Inter Press ServiceRoberto Savio – Inter Press Service News and Views from the Global South Thu, 22 Mar 2018 08:53:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Robots, Unemployment … and Immigrants Mon, 19 Feb 2018 08:28:26 +0000 Roberto Savio Roberto Savio is founder of IPS Inter Press Service and President Emeritus

The post Robots, Unemployment … and Immigrants appeared first on Inter Press Service.


For every industrial robot introduced into the workforce, six jobs are eliminated.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Feb 19 2018 (IPS)

Amazon has recently introduced Amazon Go, a shop where the customer enters, chooses a product from the shelves, charges the price on a magnetic card and swipes it on the way out, transferring the charge to the customer’s bank account . No queues, no cashiers, fast and easy, and the first shop in Seattle has been a roaring success.

Putting products back on the shelves will soon be fully automated, with robots doing the work previously done by humans. Floor cleaning is already done by a robot, and the aim is to have a fully automated shop, where no human can make mistakes, fall ill, go on strike, take holidays or bring their personal problems to work.

The US petrol industry calculates that the staff required at each well will be reduced from 20 to five within three years. Also within three years it is expected that small hotels will have a fully automated reception – guests arrive, swipe their credit card and a machine supplies the room.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

We are already accustomed to automated telephone for bookings and reservations, and we ourselves now do tasks at an airport which were previously done by clerks, such as checking in.

Contrary to what many think, self-drive vehicles are just around the corner, and car makers think they will be on the market by 2021.

In the United States, according to the ABI Research company, the number of industrial robots will jump nearly 300 percent in less than a decade. The National Economic Research Bureau has reported that for every industrial robot introduced into the workforce, six jobs are eliminated.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has released a “policy brief” indicating what this robotic revolution would mean in Africa, Asia and Latin America. “If robots are considered a form of capital that is a close substitute for low-skilled jobs, then their growing use reduces the share of human labour in production costs. Adverse effects for developing countries may be significant.”

In May 2016, the World Bank’s Digital Dividend Report, calculated that replacing low-skilled workers with robots in developing countries would affect two-thirds of jobs.

China is destined to become the biggest user of robots. China is aiming to become the global leader in high-tech. To take just one example, Foxconn, the world’s largest contract electronics manufacturer, reduced its workforce last year from 110,000 to 50,000 in Kunshan, thanks to the introduction of robots. The time of cheap imitations is gone, with China now registering more patents than the United States.

Economists call this wave of automation the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The first started, at the end of the 18th century, with the introduction of machines to do handicraft work, such as in textiles. Its impact become visible in 1811, when the followers of a fictional Ned Ludd started to destroy textile equipment because it left thousands of weavers jobless.

The second industrial revolution occurred in the middle of the same century, when science was applied to production, introducing engines and other inventions, creating the real Industrial Revolution. That meant rural populations migrating to towns to work in the factories. The third revolution in the middle of the last century is considered to be the introduction of the Internet, which once again changed forms of production. Gone were the jobs of secretaries in companies, lino typist in newspapers, accounting, documentation, libraries, archives and other hundreds of professions made obsolete by the ‘net’.

We see the Fourth Industrial Revolution in our daily life. But it is like climate change – we all know it exists, it is before our eyes. We have all the data showing an increase in hurricanes, disappearing glaciers, extreme weather conditions, hotter summers than have been recorded since we began measuring temperatures.

Yet, the outcome of the 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference means that the world is now geared to producing an increase of three degrees centigrade, while scientists unanimously agree that exceeding 1.5 degrees centigrade would be extremely dangerous.

We even have a president of the United States who withdrew from a non-binding Paris Agreement, declaring that climate change is a “Chinese hoax”. Then his appointment of Scott Pruitt – a person who says that global warming is “positive” – as Director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).is like putting Dracula in charge of a blood bank.

The political approach to automation is similar. The 2016 World Economic Forum in Davos was dedicated to the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The founder and director of the Forum, economist Klaus Schwab, even went to to the effort of writing a book on the subject for the meeting: it is a book in which he expresses his concern.

Previous industrial revolutions had liberated humankind from animal power, made mass production possible and brought digital capabilities to billions of people. This Fourth Industrial Revolution is, however, fundamentally different. It is characterised by a range of new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds, affecting all disciplines, economies and industries, and even challenging ideas about what it means to be human.

We need to take a concerted global approach in the world, to make the positive override the negative impacts. The theme was practically ignored at Davos 2016, because politicians now only discuss themes in the short term: what has to be dealt with during their period in office.

At Davos in 2016, Schwab called for leaders and citizens to “together shape a future that works for all by putting people first, empowering them and constantly reminding ourselves that all of these new technologies are first and foremost tools made by people for people.”

Clearly, that goes against the tide of nationalism, the new vision for the United States, India, Japan, China, Philippines, Hungary, Poland, Great Britain, Turkey and so on.

Well, like it or not, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is here. Today automation already accounts already for 17 percent of production and services. It will account for 40 percent within 15 years, according to World Bank projections.

But we should also take into account the surprising seeds of development of artificial intelligence (AI) – also known as machine intelligence (MI) – which is intelligence demonstrated by machines, in contrast to the natural intelligence (NI) displayed by humans and other animals.

We already have robots which can be reprogrammed and their functions changed. Without going into the vitally important relationship between AI and societies, it is important to note the most vibrant debate today concerns how our economy is mutating into an economy of algorithms and data and how this is impacting on politics.

Austrian economist and thinker Karl Polany saw this coming when he made a simple observation: capitalism, without controls and regulations, does not create a market economy but a market society where whatever is necessary for survival has a price, and that is submitted to the laws of the market.

In that kind of society, the state has no alternative but to sustain the system with laws, courts and police to protect private property and to secure good functioning of the market.

The explosion of social injustice, privatisation of common goods and fiscal support for the richest are all consequences of Polany’s analysis. Add to this monopolisation of data by a few giant companies, like Facebook or Amazon, and their impact in the social, cultural and economic sphere, and you can see where we are going. We have become data ourselves, and we are on the market.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution will further reduce the centrality of the human being, who has already been replaced by the market ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall…

All this opens up another crucial issue. Labour was once considered an important cost factor in production, and it was the extent to which workers had rights to the resulting benefits that sparked the creation of trade unions, the modern Left and the adoption of universal values such as social justice, transparency and participation, which were the basis of modern international relations.

The relationship between machines and distribution of the benefits of production has inspired several thinkers, philosophers and economists over the last centuries. It was generally assumed that a time would come in which machines would eventually do all production and humankind would be free of work, maintained from the profits generated by machines.

This was, of course, more a dream than a political theory. Yet today, all managers of artificial intelligence and robotic production argue that the superior productivity of robots will reduce costs, thereby enabling greater consumption of goods and services, and this will generate new jobs, easily absorbing those displaced by machines.

The data we have do not show that at all. According to the Economic Report of the President of the United States, there is an 83 percent chance that those who earn 20 dollars an hour could have their job replaced by robots. This proportion rises to 31 percent for those who earn 40 dollars per hour.

Given that the new economy is an intelligence economy based on technical knowledge, people have a future if they are able to adapt to that kind of society, and the new generations are much more attuned to this. But what will a taxi driver who has had no technical education do to recycle himself?

The statistics show that today, when people lose their jobs at a certain age, any new job they may find will almost always be for a lower remuneration. So robotisation will affect the lower middle class above all, and a new generational divide will be created.

Over the years, a number of economists and influential people have expressed the idea of a universal basic income (UBI), arguing that there is a need to cushion society from tensions, instability and unemployment by giving all citizens a fixed income in order that they would be able to have a dignified life. In addition, by spending their UBI, they would generate wealth and increase demand, which would therefore stimulate growth and make for a just and stable society.

Martin Luther King was an early proponent, like neoliberal economist Milton Friedman. Now the billionaires of Silicon Valley like Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg, venture capitalist Mark Andreessen and Democratic Party senator Bernie Sanders have all expressed support for the UBI idea.

Meanwhile, Andrew Yang, an American entrepreneur and founder of Venture for America, is a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate running on a UBI platform. Yang notes that in the 2016 presidential elections, Donald Trump did particularly well in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, states which have lost four million jobs because of automation: “The higher the concentration of robots, the higher the number of disgruntled people who vote for Trump.”

Yang plans to cover the two trillion dollars that UBI would cost (half of the US budget) with a new VAT tax and taxation on the companies who profit from automation. Of course, in the United States the idea that people who do not work should receive public money is the closest thing to communism, and UBI faces formidable cultural obstacles. But Yang says that otherwise in a few years there will be “riots in the streets: just think of the one million truck drivers, who are 94 percent male with an average high school education, suddenly all jobless.”

The above leads to a few considerations and a concrete proposal.

The first consideration is that Trump and all the other politicians who want to restore a past glorious future totally ignore this debate (unfortunately, it is not part of any political debate). Calling for restoring jobs in mines and fossil fuels, for example, fails to recognise that technological developments have already led to the loss of many jobs, and will continue to do so. So, the rallying of disgruntled people, as was the case in Britain with Brexit, is a consequence of the poverty of the political debate, where traditional political parties (especially on the Left), instead of explaining clearly the world in which we now are, and the one in which we are heading, are trying to piggyback on the feelings of the victims of neoliberal globalisation, often taking up the banners of nationalists.

The second political consideration is that migration has become a major theme in elections. Trump was elected on a strong anti-immigrant platform, which continues in his administration. Governments in Hungary, Austria, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia are based on refusal of immigrants. All over Europe, from the Nordic countries to France, Netherlands and Germany, anti-immigrant feelings are conditioning governments.

In order to take votes away from the xenophobic Matteo Salvini (leader of the right-wing Lega Nord) in the Italian elections (scheduled for March 2018), the old fox of Silvio Berlusconi (former Italian prime minister) has promised that he will expel 600.000 immigrants if he wins the election.

The fear is that immigrants are stealing jobs and resources from citizens in the countries in which they live. However, statistics from the European Union tell us otherwise. The number of non-EU citizens living in Europe (some for a long time) is now 35 million, of whom about eight million are Africans, and seven million Arabs out of a total of 400 million. Those figures also include illegal immigrants.

All statistics show that more than 97 percent of immigrants are totally integrated, that they pay on average more taxes than locals (of course, they worry about their future) and to date those who do not have a job are about 2.3 million people who are still awaiting a decision on their juridical status.

There is not a single study claiming that immigrants have taken the jobs of Europeans in any significant way. It was the same story with the entry of woman into the labour market. An increasing proportion of women have joined the labour force over the last 30 years, but these increases have not coincided with falling employment rates for men. A study on Brexit demonstrated that immigrants had helped to increase GDP, and that the increase in productivity meant a global increase in employment. But we have reached a point where nobody listens any longer to facts, unless they are convenient…

And now the concrete proposal. It is clear that the real threat to employment for the large majority of citizens comes from robotisation, not immigration. No employed person has been fired to be replaced by an immigrant, unless we talk of non-qualified jobs that Europeans do not want in any case.

Truck drivers, taxi drivers, bus drivers and school drivers, to take some examples, do not fear for their jobs because of immigration. Within a very few years, their jobs will become obsolete in any case, and there will be no plans or preparations for that. When the problem explodes, politics might start looking at it.

Perhaps the more responsible thing to do – rather than stoking fear with populism and xenophobia – is that we start to come to terms with the real problem that our society is facing: automation.

And here is a simple proposal: somebody who takes a robot is making money because of its superior productivity, and he is firing somebody. After having paid the robot during usually a couple of years, he might be imagined to have a 100 percent benefit from the firing of a human being. Well, he will not have 100 percent but 60 percent because he will continue to pay the social costs of the human being fired: pension, taxes and health insurance.

That is not as costly as UBI, it is easy to organise and administer, and it will be a way to realise in part the old utopian dream that machines will work for humankind. Can a political debate be started?

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Roberto Savio is founder of IPS Inter Press Service and President Emeritus

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Tourism Should Be Regulated, Before It Is Too Late… Mon, 08 Jan 2018 16:19:12 +0000 Roberto Savio Roberto Savio is founder of IPS Inter Press Service and President Emeritus

The post Tourism Should Be Regulated, Before It Is Too Late… appeared first on Inter Press Service.


Roberto Savio is founder of IPS Inter Press Service and President Emeritus

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Jan 8 2018 (IPS)

This year, we will have 3 million tourists each day wandering the world. This massive phenomenon is without precedent in human history and is happening (as usual), with only one consideration in mind: money. We should pause and take a look at its social, cultural and environmental impact and take remedial measures, because they are becoming seriously negative if things are left as they are.

Roberto Savio

Sameer Kapoor listed for Triphobo Trip Planner a list of 20 places that have been ruined, due to excess of tourism. Antarctica is getting an alarming level of pollution. The famous Taj Mahal, a monument of love from the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to the memory of his wife, Mumtaz, has changed its shining milky white marble into a yellow shade. Mount Everest is strewn with trash from invading visitors.

The Great wall of China has been so mistreated by the massive invasion of tourists that it has begun to crumble in places The famous beaches of Bali are littered with trash; traffic is in a gridlock and roads and footpaths are in a dangerous state of disrepair.

Macchu Picchu has a such large number of visitors that archaeologists are worried about preservation of the site. Once there was a train to a small village, Aguas Calientes, to then continue by foot or mules. Now you can reach the enigmatic and sacred Inca citadel by air conditioned bus, and Aguas Calientes is now a town of 4.000 people with five star hotels. The famous Australian Coral Reef Barrier, has lost already one third of the corals.

The Galapagos islands, where Charles Darwin conceived his famous theory of natural selection, has so many visitors impinging on his fragile eco balance that in 2007 UNESCO placed it on the list of endangered World Heritage Sites but to no avail. The Parthenon has many visitors taking pieces of rocks and ruins, and drawing or carving on ancient pillars, that special police squad had to be created.

The wonders of Angkor Wat, in Cambodia, is suffering the same fate, together with the Colosseum in Rome, where every week somebody gets caught for chipping away pieces of columns, or graffiting the pillars.

But maybe the best example of the negative impact of tourism is Venice. The town has now officially 54.000 residents. They were 100.000 in 1970. Every year 1.000 residents leave for the mainland, because rents and cost of life keeps going up, and the hordes of tourist make life impossible for the residents. The number of sweepers and cleaners employed by the city has to go up continuously. Giant ships continue to go over the delicate microsystem of the lagoon and their lobby is very strong. They insist that without their megaships landing at the centre of the town, 5.000 jobs would be in danger.

There is now a clear conflict between those who live off tourism and those who have other jobs. Like in Barcelona, residents now stage demonstrations against mass tourism. Venice will become a ghost town, like the village of Mont Saint Michel, the medieval village in Normandy, jammed by thousands of visitors, to see the famous high-speed sea tide. At night, 42 people sleep there.

What is impressive is the speed of the phenomenon since 1950 when the total tourist numbers were 25 million, two thirds to Europe meant 29.76%of the tourists , Africa a mere 1.98% and the Middle East 0.79%, like Asia and Pacific. 66 years later, tourist numbers rose to 1.2 billion, Europe is down to 50%, Americas to 16.55%, Africa is at 4.52%, while the Middle East is at 4.7%. And Asia Pacific? It is now at 24.2%.

What is more impressive is to look further – at 2030, for which we have all the data (from the United Nations World Tourism Organization). Well, in a short time, we will go up to 1.8 billion: 5 million tourists every day. Europe is again down, to 41%, Americas down to 14%, Asia up to 30%, Africa to 7% and Middle east to 8 %. A totally inverted world in respect to 1950.

Tourism is already today the largest employer in the world: 1 person every 11. China has surpassed the US as the largest nationality. In 2016, they have spent 261 billion US dollars, and they will spend 429 billion in 2020.

UNWTO points to the fact that in 2025, China will have 92.6 million families with an income between 20.000 and 30.000 dollars per year; 63 million with an income between 35.000 and 70.000 dollars per year; and 21.3 million, with an income between 70.000 and 130.000 dollars. A large part of them is expected to travel and spend money. How many people speak Chinese and know anything about their idiosyncrasis ?

But any other consideration beside money, is totally absent in this debate. For instance, a large part of the jobs is in fact only seasonal, and poorly paid. Most of the money does not stay in the place where it is spent, but goes back to big companies and food imported for the tourist’s habits.

It is calculated that in the Caribbean, a full 70% goes back to US and Canada. Culture and traditions are influenced as outsiders come. Local culture and traditions become just a show for foreigners, and can lose roots. Hotels are built just for tourism in the most beautiful spots, degrading habitat and nature.

Price increases in local shops, because tourists are often wealthier than the local population. It is sufficient to go to a town which is out of the tourist’s circuits, to see the difference. In fact, now there is a growing search for “intact” places, different from “tourist’s places.

Tourist restaurants have become synonymous with poor food and high prices. And a tourist place is one that has lost its identity to conform with the demands of tourists. It has been the proliferation of Mc Donalds, Pizza Huts and other fast food joints, often in the most beautiful parts of towns, that pushed Petrini, in an old village with gastronomic tradition, Bra in Piedmont, to start a movement called Slow Food movement. The movement defends the freshness of materials, that must be local, preserving the original and traditional cuisines, and defending local products form the ongoing homogenization. It has now over 100.000 members in 150 countries, which defends identity against globalization.

Florence can well be a good example of how tourism is uprooting the locals’ identity and tradition. It was since the Renaissance, a place of art and culture. It was a must for cultured tourists and the forebearers of today’s tourists: German, British and French visitors, until the Second World War. A city of elegance, antique dealers, art shops, handcrafts and a very recognized Florentine cuisine.

Now it is full of tourist’s shops, jeans places, cheap standardized handcraft, a lot of pizzeria and tourist restaurants. The concierge of the classical Hotel Baglioni, when questioned about the decay of the town, had a simple answer: “Sir, we are a town of merchants. We did create the letter of change, the banks, and the international trade. Here come people who looked for art and antiques. Today we are awash with people who want to buy blue jeans and cheap stuff. We provide with what people want.” And for those living, in Rome, the main street via del Corso has suffered the same transformation.

It is scary to think what will happen when in the not so far 2020, 100 million Chinese will travel worldwide, with Europe as their first destination. Anybody who had a Chinese visitor (or from a different culture),knows how difficult it is for him to understand what he sees.

One of the main artistic European buildings are churches, and for a totally different religion they are strange places. It makes no sense to a Chinese what is Romanesque or Baroque, as they do not have any equivalent at home. And the classical tourist tour is now for about a week, in which they see at least 5 towns. This is the equivalent for a European to visit the temples in Tibet, without having studied Tibetan Buddhism, which is very different from other branches of Buddhism. Or, for that matter, visit the Egyptian temples without some knowledge at least of the Egyptian cosmology, the reigns of death, and the Pantheon of Gods. What will be remembered is the size of the pyramids, the smell of the incense in Buddhist temples, and other mere esthetical impression. That has nothing to do with culture and art.

To talk about the negative impacts of tourism, opens inevitably the question of classism. The more cultured you are, the more you can get from your travels. Does that mean that only cultured people (that until the second world war, also meant affluent: today the two concepts have split, may be for ever), should travel? Is tourism not a way to enrich and educate, so it should be on the contrary an important tool for the less cultivated?

I do not think that there is an easy answer to this issue. What I know, is that only a small minority of those visiting the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, or the Potala Palace in Lhasa, or the valley of the kings in Egypt, have a book in their hands, that they have bought to prepare themselves. They depend on their tour guides, who confess that they do not even try to teach, but only to show what their tourists can all understand. That means that when you are in the Sistine Chapel, you are nearly unable to move, while the custodians try to move people on, so to make space for the waiting line of visitors. Among that crowd, there are some people who can place the difference between Michelangelo and Matisse, and would certainly benefit from some more time, while this is irrelevant for others.

It is clear that we cannot let 1.8 billion people wander in the world, without introducing some global regulations on how to limit the negative aspects of tourism, and relating it not only to money, but to education, culture and personal development.

To come in touch with different cultures, civilizations, foods, habits and realities should be an occasion that should not be left only to money. A paradox is that we are fighting against immigrants, because of different cultures, but we accept gladly the same people if they come as tourist and not as refugees. And the other paradox is the two parallel words which coexist: one, the real, about poverty and violence that we read in newspapers; and another of the same place, which exists only for tourists, about the beautiful beaches, wonderful nature, and fantastic hotels.

Right now, you can visit the Vatican after its closing, with a modest fee of 100 Euro per person, in quiet and small numbers. Is the future of tourism made with two tracks, where money will be the dividing factor ?

It is obvious that we should link tourism to education and culture. A proposal is simply to ask every tourist, when he buys a tour, an airline ticket, or asks for a visa, to buy and read a very simple and schematic book (they do not exist until now), which can be read and understood in no more than 10 hours about what he or she is going to visit.

A small commission formed by one teacher of history, one of geography, and one of art, is established in any small or large cities, where now lives the large majority of the population. In all of them there are schools with these studies. They conduct a small exam, and charge a small fee for a certificate, to justify their extra work.

