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OPINION: BACK TO 5 CENTURIES AGO
Europe is positioning itself outside the international race

Roberto Savio in Rome

Roberto Savio

The new European Commission looks more like an experiment in balancing opposite forces than an institution that is run by some kind of governance. It will probably end up being paralysed by internal conflicts, which is the last thing it needs.
During the Commission presided over by José Manuel Barroso (2004-2014), Europe has become more and more marginal in the international arena, bogged down by the internal division between the North and the South of Europe.
We are going back to a new Thirty Years’ War – which took place nearly five centuries ago – between Catholics and Protestants. Catholics are considered profligate spenders, and there is a moral approach to economics from the Protestant side.
The Germans, for example, have transformed debt into a financial “sin”.  The large majority of Germans support the stern position of their government that fiscal sacrifice is the only way to salvation, and the looming economic slowdown will only strengthen that feeling. As a result, the handling of Europe’s internal governance crisis has largely pushed Europe to the side lines of the world.

Structural alliance
It is a mystery why it is in the interests of Europe to push Russia into a structural alliance with China and, in such a fragile moment, inflict on itself losses of trade and investment with Russia which could reach 40 billion euro next year.
“We are going back to a new Thirty Years’ War – which took place nearly five centuries ago – between Catholics and Protestants. Catholics are considered profligate spenders, and there is a moral approach to economics from the Protestant side.”
The latest issue of the prestigious Foreign Affairs magazine – the bible of the US elite – carries a long and detailed article on “Why the Ukraine Crisis is the West’s Fault” by Chicago academic John J. Mearsheimer, who documents how the offer to Ukraine to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) was the last of a number of hostile steps that pushed Russian President Vladimir Putin to stop a clear process of encroachment.
Mearsheimer wonders how all this was in the long term interests of the United States, beyond some small circles, and why Europe followed. But politics now has only a short-term horizon, and priorities are becoming conditioned by that approach.

ODA budgets eliminated
A good example is how European states (with the exception of the Nordic states), have been slashing their international cooperation budgets. Not only have Spain, Italy and Portugal – and of course Greece – practically eliminated their official development assistance (ODA) budgets, but France, Belgium and Austria have also been following suit. Meanwhile China has been investing heavily in Africa, Latin America and, of course, Asia where the term ‘cooperation’ would not be the most appropriate.
But the best example of Europe’s inability to be in sync with reality is the last cut in the Erasmus programme, which sends tens of thousands of students every year to another European country. Has it been overlooked that one million babies have been born to couples who met during their Erasmus scholarships, and that this programme is being cut at a moment when anti-Europe parties are sprouting everywhere?
In fact, education – and especially culture (and medical assistance) – are under a continuous reduction in spending. As Giulio Tremonti, Finance Minister under Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, famously said, “you don’t eat with culture”.
The per capita budget for culture in southern Europe is now one-seventh that of northern Europe. Italy, which according to UNESCO holds 50 per cent of Europe’s cultural heritage, has just decided in its latest budget to open up 100 jobs in the archaeological field with a gross monthly salary of 430 euro. In today’s market, this is half what a maid receives for 20 hours of work a week.
Italian politicians do not say so explicitly, but they believe that there is already such rich heritage that there is no need for further investment and, anyhow, the tourists continue to arrive. The budget for all Italian museums is close to the budget of the New York Metropolitan Museum  in the real world, this is like somebody who wants to live by showing the mummified body of his great grandmother for the price of a ticket!
It can be said that, in a moment of crisis, the budget for culture can be frozen because there are more urgent needs. But no need is more urgent than to keep Europe running in the international competition in order to ensure a future for its citizens. And yet, the budget for research and development, which is essential for staying in the race, is also being cut year by year.
Let us look at the situation since 2009. Spain has reduced investment in R&D by 40 per cent, which has led to a 40 per cent cut in financing for projects and a 30 per cent cut in human resources. Italian universities have witnessed a total cut of 20 per cent in spending which has meant a reduction of 80 per cent in hiring and 100% in projects, while 40 per cent of PhD courses have disappeared.
France has cut hiring in centres of research by 25 per cent and in universities by 20 per cent. Less than 10 per cent of demand for projects receives financing because funds are no longer available.
Greece has cut budget for centres of research and universities by 50 per cent since 2011, and has frozen the hiring of any new researchers.
In the same period in Portugal, universities and research centres have suffered a cut of 50 per cent, the number of scholarships for PhDs has been cut by 40 per cent and post-doctoral courses by 65 per cent.
It is important to recall that the Lisbon Strategy, the action programme for jobs and growth adopted in 2000,  aimed to  make the European Union “the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion” by 2010. Not only were most of its objectives not achieved in 2010, but Europe continues to slide backwards. The Lisbon Strategy had set 3 per cent of GNP for R&D, but southern Europe is now below 1.5 per cent.

