Northern Passion for Reconciliation
In the forecourt of Geneva’s winter idyll not far from the Diplomatic developments in the city of the lake in which the peaks of the Swiss Alps are outlined in a 6-century old castle on the banks of the RHONE river with great anticipation as part of a generation of students on the Master’s program in the field of World Politics and Economy, we had the opportunity to be turned into ears intoxicated by the melody of the art of the word as well as the wisdom acquired during a long period of political engagements of the former Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Norway His Excellency Kjell Magne Bondevik who was part of the plethora of celebrities as part of the process for continuing education organised by Professor Anis H. Bajraktarevic.
Excellency Bondevik was a child born after the Second World War, a period of significant devastating consequences for Europe. The human losses were extremely severe, and people were shocked. The economies of several European countries were left in tatters: industrial and agricultural infrastructures had been destroyed, towns and cities had been razed to the ground by bombing raids, means of communication had been damaged, and there were shortages of foodstuffs.
Soon relegated to second fiddle on the international stage by the emergence of the United States and the Soviet Union as two new superpowers, Western Europe realised that its recovery would come through unity, through the pooling of its economic resources where necessary with US financial, technical, and military support and the creation of jointly run, efficient institutions.
Western Europe hoped to reclaim its place on the international stage by uniting the peoples of Europe. We were faced with three fundamental questions. The first was economic: how could material damage be repaired and economic activity revived on the old continent? The second was political: how could they prevent the return of a conflict that had laid the continent and the world to waste? The third was cultural: how could the survival and renaissance of European civilisation be ensured in the face of the increasing threats of ideological schism and confrontation between the victorious American and Soviet blocs?
During significant turbulence, many political opponents were sent to the stage. Bondevik had the opportunity to build his career from the very roots of his youth and his family’s examples and mentors.
A year later, the Labor government fell and was replaced by a centre-coalition minority government, with Kjell Magne BONDEVIK of the Christian People’s Party as prime minister. (King Olaf V died in 1991 and was succeeded by his son, who ascended the throne as Harald V) Bondevik remained in office until 2000, when his government was replaced by a minority government led by the Labor Party, whose brief mandate ended in 2001 with the return of Bondevik, heading yet another conservative coalition until 2005.
The principles of family values and Christian Democratic values were the basis for development and direction of development and progress of Norway during Bondevik’s mandate and were expressed through the Ethical values of Christianity; Christian ethics helps us see both the personal and social dimensions of the gospel. Christian ministers and politicians must understand Christian ethics to give sound moral advice to their people. Commandments of love, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. “This is the first and great commandment. “And the second is like unto it, and Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Human dignity and human life are sacred because the human person is the most central and transparent reflection of God among us.
Bondevik achieved these principles through a long process of development education and experience gained in high positions in the Norwegian Administration, from a deputy through a minister to the Prime Minister, to introduce the principle of leading society through 4C values;
Cooperation – it is undoubtedly necessary to cooperate with all concerned parties representing the people’s voters
Compromise – as in every family and on the political stage, it is undoubtedly great wisdom to have a compromise and be the starting point for progress
Communication – the only way to achieve the goal if all parties had a shared focus on the progress of the state
Coordination – necessary for the realisation of all transiently stated values
After the end of his mandate as prime minister, the experience gained through diplomatic talks with various politicians, especially in the territory of Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Balkan region concerning Kosovo and Bosnia, contributed to Bondevik being the initiator of the establishment of the OSLO CENTER, which in its principles possesses all the experiences from Bondevik’s prosperous career. Oslo Center is an independent non-profit organisation working in democratisation and democratic governance and is passionate about democratic values that contribute to strong and stable societies. Organisations believe in an inclusive and representative democracy where people are at the centre, with the rights and ability to influence their communities. Developing democracies is a long-lasting and meaningful journey, and we are honoured to support people working to make their country more democratic continuously. Over the last 15 years, the Oslo Center successfully implemented various projects and became a forum for dialogue between peer democracy assistance organisations, policy decision-makers, and political thinkers.
Many valuable topics were discussed throughout the 13 January, emphasising political dialogues, issues and their protection and preservation.