Tourists can choose to go to the commission or not. Few extremely simple questions such as – which is the capital of the countries you are going to visit ? Is the country independent ? Is it a monarchy or a republic ? How does it makes its money ? Its monument and art have different moments in history? The commission would give two certificates. One would give access to museums and monuments for the first two hours of the day, and only those with the certificate could then enter. After those two hours , everybody with the two certificates can enter. But this would enable those who can understand and enrich themselves, to have some time in peace and quiet.

This would make two tracks of tourism, not based on money. And this could generate a demonstration effect, where tourists would probably dedicate sometime to prepare themselves. I asked one former director general of UNESCO what he thought of a such proposal. His answer was – it is a great idea, but where is the political will to support this or, for that matter any international agreement ?

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Roberto Savio is founder of IPS Inter Press Service and President Emeritus

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Billionaires, Fiscal Paradise, the World’s Debt, and the Victims Tue, 02 Jan 2018 14:22:59 +0000 Roberto Savio Roberto Savio is founder of IPS Inter Press Service and President Emeritus

The post Billionaires, Fiscal Paradise, the World’s Debt, and the Victims appeared first on Inter Press Service.


Money, coins and bills. Credit: IPS

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Jan 2 2018 (IPS)

Among Bloomberg’s many profitable activities is a convenient Bloomberg Billionaires Index that has just published its findings for 2017. It covers only the 500 richest people, and it proudly announces that they have increased their wealth by 1 trillion dollars in just one year. Their fortunes went up by 23% to top comfortable 5 trillion dollars (to put this in perspective, the US budget is now at 3.7 trillion). That obviously means an equivalent reduction for the rest of the population, which lost those trillion dollars. What is not widely known is that the amount of the circulation of money stays the same; no new money is printed to accommodate the 500 richest billionaires!

In fact, Forbes, the magazine for the rich, states that there are over 2.000 billionaires in the world, and this number is going to increase and increase fast. China has now overtaken the US, by having 594 billionaires as compared to the US’s 535 – and every three days a new millionaire is born. There is even an exclusive club of billionaires, the China Entrepreneur Club, which admits members only by the unanimity of its 64 members at present. Together they have 300 billion dollars, the 4.5% of the Chinese GNP. As a norm, the Chinese wealth is a family affair, which means that in 10 years they will leave a heritage of 1 trillion dollars, most probably to their sons; and the amount of inherited wealth is going to rise to three trillion dollars in 20 years.

We know from a large study by the French economist Thomas Piketty covering 65 countries during modern times, that the bulk of wealth comes from inherited money. That because, as we all know, money begets money. And Reagan started his campaign: “Misery brings misery, wealth brings wealth”: therefore, we must tax rich people less than poor people. But Trump’s tax law just adopted in the US, cuts taxes to companies, increasing the US deficit by 1.7 trillion dollars over ten years. Nobody is noticing that the US deficit is already at $18.96 trillion or about 104% of the previous 12 months of the Gross Domestic (GDP).

This tax reform will have a deep impact on Europe, by shifting there many of the costs of the reform, through balance of payments and trade. The five most important ministers of finance of Europe, UK included, have written a letter of protest, obviously much to the glee of President Trump, who perceives only the US as winner, and all others as losers.

Roberto Savio

All this staggering amount of money in a few hands (8 people have the same wealth as 2.3 billion people), brings us to three relevant considerations: a) what is happening with the world debt b) how are governments helping the rich to avoid taxes; c) the relation between injustice and democracy. None of those perspectives gives space for hope, and least of all trust in our political class.

Let us start with the world’s debt. I do not remember to have seen a single article on that in the closing year. Yet the International Monetary Fund has alerted: gross debt of the non-financial sector has doubled in nominal terms; since the end of the century to 152 trillion dollars. This is a record 225% of the world GDP. Two thirds come from the private sector, and one third from the public sector. But this increased from below 70% of the GDP last year now to 85%, a dramatic rise in such a short time.

In fact, the respected Institute for international Finance estimates that at the end of this year the global debt, private and public added, would have reached a staggering 226 trillion dollars, more than three times global annual economic output… This doesn’t seem to interest anyone. But let us take the state of the American economy, and a proud President boasting about the index of growth, now estimated at 2.6%. Well, this shows the inadequacy of the GDP as a valid indicator. Growth is a macroeconomic index. If 80% goes to a few hands, and the crumbs to all the others, who pay most of taxes, it is not an example of growth, it is just a problem waiting to explode.

What is more, nobody is thinking about the increase in deficit. The total private debt at the end of the first quarter of 2017 was 14.9 trillion, with an increase of 900 million dollars in three months. While salaries increased from 9.2 billion dollars in 2014 to 10.3 billion dollars in the second quarter of 2017, the debt of families rose from 13.9 billion dollars to 14.9, an increase of one billion dollars, in just four months.

Which growth are we talking about? In fact, we have 86% of the population facing an increasing debt, but poorer at the same time, because of the concentration of wealth in just 1% of the population’s hands. This should be a cause of concern for any administration, left wing or right-wing: in fact, it is not surprising that the 400 richest men of the US, led by Warren Buffet, have written to Trump telling him that they are doing fine and that they do need a tax rebate; and that he should worry about the poorest part of the population.

Now a favourite way of avoiding taxes, is to place money in tax havens, where between 21 and 30 trillion dollars are ensconced. The Tax Justice Network reports that this system is “basically designed and operated” by a group of highly paid specialists from the world’s largest private banks (led by UBS, Credit Suisse, and Goldman Sachs), law offices, and accounting firms and tolerated by international organizations such as Bank for International Settlements, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the OECD, and the G20.

The amount of money hidden away has significantly increased since 2005, sharpening the divide between the super-rich and the rest of the world. And this is why there was a lot of pressure to oblige banks to open their accounts to fiscal inspector, and pressure on the Bahamas, Hong Kong, Panama and other third world countries.

Now, another good example of the reigning hypocrisy: The last meeting of the Ministers of Finance of the European Union (Ecofin), has not been able to take a decision on something heinous: several member countries (Luxemburg, UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, Malta and Cyprus), host tax havens on their territories. The Queen of England has invested 10 million pounds in an English tax heaven. And two US states, in particular Delaware, have tax havens that are impenetrable even to the CIA and FBI. Tax havens such as the Cayman Islands, Jersey and the Bahamas were far less permissive, researchers found, than states such as Nevada, Delaware, Montana, South Dakota, Wyoming and New York. “[Americans] discovered that they really don’t need to go to Panama”, said James Henry of the Tax Justice Network. Ecofin has decided that they will continue to bang Third World countries, until they decided what to do at home.

So, the West proclaims principles of transparency and accountability, as long as it can impose these on others. But there is a paradox for the western governments: if those tax havens were closed, as the majority of the deposit comes from the West, they would be able to get much more taxes. To take just the case of the US: Reed College economist Kim Clausing estimates that inversions in tax havens and other income-shifting techniques reduced Treasury revenues by as much as $111 billion in 2012. And, according to a new Congressional Budget Office projection, the corporate base erosion will continue to cut corporate tax receipts over the next decade. It must be clear therefore that if governments let their revenues from the corporations and high earners shrink, they are not acting in the interest of the average citizen.

So, let us draw our conclusions. Nobody is paying attention to the world debt. It is increasing beyond control, but we are leaving the problem to the next generations, hoping that they will address it. We are mortgaging them with debt, with climate change, and whatever else is possible, to avoid any sacrifices on our part now. Our motto seems to be: Let us protect the riches, and expect less from them and more from the others. In 1952, corporate income taxes funded about 32 percent of the US government. That shrank to 10.6 percent by 2015. While tax havens aren’t the sole cause of this shift, it’s worth noting that the share of corporate profits reported in tax havens has increased tenfold since the 1980s. And now comes from Trump the giant tax gift for companies.

This policy, hidden to citizens, and never legitimized by any formal act of law, is now becoming evident because of the giant increase of inequality, which has no precedence in history. According to Oxfam, Great Britain will have more social injustice in 2020, that at the times of Queen Victoria. The world is moving faster to financial investments and transactions, and not the production of goods and services, which do not fetch instant rewards. It is estimated that with one trillion dollars you can buy the world production of a day of goods and services. That same day, the financial transactions reach 40 trillion dollars. That means, that for every dollar generated by human hands, there are 40 dollars created by financial abstractions.

Globalization is obviously rewarding capitals, not human beings. Well, this is having an impact in politics, and not the best one. There is everywhere an increasing number of losers, especially in rich countries, also because of technological development, and shift in consumption. A classic example are the coal mines that Trump wants to resurrect, to make America great again. But coal is inexorably being phased out because of climate concerns (even if not fast enough), and automatization reduces considerably the number of workers to be employed. Robots will in 2040 be responsible for 42% of production of goods and services, up from the present 16%. Which means around 86 million of new unemployed, in the West alone, according to the International Labour Organization. Those left out from the benefits of globalizations look at the winners, whom they see well connected to the system. This results in the globalization of resentment and frustration, which in a few years has led to the rise of the rightist parties in all European countries, triggered Brexit, and Trump. Once upon a time, the left was the banner-bearer of the fight for social justice. Now it is the right!

Finally, globalization has lost its shine – but not its power. Now, the debate is about how to de-globalize, and what is worrying is that the debate is not about how to bring the process to the service of humankind, but how to deploy populism and nationalism, and xenophobia, to “let us make US great again”, to the increase in clashes and conflicts.

International organizations like the IMF and the World Bank – who have been claiming for two decades that market is the only basis for progress, that once a totally free market is in place, the common man and woman would be the beneficiary – have switched the reverse gear. Now they are all talking about the need for the state to be again the arbiter for regulations and social inclusion, because they have found out that social injustice is a brake not only for democracy, but also economic progress. But despite all the mea culpa, they are rather late in the day. The genie is out of the bottle, and the powers that be do not even try to put it back. Utter hypocrisy, vested interests, and the lack of vision have regrettably replaced policy.

The post Billionaires, Fiscal Paradise, the World’s Debt, and the Victims appeared first on Inter Press Service.


Roberto Savio is founder of IPS Inter Press Service and President Emeritus

The post Billionaires, Fiscal Paradise, the World’s Debt, and the Victims appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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The Political Responsibility in the Collapse of Our Planet Wed, 27 Dec 2017 20:47:28 +0000 Roberto Savio Roberto Savio is founder of IPS Inter Press Service and President Emeritus

The post The Political Responsibility in the Collapse of Our Planet appeared first on Inter Press Service.


The premises of a school inundated by floodwater. Shibaloy in Manikganj district, Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/ IPS

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Dec 27 2017 (IPS)

On 20 December, Europe’s 28 Ministers of Environment met in Brussels, to discuss the plan for reducing emissions prepared by the Commission, to comply with the Paris Agreement on climate change. Well, it is now clear that we have lost the battle in keeping the planet as we have known it. Now, of course, this can be considered a personal opinion of mine, devoid of objectivity.

Therefore I will bring a lot of data, history and facts, to make it concrete. Data and facts have good value: they focus any debate, while ideas do not. So those who do not like facts, please stop reading here. You will escape a boring article, as probably all of mine are, because I am not looking to entertain, but to create awareness. If you stop reading, you will also lose a chance to know our sad destiny.

As common in politics now, interests have won over values and vision. The ministers decided (with some resistance from Denmark and Portugal), to reduce Europe’s commitment. This is going in the Trump direction, who left the Paris Agreement, to privilege American interests, without any attention to the planet. So, Europe is just following.

Of course, those alive now will not pay any price: the next generations will be the victims of a world more and more inhospitable. Few of the people who made to Paris in 2015, solemn engagements in the name of all humankind to save the planet, will be alive 30 years from now, when the change will become irreversible. And it will be also clear that humans are the only animals who do not defend nor protect their habitat.

While we talk on how to reduce the use of fossils, we are doing the opposite. At this very moment, we spend 10 million dollars per minute, to subsidize the fossils industry. Just counting direct subsidies, they are between 775 billion dollars to 1 trillion, according to the UN

First of all, the Paris’ Agreement was adopted by the 195 participating countries, of which 171 have already subscribed to the treaty, in just two years. Which is fine, except that the treaty is just a collection of good wishes, without any concrete engagement.

To start with, it does not set up specific and verifiable engagements. Every country will set its own targets, and will be responsible for its implementation. It is like to ask all citizens of a country to decide how much taxes they want to pay, and leave to them to comply, without any possible sanction.

Europe engaged in Paris in 2015, to reach 27% of renewable energies (by scaling down the use of fossils), fixing a target of 20% for 2020. Well, from 27%, it went down to 24.3%. In addition, the ministers decided to keep subsidies for the fossils industry, until 2030 instead of 2020, as planned. And while the proposal of the Commission was that fossils plants would lose subsidies if they did not cut their emissions to 500 grams of CO2 per ton by 2020, the ministers extended subsidies until 2025.

Finally, the Commission proposed to cut biofuels (fuels made with products for human consumption, like palm oil) to 3.8%. Well, the ministers, in spite of all their declarations about the fight against hunger in the world, decided to double that, at 7%.

Now let us go back to the real flaw of the Paris Agreement. Scientists took two decades to conclude with certitude that climate change is caused by human activities, despite a strong and well financed fight by the coal and fuel industry, to say otherwise.

The International Panel on Climate Change, is an organization under the auspices of the UN, whose members are 194 countries, but its strength comes from the more than 2.000 scientists from 154 countries who work together on climate. It took them from 1988, (when the IPCC was established), to 2013, to reach a definitive conclusion: the only way to stop the planet deteriorating more rapidly, emissions should not exceed 1.5 centigrade over what was the Earth’ temperature in 1850.

In other words, our planet is deteriorating already, and we cannot revert that. We have emitted too much gas and pollution, that are at work already. But by halting this process, we can stabilize it, but never cancel what we did cause, at least for thousands of years.

The Industrial revolution is considered to start in 1746, when industrial mills replaced individual weavers. But it started in great scale in the second half of the 19th century, with the second industrial revolution.

This involved the use of science in the production, by inventing engines, railways, creating factories, and other means of industrial production. We started to register temperatures in 1850, when this was done with thermometers.

So, we can see how coal, fossils and other fuels started to interact with the atmosphere. What the scientists concluded was that if we went over 1,5 centigrade of the 1.850’s temperature, we would irreversibly cross a red line: we will not be able to change the trend, and climate will be out of control, with very dramatic consequences for the planet.

Roberto Savio

Paris conference is a final act of a process who started in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, with the Conference on Environment and Development, where two leaders have now passe away, Boutros Boutros Ghali and Maurice Strong, ran the first summit of heads of state on the issue of environment.

Incidentally, it is worth remembering that Strong, a man who spent all his life to make environment a central issue, did open up the conference for the first time to representatives of civil society, beyond governmental delegations. Over 20.000 organizations, academicians, activist come to Rio, starting the creation of a global civil society recognized by the international community.

In 1997, as a result of Rio Conference, the Kyoto Treaty was adopted, with the aim to reduce emissions. The results show that during the nearly two decades bringing to Paris, the results are very modest. Coal went from 45,05% in 1950, to 28.64 in 2016, also because of new technologies, but petrol increased from19.46, to 33.91 and renewables were a negligible reality.

So, Paris was left with a very urgent task, after having lost already two decades. And according to the World Bank, in 2014 , there are 1,017 billion people without electricity, with Africa where only 20% of people has access to electricity. For all these people we should provide renewable energy, to avoid a dramatic increase of emissions.

Paris was supposed to be really a global agreement, unlike Tokyo. So, to bring as many countries as possible on board, it is a little known dirty secret that the UN decided to put as a goal not the very tight 1,5 centigrade as a target, but a more palatable 2 centigrade. But unfortunately, the consensus is that we have already passed the 1.5 centigrade. And the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), has estimated that the engagements taken by the countries in Paris, if not changed, will bring us to 6 centigrade, an increase that according to the scientific community would make a large part of the earth inhabitable.

In fact, in the last four years we had the hottest summers since 1850. And in 2017 we have the highest record of emissions in history, because they have reached 41.5 gigatons. Of those, 90% comes from activities related to human actions, while renewables (cost for which has now become competitive with fossils), still cover only 18% of the energy consumed in the world. And now let us move to another important dirty secret.

While we talk on how to reduce the use of fossils, we are doing the opposite. At this very moment, we spend 10 million dollars per minute, to subsidize the fossils industry.

Just counting direct subsidies, they are between 775 billion dollars to 1 trillion, according to the UN. The official figure just in the G20 is 444 billion. But then, the International Monetary Fund accepted the economists’ view that subsidies are not only cash: it is the use of the earth and society, like destruction of soil, use of water, political tariffs (the so-called externalities, the cost which exists but are external to the budget of the companies).

If we do that, we reach the staggering amount of 5.3 trillion: they were 4.9 trillion in 2013. That is 6.5% of the global Gross National Product…and that is what it costs to governments, society and earth, to use fossils.

That was nowhere in in the news media. Few know the strength of the fossils industry. Trump wants to reopen the mines, not only because that brings him votes by those who lost an obsolete job, but because the fossils industry is a strong backer of the Republican party.

The billionaire Koch brothers, the largest owners of coal mines in the US, have declared that they have spent 800 million dollars in the last electoral campaign. Someone might say: these things happen in the US but according to the respected Transparency International, there are over 40.000 lobbyists in Europe, working to exercise political influence.

The Corporate Europe Observatory, which studies the financial sector, found out that it spends just in Brussels 120 million a year, and employs 1.700 lobbyists. It found that they lobbied against regulations, with more than 700 organizations, which outnumbered trade unions and civil society organizations, by a factor of seven.

The power of the fossils industry explains why in 2009 governments helped the sector with 557 billion dollars, and only 43 to 46 billion dollars to all renewable industry (International Energy Agency estimates).

It is clear that citizens have no idea that a part of their money is going to keep alive, with good profits, a sector which is well aware that they are key in the destruction of our planet.

A sector that knows well that they are now emitting 400 particles of CO2 per million, when the red line was considered 350 particles PM. But people do not know, and this is a spectacular feast of hypocrisy that goes on.

The UN, in 2015, conducted an extensive poll, with the participation of 9.7 million people. They were asked to choose as their priorities six themes out of 16. The first of the themes presented was climate change. Well, the first one chosen, with 6.5 million of preferences, was “a good education”. The second and third, with over 5 million of preferences, were “a better health system”, and “better opportunities for work”. The last of the 16 themes, with less than 2 million, was the “climate change. “And this was also in the preferences of the least developed countries, who are going to be the major victims of climate change.

The 4.3 millions poorest participants, from the least developed countries, put again education first (3 million preferences); climate change was last, with 561.000 votes…Not even in Polynesia, Micronesia and Melanesia, islands which could disappear, climate change was at the first place. This is an ample proof that people do not realize where we are: at a threshold of the survival of our planet, as we have known it for several thousand years.

So, if citizens are not aware, and therefore not concerned, why should the politicians be? The answer is because they are elected by citizens to represent their interests, and they can make more informed decisions.How does this ring in your ears? With lobbyist all over fighting for interests, what can be well sold as jobs and stability?


Holstein cows in a feedlot. Credit: Bigstock


And now, let us bring a last dirty secret, to show how far we are from really addressing the control of our climate. In addition to what we said, there is a very important issue, that has even been discussed in Paris: the agreements are entirely about the reduction of emissions by the fossils’ industry. Other emissions have been left entirely out.

Now, a new documentary, the Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret, produced by Leonardo di Caprio, has ordered several data presented by vegans, on the impact of animals in the climate change. They are considered somehow exaggerated. But their dimensions are so big, that they add anyhow another nail to our coffin.

Animals emit not CO2, but methane which is at least 25 % more damaging than C02. There is recognition by the UN, that while all means of transportation, from cars to planes, contribute to 13% of emissions, cows do with 18%…

And the real problem is the use of water, a key theme that we have no way to address in this article. Water is considered even by military strategist to be soon the cause of conflicts, as petrol has been for a long time.

One pound of beef uses 2.500 gallons of water. That means that a hamburger is the equivalent of two months of showers…! And to have 1 gallon of milk, you need 100 gallons of water. And people worldwide, use one tenth of what cows need.

Cattle uses 33% of all water, 45% of the earth, and are the cause of 91% of the Amazon deforestation. They also produce waste 130 times more than human beings. Pig raising in the Netherlands is creating serious problems because theirs waste acidity is reducing usable land. And consumption of meat is increasing in Asia and Africa, very fast,it is considered a mark of reaching the choices of rich societies.

Beside this serious impact on the planet, there is also a strong paradox of sustainability for our human population. We are now 7.5 billion people, and we will reach soon 9 billion. The total food production worldwide could feed 13 to 14 billion people. Of this a considerable part goes wasted, and does not reach people (theme for an article by itself). But the food for animals could feed 6 billion people.

And we have one billion people starving. This is proof how far we are from using resources rationally for the people living on earth. We have enough resources for everybody, but we cannot administer them rationally. The number of obese has reached the number of those starving.

The logical solution in this situation would be to reach an agreement on a global governance, in the interest of the planet of humankind. Well, we are going in the opposite direction. The international system is besieged by nationalism, who make increasingly impossible to reach meaningful solutions.