Synchronicity
A notable exception is the United Kingdom. The current government, which works in strong synchronicity with the City and its industrial constituency, has funded a 6 billion euro “Innovation and Research Strategy for Growth” plan to the applause of the private sector.
China is steadily increasing steadily its R&D budget, which is now 3 per cent (what the Lisbon Strategy had set for Europe), but it aims to reach 6 per cent of GNP by 2020 and, in just seven years, China has become the largest producer of solar energy, bankrupting several U.S. and European companies.
Is cutting Europe’s future in international competition really in the interests of Germany? Or it is that politics are losing the view of the forest while they discuss how many trees to cut, to reach a compromise between the Catholics and the Protestants?
We are now making of economics a moral science, which makes of Europe an unusual world.
— IPS
[Roberto Savio is founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News.]

Comment

Roberto Savio in Rome

Roberto Savio

The new European Commission looks more like an experiment in balancing opposite forces than an institution that is run by some kind of governance. It will probably end up being paralysed by internal conflicts, which is the last thing it needs.
During the Commission presided over by José Manuel Barroso (2004-2014), Europe has become more and more marginal in the international arena, bogged down by the internal division between the North and the South of Europe.
We are going back to a new Thirty Years’ War – which took place nearly five centuries ago – between Catholics and Protestants. Catholics are considered profligate spenders, and there is a moral approach to economics from the Protestant side.
The Germans, for example, have transformed debt into a financial “sin”.  The large majority of Germans support the stern position of their government that fiscal sacrifice is the only way to salvation, and the looming economic slowdown will only strengthen that feeling. As a result, the handling of Europe’s internal governance crisis has largely pushed Europe to the side lines of the world.

Structural alliance
It is a mystery why it is in the interests of Europe to push Russia into a structural alliance with China and, in such a fragile moment, inflict on itself losses of trade and investment with Russia which could reach 40 billion euro next year.
“We are going back to a new Thirty Years’ War – which took place nearly five centuries ago – between Catholics and Protestants. Catholics are considered profligate spenders, and there is a moral approach to economics from the Protestant side.”
The latest issue of the prestigious Foreign Affairs magazine – the bible of the US elite – carries a long and detailed article on “Why the Ukraine Crisis is the West’s Fault” by Chicago academic John J. Mearsheimer, who documents how the offer to Ukraine to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) was the last of a number of hostile steps that pushed Russian President Vladimir Putin to stop a clear process of encroachment.
Mearsheimer wonders how all this was in the long term interests of the United States, beyond some small circles, and why Europe followed. But politics now has only a short-term horizon, and priorities are becoming conditioned by that approach.

ODA budgets eliminated
A good example is how European states (with the exception of the Nordic states), have been slashing their international cooperation budgets. Not only have Spain, Italy and Portugal – and of course Greece – practically eliminated their official development assistance (ODA) budgets, but France, Belgium and Austria have also been following suit. Meanwhile China has been investing heavily in Africa, Latin America and, of course, Asia where the term ‘cooperation’ would not be the most appropriate.
But the best example of Europe’s inability to be in sync with reality is the last cut in the Erasmus programme, which sends tens of thousands of students every year to another European country. Has it been overlooked that one million babies have been born to couples who met during their Erasmus scholarships, and that this programme is being cut at a moment when anti-Europe parties are sprouting everywhere?
In fact, education – and especially culture (and medical assistance) – are under a continuous reduction in spending. As Giulio Tremonti, Finance Minister under Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, famously said, “you don’t eat with culture”.
The per capita budget for culture in southern Europe is now one-seventh that of northern Europe. Italy, which according to UNESCO holds 50 per cent of Europe’s cultural heritage, has just decided in its latest budget to open up 100 jobs in the archaeological field with a gross monthly salary of 430 euro. In today’s market, this is half what a maid receives for 20 hours of work a week.
Italian politicians do not say so explicitly, but they believe that there is already such rich heritage that there is no need for further investment and, anyhow, the tourists continue to arrive. The budget for all Italian museums is close to the budget of the New York Metropolitan Museum  in the real world, this is like somebody who wants to live by showing the mummified body of his great grandmother for the price of a ticket!
It can be said that, in a moment of crisis, the budget for culture can be frozen because there are more urgent needs. But no need is more urgent than to keep Europe running in the international competition in order to ensure a future for its citizens. And yet, the budget for research and development, which is essential for staying in the race, is also being cut year by year.
Let us look at the situation since 2009. Spain has reduced investment in R&D by 40 per cent, which has led to a 40 per cent cut in financing for projects and a 30 per cent cut in human resources. Italian universities have witnessed a total cut of 20 per cent in spending which has meant a reduction of 80 per cent in hiring and 100% in projects, while 40 per cent of PhD courses have disappeared.
France has cut hiring in centres of research by 25 per cent and in universities by 20 per cent. Less than 10 per cent of demand for projects receives financing because funds are no longer available.
Greece has cut budget for centres of research and universities by 50 per cent since 2011, and has frozen the hiring of any new researchers.
In the same period in Portugal, universities and research centres have suffered a cut of 50 per cent, the number of scholarships for PhDs has been cut by 40 per cent and post-doctoral courses by 65 per cent.
It is important to recall that the Lisbon Strategy, the action programme for jobs and growth adopted in 2000,  aimed to  make the European Union “the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion” by 2010. Not only were most of its objectives not achieved in 2010, but Europe continues to slide backwards. The Lisbon Strategy had set 3 per cent of GNP for R&D, but southern Europe is now below 1.5 per cent.