The crises in different global locations have witnessed violence in different forms. Still, always in the conversations, he tended to a peaceful solution so that they had many lessons to share on how to fulfil the plans with precisely that in other parts of the political scene.
Personal and political background His Excellency KJELL MAGNE BONDEVIK, the former Prime Minister of Norway (1997-2000; 2001-2005).
Bondevik was born on September 3, 1947, in Molde, a city on Norway’s Romsdal peninsula along the Norwegian Sea. Kjell Magne Bondevik served as a member of Storting (Parliament of Norway) for the County of Møre og Romsdal from 1973-2005 and has been a member of Storting since 1973. Mr Bondevik was party leader of the Christian Democratic Party from 1983-1995. He was appointed Prime Minister again in October 2001, heading a coalition government between the Christian People’s Party, the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party. He served until 2005. Once his mandate as Prime minister was over, Mr Bondevik went on to found the Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights in 2006. United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed him as the new Special Humanitarian Envoy for the Horn of Africa. This area includes the troubled regions of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia. As an ordained minister and president of The Oslo Center, Mr Bondevik is deeply involved in petitions consisting of the Christian Democratic Party, the Centre Party and the Liberal Party. He served as his party’s parliamentary leader from 1981-1983, 1986-1989, 1993-1997, and 2000-2001. Mr Bondevik was Minister of Church and Education in Kåre Willoch’s government (1983-1986) and Minister of Foreign Affairs during the government of Jan P. Syse (1989-1990), .romoting international human rights and interfaith dialogue. He argues that instead of aggravating conflicts, religions – by focusing on shared values – can join forces and make constructive contributions to conflict resolution. Mr Bondevik joins the Council to discuss his organisation’s work in bringing influential politicians, religious leaders and academics into a much-needed dialogue on religion, tolerance, diversity, women’s rights and democracy. He will discuss his recent partnership with the former President of Iran, Mohammad Khatami, and how the two have been working together to increase understanding, reduce tensions, counter stereotypes, and promote peaceful dialogue between the Islamic world and the West.
Bondevik was awarded the Grand Cross of St. Olav in 2004, the first sitting Norwegian Prime Minister to receive the Order of St. Olav in 80 years. The award happened due to a change in the Statutes of the Order with automatic awards to the Prime Minister and Ministers of the Government that stirred some debate and criticism. He is a full member of the Club de Madrid, a group of former leaders of democratic states that works to strengthen democratic governance and leadership. Kjell Magne Bondevik is an Honorary Member of The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation. In 2009, Bondevik was awarded an honorary degree from the University of San Francisco.
Europe’s relations with Africa and Asia are on the brink of collapse, and Russia is benefiting
More than one year since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the world remains caught in the middle. Against a backdrop of high energy and food prices, ravaging inflation, social unrest and fears of another global recession, Western and Russian blocs are once again vying for support from nations of the developing world.
Emmanuel Macron, Olaf Scholz, Sergei Lavrov, Qin Gang, and Anthony Blinken are just some of the names that have made high-profile visits to Africa in the last 12 months. All have largely focused on cooperation and trade, yet each has done so with a discourse reflecting a kind of Cold War reboot, with Ukraine as one of its most prominent symptoms.
Each in their own way, armed with their respective propaganda, these superpowers wish for nations of Africa and Asia to pick a side. Yet, unlike the previous century, those nations cannot so easily be made to choose, nor should they have to. Russia understands this. The West does not.
It’s no secret that Africa has been reluctant to overtly condemn Russia’s actions in Ukraine, or to participate in Western efforts to sanction and isolate the warring country. Instead, African and Asian nations have continued to welcome these longstanding partners with open arms – widely condemning the war, but not Russia.
In Malawi, for instance, Russia’s deliveries of tens of thousands of tonnes of fertiliser amidst global shortages are seen as a gift from heaven by struggling farmers. Malawi’s minister of agriculture shook hands with the Russian ambassador, describing Russia gratefully as “a true friend”. Russia’s announced plans to send 260,000 tonnes of fertiliser to countries across Africa, is certain to spread similar sentiments.
