death. That is why we must take necessary steps towards de-escalation and remediation of ethnic conflicts. These measures can, quite literally, save millions of lives.

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French Presidential Election 2022 and its significance for Europe

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Eugene Delacroix’s infamous painting “la liberté Guidant le Peuple” reminds the whole world of the July Revolution of 1830 that toppled King Charles X of France. The lady in the centre of the painting with the French tricolour still symbolizes the concept of liberty and reminds the whole world of revolutions and sacrifices made for freedom. France indeed has a long journey from revolting against “if they have no bread, let them eat cake” in 1789 to establishing a modern democratic society with the principles of “liberty, equality and fraternity”.  

France and the United States are rightly considered the birthplace of modern democracy. The French revolution taught the whole world lessons about revolution, freedom modern nationalism, liberalism and sovereignty. In 2022, France celebrates the 233rd year of Bastille Day which led to a new dawn in the French political system. From establishing 1ere Republique (1st Republic) in 1792, France has evolved and is currently under the 5eme Republique (5th Republic) under the constitution crafted by Charles de Gaulle in 1958.

Today, France is holding its presidential elections. As the French believe, ‘You first vote with your heart, then your head’, the first round of voting was concluded on Sunday 10th April and the Presidential debate on 20th April 2022. While the whole world waits for the 24th of April’s second round of elections and their results, this article attempts to understand the French electoral system and analyze Why French Presidential elections are important for Europe?

French electoral system

France is a semi-presidential democracy; the president is at the centre of power and Prime Minister heads the government. The president of the French republic is elected by direct universal suffrage where all French citizens aged 18 and above can vote, whether residing in France or not. In France, there is a two-round system in which voters vote twice on two Sundays, two weeks apart. This two-round system is widely practised in central and eastern Europe as well as Central Asia, South America and Africa.

In order to apply, a candidate needs 500 signatures of elected officials and they should be at least from 30 government departments. A candidate can be an independent or he or she can represent a political party. There is no limit to how many candidates can run for presidential elections. For instance, in 2002 there were 16 candidates, in 2017- 11 and in 2022 there are 12. While all the candidates have the right to equal media presence, the amount of spending on campaigns is also monitored; for the 1st round, the spending must not exceed 16.9 million euros and for the second round, it has been limited to 22.5 million euros.

This year, the 1st round of voting was concluded on 10th April while the second one is scheduled to be held on 24th April 2022. In the first round, all 12 candidates were eligible but for the second round, only two candidates who got the maximum votes are qualified for the second round.

A brief overview of French presidential candidates

Emmanuel Macron, five years ago at the age of 39, became the youngest French president of the French republic. In 2017, he broke the dominance of the two major French parties- Republicans and Socialists- by running a campaign “neither left nor right”. During the tenure of Emmanuel Macron, a hardcore centrist, France has witnessed a 7% GDP growth, unemployment dropped by 7.2% and the crime rate has fallen to 27%.

A far-rightist, Marine Le Pen is the other presidential candidate who succeeded her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, as leader of the National Front (later National Rally) party in 2011. She was also contesting against Emmanuel Macron during the 2017 elections and before that in 2012, against Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande. While she embraced the party’s anti-immigration stance, she rebranded the party’s Euroskepticism as French nationalism.

This year, in the April 2022 elections, the current President of France, Emanuel Macron and far-right leader, Marine Le Pen are the two candidates with Macron running ahead with a lead of 4.7 per cent votes (Emmanuel Macron-27.8% & Marine Le Pen- 23.1%).

Why French Presidential elections are important for Europe?

While European defence is primarily assured by the US-led NATO military alliance, of which most EU states are members, French president Macron said,  “Europe needs to finally build its own collective security framework on our continent…”, advocating for a ‘European Security’ framework amid tensions with Russia over Ukraine.

On the other hand, Le Pen’s party has been looked upon suspiciously that it might have received financing from a Russian bank connected to the Russian President Putin. In an interview with French public radion, Le pen said, “It will be necessary diplomatically, when the war [in Ukraine] is over, when a peace treaty has been signed, to try to avoid this tie-up which risks being the largest danger of the 21st century for us,” she even further added, “Imagine … if we let the first producer of raw materials in the world — which is Russia — [create an alliance] with the first factory of the world — which is China — to let them perhaps constitute the first military power of the world. I believe that it’s a potentially great danger.” These statements only further reinforce the claims that Le Pen is more pro-Russia.

While Macron is anti-Brexit, Le Pen, on the other hand, has been known for her ‘Frexit’ plan, meaning, that she wanted France to leave the EU and abandon the euro. However, during the 2022 elections, it appears that Le Pen has softened her stance on Frexit. Another important issue pertaining to immigration has been significant not only for France but the whole of Europe. This issue of immigration is directly linked with the “economic and cultural concerns” which raises an important worry about immigrants’ socio-political and economic integration into the French society and abiding by the principle of laïcité (secularism with French characters).

As for Macron, he wants to create a “rapid reaction force” to help protect EU states’ borders in case of a migrant surge and is also pushing for a rethink of the bloc’s asylum application process. Macron also said that he urges the EU to be more efficient in deporting those refused entries. On the other hand, Marine Le Pen during her campaign stated, “I will control immigration and establish security for all.” It is pertinent to note that Macron has introduced strict laws pertaining to immigration and controlling Islamic radicalization. For instance, he introduced the bill to ban foreign funding to mosques.

What is more interesting to mention is the concerns about ‘energy’ in the presidential election. Evidently, the ongoing conflict in Ukraine has gained more attention on the economic and geopolitical consequences of existing national and European energy supply chain choices. In France especially, there is a major rift between the pro and anti-nuclear power fractions. Interestingly, France has the second most nuclear power stations in the world after the United States.  Besides, in the last week of the elections, Macron has been attempting to win the hearts of the French voters with his proposal for a “complete renewal” of his climate policy. He has also promised to build up to 14 nuclear reactors by 2050 and regenerate existing plants. Meanwhile, Le Pen has promised to build 20 nuclear plants and aim to have nuclear power provide 81 per cent of France’s energy by 2050. While the current president Macron and far-right candidate Le Pen have both committed to the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit global warming, it is evident that their approaches differ particularly on energy. Since France is Europe’s second-biggest economy, France’s climate policy could echo right across the EU.

Besides, in light of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine crisis, Macron has played a significant role as he is the bridgehead for Russia and the US. He has also negotiated talks between Washington DC and Moscow and has also condemned the crisis by making the statement, “Russia is not under attack, it is the aggressor. As some unsustainable propaganda would have us believe, this war is not as big as the battle against, that is a lie.” Indeed, he has played the role of Europe’s de-facto leader vis-à-vis the Ukraine crisis. Nonetheless, with a marginal win in the first round against Marine Le Pen, winning the 2nd term is not as easy as it was five years ago.

More importantly, it is pertinent to note that France has the 2nd strongest military and 2nd biggest economy in Europe, further the 5th biggest economy in the world. France is not only the most visited country in the world but also ranks 1st in the global soft power index. It is also the founding member of the United Nations Security Council, North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union which makes it an important player in European politics. Consequently, the policies of the French leadership not only direct the political, social and economic lives of the French but also reverberate in Europe.

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