Globally, 75 percent of coral reefs are under threat from overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution and acidification of the seas due to climate change. Credit: Bigstock


Let us conclude with a last example: overfishing. Its now two decades that the World Trade Organization (which is not part of the UN, and was built against the UN) tries to reach an agreement on over- fishing with mega nets, who scoop up an enormous quantity of fishe: 2.7 trillion, of which they keep only one fifth, and they throw back four fifth.

Well, at the last WTO conference on the 13 December in Buenos Aires, governments were again not able to reach an agreement on how to limit illicit fishing. Big fishes are now down at 10% of 1970.And we are exploiting one third of all stocks.

It is estimated that illegal fishing puts between 10 billion and 23 billion on the black market, according to a study by 17 specialized agencies, with a full list of names. And again, governments spend 20 billion per year to finance the increase of their fishing industry…another example of how interest win on the common good.

I think now we have enough data, to realize the inability of governments to take seriously their responsibilities, because they have the necessary information to know that we are going toward a disaster.

In a normal world, Trump’s declaration that Climate control is a Chinese hoax, and it is invented against the interest of United States, should have caused more global emotion.

Also, because while Trump’s internal policies are an American question, climate is affecting all the 7.5 billion in the planet, and Trump was elected by less than a quarter of eligible voters: nearly 63 million. Too little to take decisions which affect all humankind.

And now European ministers are following, as a proverb says, money speaks and ideas murmur.. And there are many who are preparing to speculate on climate change. Now that we have lost 70% of the ice of the North Pole, the maritime industry is gearing to use the Northern Route, which will cut cost and time by a 17%.

And the British wine industry, since the warming of the planet, is increasing production by 5% each year. The vineyards planted in Kent or Sussex, with a calcar soil, are now bought from producers of Champagne, who plan to move there. The UK is already producing 5 million bottles of wine and sparkling wines, which are all sold. This Christmas, local sparkling wine will exceed champagnes, caves, prosecco and other traditional Christmas drinks.

We have all seen, at no avail, the increase of hurricanes and storms, also in Europe, and a record spread of wildfires. The UN estimates that at least 800 million people will be displaced by climate change making uninhabitable several parts of the world. Where they will go? Not to the United States or Europe, where they are seen as invaders.

We forget that the Syrian crisis came after four years of drought (1996-2000) which displaced over a million peasants to the towns. The ensuing discontent fuelled the war, with now 400.000 dead and six million refugees.

When citizens will awake to the damages, it will be too late. Scientists think that it will become clearly evident after thirty years. So why do we worry now ? That is a problem for the next generation, and companies will continue to make money until the last minute, with complicity of governments and their support,so, let us ride the climate change tide.

Let us buy a good bottle of British champagne, let us drink it on a luxury cruise line over the Pole, and let the orchestra play, as they did in the Titanic until the last minute!

The post The Political Responsibility in the Collapse of Our Planet appeared first on Inter Press Service.


Roberto Savio is founder of IPS Inter Press Service and President Emeritus

The post The Political Responsibility in the Collapse of Our Planet appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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Shedding Diplomacy, Roberto Savio Speaks about Fear as a Tool to Gain Power Thu, 14 Dec 2017 11:17:39 +0000 Roberto Savio This op-ed by Roberto Savio, IPS founder and President Emeritus is adapted from a statement he made as a panelist on Migration and Human Solidarity, A Challenge and an Opportunity for Europe and the MENA region held on 14 December at the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue.

The post Shedding Diplomacy, Roberto Savio Speaks about Fear as a Tool to Gain Power appeared first on Inter Press Service.


This op-ed by Roberto Savio, IPS founder and President Emeritus is adapted from a statement he made as a panelist on Migration and Human Solidarity, A Challenge and an Opportunity for Europe and the MENA region held on 14 December at the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Dec 14 2017 (IPS)

At the outset my thanks to Dr Hanif Hassan Ali Al Kassim, and Ambassador Idriss Jazairy who lead the Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue for organizing this panel discussion at a critical moment in history. The Centre, is one of the few actors for peace and cooperation between the Arab world and Europe. As a representative of global civil society, I think it will be more meaningful if I speak without the constraints of diplomacy, and I make frank and unfettered reflections.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

The misuse of religion, of populism and xenophobia, is a sad reality, which is not clearly addressed any longer, but met with hypocrisy and not outright denunciation. Only now the British are realizing that they voted for Brexit, on the basis of a campaign of lies. But nobody has taken on publicly Johnson or Farage, the leaders of Brexit, after Great Britain accepted to pay, as one of the many costs of divorce, at least 45 billion Euro, instead of saving 20 billion Euro, as claimed by the ‘brexiters’. And there are only a few analysis on why political behaviour is more and more a sheer calculation, without any concern for truth or the good of the country.

President Trump could be a good case study on the relations between politics and populism. Just a few days ago the United States has declared that they are withdrawing from the UN Global Compact on Migration. This has nothing to do with the interest or the identity of United States, which has built itself as a country of immigrants. It has to do with the fact that this decision is popular with a part of American population, which is voting for President Trump, like the evangelicals. I have here to show the message they are circulating, after the declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. This is what it is said in the Bible. If we recreate the world described in the bible, Jesus will make his second coming to earth, and only the just will be rewarded. And therefore they think that Trump brings the world closer to the return of Christ, and therefore he acts for the good of their beliefs. Evangelicals are close to thirty million, and they strongly believe that when the second coming of Jesus will happen, he will recognize only them as the believers who are on the right path. Trump is not an evangelical, and he has shown little interest in religion. But, like each of his actions, he is coherent with his views during the campaign, which brought together all the dissatisfied people catapulting him into the White House. Everything he does, is not in the interest of the world or of the United States. He is just focused on keeping the support of his electors – those who do not come from big towns, academia, media and the Silicon Valley. They come mainly from impoverished and uninformed white electors, who feel left out from the benefits of globalization. They believe those benefits went to the elite, to the big towns and to the few winners, and believe that there is an international plot to humiliate the United States. So, climate change for them and Trump is a Chinese hoax ! During the first year, Trump can well have a shocking approval rating of 32%, the lowest in history for a President of United States. But 92% of his voters would re-elect him. And as only 50% of Americans vote, he can conveniently ignore general public opinion.

It is not the place here to go deeper into American political trends. But Trump is a perfect example to see why a large number of Europeans, or even countries like Poland, Hungary and Czech Republic, are ignoring the decisions of the European Union on migrants, and why populism, xenophobia and nationalism are on the rise everywhere.

Fear has become the tool to get to power.

Historians agree that two main engines of change in history, are greed and fear.

Well, we have been trained, since the collapse of communism, to look to greed as a positive value. Markets (no man or ideas), was the new paradigm. States were an obstacle to a free market. Globalization, it was famously said, would lift all boats, and benefit everybody. In fact, markets without rules was self-destructive, and not all boats were lifted, but only yachts, the bigger the better. The rich became richer, and the poor poorer. The process is so speedy, that ten years ago the richest 528 people had the same wealth of 2.3 billion people. This year, they have become 8, and this number is likely to shrink soon. All statistics are clear, and globalization based on free market is losing some of its shine.

But meanwhile we have lost many codes of communication. In the political debate there is no more reference to social justice, solidarity, participation, equity, the values in the modern constitutions, on which we built international relations. Now the codes are competition, success, profit and individual achievement. During my lectures at schools, I am dismayed to see a materialistic generation, who do not care to vote, to change the world. And the distance between citizens and political institutions is increasing every day. The only voices reminding us of justice and solidarity, and are voices from religious leaders: Pope Bergoglio, the Dalai Lama, Bishop Tutu, and the Grand Mufti Muhammad Hussein, just to name the most prominent. And with media who are now also based on market as the only criteria, those voices are becoming weaker.

After a generation of greed, we are now in a generation of fear. We should notice that, before the great economic crisis of 2009 (provoked by greed: banks have paid until now 280 billion dollars of penalties and fines), xenophobe and populist parties were always minorities (with exception of Le Pen in France). The crisis created fear and uncertainties, and then immigration started to rise, especially after the invasion of Libya in 2001 and Iraq in 2013.We are now in the seventh year of the Syrian drama, which displaced 45% of the population. Merkel is now paying a price for her acceptance of Syrian refugees, and it is interesting to note that two thirds of the votes to Alternative Fur Deutschland, the populist and xenophobe party, comes from former East Germany, that has few refugees but an income, which is nearly 25% lower. Fear, again, has been the engine for change of German history.

Europe was direct lyresponsible for these migrations. A famous cartoonist El Roto from El Pais, has made a cartoon showing bombs flying in the air, and migrant’s boats coming from the sea. “We send them bombs, and they send us migrants”. But there is no recognition of this. Those who escape from hunger and war are now depicted as invaders. Countries who until few years ago, like the Nordic ones, were considered synonymous with civic virtues, and who spent a considerable budget for international cooperation, are now erecting walls and barbed wire. Greed and fear have been so successfully exploited by the new nationalist, populist and xenophobe parties, that now they keep growing at every election, from Austria to the Netherlands, from Czech Republic to Great Britain (where they created Brexit ), and then Germany, and in a few months, Italy. The three horses of apocalypse, which in the thirties were the basis for the Second Wold War: nationalism, populism and xenophobia, are back with growing popular support, and politicians openly riding them.

But what is shocking is that we have now a new element of division: religion, which is widely used against immigrants and should instead unite us. Religion has always been used to get power and legitimacy. Common people never started the wars of religion in Europe but by princes and kings. A few years ago we did commemorate the expulsion first of the Jews, and then of the Moors, from Spain, where they lived in harmony and peace with the Christians, forming a civilization of the three cultures. And a few weeks ago, there was a great march in Warsaw, ignored by the media, with 40.000 people, many coming from all over Europe and the United States. They marched in the name of God, crying death to the Jews and Muslim.

But while Protestant, Catholic, Muslim and Jew religious leaders engage in a positive dialogue for peace and cooperation, a number of self-proclaimed defenders of the faith, are bringing fear, misery and death. And it should be clear that we have no clash of religions. It is a clash of those who use religion for power and legitimacy. And they ride an unrealistic historical dream. To return to a world, which is gone, where mines will reopen, the country will go back to its former glory: a world, that dreams not of a better future, but of a better past. Africa is going to double its population, with 80% of its population under 35 years; while in Europe it will be just 20%. There is no hope for Europe to be viable in a global economy and in a competitive world, without substantial immigration. Yet, to speak about that in the political debate, is now a kiss of death.

In conclusion, I must stress that we face a sad reality, which cannot be ignored any longer, even if it is not politically correct. Ideals have always been used to gain support, even from those who did not believe them. And historians teach us that in modern times humankind has fallen into three traps: In the name of God, to divide and not to dialogue; in the name of the nation, often to rally support and bring citizens to wars; and now, in name of the profit. I think it is time to make new alliances, and launch a great powerful campaign of awareness on the false prophets, with mobilizations of media, civil society and legitimate politicians, to educate citizens that immigration must be regulated, as it is a necessity, with which Europe must live.

We must establish policies, and even after Trumps leaves the global Compact, like he left the Paris Agreement on climate change, he will remain an isolated voice, while citizens will strive for a better world, with no fears, based on common values. We must take an unpopular but vital action for education and participation. It will be unpopular and difficult we know. But if we do not take this road, human beings, who are the only ‘animals’ who do not learn from past mistakes, will again go through blood, misery and destruction.

The post Shedding Diplomacy, Roberto Savio Speaks about Fear as a Tool to Gain Power appeared first on Inter Press Service.


This op-ed by Roberto Savio, IPS founder and President Emeritus is adapted from a statement he made as a panelist on Migration and Human Solidarity, A Challenge and an Opportunity for Europe and the MENA region held on 14 December at the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue.

The post Shedding Diplomacy, Roberto Savio Speaks about Fear as a Tool to Gain Power appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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Austrian Elections: The Crisis of Europe Continues Sat, 21 Oct 2017 19:06:32 +0000 Roberto Savio Roberto Savio is co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus. He is also publisher of OtherNews.

The post Austrian Elections: The Crisis of Europe Continues appeared first on Inter Press Service.


Roberto Savio is co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus. He is also publisher of OtherNews.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Oct 21 2017 (IPS)

The Austrian elections show clearly that media have given up on contextualising events. To do that, calls for a warning about Europe’s future, as a vehicle of European values is required. Europe has been weakened by all the recent elections, with the notable exception of France. Common to all, France included, were some clear trends, that we will hastily, and therefore maybe imperfectly, examine.

Roberto Savio

The decline of the traditional parties.

In every election, since the financial crisis of 2009, the parties we have known to run their country since the end of the Second World War, are on the wane ( or practically disappearing, like in the last French elections). In Austria, the far right Freedom Party of Austria (FPO) secured 26 per cent of the vote, just a few votes behind the Social Democrats who took 26.9 per cent of the votes. The social democrats have been in power practically since the end of the war. And the other traditional party, the conservative Austrian People’s Party (OVP), won the elections with 31.5 per cent. Together the two parties used to have more than 85% of the votes. In the Dutch elections held in March, Geert Wilder’s far-right Party for Freedom PVV, came second after the ruling People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy VVD, at the expense of all other parties. And in September in Germany, the far right anti immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) enjoyed historical success, becoming the third party while the two traditional parties, Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union of Germany CDU and the social democrat Social Democratic Party of Germany SPD, suffered the worst results in more than a half a century. According to polls, next year Italian elections will see a populist movement, with the 5 Stars taking over the government.

Austria is the best example to understand how European national politics have changed. It is important to note that no right wing party was really visible in Europe, (except Le Pen in France), before the financial crisis of 2009. That crisis brought insecurity and fear and in the same year the Austrian far right, under the charismatic leadership of Jorg Haider, got the same percentage of votes as of today. And the conservative Prime minister of the time, Wolfgang Schlussel broke a taboo by bringing the Freedom Party into the government. Everybody in Europe reacted with horror, practically isolating Austria. And the FPO, lost all its lustre in the government, going down to 5%, and with the death of Haider even further down. There Are no gasps of horror now in Europe over any far right wing parties getting in to govern.

What has fuelled the decline of the traditional parties

The traditional parties were facing already a loss of participation and trust by the electors at the end of the last century but in 2009 Europe imported the financial crisis which racked the US in 2006. And, 2009 saw hardship and unemployment all over Europe. And that year Greece became the battleground of two visions in Europe. The Southern countries wanted to push out of the crisis with investments and social relief, while the bloc of Northern countries, led by Germany, saw austerity as the only response. Germany wanted to export it’s experience: they were doing well thanks to an internal austerity reform started by Schroeder in 2003, and they did not want to take on other reforms at any cost.

Greece was just 4% of the European economy and could have been rescued without problems. But the German line won and today Greece has lost 25% of its properties; pensions went down by 17%, and there is a massive unemployment. Austerity was the response to the crisis for all of Europe and that aggravated fear and insecurity.

It is also important to remember that until the invasions of Libya, Iraq and Syria, in which Europe played a key role (2011- 2014), there were few immigrants and this was not a problem. In 2010, immigrants numbered 215.000, in a region of 400 millions. But during the invasions, a very fragile balance between Shite and Sunni, the two main religious branches of Islam, collapsed. Civil war, and the creation of ISIS in 2015 pushed many to try to reach Europe to escape the civil wars. So, in 2015 more than 1.2 million refugees, the majority coming from countries in conflict, arrived in Europe, which was not prepared for such a massive influx. And, if we study the elections before then, we can see that the far right parties were not as relevant as they are now.

Therefore it should be clear that austerity and immigration have been the two main factors for the rise of the right wing. Statistics and data show that clearly. Statistics also show that immigrants, of course with exceptions, (that media and populism inflates), basically want to integrate, accept any kind of work, and are law abiding and pay their contributions, which is obviously in their interest. Of course the level of instruction plays a crucial role. But the Syrians who come here were basically middle class. And of course it is an inconvenient truth that if Europe did not intervene in the name of democracy, the situation would be different. NATO estimates that more than 30 billion dollars have been spent on the war in Syria. There are now six million refugees, and 400.00 dead.

And Assad is still there. Of course, democracy has a different value in countries which are closed and rich in petrol. If we were serious about democracy, there are so many African countries which need intervention. Book Haram has killed seven times more people than ISIS; and Mugabe is considering running for re-election after dominating Zimbabwe for nearly four decades. But you will never hear much on those issues in the present political debate.

How the far right is changing Europe

Nigel Farage is the populist who led a far right party, the UK Independence Party (UKIP) which fought for leaving Europe. UKIP received the greatest number of votes (27.49%) of any British party in the 2014 European Parliament election and gained 11 extra Member of the European Parliament MEPs for a total of 24.[55] The party won seats in every region of Great Britain, including its first in Scotland.[56] It was the first time in over a century that a party other than Labour or Conservatives won the mosti votes in a UK-wide election.

But Farage lost the elections held just before Brexit, in June 2016. His declaration to the media was: Infact, I am the real winner, because my agenda against Europe now is the basis for politics in all the traditional parties. Brexit did follow.

And this is what is happening now everywhere. The Austrian elections did not see only the FPO rise. They also saw the conservative OVP taking immigration, security, borders and others part of the far right agenda of the populist agenda in the electoral campaign. A full 58% of the voters went for the far right or the right, with the social Democrats also moving more to the center. The new Dutch governement took a turn to the right, by reducing taxes on the rich people, and to companies. The same turn to the right can be expected by the new coalition led by Merkel, with the liberals aiming to take over the ministry of Finance. Its leader, Christian Lindner, is a nationlist and has several times declared his aversion to Europe. In that seense, he will be worse than the inflexible Schauble, who just wanted to Germanize Europe, but was a convinced European. And it is interesting that the main vote for the far righ party AfD came from East Germany, where immigrants are few. But in spite of investing the staggering amount of 1.3 trillions Euro in the development of East Germany, important differences in employment and revenues with West Germany remain. No wonder that the President of South Korea has warned President Trump to avoid any conflict. They have decided a longtime ago, looking at the German reunification that they would not have the resources required by annexing with success, North Korea.The rocketman, as Trump calls Kim, after the decertification of Iran, can claim that the only way to be sure that US will not intervene, is to show that he has a nuclear intercontinental ability, because US does not respect treaties.

Those considerations done, a pattern is clear everywhere. The agenda of the right wing has been incorporated in the traditional parties; they bring in the governing coalition, like Norway did , or they try to isolate them , as did Sweden. This does not change the fact that everybody is moving to the right. Austria will now tilt to the Visegrad group, formed by Poland , Hungary, Czech and Slovakia, which are clearly challenging Europe and looking to Putin as a political model ( all the right wing does).

The only active European voice is Macron, who clearly is not a progressist guy either. The real progressist, Corbyn, is ambigous about Europe, because the Labour Party has a lot of eurosceptic.

The new German government has already made clear that many of it’s proposals for a stronger Europe are not on the agenda, and austerity remains the way. Unless a strong growth comes soon (and the IMF doubts that), social problems will increase. Nationalism never helped peace, development and cooperation. Probably , we need some populist movement to be in the government to show that they have no real answers to the problems. The victory of 5 stars in Italy will probably do that. But this was the theory also for Egypt. Let the Muslim Brotherhood take the government , and it will be a failure. Pity that the General El Sisi did not let this happen. Our hope is that we do not get any El Sisis in Europe.

If only young people went back to vote, this would change the situation in Europe…this is the real historical loss of the left in Europe.

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Roberto Savio is co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus. He is also publisher of OtherNews.

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Merkel’s Defeat Confirms Dismal Trend for Europe Fri, 29 Sep 2017 07:40:39 +0000 Roberto Savio Roberto Savio is co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus. He is also publisher of OtherNews.

The post Merkel’s Defeat Confirms Dismal Trend for Europe appeared first on Inter Press Service.


Roberto Savio is co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus. He is also publisher of OtherNews.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Sep 29 2017 (IPS)

Generally, media have failed to analyse why the result of German elections is the worst possible. Merkel is not a winner, but a leader now in a very fragile position, who will have to make many compromises and pay now for her mistakes. Let us make at least the most important four points of analysis.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio


Point One: the decline of traditional parties

Now for some years, the traditional parties who have run their countries since the end of the Second World War are becoming irrelevant. The last French elections saw the practical collapse of the Socialist and Gaullist parties, with the arrival of a totally unknown candidate, Macron, who has now 60% of the seats in the Parliament. The same happened earlier in the Austrian presidential elections.