In my country Congo-Brazzaville, the government signed five major cooperation agreements with Russia in the midst of its war with Ukraine, including for the construction of a new oil pipeline and to enhance military cooperation.
This charm offensive, prominently led by Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, who has visited South Africa, Eswatini, Angola, Eritrea, Mali, Sudan and Mauritania just since January, is already nourishing pro-Russian sentiment throughout the continent, and stands in sharp contrast to the damp squib that was President Emmanuel Macron’s recent African adventure.
In his press conference with Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) President, Felix Tshisekedi, in what was perhaps the most deaf-tone faux pas of his entire trip, President Macron was repeatedly asked to condemn Rwanda’s support for M23 rebels causing havoc in eastern DRC – a situation that closely resembles Russia’s covert support for Donbass separatists in recent years. For all intents and purposes, he failed to do so.
Instead, when a French journalist quizzed him on former Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian’s disparaging mention of an “African-style compromise” in relation to President Tshisekedi election in 2019, Macron proceeded to lecture the Congolese President on freedom of the press – much to the disbelief of those witnessing the scene.
Despite President Macron’s effusive rhetoric about ‘new relationships’ and ‘new starts’, his outburst was yet another bitter reminder of Europe’s longstanding paternalistic and dissonant attitude towards the continent. This is the same attitude whereby decades of European political and military influence on the continent have failed to generate meaningful progress when they did not actively undermine those efforts. Africans are wise to this and refuse to take it anymore, as evidenced by the growth in anti-French sentiment in West Africa. Russia, China and others, though far from being without reproach, are merely seizing the presented opportunities.
Just as the share of EU aid going to Africa has declined significantly, similar problems are afoot with Europe’s relations in Asia. Its share of Southeast Asian merchandise trade, excluding China, fell by over a third over the last two decades. Western Europe was the destination for less than a tenth of Malaysian, Singaporean, South Korean and Taiwanese exports in 2021. Russia is again moving fast to fill the gap, adopting China as its main trading partner, and consistently exporting oil and gas to eager Asian buyers, rather than to the West. When Russia suspended its double taxation treaties with “unfriendly” countries around the world in mid-March, most Southeast Asian countries were exempted from this measure.
Moreover, Russia has over the last decade become the largest arms supplier to the region, recently running joint naval exercises with the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN). Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia have all rejected imposing sanctions on Moscow, whilst Malaysia signed a memorandum of understanding with Russia to improve agricultural trade earlier this year.
One cannot fault these nations for engaging in partnerships and cooperation with international partners, in the interest of addressing their most urgent societal priorities. Nor can one fault African and Asian countries for taking with a pinch of salt a discourse on international values and change, when this supposed change stems not from recognition of current flaws, but from the impositions of emergent global trends.
What lessons can be given about territorial integrity and justice, when the events of 2011 in Libya, as well as their enduring consequences, remain traumatically fresh in African minds, or when the posture of African countries relative to the war in Ukraine is almost identical to that of Europe relative to the conflict in the eastern provinces of the DRC?
What lessons should be drawn from European courts proceeding to the seizure of Malaysian assets and properties worth $15 billion – including lucrative oil and gas assets – based on a questionable arbitration authorised by a Spanish arbitrator facing criminal prosecution from the Spanish authorities? And who will really benefit, given that this claim on sovereign territories, derived from a mid-nineteenth agreement between a long-vanished Sultanate and a colonial-era British company, is funded by unknown third-party investors?
The willingness of European courts to confiscate the resources and assets of a sovereign Asian nation on such flimsy grounds is not lost on observers in Africa and across the developing world.
Whatever the answer to these questions may be, it is evident that relations between the old and new worlds will continue to strain as long as underlying assumptions and beliefs do not evolve. Specifically, change is needed in those attitudes that continue to consider developing nations as oblivious to the many contradictions of rhetoric and practice that characterise the world as we know it – whether in terms of: a system of aid and trade that nourishes the imbalances and ills it purports to address; a discourse on international law and values that crumbles in the face of past transgressions and current drives for reforms; or even negotiations on climate finance in which urgency stops when economic interests begin.
