After five years of robust growth that lifted employment, wages and well-being, Slovenia’s economy has been hit hard by the Covid-19 crisis. Further support to businesses and households may be needed to reinforce the recovery and avoid lasting scars, particularly given the underlying pressures of an ageing population, according to a new OECD report.
The latest OECD Economic Survey of Slovenia coincides with the country’s 10th anniversary of becoming an OECD member, a decade that has seen Slovenia carry out labour and pension reforms and further integrate into global value chains. Slovenia has also defied the rise in income inequality seen in many other OECD countries. Slovenia now needs to support the recovery from the coronavirus crisis until it is self-sustaining, including providing training and job search support to low-skilled workers, then return its focus to raising productivity, strengthening public finances and adapting the labour market and social system for a smaller and older workforce.
“Slovenia has made remarkable economic and social progress since joining the OECD, and the government has acted admirably to manage the health and economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. “It is vital now to stay on track, to stand ready to provide further support where needed to restore growth and then continue with measures to tackle the long-term economic challenges of an ageing population.”
Slovenia acted quickly to halt the spread of Covid-19 and its healthcare system managed the outbreak well. Financial measures to support jobs, income and businesses softened the shock to the economy. As these measures are withdrawn, the economy may need a fiscal stimulus in the form of some rapid and easy-to-implement temporary measures, the Survey says. The main risks to the economy now are a spike in bankruptcies and a further rise in unemployment.
Assuming no significant second wave of Covid-19 infections later this year, the Survey projects Slovenia’s GDP to grow by 4.5% in 2021 after declining by 7.8% in 2020. However, in the event of a second wave, GDP is projected to grow only 1.5% in 2021 after a contraction of 9.1% in 2020.
Once the recovery is well on track, stimulus can be wound down and the focus revert to tackling the challenges arising from population ageing, which by 2055 will have doubled the ratio of over-65s to working-age people to 60%, creating the double challenge of addressing ageing-related spending pressures as the revenue base contracts. If these pressures are not contained or offset, the sustainability of public finances will be at risk, the Survey says.
Future growth will depend on employing workers in the most efficient way possible, for example by keeping older, experienced workers in jobs for longer, doing more to help low-skilled workers and improving labour allocation so workers can achieve their full productivity and wage potential. To ease the pressure from a projected tripling in the public pension deficit, the Survey recommends raising the retirement age to 67 and, if needed, linking future rises to life expectancy.
The Survey recommends further reforms to lower barriers to competition and foreign investment, to strengthen governance of state-owned enterprises and to make the tax mix more growth-friendly and inclusive by shifting the burden from labour to property taxes.
The 13th IPACC for Indo-Pacific, hosted by India and the U.S.
The comments on the strategic landscape came at the Indo-Pacific Armies Chiefs Conference (IPACC), being attended by military leaders from 30 countries, ‘Hindustan Times’ informs.
“The region faces a complex web of security challenges, including boundary disputes. The need to comprehensively deal with these challenges has led to the full involvement of the states in the region, with all their organisations, including their armies,” Indian Defence minister Rajnath Singh (photo) said in his inaugural speech at the 13th IPACC, hosted by India and the US.
Rajnath Singh pointed out that states must recognise that global issues involve multiple stakeholders and no one country can address these challenges in isolation.
The defence minister said peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific can be achieved in consonance with the ancient Indian ethos of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ (The world is one family).
Singh emphasised that the Indo-Pacific is no more a maritime construct, but a full-fledged geo-strategic construct, and the region is facing a complex web of security challenges, including boundary disputes and piracy.
He explained his vision for the region through a theoretical model by American author Stephen R Covey, which is based on two circles – ‘Circle of Concern’ and ‘Circle of Influence’.
“There may be instances when the ‘Circle of Concern’ of different nations overlap with each other. International maritime trade routes passing through high seas, beyond the exclusive economic zones of any country, are relevant examples,” he said.
“This can either result in conflict between nations or they can decide to coexist by mutually deciding the rules of engagement. The concept of these circles underscores the importance of strategic thinking and prioritisation,” he added.
Singh pointed out that states must recognise that global issues involve multiple stakeholders and no one country can address these challenges in isolation.
He stressed the need to engage with the broader international community and work collaboratively through diplomacy, international organisations and treaties to tackle common concerns within the overlapping ‘Circle of Concern’.
Singh was of the view that states, at the same time, must identify and seek to expand their ‘Circle of Influence’ to promote national interests on the global stage.
“This conference is an exercise where we all are trying to expand our ‘Circle of Influence’ while harmonising the overlaps of our ‘Circle of Concern’,” he added.
