Category Archives: International Relations

Eppur si muove…

It's alive!!!!!!

Timothy Garton Ash reassures us from the pages of The Guardian about the new-born EU Constitution – sorry, er… Lisbon Reform Treaty:

Now this amending treaty of Lisbon, modest and hedged about with qualifications though it is, should enable the union to work just a little bit better when – assuming all 27 member states ratify it – it comes into force in January 2009. But a noble constitutional document, comparable to that of the United States, it is not. It more nearly resembles the instruction manual for a forklift truck. In itself, it will do nothing to convince Europe’s citizens, or the rest of the world, of what the European Union is good for. But it will help the EU to do things that may convince them. Now that the end of this long, disappointing constitutional debate is at last in sight, it should free us to concentrate on what this union does, rather than what it is, or says it is. In fact, the EU will define what it is by what it does. 

Wonderful. While the US mantra on Iraq appears to be “Don’t pay attention to what we’re doing, just to what we’re saying“, TGA is telling us: “Don’t listen to what the EU is saying, just look at what it’s doing!

Strange world we live in. Call me unsophisticated, but whatever happened to “Turning words into deeds?

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ECFR: a tale of premature senescence?

Looking on... Courtesy: bigeyedeer.files.wordpress.com/

The European Council on Foreign Relations organised today its first briefing, presenting the results of a world-wide survey (PDF) conducted by Gallup International on the balance between hard and soft power. The survey covered a range of questions on the global influence of several international actors, including the EU, the US, China and India. Mark Leonard, Executive Director of the ECFR, chaired a somewhat drowsy panel that included Lord Desai, Robert Kagan and Ivan Krastev. The conclusions? Since the EU is the least hated of all the major powers, this should be interpreted as a sign that it should be given greater clout internationally. Alas, the newly-born think-tank gave away a strangely familiar smell of old habits.

A proper debate with the audience, packed with policy wonks and senior civil servants, never really kicked off. The elephants in the corner were carefully left dormant. If the EU has more power, what does this mean for the Member States? Can we realistically expect them to step aside and let go the reigns, especially those that have never really lost the appetite for world domination? And if it develops a stronger role internationally, will this come at the expense of its real (or perceived) soft power? And does all this matter at all, since the Commission has been promoting a stronger global role for the EU long before anyone was asked whether they supported it or not? How does this fit with the idea of a democratic Europe? Or is foreign policy – as Kagan was suggesting – something that should be still dealt with by the old boys in the corridors of power? None of these provocative questions was really raised during the debate.

Instead, discussion turned quickly to the US – why everyone hates it, why it doesn’t matter, why it should, etc. – while the topic of the EU was pushed aside. Clearly, even for the panelists there were more interesting subjects to discuss. To be fair, the ECFR made an effort to engage the broader public in the debate, for example by posting some interesting throughts on the survey (but receiving only 1 response at the time of writing). However, the briefing was strangely reminiscent of those dull Brusselite luncheons where everyone is too polite to start a proper discussion. The only one who did, Lord Desai, ranted on about a chart in the handouts, only to be gently told that he was reading it upside down, and then made some completely unfounded statements about how the Enlargement and the Single Market have failed (sic!). Everyone else sat silently in their dark suits (even the very few present women appeared dressed for a funeral). This was hardly stuff that gets people excited about the EU in the world.

Now, I know I am being a little harsh, but this is because I really think the ECFR has huge potential, and I want it to succeed. However, if it truly wants to rock the debate on Europe – especially in the UK – it’ll have to be a little more daring and provocative than today. So here are my 3 little suggestions to make the next event more captivating and perhaps memorable:

1. A more diverse panel: less pompous academics (notoriously allergic to criticism) and younger, more unconventional thinkers with strong and sustained views on the subject could have generated a much livelier debate, and perhaps generated 2-3 more challenging ideas about the role of Europe in the world. For example him. Or her.

2. A richer audience: I am not sure who everyone in the audience was, but if my understanding of English fashion doesn’t fail me, most were civil servants, press officers (not journalists) and the odd think-tank refugee. People from more diverse backgrounds (business, media, NGOs, even students) could have thrown in some hard questions at the survey and at the panel. In line with the ECFR’s stated objective of being truly 2.0, why not – for example – invite next time also a sample of some of the most provocative and interesting British Euro-bloggers (them, or him, to begin with)?