The Western world can only reverse this trajectory by seeking out a genuinely new footing in its relations with the countries of Africa and Asia – challenging its own assumptions and understandings about what a respectful partnership between equally legitimate nations truly means. This is not about paying lip-service to ideals struggling to remain convincing, nor is it about entirely conceding these ideals on the altar of economic pragmatism.
Rather this means accepting a due share of responsibility for the current state of affairs, understanding expectations for the future, being willing to make real concessions, and aligning discourse with dollars and deeds. In doing so, the Western world will reassure those of us that continue to believe in the promises of the UN Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that these were not merely pretences to maintain hegemony in the face of existential threats, but rather an enduring vision for a better world that remains worth fighting for today.
A Muscular U.S. Foreign Policy and Changing Alliances
Imagine a country rich in fossil fuels and another nearby that is Europe’s premier industrial power in dire need of those resources — is that a match made in heaven?
Not according to Joe Biden who quashed it as if it was a match made in hell. Biden was so much against any such rapprochement that to end all prospects of a deal, he ordered the bombing of the Nord Stream pipelines. Two out of four lines were severely damaged, about 50 meters of them and Russia chose not to conduct repairs. Instead,it is pumping its gas up through Turkey.
So far, Russia has not responded to this act of war but a leader can not afford to lose face domestically or internationally, and one may not be surprised if an American facility or ship suffers an adverse event in the future.
In the meantime, Russia has become fast friends with China — the latter having its own bone to pick with Biden. China, a growing industrial giant, has almost insatiable energy needs and Russia stands ready to supply them. An informal deal has been agreed upon with a formal signing ceremony on March 20, 2023.
So who won this fracas? Russia gets to export its gas anyway and China, already generating the world’s highest GDP on a purchasing-power-parity basis, has guaranteed itself an energy source.
Of course there is Ukraine where Biden (like the US in Vietnam) is ready to fight to the last Ukrainian. Despite a valiant resistance, they are not winning, for Russia continues to solidify its hold on Ukraine’s east, most recently by taking Soledar and capturing parts of the transport hub Bakhmut itself.
And then there is Saudi Arabia: hitherto a staunch U.S. ally, it is now extending a hand of friendship to Iran, which its previous king used to call the snake in the Middle East. But Saudi Arabia is keenly aware of the vassal-like manner in which the U.S. has treated Germany, its ally with the largest economy in Europe, over its desire to buy cheap gas from Russia. The deal was nixed and observers estimate it cost Germany a couple of points of GDP growth. Such a loss in the U.S. would translate to almost zero growth.
India used to be a neutral country between the great powers. In fact, its first leader after independence, Jawaharlal Nehru, was a leading figure in the non-aligned movement. It is now being tugged towards the US.
The latest tug is ICET or the initiative on Critical and Emerging Technologies. Its purpose is to find ways to engage through “innovation bridges” over the key areas of focus. This coordination between the two countries is to cover industry, academia and government.
On the other hand, India’s arch rival Pakistan used to be in the US orbit for decades. Now it is virtually a Chinese client state even though for a time, particularly during the Afghan war, it was a source of much help for the US.
Such are the vagaries of alignments in a multi-polar world, particularly when under pressure from major powers.
Adoption of the controversial pension reform bill in France
On Thursday, 16th March 2023, the senate adopted the pension reform bill with 193 senators voting for the project and 114 senators voting against it. A few hours later, after many meetings of key figures of the government and the Renaissance party –the governing party – , it was decided that the National Assembly was not going to vote for the bill but rather the government would use the famous 49.3, an article of the 1958 constitution which allows the prime minister to have a bill adopted into law without a vote. The Senate and the National Assembly – through a joint committee – had agreed on a compromise text of the bill the day before the crucial vote in the Parliament. The project was so important to President Macron that he threatened to dissolve the National Assembly if the project did not go through. Some analysts saw this threat as way of inducing members of the National Assembly to adopt the project rather than put into jeopardy their political careers. Politicians like Christian Estrosi, mayor of Nice, a staunch republican, claims members of the National Assembly had to vote the bill because they should be convinced that it is the best thing to do right now for a sustainable pension system in France.