Rajnath Singh said security considerations have elevated the strategic significance of the Indo-Pacific and the vast stretch confronts a web of challenges that no country can tackle alone, with army chief General Manoj Pande describing it as a theatre of complexities with manifestations of inter-state competitions and a top US general calling for deepening partnerships in the region to jointly promote peace and stability.
Pande said India’s outlook for the Indo-Pacific emphasised respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries, peaceful resolution of disputes, avoidance of force and adherence to international law.
“While efforts by countries are converging towards effecting a free and stable Indo-Pacific, yet we are witnessing manifestations of inter-state contestations and competitions.”
The army chief listed territorial disputes over landmasses and the militarisation of artificial islands in contested waters as key security concerns in the region.
India’s efforts to build robust military partnerships with friendly countries underscore its commitment to safeguard national interests and address global challenges, Singh said. “The Indo-Pacific Region has emerged as a pivotal geopolitical and strategic concept in recent years, transforming from a primarily maritime concept into a comprehensive strategic framework.”
Singh reiterated that India stands for a “free, open, inclusive and rules-based Indo-Pacific region.”
“States must recognise that there are global issues and challenges involving multiple stakeholders that no one country can address in isolation. They need to engage with the broader international community and work collaboratively through diplomacy, international organisations, and treaties to tackle common concerns,” he said.
In a joint press briefing with US army chief of staff General Randy George, General Manoj Pande said the Indo-Pacific construct has come to occupy central space in the contemporary geostrategic canvass in recent years. “Its significance reflects the evolving global dynamics in the political, security, economic and environmental domains. The region is a theatre of complexities and challenges. Periodic ideation and discussions among partners are necessary, with efforts focussed on the shared responsibility for achieving and sustaining peace and stability,” Pande said.
Responding to a question on China, the army chief said the IPACC construct was not a military alliance directed against any country or group of countries, with its goal being bringing military leaders together to enhance collaboration and understanding in the Indo-Pacific, sharing best practices, planning effective humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and charting a roadmap for the future. “The aim is to build trust and strengthen friendships.”
General George said IPACC was looking at building a security architecture that would bind the region together and lead to unity and collective commitment. “Unity and commitment are the best deterrents,” he said, adding that the partnership between the US and Indian armies was vital for stability in the region. In a challenging global security environment, having great allies and partners is more important than ever before.”
The diplomatic row with Canada will not impact the participation of its army in the conference, and the country is an “important partner” in the IPACC journey, said Major General Abhinaya Rai, additional director general, Strategic Planning.
“It doesn’t impact us. The Canadian (deputy) chief is coming here. His delegation is coming here. Even when we look at the relationships with some of our neighbours… where we may have had a standoff but we continue to engage them at all levels, be it the military level and at the diplomatic level. And I am referring directly to China here,” Rai said at a curtain-raiser to the conference that was attended by a battery of defence attaches from the participating countries, including Colonel Todd Braithwaite from Canada.
The Indo-Pacific Armies Management Seminar (IPAMS) and Senior Enlisted Leaders Forum (SELF) will also be held alongside IPACC.
The events will provide a unique opportunity “to build common perspectives towards a shared vision” and help build partnerships and strengthen friendships across the Indo-Pacific, said Army Vice Chief Lieutenant General MV Suchindra Kumar: “It is indeed fortuitous and a matter of great pride that the triad of IPACC, IPAMS and SELF is being hosted by the Indian Army in the same year as India’s G-20 and SCO Presidency.”
Plant-based foods improve health and environment, says top EU scientific advisor
A shift in diets is central to tackling obesity and climate change, according to Eric Lambin, a member of the European Commission’s Group of Chief Scientific Advisors.
By HORIZON STAFF
Human health is inextricably linked to food and the environment. The world, including Europe, faces emergencies on all three fronts.
The current food system is damaging people’s health by contributing to obesity and destroying the environment by, among other things, causing greenhouse-gas emissions and biodiversity loss.
Given the high stakes and challenges, Horizon Magazine plans a five-part series of articles over the remainder of 2023 on “sustainable food”. The aim is to highlight the promises of bringing about fundamental improvements in this area including with the help of research and innovation.
Today’s start of the series sets the stage by featuring an interview with Eric Lambin, a professor of geography and sustainability science at the Université catholique de Louvain in Belgium.
Lambin is also a member of the European Commission’s Group of Chief Scientific Advisors (GCSA), which produced a June 2023 Scientific Opinion entitled “Towards Sustainable Food Consumption”. The opinion was requested by European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Stella Kyriakides.
The ensuing articles in the series will focus on dietary shifts, urban food systems, the microbiome and the role of legislation.
1. Food, health and sustainability have been linked for thousands of years. Why should people today pay any particular attention to this area?