This process has now started in Germany. Merkel’s party, the CDU, had the worst performance since its creation. And its sister party, CSU (the Bavarian CDU) has lost a staggering million votes. The same has happened to the SPD, who saw the lowest approval since modern times. The two parties, who had in the last elections 67.2% of the votes, now got just 53.2%. And, as everywhere else, the missing votes went to parties who were recipients of discontent, and the desire to punish the establishment was evident. Linke, a radical left-wing party, got an additional 0.6%, by voters rejecting the increasing social inequality, and did not believe that SPD would be different from the CDU on this issue. The Green got an additional 0.5%, by those who were incensed by Merkel’s promise to increase defense costs to 2% of GDP, to please Trump. But the big winner was the AfD, an extreme right wing party, who was the conduit for people’s dissatisfaction on immigrants, on the European Union, and other nationalist and populist themes. AfD got 12.6 % of the votes, becoming the third party and with 96 members of parliament. AfD got 980.000 votes from the CDU, 470.000 from the SPD, 400.000 votes from the Linke. But, much more importantly, 1,200.000 votes from people who did not vote in the last elections. In a poll, 60% of them said that they were “disappointed with the present political situation’. At the same time the poll company Infratest Dimap, found out that 84% considered Germany’s economic situation “good”, when this was 74% four years ago, and a mere 19% eight years ago. The elections were not clearly on economy, but about immigration and the loss of German identity.

Therefore, Macron’s victory over Le Pen is not the end of the populist wave. And few doubt that if Macron loses his appeal (as it is already happening), and his fight for social reforms is stopped by mass manifestations, Le Pen would win the next elections. And the antisystem parties all over Europe did not win in the last elections, but they did not lose eithe. Now they are the needle of the balance in all Nordic countries, and can declare, like Farage , the founder of the anti-Europe party UKIP, when he lost in the last British election: it is irrelevant, our message has become part of all the political system. And Brexit was the best example that he was right…all parties in the Nordic countries had to incorporate points of the populist, especially on immigration.

It has been generally ignored that it is the middle class, the main actor in this change. Social inequality in Europe has constantly grown, and many from the middle class are impoverished or afraid. Germany is a good example. While unemployment went down with Merkel from 11% to 3.8%, those close to the poverty line went from 11% to 17% of the total. Merkel went from a public deficit of 100 billion dollars, to a surplus of 20 billion, but at the same time poverty doubled to 10%, and there are 2 million people who have two jobs to help them reach the end of the month. And the pensioners who live below the poverty line , have increased by 30%. A full 15.7% of Germans now live under the poverty line. Of these, nearly 3 million are children.

Are the fears and frustrations of the middle class only who have pushed Brexit and Trump ? The economist Homi Kharas, specialized on the middle class, considers that 43% of the world population (some 3.200 million) now form the world middle class. It grows every year by 160 million. What is common to them is that especially the lower middle class have high expectations from the government and they put economic growth before anything else. They are helped by the Internet and social media, to be aware of their rights, and of the risks. In rich countries, massive education helps awareness. In developing countries, the pressure on governments is equally strong. The best example is China. Between 2002 and 2011, there has been a strong increase in protests and loss of trust in the public institution, despite a period of economic growth. The fact is that to keep growth and social justice together, you need resources. And this a problem for the left. Its genetic message is redistribution and participation. How to do this when we are in a world of diminishing resources?


Point Two. The antisystem becomes an entrenched system

Bill Emmot, the ex-director of the Economist, has written: “we live in a period of political turmoil. Parties less than a year old have taken power in France and in the megalopolis of Tokyo. A party less than five years old is heading the polls in Italy. The White House is hosting a billionaire who never had any political experience. And we should add that before the crisis of 2009, no populist or xenophobe party was represented in Parliament.

We have therefore little experience on how antiparty system behaves when they are in power. But if we look at the United States, Poland and Hungary, clearly they are trying to put under control the public institutions, not because of the values of democracy that brought them to power, but a new campaign on fears and greed: globalization, immigration, automatization’s displacement of jobs, inequality, racism, and “my country first”. And the antisystem parties, who all have sent congratulatory message to the AfD, look to Putin as the political model to follow (except Poland for obvious reasons). But Urban of Hungary speaks openly of “illiberal democracy” as the main reason to combat the EU (and Poland of values of Catholicism against a secular Europe).

It is legitimate then to think that when the AfD, Le Pen, and company will come to power, (if the trend toward antisystem is not stopped), we are going to see a serious decline of democracy…also because we have Japan, India, China, Turkey, Philippines, just to name a few, who are nationalists, xenophobe and tend to project their vision, as the Russian hackers did in the last elections.

We must look at the youth’s decline in participation in politics as a new phenomenon extremely worrying. The priorities in budget allocations go increasingly to the older generations, which vote. It is important to note that the large majority of young people do not vote for the antisystem parties, but abstain. If young people did vote, we would not have Brexit and Trump. In the German elections, only 10% of those between 18 and 24 voted for AfD: all other age groups did so, and we must go to the oldest age group, those over 70 years to see a decline, to just 7% of the vote . But 69 per cent of the oldest voted for CDU and SPD, against 41% of the youngest. So, the theory that young people are moving to the right is a myth. They prefer to abstain…but the problem remains. Their abstention is helping both the system to stay, and the antisystem to win. But take Italy for example, run by a centre left party, the PD. They have just approved an incentive for youth unemployment (close to 30%), after giving 30 billion dollars to bail out four regional banks. The antisystem M5S, which is now heading the polls, has made the fight against the financial system a priority. If you were young, educated and unemployed, what would be your choice?


Point Three: German elections are a disaster for Europe

The appeal of an integrated Europe has been on the wane for a while. It became fashionable to present the European institutions as a bunch of unaccountable bureaucrats, out of touch with reality, intent on discussing the size of tomatoes. In fact, it is the Council of Ministers, formed by representative of the States, who take the decisions: EU can only implement them. But it becomes politically convenient to go back from Brussels and present decisions, especially those unpopular, as a diktat imposed on your country. This, of course, is just one of the many reasons for the decline of Europe as a political project. But is useful to remember this game, because it shows the irresponsibility of the political class. There was never a real unity behind the European project. Every country looked only for dividends, and now, not even for that (as the example of Poland and Hungary, very large recipients show). So, where is Europe heading?

There are in fact three visions of Europe. One is the vision of Juncker, the head of the EU. It calls for strengthening the European institutions, and reinforcing the social goals, until now left behind the economic and commercial priorities. It’s not that Juncker is a progressive: he just realizes without doing that, the anti-European parties will have an easier life. His view is of strengthening Europe as a super national entity, with the states conceding more power, for better functioning. Then there is the vision of Macron, who goes in the same direction, but from a country that has always jealously defended its national sovereignty. Yet he realizes that in this competitive world, no European country can go far, and a strong Europe is therefore necessary. Then there is Merkel’s Europe, which is basically toward a federation of countries, where decisions are taken by the states, (with Germany as the strongest), with the EU implementing them. Since Macron came to power, he has been championing the revival of the French-German entente, which is necessary for a viable Europe. Macron and the south of Europe have been asking for socialization of European revenues, so as to sustain the weakest and have a common growth, creating a European Monetary Fund to overcome crisis, a super minister of finance and economy, a common European defence and several social measures to give back faith to the European losers in Europe.

Well, this is exactly what Germany has vetoed every time. Germans do not want to share their revenues with losers. In this debate, there is a strong religious and moral argument: the protestant ethic against catholic culture of easy pardon. Greece was the field to affirm the doctrine of ordo liberalism, the German view of economics, where easy-going and lack of discipline must be punished. This was also a warning to other countries, like Italy, Spain and Portugal. The result of sanctions on Greece, which was just 4% of the European economy, is that after seven years there is at least 20% unemployment, a loss of 25% of the Greek economy, a reduction of the pensions of nearly 40%, and 20% of the population under poverty line. It should not be forgotten that a large component of the bail out loans went first to the banks (mainly German), to pay the large credits they had with the broken Greek state, and not to the citizens. And that now airports and ports are under German administration.

The face of this imposition of austerity, which is a very important component of the anti-European wind, had the face of the implacable and crippled minister of Finance, Schauble. But there was no doubt that he was pro Europe, even if of a Europe based on the German model. But now he has moved to be the President of the Parliament, to leave his place to the chairman of the FPD, the liberal party, Christian Lindner, who is an avowed anti-European. FDP is against the euro, wants Greece out of the Euro, wants a strong policy on refugees: in other words, he is much on the right. Merkel, the extremely prudent Chancellor , will certainly not be able to meet the expectations of Macron and Juncker. Europe will again be on standby. Italy will be probably run by a young PRime Minister (from the antisystem M5S) a totally untested 31 year old, who has announced that he would like to leave the Euro, and limit Brussels power. The tide against Europe has not been stopped at all, contrary to media enthusiasm.


Point Four: Merkel’s responsibilities

There is no doubt that the massive immigration of one million of Syrians, has given a strong weapon to Afd, and the liberals, to help them gain power. But time will prove that it was a wise decision, greeted by the German economy. Statistics show that Immigrants are model citizens, pay their taxes, and bring a net benefit to the country who receives them. Of course, we see only the story of criminals and rapists, that xenophobe parties use with success, because in difficult times to find a scapegoat is easy and convenient. But Merkel just rode the German idiosyncrasy, without doing any statist’s effort to mobilize citizens to a vision. She knows that the secret dream of Germans is to be a Swiss: no participation in the world (other than business), no experiments, no risks. She has become the embodiment of that idiosyncrasy – she is glad to be called Mutti, the mother. Other than the immigrants, she took only another risk, which was to abandon nuclear, after the disaster of Fukushima. Therefore, she did nothing to raise the awareness of the citizens on their European responsibilities. She shielded them from any sacrifice for being Europeans, refused any request by the EU, the IMF and the Wold Bank to spend the huge surplus that Germany made with intra-European trade. Her position was: we will keep the money we made with our hard work. And Schauble was just her instrument. Now, as a result of her odd coalition government she will ask the European Central Bank post for a German hawk, Jedemans, from the Bank of Germany: a good company to Christian Lindner. Dark days are coming for Europe; Merkel is the best illustration of the difference between the Germany of Bonn, run by idealist and committed politicians, with the Germany of Berlin, who is just a selfish entity, without vision. And after spending 100 billion a year, for 20 years, East Germany remains hopelessly behind, and it is where AfD took his largest share of votes.

On the night after the elections, the candidate for SPD, Martin Shultz, said looking into her eyes: Mrs Merkel, you are the great loser. You are the one responsible for the victory of AfD. Let us hope that willingly or not, Mutti will be also the one responsible for the end of the European dream.

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Roberto Savio is co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus. He is also publisher of OtherNews.

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The Unnoticed Demise of Democracy Mon, 24 Jul 2017 20:57:34 +0000 Roberto Savio Politicians are so busy fighting for their jobs, they hardly seem to notice that they risk going out of business. Democracy is on the wane, yet the problem is nowhere in Parliaments. Common to all is a progressive loss of vision, of long term planning and solutions, with politics used just for power. In English, […]

The post The Unnoticed Demise of Democracy appeared first on Inter Press Service.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Jul 24 2017 (IPS)

Politicians are so busy fighting for their jobs, they hardly seem to notice that they risk going out of business. Democracy is on the wane, yet the problem is nowhere in Parliaments. Common to all is a progressive loss of vision, of long term planning and solutions, with politics used just for power.

Democracy is on the wane, yet the problem is nowhere to be seen in Parliaments.  Common to all is a progressive loss of long term plannin

Roberto Savio

In English, there are two terms: politics, which is term for the machinery, and policy, that is the vision. In Latin languages, there is only one, politics, and that is now becoming the adequate term also for English-speaking countries, from May’s UK to Trump’s US.

In a few years, we have seen an astonishing flourishing of authoritarian governments. Turkey’s Erdogan may be the best example. He was elected in 2002, and hailed as proof that you could be a Muslim and also a champion of democracy. At the end of the decade, he started to take a more fundamentalist and authoritarian approach, until in 2013 there was the famous crackdown on thousands of protesters, protecting a Park in Istanbul intended to be razed for a supermarket.

Since then, the tendency to use power has accelerated. In 2014, Erdogan was accused, along with his son, of corruption (three sons of cabinet ministers were also arrested). He blamed it on the Gulenist Movement, a spiritual movement led by an earlier ally, Fethullah Gulen, who now lives in the US. And when in 2016 some military factions attempted a coup against him, he used the coup as a reason to get rid of Gulenist and other dissidents. It has put 60,000 people in jail, and he has dismissed from public employment a staggering 100,000 people.

What is reminiscent of Stalin and Hitler’s practices is how those 100,000 have been treated. They have been banned from private employment, and their passports as well the ones of their families have been revoked. When asked how they will survive, the government’s reaction was to scoff that even eating roots would be “too good” for them.

We’re talking of hundreds of judges, tens of thousands of teachers, university professors, who have been dismissed without any hearing and without any formal imputation. Europe’s reaction? Empty declarations, and since then Erdogan has become more authoritarian.

He has built a Presidential Palace of 1,150 rooms, larger than the White House and the Kremlin, where there is a three-room office dedicated to taste his food to avoid poisoning. The palace cost between 500 million euro (the government’s declaration), and 1 billion dollars (opposition’ estimates).

It could be said in Europe’s defence that Turkey is not a member of the European Union, and his actions have made it extremely unlikely that membership in the EU is possible. But Poland and Hungary not only are members of the EU, but also the main beneficiaries of his economic support. Poland joined the EU in 2004, has received more than 100 billion dollars in various subsidies: double the Marshall Plan in current dollars, the largest transfer of money ever done in modern history.

Yet the government has embarked in a firm path to dismantle democratic institutions (the last, the judicial system), and even the sleepy EU has been obliged to warn that it could take away the right of Poland to vote, to the total indifference of the government. Yet nobody has formally proposed to cut the subsidies, which are now in the budget from 2014 to 2020 another 60 billion dollars – half of what the world spends for development aid for nearly 150 countries.

Hungry is run since 2010 by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who campaigns for “an illiberal democracy”, and, like Poland’s PM Szydlo, has refused to accept any immigrants, in spite of EU subsidies. Hungary, despite its small population (less than 10 million, versus Poland’s 38 million) is the third largest recipient of EU’s subsidies, or 450 dollars per person.

One third of the world population lives on less than that. In addition, the European Investment Bank gives a net subsidy of 1 billion euro, and Hungary received 2.4 billion euro from the balance of Payment Assistance Program. The two countries have formed with Slovakia and Czechia, the Visegrad group, which is in a permanent campaign against the EU and its decisions. Needless to say, subsidies to Slovakia and Czechia largely surpass their contributions.

Are Erdogan, Orban, Szydlo and dictators? On the contrary, they are democratically elected, like Duterte in the Philippines, Mugabe in Zimbabwe, Maduro in Venezuela and other 30 authoritarian presidents in the world. But in Europe this is new. And it is also new to see an American President, Donald Trump, present an agenda of isolationism and international confrontation, who was also regularly elected.

A poll at the end of his first semester revealed that his voters would re-elect him again, with the Republican support going down only from 98% to 96%. Nationwide, his popularity has declined to 36%. If elections were held today, he would likely get a second term.

Which brings us to wonder why we still consider elections equivalent to democracy? Because this is how the people can express themselves. But people certainly do not like corruption, which in polls anywhere is considered the most prominent problem of modern governments.

However, unless it reaches a totally systematic level, like in Brazil, studies don’t show a strong correlation between corruption and electoral punishment. Corruption, in politics, has been used by populists, who has promised to get rid of it to the electorate: exactly what Trump did in his campaign, while now his conflict of interest and lack of transparency with his private interests have no precedent in the White House.

That brings us to the next question. If ideologies are gone, and politics have become mainly a question of administrative efficiency and personalities, what is the link between a candidate and his voters, and whose support persists despite everything, like those who voted for Erdogan, Trump, Orban and Szydlo?

Perhaps it is time that we start to look to politics with a new approach. What did we learn from the last few years’ elections?

That people are aligning themselves under a new paradigm, which is not political in the sense we have used until now: it is called IDENTITY. Voters now elect those with whom they identify, and support them because in fact they defend their identity, no matter what. They do not listen to contradictory information, which they dismiss as “fake news.” Let us see on what this identity issue is based: the new four divides.

There is first a new divide: cities against rural areas, small towns, villages, hamlets. In Brexit, people in urban areas voted to stay in Europe. The same goes for those who voted against Erdogan, who is unpopular in Istanbul, but very popular in the rural areas. In the US, those who vote d for Trump were largely from the poor states. The same has happened with Orban and Szydlo. None would be in power if the vote was restricted to the capital and the major towns.

There is a second new divide: young and older voters. Brexit would not have happened if all young people cared to vote. Same with Erdogan, Trump, Orban and Szydlo. The problem is that young people have in serious percentages stopped to be active in politics because they feel left out, and look to parties as self-maintaining machines, ridden with corruption and inefficiency.

Of course, this plays in favour of those who are already in the system, which perpetuates itself, without the generational lift for change. Italy found 20 billion dollars to save four small banks while the total subsidies for young people are 2 billion euro. No wonder they feel left out.

There is the third divide, which is also new, ideologies of the past were basically more inclusive, even if of course the class system played a significant role. The third divide is between those who have finished at least high school, and those who did not. This is going to increase dramatically in the next two decades, when the robotization of industry and services will reach at least 40% of the production.

Tens of millions of people will be left out, and they will be those with less education, unable to fit in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Elites look with disdain at the choices of electors who are considered ignorant and provincial, while the latter in turn consider the elite winners who reap whatever they can, and marginalize them.

Finally, there is a fourth divide, which is very important for the values of peace and cooperation as a basis for a world governance. It is the divide between those who see the return to nationalism as the solution to their problems (and therefore hate immigrants), and those who believe that their country, in an increasing competing world, can be better if it integrates in international or regional organizations.

Two extremely simplified examples: Europe and the US. There was a survey done by the EU among the nine million Erasmus, or the students who with a scholarship from that exchange program went to make lives in other countries. They have had more than 100,000 children by marrying somebody met abroad: the real Europeans.

In the poll, they were at 92% asking for more Europe, not less Europe. And in the US, the classic Trump voters, as white (a demographic group in decline: at every election 2% less of white vote), who did not get beyond secondary education, who do not read newspapers or books, coming from the poorer states. People who lost their jobs, often after closure of factories or mines, strongly believe that they are victims of globalization, which created social and economic injustice.

This is a consequence of the fact that during two decades, only macroeconomic indexes have been used, like the GNP. Social indicators were largely shunned. How the growth that GNP indicated was divided was not a concern for the IMF, World Bank, the EU and most politicians, who blindly believed that market was the only engine for growth and would solve social problems: only now have they tried to brakes on, too late. The world has seen an unprecedented explosion of inequality, which is helping nationalism and xenophobia to become a central part of the political debate.

Nationalism is not confined to Trump, Erdogan, Orban and Szydlo, and to Brexit. China, India, Japan, the Philippines, Israel, Egypt, Russia, and other countries are now run by nationalist and authoritarian governments. This bring us to a very simple conclusion. Either the transition to an unknown new political system, that will certainly replace the present unsustainable system, will be based on the values of social justice, cooperation and peace (probably updating the present international organizations), or it is difficult to see how we will avoid conflicts, wars and bloodshed.

Why is man the only animal who does not learn from previous experience?

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Young People: You Didn’t Vote, And Now You Protest? Tue, 16 May 2017 11:33:32 +0000 Roberto Savio Roberto Savio is co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus. He is also publisher of OtherNews.

The post Young People: You Didn’t Vote, And Now You Protest? appeared first on Inter Press Service.


Roberto Savio is co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus. He is also publisher of OtherNews.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, May 16 2017 (IPS)

Immediately after the vote on Brexit, thousands of young people marched in the streets of England to show their disagreement over the choice to leave Europe. But polls indicated that had they voted en masse (only 37 percent voted), the result of the referendum would have been the opposite.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

In the political system, it is now taken for granted that youth will largely abstain, and the agenda tends to ignore them more and more. This has created a vicious circle, setting up priorities which do not represent them. Yet, the analysis of the elections after the shattering economic and social crisis of 2008-9 is clear and statistically evident.

The European Parliament conducted research on the European elections of 2014 in the 28 member countries. While the youngest Europeans (18-24) are more positive about the European Union than the oldest (55+), far fewer of them turned out to vote. Turnout was higher among the oldest respondents.

Some 51 percent of the 55+ voted, while only 28 percent did in the 18-24 age group. This is relatively unchanged since the 2009 elections. And young people were more inclined to decide on the day of the elections, or a few days before (28 percent compared with the +55 group).

Already in 2014, 31 percent of the younger group said they never voted, against 19 percent of the 55+ age group. Yet, the younger the age, the more people had the feeling of being Europeans: 70 percent for the 18-24 year-olds, and 59 percent for the 55+ group.

It could be said, of course, that European elections are a special case. But a look at the past national elections in Europe confirms this trend. In the Austrian presidential elections of 2016, youth participation was at 43 percent. In 2010, it was 48 percent.

In the Dutch parliamentarian elections of 2017, the age group 18-24 vote was at 66 percent: it was 70 percent in 2012. In the Italian referendum of December 2016, the youth abstention was 38 percent, against 32 percent of the general population. And in the recent French presidential elections, the data are consistent: 78 percent abstention for the 25-34 age group; 65 percent for the 24-35; a solid 51 percent for the 35-49; and then 44 percent for the 50-64, with only 30 percent for those 65 and over.

In Israel, just 58 percent of under 35s, and just 41 percent of those under 25, voted in 2013, compared with 88 percent of over 55s. In Britain and Poland less than half of under 25s voted in the last general elections, compared with 88 percent of over 55s.