When President Macron was elected in 2017, he pledged to change the pension system in France for he believed that it was unjust and that it would be difficult to sponsor it in the years to come since more people will be going into retirement. It is believed that those aged 65 will be more than the under 20 come the year 2030. Macron did not carry out the reform in his first term in office after meeting with different resistance like the one of the Gilets Jaunes; he probably feared it may cost him the second term. Once the first term was over, he was most probably determined to carry on simply because he is not scared to lose, his second term being the last one. The pension reform has been heavily contested, with polls in February 2023 suggesting that 65% of the French people are against it.
The reform moves the retirement age from 62 to 64 years. The change will be carried out progressively with 3 months added each year to make it two years in total in 2030. To have fully contributed to the retirement insurance one will have worked 43 years. People working in relatively hard industries like the police, firefighters, garbage collection will still be able to retire early. However, those who entered the career late like those who had long studies will have to work until 67 years. Disabled people could still go on retirement at the age of 55 while those who have suffered disability along the way could retire at the age of 60.
With the new bill having become a law, those who will have a complete career (43 years) will not receive less than 85% of minimum wage (i.e. 1200 Euros gross salary). Furthermore, the government believes it will be able to save 17.7 billion Euros by 2030 with the new pension system. According to the government, increasing the retirement age was the fairer way than increasing taxes especially that people are believed to live longer than in the past.
The left parties (La France Insoumise LFI, Les Socialistes, Europe Ecologie-les Verts) have made it difficult for the bill discussion especially in the National Assembly by proposing thousands of amendments to delay the voting process and even derail it. This is probably why the government feared to lose the vote and decided to invoke 49.3. The government doesn’t have the outright majority and has had to rely on the right party (les Républicains LR) to have the reform bill voted in the Senate but some of Renaissance members of the National Assembly were reluctant to vote for the bill and some LR members had said they would abstain, leaving the ruling party with no other choice than to use 49.3. The Prime Minister suggested that “the reform is necessary” and she was taking responsibility by invoking 49.3.
The reform bill was so unpopular that there have been protests for months spearheaded by the Union of workers who mobilized workers across many industries (i.e. energy, transport) and public institutions (e.g. education). Millions of people have been on the street, a reminiscence of 1968, when students spearheaded strikes in which 10 million of people took to the street to make request which resulted, inter alia, in the 35% increase of minimum wage. The objective of protestors against pension reform bill had been to make the government withdraw the entire project because they believe it is unjust to ask people to work two years more, considering that their career is long enough. President Macron seemed not interested to receive the Unions and had no intention to withdraw the project.
As a result of strikes, the city of Paris and some other cities in France have seen the bins fill up along the streets and residents are said to hold their noses as they pass by. For some this is not the image to show to the world for a city that is hosting Olympic games in 2024 let alone for health reasons but for others this is the price to pay for the actions of a government that does not hid the voices of the people. Transport on the road as well as in the air has been heavily disrupted. Those who don’t participate in strikes are generally said to support the actions of the protesters. However, it is unclear if they will keep supporting them if the movement lasts long.
Using 49.3 always comes with the risk that the opposition would present a censure motion, in which the government itself runs the risk of being forced to resign and the text of the bill being rejected if the censure motion is adopted. Before the Prime Minister announced that the government had chosen to use 49.3 to adopt the pension reform bill, she was not allowed to speak for a few minutes. Ivan Rioufol, a journalist at CNews believes that this moment is not just a big moment for the 5th Republic but also a historical moment. For now, the government has triumphed and one of the most contested reforms of French modern politics has become a law– at least if the censure motion does not bring down the government and along with it, the newly-adopted law.
Nonetheless, despite the bill being adopted into law by the Senate and through 49.3, unions have vowed to keep protesting until the law is suspended. In a recent BFMTV poll, 62% French people would want the strikes to continue if the bill passes. Now that it has passed, it is not clear whether the resistance will make the government change anything. Neither is it clear whether the movement itself will be able to resist long since the longer workers strike the more money they lose from the salary. With the inflation and conditions of life that have been hard due to Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine it will be hard to sustain the strikes. What is clear is that the repercussions of this reform will linger on for many years to come. One anonymous political scientist even claimed that this could open the narrow door to the extreme right to come into power.
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