Synchronicity
A notable exception is the United Kingdom. The current government, which works in strong synchronicity with the City and its industrial constituency, has funded a 6 billion euro “Innovation and Research Strategy for Growth” plan to the applause of the private sector.
China is steadily increasing steadily its R&D budget, which is now 3 per cent (what the Lisbon Strategy had set for Europe), but it aims to reach 6 per cent of GNP by 2020 and, in just seven years, China has become the largest producer of solar energy, bankrupting several U.S. and European companies.
Is cutting Europe’s future in international competition really in the interests of Germany? Or it is that politics are losing the view of the forest while they discuss how many trees to cut, to reach a compromise between the Catholics and the Protestants?
We are now making of economics a moral science, which makes of Europe an unusual world.
— IPS
[Roberto Savio is founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News.]


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Who will reconsider stance on presidential elections

Jehan Perera in Colombo

It looks more and more likely that presidential elections will be called early next year regardless of other consequences.  The government spokesman Minister Keheliya Rambukwella has announced that Presidential Elections will be held in January.  He has also said that he knows the date but will not reveal it.  What is happening of the ground also strongly suggests that elections are around the corner.  The Elections Commissioner has completed the voter registration process early this year in October and not in December as is usual.  The national budget has been presented to Parliament in October earlier than the usual month of November. 
It is clearly an election budget as it offers many concessions to the public but for which the sources of revenue are unknown.  The days prior to the presentation of the budget saw a massive advertisement campaign in the national media regarding the government’s priorities and the bright future that awaits the country.  In addition, the media has been reporting incidents involving the utilization of government resources to prepare for the elections, in the form of poster campaigns and the constructing of stages for speakers to stand on at meetings.  However, despite this evidence of preparations for early elections the government will have to be ready for negative fallouts if it goes ahead with its plans.
The media has reported that the Catholic Church is particularly affected following the delay by the government to confirm whether the presidential election is likely to coincide with the Pope’s visit which is scheduled to take place in the middle of January.  Under pressure from the Vatican, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith has written to President Rajapaksa requesting him to inform the church about the date of election.  But there has been no official reply so far.  This has put the local church on the horns of a dilemma as they are unable to advise the Vatican which needs to know the situation.   The Vatican takes care to ensure that papal visits steer clear of local party political issues including elections.  The usual protocol with regard to such papal visits is that they do not take place within one month of an election.