The growing youth abstention has significant implications. Let us take the last American elections that brought Donald Trump to the White House. The so-called Millennials, those of the age group 18-35, now make up 31 percent of the electorate. The Silent Generation (those 71+) are now 12 percent of the voting pool, and Generation X (36-51) makes up about 25 percent of the electorate.

Bernie Sanders’ run was based on 2 million votes from the 19-24 age group – voters who basically abandoned the elections after his loss in the primaries. Young people’s abstention rate, close to 67 percent, made the Millennials equivalent to the Silent Generation, and lost its demographic advantage. Millennials had a favourable view of Sanders at 54 percent, against 37 percent of Clinton. Just 17 percent of young people had a positive view of Trump.

Had only millennials voted, Clinton would have won the election in a landslide, with 473 electoral votes to Trump’s 32.

The first obvious observation is that if the traditional intergenerational rift disappears, we will have little change in politics, as older voters are usually more conservative. And the second obvious observation is that citizens’ participation will progressively shrink, as the young will age.

What is worrying is that we have too many polls on the reasons behind the political disenchantment of young people to think that the political system is unaware. On the contrary, many political analysts think that parties in power don’t mind abstentions in general terms. It shrinks the voters to those who feel connected, whose priorities are clear and simpler to satisfy, as the older generations feel more secure than the younger ones.

And the theme of young people is disappearing in the political debate, or is merely rhetorical. A good example is that the Italian government devoted in 2016 a whopping 20 billion dollars to save four banks, while it dedicated a total of 2 billion dollars to create jobs for young people, in a country which has close to 40 percent youth unemployment.

For youth, the message is clear: finance is more important than their future. So they do not vote, and they are less and less a factor in the political system.

Spending on education and research are the first victims (together with health) when austerity hits. The results are evident. In Australia (where 25 percent of the young people said that “it does not matter what kind of government we have”), those over 65 pay no tax on income under 24,508 dollars. Younger workers start paying taxes at 15,080 dollars.

In rich countries the world over, people over 65 have subsidies and special discounts, such as on the cinema and other activities. Not the young people…. But when somebody with a message for the young comes into the picture, participation changes. In Canada, just 37 percent of the 18-24s voted in the election of 2008, against 39 percent in 2011. But when Justin Trudeau campaigned on a message of hope in 2015, youth participation rose sharply to 57 percent.

What is a real cause of concern for democracy, as an institution based on the waning concept of popular participation, is that young people are not at all apolitical. In fact, they are very aware of priorities like climate change, gender equality, social justice, common goods, and other concepts, much more than the older generation. At least 10 percent of young people volunteer in social groups and civil society, against 3 percent of the older generations.

They feel much more connected to the causes of humanity, have fewer racial biases, believe more in international institutions, and are more interested in international affairs. A good example is Chile. In 2010 general abstention was 13.1 percent. In 2013 it went to 58 percent. Youth abstention was 71 percent. If young people would vote, they could change the results.

Simply, they have given up on political institutions as corrupt, inefficient, and disconnected from their lives. A report last year found that 72 percent of Americans born before the Second World War thought it was “essential” to live in a country that was governed democratically. Less than a third of those born in the 1980s agreed.

We must note that the decline of participation in elections is a worldwide phenomenon, not just among young people, but also the general population. The last elections at the writing of this article were in the Bahamas; only 50 percent of the population went to vote. In Slovenia abstention is now at 57.6 percent, in Mali 54.2 percent, in Serbia 53.7 percent, in Portugal 53.5 percent, in Lesotho 53.4 percent, in Lithuania 52.6 percent, in Colombia 52.1 percent, in Bulgaria 51.8 percent, in Switzerland 50.9 percent…and this in regions as different as Latin America, Europe, Africa and Asia…the crisis of political participation goes from the cradle of the parliamentarian system (Great Britain), 24 percent abstention, in 1964, to 34.2 in 2010 to Italy (7.1 percent in 2063, and in 2013 24.8 percent).

There is a general consensus among analysts that the damages of globalization and the discrediting of political parties are the major causes for the decline in participation. Yet the winners never take into account the reasons of the losers. The victory of Macron in the last French elections was well-received in Germany, but as soon as the new president started to speak about the need to strengthen Europe, for instance by creating a European finance minister, the immediate reaction was: Germany is not going to place one cent of its well-earned surplus with Europe to the service of other countries: those who spend their money on women and drinks and now expect solidarity form the North of Europe (the Dutch President of Eurofin, Jeroen Dijsselbloem).

How long it will it take to get the winners inside the European Union to understand that the political crisis is a global one, and must be addressed urgently? Voter turnout has been dropping precipitously in Germany, from over 82 percent in 1998 to only 70.8 percent in 2009. As at the last election, this year the number of non-voters is expected to surpass the number of voters in favor of the most successful party.

Manfred Güllner, the head of the Forsa polling institute, warns of a non-voter record. “There is reason to fear that fewer than 70 percent of eligible voters will go to the polls,” he says. If the non-voters were included on a conventional TV graphic, they would have the highest bar in the chart. They should actually be touted as the true winners of the election — if it weren’t for the fact that this also represents a defeat for democracy.

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Roberto Savio is co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus. He is also publisher of OtherNews.

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Trump Marks the End of a Cycle Tue, 21 Feb 2017 18:14:27 +0000 Roberto Savio Roberto Savio is co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus. He is also publisher of OtherNews.

The post Trump Marks the End of a Cycle appeared first on Inter Press Service.


Roberto Savio is co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus. He is also publisher of OtherNews.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Feb 21 2017 (IPS)

Let us stop debating what newly-elected US President Trump is doing or might do and look at him in terms of historical importance. Put simply, Trump marks the end of an American cycle!

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

Like it or not, for the last two centuries the entire planet has been living in an Anglophone-dominated world. First there was Pax Britannica (from the beginning of the 19th century when Britain started building its colonial empire until the end of the Second World War, followed by the United States and Pax Americana with the building of the so-called West).

The United States emerged from the Second World War as the main winner and founder of what became the major international institutions – from the United Nations to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – with Europe reduced to the role of follower. In fact, under the Marshall Plan, the United States became the force behind the post-war reconstruction of Europe.

As winner, the main interest of the United States was to establish a ‘world order’ based on its values and acting as guarantor of the ‘order’.

Thus the United Nations was created with a Security Council in which it could veto any resolution, and the World Bank was created with the US dollar as the world’s currency, not with a real world currency as British economist and delegate John Maynard Keynes had proposed. The creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) – as a response to any threat from the Soviet Union – was an entirely American idea.

The lexicon of international relations was largely based on Anglo-Saxon words, and often difficult to translate into other languages – terms such as accountability, gender mainstreaming, sustainable development, and so on. French and German disappeared as international languages, and lifestyle became the ubiquitous American export – from music to food, films and clothes. All this helped to reinforce American myths.

The United States thrust itself forward as the “model for democracy” throughout the world, based on the implied assertion that what was good for the United States was certainly good for all other countries. The United States saw itself as having an exceptional destiny based on its history, its success and its special relationship with God. Only US presidents could speak on behalf of the interests of humankind and invoke God.

The economic success of the United States was merely confirmation of its exceptional destiny – but the much touted American dream that anyone could become rich was unknown elsewhere.

The first phase of US policy after the Second World War was based on multilateralism, international cooperation and respect for international law and free trade – a system which assured the centrality and supremacy of the United States, reinforced by its military might,

The United Nations, which grew from its original 51 countries in 1945 to nearly 150 in just a few decades, was the forum for establishing international cooperation based on the values of universal democracy, social justice and equal participation.

In 1974, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted the Charter of Economic Rights and Duties of States – the first (and only) plan for global governance – which called for a plan of action to reduce world inequalities and redistribute wealth and economic production. But this quickly became to be seen by the United States as a straitjacket.

The arrival of Ronald Reagan at the White House in in1981 marked an abrupt change in this phase of American policy based on multilateralism and shared international cooperation. A few months before taking office, Reagan had attended the North-South Economic Summit in Cancun, Mexico, where the 22 most important heads of state (with China as the only socialist country) had met to discuss implementation of the General Assembly resolution.

Reagan, who met up with enthusiastic British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, stopped the plan for global governance dead in its tracks. I was there and saw how, to my dismay, the world went from multilateralism to the old policy of power in just two days. The United State simply refused to see its destiny being decided by others – and that was the start of the decline of the United Nations, with the United States refusing to sign any international treaty or obligation.

America’s dream and its exceptional destiny were strengthened by the rhetoric of Reagan who even went as far as slogan sing “God is American”.

It is important to note that, following Reagan’s example, all the other major powers were happy to be freed of multilateralism. The Reagan administration, allied with that of Thatcher, provided an unprecedented example of how to destroy the values and practices of international relations and the fact that Reagan has probably been the most popular president in his country’s history shows the scarce significance that the average American citizen gives to international cooperation.

Under Reagan, three major simultaneous events shaped our world. The first was deregulation of the financial system in 1982, later reinforced by US President Bill Clinton in 1999, which has led to the supremacy of finance, the results of which are glaringly evident today.

The second was the creation in 1989 of an economic vision based on the supremacy of the market as the force underpinning societies and international relations – the so-called Washington Consensus – thus opening the door for neoliberalism as the undisputed economic doctrine.

Third, also in 1989, came the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the end of the “threat” posed by the Soviet bloc.

It was at this point that the term “globalisation” became the buzzword, and that the United States was once again going to be the centre of its governance. With its economic superiority, together with the international financial institution which it basically controlled, plus the fact that the Soviet “threat” had now disappeared, the United States was once again placing itself at the centre of the world.

As Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State under presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, once said, “Globalisation is another term for U.S. domination.”

This phase ran from 1982 until the financial crisis of 2008, when the collapse of American banks, followed by contagion in Europe, forced the system to question the Washington Consensus as an undisputable theory.

Doubts were also being voiced loudly through the growing mobilisation of civil society /the World Social Forum, for example, had been created in 1981) and by the offensive of many economists who had previously remained in silence.

The latter began insisting that macroeconomics – the preferred instrument of globalisation – looked only at the big figures. If microeconomics was used instead, they argued, it would become clear that there was very unequal distribution of growth (not to be confused with development) and that delocalisation and other measures which ignored the social impact of globalisation, were having disastrous consequences.

The disasters created by three centuries of geed as the main value of the “new economy” were becoming evident through figures showing an unprecedented concentration of wealth in a few hands, with many victims – especially among the younger generation.

All this was accompanied by two new threats: the explosion of Islamic terrorism, widely recognised as a result of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the phenomenon of mass migration, which largely came after the Iraq war but multiplied after the interventions in Syria and Libya in 2011, and for which the United States and the European Union bear full responsibility.

Overnight, the world passed from greed to fear – the two motors of historical change in the view of many historians.

And this is brings us to Mr. Trump. From the above historical excursion, it is easy to understand how he is simply the product of American reality.

Globalisation, initially an American instrument of supremacy, has meant that everyone can use the market to compete, with China the most obvious example. Under globalisation, many new emerging markets entered the scene, from Latin America to Asia. The United States, along with Europe, have become the victims of the globalisation which both perceived as an elite-led phenomenon.

Let us not forget that, after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, ideologies were thrown by the wayside. Politics became mere administrative competition, devoid of vision and values. Corruption increased, citizens stopped participating, political parties became self-referential, politicians turned into a professional caste, and elite global finance became isolated in fiscal paradises.

Young people looked forward to a future of unemployment or, at best temporary jobs, at the same time as they watched over four trillion dollars being spent in a few years to save the banking system.

The clarion call from those in power was, by and large, let us go back to yesterday, but to an even better yesterday – against any law of history. Then came Brexit and Trump.

We are now witnessing the conclusion of Pax Americana and the return to a nationalist and isolationist America. It will take some time for Trump voters to realise that what he is doing does not match his promises, that the measures he is putting in place favour the financial and economic elites and not their interests.

We are now facing a series of real questions.

Will the ideologue who helped Trump be elected – Stephen Bannon, chief executive officer of Trump’s presidential campaign – have the time to destroy the world both have inherited Will the world will be able to establish a world order without the United States at its centre? How many of the values that built modern democracy will be able to survive and become the bases for global governance?

A new international order cannot be built without common values, just on nationalism and xenophobia.

Bannon is organising a new international alliance of populists, xenophobes and nationalists – made up of thee likes of Nicholas Farage (United Kingdom), Matteo Salvini and Beppe Grillo (Italy), Marine Le Pen (France) and Geert Wilders (Netherlands) – with Washington as their point of reference.

After the elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany this year, will know how this alliance will fare, but one thing is clear – if, beyond its national agenda, the Trump administration succeeds in creating a new international order based on illiberal democracy, we should start to worry because war will not be far away.

The post Trump Marks the End of a Cycle appeared first on Inter Press Service.


Roberto Savio is co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus. He is also publisher of OtherNews.

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Trump and the Crisis of Democracy Wed, 25 Jan 2017 07:14:36 +0000 Roberto Savio George W. Bush, the Republican bridge between Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump as U.S. president, declared that the United States was the only democracy in the world. The election of Trump now makes this traditional American rhetoric impossible. Trump received 3 million votes less than his opponent Hilary Clinton …. The American electoral system was […]

The post Trump and the Crisis of Democracy appeared first on Inter Press Service.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Jan 25 2017 (IPS)

George W. Bush, the Republican bridge between Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump as U.S. president, declared that the United States was the only democracy in the world. The election of Trump now makes this traditional American rhetoric impossible. Trump received 3 million votes less than his opponent Hilary Clinton ….

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

The American electoral system was born with independence from Britain, more than 200 years ago. These two centuries of union have formed a people united by myths, consumption and patriotism, but the constitution is untouchable, and based on the idea of protecting small states. The result is a democratic aberration.

Each state is entitled to two senators – both Wyoming with 635,000 inhabitants and California with 39 million. The nine most populous states of the Union are home to just over 50 percent of the total population. The 25 least populated states house less than one-sixth. California has more inhabitants than 21 of the least populated states. But in the Senate, just 26 of the Union’s 50 states with slightly over 15 people of the American people have the majority vote.

The same happens with the election of the President. The vote of the citizens elects representatives not calibrated according to voters but to states, which elect the President. Trump was basically elected with the votes of the inhabitants of rural areas and declining industrial areas, representing the country’s numerical minority.

According to all constitutionalists, a democracy is based on the balance among the legislative, executive and judicial branches. This balance has ceased to exist since the time of Ronald Reagan. In a country where only 50 percent of people vote, political polarisation has led to a structural conflict between the legislative and the executive branches of the system.

The Supreme Court, which is supposed to defend the rights of citizens, has become a political arm of the President who appoints the judges. With a Republican majority, it sanctioned the victory of George W. Bush – not Al Gore – in the presidential elections of 2000, bypassing the popular will. And in 2010 it decided that companies have the same rights as citizens and can therefore finance election campaigns, just like citizens.

As a result, the Koch brothers, lords of fossil fuel, can vote individually as citizens but contribute 900 million dollars to conservative Republican candidates. A presidential election costs at least two billion dollars. And a senatorial election 40 million. These are figures that marginalise the ordinary citizen. Do we not then have an oligarchy rather than a democracy?

Basically, democracy ceases to be real if citizens no longer believe in the political system. And this is not just the American way, but also that of Europe.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, with the end of ideologies, politics has lost vision and long-range strategy, to become a basically administrative fact, with a substantive increase in corruption. Citizens, and especially young people, do not feel part of the system. From being participatory mechanisms, political parties have become self-referential.

And to political disaffection, we should add the discovery that the neo-liberal economic model of the free market has in no way led to the growth announced for all, but has instead increased to an unprecedented extent the gap between the rich (increasingly fewer) and the poor (increasingly more numerous).

Today, just eight men own the same wealth as the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity, according to an Oxfam report. Since the crisis of 2008, at least four trillion dollars have been invested in the global financial system. In Italy, the state is investing 20 billion euros in the rescue of the Monte dei Paschi di Siena bank, a sum that would solve the problems of the country’s education and health sectors. Banks meanwhile have paid 220 billion in fines for illegal activities. Not a single banker has been sent to prison, neither in Europe nor in the United States. And salaries can easily exceed a million dollars …

This disastrous ethical, political and social framework is compounded by mass immigration which, it should be recalled, is the result in large part of US and European military interventions in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen.

That’s why, as Pope Francis eloquently says, people are looking for a saviour.

The crisis of 2008, born in the United States from the fiasco of junk mortgages, and then transferred to Europe through speculation on state securities, gave rise to saviours in almost all European countries, a process which was crowned with Brexit. Now they’re on the attack.

Heartened by the victory of Trump, a meeting was held in Koblenz, Germany, on January 21 of right-wing xenophobic and populist candidates at the next Dutch, French and German elections, who have formed the Europe of Nations and Freedom Group in the European Parliament. Present for Italy was Matteo Salvini who is calling for Italian elections in June, and who declares that the three founding countries of Europe – France, Italy and Germany – will soon shatter the chains of the European Union and refound the Europe of Nations.

It is interesting to note that all look to Vladimir Putin as a point of reference, the call for a conservative and traditional church, the defence of family values against recognition of the rights of homosexuals, and the call for national values. And the impact on politics is important.

In Italy, Trump’s predecessor Silvio Berlusconi says we must no longer speak of parties, which have become unpopular, but of movements. And Beppe Grillo of Italy’s 5-Star Movement, who today would win the Italian elections, has declared that Trump and Putin are a heritage for humanity.

As background to this Western context, we have a China, a Japan and an India ruled by nationalists. And a Philippines with a president elected on the promise to kill 60,000 people, victims of drugs. And a Latin America undergoing a profound political crisis, evident in a different way from Brazil to Venezuela, from Colombia to Bolivia, from Ecuador to Central America. And an Africa, with a population that will increase from a population of one billion to two billion in just three decades, which continues to have frequent democratic crises and inadequate responses to the economic and social needs of the continent.

But the real news is that the Anglophonic world has decided to abdicate its historic role in favour of democracy and multilateralism. It should be recognised that we have so far lived in a very Anglophonic world. Until the First World War, the world lived under Pax Britannica, which had colonised 25 percent of the planet. And after that, we had almost a century of Pax Americana. The creation of the United Nations and international institutions, the concepts of gender equality, action against climate change, as well as neo-liberal globalisation, all came mainly from the Anglophonic world.

In just a few months, the Brexit vote has taken Britain back in time, and the United States under Trump is moving from a global policy to one with a purely national dimension. All this is taking place in a multi-polar world, where China can now find unforeseen opportunities, like the other emerging countries so far framed in a world order governed by the United States and its European allies.

But now, suddenly, the United States is actively engaged in destabilising traditional allies. It should be noted that Trump’s strategist Stephen Bannon has said that part of his task at the White House is to strengthen European xenophobic parties and movements, and he cites Nigel Farage, the architect of Brexit, as the European model to work with. Trump’s statements against the European Union, NATO, the United Nations and international agreements are known.

The Trump Revolution will not be easy, and will hopefully create a mobilisation in defence of the values through which we have had 70 years of international cooperation. The development of greed – and replacement of the person as the centre of society by the market – has certainly emptied the world order of its idealistic content.

But what will this new world order be, based on nationalism, fear and greed? What is certain is that a style of governing that belies the data of reality foments tension and hatred as political tools, fights against culture, intellectuals, the press, women, minorities, homosexuals and neighbours, and will have a profoundly negative impact on politics and society, ethics and democracy, in the world.

So, the real question is: will Trump have one term, or two? If his electorate, which is basically localist, and thus ignorant of the world, does not understand that it has been used by Trump and so re-elects him, we will certainly enter an era of tension and fear, clashes and conflicts, in which it will not be pleasant to live. And we will see what happens in Europe and the rest of the world without international cooperation, which leads to peace and development ….

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Please, Do Not Get Offended, But: Sun, 22 Jan 2017 17:49:36 +0000 Roberto Savio With the inauguration of Donald Trump on Jan. 20, the new leadership of the most powerful nation has signaled it is breaking away from the rest of the world. Here, a few thoughts… a) Those who voted Trump are generally totally unaware of what happens beyond their immediate surroundings. So it will take a long […]

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By Roberto Savio
ROME, Jan 22 2017 (IPS)

With the inauguration of Donald Trump on Jan. 20, the new leadership of the most powerful nation has signaled it is breaking away from the rest of the world. Here, a few thoughts…

a) Those who voted Trump are generally totally unaware of what happens beyond their immediate surroundings. So it will take a long time before they will realize that Trump is not about their real interest. This means that the polarization and the division of the U.S. will continue for a long time to come. And in the end, disillusionment and frustration will result in a further decline of democracy, and with a possible new populism coming up.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

b) The American democratic system is incomprehensible for us foreigners. We understand the history, the constitution, everything. But we think that a system where somebody who with 3 million votes less than his opponent becomes president, on the basis that this was adequate two centuries ago, needs to be updated urgently. And then you find out that this is not possible, because the smaller states are majority, and can block any constitutional change, like direct democracy. This, for us, looks like an inadequate democratic system.

c) Since the Supreme court did install George W. Bush, and then gave a vote to the corporations because they have equal rights as the people, we foreigners look at the Supreme Court as a partisan place, not as the Supreme institution that is there to act in defense of the citizens. Add to this the permanent fight between the legislative, judicial and executive, and instead of the balance of power that the founding fathers wanted, we have a dysfunctional democracy.

d) Elections now cost over 2 billion dollars. To be elected in the senate, you need a war chest of least 40 million dollars. You have two brothers who can invest in the elections 800 million dollars. That is not democracy, it is oligarchy.