3. A cooler venue: the Foreign Press Association felt like one of those old boys’ clubs, where men used to go smoke cigars and discuss politics away from the madding crowds. The ECFR debates should happen instead in exciting new venues, where businessmen, artists, creators, or architects hang out, and where think-tanks rarely set foot. London is awash with exciting places where to hold events. One example for all, the Bloomberg Space:

Bloomberg Space, London

There, I said it all. Now let’s hope I haven’t just secured my banning from all future ECFR events…!

My heart’s with Ethan

 Chris Jordan, Cell Phones, 2007 (courtesy: http://www.chrisjordan.com/)

Ethan Zuckerman remains my No. 1 favourite blogger of all times, and given how much I struggle to update GlobaLab at least 2-3 times a week, while trying to work and retain a decent social life, I am in awe at his amazing prolificacy.

A quick browse at his last few entries would be enough to feed an average person’s brain for 6 months. Over the last few days, he’s been busy reporting from the PopTech conference, which he describes as “the annual three-day gathering of scientists, inventors, geeks, philosophers and thinkers in coastal Maine“. The event is a catwalk for amazing projects and ideas that are truly transforming the world. If you haven’t followed the event, you can read Ethan’s posts on some of the most interesting presentations, including (but there are more):

It took me good part of the day to read them all, and there are many more celebrity bloggers who reported from the event, including BoingBoing, Next Billion, and a few (but not many) non-English speaking bloggers.

If this isn’t enough for you, check out Ethan’s earlier post about a new initiative to fight counterfeit pharmaceuticals in Ghana (hopefully soon the whole of Africa), mPedigree, which will use mobile phones to track drugs from their original producers all the way to the pharmacy shelves, allowing each buyer in the chain to ensure that they’re dealing with a legitimate product. Or check out the entry in which he takes a good shot at unravelling the complex situation in Somalia, in response to the Onion’s eye-opening video Situation in Nigeria Seems Pretty Complex, a must see for all Africanists:

In The Know: Situation In Nigeria Seems Pretty Complex

What can I say? Ethan, you are my personal hero!!!

How many bricks to build a World Digital Library?

The Washington Post showcases an amazingly visionary project, the World Digital Library, which plans to digitize the accumulated wisdom of humankind, catalogue it, and offer it for free on the Internet in seven languages:

The World Digital Library will make available on the Internet, free of charge and in multilingual format, significant primary materials from cultures around the world, including manuscripts, maps, rare books, musical scores, recordings, films, prints, photographs, architectural drawings, and other significant cultural materials. The objectives of the World Digital Library are to promote international and inter-cultural understanding and awareness, provide resources to educators, expand non-English and non-Western content on the Internet, and to contribute to scholarly research.

They don’t come more visionary than this one…

[via Jon]

Coeur of darkness

 Bozize, Chirac, BFFE

The Independent’s Johann Hari writes a long overdue report on France’s secret involvement in the Central African Republic, the most forgotten and under-reported country of Africa.

This is classical, old-fashioned war-reporting and political journalism, an uncompromising indictment of France’s foreign policy in Central Africa (and Africa more generally), and a very uncomfortable read for those who still think *we* are the good ones, and *they* are the underdeveloped ones. Francewatcher will be pleased…

A new Euro-star is born

Europe at night - Copyright: Planetary Visions Ltd.; Courtesy: Kevin M. Tildsley

No, I am not talking about a new train (although the London-Paris Eurostar is about to be moved from Waterloo to King’s Cross, which is very exciting for me, since I live within walking distance of the station), but about a new pan-European initiative, headed by Mark Leonard, and staffed with lots of young bright things: the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).

Its purpose? Amongst others, to develop a more coherent and vigorous European foreign policy, in order to tackle an increasing number of global challenges, including climate change, world poverty, nuclear proliferation and the surge of violent extremism.

There haven’t been many interesting reactions to the birth of the ECFR within the blogosphere so far. Mark Leonard set the tone a few days ago as a guest-blogger on the Economist, while others – including the Dubliner Magazine, the Cult of the Dead Fish and Infowars – simply followed his lead, reproducing the press-release from the launch. Personally, I think the blogosphere should be more about opinion-making than info-replication, so here is my personal take on the new initiative.