We are now facing a public health crisis – with widespread overweight, obesity and malnutrition issues – and a global environmental crisis.
Today, livestock accounts for more than 14% of human-induced greenhouse-gas emissions, which is more than the emissions from all the world’s cars and trucks. Production of meat – especially beef – drives climate change directly by emitting methane and indirectly by converting tropical forests for pastures and animal-feed production. Forest conversion not only adds to emissions but also causes biodiversity loss. We imagine most of the green fields we drive past are crops for humans to eat, whereas in fact two-thirds of the world’s agricultural lands are grazing lands and 40% of the world’s cropland is for animal feed.
Our Scientific Opinion calls for system-wide changes to correct this.
2. What would a more sustainable food system mean concretely?
For most Europeans, diets should be more plant-based as they are often too high in meat and dairy products, which have much higher environmental footprints than plant-based foods.
To shift towards a healthier and more sustainable diet, it is recommended to consume more legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds and less meat – especially red and processed meat – fewer foods rich in saturated fat, salt and sugar, fewer snacks with poor nutritional qualities and fewer ultra-processed foods, sugary drinks and alcoholic drinks.
For animal-based foods, we should prioritise the consumption of sustainably sourced fish and seafood.
We also need to reduce food waste to minimise the unnecessary use of resources for growing, harvesting, transporting and packaging food that ends up in landfills.
3. What role can the EU play to ensure that food is healthier and greener?
The Scientific Opinion recommends that policy measures aiming to change consumer behaviour should focus on the whole “food environment”. That is anywhere where people obtain, eat and discuss their food.
So policy measures should address not only consumers but also food providers, producers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers. The competences needed to accelerate a transition towards more sustainable and healthy diets are distributed at all levels of governance, from the EU to Member States, regions and municipalities.
The EU can provide guidelines, adjust subsidies, develop labels, expand its current carbon-pricing scheme, among other things, and encourage Member States to act at their level.
4. What is the GCSA recommending in terms of EU action in this field?
The EU should adopt a mix of complementary policies based on pricing, information and regulation.
Healthy and sustainable diets should be the easiest and most affordable choice. EU Member States should consider new incentives including lower value-added tax on fruits and vegetables as well as disincentives such as meat and sugar taxes.
The provision of trusted information about the environmental and health impacts of different foods facilitates healthy and sustainable decision-making by consumers. This is about such things as food literacy, national dietary guidelines and front-of-pack labels.
New policy measures should also make healthy and sustainable diets more available and accessible. This means, for example, the prominent placement of healthy products in retail outlets.
5. What role does scientific advice, including from the GCSA, play in policymaking?
Scientific advice supports evidence-based policymaking by analysing scientific findings on a given topic, based on high-quality science.
Scientific advisors are intermediaries between science and policy. They need to demonstrate their trustworthiness by following a transparent and an impartial process to analyse evidence. The GCSA works closely with the Science Advice for Policy by European Academies – or SAPEA – consortium. SAPEA assembles multi-disciplinary groups of the best European experts on the topics for which advice is requested by the College of Commissioners.
On matters such as food systems, for which strong vested interests exert influence on policymaking, it is essential to provide independent, science-based recommendations.
6. How can consumers help drive change?
Consumers can contribute through well-informed purchasing decisions that are consistent with their values.
But models of behavioural change recognise that motivation alone isn’t sufficient to modify diets. Consumers also need to have the capability and opportunity to adopt new behaviours.
Consumer behaviours are influenced both by personal factors – such as taste preferences, attitudes and knowledge – and by external factors, mainly price, information and social and cultural norms.
All factors must be addressed. Hence the need for a raft of diverse measures targeting the whole food environment that complement each other.
7. What should be the balance between international and local food trade?
Evidence shows that locally produced food isn’t always more sustainable than food imported from abroad. For example, some vegetables grown in Europe in greenhouses may use more energy input than vegetables grown in Africa.
Yet, to promote sustainable consumption, the EU could restrict imports of food commodities from places where food production causes major environmental damage – for example, foods from biodiversity-rich and carbon-dense ecosystems, water-demanding crops produced in water-scarce areas and seafood sourced from unsustainably managed stocks.
Some of these restrictions are already covered by new EU legislation on deforestation-free products.
8. How can the EU help ensure that small farmers get treated fairly?
Small farms may struggle to adapt to new regulations as they may lack the capacity to invest in new practices and production systems.
Yet they play a key role in some European regions for providing food, maintaining cultural landscapes and keeping rural areas socially attractive.
Small farmers aren’t always as well represented in multi-stakeholder policy dialogues as their large counterparts. Therefore, new policy measures should anticipate possible adverse effects on small farms and be monitored and periodically reviewed to ensure they don’t have unintended consequences.