All this are structural problems, and for me Trump is the proof that democracy in the U.S. is in crisis. Yet, I ceased to discuss this with my American friends, because they are not only convinced to be in a democracy, but many, as George W Bush said, the only democracy….

Maybe Trump will bring debates and reflections on the state of democracy in the US. But I doubt that the system will be able to evolve. Especially if Trump stays eight years….

But that said, a crisis of democracy is when people stop believing in it. And in Europe this is what is happening, and Brexit is a clear signal of that. Today the European leaders of populist and xenophobe parties met in Coblenz, to coordinate themselves, in view of the next elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany. And here two points, to echo somehow David:

1) All the right wing parties look to Putin as a point of reference. Defence of the family, religious values, national interests and identity, etc. Putin has been funding Le Pen, and Wilders, Farage, Salvini and so to look on him as a leader: not only Trump.
2) Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, has declared that part of his job is to create an international Alliance of populist and xenophobe parties, and he has indicated Farage as the example of a European whom the White House is looking up to.

My conclusion: we are in for a hell of a time. And the best example that we have is that the compass is lost and that we all live in an Anglo world, with values of democracy, human rights, common gods, sustainable development, woman empowerment and so on, which all come from the Anglo world. Pax Britannia lasted until 1914. It was replaced by Pax Americana. And in 11 months, both countries abdicated their role in the world…knowing well that we are in a multipolar world, with China, India and so on in the race…this is simply crazy…

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The End of a Cycle ? Tue, 06 Dec 2016 22:02:56 +0000 Roberto Savio Is the demise of Renzi really a local affair? There is no doubt that a referendum on a constitutional change can be a matter of confidence in him, having personalized the issue to a point that it became basically a vote on the young Prime Minister. But if you look at the sociology of the […]

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By Roberto Savio
ROME, Dec 6 2016 (IPS)

Is the demise of Renzi really a local affair? There is no doubt that a referendum on a constitutional change can be a matter of confidence in him, having personalized the issue to a point that it became basically a vote on the young Prime Minister. But if you look at the sociology of the vote, you find that the No vote was again coming from the poorest parts of Italy. A case study is Milan. Voters living in the centre voted Yes, and those in the periphery voted No. Is this not similar to what has happened in Brexit and in the US elections? And Renzi fell into the same trap like Cameron, calling for a referendum on a very complex issue and putting at stake his own credibility and prestige, to be swept away by an unexpected tide of resentment. Lamented Renzi: “I had no idea I was so hated”.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

This is important. It shows how politicians, even those as brilliant as Renzi, do not realize that there is a tsunami of resentment that has been out there for some years, has been ignored by the establishment, by the media and by politics. Finally, everybody is linking the next elections in the Netherlands in March, in France in May and in Germany in August, as dates when the populist, nationalist and xenophobia tides will rise even more.

A huge sigh of relief was heard all over Europe after the candidate of the extreme right wing Freedom Party, Hofer, lost 47% to 53%to a Green Party candidate, Van der Bellen. Ulrich Kleber, a German minister declared: “Trump was the turning point. The liberal majority is pushing back.” Business as usual. In the last meeting of the Eurogroup, the proposal of the Commission for a loose fiscal budget was defeated following German pressure.

In fact, polls indicate today the Freedom party appears poised to win over the old coalition of social democrats and Christian democrats which have been running Austria since the end of the war. And as Dutch polls show today, in mid March, the xenophobe Party for Freedom, run by the oxygenated Geert Wilders, is close to getting 21%, over the Party for Freedom and Democracy, that would get 19%. And in France to block Le Pen from winning, at the end everybody will be obliged to vote for Fillon, who is so far to the right that on several issues is barely distinguishable. Finally in Germany, Angela Merkel has announced that she will run a campaign devoid from any ideology, so as not to accentuate any difference with the extreme right wing party AfD in the coming elections in August.

What is also disconcerting is that the political system is still looking to elections as conditioned by local factors. Clearly, Trump could be elected only in the United States. But it should now be clear that what is happening is a result of a global reaction from citizens. But how can we expect from those who have been supporting and singing neoliberal globalization since 1989 to admit their guilt? It is a sign of the time that now the IMF, World Bank and OECD are those who are calling for a return to the role of the state as the regulator and decrying how social and economic inequalities are a brake to growth.

The question is whether it is too late. By now, it will be extremely difficult to bring finance again under regulation (especially with Trump who will eliminate the few regulations still in place, and made by bankers, the backbone of his cabinet). For more than a generation the market has been considered as the only legitimate actor in economy and society. The values inscribed in the large majority of constitutions, like justice, solidarity, participation, and cooperation have been substituted by competition, enrichment, and individualism. Today, children in China, Russia, the United States and Europe are not united by values, but by brand: Adidas, Coca Cola. Citizens have become consumers. In the near future, data collected about each citizen through Internet, on their lives, activities and consumes, will further steer their lives. Fropm 16 % now , robotization will become 40% of the total production of goods and services in 2040. Just think how many drivers will lose their job with car automatization. And those displaced in factories are the cream of workers, not the low level job holders who vote for populism.

What went also unnoticed is that all the populist parties are totally against all international agreement, and international treatyies. The European parties are against unity in Europe. Trump wants to get out from any existing agreements. And together they look to the Climate Treaty as something which goes against their individual interests. They all speak of their national identity, of their glorious past, and how to get rid of multilateralism and internationalism. As a matter of fact, now in the Trump administration the term “globalist” is a derogatory one. A globalist is the enemy who wants to link the US to other countries and views. And yet, the UKIP in England, the Front National in France, the 5 Stelle in Italy and so on, beside some highly publisized meetings, have never been able to establish a platform together on any international issue, other than the abolition of the European Union. Now that Trump has named as his chief strategist Brennon, who has announced that part of his job is to strengthen the populist and right wing parties in Europe, it will be interesting to see how and on what basis they can establish an alliance, besides excluding gay marriages and extra uterine births.

Yet, there is a common trait on international issues. The sympathy for Putin, who is seen as a defender of national values and the inventor of the “illiberal democracy” that Orban in Hungary has officially adopted, followed by other members of the Visegrad pact – Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia – with Erdogan looking benevolently from Turkey. Putin has a growing support from Fillon in France, Salvini in Italy, Farage in England, Wilders in the Netherlands, and now Trump giving the final push for Putin’s legitimization.

But the question is if the response to the neoliberal globalization elected by its victims is organic and adequate? Will they be able to do what the discredited system that globalization has put in crisis, has not been able to do? This is the central question to consider.

If we look at the cabinet that Trump is assembling, there is a great space for doubt. It is a good image of what would be to put Dracula as the guard of a blood bank. The candidate for Secretary of Education is for increasing private education. The candidate for Secretary of Health is for dismantling the public health system. Almost all or a good part of them are multimillionaires. The advisers are all from large corporations. How such a gathering of the rich and powerful will be able to identify with the victims of globalization is difficult to comprehend. Trump speeches against Wall Street, social injustice and a precarious existence who pout him in parallel with Sanders, have disappeared. The energy companies got their biggest boost in several years, supported by the fact that Trump wants to quit the Paris Treaty on Climate, and enlarge the use of fossils. But at the same time hundreds of cities are passing legislations for climate control. It is impossible to say what the Trump administration will mean for the world, or for the United States itself. But signs are that greed certainly will be legitimized. Historians say that greed and fear are the two main factors for any change in history. Fear of immigrants is the main fuel for xenophobia . No wonder that nationalism, xenophobia and populism are on the rise.

The problem is that the growing debate on globalization’s victims is based on symptoms and not on the causes. If we asked a passer-by on a street during the Soviet Union period : “ What is the paradigm that guides the political economic and social options here?”, The answer most certainly would have been “Communism, or socialism”. Here such a question since 1989 would have provoked a blank stare, while we were living in a similar tight and all pervasive paradigm: market, elimination as much as possible of the state, of the public and reduction as much as possible of non productive social costs. Individualism and competition are winning factors – protect and support wealth and reduce personnel and costs as much as possible. There is a different generational change. Young people have dropped out of politics, lost vision and become just administrative options that have become more corrupted and have found refuge in the virtual world of the Internet. But they gather in clusters, of like-minded people. If I am a leftist, I gather with another leftist. I will never meet a right wing guy, as I would do in real life. And in those clusters the ones who emerge are the most radical. So we have a growing world of radicalized and self-reverent young people, who have lost the ability to debate. When they meet, they talk music, sports, fashion, but never ideas or ideals to avoid conflict and quarrels.

Without the young people who want to change the world they are in, the elevator of history gets stuck. And if many other anti historical trends are added together, the ability to correct mistakes and imbalances disappear. It is anti historical to block immigration when industrialized countries all have negative birth rates and productivity and pensions are in danger. It is anti historical to erect again customs, reduce trade, reduce incomes and increase costs. It is anti historical to accept that fiscal paradise subtracts 12% of the world budget. It is anti historical to eliminate international agreements, international cooperation, and go back to small national boundaries. It is anti historical that the rich become richer (today 62 individuals have the same wealth as that of 3,6 billion people), and the poor even poorer. It is anti historical to ignore the looming problem of the climate for which we are already late in waking up. It is almost like breaking a large glass we think it is advantageous because we will have many little fragments. China, India, Japan, Russia and now the US are all going nationalists. The US always took the lead, not without resistance, to be the guarantor of world stability, giving themselves their manifest destiny of an exceptional country. Now they want to have a manifest destiny by thinking only about themselves. Trump will find out that this is a diminutio capiti of the US.

We are therefore at a historical juncture. We are coming from 70 years of growth of international cooperation, the creation of a United Nations devoted to peace and development, the creation of a European Union based on the same philosophy, and an enormous flourishing of pacts on trade, health, education, labour, sports, tourism and whatever else that brings people together. This trend is now getting inverted. The neoliberal globalization pushed all those trends in a specific and unchallengeable direction: market is the only player; man is not any longer the centre of the society. The trend where we are going is clear especially after 9 November – to a world of Trumps. But is that the response to the problems that are bringing large masses to change their political representation? Not if we do not discuss and adopt a paradigm, shared by a large majority, and assure again social justice, democracy and participation. Is it so difficult to read history?

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Reflections on Trump Election Mon, 14 Nov 2016 07:14:40 +0000 Roberto Savio From the city of Cuzco, where the Inca culture was subjugated by the Spanish conqueror, I am watching how the world inexorably leads to a different measure of history. And given the impossibility of drafting a complete analysis, these are some of my scattered observations. But first we need to make an introduction. In any […]

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By Roberto Savio
CUZCO, Peru, Nov 14 2016 (IPS)

From the city of Cuzco, where the Inca culture was subjugated by the Spanish conqueror, I am watching how the world inexorably leads to a different measure of history. And given the impossibility of drafting a complete analysis, these are some of my scattered observations.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

But first we need to make an introduction. In any country of the world, Hillary Clinton would have won the elections after obtaining the greater number of votes. The United States, however, does not have a democratic Constitution.

And while the Americans consider themselves the “only democracy in the world” (George W. Bush, speech to the U.S. Congress at his inauguration), it should be noted that the US Constitution is a vestige of the past. See why …

When the different states emerged victorious from the War of Independence against England and decided to unite in the United States, the smaller states feared being subjected to the greatest. That was how a guaranteed commitment was invented.

And so, the Senate, as the main organ of the legal system, is composed of two senators for each state. Thus Wyoming, which has 800,000 voters, has two senators, just like California that has 27 million.

The president is elected by “electoral votes” which are given to each state based on similar considerations. Thus, Al Gore, who had won the majority of votes, lost the elections to George W. Bush by electoral votes (aided by the Republican Supreme Court that gave Florida to Bush).

This time the same thing happened: in the less developed states voting Republican (with the exception of Texas and a few others), the majority of the Senate can be obtained by adding the 26 states with less population and development, thus prevailing over the population of 24 states that are industrialised.

But there are other anti-democratic rules in the US Constitution, such as the fact that when a senator dies, it is the governor who names his or her replacement. Thus, a Republican governor can appoint a Republican senator, even if the dead one were Democratic …

Let us now return to observations

The first observation is the fact that practically all observers, polls, and the media (with very few the exceptions) gave Clinton as the winner, this being a signal of the gap between the system and reality.

The same thing happened with the Brexit, with the Austrian elections, and in the the Philippines …

The explanation is simple: we frequent our friends, a society is made up of parallel concentric circles, and we believe that the observation of a university professor has more value than that of an unemployed worker. Therefore, we do not have a complete view of the society in which we live.

Now the second observation. The victims of the economic and social process created by the vision of a self-destructive capitalism that rewards very few while frustrating the hopes of many, are far more numerous than those who do not. And they are victims who see every day examples of corruption, waste and wealth, this leading them to have passions, not opinions.

After spending 4 trillion dollars (according to the most modest estimates) to save the banks (which still have 800 billion toxic assets), the priority is of keeping looking after the financial sector instead of the social expenses that are publicly considered unproductive, is seen differently by those who are inside and others who are outside.

They (the victims) are also aware of the fact that banks, in the crisis of 2008 (which we has not gone yet) have paid fines worth 280 billion dollars (not counting the Deutsche Bank pending 14.5 billion).

The fact that the total subsidies for youth employment in OECD countries is just over 20 billion dollars, while the European Central Bank gives 80 billion a month to the banking system (which do not pass into the productive system but is invested in the financial sector), certainly does not help young people to feel part of Europe.

Who has heard, in the political debate, the terms solidarity, social justice, participation, equity?

Is there somewhere in politics, a debate about how to increase employment that is threatened by the use of robots, which will constitute 40 per cent of industrial production in 20 years?

Or how corruption is increasingly perceived by citizens, and urgently needs to be addressed? Or on whether those who voted for Brexit and Trump can feel represented or not?

This leads to the third observation. Politics is now subject to finance, devoid of visions and ideals that were discarded for the purpose of ideologies.

It should not be overlooked that the number of citizens who say that the left and right have disappeared, has reached unprecedented rates. Politics, as a reaction, closes like an oyster and becomes increasingly self-referential.

Who is the citizen who sees in a party a space of participation and expression, apart from those who are inside, as was the case in the times of the youth of the parties? This decline in participation is a serious element of the crisis of democracy.

At the same time, it is clear in the eyes of all, who are the Le Pen, the Farage, the Salvini, etc. It is clear to all that nationalism, populism and xenophobia are returning. These are the classic indicators of the crisis. The thirties are a chapter to remember …

Will politics have the ability to find its way, ideals and visions, where listening to citizens be part of a common design? There is not much time left …

Now the fourth observation. We now have the president of the world leader, the United States, who clearly states that they are not interested in the world except to the extent that it serves American interests.

Multilateralism, from the European Union to the United Nations, has been in a growing crisis since Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in 1981 declared that they do not believe in international cooperation and that each country should stand on its own.

This line continued with ups and downs, but with a continuous trend. It is no secret that when it came to electing new UN Secretary-General, the question of the President of the United States was: who is the weakest one of all?

President Barack Obama tried to reverse this trend. But his people (rather, a part of this that no one had seen so far) do not see it this way.

Do not forget that the same battle was made by Bernie Sanders, who won 10 million votes. If he had been able to run, we would have seen how the Americans would go to judge two ways– one of which is to declare oneself socialist represents a novelty as radical as that of having chosen Trump. This happens in a country where the term socialist is like declaring oneself an alien to the United States, and dangerous.

Now we have the country-leader completely heterogeneous with respect to the existing international relations. Will Europe learn how to hear its own voice? If it does not do it now, when then will it be able to do it? Will international cooperation, multilateralism, and development plans be given a space again?

The fifth observation is a banality. The Chinese use the word crisis also in the sense of opportunity. We are going to have, at least four years, (Putin, Grillo, Le Pen …) a government for an unpredictable moment. Trump is a politician of viscera not of brain–the classic incarnation of what is called an unpredictable politician.

But above all, he does not listen to advice. He is also a prisoner of his own electorate. Certainly, the system will try to harness him as it can. But it happens that all the cards we know are now in the air.

This also means that it is possible to make innovative policies, which the previous rusty framework did not allow. Also because it would be difficult to see what common policy Trump may have, with May, with Farage or the AFD …

The populist parties have never been able to create a common policy, for example in the European Parliament. They only have common enemies, but no homogeneous alternative plans. So, now that the cards are in the air, there would be a space to invent and build upon.

But this can not be done without recognising that we are in a political and democratic crisis, a crisis of society and perspectives, which, if not assumed and metabolised by the political class in power, will see a successive collapse of the system, and that the current crisis (which will not be solved by populism nor nationalism) will end up making any governance impossible.

Here, I feel compelled to add one last point. For those who have worked throughout their lives to create awareness and participation—the civil society was the force that rebalanced the crisis of values and policies.

If there is an issue that civil society has defended since its birth, this is gender. One difference between a young person today and my generation is that the issue of women did not exist then, while young people today are fully aware of it.

It is an issue that is present in the media, in politics, in culture, in organisations, from industry to business, from politics to administrative and cultural.

Well, after all what Trump has said and done on the issue of women, reactivating a machismo barracks that were already considered unacceptable … after the declarations and demonstrations of all women’s organisations in the artistic, cultural and economic sectors… 53 per cent of American women voted for Trump.

This percentage is not far from that of the male electorate. It happened in Italy with Silvio Berlusconi, that organiser of parties with minors who spoke openly of the woman like an object of use, so much that his wife had to leave him.

This vote is a blow to all civil society, and for all those who compromise because they are convinced that creating awareness is possible a better world. We have lost a major battle, and the war is now much more difficult.

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European Security with or Without Russia? Consequences of the Chinese-Russian Alliance on the Relationship Between USA and EU Fri, 16 Sep 2016 14:03:48 +0000 Roberto Savio The joint military manoeuvres between the Russian and Chinese navies, armies, and air forces has kicked off. It’s a clear message for Washington, which has recently strengthened its action in Asia, indicating that as a country that overlooks the Pacific, it wants to play an important role in the continent, aimed at containing the Chinese […]

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Consequences of the Chinese-Russian Alliance on the Relationship Between USA and EU
appeared first on Inter Press Service.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Sep 16 2016 (IPS)

The joint military manoeuvres between the Russian and Chinese navies, armies, and air forces has kicked off. It’s a clear message for Washington, which has recently strengthened its action in Asia, indicating that as a country that overlooks the Pacific, it wants to play an important role in the continent, aimed at containing the Chinese expansion.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

Obama, during his visit to Laos, the first by an American President and his last in Asia as President, has explicitly stated that the United States are guarantors of Asian stability. One must also consider that the greatest continent of the world is going through a wave of nationalism (China, Japan, India) and populism (Philippines). Joint military manoeuvres are a clear message: the United States cannot decide the destinies of Asia.

Russia is already considered by NATO an enemy to contain, encircled by the borders of Eastern Europe. The annexation of Crimea, the intervention in eastern Ukraine, and then the military action in Syria, have isolated the Kremlin, object of unprecedented trade sanctions by both Europe and America.

The meeting last week, between Obama and Putin at the G20, ended overtly negative. The fragile agreement to a ceasefire in Syria reached between the respective foreign ministers, does not solve the overall dispute between the two countries, which are still willing to fight each other with an undeclared war, until the very last Syrian. The Western alliance intends to maintain sanctions on Russia.

The logic is that the latter, weakened by the fall in oil prices and witnessing a significant reduction of its revenue, will lead to Putin being obliged to accept the supremacy of the West, hence being forced to reduce his action internationally.

This logic leads to a non-negotiation, as everyone waits for Putin to understand that he cannot have global ambitions. As Obama said, “Russia is a regional power.” And the information system is full of analysis on how the Russian economy is going through a crisis, and how the decline in resources will undermine the relationship between Putin and the Russian people.

Now, a slightly more in-depth analysis gives way to serious doubts on the strength of this strategy. To begin with, the sanctions have a different burden on Europe than on the United States. It is emphasized that Russia’s GDP has fallen by 3.5 percent. But aside from the fact that in this scenario the reduction in oil prices (the main Russian export) plays a much more serious role, from $ 100 a barrel to the current 50 dollars, all is quiet on the cost of penalties for the West, which has suspended Russia’s exports.

According to the European Commission, at the end of 2015, it was $ 100 billion dollars. But here lies a major difference, which has been inexplicably silenced. US exports to Russia fell by 3.5%, while the Europeans fell by 13% ( 43% of the agricultural sector). For its part, European imports from Russia fell by 13.5%.