Three things excite me about the ECFR. First: its young leadership and unreserved Europhilia, which brings a breath of fresh ideas and enthusiasm to a political debate about the future of Europe that has recently been – to say the least – soporific. Second: its decision to base its headquarters at the heart of the eurosceptic London and its satellite offices in Berlin, Madrid, Paris, Rome, Warsaw and Sofia. This will bring a truly pan-European perspective to the debates, allowing in particular the voices of the South and East to be heard, as opposed to the claustrophobic and incestuous rants of most Brussels-based think-tanks. Third, its very interactive website, blog-inspired, simple to access and to navigate, a sign that the ECFR is serious about taking to people, and is generally a modern, forward-looking organisation.

But while there are many reasons to celebrate, two aspects at least concerns me. The ECFR is heavily-backed by Soros, and while I personally like the man and his ideas, he has certainly made quite a few enemies across the European Neighbourhood. His involvement in the initiative is welcome, for it gives it financial viability, but the ECFR should also ensure it maintains a degree of separation between the issues it’s trying to tackle and the political interests of those who are backing it, lest it be quickly dismissed as Soros’ Council on Foreign Relations.

In addition, it is supported by a string of European politicians and analysts who are all-too-keen to see a stronger Europe in the world. While a more vigorous foreign policy might be the right answer to many of today’s global challenges, it should never come at the expense of Europe’s aimed neutrality, and of the recognition of its responsibilities towards the developing world, which call for caution every time we are tempted to undermine their sovereignty. Preventing genocide is of course admirable, but the last thing we need is another baton-wielding US, bullying nations into doing what we think is right (more often for us than for them). A respect for diversity should, above all, remain at the core of Europe’s foreign policy.

Having said that, I very much look forward to seeing the new star rise high above the other European constellations and I wish good luck to Mark and to all this team!

The end of Coca-Cola?

Arabic Coca Cola 

Dana Milbank writes a scathing report about yesterday’s press conference by the Sudanese ambassador to the US in response to President Bush’s new sanctions against his country, criticised as overdue by Human Rights Watch:

A dozen reporters, and a similar number of Sudanese Embassy officials, watched the ambassador for an hour as he shouted into the microphone and delivered a circular and rambling complaint about the injustice of U.S. sanctions. His fingers, fists and arms flew through the air, exposing the flashy gold watch on his wrist.

Dana goes on to dismiss the laughable idea that Sudan might halt its exports of gum arabic, hence depriving the world of a crucial component in the production of Coca-Cola:

What’s more, the good and peaceful leaders of Sudan were prepared to retaliate massively: they would cut off shipments of the emulsifier gum arabic, thereby depriving the world of cola. “I want you to know that the gum arabic which runs all the soft drinks all over the world, including the United States, mainly 80 percent is imported from my country,” the ambassador said after raising a bottle of Coca-Cola. A reporter asked if Sudan was threatening to “stop the export of gum arabic and bring down the Western world.” – “I can stop that gum arabic and all of us will have lost this,” Khartoum Karl warned anew, beckoning to the Coke bottle. “But I don’t want to go that way.”

Dana would probably laugh less if he realised that gum arabic is indeed a prime export of Sudan, which was responsible for 56% of the $90 million-worth world trade in 2000. The rest came from Chad and Nigeria, two countries which cannot be said to be the most peaceful in the world, and where production can be seriously hampered by local political upheavals and conflict too.

It is unlikely that Sudan will halt production altogether, since millions of its citizens depend directly or indirectly on this product. But there is no reason why we shouldn’t expect Sudan to retaliate against the US by dramatically increasing the price of the product, in very much the same fashion as OPEC did in 1973 thanks to its monopoly on oil production. Moreover, the protracted conflict in Darfur – one of the prime spots for the cultivation of gum arabic – is already seriously affecting exports, and price increases are a realistic expectation.

Since no one really knows the exact formula of Coca-Cola, except for its two top executives, Coke aficionados might rest in peace for the time being, especially since Wikipedia does not list gum arabic as one of the suspected ingredients. But should gum arabic be present in even little quantities – like in most soft drinks – expect to pay quite a lot more for your fizzy drink in the near future.