Papal visit
Archbishop’s House Spokesman Fr Cyril Gamini has said that the Pope’s visit will be confirmed only after the official announcement of the Presidential Election by the Elections Commissioner. He said “nothing has been decided as yet and if an election is to be held in January 2015 the Catholic Church will reconsider the Pontiff’s decision to visit the country.”  The special visit paid to him by President Rajapaksa and a large entourage from Sri Lanka to personally invite the Pope to Sri Lanka even after the Vatican had officially agreed to the visit and announced the dates came as a surprise.  But it might have been a politically astute action on the part of the President to not only convince the Catholics of Sri Lanka of his  sincerity in wishing the Pope to visit, but also to persuade the Pope to visit Sri Lanka regardless of other considerations.
Pope Francis is also known for his informal approach, and so it is not impossible that he will dispense with usual protocol.  He has already earned himself the nickname the People’s Pope due to his candid nature and willingness to break from tradition.  He is also a pope of firsts: the first Pope from the developing world, the first from Latin America, the first non-European in almost 1,300 years, the first Jesuit and the first to take the name Francis.  He has proposed that unused convents and monasteries in the West could be converted into housing for immigrants and refugees.  This is only one of many examples of the new thinking he has brought into the Vatican.  Therefore he can dispense with past practices in regard to papal visits abroad.  Further, the Pope’s visit to Sri Lanka is eagerly awaited by the country’s Catholic population.  In the aftermath of the President’s visit to the Vatican to meet with Pope Francis, a special team from the Vatican is expected to visit Sri Lanka soon in early November to ensure that the arrangements are in order.  This is an indication that no decision has yet been taken that would prevent the Pope from visiting Sri Lanka.
However, there is a question about how the government will cope with the ultimatum delivered to the government by its own coalition partner, the JHU, which has opposed the President’s re-election bid in the absence of prior constitutional reforms.  At its national convention, the JHU called for the removal of the Executive President’s power to appoint Supreme Court judges and Court of Appeal judges, to set out in the Constitution the ministries that can be held by the President and to ensure that the President was made answerable to parliament.  This was reiterated to the President by the JHU leaders at a meeting with him.  The President is reported to have said that there was not enough time to make these amendments prior to the election.

Delayed elections
The government would also be aware that in an election to a third term presidency time is not on its side.  In these circumstances, the government’s strategy will necessarily be to switch public attention back to issues of ethnic nationalism and national security, and away from those of good governance. Although the JHU has not been able to win many votes at elections, it is very influential in shaping the political thinking of the ethnic Sinhalese majority whose position it seeks to uphold.   The JHU’s present focus on issues of good governance could lead to a crack in the ethno-nationalist alliance that has repeatedly propelled the government to electoral victory.  But this will be to its own disadvantage, and the JHU leadership has also made it clear that it does not wish the present opposition leadership to win either.
Even now the issue of the country’s sovereignty has come to the fore again.   The report of the UN investigative team that has been mandated to ascertain whether war crimes were committed during the last phase of Sri Lanka’s war will be formally presented to the UNHRC at its session in March.    The holding of this session in Geneva can become a point of electoral mobilization for the government which has long described it as an international conspiracy to punish the country’s leaders who defeated the LTTE and ensured the unity of the country.  Many if not most of the voting population agree with this government line of thinking which has become easier to put to the people following the unexpected decision of the EU Court of Justice to de-ban the LTTE on technical grounds.  Therefore an election campaign that is held before the vote in Geneva will be able to mobilize the nationalism of the people to the government’s advantage.
While most people are distressed at the cost of living issues, they are less concerned with corruption and good governance issues as these have always been a problem in the country.  The present budget which offers many concessions to the people on the cost of living is the government’s acknowledgement that it is a priority issue to the people.  But it is unlikely to accept the JHU’s proposals for constitutional reforms as these will make it difficult for the government to govern in the centralized manner it has become accustomed to. The question is which party will reconsider its decision regarding the election.  The signs are that it will not be the government. The government’s central issue once again will be national sovereignty.  The government will be relying on the fact that when people go to the polls to vote, they will be asking the question in whose hands will the future of the country be safer at this time.

Comment

Jehan Perera in Colombo

It looks more and more likely that presidential elections will be called early next year regardless of other consequences.  The government spokesman Minister Keheliya Rambukwella has announced that Presidential Elections will be held in January.  He has also said that he knows the date but will not reveal it.  What is happening of the ground also strongly suggests that elections are around the corner.  The Elections Commissioner has completed the voter registration process early this year in October and not in December as is usual.  The national budget has been presented to Parliament in October earlier than the usual month of November. 
It is clearly an election budget as it offers many concessions to the public but for which the sources of revenue are unknown.  The days prior to the presentation of the budget saw a massive advertisement campaign in the national media regarding the government’s priorities and the bright future that awaits the country.  In addition, the media has been reporting incidents involving the utilization of government resources to prepare for the elections, in the form of poster campaigns and the constructing of stages for speakers to stand on at meetings.  However, despite this evidence of preparations for early elections the government will have to be ready for negative fallouts if it goes ahead with its plans.
The media has reported that the Catholic Church is particularly affected following the delay by the government to confirm whether the presidential election is likely to coincide with the Pope’s visit which is scheduled to take place in the middle of January.  Under pressure from the Vatican, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith has written to President Rajapaksa requesting him to inform the church about the date of election.  But there has been no official reply so far.  This has put the local church on the horns of a dilemma as they are unable to advise the Vatican which needs to know the situation.   The Vatican takes care to ensure that papal visits steer clear of local party political issues including elections.  The usual protocol with regard to such papal visits is that they do not take place within one month of an election.