Also according to the European Commission, the European GDP fell by 0.3% in 2014 and 0.4% in 2015, as a direct result of the sanctions. This doesn’t preoccupy Germany but countries like Italy, whose growth is close to zero (and whose agricultural sector has been hit by the loss of the Russian market), without forgetting that the total growth of the European GDP is close to 1 percent. But, reply the NATO circles, the difference between the decline of Russia’s GDP and that of Europe, shows that sanctions work, and it is only a matter of time before Putin capitulates.

This leads to another reflection largely absent in the media. One cannot ignore that Putin enjoys great esteem amongst the Russian population. The independent surveys confer to him levels of popularity which range from 60% to peaks of 78%, percentages unknown for any Western leader.

This popularity has increased since Putin annexed Crimea, intervened in Ukraine, sticking a knife on NATO’s side, (which he can turn as he pleases), and intervened in Syria. The response of the official circles is that these actions were carried out to hide the internal social and economic crisis.

However, crises arise when they feel as such. Americans are convinced that during the Reagan presidency the United States they were living through a blissful economic era, whereas in reality, the fiscal deficit rose from 800 billion to 2,750 trillion.

It’s now easy to convince the Russians that the West is trying to strangle their economy. Furthermore, the Russians are a population, according to sociologists, are able to squeeze consumer spending much more than the citizens of the western countries, for both historical and cultural reasons.

However, the main reflection should be made on an important dysfunctional element: the simultaneous existence of the European Community and Nato, two institutions which have a different agenda, which often generate schizophrenic actions.

The formal purpose of the European Community is to promote further integration and development of European countries, based on common values and interests.

The formal purpose of Nato is to act for the security of the Western world, which is made up at the same time by the United States (absolute leaders) and from Europe.

As a consequence, Europe entrusts Nato in her security. According to many analysts, Nato echoes the characters of Pirandello’s Play “Six Characters looking for an author”. The end of the cold war and the end of the Soviet threat would have implied Nato’s end. But getting rid of an institution is often more difficult than creating one. So for a long time, Nato has persistently looked for an enemy which would justify its existence.

As a Chinese proverb says: If you put a hammer in the hands of a man, they will look everywhere for nails that protrude. So much so in this case, that the last commander of Nato, the current General, has declared that Russia is a greater threat than ISIS.

Yet, there is also a school of thought that considers the West guilty of doing everything it could to make sure Putin was paranoid when he’d started off as an ally of Bush.

It should not be forgotten that Gorbachev’s agreement to accept the fall of the Berlin wall was a consequence of Nato’s commitment to keeping its borders.

Instead, all European countries of the former Soviet Union have entered Nato. And, representative of this trend, defined as an encirclement of Moscow (while Madrid defines it as a containment) is the recent admission of Montenegro to Nato, who admitted to having an army composed of 3,000 men.

Now, with careful analysis, there it is safe to say that Nato carries more weight in international politics than Europe. Even because, objectively speaking, Europe has reduced military expenses, as it delegates the costs of her defence to the United States. No coincidence that Trump, making a point during his election campaign, promised that if he were to become President, the Europeans would have to pay their bills. This would result in a severe decrease of Nato’s power in Europe.

Joint manoeuvres in the South China Sea are part of a very important and accelerated approach between Russia and China. Despite the slowdown in China’s economy, as Beijing has signed loans for 25 billion dollars to Russian companies: Russia, for its part, has committed itself to a gas supply agreement of 38 billion cubic meters of gas per year, for 30 years, with a fee of 400 billion dollars.

China Development Bank has granted a line of credit at Sberbank of 966 million dollars. Beijing has set up an investment fund for Russian Agriculture worth 2 billion dollars and has granted 19.7 billion dollars credit for a railroad linking Moscow to the city of Kazan. The two countries have also agreed to increase their bilateral trade to 200 billion dollars by 2020. In other words, an unprecedented business alliance is growing between the two countries.

The question that Europe must, therefore, ask, taking off its Nato hat and putting on the hat of the European Union, is whether it should push Russia into the arms of China. Maybe it’s time to open a comprehensive negotiation with Russia, instead of discussing separately each step of the litigation, Siria separately from Ukraine, from Crimea, from the issue of Georgia, from Eastern Europe and so on.

From this analysis, an ever more crucial question arises. Is it a forward-looking strategy for Europe, if the sanctions had an effect, to have a country of great military and economic importance such as Russia, close to the borders, on it knees and with a population who is humiliated and offended, convinced (thanks to evidence) that Europe is obstructing Russia from having a righteous place in the world? Is this the best path for European security? Perhaps a negotiation with Russia would be better, in order to obtain a security policy, as well as trade and commerce for which there are huge needs, as according to world-leading economists we’re headed towards a long period of stagnation.

But the question whether the European schizophrenia of the two hats, that of Nato and the EU, (today in crisis), enables this negotiation. Especially because Putin is creating his own system of European alliances: an Alliance with the populist right, with the Salvini’s and the Le Pen’s, achieving the admiration of Trump, becoming the model for an illiberal democracy, as the Hungarian President Orban puts it. This certainly reduces European security. But where is a leader capable of having a newer, more realistic and long-term vision of security for Europe? Are we sure this is feasible without Russia?

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Consequences of the Chinese-Russian Alliance on the Relationship Between USA and EU
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Climate and Terrorism Tue, 02 Aug 2016 13:48:05 +0000 Roberto Savio The media are increasingly reporting events in a basic manner, and have by and large abandoned the process of deep analysis. Now is the moment to focus our attention on terrorism. This topic be will remain a pressing issue for quite some time. We now know that terrorism has many causes, which can be rooted […]

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By Roberto Savio
ROME, Aug 2 2016 (IPS)

The media are increasingly reporting events in a basic manner, and have by and large abandoned the process of deep analysis. Now is the moment to focus our attention on terrorism. This topic be will remain a pressing issue for quite some time. We now know that terrorism has many causes, which can be rooted in religion to feelings of social exclusion and from a desire for glory to the actions of a damaged psyche.

There is no way to fight against the unpredictable, and in mentally unstable minds emulation is an important factor. The danger is that we will probably fall into the ISIS trap, and this kaleidoscope of confusion could subsequently result in a war of religion, which will further radicalize European Muslims. In fact, until now, no act of terror has come from immigrants (except a mentally disturbed afghan). Yet, still, it is important to take into account that for every European killed, there are over 120 Arabs, who die because of ISIS.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

Since the United Nations Conference on Climate Change concluded last December, climate topics have almost disappeared in media content, and in public debates. Everybody is mesmerized by the tide of refugees, and how they are changing the political landscape of Europe. The rise of nationalism; populism and xenophobia calls to mind the fatal decade of the thirties.

We cannot ignore the lasting impacts climate change and natural disasters leave on affected populations. According to the Norwegian Refugee Council,” every second a person is displaced by disasters. In 2015 alone, more than 19.2 million people fled disaster in 113 Countries. In fact, disasters displace three to ten times more people from conflict and war worldwide. The International Organization for Migration forecasts 200 million environmental migrants by 2050, moving either within their countries or across borders, on a permanent or temporary basis. Many of them predicted to populate coastal areas. If the world temperature rises to 3.1 degrees, which is presently the final agreement of the Paris conference, the mean sea level would increase by 0.73 meters, with large areas made susceptible to flooding.

The New York Times carried a story on the demise of Lake Poopò, in Bolivia, which was 3.000 square kilometres, and provided livelihoods to over 10.000 villagers. Now only 636 remain, while the others havegone to seek labour in coal mines 200 miles away, or to the nearest city, La Paz. A millenarian culture has been lost. Lake Poopò is one of the several lakes worldwide that are disappearing, because of human causes, writes the NYT. California’s Mono Lake and the Salton Sea have dramatically shrunk because of water diversion. Rising temperatures jeopardize lakes in Canada and Mongolia.

Let us recall that in Paris all countries of the world agreed to fight climate change. However, to be able to carry as many countries as possible on board, the Preparatory Conference of Lima, December 2014, agreed to implement a target system. Every country is to decide its objectives and will be responsible for ensuring their individual implementation. Let us just stop to think what would happen if every citizen was granted full monetary responsibility and were left to decide how much taxes they should pay.

The result is that the sum of the national targets adopted at Paris indicates a rise in the world’s temperature by 3.4 centigrades. In fact, the original goal was to not exceed 2 degrees, and this is the basis for the final declaration. At the same time, scientists have been saying that if we go beyond 1.5 degrees, the planet will suffer immensely. They consider the target of 2 centigrades a political gimmick, and of course the present t level of agreement of 3.4 centigrades a threat to the survival of humanity.

At Paris, it was also agreed that controls on the implementation of the agreement would start only in 2020: therefore we cannot predict the outcomes of the agreement. From different reports, we are fully aware that nobody is in a rush to get this done. In spite of this, NASA, the respected American Space Agency has recently published a worrying report: for three consecutive years the world’s temperatures have been the hottest on record since 1880. This year, 2016, will be even hotter than 2015 and 2014. We are now at an increase of 1.3 centigrades over 1880. Gavin Schmidt, the director of NASA ‘s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, declared: “I certainly, would not say that we have gotten to that higher Paris number and we are going to stay there, But I think it’s fair to say that we are dancing with that lower target”.

This brings the problem of climate refugee much closer to us than we realize. The additional problem being that in legal terms, the category of climate refugee does not exist. The Human Rights Convention protects only those who escape war and violence, not climate change. Yet, Europe and the The United States are entering in a serious political crisis, because of a lack of policy on the tide of refugee status. In the political agenda, there is not a word about climate refugees, which exceed the number of political refugees by far. It is widely agreed, that a long and severe drought in Syria made many escape from their villages to towns, and the deplorable conditions fuelled the protests against the government. The consequent repression, in many ways, triggered the civil war which has destroyed the A country, killed over 400.000 civilians, created an exodus of 4.7 million citizens, of whom over a million come to find refuge in Europe. An influx of displaced Syrians who are being used by populists like Marine Le Pen and Nigel Farage to win elections. Donald Trump has a lead of 44 to 30 percent, according to a CNN The poll, over the issue of order and security, because of his strong talks about immigrants and refugees.

A UN Summit for refugees and migrants will be held in September in New York. This would be the ideal moment to shape a global policy surrounding refugees, also incorporating the category of climate refugees. We are now on the brink of the American Elections. Let us hope this moment in history will not pass us by as a missed opportunity to lessen the plight of climate refugees.

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How Did We Arrive at This Chaos? Tue, 26 Jul 2016 13:28:11 +0000 Roberto Savio Roberto Savio is founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News.

The post How Did We Arrive at This Chaos? appeared first on Inter Press Service.


Roberto Savio is founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Jul 26 2016 (IPS)

A Chinese curse is “May you live in interesting times”. That meant that too many events would disrupt the essential elements of harmony, on which the Chinese pantheon is based.

We certainly live in very interesting times where every day dramatic events pile on us, from terrorism to coup d’etat, from climate disaster to the decline of institutions and ever increasing social turmoil. It would be important, even if very difficult, to look in a nutshell why we are in this situation now – “lack of harmony” . So here goes a dramatically compressed explanation.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

Let us start from a little known fact. After the Second World War, there was a general consensus on the need to avoid the repetition of its horrors. The United Nations served as the meeting place for all countries, and the Cold War created as a reaction, an association of the newly independent countries, the Non Aligned countries, which acted as a buffer between the East and West camps. More, the North South divide become the most important aspect of international relations. So much so that in 1973, the United Nations General Assembly adopted unanimously a resolution on a New International Economic Order (NIEO).The world agreed to establish a plan of action to reduce inequalities, foster global growth and make of cooperation and international law the basis for a world in harmony and peace.

After the adoption of the NIEO, the international community started to work in that direction and after a preparatory meeting in Paris in 1979, a summit of the most important heads of state was convened in Cancun, Mexico in 1981, to adopt a comprehensive plan of action. Among the 22 heads of state, came Ronald Reagan, who was elected a few weeks before, and this is where he found Margaret Thatcher who was elected in 1979. The two proceeded to cancel the NIEO and the idea of international cooperation. Countries would do policy according to their national interests, and did not bow to any abstract principle. The United Nations started its decline as the meeting place on governance.

The place for decisions became the G7, until then a technical body, and other organizations, which would defend the national interests of the powerful countries.

At the same time, three other events did help Reagan and Thatcher to change the direction of history.

One was the creation of the Washington’s consensus, elaborated in 1989 by the American Treasure, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank, which imposed as policy that the market was the only real engine of societies. States were an obstacle, and they should shrink as much as possible (Reagan also considered abolishing the Ministry of Education). The impact of the Washington Consensus on the ‘Third World’ was a very painful one. Structural adjustments severely cut the fragile public system.

The second was the fall of the Berlin Wall, also in 1989, which brought an end to ideologies, and obliged adoption of neoliberal globalization, which turned out to be an even more strict ideology. The main points of neo-liberal globalization included: the rule of the market (liberating “free” enterprise or private enterprise from any bonds imposed by the government); cutting public expenditure for social services (and reducing the social safety net); deregulation (reducing government regulation of everything that could diminish profits); privatization (selling state-owned enterprises, goods and services to private investors); eliminating the concept of “the public good” or “community”and replacing it with “individual responsibility (pressuring the poorest people in a society to find solutions to their lack of health care, education and social security all by themselves – then blame them, if they fail, as “lazy”).

The third was the progressive elimination of rules of the financial sector, started by Reagan and completed by Bill Clinton in 1999. Deposit banks were able to use the depositor’s money for speculation. Finance, that was considered to be the lubricant of economy, went on its own way, embarking on very risky operations, not any longer linked to the real economy. Now we have for every dollar of production for goods and services, 40 dollars of financial transactions.

Nobody defends any longer the Washington Consensus, and the neoliberal globalization. It is clear to all that while at macro level, globalization increased trade, finance and global growth, at microeconomic level it has been a disaster. The proponents of neoliberal globalization claimed that the growth would reach everyone in the planet. Instead, growth has been concentrating more and more in fewer and fewer hands. Six years ago, 388 individuals owned the same wealth as that of 3.6 billion people. In 2014, the number of the super wealthy come down to 80 individuals. In 2015, this number came down to 62 individuals. The IMF and the World Bank have been asking to reinforce the state as the indispensible regulator, reversing their policy. But the genie is out of the bottle. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Europe has lost 18 million of its middle class citizens and the US 24 million. On the other hand, there are now 1,830 billionaires with a net capital of 6.4 trillion dollars. In the UK, the level of inequality in 2025 is expected to be the same at the time of Queen Victoria in 1850 at the time of the birth of capitalism.

The new world created by Reagan is based on greed. Some historians claim that greed and fear are the two main engines of history; and values and priorities change in a society of greed.

Let us come to our days. We have again a new group of three horses of Apocalypse. The damages of the previous 20 years (1981-2001), are compounded by those of the continuing twenty years (2001-2021) and we are not through yet .

The first, was that in 2008 the banking system of the US went berserk for absurd speculations on mortgages. That crisis moved to Europe in 2009, caused by the falling value of the state’s title, like the Greek ones. Let us recall that to save the banking system, countries have spent close to 4 trillion dollars. An enormous amount, if we consider that banks still have toxic titles for 800 billion dollars. Meanwhile the banks have paid 220 billion dollars in fines for illegal activities. No banker has been incriminated. Europe is not yet back to its pre-crisis level of life. Meanwhile, many jobs have disappeared because of delocalization to the cheapest place of production, and jobs with substandard salaries have increased, together with precarious ones.

According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), today a worker makes in real terms 16% less than before the crisis. This has affected especially young people, with a European average of 10.5% of youth unemployment. Yet, the only stimulus for growth is for the banking system, into which the European Central Bank‚ is injecting 80 billion of dollars per month. This would have solved easily the youth’s unemployment.

Economists speak now of a “New Economy”, where unemployment is structural. From 1950 to 1973, world’s growth was over 5% per year. It came down to about 3% during 1973 and 2007 (OPEP’s blockade of petrol price in 1973 marked the shift.). Since 2007 we are not able to reach 1%. We have to add the growing unemployment that the technological development is causing. Factories need a fraction of the workers they had before. The Fourth Industrial Revolution (robotizing), will bring robot production, now at 12%, to 40% in 2025. Some mainstream economists, like Larry Summers, (the establishment voice) say that we are in a period of stagnation that will last for many years. Fear for the future has become a reality, fueled by terrorism and unemployment, with many dreaming that is possible to go back to the better yesterday. This is what populist leaders, from Donald Trump to Le Pen, are riding. A consequence of the crisis was that in several European countries populist parties, engaged in a nationalist call, riding xenophobia and nationalism have emerged, 47 at the last count. Several of them are already in coalitions that govern, or directly, like in Hungary, Poland, Slovakia. Now watch the next Austrian elections.

The second horse of Apocalypse has been the result of the interventions made in Iraq by US, and then Libya and Syria by Europe (with a particular role by former French president Nicolas Sarkozy).

As a result, in 2012 Europe started to receive massive immigration, for which there was no preparation. Suddenly, people were afraid of the human tide coming, and its impact in workplace, culture, religion, etc. That become a major factor for fear.

And then the third horse was the creation of ISIS in Syria, in 2013, one of the gifts of the invasion in Iraq. Let us not forget the global crisis started in 2008, and since then populism and nationalism were on the rise. But ISIS spectacular media impact and the radicalization of many young Europeans from Arab descent, usually from the margin of societies and laws, accentuated Fear, and was a gift for the populist, now able to use xenophobia for mobilizing disaffected and insecure citizens. The decline of European institutions has brought several countries (after Brexit), to call for a deep revision of the European project. Hungary is going for a referendum on 2 of October. Would you accept an immigrant quota imposed by the EU, against the will of the Hungarian parliament? The same day there will be the re-run of Austrian elections, that the extreme right wing lost for 36,000 votes. Then the Netherlands, France and Germany will follow, with an expected increase of the extreme right wing parties. At the same time, Poland and Slovakia also want to have a referendum about the EU. It could well be that at the end of 2017, European institutions will be deeply wounded.

The real problem is that since the failed Cancun Summit in 1981, countries have lost the ability to think together. India, Japan, China, and many other are going through a tide of nationalism. In Cancun, all participants, from Francois Mitterrand to Indira Gandhi, from Julius Nyerere to Pierre Trudeau shared a set of common values.: social justice, solidarity, the respect of international law, and the conviction that strong societies were the basis for democracy (except of course for Reagan and Thatcher). She famously declared: there is no such thing as a society, there are only individuals). They shared many books. They considered peace and development as the paradigm for governance. All this has been swept away. Politicians, left without ideologies, subordinated to finance, have turned mainly to an administrative debate, on singles issues, without a framework, where left or right have become difficult to discern. We are clearly in a period of Greed and Fear.

Time is not helping. In 1900 Europe had 24% of the world population. At the end of this century, Europe will be 4%. Nigeria will be more populous than the US. Africa, now at 1 billion, will be 2 billion by 2050, and 3 billion by 2100. It is time now to engage all together to discuss how to face the coming world. We took 25 years to reach an agreement on climate, maybe it is too late. On migration and employment, two and a half decades is an eternity. But this must be a global agreement, not just a kneejerk reflex by Chancellor Angela Merkel in total solitude, without even consulting French President Francois Hollande. But this kind of agenda is politically unimaginable. How to discuss these issues with Le Pen, Donald Trump, the other emerging populists and the nationalist tide that runs in the world?

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Roberto Savio is founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News.

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International Is out and National Is Again Back Fri, 08 Jul 2016 15:50:43 +0000 Roberto Savio Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News.

The post International Is out and National Is Again Back appeared first on Inter Press Service.


Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Jul 8 2016 (IPS)

A sign of the time is that Germany is raising a revolt against the President of the European Commission, Jeam-Claude Juncker, whom Chancellor Angela Merkel imposed in 2014 after a strong fight with David Cameron, then a powerful British PM. The group of Visograd, , formed by Poland, Hungary, Slovaquia and the Czech Republic, which resurged from ashes, to become an anti Brussels voice, has requested to bring back the Commission under the authority of the States. When Merkel organized a meeting of the leaders of the six original founders of the EU, in Berlin, she invited Donald Tusk, the President of the Council, but not Jean-Claude Juncker, who is the President of the Commission. And Wolfgang Schauble, the German minister of Finance, has launched an appeal: “it is time to bring back Brussels under the control of the states. “

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

It is curious that the debate on Brexit has completely ignored the creeping action to end the supranational character of the EU. What is in process, in fact, is something of extreme importance: the end of internationalism and return to the national. And that is one of the fruits of globalization…. Japan, China and Russia are at the peak of nationalism..

Globalization is not a neutral term. The globalization that was imposed after the collapse of the Berlin Wall was a straight jacket as strong as those of the ideologies, which were accused to bring to the Second World War, and fifty years of Cold War. It presented the market as the only basis for society, with the elimination of any national barrier for free flow of capitals and trade. It did shun, as obsolete, the values of social justice, social institutions, (like welfare); the state was seen as an impediment, a problem, not as a solution.. The new values were, for instant, individual success over community values. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher changed the direction of the world. Thatcher famously said: “There is no such a thing as society. There are only individuals”. Reagan originally even wanted to eliminate the ministry of education….