9. What are the main social and political challenges to change?
As in every transformative process, there is resistance from vested interests who benefit from the status quo. It is critical to create an environment that allows all stakeholders to work towards the goal of healthy and sustainable food.
This approach may also help to overcome opposition from those who profit from the current system, including some large private-sector organisations with powerful voices. For example, food-industry representatives have much more resources to defend their case than, say, future generations, thereby creating an imbalance in the debate.
Civil-society organisations have an important role in representing the voiceless.
10. What role does animal well-being have in all this?
Animal welfare is a key ethical dimension of sustainability. It is also central to a “One Health” perspective that integrates the health of people, animals and the environment.
People shift to plant-based diets for health, environmental and/or animal-welfare motives. All three motivations are equally important and they point towards the same direction: decreasing the consumption of animal-sourced products and decreasing intensive animal farming.
This creates an opportunity for companies with a focus on quality products and high animal- welfare standards. For policy, a meat tax framed as an “animal-welfare levy” might be more socially acceptable than an environmental tax.
This article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine.
NATO’s goal is Arctic -Finland is the path
After decades of going it alone in security issues, Finns are finding that life in a large alliance is complex, expensive and deeply political. Now Northern Europe and the Arctic more important for the NATO security, The New York Times stresses.
Finland cast aside decades of military nonalignment and self-reliance and joined the NATO alliance. That happened with breathtaking speed, as these matters go, but gaining membership may have been the easy part.
Now comes the complicated process of integrating itself into the alliance and its requirement of collective defense — with all of its financial, legal and strategic hurdles. “Joining NATO is an expensive business, and supporting Ukraine is an expensive business, and there’s no end to that in sight,” said Janne Kuusela, director-general for defense policy at Finland’s Ministry of Defense.
Membership in NATO has long been considered a cheap benefit, given the American nuclear umbrella and the principle of collective defense. Achieving that will demand some difficult and costly decisions from the government and military officials as they learn to think strategically outside Finland’s borders and adapt its forces and their capabilities to the alliance’s needs.
They will have to decide how to move troops and equipment to Norway, Sweden or the Baltic States in the event they need reinforcements, for instance, or whether to participate in other NATO tasks like patrols in Kosovo or the Mediterranean.
At the same time, Finnish officials and analysts say, Finland will not alter its intention of defending every inch of its own territory, given its 830-mile border with Russia, a doctrine considered old-fashioned in the age of modern warfare.
For now, the country is negotiating a bilateral defense cooperation agreement with the United States, the kind of accord Washington has with many countries around the world, making joint exercises easier to plan and quicker to implement. It will cover what kind of U.S. troop presence Finland would allow and where, and what sort of equipment NATO’s most powerful country will be able to bring to Finland for exercises or prepositioning.
The negotiations are complicated, said Elina Valtonen, Finland’s foreign minister, in an interview. “Of course, it’s a balance, how to also defend your sovereignty against an aggressive and unpredictable neighbor, who does not respect the same values that we do with our friends and allies,” she said. “But Finland is a country where, typically, we like to have agreements, we like to have treaties, we are very legalistic.”
Finland’s relationship with the United States is considered as important as the one with the larger alliance, especially given the American nuclear deterrent that protects all NATO members. Finnish law prevents the importation or storage of nuclear weapons on its soil. But Finland will have to decide its policy on nuclear deterrence and the nature of its involvement in shaping NATO’s nuclear policy.
Much of the responsibility for integration with NATO rests with Gen. Timo Kivinen, the commander of Finland’s defense forces. He is familiar with the inner workings of NATO, since Finland has long been a partner nation and involved in NATO exercises; several hundred NATO troops have been stationed almost continuously in Finland since April 2022.
Even as a candidate member, Finland began the first stage of alliance defense planning that July. Now, as a full member, the planning is more intensive, but there is much to consider, he said, to align Finland’s defense plans with those of the larger alliance.
The war has made Northern Europe and the Arctic more important for the security of the whole alliance. So, General Kivinen said, it is also vital that Sweden, a longtime defense partner for Finland, get into NATO soon. That would make alliance planning easier, especially in determining how best to defend the Arctic, the Baltic region and four of the five Nordic countries — Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark (Iceland is the fifth).
Already these four have agreed to operate their approximately 250 fighter jets as a joint operational fleet and also to provide air policing for Iceland.
NATO has placed Finland in the land-oriented command based in Brunssum, the Netherlands, which is charged with defending Central and Eastern Europe, including Poland and the Baltic nations.
Finland has already increased its defense budget, in part to pay for the purchase of F-35 fighter jets and new ships to better patrol its seas and hunt for submarines. It vows to spend at least 2 percent of gross domestic product on the military, as NATO desires.
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