Tag Archives: Putin

G20: American Isolationism is Back

My latest article on Impakter, all about the G20 – I do  believe it marks a turning point for American world leadership. Here is the beginning (and Trump does look grumpy!):

The G20 meeting that just finished in Hamburg on 8 July confirmed the United States’ embrace of isolationism. Presided over by Angela Merkel, Germany’s Chancellor, Trump de facto stole the show. Both she and Emmanuel Macron, the new President of France, tried very hard to woo Trump back in the concert of nations. Macron even held a last-minute meeting with UK’s Theresa May and Australia’s Malcolm Turnbull on the climate change issue to try and change Trump’s mind.

To no avail.

THE US IS ALONE ON CLIMATE

The final communiqué is clear, the G20 is split.

Nineteen countries declare the Paris Climate Accord as “irreversible”, one does not, the United States. The country that was once the world’s leader – ever since World War II – emphatically goes its own way, with a whole paragraph in the G20 Declaration dedicated to that fateful choice:

“We take note of the decision of the United States of America to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. The United States of America announced it will immediately cease the implementation of its current nationally-determined contribution and affirms its strong commitment to an approach that lowers emissions while supporting economic growth and improving energy security needs. The United States of America states it will endeavor to work closely with other countries to help them access and use fossil fuels more cleanly and efficiently and help deploy renewable and other clean energy sources, given the importance of energy access and security in their nationally determined contributions.”

This is a historic break. The US is parting company with the whole of the international community that counts. The G20 meeting brings together the most important world leaders and international organizations, from the UN to the World Bank and the IMF, once a year, ever since the 2008 financial meltdown (before then, it was a meeting of financial ministers and central bank governors).

This formulation in the final communiqué, “we take note of the decision of the United States” is suavely diplomatic and non-judgmental.  And in allowing the US to state its position, that it would “work closely with other countries to help access and use fossil fuels more cleanly and efficiently”, there is an implicit recognition by the G20 that there is such a thing as using fossil fuels “more cleanly and efficiently”.  This amounts to a recognition not only of where the US stands, but it acknowledges a policy point dear to Trump.

Environmental activists predictably are up in arms, it marks a clear retreat from the fight against climate change. Macron indicated he wouldn’t give up, he’d continue to press Trump on climate and planned a follow-up meeting in Paris in December to sustain the Paris Climate Accord momentum. The G20 did however do something positive: It reiterate its financial support to countries that needed help in the transition to clean energy:

To read the rest on Impakter, click here. Do let me know what you think!

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What’s Wrong with Europe? Ukraine, Greece and Libya: All Unfinished Businesses

Libya is sinking into a fundamentalist Islamic chaos, the cease-fire in Ukraine is breaking down and Greece’s debt problems are far from resolved.

Merkel, Putin and Hollande at the Kremlin (2015)

And this in spite of the the so-called agreement reached in Minsk between Putin and the Merkel-Hollande couple. And in spite of the news coming out late Friday evening (20 February) that the Eurogroup (the Euro-zone 19 finance ministers) had agreed to extend by four months Greece’s bailout, thus avoiding a financial shutdown of Greece.

Anyone following the news in Ukraine can see that the cease-fire hasn’t got a ghost of chance, with Russia still fully supporting the rebels’ advance in the East.  Yet, both Hollande and Merkel confidently talk about taking new sanctions and Kerry echoes them. One wonders how anyone can still believe in the power of sanctions. Surely Putin doesn’t care.

As to the Greek bailout extension, it’s a sham: this coming Monday (23 February), as reported in the New York Times:

“Greece must send its creditors a list of all the policy measures it plans to take over the next four months. If the measures are acceptable, European finance ministers could sign off on an extension of the bailout agreement on Tuesday.”

Varoufakis and Tsipras (Facebook)

Really, a “list of all the policy measures” by Tuesday? And to whom are the said measures supposed to be “acceptable”?

To Germany, of course. The fundamental idea is that a newly elected government in the Euro-zone cannot change the commitments taken by a previous government, i.e. the austerity measures forced upon Greece by Germany. Therefore the new government led by Tsipras and his dynamic finance minister Varoufakis must continue with the reforms and austerity policies called upon by the infamous “troika”, the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Back to square one.

Italian Military Mission (Olycon)

And the same can be said for Libya. The chaos threatening this country, just 350 km off the coasts of Europe, is a matter of grave concern to Italy: the radical fundamentalist Islamic militia over-running Libya are patterned on ISIS. Threats have already been sent via Twitter to Italy. The wonder is that the rest of Europe doesn’t seem to care. Italy declared its willingness to lead a multinational force to “restore peace and order” in Libya and sought a green light from the UN Security Council – as did Egypt, after it had attacked extremist positions inside Libya a few days ago.

But the Security Council did not respond – in practice, both Egypt and Italy were told to calm down and forget it.

I am worried. The world is fast sinking into anarchy, the West is doing nothing to stop it and not even using its prime instrument to prevent war: the United Nations. After Gaddafi was ousted, no serious effort has been undertaken to help Libya recover and rebuild – a tiny UN mission was sent to Libya, with no means to operate on the ground, and all the UN Representative can do, is warn that Libya is falling apart. Yes, it’s rapidly becoming a failed state like Somalia, and it’s sitting on Europe’s doorstep.

Of the three problems, Greece should be the easiest to fix: write off the debt and forget it. If one is to believe Paul B. Kazarian, one of the “vulture investors” of Hilary Rosenberg’s famous book, the €318 billion Greek debt is worth only one tenth of its value as a result of the series of adjustments to the Greek debt over the years that include restructuring, maturity extensions and interest rate reduction. He argues that if one applied international accounting rules and took into account the assets owned by Greece, the overall net debt figure would fall to €32 billion. “You are suffocating a country with a figure that has no relevance”, he argues, “Just take the fricking loss and move one.”

Not many people agree with him, such views are always scary to conservatives and particularly so in German circles. Yet, historically, sovereign state debts have always been treated this way: that is exactly what happened in the United States, for example when the Second Bank of the United States collapsed in 1836, sending thousands of UK investors scrambling for their money. This was not the end of the United States’ dollar, so why should a Greek (near) default be the end of the Euro?

When will our European leaders wake up and start facing the far more important challenges of Ukraine and Libya? Europe, quo vadis, where are your values, where are you going?

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