Papal visit
Archbishop’s House Spokesman Fr Cyril Gamini has said that the Pope’s visit will be confirmed only after the official announcement of the Presidential Election by the Elections Commissioner. He said “nothing has been decided as yet and if an election is to be held in January 2015 the Catholic Church will reconsider the Pontiff’s decision to visit the country.”  The special visit paid to him by President Rajapaksa and a large entourage from Sri Lanka to personally invite the Pope to Sri Lanka even after the Vatican had officially agreed to the visit and announced the dates came as a surprise.  But it might have been a politically astute action on the part of the President to not only convince the Catholics of Sri Lanka of his  sincerity in wishing the Pope to visit, but also to persuade the Pope to visit Sri Lanka regardless of other considerations.
Pope Francis is also known for his informal approach, and so it is not impossible that he will dispense with usual protocol.  He has already earned himself the nickname the People’s Pope due to his candid nature and willingness to break from tradition.  He is also a pope of firsts: the first Pope from the developing world, the first from Latin America, the first non-European in almost 1,300 years, the first Jesuit and the first to take the name Francis.  He has proposed that unused convents and monasteries in the West could be converted into housing for immigrants and refugees.  This is only one of many examples of the new thinking he has brought into the Vatican.  Therefore he can dispense with past practices in regard to papal visits abroad.  Further, the Pope’s visit to Sri Lanka is eagerly awaited by the country’s Catholic population.  In the aftermath of the President’s visit to the Vatican to meet with Pope Francis, a special team from the Vatican is expected to visit Sri Lanka soon in early November to ensure that the arrangements are in order.  This is an indication that no decision has yet been taken that would prevent the Pope from visiting Sri Lanka.
However, there is a question about how the government will cope with the ultimatum delivered to the government by its own coalition partner, the JHU, which has opposed the President’s re-election bid in the absence of prior constitutional reforms.  At its national convention, the JHU called for the removal of the Executive President’s power to appoint Supreme Court judges and Court of Appeal judges, to set out in the Constitution the ministries that can be held by the President and to ensure that the President was made answerable to parliament.  This was reiterated to the President by the JHU leaders at a meeting with him.  The President is reported to have said that there was not enough time to make these amendments prior to the election.

Delayed elections
The government would also be aware that in an election to a third term presidency time is not on its side.  In these circumstances, the government’s strategy will necessarily be to switch public attention back to issues of ethnic nationalism and national security, and away from those of good governance. Although the JHU has not been able to win many votes at elections, it is very influential in shaping the political thinking of the ethnic Sinhalese majority whose position it seeks to uphold.   The JHU’s present focus on issues of good governance could lead to a crack in the ethno-nationalist alliance that has repeatedly propelled the government to electoral victory.  But this will be to its own disadvantage, and the JHU leadership has also made it clear that it does not wish the present opposition leadership to win either.
Even now the issue of the country’s sovereignty has come to the fore again.   The report of the UN investigative team that has been mandated to ascertain whether war crimes were committed during the last phase of Sri Lanka’s war will be formally presented to the UNHRC at its session in March.    The holding of this session in Geneva can become a point of electoral mobilization for the government which has long described it as an international conspiracy to punish the country’s leaders who defeated the LTTE and ensured the unity of the country.  Many if not most of the voting population agree with this government line of thinking which has become easier to put to the people following the unexpected decision of the EU Court of Justice to de-ban the LTTE on technical grounds.  Therefore an election campaign that is held before the vote in Geneva will be able to mobilize the nationalism of the people to the government’s advantage.
While most people are distressed at the cost of living issues, they are less concerned with corruption and good governance issues as these have always been a problem in the country.  The present budget which offers many concessions to the people on the cost of living is the government’s acknowledgement that it is a priority issue to the people.  But it is unlikely to accept the JHU’s proposals for constitutional reforms as these will make it difficult for the government to govern in the centralized manner it has become accustomed to. The question is which party will reconsider its decision regarding the election.  The signs are that it will not be the government. The government’s central issue once again will be national sovereignty.  The government will be relying on the fact that when people go to the polls to vote, they will be asking the question in whose hands will the future of the country be safer at this time.


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