Well, now every journalist is discovering that Brexit and Donald Trump are the result of the revolt of the victims of globalization. It is important to note that they usually go to the right, except few cases, like Podemos in Spain or Bertie Sanders in the US. Sanders decries that in “the last 15 years, nearly 60.000 factories, and more than 4.8 million well-paid manufacturing jobs have disappeared, because disastrous trade agreements have encouraged corporations to move to low-wage countries”, He goes against a taboo that elite and mainstream economist do not even discuss. Free trade is an engine of growth., and statistics are there to prove it. The problem, continue Sanders “is that median male worker makes now $726 dollars less than in 1973, and the median female worker is making $1.1.54 less than in 2007. And nearly 47 million Americans live now in poverty. Meanwhile, the top one-tenth of 1 per cent of successful Americans, now owns as much as the bottom 90 per cent. The wealthiest 62 people on this planet own as much wealth as the bottom half of the world population: about 3.6 billion people. “

Sanders put us to a dilemma: “ the change will come from demagogy, bigotry and anti-immigrant sentiments, xenophobia and populism unless the new President will vigorously support international cooperation that brings peoples of the world closer, reduce hypernationalism and decreases the possibility of war: and above all, that will protect working people, not just those from the elite. “

So the problem is not that globalization brings growth. The problem is that the State has left the market unregulated, without any redistribution. Why those left out would vote for the conventional wisdom of the system, when they are victims?

The engine of this kind of growth has been Greed. Now, the fear that Sanders evoks is already well installed in Europe. Migrations have been fuelling it, in the middle of fears of different nature, from terrorism to climate change, from bad food to declining social services. It is easy to ride fear and resentment, and Europe knows this well: it happened in the thirties, and Hitler left a Europe destroyed.

A sequence of referendum is now hastening the demise of democracy. In the Brexit, 70% of people voted. That means that 36% made the majority: one citizen out of three. According to the European Council of External Relations, there are 32 referendum called in 18 countries of the EU. And there are now 47 political parties who share anti-Europe positions. In a third of the 28th member countries, they are part of the government’s coalitions, and their exit has been pushing the traditional parties to adopt some of their position. Referendums amount to a veto. EU will face a strong challenge from this process of vetocracy…but also the idea of internationalism will be the victim…

The idea behind internationalism, and more exactly international law, is based on the acceptance of principle and values under which citizens feels community and participation. Is on that basis that national entities agree to relinquish some of their sovereignty. They feel it expands the national consensus to treaties and agreements, which project their views and interests in a world of cooperation at international level. International law and cooperation were the new ideas, emerging from the ashes of the Second World War. United Nations was the most unprecedented device for lasting peace and cooperation: and little after, the idea of a European Union, and this as a supranational entity, not just a intergovernmental organization, like the UN. It was through the UN that the dangers of the Cold war were put under some kind of control. It was through the UN that the process of decolonization was steered. The UN were the framework for the north-south relations in the world, and development its philosophy, with a sharing of international law as the instrument for dialogue, and social justice, participation and democracy, based on dialogue and cooperation, to make a lasting peace and human development the new achievement for humankind.

Well, all this went well, until in 1981 in the Summit of Cancun. Reagan and Thatcher brought back the idea that universal democracy was an unjust illusion. Regan asked to the other head of states, which had come to discuss how to advance cooperation: why my country should have the same rights that San Marino? Let us go back to a policy where countries could defend their interest without being bound by general principles and agreements. Since them, the UN lost its primacy. The great powers took away trade, one of the two engines of globalization. The other engine, finance, was never in New York, but in Washington. The Un was left only with the social issues, increasingly irrelevant, When Boutros Boutros-Ghali tried to bring back some power to the secretariat; his re-election as the secretary general of the UN was vetoed by the US. Same mechanism with Juncker…Boutros-Ghali was made a scapegoat by Bill Clinton, who was in his electoral campaign. The UN had organized an invasion in Somalia to bring peace and food. This was done under US request, US direction and US control.. The invasion backfired, with white American soldiers dead and dragged in the streets by a crowd of black people. Promptly, Boutros-Ghali was considered the responsible for the failure, with the US appearing as a victim of the UN. Juncker now is made responsible folr Brexit by Germany, whose fiscal policy and the imposition of austerity has disenchanted many of those who are now opting out from Europe.

The post-ideological world, which has accompanied globalization, has transformed political parties into machines of public opinion, directed to solve administrative problems. Citizens are deserting institutions without vision, where politicians seem interested in their perpetuation, and polling and marketing tools have substituted dialogue with citizens. Values have disappeared from the political debate. Global issues have left national parliaments more and more irrelevant. There has been no global response on finance (4 trillion dollars in fiscal paradises), which has no world regulatory body, and moves 40 times more money that the real economy of production and services. One exceptional response was a global response on the climate change, which is a real threat to human survival. But that response is clearly insufficient…

Traditional parties have tried to halt their decline by taking the banners of the new parties. . The best example is Austria, where the two traditional parties changed their position on immigration., claiming that they would not leave that banner to populism. The result was to legitimize xenophobia. The extreme right wing lost for only 36.000 votes, and a new election called for irregularities may be see now its victory .

It must be clear that during all those year an irresponsible game has been going on. If anything went wrong, was the EU fault. Anything that went right was the result of national policies. As any insider knows, is the Council, where member states are represented, which take decisions on strategy and policies. The Commission is basically an implementer…only the European Central Bank (with great irritation from Germany) and the European Court of Justice (from which Cameron announced the UK wishes to withdraw, even before the Brexit,) have some super national power left. All the efforts of the member states have been to recover as much sovereignty as possible. And we are now obliged to write in Juncker defence…if he leaves it will be for the wrong reasons…

Anyhow after him, a weak guy as before, will appear. In the UN, the main candidate is Irina Bokova, the outgoing DG of Unesco, much less impressive that all the other women who are candidates. So, to see where we are now, in the decline of internationalism: would today US pledge to fund 25% of the regular budget of the UN, as it did at its creation? Would the Universal Declaration of Human Rights be approved? And finally, would it be possible to undersign the Treaty of Rome, of 1947, where the vision of a United Europe was approved unanimously? Governments would be in difficulty to answer. Let us imagine the people…

The post International Is out and National Is Again Back appeared first on Inter Press Service.


Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News.

The post International Is out and National Is Again Back appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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Is a Referendum a Valid Tool for Democracy? Thu, 07 Jul 2016 04:58:54 +0000 Roberto Savio Roberto Savio is founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News.

The post Is a Referendum a Valid Tool for Democracy? appeared first on Inter Press Service.


Roberto Savio is founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Jul 7 2016 (IPS)

William Shakespeare would have loved to witness the Brexit. Many of his themes are evidently present: friendship and treason; truth and lies; deception and betrayal.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

David Cameron invents a referendum as a trick to get more power from the EU, and unify the Tory party under his leadership. He ends up instead out of Europe, with a possible Scottish cessation, and problems with North Ireland. His friend Boris Johnson, who turns anti EU to get Cameron’s job, has betrayed him. But Johnson does not wish to run for Prime Minister because his friend Michael Gove has betrayed him. And the Brexit has as a collateral damage – the leader of the other party, the Labour, with the majority of its parliamentarians asking Jeremy Corbin to go. He rejects, claiming that the majority of the party members are with him. But then, do not the parliamentarians represent the electorate?

The Brexit provides a strange show of the British political system, considered always the best example of parliamentarian democracy. A referendum is not the basis of a parliamentarian system, where elections are based on parties, with a strong identity and history. Labour electors vote Labour. But a referendum becomes a transversal issue, and in Brexit one third of them voted against the position of the Trade Unions and of the party, which stood for the Remain.

The same has happened with the Tories. At least 35% voted against the Cameron campaign for the Remain. In fact, people voted according to what they felt was their identity. So London along with other cosmopolitan citizens, voted for Remain. Those from the rural world, those who felt left out, voted massively for the Brexit.

Enough has been written about this. And how this kind of neoliberal globalization has failed, creating a growing angry and destitute population . What should we now debate: is referendum a tool for democracy? Let us examine what were the arguments for the Brexit that brought 17 million people to vote to leave the EU. Well, they were false, as the main campaigners for the Brexit themselves, Nigel Farage, and Boris Johnson have admitted.

The argument that the UK was giving Brussels 350 million pounds per week, and this money could instead go to the National Health System, was a fraud. The net contribution to the EU of 150 million pounds a year is net of what the UK receives from the EU. Brussels’s silence on this issue mainly to avoid meddling in internal politics, was a grave mistake .

Also the argument that by leaving EU, the UK would recover “its independence”, as Johnson said in his closing speech, and the control of its borders was also clearly false. Any future relations with the EU, that would keep UK exports to Europe without customs duty (that is 44% of total British exports), will entail free circulation of European citizens (180.000 in 2015, out of a total of 330.000). Britain already has control over the extra Europeans.

To make tall his credible, the tabloids, which are the real winners of Brexit, launched a campaign indicating that 70 million Turks could invade Britain. This was yet another fraud. Turkey is not a member of the EU, and just one vote from any member country could block an admission request. This was the usual Germany line, until Merkel asked the Turkish leader, Recep Erdogan to help block migrants, by giving the EU the responsibility to pay 3 billion euro.

At the time of the vote, 45% thought it was imminent. Tabloids also announced that after the Brexit, criminals and terrorists would be immediately deported to their country of origin, and of course nobody talks about this any longer. And it was also a fraud to assure that all the subsidies coming from the EU would be substituted by government funds. So for instance, voters from the small town of 18.000 people, Ebbw Vale in Wales, had the highest vote for Brexit: 63%. With an unemployment rate of 40%, the only real income was from the EU development fund. Ebbw Vale received 420 million euro for its industrial development; 40.5 millions for a professional institute, with 29.000 students; 36 million for a new train line; 96 million for upgrading roads: and 14.7 million that citizens did receive at different times. There were very few immigrants. EU did commit to Wales 2.200 million euro within 2020. Will now the government replace these ?

In fact, the referendum has created a dramatic inter-generational problem. The people over 55 years did vote at nearly 70% for the Brexit. Those under 25, voted 75 % for Remain. But only 50% of them went to vote, vis a vis 68% of the older citizens. Therefore, the older people have decided the future of the younger ones. In a progressively ageing world, with fewer young people, this should have us all thinking.

So the question is: with poorly informed people, manipulated by a campaign of fear and lies, is a yes or no referendum a tool of democracy?

But things are more complicated. We live in an era of post ideologies and post parties. To be on the left or on the right is becoming increasingly irrelevant. Without ideologies, discarded with the collapse of Berlin’s wall, politics is becoming just an act of administrative action, where differences disappear. Parties without ideologies carry little motivation and identity. Gone are the times when they were based on strong membership, with a vibrant youth wing. Parties are becoming just movements of opinions, which mobilizes citizens only to vote in a temporary campaign, where hired experts of marketing tools and other instruments of mass communication, have replaced debates on visions and values.

This costs more money than volunteers and corrupts politics. More important yet, Internet and new technologies have changed how people relate to politics. The relation between the parties and voters is not any longer direct, and vertical, as it was at the time of the radio and TV. Let us take the last important elections in Europe: those for electing mayors in Italy. A tide of young and untested mayors took over from an older generation.

A research in Rome conducted by Pragma Sociometrica has found that 36% of voters still use the TV as their primary instrument of information, but 26% use the net. Friends and relatives account for just 5%. And for deciding the vote, 46% made their own judgment via Internet on Virginia Raggi, the new young lady mayor of Rome, and only 18% used Internet and voted the oldest candidate, Giachetti. Dialogue with the candidates on Internet is preferred by 58% of the voters; followed by 48% for videos and 33 % by Facebook. And finally, 30 % by photos. Clearly, the great popular meetings filling public squares are something of the past…

The American website “Vox technology” has published an article: “How Internet is destroying politics”. Web Amazon has decimated libraries ITunes and Pandora with on line music and have uprooted the power of recording houses. On the transportation side, Uber is challenging the taxi’s monopoly. Now is the time of the political system, is the article’s thesis.

The net is progressively reducing the power of the traditional system of information, and cites the progressive candidate Bertie Sanders as an example. No media or any Democrat guru, like Paul Krugman, supported Sanders policies and denounced these as unrealistic. Yet Sanders has been immune to this campaign. Why? Because Sanders supporters did not read papers, but went on the net and created their own circle, immune to the traditional information’s system, where Clinton was overwhelming.

According to the pollster from El Pais, the Brexit in the recent Spanish elections, pushed people to take less risks, reinforcing the governing Popular Party (regardless of a string of corruption cases) and reducing the appeal of Podemos, the party of alternative. Yet Marine Le Pen, the French rightist leader, called a press conference to welcome Brexit, as did Donald Trump, Gehert Wilders and all the leaders of the xenophobic, nationalist and populist parties which are growing everywhere. They are already in power in Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia…and if Brexit has a domino effect (as many fear), the future is not going to be helpful for democracy. Already several of them has been calling for their national referendum, convinced that they would all be like Brexit…Campaign of fear will run through all Europe….

We now have an unexpected observatory coming up soon. Austrian elections, where the extreme right wing lost by only 30.000 votes, have been annulled for irregularities, and new ones are due. This time victory should be clearer. If the extreme right wing wins, this will have a strong impact on the coming elections in France and Germany. And then, the destiny of Europe as a political project will be sealed.

Will the traditional political elite be able to take lessons from the reality, and change austerity for growth, banks as a priority of youth, come back to a debate of ideas and visions, values and ideals? Begin to discuss at least social remedies in the face of the disasters of an unregulated globalization? Or will it repeat the Byzantines discussing about the angel’s sex, while the Turks were entering Costantipolis?

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Roberto Savio is founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News.

The post Is a Referendum a Valid Tool for Democracy? appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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Brexit and EUexit Sat, 25 Jun 2016 17:12:42 +0000 Roberto Savio Roberto Savio, is founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News.

The post Brexit and EUexit appeared first on Inter Press Service.


Roberto Savio, is founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Jun 25 2016 (IPS)

The Europeans went to bed Thursday night, with exit polls giving a comfortable margin of victory for those who wanted to Remain. The following morning they awakened to find that the real result was the opposite.

Specialists in polling say that this happens when electors do not feel comfortable to say how they will rally voters because they are not comfortable, on a rational level, with what they will do. In other words, voters act because of their guts, not because of their brain.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

Brexit was really based on gut feelings. It was a campaign of fear. The “Leave” campaign was about the Turks massively invading Great Britain, because of their admittance in the EU (totally false); that Great Britain was paying to the EU 50 million pounds a day (again, a false figure). But the central question raised, especially by Boris Johnson, was: we are not free any longer… Let us get our independence.

And he went to compare the EU to the Nazi Germany who wanted to take over Europe. Of course, his intention was simple: get prime minister David Cameron to resign and take his post. A good example of idealism.

This cry for independence stirred the nationalist nerve of the nostalgia of the imperial times… We are facing enormous tides of foreigners coming if we stay in the EU, and we have no control on our borders, etc. The fact that Great Britain in fact had got from the EU already the control of its frontiers, was totally lost.

But beside this specific trait of British identity, the reasons for Brexit were common to the xenophobic, nationalism and populism tide which is spreading all over Europe. The Brexit campaign did contain all three, plus an emerging fourth factor: the revolt of people against their elites.

The “Remain” campaign had all of them; from the leaders of the Tory and Labour party to all the industrial and financial sectors, from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to the European Central Bank, from Obama to Merkel, from the elite media (Financial Times, the Economist) to the Soccer League. Their campaign was also of fear: if we get out we will lose markets, our deficit will increase, and our welfare system is at risk.

What now finally analysts are beginning to grasp is that rational arguments are not important any longer. Fear is more important. And anything that smacks of elite and establishment creates an iconoclastic reaction, which is to throw away the icons of the elite. This call for a change is now a new factor of politics all over Europe.

A good example is the town of Turin, where a few days before the Brexit a honest, efficient and respected outgoing mayor Piero Fassino (who did a good job), lost to a young woman without any prior experience. People feel an urge to throw away all the old, because clearly it has failed to address their needs.

It is to soon to predict a dismembering of Great Britain, with Scotland calling this time for its independence. Brexit was decided by England, where a considerable number of citizens suddenly feel a reawakening of their identity.

It is the same call of Marie Le Pen in France (another lost empire), which has opened a debate about French identity, and the need to not get diluted by multiculturalism, immigrants, especially Muslim, and get again the control of the borders, out from the domination of the European Union.

Next year, we have French and German elections. Le Pen is now the leader of the largest party in France, And it will be difficult to keep her out of power. Then elections in Germany will see a rise of Alternative fur Deutschland (AFD), which makes re-appropriation of German identity and sovereignty the basis for leaving Europe.

All the xenophobic right wing parties have expressed their enthusiasm for the Brexit, which is going to give them more push. Brexit comes after the Austrian elections, where the right wing lost for few votes. If elections were held today in the Netherlands, its xenophobic party would be the largest. And in total symmetry, Donald Trump has expressed his enthusiasm for the Brexit.

One of the few positive elements of Brexit is that there is now a growing chorus on the fact that globalisation has not kept its promises.: wealth for everybody.

On the contrary, it has created a dramatic social inequality, with few people having the bulk of national wealth, and many left out. According to OECD statistics, Europe has lost 18 millions of middle class citizens, in the last 10 years.

The fact that bankers were unanimously voicing for “Remain”, had quite the opposite effect on those 27% of British citizens who have difficulty to reach the end of the month, while they see over 1.000 bankers, and 1.500 CEO make more than 1 million pounds a year.

Now even the IMF is publishing studies on how social inequality is a draw to growth, and the importance of investing in welfare policies of inclusion and equal opportunities.

This is happening, some could say, because reaction to globalisation does not create only right-wing waves. With the feeling that all those in the system are ignoring their problems, new mass movements are coming from the left, like Podemos in Spain or Bernie Sanders in the US.

In the coming elections in Spain, the traditional social democrat party, PSOE, risks to be after Podemos. In Italy few days ago, after winning the provincial elections, the 5 Star movement now looks to take over the national government, held by a social democrat party, the PD. After two years in power, the young Matteo Renzi looks already an old establishment figure.

The EU suffers the same problem. Everybody talks of its marginal role in the world, of the fact that the unelected bureaucrats in Brussels live detached from reality and dedicate themselves to discuss rules on how to pack tomatoes, indifferent to the problems of the common European citizen.

We should pause to reflect that this is the same kind of criticism we hear about the United Nations. International organisations can only do what their members allow them to do. The EU is a supranational organisation (the only in existence), yet all the political power is in the hands of the Council of Ministers, where governments sits and take decision.

The Commission is left to implement these and the bureaucrats (the same number of those who run the town of Rome), have autonomy to decide the size of tomato packaging. Then the same national government that has taken the decisions, finds it convenient to denounce the EU inefficiency, and complain that there is an European external policy. This irresponsible game is now seeing the concrete result in Brexit, and governments should think now carefully about continuing on this double standard path.

Anyhow, the king now is finally without clothes. Europe is disintegrating, and a very large responsibility falls on German shoulders.

Germany has been blocking any attempt to create European economic and welfare measures, because they do not want to pay for the mistakes of the debtors countries, Greece, Italy, and the south of Europe. The Economy minister of Germany, Wolfgang Schauble, even went to attribute to Mario Draghi, the BCE governor, 50% of the success of the xenophobe Alternative fur Deutschland in the last elections. Draghi , was doing a policy in the interest of Europe, and not of the German voters. Germany is by far the most powerful country in the EU.

It is ironic to know that all the important posts in the EU bureaucracy have been taken by the British and Germans. In fact, those who control the bureaucracy and the debate on tomato packaging come from those two countries. And chancellor Angela Merkel is considered the one who runs the EU. In fact, the fateful agreement with Turkey on refugees, was decided by the German chancellor, without even consulting France

Now Germany has to decide: or continue on its path to germanize Europe, or to become again a European Germany, as it was when it’s capital was Bonn. Germany has consistently ignored all European and international calls for playing a different policy in the EU. She has refused to increase spending, to share funding of any initiative on European bonds or any measure of socialisation of the crisis.

But it would be a mistake to think that this is due to the peculiar personality traits of Schauble. The large majority of German citizens share the belief that they should not pay for the mistake of others. To be fair, the German government has never tried to educate them on European needs. And now, may be it is too late….

Therefore, the coming elections will be difficult for the government. An ever more insular party, the AfD is expected to have a large increase, and the two traditional parties are very worried. Merkel will try to take away some of the AfD banners further reducing her European policy. What is she Going to do now after the Brexit?

Attempt to start a Europe on two speeds, with Baltic countries, Poland, Hungary and all other Eurosceptics left out? Or she is ready to change her self-centred policy and play a real European role, in spite of AfD rise? Europe now depends clearly on Germany. Here we will see if Merkel is a states-person or just a successful national politician.

The post Brexit and EUexit appeared first on Inter Press Service.


Roberto Savio, is founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News.

The post Brexit and EUexit appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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